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by Dr. David YB Kaufmann a"h
Going in for a yearly physical has become a common routine for most adults. The check-up can detect potential problems before they become major, guide us in changing or altering our lifestyle, give us clues to what adjustments we should make in our diet and exercise regimen. Consulting with our doctors, we get a snapshot, so to speak, of our physical health - where we've been in the past year, where we're headed and what we need to do.
Spiritually, too, we should have an annual check-up. Instead of consulting with a doctor, though, we consult with a mashpia, a spiritual mentor (friend, rabbi, teacher) we turn to for advice, someone we trust to have our best interests at heart but who can also give us a realistic assessment.
And just as the physical exam tests several parts of our bodies, so too the "spiritual exam" should test several parts of our souls. In fact, we might even be able to find some parallels:
Reflexes: We've all been at the doctor and been banged on the knee with the reflex hammer. Without thinking about it or controlling it the leg would swing outward. A proper set of reflexes means our autonomic nervous system is in good working order: our instincts work.
There are situations where we simply have to react, where thinking takes too long - jumping out of the way, for instance, or pulling someone back.
We also have spiritual reflexes and these too need to be in good working order. There are times when our first response, our impulse, must reveal the essential nature of our Jewish soul. When we see someone in need or when our paycheck comes and we sit down to pay the bills, does the charity-impulse, a natural Jewish instinct, "kick in" automatically, or do we try to resist it?
Blood tests: The nurse draws a sample of blood and sends it off to the lab for testing. Is our cholesterol too high? Triglycerides? What about blood sugar?
Spiritually, blood represents the life, the enthusiasm, the purpose and vibrancy of a person. We can have spiritual high cholesterol - too much "fat" clogging the channels mitzva-observance, of attachment to G-dliness and Judaism. We can have spiritual blood sugar problems, being unable to properly digest the sweetness of life, to recognize the goodness within others and G-d's creation.
Internal organs: Open your mouth and say, "ahhh." The light in the ear and the eye. Cough. Pressing on the abdomen to feel the liver, etc. Jewish mysticism explains that the physical structure corresponds to a spiritual anatomy. Each organ parallels a Divine emanation, a human characteristic. For example, the right arm corresponds to chesed, the attribute of kindness, and the left arm to gevura, the attribute of discipline. Are our spiritual organs in balance? Do they function properly?
Blood pressure: A big one. What's our spiritual pulse?
Which brings us to the timing of the exam. While getting a check-up, physically or spiritually, is appropriate any time, the month of Elul, the month of preparation before Rosh Hashana, is particularly auspicious to take a spiritual accounting. This month, Elul, why not make an appointment with your self, and your mashpia, to give your soul its annual check-up?
This week's Torah portion, Shoftim, is always read close to the beginning of the month of Elul. Shoftim speaks of appointing judges, appointing a king and cities of refuge.
As there are no coincidences, we must ask: What lesson can we learn from the proximity of reading Shoftim to Elul?
Elul is the time to get closer to G-d. Not physically, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually. This is the present.
Shoftim means judges. Elul is the time to take an account of the past year. To judge yourself and see if you have used your abilities to the fullest to fulfill G-d's Will and your mission in this world. Knowing where you stand is a great motivator. This is dealing with the past.
"Appoint a king over yourself." Accepting G-d as your King will move you to want to do His will, strengthening your commitment to Him. This is dealing with the future.
The month of Elul is a "sanctuary city" in time. The idea of a sanctuary city is a place to go for atonement. It's an open opportunity to get closer to G-d as His arms are open to forgive us.
G-d, our King, is in the field. He is smiling and He grants good to us all. All we need to do is go out and meet him. This is a great opportunity, don't waste it.
On a personal level. Many of us are in relationships that just seem to be on auto pilot. We don't even realize that our significant other is hurt by this. We think all is fine.
If you think everything is fine then you need to follow the next steps.
Ask yourself: When was the last time you sat together and talked a about what is important? Take an account of your relationship. This is dealing with the past.
Recognize the other in the relationship. Ask. What are his/her needs? If you can't figure out on your own, ask him/her to tell you or to write it down. Strengthen your commitment to each other. This is dealing with the future.
