What is the correct hashkafic approach to dealing with failure?

9 10 2011

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on Naaleh.com

Achieving Balance #11

Question: 

What is the correct hashkafic approach to dealing with failure? For instance, when we commit a sin that we resolved not to do again, or when we destroy relationships that we resolved to build. How do we maintain our self-esteem in the face of feeling worthless inside?

Answer:

We all fail at some point in life. The evil inclination’s strongest weapon is despair. Tehillim says, “A tzaddik falls seven times and rises.”

 

There are seven attributes we share with Hashem. A person could fail at each one but it doesn’t give him an excuse not to get up again. The difference between a tzaddik and a rasha is not that a tzaddik never fails, but that he rises up the seventh time. You must get up and try again.

 

If you resolved not to do something and then did it again, the method you used didn’t work. Be creative. Devise a different plan of action. If that too fails, think of something else. Realize that Hashemwill not judge you by your successes, but rather by your efforts. Failing is completely normal. Many times we look at great people and think they were born righteous. In fact most tzaddikim started out small and suffered many setbacks before they finally attained their elevated spiritual level.

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Perception and Purification

7 10 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Mrs. Shira Smiles  

Perception and Purification Before Mincha on Yom Kippur, we read the maftir of Yonah. The commentators tell us that this section was chosen to remind us of the power of repentance. There are two aspects of mitzvot and aveirot. The first view is that they are meant to engender discipline and compliance. The commandments themselves aren’t necessarily beneficial or damaging; it is only the results that are. The second view is that they are like a doctor’s orders. Hashem tells us what is good or detrimental for us. The mitzvot have an inherent effect on us. In truth, both aspects are valid. We don’t understand the intrinsic reasons for the mitzvot and aveirot, but if Hashem commanded or forbade something, it is for our good. The commandments affect us on an internal level. Mitzvot will strengthen our bond with Hashem, while aveirot will weaken it.

During the vidui (confession), we say, “Selach lanu, mechal lanu.” Selicha refers to the intrinsic damage caused by sin. This is the doctor aspect. It is the facet that is connected to the reciprocal relationship between man and Hashem. Only Hashem can obliterate the internal damage of sin. Mechal is the external aspect of forgiveness. Hashem can forgive us as a king for the outer part of sin and as a father on the intrinsic level.

Repentance consists of three steps: regret, confession, and resolving not to sin again. The critical factor of repentance is that the person should not commit the sin again. Charata (regret)is intrinsic atonement. The verbal medium of vidui enhances both aspects. Confessing sensitizes a person to the reality of Hashem‘s presence and his responsibility for his actions. Confession makes an impression on the person, and intensifies and prolongs the effects of his teshuva. The Maharal says sin distances us from Hashem and vidui reconnects us to the divine aspect within ourselves. Focusing on charata helps us realize where we’ve gone wrong. Kabala al he’atid rectifies the rebellion aspect of sin.

Rav Lugasi notes that the first component of teshuva is taking responsibility for your actions. Then you can feel remorse for the choices you have taken and try to rectify it at the point of conflict. Teshuva also involves tuning into our inner voice and asking ourselves honestly what Hashem would want us to do. Our conscious makes demands on us based on our spiritual level. Once we begin to listen to this voice, it gets stronger.

The second challenge of charata is to admit our wrongdoings. This is a great level because it goes against our natural ego. Charata and vidui must be addressed on both a macro and micro level. We must look at our individual sins and at our lives in general and ask ourselves, “Is my life going to waste because of my misconceptions?” Hashem knows our innermost thoughts and can see how we feel about our sins. If we can express real charata, then Hashem will accept our repentance. Rav Tzadok writes that if a person makes a sincere commitment to change but is later overpowered by his evil inclination, he’s still considered a tzaddik.

Kabala le’atid is taking one thing on a concrete level as a representation of our desire to improve. Setting up a restriction to stop us from reverting back to sin shows Hashem that we want to repent. Making small resolutions such as learning the laws of proper speech or studying a sefer on prayer are ways to arouse ourselves to change. On Yom Kippur we experience true joy. There’s pure clarity as we come full circle in our relationship with Hashem. Hashem is like the groom and we are like the bride and we tell him, “We’re ready to take the step forward.” This can have far-reaching repercussions.

Another theme in the book of Yonah is Hashem‘s mercy on all of his creations. If Hashem showed compassion for a foreign nation, he certainly desires to be compassionate towards us. Yonah is read at mincha, a time of eit ratzon (favor). Yonah asked Hashem for truth and justice. And Hashem answered, “I run the world differently.” Humans have physical limitations but Hashem is all merciful. On Yom Kippur, we ask Hashem to judge us mercifully just as He did Yonah and the people of Ninveh.

