Growing Each Day: all

This day is the beginning of Your works, a memoriam for the first day. For it is an ordinance for Israel, a judgment for the God of Jacob (Machzor of Rosh Hashanah).

This day is the beginning of God's works? Rosh Hashanah marks the day on which man was created, which was the sixth and last day of Creation. Rather than being the beginning of the Divine works, it was the end. When man came into being, the earth, the sun, moon, stars, galaxies, rivers, oceans, mountains, vegetation, and all forms of life were already in existence.

The message is quite clear. An artist may spend days and weeks assembling all the materials he needs for his painting, but the actual work does not begin until he touches the brush to the canvas. All that preceded was indeed essential to the work, but was not the work itself.

We are told here that the work of Creation begins with man. Everything else in the universe, from the tiniest sub-atomic particle to the greatest galaxy, is but preparatory to man. Man is thus the essence of the entire universe and the goal of all Creation.

This places an awesome responsibility upon man. He cannot live his life like the sub-human species, because they are merely appurtenances in a universe that makes man's existence possible. As the ultimate purpose of Creation, therefore, man must search for the purpose of his existence and how he can best achieve it, because all else in the universe is the means, whereas he is the end.

Because man is the end of Creation, he is the beginning of God's works.

Today I shall...

try to search for the meaning of my existence, and dedicate myself to finding and fulfilling the purpose for which I was created.


And You open the book of recollections, and it reads on its own, and the seal of each person's hand is therein (Machzor of Rosh Hashanah).

The Baal Shem Tov taught that a person must be extremely cautious not to pass harsh judgment on others. "It is yourself that you are judging," said the Baal Shem Tov.

When the prophet, Nathan, rebuked King David following the Bath-Sheba incident, he related the parable of a wealthy man who owned abundant livestock, and who robbed a poor neighbor of his one and only lamb. David was outraged at this terrible injustice, and in his anger exclaimed, "I swear by God, that man is deserving of death!" Nathan then said, "You are that man!" (II Samuel 12:1-5).

God knows that personal interest makes us oblivious to the significance of our own misdeeds, so He contrives to make us observe in others actions and behavior similar to our own. How we react to our own acts as we see them in others determines how God will judge us. If we are considerate and lenient in our judgment, and give others the benefit of doubt, allowing them the broadest latitude of circumstances that might have caused them to behave improperly, they will judge us with equal leniency. But if we are self-righteous and quick to condemn others, we will be judged with equal severity.

On the Days of Judgment, the books of our deeds are opened, and they "had on their own"; i.e. our actions speak for themselves. "And the seal of each person's hand is therein"; i.e. we have rendered our own judgment on our actions by the way we reacted to similar actions when we observed them in others. God merely carries out the judgments we have made on ourselves.

Today I shall...

try to be considerate when judging other people's behavior, remembering that there may be extenuating circumstances that might account for their actions.


As a father is merciful toward his children, so may You be merciful to us (Selichos).

As children of God, we have the right to plead for mercy, just as we would expect a human father to be kind and compassionate with his errant child. Actions that might elicit stern judgment from strangers do not provoke a similar reaction from one's father. In praying for Divine forgiveness for our misdeeds, we are therefore not asking for the extraordinary, but simply for the natural response of a father toward a child. Even if our actions deserve rebuke, we ask that the discipline should be tempered by paternal compassion.

But if we ask to be treated as children, we must relate to God the way the Torah expects a child to relate to a parent, with respect and reverence. We cannot expect a parent-child relationship to be one-directional.

The Talmud speaks harshly of someone who profanes that which is sacred, going so far as to deny him a share in the eternal world, even though he may have performed many mitzvos (Ethics of the Fathers 3:15). This is because although no one is perfect, and while sins can be forgiven, if one is irreverent toward holiness and lacks the respect for God that should characterize a child-parent relationship, then such a person may forfeit forgiveness. For example, halachic authorities sharply criticize one who converses during the prayer services, for while this is not a Biblical transgression, it indicates disrespect for the Divine Presence.

During these days of penitence, as we recite the prayer, Avinu Malkeinu (our Father, our King), we should give thought to the concept of reverence for our Father.

Today I shall...

try to behave in a manner that befits a child of God.


Remember us for life, O King Who desires life, and inscribe us in the book of life, for Your sake, O living God (Amidah, Ten Days of Penitence).

What is the meaning of for Your sake? How can the extension of life to a person be for the sake of God?

We might read the verse a bit differently. "Inscribe us into the book of a life that is lived for Your sake." In other words, we pray not only for life, but for a quality of life that is meaningful and purposeful, one that will be lived for the greater glory of God.

Some people find life boring, and it is little wonder that such people seek escape from its boredom. Some turn to intoxicating chemicals, and others to a quest for thrills and entertaining pastimes which, while not destructive, have no purpose except an escape.

But why should there be a need to escape? Why should life ever be boring? A person whose goal is to amass great wealth never tires of adding more to his already sizable fortune. If we have the kind of goal in life that allows us to add to it continually, we will never be bored.

Of course, we wish to be inscribed in the book of life, but it should be a life that we wish to be in rather than one that we seek to escape from.

Today I shall...

try to enrich my life by living it according to the Divine will, bringing greater glory to His Name - and therefore greater meaning to my life.


He forgives the sins of His people, and passes them over, one by one ... (Selichos).

The Talmud states that if a person repeats a particular sin, he may be forgiven up to the third time, but not beyond that (Yoma 86b).

Before Yom Kippur, a chassid came to the chassidic master, Rabbi Bunim of Pshis'cha. The master reprimanded him for being remiss in the proper observance of a mitzvah and the man promised that he would be more diligent - but the following year, the same scene was repeated.

When the chassid again asserted that he would mend his ways, the Rabbi invited him to a game of chess. During the game, the Rabbi intentionally made a wrong move and asked permission to be permitted to retract the move. "You know the rule, Rabbi," the chassid said, "once you have removed your hand from the piece, the move is final." Nevertheless, he gave in. Later in the match the same thing happened, and the man said, "I am sorry, Rabbi, but you cannot keep on retracting moves. You must think before you move; once you have done so, it is final."

"Exactly, my son," the Rabbi said, "and if this is so a game, how much more so in the serious business of life."

Just as there cannot be endless retractions in chess, so we must realize that some actions are final. Repeating the same sin after one knows it was wrong indicates an attitude of carelessness.

Today I shall...

try to give serious consideration to my behavior and avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.


And what does teshuvah consist of? [Repentance to the degree] that the One Who knows all that is hidden will testify that he will never again repeat this sin (Maimonides, Laws of Teshuvah 2:2).

"How can this be?" ask the commentaries. "Inasmuch as man always has free choice to do good or evil, to sin or not to sin, how can God testify that a person will never repeat a particular sin? Is this not a repudiation of one's free will?"

The answer to this came to me at a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, at which the speaker, a man who had been sober for twenty-one years, said, "The man I was drank. The man I was will drink again. But now I am a different man."

A sin does not occur in a vacuum. A person who is devout does not abruptly decide to eat treifah. A sin occurs when a person is in such a state that a particular act is not anathema to him.

Consequently, repentance is not complete if one merely regrets having done wrong. One must ask, "How did this sin ever come about? In what kind of a state was I that permitted me to commit this sin?"

True repentance thus consists of changing one's character to the point where, as the person is now, one can no longer even consider doing the forbidden act. Of course, the person's character may deteriorate - and if it does, he may sin again.

God does not testify that the person will never repeat the sin, but rather that his degree of repentance and correction of his character defects are such that, as long as he maintains his new status, he will not commit that sin.

Today I shall...

try to understand how I came to do those things that I regret having done, and bring myself to a state where such acts will be alien to me.


O, God, create for me a pure heart, and renew within me a just spirit (Psalms 51:12).

In 6 Tishrei we noted that true repentance consists of changing one's character to the point where one is no longer capable of repeating certain acts.

Some people may be frightened by the prospect of the emergence of a new personality. Generally we are most comfortable with the familiar, and the creation of a new personality is an excursion into the unknown. What is this new person going to be like? What kinds of likes and dislikes will he have? Will he still let me do the things I have enjoyed in the past, or will he be so restrictive that he will take all the fun out of living? How will people relate to this new person? Will my friends like him? Will my family accept him?

The anxiety about this unknown entity who may emerge may be so severe that a person may decide to remain just as he is. Even if one's present character is defective, there is at least the comfort of familiarity.

But one must have the courage of one's convictions. All growth carries a risk of discomfort. Newborn infants cry when they leave security of the womb, and "growing pains" are a fact of life.

To avoid such pain by simply not growing should not be an option for a thinking person.

Today I shall...

be courageous enough to discard faulty behavior patterns and allow a better "self" to emerge.


You search one's innermost recesses and You examine one's motivations and the emotions of the heart (Machzor of Yom Kippur).

Rabbi Eliezer of Kozhnitz visited Rabbi Naftali of Ropschitz and, noting that the curtains of the windows were drawn closed, he said, "There is something I do not understand. If you wish people to be able to look in, why do you draw the curtains? If you do not wish people to look in, what purpose is there for the window?"

Rabbi Naftali was stunned by the question. Rabbi Eliezer smiled and said, "I will tell you what the window is for. There may be someone whom you trust and who you know loves you, and you can then open the curtains and let him look in."

To some degree we are all secretive, and we close the curtains of the windows of our hearts and minds. We may have thoughts and feelings that we would not disclose to anyone. However, we can be comfortable that God knows our innermost secrets, because we are certain that He loves us and we can trust Him.

Our verbal expression of character defects adds nothing to God's knowledge of them, but serves to reinforce our own awareness that we can safely confide in God, and that He will help us in our quest to improve our character.

Today I shall...

open my heart and mind to God, sharing with Him all that I think and feel, and ask Him to help me cleanse myself of improper thoughts and feelings.


For the conductor, a psalm of David. When Nathan the Prophet came to him, as he had come to Bath-Sheba ... Cleanse me abundantly from my sin, and purify me from my transgression (Psalms 51:1-4).

In this psalm of contrition, we hear David's heart-rending plea for forgiveness and, indeed, Nathan informed him that God had accepted his prayer and that he was forgiven (II Samuel 12:13). What was it that earned David prompt forgiveness? Rabbi Sholom Shachna of Probisch points to the opening verse of the psalm: "When Nathan the Prophet came to him, as he had come to Bath-Sheba." The depth of David's contrition when the prophet reprimanded him was no less intense than his earlier passion for Bath-Sheba.

During the Ten Days of Penitence, we confess our sins and beat upon our breasts, but too often this is a mere ritual. Even when we do understand the words we utter and do regret having done wrong, the emotion accompanying the regret is nowhere near the emotion that accompanied the sin to which we confess. If we regret having offended someone in the heat of anger, the pain of the awareness that we committed a wrong is rarely of the same magnitude as the anger that ignited our insult. Seldom do we shed genuine tears while confessing our sins, something that would occur spontaneously if our regret was both sincere and profound.

Guilt can be as healthy and constructive as the pain we feel when we touch something extremely hot, because the discomfort of guilt will make us avoid repeating an improper act, and this avoidance is what elicits forgiveness. To accomplish this end, the pain of guilt must be as profound as that of a burn, because only then do we stay on guard not to be hurt again.

Today I shall...

concentrate when reciting confession, so that my resolve not to repeat sinful acts will be sincere and profound.


Because the day has passed, shield us by the merit of [the Patriarch Abraham] who sat [at the door of his tent] in the heat of the day [to welcome wayfarers] (Genesis 18:1) (Ne'ilah prayer).

Just prior to Ne'ilah (the concluding service of Yom Kippur), one of the Chassidic masters ascended the bimah (platform) and said tearfully, "My dear brothers and sisters! God in His infinite mercy gave us the entire month of Elul to repent, but we failed to take advantage of it. He gave us the awesome days of Rosh Hashanah, when our standing in judgment before the heavenly tribunal should have stimulated us to repent, but we neglected that opportunity. He gave us the special grace of the Ten Days of Penitence, but we let these pass too. All we have left now are a few precious moments that are propitious for forgiveness.

"The Sages of the Talmud tell us that if a person enters a marriage contract on the condition that he is a perfect tzaddik, then it is binding even if he is known to be a complete rasha (wicked person). Why? Because he may have had one moment of sincere contrition that transformed him from a complete rasha to a perfect tzaddik. "Do you hear that, my dear brothers and sisters? All it takes one brief moment of sincere contrition! We have the opportunity of that moment now. In just one moment we can emerge totally cleansed of all our sins, in a state of perfection akin to that of Adam in the Garden of Eden."

The rabbi wept profusely and uncontrollably. "Could we be so foolish as to overlook such a rare opportunity? Let us assist one another and join in achieving sincere repentance!"

Today I shall...

take advantage of the Divine gift of forgiveness, and make my resolutions of repentance sincere, so that the new person that emerges will be unencumbered by the burdens of the past.


My soul thirsts for You; my flesh pines for You (Psalms 63:2).

One Yom Kippur, after the Maariv (evening) services that ended the 25-hour fast, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berdichev exclaimed, "I am thirsty! I am thirsty!" Quickly someone brought him water, but the Rabbi said, "No! I am thirsty!" Hastily they boiled water and brought him coffee, but again he said, "No! No! I am thirsty!" His attendant then asked, "Just what is it you desire?"

"A tractate Succah (the volume of the Talmud dealing with the laws of the festival of Succos)." They brought the desired volume, and the Rabbi began to study the Talmud with great enthusiasm, ignoring the food and drink that were placed before him.

Only after several hours of intense study did the Rabbi breathe a sigh of relief and break his fast. The approaching festival of Succos with its many commandments - only five days after Yom Kippur - had aroused so intense a craving that it obscured the hunger and thirst of the fast.

It is also related that at the end of Succos and Pesach, festivals during which one does not put on tefillin, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok sat at the window, waiting for the first glimmer of dawn which would allow him to fulfill the mitzvah of tefillin after a respite of eight or nine days.

Today I shall...

try to realize that Torah and mitzvos are the nutrients of my life, so that I crave them just as I do food and water when I am hungry or thirsty.


Pursue the performance of even a "minor" mitzvah (Ethics of the Fathers 4:2).

How does one pursue a mitzvah?

Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov used to occupy himself with redeeming Jews from debtors' prisons. Usually, these people had been thrown into dungeons because they could not pay the rent demanded by the poritz (feudal lord). On one visit to such a prison, Rabbi Moshe Leib was unable to gain the release of a debtor, and gave up trying. He then saw another prisoner being flogged mercilessly, and he was able to get him released. Subsequently, he discovered that this latter person was not a debtor but one who was imprisoned for stealing.

"Well," said the Rabbi, "now you have been taught your lesson. After that flogging you will certainly never steal again."

"Why not?" the thief responded. "Just because I was caught this time does not mean that I will not succeed next time."

Rabbi Moshe Leib felt that these words were directed at him. Just because he had failed once to ransom a debtor, he did not have the right to resign himself to failure. He retraced his steps and renewed his efforts to redeem the debtor. Next time he might succeed.

That is what is meant by pursuit of a mitzvah. If a specific mitzvah eludes you, do not resign yourself, but pursue it until you overtake and fulfill it.

Today I shall...

renew my efforts to achieve things of which I had previously despaired.


... in order that his (the king's) should not be lifted above his brethren, and that he should not deviate from the commandment to the right or to the left (Deuteronomy 17:20).

The Torah requires that even one who is in a position of leadership and prominence must retain his humility. Moses and David are outstanding examples of leaders who were extremely humble.

How can one remain humble when one exercises great authority and is the recipient of homage and adulation? "Simple," said Rabbi Moshe of Kobrin. "If a king hangs his crown on a peg in the wall, would the peg boast that its extreme beauty drew the king's attention to it?"

While an organized society needs leaders, and in Judaism there is a need for Kohanim and Levites who have special functions, an intelligent person should never allow a particular status to turn his head and make him think that he is better than others. Nor should men consider themselves superior to women because they have certain mitzvos from which women are exempt, and women should not think that they must attain equality by rejecting these exemptions and performing these mitzvos. There is no need to attain something that one already has. Men and women, Kohanim and Levites, leaders and kings - we are all "pegs in the wall" which the King uses for His purposes as He sees fit.

True, we should always strive for that which is above us, but this means striving for greater wisdom and spirituality, and not for positions of superiority. The latter are not at all "above" us; one peg may be higher on the wall than another, but that does not make it a better peg.

Today I shall...

try to realize that I, like all other people in the world, am but an instrument of God, wherewith He wishes to achieve the Divine will.


I am hereby ready and prepared to fulfill the positive commandment ... (Siddur).

Erev Succos is a day on which Jews busily prepare for the commandments of the festival - building, covering, and decorating the succah, acquiring an esrog (citron) and the other three species, and the other preparations that are common to all festive days in the Jewish calendar. The commandments themselves are not performed until the festival begins, but the preparations occupy people for many days beforehand.

One of the Chassidic masters said that Satan once brought serious accusations against the Jews before God, stating that they had committed grievous sins and should be punished. Although the archangel Michael countered with bundles of mitzvos that Jews had performed, Satan argued that the mitzvos were insufficient to outweigh the sins. There was great danger that the heavenly tribunal would decree a harsh judgment against the Jews.

The archangel Michael then argued, "True, the Jews may have sinned, but this was because they were unable to resist temptation, and these were not premeditated acts. No one has ever preceded a sinful act by declaring, `I am hereby ready and prepared to violate the prohibition written in the Torah.' It is only mitzvos that they perform with forethought and preparation, but never sins." This argument thwarted the evil plot of Satan.

We can see that as important as the performance of a mitzvah is, the effort in preparing for it may be even more important. On Erev Succos, when we adorn the succah, and we place the esrog in a beautiful container, and lovingly prepare for the festival, we show our dedication to the Divine mitzvos.

Today I shall...

fully enjoy preparing for the Succos festival, and make joyful preparations an integral part of every commandment I perform.


Seven days shall you dwell in booths (Leviticus 23:42) ... and you shall only be rejoicing (Deuteronomy 16:15).

Succos is the festival designated as the season of our gladness. Yet the commentaries state that one of the symbolisms of the succah, a temporary hut, is that we dwell in it for seven days to symbolize man's temporary sojourn on earth for his average life span of seven decades (Psalms 90:10).

Human mortality is a rather sobering thought; it is hardly conducive to rejoicing. Most often we do not think about our mortality, and when circumstances force us to face it, we quickly dismiss it from our minds and go on acting as though we will live forever.

How different Torah values are from secular values! The Torah teaches us that there is an eternal life, a wholly spiritual life, whose bliss is far greater than the human mind can imagine. We are placed on this planet for our ephemeral earthly existence only to give us an opportunity to prepare for the eternal life.

The Torah teaches us to enjoy life, and if it restricts some pleasures, it is because we should enjoy life in a manner that befits a human being. Furthermore, our joy of living should not be diminished by the awareness of our mortality, nor need we deny it. The succah - the symbol of our temporary stay on earth - is beautifully decorated, and we enjoy our festive meals therein. Even our temporary existence can be beautiful and happy, and our faith in the eternal life should enhance that happiness.

Today I shall...

try to enjoy life as befits a spiritual person, knowing that the true life of man is not the fleeting one, but that of eternity.


And you shall take for yourself on the first day the fruit of a (citron) beauteous tree (Leviticus 23:40).

Rabbi Mordechai of Nesh'chiz looked forward all year to the mitzvah of the Four Species on Succos. Since a fine esrog was costly and Rabbi Mordechai was hardly a man of means, he would accumulate small coins all year round, even depriving himself of food, in order to be able to afford an esrog.

A few days before Succos, Rabbi Mordechai joyfully took the money he had saved, and in high spirits, went off to buy the coveted esrog. On the way, he encountered a man sitting at the side of the road, weeping bitterly. He inquired as to the reason for the man's grief, and the latter told him, "Woe is to me! I earn my living with my horse and wagon, and this morning my nag died. How am I to feed my wife and children?"

"How much do you need to buy another horse?" Rabbi Mordechai asked.

The sum that the man specified was exactly the amount that Rabbi Mordechai had laboriously saved all year long for the esrog. Without giving it another thought, he gave his purse to the man. "Here, my dear man. Go buy yourself a horse'

After the man joyfully left with the money, Rabbi Mordechai said, "Oh well. All of Israel will be fulfilling the mitzvah of the Four Species with an esrog, but I will do so with a horse."

Rabbi Mordechai's sacrifice of his personal comfort all year round teaches us how precious is the mitzvah of the Four Species, but his final act teaches us that the mitzvah of tzedakah (charity) is even greater.

Today I shall...

try to realize the greatness of the commandment of charity, to make certain that another person has the means to survive.


I welcome to my table the saintly guests, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David (Machzor of Succos).

Why is Succos unique among all the festivals in that we invite the Patriarchs to share the celebration with us?

Succos is the festival of the harvest. All the efforts that had been invested in the land - plowing, watering, fertilizing, weeding, pruning, and finally harvesting - have culminated in an abundant harvest, and we are now ready to enjoy the fruits of our labor.

God wants us to enjoy worldly goods, but to do so in a manner that befits a spiritual people, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. While there are many laws that pertain to working the land and tithing its produce, these do not yet assure our spirituality. Much of the Torah does not relate to specific law, but consists of a narration of the lives of Seven great leaders, whom we invite into our succah, as it were, because they are the role models whom we are to emulate. They were all people of means, yet their lives were dedicated to sanctity, and their worldly possessions did not distract them from their primary spiritual goals.

Each of them excelled in a particular attribute, although they all shared in each other's attributes. For example, Abraham's, benevolence, included majesty of benevolence, and David's majesty, included benevolence of majesty; yet they and all the intermediate leaders were paragons of humility and self-effacement. We invite the great leaders to our succah to remind us to fashion our lives after theirs.

Today I shall...

try to remember my roots, and incorporate my beautiful heritage into my daily activities.


May the mitzvah of sitting in the succah be considered before You as though I had fulfilled it with all its details and specifications, and the six hundred thirteen mitzvos that are dependent on it (Machzor for Succos).

In what way are all six hundred thirteen mitzvos dependent on the mitzvah of succah?

Rabbi Bunim of Pshis'cha said, "The mitzvah of succah is so precious - because I enter into the mitzvah with my entire person, even with my boots!"

All other commandments do not relate to the entire body. We study with our eyes, mouth, and brain, eat matzah with our mouths, listen to the shofar with our ears, and wear the tefillin on the arm and head. When we enter the succah, however, our whole body is enclosed within the mitzvah and, as Rabbi Bunim pointed out, nothing that is attached to us is excluded from the mitzvah, not even one's boots.

Whereas total immersion into a mitzvah occurs physically only with succah, the concept of total involvement should extend to all other mitzvos. Just as King David says of prayer, All my bones declare, "O, God, who is like unto You?" (Psalms 35:10), so with all mitzvos, the intensity of performance should engulf one's whole personality. Indeed, one should feel that not only one's person, but everything that one has is devoted to the Divine will.

The Kabbalists state that in addition to its manifest meaning, "something we have been commanded to do or not to do," the word mitzvah also means "joined," for one attaches oneself to God by performing His will. Contact with God should not be partial. When we relate to Him, we should do so with the totality of our being. In this way, succah teaches us how to perform all six hundred thirteen mitzvos.

Today I shall...

try to involve myself totally each time I pray, study Torah, or perform any other mitzvah.


And you shall take for yourself on the first day the fruit of a [citron] beauteous tree (Leviticus 23:40).

The halachah requires that an esrog must be beautiful, meaning that it must be free of blemishes. Even a minor defect may disqualify an esrog.

Why are the specifications for the esrog stricter than those for the other three species? Why is virtual perfection demanded only for the esrog?

The Midrash states that the leaf of the myrtle branch, is shaped like the eye, and its use in the mitzvah of the Four Species symbolizes to us that we must dedicate our eyes to the service of God, and not allow them to gaze upon things that would tempt us to sin. The leaf of the willow branch, resembles the lips, teaching us to guard our lips from speaking evil. The palm branch, represents the spinal cord, which controls all our actions, symbolizing that they are all dedicated to fulfilling the Divine will. The esrog resembles the heart, for one's thoughts and feelings should be absorbed with sanctity.

Ideally, while sight, speech, and deed should be completely involved with holiness, a deviation in any of these areas may be an isolated phenomenon and may not affect the whole being. Not so with thought and feeling. They affect everything one does. The heart's devotion must be complete, and there is, therefore, a greater requirement that the heart be pure.

The esrog, which represents the heart, must therefore be completely beautiful without the slightest defect.

Today I shall...

try to direct all my thoughts and feelings to fulfillment of the Divine will as expressed in the Torah.


All who are exempt from the succah [because of severe discomfort; e.g. heavy rain or extreme cold] and do not leave, do not receive reward for this and are merely simpletons (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, Ramah, 639:7).

How wise we would be to observe the way great Torah personalities live, and see how their every move is calculated to adhere to Torah teachings.

Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzenski of Vilna had a severe cold one Succos and, because it was chilly in the succah, he ate indoors. However, he had a guest for whom a meal was served in the succah.

During the meal the guest was surprised to see Rabbi Chaim Ozer come into the succah all bundled up with coat and scarf. He asked the Rabbi why he had come out to the succah, especially since he had already eaten in the house.

Rabbi Chaim Ozer explained, "If being in the succah is distressful, then one is exempt from that particular mitzvah. However, the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim, hospitality to a guest, requires that the host join the guest at the table, so that the latter should not eat in solitude. We do not find that distress is an exemption for the mitzvah of hospitality. Thus, although I ate in the house, I have come to sit with you as part of the mitzvah of hospitality.This is what Torah living is all about. Everything one does must be carefully considered, so that it complies with Torah principles.

Today I shall...

try to give greater thought to what I do, to make sure that I am in compliance with Torah at all times.


