Author Archives: Rabbi Moshe Becker

About Rabbi Moshe Becker

Rabbi Moshe Becker is a co-founder of the Jewish Renaissance Experience, an innovative Jewish education and outreach program in Westchester County, NY. He has done advanced research in Jewish Law, philosophy and history at The Jerusalem Kollel and with the Hashkafa Circle and has lectured and written extensively on these topics.

Jealousy

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Reprinted with permission from Torah Topics for Today.

How do you react when your friend wins a prize or gets a promotion? A common reaction is jealousy. You may feel deficient when you see your neighbor or friend with something that you don’t have. It’s sometimes difficult to remember that all of us have our own set of circumstances that we need to acknowledge and accept. You may be jealous of her new car, while she is jealous that you can stay home all day.

In this week’s portion, Balak, the Moabite king hired a non-Jewish prophet named Balaam to curse the Jewish nation. Balaam understood that in order to curse the Jewish people he would need to see them. Seeing them he hoped would allow him to find something that would arouse the feelings of jealousy and anger he was looking for.

Jealousy is what results when we spend too much energy looking at what others have. Instead, we should be looking at ourselves and what we have, appreciating our blessings and aspiring for growth in all areas. Jealousy can paralyze us and force us to define ourselves by another person’s successes. We each have unique capabilities, physically and spiritually. We need to focus on what our true potential is and work towards that, instead of trying to get what someone else has.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about their unique strengths, abilities, and opportunities. 

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES: 

· What are some things you wish you had?

· Why do you want those things?

· What mind set do you need to be genuinely happy for another’s success?

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Keeping Things in Perspective

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Reprinted with permission from Torah Topics for Today.

Mishaps can happen to anyone. Whether it’s stubbing your toe as you get out of bed in the morning, or something more serious like forgetting your lunch at home, we all have our share of annoyances and challenges. The trick is to make sure we stay in charge of our reactions and not let a small mishap escalate to a full-blown crisis.

Our Torah portion, Shlah, recounts the story of the scouts sent by the Jews to check out the Land of Israel as they drew closer. The spies’ report was very unfavorable. In fact, they seemed to have perceived everything they saw negatively. This attitude rubbed off on the nation; instead of making a realistic evaluation of the report and planning accordingly, they mourned and lamented the fate they were sure awaited them. Their reaction brought about the tragic result of unnecessarily lengthening their stay in the desert by 39 years.

We all “mess up” occasionally. Sometimes we say the wrong word to someone at the wrong time and offend him or her. We can dig in deeper and get upset at the other person’s reaction or we can take control of the situation and apologize properly. Perhaps a spouse left the steaks on for a minute too long. True, I may really enjoy my meat better if it’s rare, but does it really warrant an argument or criticism? Mistakes and mishaps can happen, but we are responsible for our reactions and can ensure that a small mishap remains nothing more than a small bump along the journey of life.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS ABOUT how well they keep life’s challenges in proper perspective.  

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

· Give an example of a minor annoyance or mishap.

· Give an example of a major crisis or tragedy.

· In what way should your reaction be different in the two situations?

· Why is it bad to “make a mountain out of a molehill”?

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Mistakes Make Great Lessons

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Reprinted with permission from Torah Topics for Today.

Everyone makes a mistake once in a while. It’s natural to try to run from mistakes, cut losses, hope nobody notices or makes a fuss, and move on. In reality, though, our mistakes are precious opportunities. They give us insight into life and ourselves and allow us to become stronger by learning to avoid the same pitfalls in the future.

In this week’s Torah portion, Naso, we learn about the comeback process after making a big mistake. The verse introduces the topic with the words “And when you shall…,” not “if you shall…”. Mistakes are a built in feature of life and they happen for a very good reason. When they do happen there’s an acknowledgment of error and a process of improvement.

We like to think of ourselves as good people, which we usually are. That doesn’t mean we’re perfect though. Life is a journey of growth and development, and we can only grow if we know where we are deficient. A mistake supplies that piece of the puzzle. Our mistakes teach us what not to do in the future and shine a light on character traits we can improve. Sometimes they can be funny, too!

TALK TO YOUR KIDS ABOUT the how to benefit by learning from mistakes.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

· Did you ever learn something from a mistake?

· Have you ever made the same really bad mistake twice?

· What’s better: avoiding embarrassment for a few minutes by denying a mistake (even if you’re just fooling yourself) or gaining the confidence of having learned something?

