The Biggest Problem in Judaism

What’s the biggest problem in Judaism. A lot of things come to mind, the Covid Crisis, the Yeshiva System, the Shidduch System, the Chinuch System, the Left, the Right, the Middle, the Open, the Closed, the Leadership, the lack of Leadership, etc.

However, I think the biggest problem in Judaism is clearly stated in the pasuk in Devarim:
And now, Israel, what does Hashem ask of you, that you
1) fear Him, 2) walk in His ways, 3) love Him, 4) serve Him with all your heart and all your soul and 5) observe all the mitzvos.

That’s what’s expected of us!

On top of that we have an animal soul that’s impulsive, loves physical pleasure, and detests exertion. We have a yetzer hara that makes us ego-centric leading to selfishness, anger, envy and honor seeking. And we live in a world loaded with intellectual, emotional and physical distractions like politics, business, sports, shopping, gadgets, social media, and entertainment.

And even when we are able to overcome the physical, emotional and intellectual deterrents and create some connection to Hashem through fear, middos development, love, wholehearted service, and meticulous mitzvos observance – the major payoff for most people, will not even be received in this world, but in the World to Come.

This challenge is a tall order and it’s not really emphasized to children or adults, because it would discourage them. So Yeshivos focus on the information and thought development of Torah study, and Kiruv and non-Yeshivish environments offer Torah as a lifestyle choice. So it should be no surprise that many of us want to move to a town where we can sit back a little and enjoy the Torah lifestyle. And some of us choose a mostly physical lifestyle, with a side order of spirituality.

That is the Biggest Problem in Judaism – a lot is expected of us and it’s really hard given our nature and environment. However, this is a problem that Hashem created. And if He created this problem, we know that He created a solution. The solution is following a Torah based spiritual growth path. With such a path, a person can truly connect to Hashem and receive the greatest pleasure possible in this world and the next.

David Linn’s The grATTITUDE Newsletter

One of the hats that David wears is The Gratitude Dude. He’s been writing, speaking, and giving workshops on improving your gratitude quotient for many years. He recently started a newsletter called “The grATTITUDE” that you definitely should subscribe to.

You can sign up for the weekly gratitude email, The grATTITUDE at http://bit.ly/gratitudeemail

Here is a recent sample

The grATTITUDE
Your weekly injection of gratitude inspiration, insight, education and practical advice.

“Gratitude makes what we have enough.”
— Melody Beattie

What’s the Good Word?

Hedonic Adaptation/Hedonic Treadmill

Hedonic Adaptation refers to the idea that people’s levels of happiness tend to return to their start point despite significant positive or negative events in their lives.

So, if we were able to say that someone’s level of happiness is a 7 out of 10 and then that person takes the vacation of a lifetime, even though that would likely bump their happiness up, it would eventually return to the 7.

The same is generally true when someone experiences a negative event like the loss of a loved one– their happiness level will drop, understandably, but will gradually return to the 7.

While this is a good thing when dealing with negative events– it boosts recovery and resilience– it’s not a good thing at all when it comes to positive events. As soon as the bump from the positive event passes, we go looking for something new.

That’s why Hedonic Adaptation is also called the Hedonic Treadmill because we keep looking for new things to bump us up but we essentially end up getting nowhere– we’re right back where we started.

Gratitude plays an important role in slowing down Hedonic Adaptation to positive events. Gratitude, particularly through speaking or writing about our appreciation for happy things and events, has a savoring quality that makes the event last longer. Additionally, grateful people are generally happier with their lives and, as such, are not constantly craving new things.

Dive into gratitude and jump off the hedonic treadmill.

Making it Work at Work

Gratitude in the workplace isn’t fluff. There are serious studies conducted by top-tier medical and business schools and published in prestigious peer-reviewed journals that evidence that gratitude has a positive effect on nearly every single business metric— from employee engagement and retention to psychological safety and creativity and, of course profit.

One of the surprising things about gratitude in the workplace is that peer-to-peer gratitude is often more important than gratitude from workplace superiors. This might be true because your peers know you better, interact with you more and aren’t perceived to be expressing gratitude because that’s what bosses are supposed to do. Smart businesses are instilling cultures of appreciation that train leaders but also foster peer-to-peer appreciation.

Your Turn

Among all of the gratitude habits or interventions, writing a gratitude letter is one of the most popular and most studied.

The concept is quite simple. Write a letter to someone expressing, in as much detail as possible, the gratitude that you have for them.

Many people recommend that you read the letter directly to the recipient, in person if possible. I think that in our digital era, receiving a physical letter in the mail feels special and shows the recipient that you are thinking about them and that you made an extra effort.

Here are a few tips provided by the Greater Good Science Center:

• Write as though you are addressing this person directly (“Dear ______”).
• Don’t worry about perfect grammar or spelling.
• Describe in specific terms what this person did, why you are grateful to this person, and how this person’s behavior affected your life. Try to be as concrete as possible.
• Describe what you are doing in your life now and how you often remember his or her efforts.
•Try to keep your letter to roughly one page (~300 words).

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this email, please consider sharing this sign-up link: bit.ly/gratitudeemail.

With Gratitude,
Dave Linn, The Gratitude Dude
In collaboration with A Good World Company.

P.S Hey there! Thanks for reading this week’s edition of The grATTITUDE. Every week, we’ll send out an email newsletter filled with tips and tricks and all things gratitude. We’d love to hear your feedback, like what you loved in this week’s email and what you’d like to see next time. Send an email to thegrattitude@gmail.com and we’ll be sure to read your message.

To reach Dave directly, email him at dave@generosityseries.com. To find out more about A Good World Company, email Yehudis at yehudis@agoodworldcompany.com.

Copyright © 2020 The grATTITUDE, All rights reserved.

Surrendering to Humility

Tuesday 23 Cheshvan

Humility is not denying your talents or withdrawing within yourself. Humility does not mean that you are worthless or insignificant. Humility is recognizing the incredible gifts that Hashem has blessed you with and using them to make the world a better place. Humility is surrendering your will to Hashem’s will and in that way becoming far greater than what you could ever become alone. At times this act of surrender is excruciatingly painful, but if we are able to channel our talents in a holy way, we merit partnering with Hashem in infusing our world with holiness, and blessing.

R’ Aryeh Goldman offers 100 words of daily chizuk to uplift and inspire Yidden to live a meaningful life deeply connected to Hashem.

Web Site: https://www.100wordsofchizuk.com

Whats App Chat: https://chat.whatsapp.com/CKVftNO28QlKIMpDko8688

100 words of Chizuk

R’ Aryeh Goldman offers 100 words of daily chizuk to uplift and inspire Yidden to live a meaningful life deeply connected to Hashem.

Web Site
https://www.100wordsofchizuk.com

Whats App Chat
https://chat.whatsapp.com/CKVftNO28QlKIMpDko8688

Tuesday 16 Cheshvan

Most of us begin a program of transformation highly inspired with the best intentions. However before long we lose the initial excitement and hit a plateau. This is when our true desire to reach our goal is tested. At that moment our persistence waivers and most just give up. To achieve greatness you can never give up. Champions are born out of a resolute persistence in the face of adversity. Legends see the moments of stagnation, the plateau, the challenges, as opportunities to reveal their innermost Ratzon (will), and in so doing, inevitably bring themselves closer to their goals.

Four Words that Fuel Spiritual Growth

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan explains that the key to establishing a palpable closeness to G-d when we say the Shemoneh Esrai, are the words Melekh (King), Ozer (Helper), uMoshia (Rescuer), uMogen (Shield) in the first brocha. We start off addressing G-d as a majestic but somewhat distant King. A Helper is more available and closer than a King, like a friend who we know we can call on. A Rescuer is closer than a Helper, because he is right there to save us when we need help. A Shield is closer than a Rescuer because he is surrounding us, protecting us from harm. If we say these four words slowly (4+ seconds per word), focusing on the different perceptions of closeness, we can sense Hashem’s protection.

This four word progression is also applicable to the Yomim Noraim. On Rosh Hoshana we focus on Hashem as King. In the ten days of Teshuva, we call out more in Selichos to Hashem, our Rescuer, because He is more available in this period. On Yom Kippur, we pray and confess to Hashem, our Saviour, as He saves us from the consequences of our sins. On Succos, we focus on Hashem, our Shield, through the mitzvos of the Sukkah and the feelings of protection that it generates.

