Sunday, December 27, 2009
It's finally happened.
This is the first time I heard about someone getting engaged without feeling total joy for her.
Someone I know, who's a year younger than me and just back from seminary, gets a mazel tov. I knew she was going out because I saw her get into a car with a guy who wasn't her brother a few weeks back. But there's a difference between thinking she's been dating seriously and knowing she's engaged.
It's not that I'm not happy for her. I am; I really am. We grew up together, but she was always younger than me. I was always the wiser one, the one with more life experience under her belt. But now ... she's gone places that I can only dream of. She's on her way to starting her new life, and I'm still stuck in this rut.
I'm not old, surely not an old maid, but somehow it feels so wrong. It feels only right that those who are older should get engaged/married first. I know it doesn't always happen that way. I know there are lots of older singles out there, singles who are a lot older than I am. I've always tried to imagine how they feel, but I've never succeeded. Until now. This girl is only a year younger than I am, and it still hurts to see her engaged before I am. How much worse it must be for those who are even older - when the new kallahs are 6, 7, 8 years younger!
There's comfort in knowing that each person has her zivug already set aside for her. Her chosson was not meant to be my chosson, and this time is obviously not the right time for me. My bashert is out there ... somewhere. Some time, hopefully soon, it will be the right time for me to meet him. Until then, Hashem, please help me get through this hard time while staying upbeat and with sensitivity to my friends. Please help me not lose hope, and most of all, make my marriage worth it.
Saturday, December 26, 2009
My sister is a bit of a sadist. She is positively gleeful when someone gets hurt. I remember one time (I was about 8 years old and she was 5) that I fell off a bike. I bumped my chin very hard, and it was "gushing blood" (as we used to say back then). I came inside the house, bawling. My parents were understanding and tried to calm me down, but as soon as my sister saw me, she burst into hysterical laughter. I remember feeling so hurt – emotionally, as well as physically. I'm in pain, and she's laughing?? Thanks for nothing, sister.
As we grew up, the best way to make her laugh was always to pretend we were hurt. We told this secret to the girls who came to our house, and they used it often. Our home was filled with my sister's joyful laugh, but only when someone was in pain or pretending to be in pain.
After a while, it started to bother me. How could she enjoy seeing other people hurt? She's an intelligent girl, so why does she get a kick out of seeing people in pain?
It took me until my seminary year to finally understand. Everyone says that special needs children are on a higher plane of existence. They have a special bond with Hakadosh Baruch Hu (G-d) over and above what a regular person has. They know what we can't know and see what we can't see.
And that is why my sister laughs at pain.
She sees what we don't see - the purpose behind the pain. There's a whole discussion in the gemorah (don't know where exactly) about the concept of yesurim (trials and tribulations). The basic verdict is that yesurim are actually good for you. Instead of giving a person all his punishments in the world to come, Hashem gives some of it down here. But, as the gemorah continues, no matter how good they are for us, no one would ask for them.
Even though we don't ask for them, everyone does have yesurim in this life. It's almost always too hard for us to see past the hardships and pain to the benefits they bring us.
But my sister is special – she can see past it (at least for others). She sees someone in pain and laughs at the benefit that that person is getting without realizing. She sees good where we only see bad.
And so she laughs. Not sadistically, but as an expression of the joy we should all be able to feel.
Monday, December 21, 2009
The sun ascends the horizon
As hope fills the silent air
A new day is beginning
A day precious and rare
The sun descends the horizon
On a day tired and spent
The question - was it worth it
Based on how well it went
The sun ascends the horizon
The light overtakes the sky
When it is clear as day
There can be no questions why
The sun descends the horizon
The shadows reach their height
Those doubts, which by day silenced
Now give voice into the night
The sun ascends the horizon
A dawn filled with hope and love
A day of new opportunities
A direct gift from above
The sun descends the horizon
As the day draws to a close
The night begins, darkness reigns
Yet the moon above still glows
The sun ascends the horizon
Because it is time for another morn
The sadness of the eve draws back
As a brand new day is born
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
A Jewish magazine for special-needs families published a piece of mine the summer before I left for seminary. It was one of the best essays I've ever written. I was so proud that I had finally been published in a real magazine. I brought a copy of the publication with me to Israel to show off to my relatives there. Everyone I spoke to said it was amazing, and I basked in the glory of "fame."
My essay was similar to what Staying Afloat said about her family Chanukah party. I had spent time with people in situations that are a lot worse than anything my family went through with my sister, and it taught me to appreciate how lucky we are that she isn't in a worse condition. One family I wrote about read my article and were, understandably, quite upset at what I had written about them. I hadn't changed the details enough for them to go unrecognized, and I was too objective – too shocked by the oddities of their child – to do them justice.
They emailed my parents – a harsh letter, but so true – right before Succos. My parents didn't tell me about it until Erev Succos (the day before the holiday begins). It totally threw me – it burst the happy, proud bubble that I had been in because of my accomplishment as a writer. I went from showing my article to everyone I met to almost throwing out all my copies of it. I cried almost the entire yom tov (holiday). The worst part was being away from home and not being able to call them – or do anything – to apologize. I felt that Hashem was punishing me – it had just been the most inspiring Yom Kippur in my life, and this is what followed?? I couldn't even do T'shuva for it until after Hoshana Rabba. [Note: one teacher I spoke to at this time said it was exactly the opposite – Hashem was showing me that I had a sin that I needed to take care of before it was too late.] It was an awful time.
I wrote the family an apology letter (I agonized over it for weeks) and sent it express mail (cost a fortune, but was worth it). Then I put it out of my mind. There was nothing more I could do except internalize the message – be careful what you write and how you write it (see my message at the top of the blog) and daven (pray).
Time passed. Every so often I'd wonder if they had gotten my letter and what their reaction was to it. But I'd never do anything about it. I never said anything, just kept the worry inside.
On one night of Chanukah, I was sitting on my bed talking to some of my roommate's friends. Though I was friendly with them, I hadn't had anything to do with them Succos time during the fallout of my article. For some reason, I told them all about it, though I hadn't said a word about it since I sent the apology. As I was finishing, a different girl came up to my room to deliver the mail. My family does not do letters – I can count on one hand the number of letters I've received from my parents in all the summers and other times that I've been away from home. So I was very surprised when my friend said she had a letter for me.
When I looked at the return address, the blood literally drained from my face. It was from the people that I had hurt with my article. My roommate, Leah, noticed my reaction, but didn't know what had happened. I told her who it was from, and she understood. I was so scared to open it, I just couldn't do it. I couldn't face the pain that I was sure the letter contained. I didn't hold out any hope that they had forgiven me, because I would never have forgiven someone who wrote such a thing about my sister. All of us in the room said a kapitel (chapter) of tehillim, and then Leah opened the letter for me.
There was silence as we waited to see what the verdict was.
And then Leah smiled. She showed me the holiday card that was in the envelope – just a simple thing with a picture of the kids I had hurt. And I started to cry. Not tears of pain like I had shed on Succos. Tears of joy and thankfulness that they had forgiven me. I cried for over two hours. I'm crying now as I remember it.
It was a miracle. There is no way that they would have forgiven me in the normal run of the world. I had hurt them too much.
Maybe they saw the sincerity in my apology letter.
Maybe they're just amazing people.
But I think it was a nes. A true Chanukah miracle just for me.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Rav Tzvi Hirsh Charif suggests that because the Kohanim were impure, they stood outside of the Temple in the courtyard and used long wooden sticks to light the menorah that was inside to avoid entering the Temple in a state of impurity and to avoid rendering the oil impure through contact. Rav Chaim Kanievsky answers that because the Kohanim were impure, they wanted to minimize their exposure to the Temple, so they brought the menorah outside, lit it, and then returned it to its proper place. Alternatively, he notes that the term חצר – courtyard – can also be used to refer to the inside of the Temple. Finally, the Chasam Sofer suggests that because the Temple was full of idols, they lit the menorah in the courtyard, where it burned for the entire 8 days. As a result of its public location, every Jew was able to witness the miracle, as oppose to only the Kohanim had it been lit inside. He adds that this answers the famous question of the Beis Yosef that Chanuka should only be 7 days because they had enough oil for the first day and the miracle only lasted for the final 7 days. However, the amount of oil they had was sufficient to burn one full day inside of the Temple, but outside in the cold winter winds more oil would be needed, yet it still lasted the full day, which was a miracle even on the first day.
© 2009 by Oizer Alport. To subscribe or send comments, write to email@example.com
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Think back to your t'nach classes from High School and Elementary School. Who were the greatest niviim (prophets) and leaders from Biblical times? There was Avrohom, Yitzchok, Yaakov, Moshe, Dovid, etc. What do they all have in common? Oddly enough, most of them were shepherds. Shepherding seems to be a pastime conducive to raising a person's madreiga (spiritual level). The question, however, is why? Why is leading a flock of sheep so beneficial to the growth of a navi (prophet) or leader?
