D’var Torah: Behar-Behukotai

I sat down with a man a few weeks ago. He’s a smart, ambitious man with a solid business, and he started talking to me about a major construction project which has been in the midst of some major controversy. I’m going to talk about this project, but I want to be clear that I am not endorsing any side, for or against it.

This project is the Rosemont Mine. A job creating, mountain moving, material sourcing, water scourging project. I knew that to speak ill of this project would grate against him, just as he knew that speaking ill of something I cared about would grate against me. There are major concerns, though, and some of them relate directly to this parashah.

The copper mine I mentioned is promised to use cutting edge technology to use less water and reclaim much of what is used. Arizona has a spotty history of making companies follow through on similar promises, and if they continue that track record, we can expect some problems. However, if they are adhered to, we may have a boon to our local economy at the expense of some gorgeous mountains. Is the tradeoff and risk worth it? I don’t know.

In the very beginning of Behar we read that land must lie fallow every seventh year, and it’s easy to see the establishment of highly practical crop rotation here. But if you continue to verse 23, past all the parts about vegetation, you’ll read “But the land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me.”

Sadly much of what we have done to our land is beyond reclaim, whether it’s been sold to utility companies or altered permanently. As California has mandatory water restrictions already in place, Arizona is gearing up for drought conditions that could be far, far worse.

Lake Mead, once this country’s largest reservoir, stores most of the water for the Colorado River. It’s lowest level has never dipped below 1,080 feet above sea level since the 1930’s, until two weeks ago, when it dropped just below that.

When January 1st comes around next year, if the level of Lake Mead is below 1,075 feet above sea level, there will be extreme water cuts to Arizona’s portion of that reservoir. According to the US Bureau of Reclamation, there’s a 33% chance of that happening this year, but a 75% chance of that happening by 2017.

This terrifies me because in our thirst for growth we are told in verse 17 not to wrong one another when selling land and what we claim from it. While wronging one another traditionally applies to just us Jews, I feel we should broaden the restriction to anyone. And us in the US tend to have a pretty interesting history of wronging each other when it comes to land rights. Whether it was the ousting and slaughter of indigenous populations to get their fertile land, then giving them the worst leftovers we were willing to part with. Whether it was supporting shady oil barons who smooth talked their way into purchasing huge swaths of land, then poisoning it and the surrounding area. Whether it is giant energy conglomerates that shoot pressurized chemicals into underground crevices to extract natural gas and, in the process, poison people’s water supplies.

If you continue to Behukotai, Chapter 26 in Leviticus, verses 18-20, you’ll see where we’re headed, and it’s not pretty. It reads “And if, for all that, you do not obey Me, I will go on to discipline you sevenfold for your sins, and I will break your proud glory. I will make your skies like iron and your earth like copper, so that your strength shall be spent to no purpose. Your land shall not yield its produce, nor shall the trees of the land yield their fruit.”

We are seeing this. We are seeing skies as dry as hot iron in the sun. We are seeing land start to turn hard as we can’t nurture it. We are seeing a proud industry start to crack. Many farmers are having to leave crops in their fields, when they can even grow them in the first place. That is the very dire warning laid out with “so that your strength shall be spent to no purpose.”

So what am I saying?

We have a delicate world, and we’ve already dealt many blows to it. We’ve reduced big fish populations down to paltry numbers, we’ve made our oceans more acidic, we’ve stripped people and land of valuable resources. One of the main things Hashem wants us to do to honor Him is to treat each other, whether they’re our compatriots or our hired help, but especially if they’re a stranger, with respect.

Perhaps if we make a habit of dealing with others respectfully and without underhanded business motives, when we are faced with what NASA is calling a “megadrought”, we’ll weather it better.

I pray that as we pray for rain in Israel, we also receive it here and that we may make a world of peace between us and our land and us and each other. Shabbat shalom.

Benchcraft Company

Benchcraft Company.

The company that called me during a moment of weakness. That made me realize I really must stop taking people, especially those I don’t know, at their word. The company that lied to me so many times over the course of a few hours spread apart over a few days that it seems downright sociopathic.

First, what they do. They sell golf course advertising. In and of itself, it seems a great idea. It’s a passive advertising campaign into a demographic that fits exactly what I (and most other insurance agents) drool over: affluent, with some extra time, often with expanding families. There are a few problems with it, though, mainly that it’s completely passive and you’re putting yourself in front of them when they’re spending hours in the sun, possibly drinking, and just having a good time with friends. It leaves you pretty darn forgettable when you’re one passive sign among 17 others.

After the call I did about 45 minutes of cursory research, found the usual complaints you can find about any large company, and saw that they actually did what they did quite well.

So, I signed up for these guys during a moment of weakness. I was feeling down, looking for something new, and got a call out of the blue. Of course it was a hard sale, of course I shouldn’t have taken the guy at his word, and of course I should have known all the tricks. But I wanted and needed to believe. I needed something new.

I immediately felt a pang of regret. Two hours later, I had all the information to know that I really screwed the pooch on this.

Yes, I should have done more research; yes, I should have been more skeptical. We all have our moments of weakness, though.

I called back to cancel. They told me the contracts are non-cancelable and, indeed, the text as such was hiding in plain sight (fun fact: when you surround a paragraph with bullet points, people tend not to read the paragraph — look it up!). I escalated it up the chain of command and ended up leaving a voicemail for their head of sales guy. I wonder if he has consciously learned yet that that hard sales lead to hard cancels. Surely he knows it in his subconscious mind by now.

