Wednesday, August 31, 2011

powerful message about the last wake up call we just had!!

Hurricane Irene and My Need for Control
written by Charlie Harary

It’s been all Irene all weekend.

At first we didn’t take it seriously. We live in New York, for goodness sake. We never have hurricanes (or earthquakes for that matter). The fact that Hurricane Irene was in the Bahamas, Florida and even North Carolina is one thing, but it’s not coming up to New York.

Then the city started to shut down. Evacuations, power outages and road closings. We are, for all intents and purposes, on lockdown as we brace for the storm.

As soon as the reality of the situation sunk in, I had this uncomfortable feeling that I couldn’t explain. There was some fear and anxiety, but that wasn’t it. And then, last night, I realized what it was.

I am not in control.

I can’t control where to go, what to do or whether I’ll even have power. I can’t control what will happen to my loved ones, to other people and property. I can’t control if I will have a new swimming pool instead of a basement. My life is just not in my control.

We all love to be in control. When we get in the car, we like to know exactly how to get to our destination and when we will get there. We like to know we have enough money in our bank account to cover our annual expenses. We like our children to act in way where we know how they will turn out when they get older. We take, and stay in, certain jobs because we like to control our financial future. Preparation is one thing. But for most of us, we yearn for control.

But if we’ve learned anything these past few weeks, months and years, is that we are not in control. Stable institutions can fail. Stable governments can get downgraded. Stable environments can have two natural disasters in one week.

We are not in control.

But after the initial discomfort of that reality set in, I had another feeling.

I realized that, in fact, I was in control. Not of traffic, the future of my children, the financial markets or the environment, but I was in control of myself.

I was in control over how I responded to challenge. Would I be stressed or show strength? Would I spend the time doing something meaningful? Would I get frustrated and angry at the loss of property or convenience or would I be satisfied with what I had? Would I start to appreciate the “little” things like electricity and dry roads?

As we stop trying to control what happens to us, we start finding the ability to control what happens from us. We realize that we can control how we live, how we speak to each other, how we appreciate what we have. We can control our response to whatever is sent our way.

In reality, that was the only control we ever had. And by trying to control everything else, we neglected it. We neglected being who we could be, who we really want to be.

Once we gain that control, even Hurricane Irene can’t stop us.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Fox and The Vineyard

I posted it last year and want to share the message with you once again.

Tonight is Rosh Chodesh
Elul. We are about to enter a very important time in the hebrew calendar, a time of closeness and connection to Hashem. Think about how lucky you are to have an opportunity to come back to your Loving Father! He gives you so many chances to come close to Him and show Him that you really want to do the right thing-by thinking about what you have done and how you want to become better.

There's an amazing mashal I want to share with you.

A fox passed a vineyard full of delicious grapes and wanted to eat some of them. However, there was a fence enclosing the vineyard that blocked him from going in. He did notice that there was a small hole in the fence and if he would fast for three days, he would be able to squeeze in and eat the grapes. So that is what he did.

After three days, the fox was skinny enough to make his way through the hole. He feasted and enjoyed all the grapes in the vineyard and when he was ready to leave he realized that he would not be able to get out because he ate too much and gained too much weight! So once again, he fasted for three days and only then was he able to get out of the vineyard.

The fox then realized that he did not gain anything from the vineyard because he left the same way he had gone in. We have to ask ourselves the same question-will we leave the world the same way we went in or will we have things that have true value to take along with us. Elul is a time to ask ourselves these questions - what are we taking with us into the new year? What mitzvos and good deeds do we have to show for ourselves?

Each one of us is put into this world and there are so many temptations and things that look exciting - but we have to remember that we are in this world for a purpose, not just for the materialism and we need to focus on the things that last.

This past shabbos, I heard a continuation of this mashal.

There was a smart fox who watched what the first fox had done and said to himself, "I will not be a fool like this one." And here is what he did. After fasting three days so he could get through the hole in the fence, he ate and enjoyed the grapes. In the meantime, he threw a whole bunch of grapes over the fence so that when he gets out of the vineyard, he will have more grapes to eat. So even though he had to fast to get out, he thought ahead and saved for the future.

The woman who I heard this mashal from gave an interesting twist on the nimshal.

Elul is coming. It's a hard month but it is a very rich month. There is so much to gain from what comes after it-the yomim nora'im, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Succos. Some people are like the first fox and they leave the yomim tovim the same way they came in. The day after yom tov you wouldn't even know that they experienced such awesome days. However, if you want to be like the smart fox, you need to throw the grapes over the fence, you need to prepare properly and think ahead so that you will come out of these days enriched and a better person.

Elul is a very big month. There is so much to gain and so much to achieve. Now that we are entering such a crucial time in our calendar, it is up to us to use our time well and take advantage of the closeness we have with Hashem.

Let's think ahead so that we use each day to the fullest so that when we come out of Elul, we can say that we didn't just eat the grapes but we saved some for later - so that we can take the inspiration we get from Elul and the yomim tovim that come after it and come out a truly changed and better person!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Elul is Coming

It is interesting that the word AV is made up of two letters: Aleph and Bais. Aleph stands for Elul and Bais stands for Ba which means-Elul Ba, Elul is coming.
We shouldn't wait until Rosh Chodesh Elul to start to make changes and get closer to Hashem.

Already the month beforehand we have a reminder - from the name of the month Av itself -to get into the mode and start thinking about where we are and where we want to be.