I don't know how many of you have actually been shepherds in the past. My guess would be few to none - I know I've never so much as seen a sheep outside of a zoo. But from what I understand, a shepherd has a lot of time on his hands. He does almost nothing while the sheep graze all day. When it's time to bring them back to their pen, he and the sheepdog herd them in. He sits around all day with nothing to do but think. And think. And think.
But the shepherds who became our n'viim didn't just think about where they were going to go for Shabbos or what they were going to wear the next day. Nope. Not these shepherds. They bent their minds to more philosophical thoughts - about Hashem and the wonderful world that He created for us. They watched the sun rise and set, the grass grow, and even the clouds form. They saw niflaos ha'borei (wonders of creation) in everything. This way of thinking, this turn of mind, is what brought them closer to Hashem.
But what about us - today?
When I was in seminary, I remember thinking on more than one tiyul (trip) that it must have been much easier to find Hashem before modern civilization. It is so much easier to see Hashem in the forests, farms, and oceans of days gone by than in the office buildings, houses, and schools of today. Back then, Hashem was visible to the naked eye; today He's hidden by millions of tons of scientific progress.
Lately I've been noticing that I don't really think too much about real things. My mind is too busy flitting between school and home, dating and weddings and millions of other things. Somehow there's just no time left to think about the really important things. When I think about davening, do I think about how I can squeeze mincha into the last five minutes before the zman, or about how lucky I am to have this twice daily opportunity to speak to Hakadosh Baruch Hu? When I think about school, do I think about how lucky I am to be able to afford to go to college so I can earn a higher salary to support a family, or am I just complaining about my next report? When I think about Hashem, do I … wait – do I ever think about Hashem? Or is my mind totally wrapped up in myself and my daily concerns?
Thinking is what sets us apart from the animals; thinking Jewish thoughts is what separates us from the goyim (non-Jews). I (try to) think … am I?
Friday, December 4, 2009
יעבר נא אדני לפני עבדו ואני אתנהלה לאטי ... עד אשר אבא אל אדני שעירה (33:14)
The Ponovezher Rav, Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, was once collecting money in New York on behalf of his yeshiva in B'nei B'rak. He was riding the subway, on his way to meet with a potential donor, when a group of unruly teenagers decided to have fun with the elderly Rabbi. They came over and began pestering and disturbing him. He was afraid that they might follow him to his destination or even attack him, but how could he escape them in an unfamiliar city?
Fortunately, the Ponovezher Rav remembered that the Medrash relates (Bereishis Rabbah 78:15) that in Talmudic times, whenever the Sages had to meet with the Roman government to lobby against its oppressive decrees, they would first review Parshas Vayishlach, which teaches the rules for interacting with Edom while we are in exile. Quickly reviewing the parsha, Rav Kahaneman developed a brilliant plan based on advice given by the Gemora (Avodah Zora 25b).
Feigning ignorance, he asked the unruly teens for directions to a certain part of town. Excited at their "good fortune," they were more than happy to offer to personally escort him there. They told him he should get off with them at the next stop. When the doors opened, the youths told the Rav to hurry up and exit. Rav Kahaneman, pretending to be even older than his years, took laborious steps and "honored" them with exiting first, which they were more than happy to do. A few seconds later, the Rav was still walking toward the doors when they closed and the subway took off – minus his tormentors!
The Ponovezher Rav explained that just when Yaakov thought he was finally free of his wicked brother, with his gifts accepted and Eisav's wrath placated, Eisav offered to accompany him on his journey. Yaakov, fearing the spiritual influence of his evil brother, commented that because of his large load and small children, he wouldn't be able to keep up with Eisav's pace. He therefore proposed that Eisav proceed ahead and he would eventually catch up, something that he never got around to doing ... and teaching his descendants an eternal and invaluable lesson.
© 2009 by Oizer Alport. To subscribe or send comments, write to firstname.lastname@example.org
PS – any ideas for a food that has something to do with the parsha?
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
This is in response to a post Kristen wrote.
Everyone always talks about how the checking out part of shidduchim has gotten out of hand. People ask the strangest and most irrelevant questions – does the family use plastic table cloths on Shabbos? What size is the girl? What size shoe is the boy? I'm sure you all can think of more.
What many people forget is that, though it has gotten nutty, there is a reason behind the questions. Maybe not those questions, but it is important to look into the family before possibly joining your future to his.
Kristen talks about how whenever she starts a relationship, she worries when to tell him about her brother. That is one thing that I don't have to worry about. My family doesn't hide my sister. We never have. While I didn't mention her on my shidduch profile/resume/whatever you want to call it, anyone asking about medical issues in my family will hear about her. We don't emphasize the fact that I have a special sibling, but we couldn't hide it even if we wanted to.
And right there is a reason behind all the questions. For me, at least, my sister acts as a filter to get rid of inappropriate possibilities. No one marrying me is marrying my sister, but she is a part of me. And if someone can't accept her as part of my life, he is not the right someone for me. He might be a great, amazing person … for someone else.
That said, it's hard to be rejected. For whatever reason. I daven (pray) every day that I will have the strength to accept any rejections that may come my way and to not blame my sister for them. Not only is it not her fault, it is to my benefit not to waste time and emotional energy on a relationship that will go nowhere because of his inability to accept my sister.
Friday, November 27, 2009
Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz explains that Parshas Vayeitzei contains a number of subplots: Yaakov’s flight from Eisav, Yaakov’s dealings with his tricky father-in-law Lavan, Yaakov’s relationship with his wives Rochel and Leah and the interactions between the two women, the birth of the tribes, and Yaakov’s flight from Lavan back to the land of his parents. When examining any of these episodes in its own light, a number of difficult and seemingly unanswerable questions present themselves.
The Torah intentionally structured Parshas Vayeitzei as one long and continuously unfolding narrative to teach that it is impossible to split up the various events contained therein and judge any of them in a vacuum. Rather, each episode is just one small piece of a much larger picture, one which can only begin to be understood when one steps back and views it in the context of the bigger picture.
The Darkei Mussar relates a profound story about a Chassidic Rebbe – Rav Shimon of Yaroslav – who merited living until well past the age of 100. When he was asked in what merit he had enjoyed such a long and healthy life, he responded with words packed with wisdom: “Don’t think that I’ve had an easy life. I’ve had my share of difficulties and pain just like everybody else. If anything, because I’ve lived longer, I’ve had more occasions and opportunities to suffer. It would have been very easy and natural to complain to Hashem, ‘Why did this have to happen? Why couldn’t that have turned out differently?’
“However, I was afraid that if I began demanding a justification and explanation of Hashem’s ways, the Heavenly Court would say, ‘If this Rabbi wants answers so badly, let’s call him up here and give them to him!’ So I never asked any of these types of questions. I didn’t have any more answers than anybody else, but because I never asked for them, they let me stay down here for quite some time!”
As the Torah was written for all generations, it is clear that the lessons contained therein are applicable to every person throughout the ages. The lesson of needing to view events in the context of a larger perspective can be extrapolated to the situations which occur in each of our lives. We should realize that although we don’t always understand the ways of Hashem, we nevertheless must trust that everything that happens is part of His larger master plan, which we will one day merit to comprehend.
Taken from Parsha Potpourri by R' Oizer Alpert (if that link doesn't work, try this one)
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Also, we had gotten off the highway at the wrong exit. My friend pointed out that the wrong exit could be seen as making a bad decision or doing a chait (sin). Hashem doesn't leave us; rather, he follows us, hoping to be able to guide us back onto the correct path. Just like Otto did.
When we're going the wrong way in life, Hashem tries to send us messages to push us back onto the right path. He comes up to our window and asks if we need help. When we refuse to let Him in, He'll come around a different way and try to open the door and force His way into our lives. He'll hurt us (or so we think) if necessary, but the ultimate goal is to save our spiritual lives.
But often, we think we're OK, that someone is going to come and save us (like my father, in this situation), so we don't need Hakadosh Baruch Hu (G-d)'s help. But we do. My father alone could not have done anything for us. He couldn't push us up the hill or get the car into a semi-legal spot. Only Hashem (with Otto as His shaliach [messenger]) was able to save us.
As the pasuk (verse) from Tehillim (Psalms) says - טוב לחסות בה מבטוח בנדיבים - better to trust in Hashem than in people, or even noblemen. Hashem can and will take care of us. We just have to place our trust in Him.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Last time I wrote, I said that Otto pulled up next to us and waited a few minutes before coming to help.
I was wrong.
He told my father that he had been behind us on the highway. He saw us break down, so
he followed us off. He and his friend, Russ, stayed behind us on the service road for a while, protecting us from oncoming cars, putting their own car and lives at risk.
He was with us the entire time, but we didn't know it.
Hashem (G-d) is always with us. Even when we feel alone, He is always watching us, taking care of us. We just have to look in our rear-view mirrors - at past miracles and instances of Hashgacha (divine providence) - to see that He has been with us all our lives and will not desert us now.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
I've been pushing this off for a while now. Staying Afloat has a request out for adult siblings of special needs children/adults to share their experience. I have something that I'd like to share.
