Thursday, March 21, 2013

OU Version of Commitment Article

Dear Friends,

This week's Shabbat Shalom, put out by the OU, will feature an abridged version of my blog post, "Is Your Commitment to Judaism Strong Enough?"

Have a Shabbat Shalom,


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Free e-book: Tapping Into the Power of the Jewish Holidays and Observances

Dear Friends,

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Is Faith Logical? One Answer in Ten Questions

The Jewish people have been called many names; however, as others have pointed out, even our enemies never call us feebleminded. By all accounts we possess a keen intellect. The disproportionately high number of Jewish Noble Prize winners bears this out. Since the Jewish people have believed in God for thousands of years, there is likely no contradiction between having faith and a discerning intellect. In fact, the rational basis for belief in God is one of the reasons the Jewish people – a highly intelligent nation – have held on to their faith, even in the face of relentless persecution.

The mind includes two levels of thought. The first, only accepts that which can be readily observed or was witnessed by others; animals operate exclusively on this level. The second, with which humans are endowed, is the ability to look beyond what we can perceive. We are able to evaluate possibilities and decide what exists beyond a reasonable doubt – even if we are unable to fully perceive this reality. When utilized properly, both levels of thought can bring us to believe in a Creator.

One reason we believe in God is because we have a tradition, passed down in an unbroken chain, going all the way back to those who were there, that with blatant miracles God redeemed us from Egypt. In addition, those very ancestors – numbering in the millions – heard God’s voice on Mount Sinai. Accepting this testimony, a function of the first level of thought, is the foundation of our belief in God and His Torah.

This testimony must be true because it would be impossible to fabricate. It is hard enough to get a small group of people to agree on one thing; you cannot get millions of people to agree to tell their children and grandchildren the same lie, with all the same details, about an event that never occurred. It cannot be done.

Moses pointed out that no other nation claims to have experienced a mass Divine revelation or to have been redeemed through explicit miracles (Deuteronomy 4:32-35). To date, thousands of years later, still, no other nation makes these claims. Why not? Because those events did not happen to any other nation and it would be impossible to concoct such a story and be believed. We claim that God redeemed us from Egypt and gave us the Torah on Mount Sinai, because He really did. We claim that the Torah is God’s eternal instruction manual for life, because it really is.

Without the tradition of our ancestors’ eyewitness testimony, we still can arrive at the belief in a Creator through the use of the second, analytical level of thought. The first Jew, our forefather Abraham, grew up in a home of idol worship. Using his intellect, he came to the conclusion that there must be a Creator. The mind, when used in pursuit of truth, serves as a homing device, bringing us home to our Creator.

Our intellect can serve as a key to open the gate of faith in God, but to enter His palace we must leave our limited intelligence behind. While the general principles of faith are logical, as will be illustrated below, we are unable to use our minds to understand the Divine reason behind a specific occurrence. That would be analogous to a student – who upon learning that atoms exist – tried to view one under his store bought microscope; the atom is there – a Divine reason exists behind everything – but with a limited microscope – our limited intelligence – it cannot be perceived.

What do you believe?

Judaism encapsulates many beliefs, all of which fall under the fundamental belief in a Creator. The following list covers some of these beliefs. For a listing of all key Jewish beliefs, see Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles of Faith.

The list below is organized to provide one answer to the question, is faith logical? The questions illustrate how many beliefs logically follow one another. If the line of reasoning discussed here does not resonate with you, there are other rationales to explore.

Read each question slowly. Think about if the logic makes sense to you and if the conclusion drawn is likely true or at least plausible. Note which ones you want to discuss further with your spiritual mentor.

Ten Questions on Faith:

1. Objects do not create themselves; everything comes from something. In addition, the more elaborate and detailed something is, the clearer it is that there is an inventor behind it. Can I accept that this exquisite and intricate world has a Creator (God)?

(Job expressed this idea when he said, “...In my flesh I see God (Job 19:26).” When you look at your hand, don’t you also see God?)

2. Since every invention has an inventor who created it for a reason, can I accept that God created me for a reason?

3. There are two reasons to create something, either to benefit oneself or to benefit others. Since the Creator of all is not lacking anything, can I accept that He created me to bestow goodness to me?

4. Can I accept that the Creator of all transcends any good found in the world He created and is in fact the ultimate good?

5. Since God created me to bestow goodness to me and He is the ultimate good, can I accept that coming close to Him is the goal of creation?

