Saturday, May 16, 2015

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, the 18th 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 the 10 Commandments for example, 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. 

Readings for the month:






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

Yaakov

Thursday, April 16, 2015

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 Motzai Shabbat (Saturday night), the 18th 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 relationships with others and with ourselves.

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.

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.

Readings for the month:

6 Ways to Kick the Criticism Habit

How to Give Constructive Feedback without Sounding Critical

6 Ways to Deal with Critical Family Members

How to Stop Hating and Start Loving Yourself

Personal Growth: How to Upgrade Your Skillset

Also 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

Have a Shabbat Shalom, and may God grant us success in the coming month,

Yaakov

Sunday, March 29, 2015

5 Steps to Heal From a Loss: How to feel whole again

When we lose a loved one, we feel as if a part of us has been ripped out, leaving us with a gaping hole in our heart. We wonder, “Will I ever feel whole again?”

Over time, our pain will lessen; the hole in our heart will get smaller. In addition to giving it time, there are proactive steps we can take to help us move through our grief.

5 steps to heal from a loss:

Thursday, March 19, 2015

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 Friday night, the 20th 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 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’re 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, 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).

Readings for the month:

What Worked for Our Ancestors in Egypt: 4 Lessons from the Exodus

4 Ways to Safeguard Your Moral Purity

Have a Shabbat Shalom, a Chag Kasher Vesameach (Happy Passover), and may God grant us success in the coming month,

Yaakov


Saturday, March 7, 2015

What’s the Point of It All? The Power of Transformative Questions

Ever notice how little kids ask lots of questions? That’s how they learn and grow. To continue to grow, we need to continue to ask questions, transformative ones. Transformative questions cut to the core of an issue and can elicit insights – lightning bolts of clarity – which help us navigate through the storms of life.

You will benefit most from this article if you focus on one question at a time. Mull on each question for a day or week before moving on to the next one.

Transformative questions:

1. Where am I?

After Adam ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, God asked him (Genesis 3:9), “…Where are you?” This question prodded Adam to think about his current situation and the low spiritual state he now found himself in. Once Adam acknowledged his low state, he could then take responsibility for his actions and repent.

In our lives, we have to ask, “Where am I? Am I climbing up the spiritual ladder, or down? Where am I heading in terms of achieving my goals?” If we do not know where we are, we will not know if we are moving in the right direction.

2. Where do I want to be in 6 months, 1 year and 5 years? What do I have to do now to get there?

Some goals can be achieved in a matter of days or weeks. However, many goals, such as moving to Israel, upgrading our observance, making a career or job change, or retirement planning, can take months to years to achieve.

The Talmud teaches (Tamid 32a), “Who is wise? One who sees (anticipates) the future.” With a little foresight, we can start now working toward our long term goals.

3. In what way is my life not the way I would like it to be and what’s the first step to address that?

Focus on one area which you have the ability to change and are motivated to address. Set a goal for yourself and step by step, move toward that goal. Choose mini rewards you will give yourself as you complete each step. As long as you are moving forward, with God’s help, you will eventually reach your goal.

4. What would a mensch do? What is my higher self telling me to do? What does God want me to do?

Biases and temptations cloud our judgment and we are good at rationalizing our behavior. This can lead to making choices we know deep down are wrong. When faced with a dilemma, asking these questions can help you make decisions you will be proud of, both in this world and in the World to Come, where we will be held accountable for our actions. (When possible, consult with a rabbi for an unbiased perspective on an issue, based on the Torah’s wisdom.)

5. Which areas do I need to work on?

We often have a tendency to focus more on the flaws of others than on our own. If we tell people what’s wrong with them, they are unlikely to change. But if people see how we have changed for the better, we have cleared a path for them to follow. When you have an urge to criticize someone, first make sure you have corrected your own similar flaws.

A related question to ask ourselves when we are tempted to blame others for a difficulty is, “In what ways have I contributed to this?” No matter how small, start by taking responsibility and apologizing for your share. This will encourage the other party to do the same. Then you can work together to repair the damage and learn from the mistake.

