Friday, August 28, 2009

Teshuva - Don't Give Up

Now that we are in Elul and it's a time for all of us to do teshuva, I feel that there is something very important to remember.
There are so many areas in which we can all improve. I don't know if there is anyone who can say that they feel that Elul is here and they don't know what to work on.
If you need some ideas, here they are - working on anger, patience, respecting your parents and people older than you, shmiras halashon, judging favorably, saying brachos with kavannah, tefillah, noticing Hashem in your life more, thanking Hashem, complimenting others, spending time wisely = not wasting time, jealously and the list goes on and on...
Anyway, what I wanted to point out is that when a person tries to work on something and then feels like that specific thing they chose to fix is becoming soo much harder to do, here's what you can think of.
Here's the mashal: When someone is walking down the street holding a bag of garbage, he doesn't have to think for a minute that someone will rob him and try to steal his dirty bag. But when someone is holding a bag full of diamonds, he has to be careful with it and make sure that no one steal it! The robber wont bother chasing the guy who is on his way to throw out his garbage but he will look out for someone carrying those diamonds and jewels.
It works the same way with the yetzer hara - whenever he sees that you have something valuable to gain, that's precisely when he will go and "chase you" and make it hard for you to succeed! Only because he knows that you have something really great at the end, if he loses, that's when he goes and makes it hard for you! That's when it's worth the fight for him!
So when you are trying to work on something and that specific thing gets hard for you (like, you are working sooo hard on talking respectfully to your parents, why is it that today you feel this massive urge to answer back?!), just remember that the yetzer hara is putting up a fight because he sees that you will get major zechusim if you win!
So keep trying - especially when it's hard for you, because know that when you win, you will be on top and your reward is even greater than all the diamonds and jewels!!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Thoughts on Elul

I wrote this two years ago and passed it around as an email. I think the message is still so powerful and I hope you gain from it.

If your parents were to give you money to spend on whatever you wanted, there are a few things you could do.

Either you can buy yourself a present with the money they gave you. That would be very nice as that is what they had in mind when they gave you the money. They give you ten dollars, you buy yourself some pizza and ice cream. They give you more, you buy yourself shoes, clothing or a new book. They give you lots of money, you buy yourself something more expensive.

But even better than that, you can use the money they give you to buy them a present. That would be extra special because you are using the money you got to try and repay them for all the good they have given you. They gave you ten dollars, you buy them roses. They gave you more, you buy them a gift to enhance the Shabbos table. They gave you lots of money, you buy an expensive piece of silver.

But imagine if you were to take that money and use it against your parents. They gave you ten dollars, you buy yourself some fuel and matches and burn the house down. They gave you more, you buy yourself some other destructive device and cause untold harm. They gave you even more, you use it to pay for a car and crash into them and kill them.
Sounds ridiculous, no?!
This is what happens when we sin against our loving father, HaKadosh Baruch Hu. He gives and gives and gives to us. He doesn’t stop. And we have choices of how to use the gifts He has gives us.

We can use them to our benefit alone. We can eat the food he gives us and enjoy it. We can sing songs to ourselves and enjoy our beautiful voices. We have eyes, we can use them to read. We can use our ears to hear sounds and our lips to speak words.
But even better than that, we can use our talents to come closer to Him. We can't repay HaKadosh Baruch Hu for a bit of what He does for us, but we can give Hashem a present by using what He gave us to bring Him nachas and joy. We can say brachos on our foods or use our voices to sing songs that will inspire ourselves and others to come closer to Hashem. We can use our eyes to read stories and look at things that will bring Hashem happiness. We can use our ears to listen to words of Torah and use our lips to daven and sing Hashem's praises.

But when we use our body to sin against Hashem, we are giving Hashem a "slap across the face"!! Hashem gives us eyes and what do we do?! We read and look at things we should have never read and seen. We look at people with a jealous eye instead of fargining. Do we look into the siddur and the holy aleph bais when we daven or do we let our eyes wander around the room diverting our attention and getting distracted from our tefillah?!

We are blessed with the ability to hear and what do we use our ears for?! We listen to words of lashon hara and ona'as devarim. We listen to others complaining and then validate them instead of helping them realize that there may be another side to their story. Should we try to listen more when someone is trying to tell us something instead of interrupting them before they finish their thought?!

