Category Archives: Soul

How to Actually Love Your Enemies

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Devarim – Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22

I hate people who constantly criticize me. That may sound harsh. But I bet you feel the same way. Most don’t know you well or at all. They have no idea what burdens you carry. Still, the Torah says, “love the stranger as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:34) The real problem: too often their criticisms are true. Parshas Devraim explains what to do about such enemies:

“These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel…” (Deuteronomy/Devarim 1:1)

How to Actually Love Your Enemies

This Sabbath’s parsha begins the fifth and final book of the Torah. Deuteronomy (Devarim in Hebrew) is known as Mishneh Torah, meaning repetition, review, or explanation of the Torah. The Children of Israel heard the previous four books of the Torah directly from G-d who spoke through Moses’s throat. But Moses received Deuteronomy from G-d in the way other Prophets received their messages. Then at a later date conveyed it to the Israelites.

God Stirs Things Up

The Hebrew devarim means words. It also means things. The double meaning is on purpose. Moses spoke words but he also related certain events. He reminded the Israelites of past mistakes. So right before the triumphant entrance into the land of Israel, the Almighty tells Moses to scold his followers.

Wow! How would you feel if right before you graduated from high school or got a big promotion someone you respected listed all your blunders for the previous 40 years? Sounds like a downer to me.

God knew what He was doing. During the transition ahead the Children of Israel would face many challenges. During hardship their faith tended to slip. The Almighty clarified the challenge ahead by stirring up memories of past events. It must have been difficult for the Israelites to hear their faults recounted. But they were better off being armed with knowledge of who they really were.

Your Lovable Enemies

Transitions require honest accountings of strength and weaknesses. That way you can play to the former and reinforce the latter.  Loved ones often underplay your shortcomings. They want to encourage you. Highlighting negatives seems downright cruel. After all, won’t they undermine your confidence if they suggest you have limitations?

Not so your enemies. They’ll let you have it with both barrels. They couldn’t care less about your self-esteem or prospects for success. Spewing vitriol makes them feel good. So they do.

The more they sting, the more closely you should examine their words. What may have been a random swipe may turn out to be golden insight you can use.

Follow these three steps:

  1. Listen. Actually hear what they are saying. The tendency is to ignore harsh words. The better you can train yourself to listen to what your enemies say the better use you can make of it.
  2. Consider. By focusing on listening first you reduce the chance of an emotional response. Having heard what was said, you can calmly decide if it contains any facts. Did they just vent anger? Or was a kernel of truth spoken?
  3. Absorb. If any of their criticism is valid, take it on board. To do otherwise is to play into their hands. Why do you want to avoid improving yourself merely because the source is repugnant? By the way, there’s no better way to antagonize your enemies than by gaining from their efforts. (If they hurt themselves it’s not revenge!)

Granted this process is a difficult one. You’ll never get it down completely. I know I haven’t. Negativity need not be bad. The trick is to use it to propel your life forward.

How do you deal with your enemies? 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!

Do You Really Want to Be the Sovereign?

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Pinchas Mattos-Masei – Numbers 30:2-36:13

“It’s good to be king” is a line from Mel Brooks’s movie History of the World, Part 1. It’s also a lyric and song title from Tom Petty’s 1994 Wildflowers album. Both rhapsodize about the joys of holding sovereign power. A king’s life seems idyllic. He answers to no one, except the Almighty. But parshas Mattos-Masei points out the downside of supreme authority:

“For in the City of Refuge he will dwell until the death of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest)…” (Numbers/Bamidbar 35:28)

Do You Really Want to Be the Sovereign-

This Sabbath’s double parsha begins with Mattos. It discusses how to take a vow. Next the Israelites go to war against Midian. In the aftermath they learn how to make utensils kosher. Then the tribes of Rueben, Gad, and half of Manasheh ask to have their portion of the land on the eastern side of the Jordan River.

The second parsha, Masei, reviews the journey taken by the Israelites from Egypt through the wilderness, ending at the border of the land of Israel. Then it gives instructions on how to divide the land and designate cities for the Levites and Cities of Refuge. It ends by designating who is eligible to seek safe harbor in them.

The Drawback of Being the High Priest

Few people have ever received the adulation of Aaron, the first High Priest. The Israelites loved him, especially for his ability to make peace between them. They esteemed the High Priests from Elazar, Aaron’s son, to Shimon HaTzadik. Aside from the arduousness of their duties, it seems being the High Priest was a pleasant job.

But if someone unintentionally killed another person, the High Priest’s life lost some of its luster. The killer could avoid being killed in revenge by the redeemer of the blood. He had to seek sanctuary in a City of Refuge. Once confirmed by the court, he lived there until the High Priest died.

What did the High Priest have to do with an unintended death? A person killed unintentionally reflected a lack of morality on the part of the Israelites. As the supreme moral authority, the High Priest bore responsibility. If he had been setting the proper example the death would not have happened. So he had to live knowing the killer was praying for his death so he could leave the City of Refuge.

