Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Right Choice

I'm a big fan of games. Board games, video games, computer games, and...
mind games.
Even more so, I'm a fan of "if you HAD to choose..."
Some of my friends and I joke around -- like "if you had to choose between having 2 noses or 4 ears, which would you choose?"

Sometimes, a serious one pops up. I remember my best friend and I having that discussion many moons ago. It was an externally quiet night, but if my inner-turmoil could be heard, the noise would be pretty deafening.

We were taking a walk and decided to sit down on a nearby bench and spill our hearts out to each other. We were both overcoming messy break-ups/relationships and were just...
miserable. Heartbroken. Forlorn.
She was thinking of her mister, and I was thinking of Mr. Sir (if any of my long-time readers remember him from previously deleted posts...yep, it's the same Mr. Sir.)
My best friend and I looked into each other's eyes. Our heads slightly bent to the side. One of us popped the question: "if you had to get married & spend your life with one guy that you know...any guy that you know - who would you choose?"
Ironically enough, she chose her mister, and I chose Mr. Sir. A decision made despite both of them doing the salsa, cha-cha, and macarena dance all over our hearts and leaving us to suffer.
"Why would you choose him?" She asked.
"Well, I suppose out of everyone I've dated, he's the one I've felt most secure and comfortable with, and I was & still am very emotionally connected to him."
She nodded in agreement. And we sat in silence for a while.
I've had happier evenings.

Yep. It was gloomy. I remember the feeling so vividly...the feeling strikes me inside, somewhere...maybe my neshama. It's like this stinging feeling combined with cringing and butterflies.
If that makes sense.

FFWD to many moons later...AKA now/not too long ago.
The same question came up in my mind. Except, my outlook is different, and therefore, my answer has changed.
Mr. Sir is gone. Thankfully, he's not a motivating factor for much in my life anymore. I've come to realize that my reasons for choosing him were entirely self-centered. I felt secure. I felt emotionally connected. I felt comfortable. But what about him? A relationship can't be based on one person. It takes two. As cheesy and cliche as it may sound, nevertheless, it takes two to become one.
And so, I started thinking about the list: out of all the guys I know and dated, who would I choose?
And so I thought...
and thought...
and reminisced...
-the rich ones
-the physically attractive ones
-the very frum ones
-the intelligent ones
-the rebellious ones/bad-boy-types

and I realized...NO. I wouldn't choose any of them.
The one I'd choose is the one who had amazing middot. Who was kind, understanding, giving, caring, sensitive, warm, and friendly. The one who treated me like a person and respected me, and as a result, made me feel comfortable. He was interested in me...for me. He genuinely appreciated me. Not for artificial reasons.
The one I'd choose would be that one. The one who every time he sees me, he stops to say hello and wishes me well. The one who I'm 100% sure prayed for me, regardless of the fact that I was the heartbreaker who (perhaps, prematurely) ended the relationship.

For all the singles out there, I think it's beneficial to ponder: who would you choose? And why?
Your reasoning is very important because it'll help direct you with prioritizing your "list". It'll make you realize what really counts in a spouse, and what you should really be focusing on when you're dating.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


I was doing some self-reflection lately (as usual -- sometimes I wish I could just press the OFF button for a few minutes), and I realized that my outlook towards dating has changed a lot throughout the past year or so.

So what's the result of this metamorphosis?

Well, overall, I'm a much happier, less depressed dater. Here's why:

1) Emunah in HaKadosh Baruch Hu
I realized that when I just commenced on my dating journey, I thought I had emunah in HaShem, but I really didn't. Sure, I was davening, but I felt a certain amount of disdain and discomfort before and after a date. I had feelings of skeptism and bitterness.

I read an incredible book called Growth Through Tehillim by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin. It shaped my perspective towards emunah, and therefore, having emunah throughout the dating process.

Even though I'm still on the journey, and I'm not sure when I'll meet my zivug, I feel a lot more confident that HaShem is with me. I'm not worried anymore. I know that everyone and everything has a "sha'ah tova" (right timing).

2) Learning Opportunities
I view each date as an opportunity to get to know another fellow Jew and learn something from him. I remember writing about that in the early days of my blog (over a year ago), but I don't think I really internalized that concept.
I now have a mental list of at least one new thought/fact/inspiration/halacha that each person I've dated has taught me.
For example, one guy told me that it's halacha to wash your hands before davening. I kinda knew that before, but I barely followed it. But after he mentioned it, I decided to take it upon myself. (Okay, I admit that I didn't do much research after he told me that -- but either way, he taught me something & had a positive influence on me.)