We were given the ability to speak. How careful are we with guarding our lips? Do we daven and bentch slowly and carefully? Perhaps we can start to say each bracha with more articulation, thereby enabling us to have more concentration when saying it. When we use our mouths and our lips to do aveiros, we are taking the gifts Hashem gave us and using them against Him! What could be a bigger insult to Hashem than that?! "I give you a gift and this is what you do with it?!" Do we want Hashem to chas v'shalom have to wake us up by taking away one of these gifts so we wont be able to use them altogether?!
We just started month of Elul. It is a time for us to really think. We should use this month to give Hashem nachas by showing Him that we are using every part of our body to serve Him. So work slowly. Take one part of your body and tell yourself, "Today I want to work on my brain. How can I fill my brain with positive thoughts and use my brain to get closer to Hashem?" Is this hard? Maybe. But think about the millions of things you can thank Hashem for. You will never get bored with these thoughts. Go through your body and start realizing how much is going on inside of you. Thank Hashem for your health and that your heart is pumping blood throughout your body... Thank Him for your family and friends. Thank Him for keeping you alive. You have so much to be grateful for! Just use your free time to think about all the things you can thank Him for and you will be serving Hashem with your brain!

You can use each part of your body to get closer to Hashem. It just takes a little bit of time and some serious thought. You can do it. Give it a try. See how it works. You'll be amazed by the feeling you'll have when you realize that you are able to use the gifts Hashem gave you to get close to Him. So instead of throwing the gifts He gave us back in His face, let us try to use them to come closer to Him and thereby merit the coming of Moshiach, where we will see Hashem face to face!!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Demonstrating your Love for Hashem

I mentioned before that Elul is an acronym for “Ani L’Dodi V’Dodi Li-I am to my Beloved and my Beloved is to me”. This teaches that Elul is a time of expressing love to our Creator and our Creator expressing His love for us. How is this love actually expressed?

Twice daily in Shema, we state the following mitzvah: “V’ahavta es Hashem Elokecha-and you shall love Hashem Your G-d.” The Gemara explains this posuk as follows: You express your love of Hashem by making the Name of Hashem beloved among people through proper conduct, conduct “b’nachas” with others. It is no small wonder then, that the yeshivos emphasize study of middos bein adom l’chaveiro (between man and fellow man) during the month of Elul. In fact, in Kelm, the yeshivah studied sefer Tomer Devora during this time, because this sefer emphasizes the love one must have for his fellow man. So by showing our love for Hashem’s creations, we follow in Hashem’s ways, and demonstrate our love for Hashem Himself.

Here is a practical Suggestion. Every day until Rosh Hashanah, practice love for your fellow man by doing kindness and favors, to the extent that you can. Open the door for someone walking in behind you, smile at people as you pass them...

I actually try to smile at people while I walk down the street and it's really funny to see some reactions. Some people stop and ask me, "Do I know you?!" and I say, "No! I'm just smiling at you! Hope you have a great day!" It's amazing to see the way people respond to something as simple as a smile! Try it out!

You can also try to give someone a compliment every single day. Here's a quote that I made up:
"A compliment a day goes a very long way!"

And it's so true! You never know how much a compliment can mean to someone. You can either compliment the outside (wow! I like your shoes/shirt/sweater/skirt/outfit/suit/jewelry etc...) or you can compliment the person (that was soo special of you!/I really respect you for doing ----/You are such a happy person!/I wish I can be like you etc.) Ask any person - they would much rather be complimented for who they are than for their outside - what they are wearing.

So try it out!

What are some other ways we can show our love for Hashem's creations, thereby showing that we love Hashem?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Rosh Chodesh Elul

Today is the first day of Rosh Chodesh Elul. But tomorrow is the first day of the month of Elul; today is the last day of Av. I was thinking about it last night and was wondering, why is it that every year, Av always has 30 days which means that there are always two days of Rosh Chodesh Elul?

Since Rosh Chodesh Elul is always two days, as soon as we hear it’s Rosh Chodesh, we have a day to think, “Oh! Tomorrow’s the first day of Elul! I better wake up and start to think about changing myself!” If Elul would have just one day of Rosh Chodesh, then we wouldn’t have that extra day as a reminder of what is coming and what is about to happen! That is such a chessed from Hashem – He is giving us a small wake-up call, a small reminder that Elul is about to arrive! Now it’s up to us to think about it instead of pressing the snooze button each morning, until we realize that Elul is almost gone!!