The idea of the progression from King, to Helper, to Rescuer, to Shield, might help explain a question regarding brochos. Every standalone or sequence-beginning brocha must contain Hashem’s name and the word Melekh. However, the beginning of Shomeneh Esrai is missing the Melekh. Tosfos gives the most quoted answer: the first Brocha mentions Avrahom, who was the first one who made Hashem King over himself. The question still remains: why not just put the word Melekh, like we find in every other brocha?

Perhaps we can say that the word Melekh by itself represents a distant King. However in Shomeneh Esrai we are talking directly to Hashem, To help us create that conversational closeness, the Men of the Great Assembly, put the word Melekh at the end of the brocha in the progression leading to Magen. This is the relationship Avrahom personified, and that is the relationship we are pursuing in the first brocha and in the entire Shomoneh Esrai.

May we all merit to make the progression from Melekh to Magen in these upcoming Yomim Noraim, and in every tefillah that we daven.

SGZ Vol10 – Our Avodah without the Beis HaMikdash

The Avodah of Making Better Brochos

We’ve been discussing how to make better brochos by:
– internalizing that our purpose in life is to get closer to Hashem
– stopping before we say the brocha and realizing that we have an opportunity to get closer to Hashem
– thinking and focusing on the fact that Hashem is the Master of All when saying His Name
– acting and appreciating this realized opportunity of getting closer to Hashem

The Path to Improving Our Avodah

These ideas are included in the first three foundations of the Mesillas Yesharim which are:

Chovas HaAdam (Man’s Duty in the World)
-Pursuing the greatest pleasure of connecting to Hashem through proper mitzvos performance
-Internalize and Focus on your Purpose

Zehirus (Watchfulness)
-Avoiding a distracted life by focusing on our purpose of connecting to Hashem and watching that our actions are in line with our purpose
-Stop, Think, Act, Review

Zerizus (Zealousness)
-Overcoming our natural laziness and making enthusiastic performance of mitzvos our top priority
-Do Mitzvos with Enthusiasm

Mourning the Missing of Avodah of the Beis HaMikdash

We’re now in the period of the nine days, and the call of this period day is to mourn the loss of the Beis HaMikdash. We mourn because we are lacking the close connection to Hashem that existed when we had the Beis HaMikdash. That connection was built through the avodah that was available through the bringing of korbonos, which we no longer have.

Availing Ourselves of the Opportunity of Avodah She’b’lev

We don’t have the avodah of the Beis Hamikdash, but we do have the Avodah She’b’lev, namely Tefillah. If we work on improving our brochos, even a little bit, as described above, we’re showing Hashem that we value our opportunities to serve Him.

Getting Joy from Our Avodah

We are taught in the Tochacha that bad things happened to the Jewish People because we did not serve Hashem with joy. When we stop, think and say a brocha properly, we can feel joy from this realized opportunity of serving and getting closer to Hashem. That is a step in rectifying our past of not serving Hashem with joy.

Better Avodah Leads to More Avodah Opportunities

In our own lives, we often see that improving our avodah leads to more avodah opportunities. It’s logical, that a significant collective improvement of our Avodah, will be met by Hashem bringing back the Avodah opportunities of the Beis HaMikdash. May it happen speedily in our days.

SGZ – V9 – The Three Foundations

Last week we talked about how to make better brochos by:
– internalizing that our purpose in life is to get closer to Hashem
– stopping before we say the brocha and realizing that we have an opportunity to get closer to Hashem
– thinking and focusing on the fact that Hashem is the Master of All when saying His Name
– acting and appreciating this realized opportunity of getting closer to Hashem

These ideas are included in the first three foundations of the Mesillas Yesharim which are:
– Chovas HaAdam (Man’s Duty in the World) – Pursuing the greatest pleasure of connecting to Hashem through proper mitzvos performance
– Zehirus (Watchfulness) – Avoiding a distracted life by focusing on our purpose of connecting to Hashem and watching that our actions are in line with our purpose
– Zerizus (Zealousness) – Overcoming our natural laziness and making enthusiastic performance of mitzvos our top priority

Chovas HaAdam – Internalize Your Purpose
Proper Divine Service begins with internalizing our purpose in the world. Why are we here? It starts with why. In the secular world, this concept relates to our discovering our individual purpose. In the Mesillas Yesharim, the Ramchal is focused on the common purpose we all share, which is to develop a deep connection to Hashem in this world, through the performance of mitzvos. That is our why, our purpose, and the more we internalize it, the more we’ll be driven by it.
– At least once a day, say to yourself “My purpose in this world us to develop a deep connection to Hashem through the performance of Mitzvos”

Zehirus – Stop, Think, Act, Review
Zehirus is internalizing the habit of thinking before you act. We are often distracted and don’t think about our actions. The first step is to stop before you act. The purpose of stopping is to think about what you are about to determine if it is in line with your purpose in life. If what you are about to do is an aveira, then try not to do it. If what you’re about to do is a mitzvah, then do it, with the thought that this act will help me achieve my purpose. The next step is doing the act with the proper thoughts. The last step is to review and think about the actions at least once a day. This helps to internalize the habit of zehirus.
– At least once a day, think about whether your actions were in line with your purpose.

Zerizus – Do it with Enthusiasm
Zerizus is internalizing the habit of doing mitzvos enthusiastically. The nemesis of enthusiasm is lethargy and laziness, which is a result of our physical nature. The first step is stopping and thinking before we act, which are the components of zehirus. Now we can think about the fact that the mitzvah we are about to do is in line with our purpose of connecting to Hashem. What could be better? Now we can proceed to do the mitzvah with increased enthusiasm, as it is integral to fulfilling our purpose.
– At least once a day, think about the importance of the brocha you are about to say, and then say it with some enthusiasm.

SGZ – V8 – Applying Our Spiritual Knowledge to Improve Our Davening



Last week we looked at three aspects of spiritual growth: inspiration, information, internalization. In regards to inspiration, or motivation, we spoke about our need to improve our Divine Service, and the fact that we don’t understand Divine Service so well. In regards to information, we reviewed the five components of Divine Service: Awe, Walking in His Way, Love, Wholehearted Service, Careful Performance of Mitzvos. We said that internalization is often the missing component in our spiritual growth.

The Mesillas Yesharim tells us that only acquiring awe of Hashem is considered the ultimate wisdom to be acquired and attained. Internalizing awe of Hashem is the key to wisdom. What is wisdom? Wisdom is the relevant application of knowledge to a situation. The ultimate wisdom is determining and doing what Hashem wants from us in every situation. This requires learning halacha, hashkafa, mussar and applying it. The only way we can apply the information is if it’s internalized and accessible.

Internalizing Divine Service requires a step by step repetitive process. In the Zoomcast we look at the step by step process of improving our davening. We discuss the following steps:
1) Internalizing that our purpose in life is to get closer to Hashem.
2) Stopping before we say the brocha and realizing that we have an opportunity to get closer to Hashem.
3) Focusing on thinking that Hashem is the Master of All when saying His Name.
4) Appreciating this realized opportunity of getting closer to Hashem.

Spiritual Growth Zoomcast V7 – Inspiration, Information, Internalization

Here’s the accompanying post:

We are so fortunate in these difficult times to have so many inspirational speakers helping us use our situation to grow. Go to TorahAnytime.com on any given day and you will find 10-20 new inspirational shiurim. Inspiration provides us with the important motivation, but we need more.

In addition to the inspiration, we need information. Let’s say we want to improve or kavanna when we daven and say brochos. How do we go about it? What are the steps that will lead to a permanent improvement? Let’s say we start small, and commit to thinking that Hashem is the “Master of All”, as the Shulchan Aruch says, when we say His Name in the first brocha of Shemoneh Esrai.

The third crucial component is internalization. We have to take the information and implement it until it becomes second nature. It starts with doing it the first time and then again and again and again, until it’s internalized. It’s useful to review each day whether we were successful with our commitment, to aid in the internalization process.

One of the reasons for the popularity of the Mesillas Yesharim is that not only does the Ramchal give us the inspiration to improve our Divine Service, but he also gives us the step by step information on how to improve. In addition, the Ramchal describes important tools for internalization, such as repeated review of the sefer and a daily cheshbon hanefesh.

Below is an outline of the introduction to the Mesillas Yesharim to help illustrate the importance of inspiration, information and internalization. In this week’s Spiritual Growth Zoomcast, we talk about the inspiration, information and internalization process.

Introduction to the Mesillas Yesharim

We need to study about Divine Service

00.01 Forgetfulness is prevalent in that which is well known.
00.02 We need to review and study those things which we tend to forget.
00.03 People devote much time to studying secular subjects and Tanach and Halacha.
00.04 Few people spend time studying how to perfect their service of Hashem.

