Sunday, October 16, 2011

Take a Step Back

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes find myself so caught up in my own perspective that I just need someone to come along and look me in the eye and tell me, “Snap out of it!” Well, enter the chag of Sukkot. Sukkot is all about taking a step back and looking at things from a new perspective.

Come on, leave your comfort zone, and step out to look at life from a new angle. It might not be comfortable, and there might be mosquitos or bees or rain or wind. But let’s get some new perspective on life. Why? Because the result is happiness, as Sukkot is called “zman simchateinu,” the time of our happiness.

Which is why one might find it ironic that during this time of happiness, Sukkot, we read what seems to be the most depressing sefer in all of Torah: Kohelet. But the message of Kohelet is the same message of Sukkot: Take a step back, get some perspective, and figure out what is really important in life. Life that is “tachat hashemesh,” that is under the sun, part of the physical world, is only about the moment. Things in the physical world come and go. Sure, pyshical pleasures, such as a nice delicious meal is good at the time, but life moves on. It is only “tachat hashamayim” under the shamayim, where there is Yirat Shamayim, where there is purpose that lasts forever. Of course you should enjoy the physical world right now, but realize that like the sun which rises and sets, it comes and goes. Focus on the things that last forever.

Another thing that Sukkot makes me think about is what I wrote here about trusting in Hashem and not in physical buildings. There was one day during the Chag when the wind was so strong and our Sukkah started swaying and I was afraid it would fall down, but it didn’t. It was not only because the Sukkah itself was strong, but because Hashem was protecting us.

When we step out of our comfort zone, it is not always so pleasant. We might discover things we don’t want to know, like that maybe we are wrong. Maybe we have been looking at things the wrong way. Maybe we are not who we think we are, maybe we need to change. But once we see things with new eyes, we have the ability to go forward and not just stay stuck where we are. We can take charge of our life and shift our priorities. Realize what is truly important and what is not quite as important.

Happiness is about changing perspective and looking at things differently. It is not always easy, and in fact, mostly it is not easy, and we have to work to get there.

May we all use this Chag HaSukkot, Zman Simchateinu, to discover a new perspective on our lives, one that will give us clarity, and give us the vision that we need to move forward in the right direction. May we take this chance to re-evaluate our priorities in life. And may this newfound perspective lead us to true happiness.


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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Finding a Relatable Mashal for Rosh Hashana

When I was trying to think of what to write about for this post about Rosh Hashana, I figured I would start by looking at what I wrote on this blog last year (see here), so I could be sure not to repeat myself. That gave me a good laugh, because I saw that I wrote, “I always start by looking at the past year. Where was I last Rosh Hashana?” And, here I am again, looking back at last year. I do this because I try to think about how it was I got from there to here. Did I get here because I was passive and let myself sail down the river wherever life takes me, or did I row upstream and try hard to get here? It’s a little bit of both. Last year I wrote about how I look at the past and look at the future, and how I try to balance between feeling guilt and regret, and feeling hopeful and inspired.

This year, my thoughts are in a completely different place. Mostly I am in a very different place than I was last year- my life has changed so much in the past year, in very good ways. All the changes I talked about and hoped for at the beginning of the summer managed to work themselves out. Things in my life are busier now, which ironically has meant I have had less to write about. Somehow when things were slower and life was more boring I had so much to write about.

One thought I had about Rosh Hashana, is that in listening/reading to shiurim and other thoughts related to Rosh Hashana, I found all the parables being used to be completely un-relatable. Most of them are about Kings ruling a Kingdom and judgment. Sure, I understand what that means in theory, but it doesn’t relate practically to my life. Same thing with scales- I understand what a scale is, but the only kind of scale I use in my life is the one I hop on to see how much I weigh- not one of those scales in the classic Elul picture which looks more like a seesaw. Now, a seesaw I could relate to. But what about a King? How can I make the theme of Rosh Hashana, which is the idea of “Hashem Melech,” that Hashem is King and rules over my life, something that I understand not only in theory, but practically?

Since I have been in the working world, the thing that pops most into my mind is a CEO of a company or a President of a company. They have many employees and the job of every employee is to work for the CEO. At the end of the day, even if he or she is not your boss directly, he or she is your boss’s boss’s boss’s boss, and the bottom line is that you report to them. I’d like to share one of my experiences with you.

In one place that I worked, we had evaluations. This is a great Mashal for Rosh Hashana. It was not with the CEO, it was with your supervisor, but the CEO reviewed all of the forms. I was given a piece of paper with a bunch of different categories and I had to rate myself on a scale of 1 to 5 on how well I thought I was doing in each area. Then I had a meeting with my boss, who went over each of the criteria and gave me a rating in each area. I was quite nervous for that meeting! I mean, what if my supervisor was about to tell me that I was doing an awful job? Taking criticism is not easy.

Luckily, overall, my meeting went very well. For most of the categories, my boss and I were on the same page in terms of how well we thought I was doing. Then there were the categories where my supervisor thought I rated myself too low, and that I was actually doing much better than that. I figured it was safe to stay on the modest side instead of saying, “I think I’m great at everything!” But then there were the few items on the list where I thought I was doing well and my supervisor gently informed me that in fact I needed to improve a little bit. That is never easy to hear, but I gulped, nodded, and accepted what was said, knowing it was right (in the case where I disagreed I did speak up to defend myself.)

The interesting thing about employee evaluations is that looking around at other employees there was one factor that stood out to me as to which employees were better at what they were doing, and that factor is: How dedicated, committed, and passionate are they about the mission of the company? Everyone has a different job to do, and those who are there just to do their job and don’t care about where the company is going as a whole aren’t as good at what they do as those who are mission driven.

The same is true for us on Rosh Hashana. The reason Rosh Hashana is so critical is because we take a chance to say: Who are we working for? What is the point of everything that we do? Sure, we can go about the motions of doing Mitzvot, but if we don’t have this sense of WHY we are doing what we are doing, then it is so easy to slack off. Rosh Hashana is our wake up call to remind us that our mission in this world is to serve G-d.

Wishing you all a meaningful Rosh Hashana, a Shana Tova, and a Ketiva V’Chatima Tova! May we all be written in the book of life, and may this year be one of health and happiness for all, one in which all of our prayers be answered for the good.


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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Maccabeats Rosh Hashana video

The Maccabeats have released their newest video, with the theme of Rosh Hashana, "Book of Good Life." (Lyrics posted at the end)



Although I really enjoyed One Day (their first video, made before they became famous), and Candlelight (the video that made them famous), I was a little more critical of their Purim video (see my post here).

My thoughts on the Rosh Hashana video: It is awesome! Mostly, I agree with what Shades of Grey wrote in his post. My only critique of the video is that the tune is not so catchy. I had this problem with the Purim video as well- I would love to hear something we can sing along to. It was so easy over Chanukah to find myself going, "I flip my latkes in the air sometimes" whereas with Purim I would start going, "So raise your glass...- wait, what are the rest of the lyrics?" It just wasn't quite as easy to sing along with. It's quite possible that after I watch the Rosh Hashana video a few more times I will change my mind about this, so the jury is still out, but in any event the song choice not being amazing is my really my only critique.

That being said, there are so many things I like about the Rosh Hashana video:

1.The sound quality of the video was incredible and it was so pleasant and wonderful to listen to. The harmonies and arrangement is beautiful, as is the case with all of the Maccabeats' other songs.

2. The video itself was incredibly well done. The story line in the video about doing good things was inspirational and uplifting, while at the same time the bits and pieces of humor that were included put a smile on my face. It was fun to watch in addition to being fun to listen to. I liked the continuation of a food mishap- this time the honey dripping replacing the jelly falling from the donut in Candlelight. I also really liked the "every day" type of feel that this video has.

What I would personally love to see next from the Maccabeats is a video that does not revolve around a Holiday. The One Day video was wonderful and I feel like since Candlelight made them famous, the Maccabeats feel like they have to do videos about Jewish Holidays since then. No need to wait for Chanukah for the next video- I say break out of the box, and pick something besides Jewish Holidays, there is so much else out there.

To sum up: Well done, Maccabeats, excellent video. Looking forward to the next one.

What were your thoughts on the video? Like/dislike?

Lyrics (taken from their YouTube page):

Woke up and realized yesterday
Think it's a bummer end of the summer
Kinda nervous that we're almost there
At the days of awe

Prayers in a language that I don't know
Standing for hours and hours more
I wish that someone would please tell me-e-e-e
What it is we're praying for

Oh put me in the book of good life
I just wanna live the good life
This could really be a good life, good life

Say oh, we've got feelings that we should fight
Make sure that we're choosing right
Gotta earn my own place in
The book of good life

Time for reflection on the past year
Time to figure out what we're doing here
Replace the guilt with inspiration
And everything is clear

Life in the present, the here and now
Easier than regret and planning out
Living in the moment, lasts for a moment
Got my future to think about

When you're sitting there in shul
Wishing it was over
You gotta take a beat
And let it all sink in

Oh put me in the book of good life
I just wanna live the good life
This could really be a good life, good life

Say oh, we've got feelings that we should fight
Make sure that we're choosing right
Gotta earn my own place in
The book of good life

Hopefully
This year will bring us happiness and peace
Hopefully
Sensitivity to others will increase
Hopefully
We'll open our eyes and think more consciously
Cuz Hopefully
We'll go from where we are to where we want to be

Oh put me in the book of good life
I just wanna live the good life
This could really be a good life, good life

Say oh, we've got feelings that we should fight
Make sure that we're choosing right
Gotta earn my own place in
The book of good life

Oh yeah
Book of Good life
Ooh

Listen
Time for reflection on the past year
Time to figure out what we're doing here
Replace the guilt with inspiration
And everything is clear

Life in the present seems more fun
Easier than regret, what's done is done
Living in the moment, lasts for a moment
Shana Tova to everyone



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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years Later: Remembering September 11, 2001

Ten years ago, today, on September 11, 2001 I was in high school, and when I heard someone mention the words “plane crash” early in the morning, I didn’t think twice about it. I mean, plane crashes do happen, it’s not so unusual. I assumed it was an accident. It wasn’t until just a little bit later that morning when the principal called us all into an assembly did I find out the news about the act of terror that occurred. Like everyone, I was shocked. How could this happen? America is a safe place, this is the type of thing that would happen in Israel, but things like that don’t happen here, I remember thinking. I had learned about Pearl Harbor, but attacks on the United States like that were things we learned about in history. How could planes fly into the World Trade Center? I saw the Twin Towers many times from a distance, and still picture them today.

