(note: the facts are true, but I edited names for the sake of anonymity.)
Around two years ago, a close friend of mine threw a challah & bracha party.
For those who are unaware, a challah & bracha party is basically when a bunch of people (usually of the female persuasion :)) get together and bake challot and make brachot on various foods & answer "amen" to each other's brachot.
Baking challah is a very special mitzvah, and that time is a strong "et tefillah" (time for prayer) -- so that's an especially auspicious to ask HaShem for whatever our heart desires.
The bracha part is when foods from each "bracha category" are beautifully presented and arranged on a table. The brachot are recited in the following descending order: "Mezonot" (food made from the 5 grains) => "Hagefen" (grapejuice or wine) => "Ha'etz" (fruits that grow on a tree) => "Ha'adama" (vegetables that don't grow on trees) => Shehakol (all other foods)
Some people also add "besamim" (a bracha on fragrances)
Each bracha is a "segulah" for a particular salvation:
Mezonot - Parnassah
Hagefen - Shidduchim/Marriage
Ha'etz - Children/Pri Beten
Ha'adma - Refua Shlemah
Shehakol - anything else (Mashiach, Geula, Shalom Bayit, success in school, etc.)
Besamim - Chazara b'teshuva (to do teshuva)
Before reciting the bracha, you take the food in your right hand and close your eyes and say the Hebrew names of the people who need the segulah that your particular bracha stands for. So, let's say before saying "ha'adma", you says the names of all of the ill people who needs a speedy recovery. Then, you makes the bracha with kavana and everyone else responds with a loud "AMEN!"
When one answers amen, one creates a malach. Chazal teach us that the "amen" is more important than the bracha -- therefore, one should always make brachot aloud and around people whenever possible in order for the "amen" to be recited.
Now, when there are a lot of people, there are usually 3 groups for each bracha. First, one group makes the bracha simultaneously, and everyone from the other group answers amen. The second group then makes the bracha simultaneously, and everyone responds amen. The 3rd group is only one person who REALLY needs that yeshua -- for ex, an older single will be the last one to say the bracha of "hagefen" - and everyone answers amen. That person is called "the closer."
While all of this is going on, the challah is baking in the oven and the special aroma is enveloping the apartment or house.
If anyone is interested in learning more about the power brachot/amen, I highly recommend reading this book.
Below are pictures that I've taken at Challah/Bracha parties that I've attended:
Now that we all understand what a challah & bracha party is, let's move on :)
So I was at that special event around 2 years ago. A close friend of mine, Natalie, was moving to Israel for a year, and she invited all of her friends over. At this party, I noticed a beautiful married lady. She stood out because she was wearing a vibrant colored headscarf that perfectly matched her modest outfit. She looked fashionable and tznua (modest) at the same time. She had a huge smile on her face the whole time and was very friendly. She looked pretty young, around 25 years old, and I figured that she probably has one or two kids and with that happy attitude, she is probably an amazing mommy.
Natalie introduced her to us. Tziporah was this special lady's name. Apparently she was a fashion designer and had a boutique full of modest clothing. In fact, my friend who was throwing the party was dressed impeccably, and turns out -- that's how Natalie met Tziporah. She was looking for an outfit for the party, went to Tziporah's boutique, and they instantly hit it off as friends, and she invited her to the challah & bracha party.
The summer night was going great. Everybody was in an uplifted and joyful mood. Because most of the gals who attended were single, a decision was made that we would first say our names and/or names of other singles we know, and we would each recite an individual brachot of "hagefen" and everyone would answer "amen!" Because there were around 35 single ladies there, that means over 35 brachot of "hagefen" were made within those few minutes.
Each time a single girl made a bracha of "hagefen", Tziporah started singing songs like "od yeshama" and clapping her hands. She had so much genuine simcha for each person, as if she was certain that each one of us would get married that year. She set the tone, and people joined in singing with her.
A couple of minutes later, it was time to make the bracha of "ha'etz." The blessing for barren couples who haven't had children (yet). Usually at the bracha parties I had previously attended, "the closer" was never a barren lady.
