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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.

The best way to start your day

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How do you begin your day? I’m not asking if you work out in the morning or go for a run; I’m asking you to consider the very first thing with which you begin your day, before your actual schedule begins. Do you begin with the latest news, turning on the TV or radio? Or do you quickly check your social media feeds to see how much has happened over night?

The way we start the day affects how the rest of the day plays out. (In fact, it begins even earlier - it begins the night before. The way we go to sleep affects our mindset when we wake up too).

And I’ll contend that starting the day with catching up on the latest news or emails is probably the worst way to begin the new day ahead. I will even be pretentious enough to suggest the very best way to start your day:

By washing your hands.

I don’t mean just washing your hands because they’re dirty, I mean to wash your hands in a ritual manner; three times on the right and three times on the left intermittently. Hear me out; you may not be religious, but that doesn’t have any impact on what I’m recommending.

This is about beginning your day right so that you can succeed at this project called life.

You’re probably wondering - how does this ritual-style hand washing have any affect on how my day goes? One of the reasons for this Mitzvah is related to how the Kohanim (the Priests) in the Temple used to prepare for their daily service; that’s right, they would wash their hands (and feet, but that’s not what we’re discussing).

When we begin our day by ritually washing our hands, we are associating our day's activity with the service in the Temple. And that is extremely significant in two ways:

1) It’s not uncommon for us to get caught up in our life and forget about the reason we’re here; our actual purpose of being. This leads us to prioritize things that are ultimately insignificant.

2) The other extreme: People could get frustrated with life, even depressed, upset at how things are working out; their relationships, work and family all suffer as they attempt to make sense of it all.

Beginning each day with Netilat Yadayim, ritually washing our hands and making the appropriate blessing, we acknowledge that our lives are important because we have a G-dly mission to fulfill. It helps us to distinguish between what is truly a priority and what is merely a fleeting experience. Because in G-d’s eyes our life is not just one of many billions of lives, it is the integral key to fulfilling the purpose of the entire creation.

How to provide effective feedback

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Have you ever been in a situation when it was necessary to provide someone else with feedback about their performance? Parents, spouses and employers all share this common denominator; they often have to provide their child, spouse or employees with much needed constructive feedback.

There is, however, a real challenge inherent in providing feedback: not everyone welcomes it. If the feedback is simply an encouraging pat on the back, that’s easy. But what if you have to give a little guidance and advice, a slight nudge in the right direction? However you slice it, giving advice will be perceived as criticism and most people respond negatively to criticism.

Allow me to share with you an insight from this week’s Torah portion that will provide some guidance on this. When describing the process of preparation that was needed for the oil used to light the Menorah in the daily Temple service, the Torah tells us that the olives should be “crushed for lighting,” (i.e. made into oil in order to light the Menorah).

The wording seems somewhat awkward and much has been written about it. To me it seems that in reality,  the verse is providing us with invaluable guidance.

There may be a time when it’s necessary to “crush” (i.e. criticize) someone. And although certainly warranted, it has to be with the intention “for lighting”: To strengthen them and assist them. Not just to beat them down.

How can we ensure that our well meant guidance and advice doesn’t get taken the wrong way? That’s dependent on our general interaction with the other person - do we continually provide positive feedback too? In fact, for our advice to even have a chance to be heard, we need to be sure that our feedback is heavily weighted on the positive side at a minimum ratio of 5:1 (or more).

When our focus is on the “lighting” i.e. building the other person up and encouraging them, then even when we provide constructive feedback it will be taken that way and effective. However, if all we do is “crush,” if all the other person hears from us is criticism - no matter how well intentioned - it will not have a positive effect. On the contrary, it will undermine the relationship.

Even “crushing” has to be for “lighting.” Ensure that the focus is on the positive and this will strengthen and deepen the relationship.

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