Sunday, September 26, 2010

Younger Siblings and Shidduchim

Well, it finally happened, and I was completely unprepared for it. My younger sister informed me that her first friend/acquaintance her age just got engaged. She just got back from seminary, a few months ago. This actually happened a little while ago, and I have been gathering my thoughts on the subject. Reading Bad4’s post ("Why I Need to Get Married Fast") on this topic, along with my sister telling me of another engagement, reminded me of the main thought running through my head when I originally heard my sister’s news: Now I officially feel old. I usually don't claim to be approaching the "old maid" category, since I know that I am nowhere near there yet (depending on who you ask :) ). I even have a birthday coming up soon and I am excited for it, not dreading it- if anything it reminds me just how young I am in the scheme of things. This piece of news, however, made me feel old. It took me by surprise and for the first time my thoughts jumped to a question I never considered, “What if my younger sister gets married before I do?”

Lately I seem to be hearing more and more about younger siblings who get married before their older siblings. I even heard about a support group for singles whose younger siblings are getting married. If the younger sibling is only one or two years younger than you, then I don’t think it’s quite as big a deal, but if your younger sibling is three or more years younger than you, then I would imagine that it would be really difficult. Whenever I hear of someone getting engaged and I know they have an older sibling who is not yet married, right after I think “Mazel Tov” I cringe and think, “Oy, I feel bad for them.” And I know, no singles want pity, the worst thing in the world is to be looked at as a nebach, as in “I’m so sorry, I feel so bad for you.” But I can’t help feeling that way, I can’t help feeling that they must be in some kind of pain. I put myself in their shoes and all I can feel is “Ouch. That has got to hurt.”

I never really thought about the possibility of my sister getting married before I did because she is so much younger and I always assumed I’d be married long before she even started dating. In fact, I still hope that to be the case, since unlike Bad4’s sister, I don’t believe my sister intends to start dating for another year or two. So I have a little while before I need to really worry about this, and I hope that I won’t have to. But in all honestly, if I’m not married in two years and my sister wants to start dating, it will probably be very hard for me. I will of course tell her to start dating, and I would never want to hold her back, but I can’t picture attending her wedding while I am still single, with everyone glancing nervously over at me, wondering how I’m holding up. The very thought of that possibility is painful. I definitely don’t understand how those who have more than one younger sibling married before them handle it.

When I step back and try to think about this from an objective standpoint, it really makes no sense that it should be so difficult. I’ve heard about tons of engagements of those younger than I am. Hashem has a time for everything and some people have to wait longer to find their shidduch than others. Why should I feel anything but happiness if my younger sibling doesn’t have to wait as long as I do? It doesn’t bother me that my sister’s friend is engaged and getting married before me. I knew that it was likely that one of her friends could get married before I did when she came home from seminary a few months ago and I was still single. But somehow the idea of my sister and not some random other person hits closer to home, it is more personal. This is someone who I’ve known since the second she was born, and have always just assumed that I would get married first. The difficulty is not only in the sudden need to reject my previous expectations, but to watch someone so close to me reach a stage of life that I long to reach myself, yet always found unobtainable.

Questions for the readers: Do any of you have younger siblings who got married before you? If so, how did you deal with this? If you have a younger sibling who is not married- would you be OK with them getting married first or would it be painful? Thoughts?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Letter to my Bad Day

I wrote this a little while ago, and I think for the most part it worked.

To my Bad Day:

You might be strong, but I am stronger. You might try to push me down, but I will get back up again. You might send people my way who hurt me, who insult me, who speak to me in ways that I would never even imagine speaking to anyone. You can challenge me time and time again, hitting me when I least expect it, at the worst time. But like a tennis player, holding the racket waiting to hit the ball, like a baseball player holding the bat, ready to swing, I am ready to tackle whatever you throw my way. I know that Hashem is right there with me helping me, and my Yetzer HaTov is cheering in the bleechers, shouting, “Yay! You can do it!” as I respond calmly instead of angrily, dignified instead of frustrated.

You can fight me, but I’ll fight back. You might try to break me like glass shattering into thousands of pieces, or tear me apart like a secret document going through a paper shredder, but I will bend like chewing gum as far as it takes, and I will super glue myself together should you begin to cut through me. I will throw up my parachute, should you try to push me off your plane, and I will swim to the lifeboat if you throw me off your ship. I will not let the strong waters of your storm drown me, and I will not let your nasty winds toss me away like a tumbling feather. I will climb every mountain that you put in front of me, even if it takes every ounce of strength from my body.

