Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Middo Are the Way we Act...

A couple of weeks ago, I gave someone a ride and she shared the following story with me.

The person in this story is just a "regular" Jewish person. Not someone anyone knows as exceptional. Though what he did was exceptional. And inspiring.

This woman takes two buses every day to get to her job. Every day she noticed a man who took the same route as her...But his face was in his tehillim throughout the entire ride. They never exchanged as much as a hello. When they'd get off the first bus, she'd get off in the back and he in the front. They waited at the same stop for the next bus and he'd be saying tehillim the whole time. She was sure he never noticed her. One day, as she came off the first bus, she saw that the next bus already pulled up and was waiting for her! She couldn't believe it. This guy, who never even looked at her and she was sure didn't know she existed, had the bus wait for her to get on. 

THAT is called middos. 

Looking out for other people, doing chessed quietly, helping others in small ways. All these little acts are so big. Why? Because it shows what is going on in the person's mind. They aren't just doing one isolated nice act of kindness. It shows that this person is on the lookout for good deeds. Doing chessed is part of their being.

It seemed like this man didn't pay attention to the woman who took the same route as her each day. He was busy saying tehillim. (No, he wasn't busy on his phone. Is this a rarity?) But somewhere, in the corner of his eye, in the corner of his soul, he noticed and grabbed the opportunity to do a tiny chessed. Which is huge on so many levels. He made a kiddush Hashem, he saved her from the frustration of juust missing a bus and having to wait for another one, he saved her time and gave her an inner peace-menuchas hanefesh along with a wonderful feeling inside...knowing she belongs to such an incredible nation, the Jewish People.

May this story serve as an inspiration that yes, there are good people out there, people who are simply good and looking out to spread the light of the Jewish People. And may this story inspire us to look out for other people, notice what they need and help them.

May opportunities for acts of kindness come your way and may you be able to be on the giving end of chessed always!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Competition

I want to share a great lesson on this week's parsha, Parshas Naso, with you.

When the second Nasi gave his korban, he could have given something nicer or better. But he chose to give the exact same korban as the Nasi before him-to make sure there would be no competition...which leads to jealousy and bad feelings. And all the other Nesi'im followed his lead and did the same.

The Torah is so careful with every letter and word yet it repeats the korban of each Nasi even though they were all the same! We learn from this how much Hashem values this middah and that we should try to emulate it in our own lives. 

Some things don't have to be shared with everyone. The second something happens in your life, does half the world need to hear about it on Facebook or Twitter? How much about your personal life should be shared on Instagram or on Snapchat? Can you find a way to use any of these to spread positivity, to share things people will remember because of the impact it leaves? People don't really care what you had for breakfast. Sharing pictures of your latest vacation may cause feelings of jealousy and competition. 

Just because you have more doesn't mean you need to show it off. Hashem blessed you with looks? Brains? If you did well on an exam, does everyone have to know about it? If you can afford to shop for things that are more expensive, do you need to tell everyone just how much you spent on your does, clothing or accessories? There's a certain measure of humility it takes to keep that inside and thank Hashem that you can pay for these things.

And...there is tremendous value to lowering your standards so others wont feel the need to keep up. You can afford more? You can make a bigger simcha? There are plenty of others who can't. There are plenty of families who are struggling. If you keep it simple, you are setting a standard that other people may be able to keep to. They will respect you more. It's not money that earns real respect, it's character. 

I read a story a while back that inspired me so much and I want to share it with you. The organization Adopt A Kollel got an unusual donation amount every month. It wasn't the typical $36, $180 or $360. It was an odd number with dollars and cents. Something like $147.63. They called the donor to ask him what the reason behind this donation was and this was his answer. He explained that he was going to lease a more expensive model car but when he thought about the struggling families in Eretz Yisroel, he decided to forgo the nicer car and lease a cheaper one instead. And he sent the difference between the car he originally wanted and the car he chose to this organization...down to the last penny...every single month. What a donation! 

This man chose to lower his standards and use the extra money to help families in Eretz Yisroel who really need it. What a powerful message!

