Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Will It Ever End???

I don't even know how to write this. This is painful. So very painful. May the family find nechama.

TRAGEDY: Bochur Struck and Killed by a Train

Boruch Dayan HoEmes - HaBochur Yisroel Noach Tzfasman OBM


Hashem! Your children are in golus too long! Our anguish is too great! Bring us an end to sadness and tears!

Veshinantam Levanecha

I found this picture on this blog. To me, this is a moment of beauty. Not the photograph itself, but the life behind the captured image. To the readers of the above mentioned blog this is yet another 'picture of the day,' there are other photos posted there that artistically supersede this particular shot, but to me there is nothing more beautiful.

Monday, August 27, 2007

You Don't Say...

I was talking to a friend (married) of mine late last night and I was laughing about the fact that now that she has a baby her life doesn't run on "newlywed hours." She got home late from a simcha, her baby was kvetchy so she was up and she wanted to talk to someone - who better than a single friend! Anyway, this dear friend of mine tells me "Miss Teacher, I just realized that you have a lot of married friends." Umm... yep. ALL of my good friends are married, but thanks for the reminder, I almost forgot.

Newlywed hours meaning: "We totally have to get together, I mean it's crazy I never see you! Let's see.. my husband comes home for lunch around 2:30, that means I need to be home to prepare lunch by 2:00, and he doesn't go back until 3:30 and by 4:30-5:00 I have to start preparing supper because my husband comes home from Kollel at 7:30 and from then until shachris tomorrow morning I'm officially unavailable. I will not answer the phone, I will only attend shiurim that are geared for married women, and only if my husband has a shiur at the same time that night, simchas are limited to those of very close friends and even those are timed because my husband is waiting for me in the hallway... um so do you want to come over at from 3:45-4:15? Oh, you teach until 4:30? That's a shame, well I guess I'll see you in shul this shabbos!" Yeah and our 'get together' will consist of bowing to barchu at the same time.

BTW - Does "my husband" ever get a name? I mean at what point do newlyweds start referring to their husbands by a name as opposed to 'my husband?'

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Higher Consciousness

A letter written recently to a friend.

Dear xxxx, Shetichye

I was thinking about the conversation that we had today and I decided to show you something that I recently wrote.
By way of introduction let me give a little background information. I am not in the habit of expressing my true feelings, hardship or pain, to the general public. I felt that I sounded decidedly bitter, and I know that you and others may excuse and accept such feelings on my part, but I came to the conclusion a long time ago that acrimony is not something I wish to have on my resume.

When a child takes its first unsteady steps, it is one of the very first signs of that child turning into an independent human being. Independency meaning unique in his own way; those first steps are the first ones taken on a path designed for only him to walk upon.

Each of us has been allotted a path. A course designed to accommodate our strengths and weaknesses, our fears, worries, joys, and pleasures. As we trudge along, we are at times met with branches that must be pushed aside, rivers of water that require swimming skills, fields of tall grass that need to be crossed, and of course at times we are met with a smooth and steady trail, that path that we can only hope and pray will dominate our way.

As we travel through life we are often met with challenge. Challenge is not ever something to be compared. For one, a branch may be as much of a stumbling block as a monstrous mountain for another. Some are given a smooth trip for much of the way, and then met suddenly with a mountain to climb; others are given potholes to dodge and rivers to swim on a regular basis.

I don’t know what I ever did to deserve such a complicated life, but this is what was given to me and I’ve learned that along with the tall grass, the oceans to cross, and the mountains to climb, I was given sheers with which to cut, a life jacket with which to swim, and climbing gear for that looming mountain. I was given these tools, that when not used properly, can be quite a heavy burden, and at the same time have become a key to survival. I was given a strong mind, an iron will, and an unyielding personality. I have been driven with the desire to fight, not to fall. These things have been my wings with which to fly, they are what have kept me going more than anything else in the world.

I have also learned that with hardship and survival comes strength. Why am I telling you all this? Because I don’t think that anyone’s path is free of obstacles. And I feel that maybe, just maybe, if I share some of my thoughts and feelings, others can learn and gain. I know firsthand that it is easier to be objective to someone else than to one’s own self. Therefore I wanted to share with you the following essay.

