Thursday, January 22, 2015

Airplane Musings

I'm in the car on the way home from the airport. It's been an incredible trip to Eretz Yisroel for my older sister Chaya Sara's wedding. As we ride home, we look out the window for airplanes. The kids love spotting them in the sky and we take turns guessing if the plane is landing or just took off.

"The plane is so tiny," my son says.

"Could you believe we were just up on the sky in one of those tiny looking airplanes?"

And we talk about it. How all airplanes are really so much bigger than they look...because they are so far away. When we are inside, we can see their true size, but when we are down on the ground they appear to be so little and tiny.

This gets me thinking.

I think about people.

I think about every person.

Every person on this world has so much in them. So much depth, so much history, so much to offer and so much to share. From far, before you get to know them, they might seem so little. There might not appear to be more to them than their external.

She? She's so yeshivish.

Too frum for my liking.

Oh, her? That girl? That woman? That teenager?

She looks like she could use a little lecture in [shmiras halashon, anger management, tznius, hilchos shabbos...]

There's so much we don't know about the people we meet.

We may think we see, we may think we have an idea, but really, that first encounter is just a scratch on the surface. We are seeing people at a distance.

She may look like she has it all, but do you know how much she is struggling inside?

When you get to know the person, the real person inside, you can get to see how big they truly are. Their past, their upbringing, their challenges, their successes. All this, and more, is what makes them so much bigger than they appear to be.

She may look so yeshivish, but do you know what it took for her to get there? Do you have any idea what kind of home she grew up in, how she struggled to stay strong even when she could have gone under? Do you know that she could relate to challenges you are struggling with because of her history and the life and home she chose to build for herself? She's so much more than just her outside dress. Get to know her. Look past the clothing and shy smile. See what a deep, incredible person you are encountering.

All of us have depth. Each of us are more than just a tiny speck in this vast world of humanity. We may look small in a crowd of people, but each of us is really big. We are big because of the challenges we overcame, the middos we have worked on and the people we are striving to become. We each have so much to offer, so much to give and so much power to affect those around us in a positive way.

*    *    *

I think about the Torah.

From a distance, the Torah seems so small. How much is in those five little books? How much can it encompass?

But as one gets closer, they start to realize how much is in those five little books. So so much. The Torah is so vast, it is so deep, everything is in it.

"Hafoch ba v'Hafoch ba"

Keep looking.

Keep searching.

Keep questioning.

Keep challenging.

Everything is in it.

Halachos about how to treat each other, how to deal with other people's money, how to respect our parents, how to work on ourselves...It's all there.

There are practical lessons for life found in every pasha. I find them...Every week.

Advice, chizuk, knowledge, depth, the Torah is so full. Once one starts to get closer to the Torah, they begin to realize how little they know and how much there is to gain. The more one reads and studies, the more they will see how much there is to still attain.

From afar, the Torah may seem quite small. But the closer a person gets to this never-ending wellspring of knowledge and depth, the more they will see how vast the Torah truly is.

May you be able to see, to know, to explore and understand this special gift called the Torah and may it enrich your life in so many ways!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Waiting

I'm waiting for the train to come. It's cold out. I look at the people around me. Every few seconds, I see a couple of faces lean forward and take a peek.

They're checking to see if the train is a station away. Some may be hoping for a bit of relief from the cold, others may be in a rush to get to their destination. So they keep leaning forward, they keep looking.

Does checking for the train make it come any faster?

Of course not.

And the real ba'alei emunah may not even bother looking, knowing that the train will come when it is meant to come and they will arrive at their destination at the exact moment that Hashem wills it, and not a moment before.

But what about those who keep checking?

They are human. And they are looking for a way out of the cold, a relief from the waiting and hope to move on, to a better place.

Aren't many of us like that?

We're waiting, wishing and hoping to get to a better place.

I look around again. Some people are so busy with their phones, they don't mind the wait. Some are reading, perhaps a book or the newspaper. A rare few are coupled in pairs of twos or threes talking two each other, smiling and laughing.

What do we do while we wait?

Do we distract ourselves? Do we build relationships? Enrich lives? Make an impact on others? Learn? Grow? Connect?

