Pursue & Practice Pleasantness

It’s a challenge to always be nice and pleasant.

I feel you can say almost anything to a person in a nice way. I try – but it doesn’t always work. So how can one learn?

Emotions get in the way. One first step is getting control of one’s emotions.My rebbi used to say a person’s mind should control their heart not the other way around.

Another is practice talking nicely and weighing one’s words.

Another is learning works of mussar / Jewish ethics – like Duties of the Heart (Chovos ha-Levavos R Bachya ben Joseph ibn Paquda) and Pirkei Avot.

Duties of the Heart – talks about how a Jewish person is to act, feel, think. It is a good start.

In the introduction to the Sefer / Book we read:

Inward service, however, consists of the fulfillment of the Duties of the Heart such as: to acknowledge the Unity of G-d in our hearts, believe in Him and His torah, to undertake His service, that we revere Him and humble ourselves before Him, that we love Him, trust in Him, and give over our lives to Him, that we abstain from what He hates, devote our actions to His Name, that we reflect on the benefits He bestows, and similar things which are performed by the thoughts and sentiments of the heart but do not associate with activity of the visible limbs of the body.

Belief & Trust in G-d is also an important aspect of being pleasant. When a person believes in G-d – knowing that all that comes from Him is for the good – his or her reactions are different than one who lacks trust. A person who trusts Hash-m will understand that all that happens is for the good. Keeping that in mind at all times is a challenge. To do so one can read books like the series “Living Emuna – Living a daily life of Trust in Hashem” By Rabbi David Ashear illuminates practical stories of how simple people who trusted Hash-m were able to overcome many difficulties.

Practice smiling.

Practice connecting.

Become better every day.

Gaining Emuna in Hash-m / G-d

Faith / Emuna in G-d takes time. A person lives a more fulfilling life with Hash-m than without. He or she sees the hand of G-d. He or She is never alone. They always have Hash-m to turn to for problems, concerns or prayer.

A great book on the subject is “Living Emuna” by Rabbi David Ashear. He tells stories and gives Torah guidance on how to gain emuna.

I was recently listening to a Shiur / Lecture on the subject by Rabbi David Ichay in French. He told the following story:

Once someone asked the Hazon Ish – a Great Sage of the past generation – how can one gain emuna. He said “When you go out to buy shoes – ask Hash-m to help you find the right store. Ask Him to help you find the right pair. Ask Him to help them to have your size.” As Jews we don’t just turn to G-d when we are in desparate need – but even for the small matters as well. This is how we build belief – this is how we build a relationship.

If we put our trust in Hash-m we can overcome any concern.

Covid Omicron – A Blessing of G-d to Humanity

In the desert, the Israelites complained. (Bamidbar / Numbers 21:5) G-d sent snakes to bite the complainers. Moses, having mercy for his people, prayed to Hash-m to heal them. G-d told Moshe to construct a large copper snake and to place it on a pole. (thus the logo for the medical profession.) One who was bitten – would look upon the snake and be healed.

A Blessing in Disguise

Those bit by the snakes suffered. Yet if they looked at the snake they would be healed. A positive outcome was that a person who was bit and had a previous ailment would be healed of both the snake bite and the previous ailment by looking at the snake.

Covid Omicron is a very mild form of Corona virus. A person who was infected – perhaps would be quarantined for several days – but afterwards – he or she would get the anti-bodies against the more severe forms of Covid.

Since Omicron spreads rapidly it is inoculating large parts of the population.

A blessing in Disguise.

The Victory of Hannukah – Building Yourself with Light

King Antiochus was notorious for conquering countries with a strong hand. When conquering Israel – his objective was not just physical subjugation – but mental subjugation. His war  wasn’t just a war against nations – but a war against spirituality. Spirituality is basically connecting with the Creator of the Universe – Hash-m.

He outlawed Circumcision, Rosh Hodesh / the New Month, and Shabbat. The Jews fought back and after a war lasting almost 25 years – Hash-m gave victory in their hands – they won the war. The major miracle was the Jews’ victory over the superpower of that time – Greece.

