You Chose This Life, So You Can Handle it: Rosh Hashana 11a

Yehoshua ben Levi said: All creatures of the creation were brought into being with their full stature, their full capacities, and their full beauty, as it says (Bereishis 2:1), “And the heaven and the earth were finished, and all their hosts (tzevaam).” Read not tzevaam but tzivyonam (their desires).

Rashi comments on “לדעתן”: Hashem told them that they would be created and they agreed, and on “צביונם”: In the form that they chose for themselves.

Rabbeinu Bachya states that when every person is about to be created Hashem informs each of them of all the events that would happen to them, including the quality of their lives and the manner of their eventual death … including the quality of their livelihood, whether it would be plentiful or meager, whether they would be self-employed or employed by others. Every person wanted what they were shown and accepted their destiny.

Rashi states that Hashem asks each man if he wants to be created. This means, He asks them if they want to be created male or female, rich or poor, strong or weak, tall or short. And He also informs them of all the circumstances, incidents, and events that will occur to them in their lifetimes, and the quality of their life and their death — if by natural causes or an unusual death. And their livelihood, if with ease of with difficulty; if they want to be self-employed or to work for others. And in the precise way that one wants to be created, G-d creates him.

The Shaar bas Rabim further notes: Each man chooses his own form and circumstances and chooses exactly the way in which he is created; before he is born he sees, while still in Shamayim, that which is truly beneficial for him in order to be worthy, through the circumstances of his life in this world, to enter the World to Come, in accordance with his previous incarnations and based on what he needs to correct. In Shamayim, it is known what a man must achieve in this world.

The sefer Sheva Yipol Tzaddik (Rav Yitzchak Tufik) adds: Therefore, no man can complain that his fellow man was created differently from him, because he chose his own life circumstances.

When we are in the midst of a crisis or challenge, our emotional self can become overwhelmed with confusion and distress. We tend to respond to a crisis in one of three ways:

  1. Denial — “I cannot handle this. This situation is too difficult for me.”
  2. Jealousy — “Why do others have it so easy? Why can’t I have my neighbor’s life?”
  3. Anger — “Life is not fair. Why do I have to go through this?”

These are all normal, understandable reactions to crises. The truth is, however, that we can handle the crisis and either solve it, learn to deal with it, or learn to cope with our inability to solve it. As an analogy: Imagine a surgeon preparing to perform an experimental medical procedure for the first time. He completes his research, consults with colleagues, tests the medical equipment, and ensures that the computer’s software is operational. He feels ready and enters the operating theater. As the procedure is underway he may feel overwhelmed or lose focus, but he utilizes the calming techniques he learned during his surgical training and reminds himself that he does in fact have the training, knowledge, equipment, and ability to perform the procedure. Once he grounds himself emotionally, he is able to complete the procedure.

Let us apply this analogy to the above Gemara. When each of us was about to be created we were given the intellect, emotional abilities, stamina, and talents to handle the challenges we knew we were going to face. G-d showed us the matter that we needed to rectify and accomplish in our lives, and that we asked for, and G-d provided us with the self-worth, competence, tools, and strengths to achieve our particular mission. As we are in the thick of our challenging lives, however, we may become overwhelmed by a particular challenge and temporarily forget what we learned and feel that we cannot go on. This is the meaning of the statement in Chazal that we learned the entire Torah while in the womb and at birth an angel struck our lip and we forgot the Torah we learned. (Niddah 30b)

The Gemara in Rosh Hashanah, above, is teaching us an essential lesson, perhaps one of the most important life messages: you can succeed. You know the mission that you were sent here to accomplish, and you agreed to it before you were born. You were shown what you needed to achieve and you accepted the task. You were given the tools to complete the job. Now, you must exercise bitachon — in G-d and in yourself — and know with confidence that you can surely accomplish the task, simply because it’s been given to you. The very fact that you are facing this challenge means you can succeed in it.

The Ramban tells us that a person is not given a challenge that he cannot achieve. The Ramban comments (Shaar HaG’mul): “Hashem only tests a person whom He knows can handle the test.