3) No More Settling
I often felt like I was settling (on hashkafah, religious level, physical appearance, age, etc.) and I realized that settling isn't exactly helping anyone. It was hurting both my dates and myself.
So why was I settling??
Because I allowed shadchanim to push me. I had a problem with saying "no", which led me to 1st and 2nd dates that I was dreading, and negative feelings towards both shadchanim and dating, in general.
I'm still working on it, but I've learned to say NO to shadchanim...no matter how much they push. Regardless if they're rude or tell me I'm being too picky. I've learned to stop giving pity 1st, 2nd, or 3rd dates. I've learned not to give pity dates solely because I feel guilty rejecting the person and think that mayyyybe there's a 1% chance that it will work out between us.

I now have my set list of what I'm looking for. The list doesn't consists of dealbreakers; the list consists of what I AM looking for. Positive connotation.
There are qualities I will absolutely not settle for. Shadchanim have gotten upset, and so have the guys. And I'm sorry. Be'emet. I don't want to hurt or frustrate anybody.
But honestly, this is MY life. At the end of the day, I'm the one who will have to deal with the person; it's going to be my marriage -- not the shadchan's. Nobody has the right to tell me what to do (except HaShem, and in certain cases - my Rabbi and Parents.)

I realize that might sound somewhat arrogant, but I'm a stubborn (read: determined :D) person, and I don't appreciate other people running my life.

4) Refer To A Friend
Whenever a match is suggested to me, or after a date that I clearly know is not for me, or after I hear of/meet a new shadchan, I carefully try to think if any of my single friends would be interested. If so, I refer them to the Shadchan/the guy. B"H I have set up quite a few friends, and one of them recently got engaged. :)

B"H being a happier dater has definitely contributed to me being a much happier person.

May we all have the clarity to make the right decisions regarding dating and marriage!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Wake Up Calls

A dear reader of mine recently addressed the tragedies that have taken place over the past 2 weeks or so. The murder of the Fogel family, the tsunami in Japan, conflict in Egypt & Libya, etc.
As per yesterday, the bombing in Jerusalem has, unfortunately, been added to that list.

I (hope) many are wondering - what's going on? Why is this happening? What is the purpose that HaShem is making these events happen?
Afterall, nothing is by chance, and there's Hashgacha Pratit (Divine Providence) with EVERYTHING in the world - from "minor things" like plants growing to major world events and politics.
(See somewhat related post here)

(Just a preface to what I'm about to share: the word "olam" (world) has the shoresh of Ayin.Lamed.Mem. - which means "hidden". The essence of this world is that there're matters that are hidden to us. That means that we never know all of the facts, and we're merely viewing a few seconds out of the 5 hour movie. Our perception is blurred, and we're missing a lot of the facts -- which will remain hidden until HaShem reveals them to us in Olam Haba. So when we delve into the meaning behind these tragedies, we can never know the full story. We can suggest possibilities and try our best to perceive the limited version. We have yet to fully understand G-d's ways.)

My friend shared the following powerful mashal with me:

there was a man whose only son was gravely ill. He rushed his dear son to the hospital, and the doctors operated on the son and tried their best. The father was crying, panicking, and praying. He would give anything to see his son live and be healthy.

The doctors could only find one solution to the son's illness. A nearly unheard of solution, but nonetheless, it was a cure! So, one doctor approached the worried father and said "sir, your son is going to live...but under one condition. It's a very difficult condition, but are you willing to do it?"

"Of course! Anything!" was the anxious response.

The doctor instructed "your son can not sleep at all this whole week. If he falls asleep, it's a sure thing that he will die. After a week, bring him in for a check up, but until then, you must do everything in your power to make sure he doesn't fall asleep - or else, unfortunately, he will pass away."

The father was determined to do everything in his might to take care of his beloved son and make sure he lives. He took his son home and purposely didn't let him change into pjamas. He gave him sweets and caffeine in order to keep him awake. Eventually, in the AM hours, his son got very sleepy. The son went to bed, and the father yelled "No! Son, you can't sleep! You might die if you sleep. Please, I love you. I can't lose you. It's very important that you do not sleep."
The child was startled by the news, and he tried his best to stay awake.

