Tag Archives: G-d

Even Your Good Impulses Need Balance

For many years I raised money for a variety of nonprofit organizations. As a volunteer leader, I felt compelled to make a leadership-size gift. However, early on in my business career, I did not have the money to pay for them. These debts weighed on me for years. Too bad I had not internalized the parsha for this Sabbath, Terumah:

“. . . the length of one panel twenty-eight amos, and width four amos for the one panel, one measure for all the panels.” (Shemos/Exodus 26:2).

Keeping Your Life in Balance

This week’s parsha details the plans for the Mishkan or portable Sanctuary in which G-d rested His Presence during the Israelites’ wanderings in the wilderness. Such ordinary materials as copper, linen, and goatskins became a holy abode.

Perhaps you noticed the great detail given about the design of the Mishkan and its utensils. Material specifications are exacting and measurements are quite precise. If even one board or socket was too long or too short the whole structure would be out of whack, perhaps even collapse.

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The Hebrew word for a measurement is midah. Interestingly, the same word, midah, also refers to human character trait. Could this be the source of the phrase, “the measure of a person’s character”? In the building of the Mishkan there is an important lesson for each of us.

A Character Trait Out of Balance Is Bad

It is well known that being charitable is an important midah to have. You shouldn't be stingy when giving money to the poor. Equally bad, perhaps worse, is the person who gives so much money he impoverishes himself or goes into debt as a result. Proper development of the midah of being charitable keeps giving in balance with your means. Otherwise, like the Mishkan the whole structure of a human being may collapse.

I struggled for many years to pay my pledges. How much more productive would I have been by being more measured in my largesse? Free from the worry and embarrassment of owing money I could have focused my mind more fully on business. I need not have felt uncomfortable around friends and business associates, most of whom knew nothing about my plight, but who had fulfilled their own pledges.

Make yourself a Mishkan, exacting in your middos, deriving holiness from humble materials, a shelter for all from the harsh rays of life.

Do you think someone can overdo a good trait?

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. It is named after the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

How to Keep Your Self-Respect by Upholding Others

Shortly after arriving at my first duty station in Okinawa, early one morning at the gym, I observed a young corporal preparing his squad for PT (physical training) by SCREAMING AT THE TOP OF HIS LUNGS FOR THEM TO FORM UP. One of his Marines quietly told him he had a chit excusing him from PT. Rather than acquiescing the corporal shouted, “EVERYONE EXCUSED FROM #!*^%$ PT STAND OVER HERE!” Then he ran off with the rest of his flock, leaving behind humiliated people too injured to workout.  This young corporal should have read the parsha for this Sabbath, Mishpatim:

“If a man will steal an ox or a sheep (goat) and slaughter it or sell it, five cattle he will pay in place of the ox and four sheep in place of the sheep.” (Shemos/Exodus 21:37).

How to Keep Your Self-Respect by Upholding Others

This week’s parsha has 53 mitzvahs: 23 positive ones and 30 negative ones, which guide the conduct of the Israelites. They cover a broad range of institutions, crimes, activities, and celebrations. Toward the end of Mishpatim, G-d promises to lead the Children of Israel into the Land of Israel and conquer their enemies.

Notice anything interesting about the above verse? Someone who steals an ox and slaughters or sells it must pay a five-cattle penalty. However, if he steals a sheep or goat (the Hebrew word seh can mean either), the penalty is only four sheep.

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Why the lesser penalty for stealing a sheep?

The Connection Between Dignity & Self-Respect

Chazal teach that when a thief steals an ox he will lead it away by a rope, however, a thief who steals a sheep will have to pick the animal up and carry it off. How silly will the thief look running down the road carrying a sheep? It brings to mind the Warner Bros. cartoons where the coyote steals a fat sheep.

The thief’s penalty is lowered because he suffers embarrassment by carrying the sheep. Hence true sensitivity to human dignity.

Even a lowly thief’s self-respect is important.

As for the young corporal, he treated his flock worse than a sheep thief, no way to build unit cohesion or trust in his leadership. It is a lesson I keep uppermost in my mind. If G-d is concerned for a thief, then the dignity of my family members and colleagues, even the people I meet doing everyday things, should be as dear to me as my own.

How do you suppress the urge to put someone down?

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. It is named after the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

You Say It – G-d May Make It Happen

“With whom you will find your gods, he will not be.” (Bereshis/Genesis 31:32). Incensed at being accused of theft, Jacob renders a death sentence on the culprit, if indeed there is one. Could he even imagine the result?

You Say It – G-d May Make It Happen

The parsha for this Sabbath is Vayeitzei. In it, Jacob flees to Laban’s house and has an encounter with G-d on his way. Then Jacob meets Rachel, agrees to work seven years so he can marry her, unwittingly ends up marrying Leah, and agrees to work another seven years so he can marry Rachel.

Next, Jacob and his wives have eleven sons, the progenitors of the most of the Tribes of Israel, and one daughter. Jacob and Laban make a new work contract, but eventually the discord between them becomes so great Jacob flees with his household. The parsha ends with the curious incident of Laban’s gods.

My first question is for all of the husbands: How many of you would work 14 years to earn the right to marry your wife? I’m taking names of the ones of you who say no!

