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Rabbi Yossi's Blog

Welcome to Rabbi Yossi's Blog; where you can expect to find thoughts on current events, Torah learning and Jewish spirituality. And of course, some good Jewish humor.

How to have a healthy relationship with money

Money1.jpgPhoto Credit: Freeimages.com/Aap Deluxe

Yes, It’s true: You too can receive Manna from Heaven. We tend to think that this was (or wasn’t, if you choose to question) a one time miracle, something that G-d performed for our ancestors on their way out of Egypt. The truth is that no matter your perspective on the veracity of the account, the Manna narrative in this week’s Torah portion provides timely guidance to each of us.

 

It teaches us how to have a healthy relationship with our money and physical possessions.

Think about this for a minute: Who has it better? We who work hard daily to make a living or them, who received a daily sustenance from on High?

Wouldn’t you agree that they had it better? They didn’t need to work and their livelihood was delivered to their doorstep. They were free to pursue their passions and hobbies their entire lives’ - they didn’t have to wait for retirement!

The truth is that they may have had Manna delivered daily but it was something that they couldn’t store, they couldn't save it for another day. Therefore there was a constant sense of vulnerability - the gnawing feeling that it may not be there tomorrow. They had to fully trust G-d that He would pull through the next day and provide for them once again.

We may have the ability to save our income and with it, the sense of control and dependability, but it comes with a huge risk attached: We can easily become arrogant and selfish.

In reality we have a choice: we can view life in the most dry physical sense, a race of survival of the fittest. When we view our money and possessions through this lense, we may find momentary success but our soul will be thrown to the curb, unnourished and abandoned, leaving us feeling disturbingly empty on the inside. Viewed this way, our livelihood requires us to work ever harder and longer for our keep. And we will never truly be satisfied, because that is the nature of the physical.

Or we can view our livelihood as being Manna from Heaven, lovingly granted to us directly from G-d Himself. Then, our primary focus is not on hours invested or limited achievement, rather on fostering an intimate relationship with the Source of blessing in our life: G-d.

When viewed this way, our focus is on ensuring that we are deserving recipients of G-d’s blessings. In this paradigm, our soul remains nourished and we always have the ability to share the blessing that we have been granted.

Whether we become rich or not is not relevant, but we will always be satisfied. And you know what? The reduced stress will enable us to live a much longer, healthier and happier life.

Flattening the mountain

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As we discuss the slavery in Egypt and the subsequent Exodus, there is an important detail to keep in mind: This is talking about us too. It’s not only a story about what happened so many years ago; it’s a story that we each experience - every single day.

(And in case you’re wondering why I’m mentioning the Exodus in the winter - no, Passover wasn’t rescheduled, don’t worry. We’re simply studying the Exodus in the weekly Torah portion study cycle.)

In fact the very first words in this week’s Torah portion are so powerful and relevant that instead of discussing what could be learned from the final plagues, the Passover lamb or the Exodus itself, I simply must share with you this thought about the first words of the Torah portion.

Here’s the scene: the Jewish people have been suffering under harsh conditions and brutal slavery for many years. Suddenly Moses returns to Egypt and begins to unleash plagues against the Egyptians and eventually leads the Jewish people into freedom.

Moses sounds fearless - he confronted Pharaoh, the mighty and intimidating Egyptian dictator, and soundly defeated him. Yet, with one subtle word, we’re given insight into Moses’ state of mind and the true source of his fearlessness and strength.

Bo - G-d says to Moses, Come. Bo el Paro - Come to Pharaoh. Come? Shouldn’t it say lech - Go? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to say Lech el Paro - “Go to Pharaoh”? And perhaps even more elementary, why the need to go to Pharaoh at all? Couldn’t Moses have simply led the Jews out of Egypt without ever directly confronting Pharaoh? Moses could have simply led the Jewish people out of Egypt and Pharaoh would have been powerless to stop them. Why the need to go and confront him?

There are many explanations that satisfy the original story and the details that are relevant to it. But I’d like to share with you a personal lesson, one that is directly relevant to each of us every day. You see, Pharaoh and Egypt in our lives are the challenges that we face when trying to accomplish our goals in life. Whenever we attempt to accomplish good, when we make a goal and begin working towards it, we inevitably face difficulty and challenge. When we attempt to effect change in others and in our environment, even more so.

These challenges can be debilitating and many, often more talented, people have tried and been unsuccessful. How can I overcome the challenges that I face?

The answer lies in the first words of this week’s Torah portion, “Bo el Paro” - “Come to Pharaoh”. The very first step to overcoming our challenges is confronting them. When we face difficulty, whether due to our personality and temperament or due to external circumstances, we often tend to try to avoid it. We try to make it work without confronting our limitations.