But his body wasn't responding. He had a tremendous urge to sleep. His body felt weak, and he couldn't keep his eyes open. He snuck into bed and began to shut his eyes and fall asleep. His father noticed, and he followed him and took off his blanket. The son was cold. "Dad, you're so mean! Stop! Give me back my blanket. Let me sleep! I'm so tired."

At this point, he was too tired to understand what was going on - his body was tired. He wanted to sleep!

After a while without the blanket, the son got comfortable and got used to laying down without a blanket - and was falling asleep. The father yelled "no!" and took away the pillow.

The son began crying. "Why are you being so mean, Dad? Let me sleep! I don't care. Please, give me back my pillow! I just want to sleep."

It hurt the father so much to see his son in pain, but he didn't want to lose his son.

Eventually, the son became comfortable because he got used to laying down without a pillow, and he began falling asleep. The father quickly picked up his son and put him on the cold floor. Again, his son began crying and screaming "Dad, you're so mean! Why are you doing this to me? I said I don't care what happens if I sleep. I just want to sleep!"

The father didn't know what to do. Didn't his son realize how comfort is not the main priority at the moment?

The father began crying and realized that he can't hurt his son. He loves his son too much - he can't hurt him, but he also can't let him sleep. So, he decided to hire professionals to keep his son awake. The professionals came, but they weren't as nice and caring as the father. They spilled cold water on the son, they hit him, they beat him - anything to make sure he stayed awake, so that he wouldn't die.

The son continously cried, yelled, and felt tortured. Could life get any worse?

In the end, the son didn't fall asleep for a few days, and he was cured! He then understood how all of the pain and difficulty of being abused and forced to stay awake is what kept him alive.

Not quite a story you hear every day, right?

The nishmal is that HaShem is our Father. Chazal teach us that originally, G-d wanted to give the neshamot instant Gan Eden, but the neshamot complained that they don't want a freebie. They want to earn the reward. So, HaShem puts us in this world and tells our neshamot to "keep the mitzvot, follow My Torah, love your fellow Jews..."

But our neshamot come into this world and start getting comfortable. We get used to our lifestyle. We see that we don't get struck by lightning when we commit a wrong deed. We see that life goes on and no major tragedy occurs, and therefore, we continue following in our own ways. We close our eyes.

HaShem, like the father in the story, knows that we can't become too comfortable or else we'll "fall asleep" (sin). If we fall asleep, we can, chas v'shalom die. (If we sin our whole lives -- we miss out on olam haba! We won't get our reward.) We can't get olam haba if we sin our whole lives! So, He sends us wake up calls - but gently. Just like the father wasn't abusing the son, rather he was gently taking away his blanket and pillow. But nothing major. So HaShem makes tragedies happen in Japan or Afgahnistan - far away from the Jews. As a wake up call. (I've heard in a shiur, perhaps the Rabbi quoted a Gemara -- I don't remember -- that whenever a tragedy occurs in the world, it's a wake up call for the Jews to do teshuva. The tragedy was really intended for us, but HaShem has mercy on us.)

So, the wake up call works for a while. But then...it fades. We get comfortable without the pillow and blanket. We continue sinning.

So HaShem says "okay...you're My children...even though it's for your benefit, it's too difficult for Me to hurt you." So He hires "professionals." The Satan gets involved and sends our enemies...the Arabs, or whoever else. And they send us direct wake up calls. They come too close for comfort.

We think these events are so horrible - and yes, they are. They're painful - but ultimately, everything is for our benefit. To keep us AWAKE and not lose focus and get too comfortable doing averot. Adversity shakes us. It reminds us that we're not here forever. This world is transient.

One might find the transient concept to be depressing, but it's not. On the contrary! It's a reassuring thought. It's positive reinforcement: we have the potential to change. To grow. To do more mitzvot. To take on at least one new good deed - be it shmirat halashon, studying more Torah, standing up for our parents at least once a day as part of kibud Av v'Em, greeting people with a smile, giving maaser/tzdaka, saying kriyat shema before going to sleep, etc. Anything that will help us grow closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu! He wants a relationship with us, and He wants us to have a relationship with our fellow brothers and sisters.