There are many things in life we have to wait for. There are times the wait feels cold, harsh and almost unbearable. We look ahead, wish we can get a little peek into the future, just so we can know, so we can be sure, that our yeshuah will come.

No one can give promises. We don't know what the future will bring. But while we wait, we should try our utmost to live in the moment and take pleasure in the little things so we don't feel the frustration of waiting. We can try to learn, grow, connect, be inspired and be an inspiration to others. We can take the situation we are in and use it to grow, becoming better and stronger.

And all the while, we should daven to Hashem, never forgetting that He is the source of all salvation. Just like we may get frustrated with Him when things don't go our way, we should remember to turn to Him and ask Him to make things better, to make us better, to shorten the wait and to bring the yeshuah...And give us strength to pull through until we get there.

May you be able to become better and stronger while you wait, remain connected to Hashem, and be able to help other people pull through when they are the one looking and hoping for a salvation!

Monday, December 22, 2014

She's a Gift

It's the seventh night of Chanukah.

Four years ago, on this day, I gave birth to a delicious little girl. We named her Chaya Gitty and she already personifies her name. Full of life and full of goodness, I sometimes wonder if she can be too good. But then I see her acting like a regular, normal, healthy little girl, doing things girls her age should do and I smile inside. She is a gift.

Every child is a gift. It sometimes passes us by and we are too busy to take the time to notice it, but on this day I take a few minutes to think and to be grateful. Grateful to Hashem for giving us such a precious little girl who lights up our home with so much sunshine and joy.

The cute things this little girl says, the way she shares and plays, the amount she absorbs and understands, the purity and innocence of her young heart, every bit of it is something to be grateful for.

And she's so happy. So simply happy. What does it take to make a little girl excited? A new doll. And not a huge 18 inch American Girl Doll (even though she'd be thrilled til the sky to have one of those!), just a teeny little Polly Pocket or a small six inch doll. She doesn't expect much and she's happy with the little things she gets.

What do we expect? 

What happens when things don't turn out the way we anticipated?

Do we pull through, coming out stronger? Or do we succumb because it's just too hard and our dreams have been shattered?

We all have dreams. 

We plan our lives the way we expect them to turn out.

And sometimes, sometimes life just doesn't follow that script. The imaginary life we thought we'd live...with all the hopes and dreams packed into one little fairy tale...turns out to be so different...so much more challenging...yet so much more real.

It's a chance for us to become more real. To discover our essence. To appreciate our strengths and work through our weaknesses so we can become a different person. Stronger, better, more connected...and more whole.

It's okay to wish, to dream...and even to expect to some degree.

But we have to know that Hashem has a better plan. 

Even if it doesn't seem all that wonderful in the moment. 

He has a reason, there is a purpose, and one day, we may even get a glimpse, a little peek, a little bit of understanding. 

It takes work to accept, to let go of the dreams and to create a new reality with the life and challenges we have been given.

But at the end, we will feel happy inside.

To my sweet and precious little girl, I continue to daven and hope that your life continue to be this happy. That you keep that innocence and purity with you for a long time. That you keep being that good little girl, with the right balance of giving and sharing but standing up for yourself when you need to. That the passion you have for doing mitzvos, davening and learning more never leave you...and that you follow on the right path with love every day of your life.

Hashem, I thank you for giving us such a wonderful gift. I can't imagine my family without my little Chaya Gitty in it. And on her birthday, as I take the time to reflect on how lucky I am to have her in our family, I ask you to please give me the strength to take care of her (and all of them), the ability to make the right decisions, and the knowledge I need to be mechanech all of my children to stay on this beautiful and special path we have started on. Let my home be infused with spirituality, positivity and happiness every single day.

Happy Birthday, CG! 

And Happy Chanukah to all!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Why is Chanukah Eight Days?

Here is a compilation of answers to the famous question from the Bais Yosef. Why do we keep 8 days of חנוכה if the נס  was 7 days since there was enough oil to last for one day?

