Monday, December 27, 2010

Footsteps in the Snow

When I walked out of my apartment this morning, it was into a winter wonderland (excuse the cliché). The snow was around two feet deep and basically untouched. It was the beautiful white that only exists when the snow is new and has not yet been sullied by association with New York.

Being that the snow was unshoveled, it was hard to get one foot in front of the other without sinking all the way down, past the top of my boots. Finally, I remembered that if you put your feet into the footsteps of others, it's easier to walk because you can see how deep your foot will go.

So that's what I did.

Wherever he (I assume it was a he because the footsteps were so much bigger than mine) went, I followed. When those footsteps stopped, I followed another pair, and then another, until I got to where I needed to go.

It struck me as I was walking that this is a mashal to life.

We go through our lives, and it's hard and challenging at times. Sometimes we sink into bitterness and depression. Sometimes we're not clear on where we need to go. Sometimes, we know where to go, but we just can't get there. And sometimes, we don't know when one wrong step will cause us to fall.

It's at those times that we need to follow footsteps that are bigger than ours. Our gedolim – past and present – have walked the path that we are walking. They blazed the Torah path; now it's up to us to follow it.

Friday, December 24, 2010

My Mother and Me

What is it about almost losing someone that brings home how important they are to you?

My mother recently underwent surgery. Due to complications from the surgery and various other risk factors, she developed a possibly fatal condition that was B"H caught before it could actually become fatal.

But the danger was real.

I've had my differences with my mother in the past – teenage angst and whatnot. We're too much alike and too different at the same time to live together on a regular basis without some kind of fiery display every week or so.

That's ended.

I'm married now, out of the house. I come and go, call to wish good Shabbos, bring over my laundry and raid her cabinets. We've become closer, more equal, with me gaining confidence in our relationship that no longer blows up in my face every so often. Of course, there are still ups and downs. Our relationship isn't perfect, but I see more potential than I used to.

Since the surgery and the complication that arose from it, I'm starting to view my mother differently. I imagine my life without her in it, and I can't see it.

The gaping hole in the tapestry of my life that would exist if I lost her C"V is too raw to exist. Its ragged edges tear at me as I reflect on how badly I've treated her in the past. How casually I treated her, how little I appreciated her.

She loves me like no one else in the world can. She waited for me for so many years, bore me for 9 pain-filled months, delivered me through hours of labor, and this is how I've been treating her?? What's wrong with me? Where is my hakaras hatov?

But now that I almost lost her, I can see things more clearly.

I can see her love for me even when she's at her most annoying. I can see that the things about her that most grate on my nerves are really just her way of expressing that love.

And I can see my love for her and draw on it so I can be the daughter she needs me to be at this critical time.

So, what is it about almost losing someone that brings out how important they are to you? It's the shift in your view of the world – a world without that person – and the realization that it's a much better place with them in it.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Long Time No Speak

You know how it is when you call up a friend you haven't spoken to in a while? You finally work up the courage to call, and it's just so.... stilted. There's that awkward "hi, it's me. How are you?" that starts off the conversation. Then there's that standard silence where the other person tries to figure out who you are and why you're calling. When they finally place you, there's an "Oh hi! What's new with you?" and the conversation (if there is any) flows from there.

Lately, though, it's been worse. Every time I speak to someone I haven't spoken to since I got married they ask "Nu, so how's married life?"

I've kinda been feeling that way about the blog. I've wanted to write. It's been so long since my last post and I've had a lot to say (most of which have gone the way of all good thoughts - out of memory).

But I've been scared of the awkward silence. Of all my readers having gone on to more frequently posted pastures. Of calling into the blogosphere and having everyone be thinking "Musing Maidel, who's that?"

But I've bitten the bullet.

I've said something.

Hi. How are you? How've you been the last few months? I'm back in the world of the posting and hope to pop in relatively frequently.

And yes, B"H, married life is wonderful. Busy, but wonderful...

Monday, October 4, 2010

Two Weeks and Counting...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Succos Repost

I'm too much of a KBS-er to come up with a new torah thought, so I'm reposting the one from last year - Hoshanos and Hakafos.


Also, I was talking to a friend of mine about sheitels. IY"H, I'm going to be wearing one in a few short weeks, but I find that my attitude towards it is that I'm excited to wear a sheitel as a symbol of the fact that I'm married, and nothing else. The main reason I'm excited about it is out of laziness (no more doing my hair :D), not of any type of ruchniyus thing.

So now I'm looking for thoughts. Anyone have any interesting/inspiring thoughts on sheitels? Why do we wear them? What should our attitude be toward them? Links and recommendations for books and articles welcome.

Don't all shout out at once!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Ultimate Kallah Brain

Before I got engaged, I heard rumors of the Kallah Brain syndrome, or KBS. It is a genetic disorder that is triggered upon engagement. Its symptoms include dreamy smiles, twinkling eyes, and a distinct preoccupation with a certain someone to the exclusion of all others. It then progresses to an air of general forgetfulness, preoccupation, and selfishness, which means to say that those diagnosed with KBS have no time for anything and anyone not wedding- or post-wedding- related. Especially their still uninfected friends.

It is very easy to diagnose those suffering from KBS. If someone you know has recently gotten engaged and has continued on to the wedding planning stage, be on the lookout for the telling signs of KBS. Sufferers thereof are a menace to society and should be stopped at all costs.

In all seriousness, though, KBS is easy to diagnose in others; not so much in yourself. Ever since I got engaged, as I wrote in my first NEF post, my friends have been telling me that I'm the worst (or best) NEF they've ever seen. One particular friend who I spoke to very often while I was going out with TLC would make fun of me all the at the beginning of my engagement. Everyone told me that I was a floaty kallah to top all floaty kallahs.

But somehow, I didn't see it. Until today, that is.

It was finally brought home to me that I am indeed a sufferer of KBS. In fact, my case is probably one of the worst ones known to femalekind.

In one day, I had three KBS-induced moments that I feel the urge to share for some reason, but only one of them is still funny in writing, so I'll only share one.

It happened as I was leaving the office today. I got into the elevator (my office is on the 6th floor) and waited to get out. And waited. And waited. Until finally, I realized that the elevator was no longer moving. Uh oh. It must have gotten stuck. I looked at the panel that says what floor the elevator was up to. And lo and behold, it was still at 6. One very KBS-y kallah had forgotten to press the 1 button.

One can argue that such circumstantial evidence as the above story does not render a person a sufferer of KBS. But the signs of my stricken-ness are clear.

I think this post proves it. If it doesn't make any sense, and I'm sure it doesn't, just remewell - I'm a KBS-er, and that excuses anything :D

Friday, September 17, 2010

G'mar Chasima Tova to All!

May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life this year.

I never know what to say at times like these, so I'm going to borrow from Staying Afloat.
I ask that if I have accidentally offended or slighted someone in a post or a comment, or through omission, that you please forgive me for the oversight.
Hope you all have an easy, meaningful, and prayerful fast.