(King David expressed this when he wrote (Psalms 73:28), “But as for me, my good is closeness to God…”)

6. Can I accept that God must have left instructions for me to know how to come close to Him and bask in His goodness?

(It does not make sense to create me for a reason, but not inform me how I am to fulfill my life’s purpose.)

7. Since the Torah is the only document in history claimed to have been revealed by God before millions of people, can I accept that the Torah is the instruction manual God left for us to know how we can fulfill our life’s purpose?

8. Since God created everything, can I accept that He is more powerful than anything?

9. Since God created me to do good for me and is all powerful, can I accept that He only allows things to happen to me that are for my eternal benefit?

(It does not make sense for an all-powerful Creator to create me to benefit me and then allow others to derail that plan.)

10. Since God makes sure I only experience what is for my benefit, can I accept that each moment of my life is exactly the way it is supposed to be?

(At the same time, I need to ask God for help and make reasonable efforts to improve my life.)

Sometimes, even after our minds have been won over to the sound basis of belief in God and the Divine origin of the Torah, we may still resist embracing these beliefs. Perhaps this is because the ego – rooted in our bodies and materialism – rejects the notion that there is anything greater than it to whom it must listen. When we sense the ego’s resistance to a belief, we might mistakenly conclude that our hesitation is because the rationale behind the belief is not compelling. In truth, the ego does not want to be compelled; it wants to be free to do as it pleases and rejects that there is a higher purpose to life. True freedom though, is not the chance to roll in the gutter; it is the opportunity to reach our highest potential and unite with the Infinite.

God has sufficiently demonstrated His power and presence, giving us ample reasons to believe in Him. Consider the following: The stunningly beautiful world He created, the supernatural redemption from Egypt, the unprecedented Divine revelation at Mount Sinai, as well as the miraculous survival of the Jewish people to this day. Yet, stronger than our faith in God will ever be is His faith in us. Even if we have not yet given God any reason to have faith in us, even if we are not yet fulfilling His purpose in creating us, still, He has faith that eventually we will. He trusts that we will seek Him out and come home. 

Do not delay; your Father is waiting.
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Surrendering to God: 3 steps to transcend your ego

Surrendering to God means unconditionally accepting His will. It means acknowledging that God’s ways are beyond us. He is all-knowing and all-powerful; He is the Almighty. Surrendering is not about giving up. It is about realizing our limitations and that God has none. Surrendering to a loving God who only acts to benefit us is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of strength. Instead of fighting with God – a self-defeating battle – we surrender to His will and triumph.

Whether or not to surrender is not the question; we all surrender, either to God or to our ego. The question is to whom will you surrender?

We have two voices in our head: The voice of our ego and of our higher self. The ego is rooted in the body and focused on physicality. Our higher self is rooted in our soul and focused on spirituality. Our higher self encourages us to live an elevated life, fulfilling the purpose for which God created us.

Frequently, there is a conflict between our ego and our higher self; we exercise free will by deciding to which voice we will listen. We surrender to the ego when we follow its will. We surrender to our Creator when we listen to our higher self and follow God’s will. The more we surrender to our Creator, choosing His will for us, the happier and more peaceful we will be. After all, who knows better than our Creator, the optimal way for us to live?

3 steps to surrender to God:

Step one: Identify your ego’s will. Pick an issue with which you struggle. Identify your ego’s will by listening to the voices in your head. The ego’s voice is generally phrased in the first person, e.g., “I want___. I need it.” It is self-centered, materialistic and focused on instant gratification. There is an emotional and immature quality to it, like the voice of a toddler.

The ego is what makes us human and not angels. It is the part of us which feels worried, down, angry, bitter, jealous, etc., normal human emotions we spend a lifetime learning how to transcend. The ego serves a key purpose; without it, there would be no challenge to live a spiritual life. But once the body dies, so does the ego; it is no longer needed, with only the soul living on.

In contrast, the voice of your higher self is usually phrased in the second person, e.g., “You don’t need that, you already have____.” It is considerate of others, spiritual and focused on the big picture. There is a rational and mature quality to it, like the voice of a wise elder. When we are in touch with our higher self, we feel clarity, acceptance, joy and peace; we sense that good will come from every life challenge.

