Tag Archives: spiritual growth

Why Everyone Needs a Guide for Life

What You Have in Common with the Ancient Israelites

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Re’eh – Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17

Life in the military acclimates a person to oversight. Someone supervises your work. You have standard operating procedures to take you step-by-step through processes. You have to pass a periodic physical fitness test. The military uses surprise urinalyses to prevent drug use. Training in sexual harassment and assault emphasize how such behavior impairs mission readiness and hurts your comrades. Notice anything missing?

Why Everyone Needs a Guide for Life

The Israelites Needed New Guidance

In 2013, I participated in three rounds of sexual assault prevention training. The substance varied little from one to the other. It was clear the Navy felt the first two hadn't gotten through to sailors. But, there seemed to be no point in presenting the same material yet again. Before we embarked on the third series, I sat down with my commanding officer.

I pointed out to him a glaring gap. Nowhere did the training make an unequivocal statement that sexual harassment and assault are wrong. The Navy set the rules. But it wouldn’t make moral judgments. Each sailor had to fill in the void. Was it surprising that some came to the wrong conclusion?

In Parshas Re’eh G-d makes it clear that people shouldn't make unguided moral decisions:

“Beware for yourself lest you bring up your elevation offerings in any place that you will see.” (Deuteronomy/Devarim 12:13)

This Sabbath’s parsha continues preparing the Israelites for life in the Land of Israel. During their wanderings in the wilderness, G-d was close by. Moses instructed them daily. Now they would live dispersed throughout the land. Moses would be gone, G-d farther away. Making the right moral decisions would be more difficult.

Lest people come to think they could do whatever they wanted, the Almighty gives a reminder. Don't fool yourself into thinking something that’s wrong is right. The rules still apply. In fact, now that I won't be so close, you’ll have less leeway in which to act.

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In the third round of briefs, my CO began each one by stating sexual harassment and assault are wrong. I followed up by asking the question, “How would you feel if a shipmate treated your sister or mother that way?” A crusty old chief petty officer got incensed at our moralizing. But younger sailors appreciated the guidance. One said to me he had never thought about it in moral term until I personalized the behavior.

You Have to Play by Different Rules

The rules of civilian life are different than the military. I asked the members of my veterans Facebook group, Passport to Success – Military Vets (click here to join), what they learned on their first day in a civilian job. Some of the responses were:

“Using F*** every other word was not ok lol.”

“Kill is not a proper response to anything, especially when talking to ER nurses.”

“Based on my coworkers shoes, a good shine is no longer a priority.”

“Your assumptions about civilians is no better than their assumptions about veterans. We have to work hard to break the stereotypes about veterans.”

Experience is a tough teacher. Better to get a trusted advisor who can help you learn the rules of the civilian world. Some are moral. Others are practical. But they're all important to reintegrating.

Earlier today I took sexual assault training again. The Navy still doesn't say it’s wrong. Don't make the same mistake. Find someone, perhaps a fellow vet farther along in the process, to be your guide.

Who do you know who can help show you the way in civilian life?

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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 You Have This in Your Marriage?

How to Strive Beyond Solid Communication…

2 minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Eikev – Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25

Have you had this experience? The other day I infuriated my wife. Then before I could apologize she did something amazingly big-hearted. I stood in awe of her. She was still mad at me. But despite her anger, she wanted to make my life easier.

Do You Have This in Your Marriage-

It just didn't make sense to me. When I’m angry with her we have to talk the matter out to clear the air. Sometimes it doesn't take very long. But once in a while, the discussion will go on for hours. Everything you read about good relationships says to work conflict through. That way you can reconnect with your spouse.

How can Melanie, even temporarily, skip that step? And even though she does, wouldn't it be better to resolve the conflict first? Doesn't her overlooking it incentivize me to do other things that might enrage her?

The Nature of True Love

Here's the rub. She’s not trying to make me feel guilty. Her actions are genuinely kind. That’s what makes them so amazing. Sitting here writing this, the times Melanie has described how much she loves me come to mind. As wonderful as they are, when she acts in spite of her anger she SHOWS me the depth of her love.

At times I live the curse of being a rabbi/chaplain/guy people come to to fix their relationships. I default to rational steps. Identify the source of conflict. Use good communication skills. Talk it through. Reach for compromise and resolution. Reconnect.

Except, that’s not how G-d does it. Two verses from Parshas Eikev explain what I mean:

…He fed you the manna that you did not know…” and “Now Israel, what does the Lord your G-d ask of you? Only to be in awe of the Lord your G-d…” (Deuteronomy/Devarim 8:3 and 10:12)

Moses reminded the Children of Israel that the Almighty fed them in the wilderness no matter what they did. Then he reminded them He asked for nothing in return. So, they should revere Him for such generosity.

Bookended by these two verses, Moses recounted the story of the Golden Calf. With subtlety, he showed them the nature of true love. G-d miraculously fed you. You sinned. No impact on your food supply. Such devotion is awesome.

