Growing Each Day: Sivan

How great are Your ways, 0 God (Psalms 92:6).

The Midrash states that when King David completed his Psalms, he was elated that he had been able to compose such wonderful praises to God. A frog then appeared and said, "Do not let your compositions go to your head. Every day I sing more beautiful hymns to God than you do."

While we may be proud of our achievements, we should realize how they pale before the majestic natural phenomena that are the immediate handiwork of God.

We can marvel at a highly sophisticated computer that can process complicated calculations in a fraction of a second. However, the most efficient computer is nothing more than a simple juvenile tinker toy in comparison with the central nervous system of any living thing, let alone the human brain. The brain is comprised of more than fourteen billion units, all intrinsically inter connected, to convey multiple messages simultaneously to one another at unimaginable rates of speed. The brain also stores far more information than a warehouse full of computers; furthermore, it can be creative and generate new ideas, while a computer can only do what it has been programmed to do.

We may be proud of the radar that allows airplanes to take off, fly, and land in darkness and fog, but the radar of the lowly bat is by far superior to that of the most advanced aircraft. Similarly, the sonar of many aquatic animals is superior to our most highly developed soundwave technology.

While we may be justly proud of our achievements as humans, they should not go to our head. We can remain humble if we compare our works with those devised by God.

Today I shall...

try to be aware that while my accomplishments may be significant, there is no reason for me to become vain because of them.

The day is coming to a close. The sun is about to set. Let us enter into Your gates (Concluding Service of Yom Kippur).

Sometimes the first part of a typical day may be disappointing to us. A transaction that we had hoped for may have fallen through, a job that we had applied for was denied, or we turned in a poor performance on a test for which we had studied. Such negative experiences may depress us so much that the rest of the day is a waste; we simply do not have the energy or initiative to do anything.

While adverse occurrences certainly may be depressing, we should not allow them to affect us so profoundly.

The Chofetz Chaim encountered a person who had suffered a reversal and was complaining that the loss had so severely affected him that he was unable to get on with his life.

The Chofetz Chaim told him a parable of a young boy who was selling apples from a cart. Some hoodlums fell upon him and began running off with his apples. The boy stood there helplessly and cried. An observer said to him, "Don't just stand there crying! You will lose everything. Go ahead and grab as many apples as you can and run off with them too. At least that way, you will salvage something."

The Chofetz Chaim said, "If you allow this adverse incident to disable you, you will be adding to your losses. Go ahead and grab what you still can, and you will at least salvage something."

If the first part of our day does not go as we wished, we should try to salvage the rest of the day. By allowing ourselves to be paralyzed by whatever adversity occurred, we only add to our losses.

Today I shall...

try to avoid any emotional paralysis from unpleasant incidents and instead salvage whatever I can.

If one read and reviewed his studies but did not serve an apprentice ship to scholars, he remains unlearned (Berachos 47b).

We can learn more about tennis by seeing a pro in action than by reading a book about how to play good tennis. Book learning certainly has value, but observing a professional performance is much more impressive.

One of the mitzvos the Torah lists is to say Shema Yisrael twice daily. I had learned about the proper kavanah (concentration) needed when saying the Shema, and I had heard lectures on the subject regarding the intensity of meditation required. One day, I attended the vasikin minyan (sunrise communal service) at the Kotel (the Western Wall), and I heard the Shema being recited the way it should be said. All that I had read and heard beforehand now became galvanized and took on new meaning.

If you have the opportunity to watch any expert performing in his or her field, do so. Watch a tzaddik pray, a matriarch light the Shabbos candles, and a scholar learning Torah. These indelible experiences can give life and spirit to your own actions and convert the knowledge you have accumulated through book learning into more meaningful experiences.

The Torah states that at Sinai, the entire nation saw the sounds (Exodus 20:15). Many commentaries ask how sounds can be seen. Perhaps the Torah is saying that the Israelite observed how their leader Moses acted, and so were able to see that which they had previously heard.

Today I shall...

try to reinforce those character traits that I know are correct by observing how good people implement them.

It may be compared to a pearl which fell into the sand. [One sifts great amounts of sand, casting them aside until one finds the gem] (Rashi, Genesis 37:1).

During the Gold Rush, prospectors patiently panned water all day long just to wash out a few grains of gold. The great value of those particles motivated them so much that they were able to be patient with this otherwise endless, monotonous panning of water.

Sometimes we find ourselves impatient. We may be waiting a long time for something or enduring monotonous work. Our patience may be exhausted, and we may abandon the project.

We should ask ourselves what we are waiting for. If it has real value to us, then, like the gold prospector, we should not even feel the monotony.

Of course, if we are working to earn a living, the importance of our economic survival may overcome our impatience. If we are working towards spiritual goals, whose attainment is not as palpably vital to our survival, we may become bored more easily.

