Archive for the ‘Torah’ Category

Defining self improvement

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

The Bad News

The improvement we are supposed to do on Yom Kippur can only come by staring at the  mirror and making concrete action resolutions to be a better person. It isn’t the time to make any of the following resolutions:

  • I’m going to get someone else to give more Tzedaka
  • I’m going to convince person X to be more supportive to Israel
  • I’m going to lose weight (I wish)
  • I’m going to be a nicer person
  • A calmer person
  • You get the idea.


We need to think of actions we can do every day that will make us better people.


The Good News 

Our improvements can be minor in nature. Better small and doable than big, grandiose ideas that are DOA. Bite off a little bid, adapt to it, acquire it and make it your new baseline!

Stimulus 2

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

I have a wonderful idea for the next round of stimulus from the Government.

They create a special 1-800 number that goes to a new Government department of debt reduction.  When you call that number you get a special agent assigned to your case. If you can show that you are a hardworking citizen, hold down your job, take good care of your family, help in the community and plan to keep doing that, then you are eligible for the new program. The program will eliminate ALL debt you currently have! House, credit card, bank loans, bills due; everything! All this without affecting your credit badly, without any tricks like some ad on the radio. All your creditors get paid in full what is owed to them, just not by you, rather by the Government. All this because you are a good person and good citizen.

Obviously this isn’t realistic (though don’t put it past Washington to try, if it’ll get them votes) and isn’t a serious idea. Or is it? If we substitute the money for spirituality it all makes perfect sense! On Yom Kipper, in just 4 days, we have a chance to make our case for how we are a pretty good person, plan to improve and are an asset to our community. If we can make that case well, Hashem will pay down all our debts and give us a totally clean slate to start with! Better even then the radio commercials for debt relief!

Our challenge is to truly feel that our spiritual debt-load is a burden of the same weight as our financial debt-load. When we can feel the debt properly, we will rejoice at the opportunity that Yom Kippur offers and see it as a day to celebrate and grab happily!


The Eternal Parsha, Haazinu.

Sunday, September 12th, 2010


This Shabbos we read one of the most famous verses in the Torah (Devarim 32,15).

“Jeshurun became fan and kicked. You became fat, you became thick, you became corpulent – and it deserted G-d, its Maker…”

Rabbi Hirsch explains that the verse refers to the abundance of blessing that Hashem has given us at times in history and our inability to use it to become better Jews.

To update his analogy:

Olympic champion Michael Phelps eats 12,000 calories a day. He can do that because he burns an amazing amount of energy by swimming at high speeds for hours a day.

What if he continues this diet after he retires and gives up swimming? A year later he’ll be obese. There is no way a regular person can consume 12,000 calories a day without a plan to burn them!

It is the same with material blessings. Hashem gives it to us to burn more Mitzvos! Give Tzedaka, take time to learn, help invest in someone’s fledging business, send our children to Jewish Day School… What if we continue the intake but don’t burn the Mitzvah “calories”? Instead we buy a few new houses, cars, vacations, and the like?

Just like a retried Michael Phelps, the materialism causes us to gain spiritual obesity and sluggishness. Until we are too fat to do anything!

This IS the story of Jewish history. We need to work together to make sure that our freedom and success are means, not ends in our lives!

Evaluating the past year

Monday, September 6th, 2010

I have stated, felt and acted like this has been the hardest year of my life. The economic challenges at school and the trickle down effect it has across the board (working late hours, coming home frustrated) adds up. Though I am not a worrier by nature (I outsource that to my father) and am generally optimistic, I have felt worn down and frustrated way more than usual. 

 Then I had my “moment”.

So, (My daughter starts every paragraph with “so,”) I was standing in Shul a couple of weeks ago when we made a Kiddush for our new daughter, Esti. And it hit me; how can I go around telling everyone this has been the toughest / hardest / worst year of my life? Racheli and I just had a healthy baby girl AND we made a Bar Mitzvah for our oldest son this year. I should be talking about how this is the best year of life! 

Obviously, the problems and aggravation are still there, and are real. Nonetheless, before I come to Hashem on Rosh Hashanah with my list of “I wants”, I need to first come with my list of “thank yous”! Maybe we can all try and write down the thank you list and bring it to Shul. 

10 facts and tips for Rosh Hashanah (print and bring to Shul).