We know that Elul is a time for closeness and connection to Hashem, more than any other month. We’ve learned this since we were young - Elul is an acronym for, “Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li” I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me – we are soo much closer to Hashem this month. But do we really feel it? Will any of us wake up tomorrow morning and feel this unbelievable closeness to Hashem, like never before? What's the difference between today and tomorrow?

And I think that the answer is that it’s up to you. If you open your heart to let Hashem into your life, you will start to feel Him more. Yes, Hashem is closer to us this month – it means that it is easier for us to connect to Hashem this month, more than any other month in the Jewish calendar. If you want to get closer to your Father, now’s the time to work on it! But if ignore the fact that tomorrow is the beginning of a very special opportunity of closeness and connection to Hashem, then you can lose it!

R’ Shimshon Pincus zt”l gives a mashal: A husband and wife can have a beautiful relationship only if each one knows that the other one exists. If the husband goes about his everyday business without knowing about his wife, she can be in the house but if he ignores the fact that she is there, there is no relationship! And if she comes home and ignores her husband, doesn’t talk to him or acknowledge that he is there, there’s no relationship whatsoever! So the only way for us to have a relationship with Hashem is by knowing and realizing that He’s here, closer than ever before!!

And there’s something special about starting right away and building your relationship continuously. Just like you cannot compare an uninterrupted night’s sleep of 6 hours to sleeping for 3 hours, waking up for an hour and sleeping for another 3 hours (there’s something about the quality of sleep – ask me or any new mommy! ), you cannot compare a relationship of building one day and continuing to build on yesterdays achievements to an on-and-off relationship. This is what Hashem wants from you! He wants you to be consistent and He wants you to talk to Him and remember Him every day!

Tomorrow is the first day of Elul – give it a try and see how it feels to get close to Hashem.

But how does one get closer to Hashem?

One way is to notice the little thing Hashem does for you throughout your day and thank Him. An earlier post,
Bringing Hashem into Your Everyday Life, speaks about thanking Hashem for the little things.

Another way is to use your free time to think about ways to improve spiritually. There are so many areas in which each of us feel we can improve (anger management, patience, tefillah, using our eyes the right way, brachos, judging favorably, smiling at others, making a Kiddush Hashem, speaking with respect to parents and elders...) and working on any of these things or on something you yourself know you need to work on will surely bring you closer to Hashem.

Any other ideas of how to connect to Hashem in the month of Elul, which starts tomorrow?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Chinese Bamboo Tree

There are soo many messages to take from this clip:

There is so much going on beneath the surface! And even when things are tough and it looks like you just want to give up, remember to hold on strong because growth is on the way!!

When things are sooo difficult and it looks like things will never be good anymore, just remember that Hashem is there with you all along and very soon, it will happen!! Life will change for the better!
What an encouraging message!!

What other messages can you take from this?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Read This ASAP!!

Ever wonder about the abbreviation ASAP?
Generally we think of it in terms of hurry and stress in our lives. Maybe if we think of this abbreviation in a different manner, we will begin to find a new way to deal with those rough days along the way.

There’s work to do, deadlines to meet;
You’ve got no time to spare,
But as you hurry and scurry
ASAP- Always Say A Prayer
In the midst of family chaos,
Quality time is rare.
Do your best;
Let Hashem to the rest
ASAP- Always Say A Prayer
It may seem like you worries
Are more than you can bear.
Slow down and take a breather
ASAP- Always Say A Prayer
Hashem knows how stressful life is;
He wants to ease our cares,
And he’ll respond to all your needs
ASAP- Always Say A Prayer

Let's remember that tefillah is not just about davening to Hashem when you have your siddur open in front of you. You can talk to Hashem in any language, at any time of day - He is always available and listening to you! So this poem is really great and on target because you can Always Say A Prayer - at any time, night or day because Hashem is there to listen!! How cool is that?!
Just tell Hashem what is on your mind, speak to Him the way you speak to your friend, talk to Him at any time, on your way to school/work/shopping...wherever you are, Hashem is listening to you at every moment! So why not take advantage and speak to Him from your heart?! Tell Him what you are thinking and most of all, don't forget to say, "Thank you Hashem" for all the great things He does for you!!