As most of you know (and if you don't check out here and here), I have a sister with special needs. It's just the two of us, and we've always been very close, though now, unfortunately, we've grown apart. It's hard to be close to someone like my sister because she can't really communicate. She lets us know what she wants in terms of physical needs (hungry, tired, thirsty, etc), but other than that she's pretty unresponsive. She understands everything we say, and she shows excitement, affection, anger, and frustration, but there's a limit to how close you can get to a person with whom you can't have a discussion. Part of friendship and sisterhood is the sharing of ideas and secrets, neither of which I can share with my sister.
I grew up lonely. I'm an introvert by nature, so I was mostly happy with my books, my studying, and my self. Mostly happy, but not totally happy. I had few friends because many were too intimidated by my sister to spend time with me. I always felt disconnected from those who did befriend me. It was like they had something that I didn't. I realize now it was childhood and innocence.
There's a certain maturity that comes from being the sibling of a special needs child, a certain adulthood that was thrust upon me that few back then caught up to. I always felt so distant from girls my age. There were times when I thought that I was abnormal because I had little interest in what other girls found interesting.
This was all when I was younger. At a certain point I became mature enough to almost hide the differences between myself and my friends and act normally. While I still have little interest in shopping and the like, I do have lots of friends. Friends who don't judge me based on who my sister is.
I don't look back on my childhood with sadness and regret. Children by nature are scared of what's different; I don't hold that against the peers of my childhood (in fact, I am friends with many of them now). I worry how my children will react to my sister. Will they show the same fear that my friends felt? Will they have the sensitivity to love her as she deserves to be loved?
Friday, November 20, 2009
Everyone knows at least one story of Hashgacha Pratis (Divine Providence). I've written about it more than once (here, here, here, and here). Some stories are small ones, like finding a parking spot when you need one, or a day off when you thought you were supposed to be working. Some stories are bigger – of men saved from 9/11 because of slichos (penitential prayers said before Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur), of families saved from certain death by a missed bus, and the like. My story is not quite as drastic, but it will stay in the annals of my greatest personal Hashgacha stories.
Tonight, I was on my way home from Touro. As I do every Thursday, I was driving my friend's family car (she doesn't drive yet but wants to be part of my carpool). As we were walking out of the building, a girl from one of my classes asked us if we were passing near her house, and if so, could we give her a lift. Now, you have to understand – I live in Queens. I can either take the Jackie Robinson Parkway (which goes through a very bad neighborhood) or the Belt Parkway, which is longer, but runs through a better place. I usually take the Jackie. If I would take the Belt, I would pass right by this girl's house, so I elected to drop her off and take that route.
We dropped her off, going much further out of the way than I had expected. On our way to the highway, we were saying how it's OK if we get a bit lost because we are Shiluchei Mitzvah (those sent to do a Mitzvah), and they are not harmed. Prophetic words, but we didn't know that then.
The car I was driving is a very old car, and it's not in the greatest condition. Every so often it makes strange noises, but I've been driving it all semester, so the regular noises don't bother me anymore. We were about halfway home (a little before 11), and I was in the left lane going a scant ten miles above the speed limit but somehow managing to be one of the slowest cars on the road. I heard a strange noise that was not among the repertoire of noises that I was used to hearing from the car. I noticed that I was losing speed, but the car did not respond to the gas pedal. I started inching over to the middle lane, and then to the right-most one.
The car was going slower and slower. I needed to get off the highway, and I needed to do it right then.
Baruch Hashem (thank G-d) there was an exit coming up, so I quickly got off. As I got onto the ramp, I realized that I had lost all power steering and power brakes. I literally had to wrench the wheel to get the car to go on the service road. As I was driving, I put the car in neutral and attempted to restart the engine, but it was a no go.
The car stopped of its own volition at the first red light we came to. We were stuck on the service road, with nowhere to go. I turned on the hazard lights, and we called our respective parents. My father said he would come get us as soon as he could, and then we'd figure out how to deal with the car.
We sat there waiting for him to come, calling our friends (what else is there to do at such a time?) and watching the clock tick. My father was nearly there when a car pulled up next to us. A man got out of the car and started asking me if we needed help. I told him that we were fine because my father was coming. I thought he'd left, but he just went around the car to the passenger side. He started to open the door, telling us that we had better get out of the car for safety reasons. We started to freak out. My friend in the passenger seat was nearly hysterical. He told us that he was from the City Marshals, and he was going to help us, but we were too scared to listen.
My father came right then, so he took over. Turns out he actually was who he said he was; he was even a mechanic. My friends went to sit in my family's car while the men pushed the car and I steered. With Chasdei Hashem (Hashem's kindness) we made it to the side of the road. To make a long story short, we parked the car and left it overnight to deal with in the morning and went home in my family's car. We had left Touro a little before 10:30; I walked into my house at 12:30 and considered myself lucky that it wasn't later.
When I think back now to what happened, all I can do is thank Hashem. So many things could have gone wrong or been worse, but weren't:
- Otto (the guy who stopped) could have been a murderer or a rapist out to get easy prey.
- The fact that such a guy – one who actually had the knowledge and ability to help us – was passing through the neighborhood at a ridiculous hour.
- He told us that while he was watching (and he was only there for a few minutes before he got out to help us), we were nearly rear ended twice. Twice! And both of those cars stopped before they hit us.
- My father was able to come and help, even though it was really late.
- We didn't take the Jackie Robinson. It would have been much, much worse had we been in East New York when it happened.
- We were very close to an exit leading to a decent exit. The exit before we got off was not a good neighborhood.
- I was able to keep my cool – this is the first time such a thing has happened to me, and I always wondered how I'd react. Now I know. It didn't even occur to me to freak out – even when Otto came to my window
I'm sure there was a lot more Hashgacha involved, but it's too late (and this post is too long) for me to detail it.
Have a great Shabbos filled with obvious Hashgacha. Feel Hashem's love for you every second!
Monday, November 9, 2009
This semester, I have class Sunday mornings. It's a real struggle to get up, harder than on any other day of the week. Like always, I set my alarm clock for 6:45 in the hope that I'd actually get out of bed sometime before 7:15. This particular Sunday morning, I somehow managed to snooze my alarm for an hour and a half. Unfortunately, that extra time ensured that I would not be on time to class. I rushed through doing my hair (would have skipped it, but had a wedding that night and no other time to do it), brushing my teeth, getting dressed, and, unfortunately, davening (praying).
I compressed my Tfila into as short a time as possible, concentrating more on the hundred and one details that are involved in getting ready for school than on the fact that I was standing in front of Melech Malchei HaMelachim (King of all Kings, G-d).
I quickly finished, ran out the door without breakfast, jumped into the car, and was off to school. I didn't speed - much. Considering the fact that I had left more than 15 minutes late, I made great time. It was only 9:10, and class started at 9. Not too bad.
It would have been great - had I not needed to find a parking spot. I circled the streets around Touro davening that Hashem (G-d) should help me find a spot so I wouldn't get to class even later. B"H (thank G-d), I finally found one after about fifteen minutes of searching.
As I walked into the building and flashed my ID, I found myself thinking about how I had spent my morning. I looked back on the rushed mumbo jumbo that had been my Tfila and was ashamed. Obviously, I was meant to walk into my classroom 25 minutes late. The test was in how I spent that extra time. I could have spent it davening properly and then easing into a spot just vacated as I needed it, or I could have spent it as I did - pretending to daven and then circling around e 16th st trying to find a parking spot.
This morning when I picked up my siddur (prayer book), I tried to concentrate on the words that I was saying. I spent my day trying to use every moment to do the Ratzon of Hakadosh Baruch Hu (Will of G-d). I only hope that I can continue to use every moment as it is meant to be spent.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Sunday, October 18, 2009
This Shabbos was the yahrtzeit of Mrs. Rochel Reifer, my high school principal. She was hit by a car on a Friday night while on her way to a shalom zachor when I was in 12th grade. The night I found out about her petirah (death), three years ago, tonight, I wrote about her. I also wrote this poem in her memory.
… Mrs. Reifer was always there for us in any way she could be. We each had a kesher, a connection [the theme of our yearbook was connections] to her that was different from our kesher to anyone else. We were her children in every way; she delighted in our happiness and empathized with our lows, just like our mothers. …
Mrs. Reifer was always so full of life, so enthusiastic and vibrant, that it spread to everyone around her. You couldn't be upset in her presence because just being near her made you feel better. She opened the doors of her heart to anyone who knocked, spreading the glow of her life to everyone. …
When I heard about Mrs. Reifer's passing, my first reaction was to sink to the floor in shock and say, "No, it's not true, it can't be true!" Even now, I wish I could wake up and realize that this whole thing is a dream, that she'll come into school and say in her adorable accent [she was English], "Girls, why the long faces?" But in my heart, I know this is reality. I know we have to go on, taking along her teachings and living by them. We have to live as she wanted us to live, and as she herself lived, so her life won't have been in vain.
A year of memories and of pain
A year of fighting to keep sane
How in the world can we go on?
