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Seeing Through The Eyes Of Faith - Sforno On Parshas Vaera

The most important lesson for me out of this week's Bible reading, Exodus 6:9.

Just before this verse, G-d says to Moses [Moshe], basically: "It's time to get out of Egypt now. Tell the people I'm taking them home to Israel."

When Moshe tells them, the Jews refuse to listen "because of shortness of breath and hard labor."  

If the Torah is trying to tell us that the Jews were distracted and beaten down by slavery, why add the phrase "shortness of breath?" Orthodox Jews believe that in Biblical textual study, there is no such thing as "the author added that for emphasis."

To understand this better, look at the Hebrew. As the commentator Sforno explains, the phrase "mikotzer ruach" ("מִקֹּ֣צֶר ר֔וּחַ") doesn't really mean "from shortness of breath" but rather "from a constricted spirit."

 ".וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר משֶׁ֛ה כֵּ֖ן אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְלֹ֤א שָֽׁמְעוּ֙ אֶל־משֶׁ֔ה מִקֹּ֣צֶר ר֔וּחַ וּמֵֽעֲבֹדָ֖ה קָשׁה"

A constricted spirit means that the Jews couldn't even IMAGINE they would ever get out of there.

The Sforno says that their lack of ability to conceive of another reality - living as free people in The Promised Land - meant that they didn't fully receive it. Only their children got in.

That was so powerful for me when I read it.

How many times have I thought, "Things will never get better. I'll have to believe it when I see it."

What the Torah is saying is YOU HAVE TO SEE IT FIRST, in your mind's eye.

  • Imagine yourself free from pressing problems.
  • Imagine yourself healthy.
  • Imagine yourself not worrying about money.
  • Imagine yourself in love.
  • Imagine yourself with children.

Whatever you need, you must see the world FIRST through the eyes of faith. Then and only then can it really happen.

All opinions my own.

An Open Letter to Whole Foods: 5 Reasons to Drop Marc Gafni

The back-and-forth on the charges and explanations have filled many of my notebooks over the past three years, as I have interviewed more than 50 people on this issue. Some investigations have a clear resolution; this one does not. Defenders of Gafni note the allegations go back many years. They demand more recent proof of wrongdoing and real names to back up the charges. His critics offer, and psychologists affirm, that it is common for abuse victims to speak out only after much time has elapsed, if at all, and to feel embarrassed, if not fearful, about using their names....who is to say when and whether Gafni is free of his acknowledged past "mistakes"? - Gary Rosenblatt, The Jewish Week
Dear Whole Foods,

Recently the media has been full of he-said, she said accounts regarding ex-rabbi Marc Gafni. I took a few minutes to gather together the following. Taken in their totality, they paint a very grim picture of this man. To me, he looks like a sexual predator posing as a spiritual teacher.

Have you read these?