And if you do begin to reach me, and slowly take me down before I’ve even realized you’ve come, if I find myself caught in the web of your trap or fallen in the deep hole of your barren desert, I will call out for help, and G-d will lift me up. He will throw me a rope to escape your pit, and carefully cut through the ropes of your trap. He will release me and rescue me, for even when I have failed to utlize the strength that He gave me, G-d still has mercy and will gently encourage me. He will send me the magical people who appear at just the right moment, with just the tools that I need. G-d will send helicopters to all corners of the earth, expert mountain-climbers to guide me, and friends to keep me company, even if they are just as helpless. He will send the sun to warm me and show me the way, and clear a path for me to walk on.

So, Bad Day, don’t think that you will win, because you won’t. Any battle that you think you’ve won, is only temporary, because I will win the war. Even if you put all odds against me, I will beat them and I will make it through. You can go home now, shame-faced and unaccomplished. For it will not be me that you inflict today.

Just remember this the next time you come to face me.
I hope never to see you again.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What does it mean to forgive?

I guess the topic of forgiveness is on everyone's minds as Yom Kippur approaches. I was in the middle of this post when I saw Bored Jewish Guy's post about forgiveness and dating.

What does it mean to forgive someone? This is a question I’ve tried to figure out the answer to for a while. I know what it means when Hashem forgives- it means that he wipes away our sins as though they never happened, or if we don’t deserve that, the lower level is that he doesn’t punish us. But what does it mean for us, human beings, to forgive one another? Does it mean we forget the past and pretend like it never happened? Every year before Yom Kippur we go through the typical route of asking everyone we’re close with, “Are you mochel me?” or “Do you forgive me if I did anything wrong to you this past year?” And people ask us this question. We each respond with a hearty, “Of course!” and exclaim that we can’t think of anything anyway that the person did wrong. Has anyone ever asked you for forgiveness for a specific incident? No one has ever approached me right before Yom Kippur. Right after a particular situation they have, but right before Yom Kippur not really. Let me explain why I have been thinking so much about this question.

A number of years ago, a friend of mine did something that I found to be very hurtful. The problem is that she actually thought she was doing something that was really nice. So I couldn’t tell her that it upset me, because it would have made her very upset to hear that what they thought was a nice deed was not only not appreciated, but in fact caused me to be sad. Yet, to this day, when I think about that event, I am hurt by it. This person has no clue that she did something wrong, so she cannot ask for forgiveness. I would never tell her that she did something wrong, since that would cause her much anguish, and that would be an aveira on my part. I know I need to forgive her. But what does forgiveness mean?

To this day, I am still very good friends with this girl. My behavior towards her is as friendly as always, the same way I relate to all my friends. Aside from this small incident, I hold no negative feelings towards her, and immediately after the incident I was never even cold to her, as I wanted to mask how I was feeling. My question is: Does that mean I have forgiven her? I held on to my negative feelings for a while after the event, but after a while I let them go. But I still feel hurt when thinking about what happened. She also never expressed remorse over the incident, because she never knew that she did anything wrong.

It's been a number of years since then, and I think at this point I can truly say I have forgiven her. But let's go back to a few months after the occurrence. I was still mad at her about it, yet I was also still friends with her and was doing my best to put it behind me and move on. At that moment in time, would you say that I have forgiven her?

Food for thought: Does forgiving mean forgetting? Can you hold on to negative feelings while simultaneously having a positive relationship with that person? Does forgiveness mean letting go completely or is it OK as long as your actions and behavior does not show your true feelings?

I wish you all a Gmar Chatima Tova, may we all be inscribed in the book of life. May we be zoche to be forgiven by Hashem and the people who we have sinned against, and may we have the inner strength to forgive all of those who wronged us.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Does it really count?

This year I had a very thought-provoking Rosh Hashana. I heard lots of great ideas over this three day yuntif and had some interesting conversations. Among the many different things that I was thinking about, I was thinking a lot about Hashem and davening. Aside from Shidduchim, I think that’s the topic that I’ve written about the most. So many times this year I would be davening and the following thought has gone through my head: I’ve asked Hashem for this so many times, is this Tefillah right now really going to make a difference? I mean, how many times have we all asked Hashem for peace for all of Klal Yisrael? How many times have we said Refaeinu and asked for Refuah Shelaimah for all of the Cholim? How many times have I davened to find my bashert and that my friends should too and that all the singles who want to find a spouse should get married? Is this Tefillah really going to make a difference?

