Tuesday, December 29, 2015

You’re Not Arrogant, But Are You Truly Humble?

Humility is one of the most misunderstood character traits. People often think of humble individuals as those who are in denial of their talents. But that is not true humility.

True humility is realizing that you are an incredibly gifted and talented person. But only because God made you that way. Everything you are, your looks, intelligence, wealth and success, are all gifts from God. You can only take credit for the effort you put into achieving your accomplishments. Success from those efforts comes only from God. There are many people who put in more effort and are more intelligent, yet did not succeed. God alone determines who will succeed and when.

Moses is described by the Torah as both the humblest of men (Numbers 12:3) and the greatest of prophets (Deuteronomy 34:10). Moses wrote those words about himself (at God’s command)! This is no contradiction. While Moses realized he was the greatest prophet, he also realized that it was God who made him that way to teach God’s Torah.

How do you know how humble you are?

Here are signs of humility (generally speaking, the more signs you exhibit, the more humble you are): You treat everyone well and do not differentiate between people. You are slow to anger and quick to forgive. You admit when you were wrong and apologize when you caused distress. You give serious consideration to constructive criticism, without becoming overly defensive. You solicit the opinions of others and ask for their advice and feedback. You avoid honor and prefer to keep a low profile (unless it would advance a worthy cause). You dress modestly and not in a manner which shouts, “Look at me!” You take the initiative to make peace with someone, even when you think they are at fault. You are accommodating, flexible and easy to work with. You are generous and look for ways to help others.

Here are six ways to increase your humility:


1. Utilize personal challenges and troublesome current events. Consider that even with all that we have tried to resolve our difficulties, we still struggle with them, e.g., health, financial and relationship issues, and terror attacks, both in Israel and worldwide. This demonstrates how desperately we need God’s assistance; only He can help us overcome our challenges. Because of this, turn to Him in prayer and ask Him to bless our efforts with success.

2. Acknowledge your failings. You are no better than anyone else; we all have weaknesses. Any advantage you have over another is a gift from God. As soon as you start to feel superior to someone, think of how puny you are compared to God, and how you are full of flaws, failings and frailties.

3. Use humble self-talk. Say daily, “Everything I am and have accomplished is due to the help of my Creator. My successes and achievements come only from Him. I am completely dependent on Him. I cannot even get up in the morning without His help. He is my strength and with Him, I can do anything. Without Him, I can do nothing and would be totally helpless. In truth, without God constantly infusing me with life, I would be nothing; I wouldn’t even exist.”

4. Humble yourself before worthy rabbis and rebbetzins. Treat them with the utmost deference, solicitude and respect. Besides being the appropriate way to act, this will make you more receptive to their wisdom and increase your humility.

5. Tune into God’s presence which surrounds you always. Before prayer and when you are tempted to do something you know is wrong and against God’s will, say to Him, “God, I humble myself before You.” It is helpful to say this while imagining you are on your knees with outstretched arms palms up, and head bowed. King Solomon prayed in a similar posture of submission before God when he dedicated the First Temple (I Kings 8:54).

6. Ask God for humility. Like any achievement in life, humility is ultimately a gift from God. Ask Him to grant you an awareness of your utter dependence on Him and of His supreme exaltedness. Keep asking Him for humility, until your prayers are answered.

For additional ways to deepen your humility, see “Surrendering to God: 3 steps to transcend your ego” and Adversity + Humility + Acceptance = Transcendence.” Also see the sections on humility in the classics, The Path of the Just by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto and Duties of the Heart by Rabbeinu Bachya.

Cultivating humility is an antidote to many bad character traits. Here are examples of the mindsets of humble people which help them avoid the following three bad character traits:

Being hyper-critical:

“Who am I to criticize and find fault with others? Am I perfect and never do anything wrong? Wouldn’t I possibly make the same mistake if I was in a similar situation? Do I really have to bluntly point out people’s mistakes? What is a more sensitive way of helping them improve?”

Being inconsiderate or harming others:

“Who am I to cause others distress? I have no right. I’m no better than them. Without warning, the tables could be turned and I could be at their mercy, pleading for their assistance. In addition, I exist only by the grace of God. How dare I go against His command and harm His other children?”

Being judgmental and condescending:

“Who am I to pass judgement on others? Maybe there is some merit to their behavior/viewpoint or at least they think there is. Who am I to look down on others? God could have created me to be in their situation. Perhaps in some ways they are more righteous than I am.”

Humility leads to faith, acceptance and gratitude, important pillars of spiritual and emotional health.