Higher Consciousness

"The first step to higher consciousness is to be conscious of a consciousness higher than your own.
And to be conscious of how that consciousness is conscious of you."

From the teachings of the
Rebbe; rendered by Tzvi Freeman

It has been quite a while since I’ve felt compelled to write. I don’t know what triggered it, but the urge to put feelings on paper has overcome me in way that cannot be ignored.

I often let my mind take advantage of being alone. Something about solitude tends to send my mind a message, simply saying “wander,” and wander it does. Sometimes it travels to the unknown, to wonder what will be “if” - to envision non existent situations, potential joys, or in some cases the opposite.

There are times, though, that my mind looks at me squarely in the face and says “face reality.” Such occurrences generate different reactions: Most often, I look reality right back in the face and say “I can create my own reality, don’t bother me right now.” And I go about my business doing just that- creating my own utopian reality.

There are times where an inner strength, a driving force, takes hold and says “Your life may be nuts, but you aren’t.” This is when I tell myself that although life may be tough, somehow I pulled through until now and can still socialize and communicate with mainstream America. No one has it easy, who can possibly know what goes on behind the closed doors of a home or a heart? Then, somehow with that mysterious strength I accept reality. I remind myself that reality is not something to run from, but something to run with. Nothing that I say or do can change reality, so therefore, I tell myself, it is best to accept and move on.

Sometimes I completely break down emotionally, I feel the tears build up in my heart and travel upward, my mouth quivers and then they begin to silently run down my face. These are moments of total surrender. They are moments when the brunt of hardship and pain sear through my very existence and I, like a helpless child, simply cry.

A thought crossed my mind the other day and I was so fascinated with the discovery that I stopped what I was doing for a minute.

Human nature is to understand. Can one possibly count the times that the word “why” has crossed their lips or entered their minds? Inquisitiveness can lead to great discovery and appreciation. However, with the pleasure of understanding comes the displeasure when the questioning “why” is met with silence. This is a gentle, or maybe not so gentle, reminder to the grand and egotistic intellect. We humans tend to think ourselves superior; not without basis, as Judaism clearly defines Man as a “medaber” on the highest of created levels. The very fact that we can analyze and understand is what gives us our superiority, but it is that same ability that nudges us in the ribs at times, for it is the One who gives us the gift of the mind, that at times takes the power away from us. Therefore, we humans are periodically, for some more often than others, met with challenge. The challenge being to go against our very nature and say “This is something that I just cannot understand.” This was precisely my discovery; the same One who created us with the ability and the urge to understand, created within us the power to rise above, to tell our intellect this is not your territory, and to accept without understanding.
So, when I reach the point of total surrender, I pull myself together and I tell G-d, thank you. Thank you for reminding me that though I may be a human, one who seeks and understands, I am only a human. And hard as it may be, I give up the pleasure of letting myself understand.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Where's the Justice of Grief?

As I am about to begin a new school year, I cannot help but think and reflect on the events of the past year. A year mixed with so much simcha, so much laughter, and so much pain, suffering, sadness and tears.

In a letter, written right after Chanukah to a friend, I remember describing two intensely emotional weeks, the week before Chanukah and Chanukah itself:

"I have relived those two weeks over and over again in my head. How I laughed, how much simcha was intertwined in those two weeks; and how I cried, how much pain and sadness wove their way into my life."

I will never forget how, not two weeks into the school year, my students were thrown into the confusion of substitutes and the absence of their teacher. The reason? Her 21 year old daughter was sitting shiva for her husband of three months. That tragedy shook us to the core. It made our hands and hearts tremble and resulted in unstoppable tears.

It's no secret that our community has been stabbed in the heart over and over again this past year. I will not list details here, for those of you from within my community are well aware of these details, and those of you who are not - kol yisrael areivim ze laze. Unfortunately no Jewish community is pain-free, and every Jew feels the pain of another.

As we progress into the month on Elul and we find ourselves soon approaching Rosh Hashana, I keep in mind these wonderful, beautiful neshamos that were taken from us. No doubt they are pleading on our behalf to the Aibeshter Himself, begging for our redemption, demanding an end to the suffering of this galus.

