Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Looking Ahead

A Baal Teshuva once came to R’ Avrohom Gurwitz of Yeshivas Ner Moshe. 

“Rabbi,” he said, “I can’t go on. When I think of my past and all the things I did wrong, I can’t imagine being able to consider myself an observant Jew.” 

“You know,” replied R’ Gurwitz, “Human beings have eyes in the front of our heads, not in the back. If we stretch our necks and turn, we can look behind us, but the angle is skewed and it’s uncomfortable to do it for any length of time. G-d made it this way to teach us that the important thing is to always look ahead, and look forward to what you can do and where you can go. You should look behind you to see where you’ve been by all means, but if you focus on it too long you won’t be able to get anywhere, and you’ll wind up hurting yourself.”

We just experienced the yom tov of shavuos. Aside from the cheesecake and all the food, you can try to come out of this yom tov with a new appreciation for what you have and what you can become. It is easy to despair, to look back at the past and give up. It is more difficult to lift yourself up and tell yourself, I can be better. I can be more.

Change is hard. Change means looking deep inside yourself, deep inside your soul and thinking, what could I do to be a better Jew? A more connected Jew. A more inspired Jew. A more giving and loving Jew.

I've been reading the biography on Rebbetzin Kanievsky and I must say, there is so much to learn from her. The one thing that struck me was her true ahavas yisroel, her love for every single Jew no matter who they were or where they came from. There were people who were mentally disturbed who would come to her house and say things that would make many of us run in the opposite direction. There were people who treated her with less respect than any of you would treat even someone not so great. But she loved them all. She hugged them and kissed them and gave them brachos and made them feel special. The more psychotic a person sounded, the more love she showered them with because after all, they must really need someone to care about them.

There was a woman who thought she was going to die and she would come to Rebbetzin Kanievsky every single day. And every day the Rebbetzin would write her a special note giving her brachos and saying "you will not die today". Sometimes, the woman would rip it up in front of her face and tell her, you didn't write everything, you didn't write enough. And the Rebbetzin would write it again saying, I must really not be doing enough for her...

She truly cared. She had an amazing amount of patience. There was no limit to her kindness and her goodness.

When she sent her children to sleep with an elderly widow every night, she thanked the widow for letting her children sleep in her home and making it less crowded for the other children...after all, the Kanievskys lived in a two and a half bedroom apartment and when there was one less child sleeping in the house there was so much more room for everyone. She didn't thank the widow just one time, she kept thanking her again and again to the point that the widow would tell other people, "The Rebbetzin keeps thanking me for allowing her daughter to sleep here. But I'm so happy to be able to do such a chessed for their family, especially since I know their house is so crowded!" She really made the other person feel as if she was helping them instead of the other way around.

She wrote letters of recommendation to help boys get into yeshivos, she opened her door to so many people, strangers and family alike, allowing them to take food from her refrigerator freely, she delivered food to neighbors who moved in on the block (even on erev pesach), she gave money to petitioners who came for brachos and were suffering from financial distress, her giving heart and her love for others was endless.

I can't even sum up the stories over here. I tried to write some of them but I can't do justice. Her essence was her true, deep ahavas yisroel. 

The Torah teaches us to love one another, to truly care about other people and it teaches us how. We have mitzvos that show us the importance of bein adam l'chaveiro. We are told not to accept bribes, to treat widows, orphans and converts with extra love, we are told to honor and respect our parents, not to steal, cheat, be jealous...all these things are between man and his fellow man. The Torah wants us to perfect our middos, work on our character, become better people.

I was thinking...shavuos has passed and the next yom tov is Rosh Hashana. It's a pretty scary thought. But we have a good few months ahead of us, a whole summer to work on ourselves, to become better people. 

May you be able to look ahead instead of craning your neck to look back, knowing just how much to focus on the past so you become aware of what you need to work on. And may you be able to  move forward, constantly striving and growing to become the best person you can.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Shavuos - Why Was The Torah Given in The Desert?

This was posted before and I want to share it with you once more.

One of the most popular questions raised regarding the Giving of the Torah, is why it was given in the desert.

