Thursday, October 11, 2012

Take a second look

I looked in the mirror.

Here I am.

A young married woman. Wearing a headscarf. Wearing a long sleeved shirt, long skirt, and socks, in the hot summer-like weather.

What do I do? I learn. I daven. I work. I do laundry. I cook. I clean.

I pictured myself...for just a split second...
not on this path. Scary thought.

Who would I be? How would I act? What would I look like?

What are most 20-something year old not-yet-religious or not Jewish gals, my age, doing at this point in life?
Learning: college. Masters. PHD. Pursuing a career.
Partying at night and wearing the latest fashions.
Food is take out or instant soup or cereal.
Laundry? HA! I have no clue how to do laundry. It gets sent out once a month or her mom just does it.
Marriage isn’t really on their mind. Having kids and raising a family definitely isn’t on the list until age 30. At least!
I know. Some of you are thinking about the exceptions to the rule – hey how about this girl I know? She’s not frum, but she’s 25 and wants to get married now.
Sorry. She’s the exception. It’s simply not the norm.
Who’s the typical young woman in secular society? Beautiful, fit, fashionable, goes to the gym, educated with at least two degrees, parties but doesn’t bring her party girl spirit to the work place, open to all experiences, all viewpoints, all people, has a liberal attitude towards life, tech-savvy, sends 200 text messages a day, and of course, has an up-to-date facebook account.

As I gazed more intently into the mirror – I found myself being so grateful to HaShem. Thank YOU HaShem for saving me…I could’ve been so lost. I grew up in that world, in that type of school, social setting, family, etc. where I could be the same age right now, but on a completely different and wrong direction in life. I could be dressing immodestly, posting my pictures on facebook – just to show everyone that I was “out”, having 1000 male friends and very few, if any, real female friends, and being completely lost and trying to fill that emptiness by partying, clubbing, drinking, doing drugs, watching movies, being tech-obsessed,  reading all of the latest magazines and spending a fortune on all of the latest trends, etc.
But no. That’s not my life.  Thank G-d.

All these thoughts passed through my head within seconds.

Later, I shared these thoughts with my husband and said “living that life is simply a completely different reality.”

I said that knowing that's probably what many women would think about me, as well. The "religious reality" vs. actual reality.

But who really has the REAL reality?

He then shared something that made a strong impression on me:
“Sefardi Gal, HaShem gives every individual in this world a certain amount of energy and time. Everyone is going to get tired somehow. At the end of the day, everyone has 24 hours a day. We choose how to spend it.”
That means…
Everyone has to go to work. Everyone has to get dressed. Everyone has to eat, speak, function, etc.
But HOW each individual does these seemingly mundane acts makes the difference between holiness and haughtiness. Clarity and confusion. Fulfilment and emptiness.
So, yes, everyone needs clothing. I need clothes. But what kind of clothes do I wear? Are they modest? Do I wear them just because everyone else does, or because this is truly the way I believe and know that a person is supposed to dress.
Yes, I need to speak and communicate. But what kind of words do I use? Do I speak with a harsh tone, do I go around gossiping, speaking lashon hara, cursing, insulting others, etc.? Or do I speak pleasantly, kindly, honestly, positively?

I’m not sure if I’m conveying the point well enough. It hit me like a ton of bricks.

We are allotted so many gifts in this world. We choose whether to properly use them, abuse them, or not use them at all.
A Jew should always strive to use his gifts as much as possible. To use every emotion, every body part, every status, every part of himself to serve HaShem in the best way possible. To elevate everything and everyone around him. To make mundane acts become wondrous, holy acts that lead him to be closer to HaShem yitbarach.

May we take this outlook and apply it during this incredible new year of 5773. A belated Shana Tova to all!

I will try to update this blog more often, but I must say bli neder because…well…
I’ll be busy doing laundry and cooking aka striving to upgrade the mundane to holiness :D
Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Holy Cow!!!

These awesome words of Torah are mostly from Rabbi Wagensberg.

The seemingly paradoxical nature of the mitzvah of Parah Adumah (red heifer) makes it particularly troublesome. The ashes of the parah adumah were used to purify people who became tameh by coming into contact with a dead body, yet the Cohanim, who prepared the purifying ashes became impure in the process!

What many people don't know, though, is that the Cohen became impure for only ONE day while, with the ashes of the parah adumah, he could made MILLIONs of tameh people to be pure FOREVER.


What a lesson.

Temporary impurity can lead to millions of people becoming pure and staying pure FOREVER.

We must realize that our power to fix things is exponentially greater than our ability to destroy them. One tiny spark of light can dispel vast amounts of darkness because the powers of positive energy in this world are far more potent than the powers of negative energy!

