Category Archives: Soul

How to Form a Strong Friendship Despite a Busy Life

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Vayeira – Genesis 18:1-22:4

Maintaining friendships is a lot of work. With some people, you can speak to them once every year or two and pick up right where you left off. But most friends require greater effort. When your life is so busy, how and where do you find the time to nurture important connections? Parshas Vayeira makes clear what it takes:

“And Abraham journeyed from there…and he sojourned in Gerar.” (Genesis/Bereishis 20:1)

How to Form a Strong Friendship Despite a Busy Life

The Sabbath’s parsha begins with Abraham receiving three guests who reiterate the promise that he will have a son. Then he learns about the fate of Sodom, where his nephew Lot is living, and Gomorrah. G-d destroys the cities but saves Lot and his daughters, who then give birth to Moab and Ammon. Next, Abimelech abducts Sarah, Isaac is born, Hagar and Ishmael are sent away, and Abraham makes an alliance with Abimelech. The parsha ends with the binding and near sacrifice of Isaac.

Friendship Focuses on the Other

Life was nomadic during Biblical times. But there had to be a better place to go than Gerar. Once again Abraham faced mortal danger when a king coveted his wife. The benefit of moving there must have been tremendous.

After the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, people stopped traveling through Mamre. Abraham no longer had the opportunity to welcome guests into his encampment. He could have taken the attitude that since there was no one to invite he was exempt from having guests. And G-d wouldn’t have faulted him.

But the Creator prizes hospitality so Abraham made it his hallmark.

Adopt Your Friend’s Priority

Abraham left Mamre and moved to Gerar where he could resume being hospitable. It entailed risk. But he was confident that by embracing G-d’s priority he would receive His protection.

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Such is the nature of a true relationship. Each person looks after the interests of the other. Note that Abraham probably spent very little extra time entertaining guests. He and his family had to prepare meals and eat anyway. Hospitality may have meant serving better quality food or washing a few extra dishes, but Abraham still had plenty of time to tend to his flocks.

It’s the Action that Counts

For many years I assuaged my conscience by telling my Mom I thought about her often, even though I seldom picked up the telephone. When I did call her she would ask me why I didn’t call her, to which I responded, “I’m calling you now. Isn’t that good enough?”

It took me years to realize my Mother was telling me she desired regular communication to create a closer relationship. I always thought it would take too much time. But with telephone, email, and text messages I’m in daily contact without any burden on my time.

Every other consideration pales into insignificance when you base a friendship on the other person’s priority. Send him an article about his favorite sports team, make an effort to thank her, or just briefly touch base periodically. Small deeds make all the difference.

Question – In what little ways do you maintain a friendship?

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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!

Beauty is Deeper than Skin

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Lech Lecha – Genesis 12:1-17:27

Do you struggle with handling how your daughter perceives her physical appearance? Zig Ziglar recommended that children be complimented for their behavior or clothing rather than their attractiveness. Numerous people have told my daughter how pretty she is. As a result, when I complement her character often she’s disappointed. Delving into Parshas Lech Lecha resolved my dilemna:

“…see now, I have known you are a woman of beautiful appearance.” (Genesis/Bereishis 12:11)

Beauty is Deeper than Skin

In this Sabbath’s parsha G-d tells Abram (later Abraham) to leave his land and relatives to go to Canaan. Next, Abram sojourns in Egypt then returns to Canaan. Abram and his nephew Lot part ways. Then G-d promises to give the Land of Canaan to Abram and his descendants. Abram wins a war, rescues Lot, then turns down the booty that normally goes to the victor.

Next G-d reiterates His promise to give Canaan to Abram and his descendants. Sarai (later Sarah) gives Abram Hagar for a wife. Then G-d and Abram make the covenant of circumcision. Finally, Sarai and Abram are given new names and are promised a son to be named Isaac.

Does the Torah Say Beauty Is Important?

In this and next weeks parshas, we find that Sarah’s beauty is so great Abraham fears Pharaoh and Abimelech will kill him to get her. Noted scholars have debated Sarah’s beauty. In true Jewish fashion, they concluded it was inferior, the same, and greater than Eve’s.

Eve, being a pure reflection of the Divine image, would have aroused greater rage in the Evil Queen than Snow White did. The Magic Mirror would have declared Eve’s beauty without equal in the history of humanity.

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Perhaps this Biblical beauty contest should be moved to Atlantic City so we can crown Miss (well maybe Mrs.) Old Testament. In any case, apparently, the Torah focuses on beauty.