Step two: Identify God’s will. Once you know what the ego is telling you, compare the ego’s short-sighted will to God’s Omniscient will. Determining what God’s will is can sometimes be tricky. When the issue revolves around what is the appropriate and spiritual way to act, ask a rabbi you trust; he will guide you based on the wisdom of God’s Torah.

When the issue revolves around a life challenge (see the example below), realize that as long as you are doing your best, seeking advice from those you respect, and asking God for help, then the way the situation currently is, is God’s will. (His will is also that you grow from and overcome the challenge, as best you can.)

Step three: Speak to God. Speak to Him out loud and say, “God, my ego says____, but I know Your will is____. God, I accept Your will. I surrender to You.” Take a deep breath in. As you exhale slowly, relax your body and let go of the ego’s will; allow yourself to completely surrender to God. Do this for at least two exhalations.

To illustrate how this process works, here is an example of surrendering to God, regarding a life challenge. Let’s say you’re single. You’re trying desperately to get married and you’re beside yourself with worry that time is running out:

In step one you identify your ego’s will. The ego is the voice in your head saying, “I need to get married now. I have to. I can’t live a meaningful life while single.” When you listen to this voice, you feel anxiety and despair.

In step two you identify God’s will. As long as you are making reasonable efforts to get married, seeking guidance from a qualified mentor and asking God for help, the fact that you are currently single is God’s will, for reasons you do not understand.

In step three, you speak to God and say, “God, my ego says that it’s terrible that I’m not yet married, but I know that right now, Your will is that I be single and grow from this challenge. God, I accept Your will. I surrender to You.”

To whatever extent you are able to be accepting of this challenge, even as you work to overcome it, the more you are listening to the voice of your higher self and the more you are surrendering to God.

Once you become adept at surrendering, you can do mini surrenders throughout the day. Two examples:

(1) You hear some juicy gossip that your ego cannot wait to share, but you know it is forbidden. Instead of sharing it, you say, “God, I accept Your will. I surrender to You.”

(2) Something does not go your way and you feel your frustration rising. Instead of erupting, you say, “God, I accept Your will. I surrender to You.” Then, you do your best to both accept and address the situation.

Another way of surrendering to God when you experience a difficulty, is to think while slowly breathing in, “This is God’s will,” and while slowly breathing out, “I surrender to God.”

If there is a particular challenge in your life which you are having trouble accepting, try surrendering daily. It can help you make peace with the difficulty, even as you do your best to improve the situation.

How do you know when you have completely surrendered to God?

When your greatest desire is to cling to Him (in Hebrew, devekut). You say to God, “…When I am with You, I do not desire [anything] on earth (Psalms 73:25).”

Here are 30 ways we can experience the release and oneness which come with surrendering to God.

You surrender to God when you…

1. acknowledge He is infinitely wise and acts for reasons beyond your comprehension.

2. accept your challenges, even though you don't understand why He gave them to you.

3. realize that even when things aren’t going your way, they’re still going God's way.

4. let go of insisting things happen when you want them to and accept that everything will occur precisely at the time He ordains.

5. rely on Him to give you what you need, when you need it. (Just do your best and ask for His help.)

6. welcome every experience, trusting that whatever happens is for your eternal benefit.

7. embrace the life and opportunities He gives you, even when they’re not the ones you asked for. (Your Creator fashions every aspect of your life to bring out your maximum potential.)

8. let go of your worries, because God will only give you challenges you can handle.

9. unburden yourself to Him, sharing your deepest fears, hopes and longings.

10. give over to Him your problems and ask for His help.

11. believe He will answer your prayers at the optimal time and way.

12. ask for His forgiveness, even if you doubt your ability to do better in the future.

13. follow His Torah as best you can, because it is His will, even when it’s challenging and even when you don’t understand the reason behind a commandment.

14. ask, when faced with uncertainty, “What’s the elevated, Godly way to act? How does my Father in Heaven want me to act?”

15. focus primarily on doing His will; everything else is secondary.

16. only want what He wants you to have.

17. forgive others, because you realize that ultimately everything comes from Him for your highest good.

18. let go of pettiness to pursue peace.

19. set aside your wants to take care of someone else’s needs.

20. act kind and charitable, even at personal sacrifice.

21. act honestly and ethically, even when it costs you money.

22. return money and possessions that do not belong to you, even when no one is forcing you to do so.

23. hold back from harming others and causing them distress, even when the urge to do so is great.

24. refrain from saying whatever comes to mind, saying only what is dignified, considerate and beneficial.