6. Is it worth it?

Sometimes we act in habitual ways and do things which in hindsight were not worth it. For example, getting upset or into an argument over trivial matters, or spending a lot of time returning an inexpensive item we could have just given away.

Depending on the situation, ask yourself: Is it worth getting upset or arguing over this? Are the possible benefits worth the costs? Is this the best use of my time? Right now, what’s the best use of my time?

7. What do I want more: To be right or to be at peace?

There are times when we have to be assertive and stand up for our rights. But many times we will realize that insisting we are right or that things must be done our way is just not worth it. Doing so often comes at the expense of peace with others and our own peace of mind. Most of the time, especially over insignificant issues, let others be right or find common ground; refuse to be drawn into an argument or conflict.

8. How can I chap arein?

The Yiddish expression, “Chap Arein” means to seize the day and take advantage of opportunities while we still can. Throughout our lives, God sprinkles numerous opportunities for growth, costume designed for us. The more you gather these puzzle pieces, the more you build your actualized self – the amazing, fulfilled and Godly person you were meant to be.

Opportunities come in many forms, e.g., inspirational teachers, potential friends or study partners and chances to do acts of kindness. Often, after our life circumstances change – we move to another neighborhood, have less free time, people pass on or move away – we think to ourselves, “Why didn’t I take advantage?”

Make a list of growth opportunities currently available and choose one to pursue. Now’s your chance, chap arien!

9. Do I just do good, or do I also seek good?

Often, if we are asked to help with a worthy cause, we do our best. That is certainly praiseworthy. The question though is how often do we look for causes to help? How often are we searching for people who need encouragement or assistance? Taking doing acts of kindness to the next level is not waiting to be asked, but to anticipate and look for opportunities to help others. Opportunities to be kind are like opportunities to make money. We do not sit back and wait for financial opportunities to come our way, we seek them out. The spiritual benefits of being kind are far more enriching than any financial windfall.

10. What can I do?

Sometimes we bemoan how a situation is out of our control. Instead of focusing on what is beyond your control, focus on what you can do. Some examples: Pray to God, brainstorm options, ask others for advice, look for a bright side to the difficulty, and use it as an opportunity to strengthen your faith that, “Gam zu letovah – This too is for the best (Tractate Taanit 21a).”

11. Do I really want to improve?

Although most of us pay lip service to wanting to improve, are we ready to put in the necessary effort?

If we are honest with ourselves, we may realize the answer is surprisingly no. We may be mostly satisfied with our behavior and working on ourselves is just not a priority.

One way to know if you have fallen into the trap of complacency is to think about how you respond when you hear a talk or read an article on self-improvement. Do you think, “How can I apply this to my life? How can I use this to become a better person?” or, “That's nice, but not for me”? In addition, ask yourself, “Which area am I currently focusing on improving?” If nothing comes to mind, perhaps self-improvement is not currently a priority.


It is understandable if someone is not motivated to change. Change is challenging and takes effort; it is much easier to coast along. But God did not create us to coast, He created us to thrive. In order to thrive, we cannot stay stagnant; we must keep growing and improving. The first step to growth is to want it and to be ready to put in the effort necessary to achieve it.

12. What’s my greatest weakness? How can I strengthen or work around it?

Many of us have a weakness or a bad habit which gets in our way. Perhaps we procrastinate, are afraid of commitment or leaving our comfort zones, get upset easily, or have poor communication skills.

Our main focus has to be on utilizing and developing our strengths, and not on trying to fix every weakness; many of them we will just need to accept. At the same time, we want to address major weaknesses which prevent us from reaching our potential. Instead of saying, “That’s just how I am,” read articles or books on the issue and if necessary, seek professional help from a recommended therapist or life coach.

To discover your greatest weakness, ask yourself, “What issue keeps coming up?” Also ask those who know you well, which weakness you would benefit most improving.

13. What’s my greatest strength? How can I spend more time using it?

To discover your greatest strength, ask yourself, “What do I do well? Which abilities have people frequently complimented me on? What do I enjoy doing and which gives me a sense of fulfillment?” Perhaps when engaged in this activity, you feel a sense of “flow” and time passes quickly. Also, ask those who know you well, at which areas you excel.

