Friday, November 27, 2009

Parshas Vayeitzei

ויצא יעקב מבאר שבע וילך חרנה 28:10
Those who pay careful attention to the parsha while reviewing it or during its public reading on Shabbos will note a curious fact: unlike almost every other parsha in the Torah, Parshas Vayeitzei contains no breaks from start to finish. It is written in the Sefer Torah without any of the customary spaces which indicate the beginning of a new section within the parsha. As there are no coincidences in the Torah, what is the reason for this anomaly?

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)


I'm having a little trouble defining some words that have lately become part of my vocabulary. Can someone help me put together a dictionary?

  1. yeshivish
  2. greasy
  3. harry
  4. any other generalizations that are shidduch related

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Hashem Loves Me ... Even More

I've been telling over the mashal (parable) that I wrote about in my last post. It's interesting how every time I tell it over, the person I'm telling it to follows that train of thought and adds a new perspective to it. (Thanks Esther and Nechama). Imagine that this post flows straight from the last one

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

Hashem Loves Me ... Cont.

There was another point that I wanted to make about my experience on Thursday.

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

A Sibling Speaks

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?

Will I?

Friday, November 20, 2009

♪♫ Hashem Loves Me ♫♪

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

Fifteen Minutes

Sorry it's been so long since my last post. It's been busy, but hopefully now it'll calm down a bit and I'll have time to post.

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.
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