Divine Service is misunderstood

00.05 People don’t spend time on this because it seems so obvious.
00.06 Most people have misconceptions of what service of Hashem entails.
00.07 Desirable service is misunderstood because we don’t think about it or act on the opportunities for such service.

Proper Divine Service needs work to achieve

00.08 Aspects of service, like love and fear of Hashem, and purity of heart are not natural states so we need to work to acquire them.
00.09 There are many deterrents to desirable service, but they can be overcome.

Inadequate Divine Serice is not acceptable

00.10 Lackadaisical service of Hashem is unacceptable.
00.11 We can not justify inadequate service because that is the essence of what Hashem asks of us.
00.12 If we don’t put in effort, we will certainly not achieve adequate levels of service.
00.13 To understand service of Hashem we must pursue its understanding, like we would pursue a treasure.

Defining the Components of Divine Service

00.14 Only acquiring awe of Hashem is considered the ultimate wisdom to be acquired and attained.
00.15 Hashem wants: 1) awe of Hashem 2) walking in His ways 3) love of Hashem 4) wholehearted service 5) observance of all mitzvos.
00.16 We should be in awe of Hashem as we would a great and mighty king.
00.17 Walking in His ways is improving our character traits and doing things that strengthen Torah and achieve societal harmony.
00.18 We should love Hashem and try to please Him as we would try to please a parent.
00.19 Wholehearted service is focused solely on Hashem, not mechanical, and with complete devotion.
00.20 We should observe all the mitzvos with all their fine points and conditions.

The order necessary to internalize the above traits

00.21 Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair taught the order necessary to fully internalize the above traits.
00.22 The order is Torah, Watchfulness, Zeal, Cleanliness, Separation, Purity, Saintliness, Humility, Fear of Sin, Holiness, Divine Inspiration, Revival of the Dead

Inspiration, Information and Internalization

We are so fortunate in these difficult times to have so many inspirational speakers helping us use our situation to grow. Go to TorahAnytime.com on any given day and you will find 10-20 new inspirational shiurim. Inspiration provides us with the important motivation, but we need more.

In addition to the inspiration, we need information. Let’s say we want to improve or kavanna when we daven and say brochos. How do we go about it? What are the steps that will lead to a permanent improvement? Let’s say we start small, and commit to thinking that Hashem is the “Master of All”, as the Shulchan Aruch says, when we say His Name in the first brocha of Shemoneh Esrai.

The third crucial component is internalization. We have to take the information and implement it until it becomes second nature. It starts with doing it the first time and then again and again and again, until it’s internalized. It’s useful to review each day whether we were successful with our commitment, to aid in the internalization process.

One of the reasons for the popularity of the Mesillas Yesharim is that not only does the Ramchal give us the inspiration to improve our Divine Service, but he also gives us the step by step information on how to improve. In addition, the Ramchal describes important tools for internalization, such as repeated review of the sefer and a daily cheshbon hanefesh.

Below is an outline of the introduction to the Mesillas Yesharim to help illustrate the importance of inspiration, information and internalization. In this week’s Spiritual Growth Zoomcast on beyondbt.com, we will talk about the inspiration, information and internalization process.

Introduction to the Mesillas Yesharim

We need to study about Divine Service

00.01 Forgetfulness is prevalent in that which is well known.
00.02 We need to review and study those things which we tend to forget.
00.03 People devote much time to studying secular subjects and Tanach and Halacha.
00.04 Few people spend time studying how to perfect their service of Hashem.

Divine Service is misunderstood

00.05 People don’t spend time on this because it seems so obvious.
00.06 Most people have misconceptions of what service of Hashem entails.
00.07 Desirable service is misunderstood because we don’t think about it or act on the opportunities for such service.

Proper Divine Service needs work to achieve

00.08 Aspects of service, like love and fear of Hashem, and purity of heart are not natural states so we need to work to acquire them.
00.09 There are many deterrents to desirable service, but they can be overcome.

Inadequate Divine Serice is not acceptable

00.10 Lackadaisical service of Hashem is unacceptable.
00.11 We can not justify inadequate service because that is the essence of what Hashem asks of us.
00.12 If we don’t put in effort, we will certainly not achieve adequate levels of service.
00.13 To understand service of Hashem we must pursue its understanding, like we would pursue a treasure.

Defining the Components of Divine Service

00.14 Only acquiring awe of Hashem is considered the ultimate wisdom to be acquired and attained.
00.15 Hashem wants: 1) awe of Hashem 2) walking in His ways 3) love of Hashem 4) wholehearted service 5) observance of all mitzvos.
00.16 We should be in awe of Hashem as we would a great and mighty king.
00.17 Walking in His ways is improving our character traits and doing things that strengthen Torah and achieve societal harmony.
00.18 We should love Hashem and try to please Him as we would try to please a parent.
00.19 Wholehearted service is focused solely on Hashem, not mechanical, and with complete devotion.
00.20 We should observe all the mitzvos with all their fine points and conditions.

The order necessary to internalize the above traits

00.21 Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair taught the order necessary to fully internalize the above traits.
00.22 The order is Torah, Watchfulness, Zeal, Cleanliness, Separation, Purity, Saintliness, Humility, Fear of Sin, Holiness, Divine Inspiration, Revival of the Dead

Spiritual Growth Zoomcast V5 – The Ten Minute Mesillas Yesharim Overview

Check out the Spiritual Growth Zoomcast V5 – The Ten Minute Mesillas Yesharim Overview

Here is a summary of the Zoomcast:

What we need to do.
Introduction to the need to improve our Divine Service of fearing Hashem, walking in His ways, loving Him, serving Him wholeheartedly, and doing all the mitzvos.

The key point to internalize.
Chovas HaAdam or Man’s Purpose in the World is to pursue the greatest pleasure of connecting to Hashem through proper Divine service.

Four deterrents to deal will: distraction, laziness, desire, self-centeredness.

Reduce distraction with focused thinking.
Zehirus or Watchfulness is avoiding a distracted life by focusing on our purpose of connecting to Hashem and watching that our actions are in line with our purpose.

Reduce laziness with enthusiastic positive spiritual performance.
Zerizus or Zealousness is overcoming our natural laziness and making enthusiastic performance of mitzvos our top priority.

Battle desire and self-centeredness by focusing on spiritual achievement.
Nekiyus or Cleanliness is reducing our desire for the physical over the spiritual in order to eliminate rationalization and enable the careful avoidance of transgressions.

Weaken desire further by thinking about it’s deficiencies.
Perishus or Abstaining is recognizing the inferior nature of physical pleasures so we can abstain from unessential but permitted worldly matters.

Address self-centeredness by focusing more on our spiritual side.
Tahara or Purity is reducing our desire in physical acts and eliminating our improper motivations in mitzvos in order to serve Hashem wholeheartedly in purity.

Displace self-centeredness, by putting pleasing Hashem at the top of priorities.
Chassidus or Saintliness is expressing our love of Hashem by going beyond what is explicitly commanded in our performance of mitzvos.

Weaken self-centeredness further by examining our deficiencies.
Anavah or Humility is realizing that we have many faults and limited accomplishments and that we are unworthy of praise and honor and certainly not superior to others.

Putting Hashem front and center.
Yiras Cheit or Fear of Sin is being constantly aware of Hashem’s exaltedness and fearing any trace of transgression that would cause an affront to Hashem’s honor.

Doing everything for Hashem.
Kedushah or Holiness is removing ourselves from physicality and constantly cleaving to Hashem by doing every act for his sake.

Overview of Mesillas Yesharim

In the upcoming Zoomcast we’ll be giving a Overview of the Mesillas Yesharim. Here’s a preview.

Introduction – Improving our Divine service of fearing Hashem, walking in His ways, loving Him, serving Him wholeheartedly, and doing all the mitzvos.
It is critical to work on improving our service of Hashem, since this is the reason for our existence.Without effort and a methodology, we won’t reach adequate levels of service. Divine Service is doing mitzvos properly—with focus, love, and awe, and diminishing our self-centeredness through giving and connecting to other people.

Chovas HaAdam (Man’s Duty in the World) – Pursuing the greatest pleasure of connecting to Hashem through proper Divine service.
We build our foundation of improved service of Hashem by internalizing the understanding that our life’s purpose is to develop an eternal connection to Hashem. We develop that connection doing the mitzvos properly, serving Hashem, and withstanding tests.