Faith:

“I don’t understand how this could possibly be for my benefit. But what do I know? God knows best and I have faith that He is guiding my life for my highest good.”

Acceptance:

“How can I know better than my Creator what I truly need? I accept that whatever happens to me is for my eternal benefit.”

Gratitude:

“I’m not entitled to anything; nothing is coming to me. I’m grateful to God for whatever He gives me. I show my appreciation to Him, by using His gifts in permitted ways and by using them to help others. I realize that with ability, comes responsibility.”

Arrogant people think, “It’s all about me.” But when we are humble, we realize, “It’s all about us” – no one is better than the other; we look out for each other, just like we look out for ourselves. When we are humbler still, we build on the previous level and realize, “It’s all about God’ – all that truly exists is God; everything else exists within Him, as His creations. From this heightened level of awareness flows faith, acceptance and gratitude, a sense of being in touch with our true essence and one with our Creator.

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Sunday, December 27, 2015

From Aish.com "Dear Single and Married Friends: You Can Help"

Dear friends,

Just last night I was thinking about the challenging singles crisis and then this morning I read the article below on Aish.com; it hit home. It is a very important article, which also applies for people out of work, and other challenges.

May those who follow its advice - looking out for others - see and feel God looking out for them,
Yaakov



Saturday, December 26, 2015

Audio and Article: How to Build Unshakable Faith

Dear Friends,

As the terrorist attacks against our brothers and sisters in Israel continue, many of us feel helpless, that there is nothing we can do to stop them.

But there are things we can do.

In addition to engaging in repentance, prayer and charity, we must strengthen our faith. The Sages teach that in the merit of our faith in God, we will be redeemed from exile (Tanchuma, Beshalach 10). May that day come soon.

Article: Howto Build Unshakable Faith

Audio (a little over 30 minutes): Unshakable Faith: What It Is, What It’s Not, and How to Build It

Have a good week,

Yaakov

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Clarity: 8 Ways to Get More of It

Dear Friends, 

May God grant us clarity and illuminate our lives with the radiance of Chanukah. 



Happy Chanukah,

Yaakov 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Tevet: Faith and "Abraham + Isaac + Jacob = You"

Dear Friends,

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

Rosh Chodesh Tevet begins Friday night, the 11th of December, and lasts for two days.

The month of Tevet encompasses two moods: Celebration and mourning. During the beginning of the month, we celebrate Chanukah, commemorating, among other events, the rededication of the Second Temple (Chanukah begins Sunday night, December 6th). Later in the month, on the 10th of Tevet, we fast and commemorate the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, which led to the destruction of the First Temple.

In one month we commemorate two diametrically opposed events. Faith is the bridge between them. Even while we mourn an event which led to the destruction of the Temple, we have faith that like the miracle of Chanukah, another dedication of the Temple will occur, when the Messiah comes and dedicates the Third Temple.

Consider adding to your checklist the following daily practice to enhance your faith: 
Think of a challenge and say to yourself: 

“This is from God for my eternal benefit. Part of fulfilling my life’s purpose is doing what I can to overcome and grow from this challenge. This will work out in the end; either in this world or in the next. God is with me, giving me the strength and courage I need to triumph.”

Questions for the month:

“What challenge will I use to help me strengthen my faith?”

“Is there an area of my faith where I have doubts and questions? If yes, who can I speak to for clarity?”

Here is a follow up to last week’s article:

Abraham + Isaac + Jacob = You

Happy Chanukah and may God grant us success in the coming month,

Yaakov

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Audio and Article: "Lessons From Chanukah: Clarity, Purity and Joy"

Dear Friends,

Especially during dark times like these, we need the light of Chanukah in our lives.


Here is both an audio download and article on Chanukah. The content, while overlapping, does differ. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Free One Page Version of "The 10 Item Daily Checklist" to Tape to Your Fridge

Dear Friends,

This checklist is free. I ask though, that you please subscribe to this blog before opening the checklist (you can unsubscribe at anytime). To subscribe, type your email address in the box on your right and click on the "Subscribe" tab. You will receive an email with a confirmation link (check your spam folder if you don't see it). Please click on the link to confirm your subscription.

After subscribing to the blog, or if you're already subscribed, you can open the checklist by clicking here.

To download or print: First click on the link to open the checklist, then move the cursor to the top of the page and either click on the download icon or the print icon.

