Monday, December 27, 2010

What I've Learned About "Snow Days"

In no particular order:

1. You might expect to be super productive (clean your room, finish studying, write essays, exercise, etc.) but it's possible you'll neglect all of those goals and instead find yourself surfing the net, talking on the phone, basking in pjamas, etc.
2. Snow Days were way more exciting when you were 10 years old.
3. It's difficult to find somebody who wants to build a snowman with you! Or have snowball fights :(
4. I'm expected to clean the snow. Never mind the fact that I have no idea how to shovel normally, don't own any pair of boots that I want to ruin, and that I'm A WOMAN. When it comes to snow-relating matters, I definitely prefer to live in a male-chauvinistic society.
Apparently, the teenage snow-cleaning boys don't want to make $20 anymore. None of them rang the doorbell. (If anyone knows one who's willing, I'll pay $100-200...)
5. Animal foorprints in the snow really freak me out.
6. People like to bake and cook during snow days. One friend baked danishes, another made blueberry muffins, another made oatmeal cookies and banana cake, and I made... (drumroll please!)
hot chocolate souffle with ice cream on the side.
7. Diets don't apply during snow days.
8. Okay, FINE. You caught me. I didn't really make hot chocolate souffle -- I attempted to make a brownie cake, but because it was dairy and my oven is meat, I quazillioned-triple-abillion-double wrapped it. As a result, most of the cake baked normally, except for the middle -- which resembled chocolate pudding because it didn't quite solidify. The cake (and "pudding") was still hot, so therefore, it kinda qualifies as hot chocolate souffle.
9. Some people actually have the guts to drive in the snow, while my car will probably still be buried until the snow decides to melt.
10. Snow days might be a test from HaShem -- to appreciate His wonders of "nature" and use our free time for shiurim, learning, and chessed opportunities (as Conversations in Klal wisely mentioned -- checking on our ill or elderly neighbors and seeing if they need any help with shoveling or perhaps buying them groceries/food.)
11. This made me laugh:

Sunday, December 26, 2010


Some of my readers might've notice that I've cut off a significant chunk of my blog (if I recall correctly, around 50 posts) over the past few weeks.
Why have I done so?
Well, by now, y'all should know that I'm a bit crazed. That's nothing new.
But there are other reasons.

So, what is the focus of this blog now?
Divrei Torah? Halachot? Emunah? Spirituality? Tefillah? Rants? Israel? Goals? Dating/marriage? Politics? Random shtuyot? Sefardi culture?

Truth is that the focus is currently none and all of the above. The answer is merely summed up with one word: thoughts.
Are they mine? Usually.
Do I occasionally posess an alter-ego? Perhaps.
Does my blog define me? Not entirely.
Do I plan on updating regularly? Maybe.

So, what's the purpose of this blog? Honestly, I'm not sure.

It's a journey. Stick around if you wish. :)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Rimonim Are Super Cool

So, I was chopping up some veggies for a salad l'kavod Shabbat, while my eyes were dialated (gotta love check ups at the eye doctor.) Still had 3850238230482030202 things do before Shabbat. I had just cleaned the table and kitchen countertop, and everything was sparkly clean. Mission accomplished.
On my way to clean my room, I noticed two special friends chilling on the living room table. Pomegrantes!!!
I got so happy. I mean, come on, when do you get to see pomegrantes other than Rosh Hashana time???
Why not open one up l'kavod Shabbat? Nutty person that I am, that's precisely what I did; I opened one up...forgetting how messy pomegrantes can be.
Now, anybody who has the fun task of opening up pomegrantes for Rosh Hashana knows that:
1) the fruit's juice can get messy and leak all over the place, regardless of how careful you are
2) it can leave a temporary or permanent stain on anything and everything; your clothing, your hands, the table, etc, and for the most part, if it stains your clothes -- the stain lasts forever and ever...and ever.
3) A pomegrante contains many red pieces/seeds of fruits, and also white pieces/skin that often get mixed up with the seeds, and if you eat the red part of the fruit along with the white skin thingy, there's an extremely bitter taste -- unless you remove the white particles before consuming any.

So, I was humming the tune to one of my favorite songs while opening the pomegrante, thinking about how the pomegrante symbolizes the 613 mitzvot.