May you be able to take a lesson from this week's parsha and apply it to your own life by keeping some things to yourself or just sharing with close friends and family, not showing off the good you have, and lowering the bar so there's less pressure for those around you to keep up.

Have a good shabbos!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Traffic

I posted this before and wanted to share the message with you again. This article has since been published but for those who have never read it and even for those who have seen it before, reading it again will give you chizuk.

Have you ever sat in bumper to bumper traffic on a highway, watching the cars on the other side breeze past you? They're all driving so fast while you're stuck waiting for the car ahead of you to move up a bit...

You wish you were on the other side too, moving quickly like all those lucky cars. But you know that there is no use in wishing, no point in being jealous. Because if you'd be on the other side, you wouldn't reach your destination. You just took a big trip and you want to get back home. For you, that is the wrong side of the highway; taking it would bring you right back where you came from. And that's not exactly where you want to go.

Life.

Life has been compared to many different thing by many bright and intellectual people.

This time, I'm using the comparison of the highway of life.

Sometimes in life, you wish you could take the easier, faster route. You wish it wouldn't take so long for the changes you want to just...happen.

You're waiting, hoping (and hopefully praying) for your yeshuah to come.

But you feel like you are sitting in traffic...and nothing is moving, nothing is changing.

You don't see any progress.

From time to time, the car ahead of you moves, just a few inches or maybe a few feet.

But then you're stuck again...stuck in the traffic on your highway of life.

You look to the other side of the road and you see so many cars, zooming by...and you eye them with a twinge of jealousy. You wish you could also go for a smooth, quick ride and arrive at your destination. But you know, deep down, that if you were to travel on the other side of the road, you would not reach the place you hope for.

But...that doesn't stop you from looking at those cars, those people, with a wishful eye, a feeling of yearning in your heart.

Eventually, there will be a point where the traffic will clear. You will make it through this challenge, as long as you keep driving, as long as you keep moving...and as long as you never give up hope.

You will get to where you want to. You will reach your destination. Keep your eyes on the goal, even as you continue to be human and glance at the other side of the highway from time to time.

Keep hoping for that clear path, when the obstacles that have been in your way are removed and you could zoom forward...and achieve that which you have been waiting for. Lift your eyes to the heavens and daven. Daven to Hashem to help you make it through your traffic jam intact, and become a better person, a stronger person.

May you be able to go through the highway of your life with the right attitude, knowing that no matter what kind of traffic jam you are stuck in, Hashem will clear the road for you one day...and you will get what you have been waiting for!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Fire

I'm still reeling.

I can't digest this. The enormity of this tragedy...the depth of this pain...It's just to much. 

How will these parents go on?

How?

How can it be that a beautiful family of 8 children is suddenly reduced to a family with just one child? A girl who until now had 7 siblings is now an only child. How can that be?

I have so many questions. Questions I'll (probably) never get answers to.

There are no answers when something so big and so incredibly sad happens.

It's just too much.

Why??

I don't know. 

We can't know. 

We can't understand Hashem's ways.

We don't know why this had to happen.

But...I need to take a message. I need to do something. I can't just cry without changing.

I think about fire. 

Fire...it has such power. 

With fire, one can cook food on the stove, light up a dark room and bring warmth into a cold place. Fire brings peace onto a family when shabbos candles are lit.

But fire can also be so destructive. It can burn a house, it can take people's lives.

It all depends on how it is used.

I think about that. I think about it good and hard. 

There are many things that have this power. The power to build, the power to destroy.

Our words.

Our time.

Our phones.

The internet.

How do we use...Our words?

Are we building or destroying? Are we bringing people up or knocking them down?

How do we use...Our time?

Are we using it constructively, building, doing, changing? Or are we letting time pass, wasting precious moments by not fully being present, by doing things that destroy our souls?

How do we use...Our phones? 

Do we use them to build...relationships? To bring people up? To listen, support, encourage, share positive things? Or are we using those phones to say things that are mean, hurtful and so destructive? 