Those who remember 9/11, remember exactly where they were. I always like to ask others: “Where were you when it happened? How did you find out?” Everyone has a story, and it was a moment that changed every person in a different way. The place where you were when you heard the news was the place you were when your world changed.

I remember that I couldn’t believe that something so horrible had happened. I remember being scared and no longer feeling safe. Classmates of mine who had parents who worked in the World Trade Center or nearby or even in the city were crying and terrified. In the days after 9/11 I heard countless stories of how many of those fathers were late to work because they went to Selichot, and were saved.

I remember what the world was like in the days and weeks following 9/11, the sense of unity and community. There were American flags everywhere, on people’s cars, on their homes, in store windows. People were friendlier to each other, we felt closer somehow to those around us, especially strangers. There was this sense of, we are all going through the same thing, we are all here together, and we all experienced this.

I remember how many pointed out the proximity of the event to Elul and Rosh Hashanah, where we say “Who will die and who will live? Who by fire and who by water?” Many of the ways mentioned in that prayer were ways in which people died on 9/11.

There are so many, many messages to take out of 9/11. Some focus on the amazing acts of heroism, the people who died to save others, who risked their lives to save others, those who were strong and brave despite the extreme tragedy.

One of the messages that I took from 9/11 was the same message that I relearned a few weeks ago. When Hurricane Irene hit two weeks ago, it reminded me of one thing: Who is really in control of the world: Hashem. The Shabbos right before the storm I had heard a nice idea from the Rabbi at shul. He said that the upcoming storm should remind us that it’s not walls, bricks, wood, or stones that protect us; it’s Hashem. I hadn’t thought about that. When thinking about the storm my main thought had been “Oh, it’s OK, I will be safe in my house.” I realized this meant I was putting my faith in my house, which certainly has no power of its own to save me. If my house succeeds to protect me, which Baruch Hashem, it did, then it is only because Hashem gave it that power.

The message that I took out of Hurricane Irene is: Wake up! Look who is really in charge! Sometimes, unfortunately, sometimes it is hard to see Hashem’s involvement in the world and be aware of His Presence every second of every day. When it’s raining, we think our umbrellas are what keep us dry, or our raincoats. We think that building shelter us and that electricity comes from wires. We rely on the fact that when we turn on a light switch, the light bulb will light up, and when we plug something in to an outlet, it will turn on or the battery will begin charging. We have to remember that Hashem is in charge of the world. Hashem keeps us safe, and we have to put our trust in Hashem.

That is the same message that I took out of 9/11. Like Hurricane Irene, 9/11 was a wake-up call. The Twin Towers were massive buildings, they seemed so permanent, and when you looked at them it looked like nothing could destroy them. September 11 was a terrifying day and made me think about life and death, and that you don’t know when you’re going to die. We can think about hurricanes and about terrorism and be afraid. Or we can accept the fact that there is so much out of our control and we must do whatever is in our ability to do, but the rest is up to Hashem, and He is running the show.

Today I remember those who died on September 11, 2001, and all of those who were affected by the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and United 93. I remember those who risked their lives, the firefighters, the police officers, the rescue workers, the family members, the relatives, the friends, the heroes, and all of those whose lives will never be the same. I remember the world before 9/11 and the world after 9/11. I remember that this tragedy is a wake-up call and pray that we all use the tenth anniversary of this horrific event to take to heart the messages that we each need to hear.



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Monday, September 5, 2011

Connect or Disconnect?

I have seen the video below posted in a number of places, and although I have a lot to say on the video, I would like to use the video as a stepping stone to discuss the topic of technology in general- phones, emails, Facebook, all that stuff. But first the video:








There were aspects of the video that I liked, and aspects that I disliked. To start with the things that I liked, I will start off by saying that it was very well done video and I was very impressed with it. Clearly the point of the video is to bring attention that we are too attached to our phones and our email, and we have to put those away, we have to disconnect, and connect with people in real life who we are ignoring. This is a really important message, and we’ve all been on the receiving end of people who are clearly distracted when they are talking to us. There are certainly times when we want to shout, “Stop texting and pay attention to me for one second!” Someone I know was recently telling me how she was so excited to spend the day with her husband and she was making a rule that he couldn’t look at his phone. Sometimes we have to put it away.
That being said, there were two points that I would like to take issue with. The second one is more of a curious question than an issue, but in any event, the first point is: Phones, texting, email, all of those are ways in which we connect to people. Part of the way the world is today includes the fact that a lot of contact that we have with people is through technology and not in person, and that is not a bad thing. Connecting to people in real life is not inherently better than connecting to people through technology. If a close friend of mine lives in Israel, for example, being able to video chat with her, and keep in touch through Facebook, is not any less valid of a means to connect with her then my connecting with the friend who I see once a week.

The problem comes in, which the video clearly indicates, when technology becomes more important than the person we are actually with at the time. What we need to be teaching people is not that they should shut off their phones and stop checking their email, we need to teach people WHEN it is appropriate and when it is not appropriate. What we need to be teaching people is that when they are with someone in person, that person is the most important. They should not answer phone calls or texts while they are eating lunch with someone, while they are meeting with someone in person. It’s not about picking a random hour of the day to turn off your phone. Let’s say during that hour you have some time alone. Well then texting and emailing would actually allow you to connect to others. I think the video was trying to say this, but what came across to me was that phones, blackberries, email, etc. are an evil addiction that we must limit as much as possible. Instead of saying that it is evil, we should be saying when it is appropriate and when it is not. This brings me to my next point.

The second issue that I have, or really a question, is: Why is this issue so important for a Jewish organization to be talking about? Shouldn’t we be focused on things like Torah, Mitzvot, Halacha, and that sort of thing? I mean, is this about the whole “half Shabbos” phenomenon of teens texting on Shabbos? Because then we should be focusing on the importance of Shabbos, not blaming technology. It seems like a lot went into the creation of the video, and I am curious as to why so much time and effort was made by a Jewish organization to create a video about something that is not really a Jewish issue. That puzzled me.

Additionally, on an only slightly related note, it bothers me when people, particularly Rabbis, tell people that Facebook is evil and that it is wrong to join it. I understand when Rabbis warn people about the internet. Though I believe the internet has a lot of good, I understand that there is a lot of bad stuff out there. Facebook, however, is different. Inevitably they cite the fact that some girl met some guy on Facebook and Facebook caused them to have a relationship that they shouldn’t be having. I don’t understand how one person meets another person through Facebook. The main purpose of Facebook is to keep in touch with the people who you know. I am a very big fan of Facebook for that very reason- it is a really great tool for maintaining relationships- keeping in touch is hard. That being said, it is ONLY good when used appropriately. When a girl tells me that some random guy friended her on Facebook (oh, and let me guess, he sent her a message saying she looked familiar or something like that) and she doesn’t know him, but she accepted because, you know, why not? Well, then I say that she is just being stupid. People need to be taught to use Facebook appropriately, and to be very careful about what information they share and who they share it with. More importantly it needs to be clear that a person should not allow anyone who they do not know or are even not sure if they know, to view their profile. Additionally, even people who you don’t know well, it is OK not to allow those people access to view your profile as well.

I am not sure why time and energy was spent on this video, but once it was spent, I would have liked to see a message about when to connect and when to disconnect, not only “disconnect and enjoy,” as quite often one can and should connect and enjoy. What are your thoughts? Feel free to disagree, I’d love to hear other opinions on this!


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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What are you waiting for?

Recently, I bought a blender. Perhaps it seems like a simple, boring task to you, but it wasn’t for me. Maybe when I tell you why, you’ll find it depressing, but I don’t care; I find it empowering. It goes like this: We each have our own list of things. The things we are waiting to get married to do, or the things we are doing that we’re waiting to get married to stop doing. Things that don’t by definition go along with getting married. For example, some wait to rent/buy their own apartment/house until marriage. “I’m not going to move out of my parents’ house yet, I’ll wait until I get married to do that,” some say. For others the list includes buying nice furniture instead of something temporary or nice artwork for their walls and just leaving them blank. After all, they reason, what use is there to decorating when you’re hoping to get married and move out soon? This realization that there were things I was waiting to get married to do, that I don’t have to wait for marriage to do, hit me after I wrote the short poem below, several months ago:

"There is no one out there for me," I tell myself.
Not because it is true, but because I need to believe it.
No more sitting around waiting for that guy to show up
Time to stop waiting and start living,
Living my life as the best me that I can be,
Instead of constantly making sure I am ready,
Ready for someone else to enter into my life,
And suddenly be the most important person in it.
All this waiting, all this trying to be ready,
Is preventing myself from the one thing,
That is true preparation,
Living my life and doing the things I do,
Fulfilling the purpose I was meant for.
But if I don't make room for him to come in
Then perhaps when he shows up
I'll have to stop everything and create space
Rework my life to make room for him to fit in it,
And I want the space to be all ready for him.
It’s time to stop leaving a big empty hole in my life,
Waiting for someone to fill that empty, deep, hole.
My life should be full right now, even without him
And his life should be full without me
And when we meet we will weave our two separate full lives together
Uniting two complete pieces, merging into one
Instead of taking two half lives and only together making a whole.
"There is no one out there for me," I tell myself.
Not because it is true, but because I need to believe it.
I need to believe it to move on.

It took a certain event in my life to create this wake up moment, and while it wasn’t a positive event that did it, I needed the wake up call because I hadn’t even realized that I was waiting around. It was completely subconscious, until it dawned on me that like most singles, I too have a list of the things we are not doing because we are waiting to get married to do them. “I’ll do that when I get married,” we say.

