Growing Each Day: Nisan

This month shall be unto you the first of the months (Exodus 12:2).

The Jewish calendar has two New Years. Rosh Hashanah, the first day of Tishrei, which marks the beginning of the calendar year, is a day of judgment, signifying that we are held accountable for our behavior. The first day of Nissan marks the beginning of the month of our liberation from Egypt, an event which teaches us that God watches us, that He cares about us, and that even distressful experiences, such as the bitter enslavement in Egypt, are part of a Divine master plan.

Six months separate the two New Years. The personal inventory and the analysis of our mistakes and character defects which we do during the solemn days of Tishrei are very sobering tasks. On the other hand, realizing that we hold a lofty status as children of God and that we are constantly under His vigilance, which is emphasized in Nissan, is exhilarating and elating. Both attitudes are indeed essential, but if one tries to achieve them simultaneously, one may end up in a state of confusion.

In the third chapter of Ecclesiastes, Solomon points out that we should dedicate appropriate times in life for conflicting acts and attitudes. He says, "There's a time to plant and a time to uproot" (3:2), and "There is a time to cry and a time to laugh" (3:4), etc. A healthy adjustment to life is a delicate balancing act. With proper learning and guidance, we can learn to determine appropriate times for what we are supposed to do.

Today I shall...

give thought to scheduling my hours and days, so that I can achieve a healthy balance of diverse attitudes.

This is the way of Torah: eat bread with salt, drink water by measure, and sleep on the earth. (Ethics of the Fathers 6:4)

Does observance of Torah require living a life of poverty and depriving ourselves of all the niceties of the world?

Certainly not. The Talmud is elaborating upon another Talmudic statement: "Who is wealthy? One who is content with his portion" (Ethics of the Fathers 4:1).

People who can be happy with the basics of life - food, clothing, and shelter - can truly enjoy the luxuries of life, because they can be happy even without them. Those whose happiness depends upon having luxuries are likely to be perennially dissatisfied, in constant need of more, and consequently unhappy, even if they have everything they desire.

A wise man once observed a display of various items in a store window. "I never knew there were so many things I can get along without," he said.

If bread and water can satisfy us, then we can enjoy a steak. If we are not satisfied unless we have caviar, we will discover that even caviar is not enough.

Today I shall...

try to be content with the essentials of life and consider everything else as optional.

Contemplating sin is more serious than the sin itself (Yoma 29a).

Although actions generally have much greater impact than thoughts, thoughts may have a more serious effect in several areas.

The distance that our hands can reach is quite limited. The ears can hear from a much greater distance, and the reach of the eye is much farther yet. Thought, however, is virtually limitless in its reach. We can think of objects millions of light years away, and so we have a much greater selection of improper thoughts than of improper actions.

Thought also lacks the restraints that can deter actions. One may refrain from an improper act for fear of punishment or because of social disapproval, but the privacy of thought places it beyond these restraints.

Furthermore, thoughts create attitudes and mindsets. An improper action creates a certain amount of damage, but an improper mindset can create a multitude of improper actions. Finally, an improper mindset can numb our conscience and render us less sensitive to the effects of our actions. We therefore do not feel the guilt that would otherwise come from doing an improper act.

We may not be able to avoid the occurrence of improper impulses, but we should promptly reject them and not permit them to dwell in our mind.

Today I shall...

make special effort to avoid harboring improper thoughts.

May goodness and kindness pursue me all the days of my life (Psalms 23:6).

What a strange expression! Goodness and kindness should pursue me, as though I was fleeing from them?!

Perhaps the Psalmist had in mind the verse: "You shall pursue righteousness, only righteousness" (Deut. 16:20). Many people have things reversed. They pursue goodness and kindness for themselves, but leave righteousness to somehow catch up with them. The Torah dictates a different order. A person should pursue righteousness and allow goodness and kindness to catch up.

If we asked people for their goal for life, many would say, "to achieve happiness." While this answer is certainly understandable, happiness is not the primary goal of creation of man. Indeed, the Scripture states very clearly: "Man was created in order to toil" (Job 5:7). And the Talmud explains that this means to work on the Divine mission, to fulfill the Divine will. If our primary goal is happiness, we are certain to be frustrated. The average person's life is abundant in distressful happenings. If the primary goal is to do the Divine will, then those times of happiness that do occur can be enjoyed, and the times of distress are borne without bitterness.

