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Category Archives: Aish.com Articles

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Analyzing Purim’s Main Characters

March 9, 2014
Daily Dose Of Emuna
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There’s an Esther, Haman and Mordechai in all of us.

Analyzing_Purims

Original article published on Aish.com

By delving into the main characters of the Purim story, we can discover some hidden attributes that are still embedded into our psyche, projecting positive and negative influence on our actions.

Haman, the evil antagonist of the Purim story, was steeped in wealth and power. He experienced material bliss to the highest degree and used his money to buy his way up to the highest ranks in the palace of King Achashverosh. He was second in command and in charge of the royal servants. Nonetheless he was still not satisfied with life as the Book of Esther writes, “Yet all this means nothing to me as long as I see that Jew Mordechai sitting at the King’s gate and refusing to bow down to me.” It means nothing… This is the voice of the ingrate, discontent with life and drowning in a pool of self-entitlement with lack of appreciation for life’s gifts.

The Haman in us comes out when we are dissatisfied with what life serves us, chasing after our cravings to no end.

The Haman in us comes out when we are dissatisfied with what life serves us, wanting more and continuously chasing after our cravings to no end. We sense the undertone of Haman’s displeasure in life at the beginning of the Torah when God asks Adam after he has eaten from the Tree of Knowledge, HaMin ha’etz hazeh (from this tree (you ate)?” Hinted in this question God essentially is asking Adam if Haman was behind his defiant behavior; and he was.

Adam had at his disposal every tree in the garden, yet he still ate from the one tree that was forbidden to him. Why? The voice of Haman caused Adam to desire and focus on that which he didn’t have, not on all that he did have. The voice of Haman whispers to us ‘that is not enough, there is so much more out there.’ How to rid ourselves of our Haman? Invite him for dinner and then hang him! Meaning, get to know your Haman, recognize his tactics, prepare for the battle and then defeat him on his own turf.

Esther did exactly that. She submerged herself in contemplative prayer and enjoined the nation to invoke Divine mercy. Esther is derived from the root word hester (concealment). We each have hidden within us the ability to go against the temptations that are presented before us and fight against them. However, when that side of us gets sleepy, a Haman may come along and shake us up. The goal is to wake up the hidden strength and reveal to ourselves that we can refuse to bow down to Haman’s idols. There is an Esther deep down that can combat the Haman when she truly chooses to do so.

In the merit of Esther’s self-sacrifice on behalf of her nation she was worthy of being invited to the King’s chambers without prior invitation. Achashverosh took one look at Esther and was mesmerized by her amazing spiritual aura. She was glowing from the immense love and concern she had for the Jewish people. This is the power of unconditional altruistic love; it has the power to spiritually dress us in royal garb and become beloved by all.

Mordechai is the inspiring personality behind Esther. Mordechai embodied the image of a simple humble Jew who wished only to follow God’s mandates. He was optimistic and believed that although the picture appeared gloomy, everything could change. He never gave up hope.

In the Book of Esther it is written that Mordechai wailed as he walked up and down the streets of Shushan. His scream emanated from a place of goodness, that Godly spark of benevolent care of another. A cry out for another person’s pain and suffering originates from deep within, from a place of wanting to impart goodness to the world. When we tap into this part we become Godly and impart Divine light onto ourselves and those around us. This lies at the heart of a genuinely virtuous leader; the desire to share goodness and see that their needs are met.

Purim brings with it the profound opportunity to take off our masks and reveal our true selves to ourselves. We have within us the great power to overturn what may appear as a hopeless ending to a miraculous outcome. We inherited the ability to fight our way back by such leaders as Mordechai and Esther.

Haman is a distraction intended to gain our attention and awaken our courage to stand up against him. Let’s get to know our personal Mordechai and Esther and follow their lead. By doing so, the Hamans will fall by the wayside and be hung on their own gallows.

For original article click here

Three Ways to Attain Serenity

January 26, 2014
Daily Dose Of Emuna

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Despite life’s stormy waters, inner calm is within your reach.

