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GOOD MORNING! Last week I wrote about free-will and the verse in Deuteronomy 30:19 where the Almighty says,
"See, I have put before you, life and good, death and evil ... choose life so that you may live..."
Why choose life so that you may live rather than choose good? To choose life is to choose to live in reality and to accept the pain of living in reality rather than seeking comfort, indulgence, escape.
If a person wanted to live in reality and to strengthen his free-will, what could he do? Here is a 5 point mini-course in strengthening your free-will!
- Be aware. We are making decisions all of the time. Once you become sensitive to the fact that you are constantly making choices, then you can monitor your choices. At this point, you'll be using your free will actively and not passively. Become aware of the fact that you are constantly making decisions. Don't let your decisions just happen. Take control. Ask yourself: Is this the decision that I want to be making? If it isn't, then change it.
- Be your own person. Don't accept society's assumptions as your own unless you've thought them through and agree with them. Take responsibility for your decisions. It's amazing that during the Civil War in the United States, virtually everyone north of the Mason-Dixon line was against slavery and that virtually everyone south of the Line was pro-slavery. What happened? Did all of the "evil" people gravitate to the South like to a magnet (or like snowbirds to the sun)? We are all products of our society.
Likewise, don't be a slave to a past decision; just because you once thought that you couldn't do something, it doesn't mean that the decision still applies. Start each day anew. Constantly reevaluate where you are in life in order to be sure that what you chose then is what you would still choose now. Make sure it's you who is guiding your decisions, not your decisions that are guiding you.
- Understand that the battle is between the desires of the body and the aspirations of the soul. There are times when you know objectively that something is good for you, but your physical desires get in the way and distort your outlook. The ultimate desire of the body is to take it easy -to escape and exist in perpetual comfort rather than make the effort to confront life head-on. The ultimate desire of the soul is to live fully, vibrantly with every fiber of your being doin what's meaningful, what's right, what's productive.
- Identify with your soul. Your soul is the real you! Therefore, if you can identify with the desires of the soul, it will satisfy the needs of the real you. Your task is to train the body and coax it to reflect the reality of the soul. Use the same strategy that the body uses on you! The body says "Just one bite of cake." You respond, "Sure! In just 10 minutes" and then you push it off another 10 minutes. Don't say, "I am hungry" say "My body is hungry." Identify with your soul and make your body a reflection of your soul. If you do that, you'll have real inner peace.
- Ask "What does God want?" You are using your power of choice to merge with the most meaningful and powerful force in the universe: the transcendental!
The ultimate form of living is eternity, that is, life without any semblance of death. Therefore, attaching yourself to God is attaching to the highest and purest form of life itself: eternity. That is the ultimate use of our free will. That's what God means when He says in our Torah, "Choose life." Make your will His will. If you do, you'll be a little less than God Himself. Partners in perfecting the world!
I highly recommend getting a copy of What the Angel Taught You - Seven Keys to Life Fulfillment by Rabbi Noah Weinberg and Yaakov Solomon (available at your local Jewish bookstore, at judaicaenterprises.com or by calling toll-free to 877-758-3242). Not only will it expand on the concept of free-will, but it will give you insights into the Five Levels of Pleasure, Prayer, Knowledge, Happiness, Intellectualism and Love. You won't be sorry!
Torah Portion of the Week
This week is a jam-packed portion. It begins with a choice:
"I set before you a blessing and a curse. The blessing: if you obey the commandments of God...; the curse if you do not ... and you follow other gods."
The portion continues with rules and laws for the land of Israel primarily oriented towards staying away from idol worship and the religions in the land. In verses 13:1-12 you will find the section that caused a missionary's face to blanch and silenced him from continuing to proselytize a renowned rabbi.
One of the indications of the existence and necessity of the Oral Torah - an explanation and clarification (later redacted as the Talmud) of the written Torah (The Five Books of Moses) - comes from verse 12:21:
"You will slaughter animals ... according to the manner I (God) have prescribed."
Nowhere in the Torah are we instructed in the manner of shechita, ritual slaughter. One might conclude that there was a very sloppy editor. Or -one might conclude that there are additional teachings clarifying and amplifying the written Word.
The source of the Chosen People concept is brought this week:
"You are a nation consecrated to God your Lord. God has chosen you from all nations on the face of the earth to be His own special nation ..." (Deut. 14:1-2)
We are chosen for responsibility, not privilege - to act morally and to be a "light unto the nations."
The portion then gives instructions regarding: permitted and forbidden foods, the Second Tithe, remissions of loans every 7 years, treatment of those in need (to be warm-hearted and open-handed), a Jewish bondsman, the three pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot).
based on Love Your Neighbor by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
The Torah states:
"... and He will give you mercy and be merciful to you..." (Deuteronomy 13:18)
The Talmud (Yevamos 79a) cites this verse to show that being merciful is one of the basic traits of the Jewish people. (The Almighty deals with us in the way that we deal with others. Therefore, if He is merciful with us, it is because we are merciful with others.) The essence of compassion is being able to imagine yourself in someone else's situation. It is the resulting softness of the heart that makes one sensitive to the suffering of others - and allows one to strengthen his free-will to help others, though there might be a cost in personal welfare or comfort.
The last time Rabbi Yitzchok Elchonon Specter went to St. Petersburg for an important meeting, he was aged and weak. He had to leave his home very early in the morning to catch the only available train. There was not sufficient time to eat breakfast, so his family prepared for him a warm drink. Precisely at that moment a poor man knocked on the door. Rabbi Specter's assistant opened the door and informed the man that the Rabbi was extremely busy and couldn't attend to him.
The man at the door pleaded, "I am going penniless to Koeningsburg to see some doctors and I have come to ask Rabbi Specter for a letter of introduction to the rabbis of the city."
"I'm sorry, but you're too late," said the assistant. "Rabbi Specter is already late for his train."
Overhearing the conversation, Rav Yitzchok Elchonon called out, "Mercy! Mercy!" He then motioned to the man to enter his home and calmly wrote him a warm letter of introduction. Immediately after giving the letter to the poor man, Rabbi Specter rushed out of the house to catch the train, leaving his warm drink untouched.
CANDLE LIGHTING - August 13:
(or Go to http://www.aish.com/candlelighting)
Guatemala 6:06 Hong Kong 6:37 Honolulu 6:43
J'Burg 5:29 London 8:06 Los Angeles 7:23
Melbourne 5:22 Miami 7:38 Moscow 7:51
New York 7:37 Singapore 6:57
QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
What sunshine is to flowers,
smiles are to humanity.
With Special Thanks to