Saturday, August 27, 2022

How to Bring More Blessing into Your Life

We all want to bring more blessing into our lives. Before Moses died, he told us exactly how to do that (Deuteronomy 11:26-28), “See, I am giving you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing (will occur) when you listen to the commandments of God, your God, that I command you today. And the curse (will occur) if you do not listen to the commandments of God your God and you stray from the path that I command you today…”

The truth of this teaching is easily observable. Spend time or a Shabbat meal with Jews who are doing their best to live an authentic, observant life. You will see that in general, those who live lives filled with mitzvot, learning, prayer and acts of kindness, are happier than those who do not. A Gallup poll confirmed increased wellbeing among practicing Jews.

I was recently in Passaic, NJ and spent time with some children who attend yeshiva there. They are being raised in a very wholesome environment. Their excitement about all things Jewish was palpable. They weren’t caught up in the toxic influences that unfortunately many children are exposed to nowadays. There was a different aura they gave off; one of purity and joy. They still had their innocence and sweetness.

In Rabbi Nachman Selzer’s fascinating book, Incredible! 2, he writes about Yossi Wallis. Yossi was at the pinnacle of material success and living a secular life of luxury in California. Yet he felt pulled to go back to Israel where he was born. It wasn’t a spiritual pull; it was something else. First, he realized in LA, where the Jews and non Jews socialized freely, that the chances of his children marrying non Jews was very high. But there was more and I quote, “It seemed pretty obvious to him that his kids would find their way to drugs and alcohol, just like so many of the teenagers living in their world. He looked at his cute little boys. So Innocent. So happy. So at peace with their lives. He pictured them in 10 years’ time, and he was filled with worry.”

Even as a secular Jew, Yossi realized that the life around him was not a life of enduring blessing. He ended up moving to Israel with his family and some time later they became observant. He is now a rabbi and the CEO of Arachim, a Kiruv organization based in Israel.

There is much depth and beauty behind the commandments. At the same time, do they all make sense to me? No. But you can’t argue with results. Compare those who live observant lives to those who do not. In general, who is more fulfilled, who has more nachas (pride) from their children? Which life do you want for yourself and your family?

Why the precise ingredients in Judaism work, I do not know. Only God knows. He created us and in the Torah taught us the optimal way to live. For thousands of years, His way has worked and His way will continue to work until the end of time.

Many see the benefits of an observant life but feel that it is beyond their ability. observance though, is not all or nothing. The more we observe, the more blessing we bring to our life. (This is not to say that observant Jews live a challenge free life, no one does and there would be no point to such a life. At the same time, regardless of the difficulties one has, a life of observance empirically yields greater fulfillment and greater protection from the negative influences of society than a life devoid of observance.)

Without realizing it, all Jews are already observing aspects of the Torah. At times, everyone eats kosher. On Saturday, no one is engaged all day in forbidden behavior. The key is to just widen the time and extent that one observes the Torah and to do so mindfully, because God commanded us. Even if one does not increase their level of observance one iota, but they start studying Torah regularly or send their children to yeshiva day schools and encourage them to study Torah in Israel post high school, they have made clear what their priorities are and what values they want to impart to the next generation.

Moses knew that a time would come when Jews would doubt their ability to follow the Torah and think it is beyond them. Before his death he urged them about the Torah (Deuteronomy 30:14), “Rather, the matter is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.”

Moses pleaded with the Jewish people to always remember that the Torah is within their reach, no matter how far they stray. The Torah’s wisdom is very near to you. As close as the food in your mouth and the thoughts in your heart. It is who you are.

But to connect with your essence at the deepest level, you must take the initiative. It is up to you to observe the Torah, one step at a time.

Some see the value of an observant life but aren’t willing to put in the effort. They want the benefits without the work. But as we all know, if you want something of value, you have to put in the effort.

Bilam, a non Jewish prophet, saw the benefits of having lived a righteous life. He said (Numbers 23:10),”...May my soul die the death of the upright, and let my end be like his.” He wanted the results of living an upright life but he didn’t want to put in the effort.

Bilam’s mistake was that while he perceived through prophecy that the righteous would receive reward in the next world, he ignored what was right in front of his eyes! That living an upright life also brings blessing in this world! Right here, right now.
Do you want more blessing in your life? Then start the journey today. Pick one small observance to take on or strengthen, find a class or study partner to learn Torah with, pray to God for assistance, and look for ways to do more acts of kindness.

One day, after you are well along the journey, someone may point at you and say to their friend, “You see that person? I want that type of life for myself.”

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Updated: The Chazak Plan

 Dear friends, 

As we approach the month of Elul and the New Year, I have updated the Chazak Plan with new content. 

Please email me your feedback and suggestions on it. 

The Chazak Plan: A 12 Month Journey to Spiritual Strength

Thank you and have a great week,