Tag Archives: religion

How to Gain Faith When You Think You Have None

4 Steps that Take You from Despair to Optimism

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Bereishis – Genesis 1:1-6:8

My friend Bruce urged me to read Douglas Murray’s book The Strange Death of Europe. He told me it’s “probably the most important book of the last 50 years.” So, I read it. It may be the classic my friend asserts. But I found one glaring error. Time and again Murray asserts you can’t just have faith.

How to Gain Faith When You Think You Have None

Clearly, he misunderstands the nature of faith. Many of us do.

You Pay a High Price for Faithlessness

Lack of faith caused the most devastating event in human affairs. In the story of Creation in Parshas Bereishis, Adam says:

“‘The Woman who You gave to be with me . . .’” (Bereshis/Genesis 3:12)

Adam lacked faith in Eve’s ability to resist eating fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. So he told her the Almighty commanded them not to touch it. By doing this, Adam made her easier prey for the serpent. It knew she could touch it without harm. The serpent convinced her to try. Once she saw nothing happened, she ignored the true constraint.

Then she gave some to Adam. And G-d caught him red-handed.

The Almighty gave them a chance to confess. But Adam compounded his lack of faith in Eve by blaming her. She, in turn, blamed the serpent. So the Almighty banished them. Now, instead of humanity living peacefully in the Garden of Eden, we struggle through life. We strive to create the kind of relationship with G-d that was the birthright of Adam, Eve, and their children.

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What would life be like had Adam acknowledged his lack of faith and asked for forgiveness?

Faith Is Like a Muscle

Because of this grave error, Adam’s abiding faith goes un-noticed. Despite his doing no work to cultivate the garden, he knew G-d would feed and take care of him. Adam may have sinned out of boredom. Amidst the carefree life the Creator gave him, perhaps he wanted some excitement. Indeed, Adam had complete faith in G-d.

Almost…

Adam’s lack of trust in Eve reveals a lack of faith in G-d. The Almighty gave him his mate. So she could only be for his good. Whatever decisions she made were part of G-d’s plan. For some reason, Adam didn't see this. Like most husbands, he needed time to develop faith in his wife and her judgment.

Dormant faith often masquerades as lack of faith. You’ll gain or recapture faith when you:

1. Review Your Life

Think about past events. Identify one when you felt secure and confident.

2. Identify Why

What made you feel safe and self-assured? Did you feel in control of the event and your life? In reality, you weren’t. Training only helps you feel confident you can respond to future challenges. But you’ll never know for sure what twists and turns are in store.

3. Recognize Faith

Minimally, you had faith in your ability to handle the unknowns of life. You may have had broader faith: in your family, your colleagues, or G-d.

4. Build on that Nugget

Use this event to fashion greater faith. When you feel faithless, call it to mind. Bring back how you felt. Repeat what you said at that time.

Faith is like a muscle. If left unused, it shrinks and becomes flabby. But when exercised it grows and gets stronger. You can just have faith. Most of our lives we don't perceive it because it fits with the flow of events. If we get sideswiped and don't find faith immediately available, we think it’s gone.

But faith is always with us. The more you exercise it, the easier it is to call back.

Have you lost faith and recovered it?

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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. Its name comes from 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 Increase Spiritual Fitness with Competition

Are You Competitive in Only One Way?

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Vezos Haberachah – Deuteronomy 33:1-34:12

Competition has gotten a bad reputation over the last few decades. Children’s programs are notorious for giving everyone a ribbon no matter how abysmal their performance. One of the few places this idea doesn’t reign supreme is the armed forces.

How to Increase Spiritual Fitness with Competition

Competition with Others Produces Greatness

The military remains proud of its up or out culture. Annual reviews let service members know where they stand in relation to their peers. A process known as racking and stacking determines the performance hierarchy at a command. A select percentage at the top advances. The rest may see their careers stagnate.

Substantial improvement that doesn't place you in a high relative ranking constitutes failure. You might be able to hang on for a few more years. But if you don't advance, High Year Tenure forces you to leave.

Of course, the military only rates factors related to your military duties. Primarily these include physical matters, such as skills proficiency and leadership ability. Spiritual fitness doesn't come into play. The military relegates this to G-d. Parshas Vezos Haberachah reveals the rating system:

“And Moses, servant of G-d, died there in the land of Moab by the mouth of G-d.” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 34:5).