We know that in the end – when the Jews come to purify the Holy Temple / Beit HaMikdash -they find one jug of oil with the seal of the Cohen Gadol / Chief. This oil, that is supposed to last one day, lasts eight days.

G-d Loves the Sincere Efforts of the Common Man

The Rambam says that if the Mizbeach / Altar is broken – one is not required to light the Menorah. The Greeks broke the altar  So why did they want to light it? There was no Mitzvah / commandment to light the Menorah. It was just a commemoration – to remember the Mitzvah. So why did G-d make a miracle if they weren’t even doing a Mitzvah? Apparently, G-d appreciates even the small, sincere efforts that a person makes to establish a connection with him.

My friend told me a story of a woman who ordered a “Kosher” Hot Dog for her son in Manhattan on Passover. On Passover we are forbidden to eat bread. She was very adamant that the vendor not put the Hot Dog on the bun. “Don’t Touch the Bread with the Hot Dog!” I am sure that Hash-m had satisfaction from that woman’s sincere effort to avoid allowing her son to eat Hametz – leavened products on Passover.

Build What Others Want to Break

I was listening to Rabbi Shaked Bouhdana. He mentioned an interesting point. Antiochus outlawed Circumcision, Rosh Hodesh / the New Month, and Shabbat. The Jews fought hard to have the freedom to do these Mitzvot and others. It turns out that Hanukah Lasts 8 days – the same amount of time a child born waits to be circumcised. Since Hanukah lasts Eight days – it is sure that at least one Shabbat will fall during Hanukkah. There is always a New Month that falls on Hanukkah. When we fought for a Mitzvah that others wanted to outlaw – we won by having a greater level of sanctification for these three Mitzvot.

If we use our forces for the positive growth spiritually we gain in a greater way than what we originally had.

Building Your Personality

Some people are fragile. Send one word out of place – and here comes the fire. Someone asked me how to deal with difficult people. I said – we shouldn’t look at people who upset us as our enemies. Ultimately – our deeds that we sent out are boomeranging back to us.

The Boomerang Principal – Midah Keneged Midah / Measure for Measure

If we got angry at a spouse – this anger will find it’s way back. So the smart thing to do is to recognize this principal and when someone lashes out at us – realize that that might be the fruit of our previous misdeed. So if we lash back at them – it is akin to a (pardon the comparison) dog biting a stick that was thrown at him. We bite at the stick – the person who lashed at us – but we forget that we were the one who initially threw the stick.

Fight fire with water – not fire. Calm the situation. Don’t fuel the fire.

 

The Jugs of Oil that Yaakov Went Back For

Yaakov / Jacob took the right of the first born & blessings from Esav / Esau, his brother. Esav wanted to kill Yaakov. He went to make peace with Esav. The Night before his meeting with Esav – Esav’s Angel encountered Yaakov and wrestled with him till the morning. The Angel encountered him when Yaakov was going back over the river to get some small jugs he forgot.

By Morning time the Angel had to leave to sing praises to Hash-m. Yaakov – told him to bless him and also asked his name. The Angel told him he would no longer be called Yaakov – but Yisrael – for he wrestled with the Divine and won. When asked about his name he responded “Why do you ask my name?”

The Angel was the Evil Inclination – the Satan. Why did he come to attack Yaakov at this time? He had many other opportunities to attack.

Yaakov was going back to retrieve the small jugs of oil. It represented the spark in each and every Jew that cannot be tainted. Some say that the Jug of oil was the actual Jug of oil that was used for the miracle of Hanukah. The angel wanted Yaakov to give up hope on this spark of holiness. Yaakov struggled for all the sparks of holiness – even in a Jew that is very far from Judaism. He still had hope.

When the Romans conquered the Jews and wanted to ransack the Holy Temple in Jerusalem – they were afraid to enter. They sent in a Jewish Informant against the Jewish people. They told him – anything he found he could take. He went in and took the Menorah. They said that is a prize of war that they wanted to keep to show their victory. They told him to take something else. He refused – he said I angered my G-d once – I don’t want to anger Him again. They threatened him with death. He died as a Martyr not to anger Hash-m.