Y'malei Hashem Kol Mishalos Libchem L'tova
(May Hashem answer all the wishes of your heart - for good)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

No Comment

Sorry for the radio silence folks. I did warn you...

It's not so much that I have nothing to say, but that I have no time to say it in.

So far, we have a couch, an apt, a bedroom set, a china closet, a table, some bookcases, flatware, and lots of other things.

I've picked out 2 sets of corelle, 1 of china.

I have my leichter and a tray to put it on.

We have the wedding basically planned - all that's left to do is send out the invitations (which we don't have yet - help!) and pick out the flowers.

There are lots of stuff that we don't yet have, but are conveniently listed on our registry at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. (If you feel the urge to give, email me, and I'll give you the name to search for :D)

That's all for now. Ksiva V'Chasima Tova and a gut g'bentched yur. This year should be one of brocha, hatzlocha, simcha, and yeshuah for us and all of klal yisroel.  If I have accidentally hurt someone with what I said on my blog or in comments, I publicly ask your mechila and hope you forgive me - out loud.

Daven well everyone!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

My Bubby, My Wedding, and Me

I’m five years old. Long Shabbos afternoons are so boring. The only thing that breaks the monotony is Bubby; she’s willing to play with me. We play the same game every Shabbos. We take one of my crinolines – one that has an attached undershirt – and use it as my gown. A half slip goes over my hair as a veil.

And every Shabbos afternoon, Bubby walks me down the long hallway of her apartment to meet my chosson. The hallway stretches from the back of the apartment all the way to the front, miles to my young eyes. Bubby is dressed in her Shabbos best, her short, ashy-blond sheitel and Shabbos clothes that only my Bubby can wear.

Together, we walk down the aisle to meet my imaginary chosson. He always has the same name: Moshe Zacks. I’m not sure where that name came from. I have no recollection of ever having met a Moshe Zacks. But somehow, I know that that’s my chosson’s name.

We walk down the hallway with measured steps, circle the designated chair seven times, and lift up my makeshift veil.

I’m married. Again.

Time passes. I’ve grown up a bit. Now I’m almost ten.

Bubby’s been in the hospital, and I don’t know why. I’m too young for adults to tell me what’s wrong, too young to understand what’s happening, too young to comprehend what happens when death touches a family.

Too young to lose my only grandmother.

But I did.

She won’t be with me when I walk down the aisle to meet my real chosson (whose name is not Moshe Zacks). She won’t be there to help me get dressed in the pristine white gown that I’m going to wear to walk down the aisle with measured steps. She won’t hold my hand as I circle him seven times to build the wall around him as we start our new lives together.

And she won’t be there to hug me and wish us mazel tov as we make our way back from the chupa. She won’t be there to dance with me; she won’t be there to wish me joy in my new life.

She won’t be there to see her great-grandchildren that I hope to bring into this world. And she won’t be there to watch me raise them in her derech.

Most of all, she won’t be there to alleviate the boredom of my five year old daughters by playing the same game on those long Shabbos afternoons. She won’t be there to dress my daughters in crinolines and slips and walk them down the long hallway of her apartment to meet their imaginary chassanim.

Every Shabbos afternoon.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Oh, Family!

There's nothing like a wedding to get relatives crawling out of the woodworks.

My mother and I were just working on our invitation list, and you wouldn't believe how many relatives we have that I've never even met. Sure, I know Great Aunt Sophy, and I vaguely remember seeing a 20 year old picture of her husband who died 15 years ago when I was about 6 years old. But I have zero recollection of ever having met her assorted nieces, nephews, and grandchildren who apparently all  have to be invited to my wedding.

And that's just Aunt Sophy.

We mustn't forget about Great-great-Uncle Louis. Great-great-uncle Louis vanished from the family tree 60 years ago when he came to America and cut off his peyos to work on Shabbos, but suddenly we have to invite all 60 of his grandchildren even though we haven't seen hide nor hair of them since 10 years before I was born.

And the list goes on ... Aunt Shirley, Tante Faigy, Bubby Suzanne, ...

They come from all sides and corners of the globe. They come in all shapes and colors, all streaks and designs.

And they all need to be invited to the wedding.

I wonder if we'll be able to invite anyone we actually know to this wedding of mine. With all these related strangers, we'll have no problem hitting even the largest minimum at any hall.

The only question is if my parents and I can make it. Will we fit???

(Just so you know, I'm totally exaggerating. I don't have that many relatives. Almost, but not quite. But we are inviting plenty of family members that I've never heard of.)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Top 10 Thoughts of an NEF

As one of the newly engaged (fondly [or not so fondly :)] known as an NEF), I consider myself somewhat of an expert on what it is that an NEF thinks about. Truthfully, I can only say this from my own recent experience, but everything mentioned has gone through my head at least once.

10.   I have a chosson. I HAVE A CHOSSON. I HAVE A CHOSSON!?!?!?!?
9.     Look at the clouds go by … things are so lovely up here on cloud 9 … the rainbows are so pretty … the sky is so blue ...
8.     The wedding is all planned, but there’s so much I need to do. I need to get my pots, pans, silverware, china, paper goods, sheva brochos outfits, get my ring sized, pick up the dry cleaning, cook for Shabbos because my chosson is coming over, call my inlaws, go to my chosson’s sister’s niece’s wedding, run to work, run to the store, do my homework….
7.    My chosson is coming. I have to go do my hair and makeup so I can look beautiful for him.
6.    This isn’t really happening. These kinds of things only happen to other girls. They get engaged – not me.
5.    I’m getting married. I’M GETTING MARRIED. I’M GETTING MARRIED?!?!?
3.    Rose colored glasses really change your perspective on things.
2.    I have a chosson. I HAVE A CHOSSON. I HAVE A CHOSSON!?!?!?!?

And the number one thought running through an NEF's mind (at least this NEF)  -
1.    I’m no longer in shidduchim!!!!!!!! I don’t have to worry about what the shadchanim are going to think of me because the only one who matters now is the chosson – and if he’s not seeing me, I don’t need to really get dressed.

NOTE: Yes, I know #4 is missing, but come on - have you ever seen an NEF who could count?

Monday, August 9, 2010


It seems that a wave of engagements is sweeping the blogosphere, B"H. I just became a kallah. My chosson (hereafter to be known as TLC [the lucky chosson]) has been keeping me busy, so I haven't had much time to post.  (I did also have a lot of weddings, but that wasn't the only reason for the lack of posting - it was just an excuse :D.)

For all those who are curious, I told him about my blog on our second date, but he didn't find out the URL until Sunday morning, which was a little awkward... (me: "You can't read it - it's private!" TLC: "You can show it to the world, but not to me?" me: "It's different when random strangers are reading it etc."). It's OK - we worked it out. Maybe one day I'll ask him to guest post.

This marks the beginning of a new epoch in my blogging life as SIBW said. I'm no longer in shidduchim (Chasdei Hashem Ki Lo Samnu), but I'm not married yet. I am an NEF (Newly Engaged Friend), and my friends tell me I'm the worst (or the best :) ) NEF they've ever had.

