Saturday, September 30, 2017

Taking Refuge in a Sukkah of Faith

Dear Friends,

This Wednesday night, October 4th, begins the festival of Sukkot. The next blog post will be God willing after the holiday.

Taking Refuge in a Sukkah of Faith

Have a Chag Sameach,


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,


Sunday, September 17, 2017

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. 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.

See, "I Am a Selfless Giver" for a one page printable PDF you can post on your fridge. 

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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, 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,


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,


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. 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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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:

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

Have a great week,