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Thursday, 13 April 2017

Hashem hurts the ones He loves the most

Daf Yomi Bava Basra 79

At the college where my father teaches, he has a Jewish colleague, called Fred.  Fred is an atheist.
“Come on, Freddie,” said Aba one day to him, “look at the wonderful world around you!  You can’t seriously believe that it all happened randomly, can you?”
“Look, mate,” Fred replied, “I once had cancer.  I can’t believe in a G-d that would have given me cancer.”
“But, Freddie,” my dad responded bemusedly, “you got better!  Doesn’t that demonstrate the abundant mercies of the Almighty?!”

After the battle with the Emorites, the Torah declares, “We laid waste to them (VanAshim) until Nofach, which reaches until Maidva.”
The Gemara explains: “Until Nofach” means until a fire (Aish) comes that needs no nifuach (fanning).  “Until Maidva” means until He has done what He wants (Mai d’vaee).
Rashbam explains: ‘He’ refers to Hashem. In this world, He allows the wicked to prosper, so that He may trouble them in the World to Come.

Some people mistakenly view suffering in this world as a sign that G-d doesn’t care or that there is no G-d.  That could not be further from the truth!  As the Gemara demonstrates, when people suffer in this world, it’s a sign that G-d loves them! 

How so?

Nobody in this world is 100% righteous or wicked.  We all have a string of positive and negative things that we’ve done in this world.  Hopefully, the positive overwhelmingly outweighs the negative in most of us.  When that happens, Hashem says, ‘I like that fellow.  I’d like to give him total reward in Heaven.  So let me bestow a little hardship upon him in this world and thereby wipe the slate clean.  That way, he’ll enter Heaven sin-free.’ 

The opposite is true for people who are not so great.  Hashem says, ‘That fellow really needs to answer for his sins in the World to Come.  But he’s not 100% wicked, so I’m going to let him prosper in this world.  That way, I won’t owe him any reward later.’

In other words, your Father in Heaven wants only the best for you.  He wants you to enjoy life in this world and the next.  But in order to maximize your eternal bliss, sometimes He has to provide you with a little pain in this world.  And so when we experience hardship, we shouldn’t start questioning G-d’s providence or existence; au contraire, we should be thanking Him for His benevolence!

And if you should be lucky enough to have experienced a storm that Hashem carried you through – like surviving cancer – you should be all the more grateful to Him!  That truly demonstrates how much He loves you.  He loves you so much that He wants you to have a perfect life in the next world!

So next time things aren’t going exactly the way you’d hoped, turn your eyes Heavenward and say, ‘Thank you, Aba!  Thank you for loving me so much and having the confidence in me that I’ll maintain my faith in You through it all!’

Your Father in Heaven loves you more than you could ever imagine!  When He gives you challenges in life, it’s only because He loves you and wants the best for you.  May you forever maintain your faith in Heaven and welcome the trials and tribulations Hashem lovingly bestows upon you! 

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Are all religions basically the same?

Daf Yomi Bava Basra 78

Rabbanit Batya is the first rebbetzin in history on the payroll of the Church.  As the coordinator for the Edmonton Interfaith Housing Initiative, her job is to bring together clergy from across Edmonton and inspire them to educate their respective flocks about helping to end homelessness in the city.  While the initiative is a joint project of a number of faith groups as well as the City of Edmonton, practically speaking she receives a monthly paycheck from the Anglican Diocese, making her the first rebbetzin ever to be paid by the Church!

Many people see cooperation between religious groups as incredibly beautiful.  After all, aren’t we really all about the same thing?  Faith means being guided by Heaven to make this world a better place, right?  We’re all essentially doing the same thing, just with some minor differences in approach, right?

Following the battle with the Emorites, the Torah states, “Vaniram avad Cheshbon ad Divon (Their sovereignty over Cheshbon was lost until Divon).”
The Gemara interprets this phrase homiletically: “Vaniram” alludes to a wicked person who says “Ain Ram – there is no G-d on High.” “Avad Cheshbon” means that “The demand for a personal accounting of one’s actions is lost. Hashem responds, however, “Ad Divon,” meaning, “Just wait until the day of judgment (din) comes (ba)!”

Ever wonder how rational human beings could worship idols?  How foolish could ancient man have been?  You fashion these statues out of wood and gold and then treat them as a god?  How could they be divine when you created them yourself?  These idols should have been worshipping man as their creator, not the other way around!

Our Sages explain that idolatry went hand in hand with immorality.  Why?  What led a person who was bowing down to idols to become an exemplar of loose morals?  What is the connection between the two?