Today I shall...

try to remember that I was created to do the will of God rather than to lead a blissful life.

At the age of thirteen, one becomes obligated to perform "the mitzvos (Ethics of the Fathers 5:25).

Jewish law does not recognize any such entity as adolescence. A child is a minor until the age of legal majority, which is the twelfth birthday for a girl and the thirteenth for a boy. One moment prior to the sunset of the eleventh or twelfth year, the person is a minor; the next moment, she or he is an adult. Parents and teachers still must provide guidance of course, but the "child" is no longer a child, and must assume responsibility for him or herself.

Parents take responsibility for their children's behavior, but once those children reach the age of majority, they are accountable for their actions. A Jew never has a single moment of diminished responsibility; he or she always advances.

In the general culture, however, adolescence constitutes a "no man's land," a period of diminished responsibility. Adolescents are too old for their behavior to be dismissed as childish, yet too young to be held accountable for their actions.

The problem is that once youths experience a period of diminished responsibility, they may never advance to a sense of full responsibility. Similarly, Western legal systems abound with legal factors that diminish individuals' culpability for misbehavior. It stands to reason, therefore, that once people have a window of lessened responsibility, they have even less reason to take full responsibility for themselves. This may be one factor in Western civilization's worsening problem of individuals and groups blaming others for their problems and shortcomings.

Today I shall...

hold myself accountable and responsible for everything I do or have done.

Man is judged each day (Rosh Hashanah16a).

A disciple of the Baal Shem Tov remarked to him that the above statement appears to contradict another Talmudic statement, which states that a person is judged on Rosh Hashanah for the entire year.

The Baal Shem Tov noticed a water carrier passing by. "How are things with you, Chaikel?" he asked. "What can I tell you?" Chaikel answered. "In my old age, I still have to earn my meager bread with backbreaking work."

The Baal Shem Tov told his disciple to remember Chaikel's words.

Several days later, the water carrier again passed by. Again, the Baal Shem Tov inquired as to how things were with him. "Thank God," Chaikel said, "if at my age I can still provide for myself by shlepping water up the hill, I have no cause to complain."

The Baal Shem Tov then told his disciple: "Both Talmudic statements are true. On Rosh Hashanah, it was decreed that Chaikel will be a water carrier this year, but how Chaikel reacts to this decree can vary from day to day."

While our particular station in life may be the same, we react to it differently from day to day. We thus have the option to react more favorably and less favorably to the very same conditions.

Today I shall...

try to realize that some things that irritate me today did not bother me at other times, and I have the option not to be irritated today.

I lift my eyes to the mountains (Psalms Scriptures 121:1).
The Hebrew word for mountains can From also be read phonetically to mean the "ancestors" (Bereishis Rabbah 68:2).

Every culture has its heroes. In Western civilization, the heroes for youth are apt to be sports figures or popular entertainers who make a great deal of money. More mature people are likely to admire financiers and industrialists who have achieved great success. In either case, the role models are not people of great spiritual achievement.

Judaism has as its role models the Patriarchs and Matriarchs - Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Sarah, Rivkah, Rochel, Leah - who are known not for their worldly success, but for their total devotion to God. Parents tremendously influence their children. If the parents choose heroes of great spirituality, so will the children.

Acknowledging the Patriarchs by referring to them in prayers (e.g. "the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob") is not enough. If children are given tangible evidence that their parents value and wish to emulate the virtues of the Patriarchs, they will follow their elders and seek the spiritual, rather than the material alone, in their lives.

Today I shall...

try to demonstrate to my children that I truly value people of great spiritual achievement, rather than those who have been materially successful.

Once he entered the category of rage, he entered the category of error (Sifri, Matos 48).

The Talmud says that this passage refers to Moses, and that if it holds true of Moses, how much more so for people of lesser spirituality.

The difference between rage and anger is profound. While anger comes from an external stimulus (and therefore our feeling that it is beyond our control), rage comes from people permitting their anger to feed upon itself and intensify into fury.

Note that the above quote states that those who enter the "category" of rage have entered the "category" of error. In other words, even if they have not actually been violent in word or deed, but have lost their composure to the degree that they could lose control, they have thereby already entered the realm of error. Anything they say or do in such a state is likely to be wrong.