25. apologize and make amends for the harm you caused others, even when this is very challenging to do.

26. make sacrifices to live in a community and associate with people who help you come closer to Him.

27. let go of trying to be perfect – only God is perfect. (Instead, find satisfaction in achieving what He enables you to.)

28. accept and love yourself – with all your flaws – because that’s the way He created you, in His infinite wisdom.

29. accept and love others – with all their flaws – because that’s the way He created them.

30. realize that all your challenges and flaws are custom-made for you by your Creator, and by overcoming them, you best fulfill your life’s purpose.

Adversity is often the catalyst for our most intense surrender. Suffering humbles us to our core, bringing us to our knees. When life humbles you, say to your Creator, “God, I am yours. I can’t do anything without You. Please help me. Please help me do Your will.”

Don't hold back; utterly surrender to your Creator. The more you surrender to God, the more you will feel one with Him.

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How to Strengthen Your Commitment to Judaism

The temptations, distractions and challenges of life can pull one away from Torah observance. Many have been swept away by these currents and are no longer connected to their faith. But those who fortify their commitment to Judaism will persevere in the face of obstacles and remain anchored to the faith of their ancestors. They will triumph and reap the rewards of living a Torah observant life, both in this world and the next.

Below are eight strategies to enhance your commitment to Judaism regardless of where you are now holding. Each strategy stands alone and has diagnostic questions to help you determine which strategy is especially suited for you.

1. Address any bitterness. Judaism is about our relationship with God. In any relationship, it is natural at times to feel bitterness. If life does not go as planned, we may feel angry with God which can lead to a weakening in observance. For how to deal with such anger, see, “Discover Your Inner Peace.”

Other times, we may have had a bad experience with a religious person, e.g., a family member, teacher or rabbi. These individuals often fall into three groups. The first are those who are misguided but well intentioned. The second are those who are troubled and suffer from mental illness. The third are those who are sinful, the rotten apples in every bushel.

These painful experiences are frequently traumatic and we may need professional help moving past them. (There are specific treatments, such as EMDR, which are successfully used for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder). Part of the healing process is reminding ourselves that regardless of which group they fall into, these individuals acted against the Torah’s guidelines. When religious people act inappropriately, that reflects badly on them as individuals. God and His Torah remain untainted.

There will always be authentic people who observe the Torah as God intended and lead exemplary lives. If you are disillusioned with certain rabbis or religious people, look for other rabbis or a different community. Do not allow painful interactions with others to weaken your commitment to Judaism. Doing so does not “punish” them; it only hurts you. True victory is when you refuse to allow anyone to get between you and your Judaism, between you and your God.

Diagnostic questions: Have I had a bad experience with a religious person that is impacting my feelings toward Judaism? If yes, who can I speak to, to help me move past it?

2. Include God in your Judaism. For your Judaism to be vibrant, deeply satisfying and enduring, it needs to include a personal relationship with God. Whether you have such a relationship, determines to a large degree whether you consider fulfilling the mitzvot a burden or an honor. When one has a relationship with God, fulfilling His mitzvot becomes a privilege and a pleasure.

For further discussion on how to live Judaism with God, the way it is meant to be lived, see, “What Does God Want from Me?” and “3 Fundamental Mitzvot.”

Diagnostic questions: Do I think about God during the day? How His presence fills the world and how He is the source of everything in my life? Do I feel that we have a relationship? That He cares about me and wants me to come closer to Him? How can I deepen our relationship?

3. Find yourself in the Torah. No matter how far you have strayed, even if you are no longer observant, the Sages teach that regular, preferably daily, Torah study has the power to bring you back to Judaism.

Daily, or at least weekly, study an area of the Torah that interests you, preferably with a partner. As a Jew, you have a unique share in the Torah that will resonate deeply with you. Part of your life’s mission is discovering and claiming your specific portion. It might be Chumash (Bible) with a particular commentary, Nach, Midrash, Aggadeta, Mishnah, Talmud, Jewish law or thought, the deeper meaning of Psalms and the prayers, Chassidut or a combination of the above. You will know when you have found your portion in Torah, when your learning becomes a highlight of your day or week.

Make sure that at least some of your Torah learning inspires you. One option is the stirring words of the prophets. A new flowing translation of the sections of the Prophets read on Shabbat, called the Haftorah, can be found in The Gutnick Edition Chumash, available free here. Aim to read the translation of the Haftorah each week, or read one Haftorah every day.