As the end of his life neared, Moses urged the Israelites to reflect. The Almighty showed him the Promised Land from across the Jordan. Then Moses died as he lived, by the word of G-d. No mention is made of a eulogy. But the Torah names him the greatest prophet in history.

The Rambam, an exceptional Torah commentator, said anyone can be as righteous as Moses. How does this reconcile with the Torah’s declaration that there will never be a prophet as great as Moses? The answer lies in not confusing effort with effect. Moses dedicated his life to G-d. By doing so, he reached the pinnacle of virtue. The Almighty endowed him with unprecedented prophecy.

By dedicating yourself to G-d’s service, you can reach Moses’s level of righteousness. But you’ll receive a different reward. You won't become a greater prophet than Moses. But, you may get an outstanding marriage or amazing children. The Creator may bless you with wealth. He may hold a special place for you in the World to Come.

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It looks like the Almighty has created a competition for spiritual achievement. Moses appears to set the standard. But not all is as it seems.

Competition Against Yourself Produces Greatness

Spiritual accomplishment is not a contest against others but with yourself. Are you trying to surpass your finest effort? If not, it doesn’t matter that you know more scripture or give greater amounts of charity than anyone else. G-d’s interested in how much you know relative to what you knew last year or last week, not Moses. He cares how much you strive to improve.

Moses and many other outstanding religious figures give you targets at which to aim. But the Creator delights when you use your abilities to their fullest. In so doing, you build spiritual resilience. And, you deepen your relationship with Him.

Competition with others isn’t inherently bad. Nor is self-competition obviously good. A resilient life recognizes each has its realm.

Vezos Haberachah completes this year’s cycle of Torah readings. Like the rhythm of life: birth, death, rebirth, next week begins the next round of sifting lessons for our lives from G-d’s instructions to the world. Each will give you the opportunity to improve your inner life. We’ll pursue the self-competitive goal of perpetual growth, even as we deal with the competitive pressures of military and civilian business life.

How do you motivate yourself to pursue spiritual fitness?

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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. Its name comes from 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!

Do Your Know Your Most Important Quality?

How to Make the Most of Your Military Ethic

3 minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Ki Seitzei – Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19

On the whiteboard in the medical department of my unit, someone wrote out the “Idea Quality Scale”:

Do Your Know Your Most Important Quality?

Ain’t it the truth? At times you’d think the brass designed regulations to thwart productivity. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Lack of sufficient personnel requires long hours to get the job done. Old equipment means lengthy searches for spare parts. I’m sure you can add to this list. Wouldn’t it be nice to escape such frustrations in civilian life?

The Overlooked Source of Passion 

Good luck with that. Half of Americans feel no connection to their work. So they put in the minimum effort. Another 16% hate their jobs. With two-thirds of employees discontent, the civilian workplace isn’t a haven from frustration.

I couldn't find any statistics, but I’d venture to say reverse the numbers for the military. Maybe a third of service members are indifferent or loath what they do. More important, few put in minimal effort. We have a deep passion for our service. But confusion over the nature of passion disguises it. We attribute our dedication to other factors like work ethic and service. Parshas Ki Seitzei sorts it out:

“…you will obliterate the remembrance of Amalek from beneath the heavens. Do not forget.” (Deuteronomy/Devarim 24:9)

G-d gives such a strange command. Don't forget to remember to wipe out the memory of Amalek. Setting aside the self-contradiction, it looks like we’ve done it. When was the last time you heard someone talking about the Amalekites? At least we’ve fulfilled one of our duties to G-d.

Or have we?

Recall why the Almighty condemned the Amalekites to oblivion. The Israelites experienced the miracles of the Exodus and the splitting of the Reed Sea. They saw final destruction of the Egyptians. They ate manna from heaven in the wilderness. These experiences created a warm closeness with G-d. So the other nations of the world left the Israelites alone. Except for Amalek, who attempted to throw a cold blanket on this party by attacking them.

How do we know? The word karcha describes the meeting between the Israelites and Amalek. It means “encountered” and “cooled you.” By striking, the Amalekites hoped to cool the Israelites’ passion for G-d.

