Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first chief rabbi of Israel said, “Humility is associated with spiritual perfection. When humility effects depression, it is defective. When it is genuine, it inspires joy, courage and inner dignity.” A humble person wants to avoid both arrogance – thinking that we are greater or more important than we are. But a humble person always wants to avoid self-deprecation. Each of us is worthy and deserving of respect. The trick to humility is maintaining a healthy sense of self-esteem while understanding how much space we can and should take up in any given situation. A humble person is happy to make space for others and allow others to shine. A humble person also does not shrink from taking up the right amount of space for herself.
Cultivating Humility – An Invitation to Practice
Once a day, consciously take up more or less space than you normally do in a specific situation. For example, if you rarely speak during Torah study or family dinners, try to speak more. If you find yourself talking constantly during meetings, speak less so that others might find space to join in.
Ometz lev means courage or strength of heart. In developing courage, we do not become impervious to pain. Instead we learn how to experience a multitude of feelings including pain, disappointment and longing by facing them directly. Maimonides taught, “It was a result of God’s wisdom that the Israelites were led about in the wilderness until they acquired courage.” Developing courage, or strength of heart, is a process that requires cultivation, especially in situations where fear and uncertainty dominate. Ometz lev also refers to our sense of resiliency – our ability to bounce back from setbacks. This kind of inner strength is forged by facing challenges head-on and looking at them as opportunities for personal and spiritual growth.
Cultivating Courage – An Invitation to Practice
Think of a challenge or fear you have been avoiding and take steps to face that challenge in a direct way, despite any fear you may feel.
A grateful person is someone who greets each day joyfully, someone who is able to acknowledge the many blessings that fill her life. Our Sages teach that we are to recite 100 blessings every single day, because in each day, there is that much for which we can be grateful. Most people believe that gratitude means expressing thanks only for what is good in one’s life. But the practice of hakarat hatov – of noticing the good – means cultivating gratitude for each moment … even the boring ones … even the challenging ones. Recognizing the good (or good enough) in one’s life and cultivating gratitude for what is (instead of what we wish it would be), is one of the most important spiritual practices in which we can engage.
Cultivating Gratitude – An Invitation to Practice
Each morning set an intention to notice things for which you are grateful: people, foods, experiences, nature, work, play, emotions, etc. Then, each night, list 3 things for which you were grateful that day. You can write them down in a notebook or simply note them in your mind.
Kavod comes from the Hebrew root meaning “heavy” or “weighty.” The first step in working on kavod means recognizing and taking seriously one’s own significance. When we are able to do this, recognizing the significance and holiness of others comes more naturally. Rabbi Wolbe explains, “Kavod is external behavior mandated by and appropriate to a reality of inner holiness.” Practicing the middah of honor means opening our hearts to sense the holiness in ourselves, in others and in the world.
Cultivating Honor – An Invitation to Practice
Choose one 30 minute period a day where you commit to showing honor to anyone who crossed your path or comes your way.
Throughout the Hebrew Bible God is the bestower of chesed. Jewish mysticism goes even further, stating that God created the world only for the purpose of bestowing love and kindness on all creation. Maimonides defines chesed as “excess of good.” And Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe says that chesed means recognizing the great needs experienced by others and then following through to help satisfy or alleviate those needs. From all of these definitions and understandings, we learn that we are to show lovingkindness to each person with whom we come in contact, and especially to those who are in need. While chesed can come in the form of material help, it can also be demonstrated through the sharing of our time, our attention and our empathy. Rabbi Wolbe explains that the greatest form of chesed is solidarity, or bearing the burden with the other, reminding our fellow that he is not alone.
Cultivating Lovingkindness – An Invitation to Practice
Once a day, empathize with another person – whether this person is a family member, friend or a stranger. Try to feel what compassion for this other person feels like in your body. Then do one thing (e.g., offering assistance, setting aside time to listen to this person, sharing a smile, holding a hand) to express your loving concern for this person.
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