Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Don't Let Life Pass You By

I hate facebook.
For many, many reasons. That's probably a topic for a different blog post, though.
But the main reason I hate it is for it's fakeness.
So many people are miserable and yet trying to prove to the world (aka all of their facebook "friends") that life is just awesome and perfect. See my carribean hotel with the pool in front? (never mind that I was bored most of the time and got into a fight with my friend that night) See my night out with my super handsome hubby? (never mind that he was drunk the whole night)

I couldn't bear a day with facebook because I would be saddened. Saddened by how many people just allow life to pass by. Hours and hours to be wasted.

When the Torah wants to wish somebody a long life, the bracha is "arichut YAMIM" and not "arichut SHANIM". Why's that? Why wish a person many days instead of many years?
Because a Jew needs to make each DAY count. Not every year. Each day needs to be as fulfilling as possible. A person needs to aim to reach his inner core and most deep potential every single day. We need to strive to grow closer to HaShem with each and every moment and day that we live and breathe.
The answer is so powerful. And so scary. Because it means that there are so many people who live long lives and many years but haven't really lived a day in their life.

Why does HaShem bless us that we're able to wake up in the morning and have the ability to breathe, see, speak, taste, smell, hear, and understand?
So that we will use these G-d blessed "instincts" for avodat HaShem. Not for anything else. Just for closeness to HaKadosh Baruch Hu.

Now, all of this sounds nice in theory. But practically, it is very, very difficult.
And I think it's difficult because the yetzer hara knows how to get our priorities mixed up.
For example, I'm a work at home wife & mother to 2 kids (yes I gave birth to a second holy beautiful neshama BH!) I have friends who are at the "same point" in life - either stay at home moms with 1+ kids or they work outside and send their kids to daycare, but either way, many of my friends complain how rote their day is, and how meaningless and boring they're finding married life w/ kids to be. I hear things along the lines of "wow. Life is so mundane. I wake up, need to change diapers, feed the kids, drop them off at daycare or take care of them throughout the day, come home, do laundry, cook dinner, and sleep. I have no time for shiurim. I have no time to open a sefer. I'm just always tired!"
Suddenly, marriage isn't such a dream anymore. There are no lavish vacations. Eating out often may not be an option. Finances are tough. The scale's number are getting higher and clothes don't fit as right. (That's part of the joy of motherhood! :))
It's easy for a woman to feel worn out from all of this.
But NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Ladies, if a woman feel that way, her priorities are OFF!
The Arizal teaches us that women come into this world perfect. We are here to take care of our husbands & encourage their limud Torah and to raise tzadikim and tzadikot children who will light up the world.
THAT'S IT!! (okay, we also need to do avodat hamiddot, keep mitzvoth, and be modest...)
But that is our ikkar.
Sounds like fluff? It's not.
Chazal teach us in Gemara Brachot 17a - "nashim b'mayi zachyan" -- what mitzvah does a woman do that earns her olam haba? (Afterall, a man's ikkar is limud Torah. But we don't get a mitzvah for learning Torah, so how can we merit olam haba??)
The answer is through sending our husbands to learn Torah and our children to learn Torah.
Because what else are we living for, if not Torah? Why live life, if not to be close to HaShem and earn our place in olam haba to be the closest we possibly can be to Him?

And anything we do for our husbands and children is a mitzvah. So yes, doing laundry, cooking, changing diapers (Rav Meir Eliyahu quotes a big Rav -- I forgot who -- who said that every time a woman changes her child's diaper, it's k'ilu she put on tefillin. Not joking!), singing songs to your toddler who wants to hear the same thing over and over and over again...
all of that is a mitzvah.

This doesn't only apply to married women.
This also applies to single women. I have a single friend who has told me she is making a lot of money per hour and has all this money and has no clue what to do with it. She goes on vacations. She buys nice clothing. Now what??
SUPPORT LIMUD TORAH! Give tzdaka. BH you're able to give more than 10%. (I hope she's reading this because I didn't tell her this when we spoke on the phone. I love you btw.)
The Gemara tells us that supporting Torah is one of a woman's main missions in this world. A single woman should support Torah (by giving to a kollel, a needy avrech family, a shul, etc.) as much as she can. There is no limit to this.