Once he got back to me is when the abuse started. He immediately tried to tell me that all I had was buyer’s remorse. Of course I had buyer’s remorse! I couldn’t simply say that, though, as his tone and context used it dismissively to belittle me. He was trying to diminish it into a small overcomable objection, like the kind of buyer’s remorse one gets after buying the $40 headset when you meant to get the $20 one.

We debated back and forth, I told him what I needed him to do, he said “I’m the guy you need to befriend to get anything done, so you shouldn’t tell me what ‘you need me to do.'”

Gotcha, you’re insecure. You can do everything I’m asking, but you have to put up a front and make it difficult. I referenced their Yelp and other industry reviews to bolster my case, he told me those reviews didn’t matter, which I found to be amusing.

Eventually, I told him I signed that contract under duress and, if they didn’t cancel it, I’d be pursuing “other avenues of restitution.”

He eventually acquiesced, but since reviews from other people said they were promised refunds that never came, I managed to not only get an email confirmation of the promised refund, but recorded (legally) the last part of the conversation.

The final part of the conversation:
Sales lead: …It’s just me having a conversation with you to get to the root of what your real issue is and overcoming that.
Me: The root of my issue is that I feel like I made a rash decision with my money and I need to have it back.
Lead: Okay, so I can’t do that. However, if it makes more sense and you can at least see it as a meeting of the minds and that I’m willing to take a step toward you. We don’t make money on first year advertising, even when they pay in full we don’t make money. We’re a renewal business, like trailers in your business, right [note: trailers are something to insure when you park them or hitch them up, not residual income]? Imagine you didn’t get money up front, but on that 13th month you got paid…
Me: I get both renewals and up front commission, so that’s completely not analogous… (yes, I know where he was going, but in a power play you can’t acquiesce)
Lead: I understand that, I’m just drawing a parallel so you can imagine we don’t make money off of first year advertisers. So, my suggestion…
Me: I haven’t even submitted anything yet, so there isn’t even any money to lose.
Lead: There is, but once again I won’t tell you, even though I know the industry you’re in, how your business model works, but ours the majority of our costs are up front which means the day you agreed to the ad the salesman got his bonus immediately [95% chance a lie, from industry insiders], the retainer fee on our artists got her money, or him, there’s 22 of them back there. So you’re accountable to find someone that got compensated immediately. Why do we compensate them for artwork they haven’t touched yet? Because they need to push out a hundred pieces of artwork a day to keep up with the amount of volume of business we do [1. Then why is my tiny, single account so vital to you? 2. Ha! Phrasing it like that makes it sound like each of those 22 people has to push 100 pieces of art copy daily. I call shenanigans.]. Alright, so you pay them upfront and have a certain deadline to get it done. Which means they’re also reaching out to you saying “Hey, Eddie, I need a business card, man, let’s do this”. So that you feel good about the fact that the artist wants to complete your artwork. Okay?
We don’t make money [Seriously, again with the first-year-woes?] the first year; we break even. You renew your ad with us, bang immediately we turn a profit, and this case, what I would suggest, because I know it’s money and it’s just buyer’s remorse, in reality, is let me take the loss on the first advertisement you have with us. I’ll write off the balance you owe, you’ll still get the ad…
Me: I need that $200 back.
Lead: Okay, well I can’t return that to you, I apologize.
Me: I need that $200 back. I’m not getting off the phone until I get confirmation I’m getting that $200 back.
Lead: M’kay. I’m not gonna sit here in silence with ya…
Me: So I’m going to be…we’re either going to have this amicably resolved, like this, or I can start a social media campaign, I can…
Lead: A social media campaign?…
Me: I’m talking right now, k? I can go onto Facebook, I can go onto industry websites (lead attempts to talk over me)… I can go onto industry websites. I can file with the BBB, I can file with Yelp, I can file with glassdoor, I can talk about this on insurance specific forums, I can talk about this on other industry specific forums.
Lead: You should spend that time making money, Eddie [what should have been a 30 minute call to recoup $200 and venting with other agents about terrible vendors is kind of non-analogous].
Me: I can also call up El Dorado [the golf course my sign was supposed to be at] and tell them that this company has led me astray. I can…
Lead: Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to go ahead and call the golf course right now and I’m going to send them a copy of the contract that you agreed to, okay? And I’m going to send them your response, okay? And this buyer’s remorse is what you got two hours later you got our request, they know our policies. Um, so I guess you’re going to want to do a campaign against the golf course, too, at that point?
Me: I honestly don’t care about the golf course. I’m simply…
Lead: I’m just trying to help you to not waste your time. I’ll send them the info for you.
Me: So, you are not going to help me out at all about this, are you?
Lead: Um, I’m trying to be rational. I offered to take a loss on your account and…
Me: That loss will not equal the loss I’m having right now [That’s right, sales lead, I can interrupt like a jerk, too]. You need to refund that money…
Lead: You’re having a loss because you’re having money issues [He said this because I split up the payment, half on the business credit card — for the protections they offer — and half on the business debit card]. But you want to blame us for that. You want me to take a full loss on the account because you have buyer’s remorse.
Me: I’ve taken plenty of full losses on people who have had Geico come back to them and rewrite them as a new client, so that’s just the nature of the game. So, I need you to take a loss on this and refund this money.
Lead: Alright, I’m going to go get the sales rep, okay? Because he’s gonna eventually basically gonna have to pay for the ad…
Me: That’s fine [Seriously, it was fine, I don’t mind telling someone why I’m canceling. That’s just professionalism, instead of ad hominem attacks.]
Lead: I want you to tell him that you don’t care that, that he has to take food off his table.
Me: Okay, so you’re basically…you want me to tell him that I’m not willing to give up food off my table…
Lead: [Again, with the interrupting!] What’s his name, Riley? I want you just say “Hey, Riley, I’m sorry, I have buyer’s remorse, I understand that it’s company policy there. Um, there, I’m wanting to overturn that company policy which I understand is going to make you pay for the ad and when that happens…”
Me: There’s not even going to be an ad! There’s not even going to be an ad.
Lead: Eddie, I’m trying to explain this to you and, for some reason, I feel like you’re either just not listening because you just want your money back or you’re not listening because I’m not communicating properly to you and, if that’s the case then I’ll take responsibility. [I’m listening to you say irrelevant things and try to sidestep around your idiotic company policy.] What I’m saying is there is money that is spent already [really, after 24 hours?]. When I go get the rep and make him come in here and talk to you, it’s just so…so…so when he says “Why are you making me pay for this?” he doesn’t think I’m the prick. Because…
Me: Alright. Bring him in. If you’re telling me to apologize that he’s paying for the ad when, in reality, there’s not even an ad going up.
Lead: Okay, well he’s paying for what you paid that you’re getting back, or are attempting to get back. [Wait, what?]
Me: Alright.
[Pause]
Lead: What are you going to say: “Sorry, man, I changed my mind,” “Sorry I cost you $395,”?
Me: Bring him in. I’ll tell him that. [I honestly didn’t mind taking the personal hit. It’s called being courteous and professional, plus it would have made his work environment easier].
[Long pause]
Lead: Wow. You know what, Eddie? I’m going to give you your money back. Um, and I’m gonna do everything I can right now not to insult you [really, after you insinuated that I was a prick, A+ job]. Um, but, like I said people do funny things when they’re broke, I get that, k? I’m gonna give you your money back (goes into the specifics of the refund). I’m not surprised that money’s an issue [Oh? I have a scratch insurance agency just on the cusp of starting its second year. Things are notoriously tight for the first two-three years of an agency’s growth, so your attempts at making me feel crappy are falling on unsympathetic ears.] but we don’t want your business. [That was made abundantly clear when you first treated me like garbage.].
Me: Alright.
Lead: You’ll sleep well tonight, I’m sure…
Me: I will sleep great, I will sleep…
Lead: …it’s not gonna affect you at all…
Me: …wonderfully next to my wife and dog…
Lead: …and you’ll probably rip someone off tomorrow, too. I’m going to refund your money.
Me: When can I expect to see that?
Lead: It’ll be done sometime this week, it won’t post to your account immediately, so give it time to actually get into your account, okay?
Me: Alright, so I can expect to see it by the end of the week?
Lead: No, you can expect to have us press the refund button by the end of the week. I don’t know when it’s gonna show up into your account. I can’t control the banking system. But…
Me: Okay.
Lead: …if you call them, I’m sure can tell them about your social media campaign and maybe they’ll be quicker. [Great callback! You should join an improv troupe.] In the meantime, I can only do what we can do, and that’s pushing a button for you. Okay?
Me: Alright, I appreciate that. And I do hope that…
[Lead hangs up]

