Growing Each Day: Av

One whose anger and wrath are intense is not too far removed from insanity (Orchos Tzaddikim, Chapter 12).

It is not unusual to observe a person explode at what appears to be a minor provocation. When the response is so disproportionate to the stimulus, most likely the anger is not at all directed toward this provocation, but it has been displaced from some other target.

For example, someone becomes angry at his employer, but knows that to express this anger would jeopardize his job. His suppressed anger continues to churn within him and intensify precisely because it is being suppressed, because the frustration of not being able to discharge it adds to its fury. Upon coming home, someone in the household says or does something trivial, and our employee erupts with a violent outburst of rage.

Irrationality borders on insanity, since both essentially deny reality. In the above case, reality did not warrant so extreme a reaction; hence, the inappropriate reaction can be considered akin to insanity.

Granted that one cannot safely discharge his anger at his boss, but suppressing the anger is not the only alternative. A few moments of rational thought might help him get a handle on his anger. He might ask himself, "Why did the boss's comment affect me so deeply? Is it because I resent the superior-inferior relationship we have? Is it because I am insecure and I am interpreting his remark as a threat to my livelihood? Is it because his comment aroused self-doubts which I have been harboring?"

Analysis of an emotion can help dissipate it and prevent us from developing a short fuse which will result in an explosive reaction.

Today I shall...

try to analyze my anger and avoid developing an inappropriate response.

You know the secrets of the world and that which is concealed in the recesses of every living thing (Yom Kippur Machzor).

In this prayer, we acknowledge that God knows all our hidden, innermost thoughts. We then come to vidui (confession) and verbalize all our misdeeds and faults. This process seems a bit contradictory. Since we have just stated that God knows all that we do, feel, and think, why do we relate everything verbally to Him?

We have many thoughts and feelings which we would like to disown. We may consider them so reprehensible that we hate to admit that we harbor them. We therefore repress them, keep them out of our awareness, and make believe that they do not exist.

A make-believe world is not real. Telling ourselves that these unacceptable thoughts and feelings do not exist will get us nowhere. From the depths of our unconscious minds, they will continue to clamor for recognition and expression. They either succeed in coming to the fore, or they drain our energies as we force them back down.

Our Sages suggested a solution. There is no point in concealing our thoughts or feelings anywhere, for regardless of where they may be hidden, God knows them. We shouldn't worry, for His love is unconditional, and He loves us in spite of our shortcomings. Since God knows that we have these thoughts and feelings, then at least as far as He is concerned, the secret is out. If so, we might as well be aware of them ourselves. And now, the need for repression disappears.

Therefore, we acknowledge our shortcomings verbally, not in order to tell God, but to tell ourselves that which He already knows.

Today I shall...

try to eliminate the need for repression by realizing that God knows what I have kept secret even from myself.

Gemilus chassadim is very great (Succah 49b).

Some people do favors for other people to get approval. This behavior pattern is based on the assumption that if they do not help others, they will not be liked. This assumption in turn derives from a basic feeling that they are unlikable, and that they must do something positive to overcome this unlikability.

Such behavior is fraught with serious consequences. If the object of their kindness fails to show approval, they are likely to feel angry, because in their eyes he or she took advantage of them by accepting the favor and not paying out the expected approval. In general, people who feel that they are unlikable do not manage anger well, for they feel that showing anger and resentment will alienate people from them. Their only solution then is to do more for people to overcome this new threat of alienation. This process sets up a vicious cycle that drains their energies as they continue to exhaust themselves in both doing for others and suppressing their increasing anger, resentment, and unhappiness.

Therefore, we should not do acts of kindness to incur the favor of others. Instead, we should concentrate on doing kindness because it is right, and we can then show kindness even to our sworn enemies, who will never like us regardless of what we may do for them.

Today I shall...

do good deeds because they are the right thing to do, rather than to ingratiate myself.

It is not that fear causes indolence, but rather that indolence causes fear (Mesilas Yesharim, Chapter 9).

With this statement, Rabbi Luzzato makes a very important psychological point: we often deceive ourselves by reversing cause and effect. How many times have we heard (and said): "I am afraid to do so and so because ..."? We convince ourselves that this thought is the truth, while the real reason is that we are lazy. However, since we do not wish to admit laziness, we rationalize that the fear of some danger is keeping us from taking action.

I have seen many young people, who are reluctant to go on with their education or undertake any constructive course, become "drifters." They attribute their problem to indecisiveness or anxiety. Analytical oriented therapists may spend many fruitless hours trying to discover the psychological roots for their indecisiveness and anxiety. Cognitive psychotherapists, who urge them into action first and deal with the underlying factors later, have much better success. Why? The indecisiveness or anxiety is not the cause, but merely an excuse these young people give themselves to cover up their indolence.