Each and every one of us has so much potential for good. We have to look deep inside our hearts to see it, to feel it, to acknowledge it and then to act upon it.

The month of Av starts off as a sad month. We mourn the loss of the
bais hamikdosh and daven for it to be rebuilt. But then along comes Shabbos Nachamu-where Hashem comforts us by saying that the day will come when we will once again be brought back to that holy state of closeness to Him and clarity and we will all live in happiness together. For seven shabbasos after Tisha B'av, the shiva d'nichemta are read - seven haftoros relating words of encouragement and comfort to Klal Yisroel.

Now that we are getting closer to the end of Av, let us remind ourselves that
Elul Ba-Elul is coming!

What is the
avoda at this time?
This shabbos, we read something at the table (from Leket Reshimos on Elul) that we had read last year. I had posted and expounded on it then and want to share it with you once more.
It was called
Focusing on Doing Good During Elul.

We are not on the level of previous generations who the very mention of the word Elul made the fish in the sea tremble and the people start shaking and...fainting.

We are not meant to be on that level.

We have to serve Hashem on the level that we are on.

We need to let the thought of Elul bring us to better places, places of change and growth-but at our own pace, with small, even tiny baby steps in our avodas hashem.

Recently, someone told me (um, texted me) that she was having a hard time. She was falling down and trying to figure out how to get back up. When I tried encouraging her that she's amazing for trying even though it's not easy to climb back up again, she said she feels like a loser. So I told her,
you are not a loser until you give up. As long as you are trying you are a winner!

Let those words enter each one of our hearts...especially in Elul when we all need to hear it.

You are not a loser until you give up. As long as you are trying you are a winner!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Connected to Hashem

Someone just emailed this to me. It's SO good. I have to share it with you!

Hashem doesn't hava Blackberry or an iPhone, but He is my favrite contact.

He doesn't have Facebook, but He is my best friend.

He doesn't have Twitter, but I follow Him nonetheless.

He doesn't have internet, but I am connected to Him.

And even though He has a massive communication system, His customer service never puts me on hold!

Taken from Torah Tavlin

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Connected or Disconnected?

This post was written by a friend of mine, S.

Ever thought about what it means to connect? To disconnect?

I learned today what it means, or rather, how far from connection we are, on King's Highway.
According to '''' (how connected we are-online dictionary), connection means:
"A relationship in which a person, thing, or idea is linked or associated with something else"
"The action of linking one thing with another: "connection to the Internet".
Note the "connection to the internet"

We've become so plugged in that we've unplugged ourselves.
So connected, that we've disconnected. Instead of a person, we're a number. Only it's a number different than those our parents associated with. Instead, it's a number we've branded ourselves with.

So what happened on King's Highway today?

There was an earthquake in Virginia today. The shocks spread far and I felt it in Brooklyn. I walked out of my office building a little later and found King's Highway going crazy. I guess the cell phone towers shook also, or the networks were overloaded...not sure what, but a lot of cell phones weren't working properly. I saw people shaking them, flipping them open and shut, and smart me decided to walk into the cell phone store to take care of a different problem and met many people there complaining of no service.

What defined our world's craziness was the comment from the lady behind the counter. we were talking about the earthquake in general and where we were, when she suddenly commented:
"I felt nothing. I was in the nail salon when everyone was screaming and running out. I was just busy on my phone. I felt no floor moving and saw no walls shaking. I thought they all was crazy!"
We're so busy being occupied that we've become too preoccupied to be occupied.
So busy trying to talk the raid that we miss it as it just moves on past us.

I always wondered what would happen if cell phones would stop working. I think the world would go crazy. The problem is I don't have to think it. I know it already from the comments I overheard:
"They make it as if the world is going to end."
"They're going crazy."
"The people can't handle it."
"What is everyone going to do?"

And finally, I saw the woman on the payphone.

You're all either thinking "So not a big deal," or clutching your phones and checking it, thinking "I could never handle it."

Try it.

To sign up, go to

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Comfort Me - A Poem

By: Chaim Bashevkin

“Totty, Totty
Comfort me”
The little boy
Did cry
“Hold my hand
And please explain
Totty, tell me why

“They beat me up
They stole my toys
They laughed and spat at me
And then they say
We want world peace
We love humanity

“They threw me from
My pretty house
And then they burned it down
And took
My royal robes away
And then they crushed my crown

“Tell me why this happened
When can I go back home?
When will I have my own place
And not be forced to roam

“When will I be able
To walk the streets with pride
Without the pain and anger
I feel so deep inside”

And soon a voice
From way up high
Was heard to those who listened
And they believed
In that Great Voice
Despite the eyes that glistened

“Listen, My dear yingele
One day I will explain
The reason for the suffering
The reason for the pain

“I’ll tell you why they burned
Your house
And took away your toys
And why they said
You’re different
From all the other boys

“I’ll tell you why
They made you wear
That ugly yellow star
And why they sent you
On a train
Away from home so far

“I’ll tell you why the missiles
Fall each day on Sderot
And why they sent you
From your home
To places so remote

“You'll understand
Why bombs do fall
And why does terror reign
And when I open up
Your eyes
I won’t have to explain

“You’ll understand the secrets
You thought you never would
You’ll see a world of miracles
You wondered if I could

“You’ll understand the Cantonists
Your friends were snatched so pure
Never to return again
Back to their Momma’s door

“The day I’ll show you
All the whys
You’ll see a world so clear
And even Leiby will tell you
To wipe away a tear

The boy’s sweet eyes
They opened wide
“Oh, Totty, do you promise?”
He ran to call the kinderlach
“Come, Eli and Shulamis

“And Chaim and Aviva!
And Berel, please come too
Gather round
And listen
I’ve something to tell you!