Here’s the thing. If they had refunded my money and said “No problem, let’s talk in the future,” I would have definitely talked with them in a year or two. Since they were such jerks, I won’t ever talk with them again.

For the record, they sat on “pushing the button” for a full 10 days. That’s two business weeks, and decidedly longer than “by the end of the week” that they had promised.

Faith, Family, Business: A Rant

“Faith, Family, then Business”

That’s the credo of many motivational speakers, company leaders, and frontmen. It is also phrased as “G-d, family, then work.” It is how they tell you to prioritize your life in order to achieve success.

I have to disagree, though. If your faith is more important than your family, that’s your business. G-d gave me my wife, and honoring her honors G-d. Without her, faith is diminished; without her, I have no business. Surely I can’t be the only one in this boat.

Empirical evidence points to anyone employing the slogan of “faith, family, then work,” being full of hubris and poison.

Who has employed this slogan? Among the offenders are:

  • My district manager at AFLAC
  • Most of the speakers Farmers brought in
  • Every single speaker AFLAC had
  • The (now deceased) owner of Spa One, which closed without warning leaving about 70 people unexpectedly unemployed
  • Three other speakers who championed this phrase whom I had the “pleasure” of listening to, while they skewed data for their purpose

The companies that endorsed this phrase have, in my experience, by and large, been perpetrators of lies. They have hurt both clients and employees, people and their families.

I think the problem comes from people who wear their adherence of faith as a token of validity. The problem is people eat this up and think “Hey, I want to live like that,” and don’t think about repercussions. Putting your family second can leave them feeling unloved and backburnered.

Hell, if I was too sick to take care of myself and my wife wanted to go to Synagogue, I would feel jilted. I know she would feel the same.

My proposal for all my workers will be “Physical needs, spiritual needs, then work.”

Take care of yourself and your loved ones, then take care of your heart and mind, then your business. That will let you live more strongly, sustainably, and ethically. I just can’t be aligned with the hubris and lies that “faith, family, then work” has shoved at me.

D’var B’reshit

Professor Ido Kantor, of Bar-Ilan University, teaches such things as condensed matter physics, phase transitions, theory of neural networks, and quantum spin systems.

These are all things which deal with Bereshit. From the explosion of creation of the light and dark from the Big Bang to the creating and trickery of how we think. From the G-d’s voice creating everything, to how something may appear out of seemingly nothing.