May Hashem grant us complete forgiveness. May He wipe our slates clean and may we merit to begin a new year filled with promise and accomplishments.





Rebbetzin’s Perspective: What are some ways I can motivate my husband to think about Elul and Rosh Hashana?

28 09 2011

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on Naaleh.com

Rebbetzin's Perspective

Question: 

What are some ways I can motivate my husband to think about Elul and Rosh Hashana without sounding like an annoying seminary girl? I’m not worried about his learning because he has a learning seder (session) every day, but whenever I bring up the idea of change or growth he gets annoyed.

 

Answer:

Some men like hashkafa, but most don’t. No man likes to feel as if his wife is the provider and he is the receiver. Be patient. As men mature, they want to know more about how to put it all together. Hashkafa sefarim were really written by and for men and many of them will eventually study them. When they do, it will probably be with a lot more depth and perception, and a higher level of integration than women, because men are much more grounded in Torah learning. By the time he’s thirty eight, he’ll probably be motivating you, instead of the other way around. This is usually how it goes in most marriages.

However, let’s say he’s already forty five and you’re still trying to get him to work on his inner life. Begin by asking some questions such as, “It’s Elul and I don’t feel anything much different than I did in Av. Did they ever say anything about this in yeshiva? Is there anything I could learn that can give me insight?” Make him your teacher. Don’t correct him even if he gets it wrong, just listen. Since his skills are better, in the end his grasp will be much more profound.

It could also be that he’s just not the hashkafa type. This doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have a yearning for spirituality. It’s just that he doesn’t have the ability to listen to the language. His means of communication may be dikduk halacha (care in Jewish law). His ahavat Hashem (love of Hashem) may be expressed through tzedaka, charity. His yirat Hashem (fear of Hashem) may be actualized by the level of kashrut he maintains. Let his deeds show you where he truly is and don’t try to gauge his spiritual standing by how much he’s learning.





Rejuvenating Our Bond

27 09 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Moshe Weinberger

Rejuvevating Our Bond The first Rosh Hashana at the beginning of creation was different than all future Rosh Hashanas. The presence of Hashem descended upon Adam without any effort. It wasn’t a matter of avoda, working to achieve an awareness of Him. Rather it was a complete itaruta dl’eleh, an arousal from above.

In the Rosh Hashana davening we say, “Zikaron l’yom rishon, a remembrance of the first day.” In order to reveal Hashem’s kingship upon us we must remember the brit. The brit is the immutable bond between Hashem and the Jewish people that can never be obliterated. This requires effort, an itaruta dl’tata, an awakening from below. This awakening is accomplished through the shofar. The shofar is an aspect of the highest teshuva. It is like a cry, a yearning from the depths of the heart, something very profound and powerful and impossible to contain in words.

The sages divided the service of Rosh Hashana into three parts: Malchiyot, Zichronot, and Shofrot. These are not three independent aspects but one unit with interdependent parts. Why does the memory of the brit depend on the shofar? Rosh Hashana is the beginning. On that day Adam was created and he accepted malchut Hashem (kingship). When we say, “Zikaron l’yom rishon” we connect once again to the memory of the beginning of the revelation of Hashem. The Rambam says the avoda of teshuva is shofar. It signals to us, “Uru yesheinim mishnaschem! Awaken from your sleep, you slumberers!” The brit, the covenant between Hashem and knesset Yisrael is hovering above us waiting to be rejuvenated once again.

The Zohar teaches that there are two levels of repentance, a lower teshuva and a higher teshuva. The lower teshuva is meant to return the soul to its state of purity before sin. The higher teshuva leads the soul back to the level of d’veikut, attachment to Hashem that it had before it became connected to the body. Shofar is an aspect of this highest teshuva. It is the return of the soul to the root of its existence. It could be that the Baal Hatanya uses the term teshuva ilohe to mean a higher level of teshuva where the person is so deeply affected by his distance from Hashem that it touches the deepest point of his heart and he is overcome by uncontrolled weeping and brokenness.