If we feel our anger is intensifying within ourselves, we should stop whatever we are doing. We will regret the harsh words and acts that we are likely to do. We should instead allow time to pass and then confide our feelings to a trusted friend, thus defusing the rage and allowing it to dissipate.

Today I shall...

avoid responding in word or deed when I feel intensely angry.

One who creates a small defect in the body creates a great defect in the soul (Maggid of Mezritch ).

A student spied the great Hillel leaving his academy. He approached the Sage and asked him where he was going. "I am going to do a mitzvah for someone poor and forsaken," Hillel answered. Noting his student's bewilderment, he then explained: "I am going to feed my body. It is totally dependent upon me to look after it."

If someone gives us an object for safekeeping, we have a responsibility to look after it and cannot be derelict in its care. Likewise, our bodies have been entrusted to us, and we have a full obligation to care properly for them.

Too many of us violate our trust by taking unnecessary risks or doing things which are detrimental to our bodies, such as smoking, overeating, or abusing alcohol and drugs. Is it not strange that one who would never think of drinking a non-diet soft drink might not have the least hesitance in smoking a cigarette, even though the harmful effects of smoking are now established beyond a shadow of a doubt?

A Chassidic master observed one of his followers who looked lean and weak. On inquiring, he learned that this man was fasting frequently to atone for his sins. He then told him: "First you set out to ruin your soul, and having achieved this, you are now out to ruin your body as well."

Today I shall...

remember that I am fully responsible for the well-being of my body, and I shall take every means to protect it from harm.

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

The above phrase should be said before the performance of every commandment.

Soldiers must undergo extensive training and frequent drilling. They are put through exercises in various simulations of actual battle, so that they will be ready when the enemy attacks. Obviously, to wait until the attack and then prepare oneself would be suicidal. The preparation must come long before the attack.

People should view the evil inclination as an enemy that is seeking to destroy them. It is a most cunning enemy, with a huge array of tactics and a singlemindedness of purpose. It never tires and has infinite patience, lurking in stealth and waiting for an opportunity to attack. Confronted with such a persistent and formidable foe, a person must be prepared at all times.

We begin this preparation as soon as we awaken, by expressing our gratitude towards God for another day of life. This acknowledgment that God is the source of life leads one to dedicate himself to His service, and this is reinforced many times a day, as one accepts His sovereignty in prayers and blessings. Study of the Torah and performance of the commandments further increase one's capacity to resist the destructive maneuvers of the yetzer hara, for they train the mind and accustom the body in how to think and act.

Today I shall...

try to maintain a state of alertness and preparedness against the attempts of the yetzer hara to mislead me.

It is the nature of a person to be influenced by his fellows and comrades (Rambam, Hil. De'os 6:1).

We can never escape the influence of our environment. Our life-style impacts upon us and, as if by osmosis, penetrates our skin and becomes part of us.

Our environment today is thoroughly computerized. Computer intelligence is no longer a science-fiction fantasy, but an everyday occurrence. Some computers can even carry out complete interviews. The computer asks questions, receives answers, interprets these answers, and uses its newly acquired information to ask new questions.

Still, while computers may be able to think, they cannot feel. The uniqueness of human beings is therefore no longer in their intellect, but in their emotions.

We must be extremely careful not to allow ourselves to become human computers that are devoid of feelings. Our culture is in danger of losing this essential aspect of humanity, remaining only with intellect. Because we communicate so much with unfeeling computers, we are in danger of becoming disconnected from our own feelings and oblivious to the feelings of others.

As we check in at our jobs, and the computer on our desk greets us with, "Good morning, Mr. Smith. Today is Wednesday, and here is the agenda for today," let us remember that this machine may indeed be brilliant, but it cannot laugh or cry. It cannot be happy if we succeed, or sad if we fail.

Today I shall...

try to remain a human being in every way - by keeping in touch with my own feelings and being sensitive to the feelings of others.

For Israel is a young lad, therefore I love him (Hosea 11:1).

Historically, the Jewish nation is one of the oldest in existence. In terms of behavior and reactions, it is the youngest.

One prominent difference between children and the elderly is that children heal much more rapidly. Children are resilient. When they fall, their bones do not break as easily, and therefore they are quickly back in action. An elderly person who falls is likely to sustain a severe fracture and may remain disabled for a long period of time.