ThreeWays

Original article published on Aish.com

 

We all experience problems and losses at different times in our lives – some great and some small. Many of our dreams and plans will inevitably shatter, despite the effort invested. Yet peace of mind is not defined as living a life devoid of challenges; it’s the ability to cope with setbacks with the right attitude.

Many of us are perplexed at the various possible roads through life, fearful of the dizzying possibilities and numerous uncertainties. We may dwell on worst case scenarios or feel stuck in the ‘what if’s’. We might invest a vast amount of energy analyzing and battling against our life’s direction. Yet, most of us realize we cannot change every situation or circumstance in order to maintain a life devoid of pain and challenges.

There is a way to experience day-to-day happenings with greater inner calm. Not by changing our reality, but by changing our perspective on that reality. Following this three-step process will help us achieve tranquility.

1. Internalizing the knowledge and faith that God knows best

By internalizing the belief that God loves us unconditionally and is taking care of us in the most precious way, we can actively contribute to our inner calm.

When confronting a crisis, we should strive to remember that God is looking out for our ultimate best. He is always there to protect and preserve His nation.

Just as parents look out for their children’s interests, so too does our Creator. Yet just as young children may feel perplexed and occasionally fail to understand their parents’ ways, we often do not understand why God directs our life in a certain way or see what He has planned for us next. Nonetheless, we must constantly remind ourselves there is a master plan from Above, and all that happens is in our best interests.

2. Accepting what we cannot understand or change

A key point in reaching this place of serenity lies in our ability to accept what is and what has been. External triggers are outside of our control. This world is blemished by imperfections, negative energy and craziness. We cannot control what goes on around us; only what is happening within ourselves.

For instance, I may find myself staring at a frozen computer screen, frustrated at the computer or at myself for forgetting to save my work. I cannot change those circumstances. However, I can change the way I think and therefore feel.

Though difficult, changing our thoughts are within the realm of our control. Externally nothing changes, nevertheless reclaiming our thoughts and re-routing them to the healthier place of acceptance and peace will eventually change our perspective. In turn, this may dramatically affect the way we feel and respond to situations. Emotions generally ride with our thoughts yet with determination and practice they can be channeled.

What today will be like is up to us. We get to choose what kind of day we will have through self-talk and shifting thoughts. Hardships such as losing a job or not closing a business deal are challenges that are outside of ourselves; they have nothing to do with us personally.

As a practical example when you feel overwhelmed in your responsibilities as a spouse or parent – trick yourself. Say out loud, “I can do this” or “There is no reason to be frazzled, I can handle this!” Verbalizing these words not only confirms the statement in our minds but builds our confidence, leading us in a positive direction.

3. Attempting to change what we can change about ourselves or the circumstances

Believing everything God orchestrates is for the best, and fostering an attitude of acceptance leads to a healthier mental outlook on life. Having worked on these, we can now approach the third step from a position of strength. That is, attempting to change ourselves and/or our circumstances without experiencing despair in the event of failure.

Now we can act on our values. Nothing matches willpower. It is testimony to the true strength of the body and soul. Our will is like a muscle; it needs to be exercised in order to strengthen its power.

Changing one’s ingrained character traits is a great challenge. For many of us, it takes far more control to not react than to overreact and losing control is thus a sign of weakness. No matter what trait we are working on, we need to motivate ourselves and be gentle with ourselves in order to keep on track.

Inner composure is ours for the taking. While struggles and setbacks may temporarily throw us off course, being aware that they are part of the plan God has set for us minimizes the anguish we feel inside and enables us to achieve inner equilibrium.

For the times when I feel off-balance I humor myself with a saying I made up: God has a plan, I just don’t know what it is yet! Emotional and spiritual development occurs in stages. Practicing these steps will enable us to more easily weather the storms and sail more smoothly through life’s choppier waters.

 

 For original article click here

 

4 Ways to Strengthen Our Relationship with God

December 15, 2013
Daily Dose Of Emuna
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How to start feeling God’s presence in your life.

4WaysToStrengthen

One of the best investments we can make in our lives is fostering strong, healthy relationships with those we love. These relationships serve to strengthen our mind and physical health. These attachments show us that we matter to someone else, provide us with opportunities to look outside of ourselves and to give to others.

