Self-Help Meets Orthodoxy

Self-Help Meets Orthodoxy

Mega-church Pastor Rick Warren has “The Purpose-Driven Life,” Deepak Chopra peddles Eastern-style enlightenment and motivational guru Tony Robbins offers myriad life-changing tips.

Now, in an Orthodox twist on the self-help craze, a Stamford, Conn., rabbi will keep his High Holy Day-based website alive for Chanukah and Passover.

Rabbi Daniel Cohen, spiritual leader of Congregation Agudath Sholom, was brainstorming this summer about ways to bring the message of the High Holy Days to people beyond his 600-family synagogue. Reminded of a modest website sponsored by Agudath Sholom the previous Passover, and of an online initiative to help overweight individuals lose pounds, was born.

The website, which offers an inspirational e-mailed thought each day — as well as other spiritual insights and exercises — from the beginning of the month of Elul through Yom Kippur, is an online version of the traditional ways of preparing for Judaism’s holiest period, either with books or study in shul. The interactive site includes shared Rosh HaShanah recipes and stories, help in finding somewhere to pray during the holidays and advice for Yom Kippur.
“I’ve always had a fascination with utilizing technology to reach people,” says Rabbi Cohen, 43, who ordained at Yeshiva University.

Most of the “upwards of a thousand” of people who have signed up for the rabbi’s daily thoughts or checked the website periodically are not members of his Orthodox congregation, are not Orthodox, and are not Stamford residents — and many are not Jewish.

When Yom Kippur ends Saturday night, his “40 days” website will remain archived and a new version will return at the end of October, geared for Chanukah. He’ll bring it out again in the spring, leading up to Passover.

Forty, a number with roots in the Torah — the days Moses spent on Mount Sinai and that the Spies spent reconnoitering the Promised Land — reflects “a consistency in a person’s life,” the rabbi says.

His Torah thoughts are low-key advice on ways “to emulate God’s ways”: develop your own potential, find your own calling and improve your personal relationships. “It’s not heavy at all,” no calls to do specific mitzvot, he says.

Rabbi Cohen says that e-mail feedback since he started this website indicated that his message touched people spiritually.

His Yom Kippur theme will be “joy … a sense of happiness.” After Simchat Torah, he’ll turn his attention to his next “40 days” site. “I’ve already begun to think of themes for Chanukah,” he says.

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