No nation has experienced the traumas that have repeatedly befallen the Jewish nation. Expelled from its homeland and subjected to inquisitions, pogroms, holocausts, and hostility everywhere, the Jewish nation reacts with the resilience of a child. Its bones bend rather than break. Injuries heal quickly, and while still smarting from its wounds, it rises and is back into action.

We individuals should learn from the nation to never grow old in this sense. No one's life is free of distressful experiences and trauma. At any age, we can retain the vigor and resilience of youth and go on with the business of creativity and constructive living.

Today I shall...

try to retain a youthful spirit and learn to rebound quickly from any adverse circumstance.

If you encounter your enemy's ox or donkey wandering astray, you must return it to him (Exodus 23:4).

In this mitzvah, the Torah makes two demands: (1) to go out of our way to return a lost animal to its rightful owner, and (2) to overcome our hostile feelings towards our enemy if the lost animal is his.

If this is what is demanded toward a mere belonging of an enemy, how much more are we responsible when we see friends going astray and acting improperly? Yet, how often do we avoid telling them that we feel what they are doing is wrong? We rationalize by saying: "We do not wish to interfere in their private affairs. How they run their life is their own business," or "We don't want to offend them." A popular billboard declares: "A true friend does not allow a friend to drive drunk." If you truly care for others, you will take the necessary steps to protect them from themselves, even if they may be angry at you for doing so. Honesty is more potent than sympathy. A person who has suffered from grievous mistakes often says: "If only someone had stopped me!" Drunk driving is not the only destructive behavior which a true friend would try to stop. Whenever we see that a friend is doing something which we sincerely believe to be wrong, we have a responsibility to convey our opinion to him or her. Failure to do so comes from either of two rationalizations: (1) I am not really his or her friend, or (2) I really do not believe the behavior is wrong. In either case, we are guilty of insincerity.

Today I shall...

examine my own convictions and the sincerity of my friendship and let this determine whether I will share my opinions with my friends.

Do not sacrifice [the Passover offering] while you are in possession of chametz (leaven) (Exodus 23:18).

Chametz and matzah have many symbolic explanations. What ever the symbolic meaning may be, one fact cannot be denied. For the few days of Passover, chametz and matzah are antithetical. The Passover seder cannot coexist with chametz. This point is clearly stated in the first of the traditional four questions near the beginning of the Haggadah: "All other nights we eat both chametz and matzah; but this night, only matzah."

Passover tells us that we cannot maintain two opposites, but must make a commitment one way or the other. As Elijah said to the Jews who worshiped idols: "How long will you vacillate between two contradictory ideologies? If Hashem is God, then follow Him. If Baal is god, then follow him" (I Kings 18:21).

People who can take a definite stand can also open themselves to any needed change when they are shown that they are wrong. However, people who constantly vacillate can always find excuses to slither out of improving themselves.

The above verse taught the about-to-be-liberated Israelite and their descendants a vital principle: Do not try to maintain mutually contradictory ideologies.

Today I shall...

try to rid myself of mutually contradictory concepts, and instead make a commitment to a way of life that I can fully accept.

I have hardened his [Pharaoh's] heart ... in order to execute My miracles within him (Exodus 10:1).

Many commentaries raise the question: If God rendered Pharaoh unable to learn from experience, why did He then punish him for refusing to release the Israelites?

The answer lies in an under standing of free will. Many psychologists believe in "psychic determinism," that various circumstances can so affect people that they have no freedom of choice. People therefore act in certain ways because they must do so. Such concepts have been introduced in trials of those who have committed heinous crimes. So many lawyers have pleaded to the jury: "He was raised in such a terrible environment that he did not know better."

Torah rejects this idea. While many circumstances may impact upon a person, no human being with an intact brain is ever deprived of freedom of choice. We are always responsible for our actions. This concept is a pillar of the Torah's concept of human freedom.

The about-to-be-liberated Israelites were thus told: "I will indeed harden Pharaoh's heart and put great pressure upon him, but that will not deprive him of freedom of choice. Pharaoh will remain free and therefore will be held responsible for his behavior. In preparation for your liberation and ultimate acceptance of the Torah, you must retain this principle: people are always responsible for their actions."

Today I shall...

try to realize that I have free will, and that whatever my circumstances may be, I will always retain freedom of choice to do good or evil.

You shall love your God (Deuteronomy 6:5).
You shall fear your God (Leviticus 19:14).

