Rosh Chodesh Tevet begins Sunday night, the 17th 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. 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 inputting into your checklist to do 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?”
Take care and may God grant us success in the coming month,
Rosh Chodesh Kislev begins Motzai Shabbat (Saturday night), the 18th of November, and lasts for one day.
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 for us.
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 your appreciation to others. You can do this in person, on the phone, via a quick email or text, or with a written note.
Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan begins Thursday night, the 19th of October, and lasts for two days.
On the 7th of Cheshvan, in Israel, prayers for rain begin. For this month, focus on enhancing your prayers. You can pick a section of the prayers to say daily with understanding and input this into your checklist. In addition or instead, you can 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, popularized by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, is called Hitbodedut; this is where we talk out loud to God in our native language, unburdening ourselves to Him. Try this daily practice for at least a week, preferably a month. See if it helps you feel closer to God and to feeling His comfort and support.
Part of upgrading our prayers is showing reverence for the sanctuary, and not talking during the prayer service.
Even while we pray for help in specific areas of our lives, we surrender to God, acknowledging that only He knows what is truly best for us.
Questions for the month:
“Which section of the prayers will I focus on saying this month with understanding? Or, what else can I do to enhance my prayers?”
“What issues are weighing on my mind that I can informally speak to God about?”
“How can I enhance the reverence I show for the sanctuary?”
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. Another way of looking at it is that some give from their lower selves, their egos, and some give from their higher selves, their souls. Soulful giving elevates and transforms us. In contrast, giving from the ego, while still meritorious, does not have the same transformative effect.
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 they could have imagined.
While some are predominantly either 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 or a combination of both. The goal is to increase our soulful giving, where our main focus is on helping others because God commanded us to, without ulterior motives. This will strengthen our soul connection to each other and to our Creator.
5 signs of self-centered givers:
1. For those in their inner circle, who will likely repay the favor, no request is too big, but the needs of others are low priority.
2. They will readily do anything for a person they want to show what a great friend they are, but when it comes to helping their own parents or siblings, they drag their feet.
3. They are willing to do kind acts if easily performed. But if they would be inconvenienced in any way, they are not interested.
4. They are willing to help someone once, especially if they will receive praise, but after the novelty of the act wears off, they lose interest.
5. They give generously to charity, but when it comes to business matters, they withhold monies due to others, do not keep their word, or use cutthroat tactics to get their way.
Can any of us say that we never engage in self-centered giving? That we never ignore the plight of people in our community because they are not in our circle of friends? That we never give priority to friends over helping our own parents or siblings? That we never turn down a legitimate request just because we did not want to be bothered? That we never help someone once but do not follow up to see if they need further assistance? That we never act two faced, kind and generous to some, while to others, uncaring and even hurtful?
Many of us stumble in at least one of these areas. Choose one to upgrade.
Even if you occasionally engage in self-centered giving, there are times you likely engage in selfless giving. During those times, you give because you love and care about others, as God has commanded us, (Leviticus 19:18), “…You shall love your fellow as yourself…” God has no ego and gives selflessly; you give selflessly because you want to emulate God and “…walk in His ways (Deuteronomy, 28:9).”
When you give selflessly, you do not ignore the self; you first take care of your and your family’s needs, and then look for ways to be of service to others.
10 signs you are a selfless giver:
1. You help people without expecting anything in return, even a thank you.
2. When you can, you help people even when it’s inconvenient, time consuming, or you just don’t feel like it.
3. You help people with a smile and look for ways so that they don’t feel bad about being on the receiving end.
4. You try to help people anonymously, and when you can’t, you do the act of kindness on their terms, asking what would be most helpful to them.
5. You help people on an ongoing basis if necessary, even after “the crisis” has passed, and even when you no longer receive a big “thank you.”
6. You ask others to assist in acts of kindness, because you realize that together much more can be accomplished.
7. Whatever you have, you look for ways to share it with those in need. Sometimes it is money, other times advice, connections, hospitality, a ride, a listening ear, physical assistance, encouragement or a compliment.
8. You are a force of goodness and generosity in all areas of your life, including with your family, business associates, subordinates and employees.
9. You look for ways to be of service to others and do not wait to be asked.
10. You focus not only on the “big” acts of kindness, but also on the “little” acts, the daily opportunities to be friendly, considerate and helpful to others.
Which ones from the above list do you already do? Congratulate and compliment yourself. It is not easy giving selflessly! It takes a conscious effort to go out of your way for others. Pick one area from this list that you do not yet do and choose one tangible step you will take to become a more selfless, soulful giver.
Judging from news stories, there seems to be an increase in acts of senseless cruelty, people who harm others for no reason or benefit. The only possible benefit from these heinous acts is inflating the perpetrator’s ego, which glorifies in its power over another. A person who recognizes their own Godliness and the Godliness of others, would be incapable of acts of cruelty. When you recognize the soul within another person – seeing their Godliness – you cannot help but want to give to them in any way you can; to connect with them, one soul to another.
We must counteract this disturbing rise in cruelty, by engaging in soulful, selfless acts of kindness and avoiding any act which contains even a tinge of cruelty or callousness. We must look for the holiness within all of us and seek out ways to help others; ways to lighten their burden and soothe their pain. Certainly, God forbid, ensuring that we are not a source of that pain.
Ask yourself, “Who have I caused pain, emotional or financial, by what I said or did? When will I ask them for forgiveness? Whose plight have I been ignoring? When will I take the first step to helping them?”