Professor Kantor wrote, in 2003, about the missing samekh in Bereshit. Every letter of our aleph-bet is accounted for in B’reshit’s first chapter except for the samekh, which doesn’t show up until Chapter 2, in verse 11.

Of this interesting phenomenon, he wrote:

The samekh is a geometrically closed letter,[3] as hinted by the word sagur, “closed”, which itself is spelled with samekh and by its first appearance in the Torah, in the word ha-sovev, “surrounding”.

As we know today, based on cosmological studies, the universe is spreading, expanding in all directions at every moment, and it may even continue to expand forever.[4] Therefore the world created by G-d could not have been created in an enclosed space, and this is hinted at by the absence of the letter samekh in the text of the creation.

I will conclude with the somewhat obscure words of the Sforno, which, however, seem to allude to a similar idea about an expanding universe:[5]

And the earth was desolate and void – That earth, which was created, was an amalgam of primeval matter called tohu and primeval form called bohu, for it would not be suitable (possible) for primeval matter to exist without being clothed in some form. This, then, was the first amalgam perforce [or necessity], of matter and substance (form). The Torah is explaining that primeval matter was a totally new creation (there being no matter preceding the world’s creation). The matter in this initial amalgam is called tohu for it only possesses potential but no actuality, as it says ki tohu hema “for they are vain” (I Sam. 12:21) that is, something not existing in reality, only in the imagination. The form of that initial amalgam is called bohu for in it the tohu is found, in actuality.[6] The prophet calls avne bohu “stones sunk in the primeval mire” (Is. 34:11), any object which does not remain in a given form for an appreciable period of time, just as we call the initial form bohu which immediately clothed itself in a variety of forms (namely the four elements).

Wow. That’s pretty thick for three paragraphs, but I’ll sum it up.

Obadiah ben Jacob Sforno says we have tohu and bohu. Tohu is the potential of something. Bohu is the realization of it.

Traditional Chinese thought sees matter and energy as the same element, the same stuff. Matter, to Chinese traditionalists, is just the corporeal, solid version of energy.

In other words, tohu is G-d’s intentions manifested through what we come to think of as his voice. Bohu is what we are walking on, what we are breathing, what we swim in, and what we cook with. Bohu is the elements which we use, tohu is the inspiration which we fashion with.

Moving on, one beautiful thing we have in our religion is the knowledge that we will never fully understand Torah. Even so, Torah and science must not contradict each other. Science is truth, as is Torah. Our understanding of each is limited, but as we proceed with either, new avenues of thought, knowledge, and opportunity open up to us.

We ate from the tree, yes. Perhaps, as I believe, we were always supposed to. We suddenly gained knowledge of our own mortality and the workings of the world. We suddenly gained knowledge of right and wrong. We gained knowledge of vulnerability.

Our own Etz Hayim, in the commentary for Chapter 3: verse 22, on page 23, says that “it has been suggested that the tree of life represents the force of instinct, whereas the tree of knowledge of good and evil represents the force of conscience. Once our ancestors acquired a conscience, they could no longer eat of the tree of life, that is, live instinctively, doing whatever felt good to them. People ever since have sought … to return to the days of childhood before they knew that certain things were wrong; but the way is barred.”

This brings me to my final point.

I don’t believe Adam and Eve’s sudden discomfort with nakedness was of the flesh. I think it was something far deeper than that. Nakedness of the flesh is one level, but we always delve deeper than one level.

To be naked is to be vulnerable. It is to have no shielding or shell outside of your skin. It is to be exposed, literally to the elements. Psychologically, though, nakedness is to have your mind on display.

In 2011 Wired magazine wrote an article on how nakedness changes our perceptions. They cited a study from the American Psychological Association, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and crafted from researchers from the University of Maryland, Northeastern University, and Harvard Medical School. This was a big study from big minds, which confirmed something many of us already know.

That something: people’s perceptions of what others are capable of or how well others should be treated are altered by how much skin the one being judged is showing. A woman in a bikini or a man shirtless was viewed as being capable of more licentious acts than they are of mindful acts. Conversely, cutting their body out of the photo made viewers see them as capable of more agency, or mindfulness, than experience, those aforementioned licentious acts.

Adam and Eve had thoughts they hadn’t had before. They suddenly knew that they were capable of more than just existing and eating what was provided. They were capable of creation, themselves; certainly not on the scale of Hashem, but on a scale which is not insignificant. They were capable of fashioning tohu, their visions, into tangible things with bohu.

They suddenly saw themselves and each other as beings who could enjoy things, whether the wonderful crispy yet pulpy texture of a persimmon, or the flavor of a leaf of mint. Whether the touch of your other half’s fingers on the nape of your neck, to the fullness of emotion that a loving, sexual relationship can bring.

Adam and Eve suddenly saw these nuances and this potential. They became embarrassed, not because of what they were or were not wearing, but because they were exposed and had not yet accepted each other for these new, glorious potentials. The potential to enjoy art, to enjoy food, to enjoy company, to enjoy creation, to enjoy movement, to enjoy companionship…to just enjoy.

Fig leafs created a cover for them. Fig leafs were the bohu for the tohu of reflexively wanting protection in this new state. True protection, though, comes not from what we wear, not a bow tie, suit, dress, or coat, but how we act. Accepting each other for what we are, all we are, and who we are is the best fig leaf for our mind and heart.

Torah and science both confirm it.

