Saturday, November 21, 2015

The 10 Item Daily Checklist

Dear friends, 

With our brothers and sisters in Israel under attack, please consider choosing one of the items below to strengthen. In that merit, may God bring peace to Israel and the world. 


The activities we do can be divided into two categories. Those which vary day by day and those we do on a daily basis. Over time, which category will have the greatest impact on our lives?

Generally, the things we do on a regular basis define us and determine whether our lives are full of meaning and fulfillment. Ironically, often this category gets pushed to the side and we give priority to the errands and distractions which come up each day.

This daily checklist helps us pay attention to the constants in our lives, the things that are always important. Read over this checklist and see which items you already do. Congratulate yourself for engaging in these important activities. Then, choose one that you do not yet do and are motivated to start doing; make it a daily priority (or at least a weekly priority). Once that becomes a habit, choose another. Over time, you will be able to check off daily each item on this list (although the time spent on a given item will vary per day).

Many of the 10 items below are discussed in greater detail in my other articles.

Between us and ourselves:

1. Focus on my good points. The things about me and what I’ve done that I’m proud of. With God’s help, using my strengths, I will overcome the challenges of today and become a better person.
(If you have accomplished anything on this checklist yesterday, that is reason enough to compliment yourself.)

2. Take care of my health. Eat healthy, exercise and get enough sleep.

Between us and our fellow:

3. Do not harm financially. Do my best not to hurt people financially.
(Ways you may have harmed others financially include: Being late in agreed upon payments, withholding monies belonging to others, not keeping your word or taking advantage of people. If you realize you have harmed someone financially, as soon as possible, make amends and ask for forgiveness.)

4. Do not harm emotionally. Do my best not to hurt people emotionally or cause them distress in any way.
(Ways you may have harmed others include: Being hyper-critical, yelling at them, ridiculing what they did, making hurtful comments, ignoring them or speaking negatively about them. If you realize you have harmed someone emotionally, as soon as possible, ask for forgiveness.)

5. Do acts of kindness. Help others as best I can.
(Look for ways to help others, e.g., volunteering, giving someone emotional or material support, advice, or helping someone find a job, a spouse or a needed resource. In addition, show others appreciation, consideration, and interest, and give them warm greetings, compliments, and encouragement. )

6. Nourish a relationship. Spend time connecting with at least one person in my life.
(Often, you will want to spend some time each day, nourishing a few close relationships. Remember, it is quality, not quantity. When you are with these people, be with them; put on hold all distractions.)

Between us and God:

7. Speak to God. Talk to God and connect with Him throughout the day.
(Three ways to do this: (1) Recite daily at least one prayer with intention. (2) Thank God for what is going well in your life and ask for His help with challenges. (3) Tell God that you know He guides every aspect of your life for your highest good, but you need His help to really believe that. )

8. Study Torah. Study God’s Torah during a set time.
(There are many areas of Torah to study, find one you are currently most drawn to. You can study from a book, read an online article, attend a class, listen to recorded lectures during your commute or while exercising, or study with a partner.)

9. Avoid spiritual pollution. Do my best to stay away from temptation and spiritual pollution.
(For example, as best you can, stay away from morally loose environments and be discriminating in what you read, watch and listen to, avoiding that which harms you spiritually. See, “4 Ways to Safeguard Your Moral Purity.”)

10. Observe the Torah. Observe the Torah, as best I can, and repent when I lapse.
(The Torah contains God’s wisdom for living, and the opportunity to observe the Torah is a primary reason He created us. Observance is not all or nothing; the more you observe, the more you benefit, in both obvious and hidden ways. Pick a particular area in which you are motivated to strengthen your observance.)

Looking over these 10 items, which one will you start doing today?

For a one page version of this checklist to put on your fridge or desk, click here.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Who Caused This Crisis? AND Adversity + Humility + Acceptance = Transcendence

Dear Friends,

We are all shaken by the unrelenting terror attacks in Israel and the weekend terrorist attack in Paris.
This article explores how to respond to suffering in a way that deepens our relationship with God.

Adversity+ Humility + Acceptance = Transcendence

A related article is:

We pray for the wounded and that God bring comfort to the families of those who died.

May God soon bring peace to Israel and the world,


Saturday, November 7, 2015

Kislev: Gratitude

Dear Friends,

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

Rosh Chodesh Kislev begins Wednesday night, the 11th of November, and lasts for two days.