Many find Chassidic thought to be especially inspiring. There are excellent works from Chassidic Rebbes available in English. You can sign up for free emails of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov’s teachings here or you can read online a free version of Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum’s excellent book, The Essential Rabbi Nachman. A highly recommended book of practical advice based on Rebbe Nachman’s teachings is A Bit More Advice.

God tells us, “For I have given you a good teaching; do not forsake My Torah (Proverbs 4:2).” When we discover the goodness and sweetness of God’s wisdom, we will not forsake His Torah.

Diagnostic questions: Do I enjoy learning Torah? Have I found my portion, the part that currently resonates with me? If not, which new area of the Torah will I explore?

4. Pray with understanding. Prayer is an essential source of spiritual vitality. To nourish ourselves with prayer, we need to understand what we are saying. Pick at least one section and say the words with understanding and as much feeling as you can muster. In addition to formal prayer, speak to your Creator during the day. Share with Him your struggles, and ask for His help.

For more on prayer, see, “How to Unlock the Hidden Power of Prayer.”

An important source of spiritual nourishment is reciting Psalms. In addition to reading Psalms in Hebrew, try reading them in English. There are a number of recent translations you may not have tried, for example, by Koren Publishers and Kol Menachem.

Lastly, we cannot do anything without God's help, even observe His Torah. Pray to God and ask Him to remove the stumbling blocks and strengthen your resolve to fulfill His Torah.

Diagnostic questions: Do I find prayer meaningful and speak informally to my Creator to deepen my relationship with Him? Which section of the prayer service will I focus on saying with understanding? Have I tried reading Psalms with a flowing English translation? Do I ask God daily for help living His Torah?

5. Learn the laws. When we learn what the law is, we strengthen our resolve to observe it. Studying Jewish law will help us realize the profound sanctity and preciousness of the commandments; any temptation to violate them will pale in comparison.

A book that can be very helpful in strengthening our commitment is Nidchei Yisrael, authored by the towering sage, the Chofetz Chaim (It is available for free in English by clicking on the title). He wrote this book for those who had left their European communities and needed guidance on how to stay observant. We still struggle with the issues he mentions and will benefit from his wise words. (Please note, some of the sections are strongly worded; if that approach doesn’t work for you, speak to your mentor for alternatives.)

When we learn Jewish law, we realize that Jewish observance contains multiple levels. There are Biblical commandments, Rabbinic enactments and customs. Within each level, there is normative Jewish practice along with both optional stringencies, and leniencies which can be relied upon under the guidance of a rabbi.

Some get caught up in the trap of black and white thinking. They think they either must observe everything or nothing; otherwise they are a faker (see, “Am I a Faker or a Genuine Person?”)

But Judaism is not all or nothing and God does not expect perfection. As your Creator, He knows your struggles and weaknesses. All He asks is that you do your best.

If you currently struggle with one Rabbinic enactment, at least observe the rest of them. If right now the Rabbinic enactments seem out of reach, then at least observe the Biblical commandments. If performing a Biblical commandment feels too much for you, then at least avoid the Biblical prohibitions. If you violate a prohibition one time, then at least distance yourself from that temptation in the future. Bottom line: Whatever mitzvah you can do, do. Whatever prohibition you can avoid, avoid. As King Solomon says (Ecclesiastes 9:10), “Whatever you are able to do with your might, do it…”

The Evil Inclination does not like this strategy. Instead, first it tries to make a crack in the walls surrounding the palace of observance you have built over the years. Then it tries to convince you, because of that one small crack, to abandon the entire palace. Don’t do it!

Even if the Evil Inclination has taken over a whole wing of your palace, do not surrender. As long as you continue the battle, with God’s help, you will eventually retake your palace and lead a life committed to your Creator’s Torah.

When you lapse in your observance, remember that no matter how far you have fallen, through repentance, you can pick yourself up and start fresh; that is the power of teshuva, your Creator’s gift to you.

Diagnostic questions: Is it clear to me what is allowed and what is forbidden? Do I attend a class, listen to a recording, or read a book on Jewish law to deepen my knowledge base? Have I gotten caught up in the trap of black and white thinking, or, do I start fresh each day and do my best to observe God’s Torah?