1.      The יונים ransacked the בהמ"ק many days in search of oil to make it טמא. Despite their strength and numbers, they overlooked one flask. A few weak, battle-weary Jews found it immediately. We celebrate the first day to commemorate the miraculous victory over the Greeks.
2.      It would take 8 days to get oil so the Jews divided the oil which contained enough for one night into 8 equal parts. They figured they would light one-eighth of the oil each of the next eight nights. Miraculously, on each of the eight nights, the oil lasted for the entire night.
3.      After they filled the menorah with oil on the first night, the jug remained full on all eight days.
4.      The oil in the cups never burned, the cup remained full the next morning.
5.      ברית מילה was not allowed and after the war they were allowed to do it openly so for the fact that after a baby boy is born we wait 8 days, we have 8 days of חנוכה.
6.      They needed thicker wicks but they used wicks 1/8th of the normal thickness so it would last for more days. It looked like it was very thick from far and brightened the whole ירושלים. So we light because the first day it was also a נס.
7.      They were not allowed to make a copy of the כלים in the בית המקדש so that’s why we make an 8 branch and not the 7 branch.  
8.      The משכן was completed on כ"ה כסלו  but it was only dedicated in ניסן. To make it up to חדש כסלו, ה' caused נס חנוכה  to occur in כסלו. The dedication of the משכן and the beginning of the עבודה lasted 8 days so we celebrate חנוכה for 8 days. The meaning of חנוכה is dedication- this eludes to this aspect of the celebration.
9.      The first day commemorates the dedication of the second בית המקדש –when it was built.
10.  It was a נס that they found a פך שמן טהור with the seal of the כהן גדול.
11.  The oil was enough for the first night but the מנורה must be lit by day too.
12.  They were forbidden to extinguish the fire on the morning of the first day in order to conserve oil yet the oil continued burning through the eighth evening-(זית רענן)
13.  The eighth day was celebrated out of doubt just like all ימים טובים outside of ארץ ישראל. (ברקי יוסף, תולדות יעקב ויוסף).
14.  They planned on using multiple wicks dipped in oil but the original wicks lasted all day.
15.  The candles didn’t burn out despite the wind outside. They lit the מנורה outdoors because the בהמ"ק was full of ע"ז.
16.  That year כסלו was short but nowadays its long (29 days versus 30 days). We still do the יו"ט from כ"ה כסלו  through ב' טבת even though it is now 8 days rather than only 7.
17.  The מצוה of lighting the מנורה comes right after the מצוה of keeping 8 days of סוכות (7 days+שמעיני עצרת) The חכמים took it as a hint that חנוכה should be 8 days too.
18.  The נס  is not in the quantity of the oil but  quality. That is burned 8 days slower than usual which also occurred on the first day.(ר' יוסף אנגעל)
19.  The oil was enough for lighting מנורה but not for relighting the western light in the morning as it was each day.(חמדת שלמה )
20.  They lit the מנורה before dark on the evening of כד' כסלו so the נס also applied to the end of the first day.
21.  We know that the oil was supposed to burn for one day and the miracle was that it burned for eight days. But, even the oil burning for one day isn’t “supposed” to happen. Everything that happens, even the things that seem like they happen naturally, daily are miracles.טבע  is really נס.
22.  The Zohar says: A bracha can only catch onto something that exists-like when we say Birchas Hamazon we have a piece of bread on the table so that the bracha could catch onto it. So on the first night, the oil burned the full amount of time but obviously, not all the oil was used because there had to be  oil for the next day for the bracha to catch onto So it’s a miracle that it burned the full amount of time but didn’t use all the oil.
23.  The Jews were impure from the battle. They had to use an earthenware menorah temporarily. Because it’s porous, one jar wasn’t enough for the whole day.
24.  That year, כה' כסלו was on Shabbos so they needed extra oil because they had to light the מנורה before Shabbos.
25.  They filled the מנורה, and the next day, it was still full.
26.  When they filled the מנורה, the oil stuck to the jug and so not enough was put in yet it still burned the whole night.
27.  Other Jews lit torches which did not burn out until the end of the 8 days.
28.  They poured a small amount of oil into the מנורה and it filled it all up.
29.  The מנורה needed 3 ½ לוגין of oil. The flask only had 3לוגין .
30.  So that the last day of חנוכה will be the same day that the miracle happened.
31.  Some say that the miracle was 8 days- not 7. (Sefer Pischei Olam)
32.  The flame was lit but no oil was being burnt.
33.  They used aמנורה  that was broken and could not contain a full day’s amount of oil but still, it miraculously burned for a whole day.
34.  They were such צדיקים that when they lit it with such excitement, it should have toppled over but it didn’t. Every day was a נס.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Yes, It's True!