The Torah states (Bereishis 1:11) “ And G-d said: “Let the earth put forth grass, herb yielding seed, and fruit tree bearing fruit after its kind whose seed is within it upon the earth,” and it was so. Rashi comments on the words “פרי עץ — fruit tree” that the flavor of the bark should have been like the flavor of the fruit. But the earth did not do so. Rather, the verse states: “And the earth brought forth trees yielding fruit,” but the tree itself was not fruit. Does a tree have free will that it can decide whether to fulfill Hashem’s will? A tree represents process of production and fruit represents goal, or purpose. The tree, with its systems of photosynthesis, xylem, and phloem is the production machinery that eventually produces the result: the fruit. Hashem commanded that the process and the product “taste the same.” Hashem intended that the taste, the essence, should be experienced just as much during the process of production as in the result. In other words, Hashem intended that we understand the process of becoming who we are supposed to become is as meaningful as the result or eventual outcome — being a fully developed person. However, the tree did not grasp this.

In this world we see the process of becoming who we are supposed to become as a painful process. It tastes to us as bitter as the bark of the tree. We see the process of ordeals and crises as separate and distinct from the eventual result. Therefore, in this world, we see the process as bitter and the result as sweet. We fail to see the connection between process and result. We fail to see that in order to taste the sweet fruit we have to go through the process of producing the fruit and becoming the person we are supposed to become. In this world, we experience the pain of challenge and ordeals as bitterness and darkness. We are unable to appreciate that these pains are actually birth pains — of the self we are destined to become. We fail to realize that the pain and the result are one and the same.

Gan Eden — the goal of our lives — is comprised of trees to teach us that destiny is achieved through a combination of production and result: bark and fruit. When we get to Gan Eden — the World of Truth — we will then see the truth, that each of us had to go through crises and ordeals in order to become the person we have become. In Gan Eden we will realize that the bitter process of growth is as tasty as the fruit. We will say, “Now I realize why I had to go through that ordeal. That was what shaped me into the person I have become.”

According to the Gemara cited above (Rosh Hashanah 11a) each person knew this when he was in the World of Souls and agreed to undertake the mission of becoming himself. Our task is to realize and integrate this while in this world — and to seek the taste of fruit in the bitterness of the process.

The greatest gift that Hashem has given us is to be able to grow closer to Him, as David HaMelech says (Tehillim 73:28) “But as for me, the nearness of G-d is my good.” We have the opportunity to come closer to Hashem by acting like Him. This is how we must approach each challenge, as difficult as it may seem when we are going through it. It is up to us to live with the awareness that the challenge being sent to us is meant to bring out a character trait within us that will help us better emulate Hashem and achieve our destiny.

1861 Kugels

I have been married for 30 years. Every Shabbos and Yom Tov my wife makes the best kugel in the free world—potato, lokshen, sweet and Yerushalmi –she surprises us.  Since there are approximately 50 Shabbosos and 12 days of Yom Tov per year, she makes 62 kugels every year. Multiply that by 30 years of marriage and my wife has delighted me and our family with 1860 kugels.

And what is my response? Every single Shabbos and Yom Tov I have thanked her warmly for each kugel—and I have paid attention to detail; Yerushalmi, Sweet, Potato, Raisin… And yet, after all these expressions of love on my part, she still says, “You are just not “there” for me.”  I just don’t get it.

I try to be an expressive and appreciative husband and I have kindly thanked her for all the kugels– and all the meals— and all the carpools, and even her teaching salary that brings income into the family—and still—I am not “there” for her? What more could she possibly want and what more can I possibly do? I am ready to give up.

The key to unlocking this problem, which I have encountered hundreds of times in my counseling office, is learning the art of emotional support. My definition of being a good husband is working hard, being polite and thankful for all that my wife does, provide for the family as best I can, learn Torah, lead the Shabbos table, and thank her for every kugel. My wife’s definition of a good husband is all those things, but with one addition–being emotionally supportive of her and the children. I never learned the art of emotional support in chosson classes and I must have been absent when “they” gave out emotional support.

So you know how I learned it? My wife taught me. She explained to me what she needs from me—feedback of not only what she does—but input and my noticing who she is. There is a huge difference between what a person does, and what a person is.

In order to discover who you “are” let us use the following Wheel of Strengths  and fill in two strengths you have in each category. Here are some questions to help you input the answers:

Intellect: Are you a good conversationalist, street smart, havecommon sense, strive to learn more each day. Are you a problem solver?

Social: Are you a loyal friend, outgoing, helpful, a good listener, kind, reliable, a confidante, able to keep a secret, involved in visiting the sick, involved with social-action projects?

Spiritual: Do you see Hashem’s hand in nature? Are you inspired by music, sunsets, long walks in the country? Are you ethical; honest? Do you pray?  Do you feel close to G-d? What aspect of Judaism inspires you? Shabbos, learning, chesed, tefillah?