Unfortunately, the rat race of life often robs us of the time needed to devote and maintain these unions. As a result, many of us suffer without understanding why. We are seemingly thrown into exile – isolated from the world around us and those we love. Though we see the physical form of our loved ones, we cannot feel their loving presence or appreciate their love for us.

The same is often true with our relationship to God. The world carries us away on a rollercoaster ride, distracting us from focusing on life’s essence.

In such cases, we must take a few steps back, recharge, realign and focus on receiving the love that is being directed at us. How? To rebuild the relationship, the first, basic thing to do is to recognize the other’s presence and feel them in our hearts. How can we begin to connect to a Creator if we haven’t dedicated the time to first recognize His existence?

It is vital to implant in our consciousness that there is a Creator – a basic awareness of the presence of God in our lives. As it says in Psalms: “I have set God before me always” (Psalms, 16:8). By doing so, we essentially ‘invite’ Him into our life and are able to begin developing a relationship with Him.

So how do we rejuvenate this relationship with our Creator in order to feel His love?

  1. Live consciously with the thought that there is purpose to life: A first step is to actively focus on the fact that nothing happens on its own. We are placed in this world to fulfill specific tasks and must remain mindful of the quest and continually search for purpose. Simply put God is closely involved in every aspect of a person’s life. Think of life’s events as personal notes intended to convey messages. Gradually as we tune in to this idea we will be able to decipher their meaning more readily.

  2. Be aware of life’s gifts: A second step towards fostering this relationship with God is to focus on appreciating everything He has done for us. Next time you find something you have been looking for, show your appreciation by thanking God. Or the next time you miss your bus, actively look for one aspect of goodness in that occurrence, even if it’s just the fact that it gives you an opportunity to practice this exercise.

Daily events provide continuous opportunities to appreciate the goodness of God in our lives. The warm smile that greets you during a stressful day or the kind words that someone utters your way are some of the ways God interacts with you. Through these experiences we can sensitize our perception of God’s personal intervention, His constant presence, His love and care for us.

  1. Express your faithfulness through action: The Sages suggest another way we can use to build a strong connection with God which is hinted to in the word mitzvah (Torah’s commandments), the Hebrew root of which is tzavta (companionship). Through engaging in various mitzvot we may partner with God’s will through our deeds. Furthermore, Torah study gifts us with a glimpse of infinite wisdom, since He reveals Himself through the holy letters.

  2. Keep working on enhancing the relationship: However, as with any relationship, we must expect ups and downs in our relationship with God. Life is full of stress and trying encounters which throw us into darkness and feelings of being abandoned. Yet, it is of utmost importance to stay loyal and faithful despite of the challenges. This is the definition of unconditional love.

When we find ourselves in the dark, we must remember that we are not alone. The walls are only illusions. We learn this from the verse describing the receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai: “… and Moshe drew near unto the fog where God was” (Exodus, 20:18). Any separation is an aspect of fog, cloudiness and darkness. However, the numerical value of the words ‘the fog’ in Hebrew is equivalent to the numerical value of the Shechinah (the Divine Presence). From this, we can deduce that God is present even when we are in a place of confusion and are experiencing loss of clarity or cloudiness of mind.

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In such dark times, one way of reminding ourselves that He is still there is by simply inviting Him using simple words such as ‘God, I need You in my life.’ Communication is essential when forming a healthy connection between two parties and our relationship with God is no exception. Talking things through while respecting the other’s feelings is paramount for enhancing any relationship. Hearing the other side out and trying to place ourselves in their shoes as best as possible establishes long term feelings of validation. Just as we talk with others, we need to talk to God, trust Him enough to openly reveal ourselves to Him, and listen to His response.

It is crucial to extend time and effort to foster our relationships. Recognizing the other’s presence, searching and appreciating their kindnesses, following their suggestions, being loyal and faithful even when it seems that they are distancing themselves from us, and communicating our innermost thoughts may all consume a hefty amount of emotional energy. However, when we exert enough effort, we will be rewarded by finding that both during the joys and vicissitudes of life, the sunshine and the clouds of confusion and fogginess, they are right there with us.