By now, I think most (or all) of you have heard the very exciting news. But I can't let this go unpublished so I am finally sitting down to write the long awaited Mazel Tov post.

Yes, it's true! My older sister, Chaya Sara, is engaged!!

We davened, did every segulah in the book (literally!) and the time finally came.

So many thoughts come to my mind as I write this. I want to share some of them with you.

The simcha that this simcha has generated throughout our family and friends is unbelievable. The sheer joy, the excitement, the tears...the reaction of every person who found out...it was surreal. I personally have never cried tears of happiness before in my life, but when I picked up my phone to answer that "Is it really true?" question from someone who is very close to Chaya Sara, I was brought to tears. To tears of joy. The person on the other side said, "Ohmygosh, Chaya Sara bas Charna Raizel, I just took challah and said her name last night!" It touched me so deeply. So many people have been davening and doing things as a zechus for her, so many people never gave up on my sister. So many people knew that this day would come. They didn't stop davening. They didn't stop hoping. And now we can all share in this wondrous simcha together. Yes, it is true!

I got that question more than once the day she got engaged. "Is it true? Is Chaya Sara really engaged?!" My phone didn't stop ringing, beeping and buzzing. I almost felt like the kallah myself! It was incredible to feel the joy that everyone else felt, to share the excitement everyone had for my sister.

This simcha teaches us on the most personal level how every single tefillah a person davens is stored by Hashem. No tefillah ever goes to waste. If Hashem doesn't answer a prayer now, He may save that prayer for later. But every single tear a person sheds, every request he makes, every single cry he utters...every prayer that escapes his lips...is saved by Hashem.

And the Torah proves this to us.

In Parshas Vayeira, before Hashem destroyed Sedom, the passuk says, "hamechaseh ani me'Avraham asher ani oseh? V'Avraham hayo yihiyeh legoy gadol"-Hashem asked, "Can I hide from Avraham the fact that I will destroy Sedom?" And Avraham will surely be a great nation.

What is the connection between these two pesukim?

The Dubno Maggid explains this with a mashal.

An old man walked into a suit store and before he purchased a suit, he had the salesman measure him to make sure the suit would fit him perfectly. Another young man walked into the same store and without trying on anything, selected a few suits that he was going to buy. The old man walked over to the young man and asked, "I don't understand. How could you buy so many suits without trying them on to make sure they would fit? Isn't this an incredible waste of money?"
The young man answered, "I am still young. I am still growing. Whatever doesn't fit me now will fit me later. And if it will not fit me later, in the future, it will be good for my children. So no, my money is not going to waste. All these suits will be put to good use."

Now, I don't suggest that todays teenagers go shopping like this young man. Perhaps he wasn't concerned about the changing styles and the suits he was purchasing. But the nimshal of this story is clear.

Hashem knew before He told Avraham that He was going to destroy Sedom that Avraham's first reaction would be---Tefillah, he would daven. Hashem also knew that the tefillos Avraham would daven would not be answered for Sedom would be destroyed. So did these tefillos go to waste? What happened to all the bakashos Avraham made? And if Hashem didn't answer him, what was the point in telling him that He was about to destroy Sedom?

We see from here that every single tefillah a person davens is treasured and saved by Hashem. No tefillah goes to waste. Ever. Avraham davened for Sedom to be saved and Hashem took those special tefillos and saved them for his children...for the times when WE would need them.

This is the connection between the two pesukim. Hashem said, I cannot hide from Avraham that I am about to destroy Sedom. Avraham will surely be a great nation and the tefillos he davened for Sedom will be saved for his children. Just like the young man in the mashal who bought a lot of suits knew his money would be put to good use...because although some of the clothing he bought might not fit him, they would be saved for his children, Hashem knew that the tefillos Avraham davened would be put to good use, they would be saved for his children...for us.