“Listen, brothers, sisters
One day
He will explain
He promised that
The day shall come
When we’ll forget our pain!

“He said, ‘That day is coming’
I promise that it’s near
I sense the great arrival
I feel it in the air

“So I can live
With suffering
Until that day is here
When He will open up my eyes
And see the answers clear

“He gave me
A small secret
A single word that’s two
It all lies in the promise of
That double nachamu

Thank you S.L. for telling me about this beautiful poem.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Links About Shalom a"h

I'm scheduling this to be posted while my family is on the way to the bais olam. It will be nice if people read about Shalom a"h on the yartzeit himself. I'm sure it will give him lots of zechusim.

For those of you who have not read it and also for those who have read it before, here's the links to the story about Shalom a"h. I've read it many times over and gained from it each time. I hope you will too!

First you can read
part one, part two and part three. If you don't have time for all of those (they are quite long), you can read a poem I wrote about him.

May his neshama have an aliya and may we be zoche to greet him soon!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Around the Year with Shalom a"h

Tomorrow, Wednesday, Yud Zayin Av, August 17th is Shalom's 6th yartzheit. It's hard to believe that it's been 6 years since I saw him last. It's hard.

People say it gets easier with time, which may be true but there are times when the pain comes back with an intensity that cannot be described.

In the beginning, the pain is so raw, the family thinks about the person so, so much. The first shabbos, the next shabbos, every just hurts so much and the feelings are there so strongly. Shalom is supposed to be sitting in that chair, it was his seat every week...he said his own kiddush in a very unique tune...and we miss hearing it.
The first yom tov after reminds the family of what last yom tov was like, with that person there as part of the family...

Every yom tov was special to Shalom and he had his own unique way of showing that it meant a lot to him.

On Rosh Hashana he would take out a whole bag of simanim which his friend prepared for him (more than the regular ones our family does) and together with our older brother Mordechai, he would say each yehi ratzon with such simcha, such joy, and try to get the siblings to join in too.
Before Succos, he would spend time looking for a beautiful lulav and esrog. Since my brother Mordechai would sell lulavim and esrogim, he had an "in" and would be able to find a really nice one. His face would shine with excitement when he came home with his own set of arbah minim. And he took such good care of it, wrapping the lulav, hadasim and aravos in wet paper towels and then silver foil to make sure it stayed fresh. He took good care of all his things. He was always so neat, organized and put together.
On succos itself, if one of us would ask to use his lulav and esrog to bench that day, his face would light up with joy as he would unwrap it with care and set it up so we could make a bracha.

Simchas Torah is always a happy time for everyone. Just watching the little kids go around in circles with mini torahs and lots of candy will bring a smile to anyones face. Shalom was no different. As a kid, he would hold his own little torah and dance around in a circle smiling and happy while singing the simchas torah songs...Ashreinu ma tov chelkeinu...

After that, he would come home and play "shul" together with my little brother and our neighbor. He'd call up one person at a time for an aliya while saying "ya'amod" in the real tune and then he'd read from the torah - imitating the trop and trying to be just like the ba'al koray. Then, the bracha would be said "asher bachar banu..." and the kids would all be so proud to be acting just like their fathers do!

Chanukah was always a beautiful yom tov and Shalom had his way of showing how important the chanukah lights are. Although it is not our family's minhag, he would sit by the candles for a full half hour after lighting them and say special perakim of tehillim, tefillos and sing songs in his sweet voice.

Of course, Purim is a yom tov full of fun and opportunities for kids to collect tzeddakah for their yeshivas and schools. The last Purim he was with us, Shalom did the cutest thing. Besides for dressing up with a group of kids from school to go collecting for his yeshiva, he had additional "props". He had saved his lulav and esrog from succos - with a plan. He let his esrog shrink until it was a really small size (I think it's done by leaving it in a box for a while) and spent a long time with his lulav figuring out the exact measurements and size the smallest kosher lulav can be. Shalom took out seforim and checked it up until he knew for sure just how many tefochim was the minimum size for a lulav. Then, he pulled off the leaves of the lulav until he got it right. By the time it was done, it was seriously too cute! He had a mini lulav-which was 100% kosher and then a mini esrog - all saved from succos! Which means that he planned this in advance - he was thinking about this succos time already! We have pictures of him with his "costume" and these are all great memories to look back at!

When it came to cleaning the house and getting ready for Pesach, Shalom did so much to help out. He was available for anything the family needed and would run and do errands as quickly as he could-with his bike. My mother would give him a list of things that she needed to get done, sometimes a few items from one store and a stop at another and then a third stop to drop something off or pick something up - and he would do it all with a smile. Whenever he went shopping, he would come home with the receipt in hand and explain how much everything costs and he'd bring home the exact change-to the penny, counting it up and never keeping any of it for himself.

I remember Shalom going through boxes of matzah together with my older brother Mordechai to find the nicest ones to be used for the sedarim. They would then separate the broken ones and use some of them to make matzah meal. It took quite a while to crush it all up in the blender and was such a big help. It was so nice to see the two of them work together as a team.