It's never easy to be the first one to do the right move. And sometimes (more often than not - due to our friend and foe, the yetzer hara) the right move even feels like the WRONG move. But when you finally do that right move - it can influence the WHOLE world. Thousands are you. That one moment or that relatively temporary discomfort for you can lead to so, so, so many people growing because of it.

For example, it's never easy to be the first one in a less religious group to become MORE religious or observant. Say, for a example, a bunch of girls who don't dress modestly, or even those who dress somewhat modestly and then suddenly, one decides that she wants to become MORE modest. She decides: you know what? I'm going to wear longer skirts. I'm going to wear looser shirts. I'm going to wear stockings. I'm going to wear darker stockings since clear, nude colored stockings aren't modest according to most opinions that require women to cover their calves. I'm going to wear a mitpachat even though most people wear wigs.

Do her friends, her family, envrionment, etc. ALLOW her to make this decision easily?? Does she feel good RIGHT after she makes the change? Most likely NOT! Yetzer hara will make her feel guilt. Impurity. Difficulty.

Or take a guy, who decides - I'm not going to clubs anymore. I'm not going to hang out with those guys anymore. I'm not going to sleep late anymore and miss minyan. I'm not going to go to movies anymore. (The list is endless!)

Will his friends ALLOW him to make this decision easily? Does he feel good RIGHT after he makes the change? Surprise surprise most likely NOT!!! Yetzer hara will do everything in his power to make him feel impure, guilty, and not worthy.

But every single person who is doing the right thing.... NO EXCEPTIONS... will find that if he or she perserves and continue doing that mitzvah then NOT ONLY will everyone around him or her ACCEPT him but they will ALSO emulate him! Just by that one choice to improve, then in a lifetime, you can influence thousands, even millions, without even realizing!

Never give in just because it's difficult. You will receive tremendous benefit. Spiritual AND physical both in this world and in the next world. It just USUALLY WON'T BE IMMEDIATE!

Amazing, right?! The Cohen becomes "impure" by doing the right thing but helps thousands in the process. And then, of course, he becomes even more pure the next day. Why? Because he did the right thing. Yes, it wasn't easy to become impure. But it was worth it in the long run. He helped himself, by doing Avodat HaShem, as well as helping Klal Yisrael.

To finish off, I'll share a personal story with you. As I've mentioned before, I don't wear any wigs, baruch HaShem. Even though I was sure, for many years, that I wouldn't wear a wig, AND I knew exactly WHY I'm NOT wearing a wig, and I strongly believe in it, I still struggled with it. Afterall, I was used to donning my hair for 20+ years. I was used to that look, that confidence, etc. Baruch HaShem, it got easier and easier with every day.
When I started working, I was unsure how my haircoverings would be received. To be completely honest, I didn't really care or think about Granted, I worked in a Jewish environment, but
a) not everyone there covered their hair
b) almost everyone there who DID cover their hair wore wigs. And these were not women who were wearing plain wigs. They were wearing fancy, lavish, long, & styled wigs.

within a week, I was SHOCKED. At least 5 women came up to me - JUST in the first week - to ask me either...
a) how I have the koach to cover my hair so properly and beautifully
b) where I buy my scarves
c) where THEY can buy the same scarves
d) how THEY can cover their hair like mine

I was truly taken by surprise. I'm only here for one week and this is the impression I've made?

So without ANY gaavah I'm telling you - YES! Whenever a Jew is doing the RIGHT thing and KEEPING the Torah, then (s)he influences those around him or her. No doubt about it.
Yes, more often than not, it's not easy doing the right thing. Torah is not easy.
But who said it's meant to be easy? Who said anything worthwhile in this life is easy?

Anyone remember my favorite quote??
"The purpose of life is not to be comfortable. The Almighty did not put us in this world so that we can cruise through with all the comforts of life, no pain, no challenges, and then to die peacefully under a beach umbrella with a pina colada in hand. The Almighty placed us in this world to face challenges, to perfect our character and to grow spiritually. That is why life is filled with challenges. It is our choice whether to view our challenges as obstacles or stepping stones."
-Rabbi Kalman Packouz

May HaShem help us all to be on the right path and stay strong and influence others
in the process!

Now I'm off to make a banana chocolate chip cake. Hopefully it will inspire the humans around it to eat it. :D

Shabbat Shalom u'Mevorach! :)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Roads We Pave

Ever wonder why we have lines on the palm of our hands? How come animals don't have lines on their paws?

Whatever is in the physical world mirrors what's in the spiritual world. It's to teach us that our neshama also has "lines" on it.

What're these neshama lines?

These neshama lines are our all of our mitzvot (good deeds) and averot (sins). Each time someone does a mitzvah, (s)he creates a positive line on his/her neshama.
That line is called a neshama ROAD.

For example, a person who lit Shabbat candles even once, opened up a road of the mitzvah of Shabbat candles.
A person who, c"vs, does an avera, even ONCE - opens up a road of that particular avera.

