Category Archives: Soul

A Hot Idea for Thinking Positively

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Tzav – Leviticus 6:1-8:36

You have probably heard me say before that you can control only two things: what you say and what you do. To have solid relationships you must keep your words and actions in check. But in your relationship with G-d, Parshas Tzav has a different perspective:

The Kohen who performs the sin offering service will eat it . . . (Vayikra/Leviticus 6:19).

A Hot Idea for Thinking Positively

This Sabbath’s parsha continues the discussion of the korbanos, the offerings brought in the Temple, and details the anointing of Aaron and his sons as the Kohanim or Priests who will serve in the Temple.

Would you agree with me that actions speak louder than words? And words speak louder than thoughts? Most of the time we don’t even know what someone is thinking. If so, why is the penalty that atones for improper thoughts harsher than the penalty for improper actions?

Following up on last week’s Parsha Nugget, a strange issue arises. A person who behaves inappropriately brings a Chatas, or sin offering. The Kohen who performs this service gets to eat certain parts of it. But someone who thinks lewd or improper thoughts has the Kohen bring an Olah, or elevation offering. The Olah is totally consumed by the fire on the altar.

Rabbi Sholom Noach Berezobsky, the Slonimer Rebbe, in his work Nesivos Shalom, explains it is much more difficult to control your thoughts than your actions. You might be embarrassed by others seeing what you do. You may not have time to act on a bad impulse. When you think about it, several conditions must be met before you can take any action, let alone a sinful one.

But as fast as you can eradicate one improper thought from your mind, another takes its place. Bombarded by sounds and images, the stimulus to inappropriate thoughts is limitless. And no one can see what goes on in your mind so there is no outside restraint. You’ll never cleanse your mind one thought at a time.

What’s the solution?

Fill your head full of prayer, study, and ideas for serving G-d, such as how you will take care of His children. Like the Olah, only by complete eradication can you ban defeatism, cynicism, and other inappropriate thoughts.

What do you do to keep you mind focused on positive, pure thoughts? 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 Secure Holiness

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Vayikra – Leviticus 1:1-5:26

A member of our community, Father Christopher Allen wrote:

“I’d be very interested in commentary on Lev. 5:1-6. I have always found it fascinating that the requirement to make the hattat offering (which is so often, confusingly I think, translated "sin offering") encompasses infractions which we as moderns would label clearly "moral" violations--the swearing of oaths, refusing to bear witness--as well as "ritual" contamination: contact with unclean animal carcasses, etc.

I've often told my congregations that we have now a more limited understanding of what holiness is than what was true for Israel. Orthodox Christianity retains some of the more ancient understanding and has practices related to it, but modern Orthodox Christians are unaware of why we have certain observances and practices.”

Excerpts of Parshas Vayikra that Father Allen asks about are:

And a person sins, in that he accepts on an oath, and he is a witness or sees or knows (a matter) but he will not tell it, he will bear his transgression. Or a person that touches on anything spiritually impure . . . and he is guilty. Or that he will touch on the spiritual impurity of a human . . . and he will be guilty. . . . And he will bring his guilt offering to G-d . . . and for a sin offering . . . (Vayikra/Leviticus 5:1-6).

How to Secure Holiness

© Copyright Walter Baxter under Creative Commons License

This Sabbath’s parsha begins the third book of the Torah by the same name. Its other name, Leviticus, refers to its detailing the duties of the Kohanim or Priests, who are part of the tribe of Levi. The parsha gives the rules for bringing offerings on the altar. Notice in verse 2:13 they must be salted, hence why on the Sabbath bread is dipped in salt.

Father Allen correctly connects holiness to the guilt and sin offerings. Let’s examine it.

From an historical perspective, the Almighty takes the Israelites out of the merciless society of Egypt and leads them to Canaan, a land of depraved peoples. The Almighty makes it clear He wants his Chosen People to behave differently. They must be Holy. The Israelites can achieve this by rejecting the behavior of those around them and doing what G-d asks. By being distinct and separate they embrace an essential aspects of holiness.