The Exodus narrative reminds us that in order to successfully overcome our challenges we need to confront them head on. We need to clearly and objectively survey the reality ahead of us and directly confront the limiting factors that lay ahead.

That can be daunting or even overwhelming. It can be done, but not alone.

We need to remember that in order to overcome the difficulties we often need to rely on a Higher Power, Hashem needs to be part of the equation. When we deal with things alone, we’re limited by the physical reality and in that world we have real limitations. But when we realize that we are not facing these challenges alone; “Bo el Paro” - “Come to Pharaoh,” Hashem is accompanying us to face our challenges - then we can succeed.

From our vantage point, difficulty looms large and can hold us back; from Hashem’s vantage point, nothing is a real obstacle and everything is able to be overcome.

Is society like a teenager

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Do you think that we, as a society, have advanced over the years or do you think that we’ve declined?

In traditional Jewish sources there is a common notion that we are doomed to yeridat hadorot. That in regards to Torah scholarship and spiritual attunement, each generation progressively declines from the previous.

The exact opposite attitude is true in the secular world, and for good reason: Today we have more technology in a smartphone (which practically everyone has) than what was in the space shuttle that landed on the moon. Medicine, science - you can’t compare the achievements of today to what previous generations had achieved.

The first world view leads one to have a certain sense of respect and humility when regarding the earlier generations; an understanding that we are less spiritually in tune and of lower spiritual stature than they were.

The second perspective leads one to have a diminished view of past generations. In fact, this often seems to lead to outright disparaging of previous generations for their supposed failings, often disregarding their amazing achievements.

It’s almost as if society has become like a teenager who goes from being a child who is proud of his/her parents, to being embarrassed by them.

Interestingly, we see a similar tension appear right at the beginning of this week’s Torah portion. Hashem is communicating to Moshe and informing him that the Jewish people, whom Moshe will soon be leading out of Egypt, will experience a revelation of G-d’s presence that the forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov never had the opportunity to experience.

In other words Hashem is essentially informing Moshe that, notwithstanding the greatness of the forefathers, the later generation - that of the Exodus - will reach even greater heights.

But here’s the fascinating twist - although objectively the later generation’s accomplishment was superior to that of the forefathers, after all they received the Torah at Mount SInai, still it was all due to the previous foundation that was laid by the forefathers. Although they received the Torah, it was not solely on their merit. Rather they were like a dwarf standing on the shoulders of a giant; although much shorter, he can see over a taller wall than the giant.

Truthfully, a healthy attitude towards previous generation in both the spiritual and physical sense, is a mix of appreciation, gratitude and humility - all while recognizing the superior achievements that we have attained. Realizing from where we have come will help us maintain and grow what we have achieved.

Free leadership training - you can thank me later

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Leadership is all the rage nowadays. Books, conferences and experts all purport to teach the key elements of leadership. Many people would like to learn what it takes to be a leader; perhaps that will be the key to their next bonus or raise? Maybe enhancing their leadership abilities will help land them a much coveted job? Others are simply resigned to the fact that they just don’t have it in them to be a leader.

Whichever category you fit into, read on because I will save you money, time and effort in this short - but insightful  - message. (You can thank me later).

An excellent way of learning anything is by examining the methods of those who have successfully mastered a particular skill. When discussing leadership, the first person to come to mind is Moses. Think about it - he was an extremely influential leader in his time and not only that, the ideas that he taught are the foundation for civilization to this very day.

When we examine Moses’ life, we see two parts of his story. The first part is the description of what happened to him as a baby and young child, and then there is what he did when he grew up. The very first anecdote that the Torah shares about his life as an adult is profound and enlightening. In fact, in the very same verse that Torah informs us of his maturation, we are told about what defined this growing up: “Moses grew up and went out to his brothers.” (Exodus 2:11)

That’s it, that’s the key! He went out.

You see, until then he was being raised and lived in the safe and cocooned environment of Pharaoh's household. The first thing that we’re told about Moses as an adult is that “he went out”; he left his comfort zone.

That is the most important element of leadership, being able to leave your comfort zone. We all appreciate our comfort zone, it’s familiar and less risky; it’s predictable and stable.

Leaving it is scary.

But that’s the key quality of a leader, to be able to leave one’s comfort zone.

And here’s the deal - this is not just for some people. Everybody needs to be a leader. We may not be a leader of a big team or in some high profile leadership position. But we are, at least we need to be, leaders of our own life.

We can all be that leader, all it takes is one step. Out of our comfort zone.

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