Finally, don't be afraid to go down this road, because bettering your relationship is something you both want. Your significant other will be more than glad to work with you to better your relationship.
Just imagine coming to the synagogue this Rosh Hashana, knowing that you are one with G-d and one with the important people in your life! What a way to start the year.
Adapted by Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz from the teachings of the Rebbe, yitzihurwitz.blogspot.com. Rabbi Hurwitz, who is battling ALS, and his wife Dina, are emissaries of the Rebbe in Temecula, Ca.
by Eliana Amundson
We make hundreds of decisions each day, ranging from small ones like "What should I eat for lunch?" to bigger concerns such as "Where am I going in my life?"
Should I answer that phone call? Linger a little longer in bed? Add extra mayo to my sandwich? Many of the daily decisions we make don't matter much, but some will have lasting impacts on our lives.
"Do I really have time today to hang out with my friend?" "Is my financial state ok right now?" "Am I ready to make that big of a commitment?"
Playing like a record in the back seat of our psyche is the cacophony of definitive decisions, featuring "Is this the right path in life?" "Why do I do that destructive behavior?" "What is my purpose?" or "Should I really marry her?"
So we call upon friends, get advice, and tap into our resources to "talk out" our ideas and express our thought processes. We listen to motivational podcasts, read self-help books, re-post inspirational quotes overlaid on pretty backgrounds, and look towards pillars of wisdom in search of a guiding light that will point us in the right direction. (Sometimes we go so far as to beg G-d to just show us a sign; which way is the right way?)
And after all of this, at the end of the day, the only thing we are left with is confusion.
Somebody asked me once, "If you could summarize everything you have experienced in life into one lesson, what would it be?" And before she was even done asking the question, I knew the answer.
I said to her, "What if I told you that every time you try to make a decision in life, you already know the answer?"
Well this can't possibly be the case, because why then, would I sit here, incessantly considering my options, making myself crazy as I try, genuinely and sincerely, to make the best choice that I can?
It's because we don't listen to the voice inside of us.
We have an ever present voice inside that always knows the right decision to make. Even if we don't consciously realize it, we know what the right decision is from the start. But then our mind tells us one thing, our heart tells us another, and our intuition gets buried underneath it all. That little voice lies at the perfect balance between the three; never changing, never moving, but always muted by our doubts, discomfort and fears.
But if we shut off all of the noise, turn down the mental static, and tune into ourselves, we will hear a little whisper coming up saying, "This. This is what you need to do."
It's hard to imagine life without the mental ping-pong, but at the end of the day, we always know what is right for us. The proof is that after we make a big mistake, we kick ourselves because to begin with, we knew that it wasn't the right decision to make.
So my answer to her was simple, "With everything that I do in life, I strive to always listen to that voice inside of me."
My inner voice led me, after graduating from university, to leave the work-force and study full-time in seminary at Machon L'Yahadus.
I was able to live my dream life of spending every day taking a good, hard look at what matters most in life, and obsessively analyzing (with minds galaxies beyond mine), the different pieces in the large puzzle of what it means to be alive.
Day after day I studied, discussed, argued about philosophy, Jewish mysticism, law, ethics, Torah studies, communication, language skills, positive psychology, education, relationship development, inter and intra personal skills, and so much more.
Night after night I was with friends, passionately and enthusiastically reviewing, examining, debating, crying over, and ultimately understanding what is true.
My inner voice led me to days so exhilaratingly exhausting, that the only thing left fueling me was caffeine and the insatiable desire to learn more.
I spent two years with 27 other incredible women in a mansion in Brooklyn. And I'm leaving with a suitcase full of memories so precious, that pictures and stories are merely a fraction of the true joy.
One of those pictures is to the left, graduating with a two-year certificate in Advanced Jewish Studies from Machon L'Yahadus, one of the best and most intense Jewish woman's higher education institutions in the world.
My inner voice has led me to a life of proudly displaying my trophy case of successes and mistakes, right next to my nearly empty cabinet of regrets.