How is this? Several minutes before he was willing to ransack the Temple – in one moment he changed to become a Very Righteous Jew – who gave his life for the Sanctification of Hash-m’s name? The answer – the holiness of the Temple inspired him and removed all of the coverings of impurity that covered that Holy spark within him.

Every Jew has a holy spark within him or her. They just have to uncover it. A Jew should never give up on spirituality – a connection with Hash-m. They are closer than they think.

 

Leadership – Eight Qualities that Made Moses a Great Leader

Moses or Moshe Rabbeinu / Our Teacher – was the ultimate leader. He was a king of Ethiopia. He confronted Pharaoh to let the Jews out of Egypt and initiated plagues against him. He led the Jews out of Egypt. He negotiated with G-d / Hash-m to save the Jewish People. He Fought wars against Amalek and other Enemies of the Jews. One of his most challenging tasks was to Judge and lead the people of Israel for 40 years in the desert.

I recently heard a Shiur / Lecture of Rabbi Meir Eliyahu. He said the secret of Moshe’s success is found in the words : Hazak VeEmatz / Be Strong and Resolute – (in Devarm / Deut 31:7) – when Moshe is transferring the Mantle of leadership to Yehoshua / Joshua:

Then Moses called Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel: “Be strong and resolute, for it is you who shall go with this people into the land that the HASH-M swore to their fathers to give them, and it is you who shall apportion it to them.

These are the qualities that successful leaders have:

H’et – H’ochma – Wisdom and Haritza – effectiveness. It is not just any wisdom – it is Torah wisdom. Torah gives a person wisdom to deal with people and all situations properly. Torah is the thought’s of G-d. Thus after thinking a situation out according to Torah Hashkafa and wisdom – a person makes more intelligent decisions. Effectiveness comes from getting things done – Moshe wasted no time to implement decisions.

Zayin – Zerizut – alacrity / quickness. When Moshe received the commandment to make refuge cities – he quickly established them – even though they were only to be used many ears later. He did not push off the war against the Midianites – even though he knew he would die after the war ended.

Kuf – Kedusha – holiness – When a person is holy – according to Torah – he is able to see things the average man will not.

Vav – Vatranut – yielding and overlooking slights – Moshe overlooked slights to his honor and opportunities for advancement to make peace.

Aleph – Amitzut – Strength / Resolute – Moshe was resolute to do something when he made a decsion to do it.

Mem – Metivat Ishit LaTzibur – Doing personal good for the congregation / Metinut – thought Out and deliberate – Moshe’s primary interest was the good of the congregation – not his personal popularity in the public’s eyes. His concern was to find favor in the eyes of G-d and man. He did not seek votes – seek the lowest common denominator of morality to get approval. He had and lived by the standards of Hash-m & His Torah – and sought to bring people up to those standards.

Tzadi – Tzadik – being righteous – Righteousness is a trait that helps a person keep their position. How many people have fallen because they took bribes, or worse holding a public office.

Moshe was the most humble of all men – yet he was the ultimate leader.

Getting a Sunny Personality – Accepting Insult with Grace

People insult.

The Giving End of Insults

We are sometimes on the giving end. I try not to insult people. I think – what do you gain? You make another person feel badly and you didn’t gain anything. Now that they are more angry at you because you insulted them – they are going to do what you want?

The concept of “Sticks and Stones may break my bones – but names will never harm me.” is not a true concept according to Torah. Words can hurt. Onaat Devarim / Pain With Words are a set of halachot / Jewish laws that Jews learn to not hurt others with words.

The Receiving End of Insults

We sometimes are on the receiving end of insults. I try not to get insulted by insults. I figure the other person had a bad day or something. Because the other person called me a donkey – did that make me into a donkey? No. It says in Torah – if someone calls you a donkey – prepare a saddle for your back. (Baba Kama 92b) Meaning – Don’t answer their insult – and acquiesce – rather than respond angrily – to their words.

The Healthy Sun

A French expression says “Sickness does not enter where the sun is.” So it is good to live in a place that has sunlight. Also – when a person has a sunny personality – he or she is less likely to become ill. People who let insults slide – do not hold grudges and feel anger or hatred. They avoid negative emotions & stress to have a negative physical effect on their bodies.