Luzzato's Path of the Just is both a great work of ethics and a treasury of psychological wisdom. As the author says in the introduction, it is a book that should not only be studied and thoroughly digested, but re-read many times. Group study and discussion of this great work are particularly enlightening.

Nothing can be so misleading and hence destructive to our lives as self-deception. Serious study of Path of the Just accomplishes two things: (1) the mitzvah of Torah study, and (2) invaluable lessons about how to avoid self-deception.

Today I shall...

realize that I may be cleverly deceiving myself. Therefore, I will try to find ways to discover such self-deception.

A song of gratitude ... Serve God with joy (Psalms 100:1-2).

People who have sustained adversity often feel very grateful for having been personally spared. When they walk away unscathed from a severe automobile accident, they may be thankful that they did not suffer serious injury. This gratitude may be so overwhelming that it utterly obscures the financial loss of the ruined car.

One might think that victims of automobile accidents or burnt houses would be bitter and defiant, expressing anger at God for the grave loss they had sustained. Instead, it appears to be within human nature to react differently. If we are alive and whole, and our children are safe, our gratitude may be so dominant that anger does not even appear.

Strangely, when lesser reversals occur, anger and bitterness do appear. The reason must be that we are not aware of any great danger from which we were spared. The Talmud states that the verse, He does great works alone (Psalms 136:4), means that God alone is aware of the wondrous acts that occur, and that humans who benefit from them are unaware of them.

A person would be wise to always be grateful, even when adversities occur, and apply the same attitude as when one walks away without a scratch from a serious automobile accident saying, "Thank God, I'm safe."

Today I shall...

make it a point to be grateful to God under all circumstances.

A piece of dry bread with peace is better than an abundant house with strife (Proverbs 17:1).

One young man whom I treated for drug addiction expressed what must be on the minds of many young people who have either used drugs or resorted to other unhealthy types of behavior.

"I wanted the kicks and I wanted them now," he said. "I didn't see any reason to wait for anything because I had no dreams of a happy future. Why should I exert myself? To achieve success and wealth? I could go to law school, and if I were lucky, become a successful lawyer and make a great deal of money. I could then have a house in the suburbs with a huge garden and a swimming pool. I could have a luxury car and a summer home with a speedboat. Well, that is exactly what my home looks like, and our home must be one of the most miserable places in the world. My parents have always been bickering, and they are now in the middle of divorce proceedings. If knocking myself out to achieve success will bring me that kind of happiness, forget it!"

For some young people, the worst thing that happened to them was that the American dream came true - and proved itself to be a nightmare. Money alone cannot create a pleasant, peaceful household; only when the family's goals are spiritual can the household be a happy one. If this household is not rich, the absence of luxuries can be tolerated; if it is rich, the luxuries can be truly enjoyed.

Today I shall...

re-examine my values with the realization that material success alone never produces happiness.

One who conceals his sins will not succeed (Proverbs 28:13).

Another verse states, Fortunate is one who conceals his faults (Psalms 32:1). How are these two verses to be reconciled?

There are two types of concealment. People who realize that they have done wrong and now feel bad about it are obviously not likely to make a public declaration. Rather, they will be remorseful and resolve not to make the same mistake again. They do not deceive themselves and think they have done no wrong. The Psalmist speaks of these people and says, Fortunate is he whose sins God will not consider, and there is no deceit in his spirit (ibid. 32:2). This honesty leads to forgiveness, and the concealment referred to is in contrast to those who flaunt their wrongful behavior, thereby indicating that they believe it to be correct.

Proverbs is referring to those who conceal their sins from themselves, either by repression or by any of the many distortions that people use to justify their errant behavior. These people are dishonest with themselves, and they stand in contrast to the person who "has no deceit in his spirit."

Obviously, people who deceive themselves cannot be honest with others, even if they try to do so. The unlucky prospector, for instance, who actually believes that his fool's gold is genuine, will think he is being honest when he sells it as genuine. If his "innocent" dishonesty is exposed, his loss of trustworthiness will preclude his being successful in anything else.

Honesty is certainly commendable, but we must first make certain that we are honest with ourselves.

Today I shall...

examine myself, my emotions, and my motivations, to avoid self-deception.

If a person commits a sin and repeats it, it appears to him as permissible (Yoma 86b).

As every scientist knows, different substances have different properties. Some liquids freeze at 0 degrees C; others at minus 60 degrees C. Some materials burn at higher temperatures than others, and some metals have greater resilience than others. In order to know how to work with any substance, we must know what its particular properties are. Ignorance of a substance's properties results in failure of the project at best and disaster at worst, as in the case of an engineer who overestimates the strength of the cables that suspend a bridge.