Friday, August 14, 2009

My Brother's Yartzeit Part 3 - After the Yartzeit

Last Friday, we went to my brother's kever to daven and say tehillim. When I went to the cemetery, so many thoughts that came to my mind. One of the things I thought about this time (and probably every time I went to his kever) is that after a person dies, all that matters is who they are, who they became and what they did with the time they had in this world. Nothing else matters!! Not money, not looks, not brains, not personality, not the job they had...unless they used the gifts Hashem gave them to help others! When I looked at my brother's matzeiva, I read the beautiful things that it says about him and I reminded myself that these are the things that really matters in life. It is important for each of us to remind ourselves that the only things that go with a person after they die is the good things they did!!

This past shabbos, my family got together for my brother's yartzeit. We ate the shabbos meals together and spoke about the many different memories we have of my brother. We laughed about the cute things he did and thought about the special things he did.

Here are some more stories...

Once, my cousin, who was in Bais Yaakov seminary at the time, was walking down the street and it started to rain. She did not have an umbrella on her and continued walking when suddenly, she realized that she was not getting wet anymore, even though it was still raining outside. She looked up and she saw my brother, Shalom, holding an umbrella above her head without saying a word. You see, this was his girl cousin and he was chassidish so he wouldn't have a whole conversation with her in middle of the street! But he knew from his many sisters what it means to a girl when it's raining outside and their hair gets wet and frizzy!! So in his own quiet way, he did what he knew he should do - and continued to walk my cousin all the way to her destination - without saying one word!
We remembered the time when my sister, Baila, was babysitting and forgot her CPR book and really needed it to do some studying for the next day. No problem! Shalom biked over with it in no time! But not only that, he knew that Baila likes those Smackin' Good potato knishes. So he warmed one up in the microwave and brought it over to her along with her CPR book.

When he was younger, he used to bike over to my married sister's house on erev shabbos and bring over homemade challah, kugel, fish and all the other goodies my mother set up...My older sister commented that he was always dressed and ready for shabbos when he came to drop off the food. That means that he never had to rush into shabbos...let's try to follow in his ways!!

It's really not possible to put all 15+ years of my brother's life down on paper. I just gave you a little glimpse of the greatness of this quiet, unassuming boy. And there are some things he did that we will never know about. That's just the way he was. He did whatever he could in the quietest way possible. He didn’t want to draw attention to himself. He didn’t want people to praise him for all the good he did. But I am sure that in the next world, the world of truth, my brother is getting all the praises showered upon him. He is getting unlimited reward for the everlasting impact he left on his family, friends, neighbors and acquaintances.

And remember, my brother cannot do ONE mitzvah now! We are the only ones who can do mitzvos for him and that way his neshama can soar higher and higher. If you take one thing upon yourself, even for one day, l'ilui nishmas my brother, it will give me and my family tremendous nechama.

Please feel free to pass this message on to anyone who will gain and be inspired from all the incredible, yet small things my brother did. He truly used every minute to the fullest by filling each moment with mitzvos which are eternal! He knew and understood that the only thing that goes with a person after leaving this world is Torah and mitzvos.

Now he is smiling and he is happy to be able to get schar for all the mitzvos he did in this world! He is so close to Hakadosh Baruch Hu and is next to the shechina in the olam ha'emes! He is the lucky one!

But I wouldn’t call any of us unlucky because we still have a chance to grab each moment and use it to the fullest and do mitzvos to build a beautiful olam haba for ourselves! Fortunate is the one who takes advantage of their time in this world and uses their time to connect to Hashem and get closer to Him!

One last thought…this is what I was thinking when I went to the kosel for the first time, about 2 ½ weeks after my brother was niftar. (Yeah, I went to seminary while I was still in the shloshim…life is NOT meant to be easy!!)

I was standing at the site of the Bais Hamikdosh and crying and bawling my eyes out and I thought to myself,

If this is how much I miss my brother and it's been only two weeks, could you imagine how much Hashem misses us?! It's been soo many years, so many generations, and yet we still didn’t come back! Of course, Hashem has no concept of time and He is l'malah min hazman, but in our terms, the way we could understand it, so many years have passed already! Isn't it time to come back to Hashem?! I miss my brother like CRAZY and it is such a short amount of time so could you imagine how much Hashem misses us and wants us back?!

I learned from this that a person doesn’t know how much time he has left to live. Therefore, we must use every minute we have to improve and become better. It also showed me how much we should appreciate our family and people who are close to us because no one ever knows when their last moment will be.

My bracha to each of you is that you should be zoche to live your life to its fullest and come closer to Hashem in a new and deeper way every day of your life. May we all be zoche to come back to Hashem and meet in Yerushalyim with the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdosh, AMEN!