A year of health and happiness
A year of little or no distress
That we take as we go on
A year of loss, those taken away
A year when everyone does say
How in the world can we go on?
A year of triumphs and of cheers
A year without a sign of tears
That we take as we go on
A year of not knowing where to turn
A year of not knowing for what to yearn
How in the world can we go on?
A year of laughter and of hope
A year of knowing how to cope
That we take as we go on
A year of sadness and of grief
A year of incredulity battling belief
How in the world can we go on?
A year of joy, laughter, and love
A year of feeling the One Above
That we take as we go on
Friday, October 2, 2009
On every day of Succos (except Shabbos) we say Hoshanos. At that time, the men hold their Lulavim and Esrogim and dance around the Bimah. One man stands at the Bimah holding a Sefer Torah, with all eyes not looking into the machzor (prayer book for holidays) on him.
It struck me that Hoshanos is a mashal for life. In seminary, we had a class called מעגל השנה, or in English, the circle of the year. We learned about each Jewish month and Yom Tov (holiday) as it came. The teacher stressed that the year, time, is a circle. And like a circle, though a year has a beginning and an end, the two are so connected as to practically be one. From Rosh Hashana to Elul, we come "full circle" every year.
The dancing around the bimah is like going through the year. We take steps, passing through every month. But our focus is always on what we are dancing around – the Torah. The Torah is our life. Everything that we do is (or at least should be) with our eyes looking to the Torah and our Rabbanim (spiritual leaders) for guidance.
This concept is even more striking on Simchas Torah. During the Hakafos (circuit), the dancing is exuberant. "We dance 'round and 'round in circles" (Journeys 4, The Man from Vilna) integrating the Torah into the circle of our lives. The joy that living a Torah life brings to people is written on the faces of the men as they dance and sing around and with the holy Torah.
כי הם חיינו וארך ימינו
Because they are our lives and the measure of our days.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Rabbi Michoel Feder (not real name) was shopping in a crowded kosher bakery on Erev Yom Kippur (day before Yom Kippur) where he met a man from his congregation, Jack Bender (not real name). Jack was a man who came to shul every year for the high holidays and usually seemed bored, uncomfortable, and anxious to get out of there.
Jack said, "Rabbi, I come to the services every year; but really, what's the point? How many people do you know who keep all the 'resolutions' they make on Yom Kippur? Is there a person in the world who repented on Yom Kippur for all his sins and never sinned again? And most of us have trouble seeing even the smallest improvement from one Yom Kippur to the next. Isn't it all a waste of time? Who are we fooling? Certainly not G-d. And if were honest not even ourselves. I've seen a lot of scams in my time but this is the biggest ever."
There was a hushed silence. The assembled crowd was shocked that Jack could speak so disrespectfully, yet at the same time, everyone wanted to know what the Rabbi could argue or how he would respond. All eyes and ears were focused on Rabbi Feder.
"I had to do a number of chores today in preparation for the holiday, one of which was to take my car to the carwash," began Rabbi Feder, "Have you ever been to a carwash Jack?"
"Of course I have," answered Jack, "I have brought my car there many times. What's the point?"
Rabbi Feder continued, "Within minutes of driving out of the carwash your car has already lost its pristine gleam and within a week it starts to look like any other dirty car. Why does anyone bother? Sometimes Yom Kippur feels a lot like a car wash."
"Granted," replied Jack pensively.
"Have you ever tried to clean a car that hasn't been washed in years? It's almost impossible. The dirt and the grime have eaten into the paint. It's practically impossible to make the car shine. It's true that the gleam on our car is very short-lived, but there's a more important reason we make our weekly trip to the carwash. It gives us the possibility of returning to the shine of the original paint-work," explained the Rabbi, "Yom Kippur is the same. The sheen with which we leave shul after Yom Kippur may wear off pretty quickly, but if we never experienced a Yom Kippur, soon we'd become so spiritually dulled that we would be virtually unable to get back to the luster of our "original paint-work."
Jack attended Yom Kippur services with a whole new attitude. The emotion that he had was palpable. That and every Yom Kippur since, has been a new and moving experience for Jack and for all who know him.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
I wanted to add something about my jury duty that I didn't really feel was so appropriate for Erev Rosh Hashana.
If you took a thousand frum people and left them in a room by themselves for a day, the noise would be terrible. In this corner you'd have Shprintze and Yente talking about Shprintze's next door neighbor, who just happens to be Yenta's third cousin twice removed. In the next one, you'd hear Leah and Yocheved discussing seminary, while Devorah and Brocha are discussing Shabbos clothes. Towards the front of the room, you'd listen to Baruch and Reuven talking about the mesechta they're learning, while Bentzion and Yoni decide to learn daf yomi b'chavrusa (together). Underlying all the conversations would be a group effort to set up their neighbors/friends/family with everyone else. Jewish Geography would be rampant, with everyone trying to be related to everyone else. In one word, it would be tumultuous.
Now, take in comparison the scene I witnessed my first day of jury duty.
When I came in on my first day, I was seated in a room with (literally) a thousand chairs. On the day I was called, every single chair was full. You would think, picturing the above scene, the place would be hopping.
You would have been totally wrong.
There were a thousand people there, but you could've heard a pin drop. Outside of what civil courtesy and a plethora of questions (one or two), I didn't say a word to anyone. Nor did they say anything to me. Each person was in his or her own world, with no intergalactic communication.
I'm sure everyone knows the joke that two Jews talking to each other who haven't found a friend/relative/neighbor etc. in common haven't been talking long enough.
Maybe the rest of the world isn't all related.
Or maybe they just don't talk as much …
Friday, September 18, 2009
This week, I was called upon to do my duty as a New York State juror. I had to take off work and waste spend hours over the course of the past few days cooling my heels, waiting to be dismissed. Sitting there as I did, I had a lot of time to think, and one of the thoughts that kept popping into my head was how apropos it was for me to sit on a jury (not that I did – I was just on a panel) right before I myself came on trial.
Every judge will tell you (as the one in charge of my case did … numerous times) that one of the hardest parts of making a trial is finding a "fair and impartial jury." Everybody has some sort of bias, and it's very hard to set them aside and listen to the testimony with an open mind. The judge wasted the time of more than seventy people – over a three day period – trying to find such people.
With all this, the defendant on trial for attempted murder comes into court not knowing what the jurors think of him and his case. They don't particularly care for him, but neither do they know anything about the prosecutors. There is no connection between any of the jurors to anyone on the case, nothing that would cause the juror to lean toward any particular verdict.
We, on the other hand, come into our trial knowing that the jury is partial – to us. Our Father is the one judging our case. Instead of finding the people who will be able to see the matter clearly and make a just judgment, Hashem tries to find loopholes and somehow find us innocent of our "alleged" crimes. We go into that courtroom on Rosh Hashana knowing that the case is slanted to our benefit.
And yet …
There are so many sins that we are unable to atone for. So many sins that we can't do teshuva (repentance) for because we don't even know that we did them. I would like to take this time to publicly ask mechila (forgiveness) from all of my readers. If my words insulted you or hurt you in any way, please know that it was unintentional. I hope you'll forgive me.
Have a Ksiva V'Chasima Tova and a gut g'bentched yur.
Monday, September 14, 2009
Rav Tzvi Hersh Meisels was a Baal Tokea – he was a skilled shofar blower. Before being sent to Auschwitz, Rav Meisels was a Rav in Hungary - the Veitzner Rav. Somehow, he smuggled a Shofar into Aushwitz. On one Rosh Hashana, he managed to blow Shofar for men who were going to a labor transport. He describes how he had managed to blow Shofar more than 20 times, reaching some 1,000 men; and he was exhausted. But then his son Zalman Leib who was there with him told him about another transport. There were some 1,400 boys who had been locked up in one of the blocs and they had been condemned
not to a labor camp, but to the crematorium. These boys had found out that somewhere in Aushwitz there was a man who had a Shofar. Through a variety of messengers they pleaded for Rav Maisels to come into the bloc where they were waiting to be murdered, and to blow the Shofar for them before they died. He did not know what to do.
It was clear to him that, if he went into the bloc, he might never get out. It was definitely a question of Pikuach Nefesh, of life and death, and those whom he consulted told him that he was not obligated to go in and blow the Shofar. His son Zalman Leib begged him not
to go into the bloc.
Rabbi Meisels began trying to find out what it would entail to fulfill this last request. First he had to get permission to go into the bloc. He did this by bribing the Capos – the Jewish overseers who stayed alive by serving as guards for the Nazis. The Capos made it clear that if the SS men should arrive and find Rav Meisels among the boys he would inevitably be added to their numbers – 1,401 to the crematorium. Notwithstanding the nature of the danger, R'Meisels decided to go into the bloc to blow Shofar for these doomed souls.
