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Rabbi Yossi's Blog

Welcome to Rabbi Yossi's Blog; where you can expect to find thoughts on current events, Torah learning and Jewish spirituality. And of course, some good Jewish humor.

Remember to Forget

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It could happen that we forget to remember something (listen, it happens to the best of us!); today I’m encouraging you to remember to forget something. Actually, more than one thing:

Remember to forget greed and you will have a more content life.

Remember to forget anger and you will have a more peaceful life.

Remember to forget pride and you will have a more forgiving life.

Isn't it depressing? When we stop to think about it, there are so many negative traits that weigh us down. We could be working all our life to refine our character and rid ourselves of negative traits.

We can spend all our life digging in the dirt; working to clean ourselves of the dirt accumulated by negative traits. But is that how we want to live our lives?

This is why I’m suggesting, don’t dig in the dirt; don’t work to rid yourself of any possible negative traits – just forget them.

You see, there are two ways we can deal with a negative trait – we can dig in the dirt and grapple with it, understand the negative trait and work to slowly refine our character.

Or we could focus on light; we can work on strengthening our positive traits. The Chassidic method of character refinement is one of light – focusing on strengthening the positive and adding in light, and the darkness will then melt away.

Adding in Torah study, especially the deeper dimensions of the Torah, is an excellent method of adding light. Beginning each day with 10 minutes (or more) of Torah study raises one to a higher plane and infuses the day with light.

The best part of it is that modern technology enables us to incorporate Torah study in our lives with such ease. Our website, www.jewishfolsom.org, is an excellent resource with hundreds of thousands of pages worth of excellent content to study – there’s the Daily Dose of Wisdom and the weekly Torah Portion; there’s audio classes and video classes and so much more!

Neighbors

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Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Neighbors - those strangers who live next door - they have the best of both worlds; they get to hear both sides of any argument.

Neighbors are important, they can even have an impact on the lifestyle that you choose and the choices that you make. We try to fit in, so we do what our neighbors are doing. That’s why it’s so important to choose the right neighborhood.

When mentioning the camping arrangements of the Jewish people in the desert back in the day, the Torah alludes to the influence of neighbors. Why did a few members of the tribe of Reuben join a rebellion led by members of the tribe of Levi? After all, their untenable grievance was only relevant to Levites!

So why did the Reubenites join the rebellion? Due to the influence of their neighbors!

Take a moment to think: Do the people in your life - actual neighbors or not - help you feel positive about yourself and what you’re doing? Do the people in your life encourage you and build you up? If the people around you make you feel down or pull you in ways that make you uncomfortable, perhaps it’s time to find new “neighbors”?

Surrounding yourself with the right type of “neighbors” is so important; it creates the context in which you build your life. If the context is positive and supportive, your life can truly thrive. If your “neighbors” (i.e. friends, relatives, co workers etc) provide negative energy - get new neighbors! (And don’t forget to be a good “neighbor” yourself.)

The environment in which we live has a tremendous effect on our life, therefore it is so important to ensure that it is a positive one. Jewishly too. Although we may not live in the most “Jewish” area, we can create that environment in our home. Celebrate Shabbat by lighting the Shabbat candles. Begin building a Torah library by buying and studying Torah texts, demonstrating to your family - by example - the high importance that you place on connecting Jewishly.

You will certainly be a good neighbor!

 

Healthy Humility

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Some people are humble and modest – and with good reason.

Others, though, are humble and modest but in reality, they have a lot to share. Humility is an important quality but it shouldn’t be something that holds us back from contributing. As with almost everything in life, a healthy balance is the key.

On the other side are people who lack humility. They’re the type of people who are difficult to be around. While they may achieve great success professionally, they often will cause resentment in the process.

The first step to Torah study is humility, which is personified by Moshe – the most humble person. Yes, he knew he was great leader; he knew that he had accomplished great things, but he was fully cognizant of the fact that it was due to the special powers and abilities vested in him by G-d.

An important next step is to be like Joshua, the dedicated and completely committed student of Moshe. Humility and dedication are key to Torah study. One can’t truly accomplish success in Torah study without these two qualities.

This is a great beginning, but there is more. There is an integral next step; one must “acquire” the Torah knowledge. It can’t remain unquestioned and blindly accepted; one must fully understand the Torah teachings, in their own words and in a way that relates to them.

Torah study, with these prerequisites, will surely infuse the student with an added measure of spiritual consciousness. You might think that this is enough – we’ve become more spiritual, that’s the goal, isn’t it?

The truth is that spiritual accomplishment alone is not the ultimate goal. All that we’ve outlined is good, and by following these steps one will acquire great Torah knowledge, but there is another important step that makes it all real: the Torah that one learns must have an effect on their life and their surroundings. It’s not two separate worlds that do not overlap; the Torah and the world that we inhabit are intertwined and very much connected.

The measurement of our success in Torah study is how much it positively affects our life and the world around us. Healthy humility is when we not only accept new ideas, but we also have what it takes to implement change in our life based on those ideas.

Optimistic Options

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Comedian Steven Wright recommends borrowing money from pessimists -- they don't expect it back.  A pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.

Nowadays we’re conditioned to think that there are different types of people, some more optimistic by nature and others more pessimistic. We know that it’s better to be optimistic, but we shrug our shoulders and say “I’m just a pessimist.”

There are many cliches and witty sayings about optimism but there’s a lot more to it. Optimists are more successful and have better relationships; optimists are even likely to live longer! It sure is worthwhile to be optimistic! And after all, excessive worry won’t make things better anyway, and will only serve to distract you.

But is it possible to become an optimist if by nature you are not? The answer is, it certainly is! But as with any accomplishment of significance, it requires consistent effort and discipline.