These holy Jews who were murdered simply because they're Jewish have done a Kiddush HaShem and are instantly in Gan Eden right now. I have no doubt about that. So we're not worried for them -- their neshamot are doing well. But we need to worry about our own neshamot...because we're still here, and we need to make our time productive...while we still can.
B"H, not one Jew was not killed. Most were not severely injured. However, some were. And it is our responsibility to daven for them to have a speedy recovery. "Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh L'Zeh"
Now's our opportunity to show HaShem how much we care.
The names of the injured victims:
Leah Bracha bas Shoshana Basya
Sara Nechama bas Rus Malka
Odelia Neshama bas Michal
Shilo ben Zahava Ofra
Daniel Yehuda ben Rochel Nurit
Elchonon Ovadia ben Eilona
Yisroel ben Dina
Nosson Daniel ben Shulamis
Shaindel bat Raizel

B"H may we all have clarity to always see the right path, follow that path, and stay on the right path!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Modern Day Purim Miracle

Can a couple still have children after 33 years waiting and praying for a first child?

Yup. Baruch HaShem! This should teach us all that we should never give up hope, and anything is possible for HaShem, Who is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.

Article below:

For 33 years, the Rebbe of the Mevakshei Emunah Hasidism in Jerusalem prayed for a miracle that would help his wife become pregnant and give him a son.

On Friday it almost happened: At the age of 52, Rabbi Yoel Kahn's wife gave birth to twin girls, which brought him a lot of happiness but not the heir he had been waiting for.

Rabbi Kahn and his wife, both offspring of noble ultra-Orthodox families, were married in Jerusalem in 1978 and settled in the neighborhood of Mea Shearim. They tried to conceive a child for years, but were unsuccessful despite dozens of fertility treatments and the family members' prayers.

Rebbe wasn't worried
Rabbi Kahn is the younger brother of the leaders of the Toldot Aharon and Toldot Avraham Yitzhak Hasidism, whose members are nicknamed "zebras" due to their striped coats. Thirteen years ago he founded his own small Hasidism, called Mevakshei Emunah.

The Hasidism is comprised of only 30 families, but every week the Rebbe visits a different community in Israel in a bid to recruit followers, and so many people across the country were aware of the couple's attempts to conceive and prayed for the fertility treatments' success.

All that time, the Rebbe himself was not worried. His followers say he was convinced he would eventually become a father. According to rumors in the Hasidism, before his death the Rebbe's father promised his son that he would have children.

'It's a Purim miracle'
Eventually, the Rebbetzin became pregnant and gave birth to twin girls at the age of 52, after 33 years of infertility. The babies were born on pregnancy week 31 and were immediately placed in an incubator.

According to sources in the Hasidism, the rabbi's wife initially carried three fetuses – two girls and a boy – but the boy did not survive.

Rabbi Kahn's Hasidim rushed to the hospital to celebrate the joyous occasion with drinks and dances. "It's a Purim miracle," one of them said. "We are called 'Mevakshei Emunah' (faith seekers), and now we see that three decades of faith did help."

Another Hasid explained that "today fertility treatments are not such a big deal in the haredi sector, and anyone who needs them can do it. Judaism wants us to try to have children, and even if people don't talk about it – it's clear to everyone that treatments were involved."

And what about a successor to lead the Hasidism after the Rebbe's death? The Hasidim are not giving up and hope Rabbi Kahn will still have a son. "You can have children till the age of 55," one of them says. "We continue to pray with complete faith that our rabbi will also be blessed with a son."

A Boot Tale

It was only October, but it was getting chilly, and I knew that it was time to purchase nice, new flat boots.
I went into a store and tried on beautiful boots. I looked at them with lovie dovie eyes. Oh, boots, how nice you look! Modest and fancy. Bold yet subtle. Fashionable yet quiet.
I looked at the price and debated. They were pricey. The small rational voice popped in my head and nudged: come on! It's for shidduchim.

You are so right, Ms. Voice-in-my-head.

I bought them with a smile. Left the store with a smile. And came home with a smile. (Am I too materialistic? Hmmm.)

I had a date a week later. I proudly donned the boots. FAIL
FFWD to the next week. FAIL
FFWD again. FAIL
and again.
and again.
and again.
and again.

The boots were crying to me. Oh, all we've done is parade around many different places and boroughs, and now, we're getting old. Our color is fading. The material isn't as shiny as it once was.