These are his words to describe the scene that unfolded: "Where is the pen and who is the writer who can transcribe the emotions of my heart as I entered the bloc. I met the sea of eyes of the youngsters who pressed forward to kiss my hand and my clothes. They cried with bitter tears and wailing voices to the heart of heaven. "When I began to recite the verse, 'Min Hametzar,' they stopped me and begged me to say a few words before the Shofar service. In my emotional state I could not speak, my tongue cleaved to its palette. I could not open my mouth or my lips. But the boys would not let me continue. I spoke words of Drash focusing on the verse 'Bakessah liyom Chageinu,' explaining that although Hashem's design and purpose for this Holocaust was at this moment, on Rosh Hashana, hidden and concealed from us, nonetheless we were not to despair for even if a sharp sword is placed on one's throat he should not desist from seeking mercy."And then he describes that he blew the shofar and as he was about to leave, one boy stood up and cried out, "Dear friends, the Rabbi has strengthened us by telling us that even when a sharp sword is on our throats, we should not despair of mercy. I say to you however, that while we can hope for the best we must be prepared for the worst. For the sake of Hashem my brothers, let us not forget in our last moments to cry out 'Shema Yisrael' with fervent devotion. And then with heart rendering voices and with great enthusiasm they all cried out 'Shema Yisrael, HaShem Elokeinu, HaShem Echad!…'"
Rav Meisels survived the Holocaust eventually made his way to Chicago. In 1955, he published a sefer, Makdishei HaShem containing Halachic responsa from the Holocaust, as well as his own reflections and this poignant episode.
What those 1,400 boys understood in the Holocaust was even though their lives were going to be snuffed out in but a few moments, they knew that they were going to eternal life in the world to come. That's the hope the Shofar can instill in each and every one of us.
May we merit hearing the Shofar of Moshiach
From Shulweek by Rabbi Baruch Lederman
Friday, September 11, 2009
I'd like to apologize for the general dearth of posts. I've just started a new full time job plus a new full time semester, so I'm just a little overwhelmed and overtired. I'll try to catch up and keep going, but please be patient (and yes, that includes dealing with my nomination as a kreative blogger by Staying Afloat). Enjoy this week's dvar torah!
The Gemora in Sotah (13b) derives from 31:2 that the righteous die on the day on which they were born, as Hashem completes the years of the righteous from day to day and from month to month. How can this be reconciled with the Yerushalmi (Rosh Hashana 3:8) which relates that when doing battle, the Amalekites chose soldiers whose birthdays were on the day of the battle, as on a person's birthday his mazal is stronger and protects him from dying? (Taima D'Kra)
Rav Chaim Kanievsky explains that on a person's birthday, his mazal is indeed stronger and able to assist him. However, the form of aid that it provides depends upon the type of person that he is. For an ordinary person, death is considered a punishment and his strong mazal helps to protect against it on his birthday. However, for the righteous, death is considered beneficial as it brings them directly to Gan Eden, and their strong mazals actually work to bring this about on the day of their birth.
© 2009 by Oizer Alport. To subscribe or send comments, write to email@example.com
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
A mathematician went insane and believed that he was the differentiation operator. His friends had him placed in a mental hospital until he got better. All day he would go around frightening the other patients by staring at them and saying, "I differentiate you!"
One day he met a new patient, and true to form, he stared at him and said, "I differentiate you!" but for once, his victim's expression didn't change. Surprised, the mathematician marshalled his energies, stared fiercely at the new patient, and said loudly, "I differentiate you!" but still the other man had no reaction.
Finally, in frustration, the mathematician screamed out, "I DIFFERENTIATE YOU!"
The new patient calmly looked up and said, "You can differentiate me all you like; I'm e to the x."
(For those that haven't had calculus, if you differentiate e to the x, you get e to the x.)
Received from ArcaMax Jokes, taken from gcfl.net, published on August 5, 2009
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
EDIT: While in general, I love comments, for some reason this post has inspired a bunch of nasty comments that I have no interest in seeing - or sharing, so I've closed the comments for this post. For those of you reading it for the first time, the ikkur is at the end. It is not a post about tznius in general, and my opinion on this may seem a little extreme to you. It is the way I feel, and is not necessarily halacha for everyone. You can do whatever you want. My point is about trusting in your own sense of right and not always relying on others to tell you what's right and what's not.
We had an optional class in tznius (feminine modesty) when I was in seminary. A whole group of us got very into wearing our clothing just so. We would throw open our closet doors and model our entire wardrobes for our teacher to look at and pass judgment on. She would tell us why this sweater was perfect, but that sweater was a tad too tight, why this skirt was too short, and this one too long. And we would sit there soaking up every word.
One of the things I miss the most about seminary is the peer pressure to be better than you were before. Everyone was aiming high, striving to become more ___ people. To become more tznius people. Clothing that before I would never have been caught dead wearing began to look good to me. The people I admired were no longer the ones who dressed in the height of fashion, but rather the height of tznius. It was a wonderful year.
Unfortunately, like most good things do, seminary came to an end. I came back to America, affectionately called shmutz l'aretz, where tznius is not "in style." The situation here was worse than I could've believed possible. Good Bais Yaakov girls were wearing skirts that were too short even according to my pre-sem eyes. And they were wearing the newest style: short sleeved shirts with long sleeved shells underneath.
I don't mean to offend anyone by this. I am not trying to preach to anyone; if you wear this style, that is your decision and you are entitled to it. This style strikes me as one more way for us to imitate the goyim. It gives off the impression that the person wearing such an outfit wants to be like her non-Jewish neighbors and wear short sleeves, but compromises and wears long sleeves underneath it to make herself feel covered.
It's scary to see people a while down the line and see how they've changed (I've already discussed this here). I recently saw one particular girl who was one of those very into tznius while in sem (not my sem). She was wearing a very loose shell under a short sleeved shirt. If the short sleeved shirt would've been long sleeved, it would have been a perfectly tzniusdig (modest). But it wasn't, and it wasn't.
I'm sure there were extenuating circumstances which led to her wearing this outfit, which she would never have even considered wearing in seminary. Even so, it scared me. You see, this girl was always my tznius barometer. I would look at her and know I was looking at a girl who epitomized the ideals of tznius in dress and demeanor. Whenever I had a question about my behavior or clothes, I would always seek her opinion.
And now … who can I rely on?
I know the answer, the only answer.
Once we finish school, we are basically left on our own to grow or not as we choose. Through all those years, we have looked to others – our teachers and classmates – to model what we should be doing. There comes a time when we realize that we are on our own. We have to be our own barometers, our own consciences. Only WE know what we need to be working on and how we're doing with it. There is no report card because this is the real world.
And what a beautiful world it is…
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Picture it: the train is at the station. You've just gotten on and are standing there, vainly trying to grab hold of one of the poles spaced throughout the train. The doors somehow manage to close, and suddenly, the train jerks into motion. Your hand grabs for the pole, misses, and you feel like you're going to fall.You don't.
The belly of the fat, smelly man standing behind you bolsters you from behind. The lady in her business suit holds you up on your left. You're supported on your right by the guy bobbing his head to the tune on his iPod. Minutes later, the train stops. You still haven't managed to grab hold of the pole, so you begin to fall onto the lap of the micro-mini-skirt-wearing teenager sitting in front of you.
It's hopeless to try to grab that pole now. Better to just stand there and let the massive tide of humanity keep you standing in place.
NOTE: While I was looking for a picture to go with this post, I came across this article and this video. They're pretty good.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Tonight is my grandfather's tenth anniversary. I was really young when he died, just ten years old. My family lived very close to him, so emotionally, we were the closest to him of all his grandchildren. But I will always regret the fact that I never had the opportunity to have an adult relationship with him. I speak to my older cousins, and they remember him so much more than I do. All my memories are of him helping me do my homework (often wrong, but that was OK), teaching me math tricks, playing with me. Just being the best zaidy that any child ever asked for. All my friends were jealous of me for having the best zaidy who carried candy in his pockets to give to the kinderlach. Even now, ten years later, my friends remember him.
My zaidy came to America in the 20's when he was three years old. He grew up in a hard economic time when jobs were scarce. It was a time of people saying "Shver tzu zein a yid" (It's hard to be a Jew). And it was hard. Many parents gave up and worked on Shabbos just to feed their families. My grandfather, however, didn't. He kept Shabbos like few did. There were so many weeks that he would find a job on Sunday only to lose it again by the following Sunday. But he never gave in.
He finally found a job as a postal worker making special deliveries. He was able to work out his schedule that he didn't have to work on Shabbos. Even though he had a steady job, he had many mouths to feed and money was tight. One time, he had to be disciplined for some reason and stood to lose pay for hours of work. His boss didn't want to punish my zaidy, so he (the boss) suggested that he put my grandfather down as having worked on Saturday (even though he didn't) and take away the pay from those hours. My grandfather refused. He didn't even want it on his record that he could have chas v'shalom worked on a Shabbos.
He was a great man.
He opened up his home to everyone who knocked. When my other grandfather needed a place to stay after being discharged from the hospital, my zaidy didn't even hesitate to let him stay with him for six months. I always felt like I had two houses: mine and my grandparents.