But, Amalek isn't only a people. It’s within us, attempting to cool our ardor for the Creator. This Amalek, a much more insidious enemy, we have yet to destroy.

No problem, right? Heat cures cold. Rev up your enthusiasm for serving G-d. Pray more. Take time to study. Do more good deeds. While this may work for a while, swings in your mood and energy will make your progress inconsistent. As well, your agenda may get in the way. Prayer may focus on what you want instead of seeking G-d’s will. Good deeds may curry favor with important people.

Better to fight the cool of the Amalek with ice. Ezekiel (1:22) tells about the “awesome ice, spread out over the heads of the Chayah.” An angel, the Chayah serves G-d with tremendous enthusiasm. But higher than its service is the “awesome ice.” Its devotion is steady, unswerving, a total commitment without a hint of ego. Moses, Aaron, and Miriam serve as examples. All were warm and compassionate. And they had rock solid connections to the Almighty. Heating up your relationship with G-d creates passion. Ice cold resolve steels it against swings in mood and energy.

The True Passion in Military Service                              

You see passion in the heat of military affairs. A drill instructor pumps up his trainees. A column runs with its guidon while calling cadence. A vocalist sings the National Anthem at an official event. But basic training ends after several weeks. The run and the song are shorter still. Then it’s back to the grind of daily life. Does the passion disappear?

No.

It lives on in the dogged commitment to meet the mission. Endless hours working while you grumble about missing parts, meals, and family time shows passion. Your fidelity to duty in the face of stupid policies exhibits passion.

No quality has a higher value in civilian life. Most people don't lead mission driven lives. They're filled with apathy. You embody the icy passion that gets the hard, boring, but necessary jobs done. Be as mission driven outside the military as you were when in it. Such ardor creates a relationship with the Almighty. It will make your transition to civilian life equally stellar.

When did icy passion get you through a tough time?

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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. Its name comes from 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!

Are You Shy About Promoting Your Accomplishments?

How to Make Self-Marketing Godly

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Tzav – Leviticus 6:1-8:36

The military knows how to build morale. You may have encountered a bad leader. But most follow Parshas Tzav's advice on reward and punishment:

“If for a thanksgiving offering he will offer it, with the sacrifice of the thanksgiving offering he will offer unleavened loaves mixed with oil, unleavened wafers smeared with oil; and scalded fine flour mixed with oil. Along with loaves of leavened bread…” (Vayikra/Leviticus 7:12-13)

Are You Shy About Promoting Your Accomplishments

This Sabbath’s parsha continues the discussion of the korbanos (Temple offerings). Then it details the anointing of Aaron and his sons as the Kohanim (Priests) who will serve in the Temple.

Your Public and Private Life

When a sailor lived through a hurricane he brought a thanksgiving offering. A captive who escaped imprisonment did too. Anyone surviving perilous circumstances could express gratitude to the Almighty with this offering.

Along with the animal, a person brought 40 loaves of bread. They comprised ten each of the four varieties mentioned above.  The Kohen handling the offering received one of each kind. The other 36 went to the person who brought it.

All had to be eaten that day or by the following night. The short time ensured the bread would get shared with others. When you received a loaf, you learned about your friend’s good fortune. Soon it became general knowledge in the community.

Juxtapose this to the sin offering. You didn’t bring any loaves. So news about your mistakes didn’t spread.

Share your joy at receiving G-d’s blessing and you’ll improve people’s moods. They’ll see an example of where faith, hope, and perseverance pay off.  True friends feel joy and gratitude for your success. These feelings enhance their wellbeing.

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By contrast, avoid publicizing your challenges and difficulties. Keep them among those who will give you genuine support and sympathy. Public emoting of problems, so common today, makes people pessimistic. Or they may gloat at your misfortune. Neither benefits you or them.

Don't be Shy About Accomplishments

The military didn’t always recognize the difference between public and private spheres. Until at least the mid 19th century, units mustered to witness punishment. Flogging through the fleet publicized the heinousness of certain crimes like mutiny.

Today’s military leaders know to praise in public and rebuke in private. They award medals in front of your whole unit. Family and friends hear a tribute to your exemplary deeds. Your colleagues get motivated to keep striving.

Reprimands take place in confidential proceedings. Article 15, office hours, and captain’s mast happen behind closed doors. While others may hear about them, no one publicizes results. The public can attend a court martial. But only in the most notorious cases is punishment disclosed.