What are the properties of a human being? Physically, we know that we can survive only within a certain range of temperatures. But what about the guidelines for our spiritual survival? It would be foolish to think that there are no limits. Excellent guidelines do exist, and these are available in Jewish works on ethics.

The above Talmudic passage is an example. A person knows that doing something is wrong, but submits to temptation and does it anyway. He or she is likely to feel guilty, do teshuvah and thereby avoid repeating the act. However, if he or she fails to do so and repeats the forbidden act, the stimulus necessary for teshuvah may be lost. The Talmudic authors were astute students of human behavior, and they tell us that two consecutive commissions of a wrong act may cause people to totally lose their perspective; they are now apt to develop an attitude whereby what was once wrong is now perfectly permissible.

We do not have much leeway. If we do not promptly try to amend a wrong act, we may lose the opportunity to do so, because if we repeat it a second time, we may no longer realize that it is wrong.

Today I shall...

resolve to promptly do teshuvah at the first awareness that I have done something wrong.

How she [Jerusalem] sits in isolation! (Lamentations 1:1).

The opening verse of the book of Scriptures that depicts the fall of Jerusalem cites a state of isolation. Badad connotes loneliness, abandonment, and the state of being shunned by others. This term also appears in the Torah in regard to the expulsion of a metzora (someone who suffers from a disease called tzaraas), who is to be isolated from the community (Leviticus 13:46).

The Talmud states that the affliction of the metzora is in retribution for the sin of lashon hara. Indulging in harmful talk brings about enmity and divisiveness. Gossip and slander can turn people against one another and sow suspicion where once there had been trust and friendship.

The Talmud states that when Jews were united, and when there was no lashon hara among them, they were triumphant, even though they were far from perfect in other respects. On the other hand, when lashon hara causes dissension, all other merits may not suffice to tip the scales.

On the ninth day of Av, Jerusalem became badad, shunned by its neighbors, shunned its former friends, and to all outward appearances, even shunned by God. Why? Like the metzora, the Israelites had been guilty of behavior that brought about divisiveness. By bringing about the state of badad within their ranks, they themselves became badad, isolated from God.

We must jettison all personal whims and desires that stand in the way of Jewish unity, for in unity lies our salvation.

Today I shall...

try to find ways in which I can bring myself closer to other Jews and fastidiously avoid any behavior that can cause divisiveness.

You shall honor an elderly person, and you shall fear your God, for I am God (Leviticus 19:32).

This mitzvah is of particular importance in our times, when many people are living to an older age.

Living longer does not always bring the joys of the golden years that some people expect. The "fifty-two weeks of vacation a year" after retirement are often not a blessing; finding themselves with much time on their hands, many retired people are extremely bored.

Not all couples age together; as our life spans increase, so does the possibility of losing our partner and remaining alone for many years. Children may live far away, and even when close, they may lead busy lives with little time to devote to their aging parents. The wear and tear diseases - emphysema, arthritis, osteoporosis - may make many people housebound. Failing sight and hearing make the radio and television useless companions. While we pray for long life, the "golden years" may be very, very lonely.

In a society which prizes productivity, the elderly do not have much value, and although society may pay its debt to them (albeit in inadequate payments), it may be done with an attitude that is characteristic of a debtor to a creditor: resentment.

As is evident in the construction of the verse cited above, the Torah equates honoring the elderly with honoring God Himself.

Today I shall...

do something to make the life of an elderly person a bit more pleasant.

As far as east is from west, that is how far God has removed our sins from us (Psalms 103:12).

The usual interpretation is that when one does complete teshuvah, one's sins are removed. According to this interpretation, east and west are understood as extremely remote from each other. Another interpretation is based on the exact opposite; namely, that east and west are not far from each other at all. If we face east and make a 180-degree turn, we are now facing west, even though we remain in the very same place. Applying this concept to teshuvah, we do not have to travel to great lengths to achieve teshuvah and to have our sins removed. All we need to do is turn around and face another direction.

The word teshuvah, which means "to turn back," contains this very principle. If we travel on the highway and discover that we have been heading in the wrong direction, progress begins the very moment we turn the car around and head in the right direction. That there may be a delay in reaching the destination should be of little concern, because in the journey of life, the Judge awards merits according to effort rather than according to reaching any one fixed endpoint.

More than one person has made the mistake of making a left turn where a right turn was called for, and only obstinate, opinionated, "I am never wrong" people will refuse to stop at the first opportunity available to inquire and make sure that they are headed in the right direction.

We are all fallible. We may inadvertently make wrong turns in life. How are we to know if we are heading in the right direction unless we stop and ask?

