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 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

What Happened to On Ben Pelet? How to be a positive influence on people

Dear Friends,

Below is a written version of a drasha (speech) I gave this past Shabbat.

Have a good week,

Yaakov

In this week’s Parsha, Parshat Korech, we started off with a listing of those who were involved in the rebellion of Korech against Moshe Rabbenu. One man listed is On ben Pelet. But later on On disappears from the scene. What happened to On?

The Gemara (Talmud) in Sanhedrin (109b) explains that On’s wife saved him from sharing the same fate of Korach. He had initially joined the rebellion but his wife convinced him that it was a foolish thing to do and helped him extricate himself from the rebellion. By doing this, she saved his life and that of his family as well.

On ben Pelet’s wife was a good influence on him. The Gemara in Sanhedrin also discusses a wife who was a bad influence, and that was the wife of Korach. She instigated him to rebel and goaded him on.

We often think, “Who am I that I can influence others?” But this is misguided humility. Hashem gives us tremendous power to not only change our own lives, but to change the lives of those around us as well.

Parshat Korach showcases the influence we can have on each other. In the case of On ben Pelet’s wife, through our influence we can save someone’s life, or in the case of Korach’s wife, the opposite can occur, God forbid.

What are some ways we can be a bad influence on people? When we are naysayers and throw cold water on people’s hopes and dreams. When we are a bad role model or hyper-critical of others.

How can we be a good influence on people? First we must see the amazing potential and goodness within everyone. When we genuinely like and care about people, they will be more open to being influenced by us. We influence people by sharing with them inspirational articles we’ve read or classes we attend. We also have a positive impact on people by teaching by example and by encouraging and complimenting them.

Another way to influence others is to do what On ben Pelet’s wife did and give advice when appropriate. If you know someone who’s struggling with a life challenge or you see them heading down the wrong path, if you think you can help them, don’t hold back!

Ask them if they are interested in your advice and if they are, share your thoughts with them.

For our own challenges, what do we do if we don’t have a spouse like the wife of On ben Pelet?

We must seek out wise people to consult with and get their advice and encouragement.

A common mistake people make is to make big decisions or try to handle difficult challenges on their own, without consulting with others who have wisdom and life experience, such as rabbis, rebbetzins and other mentors.

Until now, I’ve focused on being a good influence on others. But we must also be a good influence on ourselves. If we frequently berate and scold ourselves, if we call ourselves terrible names and say how hopeless we are, is that going to motivate us to improve?

We must be our biggest fan!!

We must spur ourselves on to overcome the challenges we face.

I want to end with some powerful questions we can ask ourselves:
Which do I do more, criticize others or compliment them?

Am I focused only on myself and my family, or do I take an interest in others and give them encouragement?

When I talk to myself, am I nasty and hyper-critical, or am I loving and encouraging?

Don’t let a day go by without encouraging and complimenting yourself and others. Then, B’ezrat Hashem (with God's help), we will all reach great heights.

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Saturday, July 2, 2016

The Spies and the Sin of Self-Hatred: How to feel better about yourself

Dear Friends,

Below is a written version of a drasha (speech) I gave this past Shabbat:

“The last few days have been difficult ones for the Jewish people. First, the murder by terrorists of a girl, Hallel Ariel, in Kiryat Arbah, Chevron and then on Friday, the murder of a head of a Yeshiva near Chevron, Rabbi Michoel Mark. Other people have been injured in attacks as well and we daven for their speedy recovery.

Chevron, the city where our Forefathers are buried (as well as three of our Matriarchs), is mentioned in this week’s parsha, Shelach. We read about how Moshe Rabbenu sent spies to the land of Israel. According to Rashi, one of those spies, Kalev, stopped off at Chevron to daven there, and beseeched Hashem (God) to help him. Thousands of years later, this past week, hundreds gathered in Chevron at the funeral of Hallel Yaffa Ariel, and also beseeched Hashem to help us. Just like Hashem answered Kalev’s prayers and gave him Chevron as a gift, so too may Hashem answer ours, and give us the entire Land of Israel to live in, in peace and harmony and bring the Moshiach (the Messiah), bimhara veyamaynu amen (speedily in our days).

The title of this drasha is "The Spies and the Sin of Self-Hatred: How to feel better about yourself." I think it is a very appropriate topic for a July 4th weekend. Some of us are looking around the shul and wondering, “why didn’t I go away?” We might be feeling badly about ourselves and a little inferior to those who went away. I’m hoping that at the end of this drasha, you’ll be feeling better about yourself… or you’ll get away next week.

The struggle with feelings of inferiority is not a new issue. It plagued the spies of this week’s parsha. When they scouted out the Land of Israel, they felt inferior to the strong inhabitants there. The spies said (Numbers 13:33), “We were like grasshoppers in our eyes.” Perhaps this feeling of low self-esteem, of not feeling good about themselves, led them to give up hope of being able to conquer the Land of Israel.

