Category Archives: Scripture

How to Keep Your Life Glowing Brightly

3 minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Mishpatim - Exodus 21:1-24:18

Life would be so much easier if problems didn’t constantly arise. It seems like just when you get everything under control you’re blindsided by a challenge that buries your positive outlook. Darkness surrounds you. Waiting for the good times to return takes too long. It can lead to despair. How do you recover the brightness of good times? Parshas Mishpatim has the answer:

“And these are the ordinances that you will place before them.” (Shemos/Exodus 21:1).

How to Keep Your Life Glowing Brightly

The parsha this Sabbath has 53 mitzvahs: 23 positive ones and 30 negative ones, which guide the conduct of the Israelites. They cover a broad range of institutions, crimes, activities, and celebrations. Toward the end of Mishpatim, G-d promises to lead the Children of Israel into the Land of Israel and conquer their enemies.

The Ten Commandments and The Ordinances

This week’s parsha follows immediately after G-d gives the Ten Commandments. Since the Ten Commandments were given in the morning, the ordinances were given in the evening. The Hebrew words for these two times of day reveal an important idea.

The Hebrew word for evening, erev, comes from the same root as mixture. Evening, as compared to night, is the time when light and darkness intermingle. Objects can be seen, but their details are becoming obscured by ever deepening shadow.

Morning is called boker. It comes from the same root as the concept of examination. Shape and color can be seen in sharp detail. Daylight, then, is the time to gain understanding and clarity about life.

The Ten Commandments endure because they were born in a moment of clarity. But just as evening follows morning, vagueness follows clarity and must be renewed every day. The Ten Commandments that seemed so clear needed the explanation of the ordinances to renew their power.

Maintaining a Bright Life

Living a positive life is easy during the “morning.” When things are going well life seems to promise greater prosperity and more loving relationships. But the clarity of such times is inevitably obscured by the “evening.” Troubles arise. Potential is overshadowed by darkness. How do you regain the light of morning?

You must create ordinances, regular practices, for yourself. Like the ordinances that follow the Ten Commandments, they will rejuvenate you. The simpler and more compelling the better:

  • Take five to ten minutes each day when you will visualize your ideal life.
  • Create a ritual to connect you with your spouse, such as holding her chair when she sits down at the table or pouring his water at a meal.
  • Think up a mantra then say it every morning, standing up, out loud, with a passionate convincing voice.
  • Write out a compelling personal mission statement and read it aloud to yourself once a day.
  • Find a meaningful or inspirational passage from a book to read once or twice a day, every day.

Make sure to put your rituals in your to-do list.

In order to sustain a positive life glowing brightly, you must build into it the structure to move through the downtimes. Life inevitably cycles. Have several short, inspiring actions you can take throughout your day. Practice them every day to create spontaneous responses that guide you back on track. As inevitably as evening follows morning, you can make morning and its positive, renewing light return.

What rituals do you have for staying positive? 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!

A Depraved Priest Can Transform Your Life

3-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Yisro - Exodus 18:1-20:23

Do you remember being told you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? It’s true about canines. With respect to humans, people think seniors are plagued by rigidity of mind and shackled by habits too strong to overcome. But science is confirming what was revealed in Parshas Yisro thousands of years ago:

“And Jethro, the priest of Midian, the father-in-law of Moses, heard….” (Shemos/Exodus 18:1)

A Depraved Priest Can Transform Your Life

In this Sabbath’s parsha Moses reunites with his father-in-law Yisro or Jethro, a Mindianite priest who heard about the wonders G-d performed for the Israelites. He outlines a leadership plan that Moses adopts. His reward? A parsha is named after him - the Biblical equivalent of appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine.

After Yisro departs, the Israelites arrive at Mount Sinai where they accept the Torah and prepare themselves to receive the Ten Commandments. Rashi and the Rambam explain they heard all Ten Commandments in one instant but could not comprehend them. So G-d repeated them. But after the first two they were so overawed they begged Moses to intercede and teach them the other eight.

The Essence of Immorality

Jethro was an advisor to Pharaoh. Given the nature of Egypt and his high position, he must have been steeped in corruption. While many bemoan the state of public morals today, the society in which Jethro achieved such a high station makes the most corrupt person today look virtuous.

He was one of the most highly respected priests in Midian. Jethro knew every form of idol worship. This included defecating at the foot of a statue of a god. It’s hard to imagine officiating at a more disgusting ritual.

Physically, mentally, and spiritually Jethro defined depravity. And yet, at a late stage in his life, he turned it all around.

Power to Transform

The story of how Jethro reformed belies the idea that it’s too late to change. Long before Darth Vader gave up evil or studies showed older entrepreneurs are more likely to be successful than younger ones, he rose from the depths of immorality to the pinnacle of spiritual achievement.

How?

Jethro heard.

When the story of the miraculous Exodus of the Israelites reached him, Jethro not only listened, he internalized its meaning. In doing so he let go of the falsehood of idolatry and embraced the truth of G-d and a society based on justice and ethics.

I’ve spoken to dozens of veterans whose lives are a shambles. No matter what got them there, they remain in their situations by refusing to believe they have the power to transform their lives. Yet a recent study shows seniors can retain their mental flexibility late in life. If people in their 60s to 80s can, why not we who are younger?

You may be stuck too. What must change in your life? What belief prevents you from taking action? The story of Jethro attests in no uncertain terms that if you hear and internalize the truth you can transform your life.