Zehirus (Watchfulness) – Avoiding a distracted life by focusing on our purpose of connecting to Hashem and watching that our actions are in line with our purpose.
To reduce the distractions which distance us from Hashem, we have to develop the habit of thinking before we act whether a prospective action will draw us away from or bring us closer to Hashem. We need to regularly review our purpose and examine whether our daily actions are in line with our purpose.

Zerizus (Zealousness) – Overcoming our natural laziness and making enthusiastic performance of mitzvos our top priority.
To avail ourselves of the constant opportunities to come close to Hashem, we need to overcome our laziness which prevents us from enthusiastic mitzvah performance. We need to recognize the constant mitzvah opportunities, and then act without delay to take advantage of these opportunities to connect to Hashem.

Nekiyus (Cleanliness) – Reducing our desire for the physical over the spiritual in order to eliminate rationalization and enable the careful avoidance of transgressions.
We need to learn the details of mitzvah observance and proper middos, particularly the 14 mitzvos categories and 4 middos that we are most likely to transgress. We need to internalize the awareness that physical desire and self-centeredness often cause us to rationalize our transgressions.

Perishus (Abstaining) – Recognizing the inferior nature of physical pleasures so we can abstain from unessential but permitted worldly matters.
Perishus is the beginning of Chassidus and consists of abstaining from permitted worldly matters that are unessential or may lead to sin. However, if something is essential, it is a sin to abstain from it. Determining what is unessential and what is essential is an ongoing spiritual growth process.

Tahara (Purity) – Reducing our desire in physical acts and eliminating our improper motivations in mitzvos in order to serve Hashem wholeheartedly in purity.
Tahara refers to the refinement of our actions, emotions and thoughts. Tahara in physical acts is reducing our physical desires. Tahara in mitzvos refers to having proper intentions, which is called doing mitzvos l’shma or “for their own sake”.

Chassidus (Saintliness) – Expressing our love of Hashem by going beyond what is explicitly commanded in our performance of mitzvos.
Chassidus is bringing pleasure, honor and satisfaction to Hashem by adding to that which was explicitly commanded regarding mitzvos. Just like the love between people is expressed by doing more, so too is the love of Hashem. Chassidus teaches us to focus on helping people physically, financially and emotionally. In addition, all our mitzvos should be carried out with love, fear, concern for Hashem’s honor, and the intention of benefitting our entire generation.

Anavah (Humility) – Realizing that we have many faults and limited accomplishments and that we are unworthy of praise and honor and certainly not superior to others.
Humility of thought is to realize that we are not superior to others. Wisdom is the most common cause of conceit, even though we make errors and always need to learn. Humility in deeds means we should conduct ourselves humbly, accept insults, flee from honor and wielding authority..

Yiras Cheit (Fear of Sin) – Being constantly aware of Hashem’s exaltedness and fearing any trace of transgression that would cause an affront to Hashem’s honor.
Fear of punishment for violating Hashem’s mitzvos is the most basic fear and is a trait of Zehirus. Avoiding sins because of our awe of Hashem’s exaltedness is a trait of Chassidus. Yiras Cheit is the concern that a trace of sin intruded into any of our actions which caused an affront to the honor due to Hashem. When someone has reached this high level, this fear of sin operates constantly.

Kedushah (Holiness) – Removing ourselves from physicality and constantly cleaving to Hashem by doing every act for his sake.
Holiness is removing oneself from physicality and cleaving constantly to Hashem, with our every act done purely for His sake. This is achieved as a gift from Hashem after a person is constantly cleaving to Him through powerful love, intense fear and reflection on His exaltedness. Even ones physical deeds, like eating, will then be holy.

Going Beyond Bein Adam L’Makom

In our previous Zoomcasts we defined a G-d Centered spirituality emphasizing the goal of developing a deep loving emotional connection with G-d, and the resulting benefits of developing that relationship. This seems to focus on the Bein Adam L’Makom aspects of Torah Judaism. Surely that’s not all there is.

As the Mesillas Yesharim makes quite clear, middos and mitzvos Bein Adam L’Chaveiro, play an essential role in G-d centered spirituality. In regard to Middos, each of the ten steps of the Baraisa (Torah, Zehirus, Zerisus,…) is built on a foundation of eliminating bad middos and developing good middos. The Mesillas Yesharim however provides us with priorities in Middos Development.

In Zehirus, he focuses on the negative middah of distraction, which includes worldly pursuits, dreaming and fantasizing. The antidote is to think about your primary purpose and life, and to stop, and think, before you act, to see if your thoughts and actions are helping you achieve your purpose. When you work on the positive trait of thinking before you speak or act, you realize that this takes a concerted effort.

In Zerizus, he discusses the negative middah of laziness, which prevents us from doing positive mitzvos properly. The antidote here is doing mitzvos as soon as the opportunity presents itself, with enthusiasm. He also dicusses feeling the pleasure of Loving Hashem when doing the right thing. The negative middah of worry and anxiety is also addressed in Zerizus.

In Nekius, the negative middah of desire is discussed. The antidote begins with an awareness of how desire for physical pleasure, for honor and for money, influences our actions. The power of desire can be diminished by feeling the pleasure of doing the right thing. As Dr. David Lieberman says: “the body wants to feel good, the ego wants to look good, the soul wants to do good”. We have to feel the pleasure of doing good, to overcome the hold that that desire has on us.

At the end of Nekius he discusses the centrality of middos development in Avodah Hashem and how much effort must be made to improve our middos. The Ramchal teaches that there are numerous middos, but he focuses on the ones that create the greatest stumbling block, specifically arrogance, anger, envy and desire. The Vilna Gaon in Even Shleimah also teaches the centrality of middos development in Avodas Hashem, and he states that anger, desire and arrogance are the principal bad traits.

Let’s go back to the importance of the centrality of G-d connection in our Spiritual Growth. This, perhaps, is one of the major issues we have in the Frum community. We are not taught about the centrality and immense benefits of the emotional connection to G-d. Therefore, we often do mitzvos, say brachos, and pray without thought, and we don’t receive the pleasure which mitzvos, brachos and prayer can deliver.

I think a major reason for this is that when we begin our Judaism as a BT or a FFB the focus is on what to do and how to do it. At the beginning, we’re not focused on the benefits, or the why, which include the pleasurable emotional connection to Hashem. BTs are usually not ready for this at the beginning. And FFB children do not have enough emotional maturity to develop a deep emotional connection to Hashem at that point of their lives. That’s why we have to be thankful to Mesillas Yesharim for give us the step by step guidelines to develop that emotional connection and to get beyond our plateau.

Look out for the Spiritual Growth Zoomcast – volume 4, where we’ll discuss the above issues.

Is Developing a Deeper Connection to Hashem Worth the Effort?

As Torah observant Jews we all practice a form of G-d centered spirituality. We’re learning Torah, keeping Shabbos, Kashrus, Taharas HaMishpacha because G-d commanded us.

The next level of G-d centered spirituality is having a deep loving emotional connection to G-d as stated in the Rambam, Chovos HaLevovos, Chassidic sources and Mesillas Yesharim. That deep emotional loving connection can be the source of always-available pleasure in both this world and the next. Many of the above mentioned classic sources teach that developing a deep emotional connecting to Hashem requires a step by step methodology.

The push back to a growth methodology is that a person can argue that through Torah, Avodah and Gemillas Chasadim – they will, over time, develop that deep connection to Hashem. So what’s the problem? Many have had Rebbeim who have developed a deep connection and they never taught the need for a methodology.

Putting the methodology issue aside, what if I’m basically satisfied with my combination of physical and spiritual pleasure. Why should I put in all the effort for increased spiritual please? Is it really worth it?

In our upcoming Spiritual Growth Zoomcast we’ll discuss the above issues.

Pesach Redeeming Your Soul

Rav Itamar Schwartz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh
Download a number of amazing Drashos on Personal Redemption
Download a number of amazing Drashos on Pesach

Exile of Our Daas

The Egyptian exile was an exile of our Da’as (our mind). We learn this from what Hashem told Avraham Avinu, that “you will surely know (“yodua teida”) that your offspring will be foreigners in a land that is not theirs…”

The Egyptian exile was an exile of our da’as, and its redemption was a redemption to our da’as. From the double usage of the word da’as in the possuk (yodua teida) we learn that there are two kinds of exiles that both involve an exile of our da’as. Let us reflect what these two kinds of da’as are.