Accomplishments: Are you helpful? Do you work out, do chores, help neighbors, make dinner, and organize the house? How have  you  grown as  a  person  in the past  two years? What  attribute  are  y ou  working on?

Family: Are you a contributing member of your family, emotionally supportive of spouse and children, playful, committed to spending time with family, loyal, dedicated?

Personality/Middos: According to the Tomer Devorah, when you contemplate Hashem’s Thirteeen Midos of Rachamim, you are obligated to identify the parallel middah that Hashem has instilled in you. In other words, Hashem’s middos, when expressed in our lives are:

  • Hashem, Hashem-Consistency, never giving up, perseverance
  • Kel-Power and Leadership, Strong Will, Assertive
  • Rachum-Compassion for the physical needs of others
  • Chanun-Graciousness, Empathy for the emotional needs of others,  Sincerity
  • Erech Apayim-Patient, Mellow, Laid Back
  • Rav Chessed-Loving-kindness
  • Emes-Truth, Integrity
  • Notzer Chessed-Creativity with ideas, music, art
  • Noseh Avon Vapheshah V’Chataah-Forgiving nature
  • Nakei-Resilience.  The ability to bounce back and start again.

When you contemplate, recognize and activate the one or two attributes which are your strongest attributes—that is the real you—the part of you which is an expression of Godliness. When you use those attributes you become truly “alive”-and that is why you feel shleimus when you live these midos. This is who you are—because with these midos you are emulating Hashem—and are fulfilling the mitzvah of V’halachta B’drachav—to walk in His Ways.

If you use this Wheel of Strengths—one for your yourself and one for your spouse–and comment and give each other feedback every day of something constructive your spouse did that day—you will be noticing much more than simply what he or she does—you will be recognizing who they “are.” This is how you can “be there” for your spouse– by validating her midos and values—not just her kugels and carpools.

This Shabbos my wife will be making Kugel Number 1861. But when I point out to my wife which midos she used this week—from her  Wheel of Strengths–I will graduate to “being there” for her.  I will say, “I appreciate the effort and love you put into making that kugel to enhance our Shabbos.” This is called emotional support. And the kugel will be amazing too.

Workshop Testimonial from Dallas

I received this letter, written by Jackie Moskowitz Shafron, after facilitating a workshop in Dallas, Texas. What a powerful testimonial!

Thank you Andi for helping us arrange the Conference Room for Rabbi Roll!  It was a true success…not only did teachers, Rabbis, and therapists show up, but we had professionals from Mesorah, TDSD, Levine, Akiba and JFS which made it even MORE amazing.  It was truly a unifying experience as we all brainstormed ideas of how we can best serve all of our Jewish students, regardless of what school they attend!  Rabbi Roll suggested a follow up, perhaps once a month, with a staffing group whereby we all discuss/brainstorm creative strategies to help our students succeed.  We talked about having have mental health professionals  attend these groups and use Rabbi Roll’s framework of “Wheel of Strengths,” which we were all exposed to vis a vis his Sunday presentation, to generate creative ideas and solutions for difficult cases.  (Obviously, no names or identifying information is needed; this is confidential and the way in which we speak about students will be general and anonymous).

The goal is to come up with various strategies and ways to help children connect with their own internal gifts/strengths, which may likely NOT be academic in nature.  Obviously, only a small percentage of children are in the top 10 to 20% of academic excellence.  These students are typically nurtured by an academic environment since they excel in such.  They are able to develop positive internal constructs of themselves and internal models of competency and self esteem based on academic performance and school functioning.  However, many children do not fall into that category.  The question is how can we be certain that we, as educators, parents, Rabbis, etc. maximize  every single student’s unique potential for success and internal constructs of competence, especially if it does not fall within the traditional academic realm.  The workshop encouraged and challenged us to create in-school programming, in-class activities, and specific, consistent cognitive strategies that support students’ positive self-reflection, especially those within the non-academic purviews, and to begin such in the early grades.

It was so wonderful to have everyone sharing and supporting one another.  We really thank you for enabling this to happen at Akiba.  It was truly a Kiddush Hashem!!  And Rabbi Roll was an amazing workshop facilitator, as he brought to the forefront an important topic that teachers and educators, as well as mental health professionals, struggle with daily.  How do we ensure that each beautiful child can experience their own internal gifts/strengths/character traits, given to them by Hashem, and use these internal constructs as protection or ‘armor,’ if you will, against negative events.  (We know that the numbers of children being diagnosed with anxiety/depression or some combination of the two has been rising at alarming rates!).