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Hospitality

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Reprinted with permission from Torah Topics for Today.

A great blessing one can have is the ability to give to others. Hosting guests and taking care of them is an important way to express this. Guests care much more about your attitude towards them than the expense or beauty of the surroundings.

This week’s Torah portion, Emor, discusses Jewish holidays. We are called upon to celebrate these holidays joyously and always instructed to make sure we are sharing the joy with others–our families as well as guests we can bring into our home. In fact, we are taught that taking care of a guest’s needs takes precedence over one’s relationship with G-d.

We have so many great gifts, and we should enjoy them fully. Our gift of the ability to make others happy and to give to them allows us, briefly, to be “G-d like.” Our own enjoyment of the world is incomplete if we cannot share it with others. Make the effort to have an open home and bring others into your world.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about making small sacrifices to have guests, such as sharing your room or possessions with a visitor.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

· Have you ever felt uncomfortable in another’s home?

· What makes you comfortable in any home, no matter how humble?

· Discuss the difference between entertaining and hosting – my party vs. the guest’s needs.

· What sacrifices are you willing to make to have a guest and what are you not willing to do?

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Constantly Feeding Our Internal Spark

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Reprinted with permission from Torah Topics for Today.

Jewish learning is a continuous process of discovering the richness and relevance of our tradition. Many people think learning can stop when school stops. Stopping Jewish studies after 13 is all too common.

This week’s Torah portion, Tzav, instructs that a small fire must burn permanently on the Altar represent the desire within each of us to connect to something bigger and higher, just as a fire always reaches upwards. This small flame also reminds each of us that we have a spark to learn and improve within us. It is our responsibility to nurture our spark by feeding it through continued learning.

The smallest commitment today to Jewish learning and knowledge can feed a blaze for generations. Our books, texts, and traditions bring new meaning to us at different stages of our life. An easy way to re-start our Jewish journey is to visit MyJewishLearning.com and explore its rich treasures of information. Consider signing up for one or more of their special interest weekly emails. Let’s show our children why exploring our traditions is important by displaying our own passion for constant learning.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the value of being life-long learners.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

· Did you know that the brilliance and wisdom of the Torah’s values/ethics are available to everyone, disbeliever or believer?

· Did you know that our Torah is a great collection of wisdom that has positively affected other religions and even the founding fathers of America?  

· Did you know that Jewish wisdom is relevant to EVERONE’S life today? (A small example is “a day of rest each week”.  Before our Torah, nobody divided time into weeks. All time was in months based on the moon.)

· How can we (as a family) incorporate learning into our routine?

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Humilty vs. Insecurity

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Reprinted with permission from Torah Topics for Today.

Humility is a difficult trait to teach and to acquire. We must understand the difference between humility and insecurity. Insecurity is the lack of confidence in our abilities. Humility is achieved when we have the confidence in ourselves along with awareness that our abilities are in fact gifts with responsibilities.

This week’s Torah portion contains a reminder to the Priests that they are there to serve with humility. Priests perform their Temple rituals in magnificent dress, but they must regularly perform very menial tasks such as cleaning the Altar in ordinary worker’s clothes. The priests, the most noble and sacred group in the nation, are thus constantly aware that they are to serve with humility.

There’s a perpetual tension between fostering a strong sense of self in our children and ensuring that they don’t become self-centered and egotistical. We must remember and model to our children that we are all part of a larger picture. The larger picture is our family, our community, our country, our nation, and our universe. As we grow, so should our appreciation of the vast contributions others have made to our well-being and develop our sense of awe and humility.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the difficulty and importance of developing a healthy humility.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

· What is humility?

· Can you be very good at something and humble at the same time?

· Is there something very good or wrong with a High Priest taking out the garbage?

· Can a healthy sense of humility contribute to self-confidence?

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Giving is Justice in Action

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Reprinted with permission from Torah Topics for Today.

Giving charity is for everyone. Tzedakah, the Hebrew word for charity, actually correctly translates as justice. Whether one has a lot or a little, giving is an integral part of a Jewish life. Even the poor are required to give a little charity. Money, food, our time, out-grown clothes, older toys, all can be useful to others in need. A community is only as strong as the willingness of its members to help each other.