Today I shall...

try to avail myself of a competent spiritual mentor to help me in following the correct path in life.

For the judgment belongs to God (Deuteronomy 1:17).

When the Tzaddik of Sanz assumed his first rabbinic position, he was approached by someone who wished to sue in the rabbinical court the wealthiest, most powerful person in the community. The Tzaddik sent a court summons to this man, but the shammash (bailiff) returned saying that the man had very rudely turned him away.

The Tzaddik sent a second summons. The defendant responded with a message, "You are new here and very young. You may not be aware that I am the one who supports all religious activities in the community. To be a rabbi in the community requires my approval. Be aware of this and retract your summons."

The Tzaddik sent a third summons, warning that failure to honor it would result in dire consequences. The rich man then came and surprisingly brought the plaintiff with him. He explained that the entire thing had been a sham that he had staged simply to test whether the new rabbi would have the courage to implement the law, even when his own position was in jeopardy.

The community's number one citizen welcomed the rabbi, stating, "You are the kind of rabbi we need."

Not everyone feels this way. Some people try to use "pull" to receive preferential treatment. They should realize that when justice is the issue, it is corrupt to seek preferential treatment and corrupt to give it.

The judgment belongs to God, and when litigants and judges are engaged in a din Torah, they are in the immediate Divine Presence, and there can be no favoritism.

Today I shall...

remember not to show favoritism, even when under pressure.

You shall make a fence to your roof ... so that the falling person should not fall therefrom (Deuteronomy 22:8).

Rashi notes the unusual term the falling person should not fall and explains that even though the person who may be injured may be "a falling person," i.e. someone who merited punishment for wrongs he or she had committed, nevertheless, you should not be the vehicle for punishment.

Some people act in a hostile manner toward a certain person, even going so far as to condemn him and cause him harm. They may justify their behavior by saying, "Why, that no good ... do you know what he did? He did this and that, and so he deserves to be tarred and feathered."

The Talmud states that God uses good people to deliver rewards, but when punishment is warranted, He chooses people who themselves deserve punishment. Hence, it is not good to be a punitive instrument. The Torah cautions us not to intervene in Divine judgment. God's system is adequate. We should take reasonable actions to protect our interests so that they are not harmed by others, but we should not take upon ourselves to mete out punishment.

The principle of fencing in a roof applies to every situation where someone else might come to harm as a result of something we did or did not do. Being a responsible person requires using reason. As the Talmud says, "A wise person is one who can foresee the future" (Tamid 32a). We don't necessarily need prophetic foresight, just the ability to calculate what might result from our actions.

Today I shall...

be cautious to behave in such a manner that no one can come to harm as a result of my actions.

tzedakah remains...">

His deeds are glory and beauty, and His righteousness remains forever (Psalms 111:3).

The Hebrew phrase, His righteousness remains forever, can also be read as "His tzedakah remains forever."

The Talmud relates that Rabbi Akiva was once collecting funds for a worthy cause. As he approached the home of a regular contributor, he heard him tell his son, "Go to the market and buy leftover vegetables because they are cheaper." Rabbi Akiva then turned away and returned only after most of the needed money had been collected.

"Why did you not come to me first?" the man asked.

Rabbi Akiva told him of the conversation he had overheard, and that he did not wish to impose upon him for a larger donation when he was in financial straits.

"You heard only the communication with my son, but you were not privy to my communication with God," the man said. "When I economize, I do so on my household expenses. The tzedakah remains unchanged."

When budget cuts must be made, everyone has their particular priorities. Some people may cut their tzedakah while retaining the scheduled trade-in for a new-model car. Some people will bargain hard for a reduction in their children's tuition, while they accept other prices without bickering.

The Psalmist tells us that the measure of a person's action is that his or her tzedakah remains forever; i.e. tzedakah is the last budget item to be cut.

Today I shall...

rethink my priorities. The values I place on things may be reflected by which items I am willing to do without.

Do not put a stumbling block before the blind (Leviticus 19:14).

The Talmud extends this concept to include giving anyone wrong advice. Clearly, no rational person would knowingly put an obstacle in front of a blind person. Similarly, no one with a conscience would knowingly give anyone bad advice, but sometimes people inadvertently do so because they fail to think things through.

While good intentions are laudable, they are not always enough. "Here, take some of these pills (for sleep, headache, anxiety, joint pains). My doctor gave them to me, and they are excellent." It is well to remember that "one person's meat is another's poison." This principle cannot be more true than when it comes to medications.

Amateur psychology is a popular field; so many people like to offer advice to husbands, wives, and parents as to what to do about their school troubles, marital problems, and children's discipline. Less than amateur legal advice is also available in abundance.

