Category Archives: Soul

How to Face Transitions with Confidence

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

Transitions can be some of the scariest times in our lives. Do you get a queasy feeling remembering ones you’ve made? When we left NAS Lemoore and the military to return to Los Angeles and civilian life, my family and I were going back to friends and a place we knew well. Should have been a piece of cake. Parshas Devraim explains why it wasn’t:

“Hashem Your G-d gave to you this land for a possession, armed shall you cross over before your brethren the Children of Israel, all people of accomplishment.” (Deuteronomy/Devarim 3:18)

How to Face Transitions with Confidence

This Sabbath’s parshas 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 from the Almighty, then at a later date conveyed it to the Israelites.

For the previous forty years the Israelites, with Moses as their leader, led a wondrous existence. In their travels G-d led them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. They ate manna, a food that some sources say tasted like every person’s favorite food. Kings Og and Bashan were defeated despite their greater strength. In short, G-d surrounded the people with miracles.

In the verse above, Moses appoints the tribes of Rueben, Gad, and half of Manasseh as the vanguard in the conquest of the land of Israel. The Israelites are on the brink of tremendous changes in their day-to-day lives. They won’t be living in their safe cocoon any longer. In the land they will live among idolaters who have brutal and immoral rituals like infanticide. The people will have to adopt agrarian practices rather than being nomadic shepherds. And they will live without the strong, sure, guiding hand of Moses.

Transitions may paralyze you from fear or prevent your adapting to new circumstances. A different life requires a new outlook along with the realization that you’ll bring previous challenges into this new environment. You don't negate the need to overcome your internal roadblocks even with a big change, such as moving or leaving military for civilian life.

Moses knew the challenges the Children of Israel would face. So he tells them to arm themselves for the change ahead and reminds them they are all accomplished people. Then, he reviews their travels through the wilderness, not as some sort of pre-Travel Channel travelogue but as a reminder and gentle rebuke of all the mistakes they made during the forty years.

The story of Devarim is about the Israelites learning how to apply the Torah’s values to a new life. It reminds you to arm yourself for the coming challenges by remembering past accomplishments. But you mustn’t fool yourself into thinking that old problems will disappear. While a change of job may rid you of a heinous boss or moving may take you to a more prosperous locality, you will still need to conquer personal challenges: insufficient discipline, a negative attitude, or lack of faith in yourself.

So often the fear you’re feeling isn’t the fear of the unknown, it’s the shock that despite having made such a big change you’re still have to overcome your same internal barriers.

Last time you made a transition, what was the most difficult part? 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!

How to Guarantee Your Legacy

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

Sometimes I have to touch on difficult subjects. Hopefully I won’t make you uncomfortable asking this, but do you ever wonder how you’ll be remembered after, as Shakespeare says, you shuffle off this mortal coil? When a friend or colleague faces a life threatening illness or the death of a loved one, it prompts reflection on the legacy a person leaves behind. In parshas Mattos, there’s some guidance on how to build one:

“And Novach went and conquered Kinas and its surrounding villages, and called it Novach after his name.” (Numbers/Bamidbar 32:42)

How to Guarantee Your Legacy

This Sabbath is a double parsha. The first, Mattos, discusses how to take a vow, the war against Midian and its aftermath including how to make utensils kosher, and the tribes of Rueben, Gad, and half of Manasheh asking to have their portion of 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 up at the border of the land of Israel. Also, it gives instructions on how the land will be divided and for designating cities for the Levites and Cities of Refuge as well as who is eligible to seek safe harbor in them.

In the above verse we learn that as part of settling on the eastern side of the Jordan, Novach captured Kinas and her suburbs and renamed it Novach after himself.

He wanted to ensure he would be remembered throughout the ages. But if you study a map of the Middle East there is no city or town of Novach there today. In a similar vein, do you know the story of the person after whom the town you are from is named? Such memorials built from stone seem like they will exist forever and testify to a person’s greatness. But most times it doesn’t work out that way. Historian Will Durant says:

Man Can Spend a 100 years Building a City that in an Hour Can Be Wiped Off the Face of the Earth by a Hurricane or Flood

How, then, do you create a legacy? The Creator hopes you will do good deeds for others in such abundance your name will stand as examples for future generations. Study to gain wisdom, do acts of kindness, and give tzedakah (loosely translated as charity) all in such measures that others will copy your behavior. Your name will become synonymous with exemplary conduct and generations hence will invoke it to motivate others to do the same.