We take for granted honesty as a societal value. But it took centuries, even millennia to reach this ideal. Nor is the American view universal. In some countries familial responsibility trumps truthfulness to outsiders.

Likewise, we are comfortable with the idea of physical impurity. We understand the results of poor hygiene in food preparation and medical procedures. On some level we comprehend mental impurity. Zig Ziglar’s adage, “Positive thinking won’t let you do anything but it will let you do everything better than negative thinking will” expresses the idea that we are better off filling our minds with empowering messages.

Rarely do we confront the concept of spiritual impurity, a better translation of the Hebrew tumah. G-d decreed Canaanite practices such as defecation to a deity, child sacrifice, and eating blood tumei. As such, they impede getting close to Him. By requiring the Israelites to be distinct and separate from the Canaanites, the Creator encouraged their holiness.

Today distinctiveness is sought because it may lead to celebrity. The avenues to distinctiveness are as likely to be indecent as meritorious. As the French say, la plus ca change, la plus c’est la meme chose – the more things change the more they remain the same.

We cannot cleanse the spiritual contamination that comes from adopting the immoral practices around us by bringing an offering. But the path to holiness still comes from being separate and distinct by focusing our lives on how G-d wants us to behave rather than adopting the societal practices that violate His way.

Chris, thanks for a wonderful question!

Father Allen leads the Sts. Joachim and Anna Orthodox Church in San Antonio, Texas. Like me, he is a navy reserve chaplain, currently with 4th Marine Reconnaissance Battalion.

What is the hardest part of rejecting mainstream behavior? 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 here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

Parents Aren’t Your Potential

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Yayakhel/Pekudei – Exodus 35:1-40:38

Recently my wife Hannah told me a story about a young boy she met when she was a student nurse. While attending to his injuries, he related to her the hopelessness of his life. Because his father never had a job he thought he could not get one! I cannot think of anything as sad as a child whose parents extinguished his aspirations. Parshas Vayakhel/Pekudei explains this has always been wrong:

“See, the Lord has called by name Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur of the tribe of Judah . . . And He put into his heart to teach, him and Oholiab son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan.” (Shemos/Exodus 35:30 and 34).

Parents Aren’t Your Potential

This Sabbath is a double parsha to keep on track with the annual cycle. Vayakhel reviews the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). It also relates perhaps the only time in Jewish history that a building campaign was so over subscribed people actually had to be told to stop giving! Pekudei details Moses’s accounting of the donations collected to construct the Mishkan and all of its utensils and the first time he set it up.

Ever thought about how the Bible deals with names? Most of the time it calls someone by his or her name and perhaps that of a parent. Under this system I would be Kevin son of Gerald or Akiva ben Yosef.

When the Almighty wants to honor people He calls them by multiple names. Certainly the primary builders of the Mishkan and its utensils deserve such praise. G-d designates Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur of the tribe of Judah and Oholiab son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan to lead the effort.

Naming their tribal affiliations is not accidental. Not withstanding Ben Hur, their names are unlikely to be confused with other people. G-d must have another purpose.

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Bezalel is from the tribe of Judah, a child of Jacob’s first wife, Leah. The kings of Israel descend from Judah. Oholiab, on the other hand, is a descendent of one of the handmaids and from one of the most ignoble tribes, Dan. Despite their differences in birth they are equals in the holy work of building the Mishkan.

The Creator’s point is clear:

What counts is your own character and moral standing. The child of privilege and the child of poverty stand equal before G-d, likewise the wise and the unlearned. The Almighty judges each according to his merits.

As an Intentionalist, hopefully this lesson resonates with you. You, not destiny, control your aspirations and the quality of your life. This applies to others too. No matter who someone is today, he can become someone else in the future. And you can show him the way. Too many children believe that because their parents were not successful they cannot be. G-d knows otherwise. And He wants you to remind them, whether of privileged or humble birth, their future is theirs to mold.

How have your parents’ lives impacted your own?

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!

Are You Using Your Knowledge?