Our egos may feel good when we offer advice, and we may sincerely believe that the advice we are giving is sound, but great caution is necessary to avoid unintentionally misleading someone. If any of our advice is wrong, we have in fact "put a stumbling block before the blind."

Today I shall...

be cautious when offering advice and moreover avoid recommending something unless I am absolutely certain that it is the right thing to do.

They have forsaken Me, the source of life-giving waters, to dig wells that cannot give water (Jeremiah 2:13).

In a world filled with nationalistic pride, where nations, ethnic groups, and individuals are all searching for their historic roots, it is nothing less than mind-boggling that a people who has an unparalleled wealth of recorded and documented history and literature would so ignore its rich heritage. What do most Jewish children know about their people? Only a fraction receive more than a fragmentary awareness of Jewish history. All can identify Twain and Poe, but few know Maimonides or Yehudah HaLevi. They are likely to know much about Nathan Hale and even Simon Bolivar but have never heard of Rabbi Akiva and Bar Kochba. They may remember the Alamo, but not Massada.

Why do we so despise ourselves? Where is our pride? How can we expect our youth to develop a sense of self-esteem if by our own dereliction we fail to convey to them a justified sense of pride in who they are?

We do not need to drink at others' wells. Our own is filled with sweet, life-sustaining water.

Today I shall...

do whatever I can to further Jewish education both among adults and children.

[If a criminal has been executed by hanging] his body may not remain suspended overnight ... because it is an insult to God (Deuteronomy 21:23).

Rashi explains that since man was created in the image of God, anything that disparages man is disparaging God as well.

Chilul Hashem, bringing disgrace to the Divine Name, is one of the greatest sins in the Torah. The opposite of chilul Hashem is kiddush Hashem, sanctifying the Divine Name. While this topic has several dimensions to it, there is a living kiddush Hashem which occurs when a Jew behaves in a manner that merits the respect and admiration of other people, who thereby respect the Torah of Israel.

What is chilul Hashem? One Talmudic author stated, "It is when I buy meat from the butcher and delay paying him" (Yoma 86a). To cause someone to say that a Torah scholar is anything less than scrupulous in meeting his obligations is to cause people to lose respect for the Torah.

Suppose someone offers us a business deal of questionable legality. Is the personal gain worth the possible dishonor that we bring not only upon ourselves, but on our nation? If our personal reputation is ours to handle in whatever way we please, shouldn't we handle the reputation of our nation and the God we represent with maximum care?

Jews have given so much, even their lives, for kiddush Hashem. Can we not forego a few dollars to avoid chilul Hashem?

Today I shall...

be scrupulous in all my transactions and relationships to avoid the possibility of bringing dishonor to my God and people.

Vanity is a sign of ignorance of Torah (Kiddushin 49b).

The Talmud and the ethical works condemn vanity as the worst of all character traits. Whereas the Divine Presence is infinite, and God does not abandon even the worst sinner, He cannot countenance a vain person: Haughty eyes [vanity] ... him I cannot tolerate (Psalms 101:5).

It is not difficult to understand the Divine intolerance, since we ourselves also are uncomfortable in the presence of those who boast of their achievements, try to impress everyone with name dropping, and have an attitude of superiority and condescension. While we may be unable to avoid these people's company, we certainly do not try to cultivate friendships with them. The irony is that while we may despise this attitude in others, we may sometimes fall into the trap of harboring it ourselves.

Luzzato states that the magnitude of one's vanity is directly proportional to the magnitude of one's folly (Path of the Just, Chapter 23). Truly wise people are not vain.

Imagine yourself speaking to an audience through a computerized public address system which has been so programmed that anytime you say something to impress other people with your greatness, the words that come out of the loudspeaker are, "I am a fool." How careful you would be to avoid making a spectacle of yourself!

Such a computerized speaker system actually exists within each of us, says Luzzato. Anytime people boast about themselves, they are announcing to the whole world, "I am a fool." Any self-respecting person would be cautious not to make such a declaration.

Today I shall...

be careful not to humiliate myself by trying to impress others with how great I am.

Because God is in Heaven and you are on the earth, therefore let your words be few (Ecclesiastes 5:1).

I remember reading that every person is born with an allotted number of words that one may speak during one's lifetime. When this allotment is exhausted, one's life comes to an end. This idea would explain the above verse: God is infinite, but people live in a finite world where everything has its limitations. Some things may be greater, other things may be less, but nothing on earth is infinite. Since the number of words a person may speak must also be finite, we should speak as little as possible simply to extend our lives.

