Sunday, August 19, 2012

Always Watching

I posted this before and wanted to share this with you again.

We are now right at the start of Chodesh Elul. It’s the beginning of a big month, a month that we all hope to fill with change and growth. Change does not happen on it’s own – it’s something that requires work, time, thought and effort.

I learned that the Jewish calendar year can be compared to a spiral staircase – although we have the same yomim tovim every year, we are (hopefully) climbing higher and higher every time we reach that point in the calendar. The year goes in a circle and we come to the same spot again every year but we hope that this year we are at a higher level than we were on last year.

It is a very big challenge to keep climbing and going higher. It can be compared to standing on an escalator that is going downward. If you do not make sure to step up, you will automatically be going downwards. It's a climb! But it is definitely worth it when you reach the top.

One way to make sure you utilize the time during Elul to the fullest is by thinking shivisi Hashem l'negdi samid - (I always have Hashem before me) as many times as you can throughout your day. This pasuk is so powerful and can change the way you act at any moment.

For example, if you think about this pasuk on your way to work/school/camp activity, you can try to come up with ways to bring Hashem into your day more. If you are about to make a bracha, this can help enhance your kavannah. Thinking about it can cause you to refrain from negative speech because if you remember that Hashem is watching you, you will not want to do the wrong thing! When you are faced with a decision and are unsure what to do and this thought comes to mind, it will surely help you gain more clarity.

Give yourself a time during the day when you will think about it - at least once. It can be while you eat breakfast or lunch, before you check your emails or even while you are on the phone with someone. You can let this pasuk go through your mind when you have some quiet time in middle of your day.

There is a famous story about the Chofetz Chaim who had hired a wagon driver to take him somewhere. While they were passing a farm, the driver abruptly stopped the wagon and climbed down in order to steal something from the farmer. He left the Chofetz Chaim in the wagon as a lookout. As the driver embarked on his mission, the Chofetz Chaim called out: "He's looking!" The driver raced back to the wagon, spurred the horses to a vigorous gallop and made his getaway, the Chofetz Chaim in tow.
When they had gotten a safe distance away, the wagon driver turned to the Chofetz Chaim and asked, "Who was it that saw me?" The Chofetz Chaim gestured upwards and said, "He sees everything."
Yes, we all know Hashem is always watching us and sees everything we do.
But how can we make it more real to us?

By thinking about this pasuk, shivisi Hashem l'negdi samid more often during the course of your day, you will be more aware of Hashem's presence in your life. This will help you think twice before you act and help you make the right choices - positive choices.


Inspiration gained from this post should be a zechus for the
aliyas neshama of my friend's mother, Ruchama Rivka Sondra bas R' Yechiel whose sixth yartzheit is tonight, Beis Elul.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Missing: One Detail

My family gathered together at my brother's kever as we do every year. We had just started the tefillos when someone's cell phone rang.

Why didn't they put their phone on silent? I thought to myself.

I turned to see whose phone just rang. It was my mother's. She picked up the call.

Why is she picking up the phone?? She knows we are at the kever now. My mother, of all people, should know that now is not the right time or place to be on the phone.

As I listened to her side of the conversation, I understood exactly why she left her ringer on and why she picked up. At my brother's kever. She was expecting this call. Someone had called to give her a name to daven for. I could tell from my mother's response that the person on the other line also mentioned something they would be doing as a zechus for my brother's neshama.

It's so easy to jump to conclusions. We see people doing things that look or seem strange and we guess and wonder. Even when we know it's so not like them to do that. 

We need to try, instead of judging favorably, not to judge at all. Think I don't know why she did that. But knowing her, she must have had a good reason. If it's too hard not to judge at all because your brain is already on a little road trip, then try to come up with excuses for why the person may have done what they did. 

A great way to work on this is to turn the tables around for a minute. Think to yourself, if this would have been me, what would be my reasons for doing that? It's so much easier to come up with excuses for your own behavior than to figure out why someone else may have done something.