Now, there's something to learn from everything in this world. Every person, every creature, every object, etc. Some thoughts came to mind. Not sure if these ideas are chiddushim or if these are concepts that many have thought of before.

1) If a pomegrante stains your shirt, the stain basically lasts forever. Since a pomegrante symbolizes mitzvot, a mitzvah -- too -- is eternal. Even if somebody isn't the most observant or holiest person around, (s)he should never think "oh, what good will 1 mitzvah do if I negelect the other 612?" Because each mitzvah can make a long lasting impression!
I heard the following incredible thought from a project inspire Rabbi: if thousands of diamonds fell to the ground in your neighborhood, and everybody rushed to collect them, would you refrain from attempting to collect any just because you can't obtain them all? Absolutely not! Even 1 would make a difference. It's the same with mitzvot. Each mitzvah, no matter how "small" or "big", is counted and precious.

2) Now, in certain cases, the pomegrante juice appears to leave a stain -- but the stain is removable. For example, if the pomegrante juice leaks onto your kitchen countertop. If you merely wipe it off with a napkin, it doesn't fully disappear and deceitfully makes you think that it's permanent. That's it! Your countertop is RUINED. Your mom or wife or room-mate is going to kiiiiiilllll you. But, if one would just apply more effort -- such as scrubbing the stain with a towel and hot water, or perhaps some bleach/detergent/ammonia cleaning device, then the stain can completely vanish!
This is a metaphor for an avera (sin). If someone commits a sin, "small" or "big", the stain seems like it can last forever. That's it. I'm doomed. I'll be punished forever. But that's not the case --- that's ONLY the case if the sin is left in the past, or even if it is continuously committed. If one does teshuva, which initially just requires effort, it can all be erased. As if there was never any stain!

3) When one opens the pomegrante, and the pieces are placed into the bowl, the white, bitter pieces also get mixed in and must be taken out (unless one enjoys eating bitter foods.) As sweet as the red fruit particles of the pomegrante are, if they are eaten along with the white particles, the sweet taste is maxed out, and the main taste is the bitterness. The person who is opening the fruit makes sure to pick out the white pieces before eating the fruit.
When we fulfill mitzvot, at times, there's a tendecy to do so without kavana or even with the wrong kavanot. These are methods of the yetzer hara -- he knows he can't completely cause a dedicated Torah-true Jew to STOP doing mitzvot, so he makes us stumble on the "little" things. For example, a Jew who makes it to minyan on time and has his siddur ready and everything...but then he mumbles and slurs the words of the Shemoneh Esreh, thus making his Shemoneh Esreh barely, if at all, valid. Another example is tzniut for women -- the yetzer hara knows he can't convince most Torah-true bnot Melech to wear pants, but he tries to convince us to be more lax in our observance by making tight and shorter skirts look more appealing than longer ones.
We must learn to throw away the bitter white parts (the yetzer hara; laziness, laxness, impatience, lack of concentration, etc.)that often get involved if fulfilling a mitzvah -- so that we can focus on the sweet red part (fulfilling the mitzvah, doing G-d's will, loving and fearing HaShem, being happy, receiving olam haba, etc.)
David Hamelech explains that we need to
"סוּר מֵרָע, וַעֲשֵׂה-טוֹב; בַּקֵּשׁ שָׁלוֹם וְרָדְפֵהוּ" (Tehillim 34:15), meaning "avoid/remove/turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.)
One of HaShem's Names is "Shalom" -- which also means "peace". We need to seek "peace" (HaShem) and "pursue [Him]" (pray and put those prayers into action!)
Even if we pinpoint who or what the yetzer hara is and how he manifests himself into certain parts our lives, we must know that we can't fight him alone -- we need HaShem's help. We need to pray to Him that we can fight off all of the distractions in our lives, overcome the difficulties, purely serve Him to the best of our abilities and potential, and continue to have emunah in HaShem and know that He has the power to do anything! If He brought us to it, He can bring us through it.

Stay tuned for next week's "thoughts on watermelons"...

(just kidding. I miss those guys, though! Why aren't they in season??)