Imagine more than one killer living out his days in sanctuary. This was not the discomfort you may experience knowing Islamofacists want to murder Westerners. It was directed specifically at him. How must he have felt knowing specific individuals and their family members prayed constantly that he would die?

How Do You Handle Being a Sovereign?

You may not realize it, but if you’re an American citizen you’re a sovereign. Not an absolute monarch like a king or queen, but part of the corporate body that holds ultimate power in the United States. The Constitution delegates authority to act on our behalf to the president, congress, and the Supreme Court. But they are agents. They do not remove sovereignty from us.

Over the years I’ve heard various people say, “He’s not my president.” They’re wrong. Like it or not, the people elected to exercise the power of their offices act on behalf of all citizens.

You may be among the many people disturbed by the choices for president. You may have pledged not to vote for one or both candidates. Certainly you have the free will to do so. Though it is the duty of a citizen to vote you can refuse.

But you still bear your responsibility as a sovereign.

You need not die to escape it. But you’ll have to terminate your citizenship to avoid it.

At times the High Priest led a burdensome life. Such is the nature of supreme authority. In some ways the load is as heavy for an American citizen.

How will you deal with being the sovereign? 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!

Have You Accomplished Your Foremost Duty?

2 minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Pinchas – Numbers 25:10-30:1

My wife and I struggle about how to encourage our daughter’s independence.  My parents prodded me toward self-reliance from an early age.  I’m doing the same for Madeleine.  But Melanie gets a lot of satisfaction from taking care of her needs.  And who doesn’t like to be cared for?  At times we confuse Madeleine.  Watching the approach of her ninth year, my influence has become unmistakable. Perhaps our foremost duty, described in Parshas Pinchas, will be fulfilled:

…appoint a man over the assembly. (Numbers/Bamidbar 27:16)

Have You Accomplished Your Foremost Duty-

This Sabbath’s parsha begins with G-d rewarding Pinchas for his zealousness. Then censuses are taken prior to the Israelites entering the Land. Zelophehad’s daughters petition to receive their father’s inheritance.   The laws of inheritance are detailed.   Joshua is appointed as Moses’s successor. Finally the Almighty establishes the offerings brought daily, on the Sabbath, and on holidays.

A Flock Needs a Shepherd

The generation G-d took out of slavery died off. But the younger one still needed guidance. The Children of Israel won’t wander through the wilderness any longer. They must conquer the land. Then they must adjust to a settled, agrarian life.

Such a major transition is difficult. Many new questions will arise. Moses knew he would not be there to answer them. No longer could he delay his foremost duty. He had to find a successor to continue guiding the Israelites.

Moses taught Joshua the son of Nun for years. Having served the great man for so long, Joshua proved his character by not falling prey to the negativity of the spies. He could shoulder spiritual responsibility for the Children of Israel.

Your Foremost Duty in Life

You may not be responsible for the souls of hundreds of thousands of people. But you have a family. You’re responsible for your loved ones spiritual wellbeing even after you’re gone.

It’s easy to pass along material wealth. A will or trust will distribute your physical property according to your wishes. What about your accumulated knowledge and wisdom? What will happen to it?

Children no longer spend decades serving their parents and learning at their feet the way Joshua did Moses. But that does not relieve you from making every effort at seeing they benefit from what you have learned in your life. Presumably during their childhood and teen years you passed on many lessons. Hopefully they took them to heart.

Imagine the impact on Joshua of Moses learning he not would be leading the Israelites into the land. His trusted mentor would die soon. At that moment, Joshua received the legacy. He would fulfill the Almighty’s directive to bring the people to the land.

You can have a similar effect on your children. Show them spiritual matters are at least as important as monetary ones. Whether they’re adults or still young, double down now on what you’ve done in the past. Consistently reach out to them. Demonstrate how to pursue a well-lived life. Write an ethical will. Give it equal importance to your property division. Nothing less than their future depends on it.

What have you planned to ensure your foremost duty is fulfilled? 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!

Do You Know 2 Ways to Feel You’re Improving?

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Balak – Numbers 22:2-25:9

Several months ago I was leaving a parking lot and got stuck behind a women who didn’t know how to use the credit card exit system. After about ten minutes I went to help her. As I walked up the parking lot attendant arrived and took charge of the situation. Returning to my car, the passenger in the car behind mine got out and ordered me to move on. I replied I was helping the lady. His response (read on) was like the one Balak chose in this week’s parsha, Balak:

And now, go please and curse this people for me, for it is too powerful for me… (Numbers/Bamidbar 22:6)

Do You Know 2 Ways to Feel You're Improving-

This Sabbath’s parsha tells the story of how Balak, the king of Moab, attempted to have Bilaam, one of the greatest prophets of all time, curse the Children of Israel. It includes my wife’s favorite story in Scripture, the talking donkey. The parsha ends with Pinchas spearing Prince Zimri and his Mindianite lover at the entrance to the Tenant of Meeting.