Love and fear of the same subject are obviously incompatible emotions. Love implies a desire to be close to the loved one, while fear is associated with the desire to be more remote from the object of one's fear. How does the Torah expect a person to relate to God in both ways simultaneously?

Rabbi Schneur Zalman explains in Tanya that when one fulfills the Divine will, one is drawn closer to God, and that when one transgresses the Divine will, one detaches oneself from God. Inasmuch as a person is constantly tempted by the yetzer hara to flout the Divine will, one should fear succumbing to the yetzer hara because one would thereby lose the closeness to God. Thus, fear of God is not a fear of being punished, but a fear of losing one's relationship with the object of one's love, and this fear is perfectly compatible with love of God.

In a love relationship between two people, it is easily understood that one would not wish to offend the beloved person in any way, even though there is no fear of punishment. We can develop a loving relationship with God that will result in a similar type of fear, the fear of offending Him. The Talmud tells us that one can never be certain that one will never sin, and, given the human frailty to temptation and the constant incitement by the yetzer hara, we can understand why one should always have this type of fear of God, for it is a fear that is perfectly compatible with love.

Today I shall...

cherish my relationship with God so that the thought of losing my closeness with Him becomes frightening to me.

Do not covet your neighbor's house ... your neighbor's wife ... and anything that belongs to your neighbor (Exodus 20:14).

Some ask: How can a person be commanded to not desire something? Is not wanting something a spontaneous feeling and therefore not subject to rational control?

A noted psychologist says: "In order to feel love for some object, be it a human being, pet, or a new home, a man must see some possibility of an action he can take in regard to it, otherwise his appraisal of `good' is merely an abstract judgment without personal significance" (Branden, N., The Psychology of Self Esteem, Bantam Books [New York, 1973] p. 77).

This important psychological insight tells us that something which is completely beyond attainability cannot become an object of desire. Hence, if we desire something belonging to our neighbor, it is because somehow, however remote, we think we might get it.

When we become aware of a desire for something belonging to someone else, it is time to take steps to avoid any improper behavior. Sincere commitment to avoid improper behavior can help eliminate improper desires.

Today I shall...

make my commitments to respect another person's possessions so absolute that a desire for them should never occur.

This world is known as the "World of Rectification" (The Works of Kabbalah).

I wonder what the ancient Kabbalists would say about the modern world. Our everyday life certainly does not appear to be a "world of rectification."

To rectify means to repair or correct an existing defect. This practice has become almost extinct. Years ago, things that went wrong were repaired; today, they are simply replaced. Replacing an item is cheaper than going to the trouble of having it repaired. When we add the vast numbers of disposable items that have become commonplace, we have a life-style where "rectifying," at least of objects that we use are concerned, is a rather infrequent phenomenon.

Unfortunately, this attitude of replacing items rather than trying to repair them has extended itself from object relationships to people relationships. The most dramatic evidence is the unprecedented number of divorces. In the past, a couple that developed problems would try to repair the relationship. Most often, the attempt succeeded. Today, people do not want to waste time and effort; rather, they simply terminate the relationship and replace it with a new one. Human beings, much like styrofoam cups and contact lenses, have become "disposable."

We would do well to make at least our interpersonal relationships comply with the Kabbalistic concept of "World of Rectification."

Today I shall...

try to appreciate the unique character of an interpersonal relationship and make every effort to preserve it.

They praise God for His kindness and relate His wonders to other people (Psalms 107:8).

This verse is repeated four times in this chapter, emphasizing the obligation people have to express their gratitude to God for His kindnesses.

Human beings have the capacity for complaining about their distress as well as being thankful for benevolence. Unfortunately, in many people these traits are not balanced, and the capacity to complain may outweigh that of being grateful.

There is a story about a mother who was walking along the seashore with her son. Unexpectedly, a huge wave descended upon them and carried the child out to sea. The distraught mother began begging to God: "Please, God, save my child! Give me back my little son!" Shortly afterwards, another huge wave deposited the child, unharmed, right at her feet.

The mother embraced the child, and turning her eyes toward heaven, exclaimed, "Thank You, God. Thank You, thank You forever." A moment later, she looked at her child, then turned her eyes to heaven once again and asked: "Where is the hat he was wearing?"

