Personal Development, Torah Portion

Nitzavim- Rosh Hashana 5779

vidui rk

 

During this time of the year, at the end of the month of Elul, we say Selichot, special prayers said before the regular morning prayers, asking Hashem for forgiveness for our transgressions and for mercy.  Part of the Selichot prayers is a confession of our transgressions.  The above ‘confession’ is actually a ‘confession’ of the good deeds which we have also done this year, based upon a teaching by Rav Kook, the Chief Rabbi of the Land of Israel before the founding of the State of Israel.  He taught that just as there is great benefit to the soul when we confess our sins, so too when we remember our mitzvot.  This helps us to appreciate them and strengthen our happiness and commitment to the path of serving Hashem.

The following is a rough translation: ‘We loved, we cried, we gave, we spoke beautiful words.  We believed and we tried, we remembered, we hugged, we tasted a sefer (book). We created, we wanted, we fought for justice, we tried to do our best, we turned to see, we did what we were commanded.  We explained, we were correct sometimes, we called out in Your name.  We wanted, we rejoiced, we gave support.’

Blessings to all of our family, friends and readers for a Shana Tovah u’Metukah, 5780!  May you be signed and sealed with only good things in the Book of Life.

Personal Development

You Shall Love- Part Four

boys

By Rav Eyal Israel Sternlieb

Translated by Moshe Neveloff

Okay, it’s understandable- to put the emphasis in our life on loving instead of succeeding, to connect to the courtroom of Hashem where I’m loved and I’m just trying to improve myself, instead of having guilty feelings and beating myself up in the courtroom that I invented.

However, in reality, how do we love?  What’s the key?  How should one start?

Love is becoming one with another person, and for this I need to clear a place inside of me, in order to give to someone else the possibility to enter into my heart.

This is the secret of nullification!

Wait a moment… what do you mean to become nullified, in any case I’m already totally nullified and crushed for my family, and I’ve become the official taxi driver of my children, without vacations or sick days.  I’ve become the official shopper for my wife, and this is all in addition to the regular activities of the home, cleaning, changing diapers, cooking for Shabbat, I have nothing else to nullify… if only this would lead to the desired love; however there’s nothing, no love in sight.

Okay, before you stop reading this article in aggravation and go back to washing the floor, let’s try to open ourselves up to a new understanding of what is nullification.

Nullification is a level in the service of Hashem, so it certainly doesn’t mean being erased and crushed.  What is it?

The Mishna[1] says: “Nullify your will before His will.”[2]

The first condition of nullification is that you have a will which you want to nullify.  The situation you described is not nullification but rather appeasement, that is to say that you don’t have any will of your own, rather just an expectation that everyone around you will be satisfied, and this comes from fear that they won’t love or appreciate you.  The subject hiding behind the curtains is you, and therefore you feel small, a victim, and bitter pretty often, because you yourself crush your will…

Love is when there is full, clear, legitimate and respected will in my daily life.

Will in all areas begins with the question which I’m supposed to ask myself everyday- what do I want to eat today, to wear, who do I want to meet, and continuing with what do I want from my spouse and children, and what Torah do I want to learn, what place does my heart desire in the service of Hashem.

And now, when I have will, even when it’s just sprouting, I can choose to direct my will to love Hashem, my spouse and my children, and everyone who is connected to me.

Love appears when I concentrate my will in connecting with the other person, to do good for them and make them happy.

This is “you shall love your fellow as yourself”.  I’ve taken the “as yourself” which is alive inside of me and connected it to “your fellow.”  This is true nullification which brings light and vitality.

One end of the spectrum is when I have no will and I’m just acting out of fear, and the other end of the spectrum is when I’m focusing just on myself and I live in separation.  Nullification is the middle path where I connect my will to the other person.

