Saturday, September 24, 2016

Repairing Our Mistakes: How to Ask for Forgiveness

Dear Friends,

As we get ready to approach God and ask Him to forgive us, we first have to request forgiveness from those whom we have hurt.

Repairing Our Mistakes: How to Ask for Forgiveness

Have a great week,

Yaakov

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Updated “Is Your Commitment to Judaism Strong Enough?"

Dear Friends,

As Rosh Hashanah draws near, we take stock of our lives and our commitment to Judaism. Now is the time to strength that commitment.

Is Your Commitment to Judaism Strong Enough?

Have a great week,

Yaakov

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Debunking 5 Myths about Repentance

Dear Friends,

With the High Holidays approaching, now is a good time to think about repentance and debunk some myths surrounding it.

Debunking 5 Myths about Repentance

Here's a link to an article I posted recently, if you missed the link:

What is Your Number One Spiritual Stumbling Block?

When it comes to choosing what to focus on this High Holiday season, it often best to select just one area you are motivated to improve and keep it manageable and specific.

Have a great week,

Yaakov


Saturday, September 3, 2016

Updated “Am I a Faker or a Genuine Person?”

Dear Friends, 

Here is an updated version of an article I wrote on how to be more real and genuine, and not fall into the trap of feeling like a faker. 

“Am I a Faker or a Genuine Person?” 
Have a Chodesh Tov and a good week,
Yaakov 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Elul: Repentance

Dear Friends,

This post is about the Jewish month of Elul, as it relates to The Chazak Plan: A 12 Month Journey to Spiritual Strength.

Rosh Chodesh Elul begins Friday night, the 2nd of September, and lasts for two days.

Elul is the time of year to take stock of our lives and prepare for the High Holidays. Most of us have at least one area in which we struggle; perhaps it is being ethical in business, being moral, being charitable and kind, refraining from hurting others, or some other area. Correcting our key flaw(s) is a major part of our life’s mission and why God put us in this world.

Pick one area on which to focus and choose a manageable change you will make on a daily or weekly basis; input this change into your calendar or checklist. If possible, speak to your rabbi or spiritual mentor for guidance. The focus on repentance continues into next month until after Yom Kippur.

As the High Holidays involve reciting many prayers, for suggestions on how to enhance your prayers, see, “How to Unlock the Hidden Power of Prayer.”

Questions for the month:

“Which area do I struggle with that I’m motivated to address this Elul?”

“What is a manageable commitment I will make?

“Is it clear to me what area to focus on and how to repent (if necessary)? If it is not clear, who can I speak to for guidance?”

Reading for the month:

What is Your Number One Spiritual Stumbling Block?

Take care and may God grant us success in the coming month,

Yaakov

Thursday, August 18, 2016

For Shabbat Nachamu: Self-Compassion

Dear Friends,

This Shabbat is Shabbat Nachamu. We will read from the prophets about the nechama (comfort) God gives us.

In addition to God's comfort, it is also important to know how to comfort ourselves, a form of self-compassion.

Here is an excerpt from an article I wrote on the topic of self-compassion. Try the exercise included in it.

Have a Shabbat Shalom,

Yaakov

There is a growing awareness of the importance of self-compassion, being kind to oneself, with books and websites devoted to the topic. Self-compassion flows naturally from self-acceptance; once we accept ourselves the way we are, we can be kind and loving to ourselves.

Ever notice that people may hate themselves because of a weakness they have, yet when they are dealing with others who have the same weakness, especially children, they feel no hatred, only tenderness and compassion? Why is that?

Because when dealing with others, we are better able to see the overall picture and not just focus on the weakness. When we look at the child, we are able to see the innocence, the inherent goodness the child possesses, and their struggle to overcome difficulties, which are no fault of their own.

Although our bodies age, the child inside of us remains. Never shame or insult that child. The next time you are about to berate yourself over a perceived flaw or failure, instead, bring to mind your many struggles and feel tenderness and compassion for yourself. Talk to yourself, in the second person, soothing words of support and encouragement. Show yourself the same kindness, warmth and care you would show a child who is going through a tough time.

When you need to give yourself constructive criticism, do so lovingly and respectfully, after all, you are speaking to one of God’s children. Do not dwell on the past mistake, instead, focus on encouraging yourself to do better in the future.