Shavua tov :)

Monday, December 20, 2010

A light at the end of the tunnel

I was at a chagiga, and a Rabbi came to speak to us gals. This time, I was really, REALLY hoping the shiur wouldn't be about dating. My mind pleaded "please, PLEASE. I'm finally AWAY from all eligible bachelors. I'm at an all girls party. It's a motzei-Shabbat. PLLLLEEEAAASE don't bring it up."

So, of course, he brought it up.
Except, ironically enough, I'm grateful that he did. It was an INCREDIBLE shiur because it included an amazingly moving story with a wonderful message. I don't think I'll ever forget it. Here goes:

There was a man who was married to his wife for over 10 years. Unfortunately, his wife couldn't have children, and her husband greatly contemplated the issue and decided that although he very much loves his wife, he desperately wants his own children; it would be best to get divorced. He went to the rabbinate to give her a get, and the rabbis urged him to think his decision through. The rabbi told him "although it's a mitzvah for a divorced man to remarry his wife, a cohen is forbidden to do so. You're a cohen. If you divorce your wife, you'll never ever be able to remarry her. Under no circumstances will you be able to marry her or live with her again. Please think about your decision and be SURE that this is what you want to do." He thought about it more and came back the next day, still wanting to get divorced. The rabbi again urged him. "Are you sure?" The man had enough pressure already and urgently responded "yes, yes! I'm sure. Rabbi, I've thought about it many times already. I'm sure that we're getting divorced." And it was done. They got divorced and everything was finalized. The man was now free as a bird and ready to remarry someone and hoped to have children.

A few months passed by, and he received a phone call. It was his ex-wife. All he heard on the other end up the line was sobbing.
"Hello? Chana, hello? Is that you?"
He heard a mumbled yes through her sobs.
"Honey, honey, calm down. What is it? Are you okay, what happened?"
She could barely get out the words: I'm pregnant.

"Aa-a-are you sure?"
"Yes, I went to the doctors for check-ups and everything. And a DNA test. I'm sure. I don't know what to do..."

At that moment, everything turned into a blur for this man. His ex-wife, whom he was in love with, was carrying his child. And they could never ever be married again. The rabbinate made it clear to him. And now this child would barely be raised with a normal frum family. And the main reason he divorced his wife was because she couldn't have children!

The man was extremely distressed. He went to his Rav and asked him what to do. His Rabbi suggested that he go speak to a Gadol Hador in Israel. He flew to Israel and immediately went to this Rabbi. He cried his heart out and told him the story. "Rabbi, what do I do?" The Rabbi told him he feels very bad, but there's nothing he can do. "I suggest you go to Rav Elyashiv."

So, the man went to speak to Rav Elyashiv. After hearing the story, Rav Elyashiv took the man's hands into his own and started crying with him. "A Jew in pain is so difficult to see." He said, and then suggested "go to the Kotel. That's where Jews go when they're in pain -- go there and pray to HaShem."

The man went to the Kotel. He prayed with all of his heart and energy and tears streamed down his face. He prayed to HaShem for help and salvation. He felt helpless; he didn't know what else to do.
Another man was also by the Kotel. He witnessed this poor man, crying, looking so miserable. He slowly approached him and gently said "excuse me, I've noticed that you look very upset. Sometimes it helps, when you have a heavy heart and much on your mind, to share it with another Jew. Would you like to tell me what happened?"

It was true. He had a lot of emotions bottled up, and so, he figured - why not? He told the stranger his story, and the stranger listened but remained silent. After hearing everything, he asked the man "are either of your parents still alive?"
"Well, yes. Just my father."
"Go speak to him. Tell him the story."
"Speak to my father? He's very old and in a nursing home. He's barely functioning...he often doesn't even respond when people speak to him."
"Listen, just go and speak to him. Your heart is heavy. It'll help you to share this with him."

The man wasn't foolish. He realized -- there's a connection. His Rav sent him to the Rav in Israel, who sent him to Rav Elyashiv, who sent him to the Kotel, and now he met this guy who's suggesting that he speak his father. Why not? It's worth a shot.

Eventually, the man flew back to the US. When he was there, he paid his father a visit. His father's eyes were closed, and he was laying down in his hospital bed with machines beeping around him.
The man sighed and decided that regardless whether or not his father could hear him, he's sharing the story. So again, with much turmoil burning inside of him, he relayed the whole story. He poured his heart out. How he regrets his decision, how much his exwife is suffering, how much the child will suffer and miss out on, how he flew to Israel to all these different people and now is back in the US without an answer. Still suffering. Tears flowed down his face, and he buried his face in his hands.