The Reward for Not Responding to Insults

The Torah says “Someone who is insulted but does not insult, One Who hears their degradation and answers not is like the Sun in it’s zenith” (Talmud: Tractate Shabbat 88b)

The atonement that does for all of his sins is greater than any other reparation he can make.

When One is Like the Sun

I was speaking with my friend Yossi. He explained to me why that kind of person is compared to the Sun. Why not say – he is like a lion?

Why is the Moon Smaller than the Sun

He answered – when Hash-m created the sun and the moon He created them the same size.

The moon complained – he said – “Hash-m there cannot be two rulers in the sky. G-d answered him – you are right. Make yourself smaller.”

When the sun was summoned to the discussion by Hash-m – Hash-m asked the sun – what does he have to say? The sun responded – with astonishment. He didn’t understand why he was summoned. He meant to say: “I don’t understand why I am summoned – It is You Hash-m who knows all. It is You who are the ruler of the world – what can I say?”

In that – the insulted who does not respond is like the sun. He accepts Hash-m’s judgement favorably, without complaint.

King David’s Reward

When Shimi ben Gera insulted David HaMelech / King David – His general said this man is rebellious against the King – let us kill him. David Hamelech replied – it is not he who insulted me – it is Hash-m who organized this.” His reward was so great – that his face was placed on the Throne of Glory.

The Best $250 I Ever Lost – Finding the Right Jewish School for Your Child

I remember “Back to School” days. I was so excited. I had fresh new notebooks, new pens and pencils in a tidy pencil case. Everything was spiffy and new. I had new clothes for the new school year. I was eager to meet my new classmates and talk with my old friends.

It was a time of innocence.

The Jew Who Started Formal Education

By the way – the person who started schooling for the general population was a Jewish sage – Joshua ben Gamla – who lived about 1900 years ago. He – the Talmud (Tractate Bava Bathra 21a) states – instituted formal Jewish education and primary schooling. Prior to this, parents taught their children informally. He instituted schools in every town and made education compulsory from the age of 6 or 7.

Consulting G-d About Your Child

Three partners are responsible for the creation of man – the father, the mother and Hashem. The man and woman provide the physical parts – and G-d provides the soul. Thus I mention that before deciding on the welfare of one’s child – they should consult all partners – meaning the Mother, the Father and Hash-m. So when a person wants to send their child to a school – they should also consult the Torah opinion – which represents the view of Hash-m – by asking a competent Orthodox Rabbi.

Difference Between Torah Day Schools and Secular School

Today’s Torah Day Schools teach Kodesh / the Holy – Torah Subjects – and Hol / the Profane – like Math, English, History, Science and the like.

Secular schools do not teach ethics, proper behavior or religion. In secular schools it may even be prohibited. Torah schools – teach Torah topics – which teaches the children to respect parents, do kindness, respect the environment, respect authority and more.

Secular schools offer free tuition. One pays tuition for children enrolled in Torah Day schools. Many offer scholarships. Even if one cannot afford the tuition – they work with parents.

Is Free Really Free?

Free is not free. The money Jewish parents save in sending children to a secular school – is lost by the lack of respect, involvement with drugs and immorality children learn in the secular schools. The secular studies in Torah day schools is of high quality – reaching or exceeding the levels of the secular schools.

Jewish Continuity and Torah Schooling

Those who enroll in a Torah day school are much more likely to adhere to the continuity of the Jewish people – by eventually marrying within the faith. A statistic from a National Jewish Population Study found that Over 95% of those that attend Torah Day schools for 12 years marry within the Jewish faith – as opposed to 30% of people who marry within the Jewish faith of Jews that never had a Jewish education.

Reward for Parents and Kids

Every word of Torah learned gives tremendous reward to the learner – so parents and kids benefit in two ways – the children become better individuals & they get rewarded for learning Torah. The parents get part of the reward because they chose to put their child in an Orthodox Torah Day school.

Better Children

Torah day schools teach – mussar – how to be a better person – but also kids learn Yearat Shamayim – fear of Heaven or of Hash-m. I heard a child develops their awe of G-d before the age of three – so it is well worthwhile to put a child in a Torah day school from a young age.

