Truths You Can Use

Truths You Can Use

How to Jump on a Moving Train

jump

A biblical scene haunts me every time I read it. Moses stands alone in the cleft of a rock. He has led the Jewish people out of Egypt. He has devoted his life to God’s service

He yearns to see God’s face. But God refuses. “You shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.”  (Exodus 33:23)

Hundreds of interpretations have been offered. Most of them focus on theological questions. Does God have a face? Does God have a back? Why can’t Moses see God’s face?

These questions miss the point. This passage is not about physically seeing God’s face. It about our “facing up” to our blessings. Just as Moses only sees God’s back, we only see the blessings of life as they are passing away. The challenge is to turn our faces toward them.

Missing the train

When life is good and we have no worries, we assume that is the way life is supposed to be. We “eat, drink and be merry.” It is only when things change—when we experience loss or disappointment—that we begin to see how lucky we have been.

We are like travelers who see  the train as it is departing from the station. If only we had been wise enough to have gotten on when we had the chance. If we only we had turned our face toward the Light.

Can we ever catch the train? Yes. But we need to move quickly. And we cannot ride forever. We can make our ride count by sharing out seats with those we love.

Sharing Our Seats

Forgive me if you have heard this one before: A man named Schwartz comes to synagogue every Sabbath and sits with his friend Goldstein. Goldstein sings the songs and says the prayers. Schwartz just sits there.

People wonder why he goes at all. He doesn’t believe in God. He doesn’t seem to be listening. Why does he come?

Finally someone asks him. “Schwartz,“ he says, “we know your friend Goldstein comes to temple to pray. What are you doing here?” Schwartz replies, “Goldstein comes to talk to God. I come to talk to Goldstein.”

Faith is not only about finding God. It is about finding one another.

Speaking Up

And when we find one another, we have to make our relationships count. We need to speak words of love. It’s the only way to avoid the pain of words left unsaid.

Rabbi Jack Riemer expresses this truth in a haunting story. It took place at a funeral he conducted. As gravefriends and family began to leave the cemetery, the husband of the deceased remained by grave. He kept repeating to the rabbi that he loved his wife.

“I love my wife, ” he said. “I love my wife.”

The rabbi said, “I know.” They stood in silence. After a while, the rabbi returned to the man and said that the cemetery was closing, and it was time to go. The man answered, “I love my wife.” The rabbi said, “I understand. But it’s time to go. The cemetery is closing.”

The man replied, “You don’t understand. I love my wife. And once I almost told her…”  

For this man the train was long gone. We still have the chance to jump on it. Let us make our ride count.

To get free weekly spiritual inspiration from Rabbi Moffic, click here. 

 

Can God Help Us Focus?

We live in a world full of distractions. Sometimes it feels hard to work with focus for any significant amount of time. My brain wonders, twitter beckons, and I suddenly feel hungry for my fifth snack over the last 3 hours. 

spiritual focus

My friend and teacher Michael Hyatt recently gave some superb tips on how to maintain our focus. His thoughts prompted me to explore Jewish wisdom on the topic.

What I Discovered

It seems we are not the first generation to experience distractions. It is a human proclivity.

I also came to realize that focusing in the moment is truly a spiritual act. We can use the tools and techniques of the spirit to become masters in the art of living.

Here are a few of them:

1. Remember to take breaks: The Sabbath is one of the most wonderful tools for maintaining focus. It forces us to take a long break once a week.

I am always able to get more work done in six days than in seven days, because the Sabbath day is a time to recharge. The energy gained from rest helps me become much more focused during work. It may seem counter-intuitive, but 4000 years of history suggest it works.

2. Remind yourself of why you need to focus: The great twelfth century sage Nachmanides said we miss some of the most important moments in life because we have not prepared our hearts for them. Part of focusing in the moment is preparing for it.

Think about it this way: If you are going on a major travel adventure,  do you prepare for it ahead of time? If so, you realize how much more you get out of the trip by familiarizing yourself with what to expect and where to focus your attention.

 There will always be surprises, and that is part of the joy of travel. Yet, the more we prepare, the more we get out of our experience.

The same is true with major projects for work or home. There will always be surprises. And preparation helps us to deal  with them and maintain focus in the moment.

3. Listen: We all know people who are simply waiting for their chance to speak. They are not paying attention to what you say or what is going on around them. If all we are doing is waiting to speak, our mind will naturally wonder when we are not.

Listening, however, can keep our minds engaged. Michael Hyatt advises us to be “fascinated by other people.” When we are, we listen and focus and respond appropriately.

How Moses Got Focused

Jewish tradition said that many people passed the Burning Bush. But only Moses paused, looked at it, and took the time to listen to the voice of God coming forth from it.

When we listen–and listen truly–we can enter into the moment. We pay attention to what needs our attention.

We need to remember that listening depends as much on the heart as it does on the ears. Using them both makes us artists of the spirit.

To get free weekly spiritual inspiration from Rabbi Moffic, click here. 

Who Else is Afraid of Public Speaking?

