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rabbi michael schiffman Riverton Mussar - a wellspring for ethical change. Our vision is to build a physical and virtual community devoted to good character in relationships through the integration of Torah, Besorah(Gospels), and Jewish Tradition. http://rivertonmussar.org Sat, 24 Feb 2018 12:21:23 +0000 Joomla! 1.5 - Open Source Content Management en-gb foundation of all relationships http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/698-foundation-of-all-relationships http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/698-foundation-of-all-relationships

art-bewaredogWhen I was a kid, I joined the Boy Scouts.  One of the first things you learn in the Boy Scout Creed, is that a scout is Trustworthy.  Like most kids, it was just something we had to memorize to be a scout.  As I have gotten older and somewhat wiser, I’ve come to appreciate the values scouting tried to impart to us.

Being trustworthy is so very important in all human relationships.  When you think about life’s disappointments, most of them are related to people letting you down.  People do that.  For good and not so good reasons, they let you down.  I should be extremely cynical at this stage in my life, because I’ve been let down by so many people, so many times.  I often think of the Seinfeld holiday of “Festivus,” where people sit around the dinner table and tell each person how they disappointed each other in the past year.


I am cynical about people at times, but I also try to give people the benefit of the doubt.  People can and do change, although slowly.  That’s why we need to be forgiving of others.  What they were does not mean they will always be the same.  This is true of people I knew 30 – 40 years ago.  I knew people who were jerks, and sometimes treated me badly, but meeting them now, after all these years, I discover they grew up; they matured, and are not the jerks they were growing up.  Even I am not the jerk I once was.  My hope, is that people will overlook the foolishness of my youth, and accept me for what I am, not for what I was.  I give the same benefit of the doubt to others.

Trustworthiness is something I’m still growing into.  People know they can rely on me for things, and I do everything I can to not let them down.  I try to be patient and kind, if they need me, I try my best to be there for them.  People know they can count on me for humor, and cigar smoke as well.  Because people can rely on me, they trust me.  It gives me a good feeling, and I know it helps them.

I’ve had people who promised things, and they never came through.  I wasn’t as upset with them for not coming through as for wasting my time and getting my hopes up when they didn’t come through.  It’s like they didn’t care enough to do what I was hoping for.  Sometimes they said “sorry,” and sometimes they didn’t even do that.

As in all things, trust is earned.  When people show they can not be trusted, it takes a long time and many attempts before trust is afforded again.  You can overlook one or two instances, but frequent let downs make it hard to trust anyone.

When people can’t trust you to do what you say you will do, why should they trust your words?  General George C. Marshall, the author of “the Marshall Plan,” was deeply respected for his integrity.  When he said something, people knew they could bank on it.  He never went back on his word, and was the most respected man in America in his time.  I want to be like that.  I want people to be able to take my word and know it will be done.  Trustworthiness is another way of saying “integrity.”

daily living Wed, 25 Jul 2012 18:12:54 +0000
keeping it simple http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/674-keeping-it-simple http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/674-keeping-it-simple

art-newstruckMy dad was a blue-collar worker.  Having a handicap, he was not able to pursue the academic dreams he had as a young man.  He delivered newspapers for the New York Post.  It was a good, job, and he provided well for our family.  Once, he told me that he and my mother went to a party where there was someone else who did the same work as my father.  My mom overheard the man saying he was a "circulation engineer."  My parents laughed because the guy delivered newspapers for a living.


People are always trying to make themselves look better than they are.  On one hand, they are trying to put themselves in the best possible light, which no one can blame them for.  On the other hand, it's no more than being pretentious, and trying to make yourself seem better than you are.

My father worked hard his whole life.  He hated his job, but he did it to provide for his family.  He was honorable and I respect him, and look up to him. I went on to earn advanced degrees, for which my father paid the expenses, but I aspired to be like my father.  He conducted himself with honor and has lived an honest, good life.   He is everything I want to be.

I have friends who are well-educated, and have good minds, and have no trouble expressing their ideas, but they have trouble communicating them.  It's not that they don't have the words to express what they are trying to say, but that they use such big words, no one understands what they are saying.  They use ten-dollar words to express two dollar concepts.  When someone does that, from my way of thinking, they are being pretentious.  They claim they are just using bigger words to "educate" people, but I don't buy it.  The reality is, they are sacrificing precise communication for the sake of looking better.

I am quite comfortable reading doctoral level articles, but if I want people to understand what I am saying, I need to speak on their level. When I teach, I imagine myself explaining the concepts to my dad.  My dad is a pretty intelligent guy, more intelligent than some PhD's I know.  I don't speak as to people with lower intelligence, just a lower education level.  People appreciate what I have to say because I make it easy for them to understand.

It takes more creativity to communicate ten-dollar concepts with two dollar words than the reverse.  The way we express ourselves to others can either tell people what we want them to think of us, or it can tell people we care enough about them to relate to where they are.

Mark Twain, one of America's greatest writers, wrote in simple, down to earth words.  The Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin, did the same. People relate to people who speak their language.

Yeshua spoke in parables; stories that relayed the human condition in every day word pictures.  He communicated with people.  It was an act of love.  He chose not to engage the people in the more "educated" manner of his contemporaries, but rather in a manner more identifiable with the common folk.  He spoke to people's hearts, and changed the lives of countless generations of people.

Profundity is rarely expressed in complicated terms.  It usually is expressed in simplicity.  The only ones who miss the point, are the ones looking for bigger words.

daily living Fri, 08 Jun 2012 21:37:34 +0000
butter or clay? http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/658-butter-or-clay? http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/658-butter-or-clay?

art-butterCompassion is one of the most important of character traits, yet its an attribute that comes from learning, mostly in the school of hard knocks. People who have compassion reflect the face of God, because He Himself is compassionate to all.

Compassion is what we feel when we identify with the pain, and suffering of others. It’s the ability to emotionally put yourself in someone else’s skin and feel what they feel. It's having empathy and sympathy for the suffering of others. It's one of the most important of the middot, yet it's an attribute that comes from learning through our own experiences instead of by reading.

It’s hard to feel the pain of others, if you have felt no pain. Unless you have felt it, you have no idea what other people go through. This reminds me of the passage in The Chosen, by Chaim Potok, where Reb Saunders says,

One learns of the pain of others by suffering one’s own pain, … by turning inside oneself, by finding one’s own soul. And it is important to know of pain, It destroys our self-pride, our arrogance, our indifference toward others. It makes us aware of how frail and tiny we are and of how much we must depend upon the Master of the Universe. . . . ” Better I should have had no son at all than to have a brilliant son who had no soul. . . . And I had to make certain his soul would be the soul of a tzaddik no matter what he did with his life.” (The Chosen, P.278ff).

People say I am a fairly compassionate person. Being compassionate came at a high price. I identify with the suffering of others because of the intensity of emotional pain I’ve been through. There is an emotional pain that is far worse than any physical pain, a pain almost unsurvivable. I can imagine the pain of others and I hurt for them. Given the choice, I would rather have never had pain, but if you develop compassion after going through pain, it makes the painful experience somewhat redemptive. Feeling for other people, helps them. It aids in their healing and dealing with their own pain.

Not everyone who goes through painful experiences develop compassion. Some become bitter. Some become self-centered. How many times have you met someone embittered by their experiences and seem to take it out on everyone around them? They don’t give a damn about anyone else.

