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Isn't it pretty?

Monday, October 31, 2005

Binge Give

On my walk to work this morning, I came across another inspiring sign. It said "Binge Give". It was an advertisment for some bank, so I am not positive what their point was, but I thought that those two words held incredible power. I thought about those words - Binge Give. What if everyone did just that? If each person made efforts to go around giving in every way they could. I thought about my relationships, and how they really are based on giving. My friends give to me when I need it; I give to them when they need it. Sometimes it is about giving material things, sometimes it is about emotional support. Sometimes just being there, even when you don't know what to say, can be a way of giving to a friend. I like to think I am good at giving. But when I look at the words - Binge Give - I feel like I fall flat. There are so many opportunities to give that I pass up. That I could chase after. Then I think about the little acts of giving - of giving a smile, a compliment and kind word. Of the maintenance man in the bus station who, when I walk by every single day, gives me a big smile and wishes me a good day. What a gift right there. I have no idea what the man's name is, but I would honestly be concerned if he wasn't there one morning. Binge Give - it doesn't even take that much.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Part of Who I Am

The past few days has been full of experiences that have really been giving me a lot to think about regarding the religious journey I have been through in the past several years. I was on the bus on Friday, sitting with a friend. We were chatting and she was telling me how a frum man came into her office and her co-workers wanted her to go to meet him, because they decifered from his bare left ring finger that he must be single. A woman in front of us turned around and started ranting and raving about Orthodox men not wearing wedding rings, being polygamists and how HER husband would definitely wear a ring. She then got on the phone and began making comments about how she had landed amid the Bais Yaakov convention (in reference to myself and my friend). I have never been referred to as a Bais Yaakov anything, so I found her comment highly amusing. I was at shul yesterday and saw a woman I have known for a really long time. She was my madricha on my first trip to Israel, over eight years ago. When we first met, I was not frum at all; the only Orthodox Jews I had ever known in my life were those who worked for Aish Hatorah and were organizing my trip. As I was standing in shul yesterday, reading in Hebrew (which I had mostly forgotten from my Hebrew school days by the time this woman met me), I was confronted with images of the years gone by since I first met her. Yesterday I made Shabbos lunch for myself, my roommate and my friend who came for Shabbos. Towards the end of the meal, someone asked to see pictures. I ended up pulling out my high school yearbooks. To my lunch companions, both frum from birth and life-long Orthodox school students, the pictures of cheerleaders, football players, myself as a band member, singer in the choir and member of the German club (all in a school in Alabama to boot), was quite a site. One of my friends made a comment about how she always envisioned public high school being like that, but she never could really imagine it. She was amused by the names and faces of those I went to school with - so diverse and different from her own classmates. All these experiences served to remind me how much my life has changed over the years, but also how much those years before I was frum formed me also. I think a lot of the foundation was set for me to become frum before I actually did. My parents did instill in me a lot of being Jewish. Despite the fact that I had few Jewish friends and went to church with my non-Jewish ones at times, it was always ingrained in me that I was Jewish, and it was something to be proud of. I was always a spokesperson for my religion, welcoming questions and inviting my friends to learn about Judaism by inviting them to our seder table or Temple services. Yes, there are many differences in my life from that of the one I grew up in. In many ways, I don't recognize that life that was once mine. But in so many ways, that is the life that enabled me to be where I am now. Because of the experiences I went through before becoming frum, I was ready to be open to what I was introduced to in Israel. I had seen the "fun" life and realized that it wasn't that much fun; I was ready for something more meaningful. My current life is in great contrast to how I grew up, but there is still a kernel of it there, deep inside, that will never go away, nor would I want it to. It's me, just as much as the me that is religious, it just doesn't show as much these days (since apparently I now can pass as a Bais Yaakov girl). But all these experiences are woven together as part of my past and will influence my future. And I hope I never forget that.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Faith and Belief

