Category Archives: Scripture

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!

You’re Never Beyond Having to Prove Yourself

2 minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Korach – Numbers 16:1-18:32

In the military you change jobs every two or three years. Moving and getting your family settled in a new home present challenges. Another isn’t talked about often. Each new billet is an opportunity to grow your technical and leadership skills. Your new commanding officer often knows little about you. The people you’ll work with have formed a tight group. You have to break in. No matter your seniority, you have to prove yourself time and again. Parshas Korach explains why this is good:

…each man's name you will inscribe on his staff. And the name of Aaron you will inscribe on the staff of Levi… (Numbers/Bamidbar 17:17-18)

You’re Never Beyond Having to Prove Yourself

This Sabbath’s parsha starts with Korach and his followers rebelling against Moses and Aaron. Unlike the previous complaints about food and water, Korach wanted to seize the leadership of his cousins Moses and Aaron.  He tried to take advantage of the Israelite’s unhappiness having to wander in the wilderness for 40 years. As a result of the rebellion, fire consumed 250 insurgents. The Earth swallowed up their households.  A harsh punishment indeed!

Aaron’s Challenge

You might think Aaron shouldn’t have had to prove himself. After all, the Almighty chose him to be the Kohen Gadol (High Priest).

The Israelites loved Aaron. When he died they mourned for him 30 days. But the incident of the golden calf exposed his tenuous position. Aaron feared that the people would kill him if he refused their demand for a ruler to replace Moses. He hoped that before the calf was ready Moses would return. In any event, Aaron knew he was being tested. He kept a tight rein on his pride and went along with their plan.

Even after G-d’s miraculous crushing of Korach’s rebellion, the people’s doubt remained. They wanted proof that the Creator chose Moses and Aaron to lead them. Only those who feel inferior resist meeting a test of their position. Aaron was truly great. He participated in the test of the staffs. He did not display any anger at having to prove himself.

Greatness Comes When You Repeatedly Prove Yourself

There’s nothing demeaning about the military requiring people to prove themselves at every new job. In a pyramid structure the wheat has to be winnowed from the chaff. You learn that arrogance usually hides inferior ability. When lives are at stake, no one is above having to prove himself.

It’s no different in civilian life. Each new position gives you the chance to grow. It presents an opportunity to prove yourself to colleagues and supervisors.

Excellence is valuable no matter where you work or what you do. It is frustrating being tested all the time. But through meeting these challenges you will find out how great you are. Follow the example of Aaron. Though he was one of the greatest human beings who ever lived, he never got angry about being tested. He used them to increase his spiritual mastery.

When called upon to prove yourself, make it an incentive to up your game. Doing anything less means you’re selling yourself short.

What is your plan for showing gratitude each day? 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!

When You Decide is the Most Important Thing

2 minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Shelach – Numbers 13:1-15:41

As a kid, my weekly allowance was 5¢. It took months to save up a dollar. That’s $7.41 today. I was so excited by my immense wealth I went right out and spent it on a bat kite. I could never get it to fly and within two days it was ruined. My mother told me money burned a hole in my pocket. Plunged back into poverty, I could have used the lesson in Parshas Shelach:

Send forth men, for you…. (Numbers/Bamidbar 13:1)

 When You Decide Is the Most Important Thing

This Sabbath’s parsha tells the story of the infamous twelve spies. They slandered the Land. So G-d decreed the Israelites would wander in the wilderness for 40 years. Next it details the meal and libation offerings that are brought with animal sacrifices. Then it covers the penalty for desecrating the Sabbath. It ends with the commandment to wear tzitzis, fringes, on the corners of a garment.

Distraction Leads to Disaster

The Israelites came to Moses and told him they wanted to spy out the land. Despite G-d’s promise that it was a land flowing with milk and honey, they wanted an eyewitness report. Moses presented the idea to the Almighty, who told Moses to decide. The rest as they say is history…

In last week’s parsha, Moses complained about the burden of leadership. The Almighty tells him, “Gather to me 70 men from the elders of Israel…” In contrast, here He tells Moses to, “Send forth the spies for YOU…” Clearly G-d did not like the idea. Nonetheless He deferred to Moses. The Almighty wants us to have free will. But why did Moses agree to the plan? As the leader he should have dissuaded the people.