Once the road is open, it's extremely difficult to erase it. You can close it by never going through that road again, but that still won't ERASE the road. Only TRUE remorse and repentenance out of love will ERASE that road forever.

That's why - when people say "what's the big deal? I'm just smoking weed ONCE." "What's the big deal? I'm just going to wear this short skirt ONCE." "What's the big deal? I'm just going to miss praying mincha this ONCE." -- not only did that person MISS the opportunity to do a mitzvah AND did an avera, but also this person opened a ROAD of that particular avera. Don't even THINK about doing the avera even once. Because your first time can become a lifetime.

Rabbi Wallerstein explains that that is the reason so many people who were once an alcoholic - are ALWAYS alcoholics and end up going back to AA so many times. They have all of these roads of alcohol and excessive drinking opened in the neshama. Only the few who work very hard at overcoming their passion and lust for drinking and truly truly regret what they did and REPENT are the ones who never go back. The second they take EVEN one drink again - that's it. They're back to be alcoholics.

Once you have so many roads open, it's very easy to get lost on your destination of life. Your destination to Olam Haba. The real world. Afterall, as Pirkei Avot and Mesillat Yesharim so beautifully informs us - this world is just a "posdor" - an enterance to the main ballroom which is Olam Haba.

Oyyyyyy how many roads of averot we all must have.

The good news is: we also have roads of mitzvot. And if we truly regret the roads of averot that we created, then we can completely erase those roads and ONLY have roads of mitzvot.

The Jewish Nation needs to WAKE UP!!!! We live in a world of ACTIONS and CONSEQUENCES. We need to take responsibility for our actions and KNOW the consequences. We are creating so many roads... so so so so many. Countless every day. There is NOWHERE that the body goes WITHOUT the neshama until our last day in this world. Our neshama experiences EVERYTHING that the body does - be it the good or the bad.

HaShem wants every single Jew act holy, because every Jew IS holy, and HaShem wants us all to be close to Him. Our Yetzer Hatov is begging us - keep your neshama ALIVE, and our Yetzer Hara is begging us, BURNING us, please destroy your neshama. Make it as dirty as possible. Open as many terrible, bumpy, dangerous roads as possible.

It's a war.

Expect, unlike a physical war between two nations -- this war requires only our decision. Do I want to be good or bad? Do I think that I'm a neshama or a body? Am I an animal or spiritual being?

The choice is OURS.

Will we let our neshama create positive, sturdy, clean paved roads of mitzvot, or will we let our neshama create negative, dark, dirty, bumpy roads of averot?

It's up to us.
May HaShem give us all Siyata D'Shamaya to successfully fight this battle and only create roads that will take us in a positive direction & closer to the Shechina!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Blast from the Past

I miss blogging. I truly do.

But I've been lazy. Super lazy.

You see, Sefardi Gal became Morah Sefardi Gal. Being a Morah truly has been rewarding and enjoyable but also tiring and frustrating. A teacher needs a lot of Siyata D'Shamaya to teach well and have enough patience for each individual student. I can't say I've been perfect at it, but it has been a good journey so far.

And alas...summer vacation has begun. Now we have a lot of packing to do :)

Bli neder, Im Yirtzeh HaShem, Be'ezrat HaShem, with G-d's help...I will start posting Divrei Torah at least once a week. HaShem knows I need the Chizzuk!

Wishing all of you a shavua tov and countless brachot!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Two paths. ONLY.

Shavuot is my favorite chag for many reasons. Among the top reasons:
1. The "symbol" or "prop" of this Chag is the Torah. Matan Torah...the basis of our lives and purpose in this world. What else could be a greater celebration?
2. Sivan is my favorite month. My birthday is also in Sivan :D
3. Cheesecake. YUM!

Personal favoritism aside, there are countless lessons to learn from this holy time period.

For now, we'll focus on just one, out of the many, in this post. This lesson is taken from a wonderful shiur by Rabbi Wallerstein.

Why do we read Megillat Rut on Shavuot? We're celebrating the fact that we received the Torah. Why are we reading about a righteous convert to Judaism?

One of the "basic" reasons that Megillat Rut is read on Shavuot because David HaMelech came from Rut, and David Hamelech was born on Shavuot and passed away on Shavuot. However, there are much deeper reasons for reading this holy Megillah.
Among them are:
-Mashiach comes from David Hamelech, and one of our goals is to bring Mashiach.
-After Rut converted, a letter "hey" - symbolizing HaShem's Name, and therefore, holiness, was added to her name. Rut + hey = Torah.
-Rut has the gematria of 606, symbolizing that she kept the 7 noahide mitzvot before she was Jewish, and therefore, was a righteous gentile. After she converted, she had to add 606 mitzvot, rsther than 613.
-Rut shows us the loyalty that we should have for HaShem, Torah, Mitzvot, and Am Yisrael - through thick and thin. No matter what.
-Rut teaches us that a person can do teshuva, regardless of what type of background they're coming from!