People with a propensity for compassion will feel for others and have mercy. They give a damn about the suffering of others. What kind of person looks with indifference on the suffering of others? People who have no heart and no soul. That’s what the Nazis did. Without compassion, we turn into something frightening, capable of great evil, because we just don’t care that others suffer. Having compassion makes us more “human,” or in other words, what we consider the best of humanity. Without it, we aren’t very different from machines: cold and unfeeling, disconnected from the lives of others.

Why is it that some people become kind and compassionate when they have experienced pain and suffering, while others become bitter, cold and indifferent toward the suffering of others even though they have had their own painful experiences? It is because compassion is ultimately a heart issue. If you take butter and put it in the sun, it melts. If you take clay, and put it in the sun, it gets hard and dry. Same sun. Different substances. If a person’s desire is to be compassionate, his response to pain will be to grow in compassion. If their choice is to be angry or bitter, it will make them hard-hearted. It’s not a genetic thing. It’s a choice we make. How do we respond to the pain life brings? It will determine what kind of people we become.

daily living Wed, 16 May 2012 17:24:48 +0000
patience is love http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/649-patience-is-love http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/649-patience-is-love

art-truckbackPatience is a learned virtue. When I was very young, I didn’t have any patience. I wanted everything, and wanted it NOW! As life went on, I learned patience through resignation.

There were some things you just can’t have instantly. Life teaches us through its roadblocks. As early as elementary school, we are taught to get into a line. Lines by their very nature teach patience because you have to wait. Like most people, I hate lines. It’s a waste of time to get something you should be able get in a few minutes. As we get older, lines extend to our vehicles. Waiting in traffic is an incredible waste. On more than one occasion the thought had crossed my mind that if all these people were dead, I’d be home by now.

Life is short and I don’t like wasting it by waiting on line. Most people try to redeem the time by bringing along a book or an iPod, so if they have to wait, they are at least doing something they like.

Over the years, I guess I’ve resigned myself to the reality that you just have to wait for some things, and it doesn’t upset me to be late, or to have to wait. It’s just a part of life. This doesn’t mean I’ve become patient, only that I surrendered to the unchangeable.

The thing I still need to work on is patience with people. I know people are complicated, and I know they come with their individual issues, and I need to be patient with people’s physical limitations, mostly because it’s who they are and it’s not their fault.

Some people are easier to be patient with than others. When someone is being a jerk, I don’t want to be patient with them. I just want to get them on their way so they are out of my life. I’ve endured obnoxious people all my life, and I just don’t want to spend my life catering to their bad behavior. More often than not, the feeling is mutual, so it’s not a problem.

A bigger problem is loved ones. It was hard for me to become patient with my mom. She’s one of the most kind people I know, but as she has gotten older, I became impatient with her failing memory. I would have to repeat the same things over and over. It hurt me because I remembered when her memory was good, and I didn’t want to accept her new situation. At one point, my mom told me she knows her memory is failing, and its scaring her. It broke my heart to think that my mom was scared of anything. I started to think about all the times when I was a child and asked my mom to read me a story over and over. She didn’t get upset and say that we already read it. She patiently read them over and over. It was now my time to become patient with her. I listen to her stories over and over, and answer her questions over and over, because I love her. She’s the same person she always was, but needs extra understanding in this area. My grandmother had the same problem, but we sat and listened to her, because we loved her. After she passed away, I missed listening to her telling her stories. Someday, I’ll miss my mom’s stories, so I want to be around to listen to her tell them, instead of regretting that I didn’t when she wanted me to listen.

Patience is an expression of love, which is why the Scriptures teach us to practice it. It’s not as important to do as much as I can with the least amount of waiting, as it is to have treated people well along the way.

daily living Wed, 09 May 2012 17:05:21 +0000
overdosing on humility http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/646-overdosing-on-humility http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/646-overdosing-on-humility

art-imhumblePeople uphold humility like its the most laudable of virtues.  I think its overrated.  I’ve seen people feign humility to the point that it’s sickening.  

Some people, in an attempt to appear humble will take no credit for anything good they do, and I believe this is wrong.  If they do something good, they refuse the acknowledgement and say, “no, it’s the LORD.”  It gives a false sense of humility and to be honest, kind of sickens me. It reminds me of a cup of coffee when I accidentally put too much Sweet-N-Low in it.  One packet is fine.  It sweetens my coffee just enough.  Once in a while, when I’m not paying attention, I’ve put a second packet in, and it’s too sweet to drink.  I wind up dumping the whole thing.  That’s what humility is like.

Humility is an important characteristic in life, but its meant to be like a spice or sweetener.  While it’s a good thing meant to sweeten our actions, it was not meant to be a stand alone ingredient, but something that becomes part of the “mix” of our lives.  We are supposed to be helpful to others, and kind to others.  Humility can be part of the mix.  If we do things with a humble attitude, those things have a good feel to them.  If we over do it, it becomes overly sweetened, and people feel like spitting it out.

I’ve seen people let themselves be treated like doormats in an attempt to act with humility. In the end, they usually resent it but think that’s what they were supposed to do.  I don’t buy it.  Loving God doesn’t mean letting everyone and his brother wipe their feet on you and treat you like crap.  Loving God means treating people with kindness and decency, reckoning your actions as having done them as an offering to God, yet helping his children.  Having done so leaves you feeling good, and blesses the other person.  Acting as if you are a worm doesn’t bless anyone.

The Torah’s commands teach us to treat one another with mutual respect.  To do so presumes we have self-respect as well.  If you don’t respect yourself, no one else will respect you, and you won’t feel very good about yourself either.  When people over do it with humility, people don’t take you as genuine.  It comes across as fake.  We have a right to feel good about ourselves.  That’s how God set it up.

I’ve seen people act with good and kind intentions, yet others turned on them and attacked them verbally, trying to take advantage of their kindness.  When they were attacked, they just accepted it.  They felt they needed to “turn the other cheek.”  While there is an appropriate time for turning your cheek, there is a fine line between being humble and enabling the other person’s bad behavior.  For many years I let people take advantage of my kindness and I was wounded over and over by them.  I reached the point where I realized they were no better for my allowing their bad behavior, and I was no better for it either.  When I stopped letting people treat me badly, and called them to account for their behavior, sometimes they backed off and changed their behavior.  Other times they didn’t, but in either case, I felt better for it, and was able to receive the one thing you get for doing the right thing, the feeling that I had done good.  Feigned humility robs you of that, and its wrong.

I could find fault with the people who expressed their bad behavior, but the reality is, I let them do it.  No longer.   One packet of Sweet N Low is enough.  Two, is too much.  Overdosing is never a good thing.

daily living Mon, 30 Apr 2012 15:52:58 +0000
taking responsibility http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/639-taking-responsibility http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/639-taking-responsibility

art-cleanup2Responsibility, in society has negative connotations. When something goes wrong, everyone looks for who is Responsible. Responsibility has become a synonym for “guilt.” Whoever is responsible, is the one who is guilty. Yet this is not really what the term was designed for.

Responsibility refers to the one on whose shoulders the burden or obligation rests. This too is negative, but the person who bears responsibility is the one to whom we look for things to get done. When we talk about a man taking responsibility for the care and provision of his family, we say he has to “man up,” which means he has to do what he is supposed to do.

