Monday, December 22, 2014

She's a Gift

It's the seventh night of Chanukah.

Four years ago, on this day, I gave birth to a delicious little girl. We named her Chaya Gitty and she already personifies her name. Full of life and full of goodness, I sometimes wonder if she can be too good. But then I see her acting like a regular, normal, healthy little girl, doing things girls her age should do and I smile inside. She is a gift.

Every child is a gift. It sometimes passes us by and we are too busy to take the time to notice it, but on this day I take a few minutes to think and to be grateful. Grateful to Hashem for giving us such a precious little girl who lights up our home with so much sunshine and joy.

The cute things this little girl says, the way she shares and plays, the amount she absorbs and understands, the purity and innocence of her young heart, every bit of it is something to be grateful for.

And she's so happy. So simply happy. What does it take to make a little girl excited? A new doll. And not a huge 18 inch American Girl Doll (even though she'd be thrilled til the sky to have one of those!), just a teeny little Polly Pocket or a small six inch doll. She doesn't expect much and she's happy with the little things she gets.

What do we expect? 

What happens when things don't turn out the way we anticipated?

Do we pull through, coming out stronger? Or do we succumb because it's just too hard and our dreams have been shattered?

We all have dreams. 

We plan our lives the way we expect them to turn out.

And sometimes, sometimes life just doesn't follow that script. The imaginary life we thought we'd live...with all the hopes and dreams packed into one little fairy tale...turns out to be so different...so much more challenging...yet so much more real.

It's a chance for us to become more real. To discover our essence. To appreciate our strengths and work through our weaknesses so we can become a different person. Stronger, better, more connected...and more whole.

It's okay to wish, to dream...and even to expect to some degree.

But we have to know that Hashem has a better plan. 

Even if it doesn't seem all that wonderful in the moment. 

He has a reason, there is a purpose, and one day, we may even get a glimpse, a little peek, a little bit of understanding. 

It takes work to accept, to let go of the dreams and to create a new reality with the life and challenges we have been given.

But at the end, we will feel happy inside.

To my sweet and precious little girl, I continue to daven and hope that your life continue to be this happy. That you keep that innocence and purity with you for a long time. That you keep being that good little girl, with the right balance of giving and sharing but standing up for yourself when you need to. That the passion you have for doing mitzvos, davening and learning more never leave you...and that you follow on the right path with love every day of your life.

Hashem, I thank you for giving us such a wonderful gift. I can't imagine my family without my little Chaya Gitty in it. And on her birthday, as I take the time to reflect on how lucky I am to have her in our family, I ask you to please give me the strength to take care of her (and all of them), the ability to make the right decisions, and the knowledge I need to be mechanech all of my children to stay on this beautiful and special path we have started on. Let my home be infused with spirituality, positivity and happiness every single day.

Happy Birthday, CG! 

And Happy Chanukah to all!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Why is Chanukah Eight Days?

Here is a compilation of answers to the famous question from the Bais Yosef. Why do we keep 8 days of חנוכה if the נס  was 7 days since there was enough oil to last for one day?