A letter to someone who challenged me on my beliefs and forced me to really own the decision I have made to live a Torah life: Dear M - Since our correspondence last year, I have given a lot of thought to Orthodox Judaism. I will admit, you shook me. But as much as you challenged me to question many things in my life, at the end of it all, I think I have emerged stronger for it. For that, I thank you. You forced me to take an intellectually honest look at what I believe. In all intellectual honesty, I have found no proof, no magic solution. What I did find was faith. I now accept the fact that nothing can be proven absolutely - no side of the argument. So the one that I choose, I do so with faith. A kernel of faith is needed inside every person, in order to make any decision about what they believe - this is true for atheist or monotheist or pantheist. I guess the only person who doesn't need faith is the agnostic, because an agnostic is claiming that they don't know, that they don't choose to follow any one path. Maybe the agnostic path is the one with the least ground to lose, but in my mind, it also leaves so much to be desired. Not believing in anything leaves one wandering, without any direction. I can't fathom that I was put on the earth to do that. I can't live life not believing in a God. I can't accept the fact that it all "might" be random, that there is no purpose. So I have had to choose the best path, the one in which faith and logic collide in the best way I can find. And that path is, for me, Orthodox Judaism. In many ways, because I was born a Jew. Because the more I learn about Torah, the more I see the wisdom and caring behind it. It's not always easy and I don't always manage to live up to the gift I have been given from Hashem. Nor do I live up to the potential I know I have inside me. But I try. I haven't yet given up. I hope I never do. No person can explain everything. I try my hardest to understand as much as I can, and to ask many questions so that everything does make as much sense as it ever will. I have been striving to do what the Torah, and therefore Hashem, wants, rather than all those who scream and yell but have no foundation for their cries. I am working on seeing through the smokescreen of human misunderstanding and overbuilt fences. I am sure I fail, and will fail, many times. But at least I will know I tried. So, I thank you for challenging me to take a good, hard look at what I believe. It wasn't the first time, and I am sure it won't be the last. Each time I do know that I am coming out stronger on the other side. I don't fault you for not believing, for not being able to take that leap of faith. I even respect you for it in some ways. Anyway, I guess the point of this letter is mainly to say, I do believe. And in some ways, that is to your credit, even though I don't think it was your goal. Thank you, Shoshana

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Sephardi Simchat Torah

For Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, I traveled to Lakewood to spend the holidays with my friend and her family, who happen to be Sephardi. I have been to quite a few Shabbos meals with Sephardic friends before, but had never spent an entire Yom Tov with a Sephardi family. As I usually observe, people are people, they just have different customs. My friend's family is warm and friendly. I was welcomed into her home, teased by her brothers, handed babies to hold and even helped out in the kitchen a bit. (Though my cooking doesn't hold a candle to my friend and her mother's traditional Sephardic cooking - I can't even begin to describe the amazing food.) We poured over old photo albums, told stories and shared a lot of laughs. I went to shul on Simchat Torah to watch the men dance. The big difference I noticed was the Torah scroll. I have seen pictures of Sephardic Torah scrolls before, but I had never seen one in person. The cover was a beautiful, silver, cylindrical box that surrounded the Torah scroll. To read the Torah from it, the scroll was stood upright inside the box. Because of the weight of the silver box, the scrolls were not danced with, but the shul also had a couple Ashkenazi scrolls that they did carry. Watching the men dance and sing, I was struck by the joy they felt at celebrating Torah. It was like being at a wedding (without live music) where the Torah was the chosson and kallah wrapped in one. Or maybe each of the men was the chosson and Torah the kallah. It really was beautiful to watch. The kids joined in, jumping up and down, singing and dancing and having a great time. The only drawback was that the women didn't dance. This is one thing I always find a bit annoying about Simchat Torah. I don't really understand why women aren't encouraged to dance on their side of the mechitzah, and I have been to places where the women do dance. I was tempted to start my own dancing circle, but I was in Lakewood so I decided to respect the traditions of the community I was in. All in all, I was very happy that I spent the time with my friend's family. Throughout all of the Yomin Tovim this season, I have been fortunate to have wonderful people open their homes to me and make me part of the family. It was something that I appreciate even more after recently moving and feeling a bit misplaced. It is special to know that I have so many homes, rather than none.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Religious Zionism and Dating

