Tag Archives: G-d

You Listen, You Stay Healthy

“You will surely become weary, also you, also this people that is with you.” (Shemos/Exodus 18:18)

Jethro meets Moses in the wilderness and expresses his concern that constantly teaching and judging the Children of Israel is too exhausting.

This coming Sabbath we read Parshas Yisro. In it Moses is reunited with his father-in-law Yisro/Jethro, a Mindianite priest who heard about the wonders G-d performed for the Children of Israel. Jethro recommends a leadership plan to Moses that he implements.

The Children of Israel arrive at Mount Sinai where they voluntarily accept the Torah. Then they prepare themselves to receive the Ten Commandments. Our sages bring several opinions as to what they heard. Rashi and the Rambam explain that every Jew heard all Ten Commandments in one instant but could not comprehend them. So G-d repeated them and after the first two they were so overawed they begged Moses to intercede and then teach them the other eight.

Perhaps in your mind’s ear you can hear the proverbial Yiddishe mama worrying about her boy’s health, but a Yiddishe father-in-law?

Moses was very idealistic, with seemingly limitless compassion for his people. Great as he was, it took an outsider to perceive that he needed to share his burden so as not to burn out. Seems to be an obvious lesson, yet how often have you found your life out of balance because you were so focused on your goal? Did your spouse, child, or a friend try to get you to broaden your perspective? Did you listen?

Many times while I was deployed sailors whose job performance was not up to par came to see me. Frequently they justified their substandard work by listing the many people: family, friends, and coworkers, whom they were helping. My response never varied: “How does it help them if you lose your job? No more money for financial assistance to be sure, but worse, you would become a burden.”

Selflessness is admirable. But it cannot come at the cost of your physical, mental, or spiritual wellbeing. Comes Jethro to remind you to be open to the message of a loved one to guard your health.

Question – Is self-sacrifice noble? Please leave a comment below.

Don’t Let Your Weaknesses Make You Feel Inferior

“And Moses said to the people, do not fear, stand and see the salvation of G-d that He will do for you today.” (Shemos/Exodus 14:13)

When the Children of Israel thought they were trapped between the Reed Sea and the Egyptian army they panicked, complaining that Moses brought them out of Egypt to die in the wilderness. Just days before they witnessed the miraculous Exodus. How could they have lost faith so quickly?

This coming Sabbath we read Parshas Beshalach. In it the Children of Israel leave Egypt only to have Pharaoh once again change his mind and chase them. G-d splits the Reed (usually incorrectly translated as the Red) Sea and the Children of Israel walk between two walls of water on dry land while the Egyptians are drowned. They sing the Song of the Sea thanking G-d for their deliverance.

On their journey to the Promised Land, the Israelites complain they are hungry and thirsty and are given Manna from heaven and water from a rock.

After making the same mistake for the umpteenth time, too often I find myself lapsing into despair. The defeats weigh heavily on my spiritual fitness. So in a small way I can appreciate how the Children of Israel must have felt. Following centuries of being slaves, is it surprising that they did not prepare to defend themselves against their former masters? Though they vastly outnumbered them, as the Ibn Ezra notes, from their youth the Israelites bore the yoke of Egypt’s oppression. Such feelings of inferiority prevented them from fighting.

Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz commented that the same principle applies to everyone. If you view yourself as inferior or feel excessive guilt, you will be unable to combat your yetzer hara (evil inclination). Lacking faith in your ability to prevail over your oppressor, at the slightest negative impulse you will get completely discouraged.

Your task then is to view the elevated aspects of your character. Focus on your strengths, internalize knowledge of your assets, and your resolve to triumph over your weaknesses will be unshakable. You will succeed because you see yourself as a good, worthwhile person.

Question – How can you focus on your strengths but avoid becoming or being perceived as conceited? Please leave a comment below.

How to Stop Sabotaging Yourself

“And came Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh and said to him: so said G-d, G-d of the Hebrews, until when will you refuse to be humbled before Me?” (Shemos/Exodus 10:3)

Seven plagues befell Egypt yet Pharaoh refused to let the Children of Israel go. Why?

This coming Sabbath we read Parshas Bo. It continues from Parshas Va’eira with the final three plagues that eventually led to Pharaoh telling the Jewish people to get out of Egypt.

The Children of Israel are told Nissan will be the first month of the year. The commandment of the Passover Offering, the Pesach, is given. The time for the Exodus arrives and the conditions under which the Children of Israel left are described. The parsha ends with G-d giving the mitzvahs of consecrating first-born animals, redeeming a first-born son, and tefilin.

I do not know about you, but when everything starts going wrong in my life: back injury, bronchitis, dropping and breaking my computer, and a car accident, eventually I ask the question: What is G-d trying to tell me? So it seems inconceivable that after blood, frogs, lice, hoards of wild beasts, pestilence, boils, and hail that Pharaoh remained stubborn. Rabeinu Bachya, commenting on this idea, notes that G-d wants a person to submit his will to His will and this takes humility. Pharaoh was an extremely arrogant person and refused to humble himself, thereby causing his own downfall.

Many people suffer for their arrogance. Minor affronts loom so large for such people they retaliate. For the person who has internalized humility, such things are like water on a duck’s back, they roll off unnoticed. One who is arrogant insists on winning every disagreement and rarely if ever apologizes for giving offense. The humble person asks forgiveness even for an unintended slight or wrong. Who has the better quality of life?