Amidst his sobs, he heard a voice.
"Remarry your wife." His father said.
What did he just say? My father MUST be crazy. This is just further proof that he's not "here" and not functioning, the man thought.
"Father, I can't remarry her. I'm a cohen."
"No, you're not."
Is he senile?
"Father, you are a cohen, and therefore, I am a cohen." The man patiently explained.
"No, son. I am a cohen, but you are not a cohen."
"What do you mean?"
"Your mother and I weren't able to have children together. So, we adopted. You are adopted. We never wanted to tell you, & we were advised to treat you as if you were our biological son. Therefore, you are not really a cohen."

The man was shocked.
And of course, BH, he remarried his wife, and she gave birth to a healthy baby.

What do we learn from this (true) story? No matter how dark your life seems, or how hopeless a situation seem -- it NEVER is hopeless. HaShem always helps us. He's just waiting for us to make an effort and pray to Him!
Let's say the man in the story accepted his exwife's pregnancy as fact; without ever consulting a Rav. Or just consulting one Rav. He probably would've never found out that he's not a cohen, and he would've never been able to remarry his wife. The child would grow up without his father as his mother's husband. It's BECAUSE the man CARED enough to find salvation, and he SOUGHT answers and clarity --- that's why his case was solved!

As Rabbi Frand beautifully puts it:
"All too often, people have terrible problems. They cannot imagine how these terrible problems will ever be resolved. They need to realize that the salvation of G-d comes in the blink of an eye.
There are so many times in life when salvation of G-d comes in the blink of an eye. We can bang our heads against the wall and wail "What's going to be! What's going to be!" But things suddenly turn around. That is why the Torah emphasizes "they RUSHED him [Yosef] out of the pit". Things can turn around on a dime."

We need to seek HaShem. It doesn't matter what the situation is. Whether it's growing closer to Him, or doing well in school and on finals, or restoring our health, or sending us our zivugim -- we need G-d's help! We even need G-d's help, not ONLY for doing positive mitzvot, but also to keep us from doing an avera. For not speaking lashon hara, for not disrespecting our parents, not sleeping late and missing davening/minyan.
Nothing is difficult for G-d. He can give us anything in less than a second.
We need Him for every "little" thing. And we can never, ever give up. a Jew doesn't give up. Why? Because we have HaShem. And NOTHING is impossible for HaShem. He created every single concept in this world...from our families to our emotions to our surroundings.

I was speaking to a friend of mine about dating. This friend has been dating for quite a while already (b"H she should find her zivug b'karov; she really deserves a wonderful husband) and has dated more than 50 different men. At that time, I had recently went through a difficult break-up with someone that I had very strong feelings for, and the guy cha-cha danced all over my heart. I complained to her..."oh, Jessica. I'm so disheartened now. I'm terrified of dating --what if this happens again?"
She told me a story of how a man was once trying to open a radio station. He was rejected by the first 15 labels he tried. But he kept trying. On the 33rd attempt, he finally MADE it, and eventually, produced 50 radio stations.
"Sefardi Gal, I'm telling you this because you can't give up." Maybe guy (or girl) #15 rejects you, and even guy #30, but guy #33 can be THE ONE to change it all for you. And you'll never know unless you keep trying -- and reach that special number!

May we all have the strength to know that HaShem loves ALL of us, and He never gives up on any of us, so we shouldn't give up on Him - either! Especially NOW, during this holy spiritual time period of Shovavim -- keep praying, and b"H we'll all see daily yeshuot v'nechamot in our lives! :)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Don't Stop Till You Drop

So, I had a wonderful Shabbat. Truly incredible.
I put all of schoolwork aside and just focused on enjoying the goodness. Ahhh.

