Thursday, February 17, 2011

1 More Cry

I was listening to a shiur about emunah, by one of my favorite speakers, Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser. In the shiur, he shared an incredible story about a man whom he knows personally. The man was married for 20 years and couldn't have children. 20 years! We should never know of such pain -- month after month, year after year, for 20 whole years waiting to have just one child.
This man prayed every single day in shemoneh esreh. He begged HaShem for a child. Please HaShem.
My child will grow up in the ways of Torah and mitzvot.
My child will be a tzadik (or tzadika)
I will love my child.
I will try and be the best parent.
Please HaShem! Have mercy. Have pity. Give me a child. Please. I'm begging of You. A zera chaya v'kayama.

Every day, he continued these sincere tefillot.

Until one day, on the 20th year of him and his wife being barren without any children -- he came to a resolution: enough tefillot. "I am no longer going to pray for a child. I've done enough. How many tefillot did I pray already?? How many thousands of shemoneh esrehs did I pray asking, begging, pleading? 20 years is enough. Apparently it is not destined that I should have a child, so I'm going to stop asking."
And so, he began shemoneh esreh, determined not to "give in" and ask HaShem for a child. He got up to "Shemah Kolenu" -- still set on not praying for children. It was quiet in the Shul. As he was in the middle of the "Shemah Koleinu" section, he heard the cry of a baby.
"What on earth? Am I hearing things? It's 6 AM, on a week day, and I'm in Shul! There's no baby here!"
As he was brushing off this notion, figuring that it was just his imagination, he heard a cry again.

And then he broke down in tears. How much he wants to hear a baby's cry in his own home! He cried and couldn't stop sobbing; he begged HaShem, with more fervor than ever in the past 20 years, for a child.
When he got home, he told his wife what happened at Shul. She began to cry and said it's a sign from HaShem -- they shouldn't stop praying!

Exactly 10 months later, she had a healthy baby!

You may be wondering -- so was there really a baby? Was it just his imagination?
The man later found out the truth:
there was a real baby in the Shul. A man brought his baby son to Shul because the baby didn't sleep all night long, and his wife was exhausted. She barely got any sleep and had a very difficult night. Finally, the baby fell asleep in the morning, and the husband wanted to ease his wife's stress and allow her to sleep peacefully - so he took the baby to Shul, figuring that since he was asleep, he wouldn't disturb anyone. The whole time, the baby was quiet, EXCEPT for those two moments during Shema Kolenu.
This man did a chessed for his wife, and in turn, he did a chessed for this barren couple.

Look at how much HaShem loves us - He cares about each one of us so much that he sends us individual wake up calls. He never gives up on us. Even if we feel that our tefillot aren't being answered, we must continue praying. It's never valid to STOP praying simply because you give up.
Why must we continue praying? Because our prayers are being answered - with a yes, no, or a maybe. Maybe now. Maybe later. It's similar to filling up a bottle of water - drop after drop.
Today's tefillah can be that last drop to finally fill up the bottle!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Seeing the GOOD in others

When I was in High School, I purchased the Chafetz-Chaim-lesson-a-day sefer about lashon hara. Initially, I was a little apprehensive to begin because I wasn't sure if I'd be able to handle the intensity of the halachot. How will I be able to speak and have conversations if so many conversation topics are forbidden?
Well, interestingly enough, the book addressed that concern. The Chafetz Chaim was known for being extremely careful with shmirat halashon. One would think that he was a quiet and timid individual. But surprisingly, that's extremely far from the truth of the matter! The Chafetz Chaim was very talkative and sociable. Studying the laws of Shmirat Halashon/Lashon Hara aren't intended to teach us how to stop speaking; they're meant to teach us how to speak properly.

Now, lashon hara is a HUGE topic. Learning the halachot & refraining from lashon hara isn't just a "nice" thing to do. Shmirat Halashon is one of the main fundamentals of Judaism, and being a careless speaker of lashon hara is equivalent to the three cardinal sins (the Chafetz Chaim actually explains how it's even WORSE than those sins.)
Most Rabbanim would categorize shmirat halashon as one of the most important mitzvot to work on. I clearly can't tackle every single factor in this post, but I'd like to share a story and a couple of lessons that have greatly impacted my life.

The vast majority of frum Jews don't go around bashing people and spreading rumors. It's rare that you'll hear Chani telling her pal Dana about how ugly Rivki is. The yetzer hara knows that frum Jews won't fall for such obvious averot. So instead, he hides himself. He causes conflict. He makes us angry, agitated, impatient, judgemental, etc. And it's at that point that the nisyaon of lashon hara comes into the picture.
When the stinging word; the "diss"; the curse; the "comeback" is on the tip of your tongue! Ooooh and it's such a "good" insult, too. It's davka at THAT point that shmirat halashon becomes a huge challenge (for most people).

But wait a minute. Why is HaShem being so strict?? We live in the 21st century. In America. There're tabloids in almost every store and just about every TV show revolves around gossip and slander. The "in" thing to do is to release our emotions and HELLO?!?! Freedom of Speech!!! If I'm MAD, why can't I express myself?? The answer is very beautiful and deep. Every single Jew has a spark of HaShem; every single Jew has a neshama. That's holy. When you (general you) speak against your fellow Jew, what you're REALLY doing is bad mouthing HaKadosh Baruch Hu. There's a "part" (not literally; but we'll use that word to help us understand) of HaShem in every one us. That's our true essence -- our neshamot. Every single person has holiness and instrinstic worth, so you're not only against G-d's child, but you're also speaking against G-d! On top of that, you're acting as if no one is around to listen -- but G-d is around.
Speech is the main component that separates human beings from animals. We don't let our emotions/desires control us. We let the Torah and our logic control us. Naaseh v'nishma. What If we let emotions/desire control us? Then, we're even lower than the animals because they don't have the power of speech -- we do! Why are we lower, then, and not equivalent to the animals? Because if we use our gift of speech to do harm -- that's even worse than not being able to speak at all. To quote spiderman "with great power comes great responsibility" (that quote never gets old! :D)