We must assign proper values to spiritual achievement. Like those grains of gold, it may appear only after we have worked long hours, gleaning it from the sand and water of everyday life. Solomon correctly stated that spiritual treasures will come only to those who seek them with the same diligence and perseverance as one who seeks material treasures (Proverbs 2:4).

Today I shall...

try to realize that the real values in life are spiritual treasures, and that I should persevere in attaining them.

Moses brought the people forth out of the camp to meet God (Exodus 19:17)

It is traditional to spend the entire night of Shavuos reciting or studying Torah until daybreak. This has its origin in the Midrash that relates that some of the Israelites overslept on the morning of the revelation at Sinai, and that Moses had to arouse them for the momentous event. It is generally assumed that denying ourselves sleep on this night is a kind of rectification for our ancestors' lethargy.

Far more important than being an atonement for our ancestors is the message this custom has for us. It is not unusual for us to fail to take advantage of opportunities. We too may "oversleep" for momentous occasions.

Whether opportunity knocks only the proverbial once or several times, each missed opportunity is a loss we can ill afford. Some people regret having overlooked opportunities to buy properties that subsequently escalated greatly in value. Since we lack prophetic foresight, we can hardly fault overselves for this. But there are opportunities which do not require prophecy, such as when Moses tells the Israelites that tomorrow morning there will be an unprecedented Divine revelation, and that they will be hearing the words of God directly from the Almighty Himself. Our Sages related this Midrash so that we should be aware of our vulnerability, that our inertia may result in our failure to take advantage even of a once-in-the-history-of-the-world event.

To avoid overlooking opportunities, we must forever be on the alert. Habit and routine are our greatest impediments. We may have opportunities for spiritual growth today that were not there yesterday, and if we become complacent, we may not notice them.

Today I shall...

maintain a state of alertness for opportunities that will allow me to grow in character and spirituality.

God spoke all these words saying, "I am the Lord, your God" (Exodus 20:1-2).

The word leimor, usually translated as quoted above, saying, can also mean, "to say." The phrase all these words may refer to the entire text of the Torah that precedes the Ten Commandments, from the moment of Creation in Genesis, through the accounts of the lives of the Patriarchs and the bondage in Egypt. Everything that the Torah relates prior to the Ten Commandments may thus be understood as preparatory to them.

The lives of the Patriarchs; the absolute devotion of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the episode of Joseph and his brothers; the enslavement in Egypt; and the miracles of the Exodus - all are a necessary prelude to the acceptance of trust and faith in God, which constitutes the foundation and the first of the Ten Commandments.

The Talmud and Midrash provide many additional details about the history of our people prior to Sinai, and the wealth of writings in the commentaries and in homiletics by Torah scholars through the ages clarify and elaborate on the Talmud and Midrashic statements, thereby enabling us to draw from them the principles that are to guide us in living ethical and moral lives.

The Torah is not a history text. Nothing appears in the Torah that does not provide a teaching that we can apply to our lives. It is our responsibility to study and utilize these valuable teachings.

Every word in the Torah was Divinely dictated, and it was all leimor, to make possible the statement, "I am the Lord, your God."

Today I shall...

dedicate myself to the comprehensive study of Torah in order to gain the knowledge necessary for living Jewishly.

If I am not for myself, who is for me (Ethics of the Fathers 1:14).

Every human being appreciates approval. We naturally desire to hear good things about ourselves and to have our feelings of worth confirmed.

Those totally dependent on the approval of others for a sense of self-worth, however, have a different story. An analogy will explain the difference. We all need oxygen in order to survive. A healthy person derives sufficient oxygen from breathing air. Someone with an impairment of the heart or lungs may require constant inhalation of pure oxygen, and any interruption may cause serious damage and even death.

In usual daily activities, we generally obtain affirmation of ourselves via two routes: our own accomplishments and the love, recognition, and appreciation that we receive from family and friends. Together, they provide us with an adequate feeling of self-worth. For a person whose ego is seriously impaired and who feels inwardly impoverished, they do not suffice, and the constant need for outside approval places the fragile ego in jeopardy. Even momentary lapses may not be tolerable.

Hillel said it well: "If I do not have a good feeling about myself, there is no one who can give it to me," which means that total dependency on external sources for affirming self-worth is unrealistic. The supply can never meet the demand.

Today I shall...

check whether I am in constant need of affirmation of my self-worth, and if so, seek to improve my own sense of self-esteem by remembering the many good aspects of myself.

See, I ... [in see me] Moses alerted them to see him and emulate him (Or HaChayim, Deuteronomy 11:26).

