Truths You Can Use

Truths You Can Use

Are We Busy Wasting Our Lives Away? A Lesson from the Jewish Holiday of Purim

wasting time, esther, purim
A story is told about a rabbi who always saw a member of his conregation running down the street. Every day, the man kept running without missing a beat.

One day, the rabbi stopped him and said, “Why are you always in a hurry?” The man replied, “I’m running to make a living.”

The rabbi paused and answered, “You say you’re running after your living. But how do you know your living is not running after you? Perhaps all you need to do is pause, and let it catch up.”

Are You Running Away From Your Gifts? 

Sometimes we lose ourselves in busyness. We let our gifts run right by us. We treat life as a game to be won rather than experience to savor.

This lesson emerges in the Jewish holiday that begins this weekend. Know as Purim, it celebrates the wisdom of Queen Esther and her boldness in saving the Jews of Persia from annihilation.

The story of Queen Esther is an enlightening one. She is born as a peasant and is plucked from obscurity to become Queen.

Why Esther Became Queen

According to the Jewish sages, part of the reason the King selected her was that her character was “soft and gentle, prudent and careful.” These traits stood out in contrast to many of her rivals for the throne, who were zealous and deceitful and self-centered.

The sages then connect Esther’s character with her faith. Her faith taught her right from wrong, what was real and what was fake, what was just and what was unjust. She was careful not to embarrass or deceive others. She knew she served a higher power than the king.

Her rivals, however, saw becoming queen as their right and sole purpose. It became their consuming passion, and they relentlessly pushed to attain even if it meant embarrassing or destroying their rivals. They knew no higher power other than themselves.

How Can We Learn from Her Example? 

Esther’s example can speak to us today. How often do we relentlessly pursue what is bigger and greater because we think it will make us happy? How often does our desire for rewards and recognition drive our actions? How often do our possessions start to possess us?

When we let this happen, we confuse what we think will make us feel good with what brings ultimate meaning and purpose in life. We keep chasing after what we think we want, when what we really need is standing right beside us.

By following the gentle and faithful example of Queen Esther, we can attain what makes life truly worthwhile.

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

How To Talk With God: 10 Bible Verses on the Power of Prayer

One of the Bible’s central themes is the relationship between God and human beings. In particular, the text explores the way we communicate with God.

The conventional term for this type of communication is prayer. It can take many forms and languages. What they all share is the desire to lift our words and thoughts out of the ordinary and into the extraordinary. 

prayer and the bible
Here are some of my favorite verses from the Old Testament on this theme.

1) “Worship God in joy; come into His Presence in song.” (Psalm 100:2)

2) “The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, the God of my father, and I will exalt him.” (Exodus 15:2)

3) I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2)

4) “And Moses cried unto the Eternal One, saying, Heal her now, O God, I beseech thee.” (Numbers 12:13)

5) “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)

6) “If one turns away his ear from hearing My teachings,
even his prayer is not heard.” (Proverbs 28:9)

7) “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless Your holy name.” (Psalm 103:1)

8) “And serve Him with all your heart.” (Deuteronomy 11:13)

9) “Then Abraham spoke up again:’“Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes.’” (Genesis 18:27)

10) “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23:6)

Do you have any favorite biblical verses on prayer?

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

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.

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