#1 - From, as told to Luke Ford (2004); story first reported in The Jewish Week:
 "I was thirteen, entering 9th grade at a yeshiva high school in NY. Mordechai Winiarz (now known as Marc Gafni) appeared at my parent's shabbat table, I think in early September [1979]. He was a rabbinical student at YU. He offered to tutor me in Talmud....he asked my parents if he could stay at our house over shabbat, because he wanted to be able to walk to a synagogue in our part of the city. They said OK. (My parents had no idea that they should suspect him of anything. After all, he was a religious guy from YU.) It was then that he started coming into my room after I had fallen asleep, and waking me up. I remember clearly that when he tried to touch me, I pushed him away repeatedly. I remember saying, "no, no, no!" I knew intuitively that it just wasn't OK with me. But he was larger and stronger than me, and after a huge struggle, he overcame me. Week after week, he would come into my bedroom and wake me up in the middle of the night, and I would fight to keep him from touching me. Every time, I was overcome by him physically.... More than once, he told me what he was doing was because of the way I looked, or because he just couldn't control himself.... The abuse went on through the year I was in 9th grade. The school year was almost over, I remember it was warm out. He called me on the phone one day to tell me that he would no longer be coming over....Until then, his abuse included exposing my body against my will, forcibly touching my breast, grabbing my hand and forcing me to touch his penis, and forced digital vaginal penetration. All were the most horrifying, degrading and painful experiences for me. All this only a year or so after my bat mitzvah."
#2 - From, as told to Luke Ford (2004); story first reported in The Jewish Week:
"I had been asleep no longer than 30 minutes when Mordechai arrived in my room once again. Now he was in robe. He didn’t bother to knock. He stood at the door and said something to wake me. I startled. He arrogantly stated, “You know what you want.” “What?” I asked....Then he was there in my room, standing over me at my bedside in only his underwear. I had not even heard him come in the door. He lay down next to me and began touching me again, like he had previously. I said, “Mordechai, no, this is wrong.” It was as if he didn’t even hear me. I just shut down and let him do what he was going to do. He continued fondling me, took off all of my clothes and his. He positioned himself on top of me ready for intercourse. “When did you get your last period?” he asked. What a weird question. I wasn’t sure of the answer. I just made something up. “That’s no good.” He replied. “You know I could get you pregnant.” He seemed disappointed as he lay beside me. Mordechai took my hand and forced me to help him climax. I had never done anything like that before. I had never even seen a man naked. He ejaculated all over me. I felt horrible. When he was finished he stood abruptly. “Get cleaned up and come upstairs,” he ordered....“We are going for a walk,” he said....he tried to convince me that I would never be believed because he was a Rabbi and I was just a kid. Who was more credible?" 
#3, Multiple accounts, students accuse Gafni of sexual exploitation, 2006:
"Three young women in their twenties who reside in the heart of Israel filed a complaint several days ago with Haifa police against Rabbi Mordechai Gafni, claiming he sexually harassed them during Torah lessons conducted at his Jaffa center....Haifa police officials admitted they have collected the complainants' testimonies, in which they claim the rabbi promised each of them separately he would marry her if she had sex with him. Some of the women were Gafni's students." 
 "In 2006, Gafni abruptly left his position at Bayit Chadash, a New Age Jewish spiritual movement in Israel, and came to the U.S. after three women in Israel accused him of sexual harassment. He later expressed regret, but has maintained that the allegations were false." (The Jewish Week)
#4, Publisher Tami Simon on alleged teacher-student sexual impropriety by Gafni, leading her to cancel publication of his book - as told to blogger William Harryman, 2011:
"When I first started working with Marc a couple of years ago, Marc and I spoke openly about his history and what he claimed were false accusations against him related to alleged sexual improprieties. Several influential people spoke up in his defense and equally several people warned me not to trust Marc. I came to believe that whatever had happened in the past, Marc was beginning a new chapter in his life. Marc explicitly stated to me that he was not going to be involved in sexual relationships with students, that even if he deemed such relationships to be consensual, he did not believe that engaging in relationships with students would support his efforts to be an effective teacher....In the past several weeks, new and incontrovertible information came to light that made me aware that Marc was involved in a sexual relationship with a student and that the relationship was shrouded in secrecy. There was an obvious lack of alignment between Marc’s words to me and his actions. I learned about Marc’s sexual relationship with a student from another woman who was having a sexual relationship with Marc. This woman was also asked by Marc to keep her relationship with him a secret. In talking with this woman, I learned how emotionally damaging this secrecy was for her, how it cut her off from emotional support and connection. I also learned quite a bit about how she felt manipulated by Marc, about how often she witnessed Marc telling lies to cover his tracks, and how upset she was to find herself caught in such a web of lies."
#5, Ex-wife's account, January 2016:
"His book is a best seller. I poured my soul into writing it with him and look what an impact it has had. But the more things grow, the more the work grows. The more his temper grows. He berates me daily. Whenever I neglect to tell people about his accomplishments he accuses me of being unsupportive & selfish. I forget an email and he explodes into a rage. Yelling relentlessly, shoving things. He pulled out a chair from under me. He rants until I crawl up into a small ball on the bed and weep. Please God help me learn how to handle his rages. Help me to be a better wife. Please…. 
"Please God, help me. I am sick….often. I am having these migraine headaches. My skull is exploding. I can’t breathe. My chest is sealed shut. I am a shell. When I go outside people come up to me rambling about how my husband is sleeping with this woman who comes to his classes. He promises me it’s all lies. All I know is that I am hurting God. Physically, emotionally, mentally. I am not well. Please God let these headaches end." (excerpts from comments dated 1996-2004 by ex-wife)
Mainstream Media 
The Forward
The Jewish Week
Failed Messiah
Other - Jewish Thought
Disclaimer: All opinions are the author's own. Accounts are taken directly from the websites listed and are the responsibility of those who posted them.