Most people don’t like to take responsibility. They try to blame someone else when something goes wrong. It takes a person of maturity and courage to take responsibility whether at home, or at work, or in society. Taking responsibility means you have to pay the price and do what needs to be done instead of what you would like to do. Paying for something on your credit card is assuming responsibility, but paying your credit card bill is being responsible.

The Torah calls us to live lives of responsibility; whether for our families, our business, or our culture or people. That’s what it means when it says you are to love your neighbor as yourself. If your neighbor’s donkey falls into a ditch, it is your responsibility to help him get his donkey out of the ditch. I Timothy 5:8 says, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” We are expected to help those in need, starting with our own families, but also our own people, as well as all people. Its our responsibility as children of the Most High.

It's much easier to turn away and say it's someone else’s responsibility to help others, but when you think about it, God put us here to help one another. As Keith Green observed, “How can you be so numb, not to care if they come, you close your eyes and pretend the job’s done!” We are either those who turn away, or people who do something to alleviate the situation that needs fixing.

I spend my time advocating on behalf of the Jewish poor, primarily in Israel and the Former Soviet Union; primarily Holocaust survivors. I am not a rich man. I don’t have the resources to change their lives. The one thing I can do is advocate on their behalf and raise money to help their situations. Other people don’t have much they can do living in America, but they can contribute to help these people. Some people don’t do anything, while others do something. We can either take or shirk responsibility.

Yeshua taught a parable about a “Good Samaritan.” In this parable, a man is attacked on a lonely highway from Jerusalem to Jericho and left for dead. Religious men see him and walk on the other side of the road to avoid him. A Samaritan traveler sees him, rescues him, takes him to a place of safety and pays for the man’s expenses. It was the Samaritan who took responsibility for the poor victim. Yeshua’s point was that being religious does not fulfill a person’s duty in life. If you see someone in need, it is your responsibility, whether or not they are your faith, your color, your people, or not, to help them.

An elderly Catholic lady, who was known to be an anti-Semite was honored by the State of Israel for saving Jews in the Holocaust. When she was interviewed, they asked her why, if she didn’t like Jews, did she help save these people. Her response was, “because they asked me.” She understood the concept of doing the right thing, and it overshadowed her dislike of Jews.

Life presents us with opportunities to help people every day. We can find reasons to turn away, or we can do something to help them. It’s called, “Taking Responsibility” for one another.

besorah Tue, 24 Apr 2012 17:30:27 +0000
enthusiasm… real or put on? http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/620-enthusiasm-real-or-put-on http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/620-enthusiasm-real-or-put-on

art-excitedOver the few years of my life, I have encountered many people who were enthusiastic over one thing or another. Sometimes they seemed too excited over whatever it was than I thought was necessary for that thing.

I met someone who was beside himself with excitement because I was Jewish. I love being Jewish, but I don’t see it as a reason for someone to get giddy. I could have been an imbecile to him and that wouldn’t have mattered, because I would have been an JEWISH imbecile. It was as if I didn’t exist as a person. I was just something he thought as special. It put me off.


I have met other people who were very excited to meet me. That turned me off, because who am I that they should be so excited. I figured their bubble would burst as soon as I lit up my first cigar. It reminds me of an old video I saw of Germans in the 1930's who met Hitler at a rally. One woman had a crazed look in her eyes. It was as if she met God Himself. Meeting another person, even if they are famous is an exciting thing, but how excited can you be? They are, after all, just another human being. I met Yitzhak Perlman. I was excited to meet him, and love his music, but he is a human being.

People can be genuinely enthusiastic about what they are doing, what is happening or what they discovered, and that’s a good thing. It usually makes other people feel good, and encourages others along their own paths. When I meet someone excited by their Torah study, it usually encourages me to be a better Torah student. When I meet people excited about some project they are doing, it encourages me to be excited about my projects.

Enthusiasm is a good thing in its proper place. I believe enthusiasm is best expressed in the things we do. When we do a mitzvah, we should be enthusiastic about it. When we do our best and are excited about Mitzvot, it encourages others to do the mitzvot as well. WHen we study Torah, we should be enthusiastic about it. We will be more diligent, and it will encourage others to also be diligent in their Torah study.

We have a chavurah, a small group religious gathering, that meets in our home twice a month. It started out as a gathering of a few friends. We have dinner, study Torah, and celebrate Havdalah, the end of Shabbat. Other people heard about it and visited. Some came once or twice, others come on a regular basis. We have between 25-35 people on an average evening. Half the people drive over two hours each way to attend. It would be very easy for me to say, it’s just a group coming to my house, but the enthusiasm of everyone, especially those who drive long distances to be there makes it more exciting for all of us, and I realize how truly special this small community has become.

Enthusiasm is a good thing, if its real, and not put on. If you act excited because you think you are supposed to act excited, it’s still an act. Enthusiasm is good when it emulates values, ethics and morals. It’s not good when it puts people up on pedestals.

When you do something that benefits others and is a blessing to others, that is something to be genuinely excited about. Nobody gets excited over someone else’s put on enthusiasm. Shallowness is not exciting. In a world of virtual everything, people are still looking for the real deal.

daily living Tue, 13 Mar 2012 05:37:54 +0000
calmness in the midst of chaos http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/615-calmness-in-the-midst-of-chaos http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/615-calmness-in-the-midst-of-chaos

art-birdsnestWhen I was a young rabbi,  my time was consumed by people who were constantly in a state of anger, frustration, and offense.  I was not usually the cause of it, but they contacted me to express their emotions over whatever it was that upset them.

I found myself emotionally drained and tired, and all my study and training did not prepare me for the burden of human emotions.  At times I felt my time would have been better spent training to be a firefighter, to deal with the onslaught of human crisis.

My response to people in emotional upheaval usually was to get upset as well, trying to comfort them, calm them, and otherwise trying to put out the fires.  Usually, my efforts didn’t do much to help, and occasionally I got burned by these people in the process.  It left me frustrated and hurt, and hesitant to get close to people for fear of getting burned.  They  were not bad people, but they were frustrated and didn’t know how to deal with it.

Over time, I learned to remain calm and not get emotionally involved in people’s frustrations.  It was not easy, because I tend to be an empathetic person.  It wasn’t that I stopped caring for them, I didn’t.  It was just that by not getting drawn into their anger or frustration, I was guarding myself from being drained by them, and was better able to help them.  If I was calm, it had a calming effect on others.  If I got as upset as they were, it only  fanned the flames of their emotions and didn’t help the situation at all.  I learned several principles that helped me.

First, I learned not to get too emotionally involved with people.  Keeping  a professional distance enabled me to be objective and better help people through their difficulties.

Second, when people turned on me, I found it was better to not take it personally.  I have a good friend who was the object of a great deal of negative attacks by people who angrily disagreed with him, and were committing Lashon Hara, speaking evil against him.  I tried to encourage him and asked him how he was able to put up with it.  He told me that the people who were speaking badly of him were people he honestly didn’t respect.  He felt that if he didn’t respect them, he didn’t care what they thought and said.  There is a lot of wisdom in that.  If we worry about everything anybody says, we will always be upset.  I make a choice to only care about the opinions of people I respect.  If I don’t care about their opinions, whatever they say really doesn’t matter.  People who don’t agree with me feel free to blow off my comments, why should I have to value theirs?