Like the singer of this song, my zaidy died suddenly while I was in camp. It was my first time away from home, and I missed my cousin's wedding. On the way home from the wedding, Zaidy's car crashed, and he was killed instantly. I came home for the levaya (funeral).
My father made a big siyum for Zaidy's third yahertzeit (anniversary of death). I was in camp again, but this time I didn't come back to the city. I wrote this poem to be my representative. I've been told that my father broke down in tears as he read it. [Looking back, it doesn't seem like such amazing poetry, but a. I was thirteen and b. the feeling is there anyway.]
As the anniversary of his death draws near
His memory chokes my heart and makes me tear
He was my moon by night, my sun by day
And all of a sudden he went away
His laughter no more will ring in my ears
And that in itself brings down my tears
I remember my sister aloft on his knee
I remember how I loved it when he played with me.
He was my idol with his strength and might
For his face always shone with golden light.
He taught me math and tricks galore.
Now I only wish he had taught me more.
I miss him by day and I miss him by night
While I mourn the cruelty of his plight.
I didn't realize how precious he was to me
Until he died; now the rest is history.
I loved him all I could with my little heart,
Even after Hashem called him to depart.
As years go by, his memory grows hazy,
But I remember he was never lazy.
When he was younger he had to work for a job.
Now, the people he helped should come in a mob.
During this time, these memories flit through my mind.
But days go by and they are harder to find.
I cry and cry as I remember,
My grief is like a burning ember
I only hope that I can live up to his memory and grow into a granddaughter he would be proud of.
לעלוי נשמת אברהם בן משה יחיאל
Friday, August 21, 2009
וכל העם ישמעו ויראו ולא יזידון עוד (17:13)
When a person is convicted of a capital crime, the execution is carried out in a public manner. Rashi writes that the Sanhedrin waited to carry out the execution until the next Yom Tov, when people would travel to Yerushalayim to fulfill the mitzvah of aliyah l'regel (ascending to the Temple), so that everybody would hear and talk about it. This was to inspire maximum fear in the populace in the hopes that future executions would become unnecessary.
However, the Mishnah in Makkos (7a) quotes the opinion of Rav Elozar ben Azaria, who maintains that a Sanhedrin which carries out one execution in 70 years is considered violent and bloody. If executions were so infrequent, how were they able to accomplish the desired deterrent effect?
Rav Aharon Bakst answers that this question may be asked only by one who has become accustomed and desensitized to the loss of human life. In the times of the Beis HaMikdash, the Jewish nation understood and appreciated the value of every person and every life to the extent that one public execution in 70 years caused such a national trauma that another one became superfluous for at least that long. If we appreciated life with the proper perspective, we would be so shaken up by events like the Holocaust and recent tragedies in Israel that they would remain in our collective memory forever, inspiring us to proper repentance and rendering future reminders unnecessary.
© 2009 by Oizer Alport. To subscribe or send comments, write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday, August 20, 2009
We had a sewer blockage. We wouldn't have known about it had we not had the whole business on Monday that was triggered by my neighbor's washing machine. If not for that, which really seemed quite tragic, it would have been even worse come Tuesday. Tuesday night was a huge thunder storm. The rain was so heavy that someone offered my father a ride home from shul (less than two blocks)! Had we not had the sewer cleared the day before, our flood would have been a whole lot worse.
Talk about Hashgacha Pratis!
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
When I went on my vacation, I left my pocketbook at home. I brought my wristlet, but left my keys and assorted paraphernalia at home. When I got home Sunday night, it was nowhere to be seen. We looked all over and couldn't find it.
The problem is that I needed my keys because I was the only one home on Monday, and I was planning on going out a little. Hashgachically (Providentially), we had just had a new set of Shabbos keys made up for me, so I had house keys. No car keys. That proved to be a problem because I was planning on driving to the wedding. No keys, no car, no wedding.
The good thing was that my father came home early because of the flood (and because my sister was coming home). HE has two sets of keys, one even has the remote control that locks and unlocks the car (very important because I tend to lose the car). He put his set of keys near my driving sunglasses on the table for me to take, but I didn't take them.
My sister came home from camp, and the whole house was aflutter with helping her settle back in and getting ready for a wedding. Unbeknownst to me, the keys and sunglasses got moved in the process of serving her supper.
My friend and I were downstairs in my room getting ready for the wedding while all this was happening. For this part you have to know all about my grand total of two wedding outfits. Both are, of course, gorgeous (if I do say so myself) and NOT black (well, not totally black). My pink jacket is my favorite because it's pink, but has the drawback of pulling. It is made up of pink material with silver threaded through it, and at the end of a wedding, the sleeves have bunches of pink and silver threads hanging down. Because of this, I can really only wear this once before sending it back to the cleaners. I wore it two weeks ago and hadn't sent it, so my pink jacket was out. My other jacket has black and white flowers on it, and that's what I was planning on wearing. Unlike the pink jacket, it had just come back from the cleaners, so I made the reasonable assumption that it was clean. Big mistake. I took it out of the wrapping, and lo and behold, some of the black from the flowers managed to run onto the white part of the jacket. Wonderful. Having no other choice, I wore my pink jacket.
Finally we were ready to go. We went upstairs. I found my sunglasses that I had left on the table in a different spot on the table but clearly visible. The car keys, however, eluded me. My parents and I looked for the keys for about ten minutes while my friend stood on the side and watched. Finally I said that I needed to go and would take my mother's keys. We found my mother's pocketbook where she keeps her keys, opened it up, and there were my father's keys. We still have no idea how they got there.
But it didn't matter. I had keys, a car, but no Bluetooth. That was fine; I could manage one trip into Brooklyn without talking on the phone (ha!). We were running about twenty minutes late, but still had to pick up one more girl in Brooklyn. We didn't have much traffic (which was surprising because of the time), but the girl we were picking up had time to daven because of our lateness. I had been scared to call her to tell her how late we were going to be because I thought she would never speak to me again. She is very close to the Kallah, even more than I am, and would have been very upset to miss the reception. When she got in the car, she told us that the Kallah hadn't even come out yet – so much for being late!
We got to the hall in record time, only getting lost once. Because we got there right before seven when the meters expire, we were able to get the perfect spot without even paying for it (Hashem mamish works out the timing of everything!). We ran into the hall and got there with a few minutes to spare before the badeken.
What followed was an amazing wedding. It was so much fun, but you heard about that already.
My parents called while I was on my way to the wedding to tell me they had found my pocketbook. Where was it, you may ask? In my parents' bedroom where they had put it to save it from the cleaning lady (and then promptly forgot about it).
During the meal, I noticed that there was an older lady there who was wearing a very familiar black and white flowered jacket. It's one thing to wear the same clothes as a friend, and a totally different thing to match a lady twice your age (and weight)
Right before we left the wedding, my father called to tell me that an older friend of mine was engaged.
My feet were aching like crazy because we were dancing so much, but the car was right there.
I almost got into a serious accident on the way home, but Hashem saved me at the last second.
We made really good time home.
I even got a good spot on my block (which is nearly impossible at night).
So, did I have a good day? Some parts were great, others, not so much. Did I have a Divinely directed and inspired day? You bet!
Disclaimer: This may sound like a massive kvetch, but it is not mean to be. I just have to give the unfortunate and trying background so the fortunate parts can be seen in contrast.
Monday was a day to remember. It was one of those days that is stressful but ends with the satisfaction of a day well done. It was the day of my friend's wedding.
It started off (as all days do) innocently enough at about 12 am. I was on my home from my friend's house in Brooklyn where I had been dropped off after my vacation, when a friend from Baltimore called me. She was the Kallah's roommate and was trying to figure out how she was going to be getting from Baltimore to a wedding hall in Brooklyn. Somehow we worked it out that I would come to Manhattan to get her from the bus stop, we'd get ready for the wedding at my house, she'd stay over by my house Monday night, and I'd give her explicit directions on how to get back to Penn Station to pick up her bus back to Baltimore the next day.
When I woke up Monday morning, all was fine. My plans for the day were set; I knew what I was going to be doing that day, and it all centered on this wedding.
And then my plans fell apart.
I had been planning to leave for Manhattan at around 11:45 to get there in time to pick up my friend at 1:00. At 9:30, before I had davened, a leak started in our downstairs bathroom. It quickly became a big leak, and then proceeded to give a good imitation of Niagara Falls sans rocks. I was the only one home because my sister was coming home from camp that day. I frantically called my father, spoke to our upstairs neighbor, and then the leak stopped. For a few minutes. Because Zman T'fila was swiftly approaching, I opted to daven before the shower I was planning on taking that morning. I got dressed, took one last look at the area of the leak, and discovered that it had restarted with a vengeance. There was half an inch of water on the floor there, and it was spreading into our laundry room. I called my neighbor again and asked them to turn off their washing machine and to speak to my father because I had to daven.
