Growing Each Day: Cheshvan

God said to Noah, "Enter ... into the ark" (Genesis 7:1).

The Hebrew word for ark, teivah, has two meanings: it can mean "an ark," and it can also mean "a word." In the above verse, the latter meaning tells us that God instructed Noah to "enter into the word." Rabbi Moshe of Kobrin expounded on this theme, explaining that when we pray, we should "enter into the words," i.e. totally immerse ourselves into each word of prayer, as though the word is encompassing us.

A listener once asked him: "How can a big human being possibly enter into a little word?" Rabbi Moshe answered, "People who consider themselves bigger than the word are not the kind of person we are talking about."

The Talmud states that people's prayers are not accepted unless they efface themselves before God (Sotah 5a). God abhors those who are egotistical, and therefore the prayers of a vain person are not likely to be received favorably.

People preoccupied with their egos remain external to their prayers. The truly humble person feels small enough to "enter" even the tiniest word.

Today I shall...

try to throw myself entirely into my prayers by setting aside those thoughts and feelings that would inflate my ego.

Do not show favoritism in judgment ... fear no person (Deuteronomy 1:17).

Rabbi Yaakov of Lisa summoned one of his town's wealthiest citizens, a pillar of the community, to appear before him in a rabbinic court. When the man ignored the summons for the third time, Rabbi Yaakov notified him that unless he complied at once, he would feel the full wrath of the court.

The man came to the rabbi and sharply rebuked him. "You should be aware, Rabbi," he said, "that I was the one who was instrumental in your getting the position as rabbi of this community. This is not how I expected to be repaid."

Without a word, Rabbi Yaakov left his study, packed his and his family's belongings, and they all left town. Rabbi Yaakov later explained that the man had not intimidated him, but he may have caused him to be unconsciously biased and he might not be completely objective in his case. Furthermore, if his judgment would have been in this man's favor, he might have been suspected of favoritism.

When we bring a dispute before a judge, we should value truth sufficiently to avoid using personal influence which might undermine a just decision.

Today I shall...

try to keep myself rigorously honest by avoiding the urge to tilt the truth to my interests.

Do not partake of the bread of one who is miserly (Proverbs 23:6).

Yankel was known for his extreme miserliness. When he came to shul one day and announced that his wife had given birth to a son, his face was less than glowing with happiness. When asked why, he admitted: "Well, a baby boy requires a bris, and a bris requires refreshments, and those cost money."

"You say `refreshments,' Yankel?" his friend, Boruch, said. "Why, Yankel, for a bris you must serve a whole feast! And I'll tell you something, Yankel. You will have to provide even more food than someone else, because it's a known fact that when the host does not fargin (i.e. he is stingy), the guests eat twice as much!"

Poor Yankel had no choice but to comply with custom. He reluctantly prepared a meal for the bris. During the meal, painfully watching everyone eat with much gusto, he ran to Boruch and said, "Help. Boruch, help! I'm farginning (not being stingy), but they're still eating twice as much anyway!"

We must be cautious not to let our emotions deceive us. If we have undesirable feelings, we should not make believe that they do not exist, but we should try to correct them. Self-deception can result only in absurd contradictions, such as Yankel's assertion that he really was being generous."

Today I shall...

try to examine my feelings and perhaps ask someone else to help me evaluate them, lest I deceive myself.

May these words that I have prayed before God be close to God day and night, that He may do justice for His servant and for His people Israel, the needs of each day on that day (Siddur).

When people lift heavy loads, they are likely to develop severe back pain. When they realize that they are overtaxing their bodies, they discontinue this practice and from then on will lift only as much as their bodies can safely bear.

While we can easily determine our body's stress capacity, our psychological and emotional stress tolerance is not so readily measurable. Yet, if we exceed that stress level, symptoms of discomfort and dysfunction are just as apt to occur as when the body's level is exceeded. How is one to determine one's safe emotional and psychological stress level?

What could be simpler than following the instruction book provided by the Manufacturer?

During the Israelites' sojourn in the desert, the manna was provided in portions just sufficient for one day, and any excess rotted away.

