Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Chanukah: the Ongoing Battle

There are so many nice themes of Chanukah: light, miracles, emunah, fight for what you believe - even if you're standing alone or are few in number.
Then there are the themes that many people don't like to hear about: yavan, assimilation, materialism, war/death, Jewish infighting.

For me, Chanukah, while being such a beautiful and holy holiday, has a slight ring of sadness to it every year. Why? Because the battle with the yavanim is still going on today.
The Maccabim fought against the Jewish Hellenists. That is, the assimilated Jews. Not just the Greeks.
They defeated the Greeks. But not the Jewish Hellenists, who were Jews that, while they maintained some of their Jewishness, just wanted to be modern Jews accepted by the goyim. We'll keep chagim to a certain extent. But we'll dress Greek, have Greek names, and do Greek activities (like the Olympics).
Sounds familiar?

The Greeks valued Chitzonyut. Gashmiut. Outer appearance. Materialism.
The Jews valued morality, Torah learning, modesty, and being separated from anything that did not fit into those three categories.

We are SO fortunate in our generation that we are not persecuted for being Jewish. We have more freedom than ever in history to be as observant as we want without non-Jewish restrictions.
And yet. We have the highest rate of assimilation in this generation.

Chanukah begs every Jew to question: whose side would I be on if the Maccabees went to war today. Would I be on the Maccabees side? Or the Jewish Hellenists side?

May HaShem bless all of us to be on the right path, and may all of our actions be l'Shem Shamayim.
May the light of Chanukah touch every Jew's neshama & inspire all of us to grow closer to HaShem Yitbarach.
Chanukah Sameach :)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

King & Father, There is No Other.

I know it seems that I'm not here, but I am. Just been very busy with life. Thank G-d. It's good to be busy.

I feel like I have an ongoing blog in my head 24/7. Like, Sefardi Gal's thoughts and comments. I can't seem to ever press the pause or "shhhh" button.
I so often want to (actually) blog and then I get lazy or tired or remember that I have laundry to do :)
Or that I need to make some awesome baked ziti for dinner (yeah, it came out really good tonight!) & whole wheat oatmeal low sugar chocolate cookies (not as good. Why do the fattening cookies always taste better?!)

All of those are not valid excuses, but oh well. Patience is a virtue.

I received this awesome e-mail from's "Shabbat Shalom Weekly" emails. I thought to post it since it served as great chizuk for me:

5 Steps to Genuine Prayer:
1) Feel God's presence. You are talking to a loving, all-powerful Being Who wants to give you everything that's good. All over the world God is answering prayers because He loves His children.
2) Expect results. God has a track record. If you don't really believe God can and will help you, you're not really praying.
3) Pay attention to what God is teaching you. Everything that happens is for your good. If you are in need, realize God is teaching you something. If you trust Him, you will hear what He is telling you.
4) Get in touch with what you're really after. Know your bottom line. You're talking to the awesome Creator, so don't ask for nonsense. He wants you to grow up.
5) Being serious about what you're praying for means that you're doing everything you can to make it happen. God will lend a hand only when you put in the effort. He'll never take away your independence because that's His ultimate gift to you.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

We Miss You, Rabbeinu

I write this post with a sad and heavy heart. The passing of HaRav Hagaon Chacham Ovadia Yosef, zecher tzadik l'bracha, is a pain and loss that I can only compare to a person losing both parents in one day, lo aleinu. Although the loss is far, far greater than that.
The world feels like a colder, emptier place.
There's a sadness that lingers in the air here.

Upon reading the news, just minutes after Rav Ovadia's neshama left this olam, I started crying. Just minutes ago, we were reading Tehillim & tikun haklali, praying for the Rav's recovery and checking on his progress on
My husband had just finished reciting birkat hamazon, and seeing me cry, realized what had happened. We bought cried uncontrollably, and my husband tore kriya.
There was nothing to say. No words of comfort.
And on that note, we headed to the levaya in Jerusalem.

The amount of hakarat hatov, love, and respect that my husband and I have for HaRav Ovadia can not be put into words. Words wouldn't do the emotions justice. All I can say is that it is thanks to HaShem blessing our generation with Rav Ovadia that I am religious. That my husband is religious. And that our children will be religious BH. Without his sefarim & piskei halachot, I have no idea where I'd be today.
His shiurim, genius psakim/sefarim/halachot are what guide me daily, and without HaRav Ovadia, I would be lost.

I now understand Rashi's comments that Aharon HaCohen's sons were like Moshe Rabbeinu's sons, since Moshe was their teacher.
And what a teacher. Wow.

Here's a line from a very moving story that brought me to tears just now. Rav Ovadia told his wife, Rabbanit Margalit Yosef z"l, "give me olam hazeh, and I'll give you olam haba."
That "line" convinced her to marry him.
What olam haba they must have. What a marriage full of kdusha they must've have.

I copy this eulogy (taken from with tearful eyes & a broken heart. May the zchut of Maran protect us all, and may all of Am Yisrael be on the right path of Torah u'mitzvot:

In the year 5762, with the passing of “the true genius, crown glory of Israel, the great light of the Kingdom of the Talmud and Poskim, the light of Israel, the right pillar, the mighty hammer, an individual unique to the generation, Hagaon Harav Chaim Kreiswirth zt”l” (an excerpt from Maran’s very own eulogy for the Rav), Chief Rabbi of Antwerp, Belgium, Maran Harav Ovadia Yosef zt”l was thrown into great mourning. Maran zt”l was a dear friend of this great sage and Maran would constantly say that the world did not really know who Hagaon Harav Chaim zt”l really was. According to Maran’s words, this was a Torah personality that could not be matched.
When Maran zt”l rose to eulogize this giant of Torah, he began by asking, what is this tumult all about? Our Sages tell us (Kiddushin 72b) that “a righteous individual does not depart from this world until another man as righteous as him is created, as the verse states, ‘The sun rises and the sun sets’-before the sun of Moshe set, the sun of Yehoshua rose. Before the sun of Yehoshua set, the sun of Otniel ben Kenaz rose. Before the sun of Eli set, the sun of Shmuel Ha’Navi rose.” This should be our comfort, for another person as righteous as the deceased has surely been born. If so, why do we mourn the loss of the great rabbi so much?
Maran zt”l explained in the name of the commentators that even so, not necessarily will the righteous man just created be as great in Torah as the deceased righteous man, as the Gemara (Baba Batra 75a) states regarding Yehoshua, “the elders of that generation would say, ‘The face of Moshe shined like the sun and the face of Yehoshua shined like the moon.’” This is because the generations become progressively weaker as time goes on and the leader is relative to the generation.

Likewise, we mourn today along with Zion and the nation of Israel, for Hashem has sent us a great redeemer, Maran zt”l, who saved Sephardic Jewry from destruction and raised the glory of Halacha when it was almost completely forgotten from the Jewish nation. This man was the pillar of Torah, kindness, and prayer. He was the leader of the generation in so many ways: In his humility, in his holiness, in his discourses, in his halachic rulings, and in his understanding. Now, we have lost Maran zt”l and as downtrodden as we are, we have no choice but to gather together the remaining Torah sages of our generation and only together will they be able to continue the tradition which Maran pioneered on his own.Many times when speaking with Maran zt”l, we were able to catch a glimpse of his greatness in Kabbalah, which was truly far more advanced than any of the greatest Mekubalim in our generation who have not reached Maran’s level, just as no Torah scholars have reached his level of Torah knowledge in the revealed portion of the Torah.
Besides for Maran’s greatness in Torah, he would perform loving-kindness with all his heart. Maran’s right-hand man, our dear friend Rabbi Tzvi Hakak, recounts that many times, serious questions in Halacha were sent to Maran regarding Agunot (women whose husbands have gone missing and are “tied down” to their husbands and are forbidden to remarry) and children born from forbidden unions (who are prohibited from marrying regular members of the Jewish nation) and Maran told him to place these questions on the desk in his bedroom. At 2:00 AM, Maran zt”l would go to sleep. When Rabbi Hakak would arrive at Maran’s home at 6:00 AM, Maran would already be sitting and learning and would tell him to send the response to the relevant parties immediately, even before morning prayers. Everyone would be flabbergasted, when did Maran find the time to write this lengthy and tedious response?! He only went to sleep four hours before…
We cannot possibly adequately eulogize Maran zt”l, for every single one of his character traits can fill volumes. His tremendous greatness was unfathomable, so much so that two of the greatest Mekubalim of the previous generation, Hagaon Harav Yisrael Abuchatzera zt”l (the “Baba Sali”) and Hagaon Harav Mordechai Sharabi zt”l, attested that Maran’s soul was kept from the times of the Geonim (period preceding that of the Rishonim) and Hashem told Maran’s soul, “Wait until your time comes. During a generation when heresy will spread all over the world, it will be your time to save Israel.”
Indeed, it is almost non-existent for a child of six or seven years old to decide to dedicate his life to Torah study. However, when Maran zt”l was all but a young lad, he would sit and learn Torah, Prophets, and Scriptures for hours on end. By the age of ten, Maran had already written unbelieveable novel Torah thoughts (see the biography on Maran, “Abir Ha’Ro’im,” for some incredible pictures of Maran’s handwritten Torah essays when he was a child). At the age of fourteen, he had already mastered the entire Talmud. At the age of twenty-five, he was already greater in Torah knowledge than any Torah scholars living among us today. Maran was a supernatural genius in Torah. Who can replace him?
When contemplateing all of Maran’s accomplishments, we are reminded of Rabbi Chiya about whom the Gemara (Ketubot 103b): “Rabbi Chiya said: I prevented Torah from being forgotten from the Jewish nation, for I planted flax seeds and from the flax that grew, I wove nets and trapped deer. I fed the meat to hungry orphans and I processed the hides to produce parchment and on that parchment I wrote the five books of the Torah and the six orders of the Mishnah. About me did Rabbi Yehuda Ha’Nassi exclaim, ‘How great are the actions of Chiya!’”

