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Dvar Torah - Balak

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat." -- Theodore Roosevelt This week we begin the three weeks, a time of great mourning. This period marks when the Romans entered Jerusalem and when they finally destroyed the Temple. It's a sad period marked by mourning practices. We don't cut our hair, listen to music, or have weddings and other parties.

It's also an introspective period. We know that the Temple was destroyed because of our sins and disunity, so we use this period to draw closer together and be kinder than we are the rest of the year. This can take the form of increased charitable donations, visiting the sick and the indigent, delivering food, or any other act of kindness. However, it reaches its (perhaps) ideal in changing our attitude towards others. Acts of cruelty and disunity seldom start with the desire to be evil. Most people see themselves as good and want to be as nice as possible. However, we find it easy to make excuses to be less kind than we ought to be. We judge others, find them wanting, and then tell ourselves that they deserve the unkindness that they receive.

We must spend the next few weeks (and afterwards) being kinder; however, perhaps we should start thinking kinder. Instead of judging the failures of others, let's try to see the good in the effort they are making. If someone is doing something you can't stand, tell them quietly. If they don't improve, tell them again. We all fail, and we all make mistakes, but we expect others to be forgiving of the mistakes that we make. So let's make sure that we use the next few weeks to forgive the mistakes of others and admire them for making an effort. Rav Kook teaches us that just as the Temple was undermined and eventually destroyed by baseless hatred, we will rebuild it on the force of loving-kindness. Kindness is ultimately in our actions. However, it starts as a state of mind. So let's make sure that our every thought is consumed with love for our fellow. We'll be better people for it, more satisfied with life, and we'll also make them happier.

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