As for what they would eat the next day, the Israelites had been assured that there would be fresh manna the following day. Our appropriate stress tolerance is to be concerned for just one day - twenty-four hours. If we take on more than that, we may be overburdening the system. In our economy, lacking the miraculous manna and having the ability to save for the future, there may be justification for putting something aside for a rainy day. However, we often take on worries far in advance, about things that we are powerless to alter or to prepare for today. Such futile worry is harmful to a person.

Today I shall...

try to concentrate on my present needs and avoid worrying about things that are not within my capacity to change.

When Saul was king for one year ... (I Samuel 13:1).

The literal translation of this verse is, "Saul was one year old when he became king." The Talmud explains that Scripture uses this wording to convey that when Saul assumed the throne, he was as free of sin as a one-year-old child.

People grow wiser as they mature, but some features of childhood should not be abandoned. Rabbi Shlomo Luria stated that when he recited the Shema, he could have meditated upon the profound hidden meanings and esoteric combinations of the Divine Name. He instead concentrated on the simplest meanings of the words, just as a small child would who knows only the literal translation, "Hear, O Israel, our God is Lord, our God is One."

God created man simple, but man made complex calculations (Ecclesiastes 7:29). The problems of life need not be anywhere near as complicated as we make them. In matters of faith and in following instructions, we would benefit greatly if we used childlike simplicity, trusting in the superior wisdom of our Father and doing what we are told instead of trying to analyze everything.

Today I shall...

try to keep things as simple as possible, and allow myself to be taught and guided by those wiser than myself.

God appeared to Abram and said to him, "I am Almighty God. Walk before Me and be perfect" (Genesis 17:1).

If a human being cannot be perfect, why did God demand perfection of Abraham?

The entire context of the verse indicates both the definition of this perfection and the way in which it can be achieved. It is obvious that no human being can aspire to equal God's degree of perfection. What man can achieve is to live according to God's teachings and thereby live up to his own human potential; more than man's personal maximum is not possible or expected. Thus, God did not say simply, "Be perfect"; He said, "Walk before Me + and thereby you will be perfect." When a person tries to live according to the Divine teachings, that constitutes human perfection, although one is technically never perfect.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch notes that the Hebrew word for "walk" in the above verse is not telech but heshalech which implies, "Go your way in spite of opposition, not making your progress dependent on external circumstances, but being led from within yourself: Let your movement proceed from your own free-willed decisions."

The picture is now complete; human perfection can be achieved by making a free-willed choice to live according to the Divine teaching.

Today I shall...

try to realize that although I cannot be absolutely without flaw, I can be perfect if I make free-will decisions to obey the Divine will.

And you shall love Hashem your God ... (Deuteronomy 6:5)
And you shall love your neighbor as yourself... (Leviticus 19:18).

Both of these statements are positive commandments. We might ask: How can a commandment demand that we feel something? Since love is an emotion, it is either there or it is not there.

The Torah does not hold that love is something spontaneous. On the contrary, it teaches that we can and should cultivate love. No one has the liberty to say: "There are some people whom I just do not like," nor even, "I cannot possibly like that person because he did this and that to me."

We have within us innate attractions to God and to other people. If we do not feel love for either of them, it is because we have permitted barriers to develop that interfere with this natural attraction, much as insulation can block a magnet's inherent attraction for iron. If we remove the barriers, the love will be forthcoming.

The barriers inside us come from defects in our character. When we improve ourselves, our bad character traits fall away, and as they fall away, we begin to sense that natural love which we have for others and for God.

Today I shall...

try to improve my midos (character traits), so that I will be able to feel love for God and for my fellow man.

From on high may they plead merit for them (our hosts) and for us ... and may we find favor and understanding in the eyes of God and man (Grace After Meals).

We all wish to be liked and appreciated. What is the best road to popularity?

Some people are "people pleasers." They do things for others to earn their favor and affection. While it is certainly commendable to do things for others, "buying" their affection should not be the motivation. Furthermore, there are times when we are not able to fulfill a particular request that someone may make of us. If we force ourselves because we are afraid that our refusal may result in losing the other person's friendship, we may resent what we do. This process is counterproductive; doing acts of kindness should not result in resentment.

All we need to be liked and appreciated is to have a sincere attitude of caring for others. A benevolent attitude will translate itself into benevolent deeds. This "intangible" will be felt by other people, even when we are unable to do anything for them.