And in my family, we lived to see this come true. All the tefillos, all the tears, all the bakashos, all the zechusim, davening at kevorim, at the candles on Friday night, from a siddur or from our hearts...every single tefillah we davened for Chaya Sara to find her zivug was treasured and saved by Hashem...and our tefillah was finally answered.

Hashem, thank you from the bottom of our collective hearts for letting all of us see and experience this awesome day. May the tefillos we davened for Chaya Sara and her chosson continue to enable them to live a beautiful and happy life, filled with peace, love, connection and may they build a warm and loving family together.

Yes, it is true!

Mazel Tov!!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Construction Site

A friend of mine sent this to me yesterday and I feel compelled to share the inspiration with you.

I was in the car and got some inspiration and decided to write.

"The inconvenience is temporary yet the results are permanent."

I passed by a construction site with these words plastered on the fence. It made me think.

Yes, the pain and discomfort and anguish are only temporary.

The discomfort of working through my middos and idiosyncrasies are only temporary.

Yet the results are permanent. 

The messy construction site will be fashioned into a magnificent structure in all its splendor.

As for the pain, it will achieve its purpose. It will make me stronger and enable me to be a more committed eved Hashem and will help me reach shleimus. 

The tiny steps in working on myself will turn me into the person I aspire to be.

The discomfort is only a passing thing yet the results are permanent. This has become a motto of sorts for me.

As I go about daily life and obstacles crop up, I remember this. At first, I naturally cringe...but when I visualize the barren construction site, I smile. Because though it is hard and it hurts, the discomfort is fleeting and the results are everlasting.

(My comment :)/bracha) May we be able to internalize this message. May we be able to remember as we go through the daily obstacles of life, the small challenges and the big ones, that the results of the work we put in now will be permanent and the inconveniences, the pain, the discomfort we feel during those difficult times will pass. May we be able to build beautiful edifices of strength, connection and  perfection of our flaws and may we be able to become better people through the construction site of life we experience.

Monday, October 6, 2014

After Yom Kippur

When looking through the machzor on Yom Kippur night, there is one part of the chazzaras hashatz that really spoke to me.

We say mi she'ana l....hu ya'aneinu-He who answered....May He answer us. And there is a different phrase inserted each time. A time Hashem answered someone and we ask Him to please answer our prayers too. 

Avraham Avinu b'har hamoriah...Yosef b'veis ha'asurim...avoseinu b'yam suf...Yehoshuah Bagilgal...Eliyahu b'har hacarmel...Yonah bm'eih hadaga...Chananya, Mishael, V'azaryah b'soch kivshan ha'eish...

Each of these people called out to Hashem at a time of extreme desperation. And Hashem answered them. And the list is quite long.

And I thought to myself...If Hashem saved Yonah from the innards of the fish and Chananya, Mishael and Azarya from inside a burning furnace, can't he help little me? Can't I rely on Him to hear my little prayers? 

I looked at this tefillah and concentrated on the words. I thought about each of the stories. I thought back to the time that these people turned to Hashem because they knew He was the only One who could help them. I thought about what it took for Hashem to save each of them. Hashem made miracles! For Yehoshua, He made the sun stand still in the sky. And for me...I don't need big miracles. I just need Him to help me with my little life. And nothing is too big for Hashem. If He could save three people from inside a burning fire, He surely can save me from the difficulties I am experiencing.

This tefillah gave me a powerful feeling of emunah and trust in Hashem. It helped open my eyes to the awesome power He has. So when I feel hopeless, when I feel lost, when I feel alone, I know that I can turn to Hashem and He can do anything to help things get better. He has such incredible capabilities...and I can ask Him for anything and everything I need and want. Hashem is unlimited...and I need to take advantage of that when I daven to Him...for myself and for those close to me.

Yom Kippur is a day when I try to look back at the previous year and think about the changes...think about where I was a year ago...what was going on in my life...and realize how much was decided just one year before. It's a powerful day...and it scares me. It scares me to think about how much will be sealed on this day for the coming year. Every day, every stress, every change. I davened and continue to hope there will be many good changes this year.

I want to hold on to these feelings. Of relying on Hashem completely and recognizing that it is He who decides what changes will happen in the coming year. It was He who mapped out my life and my challenges. It is He who created me with my specific strengths and weaknesses. He gave me the exact tools I need to overcome the tests of life and become the person I am meant to become. It will take strength, it will take work, but I know that He is the One planning this all. And there is comfort in that knowledge.