HaRav Shimshon Pincus Z’tl, looks at the question from a different perspective. HaRav Pincus asks not why the Torah was actually given in the Midbar, but rather why the Torah was not given in Eretz Yisroel. After all, does not the very air of Eretz Yisroel itself make one wise? Wouldn’t the intense kedusha of Eretz Yisroel have a unique and special effect on those receiving the Torah?

HaRav Pincus answers that we must put the Giving of the Torah in its proper perspective. On Pesach, HaKadosh Baruch Hu chose us as his Kallah, as his bride. The Shidduch was made, and we celebrate our new relationship over Pesach. The days of Sefirah are the equivalent of the engagement period - between the Vort and the Chasuna itself. Shavuos is then, the Great Wedding, where Hashem came out to greet us as a Chosson steps forward to greet his Kallah. The period after Shavuos is the time in which the newfound relationship was to be firmly and eternally established.

We can now understand why the Torah had to be given in the desert. A Chosson and Kallah need time with each other, without any distractions whatsoever - not even holy or important ones - in order to form an eternal bond. Giving the Torah in Eretz Yisroel would be the equivalent of getting married in a kitchen, even if it was Glatt Kosher LeMehadrin! As soon as the Chupa was over, the Chosson would soon be learning how to use the Shabbos Clock, and the Kallah would start figuring out how to make cholent! Just as the Yichud room follows immediately after the Chupa so that the newlyweds can focus on each other and only on each other, so too, did we need our special time to be separated from everything else and unite with HaKadosh Baruch Hu.

In order to connect to Hashem, we have to disconnect from the world for a moment. We have to get rid of the distractions and things that hold us back from getting to know Him. The best place to do that is in the midbar-in the desert, where there are no iPods, cameras, videos, magazines, computers with internet! All these things can be major distractions and hold us back from connecting to Hashem so this is what the midbar comes to teach us-about being alone, just us and Hashem, nobody else!

We are now like the Chosson and Kallah a little before the Chuppah. The anticipation, the last minute preparations, the prayers that everything goes right...but we must also remember that the goal to be achieved when Shavous arrives is not only the marvelous and incomparable moment of the Wedding itself, but also the raising of our own personal ever-special and eternally-lasting relationship that must follow, as expressed by the love that we have for Hashem, the improved way in which we study His Torah and the devoted manner and especially warm care in which we perform His Mitzvos!

We need to set aside some time during the day or during week and make it special and use it to connect to Hashem. Turn off the music, shut down the computer, don't look at your cell phone, stop texting (!), reading or whatever it is that you are doing and instead, use the time you have to show Hashem you want to connect to Him by doing something that will bring you closer to Him!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Sefira - Climbing Higher

This was posted last year and I want to share it with you again.

To continue on where I left off on last post, I wanted to get practical. I felt like the last post was inspirational and can leave the reader feeling like they want to do something to use each day for growth but then the feeling may creep in:
Now what?!

How do you get to a level where by the time Shavuos comes around, you can look back and say Wow! I really changed! I used each day to grow and come closer to Hashem!

Let's get real. I know that in the past I haven't been able to look back after 49 days and say that I've really grown.

Change is difficult.

It takes work.

Here's something I heard from my very special married sister that I wanted to share with you because it can make all the difference.

You need to choose something small.

And that is SO true. That's how you can change over the 49 days of sefira.

In Judaism, growth can only be made if you take baby steps.

Little, small, teeny baby steps.

Proof: Sefira is forty nine whole days. That's quite a long time if you think about it! It's not like you are expected to change in a weeks time. No. It's gradual. You have more than a month to change, to prepare for the big day!

Now we are already more than halfway through sefira but I still think it's worth sharing these ideas so that if you haven't started yet, you can still utilize the time that's left to take something little and start making a change.

That's what I said. Something little.

It's up to you to decide where you want to begin.

Here are some ideas:
You want to become a more giving person? You want to work on chessed? Do one small thing every day to help someone else. It can be an anonymous act of kindness (like closing an opened safety pin so it wont prick someone else - I heard this idea at a speech a while back and it really left an impression on me!) or it can be something else - calling someone to let them know you're thinking of them. Whatever it is, make sure it's something small that can be done every day.