So, stay tuned for a new series - from the mind of an NEF ...

(I'm sorry if this post doesn't really make sense - I'm still on the post-vort, having-TLC-and-his-parents-over-for-shabbos exhaustion stage)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Top Posts

I'm starting to compile a list of favorite posts on Musings of a Maidel. I'd love to hear from my readers. Can you leave your top picks and what you like about them in the comments section?

Thanks so much!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Sorry, no post

Baruch Hashem, I've had a busy last week or so. What with tisha b'av, and then weddings every night, plus working full time (or as full time as I'm able with all these weddings :) ), I haven't had much time to think, let alone write up a post. Bli neder, I'll be back soon when I have time to breathe.

Until then, oif simchos!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Scarred Hearts

Children are more emotional than adults. When I was younger, the tears were so close to the surface, anything could set them off. If I got hurt, even the teeniest scratch, I would cry. If I heard of someone else getting hurt, I would cry. And if I heard of someone in emotional pain, my heart went out to them.

Every pain that I heard of, every time that I cried scarred my heart. It had been fresh, young, unblemished. But as I grew older, each tzara that I heard about added another layer of scar tissue to the surface of my heart.

And then the defense mechanism kicked in.

If something is known to hurt you, you're not going to chase after it. More likely, you'd run away. When a heart mangled with so many tzaros, so many wounds and scars, realizes what causes its pain, it shuts itself off. Emotion is still there. But the outreach, the feeling for others just …


And now, I can no longer bring out the emotion for others that I used to have. That empathy is not gone, but severely depleteed. When I hear of a tzaar in klal yisroel, I don't cry. I maybe say a kapitol tehillim, but I can't find the tears. I can't find the emotion that used to define me.

Sometimes it hits close to home. That girl who just had twins – Chana Ruchama b-s Tziporah Faiga (she should have a refuah shleima) – is my age. She's my friend's friend. That hurt. But not as much as it would have hurt 10, 5, even 1 year ago. There's just too much tzaar.

The thing is that we as Yidden have an achrayus to be there for our brethren. We have to physically remove the scabs on our hearts and let them feel what we need them to feel. As Yechezkel says (36:26)והסרתי את-לב האבן, מבשרכם, ונתתי לכם, לב בשר (I will remove the stone heart from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh).

The second Beis Hamikdash was destroyed because of Sinas Chinam (baseless hatred).

Now is the time to fix this mistake so we can greet mashiach on Tuesday.

Now is the time to get rid of our scars and hearts of stone and replace them with a flesh, loving heart that can open itself to the rest of klal yisroel.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Parshas Matos-Maasei

Taken from Rabbi Baruch Lederman's ShulWeek

The Torah gives very explicit instructions. The Torah tells us what to do. It also tells us how, when and where to do it. Every detail is spelled out. Just like using a washing machine, when you read and adhere to the directions, all will be well. If not, things will go awry, as the following true story, documented in Parsha Parables by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky, illustrates:

It was the eve of December 25th, 1776. General George Washington was reeling from his crushing defeats in New York. In a bold and daring move, he had decided to cross the ice-filled Delaware River and attack Trenton, New Jersey. He planned to surprise the thousands of Hessian troops guarding that portal. He did not know that his surprise attack was almost no surprise. A farmer, a British sympathizer knocked on the door where the Hessian Commander, Colonel Johann Rall was attending a holiday party. Rall had always scoffed at the thought of attack, boasting, "Those clod-hoppers will not attack us!"

The farmer had heard of the plans and seen the movement across the shore. He wanted to get the message to the Colonel but he could not get past a servant who accepted a note which spelled out Washington's plans and handed it to the commander. Rall, however, was in the middle of a card game and would not be interrupted. He stuffed the paper in his pocket without even glancing at it. He continued playing through the night until he collapsed from drunken exhaustion.

At dawn, Washington attacked. His ammunition was so waterlogged that his troops could hardly fire a shot. They did not need to. The Hessians were drowsy from the previous night's festivities and the Colonial Army's bayonets were as sharp as the troops' spirit. After an overwhelming onslaught in which the colonists took nearly 900 prisoners, Rall who was mortally wounded, surrendered. As the doctor cut away his jacket, a note fell out. Rall read it and mournfully said, "If I only had read this last night, I would not be here today."

The Rosh Yeshiva or Chofetz Chaim ztl, told us that when he was a youth, he told his father, Reb Dovid Leibowitz ztl, that he was thinking about becoming a doctor instead of a Rabbi. His father replied, "Try preventive medicine." He was telling his son that if we learn and follow the dictates of the Torah our lives will be enriched both physically and spiritually.

Dedicated by Anonymous for the release of Gilad Shalit.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

On Being Old

Every Shabbos, I visit this little old lady, Mrs. Gold.  She’s very cute, a real young at heart 90-something year old. She loves it when we come, singing Yiddish songs, telling us about her week, and sharing stories of her life.

One particular story that she loves to tell over and over again is about herself and a handsome young doctor. He was young, single, and good looking. All the women would go to the beauty parlor and hair salon to get made up before they went to visit Dr. Dave.  Though all the ladies fancied Dr. Dave, Dr. Dave fancied Mrs. Gold (before she married Mr. Gold, of course :P). Mrs. Gold’s first name is Dina, and Dr. Dave would chase after her saying “Dina, I want my dinna (dinner).”

She always ends this story with a little nostalgic smile, as if she wishes that she had married Dr. Dave.

I was thinking about it a few weeks ago.

When this lady (may she live until 120) passes on, one of the things I will most remember her for is this story of Dr. Dave, as well as the other stories she tells us every week.

The thing is that nearly all the stories she tells are from her early 20s – the age I am now.

What we do today becomes our stories of tomorrow, next year, ten years, fifty years from now.

I want my stories to be good ones. Stories of chessed and kindness, of selflessness and giving.

And if that’s the way I want to be remembered, I’d better start living up to that future memory.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Random Question

Does anyone else find the journey's song "The Shadchan" (lyrics here and sample music here) depressing?

I feel like it's supposed to be inspiring; I even saw a website call it whimsical.  But somehow, I always feel like crying when I hear it. Lately (read: since I started shidduchim), I've just been skipping it whenever it comes up.

Anyone else out there feel this way?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Straightening my Priorities

Well, finals are finally over, so now I can focus on what’s really important in life – life itself and the lessons that it teaches me. I’ve been sitting on this for a while, but this is the first chance I’ve had to write it down.

I was at my friend’s house towards the end of shabbos a few weeks ago. I was sitting on the couch talking to my friend, and her 11 year old brother was reading near us.  It was getting close to the time for ma’ariv.  He didn’t show any signs of letting go of his book, so I told him to put it down and go.

He refused.

I asked him again, but in a different way – “What’s more important to you, davening ma’ariv or reading your book?”

Surprisingly (or not so surprisingly), he answered “my book.”

I wasn’t shocked at his answer, but I was kind of upset. I kept thinking, “How could he consider his book more important than davening to Hakadosh Baruch Hu?! How could he have his priorities so backwards?”