During this month we celebrate the festival of Chanukah, which commemorates the miracle of the oil, the victory of the Maccabees over the Greeks and the rededication of the Second Temple. A key message of the festival is expressing gratitude to God for the miracles He performs on our behalf.

Each day, preferably at the beginning of the day, spend time feeling grateful for the blessings your Creator gave you. Thank Him for His many gifts, for the bright side/silver lining of your difficulties, and for signs of His help amidst your challenges. Consider inputting this daily practice of expressing gratitude into your checklist.

In addition, express appreciation when someone does something beneficial for you. You can do this in person, on the phone, via a quick email or text, or with a written note.

Questions for the month:

“What is something I am very grateful to God for? What can I say to Him to express my appreciation?”

“Who is someone who has helped me? How can I express my appreciation?”

Here is an excerpt from the post, “6 Tools to Enhance Your Mood” on the topic of gratitude:

“According to research, being grateful increases our happiness. Begin your day expressing appreciation to God for at least one blessing in your life, preferably out loud and in your native language; elaborate on how you have benefited from this blessing.

Try this powerful practice to supercharge your mood: First, focus on life’s deepest joy: That God – the Creator of the entire universe – wants to have a personal relationship with you (no matter what you’ve done in the past). Then, pick an upbeat Jewish song and dance and/or sing to God, expressing your desire to come closer to Him and your appreciation for all that your Father in Heaven does for you.

This is one of the quickest ways to improve your mood. Try it at least once, even if you think it is silly. If you find this practice beneficial, do it each morning.

(The music of Shlomo Carlebach is one great choice to dance and/or sing to. Even just listening to his music can uplift your mood. You can listen to full-length tracks at Some fast paced songs available on this webpage are: Oseh Shalom, Tov L'hodot, Harachaman Hu Y'zakeinu, Yamin Usmol, Hashem Melech, Tshuatam, Siman Tov and Am M'kadshai.)

Each day, make a conscious decision to focus on and be grateful for what goes right, the blessings inherent in every day. Savor and delight in life’s pleasures, enjoying them mindfully. Express appreciation for the help others give you.

In addition to appreciating what God and others have done for you, appreciate yourself. Focus on and take delight in your positive qualities; praise yourself for your achievements, good deeds and the challenges you have overcome. Also look for and praise the good you see in others.

At the root of a low mood is often a mindset of minimizing the good in our lives and maximizing the bitter – the things we have we wish we did not and the things we do not have we wish we did. To feel happier, do the opposite: Maximize what you have and what is going right and minimize what you do not yet have and what is difficult (minimizing difficulties means not blowing them out of proportion but still addressing them as appropriate).

The next time you are in a low mood, ask yourself, “What bitter aspect of my life am I over-focusing on? What blessed aspect am I ignoring?” Then switch focus; think about how the bitterness in your life is really manageable, and how the blessings in your life are really amazing.

A fundamental belief in Judaism is that whatever happens to us is from God, out of His love for us and for our benefit (Tractate Berachot 60b). While the main benefit of a difficulty is likely obscured from your view, try to find some benefit or bright side to a challenge, for which you can be grateful.

When we are grateful for the blessings in our lives, we are more likely to not take things too seriously. Look for the humor in life. Throughout the day, remind yourself to smile, even if only a slight one; this will help you cultivate an inner sense of lightness and joy.

Part of gratitude is realizing that the gifts God gives us are not exclusively for our own use; He expects us to share a portion of them with others. Research shows that giving to others enhances our health and happiness; it even increases our longevity.

Helping others reminds us that there are those who are less fortunate and to be grateful for what we have. Look for ways to share your time, talents and resources; volunteer or adopt a cause or charity. Each day, see how you can be of service to others.”

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


Saturday, October 31, 2015

What Happens to Our Seemingly Unanswered Prayers?

Dear Friends,

Many of us at some point in our lives have wondered:

What Happens to Our Seemingly Unanswered Prayers?
(Please click on the title to access)

Have a great week,


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Surrendering to God: 3 Steps to Transcend Your Ego

Dear Friends,

Even while we pray to God for help, we surrender to Him, acknowledging that only He knows what is best for us.

This article is by far my most popular blog post. It contains at the end, 30 ways to experience the release and oneness which come with surrendering to God.

Have a great week,


Saturday, October 17, 2015

Care, Respect, Teach and Grow: What Your Congregants Wished You Knew About Being a Congregational Rabbi

Note to congregants: We can all benefit from many of these ideas, especially parents and teachers. In addition, if your rabbi does even a fraction of these suggestions, cherish, honor, and support him, and learn from him as much as you can.

