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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