The Baal Shem Tov explains that these two kinds of da’as are a “masculine” kind of da’as and a “feminine” kind of da’as. The redemption from Egypt was a feminine kind of da’as, and the future redemption will be a masculine kind of da’as. What does he mean?

We can understand the Baal Shem’s statement as follows. Each individual has two components: feelings and vision. (An example of “vision” is that a person is obligated on the night of Pesach to see himself leaving Egypt”).

The feminine kind of da’as is “feelings”, and the masculine kind of da’as is “vision”. Egypt was an exile of our feelings – our feminine aspect of da’as. Its redemption was a redemption as well of our feminine da’as. But the future redemption will involve our masculine kind of da’as, which is our vision. “For with an eye and an eye we will see the return of Hashem to Zion.”

It is well-known that the final redemption is also contained in the first redemption. The redemption from Egypt is the root of the final redemption.

We must know what these two different kinds of redemption are in our soul.

Our Mind Is Still In Exile

There are two “kings” that reside in a person: the mind and the heart. The mind’s vision is limited and we need to learn how to expand it.

The Zohar always uses an expression of ta chazi, “come and see”, while the Gemara always uses an expression of ta shema, “come and hear.” When a person hears, he hears the feelings, but when a person sees, he doesn’t use his feelings, just his limited vision. The abilities of feeling and vision are two distinct forces in the soul, and each of them need to be removed from what’s blocking them. Our mind’s vision is prevented by being too narrow-sighted, while our heart’s feelings can be stuffed with timtum halev (spiritual “blockage”).

In the Egyptian exile, our heart was in exile. There was a redemption to this, so our feelings. But our mind still hasn’t been totally redeemed. Our feelings of the soul, such as ahavah (love), yirah (fear), hispaarus (pride), etc. were redeemed in Egypt, but our mind’s vision – in other words, our inner vision, the ability to see holiness – is still concealed in this exile.

The avodah of the Egyptian exile was to recognize Hashem’s goodness and to come to have feelings for Him, such as love and fear of Hashem. But what is the avodah of the final exile?

We must expand our minds in order to know this.

The Secret of The Redemption: Unity

The Arizal explains that the night of Pesach is a time of “gadlus hamochin” (a higher state of mind). What is the higher state of mind, and what is the lower state of mind?

Simply speaking, it means that sometimes our mind is more or less clear. But the more truthful outlook is that gadlus hamochin is a straight way of thinking – “G-d made man upright” (Koheles 7:29) – it is a straight kind of vision, and in it lies a person’s mind.

In the redemption of Egypt, anyone who didn’t merit to leave Egypt perished. The wicked perished in the plague of darkness. Everyone else who left Egypt left as one collective unit – there was achdus (unity) of the entire nation at the redemption. At this redemption, the entire Jewish people were united to follow Hashem into the desert, experience the splitting of the sea and the giving of the Torah. At all of these events, all 600,000 souls of the Jewish people were all present.

The inner way to look at reality is to see everything as one. From an inner perspective, a person sees how many details are really all one collective unit. The secret that brings redemption is unity in one unit. For example, the entire Jewish people in Egypt did not change their names, language, or dress.

Thus, the redemption is all about achdus – unity. There is a redemption that will take place to the Jewish people as a whole. There is also a personal redemption to each person that will take place, a redemption to each person’s soul. This is to redeem our mind. To redeem our mind, we must acquire an inner perspective on things – a perspective of achdus, to be able to see how many details connect and are all one.

Before, we mentioned that we have two different component in us: feelings, which are in our heart, and our vision, which is in our mind. Our mind, which is otherwise known as the masculine kind of daas, has an advantage over the heart in that it can see how many details connect as one. Our mind is capable of seeing achdus.

The second Beis Hamikdash was destroyed because of sinas chinam (baseless hatred). The future redemption will be the opposite of this; it will be a unity of the world. The secret of the redemption is achdus.

The secret to the redemption when a person acquires this inner perspective – the way to see unity in many details.

The secret to the current exile is contained in the Egyptian exile. By understanding what the Egyptian exile was, we can learn about our own redemption from the current exile, because the root of all redemption is the redemption from Egypt.

What Is This Unity?

What is this secret of “achdus” of the final redemption, which is contained in the Egyptian exile?

We say in the Haggaddah, “And G-d took us out of Egypt, not through an angel or through a seraph or through a messenger, but G-d Himself, in His Honor.”

There is a concept that everything which takes place in the world also takes place in time, and everything that takes place in time also takes place in our soul. In our own soul, there can be a redemption by Hashem Himself.

On the night of Pesach, there is a revelation of G-dliness in every person’s soul! “Not through an angel or a seraph or a messenger, but G-d himself.” As long as a person doesn’t block this revelation from happening, it becomes revealed in one’s soul on the night of Pesach: a personal redemption that takes place in the soul.

When a person still has an egotistical “I”, he is separate from others. But when there is a revelation of G-dliness in the soul, a secret of “oneness” (rozo d’echad) is revealed in the soul.

If a person looks at another person according to the other’s opinions about life, then he is apart from others. Chazal say that “Just like all faces are different, so are all minds different.” But when a person looks at another person’s soul with a deep perspective, he sees G-dliness in another Jew’s soul. He sees “Hashem Himself” that resides in the deepest point in every Jew’s soul. (This deepest point is the called “Yechidah”.) When a person has this perspective, he has an outlook of achdus toward every Jew and he unifies every soul into one unit.

This revelation that takes place in the soul on the night of Pesach is the root of the future redemption.

Thus, on the night of Pesach we have an additional form of avodah. Besides the well-known avodah of connecting ourselves to “leaving Egypt now”, we must also reveal the root of the future redemption. We must recognize what the redemption is and connect to it.

The Root of The Future Redemption – Nullifying Your Ego

The power of the future redemption is essentially the ability to leave the selfish “I” in a person. As long as a person is still egotistical, there is a divide between a person and Hashem. When a person still has his ego, he has only his daas, and each person’s daas is different. This is the depth of Chazal that “Just as all faces are different, so are all minds different.” A person’s self-absorption prevents the revelation of achdus.

We need to acquire the higher daas. This is called “Keil de’os (G-d of knowledge”, an expression used by the Rambam). This is not regular daas of a person; it is a higher kind of daas that is hidden from us. It is the kind of daas which unifies the many varying opinions of people, the many different kind of daas that everyone has.

In the redemption from Egypt, even though it was a redemption of our daas, it was only a redemption of each person’s private daas. We are still different from one another, because we each have our own opinions. It wasn’t yet a total redemption.

There are two ways how we can see this. First of all, Moshe Rabbeinu was afraid that the people wouldn’t be worthy of being redeemed, because of the wicked individuals present. This was already a lapse in the unity of the Jewish people. In addition to this, even when they were redeemed, the Erev Rav (“Mixed Multitude”, Egyptian non-Jews who escaped Egypt together with the Jewish people) came with them, which affected the unity of the Jewish people.

The future redemption, though, will be a total redemption of our daas. It will be nullification of our daas and in its place a revelation of the higher Daas, the Daas of the Creator. The revelation of Hashem by the redemption will be a revelation of the achdus of the Jewish people.

Thus we have two missions on Pesach: we must feel as if we are leaving Egypt now, to receive a new vitality in our feelings. But this isn’t enough. Even with renewed feelings, our perspective can still be very limited. Feelings without a developed mind can be imbalanced. Feelings aren’t everything. Some people are so zealous that they go overboard with their zealousness. We must realize that our feelings are only a garment on our soul. Feelings aren’t everything, and we shouldn’t get caught up in them – they need to be fused with an expanded mind.

For example, the mitzvah of Ahavas Yisrael really applies to wicked people as well. One of the four sons is a wicked son; we must still love him as a son, even though he is wicked. In the future redemption, all the dispersed members of our people will be gathered together, even the wicked members. Although in Egypt, “had the wicked son been there, he wouldn’t have been redeemed”, still, in the future redemption, which is a more complete redemption, the wicked will be included.

This kind of feeling is a feeling expanded by the mind. This is the gadlus hamochin contained in Pesach.

“Now we are slaves, Next Year we will be free”

We need both kinds of redemption: the past redemption of Egypt (which we already experienced), and the future redemption. These are two different kinds of redemption.

The previous redemption, the redemption from Egypt, is a light that we must return to each year on Pesach. The future redemption is something else: we must draw it closer to us and extend it upon us even now.

In the beginning of the Hagaddah, we say “Now we are slaves, Next year we will be free.” These are the beginning words of the Hagaddah, and they are the preface to what occurs on the night of Pesach.