Being a congregational rabbi is one of the most difficult jobs. It requires a tremendous amount of technical knowledge as well as skills in multiple areas. In meeting the intense demands of this job, rabbis make many sacrifices. For choosing this career – key to the continuity of the Jewish people – you have our gratitude and admiration.

No matter how skilled a rabbi is, he can benefit from suggestions from those on the other side of the pulpit on how to be a more effective rov. Many of these suggestions, from a congregant’s perspective, are well known. Some you may disagree with, while others may not be appropriate for your congregation. A rov certainly does not have to fulfill all of them to be a great congregational rabbi. This article was written with the hope that something here will be of use to you in guiding your congregants to live a Torah life. The suggestions are divided into four areas: Care, respect, teach and grow. Start by implementing a point below which resonates with you, and build from there.

1. Care. Congregants need to feel important in their rabbi’s eyes and that he cares about them. Here are ways to show your congregants you care:

a. Avoid playing favorites. As best you can, treat congregants equally and show an interest in each one; learn their names and what they do during the week. Be friendly to everyone. During the kiddish and at shul events, do not schmooze only with those who approach you; work the room and especially focus on those who are not talking to others.

b. Encourage your congregants to care for each other. Emphasize the importance of treating everyone – even nonmembers – with basic decency: Not to kick someone out of their seat, not to ignore people and bypass them for aliyot and the amud, to wish good Shabbos to those sitting next to them, to welcome new people, to invite those who are looking for meals, and to be extra friendly and attentive to those who are frequently marginalized by society: Orphans, converts, singles, widows, widowers, divorcees, senior citizens, those with disabilities or a weak Jewish background, and children from single parent homes. Create a warm environment where congregants look out for each other.

c. Do not use a one-size-fits-all approach. Shuls are filled with varied populations – kids, teenagers, singles, couples, empty nesters and seniors – each with unique needs. Meet those needs as best you can and when possible, solicit input as to what would be beneficial to them. Ask your congregants for programming ideas, and drasha and class topics. This can be done informally, with email surveys, or groups of members meeting to share ideas.

d. Have competent staff. If the shul office staff is friendly and competent, congregants feel cared for.

e. Be aware of resources. Every community has resources to which you can refer congregants. Have shul committees that can be mobilized to assist those in need. Delegate so you do not have to do everything yourself. When referring your congregants out for help, follow up with them to ensure their needs are being met.

f. Make introductions. For meals, jobs, friendships, dates, study partners etc.

g. Respond quickly to any email sent to you personally. You can do this by sending a short reply thanking the person for the email. If a lengthier reply is needed, give them an estimated time frame of when you will send one.

h. Meet with your congregants. Encourage your congregants to meet with you or call to discuss concerns. This shows you are interested in them and available to help. This will help you address simmering issues such as marital discord or problems with kids before they boil over.

i. Call your congregants. Reach out to them if you have not seen them in a while or heard they are experiencing difficulties. Emailing is second best. Keep a list of congregants to visit, call or email on a regular basis. Look for opportunities to compliment congregants you see in shul and express appreciation for what they do for the shul and community. Encourage them in whatever challenges they are dealing with. Do not underestimate your power as a rov; the impact of every act you do and every word you say is magnified. Your congregants will remember and cherish your kindness and thoughtfulness for years to come.

2. Respect. When you show people you care about them, you show them respect. Not talking down to your congregants and appreciating the challenges they face are other ways of showing respect. This section though, is about how to help them respect you. Your congregants have to respect you to benefit most from what you have to offer. Instead of trying to get your congregants to like you, focus instead on getting them to respect you; that is much more important. Here are some suggestions to project a persona people will respect:

a. Look the part. Dress well and be mindful of your posture. If you are very young looking, you may benefit from a beard, even a short, trimmed one. People frequently associate a beard with rabbis and will often show you more respect if you have one.

b. Act the part. You are a role model and people are watching you, e.g., come on time to minyan, do not check your e-mail during davening, etc. How you act will either make a kiddish Hashem or God forbid, the opposite. Always remember (Bamidbar 32:22), “Veyesem Nikeim” and avoid any hint of impropriety.

c. Speak the part. Do not use slang or any other way of speaking or acting beneath your dignity; it is unbecoming for a rov. Your goal is not to pal around with your congregants. Your goal is to be their rov and role model.