The Little-Known Genius of Chris Macrae

Brand processes. Social networking. Transparency. Empowerment. Sustainability.
All of these words – and the relationships between them – are still relatively new to the business community, but for decades Chris Macrae has been immersed in making the connections.
I met him more than a decade ago, when he served on the Board of the global Institute for Brand Leadership, which I coordinated. Chris was then and is now a complete genius, though his name is little-known in the mainstream world of branding and certainly not in the USA.
A primary member of the Board of the global Institute for Brand Leadership, Chris was chiefly responsible for driving the notion of branding as an inherently social process – well before anyone in the mainstream even understood what social media was. His efforts included bringing together the members of the IBL when it came to discussions, projects, and more.
Recognizing that it could take a long time to really immerse oneself in his thinking, here are some words, phrases and quotes from his website,, that will hopefully inspire you to read more:
  1. “Massive”: Architect your efforts on as large a scale as possible to have the most impact as possible.
  2. “Friends”: The future of work is not only collaborative but demolishes the line between professional and personal. We work with people we like, trust and feel comfortable with.
  3. “Communally”: The key to successful projects is a non-hierarchical arrangement where everyone has a say and a genuine influence.
  4. “Empowerment”:  Think about, incorporate into your efforts the notion of purposefully raising up the vulnerable
  5. “Networks”: The future is not just about one network but many. Social capital is about participating actively in your networks, in an active way, designed for purposeful good.
Even though I edited some of his work a long time ago, I personally still have a lot to learn about his thinking. So just ordered a copy of both of Chris’ books from, The Brand Chartering Handbook and World Class Brands. 
The key to Chris’ thinking is that branding, networking, openness and transparency, social activism, and corporate social responsibility cannot be separated from one another. 
If you understand that all efforts are in the end completely integrated, then branding processes become a seamless attempt to join the flow of the social network and influence it in a positive direction.
Dannielle Blumenthal is president of BrandSuccess, a corporate content provider, and co-founder of the brand thought leadership portal All Things Brand. The opinions expressed are her own and not those of any government agency or entity or the federal government as a whole. Contact her if you would like to request support. 

The Secret To Happiness - Rarely Shared

My beloved father-in-law, may he rest in peace, was an irreplaceable figure in my life. He passed away just about a year ago, on New Year's Day in fact, and the grief remains as raw as it was on Day One. 
Dad taught me a lot of things about how to survive. But the most important one, which I have never read in a self-help book, was this: Happiness is a constant state of gratitude even when you are in losing mode.
He should have been very angry. The Nazis took everything he had. He was deprived of his home and education, despite a brilliant aptitude for finance.
But Dad knew how to calculate profit and loss, and the beginning block of business is unsparing honesty to the end.
Like the time I joined Etsy on a whim and tried to sell handcrafted junk jewelry.
"Hey Dad, look what I made."
"What's that?"
"It's homemade jewelry. You can go online and sell it now."
"Who's gonna buy that garbage? Who would manufacture it cheap enough?
Gratitude meant that he thanked G-d every day for his job. And he had an uncanny ability to show respect for the boss, no matter what he personally thought of him or her.
If anyone complained about their boss to Dad, he would always respond, and make me laugh:
"What's the problem? Just smile at them and say 'fuck you' under your breath."
To the very end, Dad was grateful. After Mom passed, may she rest in peace, he contracted pneumonia. And a short hospital stay turned into assisted living.
No more going to synagogue three times a day.
No more trips to Trader Joe's for cherry ice cream.
No more three-hour phone conversations with his lifelong friend about politics, and their mutual predictions for the stock market.
Dad became a man I did not know very well. He sat placidly on the couch and smiled.
He didn't seem frustrated that he could not run around.
He didn't ask the other ladies in the home to change the channel.
He dressed proper, and ate the food they gave him, and said thank you very much to the lady for cooking it.
The week before he died, we knew he didn't have much time left. But he insisted that we take our vacation as scheduled.
And when we came back, and visited him, something told us all that it was the last day. 
We sat in his room and held his hands and his head to our flesh in the dark, and we spoke to him though he seemed on the surface only semi-conscious.
He gave us a proper goodbye, and before it was over he thanked my husband for taking good care of him all those years. 
Dad knew gratitude from beginning to end, and that was the lesson he taught me. 
He was a happy man who taught me what it means to be happy myself.
I miss him terribly.
Copyright 2015 Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. Dr. Blumenthal is founder and president of BrandSuccess, a corporate content provider, and co-founder of the brand thought leadership portal All Things Brand. The opinions expressed are her own and not those of any government agency or entity or the federal government as a whole. Contact her if you would like to request support. 
Photo by Vladimir Pustovit via Flickr (Creative Commons)

One Solid Way To Fail, But Not Fall, In 2016

I was thinking this morning about the pressure we're all under walking back into the office after New Year's.

Vacation is over, the resolutions are made and it feels like there are just so many of them: "Eat clean," "learn to construct a computer," "get my college degree," even "work hard and get that promotion."

But as we all know, trying to do too many things, or making theoretical commitments without an actual plan for implementation, is only a recipe for failure.