It is what lead to the picture at left; the culmination of what it looks like to live a dream come true.
We were put into this world to truly live life. It's the hardest thing that we will ever do - and it's the one we get zero instruction for, with absolutely no definitive guarantees or reliable outcomes.
But it isn't hopeless and we aren't set up for failure - because we were given an inner voice.
So our job is to start hearing our voice - because then, we can truly start listening to it.
I would like to thank everyone who has made this journey possible. Without you, I wouldn't be able to hear myself at all.
Ms. Amundson, a native of Los Angeles, graduated from Cal State University Northridge and then interned in Washington DC. Ms. Amundson attended Machon L'Yahadus, completing a two year degree while working in marketing for Bais Chana Women International.
To find out more about Machon L'Yahadus visit womensyeshiva.org
The 5th annual CTeen Leadership Retreat recently took place in Pennsylvania welcoming teens from around the world for a motivational and uplifting weekend. This year's retreat was the first to include teen leaders from the UK, South Africa, and Australia. Teens participated in a conversation about the BDS movement, as well as a suicide prevention training workshop, a mental health workshop, a "Shark Tank" competition and spirited "farbrengens."
Fifteen hundred Jewish students and young professionals in South America gathered for an epic Shabbat meal - dubbed Shabat 1,500. This year's event included young Jewish professionals from Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, were in attendance. The event was organized by the student center "El Lazo - Juventud judía" and took place in the prestigious convention center La Rural in Buenos Aires, Argentina. A week before the event tickets were sold out and there was a waiting list of over 200!
18 of Kislev 5719 (1958)
You write the highlights of your past life and conclude that you feel depressed thinking of your past conduct which was not in compliance with the Torah and mitzvoth [commandments], etc.
No doubt it is unnecessary for me to enlarge upon the matter of teshuvah [repentance] which is one of the fundamental principles of our Torah, the "Torah of Life," a precept which we have to observe daily, as we say in our daily prayers, "Return us, G-d, to You," and "Forgive us, our Father."
I suggest that you study the Iggeres HaTeshuvah by the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad chasidism], where it is explained at some length what teshuvah is and how everyone can attain it, provided there is a will and determination.
Sincere teshuvah is always accepted, for G-d is truly good and forgiving. It will then become clearer to you that a feeling of depression and anxiety is not helpful to true teshuva, but rather on the contrary, for sincere teshuva is followed by a feeling of happiness and closeness to G-d, and sincere determination to observe the Torah and mitzvoth and serve G-d with joy and gladness of heart.
Turning to your second question as to your immediate future, you write that you are working for your stepfather, who is religious.
From this I gather that your work will not interfere with your determination to live in accordance with Torah and mitzvoth,
Considering also your age, I think that you should energetically try to find a suitable shidduch [match], a person who would fully agree to build with you a truly Jewish home, based on the foundation of Torah and mitzvoth, and, when you find a suitable person and reach a mutual agreement, it is not advisable to postpone the wedding date for any length of time.
Thus, in my opinion, you should continue with your present job, but at the same time have regular study periods every day and on Shabbos devoting additional time to the study of the Torah....
Erev Shavuot, 5716 
In reply to your (undated) letter, you should bear in mind the following points:
There can be no question but that teshuvah is effective in every case and whatever the transgression, for teshuvah is one of G-d's commandments, and G-d does not require of us the impossible.
G-d does not require of us the impossible.
It is likewise certain that any kind of depression, despondency or sadness, is a trick of the Yetzer Hora [evil inclination] to discourage one from serving G-d, as is explained at length in the books of Mussar, and in the books of Chassidus; and you would do well to refer to Tanya, ch. 26 and further.
Even where one has relapsed in committing the same transgression for which one has done teshuvah, and, moreover, even while doing teshuvah one is not certain whether he could resist the temptation should it recur, this must in no way prevent him from studying the Torah and observing its mitzvoth, included among which is also the mitzvah of teshuvah, for every action of man has its repercussions both down here below and Above, and you surely know the saying of our Sages: "No transgression extinguishes a mitzvah," (even though it extinguishes the reward of a mitzvah). I refer you again to Iggeres Hateshuvah (part III of the Tanya), ch. 11.