Usually "the closer" for "ha'etz" would be somebody who knows a barren married woman who is trying to conceive. I didn't even personally know any women who were incapable of having children.
Until someone asked Tziporah if she wants to be the closer. She smiled and nodded. This smile, however, was different. It wasn't a joyous smile like her previous one that didn't leave her face the whole night; rather, this time, it was a sad smile.
The 1st group made "ha'etz" and answered "amen." The 2nd group followed.
Finally, it was Tziporah's turn.
She stood up in the front of the crowd and tears began forming in her eyes. She closed her eyes and starting swaying. "May this bracha be for
I was stunned. Here I thought that she was 25, with at least 2 children. If she was trying to conceive for 10 years, she had to be older than 25. And she had to have experienced more suffering than I ever imagined somebody with such a bright smile could have experienced. I cringed. I wished there was something I could do. Oh, how much pain she must be in...
these thoughts followed me as I went home. It just didn't sit well with me. Her positive energy and emunah left me on a high, but at the same time, I felt uncomfortable. The same image kept replaying in my head: the expression on her face while making the bracha with those tightly shut eyes and tears pushing out.
A few days later, Natalie gave me a call. "I'm trying to organize a group of 40 women, particularly the girls from my bracha party, to say Shir Hashirim for Tziporah on Erev Shabbat. And in that zchut, Be'ezrat HaShem, Tziporah will be expecting a child soon. Are you in?"
40 girls were gathered, and she gave us Tziporah and her husband's full Hebrew names.
I jotted down their names and kept the note in my siddur. I remembered them during my daily Shemoneh Esreh, when lighting candles Erev Shabbat, whenever I traveled to Israel and prayed by the Kotel, etc.
Tziporah sent Natalie an e-mail, telling her that she is now a shadchan and asked if she has any friends who want to send their resumes. I sent my resume, she called me, and as a result, we became close friends because of our phone conversations. She set me up a few times, but even more importantly, she gave me chizzuk and divrei Torah. It was an emotional and logical support that very few shadchanim offered me in the past. She was one of the only shadchanim who made me feel like I will get married and should never worry -- just continue praying to HaShem and keep up the faith. She gave me brachot over the phone and invited me over her house for coffee and shmoozing.
Every conversation we had left me with a smile on my face. She was so warm and caring.
I didn't know how to ask her...if anything had changed. If she had a little somebody in her tummy.
I wanted to tell her how much my friends and I were davening for her. But I didn't say anything. I feared the possibility of offending her.
Natalie updated me from time to time, telling me to continue davening and not to give up. I knew that Tziporah wasn't giving up and that her emunah in HaShem was carrying her through.
Over a year after the challah & bracha party, I told a close friend of mine, Gila, about Tziporah.
A couple of days later, Gila called me up. "Sefardi Gal, I'm going to the Lubavitch Rebbe's kever to daven. That lady that you told me about...and her husband...who can't have kids...what're their names, again?"
I was so touched that she remembered. (Hey, I only have amazing friends!)
Around Rosh Hashana time of this year, Gila told me that she always continued to pray for the couple. She even made Challah every Erev Shabbat and would pray for them while making the challah.
I called Tziporah to wish her a shana tova, but she wasn't feeling well. My friend told me that Tziporah had done some infertility treatments that left her feeling weak and ill. It seemed that the treatments were not successful, and the side effects were painful.
At a friend's wedding on October 24, 2010, Natalie, Gila, and I were dancing, and we were crazy happy. Natalie took us aside, and admist the loud music, she said "I just want you two to be the first to know...TZIPORAH IS 3 MONTHS PREGNANT!" I have never cried from happiness, but it was a close call that night. None of us could contain our joy. We all screamed and hugged and jumped with joy. So that's why she wasn't feeling well! The treatment was working!, I thought. We continued to dance and praised HaShem, and really, at that moment...it felt like HaShem stopped the world. For Tziporah.
