Saturday, March 5, 2011

Coming Out of The Cocoon

In case y'all didn't notice yet, I'm a fan of those inspirational chizzuk stories. I find that (at times) the most powerful stories that are the ones that you or someone that you know personally experienced. I have a phenomenal story to share about a very special friend of mine. This lady is truly a tzadika, and I hope my readers will be moved by this as much as I was (if not more!)

(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 and my tzaddik husband ...we have been trying for 10 years...and I hope...this year." And as the tears were emerging out of her eyes, she tightly held onto the green grape in her right hand, slightly raised her hand, and said with intense kavana "Baruch ATAH HaShem Elokeinu Melech HaOlam, Boreh P'ri Ha'etz!" everyone answered a loud "AMEN!"

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 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!


  1. Wow.

    That is all I can say. So inspirational and moving, thank you so much for sharing! So beautiful. May Hashem answer all of our tefillot for others very soon.

  2. That was a very intense story. I would like to modify what I said in the last post. It is true that tefillah is supposed to change us. That being said, there are enough chazals that seem to indicate that tefillah changed what was supposed to happen. one case being king Chizkyahu was supposed to die, but because of tefillah he lived. So it is clear that tefillah has an effect on the physical world. The way to understand this is that Hashem created a system that the world would work through nature, but on some occasions He will make it possible for nature to be uprooted and a different event to occur. These times happen when the jews do mitzvot and learn torah. When this happens things that should have happened are changed. This is the power of tefillah, it actually has the ability to change nature.

  3. Beautiful! Thank you for sharing.

  4. SternGrad - I'm so happy you found it inspirational! My pleasure to share it. Have you ever been to a bracha/challah party?
    "May Hashem answer all of our tefillot for others very soon." AMEN!

    Azriel Tzvi - wow, beautiful. Great chiddush to the last post :)
    Tefillah can turn the world around. I remember learning "if one has the HIGHEST level of emunah, he doesn't even have to to do any hishtadlut -- his emunah and tefillah are enough." I remember having a very difficult time accepting that teaching, but your post sheds some light on the emet of that teaching.

    Frayda - thank you for reading! I'm so glad you liked it :)

  5. Sefardi Gal- I have never been to a bracha/challah party, but it sounds very moving and beautiful!

  6. SternGrad - it is :)
    I'm considering having one for my birthday this year to make it less depressing :P

  7. The idea your talking about is really just a mishna in avot (3:5 or 6 depending of version) "one who accepts the yoke of Torah removes the yoke of the government and the yoke of derech Eretz (either translated as work or interpersonal relationships, while it seems clear here which one it is meant to mean, some people seem to think that if they learn that they don't have to be a nice person, and I have not seen any meforshim who have that pshat). If someone throws off the yoke of Torah then the yoke of government and the yoke of derech Eretz will be placed on him."
    Also, may I note, the braiding on that challa is crazy. I mean my sister makes a mean 6 braid but that looks way more intense.
    Question: at these parties do they use two loaves while making the bracha? I just assume from the picture being that there is a large one and then a small roll on the side. There is a gemara in brachot which discussed using 2 loaves on shabbat/ yom tov. The reason we can use them because on at a seudat mitzvah is because we are not afraid of mazikin at those times. For some reason we must be afraid of using things in pairs in a normal situation, because of mazikin. Which is why on special occasions we have pairs (2 loaves of bread, 4 cups at the Seder...) but otherwise one should not use pairs.

  8. Azriel Tzvi, you worry about mazikim in modern times?

  9. @alarbean- Until the Rambam the idea that mazikin did not exist was considered apikorsut. In fact, the Rambam was put in cherem for believing that melochim and mazikin did not exist. The Ramban throughout his perush on the Torah said that to believe the Rambam is apikorsut.
    We even have stories in modern times about mazikin. We have stories from Rav Shach that the Vilna had mazikin in the times of the Vilna Gaon. We have a famous story involving the Chofetz Chiam and a dibuk.
    In fact, there are several halachot that we follow based on the fact that there are mazikin. The most famous would be negel vaser, washing your hands when you wake up. It is a machloket as to why we do it but one of the reasons is because when we sleep mazikin get under our fingernails. Therefore, one cannot touch an opening of his/her body before his/her hands. If we said it was only because of touching a dirty place while we slept then this would not be a problem.
    Another example is that one may not store food underneath their bed. Many poskim even say that if it was done the food may not be eaten. The only reason for this halacha is mazikin.
    Finally, the idea that many of chazals discuss mazikin in this world makes it very hard to believe that they do not exist. To believe that chazal was wrong is much harder for me to believe.
    I heard also from my Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi David that Rav Aharon Soloveitchik believed that mazikin are bacteria, something that fits very well with brachot 6a.
    In short, yes I believe in mazikin in modern times.