My friend and I were talking on the phone about clothing (of course), and she told me about a new pair of beige boots she bought. She envisioned wearing them while dating her hubby. But no. She didn't meet him yet. And her boots are not staying clean.
"yeah, I know what you mean. My boots were reserved for Mr. Right, but now they're slowly deteriorating."

I partially joked with her that HaShem should please send us our zivugim while our boots are still alive and well!

The next day I texted her "my boots aren't getting any younger."

If I recall correctly, her response was along the lines of "!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Gotta love my friendies!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Coming Home From Ramallah

The following story gave me the chills. (By the way, I don't often get 'the chills')

The power of the neshama is AMAZING!

(This is an aish article)

After the concluding prayer, Dan quickly walked to the front of the shul in Jerusalem, said "Good Shabbos" to the rabbi and a few other people he knew, and at once made his way toward the back. Time to get home and make Kiddush for the family.

On his way out, a sudden impulse struck him and he turned around to watch the people filing out. His eyes slowly scanned the shul. Was there anyone who needed a place to eat? "Who's that sitting toward the side wall? I know almost everyone here, and I don't believe he's been here before."

Dan approached the young man, scanning him with an experienced eye. Dungarees, backpack, dark skin, curly black hair -- looks Sephardi, maybe Moroccan.

A moment more for consideration, and he was moving toward the boy with his hand extended in welcome. "Good Shabbos. My name is Dan Eisenblatt. Would you like to eat at my house tonight?"

The young man's face broke in an instant from a worried look to a toothy smile. "Yeah, thanks. My name is Machi." The young man picked up his backpack, and together they walked out of the shul.

A few minutes later they were all standing around Dan's Shabbos table. As soon as the family started singing Shalom Aleichem, Dan noticed that his guest wasn't singing along. "Maybe he's shy, or can't sing," he surmised. The guest gave another one of his toothy smiles and followed along, limping badly but obviously trying his best.

Even after the meal began and the guest had relaxed somewhat, he still seemed a bit fidgety and was mostly silent. Dan picked up the signal and kept the conversation general, and centered his remarks on the weekly Torah portion, mixed with small talk about current events.

Is there a song you want to sing? I can help if you're not sure about the tune.After the fish, Dan noticed his guest leafing through his songbook, apparently looking for something. He asked with a smile, "Is there a song you want to sing? I can help if you're not sure about the tune."

The guest's face lit up, a startling change. "There is a song I'd like to sing, but I can't find it here. I really liked what we sang in the synagogue tonight. What was it called? Something ‘dodi.'"

Dan paused for a moment, on the verge of saying, "It's not usually sung at the table," but then he caught himself. "If that's what the kid wants," he thought, "what's the harm?" Aloud he said, "You mean Lecha Dodi. Wait, let me get you a siddur."

Once they had sung Lecha Dodi, the young man resumed his silence until after the soup, when Dan asked him, "Which song now?"

The guest looked embarrassed, but after a bit of encouragement said firmly, "I'd really like to sing Lecha Dodi again."

Dan was not really all that surprised when, after the chicken, he asked his guest what song now, and the young man said, "Lecha Dodi, please." Dan almost blurted out, "Let's sing it a little softer this time, the neighbors are going to think I'm nuts," but thought better of it.

Finally it got to be too much for Dan. "Don't you want to sing something else?" he suggested gently.

His guest blushed and looked down. "I just really like that one," he mumbled. "Just something about it -- I really like it." In all, they must have sung "The Song" eight or nine times. Dan wasn't sure -- he lost count.

Later, when they had a quiet time to talk, Dan said, "I was just wondering, we haven't had more than a few moments to chat. Where are you from?"

The boy looked pained, then stared down at the floor and said softly, "Ramallah."

Dan's heart skipped a beat. He was sure he'd heard the boy say "Ramallah," a large Arab city on the West Bank. Quickly he caught himself, and then realized that he must have said Ramleh, an Israeli city. Dan said, "Oh, I have a cousin there. Do you know Ephraim Warner? He lives on Herzl Street."

The young man shook his head sadly. "There are no Jews in Ramallah."The young man shook his head sadly. "There are no Jews in Ramallah."

Dan gasped. He really had said "Ramallah"! His thoughts were racing. Did he just spend Shabbos with an Arab? Wait a minute! Take a deep breath and let's get this straightened out. Giving his head a quick shake he told the boy, "I'm sorry, I'm a bit confused. And now that I think of it, I haven't even asked your full name. What is it, please?"