Many humorous stories have a kernel of truth. How often do we forget kindnesses and focus instead on annoyances, even when the disparity between them is in the magnitude of the saving of a child versus the loss of a hat.

Today I shall...

try to bear in mind the many great kindnesses that God has done for me, and ignore the relatively insignificant displeasures in my life.

And if your brother is not close to you and you do not know him (Deuteronomy 22:2).

Perhaps the reason that other people are not close to you is because you do not know them.

The Chassidic master of Apt said: "As a young man, I was determined to change the world. As I matured, I narrowed my goals to changing my community. Still later, I decided to change only my family. Now I realize that it is all I can do to change myself."

Some things in the world are givens, and others are modifiable. The only thing we can really modify is ourselves. All other people are givens. Unfortunately, many people assume the reverse to be true. They accept themselves as givens and expect everyone else to change to accommodate them.

(There is one limited exception. When our children are small, we can teach and guide them. When they mature, however, we can no longer mold them.)

Trying to change others is both futile and frustrating. Furthermore, we cannot see other people the way they truly are, as long as we are preoccupied with trying to change them to the way we would like them to be.

The people we should know the most intimately are those who are closest to us. Yet it is precisely these people whom we wish to mold into the image we have developed for them. As long as this attitude prevails, we cannot see them for what they are. How ironic and tragic that those we care for the most may be those we know the least!

Today I shall...

try to focus any desires to change on myself and let other people determine for themselves who and what they wish to be.

Rabbi Akiva spoke up: "Suffering can be precious" (Sanhedrin 101a).

Rabbi Akiva made this point when he and a group of colleagues visited their revered teacher, Rabbi Eliezer, who was gravely ill. When all the other students heaped abundant praise on Rabbi Eliezer, he turned a deaf ear to them. Only Rabbi Akiva's remark elicited a response. "Let me hear what my son Akiva has to say," he said.

When we have our health and full capacities, we can do countless things and make all kinds of choices. This personal freedom gives life so much of its meaning. But if we are gravely ill and bedridden, and disease has drained all of our energies, we can do virtually nothing and are no longer free to make any choices. This loss of personal freedom can be felt as a loss of our very humanity.

Rabbi Eliezer, in his state of severe illness, felt that his loss of freedom had cost him his human identity. His students' praises were empty to him, for even a glorious past could not give him the freedom of choice so vital to his being.

Rabbi Akiva pointed out that he still had one choice: a choice of attitude. Although all other choices had been taken from him, Rabbi Eliezer could still choose to either accept his suffering with serenity, or swallow it with bitterness. Rabbi Akiva had restored his freedom to him.

Today I shall...

realize that even when many things in my life are not subject to change, how I accept them is a freedom that no one can take from me.

This day of the festival of matzos (Siddur).

Outside the Land of Israel, today is observed as the last day of Passover. In Israel, Passover lasts seven days, so it ended yesterday.

This discrepancy has its origin in the beginning of the dispersion of the Jewish people, before a set calendar had been established. In those days the High Court in Jerusalem declared the first day of a new month, based on sighting the new moon. Jewish communities outside of Israel could not know whether the High Court of Jerusalem had determined the previous month of Adar to be one of twenty-nine or of thirty days, so that they did not know which day was the first of Nissan. Not knowing when Passover began, communities in the diaspora observed an additional day.

Since we now have an established calendar, why do we continue this practice? The months are set; we have no doubt when Passover begins.

The Talmud states that because our condition in the diaspora is always one of uncertainty, the possibility exists that Jewish communities may lose contact with the established calendar.  Hence, Jews have preserved the tradition of keeping an additional day. This idea is not farfetched; ninety percent of Jews today live in a different country than did their ancestors a century ago.

Why, then, is Israel different? Has history not taught us so painfully that we have no certainty of permanence, even in our own homeland? Do Jews in Israel have some guarantee?

The answer is that living with uncertainty in the Land of our roots is still far superior to the security of being firmly established in the diaspora. The observance of the additional day of the festival is a reminder that our roots and our future, as well as our past, are in the Land of Israel.

Today I shall...

remember that only Eretz Yisrael, the Land promised us by God, is the eternal homeland of every Jew.

Negate your own will in favor of God's will (Ethics of the Fathers 2:4).

If I surrender my will and turn my life over completely to the will of God, do I not thereby abrogate my power of free choice?

