Soul Renewal: Changes Along the Journey of Life

“Some people will remain with us on our journey when we change; others will not.” – Tzvi Fievel Schnee

As I change, from time to time, over certain periods of my life, the adage that was made known to me, personally, by the founders of PD Seminars, at The Haven in British Columbia has become realized: I was told that some people would draw closer to me, and others would move further away from me. It is as if I can add this statement to my “facts of life” list, if indeed I had a facts of life list to begin with, written down somewhere in my personal journal. Yet, I never even though about beginning a list like that until now. The reason that I have even brought up this issue, is based upon my noticing that every once in a while, my Instagram account loses a follower: it is as if to say, that it is a fact of life for those who post on Instagram and other social media platforms; of course, this could apply to any other social media platform. Although I cannot be sure, I make the generalization with some certainty, despite any statistics; therefore, I hope that what I have mentioned in this specific post of mine, may be of some consolation to others.

The Inward Focus

“Look to yourselves,” we would like to say to others, when we see others casting blame upon people, institutions, and society at large. Yet, for the sake of our own benefit, we should not avoid “looking toward ourselves.” The Ten Days of Awe, for all intents and purposes, are a time of increased reflection upon our faults, errors, and sins, with the aim of bringing these into the light, and asking forgiveness. Additionally, on Yom Kippur, our atonement is sought through even more intense prayer, and H’Shem willing, bestowed upon us, so that we can begin the new year with the renewal of our souls, having been cleansed through a sincere teshuvah. Thus, our inward focus on improving ourselves, is rewarded by H’Shem, in acknowledgment of our efforts to change from within; and, having been relieved of our guilty conscience, we can experience the joy of Sukkot.

“Let us search and examine our ways, and turn back to the L-RD.”

– Lamentations 3:40, JPSN

Rearrangement

reflections: Likutei Amarim, middle of chapter 29

If we return to H’Shem, He will return to us (Malachi 3:7, Jeremiah 29:12). As we follow through with a sincere teshuva (repentance; literally, “turning”) in our lives, H’Shem will meet us halfway, in our efforts to return to Him through a thorough shift in our values, and lifestyle. We should examine ourselves each day for the sake of rooting out past sinful habits. Our thoughts should be examined as well as our emotions. Only with help from Above, may we purge ourselves of the accumulation of spiritual darkness that surrounds us as a result of our transgressions. B’ezrach H’Shem.

Thus, this is an ongoing process; additionally, there are levels of teshuvah, inasmuch that the more we change over time, the more we are able to better recognize our faults and make amends for them. This is spiritual progress, based upon an inward desire to cleanse the soul: even to the extent that we may be free, figuratively speaking, from the mire wherein we would otherwise sink. King David’s concern for his sanctity is a positive example, as he said, “My sin is constantly before me,” inasmuch that his recollection of past sins kept him humble and served as a reminder against committing these types of sins in the future.

If only we could be so careful as to recognize that all aspects of our life should fall under the guidance of Torah. In like manner that the Kings of Israel were required to keep a copy of the Torah at hand all of the time, who are we to think that we can do as we please, regardless of the guidelines given to us for a life of sanctity. For the sake of character development, one method of travailing in sincere efforts to change, would be to focus upon a single fault, making an effort to root that out of our lives. There is no better time than now; and no need to put off this resolution.

motzei Shabbos: Bereishis 5782

parashas Bereishis 5782

parashas Bereishis, plus a brief introduction to Noach.

G-d’s Divine Attributes, Imitatio Dei, mankind’s raison d’etre.

Middos (character traits); both negative and positive examples,

as exemplified within the narrative of the Book of Genesis.

motzei Shabbos: parashas Nitzavim 5781 – Choose Life

“See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil.”

  • Deuteronomy 30:15, JPS 1917 Tanach

“Behold, I have set before you this day the way of life, wherein is the recompense of the reward of good unto the righteous, and the way of death, wherein is the retribution of the wages of evil unto the wicked.” – Deuteronomy 30:15, Targum Yonaton


Sforno comments, “eternal life, not just life on earth” (sefaria.org). Likewise, the opposite is mentioned “eternal oblivion” (Sforno, ibid.), not only physical death. These are the destinations of the two paths, delineated in Torah – the way of life, and the way of death, corresponding to our two inclinations, the yetzer tov (good inclination), and the yetzer hara (evil inclination). In the modern world, it is not always clear what choices we make will lead us down one or the other road. This is mostly because, there are no signposts to be found, showing us which way we are headed. The world would like us to believe that all roads lead to Rome, Nirvana, or G-d. However, nothing could be further from the truth.