Over on the new Orthodox Jewish Singles blog, the debate has been raging about whether religious zionism is a detrmiment to the dating scene. Passionate Life believes that the proliferation of women desiring to make aliyah cuts his dating pool dramatically and is a big reason that so many singles are unable to find their bashert. My take on the topic is that I don't think people should keep themselves from making aliyah in order to find a shidduch (though I do believe that it is listed as a legitimate reason for not making aliyah by many rabbis). I think if a person feels that connected to Israel and is unhappy not being there, then they should go after that dream, instead of waiting possibly years and years being unhappy, trying to chase something that they don't have as much control over. I don't believe in being miserable for the sake of getting married, nor do I believe in waiting until you find the right person to attempt to achieve your aspirations and dreams. I waited for quite a while before going back to school, because I knew that if I met someone, my degree might be interrupted by a move. But after waiting a while I realized that I couldn't wait forever. I couldn't put my life and dreams on hold simply because my bashert hadn't yet shown up. And going back to school was one of the best things that I ever did. I'm still not married, but I don't think that returning to school had anything to do with that, and now I am single with a degree under my belt, rather than single and still waiting to complete school. Unless I am less marriageable because I am happier, more educated and focused on what I want to do with my life, and taking steps to actualize those dreams, I don't believe that my decision to not wait has made an impact on my dating life. I think making aliyah is more complicated than going back to school, but there are a lot of similarties to be made in analogy. At this point, I think there are enough people in Israel, who want to be there permanently, and share that dream, that it shouldn't force a person to stay in America indefinitely, miserable, wishing they were in Israel, while they are trying to find their spouse. Maybe I am wrong, and dating is easier here (though my experiences and those of many of my friends would necessitate dating in Israel being incredibly horrific in order to be worse than in the United States). If one's dream is to be in Israel, and happiness is going to be affected if one doesn't live there permanenetly, I don't see the point of a person staying where they are in order to find a spouse. I think the benefits of making aliyah on one's own, if that makes them a happier, more spiritually fulfilled person, greatly outweighs the advantages of dating in New York. I believe that people should follow their dreams, and if Israel is their dream, then go for it!

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Really Living

Over Shabbos, I decided to reread the book "Tuesdays with Morrie." The last time I read the book, I was probably about 18 or 19 years old. I remember that after reading it, I gave the book to a friend of mine whose mother was dying of cancer. I think she probably got more from it than I did. I got only a little ways into the book on Shabbos (though I could have stayed up all night reading it, it is a hard one to put down). But even just reading a little bit of it, I realized that when I read it before, I was too young to really appreciate the messages the book holds. Even in the first few chapters, I was blown away by the lessons that were stored inside every page. So far, too things struck me. First of all, Mitch Albom was incredibly lucky to have a teacher like Morrie. Teachers, whether they are formal classroom teachers, or just teachers we run into in our daily lives, can carve such deep grooves into our psyches. The problem is when we fill in those grooves and ignore the deep lines that were drilled into our souls. I have been fortunate to have a couple amazing teachers in my life (usually showing up in my life when I needed them the most - thank you to Hashem for that), and I hope I don't forget the lessons they taught me. I do know that it fades with time, and I have to consciously remind myself to hold on to the things I have learned - things like making life meaningful, believing in yourself, and caring about others. Morrie taught all that to Mitch. The line that I came across that struck me hard was one from the student, rather than the teacher. Mitch, before starting his weekly classes with Morrie, was a successful, wealthy sportswriter. He was jet-setting all over the world, living it up. But he writes about that part of his life: "My days were full, yet I remained, much of the time, unsatisfied." I know what he is saying. It is so easy to get so caught up in the mundane details of life that it is sometimes hard to stop and smell the proverbial roses. I sometimes find myself trying to fill my hours with anything, just so I don't have to sit around bored. But the things I fill my life with don't mean anything either. So, it is those moments where you are really connecting, or helping another person, or doing something to improve yourself that really count. It's those moments when I catch myself really enjoying life. Laughing or crying, thinking or just relaxing in the company of those I love. Those moments are the ones, that hopefully when enough of them are combined, that make living day by day into a life. Morrie was an incredible teacher of life - he lived each moment to its fullest. Dancing, interacting, teaching, crying. He didn't care whether he did what was expected - he lived. I can't wait to re-read the rest of the book.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Growth through Struggling