This aspect of resilience is a psychological construct that has gained center stage over the last decade and is, along with IQ and academic achievement, a most powerful predictor of future success.  We must arm our children with their ‘Wheel of Strengths,” given to them by the Almighty Creator, nurtured and expanded by parents, family, school, teachers, Rebbeim and educators, and ultimately internalized by students to create a grounded sense of their own unique selves that can sustain life’s battleground.  We all want our children to be adequately prepared for the world, and to be resilient enough to get back up when the world knocks them down.  Sheva Yipol Tzadik V’kam (A tzadik falls seven times and gets up) — we need to focus on helping our children know how to get back up!

Ivan is arranging for Rabbi Roll to return some time after Pesach.  I will keep you posted!

Thanks again!


Jackie Moskowitz Shafron

Self-Confidence Podcasts Now Available

Get a taste of the Self-Confidence Seminar with my Self-Confidence Podcasts. Each episode will be 2-4 minutes long. You can listen to the first three episodes below.

01. Thinking Positive

02. Life is an Opportunity

03. From Lonely to Alone to Unique

Faithfulness in Adversity

Contributed by Shoshana Z.

Faithfulness (Emunah) doesn’t mean expecting miracles, only the certainty that the place I find myself is the place from which I need to make the choices before me. I don’t pray to suddenly become well, but I pray that Hashem will give wisdom and insight to researchers to find better treatments and cures to cancer and other serious disease. It is not about me, but about the greater realm, where we all find ourselves. For now it is not faithfulness (emunah) that strengthens me, but gratitude, thankfulness for the “thousands upon thousands” of wonders that I’m privileged to know and experience. The fact that I have cancer is not something to fight. It is something to accept. Of course that doesn’t mean passively ignoring medicine, or giving up or any such thing:

Only when we know where we stand can we choose to move in the right direction.

This is true in every choice, be it medical or moral.

Prayer is good, and effects change in the world. It may well bring positive outcomes, so I welcome it with joy. It is also true that “G-d is not a celestial bellhop.” Faithfulness (Emunah) is not an affirmation of G-d’s participation in our expectations, but our participation in His. It is right an good to ask Him to fulfill the desires or our hearts, but the reality is that we do not get those desires fulfilled — at least not every time.

When people talk about taking life-threatening risks, I have often responded that one understands that if it is “our time” then it is is “our time”, but I am not raising my hand to volunteer! Same here, but in reverse: Prayer is me raising my hand to volunteer for a good outcome.

My job, however, is to use the gifts that I am granted to make the very best choices available to me. Educate myself, get the tests, face the facts, and move forward.

WITH that, no in place of it, is faithfulness (Emunah): Knowing that all reality is nothing but the presence of G-d in our world.

Alone Against the World—Chanukah’s Antidote to Loneliness

Dear friend,

With the light of Chanukah about to peer through Hashem’s lattice-work, I would like to share an article that I have written which will hopefully inspire your Chanukah experience.

Also, I invite you to view my new Self Confidence book series, below. I am available to present the Self Confidence Seminar to your community for an individual lecture or a Scholar in Residence Shabbaton.

Wishing you much light.


Rabbi Yisroel Roll

Alone Against the World—Chanukah’s Antidote to Loneliness

The poignant single candle lighting up your window on the first night of Chanukah holds the key to solving the pain of existential loneliness. The solitary candle is an expression of the halachah brought in the Gemarra (Shabbos 22b): Ner Ish Uveiso”–one candle fulfills the mitzvah for the entire household. The basic halacha is one candle should be lit every night. Of course, we pasken like Beis Hillel that we add one candle every night to bring the majesty of eight candles filling our souls on Zos Chanukah–on the eighth night. But, the basic halacha is that only one candle per night is required. How can one lonely candle be sufficient?

Loneliness is a devastating emotional state. It can lead to a feeling of emotional emptiness and isolation. You may feel alone and uncared for—which often leads to feeling unworthy of love, and ultimately a lack of self-worth and value. Feeling alone is an understatement. The feeling of emotional pain is with you every waking moment. You go to sleep depressed–and awaken to despair and foreboding. You feel uncomfortable in your own skin. There is a pit in your stomach—and you second guess your decisions. Even worse, you begin to second guess your life.