In yesterday's message, we distinguished between a healthy and a pathological drive for approval, in that the latter is when one is totally dependent on constant affirmation of others in order to have a sense of self-esteem. The essential difference as described there may be misunderstood to be quantitative rather than qualitative; i.e. that the psychologically healthy person needs external affirmation once or twice a day, whereas the psychologically unhealthy person requires it fifty times a day. This view is not correct and requires further clarification.

A psychologically healthy person desires the approval of others because he wishes them to perceive his value. The psychologically unhealthy person expects others to create his value. It is not that he has a sense of self-worth and because of his insecurity needs to be reminded more often, but rather that he does not have a sense of self-worth until someone gives it to him. He is much like a light bulb which lights up only if the electric current flows. As soon as the current ceases, the room is in darkness again. Likewise, individuals who lack self-esteem may have a momentary feeling of self-worth, but it lasts only as long as the approval continues.

A man whom I saw on psychiatric consultation had been active in a leadership role in many community projects. "I have a wall full of plaques given to me as tributes," he said. "They don't mean a thing to me." The feeling of self-worth that he enjoyed when he was publicly recognized for his leadership lasted only for the few moments of the ceremony.

It is healthy to enjoy approval from others, but they should not be expected to create our identity.

Today I shall...

try to see if I have a sense of self-worth in the absence of other people's complimentary remarks.

One who eats fat meat may need to hide in the attic, but one who eats vegetables may do so in an open field (Pesachim 114a).

Many people live beyond their means and sink into deep debt. Whether they must then "hide in the attic" to escape their creditors or whether they mortgage themselves so heavily that the debt burden crushes them is immaterial. The message in the quoted passage from the Talmud is clear: Live within your means, and you can be free. Live beyond your means, and you become a fugitive.

Rational people would not assume a crushing burden. The awareness that an extravagant expenditure will result in progressively consuming interest payments can more than negate any transitory pleasure. People do not take on these debts for the ephemeral pleasurable experience, but because of an ego unrestrained by rational thought; these people feel that they must have what others have. "Keeping up with the Joneses" may override all rational considerations.

Why do people "keep up with the Joneses"? They desperately need to give themselves an artificial sense of self-worth, and this dependence on external appearances indicates a feeling of personal bankruptcy.

They pay a steep price for this type of ego-gratification. A good sense of self-esteem would eliminate this need and preserve their health as well as their fortune.

Today I shall...

try to avoid living beyond my means, realizing that this is often merely an ego-satisfying drive which can be avoided by achieving a healthy sense of self-worth.

Building by youth may be destructive, while when elders dismantle, it is constructive (Nedarim 40a).

It seems paradoxical, but it is true. We make the most important decisions of our lives when we are young and inexperienced, and our maximum wisdom comes at an age when our lives are essentially behind us, and no decisions of great moment remain to be made.

While the solution to this mystery eludes us, the facts are evident, and we would be wise to adapt to them. When we are young and inexperienced, we can ask our elders for their opinion and then benefit from their wisdom. When their advice does not coincide with what we think is best, we would do ourselves a great service if we deferred to their counsel.

It may not be popular to champion this concept. Although we have emerged from the era of the `60s, when accepting the opinion of anyone over thirty was anathema, the attitude of dismissing older people as antiquated and obsolete has-beens who lack the omniscience of computerized intelligence still lingers on.

Those who refuse to learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them. We would do well to swallow our youthful pride and benefit from the teachings of the school of experience.

Today I shall...

seek advice from my elders and give more serious consideration to deferring to their advice when it conflicts with my desires.

They were drunk although not with wine, they staggered although they drank no ale (Isaiah 29:9).

In the field of alcoholism treatment, there is a concept of a "dry drunk." This term describes those who have stopped drinking alcohol, but whose behavior remains essentially unchanged from their drinking days.

Just as a "dry drunk" phenomenon occurs with someone who has stopped drinking, it can occur in someone who never drank excessively. In the above verse, the Prophet describes such behavior occurring in the absence of alcohol intoxication.

Active alcoholics are generally oblivious to their self-centered behavior. Seeking to satisfy their own needs regardless of how this may affect others, they are likely to project blame for everything that goes wrong onto anyone and everyone - except themselves. They refuse to make any changes in the way they live; instead, they demand that others accommodate.

We often observe this same behavior in people who do not use intoxicants. In a way, alcoholics are more fortunate, for eventually the toxic effects of alcohol will force upon them the realization of their destructive behavior. People who do not drink and who are thus not likely to have any toxic disasters which precipitate a crisis must therefore exercise even greater scrutiny, lest they unknowingly indulge in behavior that is destructive to themselves and others.

Today I shall...

find myself a competent, trusted friend to help me see if I might not be denying self-destructive behavior.

Whatever a person gives to the Kohen (priest) will be his (Numbers 5:10).