Seven days shall you celebrate before Hashem, your God ... and you shall only be joyous (Deuteronomy 16:15).

Many people think of Judaism as being extremely solemn, perhaps not realizing that the essence of Judaism is simchah, joy, and that whatever solemnity there is, is in reality a preparation for joy.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch points to a simple fact. The Torah designates one day each for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (the second day of Rosh Hashanah is of Rabbinical origin), whereas Succos, the festival of rejoicing, is of seven days' duration.

The Gaon of Vilna was asked which of the six hundred thirteen mitzvos he considered the most difficult to observe. He answered that it was Succos, because for seven consecutive days a person must be in constant joy. Regardless of what might occur during these days that might make it difficult for a person to feel happy, the mitzvah to rejoice requires him to overcome all obstacles to joy.

The Torah's position is that joy is not simply a spontaneous feeling that accompanies pleasant experiences. Joy requires work: meditation on why a person who is privileged to serve God should rejoice. Joy can be achieved even under adverse circumstances. This is something which is expected not only of great tzaddikim, but also of every Jew.

On Succos we must make the necessary effort to be in constant joy throughout the entire festival, and we should learn therefrom how to generate joy all year round.

Today I shall...

try to find ways to bring more joy into my life, and strive to achieve joy even when circumstances are not conducive thereto.


On the eighth day there shall be an assembly for you(Numbers 29:35).

Shemini Atzeres marks the close of the holiday season of the month of Tishrei. (Simchas Torah is merely an extension of Shemini Atzeres observed in the diaspora. In Israel, Simchas Torah is celebrated as Shemini Atzeres.) The literal meaning of atzeres is "restraint," and various interpretations have been given for the use of this term to designate the eighth day of the festival.

Perhaps the idea of restraint in this context refers to holding on to the spiritual joy and holiness experienced during this month, beginning with the repentance of the awesome days of Rosh Hashanah and culminating in the joy and love of Torah and mitzvos manifested during Succos. There is a great risk that once the holidays are behind us and we return to the daily life of work and business transactions, we may become so absorbed in those activities that we may dissipate all the spiritual wealth we had acquired during the month of festivals.

Just as one tightly seals a bottle of fine wine so that it does not lose its bouquet, so we should make this last day of the festival an atzeres, a tight seal that will retain all that we have harvested during Tishrei. Just as it is foolish to earn and not to conserve, so it would be foolish to achieve spirituality and not retain it.

Today I shall...

concentrate on how I can continue the self-improvement of the Days of Awe and the joy of the festive days throughout the entire year.


And for all the mighty hand and all the great awe that Moses did before the eyes of all Israel (Deuteronomy 34:12) ... In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth (Genesis 1:1).

On Simchas Torah we conclude the reading of the Torah in Deuteronomy and immediately begin another cycle with the first portion of Genesis. This symbolizes that the Torah, like a circle, is without end; its beginning and end are forever intertwined.

By reading the last portion and the first portion of the Torah contiguously, we connect the miraculous wonders performed by Moses to Creation. In other words, all the marvelous happenings in Egypt and the Wilderness were to impress upon the Israelites that there is a Creator Who rules the universe and conducts it as He wishes.

Without an ultimate goal, life is futile, and there can hardly be an ultimate goal in a universe that happened to come about through the accidental interaction of impersonal, mechanical forces. Furthermore, there can be no joy in a life that is futile, and indeed, people who feel that life is futile are apt to seek to escape from it rather than live it to its fullest.

The joy of the Succos festival reaches its zenith on Simchas Torah, and celebration of this joyous day is based on the awareness that our lives are purposeful and meaningful. The teachings and miracles of Moses, which instilled within us the faith that God created heaven and earth, are thus the key not only to the joy of the day, but to that of the entire year.

Today I shall...

try to realize that what gives meaning to life is that it is purposeful, and to the degree that I am convinced that God created the universe, to that degree can I achieve joy in living.


Restrain the festival by bonds to the corners of the altar (Psalms 118:27).

The Talmud states that if a person celebrates the day after the holiday with a festive meal, it is considered as though he had built an altar and had brought sacrificial offerings upon it (Succah 45b).

Rashi states that the reason for the eighth day, Shemini Atzeres, can be explained with the parable of a king who invited his children for several days of feasting. When the time came for them to leave, the king said, "Your departure is so difficult for me. Please stay with me for yet one more day" (Rashi, Leviticus 23:36). Similarly, after seven days of Succos, in His great love for Israel, God asks us to stay with Him for yet one more day before returning to our mundane activities, which so often distract us from Him.

To indicate that we cherish our closeness to God just as He does, we add a day of festivity after the last day of the holiday, to extend even further the intimate companionship with God. This testimony, that we value our intimacy with Him and that we leave the Sanctuary only because we must tend to our obligations, is held equivalent to building an altar and bringing votive offerings.

Indeed, God wants us to engage in work - Six days shall you work (Exodus 20:9) - but our attitude toward the workweek should be that of a person who is away from home on an assigned duty, and who longs to return home to his loved ones. The importance of our closeness to God should be manifest not only on the day following the festival but all year round as well.

Today I shall...

try to maintain the closeness with God, that I achieved during the festival, even when I am involved with the activities of everyday life.


He [Hillel] was accustomed to say, "If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?" (Ethics of the Fathers 1:14).

This phrase is sometimes misinterpreted to mean that one must primarily look out for oneself, as though Hillel was advocating selfishness as a desirable trait.

What Hillel really meant can be better understood with a statement by the Rabbi of Kotzk, who said, "If I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am and you are. But if I am I because you are you, and you are you because I am I, then I am not and you are not."

Every person must have an identity, and that identity should not depend on what others think of him or what someone else wants him to be. A person who allows himself to be molded and manipulated by others does not have an identity or even an existence of his own, because he will always become whatever others want him to be, and he is essentially an extension of others, rather than an individual in his own right.

People, who allow others to determine who they are and what they are to do, generally do not assume full responsibility for their behavior. Their attitude is on, "He made me do it."

Both Hillel and the Rabbi of Kotzk demand that a person be fully responsible for his actions, and that he decide what he expects of himself and what he sees as his purpose in life.

Today I shall...

try to achieve my own identity. Whereas I will listen to the advice of those who are wiser than me, I will nonetheless never hold others responsible for what I do.


May He Who knows what is hidden accept our call for help and listen to our cry (Siddur).

The Talmud states that a person may be coerced to perform a mitzvah even if it is required that the mitzvah be done of one's own volition (Rosh Hashanah 6a).

But are not coercion and volition mutually exclusive? Not necessarily, explains Rambam. Inasmuch as the soul of the Jew intrinsically wishes to do the Divine will, and it is only the physical self - which is subject to temptation - that may be resistive, the coercion inflicted upon the person overcomes that external resistance. Thus, when one performs the mitzvah, it is with the full volition of the inner self, the true self, for at his core, every Jew wishes to comply with the mandates of the Torah.

There is a hidden part of us, to which we may have limited access, yet we know it is there. When we pray for our needs, said Rabbi Uri of Strelisk, we generally ask only for that which we feel ourselves to be lacking. However, we must also recognize that our soul has spiritual needs, and that we may not be aware of its cravings.

We therefore pray, said Rabbi Uri, that God should listen not only to the requests that we verbalize, but also to our hidden needs that are very important to us - but which He knows much better than we.

Today I shall...

try to realize that there is a part of me of which I am only vaguely aware. I must try to get to know that part of myself, because it is my very essence.


The heart of those that seek God shall rejoice. Seek God and His might, constantly seek His countenance (Psalms 105:3-4).

One might ask, "Why should I try to seek God? He is infinitely great, and so totally beyond human grasp that the search to understand Him is all in vain. Is it not senseless to exhaust oneself in an effort that is doomed to failure from its very outset?"

Rabbi Simcha Zissel of Kelm states that the above verses are the Psalmist's reply to this question. Spiritual quests are qualitatively different from physical ones. In worldly matters, a quest is futile if one finds nothing, and the disappointment is frustrating. Not so in one's search for God, wherein the search itself brings joy, for the very inquiry elevates the searcher.

Indeed, the Psalmist urges us never to cease the search, because the promise of joy in searching is contingent upon its continuity. One cannot stop midway, abandon the effort, and retire with one's winnings. Abandoning the search for God at any point brings a person back to square one. To achieve the joy in searching, it must be constantly seek His countenance.

This thought was also expressed by the Rabbi of Kotzk, on the verse, And from there you shall seek your God, and you shall find Him, if you seek Him with all your heart and soul (Deuteronomy 4:29). The Kotzker interpreted the verse to mean that the seeking is the finding; "you shall find Him if you seek ..." - but only if it is a lifelong quest, with all one's heart and soul.

Today I shall...

try to find God everywhere in the universe. I will study Torah literature to help me in this search.


Behold, He stands behind our walls, looking through the windows, and peering through the lattices (Song of Songs 2:9).

"Whether God watches through the windows or through the lattices," said Rabbi Yisrael of Salant, "God watches over us. The difference is that sometimes it is through a window, and then we can see Him just as He sees us. At other times, it is through a crack in the partition, where He can see us, but we do not see Him."

Both in the history of the nation and in our personal lives, there have been times when Divine intervention was manifest. There have also been times when we were in great distress and felt abandoned, but even then, though God seemed to be absent, He was watching over us. The Torah foretold that there would be times of anguish when we would feel that God is not among us. At such times we must strengthen our faith and declare, "Behold, the Keeper of Israel does not sleep nor slumber."

Commenting on the verse, He does great marvels alone (Psalms 136:4), our Sages tell us that "alone" means that only God is aware of some of the miracles He performs for us, because we are unable to recognize them as such. Those who failed to see the protective hand of God when the Iraqis rained scuds on Israel were morally and psychologically blind; anyone should have been aware of God's protection. But even when His intervention is less evident, we must know that He watches over us, albeit "through cracks in the lattices."

Today I shall...

try to reinforce my faith in the everpresent watchfulness of God over Israel as a whole, and over me as an individual.


Cause us to lie down, Hashem, our God, in peace, and cause us to rise up again to life and peace (Siddur).

I once asked a recovered alcoholic with many years of sobriety to share his experiences with a newcomer who was unable to understand how, after so many years of dependence on alcohol, someone under stress could avoid recourse to drink.

"It's simple," the veteran said. "Every morning when I get up, I ask God to help me stay sober one more day. Every night when I retire, I thank Him for having given me another day of sobriety, and hope that He will do the same for me tomorrow."

The novice listened in partial disbelief. "How do you know it was God that gave you the day of sobriety?" he asked.

The old-timer responded, "How stupid can you get? I hadn't asked anyone else!"

It is amazing how we sometimes complicate things that are quite simple.

Each night we entrust our weary soul to God, and each morning He not only returns it to us, but gives it to us in a refreshed state. Indeed, if we ask Him sincerely to cleanse it for us by removing the sins that stained it during the day, we can be assured that this request too will be granted, as long as it is sincere - because an honest request constitutes teshuvah, and the combination of repentance and faith is certain to earn us forgiveness.

Today I shall...

try to realize that each day of life is a Divine gift, and that I have the means of starting each day with a soul cleansed by God.


A person can see all lesions, except for his own (Negaim 2:5).

The above Talmudic law refers to the particular kinds of lesions that must be examined by a Kohen (priest) to determine whether they are ritually clean or contaminated. The Talmud states that a Kohen is not eligible to pass judgment on lesions affecting his own person, since he cannot have the necessary objectivity where he is involved.

This statement has been interpreted homiletically to mean that a person is capable of recognizing all defects except his own; a person will tend to deny his own faults, although he will easily recognize similar flaws in others.

The Baal Shem Tov gave this statement yet another profound interpretation simply by moving the comma ahead by one word. In his formulation, the statement reads, "A person can see all defects on the outside, [if they are like] his own." We see in others only the sort of defects that exist in ourselves. The Baal Shem Tov taught that whenever we find fault with another person, we should analyze ourselves carefully to discover where that same fault exists within ourselves. We will deny it vehemently, and project it onto others.

The Talmudic commentaries anticipated modern psychological discoveries by many centuries. "Denial" and "projection" go hand in hand to focus on others and prevent us from making the necessary improvements in our character.

Today I shall...

try to do a personal inventory, to seek out where I might have those faults that I identify in others, and make an effort to correct them.


I am but dust and ashes (Genesis 18:27).Everyone must say, "The world was created for my sake" (Sanhedrin 37a).

Rabbi Bunim of Pshis'cha said that everyone should have two pockets; one to contain, "I am but dust and ashes," and the other to contain, "The world was created for my sake." At certain times, we must reach into one pocket; at other times, into the other. The secret of correct living comes from knowing when to reach into which.

Humility is the finest of all virtues and is the source of all admirable character traits. Yet, if a person considers himself to be utterly insignificant, he may not care about his actions. He may think, "What is so important about what I do? It makes no difference, so long as I do not harm anyone." Such feelings of insignificance can cause immoral behavior.

When a person does not feel that his actions are significant, he either allows impulses to dominate his behavior or slouches into inactivity. At such a time, he must reach into the pocket of personal grandeur and read: "I am specially created by God. He has a mission for me, that only I can achieve. Since this is a Divine mission, the entire universe was created solely to enable me to accomplish this particular assignment."

When presidents and premiers delegate missions to their officials, those officials feel a profound sense of responsibility to carry out the mission in the best possible manner. How much more so when we are commissioned by God!

Today I shall...

keep in mind both the humbleness and the grandeur of the human being.


I shall praise God among a multitude (Psalms 26:12).

While the prayer and performance of a mitzvah are always praiseworthy, it is especially meritorious when an entire community participates in it, as the Sages teach, The prayer of a multitude is never turned away (Devarim Rabbah 2).

Nothing is more pleasing to God than to see His children bound together in friendship and placing the common welfare above personal ambitions. Indeed, the Talmud states that when Jews are united, God is willing to overlook even serious transgressions.

As for ourselves, nothing is more important than realizing that no one is an island, and that we are all interdependent. The idea of complete self-sufficiency is an illusion and probably a desperate attempt at ego-building by someone who is plagued by feelings of inferiority and inadequacy.

When we do things together, we both give and receive. Others are strengthened in their resolve and actions by our participation, and we are stimulated and encouraged by theirs.

Another added benefit: Commenting on the verse, Five of you will pursue one hundred enemies and one hundred will pursue ten thousand (Leviticus 26:8), the Midrash states that when a multitude observes the Torah, their strength is not merely additive, but increases exponentially.

In working with alcoholics, I have observed the enormous power that can come from a group effort. As one recovering person said to the group, "There is nothing I could do without you, and there is nothing I cannot do when I have you."

Today I shall...

try to pool my strength by joining others in prayer, Torah study, and the performance of mitzvos.


God is your shadow at your right hand (Psalms 121:5).

The Baal Shem Tov taught that God acts toward individuals accordingly as they act toward other people. Thus, if people are willing to forgive those who have offended them, God will similarly overlook their misdeeds. If a person is very judgmental and reacts with anger to any offense, God will be equally strict. The meaning of, God is your shadow, is that a person's shadow mimics his or her every action.

At a therapy session for family members of recovering alcoholics, one woman told the group that she had experienced frustration from many years of infertility and tremendous joy when she finally conceived. Her many expectations were shattered, however, when the child was born with Down's syndrome.

"I came to love that child dearly," she said, "but the greatest thing that child has done for me is to make me realize that if I can love him so in spite of his imperfections, then God can love me in spite of my many imperfections."

If we wish to know how God will relate to us, the answer is simple: exactly in the same way we relate to others. If we demand perfection from others, He will demand it of us. If we can love others even though they do not measure up to our standards and expectations, then He will love us in spite of our shortcomings.

Today I shall...

try to relate to people in the same manner I would wish God to relate to me.


The voice of God is in the force (Psalms 29:4).

The Midrash on this verse comments, "It does not say that `the voice of God is in His force,' but in the force; it `is in the force of every individual.' `' What God demands of every individual never exceeds the capacities He gave that person. Similarly, the Midrash notes that when the first of the Ten Commandments states: I am Hashem, your God, it uses the singular possessive form, because every Israelite felt that God was addressing him or her individually.

The stresses of life may be extremely trying, and the burden some people must carry may appear to be excessive. Yet, we must never despair. Rather, we must believe that regardless of how great our burdens may be, we have the strength to bear it. This faith should give us the courage to struggle with and master our struggle.

Sometimes circumstances become so taxing that we believe we are at our breaking point. This is when a righteous person will be sustained by the faith that although his or her burden may be heavy, it is never too heavy.

Today I shall...

try to remember that God has given me enough strength to withstand the stresses to which I am subject.


You might say to yourself, "My might and the power of my hand have gained me this wealth" (Deuteronomy 8:17).

Moses warned the Israelites that upon entering Canaan and inheriting a prosperous and fertile land "flowing with milk and honey," they should not think that their own prowess had made them wealthy. Rather, they should be aware that Israel was a Divine gift.

For that generation, the challenge was not too difficult, because as Moses had pointed out to them earlier, they had personally experienced forty years of miraculous survival in the desert wilderness, fed by the daily manna and watered by a spring which accompanied them on their journeys. With such overt manifestations of Divine wonders, they would not be likely to ascribe any future success to their own strength and cunning.

Today, however, we stand many centuries away from the Biblical times. We may think that the world operates purely by natural law; that we can completely determine our own fate and fortune, and in which success or failure are due to our shrewdness in business or how much effort we exert.

Thus, Moses' message was intended for us even more than for his generation. Surely we are required to engage in work, for the Torah itself states that God will bless the work of "your hands" (Deuteronomy 14:29), but we should not lose sight of the fact that the Divine blessing, not brains or brawn, ultimately determines our fortune. The only difference between today and Moses' time is that there, God's hand was manifest everywhere, but today it is concealed.

Today I shall...

try to remember that even though I work hard, the results of my efforts are determined by Divine blessing.


For I have loved him [Abraham], because he commands his children and household after him to observe the way of God (Genesis 18:19).

God knew that Abraham would be able to convey the Divine teachings to future generations, because He knew Abraham to be capable of overcoming his intense love and apply stern discipline when it was needed.

In my work with addicted individuals, one of the most difficult tasks I have is to convince their family members, especially the parents, of the importance of "tough love"; that condoning destructive behavior actually encourages it, and enables it to continue and worsen. Although Abraham loved his son Ishmael, he did not allow these feelings to deter him from the necessary discipline (Genesis 21:9-14).

Love is an admirable feeling, but it can be destructive if it is misdirected. Sometimes we must rein in our love and apply strict measures. While doing so will cause us great distress, our failure to do so will ultimately cause even greater distress to all concerned. Loving parents submit their infants to immunization which may be painful. "Tough love" is not cruelty, but like some life-saving medicines that taste bitter, it is helpful albeit unpleasant.

Today I shall...

try to direct my love where it is appropriate and constructive, and be able to apply discipline when it is necessary.


Be very, very humble (Ethics of the Fathers 4:4).

Rabbi Raphael of Bershed complained bitterly to his teacher, Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz, that he was unable to eradicate feelings of vanity.

Rabbi Pinchas tried to help him by suggesting different methods, but Rabbi Raphael replied that he had already tried every one without success. He then pleaded with his mentor to do something to extirpate these egotistical feelings. Rabbi Pinchas then rebuked his disciple. "What is it with you, Raphael, that you expect instant perfection? Character development does not come overnight, regardless of how much effort you exert. Eradication of stubborn character traits takes time as well as effort. Today you achieve a little, and tomorrow you will achieve a bit more.

"You are frustrated and disappointed because you have not achieved character perfection as quickly as you had wished.

"Continue to work on yourself. Pray to God to help you with your character perfection. It will come in due time, but you must be patient."

The Talmud states, "Be very, very humble," to indicate that true self-betterment is a gradual process. We achieve a bit today, and a little more tomorrow.

Today I shall...

try to be patient with myself. While I will do my utmost to rid myself of undesirable character traits, I will not become frustrated if I do not achieve instant perfection.


Sins that are between a man and his fellow man are not forgiven on Yom Kippur unless he has appeased him (Yoma 85b).

One Sabbath day, the aged Steipler Gaon insisted on going to a particular synagogue some distance away. His family tried to dissuade him because the long walk would be too taxing, but he insisted and in fact made the difficult walk.

The Gaon later explained that some time earlier, he had reprimanded a young boy for putting a volume of the Talmud into the bookcase upside down, which is considered to be disrespectful handling of a sacred book. The boy then showed the Gaon that the volume was bound incorrectly; the cover was upside down, but the book itself was put away upright. The Gaon then apologized to the young boy.

"But because this young boy was not yet bar mitzvah," the Gaon explained, "he was a minor who was unable (according to Jewish law) to grant forgiveness. When I heard that he was to become bar mitzvah this Sabbath, I had to avail myself of the opportunity to obtain proper forgiveness."

Everyone at some point says or does something that offends another person. Too often, we dismiss the incident without giving it a second thought and so are unlikely to remember it so that we will apologize when the opportunity arises. The above incident should help us realize the seriousness of offending a child, and the importance of obtaining proper forgiveness.

Today I shall...

try to make amends to anyone whom I have offended, and make certain that I do more than lip service in apologizing.


If you seize too much, you are left with nothing. If you take less, you may retain it (Rosh Hashanah 4b).

Sometimes our appetites are insatiable; more accurately, we act as though they were insatiable. The Midrash states that a person may never be satisfied. "If he has one hundred, he wants two hundred. If he gets two hundred, he wants four hundred" (Koheles Rabbah 1:34). How often have we seen people whose insatiable desire for material wealth resulted in their losing everything, much like the gambler whose constant urge to win results in total loss.

People's bodies are finite, and their actual needs are limited. The endless pursuit for more wealth than they can use is nothing more than an illusive belief that they can live forever (Psalms 49:10).

The one part of us which is indeed infinite is our neshamah (soul), which, being of Divine origin, can crave and achieve infinity and eternity, and such craving is characteristic of spiritual growth.

How strange that we tend to give the body much more than it can possibly handle, and the neshamah so much less than it needs!

Today I shall...

try to avoid striving for material excesses, and increase my efforts to provide my neshamah with spiritual nourishment.


Train a young lad according to his method, so that when he grows older he will not deviate from it (Proverbs 22:6).

He shall not deviate from it - the child will not deviate from the method with which he was taught. That method refers to the way we are taught to adapt to life's many hurdles, struggles, and tests.

Education consists of more than just imparting knowledge; it also means training and preparation in how to deal with life. Knowledge is certainly important, but is by no means the sum total of education.

"A person does not properly grasp a Torah principle unless he errs in it" (Gittin 43b). People usually do not really grasp anything unless they first do it wrong. In fact, the hard way is the way to learn. Children learn to walk by stumbling and picking themselves up; young people learn to adjust to life by stumbling and picking themselves up.

Parents and teachers have ample opportunities to serve as role models for their children and students, to demonstrate how to adapt to mistakes and failures. If we show our children and students only our successes, but conceal our failures from them, we deprive them of the most valuable learning opportunities.

We should not allow our egos to interfere with our roles as educators. Parents and teachers fulfill their obligations when they become role models for real life.

Today I shall...

try to share with others, especially with younger people, how I have overcome and survived my mistakes.


The writing was the writing of God, inscribed on the tablets (Exodus 32:16).

The Talmud states that the word charus (inscribed) can also be read phonetically as chairus (liberty). The verse is thus telling us that Divine law which stresses using our minds to control ourselves provides true liberty and freedom.

In working with alcoholics and addicts, I have come to realize that the most absolute slavery does not come from enslavement by another person, but from enslavement by one's own drives. No slavemaster has ever dominated anyone the way alcohol, heroin, and cocaine dominate the addict, who must lie, steal, and even kill to obey the demands of the addiction.

Such domination is not unique to addiction. We may not realize that passion of any kind may totally control us and ruthlessly terrorize us. We may rationalize and justify behavior that we would otherwise have considered as totally alien to us, but when our passion demands it, we are helpless to resist.

Many people think they are free, yet they are really pawns in the hands of their drives. Like the addict, they are not at all in control, and do not have the fundamental feature of humanity: freedom.

Our only defense is to become masters over our desires rather than their slaves. We must direct our minds to rule over the passions of our hearts.

Today I shall...

try to achieve true freedom, which means doing what I know is the best thing to do, instead of what I feel like doing.


The wise person will listen (to reprimand) and add to his wisdom (Proverbs 1:5).

One night, when Yehudah Aryeh, the future author of the Sfas Emes, was a young boy, he studied Torah the entire night and did not get to bed until shortly before dawn. Although he slept only a short while, he arose later than usual, and his grandfather, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir of Gur, sharply reprimanded him for not arising early to study. The young Yehudah Aryeh absorbed the rebuke in silence.

A friend who knew the real reason asked him: "Why didn't you explain to your grandfather why you awoke late?"

"What!" said the young Yehudah Aryeh. "And miss the opportunity to hear mussar (reprimand) from my grandfather?"

At a tender age, Yehudah Aryeh understood the profound wisdom of King Solomon, who repeatedly stresses that the wise actively pursue mussar while fools avoid it.

Mussar is to our character what water is to a plant. Abundant mussar promotes growth of character, just as water promotes the growth of a plant. Yehudah Aryeh realized that he could easily have justified his late arising, and perhaps might have even received commendation from his grandfather for his diligence. He knew, however, that while praise may be pleasant, it is not as conducive to growth as is reprimand, even though the latter may be unpleasant.

Today I shall...

try to realize that accepting constructive criticism will help me grow, and that reprimand can be helpful even when there is no actual grounds for rebuke.


"In whatever way a person chooses, therein is he led" (Makkos 10b).

We tend to disown those thoughts, feelings, and actions that we dislike. Something we saw, read, or heard upset us, we like to think, and caused us to think, feel, or act in a certain way. We forget that we have considerable say in what we choose to see or hear.

