Growing Each Day: Kislev

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.

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