Even if one does not accept this concept as factual, it is an excellent guideline. People on a fixed income will budget themselves carefully, since any unwise expenditures may deprive them of the means to obtain necessities. If we think of our words as being limited, then those squandered in non-essential conversation have become unavailable to us for more important things.

When we discover that we have wasted money, we are likely to become very upset with ourselves. We usually then resolve to be more cautious and discriminating in our future purchases. Let us now think back on how many words we have wasted, and even if they were not outright lies or slander, nevertheless, they were simply useless. We would be wise to make a reckoning of our words as well as our money and similarly resolve not to be wasteful of them in the future.

Today I shall...

consider my words as valuable assets which, while in sufficient supply, are nonetheless limited; I will therefore try to act accordingly.

There are four categories of people who give tzedakah ... [the fourth of which is] one who does not give and discourages others from giving; he is wicked (Ethics of the Fathers 5:16).

Since this passage is listing varieties of those who give tzedakah, why does it include a category of someone who does not give? Not giving is not a sub-type of giving.

In the effort to streamline everything and make life less complicated, we have centralized many things, including tzedakah. Communities often have one organization that has one major fund drive a year. Those people who wish to operate in this manner are certainly at liberty to do so, but when they insist that this unified drive be the only one in the community, and they discourage all other tzedakah collections or campaigns, they are actually infringing on the privilege of others to dispense their tzedakah as they see fit.

I have the right to invest in mutual funds and allow others to diversify my investments for me, but I also have the right to choose for myself which stocks I wish to own. No one has the authority to deprive me of the right to make my own selections.

The passage cited is indeed considering only those who give, but among them there is a sub-type of those who give only once to a centralized drive and refuse to give to any other collection. While they certainly have the right to do so, when they try to exert their authority to prevent other collections in the community, while insisting that everyone must give only as they do, their behavior is unacceptable.

If you give tzedakah once, you have done one mitzvah. If you give tzedakah twenty times (even if you give a smaller amount each time), you have done twenty mitzvos.

Today I shall...

retain my right to give tzedakah as I see fit.

Our Sages gathered these sections in an order ... according to the requisite steps (Introduction to Path of the Just).

While character refinement is an important and desirable goal, we must be careful to stride toward it in a reasonable and orderly manner. Overreaching ourselves may be counterproductive.

Physical growth is a gradual process. In fact, it is not even uniform; the first two decades are a sequence of growth spurts and latency periods. Generally, the body does not adjust well to sudden changes, even when they are favorable. For instance, obese people who lose weight too rapidly may experience a variety of unpleasant symptoms. Although the weight loss is certainly in the interest of health, the body needs time to adjust to the change.

If we are convinced, as we should be, that spirituality is desirable, we might be tempted to make radical changes in our lives. We may drop everything and set out on a crash course that we think will lead to rapid attainment of the goal. This plan is most unwise, because psychologically as well as physically, our systems need time to consume new information, digest it, and prepare ourselves for the next level.

Luzzato's monumental work on ethics, The Path of the Just, is based on a Talmudic passage which lists ten consecutive steps toward spirituality. Luzzato cautions: "A person should not desire to leap to the opposite extreme in one moment, because this will simply not succeed, but should continue bit by bit" (Chapter 15).

Today I shall...

resolve to work on my spirituality gradually and be patient in its attainment.

Let us strengthen ourselves for our nation and in behalf of the cities of our God (II Samuel 10:12).

At our rehabilitation center, we used to call the weekly meeting of all the residents and staff "Bus Stop." A great many people may be congregated at a bus station, but each person is going his or her own way. Everyone at the bus stop is detached from everyone else, and there is no common goal. Nothing ties these people together, except that all are making use of the bus station for their individual purposes. Yet, it is not a place of anarchy, chaos, or unruly behavior. All is orderly and peaceful.

Our "Bus Stop" was intended to focus on whether each person was pursuing a private goal, or whether he or she had a sense of community, where people could have a broader perspective and join together in achieving common goals that could not be reached individually.

We have various types of communities where we work together: cities, neighborhood organizations, unions, religious and educational institutions, cultural groups, and various other special interest groups. In some, our membership is merely perfunctory, and while we pay lip service to the sense of community, essentially we proceed on our own. If conflict arises, we choose the individual good over the good of the community.

A true sense of community among all participants would avoid such conflict, and all could benefit from it.

Today I shall...

examine my commitment to the various communities of which I am a part, and work toward a sense of community that will be mutually beneficial.

A person should do everything in an orderly manner (Rabbi Yisrael of Salant).

Rabbi Yisrael of Salant founded the mussar movement, a formal and programmed study of ethics. All his writings deal with ways to achieve spirituality. How can orderliness and organization be a method to achieve spirituality?

