This Way or That

Want to lose weight? It’s always hard, but why make it harder than necessary by using the wrong strategies? Everyone knows that there are two prongs to this challenging goal: eating fewer calories and increasing exercise. Where to start? Is it more effective to sign up at a gym and use the exhilaration of mastering the Elliptical to help overcome the urge for chocolate cream eclairs or better first to lay off the calories and once that urge has been defeated, get going on the treadmill?

Intoxicated by a regular paycheck in your first job after college you’ve gone on a spending spree. The credit card bills make you hyperventilate each month. Got to get the finances into shape. Got to stop spending and start saving. But which one first? Take a scissors to the credit cards and then go and open a savings account or the other way around. Do we humans respond best to ending destructive behavior and only then starting the restorative conduct or the other way around?

Like doing everything else from architecture to zebra taxidermy, there is a right way and usually several wrong ways. Why would losing weight or restoring financial health be any different? So which way produces best results for effort expended? Let’s check our Manufacturer’s Instruction Manual.

And the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you.  – (Genesis 12:1)

Ancient Jewish wisdom points out that the logical order seems reversed. Ordinarily, people on a long trip walk out of their front door, leaving their homes. Then they leave the city, and finally they leave their country. In this case however, the Torah is emphasizing how Abraham utterly separated himself from all the influences of his previous life. First he abandoned the values of his land. This was hard enough but it was still easier than leaving the cultural identification of his birthplace. The hardest challenge still lay ahead. Now he had to leave the traditions of his father’s house. In order to make the most of the grand adventure which lay ahead, he had to turn himself into a blank slate, open to all that the Lord would reveal. To do this, he rid himself of all prior negative influences on his life.

And Abram went, as the Lord had spoken to him, and Lot went with him, and Abram was seventy five years old when he left Haran.  – (Genesis 12:4)

To his credit, Lot, Abraham’s nephew, accompanied his uncle. With one big difference. Lot did not undergo the cleansing process of eliminating all earlier marks on his soul.

When the time came for Lot and Abraham to part ways, Abraham remained true to his course and continued walking before God. Lot, however, found himself seduced by the sordid city of Sodom.

Here are another two people related to one another who must part:

And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each woman to her mother’s house…And they raised their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth cleaved to her…And she said, “Lo, your sister-in-law has returned to her people and to her gods; return after your sister- in-law”…And Ruth said, “Do not entreat me to leave you, to return from following you, for wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people and your God my God.  – (Ruth 1:8-16)

In the same way we asked what difference between Abraham and Lot made the former cling to God while Sodom seduced the latter, we now ask what distinguished Ruth from Orpah? Orpah left her mother-in-law and became the grandmother of Goliath. Ruth clung to Naomi and became the grandmother of King David.

Ancient Jewish wisdom points out that when the two girls married her sons, Ruth totally abandoned her idolatrous upbringing while Orpah was more ambivalent. How do we know this?

Naomi’s words reveal the truth. She didn’t merely say to Ruth, “your sister-in-law has returned to her people.” She revealingly added “…and to her gods.” That’s right, Orpah never abandoned her idols when she began her new life as a wife. Ruth did.

Before embarking on his new life, Abraham left all the negative traits of his life till that point. Before embarking on her new life, Ruth abandoned her idolatrous past. Abraham and Ruth succeeded spectacularly in their new lives, while Lot and Orpah failed. We are being taught an important lesson.

Whenever embarking on an odyssey with the potential of serious life transformation, first rid yourself of old destructive habits. King David put it quite succinctly:

Shun evil and do good…  – (Psalms 34:15)

Losing weight? First stop eating useless foods that provide nothing but gratification. When that is under control, embark on exercise. The other way around or both together is not recommended by our Manufacturer.

Fixing your finances. First stop all spending other than absolute necessities and only after that has been accomplished, open that savings account. First rid yourself of the destructive behavior then do good. And stand by for success.

Tips for success appear elsewhere in the Bible as well. I’ve placed three vital lessons from the Exodus in an audio CD, Let Me Go: How to Overcome Life’s Challenges and Escape Your Own Egypt. Add your success story to the thousands who have benefitted from this Passover message.



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