Imagine you were our patriarch, Avraham, or the prophet, Eliyahu, and you were trying to convince a person to cease their idolatrous practices and immoral ways.  What would they respond to you?  ‘You have your religion, I have mine.  Who gives you the right to judge me and my religion?  My idols have instructed me to practise my life as I do!  How dare you be so intolerant and disrespectful to another’s beliefs?’

That’s why idolatry was so popular.  It was even better than atheism.  When you debate an atheist, you’re not criticizing their beliefs – they claim to have none!  But when you debate an idolater, there’s nothing you can say to them.  The second you begin to critique their religious practices, they accuse you of intolerance.  But what exactly were their religious practices?  Whatever they wanted them to be!  They could be the most immoral people and claim that their gods instructed them to act the way they do.  When you question their morality, their response is that your definition of what is morally appropriate is simply different to their definition.  

Today we have a name for such abstruseness: moral relativism.  That’s what the Gemara means regarding the person who says “There is no G-d on high.” If there’s no Supernal Being, every religion is equal.  Idolatry was the ancient name for today’s moral relativism.  You have no right to question another person’s theology and practices and claim moral superiority, because everyone has the right to their own beliefs.  To judge another’s religious devotions is to be intolerant.  As the Gemara says “the demand for a personal accounting of one’s actions is lost,” because everyone is entitled to believe and practise whatever they want to believe and practise.

The advantage of idolatry was that you could lead your life however you wanted to, and do it all in the name of religion.  Most religions today are not that overtly depraved.  But that doesn’t make them right.  Many faith groups justify all manner of inappropriate behaviour, all in the name of religion.  Some faiths justify violence, particularly against women.  Other faiths justify alternative lifestyles or the right to determine which babies have the right to be born.  One dare not criticize, because it’s considered intolerant.  When morals are no longer determined by Heaven, but by man, that’s modern-day idolatry.

When Rabbanit Batya and I work together with other faith groups to create a better society, we are not declaring that we believe those religions to be true.  Or equal to Judaism.  When we work with other clergy members, we seek common ground to do good.  Care for the less fortunate, alms for the poor – those deeds are common to most religions and when we work together, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. 

Other aspects of our respective theologies, however, are not part of the discussion.  As far as we’re concerned every other religion is absolutely false.  In fact, anybody that doesn’t believe that their religion is the absolute truth and that all other religions are false gods should probably question their faith commitment! 

Anybody can justify anything they want in G-d’s name.  You don’t need to respect opinions and beliefs that are immoral.  On the contrary, we should call out those who use G-d to justify their immoral behaviour.  At the same time, however, we must respect and work with others who are making this world a better place in the name of Heaven.  Doing so does not mean that we agree with every theological statement they are making.  May you never fall into the trap of moral relativism, but always be prepared to cooperate with those who are working to make G-d’s name great in this world!

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Why won't Israelis become synagogue members?

Daf Yomi Bava Basra 45

There are close to a million former Israelis living in the Diaspora.  From post-army kiosk workers to Silicon Valley geniuses to top university academics and everything in between, there is nowhere in the world that you won’t find Israelis!  But one of the challenges that established Diaspora communities struggle with is: how do you get them to become synagogue members?  In Israel, religious life is state-driven.  Shuls are provided free of charge and so the concept of paying dues is completely foreign to them.  How do you change that mentality and get them to decide to join? 

Rava, and some say Rav Pappa, declared: Those who are making Aliya and those who are doing Yerida (emigrating from Israel), any child of Israel who sells his chamra (donkey) to Israel his friend (i.e. his Jewish friend): if a gentile should come and attempt to forcibly seize it, by law he must retrieve it for him.
Rashbam explains: If the purchaser is being hounded by a gentile who claims the donkey was stolen from him, the seller is obligated to assist the purchaser in seeking justice and the return of his donkey.

In the literal interpretation of the Gemara, chamra means donkey.  But on a deeper level, chamra also means substance or material.  In Modern Hebrew, the former meaning is the word chamor, the latter sense is the word chomer.   

In the literal meaning, Rava is teaching that if you sell your Jewish friend a donkey which is seized by a gentile, you have a duty to help them get it back.  But on an esoteric level, Rava makes a powerful declaration: The greatest contribution a person can make to Israel, his friend is to dedicate his chamra, his substance, material, his entire being.

