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! :)


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!!


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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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)

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.

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!!


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 it is really great:

Google Exodus


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?