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