[1] The main book of teachings of the Sages of the Tannaic period

[2] The Ethics of the Fathers, 2:4

Personal Development

You Shall Love- Part Three

By Rav Eyal Israel Sternlieb%d7%a9%d7%93%d7%92%d7%a9%d7%93%d7%92

Translated by Moshe Neveloff

Many times people ask: behold Rebbe Nachman says to look at the good points and focus on them, so how is it that this won’t bring me to complacency, a lack of control and even arrogance?

And how is it possible to make progress and improve without criticism and judgement?  Behold Rebbe Nachman himself says that a person needs to take an accounting of his actions every day.

Like everything in holiness there is a fine and gentle boundary, sometimes almost invisible, between truth and a lie, between the real thing and its fake replacement which is so similar.

Therefore there is a lofty, true court which helps those who are judged in it to grow and be uplifted, and on the other hand there is a lower court which weakens, constricts and brings downward the ones judged there.

Who are these courts and do I have a choice between them?

The lower court was created from the endless times that we felt that our parents or those close to us were not satisfied by us: they got angry at us, criticized us and were disappointed in us.  They expected us to be something very specific, and as long as we weren’t like that and didn’t follow the expectation, the seeds were planted in our heart for feeling that we are not good and not loved.  The work hours of this court are around the clock and wait for us at every opportunity to prove to us how much we are not okay.  The results are, of course, weakness, lack of will, guilty feelings, disappointment, frustration and despair.

In contrast to this court, there is a higher court, which has its foundations in the holy Torah and the exact guidance of Rebbe Nachman.  In this court, to judge ourselves every day doesn’t mean to just to emphasize the feelings that come to us, rather it means to choose to make teshuva[1]; to contemplate our actions, our words, and our feelings and examine which ones are correct and which are not, what is the truth and what is not, in a completely focused way.  And of course, to regret things which were not correct, to confess and receive upon ourselves to change them, and then simply to continue onwards.  Without getting stuck even for a moment on guilty feelings, which come from hidden arrogance, which wonders how could a Tsaddik like myself fall down.

The difference between them is, in other words, that the lower court judges the person himself and brings him to feelings which weakened him and cause him despair, and the higher court says to you: you are essentially good and beloved, so come on, take responsibility for your actions and fix them, so that they won’t cloud your beauty and purity.

[1] Repentance

Personal Development

You Shall Love- Part Two

By Rav Eyal Israel Sternlieb20091022_1722218363_88

Translated by Moshe Neveloff

There are two paths of life to follow in the world, and you will always find yourself on one of these two paths.

On the path of “you shall succeed” or the path of “you shall love.”

On the path of “you shall succeed”, I’m the subject and greed is the way.

So, what’s the problem that I’m the subject?  It is explicitly written “you shall love your fellow as yourself”[1], from here we learn that a person needs to love himself, no?!

The problem is that you are the subject for the goal of taking.

And the source of this greed is in my personal weakness which I don’t take responsibility for.

I feel that I will be loved only if I’ll be successful and good and smart and I’ll do everything which is expected of me; and behold love is oxygen for the soul, so I have to have it, but really I don’t have it because it’s always conditional.  What is the result of this?  Chasing after successes and achievements whose only goal is to fill my personal weakness.

So what’s the problem?  What’s not okay with satisfying my personal weakness?

In order to honestly check if there’s a problem, I need to look inside; do I usually feel relaxed, full of satisfaction, beloved and valued?  Or maybe I’m accompanied by feelings of fear of failure, disappointment, frustration and lacking self-worth?

Difficult feelings express the fact that something is not right inside, and it testifies to the fact that I’m on the path of “you shall succeed”, where my love is conditional upon (each person fill in the missing words)… where my love is being tested every given moment, and even if I’ve ‘succeeded’ for a moment to be okay like they expected from me, then the next moment already contains a new test, another possibility for failure, which causes me to be stressed, afraid and tense.

And even if I’ve strengthened myself that I’m okay, even that I’m essentially good, the internal judge is still working hard and telling me: “Don’t relax so soon!  Everything here is still hanging in the air, your love is not guaranteed whatsoever…”

On the other hand, I have inside of me a child who’s screaming: “I don’t want to be in court, love me as I am, and afterwards we’ll speak about what I need to improve.  I want to be good, but this path weakens me…”

On the path of “you shall love” the other person is the subject, and giving is the way.  On this path my fellow could definitely be also my sweet soul.