So perhaps it is wiser to make just one resolution you can keep.

If you're thinking about making a professional change for the better, you might want to consider this paradox: Some employees make a lot of mistakes but don't seem to suffer any consequences, while others seem to land in hot water for the slightest infraction.

After more than two decades of observing workplace interaction and reading about same for work and for pleasure, I think I have pinpointed what makes the crucial difference.

If you master this skill, in small increments over time, you will see a positive impact on your career.

I call it "the Zelig principle."

Briefly, Zelig was the main character in a 1983 Woody Allen movie of the same name. He had a personality a lot like tofu: Whatever strong personality was around, like a sauce, that was the flavor he took on.

Am I saying that you should sell out and be self-effacing? Totally not.

But it does makes sense to tone it down at work, if you seriously want to supersede 2015.

Of course, this is much easier to say than to do. At work, like at home or in any social arena, there will be some people you have a good personality chemistry with, while there are others you repel almost chemically. It almost seems beyond one's control to accomplish.

However, there are a few things you can do to put the odds more in your favor. The below are based on my personal observation and experience, and will probably echo much of what you've already heard:
  • Have the right attitude. 
  • Focus on other people's feelings. 
  • Follow the social norms of the workplace. 
  • Deliver excellent work. 
  • Give the credit to your boss and teammates. 
If you read this list carefully, none of it involves being a phony. You don't have to dress like the boss, mimic him or her mannerisms, or become known as a flaming kiss-ass.

Really it's about evolving yourself.
  • Childhood is about indoctrination to the identity of our parents. 
  • Adulthood is the process of breaking free, and finding out who you are as opposed to what they told you. 
  • Maturity is the capacity to focus on the self of others. 
At work, the employee who exhibits the qualities of maturity has the greatest prospects of success. This person will make mistakes just like anyone, but the positive self-esteem s/he provides to everybody else acts like a buffer against the harshness of their judgments.

We shouldn't promote or condone incompetence; that's corruption. But it's very legitimate to support a culture of maturity at work. And it's a personally valuable decision when we decide to evolve our personalities, to consistently preserve the dignity of others.


Copyright 2015 Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. Photo credit: Joel Franusic via Flickr (Creative Commons). Dr. Blumenthal is founder and president of BrandSuccess, a corporate content provider, and co-founder of the brand thought leadership portal All Things Brand. The opinions expressed are her own and not those of any government agency or entity or the federal government as a whole. Contact her if you would like to request support.