The boy looked terrified for a moment, then squared his shoulders and said quietly, "Machmud Ibn-esh-Sharif."

Machmud was looking even more terrified now; obviously he could tell what Dan was thinking. Hurriedly he said, "Wait! I'm Jewish. I'm just trying to find out where I belong."

Dan stood there speechless. What could he say?

Machmud broke the silence hesitantly: "I was born and grew up in Ramallah. I was taught to hate my Jewish oppressors, and to think that killing them was heroism. But I always had my doubts. I mean, we were taught that the Sunna, the tradition, says, 'No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.' I used to sit and wonder, Weren't the Yahud (Jews) people, too? Didn't they have the right to live the same as us? If we're supposed to be good to everyone, how come nobody includes Jews in that?

"I asked these questions to my father, and he threw me out of the house. Just like that, with nothing but the clothes on my back. By now my mind was made up: I was going to run away and live with the Yahud, until I could find out what they were really like."

Machmud continued:

"I snuck back into the house that night, to get my things and my backpack. My mother caught me in the middle of packing. She looked pale and upset, but she was quiet and gentle to me, and after a while she got me to talk. I told her that I wanted to go live with the Jews for a while and find out what they're really like, and maybe I would even want to convert.

"She was turning more and more pale while I said all this, and I thought she was angry, but that wasn't it. Something else was hurting her, and she whispered, 'You don't have to convert. You already are a Jew.'

She whispered: "You don't have to convert. You already are a Jew." "I was shocked. My head started spinning, and for a moment I couldn't speak. Then I stammered, 'What do you mean?'

"'In Judaism,' she told me, 'the religion goes according to the mother. I'm Jewish, so that means you're Jewish.'

"I never had any idea my mother was Jewish. I guess she didn't want anyone to know. She sure didn't feel too good about her life, because she whispered suddenly, 'I made a mistake by marrying an Arab man. In you, my mistake will be redeemed.'

"My mother always talked that way, poetic-like. She went and dug out some old documents, and handed them to me: things like my birth certificate and her old Israeli ID card, so I could prove I was a Jew. I've got them here, but I don't know what to do with them.

"My mother hesitated about one piece of paper. Then she said, 'You may as well take this. It is an old photograph of my grandparents, which was taken when they went looking for the grave of some great ancestor of ours. They went up north and found the grave, and that's when this picture was taken.'"

Dan gently put his hand on Machmud's shoulder. Machmud looked up, scared and hopeful at the same time. Dan asked, "Do you have the photo here?"

The boy's face lit up. ""Sure! I always carry it with me." He reached in his backpack and pulled out an old, tattered envelope.

This grave was in the old cemetery in Tzfat, and the inscription identified it as the author of Lecha Dodi. Dan gingerly took the photo from the envelope, picked up his glasses, and looked carefully at it. The first thing that stood out was the family group: an old-time Sephardi family from the turn of the century.

Then he focused on the grave they were standing around. When he read the gravestone inscription, he nearly dropped the photo. He rubbed his eyes to make sure. There was no doubt. This was a grave in the old cemetery in Tzfat, and the inscription identified it as the grave of the great Kabbalist and tzaddik Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz -- the author of "Lecha Dodi."

Dan's voice quivered with excitement as he explained to Machmud who his ancestor was. "He was a friend of the Arizal, a great Torah scholar, a tzaddik, a mystic. And Machmud, your ancestor wrote that song we were singing all Shabbos: Lecha Dodi!"

This time it was Machmud's turn to be struck speechless. Dan slowly stood up from the bed, still in awe about what had happened. He extended his trembling hand and said, "Welcome home, Machmud. Now how about picking a new name for yourself."

Postscript: Machmud changed his name and enrolled in yeshiva in Jerusalem, where he studied diligently to "catch up" on his Jewish education. He got married to a nice Jewish girl, and gained popularity as a lecturer, recounting his dramatic story. He eventually had to flee Israel, due to threats against his life by members of his Arab family.

Reprinted with permission from "Monsey, Kiryat Sefer, and Beyond," (http://www.targum.com/store/Roth.html) by Zev Roth (Targum Press, 2002). The story is true; the names have been changed.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

So, nuuu??? Where are my tefillot going???