All of these lessons are wonderful.
I'd like to focus on one that many people might know but not internalize the importance of it: Megillat Rut teaches us the importance of making decisions. How ONE decision can change our lives completely - for the better, or for the worse. For life or for death. For victory or for defeat. For closeness to HaShem or, chas v'shalom, richuk - disconnection/feeling far - from HaShem.

Rut and Orpah were both non-Jewish women who were married to Naomi's two sons, who both died.
Now, Naomi, the Jewess, and Rut and Orpah, two goyish widowers were left alone.
Rut and Orpah could've:
1. Leave Naomi and stay together
2. Part ways completely
3. Both go away with Naomi
4. Individually take two separate directions. One making the wrong decision, and one making the right decision.

They were both coming from the same exact place. Both non-Jewish, princesses of moav, both widowers, both alone with their mother-in-law. However, ONE decision make the difference between victory and defeat.
What decision was that?

Naomi was leaving to Eretz Yisrael. She had to leave the mental state that she was in. Naomi told Rut and Orpah - I'm leaving. I have nothing here. Go home. Go back to your parents.
What did Rut and Orpah do?
Orpah kissed Naomi, and she left.
Rut did the complete opposite. She didn't LEAVE her mother in law. She said your nation is my nation, your G-d is my G-d; I'm sticking with you. I'm NOT leaving you!

There's a Midrash that tells us that Orpah was with A THOUSAND men AND a dog that night. HaShem Yerachem! She fell so low! She went from being so close to leaving with her mother-in-law to Eretz Yisrael, and she fell to the lowest level that a person can be. She became pregnant that night, and we learn that she had a child: goliat. Goliat was a giant who attacked Klal Yisrael, and he made fun of G-d in public.
His nemesis, the only one who would stand up to him - was David Hamelech, who came from the righteous Rut.

So, we learn, from the one decision of whether to go with Naomi or not - two children were conceived:
one, Goliat, an evil plishti giant. A rasha who is remembered and recorded as such even now - thousands of years later.
And a second - David Hamelech. The king of Israel. A tzadik. The father of Mashiach!

From this ONE step away from her mother in law, and therefore, Judaism, Orpah caused destruction. From Rut's ONE step closer to her mother in law, and therefore, Judaism, she caused victory and geula (redemption).
Yetzer Hara tells us it's just a little bit. Just miss minyan this once. Just wear a shorter skirt this once. Just eat this non-kosher food this once. Just speak this one word of lashon hara.
NO! That one time is DESTRUCTION. That one time then psychologically causes validity. That one time can completely make a person fall and make it extremely difficult to be on the derech again.

As Jews, as HaShem's children, we must ALWAYS think about every move we make. Every word that comes out of our mouthes, every piece of food that enters our mouthes, every sound that enters our ears, every image our eyes seen.
NOTHING is just neutral.

The Tanya explains beautifully that everything in this world can be categorized into just TWO categories:
Sitra D'achra and Sitra D'Kedusha.
Sitra d'achra is anything that leads you to feel FARTHER away from HaShem. It can be something small. Even a song.
Sitra d'kedusha is anything that leads us to be closer to holiness, and therefore, closer to HaShem.

There is NOTHING that is just neutral. A Jew's mission in this world is not to be neutral and just chill all day.
Every day our goal should be to grow closer and closer to HaShem.
The Asher Yatzar of today should not be the same Asher Yatzar of 5 years ago. Just like when we're friends with someone for longer, we feel like we know them way better, so too - with HaKadosh Baruch Hu!
It's a relationship that requires wise decision and planning.
Where's our manual, or directory, about what leads to closeness to HaShem and what leads to richuk?
The Torah. Our minds. Our feelings. (In that order.)

Melech, a king, has the letters of Mem, Lamed, and Chaf. Kelev, a dog, has those same letters rearranged. Kaf, Lamed, Mem.
The Mem stands for Moach (mind/brain: logic)
The Lamed stands for Lev (heart: emotions)
The Chaf stands for Klayot (liver: desires)

When one allows his logic to control his emotions and then his logic + emotions to control his desires - then he is a MELECH, a king, over himself.
if someone allows his desires to control his emotions, and his emotions to control his logic - then he is no better than a DOG, who clearly can't control his desires.

THAT is the importance of Megillat Rut. A decision made in a split second has such power. Ohhhh if we'd only realize our potential. Our power!
The power of words, the power of a smile, the power of keeping the mitzvot, and the power of our averot!
It is written that if a man REALLY knew how terrible an avera was - he would NEVER dare to do it. That's why chazal tell us a "ruach shtut" (a foolish spirit) comes upon a person who wants to do an avera. There's no way that someone who acts like a melech can allow himself to do an avera.
Always ask yourself - is what I'm doing going to help me grow closer or farther from my Father in Heaven?