Well, it’s time to move on with my life. When I say move on, I don’t mean give up. I don’t mean taking the opposite approach and saying “Well, I’m never getting married, so I might as well do all those things I was waiting to do.” That would be depressing. What I mean is not living life around the possibility of getting married. Why wait for something that I have no idea when it will happen? I don’t know when I am going to get married and here is an idea: It doesn’t matter when. Hashem has it all planned out and I have to stop putting my life on hold.

So, I bought a blender. I always figured a nice blender was one of those things you get at your wedding shower, or as a wedding gift. Why bother investing in one now? Then I realized: Why wait to get married to buy a blender if I really want one? But yet, buying a blender seemed to symbolize giving up hope, as though I was saying, “OK, I’m probably never going to get married, so I might as well buy a blender.” So, I put it off. But now, I am done waiting. And if the right guy shows up tomorrow, well, I’ll figure it out. Telling myself that, “there is no one out there for me” might sound depressing, but pretending that it’s true changes how I live my life. Waiting to find the right guy is hard enough, no need to make it harder by making yourself wait for other things as well. Do what you need to do to be happy with your life.



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Friday, July 29, 2011

QPT: Parshat Masei

Quick Parsha Thought: Parshat Masei

No matter how many times you read something, each time you see it in a different light. I find that every time I read the parsha something different jumps out at me. Here are a some of my observations from reading the parsha this week:

I like this parsha for a very ironic reason: I used to really dislike it. I was bothered because I never understood why the Torah, which values every single letter and even every dot as being important, spent so much space listing all the places B'nei Yisrael traveled in the dessert. At least if it had to list all the places, it might as well write it as a list instead of so many Psukim that start off with "ViYisu" and then "Vayachanu." Why does it list everything? When I first heard the answer that I liked, which was a very long time ago, this became one of the parshas that I liked the most. The answer, of course, is that life is a journey, and every single step along the way is important. Often we are so focused on getting to the end goal, that we don't realize that the process of getting there is equally as important as the end goal.

This week I was struck by the Mashal that Rashi quotes from Rabbi Tanchuma, comparing the list of locations that Hashem lists in the Torah, to a King with an ill son. The King travels very far with the son to heal him, and the son is healed. On their way back home, the King points out the son each of the places they stopped on their way and the terrible situation they were each one of them. This confused me. I had never thought of this parsha as a list of "Remember how bad it was when we were stopped over there," but rather a positive list with the positive aspects of each location fondly being recalled. After I thought about this more, I realized that it is the same thing. Our journeys in life are not easy, they are full of stops and bumps in the road. The obstacles we face may be tough, but in the end, the lessons we learn from them are what make us stronger.

Yes, right over there is where I fell and hurt my foot! And I stumbled and hurt myself in that spot, right there! But I picked myself up. I learned lessons that I would not have learned if I had not fallen. And the Torah lists these places at the end of the journey, once they are about to reach the destination, because most lessons are only learned in retrospect. At the time of the obstacle, things are awful! Things are challenging and terrible, and even painful. But then you look back and say, "Yes, that was bad, but I'm glad I went through it. I wouldn't have wished that upon myself, but now that it is over, I am glad the experience taught me so much."

May we all take this chance to look back at the past and see the important lessons we learned along the path that got us to where we are today in life, and may we appreciate the road and path we are on right now, and value the process itself, the journey, and not just the goal we are striving toward.


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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Confrontation

I thought I was being nice
Letting it go
Letting it pass
Not saying anything
Not nagging you about a detail
Putting my annoyance aside
It's no big deal.

This is for your benefit
So I don't hurt you
So I don't offend you
Avoiding confrontation
Forgiving just this once
and just this once
and just this once

But now I see
that I was actually being mean
Holding it in
Letting things build up
One small thing at a time
Bit by bit
Finding quiet, subtle ways to get back
Letting it eat at me
Letting it drive me crazy
Until one day

I explode
It all comes out of me
All those small things
are now one big deal
Just this once
Just this once
Is not just once
Not anymore
Now it's thousands of times.

Rage, anger,
frustration, annoyance
pour out of me
burst out of me
crawl out of me
Accusing you
Critisizing you
Scolding you
Demanding you change
Announcing your guilt

While you stare at me confused
Wondering what you did wrong
Where all this came from
You had no idea
What's going on
What is she talking about
Because I didn't tell you
Because I was trying to be nice
Because it wasn't a big deal
It really wasn't

Next time I will tell you
Though you'll look at me crazy
and tell me not to make a big deal
and insist it's just something small
Why do I need to nag you
I will say something
I will confront you
I will admit, "That bothers me."
To truly be nice
and save you from an explosion
that you don't deserve.



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Friday, July 22, 2011

QPT: Parshat Matot

Quick Parsha Thoughts: Parshat Matot

No matter how many times you read something, each time you see it in a different light. I find that every time I read the parsha something different jumps out at me. Here are a couple of my observations from reading the parsha this week:

Sometimes just ONE word changes how you read a story. So I was reading the parsha and get up to the part where the Shvatim of Reuven and Gad approach Moshe and ask, "Hi, so if it's OK with you, can we just stay here instead of crossing over to the other side of the Jordan river?" At this point in my head I was thinking, "No! Why would you want to not go into Eretz Yisrael? Hashem told you the land is holy, and you are so close. Don't you want Kedusha? You haven't even seen Israel yet. How do you know this land is better for your cattle?" That would have been my first response. I was also thinking about how, given last week's parsha, this request must have been so painful for Moshe. He wanted so badly to go into Eretz Yisrael, and here Reuven and Gad are saying, "Yeah, we can go in, and you can't, but we don't want to. Can we just stay here?" Anyone besides the great Moshe Rabeinu might have said, "Hello? You are so lucky to be able to go into Israel. Why are you giving that up? How can you even ask me that you don't want to live in Eretz Yisrael proper?"

But Moshe's reply begins with just one word that gets to the core of the issue. And that word is אחיכם (or האחיכם to be more precise). Moshe responds: Let's put everything aside for a minute. Forget me and my personal situation of not being able to go into Eretz Yisrael. Forget about the fact that Eretz Yisrael is kadosh. Let's focus on your brothers. What about the rest of B'nei Yisrael? They need your help to fight and conquer Eretz Yisrael. You can't just leave them like this. Plus if you don't go to war with them they are going to get really discouraged and it is going to be another Miraglim situation all over again. I've already been there and done that with the whole "Well, we don't know if we like Eretz Yisrael" stuff which then sends everyone into a panic. Not happening again.

So they agree to go to war with the rest of B'nei Yisrael, but they still don't fully get it and mention their animals, before their children, as a reason to settle on the other side of the Jordan. And what is really shocking, is that Moshe agrees. I mean, there are so many times in Judaism where someone says, "Hey, can I do this?" and the answer is "No." For some reason, Reuven and Gad are granted their request, with Moshe adding that their receiving that land is conditional on their going to war, and also with Moshe adding some of Menasheh to go with them. What a lesson to be learned from this parsha. What is the priority? Consider your brothers, your nation. Think about others first.

Have a good Shabbos!


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Friday, July 15, 2011

QPT: Parshat Pinchas

Quick Parsha Thoughts: Parshat Pinchas

No matter how many times you read something, each time you see it in a different light. I find that every time I read the parsha something different jumps out at me. Here are a couple of my observations from reading the parsha this week:

From my little experience in the working world, it seems that there are two ways that people react to being let go or fired. The first is an approach of indignation. Understandably so, they are upset and angry about being kicked out against their will, and this emotion is so strong that they refuse to train the next person who needs the information they have. "Why should I help the company?" is their attitude. They do their best to make their departure difficult for those who still have their jobs. In extreme cases they will even try to purposefully hide useful information that only they have, that the company needs. Their fury motivates them to do their best to try to ensure that the company regrets letting them go or firing them as much as possible.

Others take a different approach. No one is happy to lose their job, but some value their job and the work that they do more than their own pride. This is always inspiring to see. Despite their personal hurt at rejection, they do their best to make sure that the important work that they do will go on after them. They are happy to train the next person who will take over their responsibilities and they make sure that things will continue to run smoothly after they leave. It's not all about them, it's about a job that needs to get done, even if they are not the one to do it.

Having seen these two approaches, the section of the parsha that jumped out at me (despite the fact that there is *so* much going on in this parsha, with Pinchas, B'not Tzlafchad, the Karban Tamid etc.) was the scene where Hashem tells Moshe to go up on the mountain to see Eretz Yisrael and prepare to die. Given the great level of Moseh Rabeinu, it is no surprise to see that Moshe of course falls into the second category. Moshe's reaction is immediately to ask Hashem to pick someone else to lead the Jewish people after him. Of course Moshe wanted to go into Eretz Yisrael so badly, and it must have been very difficult for him, but he put that aside and wanted to make sure that the Jewish people had a leader, no matter what.

What is interesting is the language that Moshe uses when he asks Hashem to pick another leader. He says: יפקד ה' אלוקי הרוחות לכל בשר איש על העדה (Bamidbar 27: 16). When I read this posuk I thought this was unusual language and wondered why Moshe addressed Hashem using this particular name here. Well Rashi clears that up with a fascinating insight as to what Moshe was looking for in a future leader of the Jewish People. By using the term "אלוקי הרוחות לכל בשר ," Moshe was referring to the fact that Hashem understands every person and knows that each individual person is unique with their own personality. There are a lot of interesting characters in the Jewish people. Moshe was asking Hashem for someone with the quality of being able to deal with all different types of people.

This really struck me because I see this today so much as a necessary quality of our leaders today. There are so many types of people, so many different interests and each person has different priorities, and a leader must be able to get along with each person.

Have a good Shabbos!

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Beautiful Song

Some songs have a great tune. I may not like the singer's voice or the words, but the tune is nice. Other songs have great words, but a terrible tune. And there are some singers who could be singing a song with terrible words and a terrible tune and still come out sounding amazing.

The song below is a song that has all three factors: Great words, a beautiful tune, and the kid who sings it has an incredible voice. It's one of those songs I could listen to over and over.