1.      The יונים ransacked the בהמ"ק many days in search of oil to make it טמא. Despite their strength and numbers, they overlooked one flask. A few weak, battle-weary Jews found it immediately. We celebrate the first day to commemorate the miraculous victory over the Greeks.
2.      It would take 8 days to get oil so the Jews divided the oil which contained enough for one night into 8 equal parts. They figured they would light one-eighth of the oil each of the next eight nights. Miraculously, on each of the eight nights, the oil lasted for the entire night.
3.      After they filled the menorah with oil on the first night, the jug remained full on all eight days.
4.      The oil in the cups never burned, the cup remained full the next morning.
5.      ברית מילה was not allowed and after the war they were allowed to do it openly so for the fact that after a baby boy is born we wait 8 days, we have 8 days of חנוכה.
6.      They needed thicker wicks but they used wicks 1/8th of the normal thickness so it would last for more days. It looked like it was very thick from far and brightened the whole ירושלים. So we light because the first day it was also a נס.
7.      They were not allowed to make a copy of the כלים in the בית המקדש so that’s why we make an 8 branch and not the 7 branch.  
8.      The משכן was completed on כ"ה כסלו  but it was only dedicated in ניסן. To make it up to חדש כסלו, ה' caused נס חנוכה  to occur in כסלו. The dedication of the משכן and the beginning of the עבודה lasted 8 days so we celebrate חנוכה for 8 days. The meaning of חנוכה is dedication- this eludes to this aspect of the celebration.
9.      The first day commemorates the dedication of the second בית המקדש –when it was built.
10.  It was a נס that they found a פך שמן טהור with the seal of the כהן גדול.
11.  The oil was enough for the first night but the מנורה must be lit by day too.
12.  They were forbidden to extinguish the fire on the morning of the first day in order to conserve oil yet the oil continued burning through the eighth evening-(זית רענן)
13.  The eighth day was celebrated out of doubt just like all ימים טובים outside of ארץ ישראל. (ברקי יוסף, תולדות יעקב ויוסף).
14.  They planned on using multiple wicks dipped in oil but the original wicks lasted all day.
15.  The candles didn’t burn out despite the wind outside. They lit the מנורה outdoors because the בהמ"ק was full of ע"ז.
16.  That year כסלו was short but nowadays its long (29 days versus 30 days). We still do the יו"ט from כ"ה כסלו  through ב' טבת even though it is now 8 days rather than only 7.
17.  The מצוה of lighting the מנורה comes right after the מצוה of keeping 8 days of סוכות (7 days+שמעיני עצרת) The חכמים took it as a hint that חנוכה should be 8 days too.
18.  The נס  is not in the quantity of the oil but  quality. That is burned 8 days slower than usual which also occurred on the first day.(ר' יוסף אנגעל)
19.  The oil was enough for lighting מנורה but not for relighting the western light in the morning as it was each day.(חמדת שלמה )
20.  They lit the מנורה before dark on the evening of כד' כסלו so the נס also applied to the end of the first day.
21.  We know that the oil was supposed to burn for one day and the miracle was that it burned for eight days. But, even the oil burning for one day isn’t “supposed” to happen. Everything that happens, even the things that seem like they happen naturally, daily are miracles.טבע  is really נס.
22.  The Zohar says: A bracha can only catch onto something that exists-like when we say Birchas Hamazon we have a piece of bread on the table so that the bracha could catch onto it. So on the first night, the oil burned the full amount of time but obviously, not all the oil was used because there had to be  oil for the next day for the bracha to catch onto So it’s a miracle that it burned the full amount of time but didn’t use all the oil.
23.  The Jews were impure from the battle. They had to use an earthenware menorah temporarily. Because it’s porous, one jar wasn’t enough for the whole day.
24.  That year, כה' כסלו was on Shabbos so they needed extra oil because they had to light the מנורה before Shabbos.
25.  They filled the מנורה, and the next day, it was still full.
26.  When they filled the מנורה, the oil stuck to the jug and so not enough was put in yet it still burned the whole night.
27.  Other Jews lit torches which did not burn out until the end of the 8 days.
28.  They poured a small amount of oil into the מנורה and it filled it all up.
29.  The מנורה needed 3 ½ לוגין of oil. The flask only had 3לוגין .
30.  So that the last day of חנוכה will be the same day that the miracle happened.
31.  Some say that the miracle was 8 days- not 7. (Sefer Pischei Olam)
32.  The flame was lit but no oil was being burnt.
33.  They used aמנורה  that was broken and could not contain a full day’s amount of oil but still, it miraculously burned for a whole day.
34.  They were such צדיקים that when they lit it with such excitement, it should have toppled over but it didn’t. Every day was a נס.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Yes, It's True!

By now, I think most (or all) of you have heard the very exciting news. But I can't let this go unpublished so I am finally sitting down to write the long awaited Mazel Tov post.

Yes, it's true! My older sister, Chaya Sara, is engaged!!

We davened, did every segulah in the book (literally!) and the time finally came.

So many thoughts come to my mind as I write this. I want to share some of them with you.

The simcha that this simcha has generated throughout our family and friends is unbelievable. The sheer joy, the excitement, the tears...the reaction of every person who found out...it was surreal. I personally have never cried tears of happiness before in my life, but when I picked up my phone to answer that "Is it really true?" question from someone who is very close to Chaya Sara, I was brought to tears. To tears of joy. The person on the other side said, "Ohmygosh, Chaya Sara bas Charna Raizel, I just took challah and said her name last night!" It touched me so deeply. So many people have been davening and doing things as a zechus for her, so many people never gave up on my sister. So many people knew that this day would come. They didn't stop davening. They didn't stop hoping. And now we can all share in this wondrous simcha together. Yes, it is true!

I got that question more than once the day she got engaged. "Is it true? Is Chaya Sara really engaged?!" My phone didn't stop ringing, beeping and buzzing. I almost felt like the kallah myself! It was incredible to feel the joy that everyone else felt, to share the excitement everyone had for my sister.