This week’s Torah portion, Vayakhel, stresses that every member of the community must participate in contributing to the building of the Mishkan, or Tabernacle. All Jews are called upon to be ‘generous of spirit’ and donate to the Tabernacle construction. All can be generous of spirit even with a small contribution.

We should think of our money, time, and possessions as tools we can use, beyond our own needs, to benefit others. When we are willing to stand up and be counted for a charitable cause or for helping individuals in need, we become “generous of spirit” and display gratitude for what we have.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the importance of helping others and being a part of a strong community.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

· Why is charity important?

· How does the giver benefit from giving charity?

· How can small amounts make a big difference? (Think of a savings account after many years.)

· Is it necessary to be recognized by others when giving?

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Lying, Stay Far Away

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Reprinted with permission from Torah Topics for Today.

“I cannot tell a lie” are the famous words of our first president. Though it is honorable that Washington chose to tell the truth, he could have avoided lying in a different way. He could have considered the potential trouble he would end up in for chopping down the tree.

Mishpatim, this week’s Torah portion, warns to avoid falsehood. The wording is unlike any other instruction or warning in the Torah. Instead of simply saying, “Don’t lie,” it states “keep far away from falsehood.” The Torah is encouraging us to be mindful of our actions and their potential consequences. Stay far away from lying and deception and avoid actions you may need to lie about. If you cannot tell the truth about it, it is probably wrong.

Suppose a child is approached by a classmate who asks him or her to help cheat on an upcoming test. While it may be difficult for children to resist cheating, they certainly would not want to tell anyone they cheated. However, if caught, they will have to choose between admitting to a misdeed and lying. We can “Keep far away” from the temptation to lie by considering the results of our decisions before we make them!

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about telling the truth AND being a truthful person.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

· Why is lying wrong?

· Would you do something bad if you knew you would have to tell someone you did it?

· Do you trust people that you know tell lies?

· What about a fraud or deception that doesn’t technically involve a lie?

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Humility

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Reprinted with permission from Torah Topics for Today.

What gives us our sense of value? Is it our own accomplishments or others recognizing that we’ve achieved success? Is it possible to be humble and self-confident at the same time?

We can learn an important message from Moses. In this week’s portion, his authority was challenged by disgruntled members of the Jewish nation. Moses was well aware of his special relationship with God and the responsibility he carried as leader of the nation. Nonetheless, he truly did not view those achievements as reason for arrogance. Moses was a confident leader but a humble man, recognizing that everything he has is a gift and not an entitlement.

We all need to find this balance. We have innate talents and successes we’ve attained through hard work, but we can still be humble, but not with false or crippling humility that does not allow us to acknowledge our strengths. Humility is living with the understanding that we are simply doing our part by making a unique contribution to the world using the tools and strengths that God has given us. We all have those unique capabilities, so let’s respect ourselves and each other while remaining humble.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about how to take their own abilities seriously while not insisting that others also take them seriously.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

· What are you are good at, either naturally or through hard work?

· If you’re confident about your strengths, does it matter if others don’t know?

· Can you laugh at yourself?

· Can making yourself small help you feel big inside?

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Do Not Be Locked In the Past

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Reprinted with permission from Torah Topics for Today.

There is a huge difference between living with the past and living in the past. You may have been cheated or verbally abused by someone close. A teacher’s words may have stung or a friend betrayed you. It is easy to be stuck with those memories of pain or hatred, but while we can’t change our past, we can certainly change our future.

G-d tells the Jewish nation that they are soon to leave Egypt, where they have been enslaved for over two hundred years, and He gives a curious instruction. The soon-to-be-free slaves are to approach their Egyptian neighbors—their masters—who will give them valuable gifts. This was not compensation for the years of misery the Jewish nation had endured. Precious gold and silver would not erase their memories, but it would take the sting off. Receiving these gifts would allow the Jews, with time, to let go of the pain of their exile and move on to build their future.

Have you heard the phrase “so-and-so lives in the past”? It’s what happens when one cannot let go of his or her experiences of the past and is unable to move forward. We must remember the past and learn from it without constantly reliving emotions and experiences that have long since passed. Truly great people are those who can retain the memories, yet learn from them and apply their lessons to the future.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about ways to let go of the past in a productive way. (Perhaps you know a Holocaust survivor who was able to build a new life.)

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

· Why do we like to hold on to feelings of anger or hate?

· Can you give an example of a time that you held on to a grudge or remained angry for a long time?

· Could you have learned something from that experience?

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