Find meaning in the most "mundane" of daily life. Say a l'shem yichud before doing these things.
"I'm cooking a kosher healthy meal so that my husband will have koach for his Avodat HaShem"
"I'm getting dressed this morning because I am a bat Melech, and it is a priviledge and honor to be a tznua"
"I'm eating so that I'll have koach and energy to pray to HaShem"
"I'm exercising so that I'll be healthy and be able to continue doing mitzvoth without any health distractions"
"I'm working so that I'll have money to buy food for Shabbat kodesh, to clothe my wife and kids, to pay rent for our home which is a mikdash me'at, etc."
etc. etc. etc.
The list is endless.
And this will also help you stay away from the bad things that waste time, and therefore, waste life and meaningful days. For ex, there's no l'shem yichud before watching a movie. Sorry. There isn't.
TV doesn't energize anybody. It kills brain cells and inhibits a person's potential. It imbues shtuyot in our subconscious minds, and these shtuyot don't aid anyone's avodat HaShem.
(perhaps I'll write a radical post or have my husband be a guest writer for why Disney truly isn't so clean and actually damages a person's outlook towards dating, marriage, and more.)

May we all be zochim to make each and every day count. May we each reach our true potential and may we all always feel close to HaKadosh Baruch Hu!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Chanukah: the Ongoing Battle

There are so many nice themes of Chanukah: light, miracles, emunah, fight for what you believe - even if you're standing alone or are few in number.
Then there are the themes that many people don't like to hear about: yavan, assimilation, materialism, war/death, Jewish infighting.

For me, Chanukah, while being such a beautiful and holy holiday, has a slight ring of sadness to it every year. Why? Because the battle with the yavanim is still going on today.
The Maccabim fought against the Jewish Hellenists. That is, the assimilated Jews. Not just the Greeks.
They defeated the Greeks. But not the Jewish Hellenists, who were Jews that, while they maintained some of their Jewishness, just wanted to be modern Jews accepted by the goyim. We'll keep chagim to a certain extent. But we'll dress Greek, have Greek names, and do Greek activities (like the Olympics).
Sounds familiar?
Yep.

The Greeks valued Chitzonyut. Gashmiut. Outer appearance. Materialism.
The Jews valued morality, Torah learning, modesty, and being separated from anything that did not fit into those three categories.

We are SO fortunate in our generation that we are not persecuted for being Jewish. We have more freedom than ever in history to be as observant as we want without non-Jewish restrictions.
And yet. We have the highest rate of assimilation in this generation.

Chanukah begs every Jew to question: whose side would I be on if the Maccabees went to war today. Would I be on the Maccabees side? Or the Jewish Hellenists side?

May HaShem bless all of us to be on the right path, and may all of our actions be l'Shem Shamayim.
May the light of Chanukah touch every Jew's neshama & inspire all of us to grow closer to HaShem Yitbarach.
Chanukah Sameach :)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

King & Father, There is No Other.

I know it seems that I'm not here, but I am. Just been very busy with life. Thank G-d. It's good to be busy.

I feel like I have an ongoing blog in my head 24/7. Like, Sefardi Gal's thoughts and comments. I can't seem to ever press the pause or "shhhh" button.
I so often want to (actually) blog and then I get lazy or tired or remember that I have laundry to do :)
Or that I need to make some awesome baked ziti for dinner (yeah, it came out really good tonight!) & whole wheat oatmeal low sugar chocolate cookies (not as good. Why do the fattening cookies always taste better?!)

All of those are not valid excuses, but oh well. Patience is a virtue.

I received this awesome e-mail from Aish.com's "Shabbat Shalom Weekly" emails. I thought to post it since it served as great chizuk for me:

5 Steps to Genuine Prayer:
1) Feel God's presence. You are talking to a loving, all-powerful Being Who wants to give you everything that's good. All over the world God is answering prayers because He loves His children.
2) Expect results. God has a track record. If you don't really believe God can and will help you, you're not really praying.
3) Pay attention to what God is teaching you. Everything that happens is for your good. If you are in need, realize God is teaching you something. If you trust Him, you will hear what He is telling you.
4) Get in touch with what you're really after. Know your bottom line. You're talking to the awesome Creator, so don't ask for nonsense. He wants you to grow up.
5) Being serious about what you're praying for means that you're doing everything you can to make it happen. God will lend a hand only when you put in the effort. He'll never take away your independence because that's His ultimate gift to you.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

We Miss You, Rabbeinu


I write this post with a sad and heavy heart. The passing of HaRav Hagaon Chacham Ovadia Yosef, zecher tzadik l'bracha, is a pain and loss that I can only compare to a person losing both parents in one day, lo aleinu. Although the loss is far, far greater than that.
The world feels like a colder, emptier place.
There's a sadness that lingers in the air here.