Perhaps the best contemporary example is Mother Teresa, whose many acts of kindness and sacrifice made her immortal. But you need not reach such a level. Think about your own family. Do you have an ancestor who everyone in your family remembers as considerate and caring? Wouldn’t it be nice if future generations of your family held you in their hearts the same way?

I have good news for you: It’s completely in your control to make this happen. Blessings!

What do you want your legacy to be? 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!

You Can Save the World Today

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

As the father of a girl, I pray my daughter will live in a community that respects her and affords her ample opportunity to live a good and fulfilling life. My wife and I have found such a place in the tenets of traditional Judaism. Others look at our life as stifling and chauvinistic. Parshas Pinchas dispels such notions:

Give us a portion along with our father’s brothers. (Numbers/Bamidbar 27:4)

G-d Put Someone's Well Being in Your Hands…Whose?

This Sabbath’s parsha discusses Pinchas’s reward for his zealousness, the censuses taken prior to the Israelites entering the Land, the petition of Zelophehad’s daughters, the laws of inheritance, the appointment of Joshua as Moses’s successor, and the offerings that were brought daily, on the Sabbath, and on holidays.

In this parsha G-d has the perfect opportunity to show conclusively that men are superior to women. Parshas Bereishis says women are to be dominated by men, despite Eve being taken from Adam’s side making her his equal. The Torah spends more time examining the lives of the Patriarchs than the Matriarchs. And the leader of the Israelites, Moses, is a man.

Forget that Moses would never have survived were it not for Pharoah’s daughter and his sister Miriam, that the Children of Israel drank water in the wilderness due to Miriam’s merit, and that the women did not participate in the incident of the Golden Calf or the rebellion of Korach, nor did they believe the slander of the Land by the spies.

Contemporary society condemns traditional religion for being chauvinistic so it must be true. Or is it?

The daughters of Zelophehad, whose father had died 40 years earlier, were disturbed that their family might not inherit a portion of the Land along with the rest of the Israelites. Their response demonstrates their faith that G-d loves and respects women as much as men.

Waiting for the propitious time, when Moses was teaching about Levirate Marriage, they raised this issue with him. Levirate Marriage entitles a woman to marry her deceased husband’s brother so the child from that union will be attributed to her deceased husband. The daughters of Zelophehad reasoned that if only sons were to inherit a portion of the Land, then their mother was entitled to Levirate Marriage since they evidently did not count as children of their father.

Moses heard the justice of their plea and presented it to G-d who confirmed the women were correct. They got their portion of the Land. If the Almighty meant for women to be second-class citizens He would not have given them the status of inheritors.

You have role in the world. It may be to lead most of the time or perhaps to follow. But you should never think because of your gender or any other aspect of yourself that the Creator does not love you or thinks less of you than others.

No matter how small you think your contribution, never forget the injunction of Mishnah Sanhendrin, 4-5, “and if one saves the life of a single person, Scripture imputes it as if one had saved the whole world.” How many times have you positively impacted the physical, mental, or spiritual life of another? How many times have you saved the world?

What contribution to the world did you make today? 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!

How to Love, When You Have to Punish

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

Do you have this challenge? When my daughter misbehaves I find myself unaccountably angry. Let’s face it, at times every child gets into mischief or is rude. Admittedly when she does so in public I feel embarrassed. But even at home, at times I get quite spun up. This week’s parsha, Balak, shows the proper course of action:

And Pinchas, the son of Eleazar the son of Aaron the Kohen saw, and he arose from among the congregation, and he took his spear in his hand. (Numbers/Bamidbar 25:7)

How to Love, When You Have to Punish

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

A simple reading of the Torah makes it appear Pinchas took unilateral action. But details recorded in the Talmud (Sanhendrin 106a) show he consulted with Moses. Pinchas reminded him there is a commandment requiring a zealot to take drastic action in the face such depravity. After all, this is not your run of the mill PDA (public display of affection)!

Pinchas confirmed his planned course of action was correct before acting. His authority was Moses, the only person ever to speak with G-d “mouth to mouth.”