The Talmud relates that King Munbaz distributed his treasures in a year of famine. His family confronted him and said, "Your ancestors accumulated wealth, and you are dissipating it." Munbaz responded, "My ancestors accumulated wealth in this world, and I am accumulating it in a higher world. They stored their wealth where human hands could reach it, and I am storing it beyond anyone's reach."

The wise words of Munbaz take on special significance in an era such as ours, in which so many people suffer bitter disappointment when the savings they worked for all their lives disappear before their eyes. Major corporations that once appeared invincible have failed, and along with their failures went the pensions that thousands of workers had relied upon for their retirement years. Savings institutions that appeared eternally secure have gone bankrupt, and people who had invested in what they felt were safe securities were left penniless.

While no one disagrees with judicious savings, these economic upturns have proven the Psalmist's caution, not to trust in humans who may not be able to save themselves (Psalms 146:3).

The verse cited above is generally interpreted to mean that any of the tithes given to an individual Kohen belong to him exclusively. Another interpretation may be that whatever we give to tzedakah will be our own. That is something that, as Munbaz said, is beyond human capacity to steal or diminish.

Today I shall...

remember that the only wealth that I can truly claim as my own is that which I have given to tzedakah.

Over every single blade of grass, there is a heavenly force that whispers to it and commands, "Grow!" (Bereishis Rabbah 10:7).

Every living thing in the world has potential, and it is the Divine will that everything achieve its maximum potential. We think of humans as the only beings that have a yetzer hara which causes them to resist growth. Certainly animals and plants, which do not have a yetzer hara, should achieve their maximum potential quite easily.

Not so, says the Midrash. Even plants, and in fact all living matter, have an inherent "laziness," a tendency towards inertia. Even the lowly blade of grass needs to be stimulated and urged to grow.

We can see from here that a human being thus has two inhibiting forces to overcome in order to achieve growth: (1) the yetzer hara, which is unique to us, and (2) the force of inertia, which is common to all matter.

The Tanya postulates the existence of absolutely righteous people who have totally eliminated the yetzer hara from within themselves. We may ask, in the absence of even a vestige of yetzer hara, how can they grow? The answer may be that they strive to overcome the inertia that is inherent in all matter, including themselves.

If a lowly blade of grass has both a tendency towards inertia and a spiritual "mentor" which demands that it fulfill itself, we human beings, with two adversaries, certainly have even more powerful forces urging us to achieve our full potential. We should be aware of what can hamper our achievement and make the effort to overcome it.

Today I shall...

bear in mind that there are numerous obstacles to spiritual growth, and that I must try to triumph over them.

God created one force that is equivalent to its opposite (Ecclesiastes 7:14).

There is a principle that God created a universe that is in balance. For every force, there is a counterforce that is equal in magnitude. Because of this delicate balance, people are truly free to choose among alternatives.

Yesterday, we discussed the inhibiting force inherent in all matter, the inertia that acts to maintain the status quo. Opposing it is an inherent force to remain alive and to grow. The operation of these two opposing forces can be seen in the plant world. In thick forests, where the foliage blocks the sunlight, it is fascinating to observe how branches from trees grow towards those spaces which are reached by the sun. The convoluted shapes of the branches are the result of this attempt to reach sunlight. If trees had intelligence, we would say that they realized that they could not receive the sunlight in their fixed places and therefore directed their offshoots to go to places where the sun's rays do reach. Since plants do not have intelligence, some force within them must be seeking to preserve their existence and to allow them to grow.

Because we are living matter, we have two opposing forces. However, unlike plants, we also have the capacities of reason and intelligence and thus can choose with which forces we wish to ally ourselves.

We should be aware that in our "forest" exist obstructions to the spiritual light that is essential for our growth. We should emulate plants in reaching out to those areas where that light is greatest.

Today I shall...

search for sources of spiritual illumination and reach out to them in order to absorb their light.

Fortunate is the person who has the God of Jacob as his help; his hope is in his God (Psalms 146:5).

We may see ourselves as dependent for survival on those means that we employ to earn our livelihood. We often tend to forget that our true dependence is on God. Consequently, if anything should occur that appears to jeopardize our means of earning a living, we may panic. A firm trust in God would allow us to approach such situations with constructive rational thought rather than with panic, which is likely to be destructive.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman once lodged at an inn and asked the innkeeper where he could find a minyan (quorum of ten) for morning services. The innkeeper explained that he was the only Jew in this tiny hamlet. "Then how do you pray all year round without a minyan?" the rabbi asked.

"What can I do?" the innkeeper said. "This is my parnasah (livelihood)."

"Do you think that God has provided a parnasah for all the Jews in the city, but has none for you?" the rabbi asked. The following morning, Rabbi Schneur Zalman awoke to find that the innkeeper had packed all his belongings on wagons. Upon inquiring, he was told that the innkeeper was moving to the city. Rabbi Schneur Zalman would always relate this story as an example of the unwavering trust in God which simple folk were able to achieve.

