Category Archives: Soul

How to Have a Peaceful Marriage

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] – Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9

When I think of the perfect marriage, peace comes to mind. In Hebrew, we call this shalom bayis. Hannah and I would never disagree. Calm would always reign in our home. Every married couple seems to want this. Yet, I don’t know of one who has a peaceful marriage. Not that you should compare yourself to others. But it would be nice to find at least one example of the ideal. Now that I’ve read Parshas Shoftim, it turns out I misunderstood what shalom bayis is:

“When you approach a city to make war against it, and you will call out to it for peace.” (Deuteronomy/Devarim 20:10)

How to Have a Peaceful Marriage

This Sabbath’s parsha reviews the mitzvah (commandment) to establish courts and how to handle certain crucial types of cases. It gives the procedure for appointing a King. Then it details the gifts for the Kohanim (Priests) and how to tell if someone is really a prophet. Next, it explains how to set up cities of refuge and how the Israelites should conduct a war. It ends with the procedure for dealing with an unsolved murder.

Did Tolstoy Create a Major Misunderstanding?

I can’t say for sure it started with Tolstoy. But his most famous novel anchors the idea that peace is the opposite of war. It seems logical. In war, people fight and kill. With peace comes the cessation of hostilities. Killing stops.

But even the most cursory view of history shows that killing doesn’t end during times of peace. As well, human strife short of killing continues unabated. War is only the most obvious lack of peace. But peace itself transcends the end of battle.

The verse from this week’s parsha also seems to make war and peace opposites. But that comes from the difficulty of translating Hebrew into English. Shalom, the word translated as peace, means much more. Think abut the verse for a minute. If shalom meant no combat operations, they could just not have attacked.

Underlying shalom is the spiritual state of wholeness that comes from harmony. It requires more than just not fighting. Picture the gears in a watch. Each has its place and function. When they work in harmony the watch is wholly accurate. It still make noises, and if you listened carefully enough you would hear the gears grind slightly. Such is the way things work. But let one gear get out of line and the watch will run fast or slow. Its wholeness born of harmony is gone.

The Israelites faced a similar challenge in the land of Israel. How could they create a harmonious society with such misaligned peoples? They sacrificed children and considered murder an acceptable social behavior. Worship consisted of defecating on their gods. The shalom the Children of Israel called out for required the city to morally reform. As long as it continued its depraved behavior, no basis for shalom/peace could exist.

A Peaceful Marriage

Even if the city had reformed, no doubt there would have been disagreements. People who share the same values still argue. It’s part of the human condition.

The same applies to your marriage. Shalom will not come from lack of arguments. Avoiding confrontations will destroy it as surely as violent confrontations. The path to a peaceful marriage lies in harmonizing your values and morals. If they are out of alignment, arguing will continue unabated because no basis exists for reconciliation.

Once your values are in concert, disagreements will lead to greater mutual understanding and a firmer marital bond. You and your spouse will still shout at each other from time to time. Sometimes your home may feel unlivable. But when calmer heads prevail, you’ll see the wholeness that comes from harmony has been there all along. Indeed, you have a peaceful marriage.

What do you do about misaligned values? Please comment below.

 

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.

What verse in the Old Testament would you like to know more about? Ask a question and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

Why You Should Care that Gene Wilder Died

2-½ minutes to read

Celebrities don’t interest me. I don’t aspire to live a life like theirs. Parties, jet-setting, and awards shows leave me cold. Most of the reporting about them falls into the category of gossip. Outwardly their lives appear glitzy. But the times I’ve seen the inside, they seem, like Thoreau’s “mass of men,” to “lead lives of quiet desperation.” That being the case, why should you care that Gene Wilder died? Let me tell you a brief story.

Why You Should Care that Gene Wilder Died

The Test of Character

On a November weekend in 1977, my friend Rose Anna and I decided to attend a preview screening of The World’s Greatest Lover. We went to the long since demolished Plitt Theatres in Century City. Rose Anna is Gene Wilder’s most ardent fan. She loved him so much she never begrudged his love for Gilda Radner.

We were sitting in the theater waiting for the movie to begin. All day I had teased Rose Anna about Gene Wilder showing up for the screening. She pooh-poohed the idea. While waiting for the lights to dim, I sat facing the back of the theatre so I could watch people enter. (Note: 30 years ago movie theaters were like regular auditoriums. You could see the whole house.) About 10 minutes before show time I shocked her when I let her know he had just walked in.