d. Do not make disparaging jokes, even if the butt of your jokes tells you they do not mind. It is inappropriate and people will think less of you because of it. Also do not make self-deprecating comments or publicize your flaws and weaknesses, unless you are doing so for a specific reason; congregants generally do not want to hear about what their rabbi does not do well.

e. Do not talk during davening or allow it in your shul. First, it is the halacha. Second, your congregants are expecting you to set the tone for davening and ensure proper decorum. When working to maintain decorum, do so in a dignified manner. For example, asking the chazzan to stop until quiet is restored, comes across as more dignified than banging on the bimah and yelling “Shah! Shah!” For how one shul addressed the issue of talking during davening, click here.

f. Do what you say you will do. When you keep your word, people will respect and trust you.

g. Apologize. Everyone makes mistakes. Great leaders, who command respect, apologize and take responsibility for their mistakes.

h. Be decisive and definitive. This gives congregants a feeling of confidence in their rov and in the halachic process.

i. “Be bold as a leopard” (Avot 5:20). A rabbi must be willing to confidently tell the president of the shul, a board member or a big donor, “No, the shul cannot do that.” Refuse to yield to pressure. This is where your yirat Shamayim will be tested. Formulate your position and let your congregants know that this is shul policy. (If possible, and especially with controversial issues, quote a respected rabbi to back up your position.) Ironically, if your congregants feel they can push you around and that you lack backbone, you will lose their respect. Although your congregants will test you, deep down they want a rabbi who has principles and who will be their moral compass. (At the same time, know how to choose your battles and be flexible when possible.)

3. Teach. A major role of a rabbi is to be a teacher. Here are some ideas on how to make the most of this role.

a. Give a daily empowering message. Many congregational rabbis speak at least twice daily, after Shacharit, and between Mincha and Maariv. After Shacharit, consider giving an empowering message, perhaps related to the parsha, so that your congregants will begin their day with a positive mindset. Between Mincha and Maariv, if you teach halacha, keep it simple and practical. During that small window, avoid halachot with difficult to understand rationales or those that involve uncommon scenarios.

b. Teach both halacha and spirituality. Have classes where you systematically go through halacha, so congregants know what to do. Before each holiday, give a refresher course on key halachot or email a summary. Also teach spirituality. A number of rabbis have said that one of their biggest struggles is teaching spirituality, the heart and soul of Yiddishkeit. To help people learn and teach spirituality in a comprehensive fashion, I formulated, “The Chazak Plan, a 12 month journey to spiritual strength.” Each month focuses on a different area and each week, I email subscribers a pertinent article. You and/or your congregants can subscribe for free at and more information is available at Alternatively, devise your own plan, where each month you focus on a different area.

c. Give them a geshmak in learning. Share with your congregants the sweetness of Torah. If there is a topic you are especially passionate about, teach that. While any area of Torah study can give people a geshmak – if taught well and if they are so inclined – some areas to give especial consideration to are: In-depth gemarah, responsa (concluding with how we paskin) chassidic thought, midrash, Ein Yaakov and Tanach. Try different areas to find what resonates most with your congregants.

d. Advertise and promote your classes. Use all means at your disposal to promote your classes, e.g., social media, email (individual and mass), and speak about your classes both one on one and publicly. When advertising a class, do not send notices at the last minute, as this does not give people time to arrange their schedules. Send multiple notices, at least one before the class and one the morning of. In addition, include the topic and teasers – things of interest to be covered in the class which will help draw participants. (Make sure to cover your teasers in the class, otherwise you lose credibility.) If possible, serve food during at least one of your classes as an added draw.

e. Aim high when teaching. Often, you teach classes with participants from varied backgrounds. Try to use language understandable to all. At the same time, do not try to get everyone to understand each point before moving on. If you do this, the advanced students may lose interest and you may be mistakenly perceived as a lightweight who lacks scholarship. Better to teach with an eye toward the mid to upper level of the class. (If you have many beginners, offer a class specifically geared toward them).

f. Be judicious in taking questions. To maintain the flow of a class, sometimes it is best to put questions on hold. In addition, some questions are best answered after the class. If you take too many questions, especially tangential ones, people may lose interest and not come back. It is a delicate balance of encouraging participation but still keeping the pace moving.

g. Include the rebbetzin. If possible, enlist the rebbetzin to teach a weekly or monthly class for women. Rebbetzins who do not like to teach can find someone else to do so and look for other ways to have a positive impact on the women and be a role model.