Similarly, we exclaim, “How great are the actions of Rabbeinu Ovadia!” With all of his greatness and genius in Torah, he would be able to stand before laymen and speak to them in a language they understood and enjoyed through parables and anecdotes. He would speak about the deepest segments of the Talmud with the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Hagaon Harav Tzvi Pesach Frank zt”l and then hurry off to deliver a Torah lecture to simpletons. He was unable to open a Sephardic Yeshiva because there were no Sephardic Yeshiva boys to learn in it. However, he did not give up; he was relentless. He began by teaching regular working men Torah daily until their children grew up; he troubled himself to place their boys into Talmudei Torah and Yeshivot and girls into Bet Yaakovs. He likewise taught the children Torah himself until many of them flourished into outstanding Torah scholars. In this way, an entire generation that was doomed to straying from Hashem’s path became completely G-d-fearing and Torah observant. Maran indeed “built up Jerusalem with mercy,” for all Sephardic Torah scholars and many Ashkenazi sages who are involved in rendering halachic rulings are all in Maran’s merit. Praiseworthy is the generation which had the merit of being led by Maran.
The entire Jewish nation felt a great void upon Maran zt”l’s passing and the reason for this could very well be because Maran’s soul was tantamount to that of Moshe Rabbeinu whose soul was comprised of all of the souls of the Jewish nation. Thus, anyone with a soul within him felt a great lacking with the passing of Maran zt”l.

May Hashem have mercy on us, the remaining ember of the Jewish nation, and not let us be like a flock of sheep without a Shepherd. May Maran act as a righteous defending angel on our behalf, let him not leave us or forsake us. May his blessings to the entire nation of Israel, whom he loved deeply like a father loves his child and whom he comforted like a mother comforts her child, come to fruition, for indeed, Maran was dedicated to the collective needs of the entire nation with every fiber of his being. May Hashem finally redeem us eternally and may we soon merit witnessing the Resurrection of the Dead at which point Maran zt”l will lead us and teach us once again, Amen.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Tzniut: Why The Obsession??

Well, I guess I should already ask for forgiveness before you read this post.
So, please forgive me if any of these concepts are offensive to your lifestyle and standards.
The frum people in this generation seems so obsessed with modesty. Both in left and right wing Orthodox circles. There're so many other mitzvoth/averot to focus on, like, lashon hara, Shabbat, chessed, kashrut, tefilla, etc.
Why is tzniut, particularly, something that is so focused on and emphasized in the Orthodox world? And why do people (particularly women) get so defensive and angry when their modesty standards are challenged?

I guess the answer in a one word nutshell to explain tzniut is: foundation. Tzniut is our foundation for keeping Judaism alive all of these thousands of years.
Chazal teach us (in Bereshit Rabba 18:2) that HaShem told Chava "be modest." Why would that be HaShem's message to Chava?
How about - be a good Jewess? Be nice to others? Help people? Smile? Keep Shabbat?
Chazal teach us that the Jews in Egypt remained Jewish because of their names, clothing, and language.
Our clothes are one of the three things that not only distinguish us but preserve our religion. Our lives. Our reason for being.
So, HaShem was telling Chava the method to keep Am Yisrael alive.

We're living in a generation unlike any other. The amount of openness in the world today is something that was unimaginable just a century ago.
The way celebrities dress today would've probably shocked the average 1950s movie star. In Western society, to fit in, a woman must give up her dignity, class, and refinement and trade in capris for shorts, short sleeves for sleeveless, pants for leggings, and dresses for long shirts. In the warm seasons, it is unusual to see any female with their knees covered, let alone their hair covered.
That might be obvious - like yeah, we're in 2013, of course it's normal not to dress in long skirts & hats! Well, it was actually the norm just a 100 years ago. Women wore dresses. Mini was not an adjective used to describe clothing. Low-cut shirts and tanktops were unheard of. 5 inch pumps were reserved for women of ill-repute. Hats were elegant.
But now?
Every summer I am bewildered at what has happened to society. Where has the class gone? What happened to self-respect? What happened to fashion?
I see how teenage girls dress, and I shudder. I was a teenager just over 10 years ago in a nonreligious school. My 13 year old classmates mothers would've threatened them severely if they walked outside wearing what today's teens wear.
Nobody wore mini dresses to bat mitzvahs. I'd be surprised if anyone even owned a mini anything before high school.
But alas, today, how many mothers blink an eye when their daughters wear short dresses and 5 inch pump heels to their classmates bat mitzvahs?
The standards have clearly been lowered - and that's in only a decade. One can only imagine what modesty standards will be in a decade from now.

So yes, 50 years ago, you didn't have to explain to your daughter why she needs to be modest. There was no need! She would've been modest anyway because everyone ELSE in society (not just in frum circles) was also modest. You didn't have to explain to your daughter why covering your body = respecting yourself. It was understandable. It was a given.
But now, that is no longer a given. Other than not walking on a sidewalk in a bikini, there are no longer any tzniut standards in this society. And, I won't be surprised if that will be the norm in 20 years (after all, people can take a stroll on a public beach boardwalk while wearing a bikini, right?)
Anything goes. Except racism. And homophobia. But short of those select topics + a few others, few actions will make anyone bat an eye.

The Nazis, imach shmam, knew that Germany had a well-renowned, refined culture & was a country full of "the most" polite citizens. How did they convince so many people to be immune (and even join) the intense hatred and slaughter of Jewish German citizens?
In Search Judaism, Rabbi Yitzchok Fingerer reveals the Nazis method for dissentisizing the German nation: inappropriate movies. Yes, the Nazis screened inappropriate movies in public FOR FREE for German citizens. The rationale behind that master plan was that if you show people immoral things, aka pritzut and znut, their whole morale will be lowered.

Chazal teach us that "HaShem hates Zima" - Zima is inappropriate relations and behavior. Basically, anything associated with immodesty.

The Gemara tells us that before Mashiach, "pnei hador k'pnei hakelev" - the generation's face will be like the face of the dog.
There're many explanations to this passage, but the following explanation I heard really hit home for me.
A dog is the only animal that gets offended when you rebuke it. If you scream a cat, snake, or bee, they probably won't flinch. Well, maybe the cat will get scared at the loud noise, but he won't get offended. The dog actually gets offended when screamed at. He will lower his ears and tail, look down at the ground, and whimper.
So, just as the dog is sensitive, so too is the generation before Mashiach.

 So, my friends, this is a sensitive generation. We take everything to heart, and oftentimes, it is difficult to accept the truth. It is difficult to look at ourselves and think that maybe, just maybe, we need to change. Maybe we've been wrong all along.

When the world's morale has gone down, we need to be concerned.
No. Wait. The world's morale hasn't gone down!
That's too generous.
The world's morale is LOST. History.
We can't rely on the world to govern our morals.
As Chazal teach us, in Pirkei Avot 2:6 "in a place where there are no (worthy) men, be a (worthy) man" (man - read: leader). We need to be the leaders; not the followers.
We Jews need to strengthen their morale by setting up gedarim (fences) to protect our children. Anything in the goyish world will infiltrate into our world.
I don't care how extreme that sounds because it is absolutely true. We see anorexia, drugs, severe marriage problems, divorce, all types of addictions, etc. because those issues are all more frequent in the goyish world than they were 50 years ago. And therefore, those tragedies infiltrate into our world.

