Saturday, May 28, 2022

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, May 30th 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, 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:

The Hidden Side of the Ten Commandments

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

Yaakov

Sunday, May 22, 2022

3 Articles on Criticism

Dear Friends,

Here are three articles on criticism.

Often, out of habit, we criticize at the wrong time and in the wrong way. Instead, pause for a moment and ask yourself, "Is now the best time to say this?" 


Have a great week,

Yaakov

Saturday, April 30, 2022

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 Saturday Night, April 30th 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.

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?”

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

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

Yaakov

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Sunday, March 27, 2022

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 this Friday night, April 1st, 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 completely 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. Upgrade a notch your moral purity and be more discerning in what websites you visit (an internet filter is best) and videos you watch. If you wouldn’t show it to a teenager, you probably shouldn’t be watching it either. Avoiding that which downgrades our spirituality will help us have a closer connection to God.

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?

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).

Article:
4 Ways to Safeguard Your Moral Purity

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?”

“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

Sunday, March 20, 2022

3 Thoughts on Parshat Tzav

Dear Friends,

We are deeply saddened by the passing of Rav Chaim Kanievsky zt"l. He was revered as the Gadol Hador and known for his mastery of the Torah, his sage council and his concern for others. He was one of the few rabbis who they were already writing stories and books about his greatness while he was still alive. May his memory be a blessing. 

Here is a speech I prepared for Parshat Tzav: 

I want to share with you today three brief thoughts on the Parsha which I saw in Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s Growth Through Torah and then we’ll apply them to our lives.

At the beginning of this week’s Parsha, Parshat Tzav, the verse says (6:2), “Zos Torat Haolah: this is the law of the burnt offering.” Vayedabair Moshe explains that you can also read Zos, “This” with emphasis, that needing things to be THIS way, His way, is the principle of the arrogant person, “haolah”, who views himself above others. An arrogant person wants things done his or her way, it has to be like “This.”

When an individual has this attitude it’s a lose lose situation, because either he is upset when he doesn’t get his way or others are upset when he does. The answer is to make a conscious effort to be considerate of others and get their input. To be flexible. Being appropriately flexible and not rigid in the way things must be done is a key trait for successful relationships. Someone divorced twice once advised that one should try to marry someone laid back, easy going. In other words, flexible. Every person has different wants. If each spouse insists on things being done their way there will be friction.

We also need to be flexible in how we deal with challenges. If we tried one approach and it’s not working, then we can be flexible and try a different approach or better yet, ask someone for advice.

Think about an area of your life where it is appropriate to be more flexible or yielding, whether in a conflict, a relationship or in your approach to a challenge.

The second thought I want to share is that we learn in this week’s Parsha (6:18) about the sin offering, that at the place where you slaughter the burnt offering you will slaughter the sin offering. Why is that so?

The Talmud Yerushalmi comments that this was done to save people from embarrassment. When people saw you bringing an offering, they wouldn’t know you were bringing a sin offering, because the burnt offering, the Olah, was also brought on the same spot. This teaches us a very important principle about being sensitive to others and making sure not to cause discomfort.

Let’s go one step deeper. Whose honor is God concerned about that they shouldn’t be embarrassed?

Someone who was negligent and sinned inadvertently and therefore needs to bring a sin offering. This person wasn’t careful with God’s honor, he was not diligent in observing God’s Torah. Yet, nevertheless, even such a person God is careful with his honor and hides from public view that he erred.

We can learn from this two ideas: First, even if someone wrongs you, you should still be considerate and treat them with dignity. Lastly, even if you make a mistake and sin, God still cares about your honor.

Why does God still care?

Because as His child, He never stops caring about you!

Unfortunately, so many of us do not appreciate our self-worth and the high regard God has for us and for our potential. Instead we treat ourselves poorly and engage in unbecoming behavior. We need to remind ourselves, “God cares about me! I”m important to Him and He believes in my ability to achieve great things! Let me use my time wisely to do acts of kindness and elevate my soul through prayer and Torah study.”

The Torah is a guidebook on how to be a mentch. If a person is not a mentch, by definition he is not following the Torah!

The more Torah we learn and follow, the more elevated and refined we will become. When we meet great Rabbis and Rebbetzins we are often more struck by their sterling character traits than by their scholarship.

Pick one person, especially someone you may have been a little short with or critical of, and try to be more considerate, complementary and encouraging.

Lastly, we learn in this week’s Parsha (6:4) that each day the Priest would remove the ashes from the previous day’s sacrifices. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch says that this teaches us that we need to start fresh each day. As I’ve spoken about previously, often we let the mistakes of the past hold us back from succeeding in the future. Each day is a new day, with new potential to succeed.

King Solomon taught in Proverbs: (24:16), “Even if a righteous person falls seven times, he will get up…” The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, explained that it is the rising from every fall, from every setback which enables a person to become righteous. This means that without those setbacks, they would not have been as righteous!

Every one of us – no matter how badly we have messed up – has the innate ability to become righteous by refusing to give up. If we start fresh each day and pick ourselves up after every fall, that temporary setback will serve as a springboard to incredible growth and achievement.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov spoke often about the importance of starting anew each day and not to grow stagnant in our Judaism. That our prayer and learning should have a freshness to it.

On the news, we see such suffering in Ukraine and we pray for them and do what we can to assist. We cannot help but realize that each day that God gives us life and safety, is a gift, a gift NOT TO BE WASTED!

Let us infuse new energy and vitality to our prayer, learning and acts of kindness. There are so many opportunities to learn more Torah and do more kindness.

Chap Arein! (Seize the day!)