May HaShem bless all of us to have clarity and make the proper decisions in the proper fashion, and therefore, be kings over our desires, and may we all merit to be close to Him!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Ever since I became religious, I had some kind of deep struggle and interest with the subject of hair covering.

I grew up with three frum families who lived on my block. They were basically the only frum people I've ever seen. When I was around 8 years old, a relative of mine told me those ladies shave the hair on their heads and wear wigs. Needless to say, I was a bit freaked out. I pictured bald women with itchy heads and fake hair and definitely was not attracted to the lifestyle what-so-ever.

When I started displaying more interest in observant Judaism, a friend of mine, who was also growing religiously, told me that it is halacha for a married woman to wear a wig. Defensive and taken aback, I said “what?! No way am I ever shaving my head.” Looking perplexed, my friend said “no…you wouldn’t have to shave. Most women have hair under their wigs. You can ever see the bump from their hair bun under the wig.”


I calmed down a bit. And so, I assumed, when I’m ready to date and get married to Mr. Right, I’ll wear a wig. Of course, it’ll be a beautiful, long, fancy, and natural looking wig (with bangs.) Afterall, I was (an am :)) a young lady with beautiful long black hair. No way was I giving that up for a short straw-like wig.

FFWD to a few months later. The same friend told me “you know, I heard there’re issues with Sefardim wearing wigs, and some women don’t wear wigs.” I wasn’t sure what she meant. “Why would there be an issue?”
You see, no one told me that wigs were worn because of modesty. For some reason, it just didn’t cross my mind. I assumed that wigs somewhat served the same purpose of a kippa for a man – a reminder that G-d is above us.
My friend was also not sure why there was an issue, so she decided to ask a lady from our Sefardi-nusach Shul – why some people oppose wigs. It probably wasn’t the best idea, since this lady herself wore a wig and didn’t exactly seem like she was too knowledgeable in halacha. She responded with something along the lines of “there is no problem.”

And so, Sefardi Gal being the curious one that she was (and is), decided to start a research project. And boy, did I research. I read countless books, articles, and teshuvot about the topic. Ad Nauseum.
I went to the mekor M'D'oraita (the source in the written Torah), then the Mishna, the Gemara, the rishonim, and achronim. Ashkenazim, Sefardim, Modern Orthodox liberal, Modern Orthodox machmir, Yeshivish modern, Haredi, Hassidish, American, get the picture.
Even though I so desperately wanted to show hair after being married, I wanted to do the right thing. I questioned myself: do I want to fulfill G-d's will or my own will? Is Judaism a shopping cart where I just pick and choose what's convenient for me and drop what isn't? Do I pick and choose the lenient opinion when I please?

Almost all of the reasons and teshuvot of gedolim seemed to completely dismiss most wigs as proper modest haircoverings.
And once I found out that the main issue with wigs was modesty, I decided that I would never wear a wig. No matter what.

When I started dating, if I ever saw potential with the guy, I asked for his opinion on modesty, in general, as well as wigs. The man’s response often told me a lot about his hashkafah in life. Thankfully enough, I didn’t date many men who wanted to be possessive and make sure their trophy wives look like frum Barbie.
It was also important to me that my husband would support and agree with my decision not to wear wigs because it certainly would be a struggle for me, and I knew that I would need his help. Afterall, it's BECAUSE I'm married to HIM that I need to cover my hair, so he should also take part in the mitzvah.
Will I ever find him? I'd sigh. At times, it was even part of my tefillah - please G-d, help my zivug be someone who doesn't want me to cover my hair with a wig.

My husband actually told me something kind of funny. When dating, he knew he didn't want his wife to wear a the point that he'd even break off a shidduch if the girl wanted to cover her hair with a wig. When he told one of his relatives (who is not yet observant) that he wants to marry a lady who will only wear scarves, she responded "do you honestly think you'll find such a girl? A young, modern lady who will be willing to cover herself like the grandmothers of the past? Forget about it."
After we were engaged, I met this relative, and she asked me "you're seriously going to cover that beautiful hair of yours? how?!"
For me, the answer was plain and simple: how does any Jew fulfill a mitzvah?
But I wasn't sure she'd understand that answer.