Counting sefira in preparation for Shavuos was a very big thing in our house. We all tried - and succeeded - in counting with a bracha every single night. When we were much younger and our bedtime was before we were able to count, during the time between Pesach and Shavuos we were allowed to hop out of bed for those few minutes to count sefira.

Once we were a little older, Shalom put an alarm on his watch that would beep at nine o'clock for one full minute (remember those days when kids set alarms on their watches instead of on cell phones?!) and he would run find me and together we would count with a bracha. We were all so proud when we counted the 49th day and were able to say sheheim sheva shavuos la'omer because that meant that we did it again!

Although there are all these special memories we have of Shalom, I don't want you to come away from this thinking that he was an unusually holy person. He was normal. We remember the regular things that he loved to do and the things we did together as a family. Shalom was very musical and great at drums. In fact, we used to play a game on shabbos where he would drum his fingers to a song and we would be able to figure out, based on the beats, which song he was drumming to!

When I was in elementary school, we learned how to play the flute. We learned the notes and a few easy-to-play songs. When I first came home with my flute, Shalom was so excited about it and asked if I could get him one. The next time we had this class, I asked the music teacher if I would be able to buy another one. When I brought home that flute for Shalom, he was ecstatic! I taught him the notes and some of the songs I had learned and then slowly, he started teaching himself other songs. I still remember him lying on the bed in his room in his pajamas figuring out the notes to one song he particularly liked - doing it over and over again until he finally got the entire song right.

On the long Friday nights after the meal, he would play a real good chess game with my mother and I would sit on the side and watch. It was such fun!

There is so much more to say, so much more to write. We are lucky that we have such wonderful memories to look back at. It's so comforting to our family that Hashem gave us close to 16 years to enjoy and spend time with my brother. He was a gift. Every child is a gift.

When you go home today, take an extra minute to appreciate your family, your siblings and your parents. No matter what little things they may do that annoy you, because no one is perfect, appreciate the fact that they are alive. I'd give anything to spend another day, even another hour together with my brother but I can't. So when you spend time with your siblings, think of me and think of my brother who I miss so much and am davening to see once again. Say a positive word, encourage others and take advantage of the time you have together.

May this post be a zechus l'ilui nishmas Shalom ben Chaim Nosson.

If you would like to do something small as a zechus for his neshama to go higher, please let me know. You can send me an email or leave a comment with what you are doing. Remember, Shalom cannot do ONE mitzvah anymore! But we all can.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

For the VERY First Time

Remember the first bracha you made last night when you broke your fast?

Mine was a shehakol on a cup of water. I said the bracha slowly and carefully and thought about the words I was saying.

Why was this bracha different than the others that I say on a regular day?

It was the anticipation. I waited a long time to be able to take that drink of water so the few seconds before I took that first sip, I really thought about what I was saying. I was so thankful for that drink and savored the feeling of the cool water going down my throat and through my veins.

R’ Shimshon Pincus zt”l talks about how anticipation for a mitzvah makes all the difference in how a mitzvah will be performed.

Imagine a man who is on a road trip with his family when he suddenly realizes that it’s almost shkiya and he needs to daven mincha. He finds out where the closest shul is-luckily he is able to find one and he runs in and quickly davens mincha with a minyan. He davened but…what was that mincha like?

Now, imagine a man who is a chassid and is planning to daven with his Rebbe on Rosh Hashana. He plans to take a flight to his Rebbe’s city so he could be with his and he knows he is going to be so uplifted. It’s going to be such a special yom tov for him. He knows it. He feels it. He gets to the airport and…his flight is delayed. He keeps checking his watch and hoping he will make it in time. Finally, the plane takes off and he makes it to the city in record time. He rushes off the plane, gets into a taxi, drops off his suitcase and runs to shul so he could daven mincha on erev Rosh Hashana with his Rebbe. He catches his breath as he lands in his seat but...he made it in time!

What was his mincha like? It must have been incredible, full of kavanna and dveikus to Hashem!

How did he do it?

Didn’t he rush just like the other guy?

What was the difference between these two people?

It was the anticipation. The preparation. The excitement. The entire time he was in the airport, waiting for his flight to take off… waiting for the airplane to land, he was thinking that very soon he would get to his Rebbe’s city, get to his Rebbe’s shul and then…he would daven with his holy Rebbe! He waited so long for that moment and was so excited so it didn’t matter that he rushed into it because he prepared for it mentally all that time!
When a person anticipates and prepares for something, it makes all the difference in the outcome.

And that is what made the first bracha after the fast so special.

Can you try to hold on to that moment?

Can you try to be more careful with your brachos, articulating them and thinking about the words you are saying while you say them?

Do you begin to realize what a gift it is to have so many choices of foods and drinks to eat and drink and enjoy?

Thank Hashem for it!

Hashem blesses us with so much good-green apples, bright orange oranges, red tomatoes, 4 different colored peppers, green cucumbers (can you tell I love fruits and veggies?!) – and that’s just naming a few!

Before you take your next bite, take a few seconds to think about and appreciate the pleasure and enjoyment you will have from the food you are about to eat.

Try to make the feeling you had last night before your first bracha last…for as long as you possibly can.

I’m trying…one bracha at a time.

So can you!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Comfort During Shiva

Today, Tisha b'av is the saddest day of the year.

This morning, while I sat on the floor, I remembered the time I sat in a low chair sitting shiva for my younger brother. We are now sitting shiva-for what? For the bais hamikdosh.