Thank you for subscribing to my blog and all the best,

Yaakov

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,

Yaakov

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 http://www.sojournrecords.com/artist/shlomo_carlebach. 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,

Yaakov

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,

Yaakov

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,

Yaakov

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 rav. 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 rav 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, 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. Not playing favorites also applies to inviting congregants to your home for a Shabbat meal. It should either be clear which type of people you invite, e.g., singles and single parents etc., or work your way through the list, inviting each person and family over, space permitting.

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, children from single parent homes, converts, singles, widows, widowers, divorcees, senior citizens, and those with disabilities or a weak Jewish background. Create a warm, friendly, and accepting environment, where congregants look out for each other and newcomers feel welcomed. Creating such an environment starts with you; you have to be one of the first to approach a newcomer and be extra attentive to those in need. Your congregants will model your behavior.

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 get back to them.

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.

j. Compliment and encourage your congregants. Look for opportunities to compliment your congregants 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 rav; 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, although not necessary, 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, follow along with the laining, 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), “Veheyeasem nikeayim” and avoid any hint of impropriety. Areas to be extra careful about are the use of communal funds, and dealings with children and women, ensuring that proper behavior and boundaries are maintained at all times.

c. Speak the part. Do not use slang or any other way of speaking or acting beneath your dignity; it is unbecoming of a rav. Your goal is not to pal around with your congregants. Your goal is to be their rav 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 to make fun of others 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. 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 rav and in the halachic process. Part of being decisive is to prepare in advance, making sure you are familiar with synagogue customs and upcoming changes to the davening.

i. Command respect. Do not act obsequiously with congregants. You represent the dvar Hashem and must act in a manner that commands respect. When a rabbi tolerates slights to his honor, the authority of his position is weakened. Enlist the help of the gabbai and lay leadership, to teach your congregation to treat you respectfully, e.g., lining up to greet you after davening on Shabbat, speaking deferentially, standing up when you enter the room or pass by, honoring you before others etc.

j. “Be bold as a leopard” (Avot 5:20). A rabbi must be willing, if necessary, 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 for controversial issues, when possible, 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. You do not want to be unnecessarily rigid or confrontational.)

A rabbi must always act like a mensch, being considerate of others and treating them well. At the same time, avoid the mistake of being “too nice,” a people pleaser who is overly concerned about not upsetting others. Congregants want their rabbi to be a strong leader, one who is not afraid of confrontation, when necessary. They want a leader who will do what’s right, even if that means taking an unpopular stance.

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 of time, avoid halachot with difficult to understand rationales or those that involve uncommon or complicated 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 www.yaakovweiland.blogspot.com and more information is available at www.thechazakplan.com. Alternatively, devise your own plan, where each month you focus on a different topic.

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 for them.

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 passion and enthusiasm for Judaism. Aim to encourage and inspire; chassidic vorts are treasure troves of inspirational thought. People love jokes and stories. But do not overdo the jokes or use lowbrow humor; they detract from the reverence and awe one needs to have 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. Pay attention to the ending of the drasha, aiming to end on an uplifting note.

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 so you can get a sense of if they are growing spiritually or not, e.g., how friendly they are to newcomers, the amount of chessed they do, synagogue decorum, their dress (more women dressing modestly and more men wearing kippot or caps outside the synagogue) the halachic and hashkafic questions they ask, their attendance at classes and minyan, the number of people learning with a chavrusa, the types of schools and summer camps they send their kids, etc. 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.

A tool which can help your congregants grow is for them to pick one change they will implement on a daily or weekly basis to enhance their relationship with Hashem and their connection to Judaism. For some ideas, see, “The 10 Item Daily Checklist.”

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

a. Increase your humility, Yirat Shamayim and Ahavat Hashem. Perhaps the most important quality of a synagogue rabbi is genuineness: Genuine caring for others and genuine humility, Yirat Shamayim and Ahavat Hashem. The more genuine you are, the more your congregants will be receptive to your teachings, and vice versa; without sincerity, one’s impact will be minimal.

Genuineness cannot be cultivated directly; it flows from a wellspring of humility, Yirat Shamayim and Ahavat Hashem. To enhance all three, consider engaging in Hitbodedut and learn works which focus on these topics, e.g., Mesilat Yesharim, Chovot Halevavot etc. Also learn Nidchei Yisrael by the Chofetz Chaim, a work suffused with these qualities. He wrote this work, recently translated into English, for people who left their European communities to settle in places like America. He discusses how to strengthen one’s commitment to live a Torah life.

b. Enhance your skills. Develop your strengths and shore up key weaknesses. Watch videos or listen to recordings of yourself to give yourself feedback. Watch videos of gifted speakers to see what works for others. Ask people for feedback on your drashas and classes – both the weak and strong points. Continue to develop the skillsets you draw upon most, e.g., public speaking, voice projection, interpersonal relations, leadership, time management etc.