Not one to miss an opportunity, I told Rose Anna we had to go and introduce ourselves. She declined. I pressed her. She absolutely refused. Undaunted, I made my way to where he was sitting, begged his pardon for intruding, and said hello. Mr. Wilder could not have been more gracious. He stood up, shook my hand, thanked me for coming to see him. I told him about my friend and asked if it would be all right for me to bring her by after the movie. He said he’d wait for us.

After the lights came up and most of the crowd had left, there he was, still in his seat, waiting, just like he promised.

I brought Rose Anna over to him. Again he stood, gently took her hand, and thanked her for coming by. She was literally speechless. Then he looked her right in the eye, smiled, and told her, I love your tailor. Rose Anna was wearing a shirt she had made that said, “I'd Rather Be Watching a Gene Wilder Movie.” That broke the ice. We all laughed. And Rose Anna hugged him. Throughout, Mr. Wilder was kind, gentle, and warm.

Gene Wilder was a Mensch

If you’re unfamiliar with Yiddish, a mensch is an honorable person. The term can apply to Jews and non-Jews alike, so my assessment has nothing to do with Mr. Wilder being of my faith. Rather, despite his fame and success, it appears he lived his public and private lives with integrity and decency. His longtime collaborator, Mel Brooks, often said so in spite of their creative differences.

Gene Wilder was lucky to play beloved characters like Willy Wonka and Dr. Frankenstein. He was fortunate to find an epic love with his wife Gilda Radner. But he was challenged by the whirl of Hollywood and his wife’s painful death at a young age. Can you claim a less equitable mix of blessings and curses?

In the sweep of his life, Rose Anna and I were nothing. Two fans among millions. But Gene Wilder treated us as if we mattered a great deal. In this, he displayed the essence of what it means to be human. Every individual is significant. And we must treat each of our fellow human beings so as to acknowledge that significance.

Throughout it all, Gene Wilder remembered this central reality. In his last act of service, he imparts to you his example. There are no “little people” in your life. Until you can treat the most annoying person you know with respect, remember how Gene Wilder treated Rose Anna and me. I will.

How do you stop yourself from being irritated by bothersome people? Please comment below.

How to Avert Death Virtually Forever

3-½ minutes to read

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

Though not obsessed with it, I’ll confess death scares me a little. Do you know what it means that your soul will spend eternity close to G-d (a.k.a. heaven) or far from Him (a.k.a. hell)? Me either. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to avert death forever? But Parshas Re’eh insists we confront it, every day:

“See, I place before you today, a blessing and a curse.” (Deuteronomy/Devarim 11:26)

How to Avert Death Virtually Forever

This Sabbath’s parsha reveals G-d’s blessing and curse. It describes the holiness of the Land of Israel. Then Moses explains more about how the Children of Israel must conduct themselves there. He spells out what to do with a false prophet and a person who entices another to go astray. The Israelites learn what it means to be G-d’s treasured people. Finally, the Torah teaches about tithes, forgiving loans, generosity, how to treat a slave, and the three pilgrimage festivals.

How Curse Equals Death

In the eponymous book of the Bible, the prophet Isaiah tells the Israelites if they listen to G-d they will eat well. But, if they rebel they’ll be “devoured by the sword.” So good equals nourishment and bad equals death? That seems out of balance. But when you think about it, we often equate being hungry to dying. Ever said you were starved?

But even when full, you may be dying. Or perhaps more accurately, you’re killing yourself.

While still in the womb, you get a glimpse of your potential greatness. You don’t consciously remember it after you’re born. But the potential exists within your spirit. During life, your body and spirit are joined. You have the opportunity to live out your potential. How you do so determines whether each day life conquers death or vice versa.

Use Your Spirit to Avert Death

Have you ever watched a thoroughbred race? Four centuries of careful breeding have created animals that appear to sprint even when standing still. A thoroughbred’s body and spirit connect most deeply during the 30 seconds of racing. You can almost feel its joy as it flies down the track. Despite the danger, you see life defeating death as the horse displays the greatness to which it was born.

So it is sad to see a thoroughbred that can no longer run. Though it may live many more years, each day that passes is one where death conquers life.

