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Introspecting for Growth

Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22 )

by Rabbi Menachem Weiman

When the fifth and final book of the Torah was composed, it expressed itself differently than the other four books. Of course, each of the five books has its own "personality," but while the first four are generally stories, facts and laws, the fifth book is rebuke and review.

Moses' dying words were, in effect, "Let's list all the places where the Jewish people faltered." But he did it in a very subtle way. There is outright criticism, but mostly there are veiled barbs.

Why did he do it that way?

The answer is obvious: People don't like to hear about their flaws. If you ever want your criticism to be listened to, do it subtly.

I suspect that generally speaking, we know what our flaws are, but we're ignoring them. We don't want to recognize and deal with them. This is part of the message of Deuteronomy: Reviewing and rehashing the Divine principles forces us to deal with our faults. Review of proper values and convictions, on a consistent basis, causes reflection and change.

If you read the Torah once, you've introduced yourself to holiness. Only through repeated readings do we start to address the key issues of Godly behavior.


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Every generation has its own challenges. One of the challenges of our generation seems to be taking the time for what we truly value. Most people these days seem stressed out about time. Even though our homes are filled with more time-saving machines than ever before, many of us feel we just don't have enough time for life.

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, in Path of the Just, points out this very message from the story of Pharaoh in Egypt. Pharaoh wanted to keep the Israelites so busy that they would not have time to realize the strength of their masses. Pharaoh is the symbol of the "yetzer hara," evil inclination. Something destructive inside us wants us to be too busy for spirituality, too busy for introspection. Because if we just think about our life, our actions, and what we truly believe in, we will be compelled to change ourselves for the better.

What's your biggest excuse for not spending more time on study, prayer, family etc.? Are you letting your yetzer hara control your time management?


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In order to win the battle of life, you have to know where the front lines are. All of life is meant to be challenges, in every single area. If you are an atheist, your challenge is to be agnostic. If you are agnostic, your challenge is to believe in God. If you believe in God, your challenge is to strengthen that belief with convincing arguments, evidence and facts. If you're 100% convinced, your challenge is to understand the nature of God, His infiniteness, His kindness, His justice.

If you understand God, your challenge is to accept His Torah and reject alien philosophies. If you accept His Torah, your challenge is to accept His Oral Tradition. If you accept the entire Torah, written and oral, your challenge is to become knowledgeable in all areas of Torah. (based on Duties of the Heart by Rabbi Ibn Pakuda)

If there are 613 commandments, then we face at least that many types of challenges. Not all the commandments are applicable at all times, but each one is a spiritual principle that is attached to a separate part of our soul that needs to be perfected. This is called Tikkun Neshama. Many people these days are focused on Tikkun Olam, fixing the world. Some people forget, though, that if we don't fix ourselves first, we'll never be able to fix the world.


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For a while, there was a popular button that read, "Question Authority." This is healthy. It keeps those in authority on their toes and accountable. But some people take it a little farther and rebel against or reject any authority. As the Sefer HaChinuch writes, it is the nature of mankind to have varying viewpoints and attitudes. Pure democracy, where all those who are affected can debate and vote on any given topic, won't work. Nothing will ever get done. I lived for a while on a commune and that's exactly what happened - nothing ever got accomplished.

There needs to be an accepted authority whose decisions the people follow right or wrong, within reason.

In Deuteronomy 1:9-18, the Torah touches on the appointment of judges: "heads of thousands, heads of hundreds, heads of fifties, and heads of tens..."

We are commanded to appoint and to listen to a leader, even if the leader is saying something we don't like. In Europe they used to have a saying, "Any rabbi that the town doesn't want to kick out, isn't a real rabbi."

Nowadays we want our rabbi to be our friend, confidant, social activist and psychologist. But we should also want him to objectively point out our flaws. Once your flaw is pointed out, you have a chance to change.

Our own introspection, and the advice of a wise spiritual counselor, can get to the heart of our intuition, our inner voice that has a handle on where we are messing up. Once we think about that intuition, it can become knowledge. It can enter the realm of thought that compels us to action, change and growth.

Your mind it the most powerful weapon you have in spiritual growth.


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Spiritual Exercise:

Sit down in a chair one day this week and do nothing for one minute. Then spend the next four minutes going over the last month, examining your life for opportunities for spiritual growth.

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