A group of blind men asked a sighted person to lead them. Each put his hand on the shoulder of the one in front of him. They all knew that although they were being immediately led by the man in front of them, the ultimate leader of the entire procession, who made their safe progress possible, was the sighted person on whom all were ultimately dependent.

The things we work with and the people with whom we transact are but the means or the vehicles with which the Ultimate Provider tends to our needs.

Today I shall...

remember that my Ultimate Provider is God, Who has limitless ways to provide for my needs.

A father transmits to his son beauty, strength, wealth, wisdom, and longevity (Eidiyos 2:9).

While some character traits, or at least tendencies to certain traits, appear to have a genetic factor, the lion's share of attitudes are learned. Undoubtedly the most significant influence on a child is his parents' attitudes, rather than their genetic composition.

One psychologist said, "If you have given your child self-confidence, you have given him everything. If you have not given your child self-confidence, then regardless of whatever else you have given, you have given nothing."

The crucial question is: What should parents do to help their child develop self-confidence? While many fine books suggest techniques to avoid common practices that depress a child's self-esteem, one factor overrides all else: self-esteem is contagious. Parents who feel secure about themselves will convey an attitude of security and self-confidence to their children. Parents who are insecure and anxiety-ridden are not likely to foster self-confidence in their children, regardless of how many books on parenting they may have absorbed.

As with so much else, the place to begin is with ourselves. By far the most effective way to instill a positive sense of self-awareness in our children is by developing our own self-awareness which will both lead to the discovery of our strengths and skills, and will reveal existing deficits that may then be corrected. Not only will the parents then transmit their self-esteem, the children may also benefit by observing the methods that their parents use to achieve positive feelings about themselves.

Today I shall...

try to enhance my self-esteem and overcome my anxieties and insecurities.

Those who give priority to their physical selves and make the soul subordinate cannot achieve sincere brotherhood (Tanya, chapter 32).

Rabbi Schneur Zalman states that a thorough unity is achieved between friends when their neshamos (souls) are permitted to fuse. Since all neshamos are part of God Himself, and inasmuch as God is the Absolute One, all souls can similarly be one. Separation and divisiveness among humans do not derive from the soul, but from the physical self.

The needs and desires of the physical self - the quest to satisfy one's earthly drives - are the causes of divisiveness. The neshamah does not seek pride nor wealth, is not offended, and does not seek to berate others. All these are traits of the physical self. To the degree that one recognizes the neshamah as one's true essence and subordinates the physical self thereto, to that degree one can eliminate the divisive factors and achieve true unity and brotherhood.

We thus see why spirituality is of such overwhelming importance. Hillel said that the essence of the Torah is "love your neighbor as you would yourself." To achieve such love, one must eliminate the impediments to sincere love of another, and as Rabbi Schneur Zalman stated, these impediments are the non-spiritual aspects of life. The greater the degree of spirituality one achieves, the more perfect can one's love of another person be.

Today I shall...

seek to establish the primacy of spirituality in my life.

Any love that is contingent upon a specific factor is lost when that factor is gone (Ethics of the Fathers 5:19).

We may not be aware of some of our own faults, although we may easily detect them in others. We may observe a scene of a powerful dictator standing on a balcony, greeting the throngs who are shouting his praises and wildly waving banners bearing his likeness. Watching how the dictator basks in his glory and in the adoration of the populace, we wonder, "What kind of fool is he? Doesn't he realize that most of those people who are so enthusiastically cheering him actually despise him with a passion? They are there only because they fear his wrath, knowing that they forfeit their lives if they fail to acclaim him. Why, these very people will dance with exuberance in the streets when he is overthrown! How strange, that a person can delude himself to think that people who hate him actually love him!"

We know all this, yet in our own lives it is not unusual for us to "buy affection" in one way or another. Sometimes we do things for people in order to make them beholden to us, and when they then go through the motions that would indicate that they do indeed favor us, we interpret it as sincere affection or admiration, rather than what it really is - an affected attitude, beneath which there may be smoldering resentment, quite like that of the dictator's "admirers."

Certainly, we should do favors for friends, and we should extend ourselves to strangers as well, but we should not expect, nor even have a need to expect, that our action alone will earn us their love or respect.

Today I shall...

avoid trying to buy my way into people's affection and admiration.

If you have learned much Torah, do not take credit for yourself (Ethics of the Fathers 2:9).

The Talmud does not hesitate to reveal shortcomings of great sages, so that we learn that we are all susceptible to err and that our greatest scholars accepted reprimand even from their inferiors and did teshuvah.

On returning from a successful term at the academy, Rabbi Eliezer ben Shimon allowed his ego to soar because of his great progress in learning. On the way, he encountered a man who was exceedingly ugly and said to him, "Are all the people in your city as ugly as you?" The man responded, "Why don't you go and complain to the One Who fashioned me?"

