Friday, January 21, 2011

Ezehu Gibor?

"Greatness lies in how we resolve conflicts - in using our free will to grow - not to quit. To face reality - not to escape. To live and not to die. When we escape problems, we escape the chance of becoming great. It's a constant battle every moment of our lives."
-Rav Noach Weinberg z"tl

Shabbat shalom!

Friday, January 14, 2011

HaShem runs the world

A friend of mine shared a beautiful insight with me:
there's no such thing as a possibility of 50%. There're only two percentages that exist. Everything in life is either 0% or 100%. Either HaShem wants it for you - or He doesn't! Something can scale at 0% today but be 100% tomorrow. And vice versa. That is to show us that we're fully dependent on HaShem, and He controls the world.

This Shabbat is b"H "Shabbat Shira" -- the "shira" reference is from this week's Parsha; in Parshat Beshalach, Bnei Yisrael sang "Az Yashir" to thank G-d for the miracle of kriyat yam suf (splitting of the reed sea). Chazal teach us that making matches/dating/finding your spouse is likened to kriyat yam suf. It's just as arduous to find that right guy (or gal) --as it is to split the sea.
But wait!
How on earth is that possible? Afterall, NOTHING is difficult for HaShem. He doesn't "sweat"! He's All Mighty. He's all powerful. He's the Master-Of-The-Universe. The splitting of the sea isn't any more difficult for HaShem than creating a wind breeze for a second.
So how can shidduchim be difficult for Him???
The answer is that shidduchim ARE easy for HaShem to make; Chazal are not referring to HaShem's actual matching and formation of shidduchim. Rather, they're referring to emunah! Just like it was difficult for Bnei Yisrael to keep up their emunah in HaShem when they were faced with tons of Egyptian soldiers and had nowhere to run, so too it is difficult to have emunah in HaShem when one is looking for his or her spouse.
When faced with adversity, people can begin to have misconceptions about the solution. For example: I'll only find my zivug when I meet this well-known-shadchan-who-made-100-matches, when I lose x amount of weight, when I have a higher paying job, etc. That mentality is flawed. That person is placing his emunah in the shadchan and his own power...not HaShem's power! We need to know that although we must do our hishtadlut, ultimately, it is HaShem who sends us our zivugim! It's either 100% or 0%; either He thinks it's the right time for us, or He doesn't.

Around a year ago, I attended a wonderful shiur about this parasha that really made a difference in my life. The Rabbi explained that hope is the essence of a successful person. Before the splitting of the sea, many members of Bnei Yisrael panicked -- "what will happen to us??! Will the Egyptians all murder us now?!"
But Nachson ben Aminadav didn't panic; he jumped into the (unsplit) ocean. After he jumped in, the sea split!
His action prompted the miracle because he trusted in HaShem; he KNEW HaShem is helping and will help them. The truly successful individual is the one who knows where his success comes from. If you have hope and emunah in HaShem, you're set. You will do well in school. You will get married. You will have children. You will have a parnassah. Just (as the Journey song preaches) -- "don't stop believing!"

HaShem loves us and is taking care of us, so don't give up! Keep trying with your full 100%.

It's a segulah (especially for finding your zivug) to recite "Az Yashir" in Shul this Shabbat -- Shabbat Shira -- with extra kavana! B"H all of our tefillot should be answered l'tova.

Shabbat shalom :)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Sappy love quote of the day

I found this in my 2007 records...

"Love is like a country you travel across. You reach Love country, and as you travel, you get deeper in love."

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"You've bewitched me, body and soul, and I love, I love, I love you."

(10 virtual chocolate chip cookies if you can guess where the title line is from.)

I'm a fan of period dramas, most of which are based on books.
(My favorites are Washington Square, Jane Eyre, North & South, and Pride & Prejudice.)
I don't remember precisely when my appreciation for these dramas began. Ever since my early teenage years, I delved into the realm of thoughts; life, existence, purpose, and of course, my admiration of truly meaningful relationships. In particular, I remember enjoying these period-dramas during my late high school years. High school was enough of a drag, and I often tuned it out by creating my own exclusive emotional paradise.