6. Choose a rabbi and/or spiritual mentor. Choose a rabbi you respect and one who is accessible and understands your personal situation. If one rabbi did not work out, ask around to find another one. (If you are unable to find a suitable rabbi, look for a spiritual mentor to guide you and ask them which rabbi to consult with on religious questions.)

If there is a particular area of Judaism you find very challenging, speak to your rabbi about how to fulfill the law as best you can. Always remember that the Torah, “Its ways are ways of pleasantness…(Proverbs 3:17)” If you find an observance burdensome or overwhelming, that is a sign to talk to your rabbi about how to recapture the pleasantness that is innate to Jewish practice.

A factor which can make it difficult to tap into the pleasantness of Judaism is when one struggles with a mental health condition, such as depression, anxiety or OCD. At times, this can make being observant seem very challenging. If this is your situation, talk to a rabbi to help you tease apart what are religious issues and what are mental health issues which need to be addressed separately with professional help.

Diagnostic questions: Do I have a rabbi I can ask religious questions to? If not, who are some possibilities? Do I have a psychological issue that may be impacting my commitment to Judaism? If yes, how can I address it?

7. Stay away from temptation. When we are vigilant and stay away from temptation, we are usually able to refrain from sin. For how to avoid temptations in the area of immorality, see, “4 Ways to Safeguard Your Moral Purity.”

Our relationships exert a powerful influence over our religiosity. As best you can, stay away from those which bring you down spiritually. Surround yourself with positive influences and good role models. A great way of doing this is to go to a weekly or daily shiur (lecture), where you spend time with people who share your values.

Diagnostic questions: Which sins do I frequently stumble in? What safeguards can I implement to keep me far away from them? How is my environment affecting me? Where can I find people who would be a good influence on me?

8. Make observance nonnegotiable. Western society puts the individual on a pedestal and encourages us to do what feels good; everything becomes negotiable – whether we feel like it. In Judaism, we realize the foolishness and destructiveness of living life based on passing whims. Instead, we put the Torah on a pedestal and unconditionally follow our Creator’s guidelines.

When we commit to observe the Torah as best we can, then we are willing to do whatever is necessary to uphold the Torah and refuse to violate the law even at great personal sacrifice (when warranted). We can make our commitment so strong that it is as if we are physically incapable of violating God’s commandments.

If a voice in your head urges you to sin, automatically respond, “That’s not an option. I refuse to violate my Creator’s laws.” And think about something else.

The Torah, “It is a tree of life for those who grasp it…(Proverbs 3:18)” If you want the Torah to give you life – in this world and the next – you must hold on tight to the Torah’s teachings and refuse to let go.

Diagnostic questions: Are the Torah’s guidelines something I observe only when it suits me, or is my commitment to avoid what my Creator has forbidden nonnegotiable? In which area of Judaism has my observance weakened? What commitment can I make to strengthen that area? What level of observance will I make nonnegotiable? What redline will I refuse to cross?

Which of the above eight strategies do you think will benefit you the most? Choose one step, related to that strategy, which you will implement.

Do not leave any Jew behind

In addition to strengthening your own commitment to Judaism, reach out to those whose commitment has faltered or who were never committed to begin with. We must not stand idly by as some of our brothers and sisters fall through the cracks. Each one is too precious to lose.

Accept them as they are, without being judgmental; if you were in their situation you might act the same way or worse. Take an interest in them, hear out their issues, and recommend inspirational lectures, articles and books. Suggest rabbis and spiritual mentors they can talk to. Offer to learn with them, and/or invite them for a Shabbat meal. Bottom line: Show you care. Let them know that we, the Jewish people, are immeasurably richer because they are a part of us.

The Sages teach that a mitzvah done with difficulty is many times more beloved by God than one done with ease. The challenges of today test us in ways our people have never been tested before. By doing our best to overcome these new difficulties, we refine and elevate ourselves to new heights. With each mitzvah we do, with each sin we avoid, we lift up ourselves, the Jewish people and the entire world, bringing us closer to God.

Elsewhere we discussed the prediction of the Vilna Gaon. He wrote that before the Messiah comes, average observance will decrease and the Jewish community will become polarized: One group totally committed to upholding the Torah, the other breaking away. Today, with assimilation rates skyrocketing, we see this prediction unfolding before our eyes. We realize that we are now in the midst of perhaps our people’s greatest test. The Jewish people will emerge victorious, that is guaranteed. But will you be among those who triumph?

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