And so…
now that I'm married, I wear scarves every day. I own two subtle hats, but my husband isn’t such a fan of hats, so I mainly stick to scarves. Being that I like fashion and always aim to look good and presentable, I often mix and match different colors, add flowers, lace, headbands, pins, etc. to the scarves. I match my jewlery and make-up with the scarves. Earrings are crucial when wearing scarves! (It happens to be, that I nearly never left the house without earrings even when I was single. Ears look so bare without earrings, and the earrings add such beauty and life to the face. But perhaps that's my own meshugaass. :))
There’s absolutely no reason that scarves need to look shlumpy or raggy. A Jewish woman should ALWAYS look like a queen. Her hair covering is her crown.
I’ve received many compliments, which really helped with my hair covering confidence. (I was VERY attached to my hair when I was single. It was one of my challenges with modesty.)

Sometimes it is difficult – like at weddings or job interviews. But often times, the right thing to do in life isn’t easy. I think of the pasuk from Shlomo Hamelech’s “Eshet Chayil” --“oz v’hadar levusha.” Loosely translated, that means “strength and splendour are her clothing.” I once heard a beautiful and powerful short dvar Torah about that pasuk. Why does it say “OZ” – strength – to describe the way a Jewish woman is dressed? Because it takes a lot of strength to dress modestly. It’s not easy. Sometimes it’s even like war. But once a woman can pass that nisayon – then her clothing is described as “hadar” – splendorous, magnificent, brilliant, and majesty-like.

I might or might not post more about specifically WHY I chose to never wear wigs. (And, of course, which sources. Everything needs a source in Judaism.) I have many stories involving Hashgacha Pratit that helped me decide…as my decision was not easy, nor was it convenient.

Hair-covering (and tzniut, in general) is definitely a sensitive subject that many women seem to take to heart, but at the same time, it’s also an extremely important matter with very little written about the subject in English.
So we’ll see :)

Chag Pesach kasher v’sameach to all!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

How is misery sweet??

Why, hello there bloggers.
Sefardi Gal has finally found the time to blog some more while her husband (!!) is asleep.
Married and all...I'm still an insomiac. Some habits change easily, and others improve slllloooowwwly :D

So, Pesach is coming up.
That's pretty exciting.
If I may share something kind of personal with y'all...this year is particularly very exciting for me because it is what I've been dreaming about for years: A religious home. A kosher seder. Finally. Baruch HaShem, I have the zchut to spend Pesach with my new family - my hubby, may he be blessed.

Being baal'at teshuva and all, it was never easy to properly clean the home, store away chametz, buy kosher for Passover foods, and conduct a seder every year. I always felt a tinge of sadness because I always felt like my chagim were super beautiful and spiritual, yet lonely. Pesach, in particular. Not only in the physical sense - since I didn't really have any religious relative to spend it with, but it was also lonely in a very emotional way. I just wanted a proper, frum seder and yom tov. Not sure if I'm even adequately channeling my feelings into words, but all of you with frum families - please appreciate your families. Appreciate that halacha is being kept and that the Shechina is entering your home. For those of you with not (yet) religious families, appreciate any compromises they make for you and know that one day, you too will have your own holy home.

Now that this post is all emotional, let's get to the good stuff: divrei Torah! (BTW, most of this is taken from last week's Rabbi Wallerstein's shiur at Ohr Naava. I highly recommend it to all!)
Here's an interesting question...


Hm, well that seems like a pretty basic question, no?
Most religious children can answer that because they learn in first grade that we eat charroset because it resembles the cement that the Jews needed to use to make bricks while enslaved by the Egyptians.

Chazal teach us that the Egyptians would demand that the Jews make an unreasonable, nearly unrealistic, amount of bricks per day. Whenever the Jews didn't reach the quota (which was quite often), the Egyptians would use Jewish BABIES as bricks.
HASHEM YIRACHEM! Just imagine how many Jewish babies were killed that way - smashed up with cement, as bricks. Mamash such a cruel, inhumane method to make bricks.

The Shulchan Aruch tells us that the Charosset should be sweet, and preferably, sweet red wine should be used.

Charosset is sweet. YUM. Absolutely delicious. But how does that make sense?! Why are we commemorating the cement, that was used to make bricks, by eating SWEET food? We should be eating bitter foods! The cement and bricks are a horrible memory -- the memory of Jewish babies being murdered! And it's not even like the sweet food is optional - the Shulchan Aruch tells us that charosset should be sweet!
It's almost like eating chocolate when remembering the cruel work that the Nazis made Jews do in the labor camps.
How does that make sense?!

The answer is very deep and beautiful.

There's a midrash that says:
When the Jews were trapped between the sea and the Egyptians, G-d was getting ready to split the sea.
The angel/advocate of the Egyptians came to G-d and said "wait a minute! G-d, how can You kill all of these Egyptians? They're not CHAYAV MITA! (deserving of death) They threw the Jewish babies into the Nile only because Pharaoh commanded them, and if they would've objected, they would be CHAYAVIM MITA because they would've been MORDIM B'MALCHUT (rebelling against authority) - which is punishable by death. They needed to save their own lives. So, the Egyptians do not deserve the drown!"
The Egyptian's angel had a point.
So, what now? How could G-d save the Jews?
The Jews were now at risk to be captured by the Egyptians!