Moving is hard. Being back in Baltimore this past weekend was such a mixed bag. I loved seeing my friends; I hated leaving. I loved driving around, feeling in my element, at home; it bothered me that I don't live there anymore. Another friend of mine who was also visiting said that she found it very confusing. I totally agree. It's confusing because I know the reasons I chose for leaving. And I know that they are good reasons. I know that if I returned to Baltimore, the things that I am missing aren't even all there anymore. But it is comfortable being there. That comfort is what I miss. The comfort of knowing where I am going, who I am going to see, what I am doing at work, and knowing what my teachers in school expect from me. But being comfortable doesn't necessarily mean you are growing. In fact, it can often mean stagnation, or even going backwards. Because when you are comfortable with where you are, you don't have the same motivation to make changes, to work on things, to improve yourself. I've often told people that those things in life that I worked hardest for, that I struggled the most with, are also those things that are the most important to me and that I am the proudest of. Becoming religious, getting my degree, becoming independent - these are things in my life that were incredibly hard to accomplish, but that I am the proudest of and really mean a lot to me. I also grew the most from these challenges. So, I feel an internal contradiction inside of me. Because I want things to be easier, but I also know that once this challenge is behind me, I will probably be a better, stronger person. And ultimately, that is what I want. I recognize that my attitude of late has been on the negative side. I am going to make an effort going forth to recognize that what I am going through will ultimately result in positive developments. And to temper my reactions with a dose of equanimity at what I encounter in my life. And to focus on the positive, because being positive makes me happy with myself. Have a good Shabbos!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Expressiveness of Children

Spending the last few days in Baltimore was wonderful and hard at the same time. It felt like being back home; I knew my way around, I felt comfortable and in my element there. At the same time, I was a bit of an outsider - I noticed little changes in the places I used to frequent, I was staying in someone else's home as a guest and I had to run around trying to see everyone in a small amount of time rather than my former leisurely visiting. Seeing all my friends was wonderful, I felt like the months hadn't passed since I had last seen them. It was easy to fall into my old routine with them all, even though lots of things had changed. But what touched me the most was my friends' children. I have several friends with children ranging from babies to 4-year-olds whose homes I used to visit extremely frequently, and I had developed nice relationships with the kids as well as their parents. I have been told by their parents how their children ask about me and say my name often, but actually seeing them and their reactions was so incredible. What is so beautiful about these kids, is that children haven't yet learned to hide their emotions. Whatever they feel is right there on their faces, open and ready to be shared. The infants and babies I saw didn't remember me, but they had big smiles on their faces when I saw them. The 2-3 year olds were a little shy and wary at first; I am sure they remembered me, but probably couldn't quite place me or figure out where I had been for so long. After a few minutes though, it was back to old times - the biggest changes being that they are now pronouncing my name so well it brings tears to my eyes to hear those little "Shoshana"'s come from their mouths. I was taken by the hand and shown toys and games and was given hugs and kisses galore. I had little bodies curled up on my lap and was handed books to read. So sweet. I knocked on the door of my favorite 4-year old and heard his sweet voice asking, "Who is it?" When I said my name, I heard a squeal and "Shoshana!" with a scurry to open the door. I was greeted with a giant hug and bouncing up and down. What a welcome. The unabashed love and enthusiasm of a 4-year old is something that I could take a lot of lessons from. I think it is sad that adults feel the need to temper our reactions. Why do we have to be so reluctant to show that we miss and care about those in our lives? Why do I feel the need to hide my tears of happiness at seeing old friends, and those tears of sadness at leaving them? But I do. For now, I am going to enjoy, and miss so much, those kids and their uncovered emotions. I will hold on to those moments tightly for a long while.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Chag Somayach

I am heading off to Baltimore in a little while, but just wanted to wish everyone a wonderful, fun, Sukkot. Wish I was here for the holiday: Chag Somayach!