You may struggle with a poor diet or inadequate exercise. You may be the second or third generation to have these bad habits. Embrace the example of Jethro. Hear the true message of where your current behavior will lead you. Internalize the benefits of improved diet and exercise. The same is true for getting your finances in order, straightening out your mindset, and reinvigorating your marriage.

Hear. Internalize. See with clarity the new you. No matter your age, you can change.

Do you hear me?

What message of empowerment will you use to motivate yourself to change? 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!

How to Conquer Your Barriers to Success

3 minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Beshalach - Exodus13:17-17:16

Why does it take so long to succeed? And why does it have to be so difficult? Surely it would be better if you could earn money to support your family quickly and easily. Then you’d have ample time to spend with your loved ones building strong relationships. Instead tension about finances causes friction with your spouse. Your children don’t have as many opportunities. Parshas Beshalach explains:

“And it was when Pharaoh sent out the people, and G-d did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines for it was near…” (Shemos/Exodus 13:17)

How to Conquer Your Barriers to Success

In this Sabbath’s parsha the Children of Israel leave Egypt but once again Pharaoh changes his mind and chases them. G-d splits the Reed Sea (usually incorrectly translated as the Red Sea) and the Israelites walk between two walls of water on dry land. The Egyptians who follow after drown. The Israelites sing the Song of the Sea thanking G-d for their deliverance.

On their journey to the Land of Israel, the Children of Israel complain of hunger and thirst. G-d sustains them with Manna from heaven and water from a rock.

Recidivism Isn’t Just for Convicts

Having recently been freed from bondage, the Israelites wanted to get to the Promised Land immediately. But G-d had other plans. He knew their slave mentality had to change before they could withstand the rigors of daily life as a free people.

Being farmers, shepherds, and businessmen takes self-confidence and perseverance. Without these qualities, the Almighty knew the Children of Israel would clamor to return to the life they knew in Egypt, horrible as it was. So He led them on the long road to success, giving them time to adjust and get their heads together.

This attitude isn’t unique to the Exodus. Millions of Jews, Slavs, and other Displaced Persons liberated from concentration camps at the end of World War II were at a loss as to how to care for themselves and re-start normal lives. And it doesn’t take genocide to render a person incapable functioning in society. Ex-convicts often cannot deal with the outside world.

The Biggest Barriers to Success

Much as it may seem outside forces impede your success, Theodore Roosevelt put it best when he said:

If You Could Kick the Person in the Pants Responsible for Most of Your Trouble You Wouldn't Sit for a Month

Veterans transitioning to civilian life are a good example. Eight of the ten reasons they crash and burn have to do with attitude and outlook. Yet the vast majority believe they lack the skills to get a good civilian job. Confronting them with the primacy of mindset over additional skills often doesn’t convince them to change their perspective. It is any wonder many who qualify re-join the military?

If you do not have the success you desire, chances are it’s time for a checkup from the neck up, as Zig Ziglar used to say. What beliefs are you embracing that hinder advancement to the next level of achievement? How are you allowing your attitude to lead you astray? By raising your mental game to peak performance, you’ll enter the promised land.

What beliefs make navigating the road to success more difficult? 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!

Do You Know Why You’re a Prisoner?

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Bo – Exodus 10:1-13:16

We’re so used to thinking we’re really free. We celebrate freedom once a year on July 4th. Yet numerous things bind us. Last week I wrote about how bad habits enslave. But no matter how well you have habituated positive conduct, Parshas Bo reminds us of the ultimate tyrant:

“This month will be for you the beginning of the months, it will be for you the first of the months of the year” (Shemos/Exodus 12:1-2).

Do You Know Why You're a Prisoner-

This Sabbath’s parsha begins with the final three plagues that eventually convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave Egypt. Nissan is made the first month of the year and the mitzvah of the Passover Offering, the Pesach, is given.

Then, G-d brings the Exodus.

The parsha ends with the mitzvahs of consecrating first-born animals, redeeming a first-born son, and tefilin.

Double Phrases Have Extra Meaning

Whenever the Torah repeats itself, especially in one phrase after another, you can be sure something is going on besides emphasizing a point. In the above verse, the second group of words clearly designates Nissan as the first month of the year. A careful look at the first phrase shows it isn’t referring the calendar.

When the Almighty tells the Israelites that “This month” will be the beginning of the months, He signals a fundamental shift in their lives. No longer will they be slaves in Egypt with no control over what they do and when they do it. Rather they will take control of their labor. And they will be responsible for declaring each new month and leap year. This duty gives them ultimate control: of time.

Having control of their labor requires an intelligent reckoning of its most profitable use. Controlling time demands a wise vision of life’s purpose.

Stop Being a Prisoner to Time

The Chafetz Chaim, the great 19th-century Jewish scholar, noted, “Some people think that our task on earth is to be pious. The truth is our task is to be wise.” In Jewish law, a person is considered to be mentally incompetent if he destroys what is given to him. He could be as intelligent as Einstein. Nevertheless, someone so wasteful is mentally unsound.

If you saw someone standing on Golden Gate Bridge dump a million dollars into San Francisco Bay you would say the person is crazy. Are we any less crazy for wasting our time? Money lost can be accumulated again. But time squandered can never be recovered.

It takes discernment to know how much time should be spent caring for family, working, playing, and developing a relationship with G-d. You must go beyond balance. Happenstance decisions inevitably lead to folly. How other people use their time cannot guide you. Your situation is unique. You must be clear about your life’s purpose. The more you struggle with deciding how you’ll use your time the wiser you’ll become. As a bonus, you’ll no longer be a prisoner.

How do you ensure you use your time wisely? 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!

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