Sunday, December 27, 2009

I'm so Happy for You ... I Think

I feel really awful right now.

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

The Happiest Sadist

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

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

My Personal Chanukah Miracle

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

Chanukah from Parsha Potpourri

On Chanuka we add a paragraph, known as “Al HaNissim” to the Shemoneh Esrei prayers and to Birkas HaMazon in which we thank Hashem for the miracles which He performed at this time. In it, we mention that the Chashmonaim lit candles in the courtyard of the Temple. Why didn’t they light the Menorah inside of the Temple where it is normally lit? (Derashos Chasam Sofer Vol. 1 pg. 67, Boruch SheAmar, K’Motzei Shalal Rav Chanuka pg. 172-175)

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

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Cogito, Ergo Sum - I Think, Therefore I Am

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

Parshas Vayishlach

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

PS – any ideas for a food that has something to do with the parsha?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Special Relationships

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.

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