Truths You Can Use

Truths You Can Use

How My 5-Year-Old Daughter Inspired Me

love yourself

A few days ago my five-year-old daughter asked me to download her favorite new song. It’s called “Let Me Love You Until You Learn To Love Yourself.”

The music didn’t speak to my soul, but the title did. Sometimes it can be hard to love ourselves. We need help. We need hope.

Faith can help us. This may surprise some. We often think religion is solely about loving others. It’s selfless rather than selfish. Yet, there is a tremendous difference between selfishness and love of self.

Why Loving Yourself Is Important

Selfishness focuses inward. Self-love radiates outward. In fact, Erich Fromm, in his classic book, The Art of Loving, defines them as opposites.

Selfish persons think only of what interests and benefits themselves. They look at people solely in terms of their usefulness. They look outside for what is missing inside.

Genuine self-love, however, begins within. It accepts and appreciates who we are and what we can become. It helps us form a vision of our higher selves.

The Steps We Need to Take

How do we love ourselves? First, we focus on the unique gifts we bring to the world. This is harder than it sounds. If I were to hold up a big white posterboard, with a small black dot near the side, most of us would focus on that dot. We look at what’s wrong rather than what’s right. 

We do the same things to ourselves. We focus on our weaknesses rather than our strengths; our inevitable failures rather than our many gifts; what others do wrong rather than what they do right.

But it won’t make us any happier or more loving. It will only block our vision.

How Faith Helps

Our faith can enhance our vision. It reminds us that we are created in the image of God. It reminds us of our purpose as people–as husbands, wives, children, friends, grandparents, citizens.

Through prayer and acts of love and kindness, we bring to the foreground what so often remains in the background. We try to remember, as Rabbi Yehuda Kirzner put it, that “All of life is a challenge of not being distracted from the greatness that we are.” 

The greatness that we are can take on many forms. Primarily, it means staying acting on our values and giving our unique gift to the world. 

What Is Your Gift? 

A funeral I once conducted taught me this lesson. The man who died had been an elementery school teacher and author of over 300 childrens’ books.

His children told me of his penchant for wearing the same red sweatshirt they had purchased for him decades ago. On it were the words “One Hot Firecracker.” They spoke of his tendency to quote Sam Adams–about whom he had written seven books–as if he was an old friend.

Yet, as they laughed, they also spoke of his integrity, his honesty, his dedication to teaching students, his friendships, his character inside and out. He knew who he was. He loved who he was. And others loved him for it.

When we love ourselves, we love ourselves for who we are, not who we pretend or are expected to be. Our genuine selves become our greatest source of strength.

To receive Rabbi Moffic’s weekly digest of Jewish wisdom, click here.

How To Take the First Step To the Rest of Your Life

the first step hard

Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. What he didn’t say that the first step is the hardest step.

Jewish wisdom teaches this in the story of a man named Nachshon. His story begins on the shores of the Red Sea. The Israelites are on their way out of Egypt. Pharaoh and his army, however, are in hot pursuit.

What can the Israelites do? They are trapped between a body of water they cannot cross, and an army of soldiers and chariots they cannot defeat. God has promised them a miracle. But none seem forthcoming.

Moses begs God to do something. God does not answer.

The Power of One

Then, so the legend goes, Nachshon steps forward. He walks right into the Red Sea. He keeps walking until the water reaches his eyes. At that point, God parts the waters, and the Israelites walk safely across the Sea and into the wilderness.

The Sea did not part until Nachshon walked into it. Nothing happened until someone took the first step. Nachshon knew the truth Dr. Martin Luther King would later put into words, “You just need to take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

Why is this step so difficult? Why was Nachshon the only one to step forward?

Wading Through Uncertainty

One reason is uncertainty. No one knew what lay ahead. No one knew what would happen next. That uncertainty not only paralyzed the Israelites. It can afflict us as well.

I think about people who stay in lousy jobs because they do not know what else they can do. I think of people who stay in abusive marriages because it’s all they know.

Slavery was all the Israelites knew. It’s all Nachshon knew. Yet, he took the first step. And we are here because of it.

His action leaves an enduring lesson for all of us. As Rabbi Will Berkovitz put it, “We have to be willing step into uncertainty. We have to be willing as Nachshon did at the Red Sea to keep wading deeper and deeper until we risk drowning. And then maybe the sea will split.”