Psychiatry and psychology have contributed to this abdication of responsibility. Their emphasis on the impact of early-life events on our emotions has been taken to mean that these factors determine our psyche, and that we are but helpless victims of our past.

We forget that if someone puts trash on our doorstep, we do not have to take it in; even if it was put into the house and filled it with an odor, we have the option to throw it out and clean up. Similarly, even if early-life experiences have an impact, the effects are not cast in stone; we can take steps to overcome them.

A man once complained to his rabbi that alien thoughts were interfering with his prayer and meditation. The rabbi shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know why you refer to them as alien," he said. "They are your own."

If we stop disowning feelings and actions, we may be able to do something about them.

Today I shall...

try to avoid exposing myself to those influences that are likely to stimulate feelings and behavior that I think are wrong.


And if not now, then when? (Ethics of the Fathers 1:14).

Hillel's famous statement is a bit enigmatic. The simple answer is, "Later." Why can't we take care of whatever it is some other time? Granted that procrastination is not a virtue, why does Hillel imply that if not now, then it will never be?

The Rabbi of Gur explained that if I do something later, it may indeed get done, but I will have missed the current "now." The present "now" has but a momentary existence, and whether used or not, it will never return. Later will be a different "now."

King Solomon dedicates seven famous verses of Ecclesiastes to his principle that everything has its specific time. His point comes across clearly: I can put off doing a good deed for someone until tomorrow, but will that deed, done exactly as I would have done it today, carry the same impact?

The wisdom that I learn at this moment belongs to this moment. The good deed that I do at this moment belongs to this moment. Of course I can do them later, but they will belong to the later moments. What I can do that belongs to this moment is only that which I do now.

Today I shall...

try to value each moment. I must realize that my mission is not only to get something done, but to get things done in their proper time, and the proper time may be now.


Enlighten our eyes in Your Torah (Siddur).

This prayer is not only for an understanding of Torah, but also that Torah may help us perceive the truth in everything.

The Torah tells the story of Hagar and Ishmael, who were stranded in the desert without water. Hagar abandoned her son and fled, saying that she could not bear to see him die of thirst. God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water (Genesis 21:19). God did not create a well where none had existed, but "opened her eyes" so that she could see an already-existing well, which she had not seen because of her state of panic.

Many opportunities may be right before our eyes, but if we become desperate and panicky, we may fail to see them, and the result may be a misfortune that could have been averted. Hagar almost lost Ishmael, not because there was no water, but because she could not see it. What was necessary was not a miracle, but just a correct perception of reality.

Torah teachings can provide guidance that can assist in avoiding distortions of reality.

Today I shall...

try to avoid panic and any other emotion that clouds my ability to see what is truly before me.


A smooth mouth makes for a slippery course (Proverbs 26:28).

The ethical Torah writings such as the Book of Proverbs vehemently condemn flattering people to obtain their favor. When we do so, we may not care whether the object of our praise deserves it. Praising people who do not merit it has at least two harmful effects. First, it reinforces that person's behavior. Second, it delivers a dangerous message, particularly to young people who like to emulate recipients of honor.

We should instead rebuke wrongdoers, and if we cannot reprimand them, we can at least refrain from praising them.

The key is to avoid becoming dependent on those whom we do not respect. We should not seek any prestige they can offer, nor place our livelihood in their hands. Flattery may cause us to compromise ourselves, reinforce wrong behavior, and teach our children that we respect wrongdoing.

Furthermore, we gain nothing from our sycophancy. The Sages observed that those who flatter to obtain favors may end up disgraced (Avos De'R' Nosson 29:4).

Today I shall...

try to avoid giving false praise to those who do not deserve it. I will not allow ulterior motives to compromise my principles.


From all those who have taught me I have gained wisdom (Psalms 119:99).

The Psalmist is telling us that he learned from everyone, that everyone was his teacher. From some, he learned what to do; from others, what not to do.

If we learn from others' mistakes, we need not make our own.

Just as we can learn from every person, we can learn from every event. Positive experiences are obvious sources of learning, because each positive act we do adds to our character and prepares us to better face the next challenge in life. Negative experiences can be valuable, too, but only if we are sufficiently alert to learn from them.

The list of lessons that we have learned the hard way may be long, but each one has taught us what not to do and thereby it becomes a positive experience. Indeed, the Talmud states that when people sincerely regret their mistakes and change themselves for the better, the wrongs that they did become actual merits (Yoma 86b). Only when we fail to learn from our mistakes and, rationalizing and justifying, obstinately insist that we were right, do our misdeeds remain deficits.

We have the capacity to make life itself a tremendous learning and growth experience.

Today I shall...

try to look for lessons from everyone and everything, whether my teacher is positive or negative.


In those days there was no king in Israel; each man did that which was proper in his own eyes (Judges 21:25).

At first glance, this verse appears to describe a chaotic state of affairs - anarchy itself - where in absence of a central authority everyone did as they pleased.

The Rabbi of Satmar said that this interpretation is incorrect. Everyone has common sense, which can reliably guide him to do right and avoid wrong. He derives his proof from the verse: Do that which is proper and good (Deuteronomy 6:18). How do we know what is proper and good if the Torah does not specify it? It must be that we have an innate common sense.

If so, why does the world seem so unjust? One reason might be that people do not act according to their own common sense, but rather according to what they think others might think of them. If people did what was good in their own eyes, we might have less injustice.

The driving force behind the lusts for power, fame, and wealth - which themselves lead to corrupt behavior - may not necessarily be what people want for themselves as much as their desire to impress others. If we stop behaving according to what we wish others to think, we might give our common sense a fighting chance.

Today I shall...

try to stop impressing others. Instead, I will try to reason for myself what is right and wrong.


In those days there was no king in Israel; each man did that which was proper in his own eyes (Judges 21:25).

While people have common sense which can lead them to do right and avoid wrong, they also face another obstacle (see yesterday) that could cause them to stray from the correct path - the drive for immediate gratification.

How powerful is this force? Imagine a car being driven along a highway, which is pulled off its course by a powerful magnet. The "magnet" affecting our behavior is the craving for gratification.

The force of seeking immediate gratification can mislead us. We may yield to it because its lure blinds our perception of justice. In reality, we have been bribed, and the Torah accurately states that a bribe will blind the eyes of even the wise (Deuteronomy 16:19). Thus, we only do what is proper when our "eyes" function well.

The Rabbi of Rhizin gave an antidote for the distorting forces of temptation. He stated that we should go through life the way tightrope walkers maintain their delicate balance: when they feel a tug on one side, they lean toward the opposite side. When we feel tempted to something, our first reaction should be to steer ourselves away from it. Only then can we apply our common sense and decide what to do.

Summing up, once we recognize and control our desire to impress others and our drive for immediate gratification, we will be able to exercise proper judgment.

Today I shall...

try to be on guard against temptations that may affect my sense of propriety and justice.


Consider three things, and you will not approach sin. Know whence you came, whereto you are going, and before Whom you are destined to give an accounting (Ethics of the Fathers 3:1).

If we thought about our humble origin on the one hand, and the greatness we can achieve on the other, we would come to only one logical conclusion: the potential for such greatness could not possibly reside in the microscopic germ-cell from which we originated. This capacity for greatness can reside only in the neshamah (soul), the spirit which God instills within man.

What an extraordinary stretching of the imagination it must take to think that a single cell can develop into the grandeur which a human being can achieve! People have the power to contemplate and reflect upon infinity and eternity, concepts which are totally beyond the realm of the physical world. How could something purely finite even conceive of infinity?

Our humble origins are the greatest testimony to the presence of a Divine component within man. Once we realize this truth, we are unlikely to contaminate ourselves by behavior beneath our dignity. We have an innate resistance to ruining what we recognize to be precious and beautiful. We must realize that this is indeed what we are.

Today I shall...

try to make my behavior conform to that which I recognize to be the essence of my being: the spirit that gives me the potential for greatness.


And God spoke to Moses face to face, just as a person would speak to a friend (Exodus 33:11).

Moses was the only prophet to whom God spoke directly, just as a person would converse with a friend. However, this uniqueness went only one way; every single human being has the ability to speak to God directly, "as a person would speak to a friend." Indeed, we should do so.

In this way, we can fully express our innermost feelings. True, we address God as the King of the Universe, which He is. We also plead with Him as a child does with a parent, which He is. But we certainly would never tell a king everything about ourselves, and we all have things which we would never want our parents to know. With a friend, however, we have fewer restrictions and less resistance. We can reveal everything to a friend, even things that we would be too embarrassed or otherwise reluctant to tell anyone else.

The Torah refers to God as "a friend" (e.g. Proverbs 27:10), because it wishes us to have this relationship with God, as well as that of subject to sovereign and child to father.

One might ask, "Since God knows our thoughts, why should we reveal them to Him verbally in prayer?" The answer is that by doing so, we reinforce our relationship to Him as a friend.

When you complete your formal prayers, add some of your own composition, and speak to God as a friend.

Today I shall...

try to enhance the quality of my prayer by revealing to God everything that is on my mind, just as I would with a trusted friend.


Hear, O Israel, Hashem is our God, Hashem the One and Only (Deuteronomy 6:4).

When reciting the declaration of the unity of God, we are required to commit ourselves to this belief, that in the event we were coerced to deny Him, we would surrender our lives rather than do so. This concept is called mesiras nefesh, and in addition to our belief in God, there are only two other instances where we are to choose martyrdom rather than transgression: murder and adultery.

While the thought of surrendering one's life is frightening, it has unfortunately characterized much of Jewish history. However, since the urge for survival is innate and most intense and generally overrides all other considerations, how can so many Jews have risen to the challenge of mesiras nefesh?

The answer is quite simple. Just think of what life would be like if nothing was worth dying for: no ideals, no principles, no loyalty, no sacredness, no ultimate value. Under duress, everything would go. Could thinking people who pride themselves in living on a plane of life higher than that of brute beasts see any value in this kind of life?

There are things that are dearer than life that give life its great value.

Today I shall...

try to appreciate the full value of life, and realize that there are absolute values that make life precious.


One should study Torah and do mitzvos even if not for their own sake, for doing so will eventually result in study and performance for their own sake (Pesachim 50b).

This Talmudic statement has given rise to questions by the commentaries. Why is the Talmud condoning study of Torah for ulterior motives? What happens to the emphasis on sincerity in observance of Torah and mitzvos?

Acting "as if" can be constructive. If a person who suffers from a headache goes on with his or her activities "as if" the headache did not exist, that headache is more likely to disappear than if he or she interrupts activities to nurse the headache. "Rewarding" the headache by taking a break only prolongs it.

Study of Torah and performance of mitzvos require effort, may be restrictive, and may interfere with other things one would rather do. Under such circumstances, there may not be great enthusiasm for Torah and mitzvos. However, if one nevertheless engages in Torah and mitzvos "as if" one really wanted to, the resistance is likely to dissipate. The reasoning is that since one is determined to do so anyway, there is no gain in being reluctant, and true enthusiasm may then develop. On other hand, if one were to delay engaging in Torah and mitzvos until one had the "true spirit," that spirit might never appear.

It is not only permissible but also desirable to develop constructive habits by doing things "as if" one really wanted to.

Today I shall...

try to practice good habits, and do those things that I know to be right even though I may not like doing them.


He [the God-fearing person] will not fear evil tidings, his heart being firm in his trust in God (Psalms 112:7).

Is a person supposed to take steps to provide for oneself, or should one rely completely on God to take care of everything?

If relying on God is taken to mean doing nothing for oneself, this is certainly not the Divine will. The Torah says that God will bless you in all that you do (Deuteronomy 15:18), which obviously means that God expects us to do for ourselves.

But one's trust in God is all important. Some people have the capacity to do things for themselves, but are unable to put their capabilities into action because of intense anxiety. For example, some students who know their material thoroughly report that their minds go blank when they take an exam. They may fail the course not because they lack the requisite knowledge, but because they panic and are unable to use the knowledge they have. A person who has firm faith and trusts in God is much less likely to become a victim of such paralyzing anxiety.

While there are such things as panic or anxiety attacks that are medical problems and require treatment, there is also a variety of anxiety that is due to feelings of insecurity and apprehension. This kind of anxiety is greatly mitigated by a firm trust in God.

Today I shall...

try to develop a firm trust in God, that nothing terrible will happen to me, and then go on to use my God-given abilities.


They established these eight days of Chanukah to give thanks and praise to Your great Name(Siddur).

Jewish history is replete with miracles that transcend the miracle of the Menorah. Why is the latter so prominently celebrated while the others are relegated to relative obscurity?

Perhaps the reason is that most other miracles were Divinely initiated; i.e. God intervened to suspend the laws of nature in order to save His people from calamity.

The miracle of the Menorah was something different. Having defeated the Seleucid Greek invaders, the triumphant Jews entered the Sanctuary. There they found that they could light the Menorah for only one day, due to a lack of undefiled oil. Further, they had no chance of replenishing the supply for eight days. They did light the Menorah anyway, reasoning that it was best to do what was within their ability to do and to postpone worrying about the next day until such worry was appropriate. This decision elicited a Divine response and the Menorah stayed lit for that day and for seven more.

This miracle was thus initiated by the Jews themselves, and the incident was set down as a teaching for all future generations: concentrate your efforts on what you can do, and do it! Leave the rest to God.

While even our best and most sincere efforts do not necessarily bring about miracles, the teaching is nevertheless valid. Even the likelihood of failure in the future should not discourage us from any constructive action that we can take now.

Today I shall...

focus my attention on what it is that I can do now, and do it to the best of my ability.


Although the acceptable amount [of water for ritual washing of the hands before meals] is a fourth of a log, one should use abundant water in washing (Orach Chaim 158:10).

The Talmud states that Rabbi Chisda attributed his good fortune to his practice of using abundant water in the ritual washing.

Rabbi Yisroel of Salant was at an inn, and when he washed his hands for the meal, he was careful to use the minimum amount of water required. When his students wondered why he did not follow the recommendations of the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Law), Rabbi Yisroel replied, "Perhaps you did not notice that a servant fetched the water from a well. If I used water lavishly, it would be at her expense."

Many times the Shulchan Aruch states the letter of the law, then adds that it is commendable to go beyond it in stricter observance. However, such extra observance is only done for oneself. For instance, when rabbis are asked about the permissibility of any given practice, they must render their decision according to the letter of the law, but may add that stricter observance is commendable but not mandatory. Rabbis are not permitted to require from others more than the law dictates, even if their personal standards of observance are more demanding.

Today I shall...

try to increase my expectations of myself, but not at the expense of others.


All my days I grew up among the wise, and I have not found what is good for the body other than silence (Ethics of the Fathers1:17).

In his famous instructions on the "golden mean of virtue," Maimonides states that a person should avoid either extreme of any character trait.

If we were to place unbridled talk at one extreme and total silence at the other, the mean of virtue would not be at the midpoint between the two, but much closer to silence. While sometimes we refrain from saying something we should have said, more often do we say something we should not have said.

We can choose one of two paths of conversation: We either keep quiet unless we are certain that we should speak, or we assume that we should speak unless we are certain that we should hold our peace. Since the mean of virtue is closer to silence, the first option is preferable.

People who were forbidden to talk for medical reasons and therefore had to communicate by writing have told me that they realized how much of an average person's conversation is non-essential. Unfortunately, non-essential talk is likely to contain much that is not simply "neutral," but actually destructive, such as lies, gossip, insults,and boasting.

Today I shall...

try to measure my words very carefully. If there is no real need for saying something, I should reflect on why I wish to say it.


The mitzvah of kindling the Chanukah lights begins with sunset (Shabbos 21b).

Chanukah commemorates both physical and spiritual triumphs. Israel had been politically, that is physically, under the domination of the Greek-Syrians, and the Hellenist culture was jeopardizing the spirituality of Judaism. The miracle of Chanukah, which occurred at one of the darkest moments in Jewish history, should remind us that no matter how bleak life may appear, whether in a physical or spiritual sense, we should never abandon hope. Hence, we commemorate Chanukah in the evening, when it is just beginning to get dark.

We might ask, "Why light the candles at dusk? Why not wait until it is completely dark, when the candles will shine their brightest and banish the total darkness?"

In my work with alcoholics, I often hear that "one does not recover until one hits rock bottom." However, the changes that may occur on the way to rock bottom are often so irreversible and catastrophic that rehabilitation programs put in much effort and ingenuity to intervene at an earlier stage.

We light the Chanukah candles when the sky is just beginning to get dark, instead of waiting for complete darkness. Our action teaches us when we should combat moral and spiritual deterioration - at the very first indication that it is occurring. Delaying action until the latter has occurred may be too costly.

Today I shall...

try to identify the very earliest signs of weakening and make an effort to avoid deterioration.


If the Chanukah lights were extinguished because they were lit in a place where a wind could be expected, one is obliged to relight them (Mishnah Berurah 673:25).

Although we are not obligated to relight the Chanukah candles if they are accidentally extinguished, this rule does not apply if the condition could have been foreseen.

In civil law, a person may be held liable for failure to take proper precautions that would prevent a mishap. This concept also holds for spiritual and moral issues as well. While parents may not be able to control the behavior of their children and cannot be held responsible for whatever decisions the children make in their lives, they can and must provide their children with the education and guidance that will enable them to choose wisely and properly.

Many parents who failed to provide their children with a sound Torah education have expressed deep regret for this omission when their children intermarried. Although they may not have been observant, they nevertheless wished their grandchildren to have a Jewish identity, and they realized too late that the most effective way to discourage intermarriage is to practice the mitzvos. We have had many variations of, "If we had to do it over again, we would observe kosher, if not because of our own convictions, then to maintain our children within the Jewish fold."

We cannot cut down on intermarriage by hoping that our children will not wish to disappoint us, but by creating a life-style for ourselves and for our children that makes intermarriage inconceivable. If we are lax in foresight, we cannot shirk the responsibility for the consequences.

Today I shall...

try to consider the long-term consequences of my behavior, and try to foresee the problems that may occur if I simply do what is most convenient for me now.


One should add an additional light each night (of Chanukah) (Orach Chaim 671:2).

Although frequently translated as "dedication," Chanukah also means "renewal." The way that we celebrate Chanukah teaches us that renewal requires something more than returning to a former state, even if that state itself had been satisfactory. Renewal requires advancing beyond the previous state.

I once heard a recovered alcoholic, twenty years sober, say, "The man that I was drank, and the man that I was will drink again." If people who emerge from a deteriorated state go back to the state prior to the deterioration, nothing has been accomplished, because history will repeat itself. To avoid the deterioration from recurring, they must change themselves into new beings.

To achieve a renewal, we must progress. Adding a Chanukah candle every night symbolizes this concept in a spiritual way.

Remaining at a plateau is hardly desirable for anyone, but it is utterly unacceptable for people who seek renewal. For them, progress is not only essential for growth, but for survival.

Today I shall...

try to add to my life by intensifying and increasing those practices that are conducive to growth.


pallel, which means "to seek justice."...">

Pinchas arose and wrought judgment, and so the plague was checked (Psalms 106:30).

The word tefillah, or "prayer," has its origin in the word pallel, which means "to seek justice." Prayer should therefore be an activity whereby one seeks justice. The first recorded prayer in Jewish history is that of the Patriarch Abraham. He sought justice for the people of Sodom and pleaded with God to spare them (Genesis 18:23-33). Thus, when we pray, whether for ourselves or for others, it should be with the understanding that we are seeking justice.

How, then, can we ask of God to grant our various requests? Are we deserving of this? Do we deserve them? Are they within the realm of justice?

Two answers come to mind. If, as part of our prayers, we admit the wrongs we have done, sincerely regret them, and commit ourselves not to repeat them, then we may indeed be deserving. We therefore do not make our requests on the basis of what we are, but on the basis of what we will be. Second, if we extend ourselves by forgiving people who have offended us and acting with kindness toward them, then God's acting accordingly toward us can in itself be considered justice.

Thus, teshuvah (the process of regret and return) and gemilas chasadim (acts of kindness) are the foundations of prayer.

Today I shall...

try to do teshuvah, and to act toward others in a way that I wish God to act toward me.


I am going in the way of all the land (all mankind), and you shall strengthen yourself and be a man (I Kings 2:2).

These were the last words of King David to his son and successor, Solomon. David is essentially saying, "I am no longer able to struggle. My strength is failing, and I must now go in the way of all humans. But you are young and vigorous. You must be strong and be a man." Implied in this message is that Solomon was to be strong enough not to go in the way of all men, but to be his own man.

Being a non-conformist is not virtuous in itself. Behaving in a manner similar to others in our environment is not wrong, as long as we know that our behavior is right and proper. In this case, we are acting according to our conscience. What is wrong is when we abdicate our right to think, judge, and decide for ourselves. It is easy for us to allow ourselves to be dragged along by the opinions and decisions of others, and thereby fail to act according to our conscience.

The expression "I am going in the way of all mankind" does more than euphemize death; it actually defines spiritual death. It states that true life exists only when we actively determine our behavior. A totally passive existence, in which the body is active but the mind is not, may be considered life in a physical sense, but in a spiritual sense it is closer to death.

No wonder the Talmud states that "wrongdoers are considered dead even during their lifetime" (Berachos 18b). Failure to exercise our spiritual capacities and instead relegating the mind to a state of passivity, allowing our physical and social impulses to dominate our lives, is in reality death.

Today I shall...

try to engage my mind to reflect on what I do, and think things through for myself rather than submitting to a herd mentality.


Rage deprives one of one's senses (Pesikta Zuta Va'eira 6:9).

Anger can be a constructive emotion (e.g. if we see an injustice and our anger helps bring us to correct it). We can compare it to an electric generator, which we constructively harness. Rage, however, has no use. It is like an erupting volcano, which benefits no one and only causes widespread destruction.

Unlike a volcanic eruption, rage is controllable. However, the time to act is before the outburst begins, because once it is in motion, we lack the good judgment necessary for control.

Preventive action consists of training ourselves to react with restraint when a provocative event occurs, even if we feel we are right. We can practice restraint by responding in a soft voice, by keeping silent, or by walking away from the situation and allowing for a "cooling off" period.

Rage feeds upon itself, and if we can stifle rage at its very onset, when it is still controllable, it is akin to smothering a small fire by depriving it of oxygen. Failure to do so may result in a destructive, unmanageable conflagration, and so it is with rage.

Today I shall...

try to practice restraint in responding to all provocations.


All the ways of a person are pure in one's eyes (Proverbs 16:2).

As a rule, people do not do anything that they believe to be wrong. Those who do wrong have somehow convinced themselves that what they are doing is in fact right. They justify themselves with ingenious rationalizations.

If we are so susceptible to our minds playing tricks on us and deluding us that what is wrong is right, what can we do to prevent improper behavior? Solomon provides the answer: Direct your actions toward God, and your thoughts will be right (Proverbs 16:3).

The distortion is greatest when the motivation is, "What do I want?" If we remove ourselves from the picture and instead ask, "What does God want?" the possibility of distortion shrinks.

While there is less distortion in the latter case, we cannot say that distortion is completely absent. Some people have strange ideas about what God wants. However, if we take ourselves out of the picture and are motivated to do what God wants, there is greater likelihood that we might consult someone in a position to give us an authoritative opinion as to the will of God. While this is not foolproof, there is at least a chance of escaping the distortions of rationalization that are dominant when one seeks to satisfy primarily oneself.

Today I shall...

try to dedicate myself to doing the will of God, and try to learn what His will is by studying the Torah and accepting guidance from Torah authorities.


If one person does more and another does less, they are both equal before God if they have sincerely dedicated themselves to Him (Berachos 5b).

All that can be asked of people is to do whatever is within their means. No one is expected to do more than one can, but by the same token, anyone who does less than that is derelict. For example, people of meager means who give a small amount of money are considered to have performed that mitzvah satisfactorily if they have given whatever they can, whereas wealthy people who give a thousand times that much but could have given more are considered derelict in their performance of this mitzvah.

The key to proper fulfillment of a mitzvah is dedication. One who performs a mitzvah perfunctorily may seek to get away with the bare minimum required for its fulfillment, whereas someone who is dedicated will invest himself in the mitzvah to the very maximum.

This dedication must be to God. While it is praiseworthy to dedicate oneself to the community or to friends, the recipients of one's benevolent actions may be so grateful to the benefactor that the latter may get carried away by this outpouring of gratitude, and believe that one has done enough. The only true judge of how much one can and should do is God; hence, it is only a sincere dedication to God that can lead one to perform mitzvos to the fullest of one's capacities.

Today I shall...

try to sincerely fulfill my obligations toward God and toward my fellow man by doing the utmost within my means.


"My transgressions are known to me and my sin is ever before me" (Psalms 51:5).Lo, I was begotten in sin, and my mother conceived me in iniquity (ibid. 7).

In this heart-rending psalm, David begs for forgiveness for his relationship with Bath-Sheba.

While David does state that he was "begotten in sin," or in other words, that he may have been born with the character trait of intense passion, he does not cite it to free himself of guilt. In verse 5, he owns up to his transgression and does not try to absolve himself. David accepts full responsibility for his behavior, even if it comes from an inherited trait.

How refreshing is this thought! How different it is from the teachings of modern psychology, which so often scapegoat parents and excuse even the grossest misbehavior by arguing that the person was a victim of early-life experiences or influences that distorted his or her values, and hence should not be held responsible for subsequent misdeeds.

In this exquisite psalm of teshuvah (repentance), David rejects this position. He says that we must assume responsibility for our behavior, regardless of factors from our past.

Today I shall...

try to avoid projecting blame onto others, and accept full responsibility for whatever I do.


Which is the proper path that one should choose for oneself? That which is honorable to the one who adopts it and also merits the admiration of others (Ethics of the Fathers 2:1).