In the above prayer, we ask God to bless our hosts and to consider them meritorious. Showing this benevolent attitude is sufficient for us to find favor in the eyes of both God and others.

Today I shall...

try to cultivate feelings of sincere concern for others, and pray for their well-being just as I pray for my own.

I believe with perfect faith that ... (Siddur).

There are Thirteen Principles of Faith whose absolute certainty we declare after the morning services. These are the only principles of absolute certainty. Everything else is subject to doubt. If there were anything else of absolute certainty, there would be fourteen principles.

Rabbi Issachar of Wolborz told his followers that the soul of a departed person had once come to him and stated that he was destitute and needed money for his daughter's wedding.

"But you are no longer alive," the Rabbi said to the soul, "and you have no need for money." The soul refused to believe him.

"How pathetic," the Rabbi said. "There are souls who are not privileged to enter Gehinnom (perdition) to undergo the cleansing process that will qualify them for Gan Eden (paradise). These lost souls may wander for years in a fantasy world, believing they are still alive."*

One follower asked, "How can we be sure that we are indeed living? Perhaps we too are in this fantasy world now, but are under the delusion that we are still alive."

The Rabbi answered, "People who consider it a possibility that they may be delusional are not delusional. Psychotics do not think for a single moment that they may be hallucinating."

The Thirteen Principles of Faith are axioms. With the exception of these, we should always be ready to examine our convictions, regardless of how strongly we may feel about them. It is when we are absolutely certain that we are right and have no doubt whatever about the validity of our opinions that we are most likely to be in error.

* In Kabbalah there is a concept of a "world of emptiness" where souls may dwell until they are cleansed.

Today I shall...

try to keep an open mind and be willing to listen to opinions other than my own.

I have placed before you life and death...and you shall choose life (Deuteronomy 30:19).

How can a lobster grow? After all, its shell is rigid and cannot expand.

When the lobster feels itself compressed within its shell, it retreats to a crevice in one of the underwater rock formations, sheds its shell, and grows a new one. When it outgrows this shell, it repeats the process and continues doing so until it reaches its maximum size.

During the stage when it is without its shell, the lobster is in great danger. A predatory fish may eat it, or a strong current may dash it against a rock. In order to grow, the lobster must risk its very life.

It is impossible to achieve success without risking failure; sometimes life can only be lived by risking death. Since life consists of growth and progress, we must learn to live with risk.

People for whom failure is devastating may never try anything. They will never grow.The greatest failure of all is the failure to grow and to maximize one's potential. This passive failure is even more serious than active failure.

We must develop sufficient courage and self-confidence to not retreat from taking risks (though reasonable ones) in order to progress.

Today I shall...

try to increase my feelings of self-worth so that I may be able to accept new challenges without the fear that any failure would destroy me.

Let the praises of God come from the heavens ... let the praises of God come from the earth (Psalms 148:1,7).

The Scriptures have many references to seeing the presence of God in everything in the world. Psalm 104, for example, is a beautiful song of nature, which recounts God's presence in all His works. As we are swept along by the exquisite poetry of the psalm, we can actually sense how this realization culminated in David's declaration, How many are Your works, O God. You have fashioned them all with wisdom (104:24).

Today, more than ever, people have been privileged to see the marvels of Divine wisdom. Thanks to the marvels of electronic technology, we can see the Divine engineering in the structure of a blade of grass, in the function of a cell of protoplasm, in the complex structure of the atom, and in the awesome composition of super galaxies.

It is wrong to live in a world that testifies to the omnipresence of God and not acknowledge it. This is one reason we have not only daily prayers, but also blessings for so many things. Everything with which we come in contact is a testimony to God as Creator.

Today I shall...

try to be more aware of the omnipresence of God, and to be attentive to the marvels of nature that testify to His infinite wisdom.

Fortunate is the person who fears God, and has a great desire for His mitzvos (Psalms 112:1).

We think of fear as a negative emotion, so we try to eliminate it. We therefore lose sight of the fact that fear can also be constructive. Fear motivates us to drive cautiously even when in a great hurry, and fear makes a diabetic adhere to his diet and take his insulin daily.