Friday, October 14, 2005

Post Yom Kippur

I have lots of thoughts and only a little time right now, so here's a jumble: - Yom Kippur was very powerful. I had one of my more difficult fasts. I have quite a bit of dissonance inside me now between being so happy that it is over, because now I can go back to being my normal self, and wanting to be that better person that I was striving for during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah. It's really quite a struggle withon me, because if I can strive to be so good for 10 days, why can't I do it every day? But the other part of me feels as if it is too hard to try for, and I would just end up disappointed in myself. Maybe I should shoot for a middle ground? - I am heading to Baltimore on Sunday for the first days of Sukkos. An event that also leaves me with so many mixed emotions. Because, on one hand, I am so excited about seeing all my friends again, I have missed them so much I can't even stand it. And I have missed Baltimore itself - the size and pace of the city are much more suited to me than New York. I keep finding myself thinking, in my head, that I am going home on Sunday and I am so happy. But on the other hand, it is going to be so weird being a visitor there, staying in someone else's house and trying to squeeze in so much and so many in such a small amount of time. And leaving after Yom Tov will definitely be hard. And then there is the other reason I am going. My cat, who I have had for 8-1/2 years, is going to Baltimore and will be staying there. I am really sad to see him go. It's going to be a really difficult separation. I know he is just a cat, but he has been with me for a long time. In honor of his departure, I am enshrining him in this post: I will miss him very much. - I am having a friend stay with me for Shabbos. I am really excited about being a hostess once again. I can't wait until I have Shabbos guests on a regular basis. It really makes my Shabbos special. I hope she enjoys as well! - Ezzie tagged me for the Meme of Sevens that Annabel Lee also tagged me with a while back. I don't have enough time or creativity to come up with new lists, so if Ezzie will allow me the liberty, you can check out my old post for my answers. Have a good Shabbos everyone!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Erev Yom Kippur Thoughts

I received a Dvar Torah, via Frum.org by Rabbi Lazer Brody. Rabbi Brody says:

"King Solomon, the wisest of all men said (Proverbs 19:3), "A person's foolishness corrupts his way, and then his heart rages at Hashem." In other words, people break Hashem's commandments, which are designed for their own mental, spiritual, and emotional welfare, and then blame Hashem for their troubles. The Melitzer Rebbe shlit'a, with his razor-sharp wit and uncanny insight, defines a fool as someone who murders his own father and then asks mercy from the court because he's an orphan. In the remaining hours before Yom Kippur, our holy Day of Atonement, we need to spend a few moments alone with ourselves for some candid soul-searching. Most of our difficulties in life can be traced to a breach in our relationship with G-d. We fail to do Hashem's will as prescribed by Jewish Law. We look for comfort-zone religion, paying more attention to our inane desires and appetites rather than the needs of our soul. We compromise on the Torah's commandments, and then foul up. Similar to the fool described by King Solomon and the Melitzer Rebbe, we botch things up and then ask for mercy."
These words are so true. After reading the above this morning, while I was davening, I realized that what I feel the worst about, in my relationship with Hashem this year, is my arrogance in thinking that I know what is correct for me better than Hashem does. My arrogance in throwing away the mitzvos because I think that they are too hard, or not so important, or not for me. Thank G-d, Rabbi Brody goes on:
"Now, understand what an infinitely compassionate and merciful Father in Heaven we have. Even though our own transgressions against Him get us into trouble, whenever we call out His name from deep down inside, he bails us out of the fire. I've seen it time and time again."
This is also so true. Hashem gives us chance after chance, and He forgives us time after time. I think the real importance is in acknowledging that arrogance, and asking for forgiveness. It is a humbling experience, even if we continue to make mistakes. This Yom Kippur, I will go in with a feeling of humility and incredible gratitude that Hashem does give us this opportunity every year (and the truth is, every day) to ask for forgiveness and to receive His compassion. May everyone have an easy and very meaningful fast.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Search My Heart

