Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Achrei Mot(Leviticus 16-18)

Self-Imposed Slavery
What would you do if you lost your life’s savings? About 18 years ago, thousands of people had to face this tragedy. In her book Lost and Found, Geneen Roth describes the intense pain of finding out that all her life’s savings were lost to Bernie Madoff but what she gained was priceless.
Before the phone call, I had 30 years of retirement savings in a “safe” fund…When I put down the phone…I felt as if I had died, and for some unknown reason, was still breathing.
On New Year’s Eve three weeks after we lost our savings, six of us gathered at Taj’s for dinner. As we were sitting around the table, someone asked, if you could have your money back right now, but it would mean giving up what you have learned by losing it, would you take the money or would you take what losing the money has given you? (Five out of six said) what they were seeing about themselves was incalculable, and they didn’t think it would have become apparent without the ground of financial stability being ripped out from underneath them…
My friend Michael said, “I’d started to get complacent. It’s as if the muscles of my heart started to atrophy. Now they’re awake, alive—and I don’t want to go back.”
How does one remain awake and alive? People usually look at religion as mentally numbing and restrictive but that’s not a Jewish perspective.
Carry out My laws and safeguard my decrees; to walk with them, I am the Lord, Your G-d. (Lev. 18:4)”
How does one walk with laws or decrees? Ksav Sofer (1815-1871) explains that walking isn’t merely a physical endeavor, it also relates to emotional wellness and spirituality; one has to be careful not let your love and passion for the right things decline. We have to be on guard that life’s vicissitudes have the ability to cause us to become jaded.We generally associate G-d’s commandments with topics like kosher dietary laws, Sabbath observance, loving your neighbor, and giving tzedakah (charity). However, we don’t usually think about spiritual growth as a mitzvah. Each day we should have the goal of climbing at least one small rung higher on the spiritual ladder. The goal of constant emotional and spiritual growth gives us insight into an area of life that is at best difficult and for many viewed as an exhausting and emotionally draining aspect of human existence.
Throughout life we encounter challenges with marriage, children, earning a living, relationships, and many other struggles. When struggles come your way, you might not always appreciate them but they are what help you achieve the goal of growing as a person because when we are complacent with life, we have no motivation to change.
Instead of complaining that you are shy or non-confrontational by nature and therefore don’t always have your needs met because you don’t speak up for yourself, use it as an opportunity to learn the skills required for self-expression. Yes, it will be difficult but your self-confidence and self-worth with be radically upgraded. A woman having challenges with her children will inevitably realize that by dealing with the child and his or her special needs, she will become a more sensitive and caring person. Every day might be an internal struggle not to get angry and to exert great effort to keep your composure, and dealing with children is another opportunity—a custom made workshop to help you with your struggle. Rather than damning your life’s circumstance and blaming the world and/or usually G-d, realize that each time you have an encounter with yourself, you are climbing one rung higher, a step removed, from the part of you that you wished you didn’t need to deal with. Neither fear, anger, being selfish nor other undesirable traits will simply disappear.
People make a huge mistake about prayer. For example, you might pray to be free of anger and naively believe that it will just happen. The truth is that when you pray to be free of anger, G-d sends situations your way that have the potential to make you angry. If you are sincere about prayer, you will realize that when you will find yourself in those situations—when your “buttons” are being pressed—you are being given the choice to react with rage or with self-restraint.   
We spend our lives in denial of the fact that our greatest accomplishments are the ones that required us to leave the calm security of our comfort zone. This was the gift some of the Madoff victims were able to acknowledge when they lost their life’s savings. The only way to keep on elevating yourself is to keep passing more and more difficult life-tests and by doing so you are actually accomplishing the purpose for which you were created.
Less than two weeks ago we sat at our Passover Seders and recounted the story of the liberation of our ancestors. But there’s another kind of slavery; self-inflicted emotional slavery. It’s a world in which negative emotions rule every decision but the emotionally liberated person has learned that emotions are merely indicators, they’re not dictators. 
The tools needed to take oneself out of self-inflicted emotional slavery are nearby and readily available, we need only to access them. Sometimes therapy’s the only answer, other times a self-help book works, but in all cases, (even if one uses other methods) Jews for thousands of years have used the Torah as a guide. Whether it’s binge eating, sabotaged relationships, being constantly unhappy or the slew of other self-imposed servitude, you might have tried so many things to change your condition and you should keep doing so but don’t forget where you come from and who your people are and to use some time-tested wisdom to deal with whatever you’re going through.Good Shabbos 
Got a question?