In the Torah, G-d is explicit, concerning the path we are to follow, and the path that we are not to follow. “Behold, I have set before you this day the way of life, wherein is the recompense of the reward of good unto the righteous, and the way of death, wherein is the retribution of the wages of evil unto the wicked” (Targum Jonathan on Deuteronomy 30:15, sefaria.org). If we make an effort to follow our good inclination, by listening to the conscience, and doing what is right, then we will be rewarded for our efforts. Yet, if we give in to the evil inclination, adhering to our “lesser instincts,” falling prey to sin, then we will receive retribution for actions. It is more challenging to do good, than to be lured into temptation by the desires of the heart. For this reason, we can only conquer the yetzer hara with the help of G-d.

The Crown of Creation

Mankind is the crown of creation. All of creation was created first, then mankind was created on the sixth day. Paleontology records show the same natural progression of life on earth. Obviously, mankind could only flourish in an environment with suitable conditions towards life; so, those conditions were created before placing Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Whether this is viewed as a myth, parable, or symbolic explanation of creation, it is meant to show how man’s place in the world is significant. We were made to be stewards of the earth: (Genesis 2:15). Therefore, mankind is not only part of G-d’s overall creation; rather, the crowning achievement, and reason for creation itself. In order to bring about the full divine plan encapsulated throughout the Bible.

There is a teaching in Judaism that on the one hand the world was created for every individual on the face of the planet. While on the other hand, we are only part of the greater whole. These two perspectives exist in actual life in tandem with each other. As the story goes, Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pesicha carried two notes in separate pockets. One read, “the world is created for you.” the other note read, “I am mere dust and ashes.” The teaching is profound, and conveys the dual nature of life. On the one hand, each person is a unique individual created by G-d. Everyone may view his or her life from a self-centered perspective, as if the world and all it contains is for his or her benefit. On the other hand, in order to remain humble, and not overstep one’s boundaries, or raise oneself up in pride, it is important to remember, “I am but dust and ashes.”

Additionally, I would like to mention that G-d has a plan for each and every person on the dace of the planet. It is written in Psalms that G-d numbered all of the stars, and gives names to all of them” (Psalms 147:4). How much more so does He take note of each person’s plight on earth, through what is called hashgacha (divine guidance)? Whether we realize G-d’s influence in our lives or not depends in part of how cognizant we are of the tapestry being woven over time, that creates the bigger picture of how various events in our individual lives connect to form a greater whole. Meaning can be derived from our own existence, personal responsibilities, and dignity in how we approach the challenges of life. Human beings are thinking, talking, autonomous beings to some extent; yet, also subject to G-d’s sovereignty. Life is meant to bring us to the awareness of our place in the Universe, as individuals, who are created in G-d’s image. Ultimately, we are obligated to live up to that image: imatatio Dei.

Omer: Day 44 Gevurah shebbe Malchut

gevurah shebbe malchut: power within kingship

G-d’s sovereignty is made known through His commandments; his gevurah (strength, justice, severity) through his judgments. On the other hand, His attribute of chesed (mercy) is exhibited through His kindness. These two attributes work in tandem.

If He did not let His judgments be known through His interactions within the affairs of the world, He would appear to be tolerant of mankind’s shortcomings to the extent of a permissiveness that would convey a lax attitude on His part, as if any behavior on our part is acceptable. Yet, when we turn our hearts towards Him, He will bestow kindnesses upon us.

Moreover, He will help us improve ourselves, so that we will not fall under judgment. Because His expectations of us are clear, as represented by His commandments, His judgment is valid. Yet, often His judgment is in the form of chastisement, designed to compel us to return from our errant ways.

“For whom the L-RD loveth He correcteth, even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.”

– Proverbs 3:12

Omer: Day 43 Kind Autonomy

Chesed shebbe Malchus: Love within Kingship

Today begins a seven day focus on malchus (sovereignty), in combination with the other six emotional attributes. The first of these to be explored in relationship to malchus is chesed (kindness, mercy, love). Malchus (sovereignty) may also be rendered as autonomy. Human beings are created in G-d’s image, so we are obligated by our godly nature, at least to make an attempt to reflect His attributes. We were also given free will; therefore, to varying degrees, we may seek an autonomous stance in life; yet, to see ourselves as independent of G-d would only be self-deception.