The Rebbe Maharash retold a parable from the Baal Shem Tov about a king who sent his son away to a faraway land to learn the ways of the world. After many years the prince returned to his father’s kingdom, bereft of everything he had and clad in tattered clothing. When he arrived, the people did not recognize him. They taunted him and beat him until he reached the palace courtyard and a cry of pain escaped from deep inside of him. The king recognized his son’s voice and ran out to embrace him. Similarly, Hashem decreed that the soul should descend into the world, to attain its reward. Lost in the maelstrom of physicality it moves far away and forgets that it was once connected to Hashem. The voice of the shofar, the cry from the depths of the heart, contains all the regrets and past mistakes of the soul. It expresses the profound pain of the Jewish people and how we have distanced ourselves and yearn to return. The call of the shofar, awakens Hashem’s love for us and we too are aroused to come back once again to His warm embrace.





Shabbat Shuva: Hashem’s Ways Are Straight #4

27 09 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur  byMrs. Shira Smiles  

Shabbat Shuva: Hashem's Ways Are Straight #4 The haftorah of Shabbat Shuva depicts the era of the redemption as a time of tremendous closeness and connection between Hashem and the Jewish people. The Navi tells us, “Those who return will sit in Hashem‘s shadow.” The Radak explains that the Jews will return to the land of Israel where Hashem’s presence rests. Just as bread now nourishes a person physically, when Mashiach comes mitzvot will be a basic aspect of our spiritual existence. Wheat, which is sown annually, signifies Elul. It’s a time to replant and reinvest in our relationship with Hashem. But when Mashiach comes, there will be a flourishing bond like the grapevine, which blossoms from year to year.

The haftorah compares Hashem to a tree whose head is bent down to its roots. Hashem who is up in the heavens descends to be with us. If we listen, we will eat of the fruit of the land; if we rebel we will eat the fruit of the sword. It will be according to our deeds. Sometimes we don’t see the results of our actions right away but they eventually catch up with us. The basic foundation of hashgacha pratit (Divine providence)is recognizing that everything we do is important and we are accountable for everything. The Mishna in Avot tells us “Da ma l’maala mimcha.” The Nefesh Hachayim explains, know that what comes from above, mimcha, is a result of your actions.

The prophet Hoshea tells us, “The ways of Hashem are straight, the righteous will walk along these ways and the sinners will stumble.” Hashem’s ways are correct. He knows what is in each person’s heart. If we have a problem understanding His ways, it is due to our limitations. The judgment of Hashem is measured out exactly. Yosef was meant to experience the torment of slavery, but he didn’t deserve to suffer too much along the way. Therefore Hashem made the Arab dealers carry sweet smelling spices in the wagon that carried him down to Egypt. Sometimes Hashem will punish a righteous person because he wants to give him reward in the next world. If we can understand that the trials Hashem gives us is for our benefit, then all suffering falls away. Our challenge is to find Hashem in every difficult situation.

Shabbat Shuva is a time of judgment. When Hashem‘s conduct is so exact, we should repent.

Teshuva is embracing the essence of being a servant of Hashem. It is understanding what is important in life and pursuing it. The shleimut (perfection)in a mitzva depends on the intention behind it. The same action can be a sin or a mitzva. These weeks are an opportune time to work on fulfilling Torah and mitzvot with thought and feeling.

All that we encounter in this world is a message for us to learn from. Whatever we read, see, hear, or experience is Hashem’s way of teaching us something. Sinners choose to focus on the negativity in this world. They are unable to face the reality of the truth. Hashem doesn’t put a stumbling block in front of us. Our negative choices create it. The tzaddik and rasha both have the same opportunities and abilities. What makes one person grow while another falls? Our choices. Rav Dessler writes that there is no standing still in Judaism, a person is either going up or down. A beinoni is one who is undecided. Sometimes he’ll take the route of growth and sometimes the route of sin. But there’s no such thing as being complacent. Hashem gives us so many opportunities in life. The question is how we will respond. We must focus on the vision of who we can be and what we can build. And we must always keep in mind, “Yesharim darkei Hashem. The ways of Hashem are straight.”

This Rosh Hashana let us pray for si’yata d’shmaya to make Hashem a part of who and what we are and may we merit to be inscribed for a shana tavoh u’metukah, a sweet new year.





Elul-Month of Relationships

18 09 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Mrs. Shira Smiles

Elul-Month of Relationships The Sefat Emet teaches that the essence of the month of Elul is understanding the interplay of the word ‘lo‘ as expressed in the verse in Tehillim, “Hu asanu v’lo anachnu. He created us and we are His.” ‘Lo‘ can be translated interchangeably as ‘to Him’ or ‘we are nothing.’ We have the ability to attach ourselves to Hashem to the extent that we nullify ourselves. This is encoded within the word Elul – spelled lamed, aleph, lamed, vav.