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Ki Sisa – Exodus 30:11-34:35

At times I envy people who can spend their lives studying. Learning new things, even useless ones, is as diverting as it is pleasurable. Then Parshas Ki Sisa reminds me about why wisdom exists:

“And G-d spoke to Moses saying, See I have called by name Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah and I have imbued him with the spirit of G-d . . . to do every [kind] of work.” (Shemos/Exodus 31:1-5).

Are You Using Your Knowledge?

This week’s parsha gives the mitzvah (loosely translated as commandment) of the half-shekel, deals with the last few items for the Altar, discusses the Sabbath, and relates the story of the Golden Calf.

Should you pursue knowledge for its own sake or for an ulterior motive? The first reason is cited as more purely intellectual and noble.

The Sages said every baby is taught the entire Torah while in its mother’s womb, meaning prior to being born, a baby absorbs the portion of wisdom G-d assigned it when its soul was at Mount Sinai. As the time of birth approaches, an angel strikes the baby on its mouth, causing it to forget what it has learned.

What a wasteful practice – wouldn’t it be better if it retained the knowledge and kept building on it?

R’ Yochanan said, “Anyone who is knowledgeable in Torah but does not put it into practice, it would have been better if he had not come into the world . . .”

To make sure I haven’t lost you: A baby gets wisdom in utero that is taken away before it is born and then is told not only to learn it again but to put it into practice. And if it doesn’t do this, it should not have been born in the first place. WOW!

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Along comes Bezalel. The Almighty gave him the wisdom of how to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle) while in his mother’s womb. But the angel took it away so Bezalel had to re-learn all the construction techniques. If he had not built the Mishkan what would have been the point to the knowledge? Not using the knowledge would have left him in his unborn state. He might as well have stayed in utero.

Bezalel put his portion of G-d’s wisdom to work building a place where the Almighty could connect with His children. As I wrote about last week, the Mishkan unified the three realms of life.

Study is valuable, but only so far as you take what you have learned and apply it. You waste one of the Creator’s gifts when you acquire knowledge for its own sake.

When do you think pursing wisdom for no purpose is appropriate?

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!

Help Me Celebrate a Victory!

Yesterday in the mail I received my copy of Germany at War and Russia at War. While they were released a few months ago, having them in my hands internalized my accomplishing a milestone goal: becoming a published writer. Will you indulge me for a couple of minutes? I’d like you to join my celebration of this success.

Help Me Celebrate a Victory!

First, I need to thank Zac Arnold who told me about the need for writers of encyclopedia articles for Germany at War. Zac and I became friends when my air wing was embarked on the USS RONALD REAGAN and we have remained so since. At the time I set the milestone goal to have an academic article published I had no idea how I’d accomplish it. Part of the answer is: not alone. It wouldn’t have happened without Zac’s help.

Next, thank you Major General David Zabecki (Ret.) and Timothy Dowling, professor of history at Virginia Military Institute and Associate Editor of the Journal of Military History. Editors respectively of Germany at War and Russia at War, they provided leadership, encouragement, and professional guidance. What a great honor it was to work with these two fine historians and men. MajGen Zabecki convinced me that despite lacking a degree in history, I am an historian as well as a writer.

I first voiced my desire to write when I was 16. While driving my mother somewhere, she asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I said, “I want to be a writer but I don’t want to starve.” Ever sensible, my mom encouraged me to look for a more “practical” profession. Little did either of us know that when the writing bug bites the wound never heals.

There are two kinds of objectives:

  1. Goals. Markers you set for yourself because you need to make progress in an area of your life.
  2. Milestone Goals. Achievements that change who you are.

Ideally goals are intermediate steps toward milestone goals. They assist your transformation.

It is fashionable in some circles to self-proclaim your identity. From that perspective if you want to be a writer you call yourself one despite lacking accomplishments in the field. I think you have to achieve something: an academic credential, a significant success, or tenure in the area, to merit carrying the title.

So here it is almost four decades later. I am a writer.

I hope you have had the joy of achieving a milestone or two in your life. As important, what did you do to celebrate your accomplishment? Tonight my family and I will crack open a bottle of sparkling wine over some scrumptious Thai food.

Thank you for letting me share my victory with you. More so, thank you for allowing me to be a writer.

What victories have you gotten to celebrate? Please comment below.

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