Gavriel, the Jewish people's angel and advocate, ran to Egypt and brought back a brick. He entered the case in Shamayim and told G-d "it is true that the Egyptians weren't guilty of listening to Pharoah when he said throw the babies into the Nile. But when they required the Jews to make quotas of bricks and then used JEWISH BABIES as bricks - that was optional! Pharoah didn't command them to do such an act, and therefore, that cruelty was out of their own free will, and they DO deserve to drown in the sea!"
Gavriel won the case, G-d split the sea, and the Jewish people were saved from the Egyptians!

What a message.
What seemed so terrible, painful, and upsetting -- the Jewish babies getting smashed to death by being used as BRICKS -- ended up being what SAVED the Jewish nation.

People have adversities in life which seem so horrible. Such difficult nisyanot - people passing away, painful encounters, illnesses, etc. and we don't know the reason why. But we must know that there IS a reason for the pain. G-d has a master plan. And that pain can end up saving us in the long run.

That's why we dip the MARROR into the Charosset. The things in life that seem sooo bitter can end up being so sweet. The VERY same difficulty can end up being a huge blessing that can save ourselves, our families, and even all of klal yisrael.

Keep up the Emunah and know that G-d loves you very very very dearly. Klal Yisrael is His "only child." He wants to hold on tight to us and never let go.

May we all receive chizzuk and closeness to HaShem during this Holy month of Nissan, and may we all have the proper kavanot during the seder and throughout the whole chag! Wishing y'all a chag Pesach kasher v'sameach! :)

PS: my Mother gave me a quick and easy charosset recipe. Silan (date honey), crushed walnuts, and some sweet red wine mixed all together.
Yup, it's really that simple. Enjoy your Pesach food!! :)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Forced Happiness?!

Yay, it's Rosh Chodesh Adar!
As a kid, I remember Adar was so exciting because of the anticipation of Purim. We would sing songs in school, I would think about all of the yummy goodies that we would receive in the mishloach manot, we'd have a Purim carnival in school where the kiddos could win all types of neat prizes, and of course, there was the costume -- which kid didn't want a cool original costume?!

But now...
as people (myself included) get older...
it's a challenge to be happy. It's a challenge to be happy, in general. Now comes Adar and Chazal require us to be HAPPIER than in general!
Ok, first of all, how can I be happy in general?
Second of all, how can I force myself to be happier?
(so, regarding the first question - see the post "true happiness"
If you're not in the mood to read it...then just know that true happiness = closeness to HaShem through KNOWLEDGE about HaShem/Torah/mitzvot.)

Now, how can I force myself to be happiER?
More Torah. More closeness to HaShem.
But what if I just can'ttttttttttttt? What if I work really hard, I'm tired, I'm lazy, and just fed up with the world?

"Yom HaKippurim" means a day "k'purim" - a day LIKE Purim. That means Yom Kippur is COMPARED to Purim. How can Yom Kippur, a biblical holiday, be compared to Purim, a rabbinical holiday?
Because Purim has unfathomable levels of holiness.
In fact, Chazal even tell us that Purim is one of the only holidays that will remain after Mashiach arrives.
Now, why the comparison between Purim and Yom Kippur?
There's a moving story I heard in a shiur by Rabbi Eli Mansour that beautifully answers this question.
There was a Rabbi, during the time of the Holocaust, whose wife and children were murdered by the Nazis. He was in the concentration camp, the Nazis were cruel and inhumane to all of the Jews, the conditions and weather were both terrible -- it was a dark period where very little light could be seen.
And the month of Adar was approaching.

His Talmidim said "Rebbe, it's almost Adar! Chazal teach us 'mi shenichnas adar, marbim b'simcha' - whoever enters Adar increases his joy. But Rebbe, how can we be happy during such terrible times of adversity?"
The Rabbi answered "Chazal tell us that Yom Kippur compares to Purim. On Yom Kippur, no Jew would say "eh, I'm not in the mood to fast. I'm not in the mood to pray. I'll just do my own Yom Kippur in a few weeks from now...when I'm in the mood." No Jew would say that! He knows that regardless of how weak or tired or sad he is, he must FAST and PRAY because NOW is the time for Yom Kippur - not next week! So too, now is the time for Adar! NOW is the time for happiness! Not in a week from now, in a few months from now, or when we get liberated. WE need to FORCE ourselves to be happy. Just like we force ourselves on Yom Kippur to do what we need to do."
And that Adar and Purim was an unforgettable one in the camp. They were happier than ever before.

We have the Koach. HaShem wants us to be close to Him, and He wants us to be happy. It's all up to US!