Upon reading the news, just minutes after Rav Ovadia's neshama left this olam, I started crying. Just minutes ago, we were reading Tehillim & tikun haklali, praying for the Rav's recovery and checking on his progress on theyeshivaworld.com
My husband had just finished reciting birkat hamazon, and seeing me cry, realized what had happened. We bought cried uncontrollably, and my husband tore kriya.
There was nothing to say. No words of comfort.
And on that note, we headed to the levaya in Jerusalem.

The amount of hakarat hatov, love, and respect that my husband and I have for HaRav Ovadia can not be put into words. Words wouldn't do the emotions justice. All I can say is that it is thanks to HaShem blessing our generation with Rav Ovadia that I am religious. That my husband is religious. And that our children will be religious BH. Without his sefarim & piskei halachot, I have no idea where I'd be today.
His shiurim, genius psakim/sefarim/halachot are what guide me daily, and without HaRav Ovadia, I would be lost.


I now understand Rashi's comments that Aharon HaCohen's sons were like Moshe Rabbeinu's sons, since Moshe was their teacher.
And what a teacher. Wow.

Here's a line from a very moving story that brought me to tears just now. Rav Ovadia told his wife, Rabbanit Margalit Yosef z"l, "give me olam hazeh, and I'll give you olam haba."
That "line" convinced her to marry him.
What olam haba they must have. What a marriage full of kdusha they must've have.

I copy this eulogy (taken from halachayomit.co.il) with tearful eyes & a broken heart. May the zchut of Maran protect us all, and may all of Am Yisrael be on the right path of Torah u'mitzvot:

In the year 5762, with the passing of “the true genius, crown glory of Israel, the great light of the Kingdom of the Talmud and Poskim, the light of Israel, the right pillar, the mighty hammer, an individual unique to the generation, Hagaon Harav Chaim Kreiswirth zt”l” (an excerpt from Maran’s very own eulogy for the Rav), Chief Rabbi of Antwerp, Belgium, Maran Harav Ovadia Yosef zt”l was thrown into great mourning. Maran zt”l was a dear friend of this great sage and Maran would constantly say that the world did not really know who Hagaon Harav Chaim zt”l really was. According to Maran’s words, this was a Torah personality that could not be matched.
When Maran zt”l rose to eulogize this giant of Torah, he began by asking, what is this tumult all about? Our Sages tell us (Kiddushin 72b) that “a righteous individual does not depart from this world until another man as righteous as him is created, as the verse states, ‘The sun rises and the sun sets’-before the sun of Moshe set, the sun of Yehoshua rose. Before the sun of Yehoshua set, the sun of Otniel ben Kenaz rose. Before the sun of Eli set, the sun of Shmuel Ha’Navi rose.” This should be our comfort, for another person as righteous as the deceased has surely been born. If so, why do we mourn the loss of the great rabbi so much?
Maran zt”l explained in the name of the commentators that even so, not necessarily will the righteous man just created be as great in Torah as the deceased righteous man, as the Gemara (Baba Batra 75a) states regarding Yehoshua, “the elders of that generation would say, ‘The face of Moshe shined like the sun and the face of Yehoshua shined like the moon.’” This is because the generations become progressively weaker as time goes on and the leader is relative to the generation.