My next post, b"H, will be about the koach of tefillah. However, there is a very important prerequisite for successful tefillah.
When I first read the shmirat halashon book, I was shakened. The halachot and divrei Torah were very powerful and life-changing (for the better, of course!)
Two particular teachings really frightened me, though, and changed my life:
1) After one passes away and goes up to Shamayim, all of his mitzvot and sins are shown. He will see averot (and mitzvot) that he NEVER did. He'll begin to freak out. "What?! I ate a cheeseburger at MacDonalds? Stole from Old Navy? Watched TV on Shabbat? HaShem, I never mixed basar v'chalav and never ate an MacDonalds! I never even stepped foot in Old Navy! I didn't even own a TV! How would I watch it on Shabbat??"
What's going on here?
The answer is that whenever he spoke lashon hara about his fellow Jew, he passed on his mitzvot to that Jew, and in return, received that person's sins!

That is a terrifying thought! Think about all the mitzvot we do -- all those times that we made it on time to pray & to minyan; all those times we dressed modestly, kept kosher, kept Shabbat and the Chagim, gave tzdaka, did chessed at the nursing home or hasc or camp simcha, and how about the really rare mitzvot -- like when you wrote a letter in the sefer Torah and/or shiluach haken?? Do we really want to give all of those precious good deeds away JUST because we're agitated and can't control our mouthes?
2) when one speaks lashon hara, his mouth is tainted, and therefore, his tefilliot are considered impure. His tefillot are not accepted easily in Shamayim, and therefore, speaking improperly can severely impact the power and results of your tefillot -- for the worse! (In fact, this is why we recite "Elokai, Netzor Leshoni Mi'Ra'ah u'sfatai medaber mirma" (translation: G-d, stop my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking negatively) after Shemonah Esreh 3x a day.)

I had a teacher in seminary who got married in her late 20s (or early 30s). At the time, she couldn't figure out why she was still single. She grew up religious and worked on herself tremendously throughout the her seminary and college years. She was intelligent and had a good career, good looks, prestigious education/degrees, and she just wanted to marry a holy guy who loved Torah. She couldn't figure it out: WHY AM I STILL SINGLE?!
So, she went to Rebbetzin Kanyevsky for a bracha. Rebbetzin Kanyevsky asked her "have you studied shmirat halashon?"
My teacher responded "yes, twice already."
The Rebbetzin's advice? "Learn it again."

My teacher heeded her advice and guess what?
she is married to a highly knowledgable, charismatic, and respected rabbi who loves her dearly, and they named one of her sons "Yisrael Meir" -- the Chafetz Chaim's name.

Learning has tremendous value. But it must be applied. And once it's applied, then your tefillot can reach the Kiseh Hakavod more smoothly. We must understand and appreciate the incredible power of shmirat halashon!

A friend of mine e-mailed me a powerful letter that Rebbetzin Kanyevsky published:

Dear women and girls! We need you to help us in prayers!
The situation in Eretz Yisrael is very difficult. We are suffering terrible losses, many orphans and widows from different diseases. My husband, The Rabbi, was asked what could be the reason for all these tragedies. The Rabbi opened a Gemara and said it's because of foul language. And how can we correct ourselves? Only by watching what we say.
I read an article written by Rabbi Segal from Manchester who writes:
"Never did I see a person who learned 2 Halachot of Shemirat Halashon every day and didn't see salvation from above, whether in children, in shidduch, good health, parnasa or bringing up the children. He had promised that whoever will learn the Chafetz Hayim, he will be his defender in Heaven. "And we witnessed miracles that happened to people who took upon themselves two Halachot every day and saw Yeshuot.

While I was reading the article a woman walked in crying and said she has a number of aging daughters that are still not married. I showed her the article and immediately she said she will learn two Halachot of Shemirat Halashon every day. Within three days one daughter got engaged.
Two months later her second daughter and ba"h this woman saw many Yeshuot. Like her, hundreds of girls who took upon themselves the Shemirat Halashon got married.

A different story is about a woman who came to us about a year ago with great sorrow saying that she'd been married for 20 years and she didn't have children. I advised her to learn two Halchot every day and B"H she conceived and now has a month old baby boy.

And another story: a few weeks ago a woman came to me, broken and crying, and said that her mother is in the hospitalwith a growing tumor. She asked what she could take upon herself to help. Again, I advised that the entire family learn two Halachot of Shemirat Halashon every day. Two days later she returned and asked of me to tell her story and the miracle that happened. She said that the entire family gathered and decided to learn two Halachot daily and two days later they received a phone call from the hospital saying to come and pick up the mother, the tumor is gone and she is in good health.

I hear many miracles such as these.
And now, we should all take upon ourselves, bli neder, to learn two Halachot of Shemirat Halashon every day and pray with great kavana. A prayer that comes from the heart through a holy mouth is immediately accepted by Boreh-Olam and prevents many troubles and tragedies and brings Yeshua to the world.In the future, each one of us will be shown how many wonderful doings, how many people we saved. And thanks to you, my dear righteous women and girls, we will have the Zechut to bring Mashiah Tzidkeinu soon in our days.
Yehi Ratzon that Hashem will fulfill all of your wishes for the best,
B. Kanyevsky

B"H we should all be successful with giving our fellow brothers and sisters the benefit of the doubt and guarding our mouthes from speaking about anything improper, and b"H all of tefillot should be accepted and answered l'tova! :)