Religion has often been criticized for advocating the fear of God. This criticism may be justified if we were conditioned to think of Him as an all-powerful Being holding a huge club, ready to beat a sinner to a pulp for doing something wrong. All ethical works discourage the use of this type of fear as motivation. Rather, fear of God should be understood to mean the fear of the harmful consequences that are inherent in violating His instructions. The Psalmist says that wickedness itself destroys the wicked person (see Psalms 34:22).

"Fortunate is the person who fears God," in the sense that "he has great desire for His mitzvos" (Psalms 112:1). It is only natural for one to desire the very best, and the realization that observing the mitzvos is indeed in one's best interest should constitute the "fear" that should deter someone from transgressing the Divine will.

Today I shall...

try to realize that observance of the mitzvos is in my best interest, and that I should fear transgressing the mitzvos in the same way I fear any injurious act.

O, God, who will dwell in Your tabernacle, who will rest on Your holy mountain? ... One who speaks the truth in his heart ... who swears to his own hurt but will not retract (Psalms 15:1-4).

In their mind's eye, people believe that they are acting as truthfully as possible. We all know, however, how easily we can deceive ourselves. Since truth may be elusive, how then can we know that we have the truth?

There is a useful litmus test. We can know that we have the truth when we have the courage to feel the pain of accepting the truth. People lie because they think the lie will be less painful or costly for them than the truth.

People often fail to grow because they are reluctant to face the painful truth that they have done wrong. We have an innate tendency to avoid pain, and therefore we are apt to conjure up rationalizations that justify our behavior. These rationalizations are nothing but lies ― sometimes clever and convincing, but lies nonetheless. Facing the truth and accepting the pain that comes with it requires courage.

People who "speak the truth in their heart," says the Psalmist, do not retract their word even if it is to their own hurt. On the other hand, those who constantly seek to change everything to conform to their maximum comfort are only lying to themselves.

Today I shall...

try to be courageous and not automatically withdraw from everything that is painful. I shall try to examine my actions to make sure I am not sacrificing truth for comfort.

Three types of people live an unlivable life: those who are overly compassionate, overly irritable, or overly sensitive (Pesachim 113b).

Why is being overly sensitive so unlivable? If we sustain a severe sunburn, we avoid contact with other people, because what would normally be a friendly pat on the back or a gentle caress can cause exquisite pain.

Our emotions can become as overly sensitive as our skin, and things which would otherwise be neutral, if not pleasant, may be very painful. To avoid being hurt, we may withdraw from human contact or set up other barriers to communication.

The ego is the source for this touchiness. When people's egos become inflated, they feel superior to others and imagine that they deserve more recognition. No amount of recognition is sufficient, however, and other people's innocent comments or actions are misinterpreted as insults or slights.

Unlike sunburnt skin, ego-burnt emotions are not easily recognized. This lack of awareness may then cause these poor people to think that others intend to harm them. Such misinterpretations will make their lives unlivable.

Today I shall...

try to avoid reacting reflexively to painful experiences, and try to understand that my discomfort may be due to my sensitivity rather than to others' behavior.

If a person has a worry in his heart, let him relate it to others (Proverbs 12:25, Yoma 75a).

Many people are hesitant to share their painful feelings with others. They may not wish to burden others with their problems, or they may be too ashamed to reveal their thoughts and feelings. The Scriptures and Talmud advocate the value of ventilating problems.

Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk stated: "One should regularly relate to one's mentor or to a trusted friend all the improper thoughts and feelings one has experienced ... and this is an incomparable technique (for proper conduct)."

The value of sharing our troublesome thoughts, feelings, and actions with another person is inestimable. First, by not repressing our true feelings, we become more honest with ourselves. Second, by elucidating our problems with someone else, we may gain greater insight into them and even discover their solutions. Third, by considering our problem from a non-biased perspective, the listener can give an opinion far more objective than we could ever formulate on our own.

Rabbi Elimelech recommends that such sharing be done regularly. Troublesome thoughts and feelings should not be allowed to accumulate. Not only can they add up to become overwhelming, they can also fester, become even more serious, and therefore be more difficult to eliminate.

Today I shall...

find someone whom I can trust with my most private thoughts and feelings, and relieve myself of the burdensome baggage I have been carrying.