In these words we mention two things. We mention the “bread of suffering” which our ancestors ate in Egypt, yet we also mention the future redemption – “Next year we will be free.” This is not just a yearning for the redemption (which is also a wonderful thing to aspire to), but it is a connection to the redemption.

If we only consider the light of the redemption to be a thing of the past, then the purpose of the festival remains concealed.

The redemption hasn’t yet come. Thus, the avodah we have on this Pesach is to awaken in us the inner meaning of the redemption – the higher aspect of the redemption, not the lower aspect of the redemption. We need both aspects. The point is that we need the higher aspect of the redemption as well.

Inspiration Lasts Only If We Expand Our Mind

Upon understanding these words, we can look at the inner depth of the avodah upon us, in a new light. There is a deep point hidden here.

Every year, the holy Jewish people want to be awakened and inspired. People hear inspiring lectures – each to his own. Everyone wants to awaken in his soul a feel for the holiness of the Yom Tov. But we must know that many times we just have “inspiration” (hisorerus) and after some time, our inspiration wanes and we just go back to “usual”.

What is the mistake that people are making? It has to do with what we have been saying until now: feelings, without the mind to guide them, are only half the equation. Even if we redeem our “feelings” and we are full of renewed feelings for holiness, without expanding our mind the feelings won’t last. It’s only “half” the redemption.

If all we do is open up our feelings, without expanding our mind – then we only have the first kind of redemption, a redemption from Egypt. We will be missing our current redemption.

With just feelings and no mind, the inspiration we get doesn’t last. We will be able to connect to the redemption from Egypt with our renewed feelings of love and fear of Hashem, but after that our inspiration will go away, and we will just be left with the remaining exiles that came after Egypt….

In order for our inspiration to last, we need an expanded mind. On the night of Pesach, one is obligated to “see” himself as if he’s leaving Egypt. What does it mean to “see” yourself leaving Egypt? Are we supposed to become deluded by our imagination?!

We can understand that all our souls were there one time in Egypt, but why must we see ourselves actually leaving Egypt now?

We need to be able to “see” since the other part of our redemption is to redeem our power of vision in the mind.

This halachah, that one must see himself leaving Egypt, contains the higher aspect of the redemption: to redeem one’s vision of the mind.

The depth of this is that if a person hasn’t nullified his ego and he doesn’t integrate himself with the Jewish people, then he doesn’t know how to “see.” He doesn’t have a vision of achdus. His redemption has nothing to do with Hashem – it’s all about redeeming himself. When a person remains absorbed in himself, he might have wonderful feelings for Avodas Hashem, but he actually might be on a very lowly level. Reb Yisrael Salanter’s words are famous – a person can be so afraid of the yom hadin (day of judgment), yet he damages others when they see a scowl on his face.

When a person only seeks to have great feelings in avodas Hashem, it doesn’t mean yet that he is pure. It’s possible that he is self-absorbed in himself as he seeks to gain high levels in avodas Hashem. He is so self-absorbed in his personal growth that he doesn’t even see any person next to him! Even when such a person relates the story of the exodus to his household, he’s wrapped up in his own self as he seeks higher levels to attain. Such a person is sorely mistaken in the purpose of the festival.

When a person doesn’t realize that the main part of the redemption is to be redeemed from one’s selfish ego, he is missing the whole redemption. He might love and fear Hashem and have all the great feelings that one can reach, but it’s all another way of being self-absorbed. This is not a true redemption.

The true redemption to have on Pesach is when one nullifies his self and integrates into the Jewish people, as a part of a whole.

When one considers the redemption of Pesach to be about himself, he only redeems “himself.” We cannot call this a redemption. The purpose of the redemption is that all should recognize Hashem; it is about revealing Hashem, not about revealing one’s “I.”

The way to redeem yourself on Pesach is actually by nullifying yourself. When a person is locked up in a jail, he desires to escape it – he wants his “I” to escape. His escape from it will just be all about how he worries for himself. But the depth to the redemption is to leave your very self and forget about yourself.

This is really the depth of Ahavas Yisrael, which is the secret of the final redemption. Ahavas Yisrael is really when your soul has a redemption – when you leave yourself!! In other words, there is a kind of personal redemption in which you leave your inner imprisonment, and then there is another kind of redemption – when you leave your “I”. This is when you leave your ego for the sake of integrating with the rest of the Jewish people.

Thus, the beginning of redemption is to redeem our feelings. We need to first leave the materialism – the “bricks and mortar” – and enter the world of spirituality. The second part of our redemption, which is the purpose, is to reach our masculine kind of daas – the revelation of unity on the world; in other words, to nullify your “I.”

Hashem should merit all of the Jewish people that we all integrate with each other and from there, to integrate in unison with the Creator, who is really the only One who exists.

Taking a Step Forward after Three Hard Steps Back

It’s a tough time for worldwide Shul goers: no public shiurim, no social contact, no davening with a Tzibbur. However, there is a tremendous opportunity here to take a step to improve our davening. Let me share a practical idea.

Our spiritual purpose in life is to connect to Hashem and to His creations. The collective end point of that process is one world under G-d, with unity, love, peace and happiness for all. We connect to Hashem by thinking about Him, feeling emotionally connected to Him, and doing physical acts of spiritual connection.

Davening contains all three of these components, but the essence of davening is feeling emotionally connected, as we learn in the Gemora in Taanis, “Prayer is the Service of the Heart”. It’s also the hardest component. We can arrive at Shul, say the prayers, and because we are distracted, barely think about Him, much less feel emotionally connected.

The emotional connections that we are seeking to develop during davening are love of Hashem and awe of Hashem. Let’s look at love, which is the feeling of a deep connection. A foundational spiritual thought, and the first of the 6 constant mitzvos, is that there is one G-d who is the cause of all that exists. If we look at the wonderful things in our life, we can appreciate that Hashem caused it, with love for us. We can then start to reciprocally return that love to Him.

Every time we say the word Boruch, which is usually explained as Hashem being the source of blessing, we can appreciate the love that Hashem is showering on us with His gifts in this world. We can then try to direct our love right back at Him. There are 100 opportunities a day to feel this love, and we can try to connect at least once a day, when we say Boruch.

Spiritual growth is a step by step process. Today we have a tremendous opportunity to take one step forward, after having been propelled three hard steps back.

Reposted from http://www.shulpolitics.com/

Developing Our Spiritual Side

Now is a tremendous opportunity to work on our spiritual growth. Sometimes it’s helpful to step back and take a fresh look at what we are trying to achieve.

I was having dinner with a childhood friend a while back, and he lamented that he wanted to do more to develop his spiritual side. In my current neighborhood, I have many friends who express that same concern, including myself. Since I have studied much about this subject and have discussed it with others, I thought I would share some practical ideas in these anxious times.

If we want to develop our physical side, we might pursue a better exercise routine and healthier eating habits. To develop our emotional side, we might work on reducing anger and anxiety, while increasing our capacities for love and happiness. Development of our mental side might include learning and remembering new things, as well as increasing our capacity to understand, apply, analyze, evaluate and create.

In Judaism, developing our spiritual side means increasing our capacity to connect to G-d and His creations. The collective end point of that process is one world under G-d, with unity, love, peace and happiness for all. Individual spiritual development is like physical, emotional and mental development, in that it is a step by step process.

Spirituality consists of thinking about G-d, feeling emotionally connected to Him, and doing acts of spiritual connection. A foundational spiritual thought is that there is one G-d who is the cause of all existence. Any time we actively think that thought, we are doing an act of spiritual connection. If we look at our beautiful world, or any of the wonderful things in our life, and feel an emotional connection to G-d, the creator of all existence, then we have taken a step in creating an emotional connection to G-d.

Thinking about the ideas stated here is taking a step in our spiritual development. If we take the time to think about G-d as the source of something in our life, we will have taken another step. There are many opportunities for spiritual development and we each must take our own steps. To be continued…

Beyond Corona – I

We are taught that our purpose in life is to connect to Hashem and to create a world where Hashem is One and His Name is One. Since we’re spending more time alone, perhaps we can work on connecting to Hashem, so we can get Beyond Corona.

One way to connect to Hashem is to think about Him. The first constant mitzvah is “To believe that there is one G-d in the world that caused all that exists to be so”. When we read about Corona, if we add the thought that Corona and everything in the world comes from Hashem, we have performed a mitzvah and strengthened our connection to Hashem. When we try to put this into practice we will see that it is difficult, because the distraction of reading makes it difficult to think about Hashem.

