Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Recording of Lecture: You Get Out What You Put In

Dear Friends,

For those who were not able to attend the lecture, you can click here for the link. 

After accessing the link, hit the play button. If that doesn't work, then click download. After downloading the file you should be able to play it. 

Please note, before uploading the file, I scanned it for viruses using AVG Antivirus software. 

If you have trouble playing the file, reply to this post and I will try emailing you the MP3 file directly.

For additional material relating to Yom Kippur which I did not have time to cover in the lecture, please see my Elul post on repentance by clicking here.

Shana tova,

Yaakov 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Upcoming Lecture: You Get Out What You Put In

Dear Friends,

If you live near the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I want to invite you to a lecture I will be giving,
God willing, Tuesday, September 30th, at 8pm.

I will be speaking at Congregation Ohab Zedek (OZ). The topic will be on preparing for Yom Kippur and focus on five possible areas for us to strengthen. It will use my article How to Remove Your Number One Spiritual Stumbling Block as a springboard for further discussion.

The OZ is located on 118, West 95th Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues. There is a suggested donation to their learning program of $5.

If you can make it, I'd love to see you there. If you know people who may be interested in it, I'd appreciate it if you forwarded this post to them.

May we all be inscribed in the book of life, for a healthy and happy New Year,

Yaakov


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Tishrei: Torah study

Dear Friends,

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

Rosh Chodesh Tishrei, which is also Rosh Hashanah, begins next Wednesday night, the 24th of September, and lasts for two days.

From now until after Yom Kippur, we continue our focus on repentance and turning over a new leaf. The first reading for this month (see below) can be helpful in identifying areas of your life to repair and upgrade. Choose one suggestion from the reading and add it to your daily checklist (at least for the 10 Days of Repentance, which start with Rosh Hashanah and end with Yom Kippur).

After Yom Kippur, the focus switches to the festival of Sukkot, the topic of the second reading.

After which are the festivals of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. On Simchat Torah we celebrate the completion of the yearly cycle of the Five Books of Moses and begin a new cycle with the book of Genesis. Now is a great time to join this annual study of the Bible. There is tremendous spiritual power in learning the same portion studied by millions of Jews around the world. Next Simchat Torah, when you finish the Bible, your celebration of the holiday will be even more meaningful.

Spend time each week learning the weekly Torah portion – there are many excellent articles, translations and commentaries available. Preferably, each day, study 1/7th of the weekly portion (also known as an aliya) or study the whole portion on Shabbat.

If possible, study at least weekly with a partner, either the Bible or a different area of the Torah. To do so, contact your local synagogue, or go to http://www.partnersintorah.org/, who will pair you with a partner free of charge.

Torah study nourishes the soul as food nourishes the body. Study Torah every day of your life – even if only for a few minutes, e.g., reading a few pages from a book, an article, or listening to a lecture during your commute. Preferably, have a set inviolate time for Torah study.

The two most important areas of Torah to study are (A) teachings which inspire you and (B) Jewish law – so you know how to act. For suggested readings for both categories, see endnotes (3) and (5) at the end of the first reading for this month.

Readings for the month:

How to Live a Fulfilling Life: An Action Plan

Taking Refuge in a Sukkah of Faith

Have a Shana Tova,

Yaakov

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.