The same principle applies throughout your life. In public, praise and show gratitude to your spouse. In front of others, commend your child for accomplishments reaped through hard work. When something negative occurs, deal with the issue in private. No matter how right you were, if you rebuked them in public apologize.

Treat yourself the same way. Publicize your accomplishments. Emphasize the good parts of your military service. Show how your responsibility grew during your career. But don’t volunteer negative aspects to a potential employer.

If confronted with a question about mistakes you’ve made, frame them as lessons learned. That way you show the kind of growth mindset most employers value.

The Creator wants your good fortune to motivate others to connect with Him. In contrast, punishment is His one-on-one way of inspiring better future performance. Hence why He had people publicize thanksgiving offerings and keep sin offerings private. Model these practices all through your life.

Question – Is it dishonest to publicize only the good things that happened to you or that you’ve done?

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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. Its name comes from 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!

4 Steps to Quickly Profit from Mistakes

How God Guides You to Success

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Vayikra – Leviticus 1:1-5:26

Most people view sins as bad. Rather than quickly profit when they make mistakes, guilt consumes them. They refuse to try again. People who think G-d wants such a world amaze me. Parshas Vayikra shows the Almighty wants you to strive:

“When a ruler will sin, and does unintentionally one from all of his G-d’s commandments that you will not do, and becomes guilty.” (Vayikra/Leviticus 4:22)

4 Steps to Quickly Profit from Mistakes

 

This Sabbath’s parsha begins the third book of the Torah by the same name. Throughout it details the duties of the Kohanim or Priests. Hence, its other name, Leviticus, since the Kohanim are part of the tribe of Levi. The parsha gives the rules for bringing offerings on the altar. Notice in verse 2:13 the Priests must salt them. So we dip Sabbath bread in salt.

Success & Humility Go Hand in Hand

An individual, the community, and the king have to bring a chatas for an unintentional sin. Hence why it’s translated as sin offering. The Kohen Gadol (High Priest) was the spiritual head of the Israelites. Members of the Sanhendrin (supreme court) had lofty positions of leadership. Why single out the king and not other high officials?

As part of his holy service the Kohen Gadol had to examine his conduct daily. So did the Sanhendrin members. Unintentionality didn't apply to them. Every day, each went through the process of uncovering and atoning for his mistakes.

The king exercised temporal power. When he issued a command it happened. Such authority could cause him to feel infallible. While engaged in worldly affairs, his mind could stray from spiritual matters. Self-examination was not part of his everyday life.

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So unlike other community leaders, the king needed a reminder. Like the lowliest of his subjects, he had to take responsibility for his mistakes. Bringing a chatas made a public statement. The pre-eminent leader had to account to the Almighty. By making amends and learning his lessons, the king could continue his life free from guilt.

Quickly Profit Instead of Feeling Guilty

When you wield authority, take pleasure in assessing your behavior often. Engage with G-d every day. Acknowledge your errors to the Creator. Unlike humans, He always understands. But G-d doesn’t want you to stop there.

Admitting your mistakes begins the growth process. Accountability has nothing to do with feeling guilt or receiving punishment. Both hinder change. Instead, see negative results as the prod to improve and try again. Apply this approach to developing your health, profession, mind, and spirit. You’ll quickly profit form mistakes when you internalize this process.

As I mentioned above, Scripture translates chatas as sin offering. It often uses shorthand to define complex concepts. A sin means you fell short of G-d’s expectations. Consequences incentivize you to learn from your mistakes so you won’t suffer them again. Imagine an animal losing its life because you made an error. The crucial step, assessment, gives trying again tremendous power for improved performance.

Here is the root of deliberate practice that I wrote about last week. You can use this method only in real life situations. Or you can drill yourself. Wherever you make frequent errors, create a way to practice improving your performance. That way you won’t fall short at crucial moments. And if you do, you can quickly profit from this mistake by pivoting your practice to deal with it.

Examine the pain points in your life. Rather than avoiding them, take G-d’s prodding to focus on them. Build assessment into your life. Especially as a parent, model this behavior. Then you and your children will gain greater accomplishment and success together.

So what are you waiting for?

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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. Its name comes from 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!

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