Rabbi Eliezer realized what a terrible thing he had said. He begged the man's forgiveness, but the latter refused. When they entered the town, and Rabbi Eliezer was greeted by the townsfolk, the man said to them, "He does not deserve to be called a rabbi." Only after the people pleaded with the man did he forgive Rabbi Eliezer, cautioning him never to allow his achievements to go to his head again.

How could Rabbi Eliezer have made such a gross remark? The Talmud cites this incident to tell us that vanity is so degenerating a trait that it can cause even a highly spiritual person like him to sink so low as to insult someone in this manner. Once a person feels superior to another, the arrogance that is likely to follow can bring in its wake the most vulgar attitudes.

We must be extremely cautious that we do not allow our successes to go to our heads.

Today I shall...

try to acquire and retain humility. Even when I make outstanding achievements, I must never consider myself superior to others.

For I know my transgressions, and my sins are forever before me (Psalms 51:5).

Since a person should believe that once he has repented properly, God has totally erased his sin, as the Prophet states, I have erased your sin like a fog that cleared (Isaiah 44:22), why does the Psalmist assert that his sin always remains before his eyes?

It sometimes happens that a parent wishes to do something for a child's benefit, but in spite of the parent's best intentions, the act causes the child to be harmed. Although there was certainly no hostile intent and no negligence - to the contrary, the parent was trying to help the child - the parent's pain over the incident may never disappear. Even if the child has completely forgiven the parent and knows that the parent's intentions were only for his good, the love of the parent for the child is so intense that the parent cannot make peace with what he or she has done. Furthermore, this distress may not be relieved by any logical argument.

I know of a mother who took her child for a recommended medical treatment which unfortunately resulted in an adverse reaction and very serious consequences. Although the child later recovered, there was no comforting the mother. Though she had done the right thing by any reasonable standard, she could not forgive herself for having brought distress upon her child.

King David's repentance was teshuvah me'ahavah, or repentance out of an intense love for God. David had complete trust that God had erased his sin, but like the mother in the above example, he could never be completely consoled knowing that he had offended the One Whom he so loved.

Today I shall...

try to develop a relationship with God so that I would no more think of offending Him than doing harm to someone I love intensely.

Do not stand on your neighbor's blood (Leviticus 19:16).

This mitzvah is one of a group which require a person to be considerate of others' rights and possessions.Examples include returning a lost object to its rightful owner, helping load and unload a beast of burden, lending money to the needy, etc. According to the Talmud, the above verse means that we should not stand idly by while someone else's possessions are being destroyed, if we can do something to save them. The uniqueness of this verse lies in the graphic image used: standing idly by while another's blood is being shed.

I often receive calls such as this: "A friend of mine is drinking far too much, and I see that he is in the process of ruining himself. What can be done for him?" When I explain to the caller that as a true friend, he should try to approach his friend and, in as gentle and non-judgmental terms as possible, inform him of his concern, the answer is usually, "I don't want to get involved. Isn't there something that you can do?"

Alcohol is not necessarily the only problem that may ruin us. We may observe a person entering into a business venture with someone known to be unscrupulous and opportunistic, or into a relationship which we believe is a serious mistake. It may not be pleasant to try to deter a person from whatever path he or she is taking, and we may indeed be told to mind our own business. Nevertheless, we should not shirk from making the effort. Even advice that is initially ignored may make an impression and lead to reconsideration.

If the Torah had used less forceful words, we might indeed take refuge and mind our own business. The metaphor of considering it equivalent to standing idly by and watching someone's blood being shed emphasizes the gravity of the responsibility to prevent others from harming themselves.

Today I shall...

not turn away if I am aware of someone doing something self-destructive, if there is any chance that I may be able to prevent this harm.

Rav Sala said, "Every arrogant person will eventually sin ..." Rav Nachman said, "It is evident that an arrogant person is one who has already sinned" (Taanis 7b).

Rav Sala states that arrogance causes wrongdoing, and Rav Nachman asserts that wrongdoing causes arrogance. As with so many other differences of opinion among Talmudic authors, both positions are valid.

Rav Sala is pointing to a common phenomenon. Arrogance is an attitude of self-righteousness. Arrogant people discount opinions of others and consider themselves superior to everyone. They may go so far as to consider themselves above the law; rules that apply to others simply do not apply to them, only to those of lesser stature. Obviously, such an attitude makes breaking the law an available option, because to arrogant people, their actions cannot be wrong.

Rav Nachman states that arrogance is a defensive maneuver employed after the act in an effort to relieve the sense of guilt. Tormented by the guilt of having done something wrong, people may assume an attitude of defiance and deny that what they did was wrong. Since authority and/or prevailing opinion hold that the act was indeed wrong, they defend themselves by both dismissing those who hold that opinion as know-nothings and setting themselves up as superior in wisdom.