It is unfortunate and sad how so many frum women view tzniut as the way to be covered while covering as least as possible. Is the goal to blend in with the goyim as much as possible? To appear to be covering nothing while you're secretly covering something?
The yetzer hara can be so strong, but we need to be even stronger.
If one is already wearing tights, then strive for real tights. Not see through, tanned, natural-looks-better-than-my-legs stockings. What's the point of those?
If one is covering her hair, then it should look like she's covering her hair. There are guidelines to sheitels. Just about every Gadol (Ashkenazi AND Sefardi) has assured long wigs, wigs with bangs, pony sheitels, wigs with natural looking parts, etc.
If one is wearing a skirt, then it should be a modest skirt, not a tight, above the knee skirt with a slit in the back. With such skirts, isn't it just more modest to wear pants?

In short, I guess what I'm trying to portray here is:
there's a reason Gedolim like Rav Elyashiv z"l, Rav Ovadia, Rav Wosner, Rav Kanievsky, etc. stress for women in this generation to strengthen their modesty.
if we women are not dressing like Jewish women, then it's not just one mitzvah that's kind of lacking. It's one of the three fundamental basics that's missing from our maintenance of being Jewish.
If we're not dressing properly, our daughters will dress even worse.
If we're not acting like Jewish women should, then our men will be out of line. Our men will not act as Jewish men should.
And then what will be left?
We will be blending in with the people on the streets.
And once modesty is gone, all morale is lost. Anything goes.
A society where "anything goes" is the most dangerous of all.
People get offended because this is a sensitive generation, and it's their very essence that is being challenge. Afterall, "hachitzoniyut marah et hapnimiut" - the outside reflects on our inside. The body is the house of the neshama and is representing our neshamot.

Anyway, I know that this post might be viewed as fanatical by some. And that's fine.
But I respect Rabbis, particularly Gedolim, who dedicate their entire lives to learning Torah, leading am Yisrael, writing books, and utilizing their every breathing second on this earth to do G-d's will.
So, if they say tzniut is the biggest nisayon of this generation, then that's enough for me.
But if that's not enough, just open your eyes and look around. And see the results.

Please note that this post did NOT deal with the halachot of tzniut or essence of modesty. There're beautiful, very logical and spiritual, reasons for why a woman should dress modestly. But that wasn't the topic of this post. :)

May we all be on the right path of Torah & always be close to HaShem and have all of our actions be l'Shem Shamayim.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Suffering on Sukkot??

Moadim l'simcha (& gut moed to all my Ashkenazi readers) :)

Did you know there is an actual mitzvah from the Torah to be happy during these 7 (or for you chutznikim, 8!) days of chag??
Sure, I mean, we all know that already, right? Because don't we sing that song "v'samachta b'chagecha v'hayita ach sameach!!! whoa whoa v'samachta b'chagecha vhayita aaaaacccchhh sameach!! oy oy oy oy!"

Did you know that Sukkot is actually the happiest of the shalosh regalim, and it is the time that HaShem is the "happiest" as well?!
The Alshich teaches us:
On Pesach, HaShem's joy was impaired because Am Yisrael were still mired in the impurity of Egypt, to the point that they had to purify themselves for 7 weeks before receiving the Torah.
On Shavuot, His happiness was dampened because He foresaw that soon after receiving the Torah, Bnei Yisrael would commit the grave sin of the golden calf.
But on Sukkot, right after Yom Kippur, HaShem forgave Bnei Yisrael for that sin (and forgives us every year) and commanded Moshe to begin building the Mishkan, which symbolizes closeness to HaShem.

The Vilna Gaon said that the most difficult mitzvah of the 613 mitzvoth is "you shall rejoice on your festival" because it entails being joyful for eight days of Yom Tov, avoiding worrisome and sorrowful thoguhts, allowing nothing to interefere with the simcha of the Yom Tov."
And boy, does the yetzer hara know how to give us thoughts to interfere with our happiness during these holy days!

To add meaning and happiness to our chag, let's dwell on a few thoughts, shall we?
-The mitzvah of sukkah is not exclusive to eating in the sukkah. Chazal teach us that we should hang out, learn, and sleep in the sukkah, just as we would in our own homes!
But wait. Isn't that soo hard? Depending on your climate, it's either hot or cold outside. There're flies. There's no heat or AC (in most sukkahs, anyway). There're no comfy couches. So why are we making this effort?
The Zohar describes the sukkah as "tzila dimehemenuta", the shadow of faith. Why? Because the sukkah symbolizes the protective shade of the Shechina!
So, by merely sitting in the sukkah, one can gain tremendous closeness to the Shechina. Isn't that a chessed? Isn't that a huge zchut?
-Hayashar v'hatov teaches us that we should NOT think that by ordering us to move from our oh-so-comfortable homes into the drafty sukkah, G-d wants to impose hardship on us and make us suffer! On the contrary! HaShem commanding us to be in the sukkah is a sign that He loves us, delights in our wellbeing, and tenderly protects us from hardship.
-So how many mitzvoth do we get on sukkot? 9,893,184 mitzvoth, actually! WOW!
How so?
The Divrei Yoel shares a fascinating insight:
Chazal tell us that every moment one sits in the sukkah, he is fulfilling a mitzvah. Let's figure out how many mitzvoth one can fulfill during the entire week of sukkot.
The Gemara (Brachot 7a) says that an hour is divided into 58,888 moments. One who stays in the sukkah for 24 hours fulfills 1,413,312 mitzvot (24 x 58,888). By staying in the sukkah for seven days, one can fulfill 9,893,183 mitzvot! (7 x 1,413,312)
Is that amazing or what?

So, if you're feeling down this sukkot, just think about how much HaShem loves us. How much He wants to be close to us, and for us to be close to Him, and how His Shechina is enveloping us in the holy sukkah.
Remember, the only true happiness in this world comes from being close to HaShem, fulfilling mitzvot, and being happy with our lot in this world. So, smile! :)

Wishing everyone a happy, holy, kosher, and meaningful chag sukkot!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Ahhhhh The Gift of Teshuva...

There is a true teshuva story that I think of it relatively often, and it's one of the most beautiful, real, moving stories I've ever heard. I heard it from Rabbi Wallerstein around 5 (or more) years ago, and since then, that story has resonated in me.
I think it's really appropriate before Yom Kippur so that we all realize the power of a Jewish neshama, and the fact that it is never too late to do teshuva.
Even if a person hit "rock bottom," the only place to go is UP.

HaShem is the most merciful judge in the world. Even if we were repeated offenders, He gives us countless chances to try again. And again. And again. Until we get it right.
Even when a person is 90 years old and still hasn't found the sense to do teshuva, HaShem STILL gives him life so that he can do teshuva again!
Tell me that's not awesome.
No way it can't give you chills.

Ok, now here's the story:

Rabbi Wallerstein teaches in a school where there are many traditional & not-yet-frum boys. He had a student who invited Rabbi Wallerstein, years later, to his wedding. It was a mixed wedding, but the first dance was the "Rabbis dance", so it would be separate dancing, and Rabbi Wallerstein stayed for that.
While waiting for the dance to start, Rabbi Wallerstein was sitting at the same table as the chatan's brother, Jeff. The Rabbi had not seen Jeff in years, and he saw that Jeff had his non-Jewish girlfriend sitting on his lap. He smiled at Rabbi Wallerstein, clearly conscious of this rebellious behavior.
Rabbi Wallerstein went up to Jeff and said "come, let's go dance together." Once Jeff was away from his girlfriend, Rabbi Wallerstein whispered into his right ear "you should know, I was once your Rebbe, and I'm still your Rebbe, and I love you. Nothing is going to change non-Jewish girlfriend or lack of observance." Then the Rabbi whispered into Jeff's other ear: "but I want you to know, you're going to hell."
They danced together, and Jeff shared with Rabbi Wallerstein that he was now a fervent Buddhist. Rabbi Wallerstein invited Jeff to come to his shiur to speak about Buddhism, and long story short: Jeff's neshama tasted the emet of Judaism and he began his teshuva journey.
Rabbi Wallerstein helped Jeff go to yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael. After studying in yeshiva for a few years, Jeff decided it was time to enter shidduchim and find his soulmate.
He was very nervous to date because, you see, he had tattoos. And not just tattoos. But tattoos of Buddha/avoda zara. And not just a few...but many, all over his body - all the way up until his neck. So he would wear high cut shirts to hide those tattoos. But he was terrified that no frum girl would want to marry him with such tattoos. Rabbi Wallerstein gave him chizzuk to start dating and approach this subject when it was relevant.
Well, Jeff met an awesome girl with much Yirat Shamayim. After a few dates, he was sure he wanted to marry her but was nervous that after hearing about his tattoos, she wouldn't want to marry him. He shared his fears with Rabbi Wallerstein, who told Jeff "you have to tell her."