The rabbinate, from the perspective of a congregant, could arguably be divided into three key areas: 40% the drasha, 40% interactions with the rabbi and 20% everything else. If the congregants do not like the rabbi as a person or do not like his drashas, it does not bode well for him. Consider focusing first on the area within which you are most weak, either public speaking or interpersonal skills, and then move on from there.

c. Have a mentor. A senior rav you speak to regularly for guidance and with whom you discuss your struggles. One of his roles will be to 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 yourself, your family and your congregants.

When your congregants sense that you really care about them and about doing the ratzon Hashem, they will respect you and want you to teach them Torah; 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 to thechazakplan@gmail.com, or share this post 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, 

Yaakov 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Cheshvan: Prayer

Dear Friends, 


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

Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan begins Monday night, the 12th of October, and lasts for two days.

On the 7th of Cheshvan, in Israel, prayers for rain begin. For this month, pick at least one section of the prayers to say daily with understanding and input this into your checklist. In addition or instead, recite daily one Psalm with understanding (longer Psalms can be read over two to three days).

(If you do not yet pray daily, open up a prayer book and see if any of the prayers resonate with you, or better yet, ask your rabbi or spiritual mentor for a suggestion; recite that prayer every day. Alternatively, read daily from the book of Psalms. There are many excellent English translations available with varied formats; choose one that works best for you.)

One type of prayer is called Hitbodedut; this is where we talk out loud to God in our native language, unburdening ourselves to Him. Try this practice for a week or a month. See if it helps you feel closer to God and to feeling His comfort and support.

Questions for the month:

“Which section of the prayers will I focus on saying this month with understanding?”

“What issues are weighing on my mind that I can informally talk to God about?”

Reading for the month:

How to Unlock the Hidden Power of Prayer

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

Yaakov

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Taking Refuge in a Sukkah of Faith

Dear Friends,

This Sunday night, September 27th, begins the festival of Sukkot.

Please click on the title for an article relating to the holiday:

Taking Refuge in a Sukkah of Faith

There will be no post next week.

Have a Chag Sameach (Happy Holiday),

Yaakov

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Repairing Our Mistakes: How to Ask for Forgiveness

Dear Friends,

This Tuesday night, the 22nd of September, begins Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
In order to atone for sins between us and our fellow, we have to apologize and make amends, when applicable.

The article below is a quick guide to asking for forgiveness.


Have a Gmar Chatima Tova, may God inscribe us in the Book of Life,

Yaakov

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The 10 Item Daily Checklist

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 if 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 one). 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).

At the beginning of each day, read over this checklist, preferably out loud, to help you get into the right mindset for the day.

Between us and ourselves:

1. Compliment and encourage myself. What is one of my strengths? What challenges have I overcome? I am amazing! With God’s help, I will overcome my challenges and become a better person. I can do it!

(If you have accomplished anything on this checklist yesterday, that is reason enough to compliment yourself. The importance of focusing on our good qualities and on those of others, is a fundamental teaching of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.)

2. Ask, “Why am I here? How can I make the most of this day?” I remind myself that God created me to come closer to Him through the choices I make, thereby earning the bliss of The World to Come. I will choose wisely and make today a day well lived.

Each day God gives me the gift of life, He says to me, “I am giving you this day because as your Creator, I know you can use it to reach even higher levels of achievement. Use this day to clean your slate of past mistakes, avoid sinful behavior and take advantage of opportunities to become a better person. If you put in the effort, I will help you become the person you were meant to be.”

(To make the most of each day, schedule in meaningful and productive activities, including those which develop your strengths. Set short and long term goals and work toward them, step by step. As long as you are moving forward, with God’s help, you will achieve your goals. Ask others for advice on how best to pursue your goals. If possible, find a mentor with whom you can check in regularly, to discuss your progress.)

3. Be grateful, accepting and feel compassion for myself. Every day is filled with blessings, challenges and difficulties. I will do my best to appreciate and savor my blessings, accept my challenges and feel compassion for my difficulties. I will begin the day with a smile, and remember that just being alive is amazing. Life is amazing!