When I was in Detroit for Rosh Hashanah, my friend asked me to read the book "Search My Heart" by Sarah Birnhak and tell her what I thought of it. She said it had always fascinated her and that she had read it over and over throughout the years and she wanted to know what reaction to it would be. I apologize that I couldn't find a link to a description of the book, but apparently it is out of print. The book is a young adult novel following a women who goes in search of a missing boy and finds, not only the boy, but Torah Judaism as well. I started reading the book thinking the plot completely ridiculous, but as I trudged through, I understood what had intrigued my friend about the story. At the beginning of the book, the main character, Leah, is a totally secular teenager from a family who strives for material weath and societal status. They characterize Orthodox Jews as disgusting, treacherous people. Her father is a journalist who stumbles upon the story of a little boy who has been "kidnapped" by his Orthodox grandfather. Leah immerses herself within the Orthodox world in order to find the little boy. She becomes close with the boy's grandfather and then goes on to find the boy. But by the time she does, she has gained such an appreciation for Orthodox Judaism that instead of returning the boy to his parents, she feels the need to both join the Orthodox world and to keep the boy within that world as well. Due to circumstances, Leah is completely cut off from her family because of her decision to become an Orthodox Jew. After several years of living an Orthodox life, Leah undergoes a series of events that leads to her reuniting, extremely briefly with her family, and the boy being returned to his parents. There is a nasty confrontation between the two worlds, which leaves both sides feeling raw and bitter in regard to the opposite. The book ends on a bittersweet note, with hope for Leah joining the Orthodox world on her own. My friend told me she found the ending frustrating. I can certainly see why. I was quite frustrated myself in reading it. There are so many examples of baalei teshuvah being able to get along with their families once they have become frum, without having to force their own lifestyles upon their families. But the book refused to show that. There was one example in the book of someone who became frum while still living at home and maintaining a good relationship with his family. That person's family eventually became frum. Okay, so it is a book, and it is a young adult one at that. But the black and white picture of the secular world being bad and the Orthodox one being good still scares me. And the fact that there could be no conciliation between the two worlds, that each held such incredible revulsion to the other, was plain disturbing. I know that there are those, of both camps, who feel so strongly about the "other side," but I like to think that it isn't the mainstream opinion. And it saddens me that a book that impressionable teenagers would read would foster that kind of distaste between the two worlds. The part that I did find fascinating was the spiritual awakening that happened within Leah when she came in contact with the Orthodox world. It was a simplistic and super-quick transformation, but a lot of the thoughts that the author described were similar to what I experienced when I first encountered Orthodox Judaism. The feeling of meaning and purpose being infused into life, of seeing people who were striving to serve a Creator who gives us so much - I can relate to that. Of uplifting your actions to enact something that is greater than just us. As different as her experience was from mine, it was incredibly similar in many ways as well. Torah does seem to call and pierce through one's heart. I guess you could say that I did "Search My Heart" and find an answer.