The words are from a Tefillah that is said when putting on a Tallis (since I obviously do not wear a Tallis, I had to look up the source of the words, so correct me if I am wrong.) I do not know the origin of the song, who originally composed the tune, so if anyone knows, please let me know.





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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Purpose

Do you ever think about your purpose in life? Well, I think about it all the time. I can’t help it, I just do. Wondering what I’m supposed to do. When I was a kid I just kind of figured I’d grow up to be awesome and extraordinary and I would do something so amazing that I would be famous and the entire world would know who I am, and I’d be one of those people you learn about in school. I knew I was awesome, and even though no one else knew that, one day the world would figure it out. I was a hopeful idealistic kid, and still am that way mostly. But then one day I realized: I am not extraordinary. I am just ordinary.

I knew that would happen one day, I always used to hear about how you grow up and you’re your idealism. You forget about all the dreams you had when you were a kid and settle for being boring. But I thought that doesn’t happen until your thirties or forties when you find yourself stuck sitting at a desk job all day and you have a midlife crisis. But in any event, I realized that I am plain old ordinary. Maybe that is an excuse I tell myself, a way out of having to put in all the effort and all the hard work that it takes to be great, but the truth is that even if I have the potential to be extraordinary, I am not there yet. I always dreamed of changing the world, and I will probably always hold on to that dream, but it seems far off in the distance, and so untouchable. How will I ever get there?

Some days I feel lost, like I am never going to find my direction and unique path in life. The way for me to make my small, tiny mark on the world. Not because there is no one to point me in the right direction, but because it seems each path has a big huge sign in front of it that stares me in the eyes which says, “Nope, not this one. Try again.” No way seems to be the right way for me. Where do I go? Where do I fit in in this big world? I hope that when I die G-d doesn’t look at my life and point into the moment in time when He created me and say, “Well, that was pointless. You missed what you were supposed to do.”

Sometimes I look at myself and all I see are my faults, my weaknesses, the areas where I am lacking, or where others are so much better than I am. The areas that I wish I excelled in, but let's face it: I don't. What in the world can I do that no one else in the entire world can do? I lose sight of who I am. It reminds me about a lecture that I listened to by a woman who was homeless for about a year, and she started off the lecture by saying “I am a journalist.” She explained how when she was homeless she just became this homeless person and lost that part of her identity. She was always the same person, but how she thought of herself was different. Maybe I’m ordinary, but somewhere buried deep inside I can be extraordinary. Yes, I have weaknesses, but I have strengths, too.

People always ask these questions like "what is your goal in life" or "what is your purpose" or "what do you hope to accomplish," but those questions seem to imply that there is just one goal or purpose, and you just have to get there. That's how I always thought it was. I just needed to find the place I wanted to get to, and then get there. As though there is this one spot that you need to get to, and then you're done. I once listened to a great shiur by Charlie Harary (related to Purim) where he says that each day of your life is part of that purpose. It’s not this one big thing that you get to one day. Every single day is a little tiny piece of it. Every day is important.

Most people are ordinary. For most of us, our purpose is not something big like curing a disease, ending slavery, creating a new invention, or being the first one on the moon. But there are people who have a huge influence on their own small world- on their community, on their family, on their friends, and to those people, they are extraordinary. And that is what I strive to be. G-d gave us life to be extraordinary in our own small way, even if the entire world doesn’t recognize our accomplishments. Extraordinary means finding meaning in every single day, and every single moment. It means that what I accomplished today, however small, is important.

I am probably never going to be famous, and that is quite alright with me. I think that’s a dream I’m ready to give up. But I am never going to give up on my dream of being extraordinary.



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Friday, July 8, 2011

QPT: Parshat Balak

Quick Parsha Thoughts: Parshat Balak


No matter how many times you read something, each time you see it in a different light. I find that every time I read the parsha something different jumps out at me. Here are a couple of my observations from reading the parsha this week:

• I always thought that at the beginning of the story, Bilaam always seems like a good guy- he says that he can only do what Hashem wanted him to do, and Chazal have to tell us not to be fooled by that. This time when I read the story it seemed more like he was saying to Balak’s messengers, “I’m sorry, guys, I can only do what G-d tells me to do. But I really WANT to curse them! So not fair.” He tells Balak’s messengers the second time that even if they gave him gold and silver he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t even if he wanted to, but he does want to, and he seems frustrated by the fact that he can’t.

• What really fascinated me was the scene where the donkey asks Bilaam why he hit him three times. Now, what I would expect Bilaam to say (aside from, “What?? You can talk?”) is, “Well, you didn’t move, and I wanted you to move so I hit you.” But that is not what he says at all. Bilaam says, “Because you mocked me! If I had a sword I would kill you.” Why was Bilaam really mad? I always thought he was mad that the donkey wasn’t listening to him and wasn’t responding to him. Clearly that was part of it, but, as Rashi explains, Bilaam was embarrassed because Balak’s messengers were there watching him, and he felt they were laughing at him because he was being recruited to curse an entire nation, but he couldn’t even get his own donkey to move. We are so concerned about what other people think of us, I never realized that Bilaam was motivated by what other people thought of him, as opposed to being annoyed that the donkey wasn't listening to him. Interesting.

• Also thought it was interesting how many times B’nei Yisrael are referred to as “Yaakov.” For those who know any tune to the song “Al Tirah Avdi Yaakov” (I personally recommend D’veykus’s version of it), a lot of the words from that song are found in this week’s parsha. Why are B’nei Yisrael referred to as Yaakov so many times? Anyone know?

• Lastly, for some reason I always thought the line “Ma Tovu” appeared much earlier in all of the things that Bilaam says. Not sure why that was.

Have a good shabbos!


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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Judged

Judge me
Put me in a box
And don’t let me out of it
Stifled, stuck, unable to break free
If I say something or do something
That does not fit your perception of me
I am met with questions
Why are you doing that
Why are you saying that
Why are you wearing that
That is not how you have behaved in the past
Wow, so frum, so shtark today
Wow, what happened to you,
I thought you were more frum than that.
That is so not you
Do you know me better than I know myself?
Don’t you know that each day
Is a chance for me to be someone new?
I don’t have to be who I was yesterday
Don’t act so surprised that I don’t fit that box
Today is a new chance to act differently than I have in the past
Perhaps in the past I resisted temptation
And today I have given in
I no longer fit the box you have placed me in
Perhaps I usually give in to sin
But today I break free and hold strong
I no longer fit the box you have placed me in
You think you know me
So anything that does not fit that perception
Shocks you
Perhaps you should keep that thought to yourself
Instead of telling me to go back to that box where I belong
I don’t belong in a box.



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Monday, July 4, 2011

Fireworks




As I was enjoying myself, relaxing, watching the colorful fourth of July fireworks, my mind started to drift. I was thinking about how interesting it is that as long as one of our five senses is being entertained, the other sense can put up with a little bit of annoyance. Fireworks are so loud and they were really hurting my ears, yet I had a good time because I was so focused on the beautiful shiny colors. Then I started thinking, we can learn something from everything in the world. What could I learn from fireworks? What lesson could they teach me?

The first thing that came to mind was how fireworks contrast to stars. A firework is one big exciting flash of light, while stars are less flashy and don’t make you go “wow!” quite as much, but yet, fireworks last for just a few seconds, and then they are gone, while stars shine every single night. Sometimes we think serving G-d is all about this one big, crazy, super, duper, awesome moment that we throw all of our energy into, but life is about shining every single night, just a little. It’s not about the one time unusual acts that we do, but about the day in and the day out.

I was sharing this idea with someone in my family who added this nice thought: Fireworks are awesome and really capture your attention, but even after 20 minutes, it starts to get boring. It’s true- I started to glance down at my watch and was ready for it to be over already. We want life to be full of these exciting moments, inspiring moments, all the time, but the truth is that even excitement gets dull. Inspiration fades, we get used to things quickly- no matter how big, bright, shiny, and loud they are. The key is to see the same old things in our lives as new every day.




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Monday, June 27, 2011

Reflections on Tznius

I can still picture the pre-teen chubby blonde girl with glasses who looked up at me and asked curiously, "Aren't you hot wearing that?" That is probably what most Americans think when they see Orthodox Jews, particularly women, dressing in long sleeves in the summer, covering elbows and knees and even wearing tights. I remember smiling at the girl, laughing to myself at the sincere shock in her voice, and replying seriously that I was used to dressing this way and was warm, but not dying of heat. The truth is that I remember thinking the same thing when I was a little kid growing up, as I did not always dress this way: How could anyone in their right mind wear anything more than short sleeves in the summer? The funnier part is now I look at the world around me and wonder how certain people can walk around so exposed. Aren't they embarrassed to reveal so much? Every summer I think about my choice to dress in a Tznius way.

Growing up, my family emphasized the importance of modesty, but definitely not the Halachic requirements involved in keeping the laws of Tznius. Pants, short-sleeves, and even shorts were acceptable, though sleeveless shirts and mini-skirts were never part of my wardrobe. As a kid I loved the cold and hated the heat and if you had told me back then that one day I would wear long sleeves and long skirts in the summer I would have looked at you as though you were crazy. So what made me decide to start keeping Halacha? Unlike most people, and unlike the intention behind the Halachos, at first it had very little to do with modesty. The first time I began to thinking about changing the way I dressed was when I saw that my teachers dressed that way. I looked up to my teachers a lot and respected them, and they covered their elbows and only wore skirts and not pants. Why do they do that? I wondered. And why don't I do that?

For me, wearing skirts and long sleeves is about being proud to be Jewish. Guys sometimes think they have it tough since they have to wear Kippot, as it makes them stand out and screams to the world "Look at me! I am a religious Jew!" Some wear baseball caps on top to cover it up. But that is exactly the point- they do stand out. If you pass a guy with a yarmulke on the street, you know he is Jewish. We used to go places on vacation as a family and we would pass frum Jews and I'd think "Hey, fellow Jews," but they would look at me and never know that I was Jewish. Tznius for Jewish women, in addition to being about modesty, is our way of saying, "I am a religious/observant Jew," and it is is our way of identifying with each other. The same way that a Kippah represents that a Jew must keep in mind that G-d is always there above him, and it is supposed to inspire Yirat Shamayim in all actions, Tznius, for me, was a way of keeping G-d in mind always. The way people dress is their statement to the world, and I wanted the world to know that I was happy and proud to be Jewish, and specifically an Orthodox Jew. And so I started by wearing skirts.