At first glance, this statement is bothersome. Right and wrong are, we know, absolute and not subject to public opinion. "The admiration of others" should have no place in determining morality.

The statement is not referring here to what is right versus what is wrong. Rather, it is discussing the mode of conduct within the realm of what is right.

The Midrash relates that Rabbi Shimon ben Shatach bought a mule from an Arab, and when his students discovered a precious gem in the saddlepack, they congratulated him on his good fortune. Rabbi Shimon responded, "I bought a mule, not a precious gem." He sought out the Arab and he returned the gem to him. The Arab said, "Blessed be the God of Rabbi Shimon ben Shatach."

Ethical behavior elicits admiration and serves as an example for others.

Today I shall...

try to behave in a manner that goes beyond right and wrong, and make my "right" into a "true right."


"I am your God Who has delivered you from the land of Egypt" (Shema, Numbers 15:41).

This verse is recited twice daily, because the deliverance from Egypt was more than a historic event. It was a deliverance from a state of enslavement, and this deliverance should repeat itself daily in everyone's life.

No enslavement and no tyranny are as ruthless and as demanding as slavery to physical desires and passions. Someone who is unable to resist a craving, and who must, like a brute beast, do whatever the body demands, is more profoundly enslaved than someone subject to a human tyrant. Addicted people are an extreme example of those who have become slaves to their bodies.

Dignity comes from freedom, in the capacity to make free choices, and hence, in our ability to refuse to submit to physical desires when our judgment indicates that doing so is wrong. Freedom from domination by the body is the first step toward spiritual growth."

Today I shall...

declare my freedom from the tyranny of my body.


"A person's drives are related to the degree of one's intellect" (Tanya, Chapter 6).

The Tanya explains that children have strong desires for things that are important to them. They may passionately desire a simple toy, perhaps only a small colorful block of wood, and may become very angry and enraged if they do not get it. To adults, this item has no value, but to children it may be very important.

As we grow older and hopefully wiser, we can see that things that had at one time great importance are in retrospect of no greater importance than that toy. At that time, it seemed important to us because we could use only the intellect we had at that particular moment; we could not apply wisdom that would come with greater maturity.

Is it not strange, however, that we do not apply the lessons of the past? When we are absolutely certain that something we want is most vital, why do we not stop and think that we are feeling precisely the way we had felt in the past about something which we now realize is trivial? Why don't we learn from our experiences and not become frustrated and enraged when we are denied something we strongly desire?

Although we cannot have tomorrow's wisdom today, we can utilize the wisdom of our elders and others who have been in the situation which now confronts us. They may help us ascribe more realistic values to our desires.

Today I shall...

try to realize that tomorrow I might think myself foolish for having become so enraged about something that frustrated me today.


God, alien nations have come into Your inheritance and have defiled Your Sanctuary (Psalms 79:1).

The tenth day of Teves is a fast day, on which we remember the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem that led to the destruction of the Temple. By depriving ourselves of food and drink, we experience the discomfort of hunger and thirst, and in this way we share in the national distress.

No other nation has anything similar to a fast day for an event that occurred thousands of years ago. Most historic events are remembered by historians interested in the subject. The average person is untouched by such ancient events.

Not so with Jews, for whom spirituality and closeness to God are a vital part of life. The loss of intimacy with God that occurred with the destruction of the Temple is something from which we have never recovered, and is a source of grief today. The fast of the tenth day of Teves is not merely a commemoration of a historic event, but an expression of the grief we experience today in being deprived of the close presence of God in the Temple.

We have been promised that the Temple will be restored with the ultimate Redemption of Israel, and we will again have the Shechinah which is the breath of spiritual life. To achieve this Redemption we must merit it, by committing ourselves to total observance of Torah and mitzvos.

Today I shall...

try to understand how the loss of the Sanctuary thousands of years ago is a personal loss to me, and what I can do to restore that kedushah.


One who responds "Amen" after a blessing surpasses the one who recites the blessing (Berachos 53b).

"Amen" is an expression of confirmation, whereby we attest that what the other person has said is indeed true. Thus, when someone recites a blessing expressing gratitude to God or asserting that God has commanded the performance of a particular mitzvah, one is making a declaration of one's faith. When we respond by saying "Amen," we are essentially stating, "What you have said is indeed true," and thereby we are not only concurring with what was said and expressing our own faith, but also reinforcing the other person's statement and strengthening the other person's faith.

There are things that one can do that will strengthen other people's faith in God, and things that will weaken it. In Torah there is a concept of arvus - mutual responsibility - by virtue of which one is obligated to try to strengthen other people's belief and trust in God. Although every person has free will, and God does not intervene to deter someone from committing a wrong, people who have suffered because of someone's misdeeds often feel that God has abandoned them. Thus, if we deal unfairly with others, we may not only cause them to be angry at us, but also bring them to doubt God for allowing an injustice to happen. While such reasoning is faulty, the one who caused it is nevertheless responsible for causing the victim to feel that way. On the other hand, when we behave in the manner which God wishes, the result is kvod shamayim - bringing glory and honor to God, and strengthening people's faith. Our actions can and do affect how other people will think and act.

Today I shall...

try to behave in a way that will result in people having greater respect for and trust in God.


When a thief recites a blessing, he angers God (Psalms 10:3).

The Talmud explains this verse as referring to someone who stole wheat, ground it into flour, and kneaded it into dough, then took off the required tithe for the Kohen (priest) and recited the blessing for the tithe. Far from being pleased with this prayer, God becomes angry, for not only did this person sin by stealing, but he or she had the audacity to pronounce God's Name over something acquired dishonestly (Bava Kama 94a).

Much of Torah law deals with business. Indeed, the greatest piety is achieved when people observe the laws regulating commercial transactions and property rights, and thereby respect other's belongings and rights (Bava Kama 30a). Doing a mitzvah with something not acquired honestly is the grossest of all distortions.

In a highly competitive society, we may think that all is fair, especially if we can find a way to make dishonest actions appear legitimate. The Torah condemns such thinking."

Today I shall...

try to maintain rigorous honesty in all that I do, so that all my mitzvos will be welcomed by God.


A bit more sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and like a wanderer, your poverty will come (Proverbs 6:10-11).

No one sets out in life with the goal of being a failure, and if people would only recognize the consequences of bad habits, they would avoid them.

From my work with alcoholics, I can attest that no one sets themselves a goal of becoming alcoholic, but what may have started out as safe social drinking advances very surreptitiously to become dependence and addiction. Future addicts find they need gradually increasing amounts of alcohol to put themselves at ease, until the quantity they consume becomes toxic and results in disaster.

So it is with laziness. What harm can there be in just a bit more sleep or a little more rest? Indolence, however, can stealthily creep up on people, catch them, and suck out their vigor and diligence.

Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, like a "wanderer" who appears on the scene unexpectedly, one finds oneself in poverty. Indolence has taken its toll.

Breaking bad habits does not come easily, and even some people who arise early and who may feel they are not indolent might discover that they are fond of procrastination, which is just another variety of indolence.

A proper amount of sleep and rest is essential for good health. Diligent people schedule their rest and relaxation so that they do not inadvertently become victims of the seductive character of indolence.

Today I shall...

try to do that which needs to be done without delay, and schedule my periods of sleep, rest, and relaxation.


This is why people say, "Either companionship or death" (Taanis 23a).

The Talmud quotes this aphorism after relating the story of Choni, who awoke after a sleep of seventy years, and, because everyone whom he had known had died, was totally without friends. When he found that no one of the new generation appreciated him, he prayed for death as an escape from an intolerable existence.

One does not have to sleep for seventy years to be alone. Many people are "loners," deprived of the comfort of sharing their lives with others. Much of their loneliness may be self-inflicted.

Withdrawal from human contact is invariably caused by a negative self-image. People who think poorly of themselves assume that others will not welcome them and in fact that they will reject them. To avoid the pain of possible rejection, they simply withdraw from human contact and retreat behind a wall of isolation that they erect to keep people away. Unfortunately, such a wall is not only a barrier; it becomes a prison.

I dealt with this subject in my book Let Us Make Man (C.I.S. Publishing 1987). There are ways that we can overcome the negative self-image, but before we can implement such techniques, we must be aware of the problem: we have indeed isolated ourselves due to faulty self-perception.

Today I shall...

try to analyze whether I have as many friends as I would like, and if not, whether this may not be due to my withdrawal.


Fortunate are we that our youth has not caused us embarrassment in later life (Succah 53a).

Many people gain wisdom in their later years. When they look back on their youth, they regret having squandered so much time. Some people's "golden years" are unfortunately marred with regret over the time they lost.

Young people can learn from their elders. People who reflect on the past during their last days often say, "My greatest regret is that I did not spend more time with my family." Has anyone ever said, "My greatest regret is that I did not spend more time at the office"?

While experience teaches most efficiently, some things are simply too costly to be learned by experience, because the opportunity to apply these lessons may never arise. Our learning too late that we have spent time foolishly is a prime example.

Ask your father and he will tell you; your elders and they will say it to you (Deuteronomy 32:7). In his last words, Moses gives us this most important teaching: "Why learn the hard way when you can benefit from the experience of others who have been there?" We should regularly ask: "How pleased will I be in the future about what I am doing now?"

Today I shall...

try to examine my actions with the consideration of how I will look back at them in the future.


Be cautious in associating with the ruling powers, because they seek people's closeness only for their own purposes (Ethics of the Fathers 2:3).

Time has not changed some things. Even several thousand years ago government figures were known to be fair-weather friends who exploited their friendship for personal advantage.

While this is as true now as it was then, why is it written in a volume on ethics?

Some people lust for power. Those who lack their own authority try to associate themselves with the powers-that-be in order to share in their power. Just as actual power can corrupt, so also can the desire for power, since we may then do whatever is necessary to ingratiate ourselves with the authorities, including compromising on our principles.

The Talmud discourages such associations by pointing out that they are likely to be exercises in futility. Like so many other lusts, the lust for power holds out a promise of bliss, and inevitably results in bitter disappointment."

Today I shall...

try to avoid seeking authority and dominion over others, and rather seek mastery over myself.


Beware and guard yourself lest you forget the words that your eyes witnessed [at Sinai] (Deuteronomy 4:9).

While forgetting is a spontaneous occurrence, it is nevertheless perfectly appropriate to instruct someone not to forget. Personal experience is that if we have something extremely important to do and we are afraid we might forget it, we leave ourselves various reminders to make certain that we remember.

Except when it is due to an aberration in the brain, forgetting something is an indication that it was of relatively little importance. How do you feel when someone who you expected would remember you does not know your name? Also, do you not feel awkward upon meeting someone and having to admit you do not remember his/her name? These feelings are due to the awareness that forgetting something indicates that it was not all that important.

The revelation at Sinai at which we received the Torah was not only the most important event in the history of the Jewish nation, but also the event that should be the fulcrum of the life of every individual Jew. It is the Divine origin of the Torah that makes its values permanent and unalterable, rendering it beyond human manipulation. If we forget the Divine origin of Torah, we are likely to tamper with it and adapt it to comply with our own wishes. When this occurs, all values become relative, and this may result in the behavior of the individual and the group being determined by expedience, hardly a standard of ethics that dignifies a human being.

Today I shall...

try to remember that there are fundamental and unalterable values that should guide me, and that these are the will of God as revealed in the Torah.


No one ever anticipated (Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai) with a greeting in the public place (Berachos 17a).

The Talmud states that when Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai met someone in the street, he always initiated the greeting, and that never, in his entire lifetime, did he ever wait to be greeted first.

Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai is one of the most outstanding personalities in Jewish history. After Jerusalem fell to the Romans, in 70 C.E., he served as both the political and religious leader of the Jewish nation for forty years. He is singlehandedly responsible for the survival of Israel during that difficult era.

When this great leader walked down the street, he undoubtedly engaged in important conversation with his colleagues and disciples on the vital issues of the day. We certainly could understand that he could not interrupt such weighty discussions to respond to people who greeted him, let alone to initiate greetings to others.

Still, the Talmud states that regardless of his preoccupation with the leadership of Israel, this great personality never waited to be greeted first, and not even the importance of his position could cause him to expect recognition from others.

The great Hillel prophesied about Rabbi Yochanan that he would be "a father of wisdom and a father to many generations." Rabbi Yochanan was a leader who followed in the footsteps of Moses, whose humility also paralleled his greatness."

Today I shall...

try to consider every person as being worthy of recognition, and avoid the false pride of expecting to be acknowledged first.


For kindness is Yours, O God, when You compensate each person according to his actions (Psalms 62:13).

In our productivity-oriented society, we tend to place value on the product rather than on the process. Success is praised and failure is condemned, and we have little interest in the circumstances under which others function.

This attitude might be justified in the marketplace, since commerce lives by the bottom line. Still, our preoccupation with commerce should not influence us to think that people's successes and failures should be the yardsticks for how we value them.

God does not judge according to outcome. God knows that people have control only over what they do, not over the results. Virtue or sin are determined not by what materializes, but by what we do and why.

Since the Torah calls on us to "walk in His ways," to emulate God as best we can, we would do well to have a value system so that we judge people by their actions, not their results. This system should be applied to ourselves as well. We must try to do our utmost according to the best ethical and moral guidance we can obtain. When we do so, our behavior is commendable, regardless of the results of our actions."

Today I shall...

try to be considerate of others and of myself as well, and realize that none of us is in control of the outcome of our actions, only of their nature.


Blessed are You, O God ... Who has provided me my every needs (Siddur).

One of the great tzaddikim lived in abject poverty, yet always had a happy disposition. He was asked how he managed to maintain so pleasant an attitude in the face of such adverse conditions.

"Each day I pray to God to provide all my needs," he said. "If I am poor, that means that one of my needs is poverty. Why should I be unhappy if I have whatever I need?"

Tzaddikim are great people and we are little people who may not always be able to achieve the intensity of trust in God that would allow us to accept adversity with joy. But even if we cannot attain it to the highest degree, we should be able to develop some sincere trust.

When our children are little, we as parents know what they need. They might prefer a diet of sweets, but we give them nourishing foods. They certainly despise receiving painful injections that immunize them against dreadful diseases, but we forcibly subject them to these procedures because we know what is good for them.

Some people do not believe in God. But to those that do, why not realize that He knows our needs better than we do, and that even some very unpleasant experiences are actually for our own betterment?"

Today I shall...

try to bear adversity with less anger and resentment, remembering that God is a compassionate Father, and that He gives me that which He knows, far better than I, that I truly need.


The beginning of wisdom is the fear of God (Psalms 111:10).

Would it not have been more appropriate to refer to the fear of God as the beginning of piety rather than wisdom?

One of the Chassidic masters interpreted the above verse most uniquely. "The fear of God," he said, "refers not to man's fear of God, but to God's fear." It might seem strange to speak of God as having fear, but his explanation quells this objection.

God has decreed that people have free will. Although everything else in the universe is under Divine control, God wishes our moral choice to be free, and He therefore does not intervene to influence our moral decisions. Since God wishes us to be just and virtuous, He thus has a fear that we will harm ourselves by sin. This fear is similar to that of parents who fear that their young children may harm themselves by doing things that they do not recognize as dangerous.

If we would realize that everything else in the universe is controlled by God, and that only our moral choice is not under Divine control, we would then concentrate on moral choices and leave everything else up to God. It would be wise, therefore, if we had the fear that God has for us; namely, that we might sin. We show wisdom, not just piety, if we devote our attention to what is not under Divine control.

Today I shall...

try to turn my attention and efforts to my moral choices, since these are really the only things that are decided by my choice.


A scoffer does not like to be reprimanded (Proverbs 15:12).

Hardly anyone is as thoroughly condemned and treated as contemptuously as the scoffer, who behaves with scorn and ridicule. King Solomon does not condemn a rasha -a sinner - as much as he does a scoffer. The rasha of Proverbs sins by indulgence - by submitting to temptation - and thus is tolerated, though criticized. The scoffer, who acts with derision, is totally rejected, much like the "wicked son" mentioned in the Passover Haggadah.

Those who sin because of temptation are redeemable. Someday they may realize the folly and futility of a life of self-indulgence, and then they will do teshuvah and turn themselves toward spirituality. Not so scoffers, whose attitude of mocking everything puts them beyond redemption. As R' Moshe Chaim Luzzato says, "The scoffer can be compared to a shield coated with grease, which causes oncoming arrows to slip off. Likewise, scoffers are immune to reprimand and direction, not because of any lack of intelligence, but because of their attitude of derision, which destroys every ethical concept" (Path of the Just:5).

Criticism may not be pleasant, and not all criticism must be accepted. Sometimes, the reproof we receive may be incorrect, and we are actually right. But we must always listen to criticism and then make a proper decision. Frank rejection of reproof without giving it serious consideration renders us beyond help.

Today I shall...

try to keep my ears and mind open to criticism, and avoid reflexively dismissing anything I do not like to hear.


Where were you when I established the earth? (Job 38:4).

One who reads the book of Job cannot but have compassion for just and pious Job, who appears to be unfairly subjected to suffering. All the rational arguments that his friends offer to account for his innocent suffering appear hollow, and the only acceptable answer is God's remark to Job, "Where were you when I established the earth?"

In other words, a human being can see only a tiny fragment of the universe, an infinitesimally small bit of time and space. Our vantage point is much like a single piece of a huge jigsaw puzzle, a tiny fragment of the whole picture, which makes no sense on its own. Only when the entire puzzle is assembled do we realize how this odd-shaped piece fits properly. Since no human being can have a view of the totality of the universe in both time and space, we cannot possibly grasp the meaning of one tiny fragment of it.

This explanation does not tell us why the innocent may suffer, but only why there cannot be a satisfactory explanation. Acceptance of suffering therefore requires faith in a Creator who designed the universe with a master plan in which everything that happens has a valid reason. This belief may not comfort a sufferer nor prevent the sufferer from becoming angry at the Designer of the universe. The Torah does not in fact condemn the anger of the sufferer (Bava Basra 16b), but does require that he accept adversity with trust that God is just (Deuteronomy 32:4).

Acceptance does not mean approval, but it does allow us to avoid the paralyzing rage of righteous rage, and to go on with the business of living.

Today I shall...

try to realize that nothing ever happens that is purposeless, and that I must go on living even when I disapprove of the way the world operates.


A doctor who treats for nothing is worth nothing (Bava Kama 85a).

The Talmud teaches that "there is no free lunch." Anything of value comes with a price tag, and if something is given away free, we should suspect that it may be worthless.

People are reluctant to accept some things as true. Today, a millennium and a half after the Talmud was written down, we still yearn to get things for free, and if not completely free, then at the least possible cost.

Nothing is wrong with bargain hunting. At the end of a season, some leftover merchandise of good quality may be put on sale, or discontinued models may be available at a fraction of their original price. Still, we must be cautious that we do not extend this penchant for bargains to areas where it can be destructive, such as relationships or other things of spiritual value.

Valuable relationships can be costly. If we are not willing to sacrifice our comfort for a relationship, but look only for friends or spouses that will demand nothing of us, the Talmud teaches that this relationship will be worth exactly what we invest in it: nothing. Likewise, if we seek spiritual goals that will come easily to us without any effort or deprivation on our part, we will achieve goals that are worth nothing.

The Talmud uses the example of free medical care to teach us that for things that are truly important, such as our health, we must be willing to bear the cost. We should apply this lesson to other items of value."

Today I shall...

try to avoid bargain hunting for those things that are truly important to me.


The voice of God is within might (Psalms 29:4). The verse does not read "within His might"; it therefore means [that God communicates] with each person according to that person's might or capacity (Shemos Rabbah 5:9).

A young couple who began to observe Torah and mitzvos suffered severe adversity after becoming observant. They were not only deeply affected by their misfortune, but were also very confused. "Why is God doing this to us now? Before we became Torah observant, everything went smoothly for us. Now we have all this happening. Is this God's way of rejecting us, telling us that He does not welcome our observance?"

No one knows why certain people suffer in certain ways. However, this much is certain: for whatever reason that suffering does occur, God does not burden people with more than they can bear. No one can explain why adversity visited this young couple, but for whatever reason that it happened, they had already achieved enough strength to bear it.

Can we then say that people would be better off being less spiritual so that they would not be subjected to as much suffering? No, for if we carry this argument to its logical extreme, we would be still better off being cows in the pasture and not suffering at all.

Solomon said, As one increases wisdom, so one increases suffering (Ecclesiastes 1:18). The Rabbi of Kotzk commented, "Maybe so, but let me suffer and be wise rather than be tranquil and a fool."

Today I shall...

try to have the faith that God will give me no greater burden than I can bear(see tomorrow's tidbit).


The Patriarch Abraham was tested (by God) ten times and withstood them all. This proves Abraham's great love for God(Ethics of the Fathers 5:3).

Abraham was tested with ten trials of progressively increasing severity, ultimately culminating in the test of sacrificing his beloved son Isaac if God so willed.

Abraham successfully passed all the tests. Still, while he did demonstrate his intense loyalty and devotion to God, how did it prove his love for God?

In yesterday's message we learned that God does not challenge people beyond their capacities. It follows, then, that as they advance in spiritual growth and strength, they actually render themselves vulnerable to trials of greater intensity. In the course of his many trials, Abraham detected this pattern. He could have logically decided to avoid any further spiritual progression, because it might subject him to even greater ordeals than those he had already sustained.

Abraham decided otherwise. He desired so much to come closer to God that he was willing to pay any price. Thus, when he was put to the ultimate task - to sacrifice Isaac - Abraham was not taken aback. He had fully anticipated such an eventuality.

We are not of the mettle of Abraham, and we pray every day, "Do not put us to test." While we indeed wish to advance spiritually, we ask to be spared the distress of trial. Yet, should we experience adversity in life, we would do well to realize that this may be a testimony to our spiritual strength.

Today I shall...

try to advance myself spiritually. Although I pray to be spared from distress, I will try not to recoil if adversity does occur.


He who loves his wife as he loves himself and who respects her even more than himself ... it is of him that the Scripture says, "You will know there is peace in your dwelling" (Yevamos 62b).

The secret of peace in the home is the awareness that husband and wife are not two distinct individuals living in a contractual relationship, but are one unit. If they love each other, they are also loving themselves, and if they respect each other, they are also respecting themselves.

I heard a man say, "I used to argue with my wife. Then one day I realized that I did not like to lose an argument because I did not want to be a loser. On the other hand, if I won the argument, then my wife would have lost, and I did not want to be married to a loser. The only solution was to stop arguing."

In marriage, there is no winner and loser. In any given situation, both spouses either win or lose.

The Torah emphasizes the concept of unity in describing the marriage relationship: Man shall cling unto his wife and they shall be one (Genesis 2:24). Anything less than that, any situation where one considers him or herself superior to the other or triumphant over the other, falls short of this concept of marriage."

Today I shall...

try to realize that marriage is a fusion, a unit rather than a union, and that whatever I do to my spouse I am doing to myself as well.


Man became a living soul (Genesis 2:7).

Rabbi Leib, the son of the Chassidic master Rabbi Mordechai of Nesh'chiz, related that he remembered being a small child sitting on his father's lap. His father told him, "The Targum (Aramaic translation of the Torah) interprets living soul as a speaking spirit. In other words, people acquire the capacity to speak by virtue of the Divine soul that is instilled within them. Inasmuch as God is truth, the Divine soul, which is part of God, is also truth. Since people's souls are linked with this ability to speak, speech can only be truth. That is why," the Rabbi continued, "if someone lies, that is not speech, only meaningless noise."

"Ever since then," Rabbi Leib said, "whenever someone lies to me, all I hear is undistinguishable sounds, just noise. I cannot make out words, and I cannot understand what the person is saying."

How wonderful it would be if we too could so refine our hearing that our ears could perceive only truth, and that untruths would be just scrambled sounds! Still, if we cannot rise to the spiritual heights of Rabbi Leib, we may nevertheless understand that if we lie, we are not really speaking, but only making noise. To lie is to distort the God-given gift of speech into meaningless sounds that cannot possibly achieve anything truly beneficial to us.

Think of yourself as a concert pianist who, instead of playing melodious music, bangs indiscriminately on the keys, producing an annoying cacophony. When you are not speaking the truth, you are making the same noise.

Today I shall...

try to realize that speech is not only a special gift of God, but is in itself Divine, and I shall not demean it by lying.


Rabbi Eliezer said ... do teshuvah (repentance) one day before your death (Ethics of the Fathers 2:15).

Rabbi Eliezer's disciples asked him, "How can we know on what day we will die?" He answered, "That is precisely the point. Since we do not know when we will die, we should live every day as though it were our last" (Shabbos 153a).

While Judaism is life oriented, and we all pray to live one hundred and twenty years, the fact is that life does come to an end, and sometimes unexpectedly so. If we were to think, "How would I like to spend my last day on earth?" and live each day as though it were that last, we would undoubtedly establish a different set of values.

If we knew that we had only twenty-four hours of life left, we certainly would not idle away these precious moments.We would not go to a movie that day. Rather, we would wish to spend every moment with the people we love, telling them how much we love them and apologizing for any possible offense done to them. We would do the same with our friends, both giving and asking for forgiveness. We might spend some time in sincere and dedicated prayer, not mumbling a word.

What a day that would be!

Today I shall...

pray for long life, but behave as though today is my last day on earth.


If you eat of the labor of your hands, you will be fortunate, and the good will be yours (Psalms 128:2).

The Rabbi of Kotzk had a unique interpretation for this verse. "Yes," he said, "eat of the labor of your hands, but not of your heart and soul. Of course you must work with your hands to earn your bread, but while your hands must work, do not allow your entire being to be absorbed in work. Direct your heart and soul toward goals that are spiritual."

Some Torah commentaries note that when Adam sinned, he was cursed: "By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread" (Genesis 3:19). Since work was established as a punishment, why would anyone want to indulge in punishment? Any thinking person would try to get by with the very minimum penalty.