Rosh Hashana is different. Somehow I feel like the Tefillot of Rosh Hashana are more powerful, since they are said when Hashem is judging us, and they are for the entire year. But on a regular typical day, it’s just another regular, typical Tefillah, right? Why should the 101st time that I’m asking Hashem for something get an answer and not the 100th? Sometimes it’s the advice that you give to others that you need to absorb yourself the most. This message is one I’ve told myself over and over in so many other areas, and for some reason this Rosh Hashana it just hit me.

One of my favorite stories of all time is the one about Rabbi Akiva and the water dripping into the stone. Rabbi Akiva was encouraged by his wife to go learn Torah, even though he was already forty years old and didn’t know anything about Torah. He started to learn Torah, but was so overwhelmed. There was too much information, so much that he had to learn, and it seemed like he was getting nowhere. He became discouraged and left Yeshiva. He was walking and saw a stone with water dripping into it drop by drop by drop by drop, very slowly. The drops of water created a hole in the stone. He realized that even though every little bit that he learned felt like a drop in the bucket, each drop is important, and all together they created this hole in the rock.

Sometimes it seems like you’re trying and trying and yet going no where. Each step you take is so small in compared to the distance you have to go, and so each step seems pointless. The key message is that even though each step seems pointless, it’s not. Every drop counts, every step counts, even though it seems so small. A flower starts with just a seed, but it grows to be so much bigger. A blizzard consists of so many snowflakes, but every snowflake counts. We are so stubborn to see it. No, it doesn’t, we argue. It doesn’t count! If there was one less snowflake, it would still be a blizzard. But where is the point where it changes from a flurry to a strong steady snow? Each one counts, even though we can’t see it.

The same is true with Tefillah. Each one counts. Why does Hashem choose to wait for the 101st prayer instead of answering the 100th? I don’t know. But each one counts. Each one makes an impact. The impact is so small that we make the mistake of believing that it is insignificant. Yes, it is small, but it is there. Don’t underestimate it. Maybe we don’t see the difference. We don’t see it, but it is there, so have faith and keep on davening. Does it really count? Yes, it does.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Two Directions

Every year Rosh Hashana seems to sneak up on me, despite the fact that Rosh Chodesh Elul gives plenty of advance notice to give me the nudge that this holy time is coming up. So with Rosh Hashana just around the corner, and selichot starting on Motzei Shabbos, I finally feel the urgency of introspection. The idea that comes to mind at the moment is the phrase many of our parents told us when we were children when we began to adventure passed the safe walls of our home and out into the world, and that is, “Look both ways before you cross the street.”

Rosh Hashana involves looking in two directions: The past and the future. I always start by looking at the past year. Where was I last Rosh Hashana? I don’t mean physically, though that is always a good starting point to recall my thoughts, I mean what was my mental, emotional and most importantly spiritual state last year at this time? What goals did I set for myself? How have I lived up to those goals? What are my accomplishments? In what ways did I fail and in what ways did I succeed? The main question that I always ask is “Where did I hope to be this year and how close am I to being in that place?” I attempt to identify the main obstacles to my spiritual growth and the biggest downfalls in my Avodas Hashem in the past year. But that’s only one direction.

I also look to next year and ask: Where do I hope to be next year at this time? I am filled with hopes of where this next year will take me. Not only am I faced with the unknown of what life will throw my way, but what I can do to create this next year what I want it to be. The end result may be up to Hashem, beyond my control, but what can I do to try my best to make this year everything that I want it to be?

When I think about where I was Rosh Hashana last year, aside from remembering how I hoped to be married this year, I see all the things that happened that I was so unprepared for. I see the things that I handled well, and the ones that I did not deal with quite as nicely, but that I learned from. I’m in a place that I never thought I’d be in, mostly in a good way. Usually on Rosh Hashana I end up with the same list of the same things that I’m always trying to work on. I picked a few things to focus on last year, and ironically, I ended up making greater strides in the areas that I chose not to focus on because I thought that they would be too hard and so I should focus on other things. Sometimes I surprise myself.