What does that mean?  Rava makes his declaration both to those who are making Aliya and those who are doing Yerida.  Certainly, the greatest dedication of one’s being to Israel is to make Aliya.  How many of us are prepared to make that ultimate move for the sake of the future of the Jewish people?  There are no words to express our indebtedness to every Israeli citizen and especially those who have voluntarily made Aliya.

But the intriguing declaration is to those who have done Yerida, those who have emigrated from Israel.  Some people’s automatic response to ex-Israelis is one of disdain.  How could anyone choose to leave the Holy Land for life in the Diaspora?  That’s not Rava’s attitude.  Why?  Well, firstly, it’s a little hypocritical to criticize Israelis who have left – after all, did you ever live there?! 

Secondly, most of us could never hold a candle to the average Israeli.  Just think about the three-plus years they dedicated to the safety and security of the Jewish people on the frontlines of the battlefield!  They’ve put their lives on the line for us.  When I see an Israeli, I almost want to reach out and give them a big hug.  There is no way I could ever repay them for everything they’ve done for me and my family!

Now listen to Rava’s declaration: Any child of Israel who sells his chamra to Israel his friend, if a gentile should come and attempt to forcibly seize it, by law he must retrieve it for him.   Nearly every Israeli you meet sold their chamra – gave their entire being – to Israel, by virtue of their time served in the IDF.  For one reason or another, many later end up in the Diaspora, where the gentile world attempts to seize their chamra from them. 

What do I mean?  In Israel, it was easy for them to be Jewish.  Because everyone is Jewish.  Shabbat is a special day; whether or not you keep everything, it’s still called Shabbat!  Pork is hard to find.  Most Israelis fast on Yom Kippur and don’t eat bread on Pesach.  But then they leave Israel and all of a sudden they have to be conscious of their Jewish choices.  Unfortunately, many of them are simply ill-prepared to deal with the religious challenges of the gentile world around them.  And so Rava declares, if they’re losing their chamra, we have an obligation to retrieve it for them.

How? By reaching out to them and inviting them to get involved with Jewish life in our communities.  So why aren’t we doing it?  What’s stopping us reaching out to them?  Often, we get hung up on the fact that they won’t become synagogue members.  Maybe some of them will.  But most of them won’t.  Not today.  Not next year.  Probably never.  They simply have no shul-membership culture – to pay for religion is almost sacrilegious to them! 

So why invite them to take part in synagogue life if we know they’ll never pay synagogue dues?  Because it’s the least we can do.  No money in the world could repay them for the years they put their lives on the line for us.  That’s right: we owe our Jewish safety and security – even in the Diaspora – to the self-sacrifice they made.  They devoted their chamra, their entire being, to the Jewish people.  Now let’s be there for them if Diaspora life is causing their spiritual chamra – their Jewishness – to be stolen from them.  If that means giving them free membership in our shuls, isn’t that the least we could do? 

Every Israeli who put their lives on the line for the Jewish people is as holy as a Temple sacrifice.  We could never repay them for their incredible devotion to the Jewish people.  May we reach out and do what little we can to show our appreciation, by being there for them when they need our spiritual protection! 

Do you own property in Israel?

Daf Yomi Bava Basra 44

Jerusalem, The Movie, is a 2013 IMAX documentary that describes the history and contemporary life of the holiest city in the world.  The film begins showing the Jebusites as the original inhabitants of the city.  It was then conquered by the Jews.  Subsequently, the Romans took it.  Then the Muslims.  Then the Christians.  Then the Muslims again.  And finally the Jews reconquered it.  The message of the movie was that everyone really had a part in the city’s history and that we should all ideally share the city.

Only problem is that the first part of the story is absent.  The Torah’s original introduction to Jerusalem happens when our patriarch Avraham returns from his successful mission to rescue his nephew Lot and the other captives.  He is greeted by his great-grandfather, Malkitzedek, King of Shalem.  City name sound familiar?  Of course!  That was Jerusalem!  In fact, our Sages explain that Malkitzedek was Shem, the son of Noach.  Initially, he ruled over the entire area of what would later be called Greater Israel.  But the Canaanites conquered most of the land from him, leaving him with only the city of Shalem, or Jerusalem.  And indeed, after his death, that city too was conquered by a Canaanite people called the Jebusites.

Nevertheless, Hashem promised Avraham that one day, his descendants would return to the Land.  They would be replanted in the country that was once the domain of their forefathers.  It belongs to us and any subsequent conquests are invalid in the eyes of Hashem.