I wanted to explain this to my little son but he is so young, how can he understand? I did manage to explain it to him-by bringing it down to his level.

Today is a very sad day. You know, Hashem had a very beautiful house. It was so big and so special-it was like a shul. And all the people would come there and daven to Hashem. And then, you know what happened?

My son looked at me with his big, innocent eyes.

Hashem's house got broken.

He looked devastated.

"Oiy!" he said.

And we need to fix it.
How can we fix Hashem's house? It was such a special place, so big, so beautiful and so full of people. And now it is broken. What can we do to fix it?

He looked at me as I told him, we need to be very nice to our sister, we need to try to be extra good to mommy and always listen. We do mitzvos and make Tatty and Mommy happy by always listening and helping and acting very gentle with our little sister. This is how we can fix Hashem's beautiful house.

He had this faraway look in his eyes.

I think he got it.

My eyes teared up.

* * *

When I read Eichah last night, there was one thought that kept coming up again and again, in different phrases.

"Ein La Menachem" - she does not have anyone to comfort her.

I thought about these words and I cried.

After the destruction of Hashem's home, His palace, there was nobody to offer any sort of comfort...and I imagined...and I remembered.

When my family sat shiva for my brother Shalom a"h, people kept streaming into our home to try to comfort us, to try to say something that will bring us some sort of nechama. The house was busy from the moment we got up until we were so wiped out from another day of talking and emotional made us tired. But, there was a constant flow of people...they kept coming.

After the bais hamikdosh was destroyed, there was no one! No one came to comfort one was able to comfort the Jewish Nation. All around them there was destruction. A building, not just a building, a home for the shechina, a place of clarity, a place of real beauty, a place of connection...all many dead people all over the streets, little children dying in their mother's laps, people collapsing and passing out from hunger...from thirst...children who grew up in rich homes asking for drinks of wine when there was no water to be found...

And there was nobody to comfort them.

When someone goes to be menachem avel, these are the words they use to comfort the mourner: Hamakom yenacheim eschem b'soch she'ar aveilei tzion v'yerushalayim.
What does this phrase mean?

When we sat shiva, someone told us a beautiful way of explaining it.

One of the names of Hashem is Makom, like we say in the haggadah, Baruch Hamakom...Makom means place and Hashem takes up all the space in the world yet at the same time, He doesn't take up any space at all. This is a deep concept and we can't even understand exactly what it means - but this is part of Hashem's G-dliness. On one hand He is everywhere and takes up every inch of space in this world-wherever you go, Hashem is there---and on the other hand, He does not take up any space. This is why Hashem's name is Makom.

When a person loses someone close to them, there is a tremendous void in their heart. So we tell them,
Hamakom yenacheim eschem-only Hashem who is called Hamakom can comfort you. He can fill the void.

So why do we end with
b'soch she'ar aveilei tzion v'yerushalayim?

Because when someone passes away, all the family wants is to get to see them again and spend time with them again. When will that happen? When moshiach comes! So we say, you should be comforted together with all those who mourn for Yerushalayim-because as we know, whoever mourns for Yerushalayim will be zoche to see it rebuilt.

But how can someone live until that time? How can they go on? How can they be comforted during this long wait? By filling that deep emptiness that is in their hearts with spirituality, by doing mitzvos that will make the niftar's neshama go higher.

We had so many people come to comfort us when we sat shiva. But Hashem has still not been comforted, the Jewish People have not been comforted.
We are all waiting for the day of ultimate
geula, the real redemption and ultimate nechama, the real consolation.

May that day come when all those families who have mourned for their siblings, parents, grandparents, children and grandchildren are reunited with their loved ones...and Klal Yisroel is reunited with Hakadosh Baruch Hu.

One last point: The purpose of a fast day is not just to refrain from eating - but to bring us to do teshuva. Each person has to think - what am I doing that is keeping the bais hamikdosh from being rebuilt? It's a strong question. Come up with an answer and something about it.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Can You Cry?

I'm reposting part of today's Hakhel email - I found it very touching and hope it will inspire you too and help you get into the right mode for Tisha B'av.

There are two categories of animals in your local zoo. Some were born in the wild, and were moved to the zoo. Others, however, were born in the zoo, and will remain in the zoo all of their lives. There is a great difference between these two kinds of animals. The animal born in his natural habitat knows what it means to be free, knows what it means to be his true self. He knows that he does not belong in the zoo--it is not his natural habitat. He knows that he can run 50 miles an hour on the open prairie, but cannot do this behind a fence or in a cage….The animal born in the zoo, however, simply does not know better. He gets his food from humans who have established his feeding times, and gets laughed at, stared at, and perhaps fed by spectators. He thinks that this is simply what his life is all about.

The Sefer Palgei Mayim, a classic commentary on Megillas Eicha, writes, that one of the three things Yirmiyahu laments over in Eicha (other than the Bais HaMikdash and Yerushalayim) is that Bnei Yisroel have lost their “Shefa Ruach HaKodesh”. We don’t even know what we are missing--we were born in Galus, and don’t know our true greatness. We are all capable of Ruach HaKodesh! We must recognize this Tisha B’Av that we need to quickly free ourselves from our current exile--it is simply not natural, it is shameful, it is a Chillul Hashem--as the spectators in the world around us think that they are feeding us, that they are sustaining us--as we are really kept prisoners away from our essence, from our true lives. Let us turn to Hashem, and let us ask that we be released, that we be set free…and that we return to our status of royalty, of a Mamleches Kohanim V’Goy Kadosh that is our true essence and being!