The Fundamental Biblical Concept

Several common themes can be seen throughout the Bible. Most prominent is G-d’s kingship. He gives instructions about how to live our lives. Another gets to the core of Balak’s appearance in the narrative. As you might recall, Moab was the child of Lot and his daughter. In spite of such a sordid beginning, he prospered and built a great nation. As king of the nation of Moab, Balak had wealth and power. He commanded the respect of his people and neighboring rulers.

Like any human being, Balak’s life was a series of choices. To what purpose would he put his wealth? How would he use his power? Each day he confronted these questions. The courses of action he took reveal his character.

So it is for every person. The choices you make each day tell people what kind of person you are. What you decide to say and do trumps any claims you make about integrity.

How to Feel You’re Improving

Balak felt threatened by the Israelites. He knew G-d treasured them. Perhaps he was jealous. He had two choices:

  1. Take action to improve himself.
  2. Denigrate the Israelites so he’d feel better by comparison.

Had Balak chosen option one he would be remembered as a great man. Sadly he chose to attack the Children of Israel. The origin of Balak’s name attests to G-d’s verdict. Had he pursued self-improvement he might have been remembered as the devastator of sin. Instead, balaq means to waste or lay waste.

At times you’ll feel threatened or jealous. Such emotions are common. Anytime they challenge you your choices are the same as Balak’s.

The passenger who ordered me to move must have felt intimidated by my trying to help the confused woman. He lashed out at me saying, “Old man you’re too weak to help yourself let alone anyone else.” I was tempted to ask him, “Do you feel you’re improving yourself?”

I doubt you’d voice such a harsh putdown. But vocal tone and facial expression can do the same thing without words. In an unguarded moment do you make yourself feel you’re improving at someone else’s expense? You may feel like you’re boosting your self-confidence. But such gains are illusory. You just FEEL better. You aren’t better.

Choose actual self-improvement. When someone makes you feel jealous make then an example to strive for. Genuine self-esteem is built from real accomplishments.

How do you guard against feeling like you’ve improved at others’ expense? 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!

What You Need to Do to Get God on Your Side

2 minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Chukas – Numbers 19:1-22:1

Have you seen Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? I took my family to see it last week. Based on Roald Dahl’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, this study in parenting will open your eyes. I think Dahl borrowed a lesson from this week’s parsha, Chukas for the final scene:

Do not fear him [Og, King of Bashan] for into your hand I give him and all his people and his land; and you will do to him like that you did to Sichon king of the Emorites who dwells in Chesbon. (Numbers/Bamidbar 21:34)

What You Need to Do to Get God on Your Side

This Sabbath’s parsha discusses the mysterious commandment of the red hefer. Then Miriam dies, resulting in the well of water stopping. Moses and Aaron err when supplying water to the people and G-d punishes them. Next Aaron dies. It ends with the Amalekites attacking leading to the wars with Sihon and Og.

Building a Balance in Your Spiritual Account

Moses was the greatest prophet who ever lived. So would it surprise you that he experienced a lack of faith in this week’s parsha? Moses redeemed the Children of Israel from Egypt, the most powerful nation of its day. But he feared Og. Why else would G-d reassure him? He must have lost faith.

Often there are backstories to events in the Torah. They explain unusual behavior. Moses was afraid of Og. But his faith was intact.

Og, or perhaps one of his ancestors, escaped from the war of the kings. He informed Abraham that King Chedarlaomer had taken his nephew Lot captive. This long ago act of kindness concerned Moses. He knew even a small balance in Og’s spiritual account weighed in his favor. Moses feared the Almighty would protect Og. When you rescue one of His children, G-d is on your side. So Moses had reason to worry.

Action Not Motives Count

It turns out Og had a selfish motive. He hoped that by telling Abraham of Lot’s capture Abraham would attack King Chedarlaomer and get killed. Og could then marry Sarah who he greatly coveted for her beauty. (This justifies Abraham’s concern about being killed because his wife was so stunning.)

Despite Og’s tainted motive Moses worried that one act to his spiritual credit would protect him. So G-d reassured him.

See the power of an act of kindness? Og’s long ago, small, badly motivated act had the potential to protect him. Moses knew this and was afraid. If Moses had lacked faith, G-d would have punished him. The Almighty did so earlier in the parsha. He decreed Moses would not enter the Promised Land for showing a lack of faith when providing water to the Israelites.

You will never know why the Almighty protects you from harm. But even a tiny rescue helps. Don’t worry about always being completely selfless. G-d will be in your side. Build up credits in your spiritual account. Be intentional about helping your family, friends, and other people.

What’s the most recent kind thing you did? 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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