Beauty as a Metaphor for Character

Hold off planning the talent and swimsuit competitions. The Torah doesn’t involve itself in frivolities. Eve’s unparalleled beauty reflected the purity of her character before eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This sin tarnished her soul and outward appearance. Throughout Eve’s life, her physical appearance reflected the state of her connection to the Creator.

Sarah lacked Eve’s primal connection to the Almighty but committed no comparable sin. By turns, she compares disfavorably and favorably with Eve. Throughout her life, Sarah’s beauty never diminished because her righteousness never waned. No ugliness emanated from her soul to mar her physical appearance.

Daddy, Do You Think I’m Pretty?

Understood as a mirror image of a person’s character, the Torah’s focus on beauty gains context. When my daughter asks me if I think she’s cute, without hesitating I tell her, “yes, you are beautiful, a true reflection of your wonderful heart and soul.”

Until you know someone’s character, you are blind to her beauty. While her physical appearance may be stunning, this may disguise an unattractive soul. Once you know her heart, she may not be pretty any longer. Likewise, someone may strike you as unappealing at first glance. But her warmth of spirit and emanation of love may make her more beautiful than Venus De Milo.

Were Eve and Sarah gorgeous? In the end, their physical appearance is unimportant. What counts is the manifestations of their characters. Viewed from this perspective, beauty is deeper than skin. As character flourishes, loveliness intensifies.

Question – How do you determine whether to be involved with someone?

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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 Being Real? Really?

You hear a lot about being real. But what does that mean? When my daughter doesn’t get enough sleep she acts cranky and is hard to deal with. She’s being real, but I discourage such authenticity. It turns out being real dates back thousand of years. Parshas Noach tells the tale:

“These are the offspring of Noah, Noah was a righteous man, perfect in his generations.” (Genesis/Bereishis 6:9)

Are You Being Real? Really?

The parsha for this Sabbath is Noach. In it, we read about G-d choosing Noah to save humans, animals, birds, and creeping things from total destruction in the flood. Rain falls for 40 days and nights and the waters churn for another 150 days. After they recede Noah brings an offering to G-d. Then he defiles himself when he plants a vineyard and gets drunk on wine. As a result, we learn the true characters of his sons.

The parsha ends with a list of Noah’s descendants who formed the 70 nations, the story of the tower of Babel and dispersion of the nations, and the ten generations from Noah to Abraham.

The Source of Your Humanity

G-d connects to each human being by implanting a spark of Himself in the person’s soul. Your spirituality, deepest beliefs and values, love and other emotions, all emanate from this source called the neshamah.

Your neshamah resides inside you but also remains rooted in heaven. The strength of this connection comes from how diligently you pursue a relationship with the Creator.

Your Name on Earth and in Heaven

Whatever you’re called in this world, your neshamah has the same name in heaven. I’m Akiva ben Yosef (well at least to my rabbi when I’ve done something particularly worthwhile) here on Earth. The Almighty knows my soul by the same name. (Presumably, He has no trouble distinguishing me from the great Rabbi Akiva ben Yosef!)

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When you’re born, the earthly and heaven-rooted aspects of your neshamah are linked with no intrusions between them. Throughout your life, the things you do to enhance your relationship with G-d keep the link unsullied. When you do things that diminish this relationship, the connection is whittled down. When your conscience bothers you, it’s a sure bet a little of the link has been pared off.

Noah was Being Real

The above verse would be easier to read if it said, “These are the offspring of Noah, who was a righteous man…” That his name was repeated teaches the Noah in this world and his heaven-based neshamah Noah retained the same connection they had at his birth. He remained perfectly linked.

His authenticity came from there being only one Noah. He was not one person when he dealt with his wife and another when he pursued his work. He properly and sincerely cared for each soul in his charge, human and animal. He was always being real.

When you do things, like helping other people, the bond between the earthly and heavenly aspects of your neshamah becomes stronger. When you have greater congruency between your deeds and thoughts, the bond gains even more strength. Herein lies the essence to being real.

Next time someone tells you to get real, consider what kind of authenticity they’re urging on you. Is it behavior that comports with the latest societal fad? Or is it the timeless authenticity exhibited by Noah, who by being real, remained intimate with all living creatures and the Creator his whole life.

Question – What does being real mean to you?

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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!