Some of you might've had a great davening yesterday. Or maybe last week. Maybe last year. 2 years ago? But if you ever had a GREAT davening, you REMEMBER it. "Oh boy, how I cried that day to my Father in Heaven." Or "wow, I remember that time when I read the whole sefer Tehillim" or the whole section of "Yom Rishon" in Tehillim, or maybe the first time you read Perek Shira or Shir Hashirim or Iggeret HaRamban. Or perhaps that day that you were quite meticulous with shmoneh esreh and enounciated all the words clearly, didn't allow your thoughts to drift to irrelevant matters, and had all of the right kavanot.
Point is - everyone remembers the enthusiastic times.
And yet - some of us might wonder, wait a minute...when did I ever get answered?

Maybe you cried and prayed with INTENSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSEEEE kavana asking for your special holy zivug hagun, and what happened?? A shadchan called you the next day and...suggested a person who is totally not shayach! HaShem, what's up with that? What's going on?

(Or better yet, the shadchan suggests someone who you go out with, think is amazing, but OH WAIT he's not interested. Hypothetically, of course.) :D

Rabbi Fischel Shachter told over a beautiful story. There was a frum gal who, like just about all of the single frum ladies in their early 20s, wanted to get married. A relative of hers told her "Chanale, Purim is coming up. You know that Purim is a huge zman tefillah - it's an amazing opportunity for HaShem to answer your tefillot. Pray with much kavana." Chana was inspired to pray that Purim. She had so much to ask for, particularly--her special zivug. She recited the whole book of Tehillim, prayed Shemoneh Esreh, and davened everything carefully and with MUCH kavana.
After Purim, she was certain her tefillot went straight to Shamayim and was expecting results soon.
She waited.

And waited.

Right before the next Purim was approaching, her relative called her, again. "Chanale, remember - Purim is such an important and special day for prayer! Pray. Pray your heart out."
Chana, a bit disheartened from dating, still had emunah. She was determined to pray intensely, and thought, "THIS Purim will be my last Purim as a single lady."
And so, Purim came.
She prayed. The whole sefer Tehillim! Again. She made sure to concentrate and clearly recite all of the precious words. She felt so connected to HaKadosh Baruch Hu.
Purim was over. Chana was on a high. She was sure HaShem wouldn't let her down. She envisioned meeting her zivug any day that week...or next week...or perhaps in a few months. But SOON.
She was already envisioning her wedding.
much like the year before, no zivug. No engagement. No Wedding. No husband.

Well, next Purim was approaching. Her relative called her and told her a third time - "Chanale! Purim is so soon. Remember to daven!!! DAVEN!!!!"

C'mon, really? She said the whole sefer Tehillim last Purim. And the Purim before that.
She had so much kavana during shacharit, mincha, etc. She was happy. She cried. She had spent the whole day praying! Tefillah wise, She had done nearly all that she possibly could on Purim.
And yet...here she was. Still single. Still a half of a whole.

Why was this year going to be different?
She didn't give up, though. She prayed that Purim. Again, the whole sefer Tehillim, with much kavana.

And some time before the next Purim, she found her zivug. They dated, got engaged, and got married.

A year later, Purim was approaching again, and she was now happily preparing Mishloach Manot with her husband. She gazed at him and smiled.
"You know, Purim is the reason we got married." She said.

Her husband looked very surprised and told her "wait a minute, I never told you the story about Purim? How did you know that?"

Chana listened anxiously, as her husband unfolded his secret journey:
"I wasn't always the same person that you know today. I used to be different. As you know, I grew up frum, but around 5 years ago, I started hanging out with the wrong crowd. Unfortunately, Torah and mitzvot were no longer prevalent in my life.
Purim was approaching, and I wasn't planning on celebrating it at all. My friends and I passed a Beit Midrash, and we saw people dancing, singing, and celebrating. My friends sneered and said 'let's join and get crazy drunk.'
So, we went inside. I was just planning to have a couple of drinks and leave, but suddenly, I felt my neshama bursting out. My friends wanted to leave, but I stayed. I rejoiced in Purim and felt HaShem again. I cried out 'HaShem, please keep me away from the people who are drawing me away from You! I want to walk in the right Jewish path again!'
I was determined to become a better person.

