Category Archives: Soul

How to Break Free From a Bad Habit

3 minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Va’eira – Exodus 6:2-9:35

We are all slaves to our habits. Of course, if they’re good we don’t notice our bondage. But conquering a bad habit makes us feel every shackle. Parshas Va’eira gives a four-step process for breaking the chains of a bad habit:

“…I am the Lord, and I will take you out from under the burdens of Egypt, and I will rescue you from serving them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and great judgments. And I will take you to Me for a people, and I will be a G-d to you…” (Shemos/Exodus 6:6-7)

How to Break Free from a Bad Habit

This Sabbath’s parsha begins with G-d reassuring Moses that the covenant made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will be fulfilled. Nonetheless, twice Moses tries to get G-d to release him from leading the Israelites. The rest of the parsha describes the first seven plagues that G-d brought on Egypt as He brings about the Exodus.

Freeing the Children of Israel

The Almighty used a four-step process to free the Israelites:

  1. I will take you out from under the burdens of Egypt.
  2. I will rescue you from serving them.
  3. I will redeem you.
  4. I will take you to Me for a people.

Doesn’t it seem a little strange G-d uses such an elaborate method? Wouldn’t it be simpler if He said, “I’m going to take you out of Egypt and give you the Ten Commandments!” But the Almighty knew that a nation of lowly slaves, who made bricks from mud and straw, could not suddenly rise to the level of being a free people ready to receive the word of G-d at Mount Sinai.

So He redeemed them in phases:

  1. G-d freed the Israelites from harsh labor, however, they were still under Egyptian rule.
  2. G-d released them from all obligations to the Egyptians.
  3. G-d gave them the status of complete freedom.
  4. G-d brought them to their ultimate purpose as His people.

By bringing about the redemption in stages the Almighty saw to it that the Israelites were prepared for their new life ahead.

Freeing Yourself from a Bad Habit

The process of freeing yourself from a bad habit mirrors how G-d rescued the Children of Israel:

  1. Take yourself out from under the burden of the habit – Make a firm decision to break the habit.
  2. Rescue yourself from serving it – Undo the behavior. Charles Duhigg details the best way in his book The Power of Habit.
  3. Redeem yourself – Re-create your self-image as someone no longer burdened by the bad habit.
  4. Take yourself to the Almighty – Recognize your newfound freedom allows you to serve G-d more freely and deeply, which is your ultimate purpose.

By conquering your bad habit in stages you create the best chance of freeing yourself for good.

The Israelites experienced victories and setbacks in the wilderness but focused on their goal and eventually arrived at the Promised Land. You may certainly have reversals along the way to breaking free from a bad habit. But sticking with the process and focusing on your goal will get you to the promised land: greater freedom to live your life, not as a slave to bad habits, but as you intend.

What bad habit will you break this year? Please leave a 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 here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

Sorry, Even Your Kindness May Actually Be Selfish

3 minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Shemos – Exodus 1:1-6:1

One of the traits Melanie and I most want to instill in our daughter is kindness. If you have a child you know that’s not an easy job. Fortunately, Parshas Shemos clarifies how to accomplish this feat:

"And these are the children of Israel who were coming to Egypt, with Jacob each man and his household came." (Shemos/Exodus 1:1)

Sorry, Even Your Kindness May Actually Be Selfish

In this Sabbath’s parsha, which begins the second book of the Torah, a new Pharaoh succeeds to the Egyptian throne and enslaves the Israelites. He declares all male infants will be killed. Moses is born and Pharaoh’s daughter raises him, nursed by his own mother. He flees to Midian after killing an Egyptian to save a fellow Hebrew’s life. There he meets and marries Zipporah, the daughter of Reuel, also known as Jethro, the priest of Midian.

Moses encounters an angel in a burning bush. G-d appoints him messenger to obtain release of the Children of Israel. Reluctant, Moses eventually bows to the Almighty’s will. He leaves Midian for Egypt and is met by Aaron, his older brother, who becomes his partner in dealing with Pharaoh. They have their first meeting with him and rather than agreeing to their demands Pharaoh makes the enslavement harsher.

Kindness vs. Justice

Hardly anyone would argue with the idea that people ought to be kind. But major disagreement arises over how to be kind. Since the Exodus narrative requires a nuanced understanding, its first line explains a subtlety often missed when defining benevolence.

In the above verse, it’s redundant to add, “with Jacob” to “the children of Israel were coming to Egypt.” We know this from a previous verse. The brevity of the translation obscures its true meaning. Not only did Jacob’s sons accompany him to Egypt, they were with him when expressing their values. In turn, Jacob embodied the greatness of Abraham and Isaac by uniting their two key traits, kindness and justice. It’s easy to see justice without kindness leads to mercilessness. But untainted kindness would seem to be ideal.