I davened, and since Niagara had stopped leaking, I decided to take my long awaited shower. While I was waiting for the water to hit the right temperature, I noticed a small leak from the shower ceiling. Sometime in the middle of my shower, I happened to look out and notice that now it was raining from three parts of the bathroom. I quickly finished up, called my father yet again (at which point he decided to come home from work). I went into my room, got dressed, and then noticed that there was water on the floor of my closet (which is on the same floor as this bathroom). I had to leave to get my friend and water was filling up my house. It was an auspicious start to the day.
I got to Manhattan in record time (the train came right away, and I even had a seat), but my friend's bus had gotten delayed. I decided that since I was on 34th St, I may as well go shopping. I got lost in Macy's for a while, and then found three sweaters for $9.50 each (a mitziah [find] to top all mitziahs). I found my friend, and we took the train back to my house.
By the time we got back, our water problem was diagnosed to be a backed up sewer and the water main was turned off. No water for anything, a messy, watery house, and a friend's first visit. The perfect combination.
The sewer guy was B"H able to come right away, and the problem was summarily dealt with. Although the floors were still wet, there was no ill effect on our ability to get ready to leave. We somehow managed it only a few minutes after we had originally planned. Then another set of problems cropped up.
To be continued ...
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
I've been to friends' weddings many times by now. I've watched kallahs of all types walk down the aisle as single girls and emerge from under the chuppah as married women. But the wedding I went to last night was different.
The Kallah was my really close friend. This was one wedding where I felt a chiyuv (obligation) to be there. I felt the need to put myself in that inner circle to dance with my friend on the happiest day of her life. Never have I been to the wedding of so close a friend. (I do have a few more weddings of friends of this caliber coming up, but this was the first.)
The strangest thing happened though. Almost every time I go to a wedding (although this has happened less and less frequently as weddings become more commonplace), I half believe that it's not really happening. Call it denial, but I can't get over the fact that my friend that I shared snack with in nursery or walked to school with in elementary school or took to the bus with to high school or copied notes from in seminary is really all grown up and getting married. I watch my friends walk down the aisle to start their new lives, their faces covered by their veils, and tell myself it's not really happening. It's some other girl, one I don't know, who's making such a change in her life, and my friend and I can just go on as we were.
In my heart, I know it's not true.
I know that times are changing and we're growing up. I watched my friend walk down the aisle last night, saw them pick up the veil to make sure it was her. I saw her face under the chuppah, and it was really her face. She was the one getting married, not some faceless girl in white. Her life, and my relationship with her, will never be the same. There's someone else occupying the space in her heart labeled "best friend" and all former occupants are pushed down a little. She can no longer think only in terms of herself because now she is half of a greater whole.
She, like all kallahs, is facing a new beginning, one that should be filled with brocha and hatlocha, simcha and shalom, and most of all, ahava and avodas Hashem.
Monday, August 17, 2009
B"H I had an amazing time on my vacation. I went to New Hampshire with my friend and her family, and it was a real chavaya (experience). The biggest surprise was that I was able to survive a whole week with no technology other than a cell phone (that doesn't check my email for me). No blogs, no email ... I can't believe I survived it.
I've got lots to say about my vacation, so stay tuned. Hope everyone is enjoying their summer so far.
Saturday, August 8, 2009
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Dear Shulie, Amush
I've been wanting to tell you this for some time, but I realized it would be easier in a letter than over the phone.
Do you remember the mitzvah wedding we went to a little before Pesach? I remember it so clearly because it made an indelible impression on me. Let me describe it to you the way I remember it.
When we, a group of fifteen sem girls, got there, there were about ten real guests and another ten seminary girls. There was a drum playing beats that were impossible to dance to, and the kallah was talking on the phone looking sad.
And then we came, or rather you came. You were the one who made the difference.
You did not hesitate at all. You went right up to the kallah and pulled her onto the dance floor. We girls made a circle around you and her as you proceeded to make her wedding special. You made the entire wedding. As I watched you dance with her and her mother (or whoever those ladies were – we never actually found out) I was crying inside over the beauty of it all, as I am now over the memory of it.
I had never been to such a wedding, and you made it into whatever it was.
I've always been rather shy and reserved, but that wedding changed me. Whenever I go to a wedding, my memory of you being m'sameach that kallah challenges me to be you. Though most weddings are happier than the one we went to in Israel, there is still a need.
Since I came home, you wouldn't recognize me at weddings. Sometimes I don't even recognize myself in the girl dancing away in the inner circle.
You changed me Shulie.
But that's really not the end of it. Until that night I was always a little wary of you because our personalities are so different. But that night, Shulie, you changed my perspective. There was no way in the world that I, or anyone with my type of personality, could have done what needed to be done. What you did. It made me appreciate you so much more, and recognize that there is a need for every type in this world. I realized that while I would do a chessed for someone with (or without) a smile, you'd do it with a song and a cheer. When I would drag my feet do something, you'd dance to do it.
There is a depth to you that I saw for the first time that night, and it changed me and my view of the world.
This may seem like a random time to think of all this, but it's really not. About two weeks ago, someone I know made a chasuna. I wasn't invited for the chupa or the meal, so I wasn't going to go. But then someone told my mother that she had heard that there weren't going to be so many people there. So I went. But only in your zchus - only because I remembered how much of a difference you made at that chasuna in Israel. I can't say that I did as much for that wedding as you could have, but my presence definitely helped.
I wanted to thank you for everything, Shulie, for the influence you didn't know you had on me. And I ask you to continue doing what you have been doing so you can continue to inspire the world at large.
Monday, August 3, 2009
Rav Zelig Epstein, the Rosh HaYeshiva of Shaar Hatorah, a yeshiva in my neighborhood, was niftar today. The levaya (funeral) was held outside in front of the Yeshiva. B"H there was a lot of shade and a local grocery store supplied free drinks. Most of the hespedim (eulogies) were in Yiddish, so I didn't understand most of what was going on, but the intent was clear: Reb Zelig was a tzaddik in our times. He did what he could for the tzibbur (community), but did not forsake his family in the process. He was a man of great wisdom and empathy; he was able to get to the heart of something and share his insight. He was a gadol who corresponded with many great Rabbonim in Eretz Yisroel (Israel). On a list of who to ask eitzos (ideas) from, he was only behind Reb Yaakov Kamenetzky and Rav Shach. I'm sure many personal stories were told, but I didn't understand them.
That he was a great man did not surprise me. But the sheer number of people who came did. I went to the levaya of Rav Shmuel Berenbaum, one of the American Roshei Yesiva of Mir in America, while I was in seminary. Again, the hespedim were all in Yiddish or Hebrew, so I didn't understand any of it. The cemetery he was buried in was across the street from my dorm, so we got to see the entire procession. "A lot of people" doesn't even begin to cover it. Rechov Shmuel Hanavi (a six lane street) was covered in a sea of black hats. Hands covered the van that the meis was in, everyone wanting one last touch, one last caress, for the rebbe that they were losing. It was a fitting tribute for the man he was.
Since Shaar Hatorah is a much smaller Yeshiva than Mir, I thought Rav Zelig's levaya wouldn't be of the same magnitude as Rav Berenbaum. I was wrong - it came very close. There was the same sea of black covering two streets. The same loving, caressing touch of hundreds of talmidim (students) trying to hold onto their Rebbe.
During the hespedim and after, while following the aron (coffin), non-Jews stopped in the streets. They asked us what was going on, and when they heard it was a funeral, they paid their respects. Those who lived in the neighborhood knew of the yeshiva and had heard of its leader. The Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d's Name) that came about through this levaya was enormous. How often does one see literally hundreds of people come together to honor one man?
May he be a meilitz yosher for all of us.
Umacha Hashem dimaah ma'al kol panim
(May G-d wipe away the tears from every face)
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
You're looking out the window
Pain heavy on your heart
People going on their way
While your life just fell apart
People with their regular lives
Not knowing what had been
Just going on with what they do
Not knowing what's within
They see your face, tears in your eyes
And know not what to say
They fumble with their clumsy words
While you wish they'd go away
I know I can't properly express
The words that are in me
But know one thing -
Where you need me, I'll be
Monday, July 27, 2009
This year, like every year for the past two thousand years, we mourn. We are mourning for the Beis Hamikdash, for the unity that comes from the certainty that we are all doing the right thing – together. When we are able to look past the hats and coats, past the places we live, past anything that divides us, when we can see the pintele yid (Jewish spark) in every neshoma, only then will we be zocheh to rebuild the Beis Hamikdash. It should happen speedily, in our days.
Friday, July 24, 2009
From Parsha Potpourri by R' Oizer Alpert:
Why did Eisav merit receiving Mount Seir as his inheritance immediately and without any hardship (2:5) while Yaakov and his descendants were forced to descend to Egypt and suffer centuries of backbreaking slavery before they were finally able to receive the land of Israel as their inheritance? (Rav Aharon Bakst quoted in Peninim MiShulchan Gevoha)
Rav Aharon Bakst notes that baby animals are capable of walking and caring for themselves a short period of time after their births. Human babies, on the other hand, are literally helpless and completely dependent upon their parents for survival for years. He explains that the greater the spiritual potential something possesses, the more time is required for it to develop and prepare itself to accomplish its mission. Because animals have little to accomplish in the spiritual realm, they are able to mature and fulfill their roles quite quickly, whereas humans, who are the pinnacle of the Creation, need much more time to develop and prepare themselves to fulfill their spiritual potential. Similarly, Eisav’s descendants have much less to accomplish relative to the Jewish people, and they were able to immediately receive their inheritance. The Jews, on the other hand, required 210 years of purification in Egypt before they were able to emerge to receive the Torah and fulfill their lofty spiritual mission.