The Gemara (Megilla 21A) teaches that Moshe Rabbeinu would learn the more difficult laws and concepts of the Torah sitting down.

As we sadly noted last year, if we have to sit down this Tisha B’Av, we should take the time out to go over in our mind some of the difficult concepts that we tend to ignore, or at least avoid, during the rest of the year--the churbonos and the tzaros that have accompanied us through the ages and into our day.

Can we not shed a tear over:

· The pain of the Shechina over the chillul Hashem of the Galus (the Father’s pain is greater than the child’s)

· The void left by the Beis Hamikdosh that is not with us and the concomitant void of sanctity within us (we could be closer to angels, and not closer to animals)

· The honor of Klal Yisroel that has been cast to the ground and trampled upon

· The murder of an innocent Jewish child

· The murder of a Tzaddik who was giving Brachos

· The sorry hatred of secular Jews to Torah Jews

· The Goldbergs and Rosenblooms of the world who are not Jewish

· The hundreds of thousands of Russian Jews who have been numbed by Communism

· The Crusades

· The Pogroms

· The 1648-1649 Massacres

· The Holocaust

· The murder of the Fogel parents and children, the Mumbai Massacre, Sbarros bombing, the bombing of Bus Number 2, the Leil HaSeder Attack, the drive-by murders, the Mosad HaRav murders, the hundreds of other terrorist attacks, the murders and maimings, the mortars and bombs, the soldiers and the children all under attack

· All of the unnecessary sickness and suffering for 2000 years (multiplied by each second of pain)

· The desolation and ruination of the Har Habayis, Har Hazeisim, Chevron, Teveria…

· Sinas Chinam—smiling at the mishap of another, failing to properly rejoice at another’s simcha, and finding it hard to accept another’s honor and success

· The Jews who do not even know that Tisha B’Av exists--even if they live in New York City

· The Jews who know that Tisha B’Av exists and do not grow in their resolve to do something to end this Churban as soon as possible

The Navi (Yeshaya 1:3, which we read as part of last week’s Haftora) teaches “Ami Lo Hisbonan--My nation did not consider.”

Rashi adds that the people knew they were acting improperly but “tread with their heels” on this knowledge, and simply “did not take it to heart.”

We all know too well the desperate straits we are in at this time, in which we deal with the Churban of Eretz Yisroel and Yerushalayim--the defiling of a land and of a people on the one hand; and the turmoil in Eretz Yisroel today--upon which the nations of the world have heaped additional disgrace and scorn, on the other.

Haven’t we yet reached a point where we will, as the Navi asks, at least “consider”? It is not, it cannot, and should not, be beyond us to go off into a room--our bedroom, dining room, study, or even the floor somewhere, to sit down and cry: “Oh, what has befallen us! A nation in ruins, the holiest people on Earth berated by the lowest nations on Earth. What makes us better today than the captives of Judea taken by the Romans more than 1940 years ago. We cannot allow ourselves to be fooled by the amenities, luxuries, or even just the relative comfort in which we live. We have been in exile far too long, and the longer we are here, the worse off we are.

L’Maaseh, living with reality and practically speaking, we are walking about badly wounded in this bitter exile. Even in Eretz Yisroel itself, the very Holy Land , an estimated 40,000 Russian-manufactured missiles, many of which possess long-range capability, are said to be available in Lebanon alone (without even including what the murderers have in Gaza ).

We cannot be ashamed to cry. Ashamed?!--Why, and from whom?! Why can we not pour out our hearts to Hashem, as Yirmiyahu HaNavi cries out (Eicha 2:19) “Shifchi Kamayim Libeich--pour out your heart [to Hashem] like water.”

At least today, on the eve of Tisha B’Av, and no less certainly tomorrow itself, on the day of pain and mourning over the Chilul Hashem that exists in the world today, over Hashem’s pain which is infinitely greater than ours, over a world that has been lowered to the bottom of the bottom-most depths, over all the individual and communal pain and anguish, over these and much more, we must cry real, very real, tears.

Yirmiyahu HaNavi further teaches (31:14), “A voice is heard on high, lamentation, bitter weeping, Rochel weeping for her children, she refuses to be comforted for her children, for they are not.” On this Pasuk, the Mahari Kara (in the Mikraos Gedolos) writes that Rochel Imeinu represents K’lal Yisroel, and that our weeping in exile is heard by Hashem’s ears.

So, as much as we would not like to, we must cry--really cry. We must realize that we are in the nadir of our exile. The Tay-Sachs test, when originally developed, required a person to shed a tear, which was then tested. One had to think of something sad to shed that tear. Is it such a great challenge to cry unabashedly over an unfulfilled world, over the world’s most precious possessions disgraced and derided, over all the unnecessary anguish, unnecessary suffering, destruction, and death that we are currently experiencing?

If, for some reason you cannot cry--at least cry out--as our forefathers did in Mitzrayim. Remember, the gates of tears--and the gates of ruchniyus--are never closed. If we have to sit on the floor in a few hours, it should do more than cause us some temporary physical pain. Plead to Hashem as Dovid HaMelech does: “El Dimosi Al Techerash--Do not be silent to my tears!” (Tehillim 39:13) Hashem, I will not find comfort with the few pleasures I have when the Heavens and the Earth writhe in pain!

Please join with your brothers this Tisha B’Av, as our sincere tears and cries reach the Heavens.