What does nullifying oneself mean? Rav Tatz explains that our inner struggles are linked to the root challenge first faced by Adam. Adam reasoned that if he would sin he would bring himself and the world down from its pure state into a world of physicality. If he could then stand firm against temptation, he would achieve much more than by resisting sin on an elevated level. However, he was mistaken. Where there is an illusion of independence, where there’s a wrong choice that contradicts the Divine Will, there is a death. We all face this challenge. Being told what to do is a negation of self. Adam wanted to use his entire being to serve Hashem. But he failed to realize that the greatest assertion of free will is giving in to a Higher Will. Elul is a time to introspect and ask ourselves, how many times did our will and Hashem’s Will clash? How many times did we insist on our own will? It’s a time to work on nullifying the ‘I’ and committing our will to Hashem.

There’s also the second aspect of ‘lo.’ We belong to Hashem. The Netivot Shalom writes about the pasuk, “Nachpesa diracheinu, Let us search our ways.” We must not only think about our sins but also about our mitzvot. What is our mindset when we do mitzvot and learn Torah? Are we just going through the motions and missing the essence? When we say a bracha or daven, do we visualize that we are talking to the Masterof the world? Elul is a preparatory time to analyze our relationship with Hashem. We must open our eyes to find Him.

There’s no aspect of life devoid of Hashem. Whether it’s physical or spiritual needs, we must turn to Him for help. When we do this, even for minor things, He becomes more involved in our lives. The Chazon Ish told a student that the main thing to ingrain in a child’s mind is emuna and hashgacha pratit, recognizing that Hashem is intimately involved in every aspect of our life. This is how we develop an emotional bond with Him. The mindset of a Jew has to be, “V’ani kirvat Elokim li tov. For me closeness to Hashem is good.”

If we spend Elul focusing on making Hashem’s Will our own and on developing a relationship with Him, we can then stand before him on Rosh Hashana and crown Him king.





The Sweetness of Tikun Hamiddot

6 09 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller 

Elul: The Sweetness of Tikkun Hamidot Elul is a time of love but it is also a time for change, introspection, and reassessment of our lives.

Our moments of joy are invariably related to connection and achievement. Connection is one of our most basic spiritual needs. If a person doesn’t have a relationship with Hashem, the desire won’t disappear. It will turn into a state of ahava nefeila-unfocused love, where the person goes from one relationship to the next in the hopes of finding something that will fill the void. With every failure, the lack becomes deeper and the abyss less penetrable. The more the person wants connection, the less achievable it becomes. In a failed relationship, a person’s ability to love becomes progressively narrower. His relationships become superficial because his fear of giving of himself is greater. If he can find the place within him where his insecurity developed, empty the space, and turn it towards Hashem, there’s room for hope.

In Elul, every step you take towards Hashem is rewarded with a certain level of Divine Providence not normally found during the rest of the year. There’s a direct response where we can feel Hashem allowing Himself to come into our life.

There are different ways to draw close. To begin the process, make a history of your life. Break it down to segments, such as early childhood, later childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and middle age. Focus on the smaller units of time where the critical stages in your development took place. Set aside a half hour or an hour to ask yourself, “What were the important events that took place in my life at this time?” Don’t intercept with judgment calls because then your narrative will become    self -centered and less honest. If you do this year by year, a sense of what is and isn’t important will emerge.

The next question should be, “How did I respond to these events?” Visualize yourself experiencing it all over again. Then ask, “Did my responses get me closer to where I wanted to be or did it take me further away? What was I thinking when I made these choices. Why did I make it?” Try to find patterns in both your good and bad decisions. Sometimes your good deeds may have been prompted by the need to escape or for idealistic motives. Your slip-ups may have been caused by desire for social acceptance, or fear or ignorance. You may discover that your good side was driven by the desire to be part of something larger than yourself, or in order to know the truth, or to ease your conscience.

All this self- introspection is meant to lead you to your middot. Middot are neither good or bad, It’s what you make up of them. The Gra teaches that life is about perfecting ones middot. “Tzadik v’ra lo” refers to someone with difficult middot. When he succeeds in conquering or turning around his bad middot for the good, he becomes a tzaddik. Conquest is learning to say no, primarily to sins of the flesh. Turning them around is putting desire in the right place. Elul is an opportunity to take stock of our middot, to discover the divinity within us, the part of us that’s eternal and connected. The more carefully we look at ourselves in Elul, the more we can progress.

We will continue this discussion next week.