The Maggid of...">

It is a Divine kindness that His mercies are endless (Lamentations 3:22).

Another way to translate this verse is, "It is a Divine kindness that we are never finished."

The Maggid of Koznitz was extremely frail and sickly as a child. It was not thought that he would survive to adulthood. Much of his life was spent sick in bed, and he was so weak that he was often unable to sit up to meet visitors. Still, he lived to an advanced age.

The Maggid once revealed the secret of his longevity. "I never allowed myself to be without an assignment or a task to perform," he said. "People are taken from this world only when their missions here are completed. Whenever I was just about to finish one task, I would start another; hence, I could not be removed from this world if my assignment was not completed."

Even from a purely physiological aspect, the Maggid's concept is valid. Some think that the healthiest thing for us is rest and relaxation. Not so. In reality, unused muscles tend to atrophy, while muscles that are exercised and stimulated are strengthened.

The same principle applies to the entire person. If we constantly stimulate ourselves to achieve new goals, we avoid the apathy that leads to atrophy.

Today I shall...

try to take on a new spiritual goal, and stimulate myself to greater achievement in serving God and being of help to other people.

May the Merciful One lift the yoke of exile from our necks and lead us upright to our land (Grace After Meals).

Rabbi Naftali of Ropschitz related that a Russian czar was inspecting his troops on the front lines, when one enemy soldier took aim at him. A brave Russian soldier threw himself at the czar, pushed him out of the line of fire, and thereby saved his life. The grateful czar told the soldier that he would reward him by granting any request he made. The soldier complained that his sergeant was very cruel to him, and asked the czar to order the sergeant to treat him more kindly.

"You fool!" the czar responded. "You should have asked to be made a senior officer, and then the sergeant would have to take orders from you!"

Rabbi Naftali commented that we come before God with a variety of petty requests, forgetting that the single request we should be making is to be returned to our homeland and to the glory of old, and then all our other requests would be fulfilled.

As we thank God for our food and ask Him to continue to provide for us, we are reminded not to be as foolish as the soldier, but rather to make the most important request of all - that we be returned to the position of favor in the eyes of God.

Today I shall...

try to remember that our greatest need is that we be what which we were chosen to be - a kingdom of priests and a sacred nation.

Arise before an aged person, and give honor to one mature in wisdom (Leviticus 19:32).

Although they are basically God-fearing and wish to do what is right, many people have not succeeded in the struggle to overcome their temptations. In judging their shortcomings, however, it is important to evaluate their underlying attitude - do they truly respect the proper course of action and those who are more successful than they in having it?

Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berdichev told of a general who lost an important battle. His king replaced him as commander. Now that the deposed general was vulnerable, his enemies accused him of treason, claiming that he had intentionally lost the battle. When the new commander, who subsequently was victorious, was honored for his triumph, the first general genuinely rejoiced at his successor's celebration. The king then dismissed the treason charges. "Had he been disloyal, he would not have celebrated his successor's victory. That he did so proves that his defeat was simply due to his lack of ability, and not to treason"

Similarly, said Rabbi Levi Yitzchok, even if one is lax in full observance of the mitzvos, the fact that one honors those who do observe the mitzvos indicates that one's intentions are good, but that one has just not been strong enough to resist temptation. The desire to do good, however, is likely to predominate ultimately.

By honoring talmidei chachamim (Torah scholars), one indicates the desire to do the will of God.

Today I shall...

show my respect for those who are more learned and more committed to Torah observance than I am.

You shall rebuke your friend (Leviticus 19:17).

A famous maggid (preacher) once visited Rabbi Chaim of Sanz. Rabbi Chaim complained to him that since he was a Rebbe, a leader, no one ever rebuked him for anything. He asked the maggid to please tell him where he could improve himself.

The maggid remarked that he was surprised that Rabbi Chaim's house did not have the requisite square cubit of unfinished wall space that one is to leave as a reminder of the ruin of the Temple. Rabbi Chaim promptly arose and scraped the paint off an area of the wall, deeply thanking the maggid for calling his attention to this delinquency.