I advise you from now on to stop weighing and dwelling on things which are of no practical value, and especially the kind of thought that only leads to despondency, but concentrate ever growing efforts on Torah and mitzvoth...
DAN means "judge." Dan was one of Jacob's sons from his wife Bilha - the fifth of twelve (Genesis 30:6). Dan is not a diminutive form of Daniel.
DINA is from the Hebrew meaning "judgment." Dina was the daughter of Jacob and Leah (Genesis 30:21). When she was captured by Shechem, her brothers Shimon and Levi destroyed the entire city to get her back.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
During the month of Elul that we currently in, there is a custom to sound the shofar each morning. The call of the shofar is intended to wake us up, reminding us to return to G-d and to prepare for the upcoming Days of Awe.
There are a number of historic moments throughout Jewish history when the shofar was blown. The first of these was at Mount Sinai. There, the Torah was given in the presence of an intense, constantly increasing, shofar blast.
Another renowned shofar blowing mentioned in our prayers is that of the "Great Shofar," which will be blown upon the arrival of Moshiach.
What is the connection between these two events?
The Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai was an experience that pulled people out of their previous state of existence. The G-dly revelation was so intense that "their souls flew out of their bodies"; they were taken out of their worldly boundaries and elevated to a much higher plane.
The Era of Moshiach will precipitate a similar restructuring of our lives, causing us to break out of the limitations of this physical world and reach to a higher level of existence. The prerequisite for this transformation is the desire to change, which must be present now, even before Moshiach has arrived.
This is a common thread joining the revelation at Mount Sinai with the days of Moshiach - the element of change and the improvement of the world at large. The shofar, central to both events, inspires one to abandon one's previous level in order to reach higher levels.
Even today, the shofar has a similar effect. We can and must achieve an inner change.
The time for change is now, even before the Rosh Hashana begins. May we hear, this year, the sounding of the Great Shofar in the rebuilt Holy Temple in Jerusalem with Moshiach, NOW!
Torah is greater than priesthood or royalty. For royalty is acquired [together] with 30 tendencies, and the priesthood with 24, but for one to acquire Torah, he must have the following 48 tendencies.... 10) close association with colleagues, (Ethics 6:6)
Close association with colleagues, sharp discussion with students - Appreciating another person's perspective broadens and deepens one's own. It follows that the more colleagues and students with whom one associates, the greater the positive influence on one's growth.
(Likutei Sichot, Vol. XXIV, p. 98)
Rabbi Shimon ben Yehudah said in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai: "Beauty, strength, wealth, honor, wisdom, old age, the grace of white hair, and children are pleasing for the righteous and pleasing for the world, (Ethics 6:8)
Old age, the grace of white hair - In Hebrew, the terms "zikna" is translated as "old age," and"sayva," rendered as "the grace of white hair," are not synonymous.is associated with the Hebrew words "zeh sh'kana chachma," which mean "he who acquired wisdom." This refers to knowledge gained from texts and teachers. Sayvarefers to the serene, tranquil perspective granted only by the many experiences undergone in a long life.
(Sichot Kodesh Bamidbar, 5740)
All that the Holy One, blessed be He, created in His world, He created solely for His glory, as it is stated: "All that is called by My Name - indeed, it is for My glory that I have created it, formed it, and made it;" and it says: "The Lrd shall reign forever and ever." (Ethics 6:11)
"The Lrd shall reign forever and ever" - This phrase refers to the Era of the Redemption. This is the ultimate goal of our pious conduct, to usher in the era in which G-d's glory will be revealed in the most consummate manner.
(Sichot Kodesh Pinchas, 5744)
From In the Paths of Our Fathers, sie.org
The young man stood in the middle of the teeming thoroughfare contemplating the scene. His life in the city was exciting - how could he ever have lived in the town of Berdichev? Ha! Why now, he was a man of the world-nothing was barred to him. He turned right and continued down the tree-lined street, heading for his favorite cafe. Here, he could be with people of his own intelligence and wit. How good it was not to be living in that little village steeped as it was in ancient Jewish rituals.