Third, when I become too sensitive to other people’s emotions, they can use my empathy to control me.  How many times do we curb our behavior or words to not “upset” people?  When they recognize that we will respond that way, they use it to manipulate us.  It’s just not worth it.  The Holy Scriptures teach us to “speak the truth in love.”  That means to speak the truth, and not evade it, but also to do so in love, not to hurt, not to appease, but to ultimately help them face reality.  If all I do is appease people, I am selling myself out, and not really helping them.  I don’t want to conduct myself from a position of weakness, but from strength.

People who are always upset, will always be upset.  It’s just a matter of time before they are upset over the next “issue.”  We are supposed to live our lives in tranquility, not in a state of constant crisis.  Sha’ul wrote in Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” If we are always looking for an argument, always wearing our emotions on our sleeves, we are not living peaceably.  It’s an issue of maturity.

The bottom line is that the world we live in is not peaceful.  If we want to have a measure of peace in our lives, it depends on our attitudes and what we bring to the situations that present themselves to us.  We are not responsible for other people’s emotions and reactions, but we are responsible for how we respond to them.  Its like the old advice we learned in grade school if your clothes caught on fire.  Remain calm, stop, drop, and roll.  You can’t put out the fire if you aren’t calm. If you are calm, you can do the right thing.

daily living Wed, 29 Feb 2012 00:29:00 +0000
sacred namers and humility http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/610-sacred-namers-and-humility http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/610-sacred-namers-and-humility

art-beetpianoThere is a well-known anecdote about a young tourist visiting the home of Ludwig Van Beethoven; it seems the pretentious young woman, upon seeing Beethoven's piano, sat down and played one of the great composer's pieces. When she was finished, she stood up looking quite pleased with herself. The horrified guide closed the keyboard cover and informed the group that the week before, the world renowned pianist, Arturo Toscanini was on the same tour. He too sat at the piano bench, but he would not play Beethoven's piano. He felt he was unworthy.

There is a certain amount of arrogance involved when we assume we have the right to familiarity. One of my early mentors, Dr. Louis Goldberg, was the head of Jewish Studies as Moody Bible Institute. He was a humble man, yet he commanded great respect from the Messianic leaders he mentored. I remember, after I earned my doctoral degree, Dr. Goldberg told me I could call him "Lou.". When I told my wife, she asked what she had to call him. I said she had to call him Dr. Goldberg. That didn't go over well, so she called him Lou as well.

Dr. Goldberg taught at a seminar we had, and it was attended by a brash, street-wise man from my congregation from New York. The man kept calling Dr. Goldberg, "Lou." Dr Goldberg pulled me aside and asked me what was going on with this guy. I told him the man had terminal cancer and was quirky anyway, so Dr. G didn't press the matter, even though it was clearly inappropriate.

What makes it inappropriate is the assumption of being on the same level. When it comes to getting a plane ticket, we are all on the same level, providing we have the funds to purchase them. When it comes to spiritual knowledge, we are not all on the same level.

I have long been a proponent of titles as boundary markers, but only when they are earned. When I run across people with unearned doctorates, or who use the term "rabbi" when they have not properly studied, it turns my stomach. It's no better than people telling everyone that they have black belts in martial arts and call themselves "sensei" when they clearly don't deserve the title.

More than titles, addressing people with familiarity implies a level of disrespect, unless permission is given to address people by their first name. When people wish to show their disapproval with what I write here, they address me by my first name. When they use God's name with familiarity, what are they really expressing?

daily living Tue, 14 Feb 2012 01:46:02 +0000
generosity as an attitude http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/585-generosity-as-an-attitude http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/585-generosity-as-an-attitude

art-giveWhen people think of generosity, they usually think of gift giving, especially during the winter holidays.  The focus is on what you give and what you get.

On an everyday basis, most people in public are bombarded with homeless beggars offering to work for food, and on television we see pictures of hungry children in third world countries. Most of these appeals are touching at first, but wind up being no more than an annoyance after the third or fourth time you see them. The desire to help others degenerates into giving to appease a guilty conscience because we have and they don't.  Eventually, we become numb to the whole thing.

Generosity is more than simply writing a check, or digging into your pocket to give to the needy. Generosity is an attitude, and and should translate into all our interactions with others. When you give someone the benefit of the doubt, that is generosity.  When you are kind to someone who really doesn't deserve it, that too is generosity.  The way we treat other people is the most accurate reflection of generosity.

For me, generosity comes from my gratitude toward God for all He has done for me.  Every blessing in my life is a reminder of the abundance of God's goodness.  Because I have been so blessed, I can afford to be generous with people.  I can give to the needy, I can spare the time to listen to a person's problems and give them comfort, I can take someone who has fallen, and help them get on their own two feet.  We can afford to be generous because God has been so good to us.

When I meet people who are stingy with their money, or with their time or energy toward others, it makes me wonder how grateful they are toward God.  When we really appreciate what God has done for us, it enables us to be generous.

I know people who make excuses to not give.  They say the beggars use the money to buy drugs and alcohol.  They say all the donated money for the TV begging goes to pay for air time.  I think we have to use wisdom when we give, but we also need to be willing to take a chance that we might be doing some good by giving.

There was an old rabbi who was known for giving to the poor.. One day his students followed him around all day to see who he was giving money to.  The rabbi gave help to 50 people.  Of the 50, 49 were frauds. When they confronted the rabbi with this fact, they asked if he felt foolish helping the 49 people who didn't need it.  The rabbi said he was thankful to God that he didn't let 49 people stop him from giving to the one person who really needed it.

The parables of Yeshua are all about the generosity of God, but also about how we need to be generous toward others.  Because Man was created in the image of God, the way we treat others is a true reflection of how we feel toward God.  True godliness can not exist apart from human decency.

daily living Thu, 29 Dec 2011 18:51:05 +0000
being even tempered http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/564-being-even-tempered http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/564-being-even-tempered

art-kindness-mattersWith the pressures of the modern world, Equanimity, or even-temperedness is a rare commodity among people. In Jewish life, it is a virtue, because it is an issue of character.

While no one is perfect, even-tempered people are the one’s we tend to like being around on a regular basis. People with explosive personalities may be interesting and creative, but that only lasts until they vent their frustrations on you.

Probably the most high pressure job in America is that of a Junior High School teacher. It’s a difficult time for kids going through all kinds of changes and a worse time for their teachers. When I was in seventh grade, I had a math teacher who was a severe looking angry woman in her mid 30's, who yelled at us every day. She wasn’t always angry, but she was like “Old Faithful,” the geyser that erupts on a regular basis. I’m not saying we didn’t deserve it, but it was a stressful hour of instruction for us, and part of it was because of our teacher’s attitude of dealing with us.

In eighth grade, I had a different math teacher. She was a woman in her late 50's, who smiled at us all the time and treated us as if we were all latent geniuses that needed nurturing toward brilliance. The subject matter was the same. The difference was the kindness with which she treated us. On the rare occasion she got angry, it got our attention because it was so uncommon, and also because we didn’t want to upset someone who was an emotional oasis of peace in the otherwise hostile world of Junior High. We worked hard to fulfill her expectations of us.