Monday, October 10, 2005

The Comfort of Train

I am finding the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah difficult. Every time I try to do a spiritual accounting, I am coming up flat. Part of it, I think, is because I am still having a hard time placing myself and feeling at home in my new surroundings, so everything is kind of dark-colored and difficult in general. Another reason is because I am harder on myself than I would be on others, so I am finding myself focusing on those things I did wrong this year rather than right. And it has been cloudy and rainy for days, which always makes things a bit blue. And finally this coming weekend marks a huge change in my life and the end of a long era for me, an event which I am having a hard time dealing with (more to probably be written about this later - suffice it to say that I have a very difficult task ahead of me). So I was walking through New York, on my way to work this morning, feeling blue, when the following song by Train (who, by the way, I was a big fan of before they became popular) began playing: "When I Look To The Sky" When it rains it pours and opens doors And floods the floors we thought would always keep us safe and dry And in the midst of sailing ships we sink our lips into the ones we love That have to say goodbye And as I float along this ocean I can feel you like a notion that won't seem to let me go Cause when I look to the sky something tells me you're here with me And you make everything alright And when I feel like I'm lost something tells me you're here with me And I can always find my way when you are here And every word I didn't say that caught up in some busy day And every dance on the kitchen floor we didn't have before And every sunset that we'll miss I'll wrap them all up in a kiss And pick you up in all of this when I sail away And as I float along this ocean I can feel you like a notion that I hope will never leave Whether I am up or down or in or out or just plane overhead Instead it just feels like it is impossible to fly But with you I can spread my wings to see me over everything that life may send me When I am hoping it won't pass me by And when I feel like there is no one that will ever know me there you are to show me Cause when I look to the sky something tells me you're here with me And you make everything alright And when I feel like I'm lost something tells me you're here with me And I can always find my way when you are here The minute I hear the first strains of the song, I always sigh. And I never can listen to it just once. I like to think that all I have to do it look up and know that Hashem is there. It makes me feel better.

Sunday, October 09, 2005


Rav Hirsch writes in "Horeb":

"Leave no room in your memory for wrong or insult which you may have suffered, even though you may not have desired to act in that spirit immediately. Quickly replace in your heart the love which your brother himself may have frightened away from it. However he may have behaved towards you, retain for him the love which God requires of you as for His child, and which you owe to your brother not merely as repayment for life."
This past Shabbos, Shabbos Shuvah, I attended a drasha by Rabbi Yitzchok Eisenman. He spoke about the importance, not of asking for forgiveness, but of actually forgiving others. He stressed how important it is to forgive your friends, family, colleagues and those who you feel have wronged you. It is important not only for them, but for yourself as well. Rav Hirsch continues:
"Your forgiveness must be real and complete, so that no trace of rancour remains in you. It must be a genuine restoration of the old brotherly love; what has happened must be really obliterated. Do not deceive yourself. It is so easy not to perform this duty. If left to itself the mind long remembers insults and injuries, even after forgiveness has been asked, even after reparation has been made."
Rabbi Eisenman also touched on this. It is very easy to hold a grudge, to not really completely forgive someone, to continue on with a relationship, but still holding back a bit, because there is still that shred of hurt deep inside your heart that hasn't gotten over whatever injury was done. I know this feeling. Several years ago, I had a falling-out with a friend. When Yom Kippur was approaching, I sent her a letter apologizing and asking for forgiveness and attempting to reconcile the situation. I hate leaving loose ends and hurt feelings hanging in the balance, and this particular situation had been bothering me for several months. This person called me on Erev Yom Kippur. We had a tearful conversation, where it was clear that there had been huge misunderstandings and miscommunication of the situation that had been the impetus for the falling out. The conversation was not smooth and reconciliatory; unfortunately, the tears were from frustration and hurt. Before the call was over, I was asked for forgiveness, to which I of course acquiesced. And I asked for the same. Throughout Yom Kippur and the following few days, I was very worried. The truth was, even though I had accepted this person's apology, I was still upset and hurt. I was worried about the fact that I had said I forgave her even though, in my heart, I didn't feel as if I really had. I went to the rabbi of the shul I attended at that point and spoke with him about the situation. He asked me whether I held such a grudge that I would want her to be punished by Hashem for the situation. Of course not, I didn't hate her; I was just hurt by her. He told me, in that case, that my forgiveness was acceptable. It took me quite a while to really forget the incident, and the truth is, our friendship was never the same after that. We did manage, at a future point, to move on with our friendship, and at this point, I can say that I have forgiven her. The truth is, I think that forgiveness benefits the person forgiving even more than the one who is asking for forgiveness. I know I feel lighter when I know I can move on without that pain in my heart. I also think that the act of forgiving is a conscious act, that we must work on. I benefits everyone involved. As I think back on the year, to those whom I feel I owe forgiveness and to those who I owe an apology, I am glad to know that I have this opportunity, this dictum, to focus on forgiveness every year. I guess it doesn't have to wait until Yom Kippur every year, but I know that the impending day at least gives me that push to face my past year and move on from those incidents that have pained me. I actually feel a bit lighter just writing this. I hope it works for everyone else as well.