Abuse Survivors On The Job: Signs, Symptoms & How To Help

Maybe child abuse isn't such a problem. As of 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there were 742,000 "confirmed cases of child maltreatment," which translates into about .1% of the child population. 
Of course "there are lies, damned lies and statistics" and the numbers depend on both definition and methodology. For example, how would you define "maltreatment?" At a minimum, the categories are physical, emotional, sexual and neglect - but beyond that, the precise criteria vary from state to state.
And what is a "confirmed case?" According to the government, if you call social services and they issue a referral for assessment instead of doing a formal investigation, "it is often the case that no determination is made as to the allegations of maltreatment and therefore the child will not be classified as a victim."
Here are some statistics, gathered from governmental and non-governmental studies (see footnotes at bottom of page), from, whose founders were recognized in 1983 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for their "leadership in the prevention, treatment and research of child abuse and neglect, nationally and internationally."
Among the horrifying statistics cited by Childhelp - among them that "a report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds" - are the results of one large-scale study carried out from 1995-1997 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention jointly with Kaiser Permanente.
For this study, 17,000 patients self-reported childhood abuse during the course of a doctor's physical. Even taking into account the fact that these allegations are not necessarily proven in a court of law, as well as the fact that the study was conducted nearly 20 years ago, the disparity between the numbers generated by official investigations and victims' own accounts is shocking. 
According to them, here's what our nation's children may actually be experiencing:
  • More than 1 in 4 children physically abused (28.3%)
  • More than 1 in 5 children sexually abused (20.7%)
  • More than 1 in 10 emotionally neglected (14.8%) or abused (10.6%)
  • Nearly 1 in 10 physically neglected (9.9%)
Let's assume that the workplace population is generally reflective of these percentages, and let's also assume that most people work in a team setting. The generally accepted norm for immediate team size is 5 people, but most of us interact with a slightly larger group of colleagues from other teams in order to get things done.
So it is likely that at least one person you work with on a somewhat regular basis has been abused as a child. And the long-term symptoms of such trauma do not just "go away" and the victims cannot just "get over it." 
Bracha Goetz explains why:
"Traumatic experiences remain encoded in a primitive part of our brain, the amygdala, which automatically goes into “fight or flight” mode when triggered by certain stimuli, even decades later.
"The lower part of our brainstem, unlike our far more complex prefrontal cortex, doesn’t have the level of sophistication needed to be able to tell the difference between triggers that signal real danger and those that do not. Footsteps above, or even a particular place or food, can elicit an automatic response that floods the body with terror, since those stimuli are neurologically linked to the approach of the abuser."
As adults, she notes, survivors experience a range of unwanted symptoms including "depression, PTSD, dissociative disorders, eating disorders, drug addictions and anxiety."
For adults who have been sexually abused as children, write Melissa and Joshua Hall, the impact includes not only "depression" but also a range of symptoms that affect survivors' relationships with others, among them: "guilt, shame, self-blame...anxiety, repression, denial."
Of course, survivors of childhood abuse do not normally walk around with a tattoo that says "I was victimized." In fact, the shame they feel - as well as the ongoing social and workplace stigmas surrounding any discussion of one's personal traumatic experiences - virtually guarantees that they will go to great lengths to appear "normal" at work. 
So you will probably not know. But you may very well see evidence of post-traumatic stress disorder in a colleague. Amy Menna and others at Gift From Within outline some of these in an article, "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the Workplace: What Employers and Coworkers Need to Know." Issues include:
  • Information retention: "Memory problems," "difficulty retaining information," lack of concentration"
  • Emotional responses: "Feelings of fear or anxiety," "panic attacks," "unreasonable reactions to situations that trigger memories"
  • Physical issues: "Physical problems," "trouble staying awake"
  • Relationship issues: "Poor interactions with coworkers"
  • Disruption to the workplace: "Absenteeism," "interruptions if employee is still in an abusive relationship, harassing phone calls, etc."
Of course, it is neither sensitive nor advisable to directly confront a coworker or employee with the concern that they may have been abused - even in the name of helping them. But if you think  you are working with a potential victim, the authors of "PTSD and the Workplace" have some advice. To paraphrase:
  1. Invest in training. Given that 1 in 4 employees has potentially been abused in some way, and given that abuse affects the ability of an individual to function in all aspects of life, this seems like a sensible move regardless of whether a certain person seems to be exhibiting symptoms. (I would add that supervisory training and coworkers training will likely need to differ due to HR considerations - for example you don't want an employee to get the opposite impression from what you intend, e.g. that they've somehow been targeted.)
  2. If an employee tells you that they need practical help, listen to them. They offer the example of an assault victim who doesn't want to work nighttime hours, or who asks to be walked to her car (or the bus stop).
  3. Be aware of what symptoms look like, and be prepared to accommodate them.  The authors give the example of providing an office environment "which has less distractions," or "more time to finish a task."
  4. Ask what you can do to help the employee do their best work. The authors point out that survivors "will feel embarrassed to admit they need help" at all, "so it is important to keep asking" but not in a way that seems "overly persistent and aggressive." A good training program will help supervisors and coworkers alike to find the right balance.
  5. Address problems immediately. The authors point out a commonly known best practice, to provide "gentle and immediate feedback" if and when performance isn't up to par or the employee seems to be "having a hard time." They may never talk about PTSD at all, but the open dialogue and your sensitivity to various potential causes of problems are both beneficial to helping the employee as well as helping restore the office to a more productive state.
Overall the bottom line is this: All of us walk through life with baggage, physical and emotional, no exceptions. Like my father-in-law, may he rest in peace, used to say: "The chances are a million to one, but there are a million and one things." 
So it's wise to have compassion for others, if for no other reason than karma.
But if you're looking for a business justification for sensitivity to coworkers who have survived (or are going through) some form of abuse, think about this: Just like with diversity, treating others with care and compassion is ultimately good for business. It's smart management:
  • At the very least, it reduces disengagement and time lost due to stress and the resultant physical symptoms, not to mention the impact on health insurance rates.
  • At best, it promotes worker trust, loyalty, team performance and the retention of institutional knowledge that can benefit both long-term strategy and the immediate successful implementation of complex projects requiring detailed knowledge of company history, culture and operations.
At the end of the day, caring about others at work does not mean you look away and let them get away with poor job performance.
It does mean you pay attention to what is going on, with their behavior and their work, and take positive and reasonable steps to support their productivity.
There are other aspects to building a brand online, of course, but this is the basic idea. Copyright 2015 Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. Photo by Enrique Saldivar via Flickr (Creative Commons). Dr. Blumenthal is founder and president of BrandSuccess, a corporate content provider, and co-founder of All Things Brand. The opinions expressed are her own and not those of any government agency or entity or the federal government as a whole. Contact her if you would like to request support.