Today we witness the phenomenon of what happens when people who know nothing but work all their lives reach the age of retirement. Many spend these later years in misery, not having anything else to do; some turn to alcohol in their old age to escape from a burden of an empty life.

If people put their entire being, rather than just their hands, into work, they will not achieve happiness. People who develop spiritual interests have a much happier old age, for as the Psalmist says, "They will bear fruit in their old age, and will remain vigorous and fresh" (Psalms 92:15).

Today I shall...

try to realize that although I must work in order to live, I do not live just in order to work, and so I must develop the spiritual aspects of my life.


One who humiliates another person in public ... even though he may be a scholar and may have done many good deeds, nevertheless loses his portion in the eternal world (Ethics of the Fathers 3:15).

Imagine a situation: you have a fine home, a well-paying job, a comfortable car, and a substantial retirement annuity. If you do a single thoughtless act, you will lose everything you have worked to achieve: home, job, car, and savings. What kind of precautions would you take to avoid even the remotest possibility of incurring such a disaster? Without doubt, you would develop an elaborate system of defenses to assure that this event would never occur.

The Talmud tells us that everything we have worked for during our entire lives can be forfeited in one brief moment of inconsideration: we embarrass another person in public. Perhaps we may say something insulting or make a demeaning gesture. Regardless of how it occurs, the Talmud states that if we cause another person to turn pale because of being humiliated in public, we have committed the equivalent of bloodshed.

Still, we allow our tongues to wag so easily. If we give serious thought to the words of the Talmud, we would exercise the utmost caution in public and be extremely sensitive to other people's feelings, lest an unkind word or degrading gesture deprive us of all our spiritual merits.

Today I shall...

try to be alert and sensitive to other people's feelings and take utmost caution not to cause anyone to feel humiliated.


You shall know this day and consider it within your heart (Deuteronomy 4:39).

Business people who are involved in many transactions employ accountants to analyze their operations and to determine whether or not they are profitable. They may also seek the help of experts to determine which products are making money and which are losing. Such studies allow them to maximize their profits and minimize their losses. Without such data, they might be doing a great deal of business, but discover at the end of the year that their expenditures exceeded their earnings.

Sensible people give at least as much thought to the quality and achievement of their lives as they do to their businesses. Each asks himself, "Where am I going with my life? What am I doing that is of value? In what ways am I gaining and improving? And which practices should I increase, and which should I eliminate?"

Few people make such reckonings. Many of those that do, do so on their own, without consulting an expert's opinion. These same people would not think of being their own business analysts and accountants, and they readily pay large sums of money to engage highly qualified experts in these fields.

Jewish ethical works urge us to regularly undergo cheshbon hanefesh, a personal accounting. We would be foolish to approach this accounting of our very lives with any less seriousness than we do our business affairs. We should seek out the "spiritual C.P.A.s," those who have expertise in spiritual guidance, to help us in our analyses.

Today I shall...

look for competent guidance in doing a personal moral inventory and in planning my future.


The words of Torah should be as fresh to you as if you first heard them today (Rashi, Deuteronomy 11:13).

Excitement often comes from novelty, but novelty is exciting only as long as it is new. Someone who buys a car fully loaded with options may feel an emotional high, but after several weeks, the novelty wears off and it is just another vehicle.

Spirituality, too, suffers from routine. Human beings may do all that is required of them as moral people and observe all the Torah's demands in terms of the performance of commandments, yet their lives may be insipid and unexciting because their actions have become rote, simply a matter of habit. The prophet Isaiah criticizes this when he says, "Their reverence of Me has become a matter of routine" (Isaiah 29:13). Reverence must be an emotional experience. A reverence that is routine and devoid of emotion is really no reverence at all.

Thus, the excitement that is essential for true observance of Torah depends upon novelty, upon having both an understanding of Torah today that we did not have yesterday and a perception of our relationship to God that is deeper than the one we had yesterday. Only through constantly learning and increasing our knowledge and awareness of Torah and Godliness can we achieve this excitement.

Life is growth. Since stagnation is the antithesis of growth, it is also the antithesis of life. We can exist without growth, but such an existence lacks true life.

Today I shall...

try to discover new things in the Torah and in my relationship to God.


Go to the ant, you sluggard, consider her ways and become wise (Proverbs 6:6).

The Talmud states that had the Torah not been given, we would have been held accountable to learn proper behavior from observance of lower forms of life. As Solomon says, we could have learned diligence from the ant. The Talmud adds that we could have learned modesty, fidelity, and respect of others' possessions by observing certain animals' behaviors.

We might ask: "Without Torah to teach us, how would we have known which animal traits to emulate? Perhaps we would have learned indolence from the alligator, which basks in the sun all day, and ruthlessness from predatory animals!"

People are endowed with an inherent sense of decency and morality. We are expected to use this innate power to judge right and wrong. The Torah only clarifies and emphasizes for us what we could have achieved on our own.

The Talmud thus teaches us that corruption is not only wrong and sinful, but actually unnatural. People do not sin because they have unnatural desires, but because they fail to exercise their innate intellect. If we think before we act, weighing the pros and cons of what we do, we are less likely to go astray.

Today I shall...

be aware that the dignity of a human being lies in the capacity to think before acting. I will not allow myself to be less than a dignified human being.


A man of means was once a Sabbath guest at the home of the...">

[Solomon] was wiser than all men (I Kings 5:11), even wiser than fools (Midrash).

What does the Midrash mean by "wiser than fools"?

A man of means was once a Sabbath guest at the home of the Chofetz Chaim. He insisted upon paying the sage in advance for the Sabbath meals - an insulting demand. To everyone's surprise, the Chofetz Chaim accepted the money.

After the Sabbath the Chofetz Chaim forced the guest to take the money back. He explained, "Had I refused to accept the money before the Sabbath, the thought that he was imposing upon me might have distracted from the man's enjoying the spirit of the Sabbath. Although it was foolish of him to feel this way, I wished to put his mind at rest."

Not everyone thinks wisely all the time. Some people have foolish ideas. Yet if we oppose them, they may feel they have been wronged. Insisting on the logic of our own thinking may not convince them in the least. In such instances, it may require great wisdom to avoid offending someone, yet not submitting to his folly.

By accepting his guest's money, knowing that he would return it to him after the Sabbath, the Chofetz Chaim wisely accommodated this man's whim without compromising on his own principles.

A wise person may be convinced by a logical argument, but outsmarting a fool truly requires genius.

Today I shall...

try to avoid offending people whom I feel to be in the wrong, without in any way compromising myself.


[Just before Moses' death] God said to him, "This is the Land that I promised to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob" (Deuteronomy 34:4).

The Midrash says that Moses pleaded to live long enough to be able to enter the Promised Land. He surrendered his soul only after God instructed him to enter Heaven and inform the Patriarchs that the Israelites had come to their Land and that God had indeed fulfilled His promise to give the Land of Israel to their descendants. To fulfill God's will was dearer to Moses than his craving to enter the Land.

It is only natural to cling to life, and the thought of leaving this world is depressing. However, if a person develops the attitude that he lives only in order to fulfill God's will, then life and death are no longer polar opposites, because he lives to do the will of God, and when that will requires that he leave this world, he will be equally obedient.

The seventh day of Adar is the anniversary of Moses' death. He wanted to enter the Promised Land so that he could fulfill the commandments and thereby have a new opportunity to fulfill the Divine wish. He surrendered his soul willingly when he was told that there was a special commandment for him to perform, one that could only be achieved after leaving this earth.

We refer to Moses as Rabbeinu, our teacher. He not only taught us didactically, but by means of everything he did in his life - and by his death, as well.

Today I shall...

try to dedicate my life to fulfilling the will of God, so that even when that will contradicts my personal desires, I can accept it with serenity.


In order that you remember and perform all My commandments (Numbers 15:40).

Memory is a unique Divine gift. Indeed, to this very day, neuropsychologists have not discovered the secret of exactly how memory operates. The turnover of the chemicals in our bodies is such that after a period of time not a single atom remains in the brain that was there several months earlier, yet a person's brain retains memories for years, decades, a lifetime.

This unique gift should not be abused. Many times the Torah tells us what we should remember and cautions us against forgetting. The concepts and events that we must retain are goals that are vital to our spiritual well-being. Most siddurim list six verses of the Torah that we should recite each day to remind us of who we are and to caution us against idolatry and lashon hara (harmful talk).

However, if we use this wonderful gift to remember those who have offended us and to harbor grudges against them, or if we remember the favors we have done for others and expect them to be beholden to us, we are abusing this Divine gift.

The key to discerning what we should remember and what we should forget is contained in the above verse: "In order that you remember and perform all My commandments." Any memory that does not assist us in working toward the ultimate goal of serving God does not deserve being retained.

Today I shall...

try to retain in my mind only those things that contribute to my devotion to God, and dismiss those things that may deter me therefrom.


Gather together and I will tell you what will befall you at the end of days (Genesis 49:1).

Prior to his death, the Patriarch Jacob wished to disclose to his children the future of the Jewish nation. We know only too well what those prophecies were, and Jacob knew that revealing the enormous suffering that the Jews were destined to experience would be devastating to his children. The only way they could hear these things was if they "gathered together" and, by virtue of their unity, could share their strengths.

What was true for our ancestors holds true for us. Our strength and our ability to withstand the repeated onslaughts that mark our history lie in our joining together.

Jacob knew this lesson well. The Torah tells us that "Jacob remained alone, and a man wrestled with him" (Genesis 32:25). Jacob discovered that he was vulnerable only when he remained alone.

Some people feel that they must be completely independent. They see reliance on someone else, be it others or God, as an indication of weakness. This destructive pride emanates from an unhealthy ego. In my book Let Us Make Man (CIS 1987), I address the apparent paradox that a humble person is one who is actually aware of his strengths, and that feelings of inadequacy give rise to egocentricity and false pride.

Not only are we all mutually interdependent, the Torah further states that when we join together, our strengths are not only additive, but increase exponentially (Rashi, Leviticus 26:8). Together, we can overcome formidable challenges.

Today I shall...

try to join with others in strengthening Judaism and in resisting those forces that threaten spirituality.


Do not throw a stone into the well from which you drank (Bava Kama 92b).

The Talmud states that this folk saying is related to the Torah commandment, "Do not reject an Egyptian, because you were a dweller in his land" (Deuteronomy 23:8). Since Egypt hosted the Israelites, we, their descendants, must acknowledge our gratitude.

The brief period of tranquility that our ancestors enjoyed in Egypt was followed by decades of ruthless enslavement and brutal oppression. Thousands of newborn Israelite children were murdered. This unspeakable horror more than obscured any favorable treatment they had received earlier, and our natural inclination is to despise the Egyptians with a passion.

The Torah tells us to take a different path. Although we celebrate, every Passover, our liberation from this tyrannical enslavement and commemorate the triumph over our oppressors, we have no right to deny that we did receive some benefit from them. Even though a denial of gratitude might appear well justified in this particular case, it might impact upon us in such a manner that we might also deny gratitude when it is fully deserved.

If people cast stones into the well from which they drank, the well will not be hurt in the least, because it is an inanimate and insensitive object. The act, however, might impact negatively upon those who do it: they might subsequently behave with a lack of gratitude to people as well.

Today I shall...

try to remember to be considerate of anyone who has any time been of help to me, even though his later actions might have been hostile.


God instills an additional neshamah (soul) in a person on the eve of the Sabbath (Beitzah 16a).

We know that two things cannot occupy the same space at the same time. Although spiritual substance need not be subject to the law of physics, we might still ask, "Where does this additional neshamah fit? Was there previously a vacuum in the space it now occupies?"

As the Sabbath approaches, we create a place for the additional neshamah by discarding much of the weekday matter we have accumulated. To the extent that we rid ourselves of the weekday problems, to that extent we can receive the additional neshamah of the Sabbath.

We are instructed to approach the Sabbath with an attitude that all our weekday work has been totally completed, and so nothing has been left undone that could cause us to think about it on the Sabbath. Weekday activities relate to the means of living, while the Sabbath represents the goal of life. It is the time when, freed from all other activities, we can direct attention to the study of Torah, to prayer, and to contemplating on what God wants of us. Vacating the thoughts, stresses and worries of weekday life leaves "space" for that extra neshamah.

We can begin preparing to receive the additional neshamah during the week: we can consider our weekday activities as merely the means to earn a livelihood, and then look forward to the Sabbath, on which we will be able to focus on the purpose of life.

Today I shall...

try to realize that work is a means rather than a goal, and to look forward to the Sabbath, when I will be able to more fully concentrate on the goals of life.


With exercising patience you could have saved yourself 400 zuzim (Berachos 20a).

This Talmudic proverb arose from a case where someone was fined 400 zuzim because he acted in undue haste and insulted some one.

I was once pulling into a parking lot. Since I was a bit late for an important appointment, I was terribly annoyed that the lead car in the procession was creeping at a snail's pace. The driver immediately in front of me was showing his impatience by sounding his horn. In my aggravation, I wanted to join him, but I saw no real purpose in adding to the cacophony.

When the lead driver finally pulled into a parking space, I saw a wheelchair symbol on his rear license plate. He was handicapped and was obviously in need of the nearest parking space. I felt bad that I had harbored such hostile feelings about him, but was gratified that I had not sounded my horn, because then I would really have felt guilty for my lack of consideration.

This incident has helped me to delay my reactions to other frustrating situations until I have more time to evaluate all the circumstances. My motives do not stem from lofty principles, but from my desire to avoid having to feel guilt and remorse for having been foolish or inconsiderate.

Today I shall...

try to withhold impulsive reaction, bearing in mind that a hasty act performed without full knowledge of all the circumstances may cause me much distress.


From the mouths of babes and sucklings You established strength (Psalms 8:3).

The Talmud tells us that when Haman threatened to annihilate the Jews, Mordechai gathered the children and led them in prayer to God. Why children? Because they are likely to be more sincere, and their prayers more genuine.

A Chassidic master said that one of the things we should learn from an infant is that it cries for whatever it wants. When an infant wants something, it wants it with all its being, and nothing else either interests it or distracts it from the object of its desire. The baby will cry relentlessly until it gets what it wants.

We pray for the redemption of Israel. We tell ourselves that we really want the Exile to end. We ask for redemption no less than three times a day in our prayers. But just one question: If we really wanted it as much as we say we do, why do we not cry for it?

An infant does not play intellectual games. It does not rationalize. It does not debate why it is preferable to get its way or not get it. The item of its desire may be only a brightly colored ball or a wooden block, but at that moment, it is as important to the infant as life itself, and it makes its desire well known to all with ears to hear.

Parents respond to the infant's cry because, in their intense love for the child, they do not wish to deprive it of something it wants so desperately.

God loves us more than a parent loves a child. If we would cry for our redemption, we would certainly get it.

Today I shall...

try to understand how being in Exile prevents me from attaining maximum intimacy with God, to the point where I will cry to Him for redemption.


Mordechai said to respond to Esther, "Do not think that you can save yourself [from Haman's decree of annihilation] because you are in the royal palace" (Esther 4:13).

Esther, the heroine of the Purim episode, received this sharp rebuke from Mordechai. No Jew should ever assume that anti-Semitism will affect only others but not oneself. No one has immunity. Every Jew must know that he or she is part of a unit, and a threat against any Jew anywhere in the world is a threat to all Jews.

History has unfortunately repeated itself many times. Spanish Jews who held powerful governmental positions were sent into exile along with their brethren. Jewish millionaires and members of European parliaments were cremated in Auschwitz ovens. Throughout the ages, those who had thought to escape anti-Semitic persecution by concealing their Jewish identities sadly learned that this effort was futile.

Esther accepted Mordechai's reprimand and risked her life to save her people. In fact, the Megillah (Book of Esther) tells us that Esther had not revealed her Jewish identity because Mordechai had instructed her to keep it a secret. She never would have stayed hidden in the palace and watched her people perish. Mordechai spoke his sharp words not to her, but to posterity.

Some people simply refuse to accept history's painful lessons. In defiance, they continue to say that they will be different. Neither any individual who feels secure for any reason nor any community that lives in what it considers to be a safe environment should have this delusion of immunity.

Mordechai's message reverberates throughout the centuries: "Do not think that you can save yourself by hiding when other Jews are being persecuted."

Today I shall...

be forthcoming and proud of my Jewish identity and at all times retain a firm solidarity with my people.


For Mordechai ... was approved by most of his brethren. He sought the good of his people and spoke in peace to all their descendants (Esther 10:3).

The great Mordechai, who saved the Jewish people from total annihilation, won the approval of only most of his brethren. Most, but not all.

Some people need to be liked by everyone. If one person out of several hundred does not approve of them, they are devastated. They are likely to become "people pleasers," going out of their way to obtain universal approval.

This attitude comes from low self-esteem. People who feel secure about themselves believe that they are generally likable and do not feel threatened if one or more people does not like them. They realize that some personalities are simply incompatible with certain other personalities. The "chemistry" between two people may be of such a nature that one person simply does not like the other, but that need not be a reflection on the latter's worth.

People who are insecure and feel unlikable expect to be rejected. They therefore interpret innocent comments or gestures as confirmations of their unlikability. Since they fear such "rejections," they do things in order to be liked, in other words, they try to "buy" affection.

Mordechai sought everyone's welfare and spoke peace fully to all, but he was not perturbed that he did not achieve universal approval. If some did not approve of him, that was their problem, not his.

Today I shall...

try to avoid using universal approval as the measure of my self-worth and avoid buying friendship and affection.


It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work (Ethics of the Fathers 2:21).

In economics, the bottom line measures success and failure. Someone who goes into a business venture with complete recklessness, yet makes a great deal of money, is considered a successful entrepreneur. Another person who was extremely cautious and applied sound business principles, yet went bankrupt, is considered a failure.

Unfortunately, we tend to apply these values to our personal, non-business lives. If things do not turn out the way we wish, we may think that we have performed badly. This is not true. If parents abuse and neglect their children, yet one child wins the Nobel Prize, or discovers the cure for cancer, they do not suddenly become good parents. On the other hand, if they did their utmost to raise their children well, yet one becomes a criminal, they are not necessarily bad parents.

We must understand that we have no control over outcome. All we can control is process, i.e. what we do. If we act with sincerity and with the best guidance available, then what we are doing is right.

Parents whose children turn out to be anti-social invariably fault themselves and may be consumed by guilt. Their pain is unavoidable, but their guilt is unjustified.

Humans do not have the gift of prophecy, nor do we always have the most accurate knowledge. We should hold ourselves responsible for that which we can control, but we should not hold ourselves responsible for that which is beyond our control.

Today I shall...

try to realize that I must judge the correctness of my actions by how I arrive at them, and not by what results from them.


I stand between God and you (Deuteronomy 5:5).

We can also read the verse to mean that it is the "I" that stands between God and you. Indeed, many commentaries make the illuminating interpretation that the ego not only forms the barrier between God and people, but it also separates us from our fellow men and women.

Self-centeredness renders us unable to empathize with others - to share in their distress or participate in their success. When we are completely preoccupied with ourselves, we lack the time and capacity to be attentive to others, and barriers to communication inevitably develop.

The great works of mussar and chassidus stress that people must efface themselves before God, because to the degree that they are occupied with their own importance, to that degree they separate themselves from God. Even sin cannot separate a person from God the way vanity does. It is of the vain person that God says, "I cannot coexist in his presence" (Sotah 5a).

Self-effacement does not mean low self-esteem. How? If people realize that their abilities are gifts from God, they can then be both humble and aware of their skills and talents.

If we allow awareness of our potential to go to our heads, however, we begin to consider others inferior to ourselves. Our hollow feelings of superiority not only disrupt our sense of belonging with others, but also cause the vanity and arrogance which repel the Divine Presence.

Today I shall...

try to recognize my self-worth, while being aware that my strengths are a Divine gift. I am no better than any of God's creatures, and I should not allow barriers to develop between myself and them.


My God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift, my God, my face unto You (Ezra 9:6).

People may be tempted to do many things, but refrain from doing them for fear of the consequences. For example, they may have the opportunity to enrich themselves dishonestly, but they refrain because they fear that the possible exposure of the crime may lead to heavy fines and/or imprisonment. The deterrent to this improper behavior is thus the fear of the punishment that may follow.

This deterrent effect is not unique to humans. A hungry jackal will not try to take a carcass from the possession of a tiger or lion, because it fears that it will be beaten or killed. Even animals will forego satisfying a bodily drive rather than risk punishment.

Human beings can go a step further. We can deny a bodily drive even without the threat of punishment. If we know that indulging a particular urge is not proper, we can refrain from doing so. Making moral free choices is thus distinctly and uniquely human, and this kind of behavior should give us the pride of being human.

Animals are slaves to their drives. Human beings are capable of making free choices and thus being masters over themselves.

Only when we are embarrassed to show our face before God for having done wrong, and when we are ashamed of behaving immorally, are we truly dignified human beings.

Today I shall...

try to realize that the essence of my humanity involves correct moral free choices, to behave properly because it is right, and to avoid improper behavior simply because it is wrong.


They rise to the Heavens and descend to the depths; their souls melt for fear of harm (Psalm 107:26).

If we were permitted to design the course of our lives, we would undoubtedly eliminate all crises. Indeed, if we were given the authority to design the course of the world, we would eliminate many types of unpleasantness, both physical and emotional.

However, we did not design the world, and so we must adapt to its laws. Everyone has crises; some are major, some are minor. If we triumph over a certain crisis, we ascend to a new strength of character. If we succumb to the crisis, we lose character strength.

Very often, triumph consists of making a change, and failure consists of being adamant and continuing to do things as before. That resistance to change often comes from fear. We feel more secure with what is familiar, and so we plod along the familiar path even though it may be ruinous.

"I will fear no evil, for You are with me" (Psalms 23:4). Faith and trust in God will give us a sense of security and the courage to take advantage of the opportunities for growth that are contained in a crisis, and instead of descending into the depths, we can rise to new heights.

Today I shall...

consider a crisis an opportunity for growth, and with trust in God have the courage to make constructive changes in my life.


It is the evil that kills the wicked (Psalms 34:22).

Chassidic philosophy teaches that God gives vitality, a life-sustaining force, only to the good and positive in the world. Evil can exist only because it derives its "nutrition" from that which is good and positive, just as a parasite derives its nutrition from the host. Evil could not continue to exist unless it somehow attached itself to the good, but while it is the nature of good to give of itself, the parasitic evil only takes and thus drains the good of its strength.

Parasites ultimately destroy themselves. Because a parasite can only exist by feeding on its host, and since it thereby weakens the host, it is essentially working toward its own destruction. If it never lets go, it will kill the host, its source of sustenance, and it too will die.

Fear of punishment need not be our only deterrent from doing wrong. Just as the parasite that sucks the lifeblood from its host can temporarily thrive, so may wrongdoing appear to be profitable for a short term. Ultimately, however, evil destroys itself.

Looking only at the short-term consequences and ignoring the inevitable is a common mistake. The Talmud states that truly wise people look to the future and give serious thought to the ultimate consequences of their behavior, rather than focusing upon the momentary gratification.

Today I shall...

think responsibly about what I do. I shall not let the enticement of immediate gratification blind me to the long-term consequences of my behavior.


...Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, King of the Universe ... (Siddur)

Many times each day, we recite various blessings to remind ourselves that God is King of the Universe.

While a person may be tempted to do things that defy the Divine will, the Baal Shem Tov suggests a simple technique that can help withstand temptation.

He gave the parable of a king who wished to test the loyalty of his subjects. He summoned one of his officers and instructed him to go among the masses and attempt to incite a rebellion. By observing who acceded to this agitator, the king could gauge the loyalty or disloyalty of his subjects. One wise man approached by the instigator reasoned that it was unthinkable that so powerful a monarch would allow such a traitor to move about so freely. Hence, he concluded, the rebel must be acting with the king's consent, and his ultimate purpose was to test the loyalty of the populace. So the wise man immediately rejected the instigator.

Our recognition of God as a monarch, as the Absolute Ruler of the Universe, should make it apparent that any instigation to defy the Divine will is a test of our loyalty. Indeed, the evil inclination [yetzer hara] is merely carrying out its mission to seduce us to sin, but since the yetzer hara too is in the Divine service, it really does not wish us to submit to its seduction. Ironically, one who submits to the seduction of the yetzer hara is not only transgressing the Divine will but even disappointing the yetzer hara. It is like the diabetic who submits to his desire for sweets. Far from indulging himself, he is harming himself.

Today I shall...

try to realize that nothing in the world can exist other than by the Divine will, and that anything that appears to be in defiance of the Divine will can only be a test.


Do not judge your neighbor until you are in his place (Ethics of the Fathers 2:5).

While this Talmudic dictum is generally understood to mean that we should not be critical of another's action because we may not be aware what circumstances led to the behavior, there is also another possible interpretation.

I once heard a recovering alcoholic say, "I used to judge my insides by everyone else's outsides. I felt deprived because I saw other people smiling, but I did not feel like smiling. I saw other couples communicating, while my wife and I did not. Only later did I realize that when other people smiled, I didn't known whether they felt like smiling, and that when I observed other couples communicating, they were in company, but it was certainly possible that when they were alone they did not communicate at all."

Externals are all we can observe. How often do we smile or otherwise act as though we were pleased, while internally we are a cauldron of dissatisfaction? Just as others may mistakenly think that we are happy, so may we mistakenly think that they are happy and that we are missing out. In all likelihood, we are no more and no less satisfied or dissatisfied than anyone else. We should not gauge our insides by others' outsides, but should set our individual goals and do our utmost to achieve them.

Today I shall...

try to avoid comparing myself to others and avoid feelings of discontent on the basis that others must be happier than I am.