This simcha teaches us on the most personal level how every single tefillah a person davens is stored by Hashem. No tefillah ever goes to waste. If Hashem doesn't answer a prayer now, He may save that prayer for later. But every single tear a person sheds, every request he makes, every single cry he utters...every prayer that escapes his lips...is saved by Hashem.

And the Torah proves this to us.

In Parshas Vayeira, before Hashem destroyed Sedom, the passuk says, "hamechaseh ani me'Avraham asher ani oseh? V'Avraham hayo yihiyeh legoy gadol"-Hashem asked, "Can I hide from Avraham the fact that I will destroy Sedom?" And Avraham will surely be a great nation.

What is the connection between these two pesukim?

The Dubno Maggid explains this with a mashal.

An old man walked into a suit store and before he purchased a suit, he had the salesman measure him to make sure the suit would fit him perfectly. Another young man walked into the same store and without trying on anything, selected a few suits that he was going to buy. The old man walked over to the young man and asked, "I don't understand. How could you buy so many suits without trying them on to make sure they would fit? Isn't this an incredible waste of money?"
The young man answered, "I am still young. I am still growing. Whatever doesn't fit me now will fit me later. And if it will not fit me later, in the future, it will be good for my children. So no, my money is not going to waste. All these suits will be put to good use."

Now, I don't suggest that todays teenagers go shopping like this young man. Perhaps he wasn't concerned about the changing styles and the suits he was purchasing. But the nimshal of this story is clear.

Hashem knew before He told Avraham that He was going to destroy Sedom that Avraham's first reaction would be---Tefillah, he would daven. Hashem also knew that the tefillos Avraham would daven would not be answered for Sedom would be destroyed. So did these tefillos go to waste? What happened to all the bakashos Avraham made? And if Hashem didn't answer him, what was the point in telling him that He was about to destroy Sedom?

We see from here that every single tefillah a person davens is treasured and saved by Hashem. No tefillah goes to waste. Ever. Avraham davened for Sedom to be saved and Hashem took those special tefillos and saved them for his children...for the times when WE would need them.

This is the connection between the two pesukim. Hashem said, I cannot hide from Avraham that I am about to destroy Sedom. Avraham will surely be a great nation and the tefillos he davened for Sedom will be saved for his children. Just like the young man in the mashal who bought a lot of suits knew his money would be put to good use...because although some of the clothing he bought might not fit him, they would be saved for his children, Hashem knew that the tefillos Avraham davened would be put to good use, they would be saved for his children...for us.

And in my family, we lived to see this come true. All the tefillos, all the tears, all the bakashos, all the zechusim, davening at kevorim, at the candles on Friday night, from a siddur or from our hearts...every single tefillah we davened for Chaya Sara to find her zivug was treasured and saved by Hashem...and our tefillah was finally answered.

Hashem, thank you from the bottom of our collective hearts for letting all of us see and experience this awesome day. May the tefillos we davened for Chaya Sara and her chosson continue to enable them to live a beautiful and happy life, filled with peace, love, connection and may they build a warm and loving family together.

Yes, it is true!

Mazel Tov!!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Construction Site

A friend of mine sent this to me yesterday and I feel compelled to share the inspiration with you.

I was in the car and got some inspiration and decided to write.

"The inconvenience is temporary yet the results are permanent."

I passed by a construction site with these words plastered on the fence. It made me think.

Yes, the pain and discomfort and anguish are only temporary.

The discomfort of working through my middos and idiosyncrasies are only temporary.

Yet the results are permanent. 

The messy construction site will be fashioned into a magnificent structure in all its splendor.

As for the pain, it will achieve its purpose. It will make me stronger and enable me to be a more committed eved Hashem and will help me reach shleimus. 

The tiny steps in working on myself will turn me into the person I aspire to be.

The discomfort is only a passing thing yet the results are permanent. This has become a motto of sorts for me.

As I go about daily life and obstacles crop up, I remember this. At first, I naturally cringe...but when I visualize the barren construction site, I smile. Because though it is hard and it hurts, the discomfort is fleeting and the results are everlasting.

(My comment :)/bracha) May we be able to internalize this message. May we be able to remember as we go through the daily obstacles of life, the small challenges and the big ones, that the results of the work we put in now will be permanent and the inconveniences, the pain, the discomfort we feel during those difficult times will pass. May we be able to build beautiful edifices of strength, connection and  perfection of our flaws and may we be able to become better people through the construction site of life we experience.

Monday, October 6, 2014

After Yom Kippur

When looking through the machzor on Yom Kippur night, there is one part of the chazzaras hashatz that really spoke to me.