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The Israelites had to deal with their sin. But G-d did want to disconnect for even a nanosecond. So much for the rational process of working a dispute through in order to be able to reconnect.

Put Process in Its Rightful Place

My wife better understands the nature of true love. I don't know if it's intentional or intuitive. But I’m well advised to learn from her example.

It’s worthwhile knowing processes for working through conflict. Disputes left to fester will destroy your marriage. But in the end, they’re tools. The ability to deal with disagreements is an interim goal for your relationship.

Join me in striving to continue to do loving acts before a dispute is resolved. Imagine the quality of your marriage if you succeed only once in a while. Awesome.

How do you decide your response to an ethical challenge?

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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!

3 Qualities to Highlight When Job-Hunting

Why It’s Not Enough to Want a Job

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Va’eschanan – Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11

If I had to sum up Navy aircraft maintainers in one word it would be tenacious. Day and night, they toiled to make sure planes were ready to launch. They missed meals and skipped doing laundry. “No fly days” didn't mean no maintenance days. Often they didn't have free time until a port call. My Marine Corps fighter squadron had some of the oldest jets in the fleet. Yet they kept them flying. I called them the MacGyvers of the Air Wing.

3 Qualities to Highlight When Job-Hunting

Perseverance Not Perfection

Despite their resolve, most squadrons rarely had 100% of their planes ready to fly. Some matters were beyond their control. Material control struggled to get parts to repair older airplanes. One jet spent our deployment in the hangar. We couldn't get the parts to fix it.

I felt bad for the sailors of its squadron. Everyone on the ship walks through the hangar. They couldn’t disguise this symbol of their seeming defeat. Their plight reminded me of how G-d refused to let Moses enter the land of Israel. In Parshas Va’eschanan he makes a final, poignant plea:

“Let me cross, please, and see this good land that is on the other side of the Jordan…” (Deuteronomy/Devarim 3:25)

Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and through 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. Yet because of one error, the Almighty decreed he would not take His people into the Promised Land. Moses didn't want to die with his mission unfulfilled. He made clear the depth of his desire in this last-ditch appeal to G-d. The answer was no. So Moses soldiered on. He did his utmost to prepare the Children of Israel for their new life even though he would not be part of it.

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The aircraft maintainers in my Air Wing inherited Moses’s determination. They turned the downed jet into a symbol of tenacity by using its parts to keep other planes flying. I’ve seen the same level of commitment among all service members. I cannot say the same thing about any other group.

Don’t Tell Hiring Managers, Show Them

Private sector employers value veterans’ perseverance. They know it’s a rare trait among today’s employees. Embedded in it are two other qualities they want:

  • Self-Disciplined. An integral part of tenacity, you’re not going to call in sick or slacken your effort when the going gets tough.
  • Overcome obstacles. You don't see them as hurdles. They’re what you have to do to get the job done.

You can tell employers you have these qualities. But you’ll have greater impact if you come up with two or three short stories highlighting them. Make them no more than two minutes long. Use this format:

Problem → Consequence of Not Solving It → Your Solution

Make sure at least one of the qualities is obvious. Here’s an example:

We’re in the Persian Gulf flying combat missions into Iraq. We couldn’t fix a fighter jet because there were no spare fuel pumps on the ship. With that plane down our squadron wouldn't be able to execute its part in flight operations the next day. That meant another squadron would have to pick up our slack. We spent the entire day contacting shore-based aircraft maintenance depots and finally found the part we needed. I coordinated with my squadron commanding officer to have it flown to the ship by 8 PM. They I worked with my crew through the night to install, test the jet, and ensure it was ready to fly by launch time.

It doesn't matter if you’re hunting for an aircraft maintenance job. The point of the stories is to prove you have the qualities an employer wants.

Take some time now to think about the times you came through in a clutch situation. Write them out as short stories. Practice saying them until your delivery is smooth but doesn't sound rehearsed.

Unlike Moses, you can attain your ultimate goal. A high-paying job is well within your reach. Companies are desperate for employees with the qualities you developed in the military. Rather than pleading for a job, give vivid proof you have them. Such confidence in your abilities will make a company scared you’ll go to work for its competitor.

When did you exhibit perseverance, self-discipline, and overcoming obstacles?

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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 Identify the Source of Your Struggles

Who Are Your Strong Allies for a Smooth Transition?

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Korach – Numbers 16:1-18:32

Unlike the military, the civilian world does not have one culture. Each service branch has distinctions. But, they're more similar than different. Many subcultures make up American society. They diverge, even clash. None of them match the military. Sometimes transitioning feels like living in a foreign country. If the stakes weren’t so high, you could be forgiven for throwing your hands up and declaring the situation hopeless. And it’s not just finding a job.

How to Identify the Source of Your Struggles

The Many Faces of Reintegration

After getting a job, the challenges keep mounting. You have to adapt to a new workplace culture. Then your marriage and family need to adjust to different dynamics. Compound that with daily strife and divisiveness. In the military, we build cohesion to grapple with the enemy. Sometimes the civilian world seems to thrive on alienation.