However, my resolution didn't last for long. I found myself back on the streets with the wrong crowd.
Next Purim came, and at night, as my friends and I were on the streets, a bunch of bachurim were celebrating and saw us. They figured out that we're Jewish and joyously escorted us with them to the Shul. As we were dancing, just like the year before, I felt the holiness of Purim again. My heart stirred, and I wanted to yell 'HaShem, make me close to You again! Please keep me away from the evil path of life!"
I was so set on disinvolving myself from my bad influences. I told myself: 'I will be better now! I'm a changed man.'

But similar to the year before, I went back to my old ways.
I was lost and caught up again by my yetzer hara.

Soon enough it was Purim again. Lo and behold, I found my way back into a Shul again. I had more fire in me than ever before. I felt HaShem, and now I was beyond determined. I prayed to Him that I find guidance and the right derech. The last 2 years didn't stick but...
baruch HaShem, I stayed on the derech that year. I became fully frum again and worked on myself, constantly growing better.

Once I was solid in my fundamentals, I was ready to get married. And then HaShem sent you to me."
Now, I don't really know what Chana responded after that part. But I can imagine that she was like WHOA. So my tefillot WERE working -- I was praying, not just to meet him, but for him to reach the state of maturity and readiness to truly be my zivug.
Finally, she received closure for all the lack of clarity that existed during those bitter periods of singlehood.

When I heard this story (the 2nd time), I was really moved. A lot of times we pray with sincere and intense kavana. We beg HaShem and pour our hearts out, and after we're finished, we're 100% positive that we've made an impression and a change will soon occur in our lives.
And yet...
we find ourselves stuck in the same position, with our predicament not changing.
However, our predicament IS changing - we just don't see the results yet. When Chana was praying for her zivug, she had no idea that he wasn't ready yet. She was praying for herself. And when she didn't see results for HERSELF, she felt a sense of failure.
But failure is far from the reality! Had she not prayed, who knows when her zivug would've been ready? By praying for herself, she was really praying for the well-being of her other half.

She thought her tefillot weren't being answered, but they were. And what would have happened if she had just stopped praying? Perhaps her zivug would have never been ready. Or would have became ready 10 years later.
Her strong tefillot every single Purim are what led her zivug to reach his true potential and become worthy of meeting her at the most appropiate time possible.

This Taanit Esther & Purim, we have an amazing opportunity. We can pray for Klal Yisrael, for ourselves, our families, shalom bayit, parnassah, zivugim, refua shlemah, doing teshuva, mashiach, etc.!
Purim day is one of the biggest days (if not the ultimate day) for Tefillah. In fact, Yom Kippur, such a holy day -- is compared to Purim. "Yom Kippur" is "Yom K'Purim" - a day LIKE Purim.
We have the potential to reach the highest heights of closeness to HaKadosh Baruch Hu. We don't have to be Rabbanim or huge tzadikim to reach this lofty height. We just need to be willing to pray and form a connection. If we do, there's no limit to the impact we can make.
Even if we don't see the impact right away, that doesn't mean that HaShem is not "working" on your case. HaShem runs the world, and He knows what He's doing! We must never feel disheartened. There is ALWAYS a solution and "refua" waiting. Remember, HaShem never creates the maka (plague) without the refua (salavation/recovery).

This story also works well with the concept of nistar. HaShem's Name isn't mentioned even once in the Megillah, yet if we delve more closely, He's alluded to in EVERY SINGLE pasuk!
On Purim, we dress up in costumes. If a person wears an animal mask and furry outfit, he's barely recognizable. But is that person still the same person inside? Of course! On the surface, his identity is hidden, but if one looks deeper - he'll see that the man behind the animal mask, in fact, his friend.
That's the concept of "nistar" - HaShem is hidden from us, but it doesn't mean that His essence of goodness is not here. He's always with us, we just need to take a closer look and find Him in our every day lives.
There is NEVER a hopeless situation. Please remember that in regards to whatever problem it is that you're dealing with in life!

May all of our Tefillot be answered l'tova, and may the holiness of chodesh Adar and Purim bring us all closer to HaShem! :)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Holding Back

That's what I've been doing. You see, I have tons of posts just BEGGING me to click the "publish post" orange box thingy.
But...I can't. I'm not sure my editor would approve.

Yet, the thought still lingers. To post or not to post, that is the question.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Quote Of The Day :)

"The important thing is... to be ready at any
moment, to sacrifice the person you are for the person who you could become."
-- Charles DuBois

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 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!