How do we use...the internet? 

It is such a powerful tool. But just like fire, if it is not used properly, if it is not contained, it will destroy. Our lives, or souls, our relationships...and our very own children. 

Are we building or destroying? Are we creating or ruining....with the very special gifts we've been blessed with?

I can't know why this happened. No one can know. But I can ask the other kind of why. Like R' Rietti says, maduah and lamah both mean why. Maduah, which comes from da, keeps a person in the past. They want to know, to understand...the details, what caused this and what the reasons are. But we can't really know why it had to happen. Why Hashem gave us such a terrible blow. 

The second why, Lamah, comes from Li-mah, to what. What is this bringing me to? How will this horrific tragedy propel me to make changes, to move forward, to become better?

THAT is the only why each of us can answer.

Maybe we can each spend some time thinking about why...what this can bring us to change.

Very soon, we will be burning our chometz, getting rid of the ten pieces of bread we hid after cleaning our houses for pesach. 

Can we also look through our closets, drawers and shelves to see if there is anything in there that should be burned in that fire? Do we have clothing, books, cds or magazines that are not good for our neshamos? Are we hurting our souls with the things we are feeding it?

Let's rid our homes and our souls of things that are not good for our spirituality.

Let us throw the negative forces into the fire, purify our souls so that we can give meaning to the only why we can answer.

May Hashem comfort the Sassoon family...because we cannot think of words of comfort. May Hashem comfort each of us with the ultimate nechama in this month of geula so soon.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Davening For Others

Although Purim is over, we can continue to take messages from this special time throughout the month of Adar...and beyond. I want to share one powerful lesson right from Megillas Esther with you.

Before Queen Esther went to face Achashveirosh, she told Mordechai she would be fasting and asked him to have the Jews fast and daven too. She had not been called by the king in 30 days and feared for her life. If he would not stick out his royal scepter in favor of his queen, she'd be put to death. It was terrifying.

At the same time, the Jews also had the threat of death hanging over their heads. As per Haman's decree, all Jews were to be killed on the fourteenth day of Adar. One reason for this terrible gezaira was because the Jews ate at the party of Achashveirosh. To be mechaper for this aveirah of eating and drinking, the Jews did not eat or drink for three days and nights. They were allowed to do other things that are forbidden on some fasts, like smearing creams and lotions because that was not part of their original sin. When they fasted and davened, they did teshuva and returned to Hashem with all their hearts, accepting the Torah upon themselves with love.

It is interesting that when Esther sent the message to Mordechai to have everyone fast, the words used are, "tzumu alay"-fast for me. Why did she say "for me"? 

We know, "hamispalel b'ad chaveiro..." if someone davens for someone else and they need the same thing, they are answered first. Why? How does this work?

In shamayim, they are so used to hearing people daven for things they need. When someone davens for another person, it makes a huge impact Up There.

When you daven for a friend, it's because you are in pain that they are having it hard. When Hashem sees that u care so much about someone else, to the extent that their pain becomes yours, that you take the time to daven for them, He looks at you and says, what about what YOU are going thru? I'm going to give you, the one davening, a yeshuah. 

Esther's message to the Mordechai was, if the Jews daven for me that I shouldn't die when I go to Achashveirosh and they are supposed to die, Hashem will save them from the decree of death! By focusing on Esther's pain and fears when they too are experiencing pain and don't know if they will live or die, Hashem will look down at them and remove the terrible gezaira from all of them.

Why do we daven for others? Because we want to have our own tefillos answered or because we genuinely care?

Why do we give tzeddakah? So that we should get the shidduch/job/yeshuah we're waiting for within a specified amount of time or because we want to become givers?

We (should) daven for others because we really care about what they are going through. We (should) give tzeddakah because we want to become more sensitive and more giving to others...not so we can get the yeshuah we are waiting for within a certain time frame.

May we be able to do good things for the right reasons, davening for others and watching those tefillos (and our own) get answered, becoming more sensitive and caring human beings.

