Growing Each Day: Tevet

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.

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