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 :)