You think your
kibbud av va'eim could use a little polishing? That's a hard mitzvah. But if once a day you make sure you had a positive thought about your parents, your mother or your father, you are already on your way up that spiritual ladder. One "thank you" to your parent, one extra chore to help out, one less complaint - and you're getting there.

Are you too connected to technology? Do you want to connect to Hashem but find yourself whipping out your phone/laptop/iPad too often to check your text messages or emails? Once a day, just one time during the day, hold yourself back. Instead, direct your thoughts upward and think a spiritual thought.

Do you want to work on your appreciation to Hashem for all the things He does for you but find yourself complaining about the things going wrong too often? Again, make it a once a day thing - think of something you are thankful for because in reality, Hashem gives you so, so much! Your eyes, your ears, your taste buds, your friends, your family, a healthy body, a digestive system, flowers, sunrise, music, the ability to understand, a job, a home...and the list goes on and on. So take a moment once a day to thank Hashem for ONE THING and then when Shavuos comes, you can look back and say, I've grown in my appreciation to Hashem during this sefira period.

Does your bein adam l'chaveiro need a little tune-up? There are so many ways to improve but just take one little step every day - give someone a sincere compliment. Hold in that urge to answer back for an extra second. Smile at someone when you pass them by in the hallway. Hold the door open for someone walking in behind you. Stop yourself before you respond to someone's gossip. These are hard things but if you take a small step, you can get there at the end of the 49th day.

Can your tefillah use a little more concentration to make it better? Decide that you are going to look into your siddur during one tefillah each day. You can choose the same tefillah, the first one you daven when you open your siddur, or a different one every day. But make sure that at the end of each day you can look back and say that you looked inside once. Because that can really make a difference in the kavanna that you have. When you look inside, you see the words and automatically your brain thinks about what those words mean! It may take a quick second before you get distracted but if you push yourself to look inside again at that tefillah, you'll see a difference in how you are able to concentrate!

There are so many areas that a person can change. When you look at all the ideas thrown out to you here, it may seem overwhelming. But just choose one thing. And take small steps towards your goal. Your goal is that when Shavuos comes around, you will be able to look back at this time with pride knowing that you utilized each day.

But if you do too much, you can fall back and give up because it becomes too hard. Taking something little upon yourself makes it a goal that can be reached.

Happy Climbing!!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Counting Sefira

I posted this before I wanted to share these thoughts with you again.

Sefira is the time between Pesach and Shavuos-the time we count up towards
kaballas haTorah. What is the reason that we count this way? The Jews are a nation who always work upwards. Ma'alin Bakodesh v'Einam moridim-we go up in kedusha and don't go down. (It's the same way on Chanukah, we light the menorah going upwards. One candle on the first day, two on the second and so on.) When a person is excited for something, for example, for a birthday or a big trip, they make a countdown.

I remember making a countdown for my wedding and giving it to my chosson-each day, he'd pull of the page 25...24...23...22...21...20... The reason why we were counting
down is because these twenty-something days (from when I made the countdown) were standing between us and the wedding. Each time a page was pulled off, it was an excitement! There is less time standing between us and the big day!

However, when it comes to the day we will accept the Torah, the days between Pesach and Shavuos are not just days we want to pass by as quickly as possible. Each day is supposed to be a day of accomplishment. Each day is precious and meant to be used to it's fullest.

I will explain this with a
mashal from R' Shimshon Pincus zt"l. Imagine someone were to tell you that in one month, he was going to give you 3 million dollars. Three million dollars! Imagine that!! The 30 days you have to wait to get the money are now standing between you and your 3 million. They are holding you back from becoming a millionaire. So you want each day to pass as quickly as possible! However, if he were to tell you that each day he would give you 100,000 and by the end of the month, you would have received 3 million dollars, then each day is precious! Each day you are gaining the money that will help you become a millionaire! Now, you view each day as important in helping you achieve your goal.

It is the same thing with Sefira. We are counting towards Matan Torah-towards the day we are going to get the greatest treasure in the world! Each day, we are getting more than a million dollars in spirituality. We are getting treasures and treasures of diamonds! This is why we count up-today is day 1, 2, 3, 4...and so forth.
We are counting because we are so excited to get to this day-the day of Matan Torah! But it's not like we are waiting for the time from now until then to pass, we are using the days we have until then to reach greater heights in our avodas Hashem, by working on ourselves and becoming closer to Him to prepare for the big day!

