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.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Who Caused This Crisis?

Dear Friends,

With many crises going on in the world and in some of our lives as well, we often look for people to blame and wonder, "Who Caused This Crisis?"

The answer may surprise you. Or if you know the answer already, a periodic reminder can still be helpful.

Have a good week,

Yaakov


Saturday, July 30, 2016

Av: Restoring Love

Dear Friends,

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

Rosh Chodesh Av begins Thursday night, the 4th of August, and lasts for one day.

On the 9th of this month – Tisha B’Av – we fast to commemorate the destruction of the First and Second Temples.

Last month, we focused on removing hatred. This month, we will focus on the next step: Restoring love by apologizing and helping others.

Consider if you may have caused someone distress, by what you said or did. If yes, commit to apologize to them as soon as possible.

In addition, each day of this month, consider checking off on your checklist if you did an act of kindness; it can be something small. If the day is coming to a close and you have not yet done an act of kindness, ask yourself if there is someone you can call or email, who would appreciate that you reached out to them. At the very least, put some money in a charity box. Do not let a day go by without doing something for someone else. As the Sages teach, (Ethics of the Fathers 1:14), “…If I am [only] for myself, what am I?”

The topic of doing acts of kindness is discussed in, Abraham + Isaac + Jacob = You. The topic of not wronging others is discussed in, “What is Your Number One Spiritual Stumbling Block?” The topic of apologizing is discussed in, “Repairing Our Mistakes: How to Ask for Forgiveness.”

Questions for the month:

“Who can I apologize to?” (And make amends if applicable)

“Who can I help?” (Some examples: Giving emotional, financial or physical support, advice, or helping someone find a job, a spouse or a needed resource.)

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

Yaakov

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Freedom of Forgiveness: 3 Strategies to Letting Go

Dear Friends,

Beginning Sunday morning, July 24th, we observe the 17th of Tammuz, commemorating the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem before the destruction of the First Temple.

The article below discusses the topic of forgiveness. Most of us have at least one person who we hold some bitterness toward. Discover how good you can feel, when you let go of some or all of that resentment.


Have a good week and may the Temple be rebuilt speedily in our days,

Yaakov

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Conflict Resolution: How to Win the Battle for Peace

Dear Friends,

The focus for this month is on removing the hatred we may feel for another person.

The news is full of murderous hatred and terror, including the recent terror attack in France. We see with our own eyes the destructive power of even just one man's hatred.

Any type of hatred for law abiding people is destructive and we must remove all traces of it from our hearts.

The first step is to resolve conflicts with those who are willing.


May God speedily bring peace to Israel and the world,

Yaakov