Likewise, we mourn today along with Zion and the nation of Israel, for Hashem has sent us a great redeemer, Maran zt”l, who saved Sephardic Jewry from destruction and raised the glory of Halacha when it was almost completely forgotten from the Jewish nation. This man was the pillar of Torah, kindness, and prayer. He was the leader of the generation in so many ways: In his humility, in his holiness, in his discourses, in his halachic rulings, and in his understanding. Now, we have lost Maran zt”l and as downtrodden as we are, we have no choice but to gather together the remaining Torah sages of our generation and only together will they be able to continue the tradition which Maran pioneered on his own.Many times when speaking with Maran zt”l, we were able to catch a glimpse of his greatness in Kabbalah, which was truly far more advanced than any of the greatest Mekubalim in our generation who have not reached Maran’s level, just as no Torah scholars have reached his level of Torah knowledge in the revealed portion of the Torah.
Besides for Maran’s greatness in Torah, he would perform loving-kindness with all his heart. Maran’s right-hand man, our dear friend Rabbi Tzvi Hakak, recounts that many times, serious questions in Halacha were sent to Maran regarding Agunot (women whose husbands have gone missing and are “tied down” to their husbands and are forbidden to remarry) and children born from forbidden unions (who are prohibited from marrying regular members of the Jewish nation) and Maran told him to place these questions on the desk in his bedroom. At 2:00 AM, Maran zt”l would go to sleep. When Rabbi Hakak would arrive at Maran’s home at 6:00 AM, Maran would already be sitting and learning and would tell him to send the response to the relevant parties immediately, even before morning prayers. Everyone would be flabbergasted, when did Maran find the time to write this lengthy and tedious response?! He only went to sleep four hours before…
We cannot possibly adequately eulogize Maran zt”l, for every single one of his character traits can fill volumes. His tremendous greatness was unfathomable, so much so that two of the greatest Mekubalim of the previous generation, Hagaon Harav Yisrael Abuchatzera zt”l (the “Baba Sali”) and Hagaon Harav Mordechai Sharabi zt”l, attested that Maran’s soul was kept from the times of the Geonim (period preceding that of the Rishonim) and Hashem told Maran’s soul, “Wait until your time comes. During a generation when heresy will spread all over the world, it will be your time to save Israel.”
Indeed, it is almost non-existent for a child of six or seven years old to decide to dedicate his life to Torah study. However, when Maran zt”l was all but a young lad, he would sit and learn Torah, Prophets, and Scriptures for hours on end. By the age of ten, Maran had already written unbelieveable novel Torah thoughts (see the biography on Maran, “Abir Ha’Ro’im,” for some incredible pictures of Maran’s handwritten Torah essays when he was a child). At the age of fourteen, he had already mastered the entire Talmud. At the age of twenty-five, he was already greater in Torah knowledge than any Torah scholars living among us today. Maran was a supernatural genius in Torah. Who can replace him?
When contemplateing all of Maran’s accomplishments, we are reminded of Rabbi Chiya about whom the Gemara (Ketubot 103b): “Rabbi Chiya said: I prevented Torah from being forgotten from the Jewish nation, for I planted flax seeds and from the flax that grew, I wove nets and trapped deer. I fed the meat to hungry orphans and I processed the hides to produce parchment and on that parchment I wrote the five books of the Torah and the six orders of the Mishnah. About me did Rabbi Yehuda Ha’Nassi exclaim, ‘How great are the actions of Chiya!’”

Similarly, we exclaim, “How great are the actions of Rabbeinu Ovadia!” With all of his greatness and genius in Torah, he would be able to stand before laymen and speak to them in a language they understood and enjoyed through parables and anecdotes. He would speak about the deepest segments of the Talmud with the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Hagaon Harav Tzvi Pesach Frank zt”l and then hurry off to deliver a Torah lecture to simpletons. He was unable to open a Sephardic Yeshiva because there were no Sephardic Yeshiva boys to learn in it. However, he did not give up; he was relentless. He began by teaching regular working men Torah daily until their children grew up; he troubled himself to place their boys into Talmudei Torah and Yeshivot and girls into Bet Yaakovs. He likewise taught the children Torah himself until many of them flourished into outstanding Torah scholars. In this way, an entire generation that was doomed to straying from Hashem’s path became completely G-d-fearing and Torah observant. Maran indeed “built up Jerusalem with mercy,” for all Sephardic Torah scholars and many Ashkenazi sages who are involved in rendering halachic rulings are all in Maran’s merit. Praiseworthy is the generation which had the merit of being led by Maran.
The entire Jewish nation felt a great void upon Maran zt”l’s passing and the reason for this could very well be because Maran’s soul was tantamount to that of Moshe Rabbeinu whose soul was comprised of all of the souls of the Jewish nation. Thus, anyone with a soul within him felt a great lacking with the passing of Maran zt”l.