Gila never met Tziporah yet. She had no idea what she looked or sounded like. A week or two after the wedding, Gila called me and anxiously told me about how she met Tziporah. Gila was invited to another friend's bracha & challah party. There was a lady there who was pregnant, though not very visibly pregnant. My friend Gila took one look at her and thought "that's Tziporah. It has to be. She has that aura that Sefardi Gal was telling me about."
She went up to her and asked her "excuse me, but...are you Tziporah?"
"Yes, I am."
Gila started crying and told her "you don't know me, but Natalie and Sefardi Gal are my close friends. I heard the wonderful news, and I just want you to know...even though we never met, I was davening for you. I made challah for you. And for the first time last week, I made challah and davened for both you and your baby."
At that point, Tziporah started crying too and thanked her profusely and blessed her. They embraced, and it was clearly an emotional night.
As the months passed, we continued to pray for Tziporah to have a healthy and easy pregnancy and to give birth to a healthy baby. She's due in Pesach time.
she won't be giving birth to a healthy baby during Pesach.
HaShem planned that she gave birth two weeks ago on Shabbat to not one, but TWO healthy babies. Twins. A boy and girl. And she was 2 months early, but the babies are perfectly healthy, Baruch HaShem.
Finally, after 12 years of trying, she and her husband were rewarded with two children, both genders, on the holiest day of the week. And after waiting 12 years, HaShem didn't want them to wait 9 months; He condensed the wait to 7 months.
I realize that this is a long story and it could've been told in four sentences or even less. Except, in my opinion, that would take away from the depth and emotions that were involved. It was a huge experience and lesson in emunah and bitachon for my close friends and myself.
Tziporah taught me that no matter how difficult life is, you NEVER give up your faith in HaShem. You never stop davening. Many women in her situation might've became depressed or would've just gave up. But no. Tziporah was persistent. She prayed, and she would go to (AND GIVE) shiurim and find something new to work on every day. She constantly invited guests over not only for Shabbat but also for other days of the week.
She gave others chizzuk and always wore a beautiful & cheerful smile on her face. She prayed for other barren couples who were in similar or even worse positions. She not only prayed for them, but she also forwarded and e-mailed their names to other people to pray for them. She once sent me a list of over 30 barren couples to daven for on Erev Shabbat.
She saw me recently and handed me a paper with the names of two or three couples in need of conceiving.
She allowed her adversity to be the catalyst for helping others. She didn't let her problems suppress her from reaching her potential and reaching out to help others, be it other barren couples, singles that she tried (and tries) to set up, or giving shiurim.
I also learned that the power of tefillah in GROUPS, as unified members of Klal Yisrael, has a huge impact. What better way to fulfill "love your neighbor as you love yourself" than to pray for him or her?
Just because Tziporah got pregnant, she didn't forget about all of the couples who are still trying. I think this is a crucial point to remember.
A Rabbi in my Shul once told a story about two single men who were praying for each other to find their zivugim. One of them found his zivug and got married. A few years later, his friend was still single. His friend asked him "are you still davening for me?" Embarrassed, the married friend admitted "no, I stopped after I got married."
We can't stop praying for our friends. Even if we have a long list. Even if we already found our zivug. We can't forget about the rest who still haven't found what they're looking for.
Tziporah and Gila were crying because a meeting wasn't necessary for Gila to feel Tziporah's pain. All Gila needed was her love for a fellow Jew to stimulate her tefillot.
Above all, I think I finally FELT (I only knew before) that HaShem truly does listen to our tefillot. Similar to the caterpillar in the dark and unfriendly cocoon, one needs to go through difficulties in life to become a beautiful colorful butterfly.
May Tziporah's story serve as an example to all of us that HaShem knows what He's doing and has a great plan for all of us. He only sends us trials and tribulations that we can handle.
And that Ahavat Yisrael and Tefillah can break all harsh decrees and barriers!
Shavua Tov and Chodesh Tov u'Mevurach to all!