Vayeitzei reinforces the lesson that words have power. In Bereshis we learn that G-d brought the world into existence with words. Later G-d parades the animals in front of Adam who names each one.  Through the conferring of a name, a word, Adam identifies the essence of each animal. In these two examples, we see the creative power of words.

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Laban chased down Jacob and accuses him of stealing his gods, idols that Laban and the members of his household worshiped. Not knowing that his beloved Rachel was hiding them in her belongings in the hope that her father would give them up, Jacob declared: “Eem asher teemtzah es-elohecha lo yeeyeh,” which means, “with whom you will find your gods, he will not be.” A harsh sentence but one that shows how certain Jacob was that no one in his house had taken them, how incensed he was to be accused, and how deeply he abhorred theft.

Unfortunately, though with good intentions, Rachel is guilty. We learn in Parshas Vayishlach that Rachel dies after giving birth to Benjamin in fulfillment of Jacob’s condemnation.

Just as your words have the power to create, they have the power to destroy.

Question – How do you guard what you say?

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. It is named after the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

How to Defeat Your Worst Enemy

“The first one emerged red, all of him was like a hairy mantle.” (Bereshis/Genesis 25:24). Rebecca bears Esau and Jacob, the latter grasping at the heel of his brother. Can you hear the theme song to Jaws portending a grim outcome?

How to Defeat Your Worst Enemy

The parsha for this Sabbath is Toldos. Jacob and Esau are born. Then Esau sells his birthright to Jacob for a pot of lentil stew and a famine forces Isaac to move to Gerar where he disputes with the Philistines and makes a treaty with Abimelech. Esau marries two wives. Next as Isaac lays dying he blesses his sons precipitating Esau’s hatred for his brother that causes Jacob to flee to Bethuel’s house. Jacob is admonished not marry a Canaanite and Esau marries a third wife. Who needs Dynasty?

Jacob and Esau provide the arch-type of the battle between good and evil.

Contrary to the popular belief that children are born good, the Jewish view is that each person is born with a yetzer hatov, the urge to do good, and a yetzer hara, the urge to do evil. Undoubtedly you have felt pulled in two directions when faced with a moral dilemma. This is the struggle between your yetzer hatov and yetzer hara and you must decide which you are going to follow, the essence of free will.

Both Jacob and Esau faced this same struggle and represent the two sides. Although they were twins each followed a very different path.

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The Torah notes that Esau was born with a mantel of red hair. Although Rashi remarks that this was a sign that he would become a murderer, such was not inevitable.

King David was described as ruddy. The prophet Samuel was concerned that he would be a murderer like Esau. But G-d assured Samuel that David would only take a life at the behest of the Sanhedrin. G-d did not prevent David from killing wantonly, rather David learned to restrain his yetzer hara and turned it to productive purposes. Esau did not.

Your task is clear. Pursue Jacob’s path and avoid that of Esau. Examine your character traits and figure out how each of them can be used to support your yetzer hatov and defeat your worst enemy, your yetzer hara.

Question – What steps have you taken to habituate your yetzer hara to positive pursuits?

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. It is named after the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

Why Praying for Comfort Makes You Unhappy

The serious but joyous work of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are done.  Hopefully you emerged from it having repaired your relationship with G-d and with a commitment to live a life true to your ideal self.

Succos begins today.  Time to give up what seems like comfort to explore your relationships with G-d. The essence of this festival can be gleaned from the following story about the sage, Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz who lived during the 18th century.

Why Praying for Comfort Makes You Unhappy

During the early years of his life Rabbi Pinchas’s spiritual greatness was unknown, but after a time people came to see that his devotion to studying Torah, prayer, and meditation truly elevated him to extraordinary heights. Soon, he was inundated with people who wanted his advice, his blessings, and his prayers. These requests got to the point that Rabbi Pinchas feared he was no longer serving G-d as he ought.

After much soul searching he decided he would pray that the constant interruptions would stop. As a tzaddik prays, so G-d does, making Rabbi Pinchas despicable to others. When he walked down the street people would avoid him. But he was happy. His time was his own again.

The time for Succos approached. Unlike in previous years, no one offered to help Rabbi Pinchas build his sukkah. Not having any ability in such matters, he began to worry that he would not have one for the Chag. He tried everything but if he found someone to build a sukkah the person had no tools. Finally his wife intervened and they were able to complete a flimsy sukkah just moments before candle lighting and the start of the holiday.

Unlike most times, on festivals Rabbi Pinchas went to shul to pray so he could find a guest and fulfill the mitzvah of hospitality. But having becoming so disliked, no one wanted to share his sukkah. Discouraged, Rabbi Pinchas went home alone.

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In his sukkah that night he started to pray the Ushpizin, welcoming the seven heavenly guests who spiritually visit every sukkah. G-d decided that Rabbi Pinchas should be privileged to have our forefather Abraham as his guest. When Rabbi Pinchas looked up from his prayer, there stood the great man outside the sukkah. Rabbi Pinchas beckoned him to enter, but Abraham replied, “My greatest trait was chesed expressed through hospitality. I will not enter a sukkah until another guest is there.” At that moment Rabbi Pinchas realized his error, and he prayed that everything would return to the way it was before.

May you use your time dwelling in your sukkah to reflect on how you will use the year just granted you.

Question – What have you prayed for in the past that you will change for the future? 

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