Celebrating in a Hospital Room

My friend Michele Cushat wrote a book a few years ago called Undone. She said “undone is beautiful.” That is, we can find beauty and hope even through the brokenness and struggles of life.

A wedding ceremony I performed a few years ago reminded me of this truth. The bride was a friend of friend. She called to tell me that she was engaged. They had a wedding date set for the following June. Would I be available? Sure, I replied.

But, there's more, she said softly. My mom is dying. She has pancreatic cancer. She insists we not change our plans for the big ceremony in June. But, she asked, could I come to her hospital room and perform a wedding ceremony. Her mom would have a chance to see them married.

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

When I got to the hospital room, I quickly realized my error The bride stood outside the room in her wedding gown. The groom beamed next to her in a tuxedo.

At least twenty-five friends in suits, ties, dresses, make up, crowded the hospital room. They stood around the mom's bed.

A hospital worker had brought in an electric keyboard and began playing. Four men brought in a canopy covered in flowers. The bride and groom entered to music and song.

Overwhelmed with emotion, I had trouble beginning the ceremony. We succeeded, however, in getting through it. By the end, there was not a dry eye in the room. The applauses bristled with a mixture of joy and sadness, hope and pain.

We knew life had just given us a rare moment of beauty amidst tragedy. About three weeks later the bride's mom passed away.

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

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

You will find more ways of experiences those precious and valuable moments in The Happiness Prayer: Ancient Jewish Wisdom for the Best Way to Live Today. It's the first book to explore Jewish teachings on happiness for people of all faiths, and it just became available for pre-order.

Missing God

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Have you ever waited for a friend at a restaurant? As you waited, did you focus on the people entering who were not your friend? 

missing god

A man walked in. You looked up. Not him. 

A couple walked in. You looked up. Not your friend.

When we wait for someone, our minds are focus on their absence…on the absence of the person we await. They are constantly on our mind even though we cannot see them.

French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre used this analogy to describe how many people think about God. In His seeming absence, God becomes more present.

Consider your own life? Was it is when you felt down, frustrated, that you thought most about God.

Perhaps God's presence becomes more acute as we urgently search for Him. Perhaps the struggle helps us become more conscious of God's ways.

The biblical Jacob knew this truth. He struggled with the angel until it blessed him. So do we.

Struggle and real happiness are not at odds. In fact, real struggle often leads to deeper meaning and satisfaction. Discover why in The Happiness Prayer: Ancient Jewish Wisdom for the Best Way to Live Today.

The Future Ain’t What It Used to Be

I recently celebrated the birthday of a 90 year old friend. A party gift was the front page of the NYT on the day of his birth.

The headlines: Conflicts overseas. Economic uncertainties at home. Many of the same headlines would resonate on today's front page.

At the same time, think about how much our lives have changed. We live almost 40 years longer. We communicate instantly with people on the other side of the world. We wear watches with more computing power than existed in all of the 1950s.

These dramatic changes will only accelerate. That's the thesis of a book I'm reading called The Truth About the Future. The opening quote is from Yoga Berra—”The future ain't what it used to be.”

In other words, the future we imagined 20 years ago is not the future we will experience. We will not age in in the same way, as wearable technology will help doctors identify and treat diseases in their very early stages. We will not work in the same way, as robots replace almost any job filled with repetitive tasks.

We will not travel in the same, as self-driving cut down on driving deaths, parking spaces, and the dreaded long commutes. We will not even dress in the same way, as clothing can help monitor our health and alert us when something goes wrong.

Of course these changes are scary. And potentially dangerous. But so is every dramatic transformation.

That's why faith and the values we find in the Bible is so critical. When the path is confusing, the map becomes more important.

The map I keep in front of me every day is a prayer called the Eilu Devarim. It reveals the ten practices—rooted in the Bible—that make for a happy and meaningful life.

My next book—which just became available for pre-order—reveals them as it tells my own story of discovery.

A Strange Choice

One of the most eloquent traditions of the Jewish Sabbath is blessing children.

On Friday evening before dinner, parents will bring their children close, put their hands on their heads, and whisper a blessing in their ears.

The customary blessing for boys includes the hope that they “are like Ephraim and Menasche.” Ephraim and Menasche were the two sons of Joseph and his Egyptian wife.

Their grandfather Jacob gave them a special blessing before he died. Aside from this appearance, they do not play major roles in the Biblical narrative.

It seems strange, therefore, that the rabbis chose to use Ephraim and Menasche as the role models for young boys. Surely they could have chosen more important figures: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob or even Moses. Why these two?

Perhaps because Ephraim and Menasche were the first brothers in the Bible that got along.