But instead of looking at others, at the mighty Canaanites, the spies should have looked within, at the power within themselves. We all have a God-given ability to triumph over adversity and with God’s help, succeed in ways we never thought possible…

What often holds us back from achieving greatness is ourselves. Like the spies, we often don’t believe in ourselves, we don’t think we are capable or worthy of success.

But we are!

We are capable and worthy of success. The first step is to love ourselves.

It says in the Torah (Leviticus 19:18), “Veahavta lereacha kamocha,” “Love your neighbor as yourself.“ The Torah is teaching us that we must love ourselves. Then, we will be able to love our neighbor as well.

In, “How to Stop Hating and Start Loving Yourself,” I wrote about five unhealthy thought patterns which can lead to low self-esteem and what to do about them. Today, I want to focus briefly on two.

The first cause of low-self-esteem is not accepting our flaws. Many of us feel deep shame over our weaknesses, as if we are personally to blame for them. But are we?

Since our weaknesses where given to us by Hashem for our ultimate benefit, what are we ashamed of?

The second cause is ignoring our good points. One of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov’s most transformative teachings is his emphasis on finding the good in others and in ourselves.

Make a list of your admirable qualities and how far you have come under very challenging circumstances. When you feel badly about yourself, look over the list: Appreciate your positive qualities and talents, feel compassion for your struggles and compliment yourself for your accomplishments.

Everyone in this room has achievements to be proud of, even the fact that you came to shul today, when you could have slept in, is an accomplishment.

As you get into the habit of praising yourself for your achievements, you will begin to feel better about yourself and appreciate the amazing person that you are.”


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

Rosh Chodesh Tammuz begins Tuesday night, the 5th of July and lasts for 2 days. The theme for this month is removing hatred.

On the 17th of this month, we fast to commemorate the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem before the destruction of the First Temple. This is the beginning of the period known as The Three Weeks which ends next month on Tisha B’Av, the day we mourn the destruction of the First and Second Temples. The Sages teach that a key reason the Messiah has not yet come to rebuild the Temple is because of the sin of hating one’s fellow Jew.

We are a small nation surrounded by enemies bent on our destruction. To defeat the hatred against our people, we must defeat the hatred within our people. This month, go out of your way to be forgiving and overlook the faults of others.

One of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov’s most transformative teachings is his emphasis on finding the good in ourselves and others (Likutey Moharan I, 282). A complementary practice is to realize that we all have difficulties and to feel compassion for our own challenges and for those of others. Each day, look for the good in yourself and others, and feel compassion for the struggles we all face. Then, you will be more forgiving and loving toward yourself and others.

Check off on your checklist each day you complimented someone, or at least spent time thinking about a person’s good points (including your own).

For additional discussion on the sin of hating one’s fellow Jew, see, “What is Your Number One Spiritual Stumbling Block?

Questions for the month:

“Who in my life do I feel hatred toward or greatly dislike?” (Pick one person and depending on the situation, either work on forgiving them or on reducing the hurt you feel.)

“Who pushes my buttons? Can I focus on their good points and be more complimentary and understanding?”

“What is the first step I can take to try to resolve a conflict I have with someone?”

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

Yaakov

Saturday, June 25, 2016

“What Does God Want from Me?”

Dear Friends,

Most of us at some point in our lives have asked ourselves, “What Does God Want from Me?” (please click on the title to access the article). 

Have a great week,

Yaakov 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

3 Fundamental Mitzvot

Dear Friends,

The theme of this month is living the Torah's wisdom.

Here is an article on 3 Fundamental Mitzvot (please click on the link to access).

Have a great week,

Yaakov

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Sivan: Living the Torah’s Wisdom

Dear Friends,

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

Rosh Chodesh Sivan begins Monday night, the 6th of June, and lasts for one day.

On Motzai Shabbat (Saturday night), June 11th, the festival of Shavuot begins. On Shavuot, we celebrate receiving on Mount Sinai the Torah, God’s instruction manual for life. Even those who are unaffiliated, without realizing it, observe part of the Torah. For example, The 10 Commandments, many already believe in God, do not worship idols, honor their parents, do not commit murder, adultery etc.

Begin at whatever level of observance you are currently on, and pick one area you are motivated to strengthen this month. At the end of each day/week, mark off on your checklist if you kept that observance.

Question for the month:

“What area of observance will I strengthen this month or at least learn more about?”

Reading for the month:

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

Yaakov

Saturday, May 28, 2016

How to Give Constructive Feedback without Sounding Critical

Dear Friends,

There is a time and place for criticism. Here’s How to Give Constructive Feedback without Sounding Critical.

It takes forethought, but if you make the effort, your feedback to others will be much more beneficial.

Have a great week,


Yaakov