This is what succos is about. It's about leaving our large, comfortable homes and going into a small, cozy little house-to be with Hashem. To be in His shadow. To be in His embrace. R' Shimshon Pincus zt"l says that the walls of the sukkah are like a hug from Hashem. After all the inspiration gained from Rosh Hashana, the aseres yimei teshuva and Yom Kippur, Hashem is not ready to let the closeness end. He wants us to come spend even more time with Him. So we enter the walls of the sukkah and it is as if Hashem is giving us a hug. The walls are His arms embracing us. I found that thought so heartwarming. 

Succos is a time to increase our emunah in Hashem. It is a time when we can realize and internalize on a deeper level just how much we depend on Him for everything. We leave our homes to show just that. When we are outside, we can let go of all the outer trappings of our homes-the chandeliers, the bookcases, the drapes on the windows...and focus on what really is important to us. Our spirituality, our relationship with Hashem, living a Torah life and doing the mitzvos. And we remind ourselves how much we rely on Hashem for all the good we have. It is not our hard work that brings the results, it is He who decides exactly how much we should have and how much we should spend, what our expenses will be and how much we will save.

How lucky we are to have these yomim tovim! We have a chance to reflect on our past year and on ourselves as people and think about the changes we want to make. We have an opportunity to renew our commitment when we felt ourselves slipping back. And we are able to strengthen our emunah and trust in Hashem so we can rely on Him with more passion and feeling over the coming year...knowing it is He who we can turn to whenever we need. Because Hashem can do anything. Just like He saved Yosef from the prison in Mitzrayim and Daniel from the lions' den, just like He heard their tefillos, He will hear ours too. And we hope He will answer them and we will have a positive outcome. 

Wishing you all a wonderful and inspiring succos.

Monday, September 22, 2014

History

Rosh Hashana is almost here. I wanted to post something I wrote before since the message applies to this time...

My son is making a puppet show with some stuffed animals. He picks up the Pooh bear. 

"What does Winnie the Pooh like to eat?" I ask. I'm sure he doesn't know. I never told him.

"Honey!" He smiles. 

When I ask him how he knew that, he tells me that two years ago, his morah read him a book and showed his class a video about Winnie the Pooh.

Two years ago? And this kid remembers?

I know my son. And I know he has a good memory. He is extremely observant and doesn't forget little details. But still, for him to remember that Pooh loves to eat honey...it gets me thinking.

The things we look at, the books we read, the websites we visit, the videos we watch, the music we listen to,  the billboards we look at, all these things make an impression on us. They stay with us forever. 

 *   *   *

Have you ever checked your browsing history on your computer? Press Ctrl and H on your keyboard at the same time and you will see a comprehensive list of all the websites you've visited along with the dates and times you clicked on the pages.

Employers can use this-and other more sophisticated means-to check up on their employees to see what they are up to during down time at work.

Parents can check up on their children to see what they are doing while they are online.

There is a record of everything you do, every link you click on, every page you access.

Sure, you can go incognito.

Yes, you can try to hide your tracks, visiting webpages using anonymous browsers.


And you can delete your browsing history when you are done your session.

But...Hashem has a record.

Hashem sees every single thing you do. 

Every single page you visit. 

Every single click of your mouse.

Glance of your eyes.

Hashem keeps track of every action you take-online, at home, at school, at work and in the privacy of your home.

Wherever you are, Hashem is watching.

Da ma l'ma'alah mimcha-ayin ro'ah v'ozen shoma'as v'chol ma'asecha beseifer nichtavim. Know what is above you-an eye that sees, an ear that hears, and all your actions are written in a book-a book that records everything, that doesn't miss out on a single thing.

It's a pretty scary thought.

Hashem watches everything. 

Hashem remembers everything.

There is no deleting what you saw, listened to, heard or watched. 

My son...he has a pretty good memory. I am sometimes shocked by the things he can recall, the little details he reminds me of that I don't remember.

The computer...it keep track of everything. Every click, every page, every visit.

But...Hashem...He is way beyond all that. 

He sees all and He doesn't forget.

Ever.