The Hebrew language has words...">

You shall converse in the words of Torah and not in other things (Yoma 19b).

The Talmud explains "other things" as referring to idle, meaning less things.

The Hebrew language has words that mean rest, play, relaxation, and pleasant activities, while it has no word for "fun." A "fun" activity has no goal, as is implied in the colloquial expression, "just for the fun of it." In other words, the goal of the activity is within itself, and fun does not lead to or result in anything else.

This concept is alien to Judaism. Every human being is created with a mission in life. This mission is the ultimate goal toward which everything must in one way or another be directed. Seemingly mundane activities can become goal directed; we eat and sleep so that we can function, and we function in order to achieve our ultimate goal. Even relaxation and judicious enjoyable activities, if they contribute to sound health, can be considered goal directed if they enhance our functioning. However, fun as an activity in which people indulge just to "kill time" is proscribed. Time is precious, and we must constructively utilize every moment of life.

Furthermore, since people conceptualize their self-worth in terms of their activities, doing things "just for the fun of it" may in fact harm their self-esteem.

Today I shall...

try to direct all my activities, even rest and relaxation, to the ultimate purpose of my life.


I am your God Who has delivered you from the land of Egypt (Exodus 20:2).

This verse states the mitzvah of emunah, or faith in God. However, since all mitzvos take the form of commandments, they take as a given that Someone exists Who commanded them. Therefore, belief in God must come before accepting any mitzvah. How, then, can there be a mitzvah to believe in God? The reasoning comes out circular. Because we believe in God, we believe that He commanded us to believe in Him.

This mitzvah does not only involve believing that God exists, but believing that God rules the universe and is in charge of its functioning. Thus, the first of the Ten Commandments tells us to believe in Divine Providence, that God attends to the operation of the universe and that things do not occur accidentally or spontaneously. Therefore, the first commandment does not state, "I am your God Who created the universe," because creation of the universe does not assume an ongoing participation in its function.

Some believe that God, after creating the universe, abandoned it to the physical laws of nature. Judaism teaches that God continues His interest in everything that happens in the universe. With the exception of free moral choice, which God has delegated to us, everything that occurs in the universe is of Divine origin, although He may operate through the vehicle of the physical laws of nature.

We maintain our relationship to God, to a Father Who not only begot us, but remains involved in our lives.

Today I shall...

try to remember that God is not only present everywhere, but that He maintains a constant participation in everything that transpires in the universe.


My sin is forever before me (Psalms 51:5).

The human soul may be compared to gold. The more we polish an object made of gold, the brighter it gets. While a certain degree of shine may indeed be beautiful, it may be less than the maximum possible, and hence, relatively defective.

The word chet, which we generally translate as "sin" or "mistake," can also mean "a defect." The above verse can thus read, "My defect is forever before me." Since growth is an endless path, we can always strive to reach a higher level than where we are now. Therefore, we can always consider ourselves relatively "defective" in the sense that we can always find room to improve.

However, the result of such consideration should not be dejection. To the contrary, just as graduation from one level of education prepares and enables us to move to a higher level, and we are certainly not saddened by moving up, so should our awareness of our own "defectiveness," i.e. that we can reach ever-greater heights, never be a cause for sadness. Progress should bring us joy.

Today I shall...

try to realize that what I have achieved so far allows me to proceed even further.


Do not say, "I will study Torah when I will have free time," because you may never have free time (Ethics of the Fathers 2:5).

When we have a certain task before us, the lazy bone in ourselves (and we all know it well) has two ways of thwarting our good intentions - outright refusal and delay. Since outright refusal will likely arouse the resistance of our conscience, we sometimes do an "end run" and achieve the same goal with procrastination. People who have destructive addictions - whether alcohol, drugs, or food - are notorious for saying that they will quit "tomorrow." They may say so with utmost sincerity, but laziness does not affect good intentions, only constructive action.

Furthermore, procrastination feeds upon itself, for it not only delays constructive action, it actually makes that action more difficult. As the deadline approaches, we have less time to do it right.

That which should be done, should be done now. Myriad reasons will invariably come to mind. "I cannot learn now. My mind is tired from an exhausting day. I will be able to understand and retain what I learn better when I arise early in the morning." These "reasons" are generally nothing but excuses for laziness.

Today I shall...

try to do that which I know to be my duty, and avoid the pitfalls of procrastination.


The hearts of this nation are fattened, and their ears are heavy, and their eyes are sealed (Isaiah 6:10).

Some people's conduct may be exemplary in every way, yet they lack a deep emotional relationship with God. They may even have an intellectual awareness of the infinite greatness of God, yet they may fail to experience the sense of reverence that such an awareness should evoke. They may firmly believe that God is their Provider and Protector, yet fail to love Him and be devoted to Him. This insensitivity of the heart and dullness of the senses, states Rabbi Schneur Zalman in Tanya, is due to an insulating barrier with which the yetzer hara has enveloped the thought processes of an individual. Finding itself unable to seduce a person into frank transgressions of the Divine will, the yetzer hara does the next best thing for its purpose. It renders him insensitive in his relationship to God, even when he goes through the motions of performing the commandments. Since the person is technically complying with the Divine will, he may not recognize that his insensitivity is keeping him distant from God.

Drastic measures may be required to overcome this insensitivity and penetrate its shell of insulation. An individual may need a crisis to shatter his ego and thereby overwhelm the yetzer hara. But such a course carries with it the danger of falling into a mood of dejection, which would drain the person's energy and paralyze his functioning. That would hand the yetzer hara a triumph. Conversely, a carefully controlled dismantling of the ego, with proper and competent guidance, can free the individual from the constrictive shell, allow him to feel a closeness to God, and rebuild his healthy ego.

Today I shall...

try to discover whether I feel love and reverence for God, and if not, seek spiritual guidance how to achieve these.


A just person may fall seven times and rise (Proverbs 24:16).

Although we may have realized that we learn our most valuable lessons the hard way, and that therefore we may tolerate our mistakes because of their educational value, we are apt to be intolerant of a mistake that we repeat. "I should have known better from last time," one says.

We should stop berating ourselves. Some lessons are not learned so easily, even from experience. The reason? We may understand something with our intellect, yet it may not have filtered down into our hearts and bones and muscles. In other words, if we lack an emotional grasp of a concept, the intellectual awareness alone may not suffice to deter us from repeating a mistake.

We are human. Rather than blame ourselves for a repetitive mistake, we should realize that the anguish we feel when we have failed to learn from a previous experience might just give us the emotional insight that can prevent that same mistake in the future.

In fact, new mistakes can shed light on old mistakes. When we do something wrong once, we may make only a superficial repair. Soon afterwards, in a different situation, we again fall flat. We may continue to fall until we realize that all our failures point to a flaw in ourselves that we had never noticed. Once we have uncovered the real reason for our mistakes, we can correct it and greatly, genuinely improve ourselves.

Today I shall...

try to maintain faith in myself even when I make the same mistake over and over again.


A person may acquire an entire world of reward in just a brief period of time (Avodah Zarah 10b).

Someone once challenged the Rabbi of Gur: "We read in the Shema that if we observe the mitzvos, we will be rewarded, and if we transgress, we will be punished. I am not observant and in fact have many, many transgressions to my credit, yet I am wealthy and content with my life. Therefore, the Shema is incorrect."

The Rabbi of Gur responded: "My child, you would not have been familiar with the Shema unless you had at some time recited it. When you did so, you performed a mitzvah, and to put it mildly, you have been rewarded."

Negative behavior tends to perpetuate itself. If we berate ourselves, we may discourage ourselves from behaving properly, for one may think: "What's the use? I am beyond help anyway."

We can all find some positive deeds in our life. They can serve as nuclei for feelings of self-worth that stimulate us to do more positive things, rather than despair of ourselves and resign ourselves to lower standards of behavior.

Today I shall...

find something for which I can give myself approval, and use that positive act as a springboard for more positive acts.


The deliberations of the industrious always lead to an advantage (Proverbs 21:5).

What are a person's moral obligations? How much is a person required to do, and when may one say, "I have done enough?"

Inertia is a powerful force, which operates to maintain things at rest until overcome by a greater force. For many people, the driving force that gets them up in the morning is the need to provide for themselves and/or the family. Once financial and social obligations have been met, many people retire to the easy chair or to any of many pastimes.

The Torah perspective is that a person is responsible to do whatever one can do rather than what one must do. While a person must certainly have the rest, relaxation, and entertainment that is conducive to optimum physical and emotional health, one is not free to become inactive just because one's immediate personal obligations have been satisfied. There are always people in need of help, and deserving causes that should be supported. There is an infinite store of Torah wisdom, and a mitzvah to learn more about how one can enhance one's relationship to God.

There are some mitzvos that can be fulfilled by meeting minimum standards, such as eating a small portion of matzah at the Seder. Other mitzvos, especially those involving extending a helping hand to people in need, have no upper limits. Whatever one can do is what one should do.

Today I shall...

carefully examine whether I am doing all that is within my means to do.


By virtue of the mitzvah of counting the omer of today, may my defects be rectified (Siddur).

The theme of correcting a defect each day is specially employed in the mitzvah of counting the omer, during the forty-nine days that begin with the celebration of the Exodus on Passover and end with the commemoration of the receiving of the Torah at Sinai on Shavuos. On each of these days, we pray that we become better, more refined people.

While the emphasis of this book has been on character development and spiritual growth via daily improvement of personality traits, the mitzvah of counting the omer goes one step further. The above-cited prayer continues: "May I be purified and sanctified from Above; and through this, may there be an abundant outpouring of Divine bounty in all the universe."

The concept here tells us that the impact of a personal defect is not limited to oneself or even to one's immediate environment, but it impacts the entire universe. Just as a watch works only when all its parts are in good shape, the world functions optimally only according to the Divine law, part of which is people's developing good character traits. Any transgression can have a much greater impact than we think.

We therefore share a sense of responsibility. People cannot claim that their lives are their own private business, any more than a passenger in a boat can drill a hole under his or her own seat and tell others to mind their own business.

A vivid proof of this concept comes from today's exploitation of world resources and pollution of the environment. No one can say that an oil spill is a private matter.

Today I shall...

try to remember that my actions and behavior, even when they may seem to me to be a private affair, do affect others, and that I have an obligation to refrain from affecting others negatively.


It is better to go to the house of a mourner than to the house of feasting (Ecclesiastes 7:2).

Progress and achievement in life come from identifying the challenges of reality and dealing with them effectively. Anything that constitutes an escape from reality is destructive, because an escape from reality is actually an escape from life itself.

The house of feasting which Solomon criticizes is literally "a house of drinking." In his era, like modern times, the participants at some social gatherings put themselves into an alcoholic stupor, talked senselessly, and made believe that the world was free of stresses and problems. Such "feasting" constituted an escape from reality and contributed nothing to the betterment of the participants.

The house of the mourner is a solemn place, which confronts people with the reality of their own mortality. There we recognize, at least momentarily, that our stay on earth has a limit, and that so many of the things that we spend our lives to attain are left behind when we die. Our only permanent acquisitions are our spiritual achievements, such as our good deeds and our positive effects on others. The house of the mourner actually brings us to an enhanced appreciation of reality.

Is it more pleasant to go to the house of the mourner? Of course not. It is "better," however, because it can contribute to our betterment.

Today I shall...

try to avoid activities that provide an escape from reality and realize that growth consists only of dealing with reality.


Where can I go that I will be away from Your spirit, and where can I flee from You? (Psalms 139:7).

The Psalmist goes on to say that there is no escaping from God because He is present everywhere and knows everything. The Psalmist then concludes: "Search me, O God, and know that which is in my heart" (ibid. 23). Once we realize that God is omniscient, we must abandon all efforts to escape or to hide from Him, since they are futile, and instead open ourselves up to Him.

Just as this concept applies to people's relationship to God, it is equally true of people's relationship to themselves. We cannot escape from ourselves, regardless of what techniques we may employ. We cannot run away to the next neighborhood, nor the next country, nor throw ourselves into our work. We cannot use alcohol or drugs to escape. We cannot even conceal ourselves with denial, repression, and other means of psychological self-deception. Ultimately, we must confront ourselves. It is therefore only logical to cease and desist from these futile efforts and submit ourselves to a thorough journey to self-awareness. Let us say to ourselves: "Search me and know my heart."

Facing ourselves may not be easy. Doing a thorough moral inventory may force us to look at parts of ourselves that we might prefer to disown. However, adjusting to reality requires a thorough self-knowledge. We can only adjust effectively to reality if we have not distorted it.

Today I shall...

try to realize that optimum living can only be with a valid self-awareness.


Tongs could only be made by tongs (Ethics of the Fathers 5:8).

The Talmud states that God gave man the first pair of tongs, because it is impossible to forge a pair of tongs without already having another pair to hold the metal in the fire.

A wise man said that the way to really make an apple pie from scratch is to first invent the universe.

These ideas should be sobering thoughts for people who consider themselves self-sufficient. Self-sufficiency is obviously a myth; we all must rely on others, in varying degrees.

Many people find it hard to accept their dependency. They see it as demeaning and a sign of weakness. They may take radical measures to prove to themselves and to others that they can stand on their own two feet. This rejection of healthy dependency can give rise to many problems.

Certainly, being lazy and expecting others to do everything for us is wrong, but going to the opposite extreme and denying our need of both emotional and physical support is equally wrong. We should be able to accept our dependence upon others, and their dependence upon us, as a part of life.

Today I shall...

try to realize that absolute self-sufficiency is an impossibility. Rather, I will be able to accept appropriate help without considering it demeaning.


I have placed before you life and death, blessing and curse, and you should choose life (Deuteronomy 30:19).

Some people who commit improper acts defend themselves by insisting that the temptation was too intense to resist. They are wrong.

A law of human behavior states that when given two options, people can choose only that which they perceive as being the lesser distress. However, individual choice decides which distress is greater and which is lesser. For example, when a hungry baby cries in the middle of the night, the parents will get up. They naturally choose to forego the greater distress - staying in bed and listening to their baby - for the lesser - getting up and feeding the baby. Extreme cases come from martyrs who choose death rather than violate principles which are sacred to them. Here, death hurts less than compromised life.

People can evaluate for themselves what is good and what is evil. Everyone is responsible for his or her own evaluations, and so submitting to the temptation to do a forbidden or improper act indicates failure to evaluate properly.

Today I shall...

program myself with correct evaluations of what is right and wrong so that I may make the correct choices.


Accustom your tongue to say "I do not know" (Berachos 4a).

While no human being can know everything, some people cannot admit any ignorance about anything. For them, any admission of lack of knowledge threatens their fragile egos. Although they try to impress others with their omniscience, they accomplish the reverse, because the more they try to conceal their ignorance, the more prominent it becomes.

Furthermore, the only way we can acquire knowledge is by accepting that we do not have it. People who claim to know everything cannot learn. Therefore, many opportunities to learn pass them by, and their denying their ignorance actually increases their ignorance.

We do not have to know everything, and no one expects us to. Today, more than ever, with the unprecedented amount of information available, no one can be a universal genius. The simple statement, "I don't know," is actually highly respected.

We should also open ourselves to acquiring knowledge from every source. Learning from someone whom we consider to be inferior to ourselves should not be demeaning. As the Psalmist says, "I became wise by learning from all my teachers" (Psalms 119:99). A willingness to learn from everyone is a sign of greatness, while affecting omniscience actually betrays ignorance.

Today I shall...

admit that there are many things that I do not know. Instead, I will become willing to learn from anyone and everyone.


Do not feel bad in your heart when you give to him [the poor] (Deuteronomy 15:10).

When people come to collect charity, we may sometimes feel annoyed with them, especially if they come frequently. The Torah here is cautioning us not to bear any resentment when we give to them.

A recovered alcoholic, sober for many years, gave much of his time to help newcomers to sobriety. He therefore made himself available to them twenty-four hours a day, so that whenever they called, he could help them resist the urge to drink. Someone once asked him, "Doesn't it irritate you to be repeatedly awakened during the night?" "Of course not!" he answered. "I just have to remember that I'm not the one who is doing the calling."

This man knew that many years earlier, he himself had needed to call for help. Now that he was in a position to give help instead of receiving it, his deep gratitude precluded any irritation at being bothered at strange hours.

If we ever feel put upon by people who ask for charity, one need only realize that since we are in a position to give instead of needing to receive, we should be so overwhelmed with gratitude that there should be no room for annoyance. As we give charity, we might also give our blessings and good wishes to the recipients, that God should help them soon be in a position to give to others.

Today I shall...

give tzedakah with an open hand and willing heart, and be grateful that I am in a position to give instead of needing to receive.


The Mighty Rock, Whose deeds are perfect, because all His ways are good. He is a faithful God in Whom there is no iniquity (Deuteronomy 32:4-5).

These very sobering words are often invoked at moments of great personal distress to express our faith and trust in the Divine wisdom and justice.

People who have suffered deep personal losses, such as destruction of their home by fire or the premature death of a loved one, or who have observed the widespread suffering caused by a typhoon or an earthquake, may be shaken in their relationship with God. How could a loving, caring God mete out such enormous suffering?

It is futile to search for logical explanations, and even if there were any, they would accomplish little in relieving the suffering of the victims. This is the time when the true nature of faith emerges, a faith that is beyond logic, that is not subject to understanding.

The kaddish recited by mourners makes no reference to any memorial concept or prayer for the departed. The words of kaddish, "May the name of the Almighty be exalted and sanctified," are simply a statement of reaffirmation, that in spite of the severe distress one has experienced, one does not deny the sovereignty and absolute justice of God.

Our language may be too poor in words and our thoughts lacking in concepts that can provide comfort when severe distress occurs, but the Jew accepts Divine justice even in the face of enormous pain.

Today I shall...

reaffirm my trust and faith in the sovereignty and justice of God, even when I see inexplicable suffering.


[Joseph] dreamt another dream ... the sun, moon, and the eleven stars were bowing before me (Genesis 37:9).

Joseph dreamt of greatness, and he achieved it. Still, he paid a steep price for that greatness, suffering years of enslavement and imprisonment.

Some people are satisfied with their status quo and choose not to rock the boat. Others are dreamers, people of great ambition.

Dreams and fantasy are very different. Fantasy is mere wishful thinking, something we know is beyond reach, but a dream is something that may be in the remote future, yet is conceivably achievable.

Suppose Joseph had known that, in order to obtain the promise of the dream, he would have to endure years of suffering. Would he have foregone the greatness, or would he have accepted the pain? Since Joseph understood the dream to be a revelation of the Divine plan for him, he undoubtedly would have chosen to accept the suffering it entailed.

We may be frequently confronted with a decision whether to resign ourselves to the status quo or to try to advance ourselves at considerable cost. We should avail ourselves of expert counseling and pray for Divine guidance to know what the Divine plan for us is. If we feel secure in the knowledge that God wants us to advance to our optimum potential, we should not retreat because of the personal cost entailed.

Infants are fortunate; they do not have to choose whether to remain toothless or to accept the distress of teething. While we do have such choices, we also have the wisdom to make the right choice.

Today I shall...

pray for enlightenment as to what is God's will for me and for the fortitude and courage to achieve it.


Wrongdoers are referred to as having died even while they live (Berachos 18b).

Animals grow and develop until they reach physical maturity. Thereafter, animals do only those actions necessary to survive, but they do not grow significantly in any way.

Human beings are distinctly different. While they do stop growing at physical maturity, their minds have a limitless capacity to grow intellectually and spiritually. This difference leads to another. Animals survive by adapting themselves to the world, but human beings can change the world according to their desires.

We can thus subdivide human life into an animal-physical phase, where growth ends with physical maturity, and a human-intellectual/spiritual phase, which should continue as long as we live. If people neglect intellectual-spiritual growth and indulge only in physical needs and desires, their human phase of life has stopped growing and therefore has essentially died, and only the animal phase continues to live.

The Talmud's reference to wrongdoers is to those people who neglect their intellectual-spiritual growth and seek only to maintain their physical lives. They have therefore allowed their unique human aspect to die.

No self-respecting, rational people would ever degrade themselves to a subhuman existence. While we pray to God to grant us life, it is our task to make that life truly human.

Today I shall...

try to realize that abandoning myself completely to actions that merely maintain my physical self is degrading, and I therefore shall take pride in being fully human.


If you do not believe, it is because you are not trustworthy (Isaiah 7:9).

In these few pungent words, the Prophet explains why people may have difficulty in believing in God: they are not themselves trustworthy. In other words, if I am reliable, and I know that people can trust that I will keep my word as best I can to perform and deliver, then I will have little difficulty in having trust in God and in His ability to perform and deliver. Lack of trust in God is thus a reflection of one's own lack of trustworthiness.

Projection, a psychological defense mechanism, consists of attributing to others those attitudes and motives that we ourselves harbor. The Talmud summarizes this concept in the dictum that those who find defects in others must themselves be defective in the same way. Isaiah is simply applying this principle to trust and faith.

Some people struggle with faith and therefore consult various philosophic works on the subject. The authoritative works - such as Duties of the Heart by Rabbeinu Bachaye, the Kuzari, and others - certainly deserve study, but while they define very well various aspects of faith, they cannot be expected to have much impact on someone who lacks the basic capacity to trust, because of his or her own lack of trustworthiness. One can fine-tune a radio, but the dial will not do much without an electric current.

Today I shall...

try to develop my integrity so that I should be fully trustworthy.


You open Your hand and satisfy all living things with will (Psalms 145:16).

This verse is usually understood to mean that God provides for all living things, satisfying their wills and desires. Another interpretation is that God provides all living things with will; i.e. with desire, so that all living things should have desire.

When we say the Grace After Meals, we thank God for the food He provides for us; we do not give thanks for being hungry. However, if we talk with people who suffer with any of the diseases which cause loss of appetite, we will discover that we must be grateful for the sensation of hunger as well as for the means provided for us to satisfy that hunger.

This concept applies to wants of all sorts. An ancient Chinese curse goes, "May all of your wishes come true." Why is this a curse? Pause a moment and reflect. What would we do if all of our desires were fulfilled? Since sensation of needs cause actions, without any sensation we would have no motivation to act. Satisfaction of all our needs would essentially mean an end to life itself.

As a physician, I frequently encounter people who are very depressed and who have no appetite at all. Other patients have diseases that affect their digestive systems, so that they cannot even tolerate the sight of food (let alone crave it). We must remember, then, that when we feel the pangs of hunger and thirst, we should appreciate them.

Today I shall...

try to be aware that feeling hunger or having other needs is a Divine blessing for which I should be grateful.


If you will go in the way of My ordinances ... I will give your rain in the proper time (Leviticus 26:3-4).

Rashi explains that "going in the way of My ordinances" means that one will "toil in the Torah." This toil and labor itself causes the abundant blessings that follow.

Our culture highly values achievement, and it confers various kinds of reward for academic and scientific excellence. But the world is interested in results, not in the effort expended. If one person of limited capacity were to labor continuously at a given project without achieving success, while another person who is extremely gifted achieves success in the project with a minimum expenditure of effort, the latter will reap the reward. This is not the Jewish attitude. The Talmud states, "Reward is commensurate with effort." In the study of Torah, in the performance of mitzvos, and in the development of character, God measures virtue not by how much we accomplish, but by how hard we try.

The Talmud further states that not only are people rewarded for extreme effort; they are also blessed with those very goals for which they have worked. They receive not only the many material blessings listed in the chapter cited above, but also the spiritual goals for which they strove, and which might not have been attainable through human effort alone.

Today I shall...

try to advance myself spiritually, and realize that God wants me to try - the reward will come from God.


All beginnings are difficult (Rashi, Exodus 19:5).

We are creatures of habit. Learning something new may take effort, but once we make something a part of our routine, it becomes not only effortless, but automatic. For example, when we learned to walk, it required conscious effort, as we can see when we observe children taking their first steps. Later on in life, walking takes no thought at all. The same holds true for many other behaviors. Whenever we begin something new, we are, by definition, initiating some new type of behavior. The body naturally tends to return to the old, effortless pattern. If the new behavior holds promises of significant gain (such as a new job, new business, or new learning), which we anticipate will be profitable, this anticipation of reward overcomes the resistance to change, and we make the adjustment to the new. When we see no tangible gain, such as in spiritual advancement, the ease of routine is likely to draw us back to well-established habits.

Let's face it. If we were offered a significant promotion at work which would necessitate arising half an hour earlier than usual, we would certainly set the alarm clock and get up promptly. If, however, we resolve to devote that half-hour to bettering ourselves, we would have trouble getting up.

We must value our spiritual goals so much that we will be willing to make the changes in our routine that are necessary to achieve them.

Today I shall...

try to overcome any resistance to spiritual growth that requires changing well-established routines.


If one brings peace to one's own household, it is as though one brought peace to all of Israel (Avos De R' Nosson 28:3).

A scourge has plagued our people throughout its entire history - internal strife. A unified Jewish people has such strength that the Talmud states that when there is brotherhood among all Jews, God overlooks even their worst transgressions.

How can such peace be achieved? The Talmud suggests a simple approach: start with the family.

Domestic peace is achieved only when husbands, wives, parents, and children learn to respect each other's wishes, to yield personal preferences, to listen to others' points of view, and to resolve differences amicably. Children who grow up in a family where there is no strife or envy and where everyone makes an effort to accommodate and maintain peace will incorporate these attitudes as part of their character. They will then practice them when relating to people outside the family.

Expecting people to behave in ways to which they have not been accustomed previously is unrealistic. Children who were raised in homes where there was frequent bickering, with no yielding and no compromise among the parents, and where sibling rivalry was not appropriately resolved are unlikely to build a harmonious and peaceful society.

Today I shall...

beginning with myself, try to establish peace within my home by avoiding harsh speech and actions, being tolerant of others' opinions, and being willing to compromise.


Their tongue is like a sharp arrow (Jeremiah 9:7).