Perhaps it will be easier to think about Hashem when we say His name in davening and Brachos. The Shulchan Aruch says that when mentioning the name Hashem, we should concentrate on the meaning of how it is read (Adon*i): that He is the Master of all. We should also concentrate on the Yud-Kei-Vav-Kei spelling: that He was, He is, and He always will be. This is also difficult, because we are not in the habit of concentrating when we pray. So perhaps we can try to put this in practice during the Shema and the first Brocha of Shemoneh Esrai.

If many of us try and think about Hashem’s name when we say the Shema and the first Brocha of Shemoneh Esrai, then we will have taken a tremendous first step in getting Beyond Corona.

The Joy of Existence

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

From Getting to Know Your Self

A person wants to be happy and at peace only by attaining something else that he is currently lacking. He feels now that joy and peace are lacking, and that once he will get it, he will have joy and peace. If so, the joy comes from attaining something one does not have yet. On the other hand, there is a kind of joy and peace that comes from merely existing. Chazal said of this, “Who is wealthy? He who is happy with his portion.” Obviously, they were not referring to the one who has all his needs fulfilled. Rather, the person is lacking things, and yet, he is happy. But how can he be happy? He can’t pay his expenses for the month! His daughter might be in the hospital! How can he be happy if he has all these troubles?

This is a joy that comes from existence. It is not a joy because one has shoes or socks. If one makes a calculation, he might decide that in fact, he lacks a lot of things, even more than what he does have. When can one really be happy? When he is happy because of his existence, not because of what he owns.

What is this joy of existence? How does one do it? What’s so good about it? We must understand and consider: what is one’s natural state – happy, or sad? If we decide that the natural state is one of happiness, there would need to be a cause to make one sad. If we decide, on the other hand, that the natural state is sadness, then there must be a cause to make one happy. What is one’s true nature? If there would be no external forces, what would one’s natural state be? Happy, or sad? For example, if you take a car and place it at an incline, the natural state of the wheels would cause it to go downward, because of gravity. Without using the breaks, it wall go downward. What is one’s natural state: happy, or sad?

The answer is that a person is naturally happy! If a person is created naturally happy, he will be happy if there are no opposing factors. These factors might place one in a state of sadness. If so, why isn’t a person happy? One will respond that he lacks a livelihood, or good health, or proper respect. This may be correct, but it is a very superficial attitude. The real reason one isn’t happy is that he wants things besides his existence. If one would need a reason to be happy, he could claim, “Why should I be happy? I’m lacking this and that! How could I be happy?” But if one’s very nature, by virtue of his creation, is to be happy, if he doesn’t make himself want things, he will naturally be happy! The ratzon is the beginning of the process of uprooting joy from a person’s soul. It’s not as it seems to be, that one lacks and therefore is sad. Rather, because one wants things, he feels a lack, and that lack removes his natural joy. Joy is natural, and if one will just take care to not destroy himself, he will be happy.

How does one avoid destroying himself? He must live in a world without desires. Superficially, such a person would seem lifeless. Doesn’t he want anything? What kind of a life is it when you don’t want anything? How is it possible? The true answer is as follows: If someone lives in a three-story villa, and he is given the opportunity to live in a suffocating underground warehouse with no windows – with the option that the air conditioner will be fixed – he would say, “Thank you, but leave me alone!” If told, “What a lifeless person! You are offered a nice apartment; why don’t you want it?” he would respond, “If I were a homeless person with only a bench on the street, your suggestion would in fact be charming, but why would I want a warehouse without a window in place of a three-story villa?”

If a person were asked, “Would you like us to throw stones at you?” he would say, “No!” Would they say, “You’re like dead; you have no desires; you should want people to throw stones”? The answer is clear: a person only wants something if he believes that he will be better off when he gets it than he is now. But if the current state is fine, one’s lack of desire does not come from inner lifelessness, but because he now has all he needs.

The problem is that we do not look at our lives as a state in which we have everything. The pasuk says, “I left my mother’s womb naked, and naked I shall return.” People think this is negative, because a person is born with nothing. But he’s not born with nothing! A person is born with everything! However, we and the world teach the soul that “you need this, you need that.” Gradually, the person is convinced that he needs and needs, and he lacks and lacks, so what was a happy person became a very needy person.

Shovavim – Repairing Our Thoughts

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Introduction To “Shovavim”

The holy sefarim[1] describe the days of “Shovavim” (Parshas Shemos through Parshas Mishpatim) as days of teshuvah (repentance), based on the possuk, “Return, wayward sons”, and that the main sin which we need to focus our teshuvah on during these days is to rectify the sin of keri (spilling human seed).

We need to know what the root of the spiritual light is that exists during this time, what exactly it means to damage the Bris, and how it is rectified.

In many places, the custom during these days is to recite Selichos (prayer supplications) and to perform various tikkunim (soul rectifications) for the public.

The ancient scholars who taught the inner parts of the Torah[2] established five ways to rectify the sin of spilling seed, and each of them are based on the five different causes that can lead a person to the sin. The five causes that bring about this sin are: 1) Thoughts, 2) Desire to gaze at another woman[3], 3) Desire for gay behavior[4], 4) Wasted spittle[5], 5) One who deliberately delays circumcision[6].

In these coming chapters (Shovavim #02, #03, #04, #05 and #06) we will not delve that in-depth into the esoteric concepts here; rather, we will see the homiletic statements of our Sages about these matters.

We will begin, with the help of Hashem, with the first path of rectification of the sin, which is to rectify the thoughts.

Rectifying The Thoughts: Returning To The “Beginning”

The power of thought is described as the “beginning point” of man. To illustrate the concept, the first thing Hashem did to create the world was that He thought about it. The beginning of a matter is always with thought, thus, thought is seen as the beginning point. Thought is the first kernel of wisdom that allows for the wisdom to become expanded further and further.

Since the purpose of Creation is to reveal the sovereignty of Hashem, “the end of action is first with thought”, therefore, the end of Creation, which will be the purpose, is somewhat reflected in the beginning point of Creation. So the concept of thought, which is the beginning point of Creation, is actually a reflection of the purpose of Creation.

Before the conception of the Jewish people, the Torah describes the 70 nations who descended from Esav. Although the Jewish people are called raishis, “the beginning,” they were still preceded by the 70 nations. What is the meaning of this? It is because the 70 nations of the world are a different kind of beginning. They are another kind of tool which brings about the revelation of Hashem. We see this from the fact that in the future, Hashem will first reveal Himself to all the nations, “And His Kingdom will reign over all jurisdictions”, and after that, the Jewish people will then become the tool that will reveal the purpose of Creation. The purpose of Creation is the revelation of Hashem’s Presence upon the world, and when His sovereignty will be revealed, that will be the tool that brings it about.

Thus, there are different tools which Hashem has set into motion that will reveal the purpose of Creation. Even the gentile nations of the world will be a key factor in the process; this is actually the deeper meaning behind why Esav’s head is buried with the Avos. It is a hint to the fact that the beginning of the nations is really good at its root. The nations of the world have a good beginning, because they will be the first stage in the revelation of Hashem upon the world; it is just that their end will not be lofty as their beginning was. Their dominion will come to an end, and that is why only Esav’s head is buried with the Avos, because only the “head” of Esav is worthy. The Jewish people, by contrast, have both a beginning and an end which will reveal Hashem upon the world.

When one’s thoughts are damaged through sinful thinking, that essentially means that the “beginning” point in a person is damaged. This has several aspects to it. One aspect of our thoughts is that our thoughts are meant to remain inside us; our thoughts are private, and they are supposed to be kept private. To illustrate, we don’t know what others are thinking; the reason for this is to show us that thoughts are supposed to be kept private. When thoughts do need to become revealed, they must be revealed in a proper way, because in essence, they are really meant to be kept private.

Thus, we have a two-fold avodah in protecting our power of thought: We need to keep them private, and in addition, when we do reveal them, they need to be revealed properly.

The Root of Damaging The Bris: Feeling Completely Independent

The root of a person’s downfall is when he thinks he is perfect. “Esav” is called so because he was asuy, already “made”, meaning, he was born “complete”; the inner meaning of this is that he thought he was complete, and that is the depth of his ruination. When a person thinks he is complete, he denies the fact that he needs others in order to be completed. Because he thinks he is perfect, he doesn’t feel a need to connect with others. This is really the depth behind damaging the Bris: when a person thinks that he does not need to receive from others. When a person is unmarried, he can understand well what it means to feel lacking; he knows that he needs to be completed by another.