Certainly not. Take the example of a child who receives money for his birthday. An immature child may run off to the toy store or candy store and spend the money on everything his heart desires. He may indeed have several moments of merriment (although a stomach ache from indulging too heavily in confections is a possibility). Without doubt, however, after a short period of time those moments of enjoyment will be nothing but a memory, with the candy long since consumed and the broken toys lying on the junk heap.

A wiser child would give the money to a parent and ask that it be put into some type of savings account where it can increase in value and be available in the future for things of real importance.

Did the second child abrogate his prerogative of free choice by allowing the parent to decide how to invest the money? Of course not. In fact, this was a choice, and a wise choice as well as a free choice.

We can choose to follow our own whims or we can choose to adopt the will of an omniscient Father. We are wise when we make the second choice.

Today I shall...

turn my will over to God, and seek to do only that which is His will for me.

How good are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel (Numbers 24:5).

While visiting a community for a lecture, I awoke to a cold, drizzly, dreary day, which only added to my rather depressed spirits at that particular time.

As I entered the shul for the morning service, I realized that in this community, where I did not know a single soul, I was not alone. Several people greeted me with Shalom Aleichem. One person asked me if there was anything he could do for me and then invited me to his kosher home for breakfast. As we left the shul, even the cold dampness could not subdue the warmth I felt.

I now have another reason to pray with a minyan each day. Strangers may be traveling through town, and the shul is the place where they should feel their loneliness lifted and be welcomed among their people.

In our prayer, we ask God to attend to and provide for our needs. The Talmud states that God relates to people according to how they relate to others. When they are concerned with providing for others' needs, they thereby merit Divine concern for their own needs.

No wonder the Talmud stresses the greater efficacy of communal prayer. Attending shul enables one to be of service to others, a mitzvah which is rewarded with Divine response to one's prayers.

Today I shall...

put myself in a position to be of service to people who may be in need.

He called their names Adam on the day they were created (Genesis 5:2).

The Biblical term for a human being, adam, has a dual origin. It derives from the word adamah (earth), indicating that man was fashioned out of dust, and also from the word adameh (to emulate), indicating that people are capable of emulating God.

This dual nature is not contradictory, any more than is the raw material, the clay from which sculptors form a work of art, a contradiction to the completed work. The artist's idea of her work is an abstraction, something which exists only in her imagination. The pure idea cannot be enjoyed or appreciated, and only when the artist forms the clay into the finished work can others share in the beauty of her idea.

When we observe tzaddikim in their daily lives, how they champion truth, have love for others, easily forgive when they are offended, and see only the good in everything, then we can begin to have a concept of God. The tzaddik is the being that was created in the Divine image. Although God is completely beyond comprehension, His attributes are known to us, and when we emulate the Divine attributes, such as kindness and compassion, we achieve our mission of making other people aware of Godliness. We thereby achieve the adameh, being like unto God. If we fail to do so, we remain nothing but the adam, the lifeless dust from which we originated.

People are capable of achieving the highest heights, but they can also descend to the nethermost depths of being.

Today I shall...

try to exercise my potential for spirituality, and emulate God by behaving according to the Divine attributes.

My God, the soul You have placed within me is pure (Siddur).

As we all know, self-esteem is essential for optimum mental health, and a lack of self-esteem can result in any of many emotional problems. Many of us don't know, however, that self-esteem is not at all antithetical to humility.

Self-esteem comes from a sense that one is competent and worthy of the respect of others. Often a person who lacks this sense of personal worth may try to compensate for it by achieving greater competence in one or more skills, but this attempt will not work, because it does not remedy the underlying source of the problem.

The excess of competence cannot compensate for a lack of self-esteem any more than large doses of vitamin B can compensate for a lack of vitamin C. The only cure is for one to respect and value oneself.

A person should have this basic sense of worthiness by virtue of the awareness that he possesses a Divine neshamah, or soul, and the daily prayer, "My God, the neshamah You have placed within me is pure," should affirm this sense of self-worth. If one has behaved in a manner that has soiled his pure neshamah, one can restore its purity through repentance. A sense of self-worth is therefore always attainable through proper behavior and by correcting any improper behavior via teshuvah or repentance. Of course, every person should work to achieve his personal maximum - but he should do so for its own sake, and not in order to compensate for a lack of self- worth.