I think that’s the real value of equanimity. When you are a person of even-temperedness, people want to be around you, and want to please you. They are more apt to open themselves to you and let you have a productive impact on their lives. People with explosive temperaments may seem more interesting until they explode on you, and then they are not so interesting anymore. It’s hard for people to open themselves to you when they have to “watch their backs” around you. People with more volatile personalities tend to have people avoid them more than even-tempered folk.

The reason equanimity is a virtue in Jewish values is because we are supposed to be people who have a positive effect on one another. You can’t have a positive effect on people if you are scaring them off, or if your presence makes them defensive. I learned equanimity from my teacher, Reb Yitzhak. One year on Christmas day, we were going into his store, which was open, as were all the Orthodox owned stores on the Lower East Side of New York. There was a mentally unbalanced man known as “crazy Joshua” who was off his medication, standing outside with Tzitzit, a long straggly beard, and a big wooden cross going into all the stores to tell everyone they needed to accept Jesus. I watched as he went from store to store, being thrown out by storekeepers with yelling and cursing. When he came to our store, Yitzhak just looked at him and smiled. He said “Joshua? You are working on Yontiff?” He told Yitzhak he needed to accept Jesus. Yitzhak thanked him and said not today. When I asked Yitzhak why he didn’t throw him out like everyone else, he said Joshua was mentally ill, and you can’t get mad at someone who is sick. I observed his even-tempered approach to people time after time. He is one of the most approachable people I know.

The thing a person needs to ask himself is this: What effect do you want to have on the people who know you? You can scare them away, or draw them to yourself. When you draw people to you, what do you have to give them? Proverbs 19:22 says, “That which makes a man to be desired is his kindness. A poor man is better than a liar.”

daily living Tue, 29 Nov 2011 19:01:49 +0000
putting life in order http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/562-putting-life-in-order http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/562-putting-life-in-order

art-outoforderThere was an office sign that read “a clean desk is a sign of a disturbed mind.”  Anyone who has ever battled with a cluttered desk could smile at that statement.  Clutter is something that most people deal with at one point or another.  Some people confine it to one room, while other people let it overtake every room in their house.

Clutter isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as it’s functional.  If you know where everything is, and it’s not getting in your way, it’s not a major problem.  If someone cleans up or straightens my desk, I can’t find anything.

The Jewish ethical value of Orderliness is not about housekeeping or paper filings, but about the order to our lives.  When the Holy Scriptures teach us to have our lives in order, they are not talking about a neat desk or living room, but a neat life.  It’s so very easy to let our lives be cluttered with issues that are not so important, and we get so run down with them, we fail to see the things that are most important.  This is evident in the story of Miriam and Marta, in the Besorah.  Two sisters host Yeshua’s visit.  One of them is busy running around making sure the refreshments are done, and food is ready to be served, doing all the work, while her sister sits at the feet of Yeshua, listening to his teachings.  The working sister complains to Yeshua that her sister is not helping, and she is doing all the work by herself.  She may have thought she would be commended for her service and sacrifice.  Yeshua surprises her by saying that her priorities were wrong and it was her sister who chose to listen to His teachings that had the priorities correct.  Having order to our lives helps us to make the best choices.

The reality is, a life that is lived in faith is lived in a rhythm.  The Jewish traditions and culture help us live according to that rhythm, and create the orderliness we need to have.  When I first moved back to New York City, I was terrified at the thought of driving in Manhattan and on the crowded expressways.  The driving appeared anything but orderly, and seemed to be extremely dangerous.  As I lived there a while, and got used to city driving, I discovered there was a rhythm to the traffic, especially in Manhattan, and if you got in to that rhythm, the driving was safe and easy.  Out of town passengers riding with me were sometimes terrified, but we were safe and I never had an accident because I followed the patterns.  The Mitzvot are designed to teach us the patterns and rhythms of a spiritual life and the more we make them the patterns of our lives, the safer and more even-keeled our lives will become.  The promise in the Torah for obeying the Mitzvot is, “That it might go well with you.”

When you think about your own life, what are the things we tend to clutter our lives with?  It’s usually not about Scripture, or spirituality.  It’s usually about our opinions about other people, or about politics or economics or other temporal things that take our eyes off the more sacred things we ought to be focusing on and the way we treat other people.  Having an orderly life starts with re-examining our priorities and our activities.

If you want to have an orderly desk, that’s fine.  If you work better with it being cluttered, that’s fine too.  The main thing to focus upon is to make right spiritual choices, and live our lives without spiritual clutter, by following the commands of God, and listening to his voice and learning at his feet.   It will affect not only our personal walk with God, but will touch in a positive way how we relate to other people.  Most of the Torah is about how we get along with others.  We are called to an orderly life.  May we order it in such a way that we reflect the positive attributes of the Torah, as Yeshua said, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds, and give glory to your father in Heaven.”

daily living Mon, 21 Nov 2011 22:49:46 +0000
a plaque on the wall http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/559-a-plaque-on-the-wall http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/559-a-plaque-on-the-wall

art-plaqueIn our society, we have institutionalized the practice of gratitude. People say "thank you" without thinking, and without any genuine sense of thanks.  It's become a meaningless courtesy, like "Goodbye," which originally meant "God Be with Ye."

We've done the same thing with gratuities.  Tips used to mean "To Insure Promptness" but now they are expected at restaurants, and for a cab driver, and sometimes are automatically added to the bill, whether we like it or not.

In religious circles, people are more than willing to praise God, and bless his Name, but we are pretty bad at showing gratitude toward one another.  It reminds me of a line in the movie, "Raisin in the Sun."  Sidney Poitier played a not-so-religious Baptist who helps a group of German nuns living the the desert to build their chapel.  He brings building materials and spends his time and energy helping them.  In the end, they give thanks to God.  Poitier complains to the head nun and said it's great that you thank God, but how about thanking me?  I did all the work!   The nun replied, "No, we thank God; you couldn't help yourself."

Perhaps we think that the people who extend their efforts and money and time just can't help themselves too.  The reality is, everyone likes and needs the encouragement of being told their work and efforts are appreciated.  I belong to several organizations for which I do work without pay, just because I want to serve.  That's fine because I like to be useful and make a contribution.  Not one of them however, does anything to show appreciation.  In the more than 30 years I have been involved with these groups, it would have been nice to get some kind of plaque or expression of gratitude for all the work I did.  I don't need a plaque, I don't do this stuff for plaques, but it would have been a nice token of appreciation, for them to say, thanks, we value all you did.

My father was an active member of the Knights of Pythias lodge for many years.  He always volunteered, spent time on his day off getting things ready for lodge meetings, and faithfully did what they needed to have done.  One thing they did right, was thanking people.  If you volunteered and did work, you got a plaque.  My father didn't need plaques either, but he had a wall full of them.  They were tangible tokens of appreciation for work he didn't have to do that helped build up the organization.  To this day, he still has a dozen of them on his walls.  I don't need plaques either, but when I get one, I would put it on the wall, if nothing else, as a sign that someone at some time, appreciated something I did.

When we show appreciation in the presence of our community and colleagues, its a good feeling.  It makes you feel like the sacrifices you made were worth it.  Most of us live sacrificial lives, and its not because of a plaque.  It still makes you feel good to get the recognition a plaque symbolizes.  I know many people who have served faithfully over the years and they never got any recognition.  They didn't do it for that, and when they were done, they got a moment of applause to show appreciation, but they left burned out.  They often never serve again, and they feel unappreciated for their efforts.  As humans, we have on some level, a need to be appreciated.  Gratitude, even on a token level, goes a long way toward making someone feel that what they did was worthwhile.  It makes you feel good you did it.