It kept bothering me until I realized something.

It’s always easier to see faults in others than in ourselves. The thing is that the faults we subconsciously look for in others are those that hold sway within us. As the pasuk in Mishlei (27:19) says, כַּמַּיִם, הַפָּנִים לַפָּנִים--    כֵּן לֵב-הָאָדָם, לָאָדָם.  (“As in water, face answers to face, so is the heart of a man to a man.”) A person sees himself reflected in his perception of others.

What I saw in my friend’s brother was a flaw, but it was a chisaron (lack) that I myself have.

Since then, I’ve been thinking about my t’fila.  I’ve noticed a real lack in kavana (concentration). I’m constantly distracted by other things.  I push davening off until the last minute before the zman (time limit). I think about school or work or anything that’s not davening. I hardly look at the words inside my siddur.

And I ask myself, as I asked my friend’s brother a few weeks ago, “What’s more important to you, davening or <fill in blank>?! ___ or speaking to Hakadosh Baruch Hu?!”

And I’m scared to hear my own answer.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Parshas B'haaloscha

I really love the dvar torah I posted this week last year, which I originally wrote for our seminary year book. I couldn't resist reposting it.

And, can I just pat myself on the back - this is my fourth post this week! (Although Rashi's Wife was a bit of a mix-up.) Procrastination is really the key for getting those creative juices going. I had a final project due yesterday, and I was trying anything and everything to avoid doing it =) . But, now it's done and Touro finals are starting, so I may not be able to post much.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Rashi's Wife

I'm scared of marriage.


I've said it.

I'm scared of the responsibility that comes with wifehood.  The power that a wife has over her husband. The power to make or break him.

I want to marry someone in learning who will stay in learning ... for a while. How long that while will be will depend on him and me and the choices we will make together. But when I think about the future, when I picture myself with a nameless, faceless man at my side, I don't see him in kolel.

I see him working. As what? That's up to him. When? That's up to us. But definitely someday.

So when a bochur is redt to me, and he's a top learner, a true masmid, about whom people say that he could be the next gadol hador or Rosh Yeshiva, I get scared.

He may have the potential to be the next Rashi, but do I have the potential to be the next Rashi's wife?

And when I think about a marriage between me and this type of bachur, I think about the story of the Netziv as a boy. He had almost been apprenticed to a shoemaker. That night, he had a dream that he was in shamayim and saw the sefer HaAmek Davar with him as the author. When he told the malachim that he hadn't written this sefer, they asked him "Why not?" He decided to stay in yeshiva so that he would learn enough to write the sefer he was destined to write.

I'm scared to be the "apprentice-ship" of my future husband. Scared that I'll pull him away from learning and becoming the best he can be.

"חכמות נשים, בנתה ביתה; ואולת, בידיה תהרסנו"

Will I build?

Or c"v,  destroy?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

♪ Happy Blogoversary to me ♪

Today's my blogoversary, so I'll reward my patient readers with an extra post this week.  Don't get your hopes up - it's not much of anything.

First of all, I came across a beautiful post by Rachel Simon, author of one of my favorite books Riding the Bus with my Sister - for special sibs, it's a must-read. I first heard about it at the Yachad family shabbaton when I was in 12th grade, and it went a long way to helping me accept my sister and myself as who we are. I actually corresponded with the author once or twice.

Second, I wanted to remind you of a post long ago relegated to the archives - my first real post, actually. I just reread it and was surprised at its profundity. Let me know what you think (here or there).

Third, I wanted to reflect on what I've gained in the last year of blogging. I've definitely matured as a writer and thinker. My musings make more sense, have more validity, even in my own head. Sharing with all of you has really given me the means to refine myself, and I truly appreciate all of my readers - whoever they may be.

So, keep those comments coming, and stay tuned for next week's post!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Sharing in Simcha

Another friend of mine - a really close one - got engaged last night.

She called me up before it was official to share the amazing news (what's with that btw? why do people need to know before it's official? But that's another rant...). When my cell phone rang, and I saw it was her, I thought for a second "She never calls me - she must be engaged." Then I remembered that this particular girl does call me relatively often and disregarded that errant thought.

After she told me that she gets a mazel tov but before I had a chance to respond, I waited for the pain.

I waited for the bittersweet happiness that I felt the last time a friend of mine got engaged, but it never did.

I was thinking about it last night as I was on a total high for her - almost more excited than she was - and trying to keep the news from my parents (unsuccessfully) and our other friends (managed to do so by staying far away from them...).  Why is it that the news of this other girl's engagement hurt, but this news didn't? Why was I able to keep my simcha for this friend complete, but the joy for the other was mixed with pain?

And I realized that a close friend getting engaged is very different than a girl--you-kinda-know-because-you're-neighbors/classmates/coworkers-but aren't-really friends-with getting engaged.

The girl you kinda know is just another number. She's just another girl who's getting engaged before you. Another girl that you have to smile at and wish mazel tov to when all you want is to be the kallah yourself. Not necessarily with her chosson, but just to have found the right one and be finished with the waiting.

But a close friend is totally different. You don't see her age or status when she gets engaged. All you see is her happiness, her joy at finding that special someone. And you're just so happy for her, there's no room for any sadness.

It's all about the difference between an individual and a statistic, between a friend and number.

Now, I can only speak for myself when I say this, but it seems to me that if I would be able to see everyone as my siblings - which they truly are - wouldn't that lessen the interminable pain of my own wait?

So, maybe I was wrong before.

Maybe it's not the difference between an individual and a statistic.

Maybe it's the difference between an acquaintance ... and a sister.

Monday, May 17, 2010


When I was in seminary, we were given the classic "shidduchim" talk. Among other things, we were warned that it might not come easy. While we all knew older singles, human mentality is to think that such a thing could never happen to me.

How wrong we are...

I'm not an "older" girl. I'm just 21. But still - I feel the pressure of being single when most of my seminary friends are already married with their first child born or on the way. I feel left out when they talk of husbands, and I dream of what I'll look like when it's my turn to wear white.

But things take time.

During that same seminary talk about shidduchim, they gave out a story by an "older" girl. I don't know who she is, nor how old she was when she wrote this. The teacher who gave it out did say that she's gotten married since she wrote it. I have gotten chizuk from it numerous times over the last 2 years, and now I share it with you. I hope this introduction serves as giving credit where credit is due.

Now, I give you The Waiting Room.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Long Time No Post

Every day (sometimes several times) I check out my blog like every other blog that I read on a semi-regular basis expecting to somehow see it updated. I'm almost always surprised to see that the sometimes brilliant, usually insightful author has had nothing of worth to say in over a month. It's a tragedy that such a talented writer has cut herself off from her readers!

And then I remember that the author I'm talking about is me - and the reason she hasn't posted is because she has had nothing to say. I wouldn't even go so far as to say that I've had writer's block. I'd probably just say that I've had blogger's block. I've thought of tons (ok, not tons, but more than one) of ideas, but unlike some other bloggers who blog via iphone or ipod (I am the proud owner of neither), I have to get in front of the computer to write it up, and lately that just hasn't been happening.