Every prior set of siblings fought intensely. We recall Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers. After so many generations of conflict, we finally encounter a pair of brothers who do not harm one another.

In fact, they get along so well that the older brother does not protest when their dying grandfather signaled his preference for the younger brother when he used his better hand to bless him. (Genesis 48)

By selecting Ephraim and Menasche, the Jewish sages sought to teach a lesson. Peace begins in the home. It is the the most beautiful vision of peace. And the one that is hardest to fulfill.

Modeling ourselves on Ephraim and Menasche is the way we get there. It is the first and most challenging step toward shalom. You can take the next step toward Shalom by experiencing the devotions and prayers in Shalom for the Heart.

Change The World Around Your Kitchen Table

We are in the midst of the Jewish holiday of Passover. The central ritual of Passover takes place around a dining room table.

This may seem so commonplace that we take it for granted. But it reveals and teaches more than anything else.

The Passover ritual begins in ancient Egypt. On the night of the tenth plague, the Israelites gathered in their homes and placed the blood of a lamb on their doors, signaling to God to “pass over” their homes.

Then, in their haste to leave Egypt, they do not let their bread rise, thus eating crunchy bread known as matzah.

For the next 1400 years or so, Passover was marked by the offering of a lamb, accompanied by a meal in which the lamb was eaten and story of the Exodus retold.

When the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E., however, a monumental change took place. Without a Temple, Passover moved into the home. It centered around a meal rather than a sacrifice.

The dining room table was reimagined as a miniature alter. And the home was called amikdash me-at, a miniature temple. The home was now the Temple.

The Jewish sages had uncovered a fundamental truth. The home shapes our character, our relationships, our deepest commitments. The home is where we learn to be human.

The Jewish sages recognized this truth, as did Jesus, who frequently taught in people's homes. Even the anti-religious Freud understood how critical the home is our self-understanding. It remains as true today as it did 2000 years ago.

What values do you support in your home? Do they reflect the person you hope to be?

If you want support and guidance for recognizing and living those values, you can still join the Ziglar thrive community. It closes this evening (so you won't get any more notes from me about it!)

If you decide to join, let me know and we'll set up monthly check-ins to explore each critical issue of home and family life.  

Your 3 Names

One of the sweetest sounds in the world is the sound of our own name. But how did our name come about? Did our parents just like it? Were we named for somebody? Did we choose it ourselves? 
Well the truth is that it might be all of the above. 

2,000 years ago the Jewish sages taught that we have at least three names during our lifetime – 1) the name our parents give us, 2) the name our friends call us, and 3)the name we earn for ourselves in the world.

The Name Our Parents Give Us

Parents choose names for a variety of reasons. They may name us after a deceased relative. They choose a name they wish they had been called. They may simply choose a name they like.

One couple in my synagogue encountered a name in an ancient Greek myth that they couldn't get out of their head, so they used it for their first son.

The  truth is that the name we are given reflects our parents' wishes. We do not choose it. We do not control it. We may love it. We may hate it. Yet, we have no choice but to be identified with it.

The Name Our Friends Call Us

We have a bit more control over the name our friends call us. It often derives from our personality or skills or interests. Yet, it, too, often falls outside of our control.

My grandfather was named Ervin, but his friends called him Tam. He was tall, and his friends thought he looked like a famous basketball player of the time named Tam. Thus, he earned a nickname for life.

 
A Hebrew name of “Beautiful Face”
 
While we may not have much control over the name our friends call us, we can try to live up to its positive aspirations. A rabbinic college tells the story of a adult woman studying to become a Bat Mitzvah. She told him that her Hebrew name was “Shaynah Punim.” 
 
Rabbi Whiman laughed when she told him this Hebrew name. “That's not your Hebrew name,” he said. “Yes it is,” she replied. “That's what everyone called me when I was a kid.”
 
Rabbi Whiman said, “They may have called you that, but “shaynah punim” means ‘beautiful face.' It's an expression, something like ‘cutie pie.' It's not a name.”
 
“No,” she insisted, “that's my Hebrew name.” He complied with her request. 

Then he said to her during the Bat Mitzvah service, “My hope, my prayer is that you will live your life in such a way that when others see you they will see in you the light of loving, ethical and compassionate concern that we call the face of the Divine, and see in your actions the image of God implanted within us.”

“So that when you are called by the Divine to render account for the way you used the gift of life entrusted to you, the Good Lord himself will reach out and touching your face, call you ‘shaynah punim' as well.”

God calls us to live up to our names.

For more stories like these and more inspiration to live up to your name, check out the second half of Shalom for the Heart: 50 Torah-Inspired Devotions for a Sacred Life,which unpacks Torah verses from the Book of Exodus, which in Hebrew is known as “Names.”