The Motivation for Kindness

Benevolence comes from two motivations. Some desire to help other people. Others cannot bear to see people suffer. On their face both are noble. Indeed the latter one seems to be the kinder source. After all, shouldn’t we strive to alleviate suffering?

On closer examination, being kind because your heart aches when others are sad or in pain belies selfishness. Your kindness alleviates your suffering but ignores the fact that sometimes others have to experience pain to be motivated to resolve an issue, make a change, or grow. You feel good because the person has avoided distress but at what cost?

If you are motivated by a desire to help people you’ll be willing to undergo heartache knowing that in the end the other person will be better off.

Later in Exodus, G-d hardens Pharaoh’s heart to give him the opportunity to truly change. It pains the Almighty any time one of His children suffers, but He is motivated only by our well being so He endures. When dealing with others, our kindness must allow for personal discomfort, even pain, so that others have the chance to truly improve.

How do you reconcile personal suffering with helping others? Please leave a 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.

Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

How Will You Triumph Next Year?

3-1/2 minutes to read

“Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” ∞ Albert Einstein

Now’s the time to commit to your goals for the New Year. It’s daunting. The blank sheet of paper in front of you screams unlimited possibilities. At the same time it reminds you of all the New Year’s resolutions that lasted less than a week. So what do you do? How do you choose? If you try to go for everything you’ll end up achieving nothing.

How Will You Triumph Next Year?

Overcoming Years of Broken Resolutions

A study two years ago showed that over 40% of Americans make New Years resolutions. Yet, just 8% of people achieve their New Year’s goals. The average person makes the same New Year’s resolution ten times yet still doesn’t achieve it. With such a high failure rate it’s tempting not to bother setting objectives for next year.

If you give up you’ll accomplish one thing for sure. Change will be impossible. Then again, you’ll have to accept poorer physical fitness, inadequate finances, and lower quality relationships. And this assumes you’re not forced to make a transition such as going from military to civilian life or finding a new job. The reality is, even if you don’t want to change, life forces you to.

You can intentionally work on making your life better or on accepting the status quo.

Insuring You’ll Grow Next Year

While there aren’t any guarantees, the way you plan your goals increases the likelihood you’ll reach them. Here are four steps to take:

  1. Write down your goals. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at Dominican University in California, studied goal setting and found you are 42 percent more likely to achieve your goals just by writing them down.
  2. Make sure your goals align with your life purpose. Having a purpose for your life makes you happier and healthier. If your goals and purpose are out of sync you’ll negate one or both.
  3. Have a compelling why for each goal. Write it down too. Review it every day. Keeping your why uppermost in your mind gives you the motivation to change.
  4. Visualize attaining your goals. Your mind is so powerful if you spend five to ten minutes a day visualizing your life it as if you have already met your goals. Frank Niles, writes,

“According to research using brain imagery, visualization works because neurons in our brains, those electrically excitable cells that transmit information, interpret imagery as equivalent to a real-life action. When we visualize an act, the brain generates an impulse that tells our neurons to ‘perform’ the movement. This creates a new neural pathway -- clusters of cells in our brain that work together to create memories or learned behaviors -- that primes our body to act in a way consistent to what we imagined. All of this occurs without actually performing the physical activity, yet it achieves a similar result.”

How I’ll Help You

You may have noticed I reorganized my blog into six categories:

  • Transitions
  • Fitness
  • Finances
  • Relationships
  • Resilience
  • Soul

I’m committed to helping you with these areas of your life. Is losing weight your priority? Do you need to get out of debt? Are you focused on building your marriage? How about nourishing your spiritual growth? You’ll find practical suggestions and food for thought here. And I’ll be posting more of the same as well as new tools that will help you stay on track and achieve your goals.

If you have a different challenge let me know and I will refer you to someone who will help you.

Let’s work together to make this year your best one ever!

What is your top priority for next year? Please comment below.

You’re Lying to Yourself: Here’s How to Solve It

3 minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Vayechi – Genesis 47:28-50:26

The calendar year is coming to a close. Merry making aside, it’s time for taking stock. Did you meet your goals? What held you back from making the required changes? I bet Parshas Vayechi has the answer:

“Simeon and Levi are Brothers.’” (Bereshis/Genesis 49:5)

You’re Lying to Yourself: Here’s How to Solve It

This week’s parsha, concluding the book of Genesis, begins with Jacob becoming ill. With death imminent, he appeals to Joseph not to bury him in Egypt, but back in Canaan with Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, and Leah in the cave of Machpelah. Jacob blesses Joseph’s sons Manasseh and Ephraim, elevating them to the status of his sons. Then he blesses his own sons, though some of the blessings sound more like rebukes.

All of Egypt mourns Jacob, testifying to his greatness. The grandeur of his burial procession impresses and scares the Canaanites. After his father’s death, Joseph assures his brothers he forgives them. He lives to see his great-grandchildren. Before he dies, Joseph asks his brothers to bring his bones with them when G-d brings them out of Egypt.

