Category Archives: Scripture

How to Improve Your Character a Step at a Time

Passover is upon us so this coming Sabbath the Torah reading is drawn from Parshas Ki Sisa, which I wrote about the end of February.

How to Improve Your Character a Step at a Time

During the time the Temple in Jerusalem stood, on the second day of Passover the Omer, an offering of barley, was brought after which the new crop of grain could be eaten. Today, we commemorate the Omer through a practice known as Sefiras HaOmer, Counting the Omer. It lasts for forty-nine days. A period of semi-mourning, during this time 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students died due to their lack of unity. The day after the count ends is Shavuos, the anniversary of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.

In the course of this seven-week period five events take place: Yom Hashoah, a remembrance day for the Holocaust; Yom HaZikaron, the Memorial Day for those who gave their lives in defense of the State of Israel; Yom HaAtzmut, Israeli Independence Day; Lag BaOmer, a break in the semi-mourning observed during the Counting; and Yom Yerushalayim, the anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem.

Counting the Omer is a very powerful tool for self-renewal. Each week has as its theme a character trait on which we work. The first week is dedicated to Chesed, loving-kindness. For the seven days of the week, we work on attributes of this quality. The first day is pure loving-kindness. The second day is loving-kindness balanced by Gevurah, justice and discipline. The third is loving-kindness enhanced by Tiferes, harmony and compassion. The fourth is Netzach, endurance in loving-kindness. Day five is Hod, humility in loving-kindness. Day six is Yesod, bonding through loving-kindness. And the seventh day is loving-kindness in Malchus, sovereignty and leadership. Succeeding weeks follow this pattern.

We should be very intentional about practicing each trait each day of the count. To help I have created a worksheet so you can see the characteristic on which you should work. Each day fill in the task you did so you can keep track of your progress. Please click here to get the worksheet: CountingOmer

We can make the world a better place by improving ourselves. But expecting our characters to develop without purposely changing our behavior only leads to frustration. Counting the Omer gives us the opportunity to elevate our spirits while having a positive impact on those around us. Indeed is this not that for which Our Creator yearns?

Question – When you decide you want to change your behavior what steps do you take to do so?

You can leave a comment on this question or ask another question below

You Listen, You Stay Healthy

“You will surely become weary, also you, also this people that is with you.” (Shemos/Exodus 18:18)

Jethro meets Moses in the wilderness and expresses his concern that constantly teaching and judging the Children of Israel is too exhausting.

This coming Sabbath we read Parshas Yisro. In it Moses is reunited with his father-in-law Yisro/Jethro, a Mindianite priest who heard about the wonders G-d performed for the Children of Israel. Jethro recommends a leadership plan to Moses that he implements.

The Children of Israel arrive at Mount Sinai where they voluntarily accept the Torah. Then they prepare themselves to receive the Ten Commandments. Our sages bring several opinions as to what they heard. Rashi and the Rambam explain that every Jew heard all Ten Commandments in one instant but could not comprehend them. So G-d repeated them and after the first two they were so overawed they begged Moses to intercede and then teach them the other eight.

Perhaps in your mind’s ear you can hear the proverbial Yiddishe mama worrying about her boy’s health, but a Yiddishe father-in-law?

Moses was very idealistic, with seemingly limitless compassion for his people. Great as he was, it took an outsider to perceive that he needed to share his burden so as not to burn out. Seems to be an obvious lesson, yet how often have you found your life out of balance because you were so focused on your goal? Did your spouse, child, or a friend try to get you to broaden your perspective? Did you listen?

Many times while I was deployed sailors whose job performance was not up to par came to see me. Frequently they justified their substandard work by listing the many people: family, friends, and coworkers, whom they were helping. My response never varied: “How does it help them if you lose your job? No more money for financial assistance to be sure, but worse, you would become a burden.”

Selflessness is admirable. But it cannot come at the cost of your physical, mental, or spiritual wellbeing. Comes Jethro to remind you to be open to the message of a loved one to guard your health.

Question – Is self-sacrifice noble? Please leave a comment below.

Don’t Let Your Weaknesses Make You Feel Inferior

“And Moses said to the people, do not fear, stand and see the salvation of G-d that He will do for you today.” (Shemos/Exodus 14:13)

When the Children of Israel thought they were trapped between the Reed Sea and the Egyptian army they panicked, complaining that Moses brought them out of Egypt to die in the wilderness. Just days before they witnessed the miraculous Exodus. How could they have lost faith so quickly?

This coming Sabbath we read Parshas Beshalach. In it the Children of Israel leave Egypt only to have Pharaoh once again change his mind and chase them. G-d splits the Reed (usually incorrectly translated as the Red) Sea and the Children of Israel walk between two walls of water on dry land while the Egyptians are drowned. They sing the Song of the Sea thanking G-d for their deliverance.

On their journey to the Promised Land, the Israelites complain they are hungry and thirsty and are given Manna from heaven and water from a rock.