Tosfos: When one creates a power of attorney for monetary matters, one writes, “I hereby transfer four cubits of my yard to my agent” (thereby rooting the transaction in land).  One writes the clause even if he does not own any land, since there is no Jewish person who does not own a portion of land in Israel, for land cannot be stolen.

What is your motivation for Israel advocacy?  Most of us advocate for two primary reasons: first, to help our brothers and sisters in Israel.  Almost half the Jewish people live in Israel and so we want to make sure that Israel is treated fairly and protected by the global society of nations.

The second reason we advocate for Israel is that, following 2000 years of persecution in exile, we all recognize that we need Israel as a safe haven for our people.  G-d forbid should the next Hitler or Queen Isabella rise up, we now have somewhere to escape to.  Unless we fight for Israel’s right to exist and flourish now, it will not be there if and when we should ever need to take shelter under her wings. 

The reality is, though, it’s really hard to motivate young people to advocate on that score.  While many of us grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust, our children have grown up in a world that is so open and accepting to all.  They couldn’t begin to imagine real anti-Semitism, the likes of which existed blatantly in every country until quite recently.  So why should they fight for Israel?

Certainly the first reason – acting for the love of their Israeli brothers and sisters – continues to hold true, but Tosfos here offers an additional, very compelling reason to defend Israel.  You own property there!  Every single Jew, says Tosfos, is an automatic landowner, since we all have a share in the physical land of Israel.  Even if it was stolen by the Jebusites, then the Babylonians, then the Romans, and finally by the Christians and Muslims, it still belongs to us.  You can’t steal land!

If you saw someone trying to steal your car, would you just stand there and let them get away with it?  Of course not!  You would do everything in your power to stop them.  The same is true with any property you own.  So what are you going to do when they try to sweep away your land from under your feet?  You’re going to work your hardest to make sure it doesn’t happen! 

That’s the imagery we need to convey to our children.  Israel advocacy is not about some country on the other side of the world we’re working to support politically.  It’s about our personal ownership rights that are being threatened!

You own a piece of Israel.  Don’t let it slip away.  May you never stop fighting for your rights and the rights of every one of your landowner brothers and sisters!

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Why is the Torah reading so boring?

Daf Yomi Bava Basra 43

We had just left Egypt and crossed the Red Sea to freedom at last.  Only to find ourselves trudging through the wilderness.  It had been three long days and we’d encountered no water for our children or ourselves, let alone the animals.  And then we finally reached the water, it was bitter!  Until Moshe threw a special plant into the water and it miraculously became sweet! 

On a mystical level, water represents Torah.  It is our life-force.  It is our basic sustenance.  As Rabbi Akiva would say, a Jew without Torah is like a fish out of water.

This deeper symbolism and its connection to our search for water in the wilderness set the tone for a law that we have until today.  Following the event, Moshe instructed our people that we must publicly read from the Torah at least every three days.  Just like we couldn’t survive without water, and when we finally found it, it was bitter, if we go too long without Torah, it becomes bitter to us. 

How could anyone find water bitter?  And yet we did.  Likewise, if we let Torah be absent from our lives for too long, we stop appreciating its sweetness.  Instead of being invigorating, it becomes a burden.  Hence the obligation to publicly read from the Torah every Shabbos, Monday, and Thursday.  That way we are constantly energized and the Torah is forever fresh and exciting!

If a Torah scroll was stolen from a city, local citizens may not judge the case nor testify, for a Torah is there for all to listen to.
Rashbam explains: Every person in the city is an interested party (and therefore disqualified to be a judge or witness to the case of the stolen Torah), because they all enjoy (listening to) the Torah.

Listen to what Rashbam says: everyone enjoys listening to the Torah!  We all benefit from it!  How lucky we are to have the opportunity to hear the Torah Shabbos morning, Shabbos afternoon, Monday, and Thursday!

Okay now, let’s be honest for a minute: do we all really find the Torah reading the highlight of our religious experience?  How many contemporary shuls make the Torah reading an immensely enjoyable experience?  An awesome moment.  Something we just can’t wait for? 

Back in the day, the layning (Torah reading) was a much more stimulating experience: the Baal Koreh (reader) would read a verse and then an interpreter would stand there and bring it to life for the congregation.  Nowadays, we don’t need all that, because we have printed translations right in front of us.  So many of us end up tuning out – either we find something else to read or we end up chatting quietly to our neighbors.

If you find yourself dreading the Torah reading, you need to figure out how to make it more stimulating and exciting.  Speak to the rabbi.  Speak to the gabbai.  Or even better, offer to be part of the solution.