(Find something for which to be grateful, whether a blessing in your life, or a bright side of a painful situation. For your challenges, talk to yourself words of faith, to help you become more accepting. For your difficulties, talk to yourself words of compassion, understanding and encouragement. For more on this topic, see the first three tools in, “6 Tools to Enhance Your Mood.”)

4. Take care of my health. I will do my best to eat healthy, exercise (brisk walking counts), get enough sleep, and have a meaningful conversation with a family member or friend (social support is health and life enhancing).

Between us and our fellow:

5. Do not harm emotionally or financially. I will do my best not to cause harm and I will apologize if I do. I only want to be a force of goodness in people’s lives.

(Emotional harm: Being hyper-critical, yelling at people, 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.

Financial harm: 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.)

6. Do acts of kindness and treat others well. I will do my best to help others and treat them well. Everyone is special.

(Ways to help others: Volunteering, giving someone emotional or material support, advice, encouragement, or helping someone find a job, a spouse or a needed resource.

Ways to treat others well: Taking an interest in them, being considerate of their needs, and giving them warm greetings, appreciation and compliments.)

Between us and God:

7. Increase my faith in God. I will use my difficulties to come closer to my Creator. When faced with a challenge, I will ask for His help and make reasonable efforts to address the situation. I will remind myself, “This is from God for my eternal benefit. Part of fulfilling my life’s purpose is doing what I can to overcome and grow from this challenge. This will work out in the end; either in this world or in the next. God is with me, giving me the strength and courage I need to triumph.”

(A shorter version, when appropriate, is to say to yourself enthusiastically when faced with a challenge, “It’s going to be great!” You don’t know how or when – in this world or the next – but somehow you will gain from the challenge; it will be a steppingstone to achieving greatness.)

8. Study Torah. I will study God’s Torah during a set time. I thirst for His wisdom.

(There are many areas of the Torah to study, focus on those to which you are most drawn. You can study from a book, read an article, study with a partner, attend a class, or listen to recorded lectures during your commute or while exercising. Even if only for a few minutes, nourish your soul daily with God’s Torah.)

9. Speak to God. I will talk to God and deepen my relationship with Him. I yearn for His closeness.

(Two ways to do this: (1) Recite daily at least one prayer with intention. (2) Talk to God informally: Thank Him for what is going well in your life and ask Him to help you with challenges.)

10. Surrender to God. “God, I surrender to You. Please help me do Your will and fulfill Your Torah. When I lapse, please give me the strength to repent right away and begin again with a fresh start.”

(Observance is not all or nothing; the more you observe, the more you benefit, in both clear and hidden ways. Pick a particular area in which you are motivated to strengthen your observance, and commit to a specific and doable upgrade in observance. For more on surrendering to God, see, “Surrendering to God: 3 steps to transcend your ego.”)

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

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

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Tishrei: Torah Study

Dear Friends,

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

Rosh Chodesh Tishrei, Rosh Hashanah, begins Sunday night, the 13th of September, and lasts for two days.

Until after Yom Kippur, the focus on repentance continues. Choose an area of your life to repair or upgrade and add it to your daily checklist.

After Yom Kippur, the focus switches to the festivals of Sukkot, 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. (Two worth looking into, among other good choices, is The Stone Edition Chumash and The Gutnick Edition Chumash.) 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 find a partner, you can contact your local synagogue or kollel, 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 class during your commute or while exercising. Preferably, have a set inviolate time for Torah study. Input into your checklist what and when you plan to 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.

Questions for the month:

“Which behavioral change will I incorporate into my life?”

“Which translation or commentary on the Bible will I use for the upcoming annual cycle?”

“What area of Torah am I currently most drawn to? Who can I study it with, or from which resources?"

Have a Shana Tova, 

Yaakov


Saturday, September 5, 2015

You: As God Intended AND New Transformative Question

Dear Friends,

This article is about Rosh Hashanah and how the holiday elicits the question, “Am I living my life as God intended when He created me?”

You:As God Intended

This week I added a new question to the article, What’s the Point of It All? The Power of Transformative Questions.

Here's the new question:

Am I a giver or a taker? 

To determine which one you are, ask yourself the following questions, “Am I more focused on what I can do for others or on what others can do for me? When the needs of others clash with my wants, to whom do I give priority? Am I willing to inconvenience myself to help someone out?”

Ethics of the Fathers teaches us to look out for ourselves (1:14), “If I am not for myself, who [will be] for me?” But once our needs are met, our focus has to shift toward helping others as the above teaching continues, “And if I am [only] for myself, what am I?”