h. Give a take home message. In the drasha, focus on a practical and empowering message, with examples on how to apply it. Do not be afraid to express your passionate and enthusiasm for Judaism. Aim to encourage and inspire; chassidic vorts are treasure troves of inspirational thoughts. People love jokes and stories. But do not overdo the jokes or use lowbrow humor; they detract from the reverence and awe one needs when conveying a Torah thought. When possible, start off with a joke or a humorous story and weave in anecdotes throughout your speech to drive home your point. Keep the drasha on the short side, as there is a point of diminishing returns.

i. Build, do not destroy. Some rabbis give classes where they take a cherished concept of Judaism and dismantle it, telling the participants that everything they thought they knew about this concept might not be true after all. At the end of the class, the rabbis try to put the pieces back together with the hope that a deeper understanding emerges. While perhaps intellectually stimulating, this type of class can do more harm than good. If the rabbi does a better job dismantling the concept than rebuilding it, the participants leave with their faith in foundational beliefs shaken.

A similar tactic is to take a Jewish hero or heroine and come up with new flaws and failures not mentioned by the Sages. The hope is that this makes these personalities more real. Unfortunately, what can happen is that our respect and reverence for these great leaders becomes compromised. Better to stick to the failings mentioned by the Sages, and not conjecture about new possibilities.

j. Have a clear goal. Before teaching a class or lecture, think about what you want the participants to walk away with. Optimally, they should come away with one or more of the following: 1. Inspiration 2. Practical advice or instruction 3. An appreciation for the depth and beauty of the Torah.

k. Look for varied settings to teach Torah and have a positive impact on your congregants. For example, invite them for Shabbat meals, have onegs, melava malkas etc.

l. Encourage your congregants to grow. Try to keep track of objective measures of growth, e.g., your congregant’s behavior, the questions they ask, their attendance at classes etc., so you can get a sense of if they are growing spiritually or not. If your congregants remain stagnant – i.e., they have not improved their character traits, yirat Shamayim, ahavat Hashem or shmirat hamitzvot – that is a sign you have to go back to the drawing board. Some rabbis coddle their congregants and do not encourage them to develop spiritually and strengthen weak areas. Your congregants are depending on you to guide them to proper behavior. Do not let them down.

Some mistakenly measure the success of a rabbi based on the number of people who attend his drashas. The true test of a rabbi is the level of impact he has on his congregants – the extent to which he helps them fulfill their potential to live a Torah life.

4. Grow. Grow with your congregants, both spiritually and professionally. Here are some suggestions how:

a. Deepen your relationship with Hashem. Even the greatest rabbis continue to develop their relationship with Hashem. The more genuine and sincere you are in your Judaism, the more your congregants will be influenced by you, and vice versa. Yirat Shamayim and ahavat Hashem are the foundation of genuineness and sincerity in Judaism. Learn Mesilat Yesharim, Chovot Halevavot, Shaarei Teshuva, among other works. Also learn Nidchei Yisrael by the Chofetz Chaim. It is available in English and free online. He wrote this work for people who left European communities to settle in places like America and he discusses how to strengthen one’s commitment to living a Torah life. One can easily make the case that this sefer is required reading for every rov and for many of their congregants as well. Preferably learn this sefer in the original Hebrew, for the most powerful affect.

b. Enhance your skills. Focus on developing your strengths and shoring up key weaknesses. Watch videos or listen to recordings of yourself and other gifted speakers. Ask people for feedback on your drashas and classes – both the weak and strong points.

c. Have a mentor. A senior rov you speak to regularly for guidance. He will help you stay anchored in the authentic mesorah and not drift off course and be poreitz geder, God forbid.

d. Have a support network. Develop relationships with respected colleagues and friends to whom you turn to for advice and encouragement.

e. Set aside a significant amount of time each day for Torah learning. That is the only way to deepen your Torah knowledge and continue to be a mayan hamisgaber for your congregants.

When your congregants sense that you really care about them and about doing the ratzon Hashem, they will respect you and want to learn from you; together you will grow to great heights.

Being an amazing congregational rabbi is very challenging. But with effort, natural ability and lots of tefilla and siyata diShmaya it can be done. The impact you will have will last for generations.

Please email your feedback on this article with me directly at, or share this post with those who may be interested in it by using the icons below. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

How to Respond Effectively to a Crisis or Tragedy

Dear Friends,

We mourn the loss of those who died in recent terror attacks and we pray for the wounded. But what else can we do?

Here's an article I wrote on this topic:

May God soon bring peace to Israel and the world,