I've worked in Eastern Europe for almost two decades.  They are not big on plaques, but I always knew they appreciated what I did.  Their kindness and generosity in the midst of their poverty meant a lot to me.  This past summer, a group of Jewish combatants and survivors of the war in Poland gave me an award for my humanitarian work with Holocaust survivors.  I never did it for the plaque, but it sure felt good to get it.  Tears came to my eyes; not because it was a plaque, but the expression of thanks meant so much.   We need to do better expressing thanks to people who sacrifice their time and efforts and energies in our work.  Its a little thing that can mean a lot.

daily living Tue, 15 Nov 2011 21:03:59 +0000
the power of silence http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/511-the-power-of-silence http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/511-the-power-of-silence

art-waveformsSilence is a powerful thing that can be good or bad. If you see a crime being committed and someone being hurt or killed and you keep silent, it is sinful. How many people stood by and watched the Nazi brutes beat up, and haul away Jewish men, women, and children? How many kept silent as Jews went to their deaths? Standing by and saying nothing was wrong.


In the 1970's Kitty Genovese, was assaulted, raped and killed in the courtyard of her apartment building in New York City. All her neighbors heard, but no one called the police. Fifteen people didn’t call the police because they either didn’t want to get involved, or thought someone else would have called. In this sense, speaking out means involvement. The Torah demands that we be involved in our world, and not keep silent when it comes to injustice, yet we chose to disengage when it is inconvenient or costly to us.

The other side of silence is also powerful. My father lost his hearing when he was 16 years old. For the following 70 years he heard nothing. As a young teen, having silence thrust upon him seemed more like a life sentence than any kind of blessing. Since he was a teen, he never heard music, my mother’s voice, my voice, or anything meaningful. Over the years, he became accustomed to his quiet world. It was peaceful and he was reconciled to it. A few years ago, at my urging, my father had a Cochlear Implant, a surgery intended to help restore his hearing. The operation was not a success, and the only sound he could hear was noise, or static. After a while, he turned off the implant hearing aid. The noise was just a distraction.

For us, silence is important, because in the stillness of it, we can think, reflect on the situations of our lives, and heal, learn and grow. Most incidental sound is noise or static. It takes our attention off what is really important. The scriptures say, “Be still and know that I am God.” In stillness, we find the presence of God, and in His presence we find healing and peace.

When Job was in agony, his friends came to comfort him. For a full week, they sat with him and said nothing. Their presence did more to help than words ever could. When they started to speak, they blew it.

In the movie “The Frisco Kid,” there is a scene where the rabbi becomes ill and is taken to a desert mission, where all the monks are under a lifelong vow of silence. The rabbi is amazed that people would make such a vow, since basic life interaction would become difficult. He asks for the salt, and when it is passed to him, he says thank you, a monk responds “you’re welcome,” and fears he has committed a sin. Everyone laughs, but the point is, as Jews we don’t indulge in asceticism. You can do something for a short time as a spiritual exercise, and learn what you can, but then you move on, because you aren’t allowed to disengage from life.

Silence is not a punishment, but a chance to hear your inner self and think. It’s a chance to listen to the voice of God, and encounter Him, and in that encounter, a chance to heal. Sometimes we need to move far from the maddening crowd.

daily living Thu, 08 Sep 2011 17:59:33 +0000
in the midst of argument http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/502-in-the-midst-of-argument http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/502-in-the-midst-of-argument

art-humilityprideIn recent weeks, I’ve participated in internet discussions where people have accused me of not being humble.   I never claimed to be the most humble guy in the world, but they said I was arrogant.  I was not consciously trying to be arrogant, but it made me look over my posts to see why people might take my words for arrogance.  It came down to this...

Because I have firmly held convictions and was not willing to acquiesce to viewpoints I knew to be wrong, I was accused of being arrogant and branded “not humble.”  If you know the sky is blue, and people insist it’s green, should you give in to what people claim, or stick with what you know to be true?  Humility doesn’t mean abandoning what you know to be right.  It means however, to not treat people as inferior to you because they hold views other than your own.

Jewish people tend to argue.  We argue about all kinds of things, and express varying opinions.  People who are not aware of this aspect of Jewish culture mistake the clash of opinions for fighting; and they may well appear to be fighting, but it is actually a way to examine different sides of an issue.  When all is said and done, people can part as friends and may even go out to eat together.  It was in just such a discussion I was having with people one internet evening, when a non-Jewish woman watching our discussion came to the conclusion was that I am not humble, and in fact, was arrogant.  I pointed out to her that her judgment of me was itself arrogant, and she accused me of not showing “love” to the person I was arguing with.  To her, “love” apparently meant mutual agreement.  The irony of it all was that after she accused me of spreading discord among brethren and accused me of being a lousy teacher because I didn’t play according to her way of discussion, the guy who she said I was creating discord with, friended me on facebook.  Apparently, he didn’t think I was spreading discord, only her.

Once again, what are the rules for humility?  Can we disagree with people and still be humble?  I think we can.  Does holding to your view make you arrogant?  I think not.  You can still argue with someone and not treat them less than yourself.  Respect is earned on the battlefield of disagreement.  If a person makes a good case for his view, I will respect him more because of it.

I have long made it a point to respect people based on how they treat others, and not on whether or not they agree with me.  Some of the people I like most are people I strongly disagree with, and some of the people I like least, are people who hold views similar to my own.  Humility means treating people with kindness and as fellow travelers in this world.  It does not mean pretending we agree with everyone, or playing “nice.”  As long as we don’t disrespect people, we should be able to disagree with them.   It is okay to disagree as long as you don’t think an opinion makes you a better person.  It is actions that make us better or worse..  and not better or worse than others, but better or worse versions of ourselves.   There is no place for arrogance if you are only comparing yourself to yourself.

daily living Fri, 12 Aug 2011 18:08:52 +0000
is profanity unclean? http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/501-is-profanity-unclean? http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/501-is-profanity-unclean?

art-swearingAs a native New Yorker, profanity is my first language.  In New York, profane language is not considered sin or evil, but is simply a way of exclamating your comments.  It lets people know you feel strongly about something.

Having lived for many years in exile from New York, in Arizona, Ohio, Illinois, Connecticut, and Florida, I became accustomed to the linguistic customs of people outside of New York.  Memories of profanity faded over the years.  In 1990, I returned to New York, with my “clean” vocabulary, and found people were not taking me seriously.  After a while, profanity began to creep back into my usage, and I was shocked to discover that people now took me seriously.  Speaking my native tongue made me a more effective communicator.

A problem arose when I would speak with people outside of the New York Metropolitan area.  I could see them cringe when I spoke in the New York vernacular.  The language was too strong for some of them.  I toned down my language by using secondary “bad words” instead of the powerful ones and that helped a bit, but they were still uncomfortable.  After living for more than a decade in New York City, I decided to retain my native speech, but use it moderately.  It made my language colorful, but no one got hurt.