The fateful day arrived, and Jeff's heart was full of tension and panic. How would this wonderful bat yisrael, whom he wanted to spend the rest of his life with and build a beautiful Jewish home with, react to his news? Would she break up with him on the spot? Would she judge him?
During their date, Jeff was overcome with emotion and told this girl "listen, I have to tell you something."
She listened.
"I have tattoos."
She was silent. He continued.
"And not just a few tattoos...but I have them all over my body. Until my neck. And well...they're not just tattoos. They're tattoos of avoda zara. And I have a big Buddha on my body as well."

There. He revealed his secret. His skeletons. His biggest fear. Now how would she react?
The silence was deafening.
And finally, she spoke up.
"None of that matters to me," she said. "What matters is that you have the letters of HaShem's Name tattooed onto your neshama."

BH they got married. And now they're living in Israel and have a beautiful family.

Wow. What an amazing story.
First of all, the potential of this Jewish neshama. This man, who went from being a non-practicing Jew, and not just a non-practicing Jew, but a Jew dating a goy. And not just dating a goy, but also a Buddhist who was anti-Judaism became a frum man living in Eretz Yisrael.
Second of all, the power of this woman. Who was able to look past all of the external. Who was able to get over the past and look into a better future. She saw straight to this man's neshama and expressed herself to him in a manner that was loving, understanding, positive, and confidence-building.

What I took from this story was that so many times we can get caught up. Caught up in the external. Caught up in the gashmiut. Caught up in OUR past. Caught up in other people's pasts. What this person did to you, what that person did, etc.
But HaShem forgives us whenever we do teshuva. He literally waits for YEARS after we hurt Him day after day and forgives us instantly.
If HaShem can forgive any person, then we also need to. We also need to find the chessed from within and not live in the past.

Don't let your past averot stop you from the person you can become.
It reminds me of a wonderful quote I once saw that said something like "be willing to sacrifice the person you are for the person you can become."
(I might've posted the exact quote on the blog before).

Chazal teach us that Jews have NO yetzer hara on Yom Kippur, and we are compared to Melachim. That means that any averot or wrong actions that we do on Yom Kippur are only due to habit.
Habit can not allow us to withhold our potential.
Yom Kippur is the time to grab your goals and already START doing them. Want to start learning? Don't wait until after Yom Kippur. Start ON Yom Kippur.
Want to start dressing more modestly? Start ON Yom Kippur.
May we all be zochim to enact all of goals, and may we achieve true closeness to HaShem.

Remember that HaShem loves you and is rooting for you!!

Wishing everyone a Gmar Chatima v'Ktiva Tova!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A 9/11 Miracle: in Memory of September 11...

This video moves me every time. HaShem is watching over every single one of us.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Tzedaka: Give Your Heart

I recently listened to a wonderful shiur by Rabbi Paysach Krohn called "Teshuva, Tefillah, Tzedakah."

Chazal teach us that "teshuva, tefillah, and tzedaka" will save a person on Yom Hadin.
I always viewed the "tzedaka" part of it as giving charity (read: money). Rabbi Krohn emphasized the importance of doing chessed, not just giving money. Tzedaka is also giving & doing chessed. I really never thought of it that way, so it was a big chiddush for me.
Some great points from the powerful shiur:
-Tzedaka is all about stopping to think about yourself. There's nothing wrong about thinking about yourself, but we have to think about others.
-A chilling story about tremendous chessed out of love:
Rav Simcha Wasserman, the son of the big tzaddik Rav Elchanan Wasserman, was a big talmid chacham who never had children. He loved his wife dearly, and she loved him dearly. Rebbetzin Feigel Wasserman, his wife, said "I hope we both live forever, but if not, then I want to die first because I can't live one day without my Rav Simcha." Then, as she got older, she changed her mind & said "I hope that we live together forever until after Mashiach comes, but in case we don't, then I don't want to die first. Because who would sit shiva for Rav Simcha? We don't have any children. I want to be the one to sit shiva for him with proper kavod."
The amazing thing is that Rav Simcha was niftar on bet Cheshevan. She sat shiva for 7 days, and then 3 days later she passed away. She passed away exactly 10 days after her husband. HaShem allotted her that time so that she can properly give kavod to her husband, as she so much wanted to.
-Rav Shlomo Lawrence, who already had a burial plot bought in har hazeitim said that he wanted a burial plot bought near Rav Wasserman. He said "who usually comes to visit as person's kever? A person's children and descendants. Rav Simcha didn't have any children, and I do have children, so I want it to be that my children will come visit my kever and then also visit Rav Simcha, since we will be buried right next to each other." And 17 years later, after Rav Lawrence's passing, that's exactly what happened.
Rebbetzin Wasserman thought only of her husband. That is a row in the graveyard that shows us true chessed and thinking of others, even when you won't get anything "back" in this world by doing that chessed!
-A woman went to pay a shiva call to a woman she never met. Before leaving, she said "tell me something about your husband." His wife said "my husband never delayed a chessed. Any time someone asked him for a favor or if he would help someone, he would always do it right away. He wouldn't delay the chessed."
This lady left, and as she was driving, she saw a woman sleeping in her car. She figured "oh, she's probably just tired while waiting to pick up one of her children from the bus top."
She wanted to continue driving, saying it's none of her business.
But no. Her conscience told her that something didn't look right about this sleeping woman...the way her face looked... the way he head was tilted. She remembered what the lady sitting shiva told her: "my husband never delayed a chessed."
So, she called hatzalah and said "there's a lady here, and I'm just not sure if she's sleeping or if something is wrong. Can you please come and check if she's all right?"
Hatzalah came and told her "you saved this woman's life. She was in diabetic shock. If she would've remained in the car for another 20 minutes, she would've died."
The woman was stunned. She saved this woman's life.
A few months later, she received another call. The diabetic woman was pregnant. So she really saved two lives. How? All by just opening her eyes and noticing a stranger and caring enough to make a phone call for a MAYBE dangerous situation.
All of that because she didn't push off a chessed.

Similar to my other post, this teaches us not to push off any opportunities of closeness to HaShem.

It reminds me of a story. I once asked my Rav if I have to give to every person who asks for tzdaka. This would come up often at a certain place that I would go to, where there would be around 10 people who would ask for tzdaka. So I asked if I should give some of those people, all of those people, or none of those people every time that I go? I said, on one hand, I feel terrible refusing someone who is needy, but on the other hand, is there a "limit"?
My Rav said there is no chiyuv to give them, since it is uncertain what those people use the money for, and if they are actually needy, but it is nice to give to one or two occasionally.


FFWD to when I met my (now) husband. We were dating and still getting to know each other, and we would go to this place often.
I noticed that he would give tzdaka to every single person who asks.
Now, my husband was a yeshiva bachur at the time and didn't exactly have a lot of money. I was stunned how, at this place, he gave tzdaka every single time anyone asked him (this happened over 30 times until I brought it up in conversation).
So I told him what my Rav said, and he said "I know there's no chiyuv, but every day, I pray to HaShem for opportunities to be close to him. Giving to a person, even if he's not needy, is an opportunity to get closer to HaShem."

I was blown away by his answer. I took my Rav's psak so literal. I didn't even bother to think into the benefit of doing something that isn't a chiyuv. How it would improve ME. How it would make ME more sensitive. How it would make ME a better Jew to give to a person who asks.

Chessed is not thinking just about ME. But through not thinking about myself, I'm actually helping myself! It's about opening my eyes to others. Feeling the pain of others. Worrying about others. Even if it's only a potential risk - like the lady "sleeping" in her car. Maybe she is just sleeping! But maybe she's not? And that's a big maybe. A scary maybe.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Hold on To Your Eggs!

There was a widow who was extremely destitute. She was a mother with many children and struggled even to put a few morsels of bread on the table.
One day, she came across a fresh egg and took it home. An egg was rare in her household.
Her children were so hungry and desperately wanted to eat the egg. With much pain, the mother said "my children, I love you with all my heart, and more than anything, I want to be able to feed you. However, this egg must not be touched. You see, in this egg, is the potential for us to never worry about food. A chick will hatch from this egg. That chick will grow up to be a hen and will lay many eggs. Those eggs will become chicks, and those chicks will become chickens. Once we have a bunch of chickens, we will sell most of them for two cows. Those cows will produce milk, and we will drink the milk and also sell milk. We will eat the chickens and their eggs, which will continue to yield more chickens.
So, you see, my beloved children, we must not touch this egg! It is our only hope."
Overwhelmed with her successful plan, the widow (just for one second!) weakened her grasp on the egg, and the egg fell on the floor and cracked.
What a sad day it was in her house.

This story, as heartbreaking as it is, is a mashal that is brought down in sefarim. This widow is so many of us. We make plans for the new year. This year, I'll be x, y, and z. This year, I'll have a, b, and c. This year, I'll do 1, 2, and 3.
But... the desire is not enough. We need to have a plan.
So we make a plan.
But a plan is just that - it's a plan. "Rabot machshavot b'lev esh..."
thoughts are not enough. We must GRASP our plan by actively living it from the moment that we think of it.
If one decides to keep Shabbat, then that's it. Start THIS Shabbat! Not NEXT Shabbat.
If one decides to start learning two halachot a day, then it's not tomorrow that one should start. Start today! Pick up a sefer now, register on or and start receiving the halachot now!
If one decides to start dressing modestly, then don't wait until next month to start wearing x, y, or z. Start today!