 

Devarim

This is the text of the d’var Torah I gave for Shabbat Chazon on 8/2/14.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak says of Shabbat Chazon, the “Shabbat of Vision”, each and every one of us is granted a vision of the third temple.

Both temples were destroyed on Tisha b’Av and, this year, it looks like our enemies are still at it.

Devarim is an extremely interesting parsha, as it is the very text where G-d commands us to take our domain which he has promised.  We journeyed in the last parsha and found our land, now we need to take it.

It’s also interesting that, in Chapter 2, verse 23, we are commanded to take control of Gaza.  It reads “and the Avvim, that dwelt in villages as far as Gaza, the Caphtorim, that came forth out of Caphtor, destroyed them, and dwelt in their stead.”  We have another important and telling link to the number 23: Psalm 23 which is one of the most famous of David’s songs.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

Yet twice, we rejected his gift to us.  His gift was a divine presence here on earth.  A place where he could live.  A place where we could transcend ourselves; a place where we could experience his glory as best as our mortal bodies were able to.

His temples were destroyed because we turned our backs on the prophets he gave us.  We rejected the tenets He put forth and He could not dwell among us anymore.  Prophet after prophet warned us, most notably Jeremiah.

He makes me lie down in green pastures: he leads me beside still waters.

We journeyed from camp to camp, across desert climes, through valleys, rocks, dirt, and grass.  Floors were the ground, and the best floor we would have had then was grass.  Even more than that, He promised us fertile land.  Land which we could inhabit and which would support our fledgeling, but blessed, nation.

He restores my soul:

Even though we neglected and continue to neglect Him.  Even though we neglect ourselves.  Even though we continue to transgress, hurt, and distress others.

Why would he restore our souls when we do so much bad?

Because we can do so much good.  Because we love.  We are able to build, learn, and teach.  We are able to nurture things large and small, from a single cell up to restoring an entire endangered group of animals.

Shabbat Chazon is traditionally the “black Sabbath.”  The darkest, saddest Shabbat because we are about to relive the destruction of two temples.  Hold onto this particular Mizmor l’David, though, and see that we can make it to Shabbat Shuvah, the “white Sabbath,” right before Yom Kippur.

He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

He helps and guides us for his reputation.  He promised us that he would take care of us, and gosh-darnit, he’s doing his best.  We complained about being taken out of Egypt, we complained about the giants the spies reported to us, we even had the chutzpah to complain about manna.  I mean, manna.  You could starve out here and davka you complain about being nourished?!

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

We constantly walk through this valley.  Sometimes the walls are higher than others.  Sometimes the shadows stretch farther than others.  Occasionally, the sun dips below the lips of the valley and we are entrenched in darkness.

Somehow, we have always come out stronger and more resilient.  Perhaps us Jews are the rubber of religions: trials by fire harden our resolve and make us bounce back just as sulphur and heat vulcanize rubber.  Perhaps we are the result of a promise someone who loves us made.

I will fear no evil, for you are with me.  Your rod and your staff comfort me.

Why should we fear evil?

Hashem gave us tools to defend ourselves.  He gave us our hands to build tools, our world to supply our needs, and our minds to conceive and plan.  Whether it was a pillar of cloud defending us from the encroaching Egyptians or Operation Pillar of Defense defending us from Hamas rockets, Hashem needs us for his reputation just as we need him for our survival.

He isn’t content with just our survival, though.  He wants us to be taken care of.  We have some of the smartest minds, whether they’re shomer, non-practicing, or anywhere inbetween.  We have created fabrics, machines, and chemicals which help us live better.

Without Hashem’s backing, we would not be able to do this.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

This, for me, is the strongest part of the shepherd metaphor.

If Hashem were sadistic, he would only let us eat when we were among enemies.  Sheep, however, are always surrounded by predators.  They are essentially walking, baa-ing hulks of delicious meat.

Hashem knows that the land, technology, and culture we have are constantly threatened.  Even just the past two weeks we have seen previously hidden anti-Semitism rage back into the spotlight.

We, indeed, have a table prepared for us, in the presence of our enemies.

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

We are the chosen people of Hashem.  We have been anointed.  The problem is that it’s often lonely at the top and, once at the top, it’s really easy to fall.

Today’s haftarah talks about that fall.  Isaiah condemns the Jewish people for violating everything good that was set out for them.  Everything that was given to us and everything we worked for was thrown away by neglecting our own communities and G-d.

Hashem has been shocked by his people just as a parent would be shocked when it is exposed that their child is a criminal.  We are told that we’re on the same level as Sodom and Gomorrah, that our nation has become like a harlot, and that we are dumber than an ass.  He tells us that our sacrifices mean nothing to him if they are performed out of habit and not with intent to show gratitude.  He tells us that we can still do better.

He tells us our crimson sins can be washed clean as snow and that the red tapestry of our iniquities can be unspun into fleece.

We are living in a red tapestry right now.  The blood of our own and the blood we are forced to spill defending ourselves thickens every day.

Hamas, is an organization named for the Arabic word meaning “zealotry.”  What are they zealous of?  Destroying us.  Destroying G-d’s promise.  Destroying not just the country Israel, but the people.  Me and you.

Likely not coincidentally, “hamas” is a Hebrew word meaning “violence.”

We are walking through a new valley with the shadow of death enveloping us.  Yet we fear no evil.  We know what we must do and our enemy continues to, literally and figuratively, dig themselves into a hole.  Even just yesterday, our own president finally unequivocally condemned Hamas for violating a cease fire that ended up lasting 90 minutes.  It is a welcome reprieve from the constant condemnation.