The issue raised by self-righteous detractors, is that my speech is not clean, and therefore, anything I have to say is tainted.  When I consider this, I come to a completely different conclusion for several reasons.  First, the Apostle Paul, in one of his epistles uses profanity that would make a New Yorker feel at home.   You can’t really find it in an English translation, but it’s in the Greek Text.  If the Apostle’s words are not tainted, I must conclude mine are not either.

Secondly, my words have no real victims.  No one is genuinely hurt by them.  When people who don’t use profanity speak badly of others, talk behind their backs, spread lies and rumors, and call someone else’s reputation into question, they are committing Lashon Horah, the sin of speaking evil of others and they are doing real harm.  They may not use profanity, but they have committed character assassination, and damaged another person’s reputation.  Why is it that we condemn the profanity of language that harms no one, yet say nothing of the real profanity that hurts others?  I am sick and tired of people who think they are righteous because they use “nice” language but behave badly to others.  They are only fooling themselves.  They are as unclean as open graves.  They think that by condemning foul language they can hide their miserable behavior toward others.

What does the scripture mean when it tells us to be clean?  Words like purity, holiness, and cleanliness come to mind.  The word for clean or pure most often used is Tahor,which means purity.  This is used in Psalm 51 where King David says, “Create in me a clean heart, Oh God, and renew a right spirit within me.”  The scripture is concerned with a clean heart, having clean motives toward others.  The Scripture is not so concerned about “cosmetic” cleanliness as much as cleanliness of life; our actions and attitudes toward others.  This is a truth that ever New Yorker understands.  No one is fazed by obscene language, but they understand kindness toward others.  This became apparent to the world in the aftermath of 9/11.  New Yorkers have long been legendary for their outer harshness, yet in the crisis, people reached out to one another, even though they were total strangers.  The hearts of New Yorkers were revealed to the world.  It has been my experience that the main difference between New Yorkers and the rest of Americans, is that in the rest of the country, people want to be friendly and smile, but they don’t really want to be your friends.  They won’t go out of their way for you.  New Yorkers tend to be more grumpy on the exterior, but the friendships and genuine and more lasting.  I’ve known many New Yorkers who would walk two blocks out of their way to help a stranger find their destination.  In my mind the real profanity is smiling at people while speaking badly behind their backs.

If someone objects to my language, speaking in my native tongue, “that’s too damn bad.”  To put it in a way the rest of you can understand, sorry, no offense intended.

daily living Mon, 08 Aug 2011 19:43:48 +0000
resting with diligence http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/483-resting-with-diligence http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/483-resting-with-diligence

art-restAbout 20 years ago, I was having lunch with a local director of a large well-known ministry.  He asked me how many hours a week I put into my work.  After thinking about it, I told him, on the average, I put in fifty hours a week.  He smirked and condescendingly commented that it was a “light week.”

I was put off at first, and informed him it was the quality of the work that was important.  The fact is, that ministry had a notorious reputation for working their people like slaves; demanding seventy to eighty hours a week out of their workers and would humiliate them if they didn’t keep up the pace.  When their workers balked, they guilt tripped them about being in “the Lord’s work,” and kept them in line until they eventually burned out.


Ironically, after that director left that ministry, he confided to me that they kept him so busy, he didn’t have time for his own spiritual life.  He was so busy trying to do God’s work, he didn’t have any time to spend with God Himself!

This is an extreme case, and in my opinion, somewhat cultic.  On a less extreme level, many people are self abusive in the guise of being diligent.  We feel like if we are doing something for God, we need to expend all our efforts, and resting is not right if it’s work for God.  Somewhere we got the mistaken idea, that resting is just for Shabbat, the day of rest, but when it comes to Shabbat, people are running around trying to make it so special, they need to rest from Shabbat.  In the long run, they get no rest at all.

When I look at the Scriptures, I find plenty of people resting.  Rest is important, because when people are allowed to rest, they are rejuvenated.  Their strength is renewed and they can return to the task with new vigor.  In Exodus 31:17 it says, “for in six  days the LORD  made  heaven and earth  and on the seventh day  he rested, and was refreshed. ” The principle of resting and being refreshed was established by God Himself.

Working ourselves (or others) to death, even under the guise of being for God’s sake, is at best a crock, and even worse, is a profanation of His Name.  It is telling people that God wants us to burn ourselves out for His glory.   That is a lie, and sends people a false message about God.  If people want to make themselves martyrs, that is their business, but they need to understand they will get no gold stars from heaven because of it.  Being in relationship with God should result in blessing and refreshment.  God isn’t looking for people to wear themselves out in His service.  That’s not too far removed from being a very slow suicide bomber.  You may think that’s extreme, but I’ve seen too many people who totally burned themselves out for God’s glory, but no one got any glory from their burnout.

Diligence assumes that you not only focus on a task, but that you also will take care of yourself in the process, both physically, and spiritually.  This is what is spoken of in Psalm 23:2-3 “He makes me to lie down in green pastures: he leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul.” This should be the result of a relationship with God.  Not burnout, bad attitudes, and frustration.  God isn’t looking for people to fizzle out for his Glory.  He wants us to be refreshed and strengthened.  In Isaiah 40:31, the prophet wrote, “But those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.” This is supposed to be the result of walking with God; it’s the goal.  God doesn’t treat us like a vehicle and refills us just so we can continue to burn ourselves out.  He wants us to serve him, but serving God is more a matter of attitude. I can be God serving, or self-serving.  God does want us to be serving Him, doing things He wants us to do, treating one another as He wants us to treat them.  He is not like a vampire looking to suck out our life blood and leaving us worn out and empty.  If we are really serving God, we need to take care for ourselves, and rest.  On the other hand, if all you are doing is resting, Tuchas Auffen Tish! …..  but that’s another issue.

daily living Fri, 03 Jun 2011 08:00:00 +0000
frugality isn't cheapness http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/478-frugality-isnt-cheapness http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/478-frugality-isnt-cheapness

art-bargainsThose of you who know me, know that over five months ago, I underwent gastric surgery. During that time, I have lost about 75 pounds.

While that is a great thing, the drawback is that I have run out of all the “thin” clothes I had been saving for when I lost weight, and now I’m at the point where I have to buy new clothes. I hesitate to spend a lot of money on new clothing because in a few months, they will be too big for me and I’ll have to give them away.


The daughter of a very close friend is getting married next week, and I needed to get a new suit. I went to a men’s store I used to go to and found some beautiful suits, but they were priced four hundred dollars and up. I could justify the expense if I was going to wear the suit for the next five years, but to shrink out of it in a matter of months seems like such a colossal waste of money. My ever-practical wife suggested we look for a suit at a thrift shop. I told her I didn’t like thrift shops, because they all smell stale or like moth balls, and that I could make one of the suits I have at home work. She said the suits at home were all too big and I really had to get another suit, so reluctantly, we went to the Kiwanis Club thrift store (I reasoned they were a step up from Salvation Army or Goodwill).

I started looking through the racks of clothing, which reminded me of the clothing we distribute to poor people in Eastern Europe, when I came across a suit, that looked pretty good. I tried on the jacket, and it fit. I grabbed it and ran to the changing room, and the pants fit as well. They were even the correct length. Upon closer examination, I found the suit had the original store tags on it, and the pants had been tailored because the excess material from the hems were in the back pants pocket. The jacket pockets were still sewn, so I knew this suit, which fit me like it was made for me, was never worn. I checked the tags, and the suit was price marked twenty-five dollars. I thought it was quite a deal, until I got to the register and was informed that because it was half price Tuesday,  the suit would be half price. So I got the suit for twelve dollars and change. My wife told me she was praying I’d find something suitable for the wedding.