Big egos can lead to people being self-centered and selfish. They think, “OK, so I'm inconveniencing others, but I want it my way.” Or, “OK, so I could help someone out, but why should I spend my time or money helping them?” When we are humble, we realize that we are no greater than anyone else; in God’s eyes, the needs of others are just as important. In addition, with humility, we realize that without our Creator we would have nothing and be nothing. We are more than happy to share the blessings He gives us to fulfill His commandment to help His other children.

We have a natural tendency to focus on ourselves; the way to focus on others is to consider them part of ourselves. On a deep level, we are all one, creations of God. When we view others as an extension of ourselves, then when they are lacking, we are lacking; when we help them, we help ourselves.

Have a great week,

Yaakov


Saturday, August 29, 2015

How to Unlock the Hidden Power of Prayer

Dear Friends,

During the High Holidays, we spend a lot of time immersed in prayer.
This article discusses three keys to enhancing our prayers. It also discusses hitbodedut, both the commonly practiced form as well as silent hitbodedut.


Have a great week,

Yaakov


Saturday, August 22, 2015

Is Your Commitment to Judaism Strong Enough?

Dear Friends,

Continuing the theme of introspection before the High Holidays, here is a choice between two articles. 

This one gives 8 strategies to help us strengthen our commitment to Judaism. It has been updated and now includes diagnostic questions.


Have a great week,


Yaakov

Saturday, August 15, 2015

What’s the Point of It All? The Power of Transformative Questions

Dear Friends,

As Elul is a time for introspection, here is the link to the updated version of this article. It now has 16 questions.


Have a great week,

Yaakov

Saturday, August 8, 2015

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 14th 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 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 main component 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 checklist. If possible, speak to your rabbi or spiritual mentor for guidance. The focus on repentance continues into next month until after Yom Kippur.

Questions for the month:

“Which area do I struggle with, which I am motivated to address this Elul?”

“What is a manageable commitment I will make to repair this issue?

“Is it clear to me what area to focus on and how to repent, or, who can I speak to for guidance?” 

Readings for the month:

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Nourishing Yourself with Faith during Difficult Times

Dear Friends,

Along the theme of Shabbat Nachamu (a Shabbat of consolation which follows Tisha B’Av), here are two articles of comfort for difficult times. They are updated versions of previous articles.

Nourishing Yourself with Faith during Difficult Times: Part I

Nourishing Yourself with Faith during Difficult Times: Part II

Have a great week,

Yaakov

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Longing for the Redemption

Dear Friends, 

Sunday, July 26th, is the fast of Tisha B'Av. 

May it be the last fast of Tisha B'Av and may we speedily greet the Messiah and witness the rebuilding of The Third Temple. 

Yaakov

Here is a link to an article for Tisha B'Av:


Longing for the Redemption

Below, is the updated version of the segment on hating your fellow Jew, from last week's article. 

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 do not like 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 the struggles they face or those they have in the past. 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 to 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.

Please forward this post to at least one person you think may benefit from it. 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

What is Your Number One Spiritual Stumbling Block?

Dear Friends,

One of the five areas discussed in this article is hating your fellow Jew. The Sages teach that the Second Temple was destroyed because of hatred among our people, and that the redemption will come when we remove this poison from our midst.


Have a great week,

Yaakov 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Av: Restoring love

Dear Friends,

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 flip side: 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, check 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 box designated for charity. 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 further discussed in, Abraham + Isaac + Jacob = You. The topic of not wronging others is further discussed in, “What is Your Number One Spiritual Stumbling Block?” The topic of apologizing is further 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.)

Readings for the month:

How to Respond Effectively to a Tragedy or Crisis

Who Caused This Crisis?

How to Overcome Your Challenges: 10 Ways

5 Steps to Heal from a Loss

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

Yaakov



Saturday, July 4, 2015

New Audio Download and The Freedom of Forgiveness: 3 Strategies to Letting Go

Dear Friends,

Sunday, July 5th, is the fast of Tammuz. May it be the last fast of Tammuz and may we speedily greet the Messiah and witness the rebuilding of The Third Temple.

I uploaded a new audio download on my website of a class I recently gave, the title is "What Does God Want from Me?" To access any of the audio classes, click here.

Below is a link to an article for this time of year:

The Freedom of Forgiveness: 3 Strategies to Letting Go

All the best,

Yaakov


Saturday, June 27, 2015

Adversity + Humility + Acceptance = Transcendence

Dear Friends, 

God willing, I plan to start posting a weekly article or a link to one, usually sent out on Sundays. It will either be an article related to that month's theme, outlined in The Chazak Plan, or the coming month's theme. 