After making the same mistake for the umpteenth time, too often I find myself lapsing into despair. The defeats weigh heavily on my spiritual fitness. So in a small way I can appreciate how the Children of Israel must have felt. Following centuries of being slaves, is it surprising that they did not prepare to defend themselves against their former masters? Though they vastly outnumbered them, as the Ibn Ezra notes, from their youth the Israelites bore the yoke of Egypt’s oppression. Such feelings of inferiority prevented them from fighting.

Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz commented that the same principle applies to everyone. If you view yourself as inferior or feel excessive guilt, you will be unable to combat your yetzer hara (evil inclination). Lacking faith in your ability to prevail over your oppressor, at the slightest negative impulse you will get completely discouraged.

Your task then is to view the elevated aspects of your character. Focus on your strengths, internalize knowledge of your assets, and your resolve to triumph over your weaknesses will be unshakable. You will succeed because you see yourself as a good, worthwhile person.

Question – How can you focus on your strengths but avoid becoming or being perceived as conceited? Please leave a comment below.

How to Stop Sabotaging Yourself

“And came Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh and said to him: so said G-d, G-d of the Hebrews, until when will you refuse to be humbled before Me?” (Shemos/Exodus 10:3)

Seven plagues befell Egypt yet Pharaoh refused to let the Children of Israel go. Why?

This coming Sabbath we read Parshas Bo. It continues from Parshas Va’eira with the final three plagues that eventually led to Pharaoh telling the Jewish people to get out of Egypt.

The Children of Israel are told Nissan will be the first month of the year. The commandment of the Passover Offering, the Pesach, is given. The time for the Exodus arrives and the conditions under which the Children of Israel left are described. The parsha ends with G-d giving the mitzvahs of consecrating first-born animals, redeeming a first-born son, and tefilin.

I do not know about you, but when everything starts going wrong in my life: back injury, bronchitis, dropping and breaking my computer, and a car accident, eventually I ask the question: What is G-d trying to tell me? So it seems inconceivable that after blood, frogs, lice, hoards of wild beasts, pestilence, boils, and hail that Pharaoh remained stubborn. Rabeinu Bachya, commenting on this idea, notes that G-d wants a person to submit his will to His will and this takes humility. Pharaoh was an extremely arrogant person and refused to humble himself, thereby causing his own downfall.

Many people suffer for their arrogance. Minor affronts loom so large for such people they retaliate. For the person who has internalized humility, such things are like water on a duck’s back, they roll off unnoticed. One who is arrogant insists on winning every disagreement and rarely if ever apologizes for giving offense. The humble person asks forgiveness even for an unintended slight or wrong. Who has the better quality of life?

Recently I read Alan Axelrod’s biography on General George Patton. Much of what I know about Patton comes from the eponymous 1970 movie. Axelrod relates an incident when Patton was a young 2nd Lieutenant during which he used the word damn to curse a soldier who had not done a job properly. Shortly thereafter, thinking the better of it, he gathered all of the people who might have heard the curse and apologized to the soldier. He voluntarily, publicly, and evidently sincerely apologized for the infamous slapping incidents. A profound believer in G-d, Patton worked all his life to restrain his arrogance. This was the first of many instances through which he won the respect and fealty of his men.

When you allow your arrogance to gain the upper hand, any perceived retention of righteousness is more than offset by the injustices almost inevitably committed.

Question – What techniques do you suggest for curbing arrogance? Please leave a comment below.

The Key Step to Commitment: Make It Spiritual

I did not intend to take a three-week hiatus but my health chose otherwise. On the mend now, I am back to exercising, and soon my poor bashed in car will be repaired too. There is no time like the present to get back to work on spiritual fitness.

“And did Moses and Aaron like that commanded them G-d, so they did” (Shemos/Exodus 7:6)

G-d sent Moses and Aaron to be his emissaries to Pharaoh for freeing the Children of Israel.

This coming Sabbath we read Parshas Va’eira. It begins with G-d reassuring Moses that the covenant made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would be fulfilled. Nonetheless, twice Moses tries to get G-d to release him from leading the Jewish people then he commits. The rest of the parshah describes the first seven plagues that G-d wrought on Egypt in pursuit of the redemption of the Children of Israel.

Rabbi Yosef Karo wrote the seminal text of Jewish law, the Shulchan Aruch, in the 16th century. This great sage comments that at the point the above verse appears in the Torah, Moses and Aaron had not done anything. Rather, we learn that they had sincerely accepted upon themselves the obligation to follow G-d’s command. So wholeheartedly had they done so that the Torah considered it as if they had actually completed their mission.

Whatever it is that you want to accomplish, the first step is too commit to doing the task or goal. Your resolution should be so deep that you feel joy in anticipation of bringing it to fruition. At that point you are pledged both mentally and spiritually. Once you are spiritually committed, the physical challenges can be overcome.

Question - What steps do you take to make your commitments spiritual?

Get More Ideas Like These for Firing Up Your Life and a FREE Bonus!

Use:

  • The wisdom of Scripture
  • Battle-tested ideas from the military
  • Profitable business concepts

to design a better life for you and your family!

Plus, you'll get a FREE bonus, my 49 Day Challenge to Refine Your Character!