During the time of the
bais hamikdosh, when korbanos were brought, there was a difference between the korbanos brought on Pesach and Shavuos. On Pesach, the Korban Omer was brought. It was made out of barley which is food for animals. The korban brought on Shavuos, the Korban Shtei Halechem was made of wheat, which is food that is normally eaten by human beings. This comes to show us that the time between Pesach and Shavuos is a time of tremendous growth and change. It is a time that we elevate ourselves from the level of animals to the level of human beings-people! Because without the Torah, we are like animals who have desires and wants and act upon them. But once we were given the Torah, we learned that all our actions can be elevated to a higher level and then we are like people!

Sefira is a special time to work on your
middos. It is a time to perfect ourselves and work on improving the way we relate to one another. There are so many areas in which we can improve. Show Hashem that you are preparing yourself to accept the greatest gift ever-the Torah!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Memories of a Gadol

A friend of mine, Esti C. emailed this to me in response to this post about Rav Scheinberg zt"l. 

I felt a personal connection to HaRav Scheinberg because he lived in the same building as my great-grandfather, HaRav Zeidel Epstein, the mashgiach of Torah Ohr (Rav Scheinberg's yeshiva), whom I visited very often (almost daily) during our year in seminary. 
My Israeli cousin lived in the same building too and took care of my great-grandfather, as well as doing some things for Rav Scheinberg as well. He felt completely at home there. He would just knock and walk in. He took me there many times too.
Though, I never had the experience of cleaning his desk while he sat there ... I know what you must have been feeling. It's an incredible feeling. Scary, all at once.

I felt that many times, as I sat with my great-grandfather, who was not the way he used to be, having just been in a coma. I would sit and hold his hand and stroke it. Then, I would think about all his talmidim and all the things he accomplished in his life; the brachos he gave, the mussar he gave. And I would think - who am I to be touching a person of such stature? How can I just sit here and act as if he is a "regular" person. So I would just sit and watch him in awe, as he slept, his face so peaceful.

Many days, I davened mincha in his kitchen, or on the marpeset (porch) in the back of his apartment. I honestly remember feeling kedusha there, more than in my own room in the dorm.

And, on those days when he was awake and aware and could talk, he would say one thing to me - nem (take) - he was worried about me. While he was the fragile one, he was only concerned that I should have something to eat. He would motion for me to go the makolet at the corner to buy something for myself to eat and put it on his bill. In the beginning, I didn't understand what he wanted me to do, as he couldn't speak in full sentences. But the assistant that stayed with him explained to me. Sometimes I pretended that I had something to eat because I felt bad buying this on his cheshbon, but he knew when it wasn't true :)  He could see right through it.

Many times, I asked him for brachos. Though he could only speak few words, he did give me a bracha for a shidduch, and other things too. At the end of the year, I specifically asked him that I should be zocheh to come back to visit him with my husband iyH. To the astonishment of the assistant, he actually put his hands on my head and gave me a bracha. However, as I am the oldest in my family and had until that point been the only one in my family (from my siblings) to ever see my great-grandfather in person, I asked him for a bracha that my siblings should be zocheh to come visit him as well. Yet, to this, he did not respond. It was very strange. It was almost as if he didn't hear that I had asked anything. The assistant tried too. But, my great-grandfather just motioned that he was getting tired and wanted to rest.

Then - I went back to America at the end of the year and bH got married during that first winter. The following summer, my husband and I went to EY and were indeed zocheh to visit my great-grandfather, just as he had promised. We stayed for ten days. 3 weeks after we left back to America, my great-grandfather was niftar. The reaction of my great-grandfather regarding my siblings visiting him had not been just a coincidence. He knew they were not going to come during his lifetime. I cried and cried and cried. But I thanked Hashem from the depths of my heart that I had had the opportunity to become close to my great-grandfather, even if it had not been in the prime of his life, when he had been a vibrant powerhouse of torah and yiras shamayim.

May our deepest wish come true for us to be zocheh to see the geula sheleima b'karov!!