Some people would never physically injure another person. The sight or even the thought of violence makes them cringe. They may not realize that their words can cause more damage than their fists ever could. A physical injury eventually heals and may even be forgotten, but an insulting word can penetrate to the depths of someone's being and continue to reverberate, long after a mere physical wound would have healed.

I have seen this phenomenon in my own practice. Many children are spanked by their parents. Still, with the exception of cases of severe abuse, my patients rarely, if ever, mention the spanking as a trauma. Not so with degrading words. After thirty or more years, patients will remember having been called "stupid," "rotten," or "a no-good bum." A child who was not spanked, but was instead disciplined with shame and made to feel that he or she was a disgrace, is likely to retain that feeling for decades and may harbor an attitude of shame that affects everything that he or she does.

While we are taught to refrain from striking out in anger, we are far less restrained when it comes to verbal lashings. Whether we direct them towards spouses, children, or peers, we should be aware of the impact that words can have. The verse cited above correctly describes the tongue as a sharp, penetrating arrow, which can be every bit as lethal as any physical weapon.

Some people have a wise custom. When they become angry, they clamp their lips tightly. The anger will safely dissipate and the words which could have stung for years never come out.

Today I shall...

try to avoid words that may be injurious to another person.


A person does not sin unless he is seized by a spirit of folly (Sotah 3a).

Some people try to defend a misdeed by claiming "temporary insanity." The Talmud is telling us that while all wrongdoing does result from temporary insanity, people are still held accountable for their behavior.

No sane person would do things that are self-destructive. Small children who do not know any better may eat things that are harmful, but when adults submit to temptation and eat things that are harmful, they have essentially taken leave of their adult senses. This form of temporary insanity accompanies every wrong act.

Civil law does not accept ignorance as a defense, and although Jewish law does consider ignorance a mitigating factor, it holds a person responsible for being derelict in not having obtained the requisite knowledge and information necessary to act properly.

Jewish law holds that while true psychosis may be an exonerating factor, a non-psychotic person is capable of overcoming the "temporary insanity" that leads to wrongdoing. The Talmud states that in evaluating any act, we should calculate the gain from the act versus the loss it entails. A reasonable person will conclude that a brief pleasure of indulgence is certainly not worth the price, whether it is in terms of negative physical effects or of spiritual deterioration. People are certainly accountable for failure to exercise their reason and come to correct conclusions.

Today I shall...

exercise my rational powers to avoid making foolish decisions, especially when subjected to temptation.


Do not make for yourselves gods of gold and silver (Exodus 20:20).

While the plain meaning of this verse is an injunction against making idols, it has also been interpreted to mean, "Do not worship gold and silver."

Rabbi Schneur Zalman once approached a wealthy man, a known miser, for a donation to redeem someone from captivity. He was given one penny. Instead of throwing the penny in the miser's face, as others had done, Rabbi Schneur Zalman thanked the man politely and turned to leave. The man called him back, apologized, and gave him a slightly larger sum. Again, the rabbi blessed him, thanked him, and turned to leave, only to be called back. This scene repeated itself numerous times with progressively intense apologies and larger donations, until the man donated the entire sum needed.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman explained that when people had previously refused the one-cent donation, the miser, who had come to worship money as his god, took it as a personal insult and reacted as though his god had been disgraced. By thanking him for the penny, the rabbi set in motion an approach which allowed the miser to shed his defenses and respond with compassion.

This concept is important both in our relating to others as well as in developing attitudes of our own. Because money is so vital in our lives, we must remember that we, as well as other people, are at risk of deifying it. We must be both cautious to prevent ourselves from falling into this trap and also understand that others may have fallen into it.

Today I shall...

be on the alert to avoid money from becoming unduly important in my life and think about how to relate to others who may have developed this mistaken attitude.


There is no such thing as an agent for committing a wrong act ... if a master's instructions conflict with the student's, whom would you obey? (Kiddushin 42b).

With this principle, the Talmud places responsibility for any wrongdoing squarely on the person who carries out the action. "I was told to do it" is not a defense.

The same principle applies to projecting blame on anyone else in any way. Alcoholics frequently employ this device. "We drink because we've been harassed by our wives / jobs / employers / the police," they often say. We understand their motive; placing the blame on others not only exonerates them, it also gives them a way out of facing reality and changing themselves. Instead, they blame others. "If those responsible for our distress will change, the problems will be solved, and we will have no need to drink" is a frequently used line.

This phenomenon is not limited to alcoholics. People in general prefer to continue their accustomed behavior. If they hurt anyone, including themselves, they often try to both justify their behavior and avoid the need to make any changes which seem inconvenient by blaming others.

Regardless of what circumstances may be, we are fully accountable for our own behavior.

Today I shall...

avoid finding scapegoats and placing blame on others. Instead, I will do my utmost to make the necessary changes in myself.


You shall love your neighbor as you do yourself (Leviticus 19:18).

The usual translation is printed above and indeed is the way the verse is generally interpreted. As a result, the question is often raised, "How can people have the same love for others as they have for themselves? Isn't this demand unrealistic?"

If, however, we look more carefully at the original Hebrew, the question disappears. The Torah is stating here a definition of "love": ve'ahavta, the sensation or the experience of love, is lerei'acha kamocha, when you wish for another that which you wish for yourself.

What some people consider love may be nothing more than a self-serving relationship. They may "love" something because it satisfies their needs, but when the object cannot satisfy the need, or the need itself disappears, the love evaporates.

True love is not self-serving, but self-giving. We love only when we have as intense a desire to please the other person as to be pleased ourselves. Such an attitude calls for sacrifice, because it may be that we will have to deprive ourselves in order to provide what will please the other person.

As children, we are selfish. As we mature, we should develop a spiritual love, which is quite different from our childish physical love. This spiritual, other-directed love can withstand all challenges. As the Song of Songs says, Even abundant waters cannot extinguish love (8:7).

Today I shall...

try to avoid the self-centered love of my childhood and replace it with a true love for the person I claim to love, even when it demands great personal sacrifice.


May it be Your will ... that You lead us toward peace ... and enable us to reach our desired destination for life, gladness, and peace (Prayer of the Traveler ).

Before we take a long trip in a car, we first consult a map to determine the best route. If we know people who have already made that particular trip, we ask them whether there are certain spots to avoid, where the best stopovers are, etc. Only a fool would start out without any plan, and stop at each hamlet to figure out the best way to get to the next hamlet.

It is strange that we do not apply this same logic in our journey through life. Once we reach the age of reason, we should think of a goal in life, and then plan how to get there. Since many people have already made the trip, they can tell us in advance which path is the smoothest, what the obstacles are, and where we can find help if we get into trouble.

Few things are as distressful as finding oneself lost on the road with no signposts and no one to ask directions. Still, many people live their lives as though they are lost in the thicket. Yet, they are not even aware that they are lost. They travel from hamlet to hamlet and often find that after seventy years of travel, they have essentially reached nowhere.

The Prayer of the Traveler applies to our daily lives as well as to a trip.

Today I shall...

see what kind of goals I have set for myself and how I plan to reach these goals.


Blessed are You, our God, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us ... (Siddur).

The above berachah (blessing) was intentionally left unfinished because it represents a blessing that does not exist: the berachah for the mitzvah of tzedakah (charity). Why does this mitzvah, which ranks so high among the mitzvos, not merit a berachah?

One reason is that a berachah is supposed to be said with meditation and concentration on its words, reflecting on the infinity of God and His sovereignty, and the significance of our having been chosen to observe the mitzvos. Unfortunately, it is easy to mumble a berachah without giving it the thought that it deserves.

Tzedakah must be performed promptly, without any delay whatsoever. If someone needy requests help from us, we have no time for meditation. The needy person needs help without delay and should not be made to wait while we prepare ourselves to perform the mitzvah, and certainly should not be sent away to return at a later time.

But why did the Sages not formulate a berachah for this wonderful mitzvah and simply specify that it should be said quickly and without meditation? That kind of a berachah is hardly worth saying.

The absence of a berachah for tzedakah thus teaches us two things: (1) tzedakah should be given promptly, and (2) berachos require adequate time for meditation and concentration.

Today I shall...

react promptly when asked for tzedakah, and give much thought when reciting a berachah.


One who acts with compassion when firmness is called for will eventually act with cruelty when compassion is needed (Koheles Rabbah 7:33).

While mercy and compassion are highly valued character traits, sometimes they are inappropriate; instead, harsh discipline must be applied.

A young alcoholic woman who had been in several automobile wrecks related that one winter night, she totally ruined her father's new car because she was driving under the influence. She pleaded with the police officer to report this episode as a skidding accident, because she feared her father's wrath. The officer complied with her request.

This young woman subsequently was in another accident due to drunk driving. This time she sustained facial injuries; in spite of excellent cosmetic surgery, her former features were never fully restored. "That police officer thought he was being kind to me," she later said. "Had I been arrested for drunk driving, I might have been forced into treatment for my alcoholism, and maybe I never would have sustained the facial injuries."

True kindness which comes from our minds guiding our emotions will bring more kindness in its wake. Misguided kindness, brought on by our uncontrolled emotions, generally causes pain.

How can we avoid misguided kindness? One way is to ask others who are not influenced by our emotions for their opinion.

Today I shall...

try to be aware that even my highly commendable character traits, such as kindness, may be misapplied. I should look for guidance to avoid such mistakes.


One who flatters another person in order to win favor will ultimately suffer disgrace (Avos De R' Nosson 29:4).

The insatiable need to receive praise from others can be one of the most powerful, albeit destructive, motivating forces in human behavior. People who have the need for praise generally suffer from such low self-esteem that they need constant assurance that they are really worthy. Since this low self-esteem has no place in reality, measures such as praise or other affirmation can never counteract it. The pit of low self-esteem is bottomless; nothing ever fills it.

Desperately trying to receive external affirmation, people flatter and fawn to please others, so that they may react positively toward them. While giving false compliments may appear innocent, the attempts to win favor may snare this flatterer in relationships and obligations that are likely to backfire, so that they suffer embarrassment, not the expected admiration.

A healthy self-awareness would obviate the need for such tactics, and a devotion to honesty would prevent indulging in the falsehoods that initially bring about the desired response, but eventually result in further loss of both one's self-respect and the respect of others.

Today I shall...

avoid fawning and flattering. Instead, I will try to achieve a self-esteem which will render these unnecessary.


Abraham and Sarah were old, they came into days (Genesis 18:11).

"Coming into days" means making each day count.

Sometimes we feel "down" at the end of a day without really knowing why. Some people try to obliterate that feeling by drinking; others glue themselves to the television screen so that the inane dialogues can drown out their thoughts; and yet others find different escape routes. A few make a simple reckoning that could be constructive. Was the day spent doing something important? If so, there is no reason to be dejected. If the day was utilized in a positive way, we should feel good about it. On the other hand, if the day was spent doing unimportant things, and we are annoyed with ourselves for exchanging a day of life for nothing of value, then we should think about what we must do to keep tomorrow from being a repetition of today. What changes must we make so that tomorrow should be a day of substance?

The latter question should lead to specific answers that themselves lead to planning a more meaningful tomorrow. Having planned a constructive day, we can feel a measure of accomplishment. Even if anything should happen tomorrow to thwart our well-laid plans, we can then plan again how to avoid such pitfalls on the following day. Each day can thus turn out to be a profitable day either in its own right, or a lesson in which changes we must make to make the next day better.

Coping leads to progress. Escaping not only leaves problems unresolved, but it also adds to the previous problems by bringing about a negative attitude.

Today I shall...

try to make each day positively productive and analyze each unproductive day to enable me to make the next day better.


A person should always be flexible like a reed, and not rigid like a cedar (Taanis 20a).

Some people forget that they have the right to be wrong. They may see being wrong as showing weakness. They grossly misunderstand the true concept of strength.

In the physical world, many substances that are very rigid are also fragile. Glass, for instance, is hard but shatters into many splinters, and metals which lack resilience are apt to break under pressure.

Rigidity in people frequently shows ignorance. If people do something without understanding why they are doing it, they are likely to become very defensive when challenged. The reason is obvious: if they do not understand the reason for their actions, they of course do not know if they have any room for compromise. Since they can respond only in an all-or-nothing manner, they perceive any questioning of their principles or practices as a threat or even as a hostile attack. They therefore react defensively.

Willingness to listen to advice, to consider it, and to alter our opinion when the advice appears to be the correct thing to do are signs of strength, not of weakness. Honor means being honest, not being right all the time. As the Talmud says, "You should not say, `You must accept my opinion,' because the others may be right and not you" (Ethics of the Fathers 4:10).

Today I shall...

try to be flexible, to listen to other opinions, and not be obstinate in insisting that I am always right.


Akavia testified on four laws [that he heard from his teachers]. [The Rabbis] said to him, "Akavia, change your rulings, and we will appoint you Chief Judge of the highest court in Israel." He responded, "It is better that I be considered a fool all my life rather than an unjust person for even one moment before God" (Eidiyos 5:6).

Yesterday, we discussed the virtue of flexibility and the fault of obstinacy. In the above quote from the Talmud, Akavia is praised for his refusal to yield. Can these two attributes be reconciled?

The distinction should be obvious. If Akavia had been championing his own opinion, he would gladly have considered cogent arguments by his colleagues and even deferred to them. However, the Talmud states that Akavia testified; i.e. he conveyed the rulings that he had heard from his teachers and that therefore carried their authority. However convincing the arguments of his colleagues may have been, he held that he could not override the rulings of his teachers.

Public opinion was obviously in favor of Akavia conceding to his colleagues and thereby being elevated to the highest court in the land, which was certainly an attractive position. Certainly, no one would have criticized Akavia had he changed his position. Still, Akavia stood firm and was willing to forego the coveted position of honor rather than compromise on his principles.

While flexibility in one's own opinion is commendable, firmness in adhering to principles is essential.

Today I shall...

be unyielding when my basic principles are put to the test.


If the court finds [the thief] guilty, he shall pay twofold (Exodus 22:8).

The Talmud explains that an armed robber can make restitution simply by returning the stolen item. A thief, who steals in stealth, must return the object and pay a heavy fine.

Why is the thief punished more severely? By operating in stealth, he indicated that he feared being observed by humans, but was not concerned that God saw his deeds. In other words, he essentially denied the providence of God. While the robber's act was just as dishonest, he at least equated people with God, in that he operated in full view of both. Hence, although his attitude was one of defiance of God, it was not necessarily one of denial.

Sometimes we do things that are not ethically sound, and in order to avoid social sanction and to maintain a reputation of decency, we may act in such a manner that it appears to be ethically proper. While we may indeed succeed in this deception, we must remember that there is One Who cannot be deceived, and Who knows the truth of our behavior. We should realize that acting in such a manner is essentially a denial as well as a defiance of God.

It is evident now why the thief pays double. The robber pays only for defiance of God, whereas the thief must pay for defiance and denial.

People who think they are willing to sacrifice their very lives rather than deny God should reflect on whether they might not actually deny God for the sake of mere monetary gain. The acid test of loyalty to God is not just in martyrdom, but in living honestly.

Today I shall...

rededicate myself to honesty in all my affairs and realize that dishonest behavior constitutes a denial of God.


In order that God will bless you in all the work of your hands (Deuteronomy 24:19).

Sometimes we dream up a worthwhile project, but we hesitate to undertake it because it seems beyond our capacities. Obviously, people must be realistic and should not embark on something which is totally outlandish because it would require means or knowledge which they lack. However, we still shy away from many things that are achievable.

There is a folk saying: "The appetite comes with the eating." A person may not be hungry, yet when he or she sits at the table, and the food is served, the initial course actually stimulates the appetite. When we make a beginning and exert some effort, a Divine blessing may come. A composer may have but one melody in mind, but as he or she begins to write, one idea seems to inspire another, and an entire symphony comes to life.

I once heard a recovered alcoholic with many years of sobriety give instructions to a newcomer who was unable to comprehend how anyone could abstain from drinking for so many years when it was so difficult for him to abstain even for one day. "You just begin," he said. "It's like standing on the shore and wanting to get across when there is no boat. Someone says to you, `Start rowing,' and you say, 'How can I start rowing when there is no boat?' `Never mind,' the man responds, 'Just start rowing, and the boat will appear.' "

We must make the effort, and God will help us bring it to fruition.

Today I shall...

not hesitate in making a beginning of things that I know that I should do, even if they may seem formidable.


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.


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.


If you return, O Israel ... you shall return unto Me (Jeremiah 4:1).

Today is the first day of Elul, a period of time which is particularly propitious for teshuvah, for it precedes Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment.

The Sages say that the Hebrew letters of the word Elul, form an acrostic for the verse in Song of Songs: I am devoted to my Lover and He is devoted to me (6:3). Song of Songs utilizes the relationship between a bridegroom and his betrothed to depict the relationship between God and Israel. Any separation between the two causes an intense longing for one another, an actual "lovesickness" (ibid. 2:5).

The love between God and Israel is unconditional. Even when Israel behaves in a manner that results in estrangement, that love is not diminished. Israel does not have to restore God's love, because it is eternal, and His longing for Israel to return to Him is so intense that at the first sign that Israel is ready to abandon its errant ways that led to the estrangement, God will promptly embrace it.

Song of Songs depicts the suffering of Israel sustained at the hands of its enemies, and we can conclude that the Divine distress at this suffering of His beloved Israel is great. Teshuvah is a long process, but all that is needed for the restoration of the ultimate relationship is a beginning: a sincere regret for having deviated from His will, and a resolve to return.

Today I shall...

seek to restore my personal relationship with God by dedicating myself to teshuvah.


You will be above suspicion both before God and before Israel (Numbers 32:22).

Although we should not try to impress other people, we should take their opinions into consideration, for we should not do anything that can arouse unwarranted accusations of wrongdoing.

Accusing an innocent person of wrongdoing is wrong itself, and it is wrong for us to cause other people to do wrong, even if we cause it very indirectly. Secondly, if observers who do not know all the circumstances surrounding our behavior see a respectable person doing something which they had believed to be wrong, they may use this incident as an example for themselves that it is indeed right.

The Talmud states that the proper way to live is that which is honorable in one's own mind and will also appear honorable to others (Ethics of the Fathers 2:1). Attitudes are contagious, and how we behave does influence others.

This principle applies especially in the case of children. We all know the saying, "Most kids hear what you say, some kids do what you say, but all kids do what you do."

Although we cannot use what other people think as the sole criterion for our behavior, we must nevertheless consider that while God may know what is in our heart, other people do not, and we should therefore not cause others to come to erroneous conclusions.

Today I shall...

act in keeping with the Divine will, but in a manner that will be manifestly honorable.


A simpleton will believe everything (Proverbs 14:15).

Faith and belief are both defined as accepting as true something which transcends logic and which may not be subject to proof by rational argument. Yet, belief in God is not the "blind faith" of a simpleton.

A simpleton does not think, either because he lacks the capacity or does not wish to make the effort. Therefore, he is gullible and can be easily swayed in any direction. Being credulous is not the same as having faith.

When we reflect on the concept of a Supreme Being, Who is in every way infinite, we are likely to feel bewilderment, because our finite minds cannot grasp the infinite. Since all of our experiences involve finite objects, we lack a point of reference for dealing with the infinite.

When this reflection brings us to realize that the question of the existence of an infinite Supreme Being cannot be logically resolved, we then turn to the unbroken mesorah, the teachings which have been transmitted from generation to generation, from the time when more than two million people witnessed the Revelation at Sinai. When we accept our faith on this basis, we do so as the culmination of a process of profound thought which is no way similar to the credulousness of a simpleton.

This process also helps us with other questions that we have about God. For instance, the fact that we cannot possibly logically understand God does not preclude our coming to a knowledge of His Presence.

Today I shall...

strengthen my faith by reflecting on the unbroken chain of tradition since Sinai.


It is customary... to say prayers for forgiveness and mercy from the beginning of Elul and onward (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 581:1).

In secular society, the new year is frequently ushered in with levity and drinking, whereas in Judaism, the beginning of a new year is a solemn occasion preceded by a month of soul-searching and teshuvah.

The first day of the new year is an undeniable indication that another year of life has receded into the past. If one looks back on the bygone year and sees nothing of real achievement, one is likely to become quite dejected. People who must face the realization that a year of their lives has essentially been wasted cannot celebrate the arrival of a new year unless they drink to the point they become oblivious to this reality. Only then can they exclaim, "Happy New Year!"

In Judaism we prepare for the advent of a new year with reflection and teshuvah. Whereas making a personal inventory should be done all year long, it takes on special significance during the month before Rosh Hashanah. A comprehensive reflection on the events of the past year enables us to see what we have done right, so that we may enhance our efforts in those directions, and to see where we have gone wrong, so that we can avoid repeating the same mistakes.

Such an analysis enables us to use the lessons of the bygone year to better ourselves in the coming one.

This is why we do not drink or behave raucously on Rosh Hashanah. If the past year has value as a lesson for the future, there is no need to drown it from our consciousness.

Today I shall...

intensify my personal inventory of the past year, so that I may greet the new year with joy and serenity.


If one wishes to add on more restrictions than the law requires, one may do so for oneself, but not [make such demands] of others (Shulchan Aruch).

Some people employ a double standard. One set of rules applies to themselves, and another to everyone else. The Shulchan Aruch, the standard authoritative compilation of Jewish law, accepts this policy - but on one condition: the more restrictive set of rules must apply to oneself, and the more lenient apply to other people.

Guidelines exist for many things, such as the percentage of income that one should give for tzedakah. Many tzaddikim, righteous people, retained only the barest minimum of their income for themselves, just enough to provide for their families, and gave everything else to the poor. However, they would never expect anyone else to follow their example, and some even forbade it.

Our minds are ingenious in concocting self-serving rationalizations. Sometimes we may have excellent reasons not to give more liberally to tzedakah, even if it is within the required amount. We may project into the future, worry about our economic security, and conclude that we should put more money away for a rainy day. Yet we often criticize people who we feel do not give enough to tzedakah.

We should be aware of such rationalizations and remember that the more demanding rules should apply to ourselves. If we are going to rationalize, let us rationalize in a way that gives the benefit of doubt to others.

Today I shall...

remember to be more demanding of myself than I am of others.


Lest there be among you [someone with] a root that will produce bitter herbs (Deuteronomy 29:17).

A person who is diagnosed with, God forbid, a cancer, will submit to that treatment which has the highest degree of certainty of cure. If surgery promises a 50% chance, but the likelihood of cure increases to 70% with the addition of radiation and up to 85% with chemotherapy, a reasonable person will submit to all three treatments, in order to maximize his or her chances of survival. People also know that just removing most of the malignant cells is inadequate, because a single surviving cancerous cell can reproduce itself and be lethal. Furthermore, a malignant growth does not remain localized, but can spread beyond its place of origin to other vital organs.

This approach is also how we must deal with those character traits that endanger our spiritual life. Greed, envy, hatred, selfishness, vanity, and arrogance are all negative traits which must be totally eliminated. Allowing even the smallest remnant of any of these traits to remain is like harboring a single cancerous cell. If we value our spiritual life as much as we do our physical life, we will do everything possible to attain total elimination of negative traits.

Moses speaks of the "root" that will multiply and bear bitter fruit. Any negative trait will not only reproduce itself but, like a malignant cancer cell, may spread and affect other components of one's character.

If we value spiritual life, we will do whatever is necessary to preserve it.

Today I shall...

think about how important spirituality is to me, and what I am ready to do to preserve it.


Throw your burden upon God (Psalms 55:23).

Imagine driving a car along the road and suddenly realizing that the brakes have been detached from the brake pedal and the wheels from the steering wheel. In panic, you stamp on the pedal and turn the steering wheel frantically, all to no avail. With the car out of control, your best chance may be to open the door and jump out. However, if you haven't realized that in fact you have lost control, you still try to maintain it, and your life is in danger.

While such dramatic happenings fortunately do not occur every day, we should realize we actually do not have control over many things in life. Trying to exert control where no control is possible is worse than futile, for just as in the above example, it precludes taking whatever other action may be possible.

Many people perform an action that they consider to be proper and accompany it with a prayer for success; others consider prayer only as a last resort. God listens to everyone's prayer, regardless of the circumstances in which it is said. However, even those who use prayer as a last resort should realize when it is indeed a last resort, i.e. when they can do no more, because the conditions are beyond their control. This realization may help them avoid futile behavior.

We may not like to face reality, but denying it is hazardous.

Today I shall...

realize that many things I think I can control may actually be beyond my control, and I must turn them over to God.


[I thank You] for Your miracles that are with us each day (Siddur).

I once heard it said, "Coincidences are miracles in which God prefers to remain anonymous."

If we were to carefully scrutinize everything that occurs in our daily lives, we would find many such "coincidences." Sometimes we may not be aware of the significance of a particular occurrence until much later, when we may have forgotten how or why we think it occurred, and so we just write it off to chance. Other times, we notice that things seem to "just happen at the right time." And in some instances, the likelihood of the desired occurrence being chance is statistically so remote that it may penetrate the skepticism of even the most confirmed non-believer.

Why don't people see the Divine hand in so many things? Could it be that being aware would require them to be thankful to God, because it is unconscionable to be an ingrate (and if one has difficulty with feelings of gratitude, it is simply easier to deny the awareness of the Divine favor)? Could it be that the awareness that God is looking after them would obligate them to live according to the Divine will, and since that might entail some inconveniences and restrictions on their behavior, it is more comfortable to believe that "God does not care"?

Psychologists have great respect for the human capacity to rationalize, to convince oneself of the absolute truth of whatever it is that one wishes to believe or not believe. How much wiser we would be to divest ourselves of such self-deceptions.

Today I shall...

scrutinize my daily happenings with an alertness to how many favorable "coincidences" have occurred in my life.