It gave me pause to think. Even though I will be giving the suit to rummage in a few months, at least for now, it fits me, and I saved 388 dollars. Saving money isn’t a matter of being cheap. It means I have more money to give to the poor, support humanitarian efforts, and in general, the means to bless other people.

to hoard or not to hoard

There are some people who are cheap. They spend the least amount of money on anything, and sock away what they don’t spend, amassing a fortune, but living like paupers. Yeshua said, “what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his soul?” We need to be careful about how we spend our money, but not so we can make ourselves wealthy. We need to be careful with our spending, so we have the money to help others and practice a godly generosity toward those in need, and to help worthy ministries. We may be stressed financially, but from the perspective of most of the world, we are wealthy. How do I define wealth? We go to sleep at night knowing we are going to eat tomorrow. I know many who don’t have that luxury. It’s good to use coupons and take advantage of sales and offers. Being better stewards is not simply saving money. It is saving so we can be generous when we have opportunity.

If any of you want to help elderly Jews in the Former Soviet Union and Israel, you can give to Chevra USA, www.chevrahumanitarian.org.

daily living Wed, 25 May 2011 16:58:31 +0000
kosher righteousness http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/475-kosher-righteousness http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/475-kosher-righteousness

art-openwisdomRighteousness, in its simplest form, is doing the “right” thing.  It can be argued that observing the mitzvot is practicing righteousness, and it certainly does lead us into righteousness, but its more than simple observance.  It’s about attitude when we do a mitzvah.


We meet many people who are self-righteous.  They see themselves as paragons of virtue, and assume they are in the right when they are condemning the actions of others.  The problem is not with their virtues, but with the attitude they bring to the table.  When people compare themselves with others and find the other person coming up short, there is a level of arrogance present that doesn’t jibe with the idea of righteousness.

In an earlier writing, I talked about humility in not comparing ourselves with others, but with what we should but don’t always do ourselves.  True righteousness is practiced in humility, realizing God is our judge and that we are accountable to Him.  Paul said in Ephesians 4:1-2, “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love.

Righteousness is the way we treat one another.  It involves kindness and gentleness.  It’s easy to do that with people who don’t really bother us, but we are asked to do this with all people, regardless of whether they are our favorites or not.  We are supposed to live our lives in such a way that people see Yeshua in us.  He was righteous.  He was kind toward people, and if anyone is going to see Yeshua in us, we need to have the kind of righteousness He had toward others.  Paul said in Gal. 6:1, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.”  Even if something is not a sin, we need to be gentle with people around us.  The world is a harsh place, and gentleness is healing.  This is the effect we need to have on people.

Two people who had a great effect on my life were Jean and Elmer Hiebert.  When I was a young Yeshua follower in college, they ran a bookstore that didn’t make any money, but was dedicated to reach out to college students.  I hung out at their store every day, mainly because of their kindness and warmth.  They didn’t teach me theology, they taught me to see people with compassion and love.  I had never seen love like that before.  In short, I saw Yeshua in them, and it changed me forever.

In the parable of the Sheep and Goats, Yeshua speaks of the righteous, saying,

“I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink.  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me.”  

The righteous, in Yeshua’s view, are not the people who hold the right doctrines, but the people who act with kindness and love.

There is a story of a renowned rabbi who received a message from heaven that he would spend eternity with a local bartender.  He was surprised and went to visit the bartender.  He told him what was revealed to him and asked if he was a religious man.  The bartender said he wasn’t very religious, but when anyone was hungry, he gave them a meal.  If they had no place to sleep, he let them sleep in the bar.  If he knew of a widow in need, he tried to send her some money.  The rabbi told him he would be honored to spend eternity with him.

Genuine righteousness is kind towards others; it restores and builds up.  Counterfeit righteousness judges others and condemns.  It makes people feel like failures.  It’s not a question about who is right and who is wrong, but about how we treat people, especially those who need encouragement the most.

daily living Mon, 16 May 2011 08:00:00 +0000
humility: what it isn't http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/470-humility-what-it-isnt http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/humility/item/470-humility-what-it-isnt

art-goldaGolda Meir once said, "Don’t be so humble; you’re not that great." Humility is a quality we love to see in others, and we try to feign in ourselves, but I'm not sure what passes as humility is actually humility.

I've seen too many people act humble, but it's not much more than an act. This is particularly true among religious people. If you compliment someone, they vehemently refuse to accept the compliment, instead telling you, it's not them, its God. After a while, I get tired of hearing someone say, "no... it's not me, it's the Lord." I wish people would just learn how to accept a compliment and say, "thank you." There is nothing wrong with people appreciating you or something you have done. It doesn't rob God of His Glory to have people be appreciative of you or some skill you have. Not accepting a compliment is not humility, its more of social awkwardness.

The opposite is also true. I don't like being around people who are so full of themselves that any compliment given is absorbed by their tremendous ego. What people call humility is no more than the other side of the spectrum: They either have a big ego, or a damaged ego. Both problems come from the same wrong behavior. They compare themselves with other people.

When I was a much younger person, I used to compare myself with others, and it had devastating effects on my ego. I saw people who were taller than me, smarter than me, better looking than me, and/or richer than me. Whenever I compared myself with others, I felt inferior, and I acted that way. People mistook it for humility, but it was a bad self-image.

As I got older, I began to realize my poor self-image was based on wrong things. When I was in High School, I asked my guidance counselor about the results of my IQ test and was told that it was 95, a bit below normal. I labored for the next fifteen years under the assumption that I had below normal intelligence. I did well in college and grad school without over exerting myself with study, but figured I was pulling the wool over everyone's eyes. When I was working on my doctoral degree, I had a friend who kept calling me a genius. I angrily told him to stop calling me that because I only had a 95 IQ. He burst out laughing and said there had to be a mistake, because he thought I was brilliant. When I accused him of mocking me, he proceeded to point out that I had the highest grades in our class and I was studying the least. I began to see that I was laboring under a wrong understanding, and that I was not less intelligent than others. Maybe I had a bad day when I took that test. Maybe the guidance counselor was an anti-Semite. In any case, I was not pulling the wool over everyone's eyes, just my own.

Real humility does not come from comparing ourselves with other people. There will always be people with more or less than us. People are what they are, and they should be appreciated for what they are. Real humility comes from comparing ourselves with the standards God set forth in his Torah. God does not ask us to compare ourselves with others, only with our own potential. Are we the best version of ourselves we can be?

A truly humble person is someone who knows they are created and loved by God. They understand that the world does not revolve around them, and they are to live their lives in submission to Him.   It was with this understanding that we should understand Moses saying he was the most humble man on the face of the earth. He wasn't bragging about it, but saying he understood quite well who he was in relation to God.  In other words, when someone is genuinely humble, they are submitted to a life of Torah, and people can see the love of God in them. It's not about refusing compliments, but about treating people with kindness and love. It's about letting people see the life of Yeshua in our lives. This is true humility.

daily living Mon, 09 May 2011 08:00:00 +0000