Like the thoroughbred, you were born for distinction. The potential encoded into your spirit will lead you to a pinnacle. Unlike the horse, your life purpose isn’t obvious. The difficulty lies in figuring it out. You’re on track when you:

  • Engage your body, mind, and spirit. You don’t need to be in the clergy for your work to connect spiritually. Rather, you must invest your passion in what you do. For that matter, your life purpose may be an avocation. Your work may just be what you have to do to get the resources to trek your path to greatness.
  • Serve your fellow human beings. Google and Coca-Cola make as big a contribution to humanity as any non-profit. Without the support of a vibrant business sector, charities couldn’t survive. Your attitude toward serving trumps where you serve.
  • Connect with G-d most deeply. It may seem you’ll get closest to the Creator in a house of worship. Periodically you need the distraction-free environment. But if you find your most direct connection with G-d some other place you’ve got a clue about your life purpose.

Beyond these three qualities lies a universe of possibilities. One of my friends finds the Almighty in his lab. Another finds Him in the caves and wrecks where he and his family scuba dive. Yet another finds G-d in the early morning hours poring over words of Aramaic in the Talmud. Only one of them makes a living pursuing the greatness instilled in him in utero.

If you found your life purpose and each day finds you striving for it, congratulations! Every day you conquer death. If you’re still searching for your path to greatness, likewise you’re winning the daily battle of life versus death. You need have no fear that one day your body and spirit will separate. From what I’ve learned you’ll hardly notice. You’ve lived your life connected to its essence. You may regret leaving your loved ones. But you’ll have created an immortal memory.

Each day you decline to strive toward your life purpose, I’m sorry to tell you death rules your life. And you are the executioner. By failing to seek out the potential for greatness instilled in you, you make your life meaningless. You have chosen to be like the thoroughbred that can no longer run.

But no matter how many days you have let slip by, tomorrow, today, this minute you can flip the death life equation around. Examine the three qualities above. Reach out to loved ones. Take up the search again. Though you may feel like a pursuer of impossible dreams, you’ll be alive. In fact, you’ll avert death virtually forever.

How have you striven to find your life purpose? Please comment below.

 

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.

What verse in the Old Testament would you like to know more about? Ask a question and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

Think Sundae When Using Your Values

2-½ minutes to read

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

Yes, the ice cream variety. It’s not a typo in the headline. Remember, Jews celebrate the Sabbath on Saturday. What does making an ice cream concoction have to do with making moral decisions? Ah, Parshas Eikev will show you:

…G-d will safeguard for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to you…” (Deuteronomy/Devarim 7:12)

Think Sundae When Using Your Values

In this Sabbath’s parsha, Moses talks about the reward the Children of Israel will receive for keeping the mitzvahs (usually translated commandments). He warns against letting prosperity seduce them and reminds them of their history.

Absolute Morality Versus Moral Relativism

Knowing the long list of ordinances they have to follow to earn their reward, can you imagine the Israelites might be a little scared? From the great patriarch Abraham, they learned the Almighty does righteousness and justice. With so many dos and don’ts, some must have thought, “Wow, I’ll never remember, let alone be able to follow, them all.” Despair could set in.

So G-d reminded the Israelites He would balance justice with kindness. The resulting blend, compassion, would be the standard.

No one value stands absolutely. We revere life. But when required to murder someone to save our own life we have to die. We honor truth. But when a killer asks where his victim is we should lie as convincingly as possible. In both cases, a sacred value must be balanced against the destruction that would be caused by upholding it.

Not there is no moral relativism in these cases. Nor is there an absolute moral principle. Rather, you must combine hallowed precepts to find the ethical, virtuous solution.

Finding Balance in Your Values

When you have to navigate your way through a difficult ethical issue, do it like you’re making a sundae.