May Hashem have mercy on us, the remaining ember of the Jewish nation, and not let us be like a flock of sheep without a Shepherd. May Maran act as a righteous defending angel on our behalf, let him not leave us or forsake us. May his blessings to the entire nation of Israel, whom he loved deeply like a father loves his child and whom he comforted like a mother comforts her child, come to fruition, for indeed, Maran was dedicated to the collective needs of the entire nation with every fiber of his being. May Hashem finally redeem us eternally and may we soon merit witnessing the Resurrection of the Dead at which point Maran zt”l will lead us and teach us once again, Amen.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Tzniut: Why The Obsession??

Well, I guess I should already ask for forgiveness before you read this post.
So, please forgive me if any of these concepts are offensive to your lifestyle and standards.
The frum people in this generation seems so obsessed with modesty. Both in left and right wing Orthodox circles. There're so many other mitzvoth/averot to focus on, like, lashon hara, Shabbat, chessed, kashrut, tefilla, etc.
Why is tzniut, particularly, something that is so focused on and emphasized in the Orthodox world? And why do people (particularly women) get so defensive and angry when their modesty standards are challenged?

I guess the answer in a one word nutshell to explain tzniut is: foundation. Tzniut is our foundation for keeping Judaism alive all of these thousands of years.
Chazal teach us (in Bereshit Rabba 18:2) that HaShem told Chava "be modest." Why would that be HaShem's message to Chava?
How about - be a good Jewess? Be nice to others? Help people? Smile? Keep Shabbat?
Chazal teach us that the Jews in Egypt remained Jewish because of their names, clothing, and language.
Our clothes are one of the three things that not only distinguish us but preserve our religion. Our lives. Our reason for being.
So, HaShem was telling Chava the method to keep Am Yisrael alive.

We're living in a generation unlike any other. The amount of openness in the world today is something that was unimaginable just a century ago.
The way celebrities dress today would've probably shocked the average 1950s movie star. In Western society, to fit in, a woman must give up her dignity, class, and refinement and trade in capris for shorts, short sleeves for sleeveless, pants for leggings, and dresses for long shirts. In the warm seasons, it is unusual to see any female with their knees covered, let alone their hair covered.
That might be obvious - like yeah, we're in 2013, of course it's normal not to dress in long skirts & hats! Well, it was actually the norm just a 100 years ago. Women wore dresses. Mini was not an adjective used to describe clothing. Low-cut shirts and tanktops were unheard of. 5 inch pumps were reserved for women of ill-repute. Hats were elegant.
But now?
Every summer I am bewildered at what has happened to society. Where has the class gone? What happened to self-respect? What happened to fashion?
I see how teenage girls dress, and I shudder. I was a teenager just over 10 years ago in a nonreligious school. My 13 year old classmates mothers would've threatened them severely if they walked outside wearing what today's teens wear.
Nobody wore mini dresses to bat mitzvahs. I'd be surprised if anyone even owned a mini anything before high school.
But alas, today, how many mothers blink an eye when their daughters wear short dresses and 5 inch pump heels to their classmates bat mitzvahs?
The standards have clearly been lowered - and that's in only a decade. One can only imagine what modesty standards will be in a decade from now.

So yes, 50 years ago, you didn't have to explain to your daughter why she needs to be modest. There was no need! She would've been modest anyway because everyone ELSE in society (not just in frum circles) was also modest. You didn't have to explain to your daughter why covering your body = respecting yourself. It was understandable. It was a given.
But now, that is no longer a given. Other than not walking on a sidewalk in a bikini, there are no longer any tzniut standards in this society. And, I won't be surprised if that will be the norm in 20 years (after all, people can take a stroll on a public beach boardwalk while wearing a bikini, right?)
Anything goes. Except racism. And homophobia. But short of those select topics + a few others, few actions will make anyone bat an eye.

The Nazis, imach shmam, knew that Germany had a well-renowned, refined culture & was a country full of "the most" polite citizens. How did they convince so many people to be immune (and even join) the intense hatred and slaughter of Jewish German citizens?
In Search Judaism, Rabbi Yitzchok Fingerer reveals the Nazis method for dissentisizing the German nation: inappropriate movies. Yes, the Nazis screened inappropriate movies in public FOR FREE for German citizens. The rationale behind that master plan was that if you show people immoral things, aka pritzut and znut, their whole morale will be lowered.

Chazal teach us that "HaShem hates Zima" - Zima is inappropriate relations and behavior. Basically, anything associated with immodesty.