Similarly, God is right there, lovingly directing our every step. Just as we connect to others in all walks of life, we will be rewarded by seeing God in every path of life.

The original article from aish.com

 

Faith in God: A Jewish Perspective

December 8, 2013
Daily Dose Of Emuna
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FaithInGod-230x150

Loosely translated as faith in God, emuna is considered the cornerstone of Jewish belief and practice. What does the term emuna mean? How does this affect my life? When are we as Jews required to have or practice this emuna?

Unfortunately, many people assume that emuna refers to blind faith. However, this is not the case. In the Aleinu prayer recited at or near the end of every prayer service, we proclaim: “And you shall know today, and take to heart, that God is the only God…” We are instructed to ‘know’ that God exists. Blind leaps of faith have nothing to do with knowledge; they are expressions of what one wishes to be true, not what is in fact necessarily true.

Emuna begins in the mind as intellectual Emuna, formed after hard rational work and inquiry. Ultimate contemplation of the world and how it could not be created other than by an infinite Being will help us achieve this intellectual faith.

Knowing in our minds that our Creator is there is the first step. However, in time and with repeated practice, emuna can melt into the heart. After we readily acknowledge that God is part of our life and never leaves, we can work on developing loyalty to God with that knowledge and slowly begin to feel it internally. Rather than pure intellectual belief, emuna should be defined as the act of being faithful or loyal. It is the basic requirement of any healthy relationship and demands constant reinforcement.

With time and dedication we can strive toward living a life permeated by emuna. Emuna is developed throughout a lifetime and needs to be repeatedly contemplated. Loyalty to God becomes essential when life throws us a sharp curve ball which may cause us to lose balance and doubt that things truly are for the best.

Yet at these painful times, it is also more difficult to exercise our emuna muscles. It becomes most challenging when reality presents hardships that conflict with our ability to intellectually understand. The loss of harmony between that which we know in our minds to be true – God is taking care of us as part of His nation – yet do not enjoy or cannot see the logic in, is what provides us with our free will.

Through the means of free will, we choose whether to remain loyal to the word of God in spite of the pain, or to shun the word of God because of its seeming illogicality. Emuna is understanding that we cannot understand the totality of God’s knowledge, but recognizing and accepting that everything serves a purpose despite this.

Once we know logically that God is always with us, and we have started practicing this loyalty regularly, we can now engage in everyday life with trust in Him. This feeling of trust gives us a gift of security knowing that we are in perfect hands as we are being individually directed and handled by God Himself. Therefore, we can enjoy the feeling that we are being led through life by means of a personal guide, and that there is meaning and purpose to every event that occurs.

Emuna comes with practice of the mind and action. Utilizing life’s encounters as a prospect to seeing God in my life increases our awareness of His constant presence. We can use challenges as catalysts to come closer to our Creator since we extract meaning and grow from the experience.

For example, when traveling by bus to Jerusalem we can sit back, relax and enjoy the view. We can be free from worry, knowing that the driver is professional and knows how and where to drive. If we did not trust the driver’s skill, or we thought we could drive a bus better than him,, we may sit on edge the entire ride, questioning his navigation skills and driving abilities. In contrast, with emuna we can calmly sit on the bus, enjoy the scenery and await our final destination.

Sitting in bumper to bumper car traffic is boot camp for strengthening our emuna muscles. Some thoughts to ponder might include:

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  • I must be delayed for a good reason;
  • maybe it is slippery ahead and needed to slow down or possibly;
  • I need time to recollect my thoughts before continuing to drive.

The bottom line – there is purpose to my slowing down and it is all good for me even if I cannot readily see it.

Having someone cut the line while waiting for a cashier is another opportunity to exercise my emuna muscles. Perhaps this is a chance to refine my personality by allowing the other person to go in front without feeling bitter?

Emuna is looking beyond the limited now and knowing that we may not fully grasp the meaning of what is happening. We think we know what is best for us, but emuna means have faith that only God really knows. Nonetheless, we also have faith that one day we too will know.

 

The original article from aish.com

 

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