There are lots of different ways to make it more exciting.  In our shul, we’ve used various approaches over the years.  At one point, I would ask a question between each aliya; the answer could be found anywhere in the text and Stone Chumash commentary.  We currently have a couple of 2 minute D’var Torah breaks – not before every aliya, that can get a little tedious; but here and there, and with different presenters.  We have rabbinic and lay-leader presenters – as long as they’re interesting and present succinctly and cogently.

A good service also can’t afford to allow the gabbaus (ritual call-ups) to be boring.  If you have too many long misheberachs (blessings), people tune out and start talking to their neighbor.  Misheberachs should be short and sweet (and generate maximum funds for the shul)!  And of course, the layning itself should be error-free and read at a pretty decent pace – fast enough to keep things moving, just not too fast that the congregation cannot follow along. 

On the odd occasion, the Baal Koreh should make a deliberate mistake.  That serves two purposes: first, you make sure that people are paying attention.  Second, it gives people a chance to shout out the correction which keeps everyone awake.  (I’m kidding, a good Baal Koreh is always letter-perfect and trop-perfect!!  I was just checking to see you’re all still awake!)

The Torah reading should be the pinnacle of our Shabbos experience.  Find ways to keep it fresh, alive, and stimulating for everyone.  May you merit being part of the solution and quenching the thirst of our people with the holy sweet waters of Torah!

Monday, 6 March 2017

What's your spiritual elevator pitch?

Daf Yomi Bava Basra 42

What are the most important words in the English language?  What are the most important words in any language?  If you could master one phrase in every language, what would it be?

I used to think my one master phrase would be ‘thank you.’  Imagine knowing how to give gratitude in every language, to any person at any time in any place.  What cross-cultural bridges you could build!  How this world would be a happier, more appreciative place to live!

Rav taught: If one sells a field using witnesses, the purchaser may claim even from encumbered property (i.e. property with a lien against it).
The Gemara asks: Did Rav really say that?  For we learned, ‘One who loans his friend using a contract may collect from encumbered property.  But using witnesses, he may collect only from unencumbered property!’
The Gemara answers: Can you compare loans to sales?  Regarding loans, when a person borrows he does so privately, in order that his property values not depreciate (on account of the perception that he is cash-strapped and eager to sell).  In contrast, one who sells land does so publicly, in order that word of the sale should spread (thereby maximizing the potential sale price)!

The Almighty placed us here on Earth with a special mission: transform the world into a Divine abode.  Put differently, transform the physical into the spiritual.  From the beginning of humankind, we’ve been working at making this world a place for G-d.  That’s what Adam and Eve did.  That’s what Noah and family did.  That’s what Shem and Ever did.

But then along came our patriarch and matriarch, Avraham and Sarah, and revolutionized the job.  They said to themselves, ‘It’s one thing for us to occupy ourselves in the Divine mission.  But imagine if we could motivate others to also devote themselves to the Divine mission!”  And that they did, travelling throughout the region, selling the message of monotheism, and maximizing their effectiveness in transforming this world.

And we, as their children, inherited this important role from Avraham and Sarah.  We are now entrusted with the task of telling the world about the greatness of Hashem!  And encouraging our own brothers and sisters to be part of our national mission!

In essence, our mission is to sell “G-d” to the world; to let everyone know that they are not here randomly.  That G-d needs them to fulfill His ultimate purpose for the universe.  And as far as encouraging our brothers and sisters goes, the goal is to pitch them on the unique role of the Jewish people in making this place a dwelling place for the Divine!

But like our Gemara teaches, when you’re selling something, you want as many people to know as possible.  You don’t want to keep it a secret; otherwise nobody will be on hand to purchase your goods!  If that’s true of material goods, it is certainly true of spiritual sales!  Sometimes we’re tempted to go about our religious business and keep it as private as possible.  But how can you sell a product that nobody knows about?

Baruch Hashem, we live in an era when we no longer need to be embarrassed to order kosher food to an office party.  If we need to pop out in the middle of the day to daven Mincha, our colleagues will respect us for our devotion.  Most employers understand when we need to leave early on a Friday afternoon to be home in time for Shabbos.  Not only are these moments okay to mention, but they’re opportunities to open up the conversation with colleagues and friends about our purpose on Earth.

Now, it goes without saying that Judaism doesn’t proselytize.  We don’t believe G-d wants everyone to be Jewish.  But He does want to have a relationship with all His children – Jews and gentiles alike!  And unless we educate them and ‘sell’ them on the important of G-d in their lives, they’ll miss out!