The Gemara tells us that before Mashiach, "pnei hador k'pnei hakelev" - the generation's face will be like the face of the dog.
There're many explanations to this passage, but the following explanation I heard really hit home for me.
A dog is the only animal that gets offended when you rebuke it. If you scream a cat, snake, or bee, they probably won't flinch. Well, maybe the cat will get scared at the loud noise, but he won't get offended. The dog actually gets offended when screamed at. He will lower his ears and tail, look down at the ground, and whimper.
So, just as the dog is sensitive, so too is the generation before Mashiach.

 So, my friends, this is a sensitive generation. We take everything to heart, and oftentimes, it is difficult to accept the truth. It is difficult to look at ourselves and think that maybe, just maybe, we need to change. Maybe we've been wrong all along.

When the world's morale has gone down, we need to be concerned.
No. Wait. The world's morale hasn't gone down!
That's too generous.
The world's morale is LOST. History.
We can't rely on the world to govern our morals.
As Chazal teach us, in Pirkei Avot 2:6 "in a place where there are no (worthy) men, be a (worthy) man" (man - read: leader). We need to be the leaders; not the followers.
We Jews need to strengthen their morale by setting up gedarim (fences) to protect our children. Anything in the goyish world will infiltrate into our world.
I don't care how extreme that sounds because it is absolutely true. We see anorexia, drugs, severe marriage problems, divorce, all types of addictions, etc. because those issues are all more frequent in the goyish world than they were 50 years ago. And therefore, those tragedies infiltrate into our world.

It is unfortunate and sad how so many frum women view tzniut as the way to be covered while covering as least as possible. Is the goal to blend in with the goyim as much as possible? To appear to be covering nothing while you're secretly covering something?
The yetzer hara can be so strong, but we need to be even stronger.
If one is already wearing tights, then strive for real tights. Not see through, tanned, natural-looks-better-than-my-legs stockings. What's the point of those?
If one is covering her hair, then it should look like she's covering her hair. There are guidelines to sheitels. Just about every Gadol (Ashkenazi AND Sefardi) has assured long wigs, wigs with bangs, pony sheitels, wigs with natural looking parts, etc.
If one is wearing a skirt, then it should be a modest skirt, not a tight, above the knee skirt with a slit in the back. With such skirts, isn't it just more modest to wear pants?

In short, I guess what I'm trying to portray here is:
there's a reason Gedolim like Rav Elyashiv z"l, Rav Ovadia, Rav Wosner, Rav Kanievsky, etc. stress for women in this generation to strengthen their modesty.
if we women are not dressing like Jewish women, then it's not just one mitzvah that's kind of lacking. It's one of the three fundamental basics that's missing from our maintenance of being Jewish.
If we're not dressing properly, our daughters will dress even worse.
If we're not acting like Jewish women should, then our men will be out of line. Our men will not act as Jewish men should.
And then what will be left?
We will be blending in with the people on the streets.
And once modesty is gone, all morale is lost. Anything goes.
A society where "anything goes" is the most dangerous of all.
People get offended because this is a sensitive generation, and it's their very essence that is being challenge. Afterall, "hachitzoniyut marah et hapnimiut" - the outside reflects on our inside. The body is the house of the neshama and is representing our neshamot.

Anyway, I know that this post might be viewed as fanatical by some. And that's fine.
But I respect Rabbis, particularly Gedolim, who dedicate their entire lives to learning Torah, leading am Yisrael, writing books, and utilizing their every breathing second on this earth to do G-d's will.
So, if they say tzniut is the biggest nisayon of this generation, then that's enough for me.
But if that's not enough, just open your eyes and look around. And see the results.

Please note that this post did NOT deal with the halachot of tzniut or essence of modesty. There're beautiful, very logical and spiritual, reasons for why a woman should dress modestly. But that wasn't the topic of this post. :)

May we all be on the right path of Torah & always be close to HaShem and have all of our actions be l'Shem Shamayim.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Suffering on Sukkot??

Moadim l'simcha (& gut moed to all my Ashkenazi readers) :)

Did you know there is an actual mitzvah from the Torah to be happy during these 7 (or for you chutznikim, 8!) days of chag??
Sure, I mean, we all know that already, right? Because don't we sing that song "v'samachta b'chagecha v'hayita ach sameach!!! whoa whoa v'samachta b'chagecha vhayita aaaaacccchhh sameach!! oy oy oy oy!"