Since wearing skirts and not pants was part of the dress code of my elementary school, the first time I wore a skirt on a Sunday, my mother looked at me confused, asked why I was wearing a skirt, and told me to go change. Being very close with my parents, I was worried this would be a source of tension, and although some use "becoming frummer" as way to rebel, I did not have that intention at all. Not knowing what to do, I changed into another skirt. By this point my mother realized what was going on, and being a Baal Teshuva, she was very understanding and told me that if I wanted to just wear skirts and not wear pants anymore, then that would be quite OK with her. It was my decision. Her words and the way she said this filled me with happiness, just knowing that she was OK with my choosing a slightly different path than hers.

I'd love to say that from that day forward I never wore pants again, but that is not what happened. Spiritual growth doesn't just happen. You try, you fall, and then you get up, and then you fall again. I went back and forth with only wearing skirts and then wearing pants again for a while. Later on in high school, once I learned more Halachot I began taking on other aspects of Tznius as well until I reached the day where keeping it was no longer difficult. My reasons for keeping Tznius soon became just as much about modesty as about Jewish pride.

I used to think that those wearing long sleeves in the summer must die of heat, but the truth is that I am indoors with air conditioning most of the time, and when I am not, that extra bit of fabric really does not make such a big difference. I got used to it pretty fast, and the heat aspect was really not a big obstacle. The bottom line is that when it's really hot outside, everyone is hot, even if you're wearing a tank top and shorts. When that girl asked me if I was hot, I smiled, knowing what I gave up, and how easy it was, and how proud I was to be Jewish.

I would just like to note that it is interesting that often when people take on new spiritual goals, they begin with the external, as was in my case. We begin on the outside becase we want to express ourselves in a way that is obvious to all, something everyone will notice so that they know we have changed internally. While external changes may seem more difficult because we face a reaction socially that we then have to deal with, sometimes it is the changes that no one sees that are the most difficult and also the more meaningful. No one will know if you take on something privately, and no one will know if you drop that goal and stop keeping it. It is those types of goals, however, which are more important than external changes such as way of dress, and I have found that they provide a bigger sense of accomplishment as well.

Food for thought: Have you ever made any religious decisions to change how you dress or to wear or not wear specific articles of clothing? What was your reason for making this change? How has it impacted your life?


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Sunday, June 19, 2011

You Are Beautiful

My dear friend,
You are beautiful.
You didn’t see the way
That guy who passed you
Turned his head
To look at you
But I did.
I saw him glance back
To take an extra look
At you
Because
You’re beautiful.

Don’t walk that way,
Slouched over,
Head down,
Eyes glancing nervously
Afraid of the world
Jumping at the slightest movement.
Walk proud with confidence
Because you have so much to be confident about.
And you’re not fat, so stop asking me if you are.
No, you’re not a size 0 or a size 2
But you are not fat
And you don’t need to be either of those sizes
To be beautiful.

So don’t let that guy
Who you thought was perfect
Who didn’t want to date you
Get to you.
He doesn’t know what he is missing
His saying no to you
Is his loss.
He doesn’t know how smart and wonderful and caring you are
What a loyal, dedicated friend you are.
If he would’ve asked me, I would’ve told him.

I would have told him how beautiful you are
But more importantly
How kind and sweet you are
How practical and thoughtful and determined you are
How you have the kind of smile that can brighten a room
How much fun it is just to be with you
How you make everyone around you laugh
If he knew all that,
He would not have rejected you.

Maybe he said no to dating you because
He was intimidated by how beautiful and smart you are
Or because he was blind and couldn’t see how wonderful you are
But he did not reject you
Because you are inadequate
Nor because you’re not good enough
Nor because you aren’t beautiful enough.
If he can’t recognize
What an amazing person you are
Then I don’t think that
He is good enough for you anyway.
Don’t let rejection get you down.

Because you, my friend,
Are beautiful.
You are beautiful on the outside
And you are beautiful on the inside
And nothing that anyone else says
Or does or thinks
Can take away
Your inherent value and worth
As an amazing human being.
Oh, my friend,
Please know,
You are beautiful.




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Friday, June 17, 2011

Funny line of the week

This week , while I was in an elevator, a guy and a girl walked in laughing. After listening to their loud conversation for 2 seconds, it became apparent that the guy was sharing the story of his disaster of an experience speed dating from the night before. As they got out of the elevator he concluded, “As they say: (insert dramatic pause which made me wonder, "what *do* they say??") The goods are odd, but the odds are good.”

Wishing you all a Good Shabbos/ Shabbat Shalom!




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Monday, June 6, 2011

Shavuos: Thoughts on Accepting the Torah

When we are little kids, we kind of just do what our parents and teachers tell us to do, but once we get older we start to think about things more. For many of us who grew up FFB (Frum from birth) keeping Torah seems natural, as though “Of course I will keep Torah, what else would I do?” But the truth is that keeping Torah is a choice, and even when it is not a choice, how we choose to keep Torah is a choice.

We love to hear stories of Baalei Teshuva (BTs), because it inspires us that someone who didn’t keep Torah would change their life around to keep Torah, but really all of us should have our own story. Perhaps it is not as dramatic, and perhaps not as big of a visible change, but we all should change. I suppose the fact that I grew up with parents who are BTs and mostly non-religious relatives, and having various interactions with non-Jews as a child made me question earlier since I saw that there was an alternative to leading an Orthodox Jewish life. I remember asking my father as a child how we know that Judaism is correct, since after all, our Christian neighbors believed that their religion was correct. The funny thing is that I don’t remember his answer at all, but I remember thinking that he answered my question. It retrospect, I wonder what he said that hit the spot.

My personal acceptance of Torah began as I became a teenager, when I started to think about whether G-d exists or not. It continued when I decided I believed in G-d, and that I believed in Judaism, but I looked around and saw so many different flavors of Judaism and wondered why my family did certain things or didn’t do other things that other Jews did. Accepting Torah for me was the choice to be passionate about Torah and Mitzvot. Yes, I grew up keeping Shabbos, but did I grow up loving Shabbos? No, unfortunately I did not. My parents love Shabbos, but I as I kid I sometimes felt that it was a day that was about all of the things that I couldn’t do. Yes, I sat in shul, and flipped through the pages of the siddur, moving my lips, “davening.” But was I talking to G-d?

For those who did not grow up religious, Shavuos is a day to say once again to Hashem, “Look what I took on for you. I am accepting your Torah even though I did not grow up this way.” But for those of us who grew up keeping Mitzvot, it is a chance to say, “Hashem, I accept your Torah. Even though I am used to keeping Mitzvot out of habit, I am not just keeping Torah because my parents told me to. I accept Torah on myself.”

Each person is unique and each person has to accept Torah in their own unique way. We say in Shema “Bichol Miodecha,” that we love Hashem with everything that we personally consider “Miod” “Very” – the things that are most dear to us. I accept Torah and Mitzvot upon myself, because Hashem created me and that is what He created me to do and asks from me to do. But I also accept Torah because I love doing Mitzvot and I love the Torah.

Wishing everyone a meaningful and spiritually uplifting Shavuos and a Chag Sameach/ Gut Yuntif!



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Friday, June 3, 2011

Why I love the Israel Day Parade

This Sunday, June 5, the Salute to Israel Parade will take place, which was recently renamed the Celebrate Israel Parade and for some reason is known by most people as the "Israel(i?) Day Parade." The Parade takes place every year on Fifth Avenue in NYC. There are so many reasons that I look forward to the parade each year. The obvious reason is that it is so heartwarming to see so many Jews walking down Fifth Avenue to show their love and support for Israel. But it is more than that. The parade is not only a chance to show pride in Israel, but is a chance to show pride in our Judaism. I love the feeling of unity that exists when different Jews from different places with different beliefs gather together for one thing that we all believe in. We take a day to throw our differences aside and gather together marching on a busy street in a busy city in a non-Jewish country with smiles on our faces sending the message, "I am proud to be a Jew!"

As much as I had fun marching in the parade for many years, watching the parade is possibly even more fun. It is fascinating to see the different schools, shuls, and organizations, many of which I had no idea even existed, with their different t-shirt designs and their interesting bands, musicians, dancers, banners, and floats. I love the kids who smile those big smiles as they hear the crowd cheering them on.

The only other time that I have been in a place- indoors or outdoors- with so many other Jews, is at rallies. But this time, instead of rallying together, we celebrate together. In the parade, we celebrate being able to live in and visit our homeland. We show our support for Israel. And despite our differences we gather together and shout to the world, "We are proud to be Jews!"

For those of you who cannot make it to the parade, you can watch the parade here live on Sunday, June 5 from 12pm-2pm.


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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Summertime

Summer tastes like peach Snapple, ice coffee, and cold Coca Cola with one thousand ice cubes. It sounds like waves rushing up against the sand and the cheers of school aged children who shout as though they have been set free. Summer smells like sunscreen, the dust from air conditioners, and like the music of an ice cream truck. It begins with the cheesecake of Shavuos and ends with the honey on Rosh Hashana. Summer feels like the warm sun beating down like a fire and a cool breeze that provides relief.

Summer feels like a break, an escape, a change. The end of one thing and the beginning of another. A time to move on. But it is not only in the summer that things change. Life is full of changes, and the start of each season is just a reminder. Change can be exciting or nerve-wracking, or both. Sometimes change sneaks up on when you don't expect it, suddenly coming at you like a baseball flying 90 miles an hour. You see it coming seconds before you have to react and figure out what to do with it and how to adapt. Sometimes you cause the change yourself. You make a choice, a decision, to step off the path you've been going down and veer slightly in a different direction. In those cases you'd think you'd be much more prepared. I mean, you have had time to think about what to do when it comes. You should be prepared. So why is it just as hard?