The Midrash comments on the encounter between Yaakov and the angel as follows: Just as it says about Hashem עֵינֵי גַּבְהוּת אָדָם, שָׁפֵל, וְשַׁח, רוּם אֲנָשִׁים; וְנִשְׂגַּב ה לְבַדּוֹ, בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא.— And Hashem alone shall be exalted in that day,” (Yeshayahu 2:11), so too it states about Yaakov וַיִּוָּתֵר יַעֲקֹב, לְבַדּוֹ; וַיֵּאָבֵק אִישׁ עִמּוֹ, עַד עֲלוֹת הַשָּׁחַר— And Yaakov was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until dawn.” (Bereishis 32:25) Eitz Yosef explains: Just as Hashem is One and unique in the heavenly sphere, and there is no one like Him, so too Yaakov was alone and unique in the earthly sphere, and there was no one like him in merit and strength. Therefore, the angel was jealous of him and wrestled with him. (Bereishis Rabbah 77:1)

The Maharzu (Rav Ze’ev Wolf Einhorn of Horodna) explains that Hashem gave Yaakov the awesome strength needed to stand up to the angel. This “awesome strength” that Hashem gave Yaakov is aloneness. The key to Yaakov’s success against the angel of Esav is that Yaakov’s aloneness was an extension and expression of Hashem’s aloneness. Aloneness connotes individuality, independence, and oneness.

We usually think of aloneness as a negative state that leads to emotional loneliness. Many people suffer from loneliness, and it can be debilitating. But the Midrash, as explained by the Sifri and the Maharal, is making an astounding point. Aloneness leads to inner serenity when a person becomes alone and integrated with himself. This means that he accepts his aloneness and uniqueness as an expression of Hashem’s aloneness and uniqueness. If you are alone, you can find wholeness within yourself when consciousness of God fills your mind, feelings, and actions. There can be no internal turmoil or confusion when you fill yourself with the awareness that your entire being is an expression of God’s Will. There is no room within your mind and psyche for inner turmoil because you are alone, one, and aligned with the Will of Hashem.

You can then revel in aloneness, represented by the singular candle of the first night of Chanukah, and not allow it to turn into the depressing mindset of loneliness. This is instructive of the last part of the verse, which says: וְאֵין עִמּוֹ, אֵל נֵכָר— And there was no strange god with Him.” This means that God’s “aloneness” should bring man to become conscious of God’s singularity. God is alone, and man should strive to think of nothing other than Godliness alone — that everything in the world is a manifestation of God. It is the hallmark and goal of an eved Hashem to experience “God consciousness” as much of his waking hours as possible. When he does this and realizes that there is nothing except for God, that God is reality and that your psyche is an expression of that reality, then there is no room for other gods within you, or with you. You can then achieve inner tranquility by virtue of your aloneness.

This idea is illustrated most profoundly by Rav Tzadok Hakohen in Pri Tzadik on Parashas Bechukosai, in which he states that the mitzvos and Hashem’s attributes are not external or separate from His being; rather they are manifestations of Hashem Himself. This is more than being intrinsic to His being. They are one with His Being in an absolute way that the human mind cannot comprehend. This is the meaning of the concept that Hashem keeps His Own mitzvos, i.e., Hashem prays, puts on tefillin, and observes Shabbos (Berachos 6b-7a). That Hashem rests on Shabbos means that He brings everything in creation together in a harmonious oneness that reflects His Oneness.

When we rest on Shabbos, we create an inner reality of oneness and contentment such that we need not travel anywhere or perform any creative acts. Instead, we are at rest, or at one, within ourselves. We have arrived at our destination: the integration and wholeness of the self. (Schwartz, Yitzchok. Rav Tzadok Hakohen on the Parsha. Jerusalem: Mosaica Press, 2014.)

I invite you to proactively seek the aloneness, and therefore the independence and uniqueness, that resides within your own psyche and self. You can then turn emotional loneliness into the awareness that you were individually chosen by Hashem for a unique mission that only you can fulfill. The solitary candle in the window on the first night of Chanukah reflects your own unique individuality and uniqueness. May the light of Chanukah inspire you to discover your life mission and in turn, bring new light and motivation into your life, and into the lives of your family and community.

Podcast Interview with Plural of You

I believe that the antidote to loneliness is to stop thinking about being loved and to start loving. It is time to stop seeking love and to give love. It is time to stop looking for approval and to start giving approval and to build others. That is what Josh Morgan is all about. His Plural of You program seeks out proactive people who build others. It was an honor for me to be interviewed by him and to promote the Plural of all of Us.

You can listen to my interview with Josh at Plural of You’s website.