Did you know that Sukkot is actually the happiest of the shalosh regalim, and it is the time that HaShem is the "happiest" as well?!
The Alshich teaches us:
On Pesach, HaShem's joy was impaired because Am Yisrael were still mired in the impurity of Egypt, to the point that they had to purify themselves for 7 weeks before receiving the Torah.
On Shavuot, His happiness was dampened because He foresaw that soon after receiving the Torah, Bnei Yisrael would commit the grave sin of the golden calf.
But on Sukkot, right after Yom Kippur, HaShem forgave Bnei Yisrael for that sin (and forgives us every year) and commanded Moshe to begin building the Mishkan, which symbolizes closeness to HaShem.

The Vilna Gaon said that the most difficult mitzvah of the 613 mitzvoth is "you shall rejoice on your festival" because it entails being joyful for eight days of Yom Tov, avoiding worrisome and sorrowful thoguhts, allowing nothing to interefere with the simcha of the Yom Tov."
And boy, does the yetzer hara know how to give us thoughts to interfere with our happiness during these holy days!

To add meaning and happiness to our chag, let's dwell on a few thoughts, shall we?
-The mitzvah of sukkah is not exclusive to eating in the sukkah. Chazal teach us that we should hang out, learn, and sleep in the sukkah, just as we would in our own homes!
But wait. Isn't that soo hard? Depending on your climate, it's either hot or cold outside. There're flies. There's no heat or AC (in most sukkahs, anyway). There're no comfy couches. So why are we making this effort?
The Zohar describes the sukkah as "tzila dimehemenuta", the shadow of faith. Why? Because the sukkah symbolizes the protective shade of the Shechina!
So, by merely sitting in the sukkah, one can gain tremendous closeness to the Shechina. Isn't that a chessed? Isn't that a huge zchut?
-Hayashar v'hatov teaches us that we should NOT think that by ordering us to move from our oh-so-comfortable homes into the drafty sukkah, G-d wants to impose hardship on us and make us suffer! On the contrary! HaShem commanding us to be in the sukkah is a sign that He loves us, delights in our wellbeing, and tenderly protects us from hardship.
-So how many mitzvoth do we get on sukkot? 9,893,184 mitzvoth, actually! WOW!
How so?
The Divrei Yoel shares a fascinating insight:
Chazal tell us that every moment one sits in the sukkah, he is fulfilling a mitzvah. Let's figure out how many mitzvoth one can fulfill during the entire week of sukkot.
The Gemara (Brachot 7a) says that an hour is divided into 58,888 moments. One who stays in the sukkah for 24 hours fulfills 1,413,312 mitzvot (24 x 58,888). By staying in the sukkah for seven days, one can fulfill 9,893,183 mitzvot! (7 x 1,413,312)
Is that amazing or what?

So, if you're feeling down this sukkot, just think about how much HaShem loves us. How much He wants to be close to us, and for us to be close to Him, and how His Shechina is enveloping us in the holy sukkah.
Remember, the only true happiness in this world comes from being close to HaShem, fulfilling mitzvot, and being happy with our lot in this world. So, smile! :)

Wishing everyone a happy, holy, kosher, and meaningful chag sukkot!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Ahhhhh The Gift of Teshuva...

There is a true teshuva story that I think of it relatively often, and it's one of the most beautiful, real, moving stories I've ever heard. I heard it from Rabbi Wallerstein around 5 (or more) years ago, and since then, that story has resonated in me.
I think it's really appropriate before Yom Kippur so that we all realize the power of a Jewish neshama, and the fact that it is never too late to do teshuva.
Even if a person hit "rock bottom," the only place to go is UP.
 

HaShem is the most merciful judge in the world. Even if we were repeated offenders, He gives us countless chances to try again. And again. And again. Until we get it right.
Even when a person is 90 years old and still hasn't found the sense to do teshuva, HaShem STILL gives him life so that he can do teshuva again!
Wow.
Tell me that's not awesome.
No way it can't give you chills.

