Saturday, September 23, 2017

Repairing Our Mistakes: How to Ask for Forgiveness

Dear Friends,

This coming Friday night will be Yom Kippur.
Now is the time to ask those we have wronged for forgiveness.

Repairing Our Mistakes: How to Ask for Forgiveness

May we all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life,

Yaakov

Sunday, September 17, 2017

New Article: 10 Signs You’re a Selfless Giver, 5 Signs You’re Not

As discussed in, “What Motivates You to be Kind? Two Possibilities,” there are two types of giving: Self-centered giving, where one gives expecting something in return and selfless giving, where one gives for the sake of giving. Self-centered giving emanates from one’s lower self, the ego, while selfless giving emanates from one’s higher self, the soul.

The irony is that when one gives to receive, the benefits to the giver are diminished. But when one gives to give, the giver ends up gaining far more than could be imagined.

While some are self-centered givers or selfless givers, many of us engage in both types of giving; sometimes giving from the ego, other times from the soul. The goal is to increase soulful giving, strengthening our soul connection to each other and to our Creator.

5 signs of self-centered givers:

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Tishre and "You: As God Intended"

Dear Friends,

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

Rosh Hashanah begins Wednesday night, September 20th, and lasts for two days.

Here is an article for Rosh Hashanah: You: As God Intended

Until after Yom Kippur, the focus on repentance continues. If you have not done so already during the month of Elul, there is still time before Yom Kippur to choose an area of your life to repair or upgrade; add it to your daily checklist. The reading “The 10 Item Daily Checklist” can be helpful in making a selection.

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, e.g., The Stone Edition Chumash and The Gutnick Edition Chumash (sections of The Gutnick Chumash can be read for free here). 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 an article, a few pages from a book, 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 will study.

Two 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 be my New Year’s resolution?”

“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, a year filled with blessings,

Yaakov

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Debunking 5 Myths about Repentance

Dear Friends,

With the High Holidays around the corner, it is a good time to review how to repent and debunk some myths surrounding it. 

Debunking 5 Myths about Repentance

Have a great week,

Yaakov

Sunday, September 3, 2017

What Motivates You to be Kind? Two Possibilities

Why do you do acts of kindness? What is your motivation?

There are two main reasons people are kind. First, they want something in return, e.g., praise, honor, or they hope the person will return the favor when they need help. The second, more exalted reason why people are kind is because it is the right thing to do; they give for the sake of giving.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

How to Respond Effectively to a Tragedy or Crisis

Dear Friends,

With the crisis going on in Houston, Texas, we wonder, what can we do?

The OU has a page with ways to help:
https://www.ou.org/houston-crisis/

For general ideas, see:
How to Respond Effectively to a Tragedy or Crisis

Have a great week,

Yaakov

Saturday, August 26, 2017

What is Your Number One Spiritual Stumbling Block?

Dear Friends,

We all have weak links and things we sometimes stumble on.

What is Your Number One Spiritual Stumbling Block?

If you're not sure, ask someone close to you.

Have a great week.

Yaakov

Saturday, August 19, 2017

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 Monday night, the 21st 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, or some other area. Correcting our key flaw(s) is a major part 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 calendar or checklist. 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, for suggestions on how to enhance your prayers, see, “How to Unlock the Hidden Power of Prayer.”

Questions for the month:

“Which area do I struggle with that I’m motivated to address this Elul?”

“What is a manageable commitment I will make?

“Is it clear to me what area to focus on and how to repent (if necessary)? If it is not clear, who can I speak to for guidance?”

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

Yaakov

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Who Caused This Crisis?

Dear Friends,

In response to a crisis, whether in our community or an international crisis, we often wonder:
Who Caused This Crisis?

Have a good week,

Yaakov

Saturday, August 5, 2017

What Does God Want from Me?

Dear Friends,

In this week's Torah portion, Ekev, Moses asks the Jewish people:

"What does Hashem, your God, request of you?"

His answer is discussed in the article:

What Does God Want from Me?

Have a great week,

Yaakov

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Longing for the Redemption

Dear Friends,

Tisha B'Av starts this Monday night.