May these tears and cries turn into overflowing sounds of salvation for each and every one of us, as we join together to witness the comforting of our people and the ultimate final and glee-filled redemption--speedily and in our days.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Funeral Director

I posted this last year and am putting it up here again so you can gain from it and think about the message.

Last Thursday, I was informed of the death of a woman who I did not know.
She was relatively young, only 64 years old. She left behind three sons and grandchildren. It was a stifling, steamy hot humid day; the temperature was hovering over ninety degrees.
The funeral was held in Far Rockaway. I drove out from New Jersey to officiate at the funeral of a woman I never knew.

At the conclusion of the funeral, I asked the funeral director- who was Jewish, and was also driving the hearse containing the nifterres (the deceased)-if he (as they usually do) has a knife for the kriah (ripping of the garments).
He handed me the knife, I helped the mourners with the kriah and returned the knife to the funeral director. We continued to the cemetery in Elmont, New York for the burial.

As we arrived at the cemetery we proceeded to carry the coffin to the grave and we commenced the burial. Everyone took turns with the shovels and we all assisted each other in the burial of the nifterres. The day was stifling hot and most of the men removed their jackets as their brows were filled with sweat and their pants became dirtied as the hot dust swirled around.

The sons and the sisters of the nifterres were overcome with grief.
All of us were exhausted and spent. We were drained both emotionally and physically.

We felt the heat of the sun and the pain and grief of the mourners.
It was an emotionally laden experience.

As the levaya came to a conclusion, we proceeded back to our cars.
As I sat down in my car I was drained and weary from the events of the day. Every funeral is painful; every levaya is filled with grief.
However, perhaps because of the heat and because of the relative young age of the nifterres-I was tired and wasted.

Suddenly, I look up and see the funeral director standing at my car window.
As I look at him he says, "Did you give me back my knife? It's the only one I have and I cannot find it."
I felt terrible at the thought of not returning his knife and began to search my pockets.
I said to the fellow, "I cannot find the knife, I am so sorry. I will replace it for you".

About ten minutes later after everyone had returned to their cars and we were about to exit the cemetery, I realized that I better get the address of the funeral director to send him a new knife.

As I approached his car, I apologized for losing his knife. He said in what appeared to me to be in complete seriousness, "Don't worry, I have a whole list of problems with you!"

I was stunned.
I had just met this man about two hours ago. Our interactions seemed to me to be limited to my borrowing his knife. Was there something I had said or done during the funeral which had offended him? My mind was racing in its attempt to figure out what I did to offend this man that he now has a 'list' of things which he has a 'problem' with.

I looked at him and said with total supplication, "I am so sorry, please tell me what I have done to offend you?"
His face broke into a broad smile as he said,

"Oh, I 'm just kidding around. You have done nothing to offend me and don't worry; I found my knife, you gave it back to me.
I like to joke around with people.
By the way here is my card and I am licensed in New Jersey as well".

I smiled meekly as I took his card and returned to my car.
As I sat down, I realized I was shaking.

"What's wrong with this picture?" I asked myself.
We have just completed burying a 64 year old mother of three. It is about 100 degrees outside. We are all exhausted and our clothes and shoes are filled with the dust of the earth after burying a Jewish mother, and this man informs me that, "I like to joke around with people"!

I also like to 'joke around'.
However, as Shlomo HaMelech taught in Koheles 3:4: (There is...) "A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time of wailing and a time of dancing."
This was not a time 'to laugh'!

After thinking about this on the drive home, I realized that because this man is always involved in death and burial he has become hardened and no longer is touched by the tragedy of death which to him is a regular part of life.
Death has become the norm in his life.

As I drove on, I thought of the fact that we are now in the midst of the Three Weeks (and now the Nine Days) - the time of national mourning for the Beis HaMikdash.

How do I find it possible to 'joke around' today?
How can I crack a smile and a laugh when I'm supposed to be in the midst of mourning for the destruction of both Batei Mikdash?
Am I not exhibiting the exact same callous and caviler behavior which I found so distasteful in the funeral director?
How can I smile and 'kid around' when at this time of the year, thousands and thousands of Jews were being killed and ultimately the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed?

Have I become as casual and cavalier in my reactions to death as the funeral director?

As I drove on I stopped feeling so smug about myself and so scornful of the funeral director and I started feeling more and more ashamed of myself for my lack of feeling.
Have I become unmoved because of the fact that I have lived every day of my life without a Beis HaMikdash?
Is my skin no longer responsive to the pain of the nation?
As I drove, I felt sadder and sadder; not so much for the nation but, rather, for me.

I was saddened by the realization that the Churban (destruction) has become routine in my life; something standard and unexceptional and most troubling, almost natural.

As the realization hit home, I pulled over to the shoulder of the highway and I cried.
I cried not for the Beis HaMikdash; and not for the destruction of Yerushalayim.

I cried for me, and for the realization that I too had become a funeral director.

Taken from

Friday, August 5, 2011

Imagine If...

By: Chaim Bashevkin
I posted this last year but want to share the message with you once more.

I look up in
This roasting heat
To a sky without a cloud
And in my mind
Diverse views meet
And I start to think aloud

What if no clouds
Would fill the sky
And it's forever blue
And no rain would fall
On our parade
What would I ever do?