Ok, now here's the story:

Rabbi Wallerstein teaches in a school where there are many traditional & not-yet-frum boys. He had a student who invited Rabbi Wallerstein, years later, to his wedding. It was a mixed wedding, but the first dance was the "Rabbis dance", so it would be separate dancing, and Rabbi Wallerstein stayed for that.
While waiting for the dance to start, Rabbi Wallerstein was sitting at the same table as the chatan's brother, Jeff. The Rabbi had not seen Jeff in years, and he saw that Jeff had his non-Jewish girlfriend sitting on his lap. He smiled at Rabbi Wallerstein, clearly conscious of this rebellious behavior.
Rabbi Wallerstein went up to Jeff and said "come, let's go dance together." Once Jeff was away from his girlfriend, Rabbi Wallerstein whispered into his right ear "you should know, I was once your Rebbe, and I'm still your Rebbe, and I love you. Nothing is going to change that...no non-Jewish girlfriend or lack of observance." Then the Rabbi whispered into Jeff's other ear: "but I want you to know, you're going to hell."
They danced together, and Jeff shared with Rabbi Wallerstein that he was now a fervent Buddhist. Rabbi Wallerstein invited Jeff to come to his shiur to speak about Buddhism, and long story short: Jeff's neshama tasted the emet of Judaism and he began his teshuva journey.
Rabbi Wallerstein helped Jeff go to yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael. After studying in yeshiva for a few years, Jeff decided it was time to enter shidduchim and find his soulmate.
He was very nervous to date because, you see, he had tattoos. And not just tattoos. But tattoos of Buddha/avoda zara. And not just a few...but many, all over his body - all the way up until his neck. So he would wear high cut shirts to hide those tattoos. But he was terrified that no frum girl would want to marry him with such tattoos. Rabbi Wallerstein gave him chizzuk to start dating and approach this subject when it was relevant.
Well, Jeff met an awesome girl with much Yirat Shamayim. After a few dates, he was sure he wanted to marry her but was nervous that after hearing about his tattoos, she wouldn't want to marry him. He shared his fears with Rabbi Wallerstein, who told Jeff "you have to tell her."

The fateful day arrived, and Jeff's heart was full of tension and panic. How would this wonderful bat yisrael, whom he wanted to spend the rest of his life with and build a beautiful Jewish home with, react to his news? Would she break up with him on the spot? Would she judge him?
During their date, Jeff was overcome with emotion and told this girl "listen, I have to tell you something."
She listened.
"I have tattoos."
She was silent. He continued.
"And not just a few tattoos...but I have them all over my body. Until my neck. And well...they're not just tattoos. They're tattoos of avoda zara. And I have a big Buddha on my body as well."

There. He revealed his secret. His skeletons. His biggest fear. Now how would she react?
The silence was deafening.
And finally, she spoke up.
"None of that matters to me," she said. "What matters is that you have the letters of HaShem's Name tattooed onto your neshama."

BH they got married. And now they're living in Israel and have a beautiful family.

Wow. What an amazing story.
First of all, the potential of this Jewish neshama. This man, who went from being a non-practicing Jew, and not just a non-practicing Jew, but a Jew dating a goy. And not just dating a goy, but also a Buddhist who was anti-Judaism became a frum man living in Eretz Yisrael.
Second of all, the power of this woman. Who was able to look past all of the external. Who was able to get over the past and look into a better future. She saw straight to this man's neshama and expressed herself to him in a manner that was loving, understanding, positive, and confidence-building.

What I took from this story was that so many times we can get caught up. Caught up in the external. Caught up in the gashmiut. Caught up in OUR past. Caught up in other people's pasts. What this person did to you, what that person did, etc.
But HaShem forgives us whenever we do teshuva. He literally waits for YEARS after we hurt Him day after day and forgives us instantly.
If HaShem can forgive any person, then we also need to. We also need to find the chessed from within and not live in the past.

Don't let your past averot stop you from the person you can become.
It reminds me of a wonderful quote I once saw that said something like "be willing to sacrifice the person you are for the person you can become."
(I might've posted the exact quote on the blog before).

Chazal teach us that Jews have NO yetzer hara on Yom Kippur, and we are compared to Melachim. That means that any averot or wrong actions that we do on Yom Kippur are only due to habit.
Habit can not allow us to withhold our potential.
Yom Kippur is the time to grab your goals and already START doing them. Want to start learning? Don't wait until after Yom Kippur. Start ON Yom Kippur.
Want to start dressing more modestly? Start ON Yom Kippur.
May we all be zochim to enact all of goals, and may we achieve true closeness to HaShem.

Remember that HaShem loves you and is rooting for you!!

Wishing everyone a Gmar Chatima v'Ktiva Tova!