People on vacation use their time haphazardly. They arise at any time of the day and let their whim determine their activities. They feel no accountability and no purpose in what they are doing.

The essence of Judaism is the concept that each person has a mission on this earth. There are no "after-work" hours, and one is never really on vacation from working toward an ultimate goal. While judicious rest and relaxation are necessary for optimum health, they are in fact part of the "workday." One cannot do things according to whim. Within reasonable parameters, a person's life should be orderly and scheduled.

Employees are held accountable for time while they are on the job. Schedules allow for lunch and for coffee breaks, but they are not free to do whatever they wish, whenever they wish.

A person should know that we are on earth "on a job," and since we are accountable for every minute, it is essential that we have order in our lives.

Today I shall...

try to bring greater order into my life, knowing that I am here for a specific mission.

For after I fell, I have arisen (Michah 7:8).

The Midrash comments: "Had I not fallen, I would not have arisen," and so indicates that some heights are not attainable without an antecedent fall.

Obviously, no one designs a fall in the hope that it may lead to a greater elevation. Michah's message, however, is that if a person should suffer a reversal, he or she should not despair, because it may be a necessary prelude to achieving a higher level than would have been possible otherwise.

We can find many analogies to this concept. When we swing a pickaxe, we first lower it behind ourselves in order to deliver a blow with maximum force. Runners often back up behind the starting line to get a "running start." In many things, starting from a "minus" position provides a momentum that would otherwise not be attainable.

When things are going well, most people let well enough alone. The result? Mediocrity has become acceptable. Changing might involve some risk, and even if we could achieve greater things, we might not wish to take a chance when things are proceeding quite satisfactorily. However, when we are in an intolerable situation, we are compelled to do something, and this impetus may bring about creativity and progress.

We even see this concept in the account of creation in Genesis. First there was darkness, then came light.

Today I shall...

realize that a reversal may be the seed of future growth, and I must never despair.

There is no person on earth so righteous, who does only good and does not sin (Ecclesiastes 7:20).

Reading the suggestions for ridding oneself of character defects, someone might say, "These are all very helpful for someone who has character defects, but I do not see anything about myself that is defective."

In the above-cited verse, Solomon states what we should all know: no one is perfect. People who cannot easily find imperfections within themselves must have a perception so grossly distorted that they may not even be aware of major defects. By analogy, if a person cannot hear anything, it is not that the whole world has become absolutely silent, but that he or she has lost all sense of hearing and may thus not be able to hear even the loudest thunder.

In his monumental work, Duties of the Heart, Rabbeinu Bachaye quotes a wise man who told his disciples, "If you do not find defects within yourself, I am afraid you have the greatest defect of all: vanity." In other words, people who see everything from an "I am great/right" perspective will of course believe that they do no wrong.

When people can see no faults in themselves, it is generally because they feel so inadequate that the awareness of any personal defects would be devastating. Ironically, vanity is a defense against low self-esteem. If we accept ourselves as fallible human beings and also have a sense of self-worth, we can become even better than we are.

Today I shall...

be aware that if I do not find things within myself to correct, it may be because I am threatened by such discoveries.

Greet every person in a pleasant manner (Ethics of the Fathers 1:15).

Occasionally, when I walk into an office, the receptionist greets me rudely. Granted, I came to see someone else, and a receptionist's disposition is immaterial to me. Yet, an unpleasant reception may cast a pall.

A smile costs nothing. Greeting someone with a smile even when one does not feel like smiling is not duplicity. It is simply providing a pleasant atmosphere, such as we might do with flowers or attractive pictures.

As a rule, "How are you?" is not a question to which we expect an answer. However, when someone with whom I have some kind of relationship poses this question, I may respond, "Not all that great. Would you like to listen?" We may then spend a few minutes, in which I unburden myself and invariably begin to feel better. This favor is usually reciprocated, and we are both thus beneficiaries of free psychotherapy.

This, too, complies with the Talmudic requirement to greet a person in a pleasant manner. An exchange of feelings that can alleviate someone's emotional stress is even more pleasant than an exchange of smiles.

It takes so little effort to be a real mentsch.

Today I shall...

try to greet everyone in a pleasant manner, and where appropriate offer a listening ear.

Do not say that the earlier days were better than these, because this is not a quest that comes from wisdom (Ecclesiastes 7:10).

I have been in the practice of relaxing myself each day with self-hypnosis, which allows me to go back in time and relive some very pleasant childhood experiences.

One time, I was relaxing (after having just emerged from the whirlpool treatment in a spa), and I used the opportunity to go back in time to enjoy a fun-filled day in a summer camp, some forty years earlier. Only later did it occur to me that at the spa I was also having a wonderful time! Why could I not enjoy this present moment? Why did I have to go back in time to an experience of the past?