Neutrality or Partiality of Secular Schools

I heard from school faculty – that Public Schools Today are not as “Parve” / neutral as one would think. A lot of secular schools impose societies “mores & morals” on children. Many which go against Torah ideals. So today it not a neutral thing to place a child in a secular school – the schools try to indoctrinate the children with society’s values.

G-d is with You – the Importance of Yireat Shamayim – Fear of Heaven

Some will ask why is fear of Hash-m important? A person is most of the time on their own. They act the way they feel. Nothing is really stopping them from doing, saying or thinking things that are harmful to others or themselves. When one fears Hash-m – they act with more restraint – for they know G-d is always with them watching them. But it also teaches a child that they are never alone – One of their parents – Hash-m is always with them.

The Choice between Two Jewish Schools

About 20 years ago – we were trying to select a school. We had a choice between – a Traditional Torah day school and a more Modern “Jewish” Nursery School. After weighing the Pros and Cons – we decided to enroll in the Modern “Jewish” Nursery School. We paid $250 for registration fees.  We went to the orientation session. Sitting in the little children seats – the teacher was proudly explaining what they were going to teach the innocent children.

As part of the demonstration – she proudly pointed to a large Television. She said “and every day we show the kids cartoons of popular cartoon characters.” A red flag went up in my and my spouse’s mind. “What? You want children to learn Torah values – from Mickey Mouse?! What kind of Jewish education is that? Is a misrepresentation to call yourself a Jewish school and teach the children street values.”

After the orientation – we politely exited and registered in a Traditional Torah Day School – not far from our home – that was under the auspices of a well-known and respected Orthodox rabbi. We lost the $250 registration fee from the other school. If I remember correctly – the Traditional Torah Day School – waived the registration fee. We were very satisfied with the education and the Yireat Shamayim they learned there.

The Torah day school staff was kind in letting us register at such a late date. Usually – registering for a Torah day school takes place about 8-10 months before school starts. We registered last minute.

That’s the best $250 I ever lost.

The Dynamics of Change – 5 Easier Ways to Change Habits

Change is a challenge. People want to do the same as yesterday and tomorrow like today. We have things we know we must change – but we are so used to it – how will we do it?

For Yom Kippur / the Day of Atonement – there is a question in the Talmud if one must actually repent / do teshuva to receive atonement from Heaven or is teshuva not required to receive atonement – meaning the day itself causes atonement. It concludes one does teshuva to receive atonement.

The four parts of Teshuva / Repentence are :

Opportunities to Clean the Slate – Teshuva / Repentance – 4 Steps of Repentance

1. CessationStopping doing the misdeed

2. Commitment – Firm resolve never to repeat the deed. One is forgiven if he or she is in the same situation & doesn’t commit the sin.

3. RegretSincere Remorse for Wrong one did. Obviously one has to know what is right & wrong. To know – A Jew learns the 613 Mitzvot or the (Kitzur) Shulchan Aruch / Code of Jewish Law – regulating Jewish life. A Gentile learns their 7 Noahide Laws.

4. ConfessionVerbal Admitting to G·d / Hash·m the wrong one did & asking for forgiveness. If one wronged another, ask forgiveness

Why do children not hold grudges & adults may carry resentment? Children choose to be happy over being right. Adults choose being right over being happy. (Tzemach Tzedek) (Rambam / Maimonides – Mishne Torah – Book of Knowledge – Laws of Repentance – Ch. 2 & 4 )

A study on change found two points that can help us change:

  1. Build in Slack into your change – at times a person changes. They may fall a bit.
  2. It is easier to do something new than to change a habit.
  • Build in Slack into your change – at times a person changes. They may fall a bit.

Let’s say they are on a diet – and they eat a cookie. So they say “How can I have done that? Now I am going to eat a whole bag of cookies.”

All wisdom comes from the Torah – like it says in Pirkei Avot (5:22) – “Turn it over [the Torah] and Turn it over. For all is in it.” A verse in Mishle / Proverbs (24:16) by King Solomon states: “Seven times the righteous falls and gets up. But the irreligious stumble with one misfortune.”