How to Make More Memories

One of the goals of life is making memories. And think back to your memories: Did they center around individual experiences? Some. 
But many of them include family and friends. They include the holiday dinners, the weddings, the reunions. 
We are, as the Jewish sage Maimonides put it, social animals.
The struggle is that making these memories takes lots of work. My mom prides herself on organizing the Passover meal, which we had last night. But she was on her feet for 12 hours. 
And my wife loves having people over. But neither of us like the bags of garbage and clean-up afterward. 
But perhaps the work helps make it meaningful. Perhaps the reward corresponds with the effort. And the reward is truly timeless. 
Our ritual holiday meal of Passover brings together the past, present and future. We are part of a story that began before us, and will continue after us. 
Picture your life as a book. When you make memories, you fill the pages of that book with words of joy. When you share in the sacred moments of others, you add color and illustrations to that joy. 
Your story brims with meaning and happiness, and your our cup, as the Bible puts it, will overflow.
You will make more memories when you join the Thrive community. 

Are You On Your Phone Right Now?

I probably am. And unless they're in school, my kids may be as well. [Here is what has helped me. You'll learn more about it below] 

I struggle with setting appropriate limits for my kids. One helpful practice has been taking a digital Sabbath.

Once a week we turn our phones off (I actually keep mine on vibrate in case I get an emergency call for the synagogue), and we focus on each other.

It's hard. Have you tried it? But when it feels tough, I often think about a saying I heard somewhere: No one dies wishing they had spent more time at the office. 
It seems so easy. But it's not, because of “the drift.” Without intention and a clear path, we will simply drift in whatever direction the tide is going. 
The drift of the culture is to be on 24/7. Our employers, our friends, perhaps some members of our family worry if we don't respond right away to their call or text. 
But here's the truth: the most important part of any electronic advice is the off switch. We can confront the drift. [You can get support for fighting it here.] 
But we need help in doing so. And we can find it online. That's the purpose of the most amazing digital community I have experienced—The Thrive Program.
It's based on the teachings of Zig Ziglar, one of the wisest and most influential teachers of the last century. It takes his teachings and applies them specifically to the needs of families today. 
It's opening for new members today. Check it out here. It'll be open for new members for only four days. So take the time to learn about it and give it a try. 
P.S.: Because I feel so strongly about being intentional and want you to try this program, if you are one of the first 100 of my readers is to enroll in the community, you will get monthly check-ups with me where we can go through the seven areas of family life. Here is where you can sign up. 

Buber vs. Gandhi

Among our most sacred values is shalom, the Hebrew word for peace. But what does peace mean? Does it demand pacifism? Is it opposition to war at all costs? 
This issue arose in the 1930s in a dialogue between Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Buber. In an exchange of letters, Gandhi urged Jews in Germany to engage in nonviolent resistance. In doing so, he said, they should “refuse to be expelled or to submit to discriminating treatment.”  
Buber replied and noted that the effectiveness of Gandhi’s pacifism was limited by the brutality of the Nazi regime. “Do you think perhaps,” he asked, “that a Jew in Germany could pronounce in public one single sentence of a speech such as yours without being knocked down?”

Buber, in other words, understood that nonviolence only works on a shared playing field. The Nazis did not care whether Jews protested or not.

Their hatred knew no limitations. They simply used the German military and S.S. to imprison and murder them.

In contrast, Gandhi succeeded with nonviolent resistance in India because the British shared basic Democratic values even as they imposed segregation in India. Martin Luther King succeeded with nonviolent resistance in America because of the shared values proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence. 

The violence we witness in parts of the Middle East, especially Syria,  is more complicated. How do you resist those who are indifferent, cruel and violent with no compunction about murdering hundreds of thousands of people?

Do you just wait for the carnage to end? Does peace simply require patience? Or does it require action?

That is a question we need to ask and answer. For a deeper explanation of the meaning of Shalom for each of us as individuals and as part of a community, see my newest guide Shalom for the Heart. 

The 1 Way to Figure Out What You Love

In Judaism we have a ceremony called a Bar Mitzvah. For girls it is called Bat Mitzah.

It takes place around the time the child turns 13 years old. Their responsibility is to read a section from the Torah scroll.

bar mitzvah

The particular section they read depends on the time of year.

The most difficult sections to read come from the Book of Leviticus. What teenager wants to read read about animal entrails and fertile bulls?

But Leviticus has much to teach us. We may not sacrifice animals anymore, but we do make sacrifices. We sacrifice time, money, loyalty in the service of ideas, beliefs and commitments larger than ourselves.