I shall make you into a great nation ... and you will be a blessing (Genesis 12:2).

This verse is part of the first recorded Divine communication to the Patriarch Abraham, in which God promised him various rewards if he left his homeland and went to Canaan. One of the rewards was "you will be a blessing," meaning that he would be given the power to bestow blessings on others (Rashi).

The same Hebrew phrase can also be read: "you shall be a blessing," in the imperative. In other words, God commanded Abraham to lead the kind of life that would make his very presence a blessing to everyone in his environment.

In Generation to Generation (CIS 1986), I related that my mother told me how excited and elated everyone was when I took my first steps. An itinerant rabbi who collected funds for a yeshivah was also there. He sadly commented, "When I first walked, my parents were delighted too, but now no one is delighted when they see me walk in." My mother related this comment to me many times, and one of my goals in life has been to fulfill my mother's prayer that people should not be displeased when I walk in.

Abraham received many Divine blessings, but along with them came an assignment: he was to make himself into a blessing. If we read on, we can then understand the continuation of the above chapter, Abraham went as God had commanded him (ibid. 12:4); i.e. he conducted his life in such a manner that he was indeed a blessing. The commandment to Abraham was intended for all of his descendants. By living a spiritual life, we can both endear ourselves to everyone and be a blessing to our environment.

Today I shall...

try to behave in such a manner that I will be an asset to my community.


The memory of a righteous person is a blessing (Proverbs 10:7).

At a family therapy session, one family member said something totally uncalled for, provocative, and insulting to another person. The remark was extremely irritating to me, even as an observer, and I anticipated an explosive outburst of outrage from the recipient. To my great surprise, the latter remained quiet and merely gestured to indicate that he was dismissing the comment as being unworthy of a response.

After the session, I complimented the man on his self-restraint. He explained, "A friend of mine once had a very angry outburst. During his rage he suffered a stroke from which he never regained consciousness.

"I am not afraid that if I become angry I would also suffer a stroke. However, what I and everyone else remember of my friend are the last words of his life, which were full of bitterness and hostility. That is not the way I wish to be remembered. Since no person can know exactly when one's time is up, I made up my mind never to act in such a manner, so that if what I was doing was to be my last action on earth, I would not be remembered that way."

The Talmud tells us that when Rabbi Eliezer told his disciples that a person should do teshuvah one day before his death, they asked, "How is a person to know when one will die?" Rabbi Eliezer answered, "Precisely! Therefore one should do teshuvah every day, since tomorrow may be one's last day."

The verse cited above may be explained in the same way. People should behave in a way that they would wish others to remember them, for that can indeed be a blessing.

Today I shall...

behave as though this day is the one by which I shall be remembered.


Each day we hope for Your salvation (Shemoneh Esrei).

The Talmud states that one of the questions that will be posed to each person on his or her day of judgment is, "Did you look forward to salvation?" While the question refers to anticipating the ultimate Redemption, it can also refer to the salvation of the individual.

Positive attitudes beget positive results, and negative attitudes beget negative results. Books have been written about people who have recovered from hopeless illnesses because, contrary to medical opinion, they did not give up hope. On the contrary, they maintained a positive attitude. While this phenomenon may be controversial (for many people are skeptical that cheerful outlooks can cure), people certainly can and have killed themselves by depression. With a negative attitude, a person suffering from an illness may even abandon those practices that can give strength and prolong life, such as the treatment itself.

I have seen a poster that displays birds in flight. Its caption comments, "They fly because they think they can." We could do much if we did not despair of our capacity to do it.

Looking forward to Divine salvation is one such positive attitude. The Talmud states that even when the blade of an enemy's sword is at our throat, we have no right to abandon hope of help.

No one can ever take hope from us, but we can surrender it voluntarily. How foolish to do so.

Today I shall...

try to always maintain a positive attitude and to hope for Divine salvation.


The dignity of a human being is extremely important (Berachos 19b).

The Talmud refers many times to the importance of preserving human dignity.

In Generation to Generation (CIS 1986), I related how my father used to discipline me when I was a child. When I did something wrong, he would shake his head and say, "Es passt nisht (This does not become you)." In other words, I was not bad for having done something wrong; I was too good to do something that was beneath my dignity. This method is an excellent way to discipline children without making them feel they are bad.

People share certain biological behaviors with animals, but our mental life is unique to us. Clearly, human dignity does not reside in that part which is animal, but in that part which is distinctly human: the rational mind, the creative mind, the capacity to be spiritual.

Isn't it simply beneath our dignity to indulge in those behaviors which are primarily animal, rather than uniquely human? As I observe the enormous efforts made and expenditures invested in catering to taste buds, I wonder, "Where is our self-respect?" Granted, we must eat to stay alive, and eating tasty foods may indeed enhance digestion. Still, is it not beneath our dignity to indulge in gustatory delights to the extent that we appear to be more concerned about stimulating our tongues and stomachs than our brains? People who honestly value the truly human part of themselves - their rational and volitional minds - have other priorities.

Today I shall...

rethink my priorities and behave with the dignity that I owe to myself as a human being.


Acquire for yourself a friend (Ethics of the Fathers 1:6).

What is so important about "acquiring" a friend? Don't friendships occur spontaneously?

Many people think they have friends, and some people think they have many friends. However, let's reflect: "Is there anyone with whom I am so close and whom I would trust so completely that I would confide in him or her and tell everything and anything that is on my mind?" Many of us would find that such friends are few in number, and some of us may totally lack this type of relationship.

In his work on Ethics of the Fathers, Rabbeinu Yonah states that if a person tries to achieve perfection in all character traits at one time, he or she is likely to achieve nothing, but if the effort is concentrated upon improving one trait, success in that one area will facilitate improving many other traits. Similarly, trying to achieve a great number of friendships at once will likely create superficial friends. However, if a person will cultivate one friendship and so achieve the desired intimacy and trust, he or she may thereafter find it much easier to develop more profound and meaningful relationships with many people.

The teaching of the above Talmudical passage is now evident. Acquire "a" friend, i.e. try to develop a single relationship that grows beyond a superficial skin-deep level. Not only is that friendship important in its own right, but it will also enhance the quality of all the other relationships.

Today I shall...

try to cultivate a single friendship into one of complete trust and intimacy.


They will eat them [the offerings] and will be forgiven (Exodus 29:33).

How can eating serve as an atonement?

My father used to tell of a tzaddik who was staying at an inn. One morning when they served the breakfast cereal, he said, "This is unusually good. Is there any more?" After being served a second portion, he again asked for more, ate it, and continued to request more cereal until he was told that it was all gone.

The tzaddik's disciples were bewildered. Their teacher usually ate barely enough for survival. When they asked him why he had deviated from his usual practice, he explained:

"When I first tasted the cereal, I realized that the cook must have by mistake poured kerosene into the pot instead of oil. I know that she is a poor widow, and that this innkeeper happens to be a very irascible person. If this mistake had been discovered, she would surely have been dismissed. I therefore wished to avoid anyone else tasting the cereal and exposing the problem."

Eating only to satisfy one's appetite obviously cannot constitute forgiveness, but it is possible to eat with other motivations, which can make it an act of Divine service. We may not all be capable of an act such as that of the tzaddik, but if we can bring ourselves to the point where we truly eat for nutrition, in order that we have the strength to function optimally, so that we may do with our lives that which God wants of us, then our eating, too, can be a Divine service.

Today I shall...

try to make eating an act of Divine service, dedicating myself to do the will of God.


"You shall love your God" means that you should make the Divine Name beloved (Yoma 86a).

Rabbi Shimon ben Shatach once bought a donkey and found a gem in the carrying case which came with it. The rabbis congratulated him on the windfall with which he had been blessed. "No," said Rabbi Shimon, "I bought a donkey, but I didn't buy a diamond." He proceeded to return the diamond to the donkey's owner, an Arab, who remarked, "Blessed be the God of Shimon ben Shatach."

A non-Jew once approached Rabbi Safra and offered him a sum of money to purchase an item. Since Rabbi Safra was in the midst of prayer at the time, he could not respond to the man, who interpreted the silence as a rejection of his offer and therefore told him that he would increase the price. When Rabbi Safra again did not respond, the man continued to raise his offer. When Rabbi Safra finished, he explained that he had been unable to interrupt his prayer, but had heard the initial amount offered and had silently consented to it in his heart. Therefore, the man could have the item for that first price. Here too, the astounded customer praised the God of Israel.

We have so many opportunities to demonstrate the beauty of the Torah's ethics. We accomplish three mitzvos by doing so: (1) practicing honesty, (2) kiddush Hashem (sanctifying the Divine Name), and (3) making the Divine Name beloved, according to the above Talmudic interpretation of the Scripture.

Today I shall...

try to act in a manner that will make the Divine Name beloved and respected.


The eye sees, and the heart desires (Rashi, Numbers 15:39).

People cannot help when an improper impulse comes to mind, but they certainly can stop themselves from harboring the thought and allowing it to dominate their thinking. Yet, sometimes one may be responsible even for the impulse itself.

While some impulses are completely spontaneous, others arise out of stimulation. If a person reads, hears, or sees things which can provoke improper thoughts and feelings, he or she is then responsible for the impulses that are the consequences of that reading, listening, or observing.

This concept is especially important in our era, when not even a semblance of a code of decency exists as to what may or may not be publicly displayed. All varieties of media exploit our basest biological drives.

Given the interpretation of the right of free speech under which such provocative displays occur, the government has no way to restrain them. However, each person has not only a right, but also an obligation to be his or her own censor. No one has to look at everything that is displayed nor hear everything that is broadcast. Those who fail to exert their own personal censorship are tacitly stimulating immoral impulses, and for that alone they are liable.

Today I shall...

try to avoid looking, hearing, and reading things which can have a degenerating effect.


A pot belonging to two partners is neither hot nor cold (Eruvin 3a).

If two people who partly own a pot of food disagree - one prefers it hot, and the other prefers it cold - the compromise of "lukewarm" displeases both.

One of the most frequent maladjustments in life comes as a result of trying to please everyone. Invariably, other people have conflicting opinions, so that if one satisfies A, one displeases B, and vice versa. Yet some people consistently try to accomplish this feat, and the result is nothing but frustration, since the compromise not only comes at great personal cost, but satisfies no one.

The desire to please everyone often stems from a lack of confidence in one's own convictions. If I know what I want and believe it to be right, I will pursue my path. While I know full well that some people may disagree with me, I must accept it as inevitable; if others are displeased because I do not defer to their wishes, that is their problem, not mine.

It is true that responsible people have the obligation to consider conflicting opinions and avail themselves of competent guidance, and that flexibility and compromise do have their place (it is appropriate to rethink one's position on controversial issues and not be obstinate in maintaining one's position, no matter what). Still, people cannot satisfy everyone while maintaining their own integrity.

Today I shall...

try to think through what it is that I really want and not try to satisfy everyone.


Let the honor of your friend be as dear to you as your own (Ethics of the Fathers 2:15).

Pride, honor, and acclaim have an attraction all their own, but our Sages warn us that these may be destructive (ibid. 4:28). The frustration people may experience when they feel they did not receive due recognition may be extremely distressing.

People who crave honor may sometimes attempt to achieve it by deflating others, thinking that their own image is enhanced when others are disparaged. The truth, however, is just the reverse: when one deflates another, one's own image is diminished.

Rabbi Nechunya's students asked him, "By what merits did you achieve long life?" He answered, "I never accepted any honor that was at another person's expense." As an example the Talmud tells that when Rav Chana Bar Chanilai visited Rabbi Huna, he wanted to relieve the latter of carrying a shovel on his shoulder. Rabbi Huna objected, saying, "Since it is not your custom to be seen carrying a shovel, you should not do so now" (Megillah 28a). Rav Chana was willing to forgo his own honor for Rabbi Huna's sake, but Rabbi Huna would not hear of it.

Why does such an attitude merit long life? A person who is not preoccupied with his image, and is not obsessed with receiving honor and public recognition, is free of the emotional stress and frustration that plague those whose cravings for acclaim are bottomless pits. These stresses can be psychologically and physically devastating, and dispensing with them can indeed prolong life.

Aptly did Rabbi Elazar HaKappar say that honor drives a man out of this world (Ethics of the Fathers 4:28). One who pursues honors in this world mortally harms his chance for happiness.

Today I shall...

concentrate on being respectful to others, and avoid pursuing recognition from others.


When our love was intense, we could live on the edge of a sword. Now that our love has faded, even a spacious home is not enough for us (Sanhedrin 7a).

In my book, Like Yourselves and Others Will Too (Prentice-Hall 1978), I described a phenomenon called "New House Disease." When a couple, whose children have all married and moved out, acquire a beautiful new home or condominium and move into it, the marriage is in danger of falling apart.

What happened? Differences that had arisen between the couple were never confronted and resolved. Rather, they were glossed over and covered up, much as one might conceal a defect in the wall with wallpaper. Unresolved conflicts may give rise to resentments, which feed upon themselves and increase in intensity. (It is even possible that a particular resentment persists after the incident that caused it has been forgotten, and now the spouse retains the resentment without knowing why.) Since resentment is likely to result in guilt, the psychological defense mechanism now justifies the resentment by projecting it onto something else - the house. They reassure each other: "Nothing is really wrong between the two of us. We are having difficulties because we are living in this inadequate house. If we had a more spacious house with the necessary conveniences, every thing would be okay."

If after moving into the new house, the couple discovers that things are not okay, they now have lost their last excuse to explain away their unhappiness and must come face to face with the unresolved conflict. This shock alone may terminate the relationship.

Today I shall...

try to detect any existing conflicts and resolve them, instead of projecting them on reasonable but untrue causes.


A thief about to break in may pray to God [that he not be caught] (Berachos 63a, Ein Yaakov).

Believing in God alone is not enough. Even praying to God may not be enough. Some people think that prayer means telling God what He is supposed to do for them. This attitude can result in the absurd situation described above.

We should pray for God to make His will known, and to help and guide us in fulfilling that will.

A recovered alcoholic told me that during his years of drinking, he frequently got into trouble and would then pray to God, "Just help me this once, and I will never drink again." Relief from his distress was invariably followed by relapse, and when he finally reached a crisis, he surrendered, praying, "Show me what You want of me."

His first type of prayer, he realized, was not really a prayer at all, just bargaining. Real prayer did not occur until he stopped asking God for what he wanted, and instead asked to be shown what God wanted.

Study of the siddur itself should enable us to reach a concept of genuine prayer without having to reach such a crisis. We declare our belief in the existence of God in the Shema which we promptly follow with a portion of the Torah that instructs us to fulfill His mitzvos. With this background, we proceed to the Amidah, where we pray for God to give us our needs, so that we may be able to fulfill His will.

Today I shall...

think of prayer as being directed to my achievement of what God wants, instead of demanding that God deliver what I want.


I hereby forgive everyone who offended or angered me, or sinned against me (Prayer on Retiring).

Since we pray to God to forgive our mistakes, certainly we should be willing to forgive others who have offended us.

Forgiveness must be more than perfunctory. A man once heard his rabbi state that Yom Kippur would not achieve forgiveness from God unless one has forgiven others. This fellow then went over to someone he disliked and said, "I forgive you today, but I want you to know that as soon as Yom Kippur is over, I will despise you as much as before."

When we pray to God for forgiveness, we cite the verse, I have erased your sins like a thick cloud (Isaiah 44:22), which tells us how we should grant forgiveness to others - by removing all traces of resentment.

What good comes from harboring resentments? We cannot act on them, for the Torah explicitly forbids taking revenge. Since resentments have no practical purpose, and since they are obviously very negative feelings, they can do nothing more than wear down our emotions. When we find a smelly item in the refrigerator, we quickly get rid of it so that it does not contaminate the other foods. We should view negative feelings in the same light, for they can infect all our other emotions with negativity.

Forgiving others and thereby ridding ourselves of resentments is in itself not only a virtuous character trait, for it is considerate of others; more importantly, it works to our own advantage.

Today I shall...

try to completely forgive others and realize that failure to do so will leave me with useless negative emotions.


The mouse [that steals a morsel of food] is not the thief, but rather the hole [through which the mouse escapes] is the thief. (Gittin 45a)

In this picturesque statement, the Talmud explains that the hole in the wall is the culprit, because without a breach in the wall, the mouse would not be able to steal the food.

In the treatment of alcoholism, there is a concept called "enabling." "Enablers" are the people who essentially make it possible for the alcoholic to continue drinking. By analogy, although oxygen does not cause a fire, it is impossible for fire to burn in its absence, so one extinguishes a blaze by dousing it with water or smothering it, to prevent oxygen from reaching it. Similarly, an alcoholic could not continue to drink very long in the absence of enablers. It is sometimes more difficult to convince people to stop their enabling than the alcoholic to stop drinking.

We claim that we are intolerant of crime and injustice, but the fact is that these exist only because we do tolerate them.

For example, many arguments are given for protecting the rights of those who violate the law, but the price we pay for this is that we allow these violations to continue.

In every society, community, or family, there may be enablers. Sometimes those who are most vehement in their condemnation are actually the enablers. We should do careful soul-searching to see whether we may not actually be enabling behavior of which we disapprove.

Today I shall...

try to stop "enabling" those things that I know to be wrong.


It would have been better for man had he not been created, but now that he has been created, he must carefully examine his actions.(Eruvin 13b).

Some people have made themselves modern disciples of Epicurus. After noting the prevalence of suffering and distress in the world, they conclude that humans are innocent victims of unjustified misery. Therefore, they find no reason to further restrict the few pleasures that people can have, and they say, "Let people do whatever their hearts desire."

These people act as though they were the first to discover the plight of mankind. The above Talmudic passage should teach them that several thousand years ago, some very wise people had already thoroughly analyzed human life. Although they too concluded that it would have been better for humanity not to have been created, we still do not have carte blanche to do whatever we please.

Our emotions profoundly influence our thought processes. People may come to conclusions that are completely false, but they will believe them to be correct because they want to believe them. This fallacy is dangerous; if someone indulges himself and knows that he is doing wrong, there is a possibility of teshuvah, but if he deceives himself and believes that he is just in his behavior, there is no possibility of teshuvah.

Try an experiment. Take an opinion you have about any issue. Now, consult the works of Torah literature. You will find, without exception, that every issue you raise has been thoroughly discussed centuries ago.

Today I shall...

be aware that challenges to Torah teaching are invariably rationalizations and try to control my pleasures instead of letting them control me.


[Man and wife] shall be one body. (Genesis 2:24)

In recent times, we have witnessed an unprecedented tidal wave of divorce. This phenomenon appears to be directly linked to modern attitudes towards marriage. Let’s look at the Torah’s concept of marriage, which has produced much marital happiness for over three thousand years.

An analogy is a good start. Table salt is a chemical compound called sodium chloride; it consists of two elements, sodium and chorine, in combination.

Pure sodium is very volatile. If dropped into water, it will explode into fire. No one would ever want to eat it. Chlorine is a corrosive gas, which can cause severe irritation and a choking sensation. When sodium and chlorine combine, however, each loses its individual properties; the fusion is a totally new compound which bears no resemblance to either component.

When the Torah states that husband and wife should become one, it means that two unique people should fuse into a new being. In forming this new being, each "element" must be ready and willing to divest itself of its own identity, so that this new "compound" may be that which is most desirable and most constructive.

Clearly, the sharing of oneself in a marriage relationship cannot be as dramatic and radical as in the example of sodium and chlorine fusing into table salt. Nevertheless, much of the incompatibility that has resulted in divorce is due to the refusal of partners to yield of themselves.

Today I shall...

try to realize that in marriage, I must be willing to relinquish some of my own individuality to permit the emergence of a family unit.


Moses assembled the Sanctuary (Exodus 40:18) ... The Glory of God filled the Sanctuary. (Exodus 40:34)

The Talmud describes in great detail how each component of the Sanctuary was fashioned, and that the completion of each component was a mitzvah. Nevertheless, the Divine Glory did not descend until the component parts were assembled into the whole.

The 613 mitzvot of the Torah are indeed the essential parts, without which the structure of a Torah life is impossible.However, they must be assembled into the ultimate whole, which is even greater than the sum of its parts.

In the past two centuries, the study of Torah works of mussar and chassidut were promoted by the great luminaries, Rabbi Yisroel of Salant and the Baal Shem Tov. Both met with resistance by many Torah scholars, who argued that the study of the Scriptures and Talmud alone was an adequate guide to living a Torah life.

These two great sages realized that while previous generations could assemble the component parts of the Torah into the desired whole, later generations required additional help in doing so. Formal study of mussar and chassidus is essential if people are to live a life that attests to the Glory of God.

Sometimes we may be disappointed in observing some people who are apparently observant of Torah and yet do not lead exemplary lives. Invariably, these people do not implement the teachings of mussar and chassidus, so that while they possess the building blocks, they fail to assemble the structure of a Jewish life.

Today I shall...

devote myself to the study of the ethics of Jewish living.


If the Shofar is sounded in the city, will the populace not tremble? (Amos 3:6)

The blow of a Shofar is a call to arouse us from the lethargy of routine in which we have been immersed and to stimulate us to teshuvah. But what if someone hears the Shofar and is not moved by it?

A village blacksmith’s assistant once visited a large city and sought out the local smithy. He observed that the workers there used a bellows to fan the flames in the forge. The bellows were much more efficient than the exhausting manual fanning which he did back in his master’s shop. He promptly bought a bellows, returned with great enthusiasm to his master, and informed him that there was no longer any need for them to exhaust themselves fanning the flames. He then set out to demonstrate the magic of the bellows, but alas, regardless of how vigorously he pumped, no flame appeared.

"I can’t understand it," he said. "In the city, I saw with my own eyes the huge flame produced by the bellows."

"Did you first light a small fire?" the master asked.

"No," the assistant replied. "I just pumped the bellows."

"You fool!" the blacksmith said. "The bellows can only increase the size of the flame when you begin it with a spark. When you have no spark or fire, all the pumping of the bellows is of no use."

Like the bellows, the Shofar can only arouse us if we have in us a spark of teshuvah, just a rudiment of desire. If we feel ourselves unmoved by the Shofar, we had better try to light a spark of teshuvah within ourselves.

Today I shall...

try to begin teshuvah, so that the service of the approaching High Holidays will have the desired effect on me.


Do [for Israel] for the sake of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob ... Do [for Israel] for the sake of nursing infants, who have not sinned. (Siddur, Selichos)

In praying for salvation, we invoke the merits of our ancestors, and we also pray that we be helped for the sake of our future generations. The Talmud tells us that God acts towards us as we act towards other people. If we wish Him to judge us because of the merits of the past and the promise of the future, then we must take the past and the future into account in our own actions.

Today’s generation is very much a "now" generation, considering only the thrills of the moment. Much of today’s society turns its back on the traditions and values of the past, and behaves recklessly in exploiting the world for the pleasures of today, even though it pollutes the environment and depletes natural resources needed for the future.

Is it coincidence that our generation is infatuated with digital watches and clocks? Old-fashioned timepieces told time by a pointer, which had the past behind it and the future in front of it. These timepieces symbolized an awareness of both, but a digital display focuses exclusively on the present moment and gives no recognition to the existence of either the past or the future.

While we should not allow the burdens of the past nor the anxieties of the future to exert a destructive effect on our living, the constructive lessons of the past and a responsible attitude towards the future can guide us to a proper and responsible life.

Today I shall...

try to derive wisdom from the study of the past and act responsibly in consideration of the future.


I wonder if there is anyone in this generation capable of giving reprimand. (Arachin according to the reading of Shitah Mekubetzes 16b)

This statement appears strange. Many people seem ready and willing to offer constructive criticism.

Criticism is a sharp instrument. It can cut us as deeply as a surgeon’s scalpel. A medical student must undergo many years of training before he or she can become a surgeon and make an incision which will lead to the improvement of someone’s health. Even the most carefully calculated and well-performed surgical incision is a painful wound, and if the surgeon cannot apply himself to alleviating the patient’s suffering and restoring his health, he has no right to make a cut.

Before we criticize someone, even if we have the finest intentions for that person’s betterment, we should give serious thought to what we are doing. We must be aware that our remarks will inevitably cause emotional pain, and unless we are ready to assume responsibility for helping the person cope with the pain and assist him or her in making the changes we recommend, we should refrain from criticizing.

Already in the days of the Talmud, the existence of the unique ability to criticize constructively was questioned. We have little reason to believe that we are more competent in this respect today.

Parents who discipline their children are also ready to invest themselves in their children’s betterment. This attitude is required before providing constructive criticism.

Today I shall...

try to realize that offering constructive criticism can be painful and refrain from doing so unless I am ready to help the person cope with the pain.


If my brother Esau encounters you and asks you, "To whom do you belong, and whither are you going, and what are these things before you?" (Genesis 32:18)

In the homiletic writings, Jacob symbolizes the spiritual, and Esau the secular. Esau tries to seduce a person by saying, "Who do you think you are, anyway? Just where do you think spirituality will get you?"

The spiritual person poses these same questions, but in a different tone. "Where do I belong? Am I but part of the animal kingdom, differing from lower forms of life only by virtue of intellect, or do I belong to a higher order of being? Where am I headed with my life? Do I have an ultimate goal? And what are all these things before me? Am I using objects of the physical world as tools that I can use to reach my goal, or are they ends in themselves to me?"

The very arguments that can draw us away from a spiritual life can be turned back and serve as reasons for embracing spirituality. The physical world has abundant glitter, but emptiness lies beneath its superficial shine. True substance to living lies beyond these temporary pleasures.

Today is the last day of the year, a time for reckoning and asking, "What have I done during the past year that still has value for me today? All the transitory enjoyments of which I partook in the past – what value do they have today?"

A reasonable person chooses things that are of lasting value.

Today I shall...

think about the past year and consider what I would prefer the coming year to be.


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