From the ego’s materialistic perspective, the physical world is one of limited resources. When the ego gives to another, it feels diminished and left with less. It lives in a self-centered world of stinginess, pettiness and jealousy. In contrast, from the soul’s spiritual perspective, it realizes it can never be diminished and is always connected to God.
When we give from our souls, we transcend a scarcity mindset and embrace an abundance one. We give generously and are content with what we have; happy to help those in need and happy for the success of others. When we give from our souls, we tap into the oneness of life, oneness with each other and oneness with our Creator – the source of infinite blessing.
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?”
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. 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.
Selfless giving is rooted in the commandment, (Leviticus 19:18), “…You shall love your fellow as yourself…” Just as you look after your own wellbeing, no strings attached, God commands us to look after the wellbeing of others, without expecting anything in return.
Although every act of kindness is meritorious, regardless of one’s intentions, there is no comparison between an act done from the ego, wanting something in return, to an act done from the heart, from a place of love and care.
The mitzvah is to love your fellow as yourself. Loving your fellow begins with loving yourself and those closest to you, your family. Doing kind acts for others must not come at the expense of taking care of yourself and your family. Once your needs are cared for, the Torah commands you to widen that circle of care, as best you can, past yourself, past your family, past your friends and neighbors, to include others, people you may not know and may never see again.
From a biological perspective, we are all one family, descendants of Adam and Eve. From a spiritual perspective, our souls are rooted in the collective soul of Adam. (The collective soul of the Jewish people is a further layer of connection). While we may not feel kinship toward a stranger, a strong bond exists between us.
With greater connection, comes greater responsibility. The closest connection between two human beings is between a parent and child and there is no greater sense of responsibility than that of a parent to their child. To a lesser degree, through our connection to every human being, and especially to a fellow Jew, we have a responsibly to help those in need.
Moses spoke of this responsibility to others when the Tribes of Gad and Reuben approached him and asked for permission to settle in Transjordan and not enter the land of Israel. Moses at first thought they were trying to shirk their responsibility to help their brethren defeat the Canaanite nations. He asked them incredulously (Numbers 32:6), “…Your brothers should go to war, while you stay here!?”
To Moses, it was unfathomable that a person would sit on the sidelines while their brethren struggled alone; to do so, would go against the very essence of Torah values. (The Tribes of Gad and Reuben replied that they would certainly fight alongside their brethren; they just wanted to settle in Transjordan.)
We are all fighting personal battles: To find a job or a spouse, to overcome health, relationship or financial difficulties. While we fight our own battles, there is a tendency to ignore the battles of others. But Moses is asking us, whenever we are tempted to turn a blind eye to the difficulties of others, “Your brothers should go to war, while you stay here!?”
The greater the blessings in our lives, the greater our responsibility to use those blessings to help others. Why would God give us blessings, if not to use a portion of them for the greater good? Are we better or more deserving than those who lack? Of course not; the tables can easily be turned.
Use your resources to help others while you still can. When our time comes, we will leave everything behind; only our mitzvot and good deeds will accompany us to the next world.
Because we are all one unit, individual parts of a greater whole, when we help another, we are really helping ourselves; their battles are our battles and their triumphs will be our triumphs. When we go to battle together, helping each other as best we can, with God’s help, together, we will overcome our challenges.
Pick at least one person going through a difficult time and make helping them your personal project. Some examples: Someone you know is sick or having a rough time, call or visit regularly to give them encouragement. Someone you know is looking for a job or spouse, make inquires for them. A family you know is experiencing financial difficulties, give funds to the local rabbi to anonymously offer them an interest free loan or cash gift. If you have guidance or expertise which you think would benefit someone, see if they are interested.
To become Godlike
The drive to do good often goes beyond our connection and sense of responsibility to others. At times, after meeting our basic needs, we spend most of our energy helping others. What motivates us to do that? To focus more on others than on ourselves?
It is the drive to be Godlike, to be transcendent. God lacks nothing and is completely focused on giving to His children (although in the moment, we may not perceive His kindness to us). When helping others becomes our primary focus, we fulfill the commandment to be Godlike, to, “…Walk in His ways (Deuteronomy, 28:9).”
We learn how to be kind from God. For example, marrying people off (God married off Adam and Eve), visiting the sick (God visited Abraham after his circumcision), comforting mourners (God comforted Isaac after Abraham died), and burying the dead (God buried Moses).
The Sages teach that one of the highest forms of charity is to give anonymously, where neither the donor nor the recipient know each other’s identity. In that case, the ego is removed. There will be no expressions of appreciation or returning of the favor; just pure, unadulterated giving. To do that is to be like God who gives to us, but needs nothing in return. (Whatever God asks of us is for our own benefit.)
We need God’s help with everything, including performing acts of kindness. When we do good deeds, we not only become Godlike, we unite with Him and He channels His goodness through us. The more we emulate our Creator through acts of kindness, the more we become one with Him. This intimate connection with God is electrifying. Often people who are immersed in acts of kindness defy nature, in both their energetic drive to help others and in what they are able to accomplish. They are plugged into an infinite source of power.
There is so much suffering and darkness in the world, opportunities to be a force of goodness in people’s lives. Each day, look for ways for God’s goodness to shine through you and go light up the world.
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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.
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?”
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?
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).
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?”
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
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
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.”
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,
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 checklistand 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?”
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,