So, I try again.

It's almost my blogoversary. I hereby take on an early birthday (think New Year's) resolution to try to post at least once a week.

Based on my past record - any guesses on how long I'll stick to it?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Birthday to me

Today's my birthday, and I wanted to give you all a bracha. This does not represent my best (some of the rhymes are a little off), but I was a little rushed. I hope it comes true for all of us

May you be zocheh to
Amazing, wonderful things
To all the good in this world
That Hakadosh Baruch Hu brings

For all those who are married
Shalom Bayis may you have
And for those of us who are not (yet)
May we soon find our other half

I wish you to have clarity
In everything you do
May you see Hashem in everything
He should always be with you

May you see all your messages
And learn from them with haste
May you withstand all the challenges
With which we're inevitably faced

Health, hatzlocha, happiness
And everything that's Tuv
Y'malei Hashem kol mishalos libeich
May He answer you with good

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

T'fila L'Parnasa

I don't remember where I heard this story, but I'm pretty sure it's true. I may have embellished it a little.

Yaakov was learning in kollel. Every week, all the men of the kollel would line up in front of the Rosh Yeshiva, and he would pass out their checks. And every week, the check would have the same amount - just enough for Yaakov to support his family. One particular week, Yaakov got in line as usual.  Somehow, as the Rosh Yeshiva was passing out the check, he skipped over Yaakov. When Yaakov asked the Rosh Yeshiva why he was skipped, the Rosh Yeshiva was very surprised. He said that he never missed a kollelman, so Yaakov must have done something that caused this confusion. After a great deal of thought, it came out that Yaakov had been so reliant on the kollel's check, had taken it so for granted, that he had stopped saying the T'fila L'Parnasa during the bracha Shema Koleinu in Shmoneh Esreh.

I just made the same mistake.

I have been temping at an office. When I had my interview there, they basically told me that after I finished the temp work, I would be given a real, permanent job. I took it so for granted, I didn't see the need to daven for a job.  I already had one.

But no.

Hakadosh Baruch Hu is the one who determines who will have parnasa, and who won't. Who will have a job, and who will not. There are no assurances in this life - about anything. Shidduchim, parnasa, health, etc. Hashem gives us everything, and if we are not deserving - if we don't appreciate and acknowledge where our plentitude comes from - He can take it all away.

And davening is the only way to get it back.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Parshas Vayakhel/Pekudei

(from Parsha Potpourri by R' Ozer Alport)
ויבא את הארן אל המשכן וישם את פרכת המסך ויסך על ארון העדות כאשר צוה ד' את משה (40:21)

In his commentary on our verse, the Baal HaTurim points out that the Torah emphasizes that every aspect of the construction and assembly of the Mishkan was done precisely as Hashem commanded Moshe. In fact, the phrase “as Hashem commanded Moshe” is used 18 times in Parshas Pekudei. As there are no coincidences in the Torah, the Baal HaTurim explains that this number alludes to the 18 blessings recited thrice-daily in the prayers known as Shemoneh Esrei.

I once heard a beautiful and profound insight into the comment of the Baal HaTurim. Hashem told Moshe (31:1-5) that Betzalel should be in charge of building the Mishkan and its vessels, for He had imbued him with Divine wisdom and with expert craftsmanship skills. We are accustomed to viewing artists as free-thinking and creative spirits, valuing self-expression over adherence to strict guidelines.
As many of the specifications for the Mishkan weren’t absolute and even numerous deviations wouldn’t invalidate it, one might have expected Betzalel, with his “artistic spirit,” to improvise and attempt to “improve” upon Hashem’s blueprint. Therefore, the Torah stresses that he followed each and every instruction down to the smallest detail.

Similarly, many people today complain that they feel constrained by the standard text of our daily prayers, which was established almost 2000 years ago. They feel that as our daily needs change, so too should our expression of them. However, based on the Baal HaTurim’s comparison of the daily prayers to the construction of the Mishkan and its vessels, we may suggest that on a deeper level, he is hinting to us that we need not feel stifled by the repeated expression of our needs and entreaties using identical phrases, as illustrated by the following story.

A close disciple of Rav Yechezkel Abramsky once mentioned that an acquaintance of his had recently undergone a difficult kidney transplant. Rav Abramsky sighed, feeling the other Jew’s pain, and then remarked, “I pray every day that I shouldn’t be forced to undergo such a procedure.” The surprised student questioned why he made a special point of reciting this unique prayer daily. Rav Abramsky responded that this request is included in the standard wording of Birkas HaMazon, in which we request that we not come to need מתנת בשר ודם – gifts of flesh and blood (e.g. transplants).

The student challenged this explanation, as the simple understanding of the words is that we shouldn’t need monetary gifts from other humans (“flesh and blood”). Rav Abramsky smiled and explained that the Sages incorporated every need we may have into the text of the standard prayers. Any place we find in which we are able to “read in” a special request we have into the words is also included in the original intention of that prayer.

Just as Betzalel followed Hashem’s precise guidelines for the creation of the Mishkan and still found room for creative expression by doing so with his own unique intentions and insights, so too our Sages established the standard wording of the prayers with Divine Inspiration, articulating within them every feeling we may wish to express. Many times, in the midst of a difficult situation, we begin the standard prayers with a heavy heart, only to find a new interpretation of the words which we have recited thousands of times jump out at us. This newfound understanding, which has been there all along waiting for us to discover it in our time of need, is perfectly fit to the sentiments we wish to convey, if we will only open our eyes to see it and use our Sages’ foresight to express ourselves.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Parshas Ki Sisa

וירא העם כי בשש משה לרדת מן ההר ויקהל העם על אהרן ויאמרו אליו קום עשה לנו אלהים אשר ילכו לפנינו כי זה משה האיש אשר העלנו מארץ מצרים לא ידענו מה היה לו (32:1)

Rashi writes (Bamidbar 19:2) that Hashem declared the mitzvah of parah adumah to be a “chok” – Divine decree with no readily apparent rationale – regarding which we are not permitted to inquire or attempt to understand. Shlomo Hamelech declared (Bamidbar Rabbah 19:3) that after using all of his intellectual capabilities to attempt to understand this mitzvah, he was still unable to do so.

Yet Rashi also writes in the name of Rav Moshe HaDarshan that the parah adumah served as atonement for the sin of the golden calf, and he proceeds to explain how each detail of its laws specifically atoned for a corresponding aspect of the golden calf. After writing that the parah adumah is the quintessential chok, the purpose of which even Shlomo couldn’t grasp, how can Rashi proceed to explain the rationale behind the mitzvah in great detail? Secondly, in what way did this mitzvah specifically effect atonement for the golden calf?

The Beis HaLevi explains that when the Jews incorrectly concluded that Moshe died, they were distraught by the lack of an intermediary to lead them and teach them Hashem’s will. They yearned to build a place for the Divine presence to rest among them to fill the void left by Moshe’s perceived death. Because their intentions in building the calf were for the sake of Heaven, they selected Aharon to lead the project so that it would succeed. If so, what was their mistake, and why did their plans go so awry?