All the best, 
Yaakov 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Tammuz: Removing Hatred

Dear Friends,

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 16th of June, and lasts for two days.

This month, the 17th of Tammuz, usually a fast day, falls out on Shabbat. The fast is postponed to Sunday, July 5th. The fast commemorates 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 need to defeat the hatred within our people. This month, go out of your way to be forgiving and overlook the faults of others. Pick one person, and either work on forgiving them or reducing the bitterness you feel.

Ask yourself, “What is the first step I can take to try to resolve a conflict I have with someone? How can I keep the disagreement from deteriorating into personal animosity?”

Related to the topic of forgiveness, one of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov’s most transformative teachings is his emphasis on finding the good in others and in ourselves (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 others and yourself.

For additional discussion on the sin of hating one’s fellow Jew, see, “How to Remove Your Number One Spiritual Stumbling Block.”

A number of misfortunes have occurred to the Jewish people during The Three Weeks. Because of this, this month and next month’s focus is also on how to overcome adversity.

Readings for the month:

Conflict Resolution: How to Win the Battle for Peace

The Freedom of Forgiveness: 3 Strategies to Letting Go

Discover Your Inner Peace

When Rabbis Behave Badly: How to respond to disturbing news

“Why?” 5 Reasons for Suffering

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

Yaakov

Thursday, June 11, 2015

When Rabbis Behave Badly

Please note, this article is about the issue in general and not a commentary on a particular case.

Over the years, we have heard disturbing reports of some rabbis committing unconscionable crimes against children. How do we respond?

Saturday, June 6, 2015

“Am I a Faker or a Genuine Person?”

We all know people who are genuine and sincere. They strive to do the right thing, whether in public or in private. Then there are fakers, people who appear to be upstanding and sincere, while their hidden actions tell a very different story.

At times, we may ask ourselves, “Am I a faker?”

The short answer is that if you are asking this question, probably not. Fakers are not concerned about inconsistencies in their behavior. Only those who strive to be good people may, at times, question their sincerity and are frequently overly harsh in their assessment. (At the same time, if you do not question whether you are a faker, that does not mean you are one.)

We sometimes focus only on our lapses and say, “That’s who I am. I’m the type of person who does that.” But that is not true. What defines us are not the exceptions, but rather the norms, how we usually behave. If most of the time we act appropriately, occasional mistakes do not mean we are fakers or hypocrites; they mean we are human, a work in progress like everyone else.

Focusing only on our lapses to the exclusion of how we act the majority of the time is a common mistake. There are people who observe the vast majority of the commandments but slip-up in one area. Instead of encouraging themselves to get back on track, they get stuck in black or white thinking and say, “Since I did that sin, I must no longer be observant.” That is the talk of the evil inclination, trying to get you to abandon all the good that you do. Don’t listen to him! Instead, listen to the wisest of men, King Solomon, who said (Ecclesiastes 7:20), “For there is no man so wholly righteous on earth that he [always] does good and never sins.”

Buying into this talk of the evil inclination is analogous to a man who buys a one of a kind masterpiece, a handcrafted, mahogany dresser. By accident, he scratches it. Instead of either trying to repair it or do better to avoid more damage in the future, he gets so upset, that he takes a sledgehammer and completely destroys the furniture.

Your relationship with God and your observance of His commandments is a unique, one of a kind masterpiece. We all make mistakes, we all get scratched up; that’s to be expected. The question is, do we allow our mistakes to be our undoing and destroy all the good we still can achieve, or do we repair our mistakes and learn from them how to do better in the future?

Even those who habitually act inappropriately should not label themselves as bad people. Ethics of the Fathers cautions (2:18), “Do not judge yourself to be a wicked person.” As long as people view themselves as wicked, that is how they will act. But if people view their sins as temporary lapses in how they want to live their lives, there is still hope that they will strengthen themselves in the future.

Those who think mistakes define who they are will rationalize after an error, “Why bother trying to be good, when I’m already no good.” For example, one day a person pilfers some office supplies. Later, he feels guilty and says to himself, “People think I’m an honest guy, but I’m really not. I’m a faker. How can I continue to go to the synagogue, pretending to be pious? I don’t want to be a hypocrite. And why bother trying to be honest in other areas of my life, if I’m a cheat anyway?”