  10. Ah, but you changed my question! I didn't ask if you believe in mazikin in modern times. I asked if you worry about mazikin in modern times. As you touched upon, there is a legitimate rabbinical opinion that while mazikin had power in the past, they are no longer an issue today. (Similar to how they explain that ancient physiological inaccuracies are because alterations in our physiology.)
    Stories are interesting, but are usually not factual.
    There are, of course, multiple explanations given for washing in the morning. Shin-daleds are one, thrashing during sleep is another, the comparison to death is a third, and I'm sure there are others. Regardless of the reason, someone washing in the morning is not affirming their power.
    "Chazal" discusses many fantastic things, but, again, I wasn't asking about your belief of their existence.
    Your second to last paragraph - about bacteria - undermines your earlier arguments. ;)

    Anyway, I'm not here to convince you one way or another. I was just curious whether you still worry about mazikin in modern times.

  11. "Your second to last paragraph - about bacteria - undermines your earlier arguments. ;)"
    It seems to me that there are different type of mazikin. How else would all of the chazals make sense. How can there be thousands of them next to you and at the same time they look exactly like a man except have webbed-feet? It's very possible that the type discussed in brachot is a different type than the one in Gitin, but that is just speculation. This would of course not be the craziest theory because we know that there are a few types of angels (Ofanim, Chyot, and Serafim, as well has possibly Chashmal [that is an argument between meforshim if that is a name of Hashem or if is was an angel {Chizkyahu 1}]).

    Also, as to whether or not I worry about them it depends how you define worry. It seems according to chazal that they can only harm you on certain occasions. Some I have mentioned already, others examples are while you are in a field or in a ruins alone. They also hang around women coming back from funerals. Also, they can hurt you if you can see them, which can be done by a long process involving a black female cat and a lead pipe.
    Now, do I worry about them so much that I stay up in the middle of the night afraid that they will take me away? No, but am I going to stay away from doing those thing? Probably.

  12. Azriel Tzvi - "Also, may I note, the braiding on that challa is crazy. I mean my sister makes a mean 6 braid but that looks way more intense."
    It's pretty cool. I wish I could say that I braided it...but I didn't.
    I've heard that there's a book about all the different challah shapes one can make. :)

    "Question: at these parties do they use two loaves while making the bracha?"
    Nope. We don't make a bracha of "hamotzi" -- just a the bracha of hafrashat challah. The whole point is for everyone to get together and pray while making that bracha because the "three mitzvot" (challah, nida, nerot) that a Jewish women has are all very strong times for prayer and tzdaka.
    One of the ladies at these parties taught me that when one makes challah, (s)he should pour out all of her tefillot while kneading the dough and all that. It's a very holy time, and we need to be very particular and meticulous with our actions while being involved with the challah. If there's, chas v'shalom, anger or negative words said -- they can seep into the challah.
    B"H positive words and thoughts can (and should) seep in :)

    Alarbean - according to many, many contemporary Rabbanim, mazikin still exist, and the concept of zugiyot (not taking pairs) should be practiced.

    Azriel Tzvi took the words out of my...keyboard? :) Totally agree with this:
    "Now, do I worry about them so much that I stay up in the middle of the night afraid that they will take me away? No, but am I going to stay away from doing those thing? Probably."

  13. Wow. Lots of typos in the above post. It's 1:48 AM and I've had a long day. Okay, that's just an excuse.
    But please ignore the typos, my dear readers. :D

  14. What a beautiful story! Thank you SO much for sharing it - and for the chizuk you gave along with it!!

    It's 100% true-we should never give up on davening!

  15. Mr. Cohen - thank you

    Devorah - thank you! It is really a privilege to know Tziporah in real life. She's Mrs. chizzuk 24/7.

  16. Such a wonderful, wonderful story. B"H!

  17. I was thinking about this story last night - mi k'amcha yisroel - how beautiful it is to see someone daven for a total stranger and how special it is to be part of a nation of people who really care about each other!

    And it's also so nice to hear a story like this with a happy ending. My heart dropped when you wrote the lines Except...
    she won't be giving birth to a healthy baby during Pesach.

    You wrote it so well - I was totally drawn in to the story!

  18. Batya - I'm glad you enjoyed! Thank you for reading :)

    Devorah - the concept of "arvut" (the fact that all of Klal Yisrael is dependent on one another) is so beautiful. Where else does such a concept exist? Only with Klal Yisrael!
    Sometimes I think of all the problems we're experiencing as a nation...all the off the derech kids, all the tzarot, etc. but honestly, the positive aspects of Klal Yisrael outdoes the negative aspects.

    I'm so glad you enjoyed the story! B"H that it has a TRUE happy ending. Or in this case...a happy beginning :)

  19. In fact it was the very fact that in the time of Achasverosh that Haman said the Jews could be defeated because they were (3:8) "Am Echad Mifuzar U'Miforod..." "one nation scattered abroad and dispersed..." the gemara explains it to mean that they were scattered from Hashem and dispersed from each other. If not for that Hamam would never of thought that he had a chance.