If the Messiah does not come beforehand, may this be the last Tisha B'Av we mourn, 

Yaakov 


Saturday, July 22, 2017

Av: Restoring Love

Dear Friends,

We mourn the loss of those who died in recent terror attacks in Israel, the most recent being this past Shabbat, when three family members were murdered during their Shabbat meal in the town of Halamish. We pray for the speedy recover of one of the family members who was seriously injured. 

Soon, will be Rosh Chodesh Av, which begins Sunday night, the 23rd of July, and lasts for one day.

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 next step: 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, consider checking 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 charity box. 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 not wronging others is discussed in, “What is Your Number One Spiritual Stumbling Block?” 

The topic of apologizing is 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.)

May God bring the redemption soon and turn this month into one of rejoicing.

Yaakov

Saturday, July 15, 2017

“Why?” 5 Reasons for Suffering

Dear Friends,

When we look for meaning in our difficulties, they serve as a catalyst for growth.

“Why?” 5 Reasons for Suffering

Have a great week,

Yaakov

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Who Are You? Getting in Touch with Your Essence

Who are you?

At your core, are you a nice or nasty person?

If you think about the nice things you have done, you will likely answer, “I’m a nice person.” If you think about the nasty things you have done, you will likely answer, “I’m a nasty person.” So which one are you?

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Freedom of Forgiveness: 3 Strategies to Letting Go

Dear Friends,

Forgiveness does not happen automatically. But if we put in the effort, we will reap its benefits.

The Freedom of Forgiveness: 3 Strategies to Letting Go

Have a great week,

Yaakov

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Conflict Resolution: How to Win the Battle for Peace

Dear Friends,

We just read in the Synagogue the story of Korach and the negative consequences of that conflict.


Chodesh tov and have a great week,

Yaakov

Saturday, June 17, 2017

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 Friday night, the 23rd of June, and lasts for two days.

On the 17th of this month, we fast to commemorate 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 must defeat the hatred within our people. This month, go out of your way to be forgiving and overlook the faults of others.

One of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov’s most transformative teachings is his emphasis on finding the good in ourselves and others (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 yourself and others.

Check off on your checklist each day you complimented someone, or at least spent time thinking about a person’s good points (including your own).

For additional discussion on the sin of hating one’s fellow Jew, see, “What is 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.

Questions for the month:


“Who in my life do I feel hatred toward or greatly dislike?” (Pick one person and depending on the situation, either work on forgiving them or on reducing the hurt you feel.)

“Who pushes my buttons? Can I focus on their good points and be more complimentary and understanding?”

“What is the first step I can take to try to resolve a conflict I have with someone?”

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

Yaakov

Saturday, June 10, 2017

How to Strengthen Your Commitment to Judaism

Dear Friends,

The following article contains 9 strategies to help us strengthen our commitment to Judaism. Choose one which resonates most with you.

How to Strengthen Your Commitment to Judaism

Have a great week,

Yaakov

Saturday, June 3, 2017

3 Fundamental Mitzvot

Dear Friends,

Along this month's theme of living the Torah's wisdom, here is an article on, "3 Fundamental Mitzvot." (Please click on the title to access).

Have a great week,

Yaakov

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Hidden Side of the Ten Commandments

Dear Friends,

This Tuesday night is Shavuot when we celebrate God giving us the Torah, represented by the Ten Commandments.

The Hidden Side of the Ten Commandments

Have a Chag Sameach and a great week,

Yaakov

Saturday, May 20, 2017

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 Thursday night, the 25th 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 for example the 10 Commandments, 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, you can mark off on your checklist if you kept that observance. 

Question for the month:
“What area of observance will I strengthen this month or at least learn more about?”

Reading for the month:
What Does God Want from Me?”

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

Yaakov

Saturday, May 13, 2017

6 Ways to Deal with Critical Family Members

Dear Friends, 

Happy Lag B'Omer! (For info on the day, click here). 

Continuing this month's theme of enhancing relationships, what do we do with family members who we love, but who are very critical of us?