The path to righteousness is not a straight line going upward. A person goes up and at time falls. Then tries again and goes higher than before and may fall again – and they keep going up. The line of change is like a stock chart of a good stock. It goes up and falls a bit. Then it goes up again and falls a bit. You wouldn’t get rid of a stock that has great earning potential – because it goes down a point or two. Don’t give up on your change if you fall a bit.

  • It is easier to do something new than to change a habit. Complement habit to something new

It is easier to do something new than to change a habit. A habit is ingrained in a person. After many years of doing the same thing – it is difficult to change. If a person wants to change they can complement it with a new action. If you drink a lot of Soda when you go to the restaurant – you can say – every time I go to the restaurant I will take my friend that annoys me about drinking soda.

Here is one that is related – that was put into my mind:

  • Make something that you want to do dependent upon what you don’t want to do.

I used to procrastinate more than I do today. The above is a concept I used to reduce procrastination and become more efficient. Let’s say you like to check your emails. You might procrastinate to write memos. Make a RULE – “Do not check emails – until I write memos.” Stick by the rule.

  • Change your “Got to” to “Get to”

At times we look at something as a chore – “I have to cook”, “I got to do the laundry“, “I got to get up.”

Change your perspective that it is a privilege. “I get to cook” – I like cooking. I want to cook to help the family be healthy – I get to do that mitzvah! I am helping my loved ones to have a good nutritional meal and be healthy. What a great merit.

  • Wake up before you snooze.

I forgot when the snooze button was created – some say 1847. There is snooze button on the alarm clock. There is snooze mode sleep. I have another 5 minutes. When you get up before the snooze – I is easier to get up than getting up after snooze. If you procrastinate – in the beginning of the day – by hitting snooze – it might make it easier to procrastinate the rest of the day.

 

The Yield Sign & Judaism

The Shabbat / Sabbath between Rosh Hashana / the New Year & Yom Kippur / the day of atonement is called Shabbat Shuva. The Shabbat of Return.

Hash-m gives us Seven days between Rosh Hashana & Kippur to fix our faults for that day of the year. What does G-d want from us? If we didn’t put on Tephillin, we start putting it on. If we didn’t go to synagogue on time – we try to come on time. Hash-m basically wants us to advance one step further. Take the next Mitzvah upon yourself.

Balance of Good & Evil for Freedom of Choice

In this world – evil & good exist. They balance each other out. G-d did this to allow a person full freedom of choice. One can do miraculous deeds through purity – and one can do magical deeds through impurity – black magic. If only good had the power to do miraculous deeds – people would abandon evil. If only people who did good would become wealthy – people would become good – but not for the right reasons. They would be good to become rich – not because Hash-m told them to do good.

The Quick Fall

The Jews they were prompted to do the sin of the golden calf – attributing divine powers to a physical object – because the Satan / Evil Force showed them that their leader Moshe Rabeinu / Moses was deceased. They were so despondent they fell quickly to follow after a foreign idol.

A person can fall two ways – the Evil Inclination introduces anti-ethical and anti-Torah ideas little by little. Thus he chips away at a person’s morality – until he or she falls.

Another way is for a person to become despondent and fall very quickly to do evil deeds.

The Quick Rise

On the other side of the coin – a person can rise very quickly. He can become very inspired or motivated to follow Torah ideals.

Or little by little – through learning Torah, Listening to Torah lectures, attending Torah classes at an Orthodox synagogue – he or she grows slowly.

The Steady Path of Self Improvement and Self Growth

Either method to rise is good. Yet the Torah prefers a person to rise slowly. This helps a person stay the course and continue in a steady path of growth.

Yielding to others (Being Mevater) – for things that go not against Torah is a good thing. We yield to others at times – to create peace. We yield our will to the will of Hash-m – that’s how we grow. Like it says in Pirkei Avot (2:4) – on Doing the Will of Hash·m:

He [Raban Gamliel] used to say, make His [G·d’s / Hash·m’s] will as your will in order that He will make your will as His will. Nullify your will before His will in order that He will nullify the will of others because of your will.

God gives us a tremendous opportunity. Let’s use it to grow.