In our quest to seek autonomy in life, when defining ourselves, we should add a measure of kindness. It is not necessary to shout, “this is who I am;” rather, simply to assert ourselves in regard to our personal viewpoints. Be kind to others; allow them to express their own viewpoints; regarding shared thoughts about life, the universe, and G-d. (In today’s current climate of divisiveness and cancel culture, this is even more important than ever). Healthy respect for the autonomy of others also includes permitting enough space for others to share; moreover, spiritual growth thrives when given room to grow. This may require silence, so that the underappreciated ability to listen may be fostered.

Omer: Day 23 Soul Care

Gevurah shebbe Netzach: Power within Endurance:

(otherwise rendered as discipline within endurance).

The motivating factor for endurance is discipline; in any endeavor, a regimen that is followed with discipline, will lead to endurance in that endeavor. The path to success, may be said to be paved with sweat, especially in regard to an exercise routine. Yet, to neglect the soul, while placing undue emphasis on the body, will lead towards spiritual undernourishment. Both body and soul are important aspects of human beings. While disciplining the body seems to be an endeavor that is well undertaken by many, who are concerned with well being; the discipline of the soul is also necessary, and should be kept in mind, when dividing one’s time.

The two may complement each other; I am not advocating neglect of the body in favor of the soul. However, I imagine that in contemporary society, neglect of the soul may be all too common, and not necessarily due to an overemphasis on the body. Rather, any focus on the soul, is often diminished in favor of other preoccupations, such as entertainment, socialization, and internet use. I would encourage any readers who fall into the category of an undernourished soul, to think twice about what is important in life. For the soul is eternal; whereas, the body will be subject to entropy over time.

With that in mind, the discipline of the soul might entail the same type of regimen, planned out on a regular basis, akin to a jogging or exercise routine. Spending a few moments of quiet time at the beginning of the day, will lead towards a lasting benefit – a spiritual charge – if you will, that will continue throughout the day. Also, connecting to the soul in a meaningful way, before retiring in the evening, may help to settle the mind, and calm the nerves. Therefore, in this manner, it can be clearly seen that there are practical advantages to soul care.

note: The counting of the Omer serves as a spiritual journey. We are called upon to leave our own personal limitations behind us, as we travel on the path of freedom, away from the influence of negativity in our lives. This is a forty-nine day journey, a self improvement plan, between Passover and Shavuot. Each of the seven weeks corresponds to one of the seven middos (character traits) that we will have the opportunity to improve upon in our lives.

My personal reflections on each day’s combination of middot are not meant to be comprehensive; they are not based upon any one particular system. Nor, may my insights be characterized as authoritative, because I am a student, not a teacher. I simply hope to inspire others to delve into an exploration of their own personality, for the sake of tikkun hanefesh (rectification of the soul).

Omer: Day 7 (Malchus of Chesed) The Sovereignty of Loving-kindness

B”H

April 4, 2021

Omer Day 7
Malchus shebbe Chesed

(Kingdom within Love)

The corresponding emotional attributes, sovereignty (autonomy, dignity, etc.) within loving-kindness are key qualities in healthy relationships. To be “there for the other person,” in essence, requires a strong sense of inner fortitude, knowing who you are, in order to relate to others from a centered awareness of one’s own identity. Maintaining healthy boundaries, by recognizing the other’s autonomy is also integral to being able to express love in an appropriate manner. Acts of kindness, done in a way that respects the other person’s dignity is important.

Our own inner worth, the value we place on ourselves in regard to personal dignity, reflects the One whose sovereignty rules over our hearts, if we permit Him to do so. Yet, if we see ourselves as separate from G-d, then we risk narcissistic pride, that creates an illusion of ourselves as being more important than our abilities and accomplishments would indicate. The expression of love to another person from a place of self aggrandizement may only result in posturing ourselves above the other.

Yet, in not overstepping the boundaries of the other, by accepting the other as a unique individual, two people in relationship to each other can coexist. This holds true for our interactions with all human beings, inasmuch that we endeavor to respect and appreciate others for who they are. Recognizing the inherent value of our fellow human beings, can be done without diminishing ourselves; nor, on the other hand, by thinking that we are better than the other. G-d, Who is sovereign over all is the Ultimate Judge.

[These are my personal reflections on the implications of today’s combination of middot (character traits). These reflections are not meant to be comprehensive, inasmuch that they are not based upon any one particular system. Nor, may these ideas be characterized as authoritative, because I profess to being a student, not a teacher. I hope to inspire others to delve into an exploration of their personality, for the sake of tikkun hanefesh (rectification of the soul)].