What can I say? I'm a hopeless (hopeful?) romantic till the end.

Jane Austen is commonly the most famous of the period-drama authors. All of her storylines, as well as many of the others, often share similar themes:
1) opposites attract
2) first impressions and stereotypes are often misjudgments; there's more to a person than what meets the eye.

The poor gal with the rich guy. The smart, chutzpahdik fair maiden with the proper mannered fellow. The rude, conceited guy who turns out to have many layers to him -- and is in fact a kind-hearted and sensitive individual. The plain-looking gal with the ravishing, wealthy dude.
Those who were at first repulsed by each other eventually become head-over-heels in love, not because of their physical attributes, family, or fortune, rather because of their virtues and morals.

One of my favorite dialogues in Pride and Prejudice:
Mr. Darcy: Miss Elizabeth. I have struggled in vain, and I can bear it no longer. These past months have been a torment. I came to Rosings with the single object of seeing you...I had to see you. I have fought against my better judgment, my family's expectations, the inferiority of your birth by rank and circumstance. All these things I am willing to put aside and ask you to end my agony.
Elizabeth: I don't understand.
Mr. Darcy: I love you. Most ardently. Please do me the honor of accepting my hand.
Elizabeth: Sir, I appreciate the struggle you have been through, and I am very sorry to have caused you pain. Believe me, it was unconsciously done.
Mr. Darcy: Is this your reply?
Elizabeth: Yes, sir.
Mr. Darcy: Are you...are you laughing at me?
Elizabeth: No.
Mr. Darcy: Are you rejecting me?
Elizabeth: I'm sure that the feelings which, as you've told me have hindered your regard, will help you in overcoming it.
Mr. Darcy: Might I ask why, with so little endeavor at civility, I am thus repulsed?
Elizabeth: And I might as well enquire why, with so evident a design of insulting me, you chose to tell me that you liked me against your better judgment.

Do they get married and experience true love in the end?

It might be the storyline, the characters, the raw emotions, the professions of love, the beautiful scenery, or a combination of all the above that hooks me and leads me to wonder...
perhaps misjudgements are often prematurely made in life, especially when it comes to dating. Do people always deserve a second chance? Or do these stories only exist in fantasy, period-drama-novel-movie land?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Are You a Beeper or a Pusher?

Rabbi Fischel Shachter related a touching story. His car got stuck in the middle of a hill in boro park on a Friday afternoon. Cars were honking and beeping at him, and a truck behind him stopped. The driver was a chassidish man, and he asked Rabbi Shachter what the problem is. When he found out that the Rabbi Shachter's brakes stopped, he turned around and said to the drivers: "what are you all waiting for? Get out and push!" And around a dozen men got out and pushed his car all the way to the mechanic.

Rabbi Shachter shared a profound thought that occurred to him at that moment. After 120, when you go up to Shamayim, you will be asked what kind of person you were in this world.
There are two categories: those who honk & beep and those who get out & push.

In other words: are you a person who gets angry, depressed, and frustrated when you deal with adversity, or do you try to make a difference and actively make the best out of your situation?

If someone upsets or offends you, do you get mad at them and lash out at them? Or do you try to give them the benefit of the doubt, do your best to forgive them, and pray for them to have opportunities to do teshuva and grow closer to HaShem?

If you hear that someone is sick, do you just say "aw man, that's too bad" or "that's terrible! Why him?!" or "wow, he needs as many teflliot as he can get! I'm going to say a perek of Tehillim for him." And if you can't say a perek of Tehillim - how about a heartfelt tefillah in your own words? "HaShem, I just heard that my fellow Jew, ploni ben ploni, is ill. How much pain he must be in...
please, G-d, Master of the Universe, send him a speedy and full recovery. Please help him feel better."

There are people who scream. And then there are those who push.

