A “Superb” Book Review

You may find this review in the San Diego Jewish World.

Thank you Michael R. Mantell, Ph.D. for your inspiring words.

Here we go:

SAN DIEGO — Just what we need, right? Another self-help book?

But wait, there’s something quite different about this one.

Written by Rabbi Shimshon Meir Frankel, a clinical psychologist living in Zichron Yaakov, Israel, who also practices as a marriage and family therapist, with more than 25 years of experience, his book stands out with its Torah-driven, short-term, solution-oriented focus anchored in ancient wisdom. It puts the reader in the driver’s seat with very concentrated tools to live free of foreign, unhelpful thoughts, “antagonists,” and unhealthy behaviors – it is soul focused and value grounded.

For students of mussar, chassidus and machshavah (ethics, teachings of the Hasidic movement, and thoughts), this is a superb modern-day read.  Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto’s Mesilas Yesharim comes through every page. Rabbi Frankel’s book is indeed a unique self-help book. In reading this book, I’m reminded of Mesilas Yesharim’s aim to connect the reader to his/her deepest responsibilities in life.

The Wisdom of Getting Unstuck is structured to help the reader similarly regain control of life by connecting deeply with his/her soul. As Rabbi Luzzatto writes in his epic work in the name of the sage Pinchas ben Yair, “Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair said: Torah leads to watchfulness; watchfulness leads to alacrity; alacrity leads to cleanliness; cleanliness leads to abstention; abstention leads to purity; purity leads to piety; piety leads to humility; humility leads to fear of sin; fear of sin leads to holiness; holiness leads to prophecy; prophecy leads to the resurrection of the dead.” And this current book leads to that with present-day tools and guiding principles to transform people’s lives to live better, “emerged from and avoiding the muddy middle.”

Some of the author’s “takeaways,” found at the end of each very readable chapter, include:

–“When our lenses are caked with shmutz, it messes with the perception we have of ourselves and the world around us.

-Nobody does anything wrong unless a crazy thought enters his/her mind.

–In murky waters, we compensate by reaching for unhealthy externals. Trying to possess that which is outside of our own domain means we’re unhappy with our lot.

–We’re always on the go, moving either forward or backward.

–The more shmutz that gets in our way, the more numerous our blind spots grow over time, and the more distorted our view. What’s negative looks positive and what looks negative is positive.

–When Hashem wakes us up in the morning and wipes the soot from our eyes, our field of perception is no longer encumbered with the shmutz, and we are thus granted a fresh start and a new perspective.”

One takeaway in this practical manual for people interested in regaining control of their lives that forms the base of much current psychotherapy and mental coaching from a cognitive behavioral perspective, is “When our thinking is corrupt, our only recourse is to get our legs moving – change our place, change our perspective.”

One very appealing use of traditional Jewish source texts the author uses is based on Pirke Avos 5:20, Saying of the Fathers: “Yehudah Ben Teima says: Be strong as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer, and mighty as a lion to do the will of your Father in Heaven.”

The author then goes about showing the reader how seeing things from the bird’s-eye view, the eagle, allows us to avoid the negative. He draws on the lion by showing us how the heart is home to inspiration and the heart of the lion is the metaphor for that. The legs of the deer are used to demonstrate the benefit of takin action to do good and to invite good into our lives and into the lives of others. And the leopard is brought to help us be strong, hold a positive self-regard, be unintimidated and wear blinders and be “unabashed in the face of negative outside forces.”

From the introduction to the appendix with its detailed outline of each of the 24 chapters for review and reference, this book is a gift of leading a more empowered, peaceful life, a book I highly recommend to move closer to living the life you desire to live.

Michael R. Mantell, Ph.D., prepares a weekly D’var Torah for Young Israel of San Diego, where he and his family are members. They are also active members of Congregation Adat Yeshurun.  He may be contacted via michael.mantell@sdjewishworld.com

I’m 50

I’m 50 years young! What a monumental moment in life. I can finally give [good] counsel. If you’d like, I could tell you who to be, where to be, and when to be.

Or more importantly, I could remind you of how to be the aspect of yourself who wants nothing more but to be your best self.

Yehuda Ben Teima would say: Five years is the age for the study of Scripture. Ten, for the study of Mishnah. Thirteen, for the obligation to observe the mitzvot. Fifteen, for the study of Talmud. Eighteen, for marriage. Twenty, to pursue [a livelihood]. Thirty, for strength, Forty, for understanding. Fifty, for counsel. Sixty, for sagacity. Seventy, for elderliness. Eighty, for power. Ninety, to stoop. A hundred-year-old is as one who has died and passed away and has been negated from the world (Pirkei Avos, 5: 21).