This parsha is right on time.  It reminds us that Gaza is not something we should be walking gingerly around but is a territory that has been through the hands of countless conquerors and needs the right tenants, just as a shelter dog is looking for his “forever home.”  Gaza, since biblical times, has been no stranger to conflict, both internal and external.

We, however, need not be afraid of our conflicts, for justice and peace are on our side, though they may seem fleeting.

Back to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev for a minute.  He shared a story about a father and his son.  This father prepared a beautiful suit for his son to wear.  The son, however, neglected to take care of this suit and it soon was in pieces.  The father made his son a second suit which quickly suffered the same fate.  After some thought, the father decided to make his son a third suit, but he never gave it to his son.  On special occasions he would show the suit to his son and remind him that once he learned to appreciate it, it would be given to him.  The son was inspired to improve his behavior little by little, anticipating the day he would be worthy of that suit.

That suit is the third temple.  The place where Hashem can dwell among us.  The arrival of Moshiach.  Shabbat Chazon is the time when we’re called to action not to be afraid of this valley of the shadow of death.  We are assured that as long as we keep doing what we know is right our cunning, our strength, and our compassion will finally bring the subject of Chapter 2, verse 23 in line with the ending of Psalm 23.

May only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life.
May I return to the house of the L-rd, forever.

Shabbat Shalom.

 

US Health Advisors

I met with a representative from US Health Advisors.  They’re pretty anti-Affordable Care Act and base their marketing on that.  That, however, is beside the point.

The guy I met with said “they got into business because of Obamacare”; that people were being taken for a ride from insurance companies for years and that “USHealth Advisors (USHA hereon out) saw where things were headed and innovated new products to help protect people.”

He ranted about how ACA compliant plans pay for abortions (factually incorrect), can’t deny insurance for preexisting conditions, and that people would still be paying $10,000+ for their medical coverage.

As has already been covered in this thread, USHA offers indemnity benefits rather than true insurance. For the uninitiated, that means they will pay out a set amount per procedure, sickness, or injury. They offer discounts within their network of doctors and providers with less of a discount outside their network, just like a standard PPO.

The trick is that once you get their price sheet and see $10/generic drug and other prices laid out, you start thinking that is what you’ll owe toward those services. It’s actually what they’ll pay out for those services. He had a lot of receipts where people went to the hospital and ended up getting money back after USHA paid their bills and sent them the difference (if the bills come out to less than what the indemnity payout is, you get that difference). These bills, though, were all from 2011. I think we know how much things have changed since then.

He couldn’t tell me how often they adjust for inflation or other cost changes with the state offices, where they file what they’ll pay out to customers.

There are a number of things that aren’t covered:
Birth control — ever
Preexisting conditions for the first 12 months
Wellness/preventative care visits for the first 6 months
Prescriptions aren’t covered, you just get $10 back if you sign up for that option.
There are a ton of other things they won’t cover, but it’s not listed in their online brochure.

In order to get that brochure, you have to sign up and become a member of their “association” (seriously).

There is no out of pocket maximum for a consumer. Consumers will still pay the ACA penalty, but the agent I spoke with suggested lying to the IRS about your insurance status at the end of the year. Yes, he suggested fraud. When I pointed out what he just told me, he said “Of course I would never suggest that!”. Right.

They say that if you sign up for the lowest cost and lowest benefit plan and something happens, within 90 days after that something happening, you can upgrade to a higher level plan and have slightly more coverage. That would raise the maximum of what they’ll pay out for you that year from $100,000 to $250,000.

The amounts they pay out for cancer treatments, accident recovery, and AD&D are considerably less in volume and considerably more restrictive than what Aflac, Colonial, or even Unum provide.

To top it off, when I asked him what their AM Best rating was, he said they didn’t have one.  They do: it’s B-.  This makes him not just misinformed, but a liar.

Honestly, people would be better off with a bronze level ACA plan, getting a CI rider on their life, and a midrange Aflac cancer and accident policy if they wanted all the bells and whistles of these plans. 

World Ventures: in depth

I caught a lot of flak from my last blog post among my networking groups.  There are a bunch of World Ventures representatives in almost every group that I meet with.  Heck, they’re so saturated that, often times, there are upwards of three representatives at a time.

My error in my last blog post was lumping them together with a bunch of other MLMs.  It was incorrect of me to do so.  They are far larger and more comprehensive company than any of the other ones I mentioned.

I’ve sat down with no less than four World Ventures reps in many, many situations and have compiled an in depth review of their company, their products, and whom they are a good fit for and in what situations.

Dreamtrips

At the heart of World Ventures’ business model is their dream trips.  These are trips offered at often significant discounts to World Ventures members and representatives.

The allure of these trips is a curated experience in stunning destinations with purportedly excellent accommodations.  I say “purportedly” because I will not sign up to check it out myself, the reason why will be spelled out later.

These trips are things like a $69 per person five day cruise, a $570 per person 3 night stay in an all inclusive resort, or other various offerings.  They say that there are hundreds offered at any time, ranging in price from $70 per person to over $700 per person for all sorts of events.  Without signing up, though, one is unable to see the actual offerings.  I’ll be basing my illustrations on a seven day, six night Caribbean cruise with Holland America.

Airfare is not included in Dreamtrips prices.  Dreamtrips are also separate from any other travel booked through a representative, which will be touched on shortly.