The one who mainly beeps (screams) is just reacting a lot and giving in to his impulses, but l'maaseh, he doesn't DO anything to change his situation for the better. If anything, his negative reaction just make his situation worse and even more disasterous! At that point, he gives into despair. He's pessimistic, he's helpless.
The one who pushes, however, proactively hopes for the better. He has emunah, he prays, he's optimistic, and he fights through the situation, building his character and improving his situation! He knows that everything is for the best and that he can make a change. Nothing is out of the reach of his potential!

You have to keep going in life to get anywhere! Trust in HaShem; He runs the world. He is the best friend you can ever have. He's never too busy for you; He's always there for you...24 hours a day, 7 days a week. He's understanding, merciful, forgiving, kind, giving, and All Mighty. He knows your each and every fiber, thought, and emotion. Your financial situation, your health, your family, your maritial status, your grades at school -- He completely knows your situation; there are no secrets with Him. Nothing is impossible for Him. He loves you more than you can even fathom.

As David Hamelech writes in Tehillim: "G-d is close to all who call upon Him."

Shavua tov :)

Friday, January 7, 2011

Mi K'amcha K'Yisrael?

Baruch HaShem, I recently heard a life changing shiur.

Here's a very moving snippet of the amazing shiur:

A girl asked Rabbi Wallerstein -- "if HaShem loves us so much, then why did He give us 613 restrictions, while the goyim get 7 mitzvot bnei noach? If I had two children, and I loved one more than the other, I would give my beloved, favored son 7 simple chores and give the less loved one 613 chores/commands! So how can you possibly say that mitzvot are treasures and means to get closer to HaShem? How can we possibly enjoy doing them? How are they NOT burdensome?

The Rabbi's beautiful answer:

A big broadway producer, who won many awards and had a prestigious and honorable reputation in show business, was producing a new play that consisted mainly of dancing. During the auditions, she saw dancer, after dancer, after dancer. She didn't see the "wow" factor in any -- they were all ordinary dancers, and she was searching for an amazing dancer. A STAR. All of the sudden, one dancer comes in and WOWS the whole crowd. There were dance moves that were never even seen before, and the choreography was extremely unique. The producer was in awe. She jumped up and excitedly told the dancer "in my 40 years of show business, I have never seen anybody who has so much talent. You've got the part! This play will involve very rigorous dance moves, to show off your incredible talent and stun the audience. It will involve 613 different routines, and out of the three hours that the play consists of, you will be in just about every scene; almost three hours! 613 different moves all in one play! So, are you interested? Are you up for the challenge?"

The dancer thought about it. How she'll be written about in the magazines and receive wonderful reviews from critics. Sure, the rehearsals would be difficult and take a lot of work, but it's worth it! It's such an honor to be selected by a broadway producer and to show your talent to the world.
Every performer wants MORE time on stage. She would be the leader; the star! Of course, she gladly took the part.

The producer called over one of the ordinary dancers who auditioned. "You've got a part in the play. You'll have to practice a few basic dance moves, and basically, you'll perform for 7 seconds out of the 3 hour show. Are you interested?" It was broadway, of course, so she took the part. Afterall, 7 seconds is better than none!

This show went on for 20 years and continued to get great and raving reviews. The producer and dancer became extremely close to each other. She knew the dancer's every move -- when she was upset, when she was happy, which dance move was in which scene, etc. What was the producer's relationship with the 7 second dancer? Existing and significant, but in comparison to the main star, barely comparable!

This is a mashal to our relationship with HaShem. It is a privilege! He went to different nations, and they all said they can't be the main dancer (the main nation) in this play (the world). They asked HaShem what's in the Torah, and when He told them, they declined His offer. So, instead of giving them the Holy Torah with 613 mitzvot, He gave each nation 7 mitzvot.
The last one to audition in the big play, (the 6,000 years of this world), was Am Yisrael. HaShem said "show me your best!" -- and they said "Naaseh veh Nishma." And then HaShem said - "you've got the job! I'll give you 613 movements to practice for the play, and each movement in the dance will bring you closer to Me."