There are so many dan l'kaf zechus stories. So many times, you are just missing one detail and if you had that little piece of information, the whole story comes out differently.

Something came up one morning and I was going to be late for work. I sent my coworker a text message letting her know I'd be late and another one later when I was on my way. There was no response to any of my texts but I assumed things had been busy and she didnt get to respond.

Later that night, she told me that after her battery died and she charged it, she turned her phone back on and a whole bunch of messages popped up on her screen. She had been wondering why I never let her know I'd be late to work that day...and there was her answer. I did let her know but she never got my messages.

She knew it was so not like me to roll in to work so late without letting her know in advance. She didn't jump to conclusions but she just wondered what was up and why I acted in a way that was a little less than responsible. It took a little time...and then she got her answer.

Sometimes you'll guess and you'll be right. Right on the mark for the reason the person acted that way. Other times you'll never know the real reason. But as long as in your head you are seeing things positively and if you are wondering you are judging favorably, you are doing good.

Just remember: there is so much you don't know. There are so many details to the story you may never know. Try to look at people and situations with a positive eye. Come up with excuses for others-the same excuses you'd come up with for yourself if you were in the same place. 

You will be doing a world of good for yourself and for the people you come in contact with. You will be more positive when you are not pointing fingers and getting upset with people when you may just be missing one small detail. And those around you will enjoy being in the company of someone who is pleasant and positive.

May you always be able to view things in a positive light and refrain from judging people and situations in the wrong way. May working on this make your own little world a happier place to be.

Friday, August 3, 2012

This Sunday

This Sunday, Yud Zayin Av, will be my brother Shalom's 7th yartzheit.

For me, every yartzheit is another reminder. A reminder that we are not here forever. That life is short and we must utilize every moment we have do good become better...and to make the lives of people around us a little happier. That at the end of a person's life, all that really matters is the mitzvos they did, the torah they learned, how they worked on themselves and improved the lives of those around them.

Every year, my family goes to my brother's kever on the yartzheit. As much as I cry and as much as I miss my brother, going to his kever is a reminder for me about what is really important in life. When I look at my brother's tombstone, I concentrate on the things written there, a beautiful inscription describing some of the qualities that made him the special person that he was.

And I think...what is it going to say on my tombstone...after I die? I know it's a scary thought but...after a person is gone, this is how they are remembered. And this is what is important. Not the way they dress and not the makeup they wear, not how fat or skinny they are and not how much money they have. It's how they use their talents, their personality, their looks, their they use the gifts they were given to become a better person and do good things. 

No one knows how long they will live. My brother didn't know that he was going to die so young. We don't know how much time we have left. We need to use our time wisely. I have a yearly reminder for that. And I'm passing on this message to you. We need to stop and think. Where am I headed? What do I want to do with my life? What are my goals and how can I achieve them?

The word goal sounds a little bit much to me. Too big and too broad. It needs to be broken down. I think most people want to be generally good people. But what does it mean to be good? Life gets tough. Many times, decisions are hard to make. It's not always between good and bad, between black and white. There's so much gray. So much that is not defined. That cannot be put into a box.

So, many times...I'll think about my brother. About what he would say, what he would think is okay. And it helps. Because, when there is someone you think about that is not alive anymore, decisions, things that you are unclear about, right and wrong and those gray puts things into perspective and helps you realize what really matters and makes you think is this really important? Is it really okay to do this thing? What would Shalom say?

And I know...that once a person is gone, they cannot do any good deeds anymore. We can do things to make their neshama go higher, mitzvos, brachos, tefillah,'s all in our hands. We are all in the olam ha'asiya, where we can still do. And we can do actions that can elevate his neshama to higher places. I don't know exactly what that means but I feel like I am able to give him gifts, wrapped with beautiful bows...and send them to him up high where he will smile and be happy with each one he gets. My good deeds, my actions that are done l'ilui nishmaso, are those gifts.