The following article was written soon after a close family friend and a well known community figure was killed in a tragic accident. I will never forget my initial reaction after reading it. "Ashreinu ma tov chelkeinu!" How fortunate are we that amid suffering and tears we can find comfort in the ultimate truth of Torah.

When I Wanted You Did Not

By Rabbi Simon Jacobson

Today I attended a tragic funeral. All funerals are tragic, but some appear worse than others. Especially when a beautiful man, 61 years old, is killed by a drunken driver, leaving a grieving wife, ten children and countless relatives and friends traumatized.

Every tragic death reminds us (or should remind us) of all other senseless losses – and unbearable pain – beknownst or unbeknownst to us. How many broken hearts are crying around the world at this very moment? How do we respond to the millions of tears shed and the piercing screams echoing through the corridors of history?

The timeless question – why? why do terrible things happen to good people? – resurfaces its naked head in these timely moments of agony.

The death of an individual evokes the memory of all deaths from the beginning of time.
In difficult times like these, we have no where to turn but to the eternal strength we glean from those that faced the abyss before us.

None other than the great Moses confronts G-d with this greatest of challenges in this week’s Torah portion. Actually, the story begins earlier when Moses first “meets” G-d at the burning bush.

In perhaps the most dramatic episode in the entire Torah, this week’s portion recounts the intimate dialogue between Moses and G-d, as Moses implores the Almighty to forgive the Jewish people for their terrible sin of building and worshipping the Golden Calf. (See The Face of G-d for a more elaborate discussion on the topic).
As Moses attempts to elicit the Divine compassion, he asks G-d “I beg you, please show me Your Glory.” G-d rejects Moses with the memorable words: “You cannot see My face, for no man shall see Me and live” (Exodus 33:18;20).

A strange Talmud explains that G-d rejected Moses’ request because of an earlier event. When G-d appeared to Moses at the burning bush, Moses refused to look, as it says, “And Moses hid his face, for he feared to look upon G-d” (Exodus 3:6). “Now that you want to see My Face,” G-d said, “I am not willing to show it to you.” “When I wanted you didn’t want; now when you want, I don’t want.” (Berachot 7a).

The Midrash elaborates: “Moses did not act accordingly by hiding his face. Had he not hidden his face G-d would have revealed to Moses what is above and what is below, what was and what will be in the future. Finally, when Moses did request to see the Divine face, G-d informed him that ‘no man shall see Me and live.’ When I wanted, you didn't want, and now that you want, I don't want” (Shemot Rabba 3:1. 45:5).

What is the meaning behind G-d’s bizarre reaction? It’s impossible to say that G-d was being “petty” and angrily getting even with Moses?! Either Moses deserved to see the Divine face or he didn’t deserve to see it? Why would it be dependent on Moses’ not wanting to see G-d’s face at the burning bush?

Indeed, a second opinion in the Talmud and Midrash holds that Moses was honoring G-d by not looking at His face, and he was subsequently rewarded for his respect.

Additionally, the verse de facto suggests that Moses could not see G-d’s face because of an objective reason – “no man can see the Divine face and live.” The Talmud is implying that had Moses chosen to look at G-d’s face in the burning bush he now would be able to see the Divine Face and live.

And finally, why indeed did Moses not want to look at G-d’s face in the burning bush? And now he suddenly developed a craving to do so?

Clearly, the burning bush and G-d’s face in the bush is a major event, which requires deeper examination.