Some people would rather die than give a speech in public. I find this fact difficult to understand, yet numerous surveys attest to it.

Since I speak for a living, I thought I had grown immune to the fear. Yesterday, however, it was palpable, as I presented a two-minute summary of my book to a group of distinguished authors and book fair organizers from across the country.

who else is afraid of public speaking

The person to my left had been a senior editor at Newsweek. The author behind me was the Editor-in-Chief at Business Week. Three people in my row had New York Times bestsellers! 

I felt like one of people the Bible describes when it tells of the Israelites first entering the Promised Land: “Giants roamed the land…and we must have been like grasshoppers in their eyes.”

What Are They Saying About Me? 

When emcee called my name, time stopped. I went up to the microphone, looked out and started talking. I looked for a friendly face. When I found one on the upper left hand corner, I relaxed. What felt like 20 minutes ended up lasting a minute and a half.

When I sat down, I heard the customary applause, and then a murmur. I imagined they must have been whispering to each other, “Who invited this guy?”

Speed-Dating

The program continued for another hour. Afterward, all the authors and book-fair directors converged into a social hall for appetizers, drinks and discussions. The book-fair directors sought out the authors who interested them. It felt like a big unorganized speed dating exercise.

I expected to sulk in a corner and maybe have one or two conversations. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised. Though I was not deluged with attention as some of the authors were, many people commented on my presentation and how interested they were in hearing about the book. A fellow author even asked for speaking tips.

The entire experience taught me a few lessons.

1. The anticipation of an event generates much more fear than the event itself: When I was speaking, I focused on what I was saying. Before speaking, I focused on how nervous I was. We may not be able to avoid anticipatory fear, but if we recognize and call it out, we can see that it is more about ourselves than what we are about to do.

2. It’s okay to be nervous: It is a sign we are taking the event seriously. Why would we get anxious over something that was not important? When we care, when we have worked hard to get somewhere, we take it seriously. The key is not to let it push us offtrack.

3. Envy is deadly: There is a difference between ambition and envy. Ambition can drive us to innovate and move beyond our comfort zone. Ambition can lead us to work hard and achieve.

Envy, however, can destroy us. C.S. Lewis pointed this truth out with characteristic eloquence. Envy, he said, is “the wish to be more conspicuous or more successful than someone else. It is this competitive element in it that is bad.”

“It is perfectly reasonable to want to dance well or to look nice. But when the dominant wish is to dance better or look nicer than others – when you begin to feel that if the others danced as well as you or looked as nice as you, that it would take all the fun out of it – then you are going wrong.”

Yesterday I learned, once again, God does not compare our lives with other peoples’. God calls us to find and live by the unique divine spark within ourselves.

Rabbi Moffic’s newest book is Wisdom for People of All Faiths

Should You Feel Guilty for White Lies?

You are visiting with a friend. She has just returned from a trip abroad, and she brings down a new dress she purchased while traveling.

You immediately notice that the color does not suit her. It is also too big and poorly designed. You simply find it terribly ugly.

is it ok to lie

And then she tells you how much loves it. She loves the color and the fit. She also mentions that it cost upward of $1000. She says, “What do you think? Don’t you love it?”

White Lies

What do you say? You know your friend values your opinion. You also know that she loves the dress and has no possibility of returning. She will be devastated if you tell her what you think. How should you respond?

We have all been there. My guess is that most of us would smile and  say, “It looks great.” We might feel a bit guilty. We might later tell ourselves that we should have been more honest.

Yet, from the perspective of Jewish values, we could tell ourselves that we did the right thing. In fact, we are following biblical and rabbinical role models who understood human sensitivities and paramount value of peace.

When God Lied to Abraham

The paradigmatic biblical example of this kind of sensitivity happens between Abraham and Sarah. God tells the 92-year-old Sarah that she and her husband Abraham will give birth to a child.

The shocked Sarah laughs. She asks God how a man as old as her husband Abraham could ever become a father.

God then relates this episode to Abraham. God, however, does not tell the whole truth. He leaves out the part of the story where Sarah laughs. In interpreting this passage, the Jewish sages derived a principle: “We are permitted to alter a story for the sake of peace.”

Clashing Values

Does that mean we can lie whenever we want? Absolutely not. It does mean we need to evaluate our actions within a larger matrix of values.

In Judaism, peace is the paramount value. I refer to peace not only in the sense of conflict between countries and groups. I also mean peace in human relationships.

When it comes to these relationships, preserving mutual respect and peace takes precedence over absolute honesty.

Now this precedence is not true in all circumstances. If we tell a lie involving something illegal or sexually immoral, honesty takes precedence. Yet, peace is an ideal that stands near the apex of the Jewish values pyramid.

The Bible tells us to “seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalms 34:14) The Jewish biblical interpreters pointed out that this verse contains two verbs. We have to seek peace. And we also have to pursue it. In other words, peace is the North Star guiding our choices, words and deeds.

To get free weekly spiritual inspiration from Rabbi Moffic, click here. 

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