Tag Archives: Old Testament

6 Questions for Overcoming Bad Habits

“On this the poets will say: Come to Cheshbon; let it be built and established, city of Sichon.” (Bamidbar/Numbers 16:28). The Torah reflects on the history of Chesbon. History is nice, but why this lengthy elucidation?

6 Questions for Overcoming Bad Habits

The parsha for this Sabbath is a double one, Chukas and Balak. Parshas Chukas discusses the mysterious commandment of the red heifer, Miriam’s death and the subsequent stopping of the well of water, Moses’s and Aaron’s error and punishment for disobeying G-d when supplying water to the people, the death of Aaron, the attack of the Amalekites, and the wars with Sichon and Og.

Parshas Balak details how Balak, the king of Moab, attempted to have Bilaam, the greatest non-Jewish prophet of all time, curse the Children of Israel. Included is the wonderful story of the talking donkey, my wife’s and my favorite in all of Tanach. The Parsha ends with the somewhat frightening event in which Pinchas spears Zimri, a prince of the tribe of Shimon, and his Mindianitess lover in public at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.

The Talmud (Bava Basra 78b) interprets the above verse as, “‘the poets’ refers to those who rule over their impulses. ‘Come to Chesbon’ means come and make a calculation of your behavior.” Indeed in everyday parlance, a chesbon is an accounting of your behavior.

Rabbi Chaim Luzzatto noted that a person should work on overcoming negative habits and traits. Just like a businessman carefully tracks his investments, so too a person should make an accounting each day of his behavior so as to improve himself.

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Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What did I accomplish today?
  2. How far have I come in meeting my long-term goals?
  3. What are my strengths and weaknesses
  4. Did I accomplish what I intended?
  5. How am I going to improve for tomorrow?
  6. What is holding me back from growing or what will help me grow more?

It need not take a long time. I spend about 10 to 15 minutes making my daily accounting. Having done so for about a year now, I find that I am repeating mistakes less often. While it is not as rapid as I might like, nonetheless I am improving.

Most importantly, when you identify your progress be joyful about it. Find encouragement in your ability to improve, to reform your character despite whatever faults you have and mistakes you repeat. By focusing on the positive you will motivate yourself to ever greater accomplishment and refinement.

Question – How do you motivate yourself to keep improving despite setbacks?

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Right and Wrong Way to Express Caring – And How to Tell Them Apart

“If like the death of all men’s deaths, will be accounted on them [Korach and his co-conspirators] the accounting of all men, it is not G-d who has sent me.” (Bamidbar/Numbers 16:28). Moses lets Korach and his followers know that they will soon die unnatural deaths; harsh language from the most humble of all humans.Right and Wrong Way to Express Caring – And How to Tell Them Apart

The parsha for this Sabbath is Korach. From the infamy of the spies we now go to the rebellion of Korach and his 250 followers against Moses and Aaron. Unlike the complaining for food, water, and other things that went on before, Korach, a cousin of Moses and Aaron, sought to depose them and assume their roles. He tried to take advantage of the Israelite’s unhappiness with Moses over the decree that they would wander in the wilderness for 40 years. As a result of their rebellion, the 250 insurgents were consumed by fire and the earth swallowed their households. Indeed, a severe punishment.

The great Kabbalist, Rabbi Moshe Alshich, brings the analogy of a doctor who needs to amputate a hand or foot in order to prevent the spread of a disease. Although such a cure may seem cold-hearted, even cruel, it is actually the kindest course of action since it will save the person’s life.

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Moses saw that Korach had already infected 250 people with the spirit of rebellion. In an act of compassion for the rest of the Israelites, he had to take severe steps to stop its spread. Yet Moses was not hasty in this action. He pleaded with the conspirators to change their ways. He “fell on his face” (Bamidbar/Numbers 16:4), pleading that G-d would not punish them and the people the way He had the spies. His entreaties were to no avail. Only then did Moses act so strictly.

When you find yourself in an intractable situation, especially with your children, you must try every technique to convince them to do the right thing. But no amount of love or compassion should prevent you from imposing stern measures for the recalcitrant. This is the true meaning of Proverbs 13:24, “spare the rod and spoil the child.” Frequently taken as a license to strike a child, rather it is an adjuration not to shirk from using strict discipline when necessary.

Moses took a tremendous risk when carrying out G-d’s commands that led to the destruction of Korach and his followers. The Israelites might have rejected him, ceased loving him. Yet his love for them was so great he did what was necessary to save them. In the final analysis, this is the truest test. Will you risk losing love in order to save a loved one?

Question – Should spanking be among the punishments used to discipline children?

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What Everyone Ought to Know . . . About Attaining Greater Contentment

“And they [the spies] spoke to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel saying, the land that we passed in it to spy it, the Land [of Israel] is very, very good.” (Bamidbar/Numbers 14:7). The men that Moses sent to check out the Land of Israel come back and report. Do these spies have any intelligence for us?

What Everyone Ought to Know . . . About Attaining Greater Contentment

The parsha for this Sabbath is Shelach. In it is the infamous story of the twelve spies who reconnoitered the Land of Israel and caused the Israelites to lose faith that they could conquer it. As a result, G-d decreed that they wander in the wilderness for 40 years. It also details the meal and libation offerings to be brought with the korbanos, animal sacrifices. The penalty for desecration of the Sabbath is determined. Finally, the commandment to wear tzitzis, fringes, on the corners of a garment is given.