Losing my brother gave me things I would not have gotten otherwise. Things I would never have asked for, pain and emotions I don't wish on anyone, but things that are priceless. Lessons and messages about life and what really counts, yearly reminders, and tools to keep things in perspective.

For those of you who never read the details of the story, you can click on the links on the sidebar below the picture of my brother. His story is unusual. He was not sick for some time before he passed away and my family did not have any warning. From one minute to the next...and a few hours later...and he was gone.

One last message to all of you. Appreciate those close to you. Appreciate your family, your siblings, your parents and your friends. Even if they annoy you sometimes, even if you they get on your nerves or get you upset. You never know how much time you have left to spend with them. I would give anything in the world to have some more time to spend with my brother. You don't have to wish. You have those people close to you all the time. Just appreciate them.

May this post and all the inspiration gained from this blog be an ongoing zechus for my brother, Shalom ben Chaim Nosson and may his neshama continue to go higher and higher in gan eden.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

And Then There Were Those...

Last night, many, many people gathered together to celebrate the completion of the entire shas. It only took one day. One day at a time of working and trying, of learning and understanding...and totaled seven and a half years of dedication and perseverance.

Sure, there are so many lessons to take from this. About how much can be accomplished from a few moments of learning the same thing daily. About taking baby steps to achieve big things in life. About perseverance. About not giving up. About the power of a group of people doing something good together...and how that can give someone the push to continue doing it. About using time wisely and utilizing every minute. About the beauty of Torah and how every single person, no matter what they do, can have a part in it.

For those who went, it was powerful to spend a few hours with so many people to celebrate this huge accomplishment.

Many people turned their schedules around so they could be at this special event. There were those who left work early and young children who left day camp early. Some people got babysitters, some got rides, some took buses. People did whatever they had to. All so they could be there and be part of the experience. Yet still, there were plenty of people who were unable to make it to the siyum hashas.

And then there were those...

Those who didn't even know there was a siyum.

Those who don't even know what Torah is. Who don't know what a letter in the aleph bais looks like.

They have no idea what beauty they are missing out on. They don't even know such beauty exists.

Just a few days ago, we sat on the floor and mourned the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh.
A friend of mine, Temima, shared the following thought with me from R’ Shimshon Pincus zt”l.

When we mourn over the churban and tragedies written about in the kinnos, we must keep in mind that today we are also undergoing tragedies as a result of the churban. During the churban it was the loss of millions of Jewish bodies. But today’s loss is millions of neshamos. Forever. In the kinnos we read that the navi saw mounds of tefillin removed from slain boys and men and he cried out, “Hashem, here are the tefillin but where are the heads?!”
Today we have to cry out, “Oy! Ribbono Shel Olam, here are the heads but where are the tefillin?!”

The churban is still very much with us in our time. It is just a different kind of churban.

What can we do about it?

What can you do about it?

It may sound harder than it is. But every person can do something.

You can sign up to learn with someone on the phone once a week with Partners in Torah. Through you can learn with someone in person, one on one. You can host a kiruv training seminar in your house or donate some of your ma’aser money to any of the organizations who are involved in kiruv. Oorah also has many ways of getting involved. can make a kiddush Hashem. Because wherever you go, whatever you do, people you know and people you don't are watching you and may be passing judgement about all Jews...when they see you. You represent the entire Jewish Nation.

So today, when I was outside and I saw an old neighbor of mine who grew up in a totally non-frum home, walking her dog with her non-Jewish boyfriend, I gave her a hug, talked to her for two minutes and treated her the way she should be treated. Like a person. I smiled at her and wished her well. I don't know what she thought when I left but I know I did mine. That tiny spark inside her will never go out. It may be dimmed for a while but there is hope for her and for those like her.

So...when I think about the siyum hashas and the beauty and power of so many people gathering together to celebrate this milestone, I also think about those who do not know of such beauty, who are unaware of what they are missing.

I will daven for them. I will hope for them. And I will do something real, something practical to make sure I can make a difference in someone else's life.

Do you think you can too?