We, human beings, get used to things so quickly. We don’t like to change. My favorite example is how the seat you choose on the first day of class is the one you will sit in the rest of the year. The second day of class some people will move around, but that is your only chance, because on the second day of class most people will sit in the exact same spot they sat in the first day of class. So you had better watch out because you might be taking someone’s spot.

Change brings risk. What if things are not as good when they change? Maybe things are bad now, but at least we are in comfortable, safe territory. Why travel into the unknown? It is a wonder that we ever change. But yet, despite our unwillingness, we can awaken the spirit of change within ourselves. Our hope that things will be better carries us through. Our sense of adventure and our desire for something new and fresh takes over us.

At some point we all thought this unusually cold and snowy NY winter would never end, but spring briefly visited, and now it is so hot that a person can begin longing for those bitter cold days. Or at least for the spring. But we have to hold on to every minute of it because soon enough the leaves will slowly turn those pleasant autumn colors, and the next season will sneak up on us before we know it.

As I taste the flavor of my iced coffee and feel the heat on my skin, I take a deep breath and think about where my life is going and where I want it to go. I think about the choices I have and the changes ahead. And I pray for the clarity to pick the right path and the strength to make the changes that I should make, and the courage to face all of changes in my life- the good ones, the not as good ones, and the small ones, the ones I hope for, the ones that happen suddenly, and the ones for which I have long been prepared.



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Monday, May 23, 2011

Power of Words

Great Video:

Monday, May 16, 2011

Age is relative

Sometimes we get caught up in the mentality that being single over a certain age is old. That age is different in different communities- in some places it is 21 and others that magic age is 25. In this post that I wrote, some felt 23 was the age of an old maid. This article which someone sent me claims that Kate Middleton made it "cool to get married at 29." Interesting. This reminds me of those who say there is no shidduch crisis, the community just needs to change the mentality that being single over the age of (fill in the blank here) is so terrible. Granted, this is different in the secular world where couples do not observe the mitzvah of shomer negiah. Even though Kate waited until she was 29 to get married, she apparently had been dating the Prince for a long time already.


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Monday, May 9, 2011

Israel and Yom HaAtzmaut

The first time I visited Israel, I was disappointed. I was disappointed because I did not feel a connection to Israel at all. I had learned about Eretz Yisrael in school, seen pictures of it, heard stories of it, and I knew it was an important place. So I thought that when I got there I would feel like I was in some place special, spiritual, holy. I tried so hard to feel the holiness when I was there, but I left feeling guilty. Guilty that I should be falling in love with our holy land, the land with so much historical significance, so much religious significance, but I did not feel connected.

My second trip to Israel was a similar story. By that point I was in high school and I was sure that things would be different because I was older. But it was the same story. I tried even harder the second time around to feel connected, to fall in love with Israel, but I had to face the fact that while both times I greatly enjoyed my trips, I did not experience the "WOW" feeling that everyone else I knew experienced. While everyone I knew would rant about how great Israel was, and would long to go back, I just sat there silently. Though I thought I was the only one feeling this disconnect, there were others who felt this way, and one such person felt brave enough to ask this question in an "ask the Rabbi" session I was at. My ears perked up as soon as she asked the question.

The Rabbi responded that there are different types of pleasures in life. Some types of pleasures we experience immediately, such as tasting good food, or smelling a pleasant smell. Others take a little bit of time to experience, such as a friendship or relationship. At the beginning of a relationship you don't feel connected to the person because you don't have shared experience and you haven't built the relationship yet. But picture a long lasting friendship or marriage that has lasted 20 or 30 years. The type of pleasure that a person receives from such a relationship is much deeper than the pleasure one gets from eating a piece of cake. The same is true for Eretz Yisrael.

Visiting Israel is not like visiting other countries. You can't just go and expect to automatically be connected. It is a relationship that you have to build, one that develops over time. But once it is developed, it is deeper than other connections. This answer really hit home for me, and that is why I share it with you today. I was fortunate enough to experience this deep connection first hand during the year I spent in Seminary in Israel.

I recall the first times I went to the Kotel, before my year in Israel, standing there repeating in my head, "This is where the Beit HaMikdash stood" over and over, trying to get it through my head that this was not just some random wall of stones. Perhaps the fact that it was crowded and that there were women pushing me, was unhelpful to my attempt to concentrate, but I couldn't feel anything. I was not overwhelmed or emotional, I just was. Contrast that to experience I had after a few months in Israel, after going to the Kotel many times. I can picture myself standing at the Kotel, closing my eyes, breathing in the fresh air, listening to the mumbles all around me, until emotion floods me and I pour my heart out to Hashem. To this day, the best Tefillah that I ever davened (aside from perhaps Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur davening) was there at the Kotel.

Despite my initial indifference, or perhaps because of it, I can now say that I feel a strong connection to Israel and that I love Israel. It is a deep part of me and a place that is always in my thoughts. My davening is different because of it, especially the parts of davening that mention Israel, and specifically the bracha V'Lirushalayim Ircha in Shemoneh Esrei. I love the hills, the flowers, the sky, the streets, the homes.

I love Eretz Yisrael, our holy land, given to the Jewish people by G-d. I feel that it is easier to feel Hashem’s presence in Israel. I love the spiritual, religious, experience I have there, and I love modern day Israel. I love how today Israel is a homeland where all Jews have the right to be. I love how the entire country celebrates the Jewish Holidays, as opposed to how in the United States celebrating chagim feels strange, separating us out from the mindset of the rest of the country. I love that after centuries Jews can live in the place where we belong, that we have returned after a long exile.

Tonight and tomorrow we celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut, celebrating the fact that we, the Jewish people, have returned to our homeland. And while we ultimately await the coming of Mashiach and the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash, we thank Hashem for the numerous miracles that He has performed to give us this wonderful gift, of Eretz Yisrael.

Every day we praise Hashem and thank Him for the wonderful pleasures of this world, the ones that we experience every day- food, clothing, shelter. Tonight and tomorrow is a time for us to thank Hashem for giving us a place where we can join together and unite, and for a place where we are able to connect to Hashem, more than any place in the world. Even though it may take time, once we get there, it is worth the effort.

May this gift from Hashem of Eretz Yisrael, which we received again in 1948, be followed by the bracha of peace throughout the world and particularly in Eretz Yisrael. May this be the beginning of the final of redemption, and may the Beit Hamikdash be rebuilt very soon with the coming of Mashiach, to bring us to the days when all Jews will gather from the four corners of the world and unite in the holy land that Hashem gave to us, Israel.


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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Sefirat HaOmer

It is Sefirat HaOmer again, and like every year I can tell it is going by so fast that by the time it gets to Shavuos I realize I haven’t prepared at all. Like always around this time, the topic of loving fellow Jews is on my mind. Actually that topic is frequently on my mind, not just during Sefira, but I guess that is just how I was brought up. Neither of my parents grew up Orthodox, though both grew up with a strong connection to Judaism. Because of this, though I always attended religious schools, during my childhood I found myself in non-religious or even non-Jewish environments.

This exposure really strengthened my Judaism, because when you are 10 or 11 years old and a non-Jewish kid asks you, “What does Kosher mean?” you have know the answer and know what you’re talking about. When your Reform friend comes over for shabbos and asks you questions, you need to know why you do what you do, and when your Conservative relative brings you to their synagogue, then you learn why in your shul the men and women sit separately, while in her shul they sit together. In addition, my experiences made me sensitive to the attitudes of Jews towards one another, particularly the attitudes of Orthodox Jews towards the other denominations.

Being Orthodox means believing that all of Torah (Torah shebichtav and Torah shebaal peh) are from Hashem, and this means disagreeing with Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist or other types of Jews, but disagreement does not mean that the Orthodox attitude should be anything less than “ViAhavta L’Rayacha Kamocha” towards them.

I write this because a friend recently told me a story which she prefaced as being a “funny story” that had been making the rounds. The story was about non-religious Jews who enter an Orthodox home where the family is sitting shiva. Not knowing the protocol of what to do, they notice people muttering statements to the mourners, but do not know what to say. So they approach the mourners and read the only sign they see visible, the one that lists the davening times. Apparently this is amusing, but I do not find it to be so. Since I heard this story after it had been passed through a whole chain of people, I can only hope that it has been altered and that the situation was not as bad as it sounds.

I give credit to the fact that from the report I heard no one laughed out loud, and no one informed them of their mistake in a way that would embarrass them. I also of course don’t blame the mourners, who are going through difficult times. What bothers me about the story is that there were other frum Jews in the room. Why did none of them notice a few clearly non-religious people standing around awkwardly looking for direction? Could no one have approached them and tried to explain what to do?

This is just a story, but many non-religious Jews feel that Orthodox Jews look down on them. They feel this way because many Orthodox Jews do look down on them. That pains me because the Torah attitude is not to judge others and if there is anyone who should excel at kindness in interpersonal relationships, at Mitzvot Bein Adam L’Chavero, it is those who keep Torah. Unfortunately that is not always the case. I had a teacher who said that when it comes to our relationships with people, we have to separate the Gavra and the Cheftza- the person and their actions. As frum Jews, may disagree with the actions of non-religious Jews- the fact that they do not keep shabbos or kashrus, but our attitude towards their actions does not need to be the same as our attitude towards them as people.

I don’t mean to lump all Orthodox Jews into this category, and in fact most of the Orthodox Jews I know are kind towards non-religious Jews, and I most often see religious Jews making a Kiddush Hashem with their outstanding behavior. During this time I think about how important it is to work on how we deal with other people. This skill is a different one than we are often used to working on in life. We grow up attending school, where the focus is on learning, on how much you know, on being smart, on intelligence, on getting good grades. A person can be brilliant or knowledge, a person can even know the halachos and know how to treat people right, but that does not translate into action. That is what we learn from Rabbi Akiva’s talmidim. No doubt that they were brilliant and knew a tremendous amount of Torah, more than we can fathom. But they did not treat each other right, and at the end of the day, that was important to Hashem.



