“I would encourage a leader to personally, and suggest to others, that they tamp down the negative speech that has become so pervasive today. One should be able to say something like, “X has said ____(hopefully an honest reiteration will be made) , but on that issue, I think _______ would be a better approach because of ______ reasons.” Speaking negatively about others almost always does nothing but engender their enmity toward speaker and so is counterproductive.”
I had the pleasure to interview Brian Siegel the author of The Original Self-Help Book: Life Lessons From Genesis. Topics addressed in the book cover positive attitudes, workplace conduct, enhancing interpersonal relationships and self-improvement precepts, such as Develop the attitude of gratitude, Don’t allow past mistakes to hinder future growth, Don’t steal anything, A parent’s actions often mold their child’s behavior, Don’t publicly embarrass others, Visit the sick, Let sleeping dogs lie, Seek advice before making important decisions, Be frugal, and Don’t act impulsively.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
I was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, the product of middle class parents. We lived in a six story apartment building; my parents never owned a home. I studied hard (education was always stressed in my family) and did well at Erasmus Hall High School. My parents were conservative Jews. I had a bar mitzvah, but had little connection to Judaism after that, other than attending Shabbos morning services with my father. My mother died when I was 16, and I said kaddish for her, resulting in my attendance at the twice daily Jewish services at a nearby schul for one year.
I attended Syracuse University, where I was a Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa graduate. I then enrolled at Columbia Law School, where I was designated a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar for academic excellence. After practicing law for 11 years, I became a Bar Review lecturer and wrote a popular series of exam-taking manuals for law students entitled “Siegel’s Answers to Essay and Multi-Choice Questions.” These books were well received (over 225, 000 copies purchased) and were sold at law school bookstores for about 32 years. I segued into legal recruiting 27 years ago, and, thank G-d, have been a successful legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search, a national attorney search firm.
After law school I re-located to California, joined a prominent law firm, became engaged/married soon afterward. Near where we lived was a schul that I attended on Shabbos morning. When the rabbi learned that our garden apartment was only 1.5 blocks away, he asked me to regularly attend morning services, since having a minyan (10 Jewish males who had been bar mitzva’d) was sometimes difficult for the schul. I agreed. But, that was the extent of my Judaism. My family and I never kept Shabbos or observed the dietary rules.
My “conversion” from Conservative to Orthodox Judaism commenced when I was 40 years old. I was asked to attend lectures by a popular rabbi, Daniel Lapin, who, as they say, “opened my eyes.” Becoming Orthodox was a process that evolved over a four-year period. During which time I had the opportunity to study the Jewish Bible and its commentaries. I was surprised to learn of the “Jewish Oral Tradition” which greatly expounded upon and explained the text. In particular, I was greatly impressed by the ethical, character refinement and inter-personal teachings contained in the Jewish Oral Tradition. In looking back at my own experiences, I recognized how adherence to these principles would have engendered an even happier, more satisfying personal life. In short, I was ultimately compelled to recognize that there was a Creator and that this benign, omnipotent entity had provided us with principles to live by.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that you heard recently?
A new lawyer would travel by subway from Brooklyn to Manhattan each weekday morning. When he exited the train, there was a beggar on the street level. The latter had two cups — one had pencils and the other was empty for the purpose of receiving handouts. The beggar would declare, “Pencils for 50 cents!” The young lawyer could see the beggar was very down on his luck (disheveled, unshaven, torn clothes, etc.), and dropped 50 cents in the open can. When the beggar extended the pencil can to him, he responded, “No thanks, we have plenty of pencils at the office.” This went on for about three months, the new attorney tried to always have 50 cents in his pocket as he left the subway station. Then, one day, after he had put the money in the can and was walking away, the lawyer saw the beggar chasing him. The attorney turned to the latter and said, “I told you, we have plenty of pencils at the office.!” The beggar retorted, “Oh, I didn’t tell you, the pencils are $1 now.”
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
All of the books that I have written (enumerated on Amazon) have been thought provoking and time-consuming. I always learn many new things. My latest work, “The Original Self-Help Book, Life Lessons from Genesis,” has been a major project. However, the reviews have been complimentary and people seem to appreciate how I show that these ancient life lessons (about 3,300 years old) are highly relevant today.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
No question, it’s George Washington. This amazing person was a very wealthy landowner. He would seem to have had it all. Yet, he had a vision of greatness for America that England wouldn’t permit. He risked everything to lead the rag-tag American colonialists in a war against the then strongest power on planet Earth. He would have been hung in a moment had the British ever captured him. George Washington had incredible courage and tenacity.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
Clearly it’s primarily the writings of the Jewish sage known as the Chofetz Chaiim. He wrote numerous books about ethical behavior and self-restraint. In particular, he popularized the importance of proper speech under Judaic law. One can actually “feel” the righteousness of this individual even from the English translations of his works. He died in 1933.
A close second are books written by Rabbi Avigdor Miller, who died relatively recently. He was not the least bit concerned about “political correctness.” He scientifically destroys Darwin’s inane theory of evolution, and explains the holocaust pursuant to Jewish principles (“The Divine Madness).
Serious readers of this article who are truth seekers should acquire and read books by these two rabbis.
How do you think your book “The Original Self-Help Book, Life Lessons from Genesis” could impact the world?
First, it seems today that there is far less interest in character development and appropriate conduct than previously. The media often encourages us to act in whatever manner we happen to be feeling at that moment, regardless of how offensive or disrespectful this might be to others. The effort to relate to those around us in a polite, civil manner has clearly waned. Traditional values are frequently unknown, ignored or even ridiculed. If we had a greater awareness of how the Creator would like us to interface with others, many of us would hopefully adhere to these principles.
Second, many commentators have noted how polarized society has become. People are often intolerant of anyone holding a different view. On the humorous side, I recently read an article that on a popular dating website many subscribers instruct anyone of a contrary political persuasion that they “need not apply.” The Creator wants us to be respectful toward others (we are all created in the image of G-d). Instead of rejecting or demeaning anyone with a different outlook, we should attempt to peaceably dialogue with that person. Why not ask them upon what factual basis is their opinion based? We can respectfully agree to disagree. Hopefully, this work will encourage this approach.
What advice would you give to someone considering becoming an author like you?
I would advise them that the chances of economic success or public approbation are VERY slight. If a potential author-to-be cannot accept disappointment and possibly frustration, I would not start down this road.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would simply advise all of your readers (of all denominations) to purchase and study Jewish ethical teachings (found in any Judaic bookstore). I sincerely believe that they will be greatly impressed by the mindfulness, sensitivity and undeniable validity of the concepts found in these works.
Oh, and BTW, I would like to take this opportunity to specifically grant permission for everyone to purchase my book on Amazon. It will hopefully serve as a very basic primer for far more meaningful works.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
I would encourage this individual to personally, and suggest to others, that they tamp down the negative speech that has become so pervasive today. One should be able to say something like, “X has said ____(hopefully an honest reiteration will be made) , but on that issue, I think _______ would be a better approach because of ______ reasons.” Speaking negatively about others almost always does nothing but engender their enmity toward speaker and so is counterproductive.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!