Let’s read the verse closely: “G-d's angel appeared to [Moses] in the heart of a fire, in the middle of a thorn-bush. As he looked, [Moses] realized that the bush was burning, but was not being consumed. Moses said [to himself], 'I must go over there and investigate this great phenomenon. Why doesn't the bush burn?' When G-d saw that [Moses] was going to investigate, He called to him from the middle of the bush. 'Moses, Moses!' He said. 'Yes,' replied [Moses]. 'Do not come any closer,' said [G-d]. 'Take your shoes off your feet. The place upon which you are standing is holy ground'… Moses hid his face, since he was afraid to look at the Divine. G-d said, 'I have indeed seen the suffering of My people in Egypt. I have heard how they cry out because of what their slave-drivers [do], and I am aware of their pain. I have come down to rescue them from Egypt's power. I will bring them out of that land, to a good, spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:2-8).
G-d’s words from within the burning bush – “I have indeed seen the suffering of My people…I have heard how they cry out” – explains why G-d appeared, of all places, in a burning thorn-bush. Had G-d appeared in, say, a handsome fruit tree, Moses would have challenged G-d and asked: “It’s very nice that you appear in beauty, but do you also feel our human pain?! You want me to challenge the depraved Pharaoh and insist that he stop the genocide and release the enslaved Jews. But everyone will ask ‘where is G-d in all our suffering. Maybe G-d exists only in good times but not in bad ones. Perhaps you don’t have the power to confront evil’.”

To pre-empt these fundamental questions, G-d appeared in the lowly thorn-bush in order to demonstrate that “I am with you in your pain and suffering” (see Rashi. Tanchuma 14), and that there is no place devoid of the Divine (Mechilta. Shemot Rabba 1:9. Torat Shlomo on the verse).
And now, G-d wanted to show Moses the deeper mystery of good and evil, life and death – “what is above and what is below, what was and what will be.”

But Moses did not want to see G-d’s face in the Holocaust. He did not want to “understand” G-d’s “reasoning” for allowing the death of millions of innocent children. He wasn’t willing to face the ultimate paradox and “hear” Divine explanations for human suffering. “He feared to look upon G-d” when he saw the lives being consumed by the burning bush, even as the bush itself was not being consumed. Moses “hid his face” and just wanted to cry.

But then time passed and things changed. G-d lived up to His promise and delivered the Jews from the clutches of their Egyptian tormentors. G-d demonstrated that He indeed was together with the people in their suffering, and finally redeemed them through His chosen leader, Moses.

Things seemed to be going very well. Following the Exodus, Moses led the Jewish nation to Sinai, where they experienced the greatest revelation in history: The giving of the Divine mandate to the human race. But then the tide turned again. While Moses was relishing in the Divine delights atop Sinai, the people below built and worshipped the Golden Calf. This time the catastrophe did not come at the hands of the Egyptians, but by fault of the Jews themselves.

Moses, descending from the mountain, realized the high stakes: How can he elicit G-d’s compassion in the face of such a grave crime? How can he offer the flawed human being hope after a great fall? Moses knew that now he needed to return to the “burning bush,” the place where good and evil meet, where joy and suffering converge – the place where the Divine can be found in the darkest corners of existence. He understood that only this impenetrable place contained the answer to solve the ultimate paradox: How to repent from sin; how to heal from wounds – how the “bush can burn and not be consumed” – the power of Teshuvah. [By breaking the tablets Moses also demonstrated how the break itself becomes part of the Divine healing process – see The Roots of Trauma].

Moses marched back up the mountain to confront G-d. Moses had matured to a point where he was now ready to see G-d’s face. He now appreciated the need to enter into the inner sanctum, into the Divine mystery of human suffering, and wanted to “see” the Divine face in order to elicit the strength necessary to endure distress for generations to come.

Moses’ new level of awareness was made possible also by the fact that in the interim Moses had another experience on Sinai that empowered him with the ability to face death – an episode related to an additional, special chapter we read this Shabbat Parah. The Midrash explains that when G-d was teaching Moses the methods of purification from all forms of defilement, Moses was shocked “How can one be purified from the impurity of death?” “At that moment, Moses’ face turned pale.” When they reached the section of the red heifer (read this week), G-d said to Moses: “Now I will give you the answer,” and proceeded with the mitzvah of purification from the impurity of death. What Moses exactly learned was elaborated upon in a previous column, but we know from this that Moses had achieved a heightened state of awareness about the mysteries of life and death.

So at this point, recognizing the need to heal from the “death” brought upon by the Golden Calf, Moses implored of G-d “I beg you, show me Your face.” As the Talmud explains that Moses was plagued by the timeless question why the good suffer and the wicked prosper (Berachot ibid).

And here G-d revealed to Moses one of the most profound secrets of all: “I show you My face not in pleasure, but in the burning bush – in pain and suffering. I show you My face not when you want to see it, but when I want you to see it.”