I've heard the same thing about dieting. About exercise. About smoking.
The tomorrow diet is a dream that many people live - because it's exactly that: "tomorrow". Well, tomorrow's tomorrow is also tomorrow, so that's at least one day lost. And then the next, and then the next.

Carp Diem - seize the day! Chazal teach us to do tshuva every day because we never know when our last day is.
As soon as we feel inspiration, we must grasp it and right away use it, or else we risk that it will just slip through our fingers.

This is not a dvar Torah that sits well right away because our yetzer hara wants us to be lazy. To be "chilled". To be laid back. But no. Many tzadikim have shivered at the phrase "kill time."
A Jew doesn't waste time. A Jew needs to utilize every moment to grow closer to His Creator. What can I do today to get closer to HaShem? What can I do today to improve myself?
Because we can only do mitzvoth in this world. In the next world, it's too late. There're no mitzvoth. There's only schar for what we did HERE in this world.

I know that's something that I definitely need to work on during these days of teshuva before Yom Kippur, and in general. Procrastination seems to be the yetzer hara's best friend, but how many times have I procrastinated 1 min then 5 min then 1 hour until I'm late or until I missed the opportunity to do something good?

BH may we all be zoche to make the most of our time and constantly grow closer to HaShem Yitbarach and to do our Avodat HaShem b'simcha!

Shana Tova to all :)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Sefardi Gal, Sefardi Gal, find me a find, catch me a...

Whenever you try to set people up and give advice, you take a risk. A risk of hurting them. And that's a big risk.

Several months after getting married, I tried to set up a close friend of mine. Let's call her Dana.
When she heard details about the suggestion, she got annoyed at me.
"But Dana, he has the qualities that really matter! Why don't you just give him a chance?"
Dana told me that I'm "becoming one of the married friends who forgets what it was like to be single."
I sympathized because I remembered such people and how much they would annoy me, but was I really becoming one of them?
I apologized to her and let it go.

BH that friend got married. And whatdya know? It was to a guy who was completely opposite of whom she pictured herself with.
I find that with most couples I know, the gal got married to someone completely different than what "everyone" pictured her with. Be it lookwise, hashkafahwise, personalitywise, etc.

FFWD to a few months ago.
A single friend came over for Shabbat. She lamented about how there are no guys to date, and how strongly she'd like to get married already.
I suggested a great guy who I know, and she seemed interested in all of the qualities that I mentioned. After hearing me out, she asked "did he go to college?"
To be honest, I wasn't sure. So I said so.
"well, in that case, no. I think I need a guy who has a masters."
I tried to convince this friend that a masters or college degree is not what makes someone a  good spouse. In fact, far from it.
What matters is a person's middot, Yirat Shamayim, and mutual chemistry/attraction.
This friend reiterated the same line that my other friend did over a year ago:
"being married made you forget what it's like to be single!"

Silly Sefardi Gal tried to set up a guy. Now, this guy looks around 10 years younger than he really is and is looking for veeeeeerrrryy specific qualities in his wife to be.
He sincerely poured his heart out, hoping for my husband and I to have sympathy. We had sympathy. Well, perhaps my husband had more than I did, since he is also a man and has better middot than I do. :D
I told the guy "listen, if you want to get married. Cut down your list and stop looking for the shtuyot. Find a woman who has Yirat Shamayim, good middot, and is fine looking, and just GET MARRIED BEFORE YOU TURN 40 and have very few women available to date."
Once you turn into an older single, you lose the liberty to be so particular.

I should just tape my mouth shut.
I apologized profusely, hoping I didn't offend him.

Sometimes being married for 2 years makes me feel like a know it all. I know. Pathetic. I have a lot to learn.
But I so often hear singles demanding qualities in a spouse that just DON'T MATTER in a successful marriage, and the obsession of those qualities is what is holding them back from finding a proper mate.
I wish my single friends would just take the time to LISTEN to people who have experience, as opposed to solely listening to their single friends who are trapped in the same boat of uncertainty.

So please, all of the singles, stop looking for the shtuyot. Look for the real deal because your husband's master degree is not what will make your marriage fulfilling, and your wife's hair color is not what's going to bring the Shechina into the home.
May HaShem grant us all with what's good for us and what we need.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Who's Really Rich?

Would you rather be happy or rich? Most people will respond, "Happy!" However, do we work more to be happy or rich? Most people work at being rich far more than they work at being happy. Perhaps deep down we think -- even though we know better -- that happiness comes through being rich. There are enough unhappy rich people to disprove the notion. There is more to happiness than wealth!
And how do many people pursue happiness? They strive for physical acquisitions and indulgences -- and then wonder why a nicer car, a nicer house doesn't make them happy.
The Secret to being happy. It is simple. It just isn't always easy. All one has to do is to focus on what he has. The secret for misery is focusing on what one lacks or thinks he lacks.
However, a person can know how to be happy and do nothing to increase his or her happiness. It takes effort and that can be uncomfortable. So, we often avoid the effort it takes to be happy.
There is at least one exception to focusing on what you have in order to be happy. If you pursue something meaningful and important, as a bi-product you will likely have happiness. Perhaps by doing something altruistic and accomplishing, the pleasure comes more easily. It doesn't take the effort required to focus on what we take for granted.
Rabbi Noah Weinberg, of blessed memory, the founder of Aish HaTorah, loved using the following scenario to drive home the secret to happiness:
Imagine standing on the 70th floor of the Empire State building. Suddenly, a man opens a window and says, "I'm going to jump!" You call out, "Stop! Don't do it!" And he replies, "If you try to stop me, I'll take you with me!"
The guy is 6'5" and weighs 260 pounds, so you say, "OK... but any last messages? Perhaps there's someone I should notify?" He says, "You seem like an intelligent, friendly person. I'll give you 15 minutes to try to dissuade me, but first let me tell you my troubles so you'll understand why I want to jump."
For hours you listen to him tell you about the most horrific misfortunes and tragedies. You've never heard stories like this. By the end, you're crying your eyes out. Finally, he turns to you and says, "I'm miserable. Why should I go on living?"
What can you possibly say? Suddenly, you get a flash of inspiration! "Sir, if on top of all your troubles you also happened to be blind, would you be more or less miserable? He replies, "Certainly, more miserable!" You then continue, "So you would then definitely jump?" "Of course!" he replies.
Now, imagine that you're leaning out the window about to jump and suddenly there's a miracle. You can see! You see people, the sun, clouds, birds flying in the sky! Would you jump ... or would you wait a week to look around?"
The man answers, "I suppose I'd stick around for a week." "What about all of your troubles and miseries?" you ask. "So, what? Now I can see!"
If a person really appreciates that he can see then all of his miseries are nothing. On the other hand, if you take everything you have for granted, nothing you'll ever receive in life will bring you lasting happiness. The secret of happiness is to really appreciate what you have.
Appreciating the pleasures we have is a simple and effective means to happiness. Every evening when you sit down with your family or a friend, discuss five pleasures each of you experienced that day. Incorporate this into your daily ritual -- especially if you have children. Eventually, those around you will be focused throughout the day on what pleasures they had so that they can share them with you.
(This post is copied from Rabbi Kalman Packouz's Shabbat Shalom Weekly Newsletter)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Ahavat Chinam - yay yay yay!

Well, now that we know that a lack of hakarat hatov/gratitute leads to jealousy, which leads to hate, we know the basis of sinat chinam.
Many people probably heard of Ahavat Chinam already, but how many of us actually know what this means?

We are taught that one way to help rebuild the Beit Hamikdash is Ahavat Chinam, which is baseless love. But what does baseless love mean? How can we practice it on the daily basis? Afterall, it's not every day that we see an old lady with groceries who needs help crossing the road. It's not every day that we help a kid who is lost at the mall. It's not every day that we need to rescue a drowning victim.
The beatles and hippies in the 1960s also thought they have baseless love. Loving everyone regardless of actions, beliefs, etc.
But they didn't bring Mashiach. In fact, they brought a lot of evil into the world with so much liberalism and "freedom", but that is a different discussion.
So what is Ahavat Chinam and how can we fufill that mitzvah on a daily basis?