Naturally, I was thinking. Just about how I'm sooo not where I want to be at this point in my life. How I have so much growth and so many goals that I want to achieve. I really need to quit procastinating and start prioritizing. But...PROBLEM: they seem so...unreachable. Impractical. I mean, it's almost impossible to jump from point A to point Z.
Suddenly, I had an idea that came into my mind. A revelation!
I decided that first, I need to make a list of all of my goals. And then slowly, and practically, apply them into my life weekly. You know, "baby-steps."
I'll buy an erasable marker-board and at the beginning of every week, I'll set:
1. Religious goals
2. Educational/school/work goals
3. Exercise/diet goals

and IF I fulfill them all, I get some kind of reward. It can be a CD (yes, I still buy those. Yay for!), a new book, a new pair of shoes, manicure, cool glowy pens, etc.

What's the status on the list, so far?

So far, I've been procastinating and didn't buy the eraser board yet. But the goals, as usual, are stored mentally right now.

I hope that doesn't kill the determination :D

Friday, December 3, 2010

Happy Cccccchanukah!!!!!!!

I think the "I throw my latkes in the air sometimes, singing eyyyyooo! Spin the Dreidel!!!!" line is stuck in everyone's head at the moment.

In case you don't know what I'm referring to...

(Were sufganiyot really not mentioned??)

Speaking (well writing. Actually...typing) of sufganiyot -- my friend showed me this hilarious video:

We were all cracking up! :D

I ALWAYS miss Israel and seminary during Chanukah. I was (and am) extremely close with my roomies. We all lit together and gazed at the lights, had an awesome chagiga, had crazy hyper moments (that was every day, though!), and ate sufganiyot, of course ;)
(Uri's Caramel Sufganiyot!)
The environment in Israel is always just so special. During Chanukah, everyone lit outside and the family togetherness was simply heartwarming.

My amazing friend shared a nice dvar Torah with me about Chanukah.
"Yavan" (Greece) in Hebrew is spelled "yud" "vav" "nun"...the three letters are shaped as vetical lines that ascendingly get longer. The Greek culture focused mainly on the body, on the external factors of a person. They worshipped the body and idols, both of which are extremely materialistic & don't have any potential or spiritual growth. "Yavan" also means "quicksand" in Hebrew. That's because materialism and physicality are like quicksand...they grab you and then pull you in, making it laborious to get out and save yourself.
Now, clearly, not ALL materialism is bad. Mesillat Yesharim makes it clear that as Jews, we raise the physical by incorporating spirituality into it. But certain mentalities are totally antiethical to Judaism. For example, being so obsessed with our blackberries, to the point that we can't focus on davening or learning Torah. Why can't we turn off our phones for 30 minutes? Are we THAT attached to the meaningless gadgets? More attached to them than we are to HaShem?
Another example that comes to mind is Tzniut. The Yevanim didn't have ANY concept of modesty. If they wore any clothing, it was very minimal. They wanted to show off the body as much as possible. Some girls think that as long as they're wearing a long sleeved shirt and some form of a skirt, they're good to go. They can get by without having anyone chastize them. But it doesn't have to do with criticism! It has to do with appreciating yourself (your holy neshama) enough to cover up -- to the point that your body isn't the main factor that you're associated with. To tell people: I'm more than my body. I appreciate my myself, I have a brain, I have thoughts, feelings, ambitions, etc. And that's what makes me -- not my body.
I have to deal with this a lot. Magazine, media, models, and all of the shtuyot aside, which outfits really are appropiate for a bat yisrael to wear? It requires a lot of thought, honesty, and inner strength. If any frum man rejects a girl because she's dressed tzanua, then what does he value, exactly? Does she really want to have such a husband? I know that I don't.
A third example is competition. Yevanim were beyond competitive. They had olympics, contests, etc. There's NO SUCH THING as competition in the Torah! Each individual is an important and significant member of Klal Yisrael. It's assur to step on someone to "make it big" -- be it at school, work, etc.

On Chanukah, there was a "Nes" (miracle) for the Maccabees, who didn't give in to Greek culture.
We all have "Nisyonot" (tests). Our lives are filled with Nisyonot and part of missions is to pass those tests. Nisayon in Hebrew is spelled "Nun" "Samech" "Yud" Vav" "Nun"
If you take away the last three letters (which spell "yavan"), you end up with "Nes" (miracle). If we take the "Yavan" out of our mentality and our lives, then b"H we'll see a great Nes in each of our lives! :)

Wishing you all a Chag Chanukah Sameach and Shabbat shalom! May we all have the strength to stay away from all of the harmful shtuyot, and may we merit to see miracles in our daily lives!