We say mi she'ana l....hu ya'aneinu-He who answered....May He answer us. And there is a different phrase inserted each time. A time Hashem answered someone and we ask Him to please answer our prayers too. 

Avraham Avinu b'har hamoriah...Yosef b'veis ha'asurim...avoseinu b'yam suf...Yehoshuah Bagilgal...Eliyahu b'har hacarmel...Yonah bm'eih hadaga...Chananya, Mishael, V'azaryah b'soch kivshan ha'eish...

Each of these people called out to Hashem at a time of extreme desperation. And Hashem answered them. And the list is quite long.

And I thought to myself...If Hashem saved Yonah from the innards of the fish and Chananya, Mishael and Azarya from inside a burning furnace, can't he help little me? Can't I rely on Him to hear my little prayers? 

I looked at this tefillah and concentrated on the words. I thought about each of the stories. I thought back to the time that these people turned to Hashem because they knew He was the only One who could help them. I thought about what it took for Hashem to save each of them. Hashem made miracles! For Yehoshua, He made the sun stand still in the sky. And for me...I don't need big miracles. I just need Him to help me with my little life. And nothing is too big for Hashem. If He could save three people from inside a burning fire, He surely can save me from the difficulties I am experiencing.

This tefillah gave me a powerful feeling of emunah and trust in Hashem. It helped open my eyes to the awesome power He has. So when I feel hopeless, when I feel lost, when I feel alone, I know that I can turn to Hashem and He can do anything to help things get better. He has such incredible capabilities...and I can ask Him for anything and everything I need and want. Hashem is unlimited...and I need to take advantage of that when I daven to Him...for myself and for those close to me.

Yom Kippur is a day when I try to look back at the previous year and think about the changes...think about where I was a year ago...what was going on in my life...and realize how much was decided just one year before. It's a powerful day...and it scares me. It scares me to think about how much will be sealed on this day for the coming year. Every day, every stress, every change. I davened and continue to hope there will be many good changes this year.

I want to hold on to these feelings. Of relying on Hashem completely and recognizing that it is He who decides what changes will happen in the coming year. It was He who mapped out my life and my challenges. It is He who created me with my specific strengths and weaknesses. He gave me the exact tools I need to overcome the tests of life and become the person I am meant to become. It will take strength, it will take work, but I know that He is the One planning this all. And there is comfort in that knowledge.

This is what succos is about. It's about leaving our large, comfortable homes and going into a small, cozy little house-to be with Hashem. To be in His shadow. To be in His embrace. R' Shimshon Pincus zt"l says that the walls of the sukkah are like a hug from Hashem. After all the inspiration gained from Rosh Hashana, the aseres yimei teshuva and Yom Kippur, Hashem is not ready to let the closeness end. He wants us to come spend even more time with Him. So we enter the walls of the sukkah and it is as if Hashem is giving us a hug. The walls are His arms embracing us. I found that thought so heartwarming. 

Succos is a time to increase our emunah in Hashem. It is a time when we can realize and internalize on a deeper level just how much we depend on Him for everything. We leave our homes to show just that. When we are outside, we can let go of all the outer trappings of our homes-the chandeliers, the bookcases, the drapes on the windows...and focus on what really is important to us. Our spirituality, our relationship with Hashem, living a Torah life and doing the mitzvos. And we remind ourselves how much we rely on Hashem for all the good we have. It is not our hard work that brings the results, it is He who decides exactly how much we should have and how much we should spend, what our expenses will be and how much we will save.

How lucky we are to have these yomim tovim! We have a chance to reflect on our past year and on ourselves as people and think about the changes we want to make. We have an opportunity to renew our commitment when we felt ourselves slipping back. And we are able to strengthen our emunah and trust in Hashem so we can rely on Him with more passion and feeling over the coming year...knowing it is He who we can turn to whenever we need. Because Hashem can do anything. Just like He saved Yosef from the prison in Mitzrayim and Daniel from the lions' den, just like He heard their tefillos, He will hear ours too. And we hope He will answer them and we will have a positive outcome. 

Wishing you all a wonderful and inspiring succos.

Monday, September 22, 2014

History

Rosh Hashana is almost here. I wanted to post something I wrote before since the message applies to this time...

My son is making a puppet show with some stuffed animals. He picks up the Pooh bear. 

"What does Winnie the Pooh like to eat?" I ask. I'm sure he doesn't know. I never told him.

"Honey!" He smiles. 

When I ask him how he knew that, he tells me that two years ago, his morah read him a book and showed his class a video about Winnie the Pooh.

Two years ago? And this kid remembers?