Here're two VERY practical daily implications to increase ahavat chinam in Am Yisrael:
1. Increase Your Hakarat Hatov:
we say "modeh ani" to G-d every single morning that we wake up and have a new opportunity to experience life and fulfill our potential.
But G-d is not the only One that we need to give hakarat hatov to.
Every single person, regardless of his or her upbringing and situation, owes hakarat hatov to their Parents. Many people mistakenly assume that they don't owe their parents any respect if their parents haven't brought them up correctly. But to think like that is completely anti-ethical to what the Torah teaches us.
The Shulchan Aruch codifies it as halacha that every individual must respect his or her parents. The Shulchan Aruch gives an example of a parent who hits his child, yells at his child, and embarrasses his child (note: child doesn't mean a minor. A person is his parent's child even if he is 50 years old!)
What a terrible thing, lo aleinu. And yet, as terrible as that situation is, the Shulchan Aruch tells us it is ASSUR for that child to talk back, hit back, or insult his parents. (But that child SHOULD get away from such a parent. That isn't disrespectful; that's saving the child's life.)
Rabbi Wallerstein emphasizes the halacha that even if a parent is a rasha, a completely evil person, his child still has an obligation to respect him!
Even a mamzer, who is excommunicated in many ways in the community and can't marry a regular Jew, must respect his mother - even though his mother is the one who caused him to have the status of a mamzer!
Amazing. Really. If it wasn't clear halacha, it would be hard to believe.
But the reason for all this emphasis on kibud av v'em is that even in the most difficult situations, a person MUST have gratitude to his parents for the sole reasons that they are the ones who are responsible for giving him life and bringing him into this world.
The start to appreciating life is to appreciate the people who brought you into this world.

A person who has appreciation will appreciate what G-d does for him. If a person appreciates what G-d does for him, then he will be happy with life and not be jealous of others (see my last post on the blog).

How many people wait until a person has died to say "I wish i would've appreciated him/her more" or "I loved her so i wish I would've told her."
The shiva, r"l, is too late. Express your feelings, love, and gratitude now before it's too late.

If we appreciate what we have, we'll give to others more easily because we'll realize how good we have it and how we should share our goodness with others.
2. Do Chessed Without Calculations!
Many people have an assumption that you only do chessed and things for others because they did something for you or because you have a particular reason. For example, helping someone who is ill because you also had that illness once. Or helping someone who's from an abused home because you also came from an abused home.
Or helping someone because they have no else one.
Now of course that is a HUGE mitzvah and something priceless and commendable.
But a person doesn't NEED to have a reason to do chessed! How about helping someone just because they're going through pain? Just because they need a friend? Just because they need a good influence in their life? Just because they need help?
We learn this from Avraham Avinu, the epitome of true chessed. What did the malachim, whom he thought were arabs, ever do for him? When he invites them offer, he says (loosely translated) "if I've found favor in your eyes...please come to my home" - he asks them do ME the favor.
That's how we should view helping our fellow Jew. They're doing ME the favor by needing help.
Rabbi Wallerstein gave two examples in one of his shiurim. Many times (particularly in Jewish communities in Eretz Yisrael and NY), such as after shacharit or a shiur in shul, people who need a ride but don't have a car will ask around (somewhat shyly) - "is anyone driving to ________?"
So instead of waiting for someone to ask you, you can get up and say "I'm driving to Brooklyn. Does anyone need a ride?"
Or as is common at weddings, many single girls don't have a ride to the wedding and need to car pool. You can ask the kallah before the wedding "does anyone from _______ (your city) need a ride to your wedding?" or during the wedding, you can spread the word that you're driving to ________, and you're happy to give a ride if anyone needs one.

The second example Rabbi Wallerstein gives is that often times, beggars (both Jewish and nonJewish) are sitting outside in the sweltering heat of the summer or freezing cold winter, asking for money. People give them money, but few people offer to get them a cold drink or hot drink. The beggars are often hesistant to take a 10 minute "break" from begging to go get themselves a drink because they'll lose money gaining opportunities during that time that they're not asking for money.
Regardless of whether or not the beggar is a nice person, (s)he is still a human being, and no human enjoys being overly hot and sweaty or freezing!
A nice thing to do is to say "can I please get you a drink?"

3. Daven For People - While On the Street!
I heard this idea from Rebbetzin kaganoff a few years ago at a summer learning session that I attended. This beautiful idea really made a strong impression on me & completely enhanced my life and ahavat yisrael. If you apply this to your life, I have no doubt that your ahavat chinam will enhance tremendously.
Always daven for people - not just during shmonah esreh!
Yes, shmona esreh is an amazing and important tefilla, but seek other opportunities to daven as well.
If you receive an e-mail or text or read a blog post/news article that someone is sick, say at least 1 perek of Tehillim. If you dont have time to say some Tehillim, you can simply say "HaShem please send this person a refua shlemah"
If you see a pregnant woman on the street, you can daven/whisper quietly while walking and say "HaShem please help her have an easy birth and healthy baby."
If you see a single, daven "G-d please send this person a good zivug."
If you see a Jew who is off the derech or not yet religious say "HaShem please help this person have opportunities to do teshuva and be close to You."
If you see a couple who are experiencing difficulty with conceiving children, you can pray "HaShem please help this couple have healthy and holy Jewish children."

Davening for strangers takes merely seconds and is just so beautiful. You establish a completely different connection and outlook towards members whom you don't know (and even ones who you do know) in am yisrael.
4. Resolve Your Issues with People But Also Stay Away!
If you have an issue/conflict with a friend or family member that can be sorted out through communication, a helpful mediator (such as a Rav or therapist), then go for it! There is a commandment that we are not allowed to hate a fellow Jew in our heart. Why does the pasuk say in "your heart"? Because you can't keep it IN. First, ideally, you should try to resolve to conflict within yourself. But if that's not doable, then calmly and rationally express your feelings to the person.
However, if for whatever reason, this is not possible or feasible, or you already tried doing so and that solution failed, then simply stay away from the people who annoy you, upset you, bring you down, etc. Once you have a distance from them, FORGIVE them & move on with your life.
There's no sin in staying away from a person who harms you, be it spiritually/religiously, emotionally, financially, physically. In fact, in most cases, it is probably a mitzvah to stay away from such an influence.
5. Give Tzdaka
Rambam teaches us that giving a little bit of tzdaka often is better than seldom giving a lot at the once. Why? Because giving tzdaka often conditions us to be giving. Humans are often habitual creations. By giving oa little bit daily or often, we get into the habit of being giving people. Giving a lot once in a while is certainly praiseworthy, but it doesn't bring out the midda of chessed and giving.
Aim to give tzdaka with kavana and a smile on your face. Even if it's "just" a penny or nickel a day in your tzdaka box at home, the very act of giving is praiseworthy! If a little bit once a day is no doable, then aim for once a week - like on Erev Shabbat. If that's not doable, aim for once a month.
Again, no amount is too little, and it's incredible how quickly and efficiently a little bit a day or once a week adds up to in a year.
Once a year, or whenever reached a certain amount, donate the money to the charity organization/cause of your choice. 

Again, many of the ideas posted here is credited to Rabbi Wallerstein. Shiur is linked in my last blog post :)

May HaShem help us all work on ourselves and to have true Ahavat Chinam!
May everyone have a Shabbat Shalom u'Mevorach!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Sinat Chinam - oy oy oy oy!

Well, my dear friends in the world of blogger, I'm back! (da na na na na! Just gotta include that tune! ;) )
I know I've written that phrase so many times, but the truth is, I'm never really gone from blogger. I check updates, and I've started blog posts so many times but then just don't get around to finishing them. I miss this blog, as I have it mainly for selfish purposes (hey, just being honest here). It gives me great chizzuk, and whoever reads it is joining me along the beautiful journey of life.

Sinat Chinam. Oy! How terrible it is. Afterall, it is due to sinat chinam that we don't have a Beit Hamikdash.
But what on earth does sinat chinam mean? And what is the cause?
Chazal teach us that the first Beit Hamikdash was destroyed due to the three cardinal sins: shfichat damim, avoda zara, and gilui arayot. Those were terrible sins, but merely 70 years later, a 2nd Beit Hamikdash was built! Despite the gravity of our sins, we were able to merit the Beit Hamikdash that we so long for now.
That means that Am Yisrael repented & HaShem forgave and gave us another chance to be close to Him. But what was the reason that the 2nd Beit Hamikdash destroyed? Sinat Chinam. And we still don't have a 3rd Temple, so that means we STILL haven't done enough teshuva and still haven't gotten rid of sinat chinam.
Wow. I mean... is sinat chinam really so much worse than murder? Worse than avoda zara?! Worse than promiscuity??
It must be, since the Temple was built relatively quickly the second time, and we're still waiting for nearly 2000 years for the 3rd Temple to be rebuilt (may it be built b'mehera b'yameinu!)
So, it is obvious that sinat chinam is a really big deal.