A key to being optimistic is being able to identify something good in every situation, even the most difficult. If you’d like to become an optimist, do this: every time something seemingly negative happens to you, consciously make an effort to notice and acknowledge something good in that very situtation. (Stuck with a flat on the side of the road? At least it was during the daytime and other cars can see you!)

The Lubavitcher Rebbe encouraged us to be optimistic, not only with regards to our personal experiences, but also with regard to the world at large. He taught (based on Torah lessons) that this world is intrinsically good, the bad that we see is only temporary and external.

This attitude gives us a sense of optimism and encouragement - even when the world seems to be going crazy. A positive and optimistic sense of this world allows us to dare think that one day this world will actually be different. Perhaps, after all, the world we leave for our children will truly be a better one! Such an attitude encourages us to do something good to reveal the inherent goodness of this world, instead of giving up. So go ahead and do something good - reveal the goodness that is within this world, it's the first step to becoming an optimist!

5 Facts About Israel's History That You May Not Have Known

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1. The Jewish claim to the land dates back over 4000 years

The Jewish claim to the land began much earlier than 1897 (the year of the First Zionist Congress). As described in the Torah (what we call the Bible), G-d created the world and chose the Jewish people as His chosen nation and gave them the land as an eternal inheritance. This was first promised by G-d to our forefather Abraham, and then again to his son, Isaac, and later to his son Jacob. (Actually, the area promised to our forefathers, and later described in the Torah, is much larger than the Israel we know of today).

2. The Jewish people first settled in Israel over 3000 years ago

In the year 1273 BCE, under the leadership of Joshua, the Jewish people entered Israel, then called the Land of Canaan. Their first seven years in the land they waged war and defeated the 31 kings living there, and conquered their territory; the following seven years the land was divided among the 12 tribes and a portion of land was allocated to each tribe. The Jewish people lived in the land and controlled it for over 800 years, until the destruction of the first Temple in the year 422 BCE.

3. It’s called “Israel” but maybe it should have been called “Judah”

Jacob, our forefather, was given a second name, Israel, when he defeated the angel of his brother Esau. Since then, his descendants were called the “Children of Israel.” When they entered the land, it eventually became known as the “Land of Israel.” The first record of it being referred to in such a way is in the book of Samuel (1 Samuel 13:19).

In a way, it would make more sense for it be named “Judah.” You see, after King Solomon’s death, the land was split into two Jewish kingdoms; the Northern Kingdom was called the Kingdom of Israel, while the Southern Kingdom (where the Temple was situated) was called the Kingdom of Judah.

Eventually, the Northern Kingdom was defeated by the Assyrian Empire and the Jewish people living there were exiled to other countries, never to be heard of again. (They’re known as the Ten Lost Tribes.) The Southern Kingdom was miraculously saved and spared a similar fate. The Kingdom of Judah remained, and it would seem that the name “Judah” could have stuck.

4. Israel is called the Holy Land; but there are also “Holy Cities”

Jerusalem is the city that King David founded and chose to be the location of the Holy Temple. Hebron is the burial site of the patriarchs and matriarchs and was first purchased by our forefather Abraham. Safed is a mystical city in the north of Israel, a city that was the source for much of Jewish mysticism. Tiberias was an important center of Torah learning and was the city where the Sanhedrin (the rabbinical equivalent of the Supreme Court) last convened, and the place that it will return. Many great sages are buried there and we’re told that the revelation of Moshiach will begin there.

5. The Western Wall is not actually a wall of the Holy Temple

The wall we call today the Western Wall was never a part of the Holy Temple itself; it was part of the Temple Mount retaining wall. In the 1st century BCE, Herod the Great undertook a massive renovation project; to restore and beautify the then-dilapidated Second Temple. His project was so ambitious, that it even called for expanding the Temple Mount itself, hence the retaining wall.

When the Romans destroyed the Temple in 69 CE, this wall was not destroyed. And nearly two thousand years later, the wall still stands. It is a symbol of the resilience of the Jewish people, and the closest (readily accessible) spot to the location of the Holy Temple.

Overcoming Obstacles

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Image Credit: Free Range Stock

You may be surprised to learn that Chabad is actually a movement that began over 200 years ago. The leaders of the movement in each generation, called Rebbe or Grand Rabbi, were extremely inspirational rabbis with great foresight; their writings are still studied all over the world today.

In the mid 19th century, the Rebbe of Lubavitch (synonymous with Chabad - and you thought Chabad was hard to pronounce!) was called the Rebbe Maharash, an acronym for his Hebrew name Rabbi Shmuel. Although suffering from various ailments all his life (and eventually passing away at a young age), the Rebbe Maharash had a profound impact on the Jewish world. His birthday is today, the second of Iyar on the Jewish calendar.

One of his most famous sayings was (known in Yiddish as “lechatchilah ariber”): “The world says: If you can't go under [an obstacle], leap over; I say: In the first place, go over!”

What do YOU think it means to “In the first place, go over?"

Too often we get carried away with the obstacles that we face (and we all have them in our lives), we get bogged down, we start to doubt if it’s all worth it. Now, even if we eventually overcome the challenge, we’ve been weakened and we’ve lost some steam.

When we face obstacles with the mindset of “lechatchilah ariber, in the first place go over,” that means we are focusing less on the obstacle and more on the end goal. When we focus on where we are heading, and not on the obstacle in front of us, we are more likely to successfully overcome the challenge. And perhaps more importantly, when we do overcome the challenge, we are stronger and not weakened; we are ahead and not losing steam.

Amazing how a slight shift in perspective can make such a difference! Try approaching your challenges with this mindset and you will experience the difference that it makes!

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