The Beis HaLevi explains that each mitzvah contains within it deep, mystical secrets which have tremendous effects in the upper worlds when performed properly. At Mount Sinai, the Jewish people erred in thinking that if they discovered the Kabbalistic concepts behind a mitzvah, they could perform it based on their understanding even without being commanded. As a result, although their intentions were proper, they lacked the Divine assistance which comes only from performing His will, and they ended up sinning with the golden calf.

The Medrash (Shemos Rabbah 51:8) teaches that the Mishkan also served as atonement for the golden calf. The Beis HaLevi explains that because the sin of the golden calf was caused by doing something without a command from Hashem to do so, the Torah repeatedly emphasizes in Parshas Pekudei (e.g. 39:5) that every aspect of the Mishkan was made exactly as Hashem commanded Moshe.

With this introduction, we can answer our original questions. The mitzvah of parah adumah is indeed a chok, the logic of which escaped Shlomo and certainly Rav Moshe HaDarshan. If so, what does he mean when he says that the red heifer comes to atone for the golden calf? As we now understand that the root of the sin of the golden calf was the Jews’ attempt to “outsmart” Hashem by doing something which He didn’t command them to, the ultimate rectification of this sin is to completely subordinate one’s intellect to Hashem’s dictates. This was manifested by their willingness to perform a chok, a mitzvah which appears to make no sense but which we do solely because Hashem commanded it.

(taken from Parsha Potpourri by R' Oizer Alport)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Purim Poem 5770

Our theme this year is the four mitzvos of Purim. Cheap, easy, and still so classy …

Here's the poem to go with it:

ארבע מצוות פורים
All beginning with a מ
Every year since time long past
Yidden fulfilled them

משתה – a סעודה
With food and lots to drink
עד דלא ידע -
Until a man can’t think

מתנות לאביונים
Our gifts unto the poor
As much as we give to them
Hashem will give us more

Bring משלוח מנות
Two foods to a good friend
A chance to give to those who gave
Best wishes to all to send

And finally the מגילה
The story that tells the why
Hashem will never let us down
The salvation’s always nigh

Each מצוה is represented
In our package to you
One and all, big and small
Though they be just a few

Money, (chocolate) money
To כל הפושט יד
If we give with a whole heart
There’ll be no more façade

A Hamantash – המן‘s hat
In spite of his decree
Here we stand – sending gifts
To each other happily

And for those too young to drink
Grape juice instead of wine
Have a cup, have some more
After all, it’s פורים time!

As for the מגילה
I’ll give you just one guess
This poem that you’re reading
Is of substantial length

Now you’re holding in your hand
סימנים of מצוות four
May we be זוכה in this year
To fulfill many more

Friday, February 19, 2010

Atzei Shitim

One of my favorite parts of seminary in E"Y was the history that surrounded every step.

Here in America, if you go on a trip, while you do see the wonders of creation, you don't get a mitzvah for every step you take. You don't think that this is your land, your past, and your future. In Israel, you do.

I remember when we went down south to the Negev on one of our last tiyulim (trips). As we were going through the desert, we saw these stubby little trees. (I took a picture, but I can't find it now.) Our tour guide told us they were Atzei Shitim, the trees from which the Mishkan was built (hence the connection to this week's parsha :P).

The question is, though, how did those trees get to the middle of the midbar? Deserts don't usually have trees - cacti, yes; trees, not so much. She answered that Yaakov Avinu saw that in the future we would need wood to build the mishkan, so he planted them there.

The fact that they were still there when I was on that tiyul, that we could still see pieces of the past alive today made my Israeli experience, every tiyul, a wonder. Just seeing the past so alive helped my Emuna so much because it was so clear that the Torah was real. It's real, and it's staring you right in the face. There is no way to deny it.

[Just a funny point from this same tiyul: You know how in upstate New York there are signs for deer crossings? Well, in the negev, there are similar signs for camel crossings. I thought it was hilarious. ]

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Resisting Change

I recently changed the background on a communal blog, and the outcry against it was almost vitriolic. But I began to wonder - why don't they like the new background? Is it because they really don't like it, or just because they don't like change?

Change is something that happens whether we like it or not. It happens in all parts of society - fashion, technology, education etc. But when change comes, are we supposed to embrace it or guard ourselves against it? Is change good or bad in itself, or is it something that we have to determine, for each individual change, whether we want to incorporate that change or not?

Changes in fashion, for example, can either be more tznius or less. But every season, every time I look at a piece of clothing, I have to decide whether or not I think it's tznius. I personally don't think that the bell sleeve look is so tznius. But that's my opinion. I know others differ. This is a change that I personally decided to resist. Others chose differently.

Changes in technology are also a great example. There was a public outcry from the gedolim against the Internet. But all those who are reading this clearly decided to utilize this change. The Internet itself is nothing but a gate. It can lead to good or evil. You can use it to read divrei torah, or look at pritzus. Every so often I ask myself whether I should give it up, but every time the answer is that at this point, I can't live without it (scarily enough). On the other hand, I have not chosen to embrace television. I do not own a tv, nor do I want to own one. I have made a decision not to allow myself to embrace this change.

I know I'm kind of rambling, but I'm exploring this question in my thoughts as I type. I think that I think that change is something that has to be evaluated in itself. There is no blanket rule to allow or disallow change. Without change, society would be nowhere. But we are a people that traces our heritage back to 3,000 years ago. We are Am K'shei Oref - a people with a strong neckbone - who are meant to resist change.

On the other hand, if we don't allow for change, we would be nowhere. I don't remember which Rav it was, but one of the Rabbonim in Yerushalayim of old (the Old Yishuv, I think) decided that the chareidi community should start to speak Ivrit even though it was prompted by the Zionists. He realized that the chareidim would lose more children to the Zionist culture if they didn't speak the language. He decided to accept change for the betterment of klal yisroel.

We too, with the guidance of our chachamim, have to decide what changes must be made, and which must be guarded against.

Happy choosing!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Parshas Yisro III

"Remember the Shabbos day and keep it holy."

The Chofetz Chaim writes that Shabbos is a sign for the Jewish people. When a store has a sign out front, you know it's in business. When we have Shabbos, we are 'in business.' Faithful observance of Shabbos is part of what makes our people eternal, as the following true story submitted by Evi Reznck, Atlanta, GA, illustrates:

Back in the mid nineties a Jewish advertising executive in New York came up with an idea. What if the New York Times - considered the world's most prestigious newspaper - listed the weekly Shabbat candle lighting time each week. Sure someone would have to pay for the space. But imagine the Jewish awareness and pride that might result from such a prominent mention of the Jewish Shabbat each week.

He got in touch with a Jewish philanthropist and sold him on the idea. It cost almost two thousand dollars a week. But he did it. And for the next five years, each Friday, Jews around the world would see: 'Jewish Women: Shabbat candle lighting time this Friday is ___'. Eventually the philanthropist had to cut back on a number of his projects. And in June 1999, the little Shabbat notice and stopped appearing in the Friday Times. From that week on it never appeared again.