Points

When one signs up with World Ventures, one pays $200 and gets 200 “points” to use towards the purchase of a Dreamtrip.  One also pays an additional $55/month and receives the 660 points on their year anniversary.  The catch is that not all Dreamtrips are able to have points applied and, when they are, only a limited amount of points are applicable towards that trip.

If this point system reminds you of airline vouchers, that’s because it’s extremely similar.  Airlines are infamous for giving vouches as compensation for delayed, canceled, or otherwise messed up flights.  These vouchers are good only for the airline awarding them, and cost extra money to be used.

Perks

When one signs up for World Ventures as a rep, one gets a website that allows their friends to book airfare and trips through them.  They then receive a small commission, paid in “Rovia bucks”, from each sale.  These Rovia Bucks can be applied to trips the representative takes, whether for airfare, Dreamtrips, car rentals, non-dream trips, or anything else.

In order to earn Rovia bucks, the rep has to have their friends use their own personal site rather than any other major indexed flight site out there.  They have to be diligent about reminding their friends, clients, and family.  They have to be the first point of contact rather than Google or any other search engine, as it’s all but guaranteed that they won’t show up in search results.

Another perk is that the representative or member can earn Rovia bucks from online shopping.  This kickback ranges from 0.5% to 15% depending on what’s purchased and from which site, but usually stays around 2-7%.  These are on major stores, such as Best Buy.

Refunds

World Ventures guarantees you the lowest price with their Dreamtrips.  They promise that if you find a lower price deal for the same dates with the same accommodations and the exact same features within, depending on who you talk to, 1-7 days, they’ll give you the trip and refund 150% of the price you paid.

They also promise that if you book a flight through them and the price drops, they’ll refund you the difference.  They don’t offer the stipulations for that unless you ask, but I’ll give them to you in the next section.

Seems great so far, though, right?  Wait for it.

The rub

By now, you are probably thinking “Woah, Eddie, this is too good of a thing to pass up…you must be insane.”

Well, let’s piece a few things together, things often overlooked.

First off, the Dreamtrips are World Ventures people only.  This means you have a lot of company people travelling with you.  They’re going to be on your plane, in your hotel, on your beach, in your pool, in your bar, in your restaurants, etc.  If you are going to relax with the family, you will most likely have to travel elsewhere for quiet and solitude.

Also, if I know MLMs, and I do know MLMs, your upline will pressure you to network and talk with other representatives there.  You’re supposed to take pictures with their now-iconic “You should be here” signs, which really is just to make your friends on Facebook jealous and sign up with you.  That makes your trip a business write off.

I like to travel to get away with my wife.  If we want to party with people, there are no shortage of options with people who we actually like, rather than cohorts from a company we represent.

Second off, trips that aren’t Dreamtrips aren’t covered by points.  This means that if you want to take an Eastern Caribbean cruise with a certain line on a certain date, if it’s not offered as a Dreamtrip, you either have to change what you want or pay for it separately.

Even if that cruise is offered, the best offer I saw was for $679/person for a 7 day trip on Holland America with up to 200 points being applicable towards the cruise.  That is 200 points total applicable, not per person.  You can easily get that same cruise a week later for $499/person ($80 less than what it would be per person with points reducing the price).

Thirdly, the airfare rate guarantee only refunds you whatever is left over after rebooking fees.  Those very fees which often are higher than $150.  This means your airfare, if you do any sort of due diligence with price hunting, will hardly ever be refunded.

If you decide to represent and sell them, all the costs of training are on you.  There are, indeed, costs.  World Ventures is well known for requiring many conferences (which you pay to attend and travel to), videos, and other expenses.

There are advantages to selling World Ventures, however.  Once you recruit four people, you pay no more fees for your monthly membership (they’ll be pulling in over $220/month from the people you recruited and have collected at least $800 in initial fees from them, also, remember how you are extremely likely to have leftover points at the end of the year — they profit heavily off of you and the people you would recruit).  They also claim that you can earn money off the people recruited by the people you recruit.  This only happens, though, once you have about 30 people working under you.

Good luck figuring out how they count those recruits and how you will actually earn their compensation.  Their hierarchy is infamously confounding.  Their payout structure is superbly obfuscated.  When they describe it in a presentation it sounds simple, but to look at the actual breakdown is a wholly different experience.

This product is likely to only be a good deal for someone who is at the top of a decently sized distribution chain.  Any savings realized on a Dreamtrip will likely be lost in unredeemed points and airfare.

There are plenty of World Ventures reps who will tell me that I’m dead wrong, and they’ll undoubtedly cite a $69 5 day cruise.

That cruise still costs airfare, and doesn’t let you apply any points towards it.  It’s still a week off work (which costs money), and the chances of successfully booking this cruise after it’s announced are slim to none.  Yes, they announce the cruises to the entire team, and they sell out within an hour or two.  Plus, it’s a $69 cruise…if you want the savings, you’re tied into the date, port, cruise line, and itinerary.

If that cruise is the only trip you take, you’re paying a total of $69+$200+$660.  That comes out to $929/person (not including airfare) for a cruise which you could otherwise have for $499 in most cases.  For many people, that will be the only trip you take that year.

I would love to address how much the average World Ventures representative makes, but they don’t have any easily accessible documents detailing that.  What I can tell you is that less that 30% make a profit, and likely less than 5% make more than $,1000/year.  Part of this is on par with any MLM structure, but a lot of it is due to the actual company.

Alternatives

So, what is a more financially logical way to do travel?

Obviously, there are sites like cheapoair.com.  There are economy airlines that aren’t accessible by third party searches, like Southwest Airlines.