I know my son. And I know he has a good memory. He is extremely observant and doesn't forget little details. But still, for him to remember that Pooh loves to eat honey...it gets me thinking.

The things we look at, the books we read, the websites we visit, the videos we watch, the music we listen to,  the billboards we look at, all these things make an impression on us. They stay with us forever. 

 *   *   *

Have you ever checked your browsing history on your computer? Press Ctrl and H on your keyboard at the same time and you will see a comprehensive list of all the websites you've visited along with the dates and times you clicked on the pages.

Employers can use this-and other more sophisticated means-to check up on their employees to see what they are up to during down time at work.

Parents can check up on their children to see what they are doing while they are online.

There is a record of everything you do, every link you click on, every page you access.

Sure, you can go incognito.

Yes, you can try to hide your tracks, visiting webpages using anonymous browsers.


And you can delete your browsing history when you are done your session.

But...Hashem has a record.

Hashem sees every single thing you do. 

Every single page you visit. 

Every single click of your mouse.

Glance of your eyes.

Hashem keeps track of every action you take-online, at home, at school, at work and in the privacy of your home.

Wherever you are, Hashem is watching.

Da ma l'ma'alah mimcha-ayin ro'ah v'ozen shoma'as v'chol ma'asecha beseifer nichtavim. Know what is above you-an eye that sees, an ear that hears, and all your actions are written in a book-a book that records everything, that doesn't miss out on a single thing.

It's a pretty scary thought.

Hashem watches everything. 

Hashem remembers everything.

There is no deleting what you saw, listened to, heard or watched. 

My son...he has a pretty good memory. I am sometimes shocked by the things he can recall, the little details he reminds me of that I don't remember.

The computer...it keep track of everything. Every click, every page, every visit.

But...Hashem...He is way beyond all that. 

He sees all and He doesn't forget.

Ever.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Fox and The Vineyard

I posted this before and want to share the message with you once again.

We are now in the month of 
Elul. This is 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'imRosh HashanaYom 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!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Baby Talk

I wrote this last year and wanted to share the message with you again.

"Aah-pi-dee coo-key"

I'm walking back from the bus stop with my baby and my neighbor. 

"He wants me to open his bag of cookies...isn't that cute?"

"I would have no clue what he was talking about!" she says.

And I'm reminded about something I heard a while back about tefillah and the way we daven

When a little baby or toddler who is just learning how to talk starts to communicate in his own language, only his own parents can truly understand the things he is saying. He is not using real words yet, just a combination of sounds...but every sound has real meaning...to him. And his mother and father know exactly what he means to say with each sound that comes out of his mouth. 

But a stranger wouldn't understand at all. 

When we daven, there are times when we mumble the words, don't pronounce them correctly...and just rush through our tefillos. We can't always say the words the way they were meant to be said, with the proper pronunciation and concentration. 

After all, we are human beings.

But Hashem is our Father. And He understands the thoughts and feelings behind the words we say. He understand what we really mean to say, even if sometimes we're talking in baby talk.

He knows we really want to praise Him. He knows that we really mean to ask him for health, parnassahrefuos and yeshuos. He knows that when we go through shemona esrei and we don't really think about the meaning of every single word, we really do want to. We want to do it right. 

But sometimes we stumble. 

Sometimes we mumble.

Sometimes we don't think into the meaning of the things we are saying and asking for.

And He understands our baby talk.

But...does that mean we should stay that way? Just because He understands, should we talk like little kids? 

Of course not. 

Let's try. 

Let's grow up.

Let's work on our concentration.

On our pronunciation.

On saying our brachos and tefillos the way they were meant to be said.

Because even though Hashem understands that we mean a lot more than "baruchata...borei minaymezonos..." or "selachlanu...mechalanu", we might as well put in the effort and talk big...like adults...like a professional businessman. Like someone who knows his stuff. 

Hashem is always listening. He understands our innermost thoughts and feelings...even when we can't express them in words.

But when it's time to daven, when it's time to say our brachos, when it's time to bench, to ask Hashem for things we need and thank Him for the things He gives us, let's try to do it right.

Enough with the baby talk. It's cute...but at some point we need to grow up.

I open the bag of cookies for my baby and he spills most of it on the floor. But I understand. He's just a baby. He asks for things and he can't even enjoy all of it. But I'm his mother...and so I give.

Hashem knows us so much better. He knows what is good for us, what we need...and what we want...and when the time is right for us to get it. He is our Father...and He gives us...so much good.

May you be able to express yourself properly with the words of your tefillos and brachos...and mature in your tefillos from baby talk to big-girl talk!