Today I shall...

try to understand that I am worthy by virtue of my neshamah, and though I will try to develop my skills, it will not be to compensate for a lack of self- worth.

And you should know this day... that "Hashem is God, in the heavens above and on the earth below, there is none other (Deuteronomy 4:39).

One Torah commentary explains this passage to mean that if one has an awareness of God, there is nothing more to know. This idea requires clarification.

The principles of faith of Judaism that were revealed at Sinai and through the prophets are absolutes, and, as axioms, are not subject to argument. In this sense, it is proper to state that "about God," there is nothing more to know.

Judaism does not require stagnation of the mind, however. Within the framework of the basic principles, Judaism has always encouraged the persistent search for truth. Throughout Jewish history, great scholars - the Ari in Kabbalah, the Baal Shem Tov in Chassidus, Rabbi Yisroel of Salant in Mussar, and Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik in Talmudic analysis, to name several more-recent leaders - have electrified their contemporaries and future generations with their original insights.

Judaism is vibrant, and the Jewish mind must be productive. Just as we cannot have a valid geometry if we postulate that two parallel lines intersect, so we cannot develop valid ideas of Judaism by abrogating any of the basic principles of the faith. The search for an ever-deeper understanding of Torah, however, should never end.

Today I shall...

keep my mind fresh and vibrant by continuing to search for an ever-deeper understanding of Torah.

[The yetzer hara] is an old, foolish king (cf. Ecclesiastes 4:13).

The Rabbi of Rhizin was imprisoned by the Czarist government. He said that until his imprisonment he never fully understood the above description of the yetzer hara, the evil inclination within people. "A king, yes," he observed, "because he rules over so many people. Old, yes, because he is as old as creation. But why `foolish'? He seems to be very sly and cunning.

"When I was in prison, however, I found that the yetzer hara was there with me too. Now, I had no choice about being in prison, because gendarmes took me there at gunpoint. But no one forced the yetzer hara, and if he came there of his own free will, he is indeed a fool."

We must be aware that the yetzer hara never leaves people but will follow them into the most undesirable circumstances. People may be gravely ill and in pain, hardly a desirable condition, but the yetzer hara will stay with them. Soldiers may be at the battlefront under mortal fire, yet there too, the yetzer hara will accompany them.

The yetzer hara has his assignment and does not take "no" for an answer. He never leaves his post, even under the most dire circumstances. In this respect, he should serve as a model for us, that we too should never defect from an assignment, regardless of adverse conditions.

Today I shall...

dedicate myself to doing my assignment irrespective of what circumstances may be.

The rational mind can rule over the heart (Tanya ch. 12).

Two hundred years ago, Rabbi Schneur Zalman stated this fundamental principle: our minds can control our emotions. When people do not use their minds to their full capacity, their emotions take charge.

Anxiety is one of the most frequent symptoms that bring people to the psychotherapist's office. It is defined as a feeling of intense fear that occurs in complete absence of any actual threat. Anxious people readily admit that the fear is groundless, yet emotionally they cannot subdue it.

A method of treatment of anxiety, known as "Mental Health Through Will Training," was developed by Dr. Abraham Low. His system strengthens people's rational capacity in order to master their runaway emotions. While some types of anxiety come from biochemical causes, and therefore require medical treatment, his method has proven itself to be an effective approach to conquering anxiety.

Too often, people resign themselves to a state of helplessness and allow themselves to be overwhelmed by stressful emotions. We ought to have greater respect for and confidence in our rational power.

Today I shall...

realize that my rational mind is far more powerful than I had assumed, and I will seek ways to develop it to its full capacity.

There is no joy like the resolution of doubts (Tzel HaMaalos, 38).

Many people's insecurity leads them to suffer from self-doubt. They are never certain about what they should do or whether what they have done is right. While this degree of doubt may not be so intense that it renders them incapable of making decisions (and therefore requiring psychiatric care), it can cause them enough distress to prevent them from enjoying life.

Self-doubt is one aspect of low self-esteem. Somewhere in these people's past, they failed to develop trust in their capacity to make good judgments.

All of us must make many decisions every day. Since we lack prophetic foresight, we cannot predict the outcomes of our decisions. Our control of events is limited. We should realize that all we can do is to take the best information available and be sincere in trying to do what we believe is right.

Today I shall...

try to gain joy in life by overcoming self-doubt through trying my very best.

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