“When I wanted you didn’t want; now when you want, I don’t want.” G-d was not “getting even” with Moses; He was baring His Essence and telling Moses “I want a partner. I cannot show you my face if you do not partner with me. Had you looked at me when I wanted to show you My face, even though it was in pain, then you would have joined Me in the mysterious journey of grief and joy, and you would be able to see My face and gather strength. You cannot come and expect to see My face on your terms – when you like it. You have to respect the moment when I want to show it to you.”

But the story doesn’t end here. After all is said and done, G-d did indeed reveal to Moses the secrets of His inner personality, and the hidden thirteen attributes of Divine compassion. “I will make all My good pass before you, and reveal the Divine Name in your presence… [Though] you cannot see my face, because no man can see me and live, [but] I have a special place where you can stand on the rocky mountain. When My Glory passes by, I will place you in a crevice in the mountain, placing My hand over you until I pass by. I will then remove My hand and you will see My ‘back,’ and My face you will not see” (Exodus 33:19-23).

Moreover, commentaries explain that G-d finally showed Moses His face as well. The verse is to be read as follows: “You will see My ‘back’ and My face [but My face will be revealed to you only when] you will not see,” you will see my face only by not looking (see Panim Yafot on the verse). Not when you want to see it on your terms, but when I want you to see it…

... pause …

When we face unfathomable suffering, we are not expected to be better than Moses. We too close our eyes and just weep.

Maybe it takes a G-d to witness so much pain and be able to take it. We just want to be human… We don’t want to look at G-d’s face in such moments. It’s too terrifying.

Yet, whether we like it or not, G-d wants us to partner with Him. “Okay,” we say, “but it doesn’t come easy.” And from time to time, perhaps more often than not, we cry out in our own vulnerable moments – something G-d can surely forgive – that we just want some peace and quiet.

Today we were touched by the mystery of tragedy.

How many more bushes have to be burned before the Divine presence is revealed?

© 2007 The Meaningful Life Center. All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission from http://www.meaningfullife.com/

Vehachai yiten el libo - with the coming year, I will increase my efforts to hasten the coming of Geula.

Le'iluy nishmas:

Hatomim Dovid Yonah z"l ben yl"t Menachem Mendel Hakohen
Sarah Faiga bas Yosef z"l
Yosef ben Yisroel z"l
Hatinokes Chaya Tzirel z"l bas yl"t Yechiel
Harav Hachossid Chaim Shneur Zalman z"l ben yl"t Harav Hachossid Meir
Hatomim Levi z"l ben yl"t Harav Hachossid Yisroel Yosef Hakohen
Hachossid R' Shimshon ben Efraim Hakohen z"l
Hachossid R' Gedalia Yerachmiel z"l ben Michel
Matel bas Harav Hachossid Bentzion z"l
Toiba z"l bas yl"t Zalman Dovid

Harav Hachossid Avraham ben Yitzchak Isaac Halevi z"l

And for all those that I do not know the names of.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Oh, The Unfairness Of It All...

I was standing in shul this morning minding my own business, thoughts on my personal prayers, when a sudden, piercing and heartwrenching sound caused me to stop. I looked up to see the few other women present, as surprised as I was, slowly inching forward to see who we were hearing.

A young boy, a child, around 7 years old, saying kaddish.

A child should not be saying kaddish. It broke my heart.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Welcome Home, Homeless

7 weeks of traveling around. 3 weeks of working, and 4 works of vacation, boredome, talking to myself just so I don't forget how to do it, surfing the net, pretending to get stuff done. I finally made my way back to NY only to find out that I'm kicked out of my apartment for the month. Lovely. Exactly where am I supposed to go? The park bench?

Thank G-D for nice people. I mean really nice. I mean like "My husband and I are going on vacation for 10 days, why don't you just move into our apartment while we're gone?" kind of nice.
Thanks to people like that I did not have to sleep on a park bench, instead I slept in a cute little one bedroom apartment, on a big comfy bed.

I went to school today to give in some papers that I need photocopied in time for the first day of school. The first day of school... that is frighteningly soon.