A Special Mazel Tov!

I just wanted to share some gr8 news with all of u!!
Last Friday, August 7th was my brother Shalom's yartzeit and my older brother('s wife) gave birth to a baby BOY!!
The bris was today and the baby's name is SHALOM BARUCH!!!!! It's the same name as my baby, Shalom - after my brother and Baruch was's just amazing that they had a boy on Shalom's yartzeit!!
It is such a nechama for my family that the baby was born on the yartzeit and he has Shalom's name! We feel like Hashem is hugging us and telling us - I know this was hard for you but I am here with you all along!! I am comforting you through all the difficult times...
May we be zoche to the ultimate nechama soon!!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Letter - L'ilui Nishmas Shalom a"h

This is a letter I received after my brother's yartziet.
I was so touched that someone took the message so close to their heart and I think this letter is a lesson for all.

Dear Devoiry,

About 3-4 years ago shortly after your brother Shalom ben Chaim Nosson was niftar,your sister, Chaya Sara, came to speak to to us about him and the many things that we can learn. One story that really struck a cord in my heart was when she told us about the countless times he did chessed and favours quietly. Like the time on shabbos nachamu when someone discovered him cleaning up the dining room. ever since that shmooze which really inspired me, i've been trying to go out of my way to help people. I just finished two years of seminary where i found countless of oppertunities to do chessed. there were so many times when i found the dining room an absolute wreck at a very early hour in the morning, and i just wanted to go to bed, but i found myself saying 15-20 minutes of chessed, i could do it like your brother. there were so many incidents like a messy class-room, food left out, making s/0's bed for them, visiting s/o, and i kept saying to myself if Shalom was able to do it so can I.

I continue to travel along this road 3-4 yrs later. and i'd like to say thank you. as i starting giving the more i gave the better person i became, the more i wanted to give, the more i wanted to help, to be there for people. I learnt so much and i would never be who i am today without that special polishing that was inspired by your brother a"h. poeple often ask me what inspired you to be like this, to help others, to give so freely, and i would like to tell you that a large portion of it lies in the messages i heard from Chaya Sara that day about the chessed that your brother Shalom did. very often i found myself repeating the stories i heard to other people, when they ask me those question, and the response has always been the same, lets try to emulate!

I know that when a person is called up to shamyim, it's never easy for thier family left down here.But i'd like to let you know that your brother left a legacy, somthing for all of us to follow,and for that i'd like to say Thank You. I hope this email provides some nechama to you and your family.
im yirtzah hashem we should only hear simchos,
and be zocheh to a proper nechama very very soon!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

My brother's Yartzeit - tomorrow, Friday, August 7th

I sent around this email and I'm adding it to the blog so your comments can be added to my list. Read on...

Tomorrow, Friday, August 7th is my brother, Shalom's yartzeit.
I have a small favor to ask each of you.
A yartzeit is a special day. It is a day for us to remind ourselves that no one is here forever and we should take advantage of our time and use it to the fullest.
I'm asking if each of you can please comment on this blog with ONE THING that you will do l'ilui nishmas my brother. It can be a one time thing (like reading something on shabbos that will bring you a step closer to Hashem, saying extra tehillim, saying asher yatzar with extra kavanna, giving someone a compliment today...) or it can be something you want to try to continue to do (like giving tzeddaka every day, improving in one area...).
I want to try to compile a list of all the things people are doing l'ilui nishmas my brother and then show it to my family. I'm sure it will bring a tremendous nechama to my mother and the rest of my family.
His name is Shalom ben Chaim Nosson - so please, if you can say his name once when you are doing whatever it is u choose to do for his neshama to go higher. Remember, he cannot to even ONE mitzvah now!! We can make his neshama reach great heights by doing something for him!!
Thank you!
I'll start with mine first - I will try, to say "Thank You Hashem" for something specific while I kiss the mezuzah.
Now it's your turn to add a mitzvah to the list!

My Brother's Yartzheit Part 2 About Shalom a"h

My brother was niftar just two and a half weeks before his 16th birthday. In these short years, he accomplished so much. Let me tell you a few of the things that we got to hear about him-some we had known from before and some we only got to hear after he was niftar.