Buying into this line of faulty reasoning can cause a relatively minor lapse to snowball into previously unthinkable behavior. This thinking is erroneous because each act you do stands on its own merit. Each act is an investment in your future (your eternal share in the World to Come). Just because you made some poor investments in the past, does not mean you must continue to do so. The opposite is true: Past mistakes can become catalysts for better decisions in the future.

The Talmud (Yoma 86b) teaches that when people repent out of love for God (wanting to come closer to Him and fulfill His will) versus out of fear of Divine punishment, their past sins are turned into merits. When people repent because they want to come closer to God, their sins become stepping stones to spiritual growth, i.e., the very sins are transformed into meritorious acts.

To avoid labeling yourself as a bad person, do damage control as soon as you slip-up: Minimize the lapse as much as possible, remind yourself that this isolated incident does not reflect who you really are, and then repent and begin anew with a fresh start.

If you still feel like a faker, ask yourself, “Do I strive to improve and correct my mistakes as best I can?” If yes, then you are a genuine person; not a phony at all. Look in the mirror and say out loud, “I strive to improve and correct my mistakes. I am a genuine, good person.” (Do this daily until it sinks in. In addition, see, “How to Stop Hating and Start Loving Yourself.”)

Being a faker or a genuine person is a matter of degree; some people are more real than others. That being said, there is a line of demarcation from genuine to faker. As long as people try to do their best and strengthen the areas in which they are weak, they are still in the genuine camp. Those who intentionally misrepresent themselves and do not try to do what is right have entered into the camp of the fakers.

Two major factors determine where people fall on the genuine to faker spectrum. First, is their level of humility; humble people are genuine people. Second, is their awe before God. Because God’s presence fills the world, people who have genuine awe before Him are not two-faced, acting one way in public and another way in private. Instead, cognizant of God’s constant presence, their private behavior is aligned with their public persona; one is a reflection of the other. These two factors come together when people humble themselves before God and follow His will; the more they do so, the more genuine and sincere they will become.

Many of us, although not fakers, still exhibit behaviors which are aberrations, not in keeping with the good people we are. God created us with flaws and temptations to give us the opportunity to overcome our weaknesses, thereby spiritually elevating ourselves; one way we do this is by repairing incongruent behavior through repentance.

What is your aberration, your weak link?

Is it being ethical, moral, charitable and kind, refraining from hurtful speech and actions, or some other area?

Preferably, discuss your weak link with a rabbi, rebbetzin or spiritual mentor you respect. They will advise you how to change for the better. Alternatively, devise your own action plan on how to address the issue.

Never give up. Never think you are too far gone or have already done too much damage. No matter how long you have engaged in behavior incongruent with who you want to be, remember that each day God gives you the gift of life, He says to you, “I created you with the potential for greatness. I am giving you this day because I know you can still reach that potential. Use this day to clean your slate of past mistakes, avoid sinful behavior and take advantage of opportunities to become a better person. If you put in the effort, I will help you become the person you were meant to be. Take the first step. Start now.”

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Saturday, May 16, 2015

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 18th of May, and lasts for one day.

The festival of Shavuot occurs during this month. 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. Take the 10 Commandments for example, 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. 

Readings for the month:






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

Yaakov

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Iyar: Enhancing Our Relationships

Dear Friends,

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

Rosh Chodesh Iyar begins Motzai Shabbat (Saturday night), the 18th of April, and lasts for two days.

The period known as The Omer occurs during this month. During part of The Omer, we commemorate thousands of Rabbi Akiva’s students who died in a plague. The Talmud teaches that the plague occurred because the students did not treat each other with proper respect.

This month we focus on treating others well and enhancing our relationships with others and with ourselves.

Our relationships play a pivotal role in either enhancing or negatively affecting our emotional, physical and spiritual health; toxic relationships drain us, while healthy relationships nourish us.

Make a list of your key family, work and social relationships. Decide which ones to strengthen or repair, which ones need better boundaries or for you to distance yourself from, and ways to foster new healthy relationships.

At least once a week, schedule one-on-one time with someone in your life to strengthen that relationship; shut off your cell and give him or her your undivided attention.

Readings for the month:

6 Ways to Kick the Criticism Habit

How to Give Constructive Feedback without Sounding Critical

6 Ways to Deal with Critical Family Members

How to Stop Hating and Start Loving Yourself

Personal Growth: How to Upgrade Your Skillset

Also read up on the type of relationship you are currently dealing with. Here are links to Aish.com articles on specific relationships:

Dating

Marriage

Parenting

Relating to your parents

Have a Shabbat Shalom, and may God grant us success in the coming month,

Yaakov