May all of Klal Yisrael have a chodesh tov u'mevorach, full of unlimited simcha. May we all merit to grow closer to HaShem with each and every day, and receive the geula this month! Happy Adar :)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Life After Marriage

I'm not going to lie.
Engagement time wasn't fun. I couldn't wait for my engagement to be over, and I recently half jokingly told my husband "I never want to be engaged to you again."
Married life, however, is way better than engagement life. Baruch HaShem Yitbarach Shemo L'ad!!!

While nearly every chatan and kallah want a nice wedding, they must keep in mind that it's not the ikkar. The wedding is just one (extremely important) day; marriage, however, is what needs the real planning, work, effort, time, and investment.

What can I say about marriage?
well there's still a lot to learn, but so far, my favorite dvar Torah about marriage is as follows:

In Masechet Kiddushin, Chazal teach us about the kinyan of the isha. A man can "buy her" (buy - read: acquire) through three ways. From where do we learn this concept of kinyan?
From Avraham and Efron. Avraham purchased maharat hamachpelah from Efron, in order to bury Sara, his beloved wife, in Hevron.

How does that make sense?
We learn MARRIAGE from Avraham buying a GRAVE?
(that is already begging for a marriage joke!)

So, what's going on here?
The answer is very beautiful and applicable. Avraham and Efron were both happy and satisfied with the deal they made. Avraham was happy because he purchased a valuable plot in Eretz Yisrael where his dear wife, himself, and future relatives would be buried. Efron was happy because he got his money.
So too...
A HUSBAND AND WIFE - BOTH - need to feel like they got the best deal ever. They always need to be happy and satisfied. The husband should think "wow, my wife is the best. She's so beautiful, holy, smart, understanding, etc." and the wife should think that her husband is such a wonderful tzadik.
At first, some might think this seems unrealistic -- afterall, doesn't everyone have flaws?
Yes, everyone has flaws, but common advice that was given before: "while dating, keep both eyes open. While married, keep one eye closed." Just because a spouse has flaws doesn't mean that you should focus on the flaws. The key is focus on the positive attributes. The key is to remember why you married that person in the first place. The key is to feel happy and know that HaShem sent you the best zivug ever.
There is nobody like your zivug in the world, and there never was and never will be.
So too with every Jew. YOU are unique. There was NEVER anyone exactly like you before, and there NEVER will be anyone like you. You're the only one who can carry out your life's mission, and you are the only one who can be yourself.

Pretty neat, eh? :)

Sooo, there's a lot to say about life. A lot to say about marriage. A lot to say about Israeli politics. And fruit in sushi. Perhaps we'll add that to the "To be continued..." list.

Shavua tov to all :)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Dating Advice

I wrote this post a while ago. These concepts are from a wonderful shiur by Rabbi Eliyahu Kin. I found it very helpful, and I hope y'all will as well.

Before a person dates, (s)he needs to be ready. There're three prerequisites a person should fulfill in order to be ready:
1. Not be picky (being particular about a certain look, financial income, etc.)
2. Not purposely delay marriage. (For example: I'm not dating now -- I'm too busy with my masters. When I finish my masters, I'll date.)
3. One must examine his deeds and make sure he's done his best to keep the Torah and mitzvot.


Because there're many individuals whom you can be compatible with, but there's only ONE who is best for you.
People are only shaliachs. HaShem is the One Who makes the shidduchim. Only He knows which 2 individuals match well together.
If a person isn't acting on their "best" behavior and working towards growth, then that person will not receive the best possible zivug. You're matched based on your current deeds. HaShem sends you the best possible match at a given time.

Now, let's say all 3 conditions are met. What do we do now??

1. PRAY!
Chazal quote a pasuk that says one should always turn to HaShem. One should pray because prayer can change any degree, regardless of what a person's mazal is.

One should pray that HaShem should please send him the best possible match; the right person who will also be a good person.

During Shemah Kolenu and the "yehi ratzon" at the end of the amida, a person should have zivug in mind, but he doesn't have to word it out.

Simple concepts a a man should have in mind:
-I want a wooman who will be an eshet chayil, who will be a good mother to my kids, and someone with whom I can build a bayit ne'eman b'yisrael.

Sefer Hassidim teaches to pray for your children to have good zivugim.


Hishtadlut shows HaShem that we are serious about finding our spouses.

The Chazon Ish taught that tefillah is more important than hishtadlut.


Men should give tzdaka at Shul when they go for minyan. Women should give tzdaka before lighting candles for Shabbat.
Charity can hasten the results; it makes a person's tefillah be heard all the more so.

4. CRY

The gates of tears are never locked.
Tears are an expression of the emotions of the heart.

And most importantly, NEVER give up. Ye'ush (despair) is one of the most crushing emotions an individual can experience.
Daven. If the situation gets more difficult, daven harder. If it's nearly unbearable, daven x100000000!