Monday, September 6th, 2010


  1. Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the 6th day of creation and the birth, sin and punishment of Adam.
  2. The goal of the day is to establish G-d as the true King of the world.
  3. The Shofar has major symbolism for us to remember
    1. Hashem blew the Shofar at Sinai by the giving of Torah
    2. Hashem will blow a Shofar when Moshiach comes (see where we have been and where we are going)
    3. The Shofar is an alarm to wake us up from our spiritual slumber
    4.  The Shofar reminds us of the Akeida and the Ram that was caught by the horns
  4. We are being judged as individuals and as a community
  5. We are being judged by our actions last year and how they project forward for next year. Good trend lines can help!
  6. All of our fortune (good and bad) is being decided for the next year.
    1. That includes, health, wealth, peace and more.
  7. We have the opportunity to make a spiritual leap beyond the normal incremental steps.
  8. Keep in mind long term and short term goals
  9. We should finish Rosh Hashanah feeling spiritually stronger than we started.
  10. The Goal isn’t Shul, the goal is self improvement and evaluation. Shul is a tool.

BONUS. “We are asking Hashem to be inscribed in the book of life, in order that we have more opportunities to keep the Torah and do Mitzvos”

Manny Ramirez and the High Holy Days

Monday, September 6th, 2010

There are two types of resolutions we need to think about as Rosh Hashanah approaches. One is long range, what do I want to change for the upcoming year. For that kind of resolution, it is important to select an attainable goal, a small step that you can work on and acquire. It can be a big mistake to bite off a big step that you aren’t really ready to take.There is, however, a second commitment. It is the commitment that may be larger and more aggressive, but is only for the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur. A two week commitment. That can be more aggressive, because what we are able to sustain for two weeks is much different than the whole year. So, a person can take leap regarding Kosher, Shabbos, prayer and the like and make their best effort to sustain it until Yom Kippur.The question is what purpose is there to commitment number two? Am I fooling G-d? Trying to pretend I am someone who I am not during the trial, just so I can get a favorable result? That seems hypocritical! The answer to that question is a fundamental understanding of who we are. Obviously, we aren’t fooling anyone, especially G-d. We are trying to make the following statement to Hashem (and ourselves) “ Even though I normally am not as engaged as I should be, when it really counts, you’ll see what I’m made of!”Let’s explain with an analogy, using Manny Ramirez. The White Sox traded for Manny, knowing that he has a reputation of being a problem. Knowing that he never sustains a full season of focus, and can go weeks without making an effort. But, they also know something else about Manny, he knows how to show up when it really counts. Come September and October he usually finds his focus, raises his game, and performs for his team. When Manny can no longer turn it on in playoff time, Manny will stop getting a job in baseball.While we don’t consider Manny’s way admirable and while he hurts his legacy doing things like that, the fact is, he retains value because at least he knows how to step it up for the big stage. Similarly for us, we certainly hurt our value by not being as engaged in Torah and Judaism as we need to be. By showing up and performing when it counts is our way of showing we still have value, we are still worth the effort and we know who we really are. We are just “Manny being Manny” (meaning, we aren’t malicious in our bad deeds, just often clueless to the severity and gravity of our actions as we make choices based on our mood and desire of the moment) the other 11 months of the year, but that isn’t the real us. This focused person is the real us that we want to show Hashem as we are being judged.

Pre – Rosh Hashanah story and thought

Monday, September 6th, 2010

I heard a true story this Shabbos that just happened and is quite inspirational. Upon reflection it really has a powerful message for us these next two days.

There is a family in town that has been growing their Judaism these past several years, with Aish Hatorah being a key partner in their development. The wife has taken two Judaism missions to Israel and has found them to be greatly inspiring. The husband (who has never been to Israel) very much wanted to go on the men’s trip this fall, but wasn’t sure if he could afford it. After much vacillating on the subject, he finally decided a couple of weeks ago that the $3000 was just too much and he would have to make it work some other time.

The next day, he gets an email from his brother urging him to go on because he has unclaimed money there. Amazingly, he logs on and finds out that he has almost exactly $3000 in unclaimed dollars that were his sitting at the state! He took this as a sign from heaven that he should go and signed up for the trip ASAP!

The inspirational part of this story that Hashem is watching us and guides us is enough to make us stop and think about things.

I would like to take the story one step further. How many of us have unclaimed blessing in heaven? How much was set aside for us last Rosh Hashanah that we never claimed because we didn’t follow through over the course of the year? Perhaps we can still access it if we “log into” ourselves with a strong spiritual push these next two days.

Let’s all make our strongest run at any unclaimed Bracha in heaven and make sure not to leave it behind.