Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Who Are You? A Balaam, a Job or a Jethro?

A fascinating passage in the Talmud sheds light on who Job was and why he suffered so much. The Talmud (Sotah 11a) recounts how when the Jews were in Egypt, before they were enslaved, Pharaoh took counsel with his wise men; his advisors were Balaam, Job and Jethro. Pharaoh asked them how to deal with the increasing Jewish population. Balaam advised Pharaoh to persecute them, Job was silent, and Jethro fled after he saw Pharaoh’s malevolent intent.

Each one received their due. Balaam was later killed by the sword and lost his share in the World to Come, the otherwise righteous Job suffered severely before God healed him, and Jethro merited having his descendants serve in the Supreme Jewish Court. In addition, Jethro merited Moses as his son-in-law, the greatest prophet who ever lived.

We all experience defining moments, times we face moral dilemmas. The decisions we make shape the course of our lives. Through our choices, we will reap what we sow, for good or vice versa.

Moral dilemmas are as unique as we are. Each one is custom made by God to give us the opportunity to define what we want our lives to be about. Some of these moments are chances to repair mistakes we made in past lives. They are key reasons God sent our souls from Heaven into this world.

Examples of dilemmas: A very attractive person flirts with you, and you know the relationship will only spell trouble. Your friends pressure you to do something or go somewhere which you know is not a good idea. You come across an opportunity to engage in shady dealings, take what doesn’t belong to you, or withhold monies due to others. You discover that your partner or boss is engaged in underhanded behavior from which you stand to gain if you go along with it. Your lawyer or accountant advises you to do something which you know is not right.

For many of these life defining moments, we have three options:

1. Actively pursue the sinful choice, i.e., acting like Balaam.

2. Be passive, exhibiting silent acquiescence to something we know is wrong, i.e., acting like Job.

3. Stand up for our values, and if we think we will be unable to sway others, then to flee from sin like one running from a fire, i.e., acting like Jethro.

You will face defining moments; it is only a question of when. When you do, you will choose one of the above three courses of action. Whatever choice you make, there will be consequences.

Like Balaam, those who choose evil will pay a price eventually and that price is never worthwhile. Like Job, those who choose to look the other way will be held accountable for their inaction. While those who stand up for their values, become Jethros, and will reap tremendous and eternal reward.

The consequences of our actions are measure for measure. Balaam, who sought harm and destruction for the Jewish people, experienced that himself. Job, who was silent, experienced such difficulties that he could no longer maintain his silence and cried out in pain. Jethro, who stood up for what he believed in and fled from evil, had descendants who did the same.

One of the greatest rewards people can receive in this world is seeing their children and grandchildren thriving and following in the proper path. That was Jethro’s reward; he saw his descendants reach the pinnacle of greatness. If we also want to receive that reward, then, like Jethro, we also need to be role models of greatness.

Our children and grandchildren watch how we act and model what they observe. In essence, as we live our lives, we are "writing" an autobiography, one that our children and grandchildren will "read". Write one they can be proud of and from which they will draw inspiration throughout their lives.

Choosing to emulate Jethro is not easy, but it is simple. It begins with one word: No. “No! I will not do that.” Or, “No! I will not go along with that.” To do this, we need to be bold and resolute, reminding ourselves that when we’re doing the right thing, it doesn’t matter what other people may think of us.

Often, the hardest part is evaluating each situation and deciding whether or not we will live our values. Once we decide that we will always live our values, doing so in every situation becomes automatic. (When you’re unsure what to do, or your biases are likely clouding your judgment, speak to your rabbi or spiritual mentor for guidance.) 

Greatness is found not only in rejecting evil, but also in embracing good. Jethro not only left his respected position as an idolatrous priest, he embraced Judaism, joining Moses and the Jews in the desert.

The High Holidays are rapidly approaching. Now is the time to look back at the key decisions of your life. It is not too late to right your wrongs – as best you can – and to embrace good, forging a new path for yourself. Many decisions can still be changed. For those that cannot, you can still choose, from this day forward, to live your values.