You’re Responsible But It’s Not Your Fault

“Some people find fault like there is a reward for it” ∞ Zig Ziglar

Remember when you were a kid and broke your mom’s favorite vase or your dad’s golf club? Fear of discovery ate at you. When the deed was uncovered, the search for the culprit started and you had two choices: confess or lie. Usually, the second one only added to the guilt you felt and the punishment you received when the truth finally came to light. To this day I dread being told, “IT’S YOUR FAULT!” Don’t you?

You’re Responsible But It’s Not Your Fault

The Fear of Being Blamed

The shame of reproach negatively impacts children’s self-perception. And the humiliation they feel encourages them to lie or try to shift the blame to someone or something else. (How many guilt-evading children have wrongfully condemned the family dog?) The stigma remains when they get older. Often, they develop an aversion to any kind of criticism. They’re robbed of input that forms the basis for growth.

Parents have rightly stopped blaming their children for making mistakes. But many have also stopped holding their children accountable. Coupled with praising them for the most mundane acts, children grow into immature adults.

The Benefits of Being Responsible

Rather than blaming children when they make mistakes or act out, it’s better to hold them responsible for their behavior. The benefits are twofold:

  1. Being held responsible sounds a lot like being blamed. But children also can be told they’re responsible for the good things they do. In this way, they learn there is a positive side to exercising responsibility. Maturity comes in part from understanding this duality.
  2. There is no stigma to being responsible. The person responsible for good things, such as scoring a winning goal or discovering something that will benefit the world, receives acclaim. The person who accepts responsibility when things go wrong is respected for being honest. No matter how you feel about his policies, most people like the sign President Harry Truman had on his desk: “The Buck Stops Here!”
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Even Mature Adults Hate Being Blamed

Do you point your finger at your spouse? The blame game in a marriage causes permanent damage. But when spouses hold each other mutually responsible they incentivize themselves to work together to find solutions to the challenges they face.

Next time you’re tempted to find fault, consider the long-term effects. Will your children mature into responsible adults if they learn to loathe criticism and shift blame to avoid being stigmatized? Are you strengthening your bond with your spouse?

Forget finger pointing. Instead act responsibly and expect responsible behavior in return. Your family and friends will love you for it.

How do you hold your children or spouse responsible?

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Why Blessing is Your Destiny

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

How often have you prayed for abundance? Whether it’s a longer life, additional children, or more wealth, increasing what we have seems to be the natural way of things. Did you know that is how G-d created the world? Parshas Bereishis explains:

“In the beginning of G-d creating the heavens and the earth….” (Genesis/Bereishis 1:1)

Why Blessing is Your Destiny

The parsha for this Sabbath is the first of the new cycle, Bereishis. In it is the story of creation, how Adam and Eve sinned and were thrown out of the Garden of Eden, the conflict between Cain and Abel, and the ten generations between Adam and Noah. Isn’t it wonderful to be reading the great stories of the Torah again?

The first word of the Torah, bereishis (which means “in the beginning”), begins with the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, beis. You would think G-d would begin the creation story with the first letter, aleph. That He didn’t gives a clue about how the world works.

The World is Created for Blessing

One of the words most closely associated with the letter aleph is arirah, which means “cursing.” Had the Creator begun the Torah with an aleph, the natural state of the world would be affliction. By starting the Torah with a beis, which is the first letter of berachah, the Almighty chose to make the natural state of the world blessing.

So if G-d decided to begin the Torah with blessing, why not do so with the actual word berachah instead of alluding to it with the word bereishis?

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When the Creator “speaks” His words become reality. If He was explicit with the word berachah, there could be no misfortune or challenges for humans to overcome, thereby removing our free will. By building the world on the potential for blessing, the Almighty incentivizes people to do good work, help each other, so as to merit His blessing.

Creating Abundance

Notice the connection of creation and blessing yields abundance. The heavens are expansive and the waters swarm with creatures. G-d blesses all living things to be fruitful and multiply. Knowing that the foundation of the world rests on this blessing should give you confidence that despite your challenges, if you persevere you will eventually receive abundance.

Of course, there is a catch. Like the creator, you have to take a hand in creating it. What do you need to do? Use the gifts G-d has given you to your utmost. Find the most productive avenue and pursue it. Note that first, the Almighty planted seeds. Then when the rain came plants grew. So too, you must consistently sow. When conditions are right your abundance will sprout.

Question – What frustrates you most about having to be patient while waiting for blessing?

You can leave a comment on this question or ask another question 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. 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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