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Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Proper Blogoversary Post

An interesting thing happened just around my blogoversary which is worthy to write about in this post. My parents decided to clean up my room in their house, (no this is not the interesting thing…wait for it…) where I no longer live, but still have tons of stuff, lots of it is garbage. As I was going through it all, among the stuff, I found something unbelievably amazing. I found my diary from over a decade ago, a journal that I wrote in intermittently between the ages of 10 through 13. Extremely curious as to what in the world my thoughts were at that age, I carefully opened it up and went back in time to my childhood, to when I began to discover that I like to write.

The pages were filled with what I did each day, how I felt about just about everything, and memories I had long forgotten about. One diary entry contained thoughts that were so not me at all that I don’t remember ever thinking in my life, and I burst out laughing. I sure was an interesting kid. I found myself wishing I had written more down, recorded more, especially when I got up to descriptions of my grandfather who passed away before I reached high school, or when I reached points in time where I know important events happened that I barely wrote about. I looked back at the past with very different eyes. It’s amazing how words are like time capsules that can take us back to any place and time. Writing is a great way to preserve memories, but also a great form of self-expression.

About a year and a half ago I was looking for a new hobby. Something fun to spice up my life a little, to escape from boredom, not just the kind of boredom when you have nothing to do, but the kind when your bored with what you are doing. That’s when a friend of mine suggested I start a blog. I had never really read any blogs, and didn’t know what to write about, so I started reading. I’ve often wanted to share my thoughts with the world and after enough reading I decided it could be a lot of fun and so a year ago I started this blog.

I didn’t really know what to call the blog, and I admit I don’t love this blog’s name, but it was the easiest thing I could think of. Although I always loved school because I love learning and knowledge, I always thought “real life” would begin when school was over, and I was quite anxious for that. Then I graduated, and although my tagline is that “I pretty much knew what to expect from life and then I graduated college,” that is not completely true. Like any other average person, life had thrown me my share of disappointments in the past. Facing life after college was not a big surprise, but it was a bit of a wake up call. All the sudden I had the chance to do anything I wanted, the world was mine to explore, there were so many paths I could take, and long story made short the excitement was kind of paralyzing, and not everything went quite the way I thought it would. It was like the scene from Finding Nemo when the fish have spent the entire movie trying to get out of the fish tank in the dentists office, and they finally come up with a plan that works, but there they are sitting in plastic bags in the ocean, so free yet so trapped, and they turn to each other and say, “Now what?”

I’ve learned a lot in the past year, and I have learned a lot from blogging. I have learned that sometimes when you write and release your thoughts, you let them go and allow yourself to move on, while other times recording thoughts instead causes those thoughts which you wanted to let go, to run through your mind again and again and again. I discovered that no matter how clear and obvious you think you are being people will always read things they way they choose and not the way you intended them, that once you press “post” it is out there for people to read as they like. I learned that some things are difficult to say, even if you’re anonymous.

It’s been a fun year of blogging, and I look forward to the next year going forward. Blogging would never be the same without readers, and I would like to thank all of you reading this for reading, especially those of you who have shared positive or constructive feedback through comments or email. I truly enjoy hearing from you. Thanks for reading! :)




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Monday, April 18, 2011

Happy Blogoversary to me!

Today is my Blogoversary! Happy Blogoversary to me! :) Due to erev Pesach craziness, I don't have time for a long post, but I did want to acknowledge the occasion, and to thank all of you readers for reading! I hope to write a real blogoversary post at a later point.

Wishing you all a Chag Kasher V'Sameach!!



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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Pesach Divrei Torah

Seven Divrei Torah for Pesach:

I apologize that I don’t have sources for all of these Divrei Torah. They come from things that I read in various Haggadahs and heard from various teachers. Enjoy!

#1
A speaker I heard once told this Dvar Torah in the name of the AriZal. He says that the purpose of the Simanei HaSeder (Kadesh, Urchatz etc.) is to describe the path of Avodas Hashem.

Kadesh- We start off by stating the goal: to reach Kedusha, holiness.
Urchatz- The first step to holiness is we must "wash ourselves"- we must get rid of all of the bad actions we are doing.
Karpas- When we first start serving G-d, all we have is a little taste of how good it is.
Yachatz- Next, we break the matza = we try to break our bad character traits.
Maggid- After that, the next step is to learn Torah.
Rachtza- Now we wash our hands WITH a bracha. We cleanse ourselves again, this time with intention.
Motzei Matza- We finally get to start eating. Now we start to see the results here of our actions.
Marror- After that, sometimes things get really hard and it's not easy, or exciting. This represents the hard times we go through in serving G-d and keeping Torah.
Korech- It's bad and good together- it's the next step, when things still aren't so great, but they are getting better.
Shulchan Orech- Part of a keeping Torah is being patient and waiting. After this whole LONG Seder, finally we have the meal. Sometimes it's hard to wait so long, but it's worth it.
Tzafun- We realize that there is so much that is hidden from us; so much we don't know or understand.
Barech and Hallel- We Thank G-d and praise G-d for everything He has done for us.
Nirtza- This talks about the future- Mashiach etc.


#2
An important part of the Seder night is Tefilla, prayer. A Gemara in Psachim, says that Matza is called "Lechem Oni" (literally a poor man's bread) because "sheh onin alav dvarim harbeh"- that Hashem answers our prayers. Note that the root of "oni" and of the Hebrew word for answer "ana" are similar. All of our prayers are answered and that's why it's called Lechem Oni. In addition, Pesach = Peh Sach, a mouth that speaks, talks. I once heard that in some Haggadas, right after Ha Lachma Anya, and right before Mah Nishtana, it says "Kan HaBen Shoel," which means, "here the son asks," but it could also be referring to Bnei Yisrael, the children of Hashem. Here we have the chance to ask for something from Hashem.

#3
The four sons: The Rasha/wicked son asks: מה העבודה הזאת לכם What is this work that you are doing? What is wrong with his question? The chacham’s question is not so far off!
He sees it as work and it is work, it’s not easy. But he builds it up- it’s work it’s too hard, it’s impossible, you should just give up. That’s why he’s the rasha. Not because he sins, everyone sins at some point, no one is perfect, but he says “its impossible; I shouldn’t even bother trying.” And this idea is completely against what we believe. We do NOT believe that it’s all or nothing. (See my post on that topic) G-d asks a lot from us, and although we strive for perfection, G-d knows we are not perfect, he didn’t create angels. All we are supposed to do is try. The Rasha/wicked son doesn’t even try. That’s why the opposite of the wicked son is not called “the Tzadik,” “the righteous son” it’s the Chacham- the son who is learned, who always asks, who tries to learn more. At the end of the day he is admired not for accomplishing, but because of his constant quest for growth and for striving to be better and not saying “It’s too hard so I might as well not do any of it.” Every little thing we do is precious to G-d. Pirkei Avot says- you don’t know which things are big to G-d and which things are small.

#4
Also on the four sons: Why is it in that order? You would think it would go in order of greatness- the חכם/wise son being first and the רשע/wicked son being last. Why is it not that way? Because they each have something to learn from each other. The חכם must not become arrogant and say, “look at me! I’m so smart and good and wise!” He must realize that he is right next to the wicked son on the list- if he is not careful, then he will become wicked. Being good isn’t a point you reach and don’t have to worry about ever losing that status, it’s something you must constantly work on. The wicked son must also learn his lesson that he is right next to the wise son on the list- he is so close to being righteous, it’s not that far away, not something he can’t hope to achieve.

#5
לא על ידי מלאך ולא על ידי שליח. G-d redeemed the Jews himself, not through an angel or a messenger. We are supposed to emulate G-d. What we can learn through this is that Every single person has a unique purpose in this world. We all have to ask ourselves, “Why did G-d put me here on this world?” And the answer is to do a specific task that cannot be done by anyone else in the world. We are put in our generation, in this year for a reason, put in this place, this family for a reason. And our task can’t be done by anyone else- not by an angel, not by a messenger, we each have unique talents and abilities that G-d gave us specially to use to fulfill our unique task in this world. (Breslov idea)

#6
On a similar note, Rav Kook asks: If we went from being slaves to Pharoh to being Ovdei Hashem = servants to servants, how did we really achieve cheirut, freedom? He answers that everyone has things that are unique to them, their abilities and their specific potential. When they are forced to do something against their nature, that isn’t made for them, that is slavery. But when they do want they are supposed to do, what they are meant to do, and can be themselves fully, then they are free. The Jewish people are inherently supposed to be servants of Hashem. He has made them for this purpose. By being ovdei Hashem we are fulfilling are purpose and so it is true freedom.

#7
In the Haggadah we read about ברית בין הבתרים, how Hashem promises Avraham that his children will be slaves, but ultimately redeemed. Isn’t this a strange promise? I promise that your children will be slaves. Oh, great, how comforting!! Why did Hashem make this promise to Abraham that his children will be slaves? Why was this experience necessary for us in order to become a nation? There are many answers to this question, and here are a bunch that I have complied:
• Unity: The Torah was given to us as a nation, we had to be numerous, because when people come together, that is SO powerful. The Jewish people are described as one person with one heart. Additionally, if the Torah was given to just one person then perhaps we would say “oh it’s only for him to keep, it was not given to me.” The Torah was give to lots of different people, are there are many of different ways to connect to G-d.
• G-d wanted us to experience difficulties and hardships so we would learn how to deal with them. Imagine that a child never got sick, and then she grows up and is 30 years old and gets sick. She wouldn’t know what to do with it. Life isn’t easy, and G-d wanted to prepare us for that.
• Another point, which is mentioned other plaches in the Tora, is that we needed this experience so we would know what it was like to be strangers, and so we would learn how to treat others. If someone is mean to you, then you learn that it’s bad to be mean and you need to be nice to other people. This is a very important message that G-d wanted us to learn.
• There are a lot of reasons for struggles. That’s how we grow. An interesting thing about a seed- we bury it in the dirt, only through burying it can it ultimately grow. Additionally, one reason we have struggles is to help others who have the same struggle. The Jewish people can say to other slaves, “Hey, we were slaves once, and look! G-d saved us. Hang in there, things will turn out Ok for you too.” If we do badly in a class and then work hard and in the end we do well, then when someone else is struggling, we too can say “I was also failing out of chemistry, let me help you, cause I know what that’s like.” G-d also gives us struggles so that we will call out to Him in prayer and through the prayer we change ourselves and become deserving of the thing we are asking for. G-d gives us struggles in life for so many reasons, but the struggle is designed specifically for us, to help us work on the things we need to work on.
• “No situation is so desperate that it cannot be turned to good”- Rebbe Nachman. That is something to learn from the Exodus from Egypt. No matter how bad things get, they can always turn around.