Anyone in sales will tell you that one of the first things you need is an elevator pitch.  Sometimes you only get a minute or two with a potential client (like when you’re riding an elevator together).  How do you condense your message into a core lesson that you can impart to as many people as possible? 

Let’s return to the question of the most important phrase in the English language, or indeed in any language: I used to think the most important words were ‘thank you.’  However, I now believe the primary message is ‘G-d needs you.’  If I had just one message to convey to everyone and anyone I came into contact with, it’s that G-d needs them.  That’s why He created us.  That’s why He sustains us.  Because He wants you to accomplish great things in this world and partner with Him in making this world a Divine abode!

What’s your spiritual elevator pitch?  How do you get as many people as possible to know about the out-of-this-world message you were sent here to ‘sell?’  May you be a true heir to Avraham and Sarah and make this world a dwelling place for the Almighty!

Sunday, 5 March 2017

How do you know you're not really a robot?

Daf Yomi Bava Basra 41

A large gathering of men is assembled outside the gates of Heaven when the Almighty appears.
“I want you all to form two lines,” says G-d, “one line for the men who were true heads of their household, and the other line for those whose wives ruled the roost.”  Soon, there were two lines of men.  The line of men who were led by their wives was 100 miles long, and in the line of men who truly were heads of their household, stood only one man.

G-d looks at the long line and bellows, “You men should be ashamed of yourselves. I created you to be the heads of your household!  Of all of you, only one obeyed?  You blokes need to learn from him!”  And with that, He turns to the single fellow in the other line and asks, “My beloved child, please tell us, how did you manage to make it into this line, thereby fulfilling your holy destiny?”
“I really don’t know,” replies the man sheepishly, “my wife told me to stand here!”

Any chazakah (legal presumption of ownership due to having occupied a property) not accompanied by an officially lodged legal claim is not considered a chazakah.  How so?  Let’s say the original owner says to the occupant, ‘What are you doing in my house?’  And he replies, ‘Because nobody ever told me not to be here,’ that is not considered a chazakah.  If, however, he replies, ‘You sold it to me,’ or ‘you gifted it to me,’ he makes a valid chazakah claim.

How did you get to where you are today?  How did you choose your profession?  How did you choose your place to live?  How did you choose your religious lifestyle?

Some of us are here simply because we went with the flow and ended up in a certain place without ever giving much thought to it.  It was always pretty obvious that you would end up doing what you do, living where you do, hanging out with the people you do, practicing your Judaism as you do.  That’s what everyone you’ve ever know ever did!

But that’s not reason enough to live life.  That’s not human, it’s robotic!  If you’re here simply because someone told you to be here and nobody ever told you not to be here, that’s by no means a chazakah – it’s not a strong, powerful way to live your life.  Maybe that someone was a parent, a rebbe (schoolteacher), a rabbi in your yeshiva year in Israel.  You might think that you made a conscious-life decision, but the real test is what happens to your commitment when life happens?

What happens when a career upset forces you out of your hometown?  What happens when your child isn’t doing well in the school that everyone you know sends their kids to?  What happens when the community isn’t there for you when you need them the most?

Real chazakah requires relentless reassessment – constantly asking yourself: Who am I?  How did I get here?  Am I in the best place possible in life?  Am I maximizing my potential here on Earth?  Am I pulling my weight in the community or just occupying a seat and letting everyone else take care of things for me?  Am I contributing as much as I could to being the most awesome spouse, parent, child, sibling, neighbor, colleague, community member, Jew, citizen, and human being?

You are not a robot.  The Almighty placed you here to make this world the best place possible.  You have a unique mission to fulfil and it’s impossible to get there if you simply go with the flow.  Every morning when you wake up, ask yourself: How can I maximize my potential today?  Every evening when you go to sleep, ask yourself: How did I maximize my potential today?  If the answer is ever: I’m here because I just happened to be born into this life, it’s an automatic sign that you’re nowhere near reaching your potential.  And it’s time to make serious changes in your life and serious commitments to your mission.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that you’re constantly looking over your shoulder to see where the grass is greener in life.  When you’re never happy with where the Almighty has placed you, you will never fulfil your potential.  Rather, it means maximizing your current potential – becoming the best person possible in the circumstances in which you find yourself – and then asking yourself what more Heaven might be asking of you.

Don’t go with the flow, lead the flow!  You have a unique mission to fulfil and your current place in life is merely a springboard to achieving your incredible destiny.  May you constantly work to maximize your potential!