A story is told of Rabbi Moshe of Lelov who was visited by a resident of Israel. The person complained bitterly about the land. Rabbi Moshe reprimanded him saying, “the Torah tells us ‘the Land [of Israel] is very, very good’.” He went on to point out that the Mishnah (Pirkei Avos 4:4) says, “be very, very humble” concluding that when someone is arrogant nothing will be good enough.

A person filled with self-importance is more likely to insist that life be in accordance with his expectations. He views his own behavior and worth in lofty terms, consequently belittling others. A humble person, lacking the burden of expectations, is more easily able to focus on the good aspects of people and things. In doing so he improves his spiritual connection to the world, thereby furthering his ability to see good in it.

Think about when your spouse makes you angry. Is what he or she did really bad or does it seem bad in comparison to how you perceive your behavior? If you view yourself with humility, honestly assessing your own shortcomings, you are far more likely to view your spouse’s behavior as good. The result is greater marital satisfaction.

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This principle applies to all areas of your life. A radio personality I know once reported on the outcome of a vodka taste test. First, participants were asked which brand they thought was best. Most named super premium brands such as Grey Goose or Finlandia. Then they did a blind taste test. The result: an overwhelming majority thought Smirnoff tasted best. Unconvinced, my wife and I took the test. Our winner: Smirnoff. Here is the funny part: vodka is tasteless.

If you view yourself as deserving to live life at a certain level you create contempt for anyone or anything that does not live up to this expectation. Worse, you cause yourself a great deal of dissatisfaction.

The Land, indeed the world, is very, very good. Will you have the humility to see it that way?

Question – What do you do to gain a balanced perspective of your behavior?

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Don’t Let Boredom Wreck Your Soul

“And Aaron did so . . .” (Bamidbar/Numbers 8:3). G-d explains how the Menorah will be lit and Moses conveys this information to Aaron who carries it out. He was such a good man. Why would he do otherwise?


This coming Sabbath we read Parshas Beha’aloscha.  In it we learn about lighting the Menorah; the consecration of the Levites; the bringing of the Korban Pesach, the Passover Offering and Pesach Sheini; the cloud and pillar of fire with which G-d led the Children of Israel and other aspects of their travels; the people who complained about eating the Manna and what G-d did about it; and finally Miriam’s affliction with tzaraas.

At this point in the Torah, we have read numerous times that: “G-d spoke to Moses saying . . .” Not once did Moses forget or fail to convey the message. And in many cases the Torah notes that the person being directed complies. There must be reasons why tasks completed are noted.

Sifrei explains the first day the Menorah was lit was also the day that Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, died. Nonetheless, he put his duty to G-d and the well-being of the Israelites before his own feelings. Although as Kohen Gadol he could have assigned this responsibility to another kohen, every day for the rest of his life he not only lit the Menorah but performed the menial tasks of preparing the wicks, removing the soot, and pouring the oil.

The Sfas Emes notes that whereas most people lose their initial enthusiasm for a task after doing it for a long time, Aaron was always passionate when performing this duty.

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How would your life be different if you sustained your enthusiasm for the most mundane aspects of your life? Imagine wholeheartedly greeting your spouse, children, and co-workers every morning. Undeniably, the quality of these relationships would improve. Can you imagine exuberantly taking out the trash? How sorry would you be if, G-d forbid, you were unable to do so again? The way you answer the telephone, drive to work, transact with a cashier – have you noticed that when you are polite and engaging the whole spirit of the interaction brightens?

I acknowledge it sounds exhausting to always be on. This highlights the importance of spiritual fitness. Just like an athlete has to train consistently to improve stamina, so too we have to regularly exercise our spirits to increase endurance. Fortunately, Aaron sets the example of verve even in the face of mundanity.

How do you exercise your spirit?

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Why You Must Distinguish between Self-Discipline and Self-Denial

“From wine and hard drink he will separate . . .” (Bamidbar/Numbers 6:3). G-d tells the Israelites that a person who takes a Nazirite vow must not drink what we know as unfermented grape juice and wine. Why only these beverages and not any type of food?

Why You Must Distinguish between Self-Discipline and Self-Denial

This coming Sabbath we read Parshas Nasso.  In it, we learn about the census of Levites and the assignment of their responsibilities, the Sotah, the Nazir, the priestly blessing, and the offerings that the leaders of the Twelve Tribes brought to dedicate the Tabernacle.

A person who feels his spiritual level is on shaky ground can take a vow to abstain from grapes and grape products and to refrain from cutting his hair. But if improving one’s sense of holiness is the goal, would it not be more logical to shun all earthly pleasures?

Sforno points out that giving up drinking wine will not weaken a person’s health. We learn from this it is wrong to abstain from those things we need to sustain us physically thereby decreasing our capacity to do mitzvahs and improve our character. Activities, such as fasting for multiple days, impede rather than improve our ability to elevate our spirits.

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Noteworthy is that a Nazir brings a sin offering to complete his vow. Thus we see even a vow of limited abstinence is not meritorious but rather a last resort. While wine is not necessary to sustain life, the only beverage over which Kiddish, the prayer that begins the Friday night Sabbath meal, can be said is wine or grape juice. A Nazir gives up this crucial ritual.

Most important is to distinguish between self-discipline and self-denial. The former helps us be focused on the important goals in life. The latter weakens us, making it more difficult to fulfill the purpose for which G-d made us.

Question – How do you balance being disciplined while not being overly strict with yourself?

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