We are often unable to see our own faults. Still, most people dislike rebuke. Even if they are not frankly offended by someone else pointing out their imperfections, they are rarely grateful for being reprimanded. Knowing that we might react defensively, people who note our mistakes and are in a position to rebuke us will be reluctant to provoke us. We should actively encourage them, as Rabbi Chaim did, for we can learn from their observations, eliminate our character defects, and thereby better ourselves.

Today I shall...

try to encourage others to tell me what I might be doing that they consider wrong, and be sincerely grateful to anyone who provides constructive criticism.

Who is the person who desires life and loves days to see good? Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from deceitful speech (Psalms 34:13-14).

Who would be so foolish as not to desire life and days to see good? Yet, we may forfeit something so desirable and precious by abusing the gift of speech, by speaking gossip or slander, or by lying.

Resolving to not lie or speak evil is not enough; we must always be on constant guard. In this case, the best guard is a fence. We put fences around our homes and properties because we wish to protect them from damage that may come from unsuspected sources. Likewise, to avoid gossip, slander, or lies, we must set up protective "fences" to avoid such an occurrence, as for example, avoiding associating with gossipers, and pausing to think before we talk about another person.

Lashon hara is not only a grievous sin, but actually defiles our speech, thus devaluating the words we utter in prayer and Torah study. Just think how revolting it would be if someone served you the finest delicacies in filthy utensils! The precious words of Torah study and prayer that we bring before God should not be contaminated by delivering them through a vehicle of speech that has been soiled by lashon hara.

Today I shall...

try to be on the alert not to speak an untruth, not to gossip or tattletale, and not to speak disparagingly about another person.

I have set God always before me (Psalms 16:8).

Late one night, Rabbi Naftali of Ropschitz took a walk in the outskirts of town, where he met a night watchman and struck up a conversation with him. The watchman assumed that Rabbi Naftali was also a guard and, not recognizing him as one of the regular group, asked him, "For whom are you on duty?"

Rabbi Naftali was taken aback. He realized that while he was engaged in light conversation, his thoughts had momentarily deviated from the awareness of the presence of God and the need to concentrate always on serving Him. In the watchman's question "For whom are you on duty?", the Rabbi detected a reminder that he should get back on track. Tzaddikim consider themselves constantly duty bound, like a sentry charged with protecting the lives of comrades. Even a brief lapse of alertness constitutes gross negligence.

Many people think that God is served only during prayer and Torah study, or while performing mitzvos. The very first paragraph of the Shulchan Aruch contains the verse cited above and explains that a person's behavior should be regulated by the awareness that one is always in God's presence and under Divine vigilance. Such constant awareness will assure that every action, great or small, will conform to the Divine will.

Today I shall...

try to maintain a constant awareness that I am in the presence of God, and that I may not, at any time, do something that would displease Him.

I despise falsehood and I abhor it; it is Your Torah that I love (Psalms 119:163).

Although we may condemn falsehood and champion truth, many of us are not beyond stretching the truth a bit when circumstances appear to warrant it. It is after all very easy to rationalize and to justify a white lie. On the other hand, some things are so repulsive and disgusting that we instinctively avoid them. We feel revolted by the very thought of coming into contact with something grossly polluted, and no amount of cajoling from anyone would help us overcome this revulsion.

True love of truth requires that we not only avoid evil, but that we despise it. Those who love God should despise evil, says the Psalmist (97:10), and in the verse cited above, King David goes one step further. The hatred of falsehood and evil should be so intense and profound that the very thought of them is abhorrent; we should instinctively reject them in the same manner that we shun something so foul that it contaminates anyone who touches it.

We may think that we possess true love of truth, but the litmus test is how much we despise falsehood. Unless falsehood automatically repels us, we have not yet achieved true love of Torah.

Today I shall...

try to intensify my dislike for anything false, to the point that lying and deceit become physical impossibilities for me.

For this thing (observance of the mitzvos) is extremely close to you, in your mouth and in your heart to do it (Deuteronomy 30:14).

Given the 365 restrictions and prohibitions of the Torah and the demand for performance of 248 mitzvos, how can Moses say that it is not only easy to observe, but that it is extremely close to you; i.e. extremely easy to do?

The answer lies in one simple word that is repeated no less than fourteen times in this short (forty-verse) portion of the Torah: "Today." Moreover, the word appears superfluous; every verse could read just as well without it. The Torah must be telling us that if we concentrate on today's challenges and leave tomorrow's for tomorrow, then this challenge is extremely easy to accomplish.