Who among us can claim to be at the spiritual level of Pinchas, the first grandson of Aaron (the first High Priest), and a nephew of Moses? Who among us can claim to have as a mentor someone at Moses’s level? Surely for any of us to take such an action would be wrong. Today, when considering punitive action in G-d’s name, we would be well advised to keep in mind the conditions of Pinchas’s act.

But what about more mundane situations: a co-worker who bad-mouths you behind your back, a driver who cuts you off, or misbehavior by your child. Surely you can choose how to respond without consulting anyone else.

I dealt with the case of a co-worker in last week’s post on injustice. When a driver cuts me off I force myself to admit I have done the same, albeit almost always accidentally. Most likely this driver was no more ill intentioned.

It should be easier for me to forgive my daughter than an errant driver. After all, I cherish her. But whether out of a sense that her misbehavior is reflective of my inadequate parenting or the presumption that her defiance is meant as a personal attack (for the record I am an inadequate parent and she is rarely defiant, let alone disrespectful) I’ve learned not to discipline her in the moment. Rather, I consult with my wife. Recently, the three of us sat down and discussed what would be a reasonable punishment when she did something wrong. Her proposal, though not as harsh as what I had in mind, has turned out to be appropriate.

Aaron greatest trait was his love for every Israelite. Unremarked upon in his story is that as a descendant of Aaron, most likely Pinchas loved Zimri. All the more reason that he consulted with Moses before taking irreversible action. While reprimanding a loved one may seem to be nowhere as dire as Pinchas’s action, you don’t need a spear to wound a loved one’s heart. In that light, a few minutes consulting with someone whose knowledge and experience you respect before taking punitive action could prevent you from doing lasting damage to a relationship.

It takes twenty positive actions to offset one negative one. Affirm that from here on out you will seek counsel before issuing a rebuke. Starting now, set the tone by speaking loving, supportive words to your spouse and children daily.

How do you decide whether a punishment is just? 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 the Supreme Act of Love?

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

Admiral William McRaven, the top navy SEAL, recommends you make your bed every morning so you start your day off with a victory, however small. He reminds me of my mother. As a kid she always wanted me to clean up my room, even if I was going to mess it up later. This week’s parsha, Chukas, makes sense of her seemingly unreasonable demand:

Speak to the Children of Israel and they will take for you a perfectly red cow that there is not on it a blemish and that was not placed on it a yoke. (Numbers/Bamidbar 19:2)

Do You Know the Supreme Act of Love?

This week’s parsha discusses the mysterious mitzvah (commandment) of the parah adumah or red heifer, Miriam’s death and the subsequent stopping of the well of water, Moses’s and Aaron’s error and punishment for disobeying G-d when supplying water to the people, the death of Aaron, the attack of the Amalekites, and the wars with Sihon and Og.

For millennia the parah adumah has puzzled scholars. How is it that through the process of creating ashes that will cleanse tumas meis, spiritual defilement caused by contact with a human corpse, the person making the ashes becomes tumei, spiritually defiled? By human reasoning it makes no sense.

The Torah calls this mitzvah a chuk or decree. There are many chukim in the Torah, all beyond the limited reach of the human mind. Even the wisest person who ever lived, King Solomon, admitted he understood all of the mitzvahs except the parah adumah.

Some argue when a mitzvah makes no sense, like this one, it should be abandoned. If so, we give up one of the most powerful ways to express love.

By doing something that G-d tells you to do, despite not understanding why, you are given the chance to be humble, to acknowledge your own limited capacity to understand the world. Humility is the crucial first step when conveying love. It makes possible a connection that benefits your beloved unimpeded by self-interest.

As well, by acting solely because the Almighty tells you to do something, you demonstrate the ultimate level of willingness to serve the Creator. Ungrudgingly replacing your own will with that of another, be it G-d’s or your beloved’s, can only come from a place of deepest love.

There is no conflict between being a strong-willed, self-directed Intentionalist and this ideal of love. Rather, the deliberate setting aside of your desires for the sake of others is the supreme exercise of intentionalism. It pays huge dividends in mental and spiritual fitness by creating secure, enduring friendships and familial relationships, and a deep connection with G-d.

How do you control your ego so as to love more deeply? 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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