God has a secret. Do you want in?

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The other day driving my daughter home from school, I see a new anonymous face holding a sign on the street asking for money. After wondering for a moment about what happened to the previous man, I began to judge him.

Is he really deserving of my $1.00?

Then I stop myself. Who I do think I am? Peering through a car window for 15 seconds evaluating the story of his life without knowing one single detail about him. I am certainly not the decent kind Jew that I purported to be last week walking into synagogue greeting everyone in my comfort zone with a hearty “Shabbat Shalom!”

I cringe at the thought of God seeing me in this moment. The light will be changing soon and I don’t have time to grab my purse, reach into my wallet and give him a dollar.

What can I give him instead?

In that split second, I wave and smile.  In return the face in front of me lights up. The wrinkles crinkle and a mouthful of teeth appear. He responds with a wave and a smile back.

Suddenly instead of looking at him, I am seeing him and he in return is seeing me. We are two of God’s creations intersecting at the corner of Wilshire and San Vicente.

Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, the leader of religious Jewry following the destruction of the Second Temple, was known to always greet whomever he came across on the street regardless of their station in life. I have often wondered why? Clearly he was unbelievably busy. He did not need to garner votes for his next election; his position was appointed. Plus, he […]

Enough Talk of Willpower! I’m over it!

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What do you really want one year from now? A relationship? Weight loss? More time with your family? A raise?

Don’t worry I am not about to lecture you on the value of willpower. My willpower lasts about 10 minutes when there is a plate of chocolate chip cookies in front of me.

Fortunately according to the latest science, if you want to reach a longer term goal such as being thinner, richer, and/or married… become more grateful, more compassionate and more appreciative.

In A Feeling of Control: How America Can Finally Learn to Deal with its Impulses by David Desteno, we learn that  scientists have found that cultivating “emotion based strategies” like gratitude, compassion and trustworthiness, are more effective at overriding our impulses than lecturing and berating ourselves.

This means if you want to lose weight, appreciate the meal in front of you rather than thinking about the meal that you are not having. This means if you want to be in a relationship, appreciate that you are on a date (not at home eating Ben and Jerry’s on your couch) even if he is not Mr. Right.

This does not mean that you suddenly are a Pollyanna and everything just makes you happy, happy, happy. Rather in Jewish parlance, you are using your yetzer hatov (your kind inclinations) to override your yetzer hara (your impulsive inclinations).

Our minds tell us that the stricter we are on ourselves, the more we will fall in line. But the opposite is true, the kinder we are to ourselves, the easier it is to fall in line.

This week we restart the Torah from the […]

If you could invite Jesus, George Clooney, or Obama to dinner, would any of them really measure up?

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We all know that famous conversation starter:  Who would you invite to dinner dead or alive? And of course we all know how it is answered. The religious invite Jesus, the Dalai Lama and the Pope. The star struck invite George Clooney and the Jolie-Pitts. The philosophical invite Socrates and Plato; and the sentimental invite their deceased grandparents.

We all want ten minutes with one of them to impart their great wisdom in the hopes that they will answer the unanswerable questions. We want them to make sense of all the complexities of our lives.

But what if the person with all the answers is right in front of you and you just don’t know it yet?

This week, Jews around the world including my family will build a sukkah, a fragile hut in their backyards. Then for 8 days we will do everything in the sukkah besides poop. And of course if the ritual is not bizarre enough, we will shake a lulav (palmy branch type thingy) and an etrog (a cousin of a lemon) in six directions while reciting a blessing to acknowledge the Divine Presence, and then we will invite seven strangers to join us in the ritual for the week.

So who am I inviting to dinner this year?

Colonel Smith*, who I met through Operation Mend, the organization which helps wounded veterans and their families to get much needed medical treatment at UCLA. He served multiple tours in Iraq and came home to his wife and three daughters after two years so badly injured that he will never be able to return to work again.

Frank and Jolie*, a Parisian couple and their daughter, whom I met randomly in a French bakery. They left their thriving careers, […]

Yom Kippur: To Fast or Not to Fast?

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All week leading up to Yom Kippur I hear people asking one another, “Are you fasting?” This one ritual of abstaining from food and water for 25 hours has become the central focus of the most sacred day of the Jewish calendar. Historically this was not the case, the purpose of Yom Kippur was “to afflict our souls”.  And one of the ways the rabbis understood how to do that was by abstaining from food and water. But the list did not end there.

The rabbis said on Yom Kippur that we were to abstain from cleaning and washing ourselves, (that’s right no brushing teeth or taking showers.) And we were to abstain from anointing ourselves (think no deodorant or perfume) and even from sexual relations (I think that one is self-explanatory).

In fact we were supposed to abstain from any behavior that was corrupting our soul.  Fasting from food may do it for you, but if the entire time you are obsessing about when you can eat the lox and bagels then maybe it is time to reassess what you should be fasting from.

This year on Yom Kippur Fast from Judgment.  Stop looking to see what others are wearing in synagogue. Stop assessing who looks thinner, happier and more together than you this year. That conversation in your head is just one big distraction preventing you from being the compassionate understanding person you really are.

This year on Yom Kippur Fast from Complaining.  In our society complaining has become the way to be heard. We all know the adage, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” We believe that in order to be acknowledged or seen, we have to complain. But that complaining is corroding our souls. Have you ever complained to a […]

Tax Day is Coming Early this Year!

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This year, tax day is coming on September 24. Most people think that Rosh Hashanah celebrates the Jewish New Year. Except, Rosh Hashanah is one of four new years in the Jewish Calendar. * So clearly it is not like New Years Eve American style. It is actually more similar to April 15 when we account for what we have and what we don’t and we deal with the reality.

Except on Rosh Hashanah we are not counting our net worth; we are counting our self worth. The rabbis of the Jewish tradition did not take this process lightly. Each one of us is required to take a Heshbon HaNefesh, an honest, unabashed look at our soul. And it is not as simple as saying, “I am a good person.” Rather it is taking a serious look inwards.

Rabbi Sharon Brous of Ikar writes On Being with Krista Tippett we need to ask ourselves: “Who am I? Where am I in my life? In what ways have I let my insecurities, my self-doubt stifle me? In what ways have I hardened my heart to the people around me? What relationships am I in that diminish my dignity? Have I let myself love? Have I let others love me? What pain have I caused? What potential do I have? Has my year been marked more by longing or gratitude? By brokenness or wholeness? By distrust or faith? By animus or by love?”

These questions are just the beginning. The more you search inside the more you may be able to:

1. Realize what are your strengths and what are your stretches (much better word than weaknesses).

2. What to focus on and what to […]