Not long ago, a veteran disputed my assertion that civilians face challenges as difficult for them as military life is for us. He went through a long list of troubles he faced. All related to something civilians had done to him. Anger and resentment seeped from every word.

Among his complaints, he cited potential employers who assumed he had psychological issues. Sad to say, such ranting might cause a company to draw such a conclusion. Nothing I could do would change his perspective.

Of course, people make false connections all the time. The story following the rebellion in Parshas Korach comes to mind:

Moses said to Aaron, take your fire-pan and place on it fire from the Altar and put on it incense. (Numbers/Bamidbar 17:11)

The ground swallows Korach, Dathan, and Abiram, the three primary conspirators against Moses and Aaron. Still, the other 250 insurgents won’t stand down. So G-d commands Moses to have them bring an incense offering. When they comply, fire consumes them.

All the Israelites had heard the law saying only a Kohen may bring an incense offering. Korach and his followers were Levites. So it shouldn’t be surprising that the rebels died. Even so, the people complained that Moses and Aaron killed them. The Almighty brings a plague to punish Israelites for their wanton misperception.

Aaron brings an incense offering to stop the plague. He shows the Israelites the false connection between incense and death. You might think at this point the people would re-examine their conclusions. But later events show they continue to make false connections.

How Civilians are Like Incense

My complaining commenter behaved like the Israelites. He connected his troubles to civilians. Yet, they are the ones who can help him change his situation.

Civilians do the hiring. Unless he intends to make no new friends, they’ll be his social circle. If he doesn't have access to a military base, they’ll provide his health care. Civilians will sell him his food, clothing, and everything else.

The Israelites falsely connected incense with death. In reality, it sustained life. Death came from taking the wrong actions. Any of the insurgents could have refused to bring the incense offering and been spared.

Civilians are the solution, not the enemy. But you have to be careful how you deal with them. If you mistreat them, they’ll burn you. Would we veterans act differently? By taking personal responsibility for all the challenges of reintegration, you’ll join forces with civilians in creating an outstanding life for you and your family.

How do you view civilians?

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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 Use Military Practices to Overcome Despair

Train to Handle Problems Before They Arise

2 minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Emor – Leviticus 21:1-24:23

Practicing to Defeat G-d’s Plan?

Angles and dangles constitute one of the more bizarre exercises onboard a Navy ship. At first, they applied to a submarine’s seaworthiness, tested by diving and surfacing at 30-degree angles. A surface ship maneuvers through high-speed turns until the deck leans over close to the point of capsizing. All crewmembers not working the ship stay in their bunks to avoid injury.

How to Use Military Practices to Overcome Despair

On its face, putting a ship in such danger as training seems crazy. What if the quartermaster (the sailor who steers the ship) makes a mistake and capsizes it? But the crew needs to gain experience conning the ship. Better to get it under controlled circumstances than in the eye of a hurricane.

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Practicing allows the crew to face hazards with confidence. The more they feel in control, the better they’ll perform. So it may sound contradictory that the Talmud says sailors are pious. Most acknowledge the Almighty controls events.

Compassion: Nature or Nurtured?

As the seminal act of creating, having a child joins us to G-d. Producing a new life comes as close to a Divine act as anything we’ll ever do. But, birth is only the beginning. We see in Parsha Emor:

“…G-d’s festivals that you will appoint as holy assemblies…” (Vayikra/Leviticus 23:2)

This Sabbath’s parsha details the standards of purity for a Kohen who serves in the Temple. Then it gives the requirements of an animal for the sacrificial service. The various festivals are proclaimed. It discusses the pure olive oil for the menorah and loaves of bread, known as the showbread, for the table. The parsha ends with the story of a man who blasphemed.

When our children turn five we send them to school. We adjust from controlling their development to sharing that responsibility. Now teachers, principals, and their fellow students have a hand in whom they become. Yet we keep authority to direct their lives.

The Almighty created human beings to have as partners in fulfilling creation. Making us responsible for determining when festivals begin did more than putting us in charge of the calendar. He gave us partial control over time.

Two days before Passover is a regular day. The day before has a medium level of sanctity. Passover itself is a sacred time. When we set the calendar we help fill the world with holiness. G-d wants us to bring the spirituality of heaven to earth. Like teachers helping us fulfill our aspirations for our children. When we develop holiness, we fulfill the Almighty’s aspirations for the world.

Executing this vital task takes practice. Sailors train to conquer hurricanes – physical challenges in this world. Greater competence moves them closer to the Creator. The same applies to the mental and spiritual challenges we face.

The Almighty sends emotional tempests so we can practice overcoming them. Recognize that as you gain greater skill in the physical ∞ mental ∞ spiritual realms, you also move closer to G-d. Use this as motivation to keep pursuing your goal.

How do you train for emotional and spiritual resilience?

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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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