Whenever possible, focus your energies on activities that play to your strengths and delegate or pass on those which trigger your weaknesses. For example, most jobs involve a number of tasks. Some, we do efficiently, while others, we struggle with and our productivity plummets. Perhaps you don’t mind doing paperwork, or it stops you in your tracks. Maybe you work best on the big picture, or you thrive on the details. Maybe you’re great at the interpersonal aspects of your job, or you prefer the technical ones which involve others as little as possible. The more you focus on what you do well, the higher will be your productivity and job satisfaction.

14. What’s the point of it all?

Most of us spend the majority of our time taking care of our bodies: Eating, sleeping and working, so we can eat and sleep some more. But the purpose of life cannot be just to take care of our bodies, because no matter what we do, the body will eventually die. We therefore have to ask ourselves, “What’s the point of it all? Why did God create me?”

Life is our Creator’s invitation to have a personal relationship with Him.

At the start of each day, remind yourself that God created you to come closer to Him through the choices you make, and thereby earn the bliss of the Next World.

Every day, choose wisely: Choose to have faith in your Creator, to be grateful to Him, to follow His guidelines as best you can, and to make time for Torah study, prayer and acts of kindness. Each day, through your choices, you set the intensity of your relationship with God.

God created you with unique strengths so that you can use those gifts to help others and deepen your relationship with Him. Think about your strengths and resources, and brainstorm ways of using them for the greater good.

15. Will this bother me when I’m in the next world?

Life is fleeting; nothing is permanent. People often spend their lives focused on advancing their career or accumulating money, but in an instant it can all disappear and be for naught. When something does not go our way, we frequently get upset. But we need to remember that nothing in this material world lasts; everything will eventually fade away. Next time you are distressed about something, ask, “Will this bother me in the next world?”

Because the purpose of this world is to give us the opportunity to choose wisely, the only things we will care about in the next world, are the choices we made in this one. We will regret our poor choices and delight in our good ones. Everything else will be irrelevant. With this in mind, we have to rethink our priorities. We have to shift our focus to the choices and pursuits which will, in the next world, yield eternal benefits.

Now that you have read through these questions, pick one to focus on and ask yourself that question.

What is the answer?

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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Adar: Enhancing Our Joy

Dear Friends, 

This post is about the Jewish month of Adar, as it relates to The Chazak Plan: A 12 Month Journey to Spiritual Strength.

Rosh Chodesh Adar begins this Wednesday night, February 18th, and lasts for two days.

Our Sages teach us 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.

Although Purim is a time for laughter and joy, it is important not to cross the line into inappropriate humor. Five types of inappropriate humor are discussed in “How to Live a Fulfilling Life: An Action Plan,” in section 4c. 

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 readings below). Many times, even using just one tool will help us feel better and increase our enjoyment of life. 

After reading the articles, choose one tool which you will utilize this month. Then, decide on the one change, technique or behavior, related to that tool, which you will do on a daily or regular basis, for at least this month. Add it to your own checklist or use the Daily Checklist to track how often you do it.

Readings for the month:

The 2 Forms of Divine Providence: Purim and Passover

3-Dimensional Acceptance: A Pathway to Peace and Power

6 Tools to Enhance Your Mood

Take care and may we see success in the coming month, 

Yaakov 


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Clarity: 8 Ways to Get More of It

Were you ever in a challenging situation, but knew exactly what to do?

That’s clarity.

Clarity is knowing where you need to go and exactly how to get there.

For most of us, moments of clarity are rare occurrences; usually we are conflicted and not sure what to do. For those who think they always have clarity, that is a sign they lack it. This is because no matter how much we know, we always lack full knowledge of a situation. In addition, our judgment is always clouded, because it is impossible to ignore our biases.

With humility, we realize that we are prone to mistakes and that increasing our clarity is crucial to make decisions we will not regret.

8 Ways to Greater Clarity: