Beyond BT

Spiritual Growth for Jews

The 60 Second Guide to Rosh Hashanah

Posted on | September 22, 2014 | By Mark Frankel | Comments Off

The foundation of Judaism is that all existence is dependent on G-d who created, supervises and influences both the spiritual and physical realms of the universe.

In addition G-d created man who was given the tools and instructions to perfect and unify the physical world and connect it back to its G-dly source.

Every year, on the anniversary of the creation of man, G-d evaluates our progress in our mission both individually and collectively and judges what resources and events are necessary to help bring the world closer to its perfection.

Although the judgment is partially based on our past year’s performance, a major determinant is our commitment for the upcoming year.

To what degree are we committed to helping others and increasing our spiritual capabilities and to what degree will we succumb to the always present pull of ego-centricity and self-centered materialism.

The Shofar which was present at the giving of the Torah and will be sounded when we have succeeded in our mission, gives tribute today to the King of Kings. The observance of the mitzvah of Shofar testifies that we are still committed to G-d’s plan and enables the spiritual judicial system to dismiss our mistakes for mitigating circumstances.

May we all increase our spiritual commitments and thereby merit to be inscribed and sealed for a good year the Rosh Hashanah.

MP3s: Shabbos Project 2014; Securing a Favorable Judgement; Arba Minim; Malchius; Inspiration

Posted on | September 22, 2014 | By Mark Frankel | Comments Off

Rabbi Welcher on Grabbing the Inspiration can be downloaded here.

Rabbi Welcher on Malchius And The Tefilos Of Rosh_Hoshana can be downloaded here.

Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein, Chief Rabbi of South Africa on the Shabbos Project at YIKGH on Sept 28th can be downloaded here.

Rabbi Moshe Schwerd on “Securing a Favorable Judgment with a Checkered Past” can be downloaded here.

Rabbi Yair Sandler on Purchasing the Arba Minim – mp3 here.

Beyond the Heads and Tails of the Sabbatical Year

Posted on | September 19, 2014 | By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz | 6 Comments

Is the flip side of Rosh Hashanah the old year, meaning the outgoing year or, is the flip side of Rosh Hashanah the year’s tail, meaning the end of the upcoming year?

At the end of every seven year cycle, at an appointed time of the Year of Letting-Go, on the festival of Sukkos. When all of Israel comes to appear before HaShem your Elokim in the place that he shall choose, you must read this Torah before all of Israel so that it is heard by their ears.  You must assemble the Nation; men, women, children and converts who dwell within your gates and let them hear it …

Devarim 31:10-12

When they are a third grown by the end of the seventh year [then] produce and olives that ripen in the eighth year {i.e. the first year of the new seven-year cycle} have the halachic status of produce and olives of the Sabbatical “Year of Letting-Go ”] What is the source this rule? — Rabi Assi said in the name of Rabi Yochanan (some trace it back to the name of Rabi Yohsee the Galilean): The pasuk states: “At the end of every seven year cycle, at an appointed time of the year of Letting-Go, on the festival of Sukkos..” Why should the [seventh] year of Letting-Go to be mentioned here? When the festival of Sukkos is celebrated [coming as it does after Rosh Hashanah] it is already the eighth year? It is into teach us that if produce has grown one third in the seventh year before New Year, the rules of the seventh year are to be applied to it even in the eighth year.

— Rosh Hashanah 12B

The heavens are HaShem’s heavens; but He gave the earth to the children of Adam

— Tehillim 115:16

 Whatever HaShem wills He has done, in heaven and in earth, in the oceans and in all the depths.

— Tehillim 135:6

 A Pruning Song of David.  The earth and it’s fullness [belongs] to HaShem; the world, and its inhabitants.

— Tehillim 24:1/daily psalm of Sunday

 

Rabi Akiva would say … All is foreseen, yet freedom of choice is granted. 

— Pirkei Avos 3:15

Rosh Hashanah is often mistranslated as “the New Year” and while it is the moed-festival that comprises the first days of a new calendar year the more precise translation is “Year’s Head.” The difference may seem inconsequential and hair-splitting at first glance but takes on greater significance when considering the obverse. Is the flip side of Rosh Hashanah the old year, meaning the outgoing year or, is the flip side of Rosh Hashanah the year’s tail, meaning the end of the upcoming year?

While this quandary is of primarily semantical interest every year, it is of particular interest when contemplating the impending year, 5775, the seventh year of the seven year cycle endowed with sabbatical and debt absolving properties. Per the halachah the cessation of agricultural activities indicative of the shevi’is-sabbatical; nature of the year begins when the year does; whereas the absolution of debts, reflecting the shemitah-“Letting-Go”; nature of the year begins when the year ends (Rambam: Laws of Release and Jubilee years 4:9). The Izhbitzer adds an insight into the essence of this extraordinary year that expands the years parameters beyond its “tail” terminus and that should have us thinking about it differently beginning from its “head.”

Man perpetually oscillates between G-d-reliance and self-reliance. The reality is that Divine Providence and Omnipotence is absolute and all encompassing as Rabi Akiva taught “All is foreseen.” Nevertheless the mysterious, Divinely granted autonomy of human beings; “yet freedom of choice is granted” seems to carve out a space for human self-reliance and self-determination and echoes the formulation of David the king that “The heavens are HaShem’s heavens; but He gave the earth to the children of Adam” i.e. that man was granted limited autonomy in terms of making moral and ethical choices, selections and refining in serving G-d.

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Shul Teshuva; Lean Startup; App Atonement

Posted on | September 18, 2014 | By Guest Contributor | Comments Off

Shul Teshuva

Lean Startup

App Atonement

On Which Day of Rosh Hashana Will You Be Judged?

Posted on | September 17, 2014 | By Guest Contributor | Comments Off

Rabbi Noson Weisz has a great article on the judgment of Rosh Hoshanah based on the writings of Rabbi Dessler in his work Michtav Mieliyahu.

On the first day of Rosh Hashana God only considers the cases of the people who are sincerely committed to developing themselves spiritually. It is they who offer Him investment opportunities, because it is they who require the renewal of His Kingdom. After carefully assessing the seriousness and feasibility of the proposals that are submitted, He determines the inputs that each individual whose case is being deliberated requires to actualize his ideas in the coming year, and weaves all these individual requirements into a common tapestry and recreates a world that will correspond exactly with the combined requirements.


The cases of all the people who did not pass muster on the first day are judged on the second. After God maps out the dimensions of His new Kingdom on the first day based on the requirements of those who were judged worthy of investment, on the second day He considers all the lives that need to be renewed to make His new Kingdom function.

Even if we focus only on religious requirements the new world requires a large population. The people for whom the world was recreated on the first day need synagogues in which to pray; this means that you will need a quorum of people to be written in the Book of Life even if there is only a single member who passed muster on the first day. They will need Talmudic academies in which to study; a functioning academy must have a large student body, teachers, administrators, maintenance people etc.; hundreds of people can be written into the Book of Life in the merit of the few students who actually require the academy for their spiritual growth. First day people require Kosher food to eat; thousands of people can be written into the Book of Life to make sure that there is a functioning food industry. If you think about it there are literally millions of functions that must be filled in order to keep the spiritual world functioning.

Please go and read the whole article.

The Homework for Rosh Hoshanah

Posted on | September 16, 2014 | By Mark Frankel | Comments Off

It’s no coincidence that Rosh Hoshanah and the school year start at the same time. Both have the excitement of starting something new. The excitement of a clean slate. The excitement of potential. However, there is one scenario we want to avoid.

“Did everybody do the homework?”

“What homework? Today’s the first day!”

“The summer homework.”

“We had summer homework? I didn’t know that.”

“Everybody knows about the summer homework.”

“Mine must of went into the Spam folder.”

“I’m sorry. The homework was for your benefit. Everybody knew about it. You’ll have to try to compensate.”

The Avodah of Rosh Hoshanah is davening. According to many, the Shofar itself is a form of Tefillah, which is why we blow it during Mussaf. But most of us reading this know Judaism’s little secret – “Davening with kavanna is difficult”. That’s why we need to do our summer homework. And it’s not too late.

That’s why I tell my kids that they should work on saying the first Brocha of Shomoneh Esrai with kavanna during Elul. That’s the summer homework. There’s no excuses. We know it’s Elul. We know that Rosh Hoshanah has lots of davening. If we don’t prepare a little bit, we can’t blame the Spam folder.

If we do our homework for Rosh Hoshanah, we may only get a B-, but at least we can show the Master Teacher that we’re making a sincere effort.

The Selichot Experience In The Eyes Of A Ba’al Teshuvah

Posted on | September 15, 2014 | By Guest Contributor | 21 Comments

By Cosmic X from Jerusalem

I believe that the first time that I said selichot I was at 770 Eastern Parkway on a Saturday night with “the Rebbe”. Someone gave me the selichot booklet with old yellowed pages. I could not follow what was going on. At the end the Chasidim started singing something, I think it was some of the Aramaic that we say at the end of the selichot. I understood nothing, and I couldn’t even hum along with them since I did not know the tune. I had this embarrassed kind of feeling that one gets when you are the only one in the room that does not know what is going on. But this wasn’t a normal room. This was 770, with hundreds of black-frocked Chasidim singing and dancing while poor Cosmic X stared confused. (That weird, embarrassed and confused feeling was my lot quite often during the first year of Teshuvah.)

The rest of the selichot that year were not any better. It meant waking up earlier than usual to pray in the local synagogue. These guys had been saying the selichot since they were little kids, and they knew how to finish them off with blinding speed. (I’m not sure how many of them understood what they were saying.) All this was of course was a prelude to the Shacharit Indianapolis 500, which would be over in 25-30 minutes.

Later on when I moved to Israel my Hebrew vocabulary expanded, and my understanding of the selichot improved accordingly. The more I learned Torah, the more I understood what the authors of the Piyutim were alluding to. The composers of the selichot were great rabbis, who knew how to weave their incredible knowledge of Torah, Talmud, Midrashim and the Hebrew language into amazingly creative poetry. I also purchased an excellent book a few years ago that explains all of the selichot in depth, and I’ve really come to appreciate them. They are a true delicacy!

The bottom line of this post is that you get out of the selichot what you put into them. Take the time to learn the selichot, and find a minyan that prays at a speed that you feel comfortable with. If you are a beginner, don’t get discouraged. Selichot can and should be a meaningful experience.

Originally posted here.

The Cry of the Decaying Kernel

Posted on | September 11, 2014 | By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz | 5 Comments

Why does Mikra Bikurim-the declaration accompanying the bringing of the first fruits/produce begin with a review of the Egyptian exile and exodus? In particular, why is there an emphasis on the population explosion during the Egyptian exile? Why do these pesukim-verses; serve as the opening of the maggid section of Pesach evening Haggadah-telling? Is there a common denominator between the two?

And then you shall respond and say before HaShem your Elokim: “my patriarch was a wandering Aramean. He descended into Egypt with a small number of men and lived there as an émigré; yet it was there that he became a great, powerful, and heavily populated nation.

Devarim 26:5

 … This was to teach you that it is not by bread alone that the human lives, but by all that comes out of HaShem’s mouth.

Devarim 8:3

According to the Jewish mystical tradition all of creation is divided into four tiers domem –silent (inert); tzomeach-sprouting (botanic life); chai-animate (animal life); medaber-speech-endowed life (human beings). Each tier of creation ascends to higher tiers through an upwardly mobile food-chain by nourishing, and thus being incorporated into, the level directly above it until, ultimately, it is assimilated into the human being, the creature that can face and serve the Creator. Minerals nourish plants and are absorbed through the roots buried in the soil and through photosynthesis. Plants are eaten by herbivorous animals providing nutrients for the animals’ sustenance and growth. Animals are ingested by carnivorous humans supplying the calories, vitamins and minerals human beings need to live and flourish.

This upwardly mobile food-chain has a spiritual dimension as well.

Man is more than highly developed biological machine that expires when enough of the moving parts wear down.  Man is endowed with a cheilek elokai mima’al-a spark of the Divine; and it is the union of soul and body that defines human life. Superficially the external symptoms of death may appear to be too many of the moving parts breaking down; in truth human death occurs as a result of the dissolution of the marriage between body and soul. This begs the question: If there is a spiritual element inherent in human beings what is it that nourishes the soul?  Eating food is often described as “keeping body and soul together” but how is this accomplished?

The Rebbe Reb Chaim Chernovitzer cites a teaching of the Arizal in response. Our sages teach us that even the smallest blade of  grass here below has a guardian angel on High that “bangs it on the head and exhorts it to grow”(Bereishis Rabbah 10:6). In other words, even the lowest tiers of creation have a spiritual element that animates them, lending them existence, form and substance.  In the case of grass, being a plant, a tzomeach-that which sprouts and grows; the grass’ “soul” demands growth. Presumably for animals the soul would demand and promote movement and vitality and for soil and all inert creatures the soul would demand and promote silence and stillness. Such that all food substances are also composed of both a body and a soul, albeit inferior to the human body and soul both physically and spiritually. The manifest, visible food is the “body” of the food, while the sacred emanation from on High exhorting it “to be” and not revert to nonexistence lending it form and substance is the foods “soul”.  When absorbed or ingested the physical element of the food nourishes the consumer’s material component while the “soul” of the food, i.e. its spiritual element, nourishes the consumer’s spiritual dimension.

This is the meaning of the pasuk “that it is not by bread alone that the human lives, but by all that comes out of HaShem’s mouth.” The motza pi HaShem-that which emanates from HaShems mouth; refers to the Divine Will that this thing/ foodstuff exist. It is the motza pi HaShem lending tzurah-form; and spirituality that is indispensable for human beings to live, not the corporeal, apparent bread alone.

 

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Connection Before Correction; 5 Potentially Life Changing Habit Findings; Elul

Posted on | September 11, 2014 | By Administrator | Comments Off

Connection Before Correction

5 Findings on Habits That Can Change Your Life

Elul

Jewish Spiritual Exceptionalism

Posted on | September 9, 2014 | By Mark Frankel | 6 Comments

When it comes to social media, they say that Facebook is for the people you used to know, Linked In is for the people you currently know, and Twitter is for the people you want to know. Facebook has served the “used to know” function for me and I have reconnected to many whom I grew up with in my old neighborhood.

One of the people I’ve reconnected with. and shared a number of restaurant meals. is a close friend from elementary school. He’s an extremely intelligent, well read, AP History teacher. He describes his political leanings as Scandinavian Socialist, which he says would classify him as a left-wing loony in this country. In any case, when we get together we discuss all the hot topics and I find our meetings enjoyable, informative, and challenging.

At a recent dinner we were discussing, American Exceptionalism, the theory that the United States is qualitatively different from other nations. Wikipedia has a good write up on American Exceptionalism which you might want to skim. My friend said that he has no problem with American Exceptionalism in theory, but that the role is often misused for unfair political or economic gain.

The conversation turned to Judaism and our “chosen” status. He asked why couldn’t Judaism just be one of many possible spiritual paths. I told him that Judaism has no problem recognizing the validity of other spiritual paths. However, we believe that with the Torah G-d granted the Jews a spiritual exceptionalism, with the giving of the Torah, and when we live up to our spiritual mission as described in the Torah, we will be recognized as a nation of spiritual leaders. I defined spirituality as developing a connection and awareness to G-d, the creator and master of the universe.

In addition to the Torah sources, I told him I believed in Jewish Spiritual Exceptionalism because I have met a number of Torah Observant people who are highly developed spiritually. I also pointed out that it’s logical that Judaism’s focus on G-d, through the learning of Torah and observance of Mitzvos in every sphere of life, would lead to the development of spiritually exceptional people.

The non-observant people I have communicated with online and off believe in a spiritual dimension. In fact, my friend above lamented the fact that he had not developed his spiritual side. Our Torah observance provides us with the potential to be spiritually execeptional as individuals and as a nation. We ally need to collectively and continually work on improving our connection to G-d through the improvement of our learning of Torah and observance of mitzvos.

At its root, Torah observance is not about happiness, it’s not about intellectualism, it’s not about a connected community, it’s not about a healthy lifestyle. Fundamentally, Torah observance is the means by which we create our connection to G-d and fulfill our spiritually exceptional role. Perhaps this is what we need to embrace and share with others.

10 Points from “Is the Door Closing on Kiruv?” in the Latest Mishpacha

Posted on | September 8, 2014 | By Administrator | 13 Comments

The latest issue of Mishpacha had an article titled: “Is the Door Closing on Kiruv”. Pere are some points from the article

1. A recent Klal Perspectives’ article claims that half as many young Americans became BTs as compared to ten years ago.

2. A Kiruv activist estimates that the American Kiruv budget is $30 million, eight times the amount in 2000.

3. The intermarriage rate among non-Orthodox is 71.5 percent.

4. Intermarriage makes is difficult to identify halachic Jews.

5. The ‘searcher for answers’ in no more.

6. Anti-Israel sentiment on campus makes involvement appeals based on pride in the Jewish state difficult.

7. Attachment to cell phones has made it difficult for people to become distraction-free at Shabbatons.

8. Spending time in yeshiva is rare because people are hesitant to put their career on hold.

9. The increasing attention that donors pay towards kiruv numbers has pushed some people out of kiruv.

10. Lack of post Teshuva support have hurt those who have taken steps towards observance.

The Chesed Behind Amen; Feminists Finding Frumkeit; High Holiday Teaching Resources

Posted on | September 4, 2014 | By Administrator | Comments Off

The Chesed Behind Answering Amen

The First—and Last—Time I Wore Tefillin

High Holidays Teaching and Learning Resources

Strike the First Blow and the Fix is In

Posted on | September 4, 2014 | By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz | 2 Comments

Why is the war mentioned at the beginning of Ki Seitzei offensive while the one mentioned in Behaaloscha defensive?
Why is victory guaranteed in the war mentioned at the beginning of Ki Seitzei ?

 And when war will come in your land against the tormenter that puts pressure on you, you shall sound a staccato on the trumpets. Then HaShem your Elokim will remember you and will save you from your adversaries.

BeMidbar 10:9

When you set out to wage war against your adversaries HaShem your Elokim will give you victory over them such that you will capture [his] prisoners.

Devarim 21:10                                                                                                                         

In the day of good be absorbed of good, and in the day of evil observe; for Elokim has made one parallel the other.

Koheles 7:14

And the two of them were naked, the Adam and his wife, but they felt no shame.

Bereshis 2:25

 Prior to the sin they were purely good and they related to “the face below” as they did [and still do] to “the face above” [i.e. as there is no shame in eating, hearing, smelling or seeing or in the organs that are the channels of these senses so too there was no shame in reproduction or the organs of reproduction]. For the component of evil that became incorporated in human beings is what differentiates between the two “faces”.  It is in the lower portion of the human gestalt where evil acquired an abode. By way of proof observe: The sign of the holy covenant is surrounded by a husk, the foreskin, which HaShem commanded to excise for it is there that shidah rested [see Yeshayahu 34:14].

— Ohr HaChaim ibid

There are several marked differences between the two pesukim-verses; describing the wars of the Bnei Yisrael- the Nation of Israel.  The pasuk in BeMidbar describes a defensive war, a war that “will come” to you while the pasuk at the beginning of our sidrah-weekly Torah reading; speaks of an offensive, aggressive war: “When you set out to wage war”.  While rescue and living to fight another day is promised in the former pasuk, victory over the opponent is guaranteed only in the latter pasuk.

When weighing the decision of whether or not to wage war there are a myriad of factors that require consideration. The first among them is if the projected war or fight is winnable. No individual, nation, tribe or even terrorist entity launches a fight or a war that they know that they can’t win.  While combatants may be prepared to lose many rounds or battles and to clash for years and even decades; no one sets out to lose the war.

That said few war decision-makers are 100% certain of their ultimate victory. Military history is replete with many “David vs. Goliath” upset victories. Hubris, megalomania, underestimation of the enemy, bad intelligence, poor diplomacy and a host of other uncontrollable factors may delude combatants into thinking that their victory is assured. Still, most rational military men understand that it takes more than valor or superior technology and manpower to win a war.  They understand that they must remain ever vigilant, persistent and brave because; “it ain’t over till it’s over”.

This is what makes the opening of our sidrah so odd. The prophecies of war should have been stated conditionally; “When you set out to wage war against your adversaries IF HaShem your Elokim will give you victory over them and if you will capture [his] prisoners.” In point of historical fact the Bnei Yisrael were not victorious in every war nor did they always capture prisoners. Why then does the pasuk guarantee victory?

Understanding that all of the wars of Bnei Yisrael are not merely physical and geopolitical but metaphysical and spiritual and that, when applied to the microcosm of individual Jews, they translate into milchemes hayeitzer-the war against our inclinations to evil;  Rav Leibeleh Eiger explains the distinctiveness of the war described at the beginning of our sidrah allegorically.

Imagine a great warrior king whose crown prince is his only son. While the king wants the prince to achieve the glory and honor that only military victory can accord, he is unwilling to actually risk his only, irreplaceable son’s battlefield defeat and death. And so the king, aware of the tactics, strategy and covert intelligence reports, waits until “the fix is in” and does not dispatch the crown prince to wage a war until and unless he, the king, knows that victory is not only probable — but a foregone conclusion. Military observers, combatants and reporters following the war may imagine it to be a closely contested competition — but the king knows better.

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The Shofar of Elul

Posted on | September 3, 2014 | By Administrator | Comments Off

The Judaism editors of Wikipedia do a fantastic job as evidenced by this excerpt in the entry on Elul:

During the month of Elul, there are a number of special rituals leading up to the High Holy Days. It is customary to blow the shofar every morning (except on Shabbat) from Rosh Hodesh Elul (the first day of the month) until the day before Rosh Hashanah. The blasts are meant to awaken one’s spirits and inspire him to begin the soul searching which will prepare him for the High Holy Days. As part of this preparation, Elul is the time to begin the sometimes-difficult process of granting and asking for forgiveness.[1] It is also customary to recite Psalm 27 every day from Rosh Hodesh Elul through Hoshanah Rabbah on Sukkot (in Tishrei).

We’ve been hearing the Shofar for about a week now and I’m sure many readers of Beyond BT have begun preparing for Rosh Hashanah by trying to take little steps of improvement.

Rabbi Welcher recently gave a shiur on the topic of “The Shofar of Elul”, where he discussed the minhagim and some practical ideas to take advantage of this powerful period in the Jewish calender. The shiur on the Shofar of Elul can be downloaded here.

Lifecycle Events: The Bris

Posted on | September 2, 2014 | By Guest Contributor | 47 Comments

One’s first Bris of a child can be a difficult event for the BT. There are many details to take care and it’s a very hectic time. Perhaps the Beyond BT community can share their insights into the following questions.

1) How do you select a Mohel and when should you call him?
2) Should you invite people to the Bris?
3) What are the considerations in choosing a Sandek? How about the other honors at the Bris?
4) What are the potential trouble spots when choosing a name?
5) Should you give both a Hebrew and and English name?

A lot of helpful comments in this post from the archives.

Will Modern Orthodoxy Survive?

Posted on | September 1, 2014 | By Guest Contributor | 2 Comments

Dr. Alan Brill has a brilliant analysis of the question:
Will Modern Orthodoxy Survive?

Here’s an excerpt:

Modern Orthodoxy is both terminable and interminable. All constructions of modern Orthodoxy are culturally situated and ever bound to a specific time. Even a single version consists of many trends, sub-movements, and cultural shifts.

All varieties of modern Orthodoxies have commonalities based on ideology, people, institutions, and texts, yet they are all terminable in that the resources, concerns, needs, and connections to other movements are all tied to a specific era. In our modern age, these constructions change regularly and rapidly, not that there is any specific need to respond to change, to assume any agency to change, or even to accept the changes.

One can personally continue to argue for a given ideology, but often one finds that it is hard to hold back time. There will no longer be a mass migration of near-illiterate peasant Russian Jews, nor will there likely be a need again for a response to the high modernism of Kant, Freud, or Existentialism; however, the need for articulate ideologies will remain an interminable need for religious communities.

Modernism and mid-20th century modern Orthodoxy may be gone, but, we can see that each era with their own ideology offers the needed construction for its community.

Free TorahAnytime App Launched; Wanted: A New Mussar Movement; I Love My Seat

Posted on | August 28, 2014 | By Administrator | 1 Comment

Free TorahAnytime App Launched.

Wanted: A New Mussar Movement

I love my seat.

Elul: The Rambam on the Message of the Shofar

Posted on | August 27, 2014 | By Administrator | Comments Off

The Rambam writes in Hilchot Teshuva 3:4:

“Although Shofar blowing on Rosh Hashana is a divine decree, there is a hidden message of the Shofar. The message is for those who are spiritually asleep to awaken, carefully examine their behavior, perform Teshuva, and remember our Creator. Those who forget the truth in the course of daily routines and devote all of their time to temporal matters that have no lasting impact, should ponder their souls, improve their actions and thoughts. Everyone should abandon his evil actions and thoughts.”

The Rambam is writing about Rosh Hashana, but I don’t think he would object to us using the Shofar blowings of Elul as a wake up call.

The Practical Spiritual Growth Project

Posted on | August 26, 2014 | By Administrator | 1 Comment

Introduction
The goal of mitzvos is to develop a deeper connection to Hashem.
If we perform mitzvos and say brachos with more Kavanna, they will have a bigger impact on our connection to Hashem.

