Growing Each Day: Adar

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

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

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

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

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

Today I shall...

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

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

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

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

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

Today I shall...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today I shall...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today I shall...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today I shall...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today I shall...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today I shall...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today I shall...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today I shall...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today I shall...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today I shall...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today I shall...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today I shall...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today I shall...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today I shall...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today I shall...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today I shall...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today I shall...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today I shall...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today I shall...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today I shall...

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

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

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

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

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

Today I shall...

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

The Hebrew language has words...">

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

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

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

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

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

Today I shall...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today I shall...

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

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

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

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

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

Today I shall...

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

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

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

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

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

Today I shall...

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

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

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

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

Today I shall...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today I shall...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today I shall...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today I shall...

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

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