Except once.

On January 1, 2000, the NY Times ran a Millennium edition. It was a special issue that featured three front pages.

One had the news from January 1, 1900. The second was the actual news of the day, January 1, 2000.

And then they had a third front page projecting future events of January 1, 2100. This fictional page included things like a welcome to the fifty-first state: Cuba. As well as a discussion as to whether robots should be allowed to vote. And so on. And in addition to the fascinating articles, there was one more thing. Down on the bottom of the Year 2100 front page, was the candle lighting time in New York for January 1, 2100. Nobody paid for it. It was just put in by the Times.

The production manager of the New York Times - an Irish Catholic - was asked about it. His answer was right on the mark. "We don't know what will happen in the year 2100. It is impossible to predict the future. But of one thing you can be certain. That in the year 2100 Jewish women will be lighting Shabbos candles.

This non-Jewish production manager sensed a profound truth.

Thus is the power of Jewish ritual.

Thus is the eternity of our people.

from Rabbi Baruch Lederman's ShulWeek

Monday, February 8, 2010

Parshas Yisro II

Rashi writes (18:1) that upon hearing of the splitting of the Red Sea and the battle against Amalek, Yisro came to join Moshe and the Jewish people in the wilderness. Why did he wait to hear about the war with Amalek instead of coming immediately after the miracles at the Red Sea, and why did a war impress him more than all of the miracles at the Red Sea? (Yirah V'Daas)

The Manchester Rosh Yeshiva explains that when Yisro heard about the splitting of the Red Sea, he was certainly moved. However, he believed that there was no need to do anything about it, as he assumed that he would retain his spark of inspiration. Regarding the war against Amalek, the Torah records (17:11) that whenever Moshe raised his hands the Jewish army prevailed, and when he lowered them, Amalek became stronger. The Mishnah in Rosh Hashana (3:8) questions how Moshe's hands could magically fight the war, and it explains that whenever they were raised up, the Jews looked at them and focused their thoughts toward the Heavens, which enabled them to win, but when he lowered his hands, they forgot about Hashem and fell militarily. Yisro was shocked to hear that in a battle which took place all on one day, it was possible for the people to be inspired through Moshe's raised hands, yet a short while later when he lowered them their inspiration was gone and they lost everything. This recognition taught Yisro that it wasn't sufficient that he felt uplifted by the miracles of the Red Sea, as it wouldn't stay with him unless he did something concrete to make it permanent, which he did by joining the Jews and converting.

Taken from Parsha Potpourri

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Parshas Yisro – a little late

ויקרא אליו ד' מן ההר לאמר כה תאמר לבית יעקב ותגיד לבני ישראל (19:3)

Sarah Schenirer immortalized our verse in coining the name "Bais Yaakov" for schools for girls. In referring to the men, the Torah uses the phrase the "sons" of Israel. Why when discussing the women does it use the phrase the "house" of Yaakov when "daughters" would seem to be the appropriate parallel?

Rav Meir Shapiro explains that when a person becomes ill, there are hypothetically two ways for a doctor to treat him. The standard procedure is to prescribe medication, although another theoretical option would be to design a room in which the air is saturated with the appropriate antibiotic. The first option has the drawbacks that it only helps one patient and requires active administration, whereas the latter could benefit many people without any effort on their parts.

Similarly, in fighting the universal illness known as the yetzer hara (evil inclination), men follow the prescription of the Gemora (Kiddushin 30b) to repel it through Torah study. Although the latter option isn't currently feasible for medical purposes, Jewish women nevertheless use it to ward off spiritual illness. As the backbones of the family, they imbue the entire home with an atmosphere of holiness and spirituality. This automatically benefits not only themselves, but also their husbands, children, and all who are fortunate to enter their homes.

This is alluded to in a well-known verse (Mishlei 1:8) שמע בני מוסר אביך ואל תטש תורת אמך – Listen my son to the rebuke of your father, and don't forsake the teachings of your mother. Shlomo HaMelech found it necessary to instruct a person to listen to the lessons of his father, while a mother's wisdom permeates the very air of her house and is absorbed without any effort. It is to teach and emphasize this idea that the Torah refers to the women not as the daughters of Yaakov but as the house of Yaakov.

taken from Parsha Potpourri (as usual)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Women in the Workplace

I recently started working in a non-Jewish environment, and I've become worried about the effect it may have on me and the various shailos that come up on a daily basis. Does anyone know of any shiurim that I can download or articles/books I can read (besides for 9 to 5) that discuss it. Thanks so much.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Hard Times

You’re going through a hard time
How hard, I barely knew
I thought you could reach for me
So I didn’t reach for you

You needed me to stick by you
To lend my solid strength
I thought you could stand alone
That that’s what your distance meant

You needed a friend who could
Give to you of herself
But I spent my time only thinking
And dreaming of myself

I didn’t have the courage
To be who you needed me to be
I did what needed to be done
At best, half-heartedly

I didn’t have the koach [strength]
To be strong all the time
I didn’t feel a reason
To put myself on the line

I gave up on you just a little
Enough to dull my pain
At thinking of you struggling
At thinking of your pain

You’re going through a hard time
Harder than I knew
You aren’t able to reach for me
So I’ll have to reach for you

Monday, January 18, 2010

Following the Crowd

Emily Dickinson's poetry has a way of cutting through the external. This poem (#435) is one of those. It is highly appropriate for the world in general and shidduchim in particular. Enjoy.

Much Madness is divinest Sense --
To a discerning Eye --
Much Sense -- the starkest Madness --
'Tis the Majority
In this, as All, prevail --
Assent -- and you are sane --
Demur -- you're straightway dangerous --
And handled with a Chain --

Friday, January 15, 2010

Parshas Va’eira

This one from Parsha Potpourri is just interesting – not particularly inspiring or anything like that.

What unique role did the octopus play in the plagues in Egypt? (Seder HaDoros 2447)

The Seder HaDoros writes that when the fourth plague – wild beasts – began, the Egyptians ran to their homes and locked the doors to protect themselves from the swarm of animals that were threatening them. At this point, Hashem sent octopi with tentacles that were 10 cubits long on to the roofs of the Egyptians' houses. The octopi extended their lengthy tentacles into the homes and unlocked the doors from the inside, thereby permitting all of the other animals to enter and wreak havoc.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Chodesh Shevat

Moshe Rabeinu began the last shiur he would ever give to Bnei Yisroel on Rosh Chodesh Shevat. This last speech continues until his death on the seventh of Adar. These were the most important words that Moshe Rabeinu would say – the words that Bnei Yisroel were to take with them into their new lives in Eretz Yisroel (Israel, abv E”Y). They needed to be words of inspiration that would sustain Bnei Yisroel through the long years of Kibush and Chiluk (conquest and division) and for all time.