The Midrash tells us Moses lacked his usual clarity of mind because he was still upset about his sister contracting tzaraas. (Tzaraas is the physical result of making a spiritual mistake.) His lapse of focus led to disaster since the generation that left Egypt would die in the wilderness.

First Decide if It’s the Right Time to Make a Decision

One of my favorite military axioms says, “Thought before action, if there’s time.” It sums up the first step of any decision. Is right now the best time to decide? Often the correct answer is no.

Do you have enough information to make a decision? Notice I didn’t say do you have all the information you need. Paralysis by analysis is as bad as deciding too quickly.

Will circumstances change between now and when you act on your decision? Delay may make more sense.

Are you in the right frame of mind to decide? If when you ask yourself this question you immediately answer yes, you’re in the wrong frame of mind. The inability to take a few moments for reflection indicates you’re gripped by anger, fear, or another strong emotion. Think about the last time you committed to something in the midst of an argument. Or maybe, like Moses, you declined to dispute a decision because you were preoccupied. Did you regret it?

As you know, I believe decisiveness and taking action are good. But good decisions start with your being fit to decide. Make a quick assessment of your frame of mind. When you have mental clarity be decisive. Then act!

What indicators tell you not to make a decision? 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 Make Transitions with Confidence

2-¼ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Beha’aloscha – Numbers 8:1-12:16

Military life requires making lots of transitions. You move every two or three years. Along with a new job, house, and school for your kids you may end up in a foreign country. With all that experience reintegrating into civilian life should be easy. Why then do so many veterans struggle? This week’s parsha, Beha’aloscha, gives a clue:

…and the Ark of the Covenant of G-d travelled before them a three-day distance to search out a resting place. (Numbers/Bamidbar 10:33)

How to Make Transitions with Confidence

This Sabbath’s parsha covers lighting the Menorah and the consecration of the Levites. Then it tells about bringing the Korban Pesach (Passover Offering) and Pesach Sheini (second Passover). The Israelites start their journeys. G-d leads them by a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night. Some of the people complain about eating the Manna. G-d responds. At the end of the parsha Miriam is afflicted with tzaraas.

The Symbolism of the Ark

The Ark contained the Tablets of the Ten Commandments, both the complete second set and the fragments of the first set that Moses broke. The Tablets encompassed all the wisdom and guidance the Israelites needed in their new home. Had they followed it to the letter their transition to life in the Land of Israel would have been smooth.

At first it was. The Israelites conquered Jericho. But the men of Ai defeated them in the next battle. Achan son of Carmi had taken consecrated property in violation of the Almighty’s command. Joshua brought Achan to his senses. He admitted his crime and was punished. At first the Israelites were afraid to try and take Ai again. G-d reassured them and led them to victory.

Requirements for Successful Transitions

Achan’s crime impeded success. By succumbing to temptation and stealing he showed he wasn’t ready for life in the Land of Israel. He failed to stay true to his values. As a result, the Israelites lost the first battle for Ai. The entire nation seemed headed for permanent defeat. So they took responsibility for their misdeed and punished Achan.

But the Israelites were still afraid. So the Almighty reminded them that one failure doesn’t define their character. Having dealt with Achan, they could reclaim their confidence in themselves and G-d. By doing so they proved they were ready to continue their transition. They won the next battle.

To make a successful transition, self-confidence is paramount. To be confident you have to

  1. Be crystal clear about your values. During transitions it’s easy to become morally confused amidst the chaos. Take the time to calibrate your moral compass. Get total clarity about how you will act no matter how stressful life becomes.
  2. Internalize that failure is only the information you need to make a better effort next time.

The Ark led the way into the Land because it symbolizes both of these essentials. Inside it were the second, intact Tablets setting down enduring life values. That the broken first tablets were in the Ark too showed the Israelites could overcome catastrophe.

Transitions are the most stressful periods in your life. Even with advance planning things will go wrong. When you have clarity about your values you will know how to overcome such challenges. Find a Joshua in your life to hold you accountable and keep you moving forward. Armed with a positive attitude toward failure, you’ll be unstoppable.

What has prevented you from making successful transitions in the past? 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’ll answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

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