In addition to extending compassion to yourself, tap into the compassion God gives you. He is constantly supporting you (Song of Songs 2:6), “His left hand is under my head and His right arm embraces me.” God tells you (Isaiah 66:13), “As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you…” Pray to Him to send you comfort and strength. Then imagine waves of these feelings washing over you.

When you feel emotional distress, think while slowly breathing in, “God is with me,” and while slowly breathing out, “God is soothing and comforting me.”

After feeling Divine compassion, see if you can feel a sense of oneness with God. As Moses taught us (Deuteronomy 4:35), “…There is nothing beside Him.” In this state, there is no separate self receiving compassion from God. Instead, there is only compassion; there is only God.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

How to Stop Hating Your Fellow Jew

Dear Friends, 

Tisha B'av starts Motzai Shabbat, Saturday night, August 13th, and is the saddest day in the Jewish Calendar. 

Here is a related article: Longing for the Redemption

Below is an excerpt from an article I wrote which discusses the sin of baseless hatred, which the Sages teach is a key reason the Messiah has not yet arrived.

May we soon witness the coming of the Messiah and the rebuilding of the Third Temple.

Yaakov

How to Stop Hating Your Fellow Jew

Perhaps you do not hate anybody, but how about intensely dislike?

We do not have to go out of our way to spend time with people we do not like; often, it is best to limit contact with those who push our buttons or are just not nice people. But, we are forbidden to harbor personal animosity toward a fellow Jew, as the Torah cautions us (Leviticus 19:17), “Do not hate your brother in your heart…” (In general, it is not a good idea to hate anyone; but hating a fellow Jew is especially sinful.)

Diagnostic questions: Are there people I cannot stand and feel distaste just looking at them? Are there people who I would be happy to hear that they are having difficulties?

Often, we dislike people because they wronged us in some way; in that case, see, “The Freedom of Forgiveness: 3 Strategies to Letting Go.” Other times, some people just rub us the wrong way. When we look at them, we think about their real or imagined faults.

Instead, remind yourself that you do not know everything about them and why they act the way they do; give them the benefit of the doubt, just like you would want others to give you.

Look for shared humanity. Deep within your heart is a place of tenderness and vulnerability; it exists within those you dislike as well. You have more in common with those you dislike than differences. You have flaws and weaknesses, so do they. You try hard to provide for yourself and your family, so do they. You have worries and concerns, hopes and dreams, so do they. Sometimes, you struggle just to get by, so do they. As best you can, feel warmth and compassion for them.

Generally speaking, the people we dislike are those we do not know well. The more we get to know people, their good qualities and struggles, the more we realize that in many ways they are just like us.

The Sages teach that the entire Jewish people are all part of one soul – we are one spiritual entity. When you see another Jew, you are seeing a part of yourself. Just as you are accepting of your own flaws, be accepting of the flaws of others as well, as they are an extension of yourself. Perhaps this idea is hinted to in Leviticus (19:18) where God says to us, “…You shall love your fellow as yourself…” How do you come to love your fellow? By realizing that he is “as yourself” – an extension of who you are.

Action steps: The next time you catch yourself thinking negative thoughts about someone, switch focus to their admirable qualities and the good they have done. Also think about possible struggles they may face, which may give you insight into why they act the way they do. Preferably, compliment them for the good you see in them. A sincere compliment is a powerful way to break down barriers between people. In addition, remind yourself that they are a part of you and to accept them as they are. Lastly, look for ways to assist those you dislike or ask for their assistance; both can help cultivate feelings of closeness.

The above encompasses individuals. Jews can also be divided into groups, e.g., Israelis and those living in the diaspora, Sephardim and Ashkenazim, Chassidim and Mitnagdim, as well as a whole spectrum of religiosity. It is very easy to fall into the trap of looking down and showing disdain for those who are different than us. In addition, we are often quick to label a whole group based on the behavior of isolated individuals.

The next time you catch yourself harboring dislike for a particular group of Jews, ask, “Does everyone in this group act in the manner I find offensive? Am I sure that I would not act the same way or worse if I was in their situation?” In addition, think about their praiseworthy qualities and the good deeds they do, and try to feel some love for your fellow Jews.