  1. First, comes the foundation, the ice cream. It’s tempting to choose your favorite. But with so many good choices, make sure you pick the best one for the moment. What core principle is at issue? It forms the base from which you’ll build your response.
  2. Second, comes the sauce. Choose the right flavor to counterpoint and enhance the ice cream. Ladle it with care. Laid on too thick or thin, it overwhelms or gets lost in the ice cream. What value contrasts with the core principle you’ve chosen? Apply it to your solution in just the right amount to balance and deepen your solution.
  3. Third is the whipped cream. It takes a deft hand to bring it to a peak. What aspect of the person involved have you overlooked? Does he have a sensitivity that if taken into account will make your resolution more powerful? What value will connect him to your plan?
  4. Fourth are the nuts. Sprinkle them so they dot the whipped cream adding a pleasing crunch amidst all the softness. Most of us have a difficult time facing the hard realities of life. We can swallow them more easily when they’re enveloped by a more palatable presentation. Carefully communicate your response so it goes down smoothly.
  5. Last comes the cherry, tasting tart and sweet. Perched at the pinnacle of the sundae, it embodies the totality of your ice cream creation. When crafting a solution to a moral quandary, make sure to unify all the crucial values and emotions.

Five steps may seem a lot. But consider the stakes: a relationship, your reputation, your connection to G-d. Taking the time to see all sides of an issue and fashioning a balanced, principled response will save you and others from a longer period of agony.

A well-built sundae is to be savored. Think how much more satisfying it will taste to use your values well.

How do you decide your response to an ethical challenge? Please comment below.

 

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.

What verse in the Old Testament would you like to know more about? Ask a question and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

10 Ways You Can Reach God

2-½ minutes to read

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

Any golfer can tell you it takes a bagful of clubs to play an effective game. You need woods to hit long distances. Use irons for short and approach shots. And you make your money with a putter. As they say, “Drive for show, putt for dough.” There are golfers who play an entire course with just a driver. But they’ll play better with a complete set. The same goes for prayer. Parshas Va’eschanan shows one of 10 ways to reach G-d:

“And I implored to G-d at that time…” (Deuteronomy/Devarim 3:23)

10 Ways You Can Reach God

This Sabbath’s parsha begins with Moses begging G-d to change His decree and let him enter the land of Israel. Then Moses exhorts the Israelites to keep G-d’s commandments. He sets the example by setting aside Cities of Refuge. Next Moses reviews the Ten Commandments and teaches the people the Shema prayer. Finally, Moses urges the people that rather than succumbing to prosperity they should diligently teach their children about the Exodus from Egypt and to follow the Torah.

How to Reach God

You know that how you talk to someone can affect the response you receive. Not as obvious is that the way you communicate impacts yourself. If you talk about a happy event with your shoulders slumped and your head hanging down it won’t feel as positive. If you sing to yourself when you’re sad, it can brighten your day.

The way you communicate with the Almighty shapes the nature and power of your prayer. The Midrash, a compendium of commentary on the Torah, lists 10 expressions of prayer:

  1. Pleading. You turn to God and make an articulate plea for release from a difficult situation.
  2. Crying Out. Like pleading, but rather than being comprehensible words the prayer is a wordless cry from your heart.
  3. Moaning. Deeper than crying out, your expression of pain reaches God as an appeal for help.
  4. Singing. You sing God’s praises for His blessing of good times. Or you intone words of solace in His support when life challenges you.
  5. Entreaty. You repeat a request, even when you think the Almighty has said no. It demonstrates your belief that at any time God can help you.
  6. Self-Fortification. Praying just to connect with the Creator during challenging times.
  7. Calling Out. You call to God by name acknowledging He stands ready to help at any moment.
  8. Falling Down. You need not physically collapse. Rather, you rid yourself of pride. You adopt an attitude of mental and spiritual humility that all control is in God’s hands.
  9. Praying. Basic speaking with the Almighty that recognizes He embodies truth.
  10. Imploring. Beseeching God to grant your petition while recognizing you do not merit it.

You can learn to communicate better with your spouse and children. Many classes are available. Unfortunately rarely will you find training to connect better with the Creator.

Learning more than one expression of prayer will help you reach God in ways previously unavailable to you. Practice one of these modes before you need it. Can you articulate the words of a plea or song? Can you focus your despair into a cry or a moan? Can your muster enough stamina to entreat? Can you subdue your ego long enough to fall down?

You may have worked hard to learn a second language. Doing so probably brought you greater business or social opportunities. Untroubled, you may not see a good reason for mastering multiple ways to connect with God. Remember, He always responds to your prayers. But the answer you get may depend on the expression you use.

Despite his lofty status, Moses used every form of prayer to connect with the Almighty. Follow his example. Next time you really need Him, be prepared to reach God.

How many expressions of prayer do you use now? Please comment below.

 

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.

What verse in the Old Testament would you like to know more about? Ask a question and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

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