Good places to start are with mitzvos and brachos that we perform every day. Here are four daily mitzvos/brachos:
1. Birchos HaMitzvot like Birchos HaTorah, Netilas Yedayim, Tzitzis or Tefillin
2. Birchos Hanehenin before food or drink
3. The first posuk of Shema
4. The start of Shomoneh Esrai

Process
When doing the above mitzvos, try to do them with the Kavanna described below.
After doing this for a few weeks, see whether you feel more connected to Hashem.

1. Say one Birchos HaMitzvot with Kavanna before Birchos HaTorah, Netilas Yedayim, Tzitzis or Tefillin. Have in mind:
a) Hashem is the One who commanded this mitzvah
b) You are the one who was commanded
c) With this act that you are about to perform you are fulfilling this command

Simple explanation of Birchos HaMitzvot
Baruch Atah Hashem – Hashem, the Master of all (who always was, is, and will be), is the Ultimate Source of all blessing
Elokeinu Melech HaOlam – Hashem is the source of all powers in this world, and He is the Ultimate Authority of the World
Asher Kid’shanu B’mitzvosav – Hashem separated, elevated and sanctified us by obligating us with His commandments
V’tzivanu Al – And He particularly commanded us with the mitzvos I am about to perform regarding…

2. Say one Birchos HaNehenin, before food or drink with Kavanna. Have in mind:
a) Hashem is the creator of what you are about to eat
b) You are thankful to Him for creating and providing this food for you

Simple explanation of sample Birchos HaNehenin
Baruch Atah Hashem – Hashem, the Master of all (who always was, is, and will be), is the Ultimate Source of all blessing
Elokeinu Melech HaOlam – Hashem is the source of all powers in this world, and He is the Ultimate Authority of the World
Shehakol Nihyah Bidvaro – everything was created through His word and power

3. Say the first pasuk of Shema in the morning or evening with Kavanna. Have in mind:
a) You are going to perform the Mitzvos of reciting the Shema
b) You are going to perform the Mitzvos of accepting Hashem as the Ultimate Authority over you
c) Think about the first 2 commandments of “I am Hashem your G-d,” and “You shall have no other gods.”

Simple explanation of the first pasuk of Shema:
Sh’ma Yisrael – listen, hear and understand, individual Jews and the Jewish People
Hashem – Master of all (who always was, is, and will be), upon Wwhom all existence is dependent
Elokeinu – Is the source of all powers and the Ultimate Authority of the world
Hashem – Master of all, guides the world to its ultimate purpose
Echad – Everything comes from Hashem, and some day this will be recognized by all and we will reach our ultimate purpose

4. Start one Shomoneh Esrai with Kavanna. Have in mind:
a) You are standing before Hashem and are about to begin your prayer to Him
b) Hashem is the Source and Authority over everything in the world
c) You are small in comparison to Hashem

Track your progress in the following chart
Enter the number of times you did that mitzvah/brocha on that day with Kavanna
_________________________Day 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
1. Say Birchos HaMitzvot with Kavanna
2. Say Birchos Hanehenin with Kavanna
3. Say Shema with Kavanna
4. Start Shomoneh Esrai with Kavanna

Practical spiritual growth is possible if we just follow the prescription that the Torah provides.

The Season of the Spiritual Growth Mindset

Posted on | August 25, 2014 | By Administrator | Comments Off

The secular world has recently “discovered” the growth mindset:

Mindset is a simple idea discovered by world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck in decades of research on achievement and success—a simple idea that makes all the difference. In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.

The growth mindset is fundamental to a Torah Observant Jew. Every BT and FFB will tell you, that where you are headed in terms of growth, is much more important than where you came from.

One advantage we have in Jewish Spiritual Growth is that the calendar orients us towards times with increased opportunities. Shabbos provides more potential than week days. Yom Tovim provide additional growth opportunities. And the Yomin Noraim provide the greatest opportunities. In Judaism the 40 days from Rosh Chodesh Elul to Yom Kippur is the definitive spiritual growth season.

But as we know, growth takes effort, and Hashem made us a bit lazy, so we are advised to use the entire Elul runway as we approach Rosh Hoshana, the Ten Days of Teshuva, and Yom Kippur.

In the Practical Guide to Teshuva, Rabbi S. Wagschal writes that the process of teshuvah may be successfully achieved if it is performed in a gradual manner. He suggests that we should begin with improving things we are already doing, like tefillah and brachos.

Tomorrow we will provide some practical ways to leverage the enhanced spiritual growth mindset which we have in these days of Elul.

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