The reason, I think, is because that enjoyable day at camp had closure; it had ended having indeed been a great day. While the spa was equally pleasant, there was still an uncertainty as to whether this spirit would be maintained. At any moment, there might have been a call from the office with some disturbing news. The subconscious expectation that something upsetting might happen did not (and still does not) allow me to fully enjoy the present.

King Solomon says that it is not wise to reflect upon the past as idyllic. Why? When circumstances are favorable, wisdom allows us to actually enjoy the present. As the Psalmist says, He will not fear bad tidings, his heart being firm in trust in God (Psalms 112:7). There is no reason to have an attitude of foreboding. While it is foolish to build castles in the sky, it is equally foolish to build dungeons in the cellar.

Today I shall...

try to enjoy whatever I can to the utmost, and trust in God for the future.

A clever wise person will understand his way (Proverbs 14:8).

This verse can be applied to understanding the ways and tactics of the yetzer hara. The yetzer hara has one mission: to cause a person to self-destruct. However, the yetzer hara is very wily. Realizing that a person will defend against his evil seductions, it seeks first to disarm the person.

Suppose that I was your sworn enemy, determined to destroy you. It would be foolish for me to make a frontal attack, since you would undoubtedly defend yourself. I must therefore seek to first disarm you.

Each time I meet you, I greet you pleasantly and inquire as to your welfare. I try to find occasions where I may be of actual help to you. Although you may have initially been wary that I might be hostile to you, my repeated benevolent behavior eventually leads you not only to drop your suspicions, but even to believe that I am your friend and have your best interests at heart. Once I have achieved this, I am then free to do whatever I wish to destroy you, since your assumption of my good intentions has caused you to relinquish your guard.

The yetzer hara operates in the exact same way. It may tell you to do things for yourself that seem innocent enough. "How can you go to shul in such a snowstorm? You may catch cold. You can pray at home, because God is everywhere." Strange, this same argument does not keep you from going to the office.

A truly wise person will think, "If I were the yetzer hara, what measures might I use to mislead someone?" And then use the very same cleverness to outwit the yetzer hara.

Today I shall...

be on the alert for any suggestions that might be the work of the yetzer hara.

There is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

America was always there, long before Columbus 'discovered' it. Penicillin killed bacteria long before Fleming discovered it. We could go on to list numerous discoveries which could have benefited mankind long before they came to our attention.

It has been said that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. We can say the same thing about discoveries: they become evident to us when we are ready for them.

Just what constitutes this state of readiness is still a mystery. While technological advances are usually contingent upon earlier progress, many other discoveries were right before our eyes, but we did not see them.

This concept is as true of ideas and concepts in our lives as it is true of scientific discoveries. The truth is out there, but we may fail to see it.

In psychotherapy, a therapist often points out something to a patient numerous times to no avail, until one day, "Eureka!" -- a breakthrough. The patient may then complain, "Doctor, I have been coming to you for almost two years. Why did you never point this out to me before?" At this point, many therapists want to tear out their hair.

Just as patients have resistances to insights in psychotherapy, we may also resist awareness of important ideas and concepts in our lives. If we could sweep out these resistances, we could see ourselves with much more clarity. We must try to keep our minds open, particularly to those ideas we may not be too fond of.

Today I shall...

try to keep an open mind so that I may discover ideas that can be advantageous to myself and others.

Walk in modesty before your God (Michah 6:8).

Good things can be accomplished with either a great deal of pomp and ceremony, or with a great deal of quiet and modesty. Some people like to call attention to themselves, while others go about their business without being noticed.

While both may have the same result, there is much to be said in favor of the latter method. Ostentatious performances are likely to arouse envy, and those who begrudge one's good works may attempt to undermine them or to upstage them. Critics seem to come out of the woodwork. Things that are accomplished in a manner that does not provoke attention are more likely to take shape and establish themselves firmly.

The Talmud uses the Ten Commandments as an example. The first Tablets, given at the Revelation at Sinai with thunder, lightning, and much fanfare, did not survive. The second Tablets, given to Moses in virtual silence, remained with the Israelites for centuries and exist to this day in the Ark which was hidden prior to the destruction of the First Temple.

We may feel an urge to make a public declaration of some worthy deed, but when we do it primarily to serve our ego, it is as unwise as it is unnecessary. When we do good deeds, the feeling of achievement that they bring should be reward enough. We should not need the acclaim of others to tell us that what we have done is good. We would do well to leave the noisemaking to the proverbial empty kettles.

Today I shall...

do whatever I feel is necessary for the good of the community without any fanfare.

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