To this soul I give love with no condition and with no intermediary.  I admit completely that I need love and that I have a lot of love to give, without being ashamed and hiding behind masks, and then I begin to learn what the other person (including my sweet soul) really needs and I choose to give.

On this path I go on a journey of revealing Hashem’s boundless love for me and for all his creations.  There is a place for difficult feelings, with a tone of mercy and acceptance, and not that of a courtroom.

Wait, but how’s it possible to make progress without a court?  Behold making an accounting is something basic, which a person is supposed to do every day?

The difference between a lofty court and a lower court, between repentance and guilt will be discussed next week…

[1] Leviticus, 19:18

Personal Development

You Shall Love- Part One

you-shall-love

By Rav Eyal Israel Sternlieb

Translated by Moshe Neveloff

“You shall succeed like your friend”, was the title displayed at the top of an advertisement for a certain college.  After a minute of shock and digestion, I began to understand the depth of the distortion.

It’s not just a title, it’s the sickness of an entire generation.

Since we were small children they educated us to achieve, to be successful, and to get high scores.  On tests there are cold numbers and on report cards dry grades, which are seemingly supposed to tell us who we are- amongst the ones who are successful, mediocre or perhaps failures.  Later on we are measured by the amount of pages we’ve learned or the brilliant answers we give, according to the money we’ve made or the degree we receive.  The common denominator is a constant feeling that we are in a test- with an expectation to succeed, or at least, not to mess up.

The feelings which arise as a result of this are fear, disappointment, guilt, such as the phrase “I’m not okay” or “I’m not good enough”, failure, frustration and despair.  As a result of this we don’t feel in a deep way the truth of creation, the truth that “I’m loved unconditionally!”

We have inside of us a lot of conditions in order to ‘merit’ feeling loved: to be pretty or successful, wealthy of full of strength, funny or smart… there’s no such thing as just being loved.

“You shall say to Pharaoh, ‘So said Hashem, My firstborn son is Israel.”[1]  Why did Hashem choose to call us “firstborn son” specifically at the time when we were at the lowest level, complete failures and a consistent cause of disappointment?  Now’s the time for affectionate nicknames?

Yes!  That’s the time!  Hashem taught us a lesson for generations: I love you like a son, with no condition whatsoever!!!

It doesn’t mean that I won’t get angry and punish and be upset if you’ll do silly things and break boundaries, like children who get lost along the way, however the love stands forever: “From the distant past Hashem appeared to me.  And I have loved you with an eternal love, therefore I have extended kindness to you.”[2]  Also at a time of distance and difficulty and failure Hashem loves me and believes in me.

‘And there is love which exists in potential, that is to say the love which existed between the Jewish people and their Father in Heaven before the creation, when the Jewish people were still in his knowledge and mind’[3], this is love which existed before the creation, before the tasks and the exams.  We came here to the world to reveal a simple love with Hashem.

After the prayer “Shema Yisrael”, the legendary verse which our holy forefathers were murdered and slaughtered upon, we were not commanded with “you shall be successful” rather with “and you shall love”, a command to go and reveal the holy love in the world between man and his creator, his spouse, his children and friends.

To be continued next week…

[1] Exodus, 4:22

[2] Jeremiah, 31:2

[3] Likutei Moharan, Torah 33, Part 1

Personal Development

Don’t Run Away

Translated by Moshe Neveloffrun

In the modern era there are endless ways to treat pain. For physical pain many different medicines have been invented. For spiritual pain there are a wide variety of legal and illegal substances that can help someone forget the pain. If these methods don’t find favor in a person’s eyes he can escape to the world of entertainment, where he can imagine anything except for the painful truth. Alternatively, he can absorb himself in physical pleasures where he’ll feel an imagined sense of happiness. Of course, there are other creative ways for a person to escape from his pain. Together with all of the modern technological developments (cars, air conditioning, portable communication, etc.) which ease any small feeling of discomfort, we are not used to, and seemingly not able to deal with pain. The moment we feel pain we want to be rid of it immediately.