And if the sun
Would shine each day
And everything would grow
What if I think
At Heaven's gate
I truly do not know

What if no one
Were ever ill
And hospitals were bare
And people would have
All the cash
And spend it without care

What if no one
Would ever come
Knocking on my door
And Sunday mornings
We could learn
And breakfasts never more

What if no one
In shul would squabble
'bout a chair or seat
And smile and
Say "Shalom"
To everyone they meet

What if learning
Would not cost a dime
And parnassah would
Be so easy
That we'd all have the time

To sit and learn
And no da'agah on our mind
And dole out joy
Kiddush Hashem
To all of His mankind

Imagine if
Each gentile
Would point fingers and say
"Please teach us how
To live our lives
In your Holy Torah's way"

And all will join together
By cars, by boat, by plane
To see the holy mountain
Where His Majesty does reign

And now I look
Once more on High
And see dark clouds above
Remembering that
In a week
Comes once more Tisha B'Av

But my imagination
It will not dissipate
Unlike the clouds that surely will
As I anticipate

All the great things
That I saw
Will surely soon appear
And clouds of darkness
And of gloom
Will quickly disappear

For shining brightly
Through the clouds
Hashem's glory will show
And Tisha B'Av
Will celebrate
A world we soon shall know

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

For No Reason

Hashem, I have a request.

Tisha B'av became a night of weeping because during the time of the meraglim, the Jews cried for no reason.

The second bais hamikdosh was destroyed because of sinas chinam-we hated other people for no reason.

Now, could you please let us out of galus for no reason? Cuz you love us for no reason other than you are our Father and we are Your children?

Yes. Just because you love us.

* * *

We are now in a time where we feel, or at least we should try to feel, an intense yearning to come back home. Thinking about the churban of Hashem's home may seem a little distant for some of you but if you begin to think about the many homes of families in our nation that were destroyed, families that suffered in the recent years, it brings the feelings closer to home.

Almost six years ago, my family experienced a loss. My younger brother, Shalom a"h was niftar. It was hard. It still is hard. He was not sick, there was no warning - it was a real shock to all of us. Our family is never going to be whole again. Of course, we learned to move on. We strengthened our emunah, we spoke about how this is for the best even though we don't understand, we helped and identified with so many others who lost a family memeber. But...the pain is still there. And it keeps coming back. At certain times the pain is stronger. Other times, it's almost not there.

As it gets closer to his yartzheit, the feelings come back - and I'm more emotional about it. As much as I can talk about the story with rock-solid faith that it's all for the best, there's still a huge amount of pain in my heart from the loss. I miss him. I really do.

I want to see him again.

It makes me yearn for moshiach with such a strong intensity.

I remember the first
shemona esrei I davened after he was niftar. I wasn't allowed to daven from when we heard the news on Monday afternoon until after his levaya on Tuesday morning. So the first tefillah I got to say was mincha. I went into a bedroom in the house, closed the door and locked myself away from everything that was going on around me. The house was getting set up with low chairs, water coolers, signs with the passuk of hamakom and some food was getting delivered to our house.

I took out my siddur and davened. It was the first time the bracha of
mechayei hameisim was so real to me. I cried so hard when I said those words, shaking and trembling, davening with such strong emotions. I wanted to see my younger brother. We were so close. We were closest in age and from all my siblings, I was closest to him.
I know I'm going to see him again...but when?!

We have to realize that moshiach is a real thing. Techiyas hameisim is a real thing. It's not just some words we mumble quickly when we daven. We have to really feel that we want it to happen!

I want to share with you a great thought I read in a recent Hakhel email.

When we express our belief in the coming of moshiach, we say these words:
Ani Ma’amin B’Emunah Shleimah BeVi’as HaMoshiach. Then, we continue with the words Ve’af Al Pi Sheyismameiah…even though he may delay, nevertheless I await his coming every day. Chazal teach that the Moshiach will come when we are “Nisya’ashu Min HaGeulah-when we despair of redemption.” The Baalei Mussar all ask: Are we not supposed to wait for Moshiach every day-after all, are we not truthful when we recite these words of Achakeh Lo Bechol Yom Sheyavo. How can it be that we will despair?!

The answer given by many is that Chazal do not mean that we will despair of Moshiach’s arrival. Rather, they mean that we will despair that our yeshua will come from foreign governments, wise scientists, or even from our own wisdom or strength. Rather, we will once and for all realize, and put into real practice, that we have no one to rely on, no source of yeshua whatsoever-except for Our Avinu SheBashamayim. As we recite the words Ve’af Al Pi…let us shake off all of the external forces and outside influences and proclaim with complete Emunah that it is our Avinu SheBashomayim Who will bring the geulah-we anticipate today; and if it is not today we will with full faith anticipate again tomorrow!

Practically, what can you do during this time to show Hashem that moshiach is something you are really yearning for?

Every day, when you wash for bread and recite
birchas hamazon or when you say al hamichya after eating something mezonos, take a few extra seconds and stop by the words Rachem Na. Think for a minute. Hashem, we need your rachmanus! Have mercy on us! We've been through so much pain and we want to come out of this long and bitter exile! And when you say the words u'venei yerushalayim, stop. Think for a minute. Have an extra bit of kavannah on those words-we all want Yerushalayim to be rebuilt. We all want to see the bais hamikdosh in all its glory with the kohanim doing the avodah, bringing korbanos and the leviyim singing the most beautiful songs in praise of Hashem.

We are all waiting so long for that day to come.
It's time...

To read more about my brother Shalom a"h and the story behind his unexpected passing from this world, click on the links on the sidebar below the picture of him.