First of all, I want you to know that my brother was not a wild boy who was just climbing the tree to act up. He was very careful with what he did at all times.
In fact, my neighbor told us that even as a little boy, Shalom a"h was extremely gentle. When her son was born, Shalom was still young (about 1 ½ years old) and he would sit near my neighbor and just look at him and rock him in the infant seat. He would stare at him and watch him gently, never once pulling out his pacifier or shaking the infant seat.
Also, he always wore a helmet whenever he rode his bike (even when no one was watching). He always used his bike to help and so we called it the “mitzvah bike.” Whenever we needed something to be done, Shalom would always offer to do it because it was “no big deal.” When his bike was stolen we made sure to get him a new one right away because he always used his bike for mitzvos.

After his bar mitzvah, he even put together an “invention” of his own to be able to keep his hat in the basket of his bike while riding with a helmet on his head. He opened up the inside of his hat box, cut open the middle circle and used duct tape to keep it on his basket. This way, whenever he was going to do favors for other people, which is primarily what he used his bike for, he wore his helmet while riding the bike and then would be able to go into the stores/houses with his hat on.

My brother was also very careful to always kiss the mezuzah. Even when he was much younger, he was careful with his special mitzvah. He used to like to go to sleep in my mother's bed and then someone would "transfer" him by walking him into his own bed while he was half asleep. Even while he was being walked into his own bed, he would ALWAYS stretch out his hand and kiss the mezuzah! Imagine! He was half asleep and he still kissed the mezuzah! Do we remember to kiss the mezuzah when we are fully awake?! It's just a quick way of saying, "Hashem, I love you. Thank you for always watching over me and protecting me at all times!" (and if you have an extra minute, you can also think about what is written inside each mezuzahShemaV'ahavtaV'hayaschar v'onesh…but that's a very high level…let's start with small things!)

Shalom really and truly cared about each one of Hashem's creations. One day, he came home with a swollen hand. When we asked him what had happened, he said, "Oh! Nothing! I was just riding my bike and a bird flew in front of me so I didn’t want to hurt the bird. I quickly pressed on my brakes and missed the bird by an inch and I fell off my bike. But I'm fine! As long as I didn’t hurt the bird!"
After my mother insisted that he go for x-rays (and Shalom insisting that he was fine…), we found out that he broke his arm!
He broke his hand so as not to harm the bird physically…let us make sure not to break other people's hearts and hurt them emotionally – that's much worse!

While he was in camp, he did a lot of amazing and unusual things (unusual for someone his age) – it was the last summer of his life and he really used every minute to the fullest.
He would wake up every morning at 6:30 and go to the mikvah. (My older brother says he can almost say he is sure that Shalom a"h never missed a day in the mikvah since his bar mitzvah! And that is not easy to do!) Then, he would learn with his chavrusa for ½ hour before davening.
We also found out that he would say tikkun chatzos before he went to sleep every night.
One night, while he was in camp, a friend of his saw him saying Shema slowly and carefully. He asked him, "Why are you saying Shema so slowly? Aren't you tired after such a long day??!!”
To which my brother replied, "I might be tired but a yid never knows when his last Shema will be. I make sure to say Shema with kavana every night because I never know when it will be my last time to say it!"
Imagine if we were to perform each mitzvah and daven each tefillah as if it were the last one! What a difference it would make in our avodas Hashem if we kept this thought in our mind, even once a day!
I just heard a great quote for this –
"Live each day as if it were the last because one day you are going to be right!"

Shalom was always looking to help others. While he was in camp, he overheard a boy saying that he forgot to take special staples for his staple gun to camp. (They are not the regular type of staples you could pick up in any store, it's a certain brand and we "happen" to have them in our house because we use them when we decorate the succah.) Anyway, my brother called up our house and asked me if I could please send a few things to him in camp and he gave me a small list… (a na nach yarmulke…for fun at night/plays and a few other stuff…) One of the things he asked for was these staples for the staple gun. We sent them with the next package and he gave them to the boy who had mentioned it in passing…as if it was NO BIG DEAL and so NORMAL to do this "tiny" favor!