I have seen this message in my own work. When people who have abused alcohol for decades come for treatment of their alcoholism, they can be extremely frightened by the prospect that they will never again be able to take a drink. Giving up alcohol for life appears to be virtually impossible. The method that works best in overcoming alcoholism is that advocated by Alcoholics Anonymous: since you can do nothing today about tomorrow's sobriety, don't worry today about how you will stay sober tomorrow. You will have ample opportunity to concern yourself tomorrow about tomorrow's challenge. Today, just take care of today.

Today I shall...

try to concentrate on those things that are within my capacity to do today, and avoid worrying about challenges that are not within today's range of action.

What the recipient of alms does for the donor is greater than what the donor does for the recipient (Vayikra Rabbah 34:8).

Rabbi Yitzchok of Zidachov said, "Life consists of give and take. Everyone must be a giver and a receiver. Those who are not both are as a barren tree."

There is a charming Jewish custom: on Erev Yom Kippur or on Hoshana Rabbah, people ask or "beg" for cake from friends. The rationale is that just in case it was Divinely decreed for someone to be a beggar, the begging for cake will fulfill this decree, and so one would be free from such a fate.

Another important reason for this custom could be that giving is easy, because we can then feel magnanimous. Still, it is crucial that we also empathize with the person who needs assistance and realize how painful and degrading it is to beg and to depend on others. Only then will we be able to take into consideration the feelings of those who must ask for help and express our feelings by providing words of comfort and encouragement along with the material help. Lack of empathy when giving charity can lead to arrogance.

We must realize that in some ways we are all takers, for even in the very act of giving charity we take more than we give.

Today I shall...

try to identify with people who ask for help and avoid considering myself superior to those whom I offer help or give charity.

May we have life in which God fulfills our hearts' desires for good (Siddur).

The followers of Rabbi Uri of Strelisk were all poor. When another Chassidic master visited him, he asked Rabbi Uri why he did not pray that his congregants become more prosperous.

Rabbi Uri called in a follower whose shabby clothing attested to his poverty. He said to him, "Now is a special moment of grace, and you will be granted anything your heart desires. Ask for whatever you wish."

Without a moment's hesitancy, the man said, "I wish to be able to say Baruch She'amar (the opening prayer of the morning service) with the same fervor as the Rabbi does."

Rabbi Uri turned to his friend. "You see now for yourself!" he said. "They do not want riches. Why should I intercede to get them something they do not want?"

We ask God for many things, but most importantly, we should pray that He enlighten us what it is that we should pray for, lest we waste our prayers by asking for things that are not to our ultimate advantage and fail to ask for what is really essential.

Today I shall...

try to think about what it is that I really need and that is in my best interest, instead of focusing on things that may seem desirable but are really inconsequential.

If you should neglect [the study] of Torah, you will find many excuses to neglect it (Ethics of the Fathers 4:12).

Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk once met a disciple of Rabbi Moshe of Kobrin.

"What was most important to your Rabbi?" he asked.

The disciple replied, "Whatever he happened to be doing at the moment."

Time should be precious to us. It is irreplaceable; unlike money, a moment that is lost can never be regained. Still, we protect our money far more than our time.

Absolute idleness consists of doing nothing. But there is also a relative idleness, when we occupy ourselves with things of lesser value.

If what we are doing at any given time is not the most important thing at that moment, something else must be even more important. If that is so, why are we neglecting what is more important and spending our time on what is less important? Would we be so foolish to spend our time earning less money when we could just as well be earning more

Today I shall...

try to realize the value of time, and make every moment count.

If a person has an equal number of mitzvos and sins, he is given the opportunity to repent until Yom Kippur. If he repents, he is inscribed for life; but if not, he is inscribed for death (Maimonides, Teshuvah 3:3).

Why should people be condemned if, by Yom Kippur, their mitzvos still equal their sins? If the two exactly balance each other, should they not be judged with mercy?