Recently I read Alan Axelrod’s biography on General George Patton. Much of what I know about Patton comes from the eponymous 1970 movie. Axelrod relates an incident when Patton was a young 2nd Lieutenant during which he used the word damn to curse a soldier who had not done a job properly. Shortly thereafter, thinking the better of it, he gathered all of the people who might have heard the curse and apologized to the soldier. He voluntarily, publicly, and evidently sincerely apologized for the infamous slapping incidents. A profound believer in G-d, Patton worked all his life to restrain his arrogance. This was the first of many instances through which he won the respect and fealty of his men.

When you allow your arrogance to gain the upper hand, any perceived retention of righteousness is more than offset by the injustices almost inevitably committed.

Question – What techniques do you suggest for curbing arrogance? Please leave a comment below.

You’ll Almost Never Meet a Bad Person Again

And Pharaoh said to Josef, “after G-d made known to you all of this, there is no one discerning and wise like you. You will be over my house . . .” (Beresheis/Genesis 41:39).

With just one conversation the slave Josef, a prisoner, is elevated to Viceroy of Egypt. How can such a thing happen?

This coming Sabbath we read Parshas Mikeitz. In it we learn about Pharaoh’s dreams and Josef’s interpretation of them and his ascent to Viceroy of Egypt. Next the famine begins, resulting in Jacob sending ten of his sons to Egypt to buy food. They meet Josef, but do not recognize him and the process is set in motion through which Josef’s dreams will come true.

It probably comes as no surprise that convicts released from prison have a hard time finding work, especially at jobs requiring a high degree of trust. Yet the absolute ruler of Egypt promotes Josef to the number two position of power after just one interview. Granted he acknowledged his wisdom and discernment but how could Pharaoh have had such confidence in Josef?

Rabbi Chaim Shmuelivitz notes that before interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams Josef acknowledges his own lack of power, attributing his gift to G-d. From this minor point Pharaoh extrapolated Josef’s total honesty.

Later in the parsha (Beresheis/Genesis 42:21), not knowing that Josef understood what they were saying, his brothers admitted to each other that they were guilty of causing Josef to suffer. Their honesty caused Josef to move away from them so they would not see him weeping.

These examples of the impact of honesty are models that you should adopt. If you see a paltry instance of good in a person, you can help build up the person’s self image by giving positive feedback and highlighting other positive examples, however small. Indeed there are people, even counselors, who seem to think there is great merit in focusing on a person’s faults. But virtually every fault can be viewed meritoriously. This is how the Almightly would have us relate to each other.

Most especially when we have been wronged, may we join the Master of the World weeping with joy upon hearing the contrition of the wrongdoer.

Question – How do you reframe a person’s behavior so as to judge it praiseworthy? Please leave a comment below.

Our Matriarch Who is Superlatively Kind and Scrupulously Honest

Vegam gemalecha ashke – and also your camels I will water (Beresheis/Genesis 24:14). Gam ligmalecha eshav ad im kilu lishtos – also for your camels I will draw until they finish drinking (Beresheis/Genesis 24:19). The typical English translations make these two phrases, the first by Eliezer and the second by Rivkah, seem more similar than they are.

This coming Shabbos we read Parshas Chayei Sarah and are saddened to learn that Sarah dies. Next. Avraham purchases a burial site for his wife and family and Eliezer searches for a wife for Yitzchak. After that, Avraham gets remarried. Then the Torah tells about his death and the death of Ishmael.

Consider what Avraham knows about humanity. G-d brought the flood because the world was filled with robbery and sexual immorality. He was alive at the time of the Dispersion after the Tower of Bavel when people challenged G-d’s authority. After she gave birth to a child, Hagar mocked his beloved wife Sarah for being barren. Efron the Hittite grossly overcharged Avraham for a burial site, while he was grieving over Sarah’s death.  Perhaps he had heard about the murder of Abel by Cain. Not a pretty picture. Is it any wonder that he gives his servant Eliezer very specific instructions about the proper wife for Yitzchak?

Notice the characteristic for which Eliezer is searching. First the young woman must offer to alleviate his thirst, then that of his camels. While deep sensitivity to animal welfare is not necessarily indicative of a similar attitude toward humans, someone who is responsive to the needs of a stranger and then even his animals is a paragon of kindness.

Don Yitzchak Abarbanel points out another quality of Rivkah that we can learn from how Eliezer framed his request to G-d and how Rivkah actually behaved. While he asked that the young woman who was worthy of being Yitzchak’s bride offer to water his camels, Rivkah was careful to say she would draw water for his camels, implying that she could not be sure they would drink. Her punctilious honesty, living as she did with Lavan who later we learn was one of the great prevaricators in history, shows her dedication to honesty and the strength of her character.

A student of the Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Shmuel Walkin gives the example of Rabbi Rafael of Bershid, disciple of Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz, who when asked if it was still raining outside when he came into his house would answer, “When I was outside it was raining.” He did not want to state it was still raining when it could have stopped after he came into the house.

Such meticulous attention to the truth in so small a matter should help us resist the temptation to lie in bigger matters.

Question – Do think it is ever okay to lie? Please leave a comment below.

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