His name was Shalom, kishmo kein hu; he was always trying to make peace. At the shivah, many boys came and told us stories about how he had lifted their spirits. And they all said that when Shalom was around, there was a certain "geshmak" in the atmosphere. He always made everything so exciting and fun, even the boring hikes or activities.
That reminds me, the boys once went on a hike and one boy stepped on a beehive and got terribly bitten. Shalom lifted the boy up and carried him ALL THE WAY back to camp!
My little brother, Yitzy, was in camp for first half and came home for the second half of the summer. He told us that Shalom came to his bunkhouse and helped him pack up the night before he left. He gave him all the time he needed and advice as well. (He had a siddur that was a little torn so Shalom told Yitzy to leave it for the kids who come second half…) That was the last time he got to see Shalom…

The shabbos before he was niftar was Shabbos Nachamu…which he spent in Skolya Bungalow Colony, with the Skolya rebbe and many other Chassidim. They had a very nice shabbos and on motzei shabbos, all the men danced until the wee hours of the morning. After the dancing was over, everyone left except for one boy. My brother stayed in the bais medrash, put all the seforim away and neatly arranged the tables and chairs so the shul would be ready for the men to learn the next morning.
The next day, Sunday, was Visiting Day. Really, that year Visiting Day came out on Tisha B'av so some camps moved it back one week and some pushed it forward. His camp, Stolin, pushed it forward one week. Meaning, Visiting Day was about a week and a half before the boys were scheduled to come home from camp. Since his camp is very far out and not near any other camp, we did what many families did. We said to ourselves, "Why should we shlep all the way?! We'll see him in another week anyway!"
Or so we thought.
But my sister, brother-in-law and niece were in the country for Shabbos Nachamu and so was my older brother. So, the four of them took Shalom out for pizza on Visiting Sunday.
While they were there, my sister insisted on taking pictures so finally, my brother-in-law went to the car to get the camera!
And because of them, we have a whole bunch of beautiful pictures of my brother a day before he was niftar. He was happy and smiling and this gave us such a nechama! We were so comforted when we saw how he spent his last summer in camp and that he was REALLY happy!
On Monday morning, the last day of his life, he was very tired. He had been up really late on Motzei Shabbos Nachamu and again on Sunday night, after Visiting Day. Shalom asked his rebbe if he can please stand during learning because he was afraid he would fall asleep if he was sitting. He stood the entire time, leaning on his shtender and learning with an extra "bren," his rebbe said.

Read part 3 here.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

My Brother's Yartzheit Part 1 - The Story

I'm just prefacing this by saying that any inspiration and growth you get from the next few posts should be a zechus, l'ilui nishmas my brother, Shalom ben Chaim Nosson.

Before I tell you the story, I want to share a thought I heard from Rabbi Jonathan Rietti. He is quite a famous speaker and I think this has a very powerful message.
When someone has a tzarah, it is natural for them to ask, “Why?!”
In lashon haKodesh, there are two ways to say “why.” One is מדוע and one is למה. The first one, מדוע, comes from , דע, to know and understand. A person who asks this type of why wants to know all the details of the story, like how the person was niftar, what did the doctors do, how did he fall, what time did it happen and all sorts of questions that don't accomplish anything. These questions just keep him lingering in the past. But the second why, למה, comes from ל מה, (Li’mah) “to what?,” which means the following: Yes it’s true that Hashem just gave me a hard test but what is this bringing me to in the future? What did I change because of this nisayon? TO WHAT am I bringing myself to now that I heard about or went through this tzarah? This kind of why is a productive question which causes a person to look into the future and make real changes in their life, whether in middos, tefillah or anything else.So when you hear about or go through a nisayon, you may ask מדוע and try to find out the details of the story, but make sure you are also asking למה and you are thinking ahead and making changes in your avodas Hashem by becoming a better person!

Now, here are the details of the story...

My younger brother, Shalom, who was 15 years old at the time, (it was 2 weeks before his 16th birthday) was climbing a tree in Camp Stolin on a regular Monday afternoon. This was the tree all the kids had climbed many times to see the view of the lake. The boys were sitting on different branches when, after 10 minutes, the branch my brother had been sitting on cracked and he fell down.
As soon as he fell, my brother got up and said to the boys around him, “Don’t worry! I’m fine,” and he started to walk while being supported by two boys.
Now here’s one amazing part. My brother a”h was always doing chessed for other people. When he fell down, his friend who was still up in the tree was sooo shocked, he was ready to jump…to his death. But when he saw that my brother was still alive and okay and walking around, he gathered the inner strength to climb down from the tree and remain alive!! So even right before his death, my brother was doing another chessed, saving his own friend’s life!

Another scary thing…right before the branch cracked, my brother and his friend were sitting up on the tree talking about nifla’os haborei, and my brother said, “Look at Hashem’s beautiful world...and look at how the clouds are moving so quickly. It’s amazing how things change from one minute to the next.” Those were the last words he said before the branch cracked and he fell down from the tree.