Arrogance and sin thus do have a cause-effect relationship, which can go either way.

Today I shall...

be alert to any attitude or behavior of arrogance on my part.

"A wise person ... does not interrupt when another person is speaking" (Ethics of the Fathers 5:9)

While it appears that the Talmud is prescribing rules of courtesy, this passage goes beyond the issue of propriety. Interrupting another person is not merely rude, but also unhealthy.

Cardiologists have described a "Type A" personality, which they find to be a significant cause of coronary heart disease. Among the characteristics of Type A people are the following: operating under pressure of time, doing multiple things at the same time (e.g. eating breakfast while talking on the phone and also reading the morning news), and finishing other people's sentences. The latter indicates not only impatience, which itself demonstrates the pressure under which they are operating, but also a presumptuousness, since they are taking for granted that they know what other people intend to say.

Teaching ourselves to allow other people to finish their sentences is a simple way to learn patience. Once we achieve it, it becomes easier to correct other Type A behaviors, such as making a mad dash to enter an elevator before the doors close completely, losing our composure in congested traffic, or feeling oppressed by the approach of a deadline. We may learn to take life in stride and even to relax, thereby eliminating the stress factor that has been implicated in heart disease.

No wonder that Solomon referred to the Torah as "a Torah of life." Adhering to its guidelines can actually prolong life.

Today I shall...

try to control my impulse to finish other people's sentences for them.

Know whence you derive (Ethics of the Fathers 3:1).

This Talmudic statement is usually understood as giving a reason for humility. People who might be carried away by vanity should reflect on their humble beginnings and thereby stop any self-aggrandizement.

A scientist who studied the growth and development of the human being remarked, "As I stared through the microscope at the single-cell fertilized ovum, and I realized that this infinitesimally tiny bit of matter could compose the masterpieces of Beethoven and Michelangelo, I was momentarily breathless, overcome with awe. Except for the nutrients it would receive, nothing would be added to this single cell. It is absurd that it has within itself the potential to achieve such greatness. Neither the cell nor its nutrients, nor both together even in the most sophisticated of combinations, could make such a quantum leap, and the only logical conclusion is that some external power instills this intelligence within this bit of protoplasm. It was at that moment that I came to know God."

Today I shall...

think how the marvelous phenomenon of the human being originating from a microscopic bit of matter attests to the existence of God.

When I speak, my words are master over me. When I do not speak, I am master in that I withhold them (Orchos Tzaddikim, Chapter 21).

Everyone has an inherent drive for power and control. We may use it for evil; for example, we may seek control over other people. On the other hand, we may use it for good and try to control our own drives and urges. In any case, it is often frustrating to discover that something is beyond our control.

Words are within our control until we have spoken them;then, we cannot control their effects. At the very best, we can retract what we have said, but that only sets up an opposing force to that which we have created. The original words can never be recalled. We often find ourselves powerless and subjected to the consequences of what we have said, in which case the words we have spoken have indeed become our masters.

How do we avoid this feeling of powerlessness? We have to take control of our speech and learn to keep silent when we have nothing constructive to say. If we do have to speak, we should choose our words very carefully.

If we had to choose a boss, we would certainly be very careful in our selection. We should be no less cautious with words.

Today I shall...

watch carefully what I say, realizing that once I have said something, I am powerless over those words.

You shall stand in awe of your God. This includes Torah scholars as well (Pesachim 22b).

On 16 Nissan, it was explained that the true fear of and reverence for God refers to the fear of doing anything that would estrange one from Him. Inasmuch as the commission of transgressions causes such estrangement, the fear of God thus refers to fear of sinning.

Since reverence for Torah scholars is derived from the verse referring to fear of God, it means that we should be afraid to behave in a manner that would alienate us from Torah scholars or them from us.

This is a commendable fear, because it fosters closeness to scholars. There is another type of fear that has the polar opposite effect, in that it leads to estrangement. This is the fear that because scholars are more learned or more spiritual, one feels so inferior that one withdraws from them. Or perhaps out of fear that scholars may reprimand one for one's dereliction, one may shrink from being close to them.

The Talmud states that a shy person does not make a good student, because he will be hesitant to assert himself to ask when he does not understand something. He may be afraid that asking will expose his ignorance.

Feelings of inferiority can cause people to be strangers to one another. Ironically, sometimes each person may withdraw from the other because each one considers himself inferior. A healthy self-esteem will enable one to be close to others, to be a good friend and a good student.

Today I shall...

avoid withdrawing from people more learned than myself.

Train a lad according to his manner; even when he grows old he will not deviate from it (Proverbs 22:6).