There are great deals to be had just by calling the hotel or cruise that you want.  LivingSocial and Groupon have plenty of travel deals, and those often give you a six month window to make your trip, rather than a set date.  In addition, you get to travel in peace and quiet or with as many friends as can join you on that trip.

What about those other perks, like points for shopping?  Well, why pay $660/year for the ability to earn points to travel when you could get a credit card with a $150 annual fee for even more points, points which can be used for things both travel and non-travel related?  Heck, some debit cards offer this and for people with decent to good credit, they may qualify for these cards without an annual fee.

Finally, for almost anyone in their 20’s, they could start a decent retirement fund for $55/month.  For someone in their 30’s, they could work their way out of debt and, using the tools I listed above, still travel affordably.  For someone in their 40’s and up, the same story applies.

I know that many people with World Ventures will lambast me as someone who “doesn’t get it”, but the problem is that I do get it.  That’s fine.  I hope you learned something, though, and I hope you enjoyed this post.

Network marketing: the new pyramid scheme

“Network” seems to be the big buzzword these days for business people and the use of the word separates the amateurs from the pros.

The amateurs use “network” as their sole method of talking to people.  They act as if they’ve found this brand new way of talking to people (prospecting) and that they’re the only ones who know about it.  They take to social networks and Craigslist with image laden pictures and insinuated or outright promises of quick money.

The seasoned veterans use networking as they always have.  Across tables with food, coffee, or alcohol they network.  Walking around a park or cycling next to each other, they network.  Talking after religious services or across broadband internet, they network.

Network marketing to the amateur is the ne plus ultra of marketing, and they view it as the only form out there.  The pros know this is not the case and simply put the arrow of social media in their quiver of outreach methods.

Please don’t get me wrong: I don’t mean to besmirch amateurs.  We all start somewhere.  The issue I have is with the companies that call themselves “network marketers”.  These companies, such as World Ventures or wakeupnow (WUN) (links not provided to prevent helping their Google rankings) focus on young people recruiting their friends for “deals” which usually amount to not much more value than the free gift one receives with their Revlon purchase.

These are MLM companies, multi-level marketing companies.

Not all MLMs are built equally.  I personally network and refer people to a number of MLMs, most notably Meleluca and LegalShield.  Including those, I network with about a total of five MLMs.

What is the difference between these companies?

World Ventures and WUN focus on young people and the allure of money.  The promise easy money, world travel, and require many people to buy in.  They have no real tangible benefit other than arguably non-discounted travel accommodations for monthly paying subscribers.  Essentially, their subscribers pay a premium and then receive no discount on travel — the very commodity promised to them.

Meleluca and LegalShield offer a service.  Whether it’s a non-toxic, made in the USA, healthy alternative to common household chemicals and foods or a host of legal services at your beck and call, these companies actually provide a service.  More than providing a service, they offer savings to their customers.

The “network marketers” are actually network recruiters.  In order for the sellers, by whatever phrase they’re described as, to make anything decent (80% of WUN salespeople make an average of 53¢ every year) they have to recruit other sellers below them.  The MLM businesspeople have the option to recruit to their downline or not, and can still make a decent living.

My advice to young entrepreneurs: don’t get caught up with network marketing.  It’s a buzzword that won’t teach you actual sales techniques.  Get on with an established company with a product that’s easy to explain and a training process that is thorough and hands-on.  If you have to justify your company to feel good about it, you shouldn’t be working for them.

All this and I haven’t even touched on my issues with HerbaLife.  I guess that’s for a different post!

The close of 2013

2013.  What a year.

I left a job, started new ventures, learned more than I could have imagined, and traveled to some wondrous places with my amazing wife.

Career wise: I left MarketStar, although they’re trying to get me back, and went to Farmers where I operated my own agency.  I learned so much about sales, prospecting, and business management that I never could have imagined I’d learn.  I learned that I need to stay true to my ideas and my gut, despite what people who “know more” (read: “who think differently”) may say.

I learned much Torah and many teachings.  Even better, I learned the joy of sitting down with fellow students (of life, not of a school) and debating ideas.  We have grown so much closer with our congregation.

Raquel and I got to see parts of the world we haven’t before.  We got to hike in a rainforest!  A rainforest!  We saw unbelievable beaches, talked with unbelievable people, and ate unbelievable food.  We finally got to celebrate our love with a honeymoon.  Our honeymoon wasn’t just fun and bonding: we learned about foods, chocolate, US territories, native cultures, and other countries.

I was lucky to see someone who was stuck in a miserable relationship pry himself out of it.  No one should be with someone who represses who they are.  This man, a wonderful man, finally reclaimed his life and his morals.

Most of all, Raquel and I have grown closer.  My wife (I still love saying that, even after a year) is the pillar that holds me up, she’s the anchor to my ship when I start to drift, she’s the sun and moon to my days.  I’m still learning how much she means to me, even now.  Without her I wouldn’t have inspiration to better myself or drive to succeed.  Without her I’m only mediocre.

2013 was a great year.  2014 will be better yet.

Hobby Lobby

So Hobby Lobby decided to give “my people” the “you people” treatment.

Someone asked Hobby Lobby why they didn’t stock Chanukah items and the employee responded “We don’t cater to you people”.

You people, huh?

Fine.  You’re on my troll list.

I mean, you’re not really losing me as a customer: after your CEO decided to fight against contraception for his female employees and then sue the government to get an exemption, I decided never to shop at your store.

Now, though, it’s personal.

Yup.

Screen Shot 2013-09-30 at 9.51.53 PM