However, Rebbe Nachman taught us not to run away from the pain. Feel the pain. In the 8th Torah of Likutei Moharan Rebbe Nachman praises groaning: Groaning is the lengthening of a breath, and it is the aspect of patience, therefore when somebody groans over his difficulty and lengthens his breath (spirit), he brings a spirit of life to his lacking, because the main cause of a deficiency is the removal of the spirit of life, and therefore through groaning someone is able to fulfill what he was lacking.  But from where does someone receive the spirit of life?  Know that the main spirit of life is received from the Tzaddik and the Rav of the generation.”

From these words we see that pain is not something bad that we need to escape from. The pain is a lacking that we need to fulfill. We need to fill the empty space inside with spirit and to enliven what is lacking. This is impossible to do if someone escapes from his pain. We need to feel the pain in order to fill it with life. Rebbe Nachman teaches that this spirit of life is received from the Tzaddik.

How this principle works is explained in one of his stories, the story of a wealthy merchant and a poor person (Rebbe Nachman’s Tales, the tenth story). The story tells of a wealthy merchant who was neighbors with a poor person. The wealthy merchant represents the Tzaddik, who is spiritually wealthy. One day the wife of the merchant and the wife of the poor person went walking with a group of women and the poor man’s wife was kidnapped by an army captain. When the poor man heard what had happened he cried bitterly that he had been left with nothing, since he did not have any children. When the merchant heard his neighbor’s crying he came to his house to ask what had happened, and the poor man told him the story of the kidnapping. The merchant was overcome with mercy for the poor man and set off on a wild journey to find the wife.  In the end he was able to rescue her and bring her home.

Regarding the merchant’s mercy for the poor man, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak Bender zt”l taught: “Surely this is how the Tzaddik behaves with his followers. The moment that somebody expresses his pain and cries out over his shortcomings in the service of G-d, the Tzaddik comes to his aid, takes interest in his situation, doesn’t leave him in sorrow, and gives him advice to help him have a salvation. Therefore the only thing that is upon us is to express our bitterness over our sins, cry a lot, and pray to be saved from our sins and shortcomings. And when the merchant (Tzaddik) sees that we truly want to be saved, he is overcome with mercy and does what he can to help us have a salvation.”

We need to open our hearts and express our pain. We need to truly want to be saved and to reach a better place in our lives. In the right time the Tzaddik will send us advice how to be saved from our difficulty, we don’t need to search for solutions ourselves. As Rav Bender said our job is only to reveal our pain, to feel the bitterness of our situation and cry out.

It’s a wonderful thing to travel to the Tzaddik and to tell him our difficulties. However on a normal day, when we’re not by Rebbe Nachman’s gravesite, we have the precious gift that the Rebbe gave to us, an hour of personal prayer. An hour each day without interruptions, without telephone calls, without masks, and without the marathon of life, it’s only you and G-d. You can breathe deeply, sigh, and tell Him everything you’re going through.  Tell G-d your pain and bitterness, and also the good things in your life.  The most important thing is to be real without putting on a show or searching for solutions. After you have told G-d what you are going through, the solutions are in his hands and the hands of his faithful ones, the Tzaddikim.

When you escape from the pain, the pain is truly with you all the time and you always need to find new ways run away from it. However, when somebody faces his pain an hour a day truthfully and simply and believes that good is coming to him, the rest of the day it is possible to fulfill another teaching of Rebbe Nachman- to be happy all the time (Likutei Moharan II, Torah 24).

Personal Development

Who Do You Love? Part Three

By Rav Avraham Greenman%d7%97%d7%a1%d7%93

Translated by Moshe Neveloff

“The Torah is acquired by means of forty eight qualities, which are… being beloved, loving Hashem, loving (His) creatures…”[1]  This means that in order to receive the Torah upon myself, it’s not enough to love, I also need to be loved.