Isn't that what life's about?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Purim Poem-Meaning

I know it's almost a week after Purim, but I didn't get to post my Purim poem for this year. So, here goes... :-)

Purim is a day when we celebrate
A miracle that was really great
With Haman’s decree we were to be annihilated
But then it all turned around in a way no one could have anticipated
What was the real reason for this decree?
It was because the Jews ate and drank at Achashveirosh’s party
By mixing with the goyim to this degree
They were showing they cut off from Hashem completely
And since Hashem is the Source of life, the only one who gives
They lost their chance, they could not be allowed to live
But after fasting and davening and crying their hearts out
The Jews began yearning and returning, there was no doubt
For once they turned to Hashem, they finally realized
That the Torah and mitzvos are a treasure, a real prize
And once they did that, they connected to the source
They were deserving of life-real life of course
So the V’nahapoch Hu of Purim was a true turnover
A literal techiyas hameisim for the Jews in Shushan and all over
They wouldn’t be killed by the goyim who were given permission to
Instead they could fight back so they could stay alive and start anew
Now the message we can take on this Purim day
Beyond the costumes and themes and partying away
Is that a life with meaning and true connection
Where we strive to be our best, even if we can’t achieve perfection
That’s what really counts and adds life to our every year
We need to recognize the treasure we have, the Torah we hold so dear
And add meaning to our lives, to our every day
So that in a year from now, we can look back and say
“I am so proud of where I am and what I achieved
I became better, stronger, closer, more connected to the King of Kings!”
For that is our goal in our life here on earth
To fill each day with deeds and actions that have eternal worth
My bracha to you is that you should be able to make the right choices
Even when you are pulled in many directions and hear different voices
May you have the clarity to know and the strength to do the right thing
And may each day of your life be filled with true meaning
May you be able to internalize the message of Purim and take it to heart
Living each day to the fullest-today’s the best day to start!

A Freilichen Purim!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

A Message of Hope

I'm in the kitchen. Baking. Listening to music.

I'm listening to a great song. One with a message.

I wrote about that song before. It's called Conversation in the Womb and is about two unborn children-both unsure about the next world. One is an optimist and one a pessimist.

Just as the song finishes, I crack open an egg and see...twin eggs.

I crack eggs all the time. When are they ever twins? Just about never. But this time, there they are. Cute, two little yellow yolks in one eggshell.

I think about the song I just listened to, that I so quickly dismissed as soon as the next song started to play. I want to internalize this message.

I think about the climax of the song. When the optimist baby gives out a scream because he has finally entered the next stage of life. The pessimist, hearing the piercing cry, assumes it's all over, his brother must have died. But this is not death, it is actually an entrance into a whole, new, beautiful life. 

In life, we go through challenges. We can either be pessimistic about the tests we've been given, thinking of them as the end. 

The screams of pain...what are they? 

Does that mean everything is all over?

The optimist says, No, it's not over. This is just a new beginning. The beginning of a whole new life.

Yes, we are tested in life. Yes, sometimes we need to cry out. But that cry should be a message to us...a message of hope.

When things get tough and you wonder how you will go on, try to look at it with this new perspective. 

These specific challenges are here to form you. To create you. They will give you a whole new life. Your life will not be the same as it used to be, sitting in a protective little bubble. Now that you've been exposed to the harsh realities of this world, look at is as a chance for rebirth. For renewal. You are on your way to becoming a new being.

The optimist realizes that the pain he is experiencing is the pain of transition. But this transition will open up a new world for him. No longer will he be protected by his mother. He will now step out into this world and have the opportunity to become a different person. To laugh, to play, to interact, to make a difference.

The pessimist sees this cry, the pain of challenge as the end. This is it. There is no life past this. He cannot even deal with the thought of transition. 

Let us try to be like the optimist, realizing and internalizing that change, although hard, can bring us to better places. Transition is painful. But by going through that difficult phase, we can become different people. We won't be stuck in patterns of the past. We will be able to create new realities for ourselves in our lives.

Two eggs in the shell. Two babies in the womb. A message of hope.

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!