How can one complain that (s)he got the main part in the play, instead of the 7 seconds? One's outlook should be: I want to dance for HaShem every day! Every moment that I possibly can! I want to be on that stage. I want to be the main dancer, the main singer, the main actor. The main star! Who wants the 7 second job?
We need to view mitzvot as absolute treasures. 613 precious treasures. 613 guidelines towards our mission in this world. They're expressions of love for HaShem and appreciation for choosing us to be the Am Segulah. They're not 613 chores, chas v'shalom!

When one has this outlook, how can (s)he ever resent a mitzvah? On the contrary,(s)he looks forward to every mitzvah! (S)he looks forward to take every opportunity to pray, to help someone, to make a bracha, to learn more about Judaism; all in order to form (and keep) a relationship with HaShem.
The Jewe prides himself on good middot and strong emunah. The Jewess is a princess; the Jew is a prince. All of our fellow Jews are fellow princesses and princes and should be treated as such. All because HaShem is our King.

As Rabbi Benzion Klatzko beautifully said in his shiur -- "Judaism is not a religion. It's a relationship!"

With that outlook in mind, what is Shabbat? Shabbat is 25-26 hours of connecting to HaShem on every level! It has all the joys of the world that we can possibly experience, and holiness that is beyond basic comprehension. Shabbat is about tefillah, rest from the MUNDANE of our week (school, work, textbooks, paper, our cell phones, our cars, etc.) in order to focus on what REALLY counts -- olam habah, HaShem, learning Torah, mitzvot, family, spirituality, our neshamot!

May we embrace the Shabbat Queen and our neshama yetera with full ahavah and emunah, and may this chodesh shvat be full of "besorot tovot" - only good news, health, happiness, clarity, and closeness to HaKadosh Baruch Hu!
(Shevat = Shin.Bet.Vet. = "sh'yehiyu be'sorot tovot")

Shabbat shalom u'mevurach! :)

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Fancy meeting you here...

I was doing some winter shopping and spotted a nice hat. I tried it on and modeled it in front of the store's full length mirror. A pretty lady passed by and said "cute hat! Looks great on you." I smiled and thanked her. It's pretty neat how a friendly comment can boost someone's mood.

I continued browsing around, and the same lady stopped me again. She asked me for some clothing advice. We started chatting, and then the question came...
"are you Jewish?"
I was taken aback. In a good way. I mean, usually non-Jews can't tell that I'm Jewish. Due to my dark features, they assume I'm Arab. True. I'm a Jewish Arab. But most people are unaware that there are Jewish Arabs (sefardim/mizrachim.) So, to them, I suppose I'm either Middle Eastern Muslim/Christian or Hispanic looking.
Sometimes it works to my advantage -- like when the Muslim dude at a boutique gave me a discount because he assumed I was Muslim.

"Yes, I am."
"Ohhh, I love youz Jewish girls! I can tell by the way y'all dress. Y'all look so put together and nice."

We started chatting how she knows about frum Jews and stuff. And then IT happened. The dreaded, yet beloved, topic came up: SHIDDUCHIM.
Yes, SHE initiated it.
"I saw a movie...about a religious girl who got matchmade by -- oh man, what's the name of that lady? The one who makes the matches...?"
"A shadchan?"
"Yes! Sha-haan. Anyway, it was so sad because she was forced in da marriage and then falls in love wit someone else! Oh, I just love watching these kind of movies. There's absolutely nothing as amazing in this world as finding your one true soulmate. Your true love." She said it with so much emotion that I knew she was talking from experience.

I nodded. I'm sure it is amazing. *sigh*

Can I really not escape this topic? I looked up. HaShem, You have an AWESOME sense of humor. No matter where I am --- the topic of shidduchim, dating, marriage, etc. simply HAS to come up. At shiurim, with family, with friends, at school, work, home, restaurants, the doctor's office, supermarkets, Shul on the subway, on the plane, when I'm getting a haircut, etc.
But at department stores? Really?
Know what? I'm not even going to ask why.

I continued roaming around the store, newly aware that some people actually know that I'm Jewish. And frum! Woo-hoo! :)

In case anyone is wondering, I bought the hat and some other nice stuffado0o too. It was a shopping success. Now bring on the winter!