The question is, how can this be required of me?  Is it my choice to be loved?  And what should I do if others don’t love me?  Why is this one of the ways that the Torah is acquired?

In order to answer these questions, we need to remind ourselves again: what is love?

Love is an attribute which comes from the trait of kindness.  Just as this attribute is the infrastructure for the existence of the world- “a world of kindness you shall build”[2], and just as only through this outlook of kindness, where the entire reality of evil is only exterior and an incorrect reflection of reality, the world has existence; so to in my private ‘world’ my existence is possible only through the attribute of kindness, which sees my current reality with a good eye, and believes that there is no negative reality in all of creation.

Only in this way, by way of me accepting my current reality as it is, I can take the next step in teshuva[3] and correcting my actions.  These are the stages, first compassion and afterwards judgement, first comes kindness and then strength.

To say ‘I’m not okay, I didn’t want’ etc., is to destroy my inner world, it’s putting strength before kindness, and that’s destruction, because from here going forward there is nobody who will rectify and repent.  However, to say to myself ‘I’m okay, and it hurts me that I failed’, this is called correcting myself and repenting, my pain about my mistake is the beginning of the healing.

When I find myself not connected, not serious, not behaving properly, if my reaction is: ‘why am I not’, then the immediate result is rejection, distance and lack of will to progress.  The correct reaction is: “Hashem, thank you for showing me what I need to correct, I feel that you love me, tremendous love with no boundary, and you believe in my will to make progress.  Please help me correct this, my will is to do your will, it’s just hard for me…” words like these are from the attribute of kindness, and it’s the basis of all service of Hashem.

Love, way before it comes to me from the outside reality, it shines from me to the outside world.  And if I’m in a state of love, first of all towards myself, in a state of accepting myself with correct compassion and kindness, which brings me afterwards to judgment and strength, then I’m fulfilling this acquisition of “being loved”, because to be loved is first of all to be loved by yourself.

The moment that I’ll be loved by myself, others will already reflect this to me in return.

[1] Ethics of the Fathers, 6:6

[2] Psalms, 89:3

[3] Repentance

Personal Development

Who Do You Love? Part Two

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By Rav Avraham Greenman

Translated by Moshe Neveloff

“Any love that depends on a specific cause, when that cause is gone, the love is gone; but if it does not depend on a specific cause, it will never cease.”[1]

If I love my son and dedicate myself to him, when he is obedient and pleasant, and especially when he is also successful and excels, then this is love which depends on something.  This type of love, where I receive pleasure from ‘being the father of’, is just enjoyment, like any physical pleasure, just like I love to receive compliments, go on a trip and eat a tasty piece of cake.  Because how is it possible not to love a son like this?!

However, this kind of love is self-love, and not love for my son.

True love does not depend on qualities, it is depends on connection.

And because a connection is ‘two sided’, therefore even before you examine if you are truly connected to the other person or if you are against him, see if you are connected to yourself or if you oppose yourself, because if you are a walking collection of oppositions, how is it possible to connect with you?!

In order to connect, to love and be loved, you need to learn to forego opposition.  And the first opposition which you need to give up is the opposition to yourself.

To receive with love who you are now and what you are now, also what is still not perfect.  What you are now is what you are supposed to be, and that’s okay!  This is the reality that Hashem has guided you to, at this moment, so that from here you can go ahead to your next step.

The Torah calls this in simple words: “You shall love your fellow- as yourself.”  Love yourself, and from there the path is paved to loving the other person.

[1] Ethics of the Fathers, 5:19

Personal Development

Who Do You Love? Part One

בס”ד

By Rav Avraham Greenmandownload

Translated by Moshe Neveloff

“The world depends on three things- on Torah study, on the service of God, and on kind deeds”.[1]  Regarding these three areas we are commanded to love- to love the Torah, to love Hashem and to love other Jews.