But did you ever wonder what sinat chinam actually is? I remember always thinking it's hating someone without a reason, but honestly, out all everyone you know - how many people just hate someone without a reason?
I don't know many.
I do know many people who hate someone because that person hurt them in some way.
So what's the deal with sinat chinam?
The quick answer is that when we don't have hakarat hatov, we have jealousy, and jealousy leads to sinat chinam.
Ready to delve into our amazing Holy Torah?

So, let's go to the very beginning...
Adam was formed from dirt. Why dirt? Because dirt has the most potential for growth, for life, for sustenance. Afterall, everything we eat grows from dirt. Vegetation is needed for all animals to surirve. Dirt is needed for trees to grow; trees that give us oxygen, paper, wood, and countless of other benefits.
But dirt is also something very low, and well, dirty (hey, the word is called DIRTy for a reason!) That is to remind us that we are "afar" - dust. We will become dust after we die...our bodies will be nothing. That should greatly humble human beings and realize that THIS WORLD is the only place where we can use our potential, since, afterall we are made of dirt. But at the same time, we should keep in mind, that our potential is not timeless, and we will soon (hopefully after 120 BH) become dust. Then our potential will be over, and the only thing we will have left in olam haba is our mitzvot that we fulfilled in this world.
Okay, so something interesting about dust.
Think of something beautiful, like gold, silver, or black marble tiles. If they are covered in dust, they aren't so beautiful anymore. The dust conceals their beauty.
That's what happens to a person when he is jealous. His jealousy will cover up anything good that he has in his life. Jealousy blinds a person. It spreads through a person's mind like an illness and slowly but surely will completely destroy the jealous person.

What does jealousy have to do with anything?
Because jealousy is ALWAYS the cause of sinat chinam.

(she doesn't look like a happy camper, does she?")
Rabbi Wallerstein once gave a shiur, and a man came up to him and said "please help me. I am  jealous of so many of my friends...their businesses/parnassa, their clothes, their wives... how can I stop?"
Rabbi Wallerstein told him that his jealousy is merely a symptom of his real problem. The true basis to this man's problem is that he need a sense of self. if you're happy with yourself, then you wont care what anyone else has!
Chazal teach us "ezehu ashir? Hasameach bchelko." - "who is rich? The one who is happy with his lot."
This is just so, so, SO true. Wow. The wisdom of Chazal. How much this applies today, perhaps more than ever!
Because there will ALWAYS be someone richer. There will ALWAYS be someone more beautiful. There will ALWAYS be someone who has a "better" spouse. There will ALWAYS be someone who has more well behaved children. There will ALWAYS be someone who seems to have it better than you do.
But your reality is what you make of it. If you live your life appreciating everything you have and looking at everything in your life without comparisons, then you will slowly start to love your own life and not have any desire to live someone else's life.

There's a Mishna that says "kina motzia et haadam m'haolam" - translated as "jealousy takes out a person from this world." What does that mean? We're still alive even if we're jealous! We're still breathing, still walking, still functioning, aren't we?
This Mishna is teaching us that the person who is jealous doesn't have a sense of self. If I don't have a sense of sense, then there is no me! I'm wrongly trying to live the other person's life if I'm jealous. My thoughts will eat me up and absolutely take away any gratitude for what G-d gave ME. So therefore, I dont have me - it's like im not in this world.

We're all individuals. Every single person in the world is special and unique - there was never anyone exactly like you in the world, and there never will be! (Yes, including you! The person reading this!)
Every person has a finger print that no one else has. So just like you don't have the same finger print as anyone else, you also shouldn't have anything else to do with anyone's bank account, looks, marriage, etc.
Every individual should focus on your himself by working on making HIMSELF happy. He shouldn't work on himself by trying to compete with other people! In fact, theres no such thing as positive competition in the Torah. Whenever people try to compete, we see disasterous results, such as w/ kayin and hevel or with korach v'adato!

There's an interesting and amusing mazal that kina (jealousy) and sina (hatred) went for a walk. They met a king, and he said to kina, I'll give you anything - whatever you ask for, and I'll give sina twice the amount of whatever you ask for. kina got annoyed and exclaimed "I don't want sina to have more than me!" So, kina thought about it & came to a decision. He requested that the king to punch out his eye, so sina would then lose both eyes.
How crazy is that?!
Anyone who reads that thinks how foolish kina was. He could've gained something, but instead he lost something just so that his enemy could suffer.
That's how terrible jealousy is. Who suffers the MOST from being jealous? The person who is jealous! He is willing to harm himself just so that the other person can lose something, so that the jealous person will feel like he has more.

So, my friends, we see here how terrible jealousy is. How much it can ruin people's lives. No wonder it's part of the 10 Commandments that it's assur for us to be jealous!
And just as much as jealousy ruins a person's life, sina can also eat a person alive - literally. To the point of murder and self-destruction.
The only way to overcome jealousy, even a speck of it, is to completely zoom out of other people's lives and to focus on the GOOD in our lives.
Once we appreciate and love OURSELVES, we can do ahavat chinam with our fellow Jews. Why love ourselves first? Because a person can only give over what he has.
If I don't love myself, how can I love someone else?

An explanation of ahavat chinam, including tips, will be'ezrat HaShem be posted in the near future.

May we all merit to work on our middot and see all of the good HaShem bestows upon us, and may we me merit to see the Beit HaMikdash rebuilt in our times b'mehera b'yameinu, amen.

***I credit most of the divrei Torah here to an excellent shiur given by Rabbi Wallerstein.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Heart Healing

(Whoa! Two posts in one day?
What can I say...I'm an extreme person at times.)

Ever had your heart torn into pieces and then had the perpetrator dance the cha cha all over it?

There's a reason why, my friends! 

Ok...this post is coming at a really random time because I wanted to write about this ages ago and then forgot. So, now that I remember, I really hope it'll give chizzuk to whomever.

Anyone remember my Green Monster post?
It's no longer up here. (There's no proof that I wrote it!! Mwahahaha)
Basically, the post was about how there was a guy I was positive I was going to marry. I obsessed over him for weeks until finally he asked around about me, and we were going to date and then marry and live happily after.
That is... only after he'd finish taking his finals, of course.

My best friend told me to cool it down. I was getting too worked up.
She was right.

Well, anyway, as I was planning our wedding,
I had a friend tell me that she's dating an amazing guy.
Really? Awesome.
Totally not politically correct in the world of shidduchim, but I asked her for his name.
And then my heart sank.
It was the guy. The one who was supposedly too busy to date me because he was taking his finals.

Needless to say, I was crazy. And heart broken.
It wasn't her fault at all, but I was mad at this friend. Afterall, I was nuts. And had heart pains.

Anyway, eventually, I got over it and was super happy for her.
And super miserable for my single self.

FFWD to after I met my hubby.

I saw this friend, and we were catching up. My hubby and her hubby began talking, and then were standing in front of us.
I took one look ahead and thought "wow. My husband is so much kinder, smarter, holier, and better looking than that guy is! How could I have ever been so nuts to think that other guy would be my fiance?!"

Yeah. It was a super great moment.

I went through many heartbreaks while dating. In particular, there were four guys who I dated and wanted to marry. All four didn't want me.
Each time, it was tragic. I indulged in many gummy candies and morbid break up songs.

There're times when I ponder about what my life would've been like if I married any of those guys. And then I realize: wow. How good HaShem is! How generous and kind. How he protected me from being in a bad marriage, and how my husband is so much better than all of them combined :)

The song "ki hirbeta tovot elai, tovot elai" pops into my head. (See link below.)

We often only see HaShem's chessed in hindsight, but boy is it amazing when we see how He watches over us.

So all you singles still in solo land --

BH you'll see one day how every single heartbreak was for the best. Just keep HaShem in the picture, and daven daven daven!

BTW, all 4 of them are still single (at least, the last time I heard of them or saw them.) And Mr. Sir had another broken engagement. What a surprise.

Ok I should stop being mean.
I'm sorry. I hope all four of you bachelors get married. To amazing women. Really.
(so that those women will change you and help you stop being losers.)
Omgosh, stop it Sefardi Gal. That was SO rude.

Shabbat Shalom u'Mevorach to all :)

Whigging it at the Supermarket!

So, I went to the supermarket. Just to pick up a few things.

I heard an Israeli lady say (in Hebrew) "excuse me, lady?" (for all you Hebrew speakers: slicha giveret?)
(note: this convo will be loosely translated, as there are awesome Hebrew words - like cheshek - that just don't have a well fitting word in English!)
I looked around and saw the store manager.
"Yes?" I asked, curiously.
"I was watching you since you entered the store 10 minutes ago--"
uh oh! I was pretty sure I didn't shop lift anything. What'd I do?
"--and I just want you to know... your mitpachat (headscarf/tichel) is stunning! The way you tied it and added the flower is just so beautiful."