Although we find that the Sage Ben Azai did not marry, because he desired learning Torah alone and didn’t feel the need to be completed by a woman, still, although he reasoned well, we know that his path is not meant for us to take, for the Sages recount that when he was shown Heavenly revelations as a result of his spiritual level, he could not survive the revelations, and he died out of shock.

After Adam sinned, before Kayin and Hevel were even conceived, it is brought in the holy sefarim[7] that droplets of keri left his body; and for the 130 years that he was separated from Chavah after the sin, demons were formed from those droplets. Why was he punished? It was because he blamed Chavah for the sin; “This woman you gave me, it is she who gave me from the tree that I ate.” When he said this, the deeper implication of this was that he was basically saying that he doesn’t need her, chas v’shalom, for he was declaring that woman is detrimental to man. So he thought he doesn’t need her to complete him, and that he is better off without her.

This leads us the way to how we can fix the sin of spilling seed. When one feels incomplete, and he is aware that he needs to receive from others in order to become complete, he has fixed the sin at its root. Perfection is not achieved by feeling perfect about yourself and not needing others; rather, it is achieved precisely when one realizes he is incomplete without another to help him reach perfection.

The Deeper Implication of Misusing The Thought Process

In the power of thought, there are three kinds of thoughts: Chochmah, Binah, and Daas. Chochmah is the knowledge that one learns from his teachers. Binah is to reflect on the words of the Chochmah and thereby expand upon them. Daas is to connect the information that the Chochmah imparts and the information that the Binah imparts, bringing them to their potential. Daas reflects the concept that Chochmah needs Binah in order to become complete.

Thus, when a person has sinful thoughts, he has misused his daas, because he thinks he doesn’t need others in order to be complete.

The external part of the rectification for the sin is to feel lacking without another, but the inner layer of the solution is for a person to realize that he needs to become a tool that reveals beginnings. Soon, we will explain what this means.

The truth is that the concept of damaging the Bris was already existent as soon as Chavah’s body was separated from Adam’s; this already reflected a kind of separation between man and woman, in which man thinks that he doesn’t need woman for completion. Once Adam became separated from her, the idea of damaging the Bris became possible. It was the idea that it is possible for husband to be complete without his wife.

When one damages his thoughts, it is not only that he has misused his mental powers of Chochmah, Binah and Daas. The thoughts are damaged even when one has extraneous thoughts – when he lets his thoughts turn outward to think about things that he doesn’t need to think about. Just like the eyes are supposed to be controlled and they should not be turned outward that much, so is there a concept that the thoughts of a person not turn outward.

Repenting Over The Shame Caused By Sin

According to the Kamarna Rebbe, the 50th Gate of Impurity, which is the lowest level, is the sin of heresy, and it is created through the sin of damaging the Bris. This shows us how the Bris is damaged – but it also shows us at the same time how it can be repaired.

We can ask: Why is spilling seed considered to be the lowest level of impurity? Why can’t it just be viewed like any other desire that a person has?

The deep reason is as follows. Before the sin, Adam and Chavah were unclothed, yet they were not ashamed in their nakedness. As soon as they sinned, they realized they were naked and they grew ashamed; this shows us that the entire concept of shame began after the sin. Before the sin, there was no concept of shame. Why? It is because shame is when a person is concerned of what others think about himself; what is a person is ashamed of? He is ashamed of how he appears outwardly to others. But he is not concerned of how he appears inwardly to others. Before the sin, Adam and Chavah were so pure that they were only concerned of how they looked internally, not outwardly. After the sin, they became concerned with externalities, therefore, they were ashamed of how they appear outwardly to others.

So the pure state of mankind is to be concerned with who really is deep down, and not to be concerned of how he appears outwardly to others. Thus, the way to repair the sin is by returning to the original state of Adam, in there was no shame yet; meaning, for a person to concerned about his internal state, to keep his thoughts private as they are meant to be, and not to reveal them outwardly, not to think into things that he shouldn’t think about.

Thus, it’s not enough for a person to simply be ashamed about damaging the Bris. Although shame over a sin normally atones for all sins, the sin of damaging the Bris requires a higher kind of teshuvah, and shame alone is not enough to rectify it, for it was the sin that brought about shame to the world; the sin requires more than just shame and repentance, then, to rectify. What really needs to be rectified is the very fact that we are ashamed! Because if not for the sin in the first place, we would never know what shame is.

Of course, this does not mean chas v’shalom that one should harden himself and not feel bad after he sins. It means that a person has to reach an inner place in himself in which he returns to the state of before the sin, in which there was no shame yet, because then, when man was entirely pure, he was not concerned of anything external or outward!

When a person’s thoughts think about things that he shouldn’t think about, he is turning his thoughts outward, and this can lead chas v’shalom to eventually damaging the Bris. Our avodah during Shovavim is to return to our source, that even our power of teshuvah should be returned to its source.

During the Ten Days of Repentance, we say in Selichos that “If one’s heart understands and he repents, he will be healed”, meaning, if one is ashamed because of his sins and he repents, his teshuvah is valid. However, the teshuvah we do during Shovavim is a different concept of teshuvah than the usual kind of teshuvah. Shovavim comes after the Ten Days of Repentance, because the sin of damaging the Bris needs its own rectification and thus it cannot be covered by repenting during the Ten Days of Repentance. It is because teshuvah alone does not rectify damaging the Bris [as the Zohar states].

But that doesn’t mean that a person shouldn’t feel ashamed about damaging the Bris. Of course a person should feel ashamed and do teshuvah about it! But it is just that after he does that, he should then do a deeper kind of teshuvah – he should do teshuvah over the very fact that he has shame as a result of the sin; he should do teshuvah over the fact that he allowed his thoughts to be turned outward, that he allowed himself to be involved with the external and left the inner world of his thoughts.

Of course, now that we live after the sin, our initial nature is to seek what’s outside of us. But our avodah is to return ourselves to the original state of mankind before the sin, and to describe this in deeper terms, it’s referring to the power of emunah. Emunah helps a person stay in his proper place, where he will never feel a desire to go outward from himself.

Thus, the first way to rectify the sin of damaging the Bris (spilling human seed) is through rectifying our thoughts, and this means to return our thoughts to their source – that we should keep our thoughts inward, and not let them roam outward.

Private (Intimate) Matters Should Be Kept Private

The Chida[8] and others write that if someone reveals secrets to others when he wasn’t supposed to, he will end up sinning with damaging the Bris. This is because he turned outwardly when he should have remained inward. A secret should only be revealed to one who is modest, because he will know how to protect the secret.

When a person lets his thoughts roam around to explore thoughts that are forbidden or extraneous, that is the first root of what leads to damaging the Bris. But it also includes not to speak about private matters with others.

“Matters of the heart are not revealed to the mouth”[9], meaning, inner and private matters should not be revealed outwardly by the mouth to others. When a Bris [the covenant of marriage between man and woman] remains private between them and it is not spoken about to others, it remains as a protected covenant, as long as it is not spoken about through the mouth [to others].

This is what it means to have Kedushas HaBris, to keep the holiness of the Bris Kodesh: to protect the private nature of the Bris [the covenant of marriage between husband and wife]. Holiness means to conduct one’s private affairs in a hidden manner, in a dark room, privately, and it should be kept hidden and protected – never spoken about with others.

This is the first rectification of repairing the Bris Kodesh. May Hashem help us be able to act upon it practically.[10]

[1] Arizal: shaar ruach hakodesh: tikkun 27; further discussed in Levush, Magen Avraham, Beer Heitiv, and Pri Megadim to Orach Chaim: 685

[2] Rav Chaim Vital in Shaar Ruach HaKodesh (Arizal), ibid.

[3] This will be discussed b’ezras Hashem in Shovavaim #005 – Repairing Lust

[4] See Shovavim #04, Shovavim Today

[5] Shovavim #003

[6] Shovavim #006

[7] Shaar HaPesukim, Yechezkel

[8] Avodas HaKodesh: Tziporen HaShamir: 7: 113

[9] Koheles Rabbah 12:1

[10] Editor’s Summary: In the beginning of the chapter, it was stated that we have a two-fold avodah in repairing our damaged thoughts. The first part is to protect our private thoughts; this includes two aspects, 1)Not to think about forbidden things, which is obvious; 2)Not to reveal our private matters to others. The second part of the rectification was that when we do need to reveal our thoughts to others, they must be revealed properly; now it has been explained at the end of the chapter to mean that matters of privacy should only be revealed to someone who is modest who won’t tell it to others.