World Book Day

It’s World Book Day. So, I’ve pasted my chapter on decision making for your perusal below.

— Sorry you missed it. This chapter was only posted for a few days —


Why are decisions so darn difficult to make?

We can attribute our decision making struggles to a normal case of FOMO. It’s like we’re all prophets when it comes to decision making. Just toying with the idea of making a choice unboxes the sense that once we clop down the gavel, single out an idea, and select one option over another, we’re certain to die of regret. 

That’s because our Antagonist places in our heart the overblown idea that making a decision means we’re automatically excluding all the other options. This is why we often feel like we’re losing out on something really important. All it takes is one decision, and somehow, we’ve already missed out. 

And it all happens so quickly… 

National Read Across America Day

It’s National Read Across America Day! My book is called: “The Wisdom of Getting Unstuck.” Check out my first chapter below:

Your Antagonist

You’re the author of your own story. You’re the main character, and as you know, a compelling story always has the major character come into conflict with an opposing force. 

This force is your Antagonist.

It wants to see you struggle. It snuggles up next to you, rubs its shoulders against you, and attempts to feed you its lines all day long. 

It wants you to follow its script, not yours.

The Antagonist tries to distort our vision. It blurs the lenses with which we view ourselves and the world around us. Our perception of reality becomes muddied by its foreign messages and external expectations. It’s easy to become misguided by its thick layers of deception.  

Would you describe yourself as a wise person? 

You’ve got your struggles just like everyone else. You’re most likely wiser in some aspects of your life than others, and whether you’re fully aware of it or not, you’re always making efforts to become the person who you truly want to be. 

Have you ever met anyone who isn’t grappling with something? We’re all struggling with one thing or another. Every one of us has an Antagonist.

The Antagonist leaves us good reason to be concerned. It’s doing everything in its power to distract and entice us into doing the wrong thing. When we start to identify ourselves with the negative messages that it delivers, we’re bound to start experiencing a heightened degree of discomfort, emptiness, pain and tension.

It’s a Bother

You’ve probably already given what’s bothering you a name. People often call it anxiety, depression, mania, fear or addiction. A good diagnostician is able to break down one’s negative behaviors and thought patterns into simple terms.

We can learn a lot from these labels. 

The problem is when we start defining ourselves by them. It’s not clear from where they originated. One thing’s for certain, once we start basing our most important life decisions on our Antagonist’s ill-driven directives, that’s when we know that we’ve stumbled right into the muddy middle. 

Imagine making life decisions based on your own values, making choices that look right and feel good, and whenever you decide to take your next step, you can count on it to be firmly planted and well secured. 

What if you could establish a mutual understanding with your Antagonist, and change the relationship for the better? Nothing could stop you from writing your own story in your own way. 

You’d have the freedom to develop a narrative that suits you best. 

In order to start relating to our Antagonist on our own terms, we have to become wiser to its daily shenanigans. As long as we’re convinced of its rhetoric, it’ll continue to rule over us. 

It’ll continue to dictate our life. 

It takes a wise person to be able to avoid one’s Antagonist’s whims, but when we time and time again find ourselves stuck in the muddy middle, it’s upon us to start developing new and clever ways to finagle ourselves out from the middle of its sticky mud.

Want to read more? Click below to order “The Wisdom of Getting Unstuck.”

The Purim Story: An Open Intervention

“Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world” —  Robert Hunter

It’s our task to open the eyes of the world to Hashem’s doings.

Not every miracle is treated the same. Most miracles are private and quickly dissipate after they occur, but a revealed miracle changes the nature of things.

Hashem likes to save public miracles just for Israel. When He performs an open miracle, this extraordinary deed resounds to all corners of the earth. Once it’s gone viral, all people are then inspired to honor Hashem and His ways.

Our salvation was revealed in the days of Mordechai and Esther. The miracle that took place in the City of Shushan wasn’t hidden. It was a public event. To demonstrate the magnificence of this miracle, Rabbi Yochanan quotes King David as remarking, “He recalled His kindness and faithfulness to the House of Israel; all ends of the earth have seen the salvation of Hashem” (Megillah, 11a).

When Hashem’s reputation goes global, King David calls upon all the inhabitants of the earth to grab their instruments, climb upon the international stage, and to sing Hashem’s praises (Tehillim 98:4). 

According to the Maharal, miracles usually happen on the home-front. They are intimate and private. It’s also unusual for them to materialize while living under foreign rule. What takes place in the Purim story is a wild exception. Achashverosh commanded the Jews to be scattered all over the world, and to live in dispersion among the other nations. 