Rav Hirsch explains that this sefer, Moshe’s last message to us, was Bnei Yisroel’s introduction to life in E”Y. Until now, they had seen daily miracles: mon (manna) fell from heaven to feed them, heavenly clouds surrounded them to protect and clothe them, etc. Now, they are about to enter E”Y. They will have to deal with the mundane, planting food in order to eat, and then cooking it and washing dishes. They will have to make their own clothes and learn to protect themselves physically. The Hand of Hashem will be less clear. There will also be more temptation in the form of the nations to be conquered.

But how did reviewing the Torah help Bnei Yisroel prepare for their future in E”Y?

The answer lies in the following story:

I was once driving home from work when my car broke down. I was on the highway, so I carefully made my way onto the service road until I could go no further. Unbeknownst to me, a mechanic had been driving behind me on the highway. He saw me break down and followed me off to help. He and his friend stayed behind me on the service road for a while, protecting me from oncoming cars, putting their own car and lives at risk.

He was with me the entire time, but I didn't know it.

If only I had looked in my rear-view mirror and seen his car there. I would have felt much more comfortable being in such a vulnerable position knowing that he was there to protect me.

Just like the mechanic in my story, Hashem is always behind 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 - to see that He has been with us all our lives and will not desert us now.

That is what Moshe was trying to teach Bnei Yisroel before sending them into E”Y. He was reminding them to look into the past to see the love and devotion that Hashem showered on them in the Midbar (desert). He told them, and all future generations, to see the nissim (miracles) that Hashem had wrought in the desert and remember that He is capable of doing the same now. Though Yad Hashem (Hand of Hashem) is more hidden, It is still there, and always will be.

Because of this message, Shevat is a time to look back on our own past and remember what Hashem has done for us. We have to hold onto every Hashgacha Pratis story that happened to us, every time a situation was bleak, but then suddenly Hashem’s plan was clear. We have to take these small moments of clarity, the nissim in our personal midbar, and carry them with us into our regular lives.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Cleanliness and Miracles

I'm not a particularly neat person by nature, but I'm not exactly the messiest girl on the block. But I, like most other people, work better in a neat environment.

For ages, my room has looked like it was struck by a hurricane. The number of times I attempted to clean it up are too numerous to count. A very good friend of mine came over with her sister in a last ditch attempt to get my room straightened out. They left me, after four hours, to a cleaned room with last instructions that were to be filled that night.

I followed their instructions, and I went to bed that night smiling. For days afterward, I smiled every time I stepped foot into my room. My day wasn't going so well, that's OK – my room was clean; I wasn't feeling well – my room was a haven to heal my sickness. No matter what went wrong, my room was the panacea.

After a while, I noticed a strange phenomenon: I didn't smile every time I came into my room. The sight of the swept floor and vacuumed rugs did not inspire joy. The neatness of my bookshelves and bed didn't make me want to thank my friends profusely for the gift they had given me in helping me clean up.

From my experience, I gained an insight into human nature: People only acknowledge what they don't expect. If it's "coming to them," there's no need to thank the one who took it from the potential to the actual.

When a baby begins to grow, his first, and most fascinating, toys are his own hands and feet. He is overcome with amazement and wonder of the complexity of Hashem's world. Everything he sees is new and exciting – a leaf, a cloud, his nose etc. Everything is seen as a gift special for him. As he grows up, he gets used to seeing the world as it is, so it no longer inspires such admiration. That's just the way the world is – nothing special about it, nothing new, nothing to express thanks for because this is the way it's supposed to be.

Everything in this world that is labeled "nature" or "natural" is really an oft-occurring miracle. Waking, breathing, sleeping, eating … the list is endless. If only we could go back to our babyhood as adults so we can recognize the good in our lives and thank the One who gave it to us!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Parshas Shemos

שם האחת שפרה ושם השנית פועה (1:15)*
שפרה זו יוכבד על שם שמשפרת את הולד. פועה זו מרים על שם שפועה ומדברת והוגה לולד (רש"י)
As part of his vicious plan to enslave and oppress the Jewish people, Pharaoh commanded the Jewish midwives – Yocheved and Miriam – to kill all male babies at birth. However, the Torah doesn’t refer to the midwives by name as Yocheved and Miriam, but rather as Shifra and Puah. Rashi explains that these names reflect the fact that they beautified (משפר) the Jewish babies and made calming noises (פועה) to soothe them.

Rav Shmuel Rozovsky points out that Yocheved and Miriam were both on incredibly high spiritual levels. The Gemora in Megillah (14a) counts Miriam as one of the seven female prophets. If so, why does the Torah refer to them by apparently mundane names based on their actions in taking care of the Jewish babies, which almost seems to degrade their lofty spiritual accomplishments?

Rav Shmuel answers that the Torah is coming to teach us precisely this fundamental lesson. For all of the spiritual greatness of Yocheved and Miriam, their most significant accomplishment was excelling as Jewish women. While the additional levels that they reached were indeed impressive and praiseworthy, the fulfillment of their basic, fundamental roles as Jewish mothers in properly raising the next generation of Jewish children is even greater. The Torah therefore specifically singled out and emphasized their success at fulfilling their unique and special roles as Jewish women.

*Taken from Parsha Potpourri by R’ Oizer Alport

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Parshas Vayechi – a little late

חכלילי עינים מיין ולבן שנים מחלב (49:12)

Rav Shalom Schwadron points out that the entire miraculous unfolding of events in the preceding Torah portions is entirely predicated on one chance encounter. The accurate interpretation by Yosef of the dreams of the cupbearer and the baker set in motion a chain of events which would alter the course of Jewish history. It led directly to Yosef's release from jail, his appointment as second-in-command in Egypt, the fulfillment of his dreams about his family bowing down to him, his emotional reunion with his brothers and eventually his father, and the descent of the Jewish people to Egypt where they were ultimately enslaved by Pharaoh and redeemed by Moshe.

However, the pivotal episode of Yosef interpreting the dreams wouldn't have occurred were it not for one seemingly trivial exchange. Yosef woke up one morning and noticed that his fellow prisoners looked aggrieved and upset. He chose to initiate a conversation which would literally change the future of all mankind, asking them quite simply (40:6-7), "What's wrong?"

The Alter of Slabodka once gave an ethical discourse on the topic of greeting others kindly and showing an interest in their welfare. He noted that if a person stood next to the synagogue door and poured a glass of milk for each person who passed by, everybody would rightfully declare him to be a tremendous baal chesed (person who does acts of kindness). However, the Gemora in Kesuvos (111b) derives from our verse that showing another person the white of one's teeth with a warm smile is an even greater act of kindness than giving him milk.

So often, we pass somebody who looks like he could use a kind word, a warm smile, and a little extra attention, yet the yetzer hara (evil inclination) discourages us from stopping to waste our valuable time on such inconsequential matters. The next time this happens, which will likely be tomorrow, we should remember the lesson of Yosef that nothing a person does is ever minor, and one has no idea what cosmic chain of events he could set in motion with just a few "trivial" words.

Taken from the Parsha Potpourri by R' Oizer Alport

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