I hope this Pesach we will each be able to get the most out of our seder, absorb the numerous messages within the Haggadah, and that we should each receive personal redemption for all of our personal challenges and difficulties. May Hashem send our national redemption with the coming of Mashiach, bimiheira biyamenu. I wish you all a meaningful, uplifting, inspirational, wonderful, happy Pesach, and a Chag Kasher V’Sameach!!



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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Pesach Thoughts

There are very few words in the English or Hebrew language that make me quite as excited or happy as the word “Pesach.” (Shh don’t tell my mom!) In case the previous sentence didn’t give it away, Pesach is my favorite Chag, for a few reasons. The main reason is that it is a family-oriented holiday and I love spending time with my family. The second reason is the simple idea that the more you put into something, the more you get out. The more you prepare and work for something, the more sense of accomplishment you feel. Pesach requires more prep than any other chag, and as crazy and stressful as it is sometimes, I love the experience simply because I put so much into it and spent so much time on it. The third reason I love Pesach so much is that the themes of the chag seem to resonate with me a lot:

1. Freedom. Luckily I never experience slavery, but I always learned that although Pesach refers to a national redemption, Pesach is also about personal redemption. We all have difficulties and problems in life- that’s how life goes and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But recognizing G-d as the source of salvation and freedom from all of life’s challenges- whether it is a rift in friendship or with a family member or other relationship, whether it is a lack of clarity or direction. Whatever your issue is right now, just take a look at what G-d did for the Jews. The situation seemed hopeless, but Hashem proved that we should never despair. Hityatzivu U’Riu et Yishuat Hashem. Just watch! Hashem can save you.

2. The theme of love and closeness between Hashem and B’nei Yisrael. We read Shir Hashirim on Pesach, and the entire story of Yitziat Mitzrayim and Kriyat Yam Suf is full of Hashem saying, “I love you” to us and us responding with “I love you” to Hashem. That is why we call this chag “Pesach,” remembering what Hashem did for us, passing over our houses and only killing the Egyptians, while Hashem in the Torah never calls this chag Pesach, but rather Chag HaMatzot, “remembering” in a sense, what we, B’nei Yisrael, did for Hashem, our mitzvot- we ran out before our dough had a chance to rise, and today we do the Mitzvah of eating Matzah on Pesach.

3. The theme of spring, Chag HaAviv, renewal. Spring is a beautiful season. Watching trees that had no leaves on them start to blossom and watching the leaves appear amazes me every year. Plants are dead in the winter, things are dark and gloomy, and then spring comes and the flowers come out and it is just wonderful. We, too, can renew ourselves. We all have low points, and we can all start over. It is interesting in Judaism that we have two beginnings of the year and two beginnings of each day. A Jewish day begins at night, but in some sense, the morning is also the beginning of the day- we say Modeh Ani, it’s a new chance. Each year has two beginning points. Tishrei and Rosh Hashana are the beginning in some sense, but Nisan is the first month of the year, too.

There is so much more out there to say about Pesach, but those three points are the main points that really speak to me. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to post some of my favorite Divrei Torah to say at the seder, but I am always on the lookout for new Divrei Torah to share at my seder, so feel free to post your favorite thoughts and ideas in the comments or email me!

Also, if you have not yet seen this video, put out by aish.com it is really great:

Google Exodus




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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Beginning the dating process

A little while ago, Tikva4eva emailed me with a great question: “When do you think one should start dating? How can one assess if she is mature enough to start? What should be the criteria? When is too early?”

In addition to being a good question, it was also a well timed question. It was around this time of year (give or take a few weeks) three years ago that I started dating and went on my first date. It’s always around now that I start thinking about what things were like when I started dating- how I have changed, how my attitude has changed. I am definitely not going to pretend to be an expert on the topic of when the right time is to start dating. I will be happy to share some ideas that I have heard and my thoughts on the subject, and more importantly, throw the question to all of you out there to hear your thoughts on when a person should start dating.

When I first read Tikva4eva’s question, a number of typical answers flew into my mind of things that have been tossed around. The main one was, “When you’re ready to give.” That is very vague and kind of leaves me feeling, “Well, what does that mean? How do I know if I’m ready to give? I like to give and do chessed, but I also did when I was in high school and clearly I was not ready to get married then.” The second one was the answer I heard from a teacher in seminary who said that she knew she was ready to get married when she felt that there was something missing in her life. While this is true in the sense that it ties into the previous answer- there is a missing relationship and you want to be giving to someone- it is not good to approach this situation from the angle of “marriage will fill in what I am lacking.” The answer of “to give” is so typical and cliché, but if you take a closer look at what that really means, it is right on target. Marriage is about giving to another person, so it makes sense. How do you get there?

I would like to suggest two steps to figuring out if you’re ready to start dating for marriage. Step #1 look at yourself, and step #2, look at your life.

Step #1- look at yourself
Marriage is the ultimate, deepest relationship. All relationships begin with your relationship with yourself. Who are you? What are your likes and dislikes? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What are your positive traits and your faults? What are your goals? What do you strive for? Before you get married you need to figure out who you are and how you feel about yourself. This is true for all relationships, but for marriage especially. If someone doesn’t like who they are or is not OK with themselves, then it affects all of their relationships. You can’t give to someone else if you can’t even take care of yourself. Your cup must be full before it can overflow into others. When you take a deep look at yourself, look at your role in your relationships with others. Which people in your life do you get along with effortlessly, and which relationships require more work?

For this step, don’t feel shy talking to others in your life. Parents and siblings or roommates/those who you live with can often be particularly insightful when it comes to figuring out your strengths and weaknesses. One additional point that is important to mention is that you don’t need to be perfect to start dating. Knowing your faults does not mean that you need to fix all of them before you begin dating. You just need to evaluate that you are in a place where you are comfortable enough with yourself. This is not an objective evaluation, but rather it is something that each person needs to decide for themselves.

Step #2- look at your life.
I have never heard teachers or speakers mention this step, but it is important. What is your occupation and financial situation? To illustrate obviously- if you are a high school student, you are not ready to get married. If you are in college and have no income and your parents are not going to support you if you get married, then maybe either you need a plan or you should wait to start dating. If your parents will support you, make sure you know exactly what that means and how it is going to work. If you are in a job or school where you are busy for most hours of the day, then consider the fact that dating takes up time and it needs to fit into your schedule. Make sure you are at the right stage of life and ready for dating and marriage.

I started thinking about dating, around the time that I think most people do, when I came back from seminary in Israel. I knew I was not ready to get married at that point, from either of those steps, but I started thinking about it. Around three/three and half years ago I began to think about it more seriously, and I decided to do sit down and talk to my parents about it. I am very, very close with my parents and I consider them my mentors in all areas, be it emotional or spiritual. Since I seek their advice before most major decisions, it was natural for me to turn to them about this. For most people I think this is not the case, but sitting down with a teacher or friend or sibling or someone who can be a good bouncing board is a good idea. Anyway, after that conversation, I realized I was ready to start dating.

At the time, in the back of my mind, I had this picture that the way life goes, you’re born, you go to pre-school, then elementary school, then high school, then college, then you get married. Marriage was just the next step after college and I just figured I would magically meet the right person by the time college was over. Needless to say, that did not happen. I still have that template molded in the back of my mind, even though I know it is ridiculous. In retrospect, although I thought I was ready to get married at the time, I was just trying to make my life go the way I thought it should go, and I am glad that life worked itself out so that I did not get married right after college. Living on my own has been an amazing learning experience in so many ways. So many things that I always thought, “I will do that when I am married” I am doing now- such as cooking dinner every night. Even though I still believe I was mature enough when I started dating, there is so much that I have learned since then, about the world and about myself, and about dating, and I value that learning experience greatly.

Starting to date was at first just weird. Having been in a single sex environment for most of my life, the first time a guy called me to arrange a date was so nerve-wracking. When I heard my phone ringing at the time the guy was supposed to call I was panicked. Luckily, when I picked up the phone, the guy sounded way more nervous than I was so that put me at ease and I quickly became comfortable, especially once conversation started flowing. However, feeling calm didn’t change the fact that the entire time it was as though a loud voice was shouting frantically in the back of my mind, “I am on the phone with a guy! I am on the phone with a guy! Aaaahhhh!” Ok maybe I’m just weird, but what do you expect when I’ve spent my entire high school and seminary being told not to talk to guys? I was the most nervous in the time between when he called to say he arrived (I was in the Stern dorm at the time) and when I actually met him. Once I was on the date, I was fortunate enough to have a positive first date experience that was not awkward or filled with silences. Since that very first first date, I tend not to get too nervous, which I hear is rare, but I still find it oddly calming when guys are nervous.

To end off- advice for those who are about to start dating for marriage? Don’t rush into it. Take your time. Get to know yourself, think it through, talk to mentors to help you make sure you’re ready. Don’t let social pressure get to you. If you’re not sure if you’re ready, my experience is that you fall into two categories. The first describes most people, which is that you are really not ready, which is why you’re not sure. Don’t start if you’re not sure. The second category is those who are ready to start dating, but they are just scared. They are scared for any number of reasons- fear of rejection, fear of the unknown. In that case you just have to jump in.

That’s pretty much all I have to say on the topic, so I throw the question out to you: How does one know if they are ready to start dating? How did you decide? What factors played into your decision to start dating?


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