The stage is now set for the enslavement of the Children of Israel and their redemption.

Fraternal Fidelity of Convenience

One of the challenges of written communication is conveying the feeling behind the words. When Jacob tells his sons that Simeon and Levi are bothers, I imagine it was with an undertone of contempt.

Back in verse 34:31, when the two brothers wiped out Shechem in retribution for the defilement of Dinah, they justified themselves by saying, “Should he treat our sister as a harlot?” Jacob quietly took the explanation under advisement. At the time he was willing to accept their word.

But their subsequent initiation of the sale of their brother Joseph put the lie to their claim of fraternal loyalty. They slaughtered the Shechemites out of anger and hatred. Jealousy motivated their selling of their brother. Loyalty to their siblings was a justification to salve their consciences.

Dedicated father that he was, Jacob waited for a time when Simeon’s and Levi’s mind would be open to show them how they were fooling themselves.

A True Friend Will Challenge You When You’re Lying

Most of the people I know are honest, scrupulously so when dealing with others. But they willingly accept lies about themselves. They rationalize rather than confronting uncomfortable truths. Saddest of all, they’re as likely to put themselves down with their lies as to be conceited. Seeing our true selves is perhaps the most difficult task we have.

A real friend will help you see yourself honestly. But he won’t be confrontational about your lying. He will understand directly disputing your self-perception will only cause you to dig in your heals. Rather he’ll ask you questions to help you be honest with yourself.

We all put on faces in public. Often these masks are effective and for good reason. But until we stop lying to ourselves, both good and bad, we cannot overcome challenges and improve. For 2016, vow to find a true friend or mentor who will help you see the real you. It’s the greatest gift you can give yourself.

How do you make sure you’re not lying to yourself? Please leave a 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!

You’ll Find Unity in the Most Unusual Place

3 minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Vayigash – Genesis 44:18-47:27

I often write about the three realms: physical, mental, and spiritual in which we must intentionally build our lives. People often equate the heart to the spirit and the mind to emotion and intellect, and perhaps the stomach to physicality. Where in the body are all three are unified? Parshas Vayigash answers:

“And he fell on his brother Benjamin's neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck.’”(Bereshis/Genesis 45:14)

You’ll Find Unity in the Most Unusual Place

In this week’s parsha we find Joseph’s brothers have learned their lesson. Judah steps forward to take Benjamin’s place as a slave. Overcome with emotion Joseph clears the room and reveals himself to his brothers. He convinces them to bring Jacob and their households to Egypt where he will take care of them. At first, Jacob does not believe his sons when they say Joseph is still alive. But the brothers finally convince him and they load up the wagons and move to Egypt where they settle in Goshen.

The famine comes. It is harsh. The Egyptians spend all of their money buying food then sell their animals, land, and finally themselves so that they will live. Only the priests are exempt.

The Nature of Connection

Earlier in the Torah narrative (verse 37:35) Jacob declares the death of his precious Joseph to be so devastating he will never recover, saying, “I will descend on account of my son as a mourner to the grave.”

Often through death, we learn about the true nature of life.

Think about your children. You eat with them (the physical realm), help them with their homework (the mental realm), and exchange gestures of affection like hugs and kisses and loving words (the spiritual realm). As they grow up how you interact may change but the relationships stay strong by building them in all three realms.

When one of your children leaves home the physical bond is disrupted. You may feel sad but you rebuild the connection emphasizing the mental and spiritual bond. Only, Heaven forbid, at death is unity severed forever.

Unity in Relationships

In the above verse when Joseph disclosed his true identity to his brothers, and in verse 46:29 when he reunited with his father, he fell on their necks. When you think about a reunion, it conjures up images of bear hugs, holding the person’s face in your hands, even lifting the person off the ground. Have you ever seen someone fall on the other person’s neck?

Of course, if you think about it carefully, had Joseph literally fallen on their necks he probably would have broken them. The neck metaphorically describes the nature of the reunion.

The neck connects the head to the rest of the body through three main parts: the esophagus (gullet), the blood vessels (jugular veins and carotid arteries), and the trachea (windpipe). Each equates to one of the three realms.

Physical Realm: Esophagus – Ingests food that nourishes the body

Mental Realm: Blood Vessels – Carry blood to and from the brain vitalizing its intellectual capacity

Spiritual Realm: Trachea – Produces the sound of prayer and words of love

The neck represents the unity of the three realms.

Joseph falling on the necks of his brother and father signifies their complete reconnecting. The bond that his presumed death had severed was made whole again.

When working on relationships a person tends to focus on one realm. Some excel at speaking loving words others at doing things, such as making meals, that physically support the relationship. Create ways that expand your repertoire so you bond in all three realms. By doing so you’ll bring unbreakable unity to your relationships.

Question – What things do you do to bond in each of the three realms? Please leave a 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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