Monday, July 20, 2009
This method of typing is supposed to improve speed and accuracy because the typist doesn't have to actually look at the keyboard in order to type. Things get interesting, however, when the typist doesn't look where she puts her fingers. Do you know how many times I've started typing, only to realize a few words later that they came out all wrong. For example, I tried to type Musing Maidel, and it came out z,idomh z,sfor;? or j8w8ht jq8e3o? If you accidentally shift your hands one inch to the left or to the top of the keyboard, you're going to get gibberish.
The inventor of the modern keyboard was actually very smart. I don't know how many of you noticed, but on the f and j keys, where the index fingers of the left and right hands, respectively, are supposed to go, there's a little something sticking up to let your fingers find their proper place. But, as I've said, I still sometimes make mistakes.
It struck me today (after this happened yet again) that there is profound meaning to this. We see life through the myopic lens of our mortality. The picture it makes is confusing and unclear, and there's so much we can't understand, now or anytime in this world. So much pain and tragedy. So much agony. It's hard to keep faith.
But, if we notice the little marks on the keyboard, the little pointers Hashem gives us, we'll be able to look at life from the right perspective. If we look around with our fingers on the right keys, with the right views and hashkafos, life becomes meaningful.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
My mother and I share a kitchen. We both cook, especially when it comes to Shabbos. The problem is that we often don't communicate about what we're cooking. For example, I like to have one kugel side and one non-kugel side for the Friday night meal. I had already made a kugel and was planning the other side. I left the kitchen for a while, and when I came back, my mother was pulling another kugel out of the oven. Communication – it just doesn't happen.
The same thing happened this week. My mother usually makes the cholent Thursday night and puts it up on Friday morning. She soaks the beans in a certain container, and then puts it all into the pot. She had a very hard week this week, so when I saw on Thursday night that there were no beans soaking, I decided that if my mother didn't put up the cholent by the time I got up on Friday, I would make it.
I got up on Friday – no beans soaking on the counter, nothing in the cholent pot. So, I got down to making it. I washed some beans (no time to really soak them, but whatever), peeled potatoes, and then looked for the meat. My mother wasn't home, so I called her to ask which meat to use. In the course of our conversation, she asked me if I had used the beans that she had put in the fridge. My reaction ("what beans?") gave her all the answer she needed. I had not used them. Then we got into one of our mother-daughter squabbles. I hadn't asked her, she hadn't left me a note, well why didn't I look, but why should I think to look since she hadn't used her regular utensils … You get the picture.
I was thinking about our little tiff later, and I realized that it reminded me of a famous Rashi in בראשית. (One of my high school teachers used to say that a Meforash is only famous because she has heard of it.) Rashi there (א:יד) brings down a מדרש: שוים נבראוץ ונתמעטה הלבנה על שקטרגה ואמרה אי אפשר לשני מלאכים שישתמשו בכתר אחד. For those of you less familiar with the Hebrew, it says that the sun and moon were created equal. However, the moon complained that it is not possible for two kings to share one crown. In reaction to her words, Hashem made her smaller.
The concept of two people fighting over one crown is obviously an old one, all the way from the beginning of time. It's no wonder that in my house there are two cooks fighting over one kitchen.
Friday, July 17, 2009
The Gemora in Sanhedrin (106b) teaches that Bilaam was executed (31:8) by means of all four forms of death used by the Sanhedrin: stoning, fire, sword, and strangulation. How was it possible to kill one person using all four forms of execution? (Rashi, Yad Ramah, and Maharsha Sanhedrin 106b; Ayeles HaShachar)
Rashi writes that they hanged Bilaam from a tree and lit a fire under him. They then cut off his head and his body fell into the fire. Hanging him from the tree was considered strangulation, cutting off his head was dead by the sword, his body falling to the ground was stoning, and falling into the fire was burning. The Maharsha challenges this explanation, as the stoning and burning occurred after his head was cut off and he was already dead. Additionally, somebody who is to be executed by fire is killed through a burning piece of lead being place into his mouth, which is different than the form of burning described by Rashi. Therefore, he suggests that they first threw rocks on Bilaam, but not to the point of killing him. They then partially placed a burning piece of lead into his mouth, but not enough to kill him. They then strangled him somewhat, but kept him alive until they finally killed him by cutting off his head with a sword. Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman questions this, as he was only truly killed by the sword and not by the other methods. The Yad Ramah explains that Bilaam was killed by four people, each of whom simultaneously performed on him one of the methods of execution.
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Tuesday, July 14, 2009
I get a lot of forwarded emails. Some of them are funny, some not so much, but sometimes I think I'm the only one who actually reads them. Take this one for example. It's entitled "Jewish Version of the Bachelor." Personally, I've never heard of "The Bachelor," but in context I can figure out what it's referring to.
Maybe it's just me, but, aside from the terrible grammar and egregious spelling errors, this "joke" sickens me. While I know humor is one of the best ways of coping with problems, some humor is just not funny. The superficiality that this demonstrates … can these people really be frum yidden? I don't even know how to express the frustration and disillusionment that I got from reading this. Am I wrong?
Do you love the idea of The Bach elor , but are too frum to watch it? Then you'll love the new show, " The Bachur ." The concept is the same: 25 girls vying for the heart of one guy. The twist? They're all frum!
Our Bachur this season is Avraham Yitzchak Greenbergsteinkowitz from the holy city of Coffeeneck. He has studied in some of the best yeshivas, is over 5'6" and is a lawyer, doctor AND an accountant. You might ask why such an =2 0 exceptional Bachur would choose such an unusual method for meeting his bashert. "Well," says the Bachur, "I have been dating for over 6 months now and still have not been able to find my bashert. After consulting with all 17 of my rabbeim, I felt that this intense approach would be the best way for me to do so."
The creator of the show is none other than Perry Charshady, who is the mastermind behind other reality TV hits such as "I'm a Rebbe…Get Me Out of Here" and "So You Think You Can Shteig."
"The premise of the show is the same as that of The Bachelor ," Charshady explains, "except with some minor differences to make it more appealing to a frum, heimishe, audience.." For example, the bachurettes will face-off with challenges such as the Challah Bake-Off. The bachurette with the worst tasting challah will be sent home. And who will be the judge of something so crucial20to building a bayis neeman b'yisrael? "My =2 0 Imma!" ex claims the Bachur. "She makes the best challah ever, so who better to judge?" Additionally, while on The Bachelor the bachelorettes go home to meet the guy's family, our bachurettes will have to have a meeting with the Bachur's favorite Rebbe.
And who are these bachurettes? Well, they are all no larger than a size 4 and went to Strict College for Women where they studied to be a therapist of any type. They also all come from wealthy homes in the Metropolitan area. "I just don't feel comfortable with out-of-towners" The Bachur explains, "No one really knows what goes on in those places. At least where I'm from, everyone knows each others business so I can really get to know what a girl is like by askin g, you know, her neighbors and kindergarten teachers about her."
From the very first episode, it is clear that these girls are top-notch. After being the first bachurette to be sent home, Chana Shprintza Cohenbaumosky cries "How could he reject me? I mean, I went to NNI – the best seminary in all of Israel!" Later in the show, the second rejected bachurette sobs "Doesn't he even know who my father is?!" But, not all the bachurettes are so sincerely committed to their seeming "Chesed Each Day" lifestyle. In one episode late in the season, The Bachur gets his first big shock: "I don't always20wear tights," confesses one bachurette.
Who is this shiksa20posing as an accomplished bachurette? Is she the same one concealing the fact that she has Facebook? Or is more than one bachurette hiding a dark side? "It just bothers me when someone isn't honest with me," The Bachur says disappointedly. "I mean, if you talk to other boys or don't have a white tablecloth on your shabbas table then clearly you're not frum enough for me, and if you're not frum enough to be here, then what are you even doing here?"
So what's the next project for Charshad y? A season of The Bachurette , perhaps? "No," says Charshady. " The Bachurette would be almost impossible to create." Why? He explains: "This is a reality show and if we were to portray 25 buchrim trying to win over one girl, it would not be an accurate representation of reality." He then adds "And, on a technical note, the process of finding 25 eligible buchrim would be an almost impossible feat."
Well, this season promises to be one filled with scandals: bare legs, Facebook and even (gasp!) Law School? "It's always been a secret dream of mine," reveals a teary-eyed bachurette. But, it also will be packed with fun: hotel lobbies and exotic trips to Chevron! And fear not, there will also be plenty of Tehillim said through bouts of sobbing. So tune in every motzei shabbas!