How did Israel’s redemption end up echoing around the world? 

A decree was slated for the Jews, a nefarious call to action. Letters were sent all over the globe encouraging people to join in the destruction, eradication, and total annihilation of the Jewish people. Hashem intervened with an open miracle and saved us. His handiwork was seen all over the world.

It’s sobering to find out that because of Hashem’s love for us, the eyes of the entire world were opened. This led to a complete turnaround of the public opinion. A new letter was distributed among the nations that called for the arrest and destruction of anyone found scheming, or raising a hand against any Jew. 

The world was rectified with this change in perspective—it was whole again. 

Although this open miracle is unique to the Purim story, we know that a similar miracle occurred in the days of Amalek. What’s the connection? Haman was issued from the seed of Amalek. Since Amalek will not stop until every last Jew is erased from the earth, Hashem’s open intervention is likened to saving Israel from the nefarious deeds of all peoples. Again: “All ends of the earth have seen the salvation of Hashem.” 

This Purim, may the realization of Hashem’s kindness and magnificent doings inspire all the inhabitants of the world to be united in joyful song.

Hail, Caesar!

Julius Caesar died today! (15 March 44 BC)

When he was assassinated, he was mourned by the Jews more than by any other nation, and for a long time after they continued to weep over his tomb both by day and night (Suetonius, Divus Iulius, 84).

Hail, Caesar! Why?

Julius Caesar was a Roman leader. During the civil war between him and Pompey (49 B.C.E.), Caesar freed Aristobulus II, the deposed ruler of Judea, planning to send him to Syria, along with troops to aid him to recover his throne. Pompey’s supporters, however, succeeded in poisoning Aristobulus before he could leave Rome (cf. Dio Cassius 41:18, 1). At the same time, Hyrcanus II and Antipater, in common with the other vassal rulers in the East, remained loyal to Pompey and even sent him troops for the battle of Pharsalus (48 B.C.E.); but after Caesar’s victory and his conquest of the Orient, they went over to the side of the victor. When Caesar besieged Alexandria, Hyrcanus was one of the Oriental rulers who sent him reinforcements, and Hyrcanus’s letter influenced the Jews living in the “territory of Onias” to grant the invading army free passage. Upon his return to Syria, Caesar ratified Hyrcanus’ appointment as high priest and granted Antipater Roman citizenship and exemption from taxes. The efforts of Aristobulus’ younger son Antigonus to turn Caesar against Hyrcanus and Antipater met with failure. At the same time, Caesar nullified Gabinius’ Judean settlement and even attempted to correct some of Pompey’s abuses against the Jews. In a series of decrees and through decisions made by the Senate at his instigation, Caesar instituted a new administration in Judea. He permitted the reconstruction of the walls of Jerusalem, restored to Judea the port of Jaffa, and confirmed Hyrcanus and his descendants after him as high priests and ethnarchs of Judea. Hyrcanus’ realm now included Judea, Jaffa, and the Jewish settlements in Galilee and Transjordan. He also ratified Hyrcanus’ ownership of the Hasmonean territory in the “Great Valley of Jezreel.” The annual taxation of Judea was set as 12.5% of the produce of the land, with total exemption during the sabbatical year. Extortion by the military was forbidden under any pretext. Caesar’s settlement favored the continued rise of the House of Antipater. Caesar permitted Jewish organization in the Diaspora, and his tolerant attitude to Diaspora Jewry was emulated by the rulers of the provinces. Caesar’s enmity toward Pompey, who had conquered Jerusalem and defiled the Holy of Holies, led to a positive attitude toward him among the Jews. His restoration of the unity of Judea, his deference toward the high priest, Hyrcanus II, and his tolerant attitude toward the Diaspora Jews increased the sympathy of the Jewish masses for him. When he was assassinated, he was mourned by the Jews more than by any other nation, and for a long time after they continued to weep over his tomb both by day and night (Suetonius, Divus Iulius, 84).

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Jos., Ant., 14:123–48, 156–7, 192–216, 268–70; Jos., Wars, 1:183–203, 218; Buechler, in: Festschrift Steinschneider (1896), 91–109; Schuerer, Gesch, 1 (19014), 342ff.; O. Roth, Rom und die Hasmonaeer (1914), 47ff.; Momigliano, in: Annali della Realescuola normale superiore di Pisa (1934), 192ff.; A. Schalit, Koenig Herodes (1969), index.

Source: https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/julius-caesar-x00b0

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