Rabbi Yisrael of Salant said that the answer is obvious. If people are given the opportunity to repent for their sins, yet still fail to do so, their negligence is a sin so terrible that it outweighs all the mitzvos. While people cannot justify their sins, they can say that the intensity of temptation was overwhelming. As one Chassidic master pleaded, "Almighty God, if You had placed the terrors of Gehinnom before people's eyes and had concealed temptation in books, I swear to You that no one would sin. But You put temptation right before people's eyes and relegated the terrors of Gehinnom to the books, where it exists as an abstraction! Is it any wonder that people sin?"

Still, once the sin has been committed and the temptation assuaged, what justification can there be for not regretting that one has done wrong? Hence, said Rabbi Yisrael of Salant, the seriousness of a failure to repent. Sin may stem from an inherent weakness; neglect to rectify past wrongs constitutes an act of defiance and an attitude of unforgivable, arrogant self-righteousness which cannot be forgiven.

Today I shall...

make a reckoning of things I have done, and have the courage to recognize and admit what I have done wrong.

Even if the entire world considers you a tzaddik (pious and righteous), you should nevertheless think of yourself as if you were sinful (Niddah 30b).

In 1965, I visited the Steipler Gaon, a sage whom people often consulted for medical advice. Since he had heard that I was a psychiatrist, he wanted to find out new developments in medications for mental illnesses. I related to the Gaon whatever I knew about the most recent advances.

"Is anything available that can cure someone from delusions?" he asked. I told the Gaon that delusions were very resistant to treatment, and that while antipsychotic medications could subdue overt psychotic behavior, the delusional thinking itself was difficult to eradicate.

"But what if someone has the delusion that he is the greatest tzaddik in the generation?" the Gaon asked. I could not restrain myself and laughingly replied, "No medication can cure that."

The Gaon shook his head sadly. "Too bad," he said. "That malady is so widespread."

Delusions of any kind are a sign of mental illness. How sick a person must be to consider oneself a tzaddik, and how wise the Talmud was to caution us against developing such delusions!

Today I shall...

try to be honest with myself, and even if my behavior is such that people may think I am a tzaddik, I must not allow myself to be deluded.

If one builds a wall adjacent to a neighbor's windows, it must be built far enough that he not intrude on his neighbor's privacy (Bava Basra 22a, free translation).

In Jewish law, privacy is a right. As the above excerpt from the Talmud shows, a court can protect an individual's privacy.

Physical privacy is but one dimension of one's right; we also have the right to keep knowledge of our affairs away from the public eye. Not only can discussing or disclosing another person's affairs cause great damage, but in addition, it can intrude upon the other person's privacy. People have a right to their own thoughts and feelings, and this right to privacy must be respected, even among friends and family members.

Some people get offended when they discover that someone withheld personal information that they felt they had a right to know. Of course, while a person entering a partnership (whether business or personal) has a right to know certain things (such as the other party's past record of honesty), the other party certainly has the right to keep other things private.

Intimacy is a bridge between two separate people; only if we respect another person's right to a "self," a sense of privacy, can we expect intimacy to exist.

Today I shall...

try to remember that other people have rights to their own thoughts and feelings, and avoid intruding on other people's privacy.

Do not take revenge nor bear grudge among your people, and you should love your neighbor as yourself, I am God (Leviticus 19:18).

This verse may well be the Torah's most difficult demand. The Talmud gives an example of revenge: someone refuses to give you a loan; then, when he or she asks you for one, you say, "I will not lend you money because you turned me down when I was in need." Bearing a grudge comes when you do give the person the loan, but say, "I want you to see that I am more decent than you. I am willing to lend you the money, even though you did not give me that consideration." The Torah forbids both reactions; we must loan in silence.

R' Moshe Chaim Luzzato says that revenge is one of the sweetest sensations a person can have, and that the Torah's demand that we suppress this impulse is asking us to virtually be akin to angels (Path of the Just, Chap. 11). Still, the fact that we are required to do so tells us that this level of control is within our grasp. The key to this is contained in the end of the verse cited above.

The Torah wishes us to consider the other person as we would ourselves. For example, if a person stubbed his toe and felt a sharp pain, he would hardly hit his foot as punishment for having hurt him. Just as we would neither take revenge nor bear a grudge on a part of our own body, we should not do so toward another person.

Today I shall...

try to think of other people as extensions of myself, and avoid responding with hostility when I am offended.

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