I blushed (well, not really. I'm pretty dark, so if my cheeks are's only due to artificial coloring ;)) and thanked her.
She went on. "You know, I used to have so many mitpachot. I used to cover all of my hair - like you do. But, over the years, I stopped."
I didn't want to tread on anything that wasn't my territory, but hey, this is Israel - we're all family. So, I asked "really? why?"
"I'm not entirely sure." She responded honestly. "Perhaps it just got too hard."
I was quiet and nodded.
"But you know what? Seeing you just made me want to cover my hair properly tomorrow. Yes, yes...I think I'll do it tomorrow!"

Now, here I was. A post partum mother, with barely any sleep, just looking to buy some necessities from the supermarket at 10 pm, and without even realizing - I was inspiring a fellow Jewish daughter of the Master of the World.
My decision to not wear a wig, and instead, to wear a beautiful crown, was one that moved someone (whom I never even spoke to prior to this conversation!) to cover her hair.

The koach of doing a mitzvah. The koach of doing something right.
The koach of standing up for what you believe, even if you're standing alone.

I hope this post doesn't sound self-righteous. That's not at all the purpose I'm writing this.
Rather, I'm sharing this incident with y'all because...well, it's so easy to get lost in society libertarian outlook. The "live and let live" kind motto. That's not at all a Jewish hashkafah.
Our hashkafah is: we're all in this boat of life together. Our actions impact the whole world - be it for the good or the bad.

The well known mashal goes that there's a man in a boat, who starts drilling a hole in his seat. His fellow passengers on the boat begin to freak out. "Yo man, whatcha doing?!"
he matter-of-factly defends himself "I'm drilling a hole in my seat, so I can feel the water. Mind your own businness! What do YOU care?"

If you were a passenger, would you care whats he was doing? Of course! Because his seat affects the whole boat being dry or full of water.

Either we're doing a kiddush HaShem or a chilul HaShem. There's no in between.

May we all be zochim to Lkadesh et Shem HaShem baolam hazeh! Shabbat Shalom :)

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Mission...Possible.

I'm not sure if I mentioned this on the blog before, but one of my favorite hobbies is people watching. I like looking at people. Random people. All kinds of people. Analyzing their actions, their thoughts, their pasts, present, and future.

As I walk around the streets, I notice so many people. There are just SO many people in this incredible world that HaShem created. Everyone's walking. Quickly. Everyone seems to be in such a rush. And the ones who aren't seem to be weak. Tired. The old lady with her dog. The exhausted mother with her baby in the carriage.
And I wonder: everyone is heading somewhere. Clearly everyone is that means they're moving - but WHERE are they all going?

There're billions of people in the world. Nearly everyone, who is able to, leaves to the house at some point and walks somewhere. Everyone has that destination. That store they must go to, the errand that needs to be done, the meeting that needs to be attended, the doctor's appointment they must go to...

And why is that so? Why is it that most people don't dwell in their homes all day long? FOREVER?

Because that is the way of the world - that people are always moving. Our mind goes crazy if we're idle and tells the body: BE BUSY! If that's true for the physucal reality of the world, then shouldn't that also be the spiritual reality of this world? That our neshama should always be moving?

And just like people KNOW where they're walking to - shouldn't our neshama KNOW where its going?

And anyway, what is our neshama?

Well, I once heard an amazing quote that, since then, has become one of my all-time favorite quotes. "You DON'T have a soul. You have a body. You ARE a soul."

Our neshama is our essence. Our essence is just BEGGING to be close to HaShem. There's this magnetic pull. If you can picture your neshama in Shamayim... it would just instantly pull towards where the Shechina is.

Yet, we're in this world. And so many people, SO many of these billions of people, have no idea that they have a soul. No idea that their soul has an ultimate destination. They just live for the moment. "Go with the flow"
Or go by the motto "life is a deck of cards - you get what's handed to you."

Of those billions of people, we have around 13 million Jews in the world. How many Jews know where they're heading - spiritually?

Now how about you? Yes, you. The one reading this! Do you know where you're heading? Do you realize that every second in this world is CRUCIAL to your life mission, otherwise HaShem wouldn't keep you here?

Scary thoughts.

But no. It's only a scary thought if these were questions that nobody knows the answer to.
Thank G-d, we have a manual to guide us and allow us to access the truth. HaShem gave us the Torah - "etz chayim hee" - she (the Torah) is a tree of life. We LIVE by the Torah. It's not just a lifestyle or a history book or a book full of good advice. It's literally life. Anything antithetical to Torah is death.
That's the only way a neshama can be successful in this world: to view the Torah as LIFE and anything that is NOT Torah is DEATH.

Let's look at what HaRamchal, Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto z"l, wrote in his fundamental work of "Mesillat Yesharim" - Path of the Just. His introduction to this incredible sefer is A MUST read for every single Jew. "Chovat Ha'Adam b'olama" - man's obligation (or mission) in this world.

Bli neder, I will post it one day. It's truly life changing.

Shabbat Shalom :)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Juggling the Extremes

Or am I?

Well, yes, I've moved to this new land.
It's sort of near Shamayim.
Have you heard of it?
I'll give you a hint: it starts with the word "Eretz" :)

Oh, and, I have a mini special somebody around whom I carried for 9 months (well, 39 weeks and a few days, actually, but who's counting?).

Baruch HaShem!
So, yes, I've been busy.
But why am I making excuses, anyway? I never committed to a blog.

But still. This blog holds a special place in my heart. It was an island for both my vents and my chizzuk.

To all the readers who have sent me emails: please don't think that I was ignoring you.
I seriously only checked the emails a few days ago. For the first time. I'm not joking.

Anywho, it was Purim a few weeks ago.
Purim has a lot of gadlut to's such a shame so many people miss out the spiritual opportunity and instead solely indulge in physical opportunities (ie: drunk men.)
Speaking of drunk men...
when I was 19, after witnessing one too many religious guys get drunk on Purim, I decided that if my husband would ever get drunk on Purim, I would change the locks to our front door and let him sleep outside.
It was only fair to warn my innocent husband-to-be while we were engaged that I can be cruel if my husband decides to join the drunk frummy bandwagen.
So Baruch HaShem my husband is not one of those idiotic drunk men on Purim (or ever) :)
May HaShem help those men, and may He help me not get so mad at them every year.

Oftentimes, spiritual opportunities can completely pass us by. Why's that? Because whenever there's potential for great purity and holiness, there's also potential for great tuma.

A perfect example of this is:

A perfect example of this is motzei Shabbat. Motzei Shabbat is the time when the holy Shabbat is over, but the queen is still in the vacinity. Our neshama yetera leaves us, and we're left with a feeling of loneliness. Suddenly, we feel the need to do something fulfilling.
Ever wonder why there's such a temptation to "go out" and "have fun" on motzei Shabbat? Yep, that's why. And sadly, many Jews in the world think that going to a movie, club, party, etc. motzei Shabbat will help them fill the lonely spot.
But no.
Since we lost something spiritual, we can only fix the feeling of emptiness with something spiritual. So we have a melaveh malka meal filled with divrei Torah, songs, music, and connection to HaShem.
But this takes a lot of effort! Especially because there's such a strong yetzer hara to ignore the spiritual void and to focus on the physiciality. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Saturday night is the most avera-filled evening of the week.

Wherever there's potential for great kedusha, there's also potential for great tuma. Interestingly enough, it doesn't work the other way. If there's a place filled with tuma - you're most likely not going to find great kedusha there.

We also see this in our parashat hashavua (2 weeks ago) with the incident of chet haegel. How could Bnei Yisrael commit just a horrendous avera? They just witnessed Har Sinai and heard HaShem speak to them! I mean, what's more holy and life-changing than that?!
It's a question that all the mefarshim deal with, and many different answers are given. The main one being that it was mainly the erev rav - 1% of the nation who committed the sin.
But still. How could the 1% commit such a grave sin?
The answer is: where there's potential for great kedusha, there's also potential for great tuma.
They could've waited for Moshe while learning together, davening, staying on the high and embracing the holiness that just came upon them. But that's not what happened.

A wise person never thinks he's ONLY immersed in kedusha. Don't be fooled. Be wise and always look out and be aware of the tuma. Never think that you're untouchable, and that the yetzer hara can't fool you. (But also don't think that you're doomed! Afterall, chazal (kiddushin 30b) teach us that HaShem said "barati yetzer hara, barati lo Torah tavlin" (I created the yetzer hara, but I also created the Torah as the antidote for it.)

Once you know what you're competing against, you can use the tools and strength from the yetzer hatov to win the battle and live in the life of holiness.


Hatzlacha Rabba to all of my readers. I'll try to respond to all of the emails soon.

(Special shout out to one of my dear readers & former Garden of Emuna chavruta: your email was accidentally deleted, but I would really love to respond to it. Please e-mail me again soon!)

I hope to post soon. But I can't promise :)

Sefardi Gal