Parents have the primary responsibility for training their children, and most do their utmost to provide their children with the tools to carry them successfully through life. Generally, the emphasis in education is on skills that will enable children to earn a livelihood and be contributing members of society.

Parents also hope that their children will live to a ripe old age. When that wish comes true, the former child who is now a septuagenarian retiree cannot make much use of the livelihood skills the parents had provided. Diseases of old age may preclude many activities, including driving a car, and a house bound, bored retiree may find the "golden years" a burden. Parents should therefore provide their children with a training that will serve as a basis for adapting to all phases of life.

Yes, even when their children are the tender age of five, parents should be thinking about providing for their happiness sixty years later. As the Psalmist says, They will blossom in their old age (Psalms 92:15).

Today I shall...

prepare myself as well as my children with the means to make the later years of life enjoyable rather than monotonous.

[In Sodom] when someone built a stone fence, people would walk by and take one stone each, saying, "I am not really harming him. I am taking only one stone" (Sanhedrin 109b).

The Talmud elaborates on the social practices of Sodom, some of which are uncomfortably reminiscent of some current social customs.

Sodom was characterized by self-will run riot. Nothing stood in the way of gratifying a Sodomite's desires, regardless of what they were. Any barriers to gratification that might arise from guilt were eliminated by two widely practiced maneuvers: rationalization and legislation. If one had no way to justify a particular immoral or unethical act, a law was passed to legalize it. Sodom was the symbol of justified and legalized social and moral corruption.

There is one example of Sodomite rationalization - considering a particular improper act trivial and insignificant. Each Sodomite who took only one stone from the neighbor's fence told him or herself that this infraction of another person's property rights was so minor that it would hardly be noticeable. In this way, the owner's entire fence was demolished.

I once brought a letter to my grandfather which my father had intended to mail to him. My grandfather opened up his desk drawer and tore up a postage stamp saying, "We have no right to withhold revenue from the postal service that is due to them." To a person for whom pennies (and postage was three cents back then) are negligible, misappropriation of thousands of dollars may also be feasible.

Today I shall...

be cautious not to do any improper act, even in the minutest quantity or degree.

Theft of an object is theft, and theft of time is theft (Mesilas Yesharim, Chapter 11).

Stealing is abhorrent to most people. They would never think of taking something which does not belong to them. Still, they may not be bothered in the least by making an appointment and keeping the other person waiting for a few minutes. Rabbi Luzzato points out that this double standard is a fallacy, because stealing others' time is no less a crime than stealing their possessions.

Moreover, stealing time is worse in one aspect: stolen objects can be returned, but stolen time can never be repaid.

Not every lateness is a theft. Sometimes, circumstances totally beyond our control can cause us to be delayed. Still, many realistic factors can be foreseen and should be taken into account. If the usual travel time between two points is fifteen minutes, we should provide an extra few minutes for a very likely possibility - congested traffic.

According to Jewish law, someone who stole an object from another cannot be forgiven by God until he or she has made restitution and received forgiveness from the owner. Without these two premises, even Yom Kippur does not atone one's sin. This rule also applies if one has caused another person a loss of time.

If someone has wrongfully infringed on our time, it is proper that we should call it to his or her attention. As with other offenses, we should try to sincerely forgive if the offender changes his or her ways. If we have infringed on someone else's time, we must be sure to ask forgiveness and to remember that teshuvah consists of a sincere resolution not to repeat the same act again.

Today I shall...

be extremely careful not to cause anyone a loss of time, and if I have done so, ask forgiveness.

Impeached witnesses are not considered guilty until they have impeached themselves (Makkos 5a, Rabbeinu Chananel).

When someone says something uncomplimentary to us, we are of course displeased. The intensity of our reaction to an unkind remark, however, depends upon ourselves.

A former patient called me one day, sobbing hysterically because her husband had told her that she was a poor wife and a failure as a mother. When she finally calmed down, I asked her to listen carefully to me.

"I think that the scar on your face is very ugly," I said. There was a moment of silence. "Pardon me?" she said.

"I spoke very distinctly, but I will repeat what I said. `The scar on your face is repulsive.'

"I don't understand, doctor," the woman said. "I don't have a scar on my face."

"Then what did you think of my remark?" I asked.

"I couldn't understand what you were talking about," she said.

"You see," I pointed out, "when I say something insulting to you, and you know that it is not true, you do not become hysterical. You just wonder what in the world it is that I am talking about. That should also have been your reaction to your husband's offensive remarks. Instead of losing your composure, you should have told him that he is delusional. The reason you reacted as extremely as you did is because you have doubts about yourself as to your adequacy as a wife and mother."

A good self-esteem will not make offensive comments pleasant to hear, but it can greatly diminish their impact upon us.

Today I shall...

be alert to my reactions and remember that no one can make me feel inferior without my consent.

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