This year has been a good one spiritually for me. After leaving the “bubble” of Stern College, I found that there are two ways to react to a new environment. One is the unfortunate path that I found some of my friends have been swept into, to follow your environment and go with the flow. For myself I found that my reaction to being pushed out of my comfort zone was to push back and take on more things to fight the push away from G-d. When I was in Stern, surrounded by Torah, it was so easy to have Judaism on my mind, but ironically, I have found that since I’ve left, the fact that it has been harder for me to focus on the spiritual has in fact made me struggle more and in the end I have been more successful. This past year has actually been a pretty decent one spiritually, Baruch Hashem.

When I look towards next Rosh Hashana, it seems so far away, but I see two different images. I see the ideal, perfect place that I long to reach with all my soul, the place that makes me sad just thinking about it because it is so far away. But I also see the place that’s closer, that’s reachable, and that is realistic. For now, I know that I just need to get there next year, even though it’s not the place that I want to be.

The Yamim Noraim are a two sided coin. There is that feeling of regret and guilt and being stuck in a deep, deep pit that seems to have no end. That our sins have taken us to a place we cannot escape and we have no one to blame but ourselves. Yet there is also that feeling of hope, of Teshuva, that no matter how bottomless that pit might seem, Hashem has given us that ability to climb out of it. He is there to take our hand and pull us up. Maybe we have fallen, but this is our chance to rise! We can do it- it’s not too far away. There is that anguish that our actions have taken us so far away from G-d, but there is that aspiration to come back, to return to G-d. We try to come out of this time period with renewed our faith in ourselves, that we can break habits that seem so resistant and transform who we are, and renewed faith in G-d, who gave us that ability to change.

As we approach Rosh Hashana, Aseret Yimei Teshuva and Yom Kippur, I wish you all a meaningful and spiritually uplifting Yamim Noraim, and hope that your Tefillot are as passionate as you want them to be, that all of your requests are answered for the good, and that this year is a good, happy, and healthy one!

Shana Tova.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Anonymity Ethics

I would just like to start this post by stating that when I started this blog, I knew that at some point it was possible that someone would figure out who I am, so even though I chose to be anonymous, I write every post keeping in mind that it’s possible for someone to figure out that I wrote it. To my knowledge, no one knows who I am, except for the two people who I myself told about this blog. I chose to be anonymous so that I could express a certain side of myself that I don’t necessarily express outside the blogosphere. If you met me in person, you would probably be pretty surprised, since my personality on this blog is not necessarily the one that shows in person. Each time I sign in I feel almost like superman, assuming a different identity that no one knows about, and that feeling is thrilling and sort of liberating.

The question I’m posing today is directed at all you other anonymous bloggers out there, and that is: If someone figured out who you were, would you want them to tell you? The reason I’m asking these questions is that recently (I won’t say how recently) two interesting situations came up:

The first one is that I became aware that someone I know in real life is reading this blog, but does not know that I am the one writing it. I don’t know this person very well, so as far as I know of they have not made the connection between my real identity and my blog identity, but now I make an effort not to write posts containing topics from recent conversations that I’ve had with this person. Honestly, if they found out, it wouldn’t be the biggest deal, but I would prefer to remain anonymous so that I don’t feel constrained to write a certain way.

The second situation is that I discovered the real identity of a blogger (don’t get paranoid, it’s not you! And you’re not going to guess who it is, trust me). I debated whether to tell this person that I knew who they were in real life, but chose not to for two reasons. The main one is that they have absolutely no clue who I am, and I have never met them, I just know their name from mutual friends. The second is that ignorance is bliss, so why should I ruin their sense of anonymity, especially if we don’t really know each other anyway so it won’t really affect them at all?

Then I was thinking about my first situation, and what I would want that person to do if they did figure out who I was. Do I want to know that they know? Or is ignorance really bliss? My answer is: I don’t know. I’m going to leave it up to them, should they ever figure it out, and if they want to tell me because they feel bad or feel that they are lying to me, then I would understand. And if they choose to continue reading without letting me know, I respect that decision as well.

What do you think? If someone found out who you were, would you want to know? Does it matter if it’s a friend of yours vs. someone you never met, but might know their name? Do you have an obligation to tell someone if you discover their true identity?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Great Rosh Hashana Video

Back before Tisha B'Av I posted's amazing video by Charlie Harary. put out another Charlie Harary video for Rosh Hashana, and it was really great, about love and our relationship with Hashem. Enjoy.

Rosh Hashana: What's Love Got to Do With It?