How?  Is it possible to command someone to love?

For example, a person who doesn’t like to eat fish, there is no way to get him to eat fish, either he likes to eat it or he doesn’t.  However, someone who doesn’t have, G-d forbid, love for Hashem, the Torah or the Jewish people, he can and must learn to love.

What is the difference?

The difference is simple, to love is to connect; the word love in Hebrew (ahava) has the same numerical equivalent as the word one (echad), and nobody connects to fish!  However to love Hashem, the Torah and the Jews you can, because you are connected.  When you’ll reveal the connection, you will simply love.

We have a childish outlook: we love those people who give us sweets, who smile at us cutely, and cause us enjoyment in any way… and we continue with this outlook also in our real lives, in the form of ‘if you don’t give me what I want, I don’t like you!’

And not only regarding people is this true, but also with Hashem: “I already prayed several times and my prayers haven’t been answered… Hashem doesn’t listen to me.”  And not just with any person is this so, also with our family who are our flesh and bones: “I’m not able to love him when he behaves this way…”

Why is this a lie, to love those who behave nicely, to love what meets your expectations?

Because it’s just an external covering.  It’s not the real thing, it’s not the person himself.

“You shall love your fellow as yourself”[2], that means to love myself with Hashem and to give that same love to others.

That means to love myself as I am at this moment, in the situation that Hashem has put me in, with all of my traits and experiences and accomplishments, and to love the person next to me the way he is at this moment, with all of his traits and experiences and accomplishments!

Because the character traits, experiences and accomplishments are only the ‘exterior design’ of the true self, and when I learn to identify my true self, which is completely good, I am filled with love for him, and I can take this viewpoint and apply it to every Jew that I see, by identifying his internal self as completely good and his behavior as only the external covering.

By way of an additional quiet contemplation, using this approach, I’m amazed to reveal that both of us are actually the same thing!  Incredible creations of Hashem, and how is it not possible to love?!

[1] Ethics of the Fathers, 1:2

[2] Leviticus, 19:19

Personal Development

A Healthy Winter with a Healthy Soul

 

By Rav Avraham Greenmanwinter2

Translated by Moshe Neveloff

In these days which are ‘after the holidays’ we have the custom of wishing to ourselves and all our friends and loved ones a healthy winter.  However despite the fact that the path to a healthy body is usually clear and known, the path to a healthy soul is elusive and vague.

What does it mean to have a healthy soul?  How does a person who is healthy in his soul appear?  Is it somebody that doesn’t need medicine or hospitalization due to mental or emotional difficulties?  Is it a person who isn’t attacked by outbursts of anger or periods of depression?  Is it someone who always has a smile on his face?

At the beginning of his book “Faith and Trust” the Chazon Ish[1] states: “If the person has a strong soul and he has a time of quiet…”  Also here we need to ask who is a person with a strong soul?  Is there someone who doesn’t have a strong soul?

So it’s true, we all have soul, however not everyone is a master over their souls.  In order to be in command of my soul I need to rise above and look at it from above.  Just as the head of the home has free choice and full willpower how to conduct his home, if the home forces me to do something in a certain way then I’m not the head of the home; so to only if I have the full power of choice and willpower how to conduct myself, then I rule over my soul.  However if I’m forced to act in a certain way, or to think in a certain way, then I don’t have command over my soul.

Someone who merits to be a master over his soul is called a person with a healthy soul.

He who says what he wants to say, and only what he wants to say.

He who does what he wants to do, and only what he wants to do.

He who thinks what he wants to think, and only what he wants to think.

However, if I want to say something, and I don’t say it because I’m afraid of…

If I want to do a certain action, and I don’t do it because…

If I think a certain thought because… or I don’t think a certain thought because…

Then I’m not healthy in my soul!!!

Healthiness of the soul is when I clearly identify what’s happening with me at this moment, and I have a open heart to choose how to behave, to speak, to act and to think.

A gut vinter!

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] One of the leading Rabbis in the land of Israel in the 20th century