It was obvious that this was meant to be. There is no way to think otherwise! It was as if my brother was specifically chosen as the one Hashem wanted back, next to him in the next world!

When the EMT in the camp heard what happened, he quickly got his equipment and told the boys to make sure my brother does not walk-it could be dangerous for his back and spine because if there is a spinal injury, the most important thing is NOT to move the patient so he shouldn’t chas v’shalom become paralyzed for life. After a few minutes, the EMT started performing CPR on my brother because he lost consciousness and wasn’t awake anymore.

Before he lost consciousness, my brother asked the EMT, “Do you think I’m gonna make it?” (meaning:do you think I’ll survive?) Of course, the EMT answered, “Yes,” because what else should he have said?! By the way, we found out afterwards that this part of the story was not true…you see how people make things up! The EMT told us specifically that my brother never said that!! People like to spice up the story…so don’t believe everything you hear!!

My brother was brought to the hospital’s Emergency Room and the doctor saw he was not going to make it. One of his rabbeim from camp tried to get into his room to be able to stay with him. The doctors didn’t let until he insisted that he was a “representative of the family” They couldn’t refuse and let him in. Then the doctor told him, “It’s his last minutes, say your prayers.” So his rebbe said vidui and Shema with him. He wasn't totally awake but he was opening and closing his eyes so obviously he heard everything. Who knows what thoughts of teshuva were going through his mind at that point! After he got to hear those special tefillos being said, my brother’s pure neshama left his body and was reunited with HaKadosh Baruch Hu.

It is very interesting that the year before he was niftar, my brother had wanted to go to Eretz Yisroel with the Skolya Rebbe a little after Lag Ba’omer. The rebbe’s son was having upsherin and my brother wanted to go very badly. (He was a Skolya chossid. Not to be confused with Stolin - the yeshiva he went to and the camp he was in.) His yeshiva wasn’t very keen on the idea and said the only way he would be able to go was if he went from Wednesday until Shabbos. He would miss very little yeshiva and would only get to spend 4 days in Eretz Yisroel. We told my brother, “Neh! Don’t go now! You’ll go when you are older, with your wife…for a much longer amount of time! It’s not worth it to go for only four days…you’ll go when u grow up, for 10 days or 2 weeks or something!”
But my brother insisted on going.
We asked the rebbe and he said my brother should go, gave him a bracha and said that this trip would be very good for him and for his ruchniyus.
So when my brother went, one of the places they went to was the mikveh ari. He went into the mikveh (which is very cold) and it is a known thing that anyone who goes into the mikveh ari will not die without doing teshuva first.
And my brother was niftar only after his rebbe said vidui and Shema with him!!! AMAZING!!

I just want you all to know that when someone loses someone close to them, it helps them remember to stay focused on the important things in life and on the things that really matter. I realized that life is so short and we must use every minute we have to do mitzvos and get closer to Hashem. Every person thinks they will live until one hundred and twenty (it is my bracha to you that you should live past that because moshiach will come so we will live forever) but remember to think every day that this is my last day to make Hashem proud and then you will really use your time wisely!

It is known that when Hashem gave the malach hamaves his job, he didn’t want to do it. He said, “I don’t want a job that will make people look down at me.” So Hashem told him, “Don’t worry. Every time you do your job, whenever you take someone’s life away, people wont even realize that it was you who did it.” And that’s why whenever a person is niftar, we find someone or something to blame. We blame the doctors, the illness, the driver who was driving too fast, and in this case, the tree. But we are forgetting who was really behind it! Hashem wanted my brother back and his time was up so there’s nothing we could have done to stop it!! Hashem has his plans and when he picks flowers for his garden, he always picks the most beautiful roses. My brother was a beautiful rose and Hashem wanted him to be part of his garden in gan eden.

When my family found out about it, it was a HUGE shock for all of us. It was a real test from Hashem…which I hope we passed. Actually, we never really passed it because it isn’t over yet. We have to live with it every day and still accept Hashem’s ratzon even when it is hard for us and we start being overcome with emotions of missing him…and now that his fourth yartzeit is coming up, it’s another test for us to smile and continue accepting it because this was the best thing for all of us. Because through this tzarah, we can now understand and give chizuk to other people who went through similar things, such as losing family members and we definitely became closer to Hashem from it as well. Isn’t that one of the main purposes of all pain and yissurim in this world??

Read Part 2 here.