6 Ways to Deal with Critical Family Members

Have a great week,

Yaakov 

Saturday, May 6, 2017

How to Give Constructive Feedback without Sounding Critical

Dear Friends,

As caring people, we like to give constructive criticism in order to help others. Unfortunately, often, if the criticism is not wanted, giving it can do more harm than good.

So before giving criticism, make sure the person is really interested in hearing it.

How to Give Constructive Feedback without Sounding Critical

Have a great week,

Yaakov

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Saturday, April 22, 2017

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 Tuesday night, the 25th 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 relationship with them.

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.

Input into your checklist the following practice or a related one: 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.

In addition, this month, work on being less critical of others. Start by focusing on the person of whom you are most critical. Consider using your checklist and check off each day you were able to avoid criticizing them. You might want to start off with just avoiding being critical during a set time of day, i.e., morning, afternoon or evening, and build from there.

Questions for the month:

“Which of my relationships do I need to strengthen? What is the first step to doing that?”

“Which relationships need better boundaries or for me to distance myself from? What is the first step to doing that?”

“Do I want to form new healthy relationships? What are some ways I can do that?”

“Which person in my life am I most critical of? For this month, am I willing to commit to give them

at least as much compliments as criticisms?”

Related Article:

6 Ways to Kick the Criticism Habit

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

Yaakov

Saturday, April 8, 2017

What Worked for Our Ancestors: 4 Lessons from the Exodus

Dear Friends,

Passover begins Monday night, April 10th. During the Seder, we will recount the story of the Exodus. Here are 4 lessons we can learn from it.

What Worked for Our Ancestors: 4 Lessons from the Exodus

Next Sunday, during Passover, there will be no blog post.

Happy Passover, Chag Kasher Vesameach,

Yaakov

Monday, April 3, 2017

“I Tried. I Failed. Now What?” 10 Ways to Get Back in the Game

When the realization hits that we failed in some way, it hurts badly. We are left nursing our wounds and wonder, “What do I do now?”

The good news is that no matter how big the failure, others have failed even more miserably. Some failures have led to people no longer being alive and able to try again. Not us. We are still alive, and the possibility for repair and future success is still within reach, as Rebbe Nachman of Breslov said, “If you believe you can damage, then believe you can repair.”

10 ways to get back in the game:

Saturday, April 1, 2017

4 Ways to Safeguard Your Moral Purity

Dear Friends,

Here are some ideas on how to engage in spiritual spring cleaning and elevate our purity.

King Solomon taught (Proverbs 4:23), “More than you guard anything, guard your heart…”

4 Ways to Safeguard Your Moral Purity

Have a great week,

Yaakov

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Nissan: Spiritual Spring Cleaning

Dear Friends,

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

Rosh Chodesh Nissan begins Monday night, the 27th of March, and lasts for one day.

During Nissan, we celebrate the holiday of Passover. On Passover, we commemorate the Exodus from Egypt. It is a time of freedom, when we free ourselves from that which brings us down spiritually.

Even today, many of us are still not yet free and are enslaved to our passions, to varying degrees. At the same time, we still maintain some level of moral purity. The goal is to raise it up a notch, thereby increasing our freedom.

When you prepare for the holiday by removing leaven from your house, also remove spiritual pollution. To whatever extent you are ready, go through your books, magazines, music and videos, and get rid of those filled with profanity, lewdness or vulgarity; they downgrade your spiritually.

An aspect of maintaining your purity is speaking in an elevated manner. Are there any words you choose to remove from your vocabulary, at least for this month, that do not reflect the type of person you are?

Using your checklist, you can check off each day you succeeded in speaking in a refined manner and/or staying away from spiritual pollution (or limiting your exposure as best you can).

Questions for the month:

“How can I declutter and elevate my spirituality at the same time? What will I get rid of?”

“What is a source of spiritual pollution in my life? How can I shield myself from it or at least limit my exposure to it?”

“What word(s) do I choose to remove from my vocabulary, at least for this month?”

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

Yaakov

Saturday, March 18, 2017

3-Dimensional Acceptance: A Pathway to Peace and Power

Dear Friends,

There are three dimensions to acceptance: Accepting your present circumstances, accepting yourself and accepting other people. Which one do you want to focus on?