To receive Rabbi Moffic’s weekly digest of Jewish wisdom, click here.

How A Wedding Taught Me the Meaning of Life

A Jewish wedding ceremony ends with an strange ritual. The groom lifts his foot up and breaks a wine glass.

Why? Because even at great times of joy, we recognize that brokenness is a part of life. 

In fact, we live more fully when we acknowledge and confront the imperfections, the challenges, the disappointments life presents to each of us. A wedding ceremony I performed a few years ago taught me this truth.  

wedding brokenness
The bride was an old friend. We hadn’t talked in years, but she called to tell me that she was engaged. They had a wedding date set for the following June. Would I be available to officiate? “Absolutely,” I replied.

“But, there’s more,” she said softly. “My mom is dying. She has pancreatic cancer. She insists we not change our plans for the big ceremony in June.”

“Could I come to her hospital room and perform a wedding ceremony.” Then her mom, she said,  “would have a chance to see me get married.”

I said yes. We set a date. When the time came, I went over to Northwestern Hospital. I wore my usual office attire:  a striped button down shirt, grey pants, loafers.

Life and Death

When I got to the hospital room, I realized quickly that I had made a significant fashion mishap. The bride stood outside the room in her wedding gown. The groom beamed next to her in a tuxedo. At least twenty-five friends in suits, ties, dresses, make up, crowded the hospital room.

They stood around the mom’s bed. A hospital worker had brought in an electric keyboard and began playing. Four men brought in a portable canopy covered in flowers. The bride and groom entered to music and song.

Overwhelmed with emotion, I had trouble beginning the ceremony. We succeeded, however, in getting through it. By the end, there was not a dry eye in the room. 

When the groom broke the glass, the applause bristled with a mixture of joy and sadness, hope and pain. We knew life had just given us a rare moment of beauty amidst tragedy.

About three weeks later the bride’s mom passed away.

How the Light Gets In

The bride did not have to do what she did. She could have remained angry at life, distancing herself from feelings of love and commitment because of what happened to the person she loved most dearly.

Many people do respond to tragedy in such way. They conclude, as Shakespeare put it, that life is “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Why should we take life seriously when the more seriously we take it, the more likely it is to break out hearts?

Jewish tradition, however, offers us the opposite view. We take life seriously because it is uncertain. Life’s uncertainties make it all the more precious and valuable.

When a crack appears in the vessel of our lives, we need not let it shatter the whole thing. Rather, as the singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen put it, “the cracks are how the light gets in.”

To receive Rabbi Moffic’s weekly digest of Jewish wisdom, click here.

How To Be Super At Being Human

how to be superhuman

At a conference I attended yesterday, writer Carrie Wilkerson shared a profound piece of wisdom. In discussing the hard work required for success, she said, “Don’t try to be superhuman. Be human and people will think you are super.”

She captured a profound truth. When we try to be something we are not, we fail. A superhuman is not human.

The secret, however, is that we can grow. We become our best when we are our best. In other words, we become superhuman when we are super at being human.

The Story of Zusya

Jewish tradition teaches this wisdom in a profound story. It is about a man named Zusya. He was successful, accomplished, and a pillar of his community. He was married, with children and grand children. 

He was also a man of faith. He prayed and studied, gave to to the poor, and volunteered for his community.

As he grew older, however, he began to have fears. He would lay awake at night. He would shiver. He occasionally withdrew and seemed depressed.

One day he was sitting with children and grandchildren. He grew fearful. They asked him what was wrong.

He said to them, “I am growing older. I will not be in this world much longer. And I am afraid.”

The Fear of Not Being Ourself

His children and grandchildren responded, “But papa, you have lived an extraordinary life. You worked, you gave, you build a wonderful family. 

You cared about our faith. You are the patriarch of our family. You followed the example of our ancestor Moses, who served God and the Jewish people.”

Zusya replied: “When I get to Heaven, they will not say, Zusya, why were not Moses? They’ll ask me, ‘Zusya, Why weren’t you Zusya.’”

The purpose of life is not to be someone we are not. It is to be the best at who we are. And that is our gift to the world.

To receive Rabbi Moffic’s weekly digest of Jewish wisdom, click here.

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