Never give up, never think you are too far gone or have already done too much damage. Each day you receive the gift of life, represents a message to you from your Creator: “I created you with the potential for greatness. I know you can still reach this potential. Because of that, I am giving you another opportunity for a fresh start, starting now.”


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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Elul: Repentance

Dear Friends,

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

Rosh Chodesh Elul begins this Monday night, the 25th of August, 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 with which we struggle; perhaps it is being ethical in business, living a moral life, being charitable and kind, or refraining from hurting others. Correcting our key flaw(s) is a main component of our life’s mission and why God put us in this world.

Pick one area on which to focus and break it down into manageable behavioral changes you will make on a daily or weekly basis. 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, you might want to take a look at the article, Unlocking the Hidden Power of Prayer. (This article and the topic of prayer is the focus of the month of Cheshvan.)

Readings for the month:

You: As God Intended

Who Are You? A Balaam, a Job or a Jethro?

How to Remove Your Number One Spiritual Stumbling Block

Unmasking 5 Misconceptions about Repentance

Asking Forgiveness: A Crash Course

Take care, and may God grant us success in the coming month and bring peace to the land of Israel,

Yaakov

Thursday, August 14, 2014

On Arutz-7: What Does God Want From Me?

Dear Friends,

Have you ever asked yourself, “What does God want from me? Why did He create me?”

In this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Eikev, Moses addresses this very question and asks the Jews, “And now, Israel, What does Hashem, your God, request of you? (Deuteronomy 10:12)”

His answer, discussed in the article below, may surprise you.

What Does God Want from Me?

This week, Arutz-7 published a digest version of this article, available here.

Have a Shabbat Shalom,

Yaakov

PS The above article is an updated and retitled version of “Is God Part of Your Judaism?”

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Chazak! Chazak! Venischazaik!

Dear Friends,

With our brothers and sisters in Israel living under a barrage of rockets, with mounting IDF casualties and a steep rise in anti-Semitic acts and rallies around the world, this is clearly a challenging and traumatic time for our people.

During times like these, we need to strengthen our faith: Our faith in God and our faith in ourselves, that with His help we will overcome.

It is inspiring that during this time period, over 1,000 Jews made Aliya to Israel. For a video of the arrival of 228 olim from America, click here.

Below, I have compiled a list of articles from this blog which may help you during this time, or during any time of worry and anxiety. They have helped me.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Who Caused This Crisis?

Our instinctive response to crisis and tragedy is to look for people to blame and to think they are the sole cause of our difficulties. We say to each other, “If only they would have acted differently, things would have been different.” But this is a mistake.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Av: Enhancing Our Relationships

Dear Friends,

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

Rosh Chodesh Av begins this Sunday night, the 27th of July, and lasts for one day. Rosh Chodesh marks the beginning of the period known as the "Nine Days."

On the ninth of this month – Tisha B’Av – we fast to commemorate the destruction of the First and Second Temples. We remember a time when God “hid His face” from the Jewish people and we felt distant from Him. During this month, reestablish and deepen your relationship with God through the practice of Hitbodedut – talking informally to Him in your native language.

Speak to God for at least five to fifteen minutes, unburdening yourself to Him. Try this practice at least once, although preferably for a week or month and see how it can help you feel closer to God and to fortifying yourself with His comfort and support.

Continue last month’s focus on forgiveness and letting go of bitterness from the past. What is a step you can take to reduce or resolve an interpersonal conflict in your life? How can you bring more peace and acceptance to your relationships? How can you keep a disagreement from deteriorating into personal animosity?

We are a small nation surrounded by enemies bent on our destruction, as we see clearly with the fighting going on in Gaza. To defeat the hatred against our people, we need to defeat the hatred within our people. Between now and Tisha B’Av, go out of your way to be forgiving and overlook the faults of others. Go out of your way to be kind and loving to others.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

God’s Love is Stronger than Our Prayers: 4 Answers to, “What Happens to Our Seemingly Unanswered Prayers?”

We pray because we believe God cares about us and is all powerful. He wants us to have a relationship with Him and ask for His help. Yet, what are we to believe when we pray for something and there is no change in the difficulty, or the person we were praying for passes away? What happens to those seemingly unanswered prayers?