Friday, October 07, 2005

My Inadvertent Meeting with a Shadchan

On Wednesday evening, once Rosh Hashana was over, my friend who came with me to Detroit decided that while she was there, she should meet with some of the local shadchanim. Regular readers here will probably know that I am not the biggest fan of meeting random shadchanim for various reasons, mainly the fact that I don't feel that someone can get to know me (or my bashert that she plans on setting me up with) well enough in 20 minutes to have a real feel for who I am. So when my friend from Detroit started telling me about the shadchanim in Detroit, I told her that it was fine if our other friend wanted to meet with shadchans, but I wasn't really interested. Fine, no problem, phone calls started flying. Finally, a shadchan who would agree to meet my friend at 10:00 PM after Yom Tov was found. We all set out in the car, because we planned on going on some more adventures after the meeting. When we got to the shadchan's house, I came in, because I didn't see the reason for sitting in the car for an undetermined period of time. We came in, and were welcomed to the table, which was covered with a puzzle of the United States. I sat down and proceeded to affix the Southern states, which our host obviously had little knowledge of, in place. My friend was introducing herself, giving the shadchan a picture of who she was and what she was looking for. I was sitting there, putting together the puzzle, trying to stay as quiet as possible to keep the attention from falling to myself, because we were there for my friend. All of a sudden the shadchan fixes his sights on me and asks, "So, are you on the market also?" I can't lie, or ignore him, so I tell him, yes, I am dating. He begins to ask me questions about myself and what I am looking for. We end up getting in a debate about the value of secular education, discrimination against non-Jews by many Orthodox Jews, and what the term "yeshivish" means. (We also managed to play a pretty successful game of Jewish geography. For once, I didn't completely lose!) By the end of the conversation, I feel like he actually has a pretty good idea of who I am, and he thinks he might have a guy for me. (Of course, the guy happens to be busy. But whatever.) Unfortunately, they couldn't think of someone for my friend, who was the reason that we were there. It was the least painful shadchan meeting I have ever had. It hasn't changed my lack of desire to go meet the whole circuit of "professional" shadchans out there, but it was good to meet someone who actually took an interest in who I am, what I believe and what I am really about. He was nice, and thanked us for doing our hishtadlus, not making it seem like he was doing us some huge favor (which he really was). I guess there are some good shadchans out there.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Rosh Hashana Recap

I went to Detroit to spend Rosh Hashanah with a friend and her family. In order to ensure that there would be no problems with flight delays creeping into Yom Tov, we left on Sunday. This early departure actually gave me the opportunity to share with my friend's family something I had never before done - prepare for Yom Tov. I have made Shabbos meals before, and helped a little bit with Pesach preparations, but had never had the experience of living in the house that I was going to be spending all of Yom Tov, being there for the before, during and after. I got to go grocery shopping, peel fruits and veggies, make my yummy cookies, set the table and wash dishes. I have been a guest so many times, it was such a great feeling to really make some kind of contribution to the Yom Tov, to feel like instead of just taking, I was giving something to my hosts. It made me a little more a part of my friend's family, and a part of the holiday where I usually feel I am on the outside looking in. Rosh Hashana in general was really nice - I spent it with a wonderful family whose hospitality I can't even find words to describe. They offered a mixture of warmth, intellectual stimulation, spirituality and sweetness (in honor of the new year, of course). I was a little under the weather, and in a shul that I had never davened in, so I have to admit that my davening did lack a bit of kavanah, but I am hoping to gear up in the next week for Yom Kippur. I hope everyone else had a great Chag - tell me your stories!

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Please daven for...

Please daven for a refuah shleimah for Moshe Eliezer ben Hadassah. And for his family to be comforted during this very difficult time.