3-Dimensional Acceptance: A Pathway to Peace and Power

Have a great week,

Yaakov

Saturday, March 4, 2017

The 2 Forms of Divine Providence: Purim and Passover

Dear Friends, 

God watches over us and guides our lives in many ways.


Next Sunday, March 12th, is Purim and there will be no blog post sent out that day. 

Have a great week and a Happy Purim!

Yaakov 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Discover Your Inner Peace

Dear Friends,

We all have inner peace within. The challenge though is discovering it.

Discover Your Inner Peace

Have a great week and Chodesh tov!

Yaakov

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Adar: Enhancing Our Joy: 6 Tools

Dear Friends,

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

Rosh Chodesh Adar begins Motzai Shabbat (Saturday night), the 25th of February, and lasts for two days.

Our Sages teach that with the arrival of Adar we increase our joy, culminating in the festival of Purim. Purim commemorates the salvation of the Jewish people during the Persian exile.

While we do not have direct control over our moods, the following are six tools which can be helpful in enhancing them: Gratitude, acceptance, self-compassion, expressing ourselves, addressing festering issues and making lifestyle enhancements (these tools are discussed in the reading below). Many times, even using just one tool will help us feel better and increase our enjoyment of life.

After reading the article, choose one tool which you will utilize this month. Then, decide on the one change, technique or behavior, related to that tool, you will do on a daily or regular basis, for at least this month. Consider adding it to your checklist and track how often you do it.

Questions for the month:

“What do I think is most negatively affecting my emotional health? How will I address it?”

“What will I do this month to enhance my emotional health/mood and become a happier person?”

Reading for the month:

6 Tools to Enhance Your Mood

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

Yaakov

Saturday, February 4, 2017

How to Stop Hating and Start Loving Yourself

Dear Friends,

Do you feel uncomfortable when someone gives you a compliment?
Are you highly critical of yourself and rarely give yourself encouragement or compliments?

You may suffer from low self-esteem. Please see:

How to Stop Hating and Start Loving Yourself

Have a great week,

Yaakov

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Shvat: Elevating the physical

Dear Friends,

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

Rosh Chodesh Shvat begins Friday night, the 27th of January, and lasts for one day.

The 15th of this month is Tu B’Shvat, the New Year for trees. An aspect of this holiday is celebrating and elevating the physical. Part of sanctifying the physical is taking care of the body with which God entrusted you. During this month, choose to upgrade either your sleep, exercise or diet habits.

Pick one change you will make on a daily or regular basis, for at least this month, and using your checklist, track how often you do it. If you find the change very easy, add another one. Some examples: Go to sleep 15-20 minutes earlier each week until you feel refreshed in the morning; exercise 2-3 times a week or go for a daily brisk walk; cut out sugary drinks and/or foods from your diet, limiting them to special occasions. Make water your preferred beverage. Cut back on refined and highly processed foods, eating a more wholesome diet. 

A related point of focus for this month is to consider if there is an area of your life where your relationship with the physical has become unbalanced and excessive, e.g., overeating, overspending, overworking, or overuse of the internet or your smartphone. Most of us have at least one area which, at a minimum, wastes our time and takes us away from more fulfilling activities. This month, pick one behavior to rein in and one behavior you would like to do more of instead. Taking back control of how you spend your time will enhance your self-image and you will feel better about yourself.

Questions for the month:

“What will I upgrade this month, my sleep, exercise or diet habits?”

“Is there an area of my life which has become unbalanced and excessive, which at the very least wastes my time? How will I rein it in and regain control?”

“What would I like to do with the new time I free up?”

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

Yaakov

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Everything Works Out in the End: Even when it doesn’t appear to

Dear Friends,

Think about a challenge you are struggling with. If you knew it would work out in the end, how would you feel about that challenge?

Everything Works Out in the End: Even when it doesn’t appear to

Have a great week,

Yaakov

Saturday, January 7, 2017

How to Build Unshakable Faith

Dear Friends,

Strengthening our faith is not easy. But with focused attention, we can do it.


Have a great week,

Yaakov