As so, his days and nights passed in political discussions and drinking. In the morning he would frequent the usual cafe and peruse the morning newspaper, looking for some articles of interest with which he could regale his companions. By afternoon he would stroll the ever-fascinating streets, and by evening, he would again head for the cafe where he and his friends would meet and compare lofty, intellectual concepts.
The mitzvot (commandments) so carefully taught him by his parents never surfaced in his mind, so enthralled was he with the sights and sounds of the big city. Many, if not most of his new acquaintances were also Jewish, and had also managed to "escape" the narrow confines of towns and villages like Berdichev. They had also forsaken the teachings of their parents, grandparents and countless generations of ancestors who had clung against all odds to the same Torah.
One morning, as he lay in bed planning his day's activities, he was startled by his landlady's knock at the door. What could she want? he thought, as he clambered out of bed and into a dressing gown. She looked uneasy as she stood there holding a telegram in her outstretched hand.
"From home," she said. As he took it, the young man felt queasy. His parents would never send a telegram if there was no desperate need. The words confirmed his worst fears. Through the blur of his tears he read again and again the words, "Father has passed away. Come home. Mamma."
He sunk down in his chair. "Father is gone," he whispered. Within the hour he was on his way home to Berdichev.
The funeral passed and the seven days of shiva were over, yet he lingered on with his widowed mother, enveloped in his own gray bereavement. The month of Elul had arrived and the holiday feeling was almost palpable. He wasn't sure why, but for some reason, he derived comfort from the familiar sights and sounds of his old home town.
The young man walked aimlessly through Berdichev, lost in thought, when suddenly he felt a hand on his shoulder. It was the Rebbe, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, who was known for the great love he had for his fellow Jews.
"You know, young man, I am really very envious of you," remarked Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, smiling. The young man was unsure of what was coming next. He waited for the punch line. Reb Levi Yitzchak continued, "During these days of repentance, every Jew has the opportunity, by truly returning to G-d, to turn his sins into merits."
The young man laughed. "Well, if that's the case, you'll be even more jealous next year. For then I'll have a whole new pile of sins to work on!"
"Let me tell you a story," said Rabbi Levi Yitzchak. "Once a landlord was travelling through his property and a terrible rainstorm came up. He stopped at an inn which he rented out, hoping to find respite from the elements. But, when he brought his horses into the stables the rain cascaded in torrents through the holes in the roof. "Well," he thought, "at least in the inn I'll be able to dry out." But when he entered the inn, the situation was not much better. Puddles like small lakes dotted the floor and a raw dampness pervaded the room.
"The angry landlord approached the innkeeper and said, 'When I rented this inn to you it was in excellent condition. How have you allowed it to deteriorate this way!?'"
"'Your Excellency,' stammered the embarrassed innkeeper, 'I knew you would stop in some time, but I didn't think it would be so soon.'"
With that, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak turned and walked away, but his little story had planted a seed in the young man's mind.
A few days after Rosh Hashana had passed, the young man fell ill. The illness worsened and many specialists were called in, but no cure could be found. Within weeks, it seemed apparent to the young man that his end was quickly approaching. He recalled the rabbi's story and was consumed by regret at how he had wasted his precious life which was ebbing away.
He sent a messenger to Reb Levi Yitzchak begging him to come to his bedside and guide him back to the right path, for his Jewish soul pulled at him and gave him no rest. Reb Levi Yitzchak came at once. He sat at the young man's bedside day after day instructing and encouraging him until he achieved a true and complete repentance.
The Talmud lists a number of signs for the approaching Redemption, and concludes that the most manifest sign is when "You, mountains of Israel, you shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit..." (Ezekiel 36:8). When our conduct will reflect the trees of the field, that blossom and cause a chain-reaction of self-perpetuating fruits of Torah and mitzvot (commandments) in oneself and others, we can be sure of the imminent coming of Moshiach. This applies especially to the study and application of the teachings of the deeper, inner dimension of the Torah which is referred to as the "Tree of Life."
(From Living with Moshiach by J. Immanuel Schochet)