Tuesday, November 8, 2022

It's All About the Small Stuff

I hope that everyone had a wonderful Holiday Season... meaning Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. I find the month of Tishrei to be a sprint and a marathon all rolled up into one. Every week is a new holiday, and we try to find personal meaning in all of them while running through them at full speed. One moment you're prepping Rosh HaShana, the next it seems, you're building a sukkah!

The following month is Cheshvan, otherwise known as MarCheshvan - the "mar" meaning bitter since there are no holidays to bring us closer to HaShem - and that's true, there are no specific holidays that push that closeness (except Shabbat) - however, this is also a special month in its own way. Cheshvan is the time where we take that 'forced' closeness and make it our responsibility. 

Around Rosh HaShana time we like to have New Year's Resolutions - what we'll do better for the coming year - and by the time we blink we've set those resolutions aside as unrealistic and we don't even bother trying. To be honest, I do the same.

Over the last few days, I was looking at a "Goals" workbook (I bought it last year) and I thought I might give it a chance. It started with asking what my dream life would be. I'm not good at these things so I thought about where I'm at today - things I feel good about and things I thought I could do better... I was then able to figure out where I wanted to be in general and more specifically. Then the workbook asked: what small things could you do to head you in the right direction toward your goals. I then realized that it's not the big stuff that moves you along to your goals, but the small choices and small things you do that get you there.

It reminded me of 25 years ago when I was about to leave Israel, after learning about all the Jewish things I didn't know (and there's even more to know!), when my Rabbi told us to make sure to spend five minutes learning every day. At the time I couldn't imagine only spending five minutes a day when at the time I was spending my entire day learning! After returning to everyday life and a fast reality check, my Rabbi was absolutely correct - 5 minutes a day is your anchor to your soul and the meaning of life. 

Five minutes, of course, is just the beginning - but it is a beginning to moving in the right direction of bringing HaShem closer to us in our lives. Tishrei is 'forced' closeness - it's a way of HaShem showing us what it could be like to spend our time with Judaism in the forefront of our consciousness, instead of fitting our Judaism into our already busy lives... and here we are in Cheshvan... it's time for the effort to come from us - what habits are we going to create that only takes a few minutes a day but gets us closer to our Creator?

Start small and before you know it you'll be on your way. 

Friday, July 29, 2022

"Kinda Awesome"

So... this summer I've begun embracing my inner crafter, which dovetails nicely with Mommy Camp. I picked up a small side table off of Facebook Marketplace (a rabbit hole of possibilities) and have been working on repainting it and jazzing it up a bit. (You can see the beginnings of this project in the photograph above.) I was painting it on my front stoop while watching my kids ride their bikes up and down the sidewalk. Yaakov took a break for a moment and on his way into the house complimented my work as "kinda awesome". Those two unsolicited words - that compliment went straight from his mouth to my heart. I still hear those words now as I type them.

Tonight is Rosh Chodesh Av, beginning the 9 days leading us to our national day of mourning, Tisha b'Av- we are mourning for our Holy Temples, mourning for all the horrible events of our history and most of all mourning our lack of connection with G-d. 

Sometimes it's hard to mourn something we do not understand - like the destruction of the Holy Temples and what they meant in Jewish life... but we can understand how it's possible to see why they were destroyed. Our Rabbis teach us that they were destroyed because of 'sinat chinam' - baseless hatred. What a strange concept in some ways - how could one person hate another person without reason? I would point to social media to help us understand... tolerance for someone else's ideas is at a minimum... commenting using words that would never be used in real life to someone's actual face happens all the time... hurling and accusing others of horrible things are common place. 'Sinat chinam' is a "normal" occurrence on social media.

The Holy Temple - the singular focus of all Jews could no longer stand as a symbol of unity when 'sinat chinam' (baseless hatred) ran rampant - so G-d destroyed it. 

We learn that every generation that is unable to rebuilt the Temple is just like the generation that destroyed it. In other words, the terrible situation of 'sinat chinam', of baseless hatred, still exists. We have to take this sinat chinam and flip it on it's head and create a situation of 'ahavat chinam' - baseless love. We have to love each other without wondering what is in it for us. What will we gain by showing love for another person? That is the wrong attitude - we love because the person in front of us is a Creation by our Creator. G-d loves them just as much as G-d loves us. "Love your neighbor as yourself". We don't love ourselves for particular reasons... just as much as we don't shouldn't need a reason to love our neighbor.

So what's the first step? I would say the first step to creating 'ahavat chinam' - baseless love, is to give compliments freely. When my son Yaakov said two words "kinda awesome" about my creative endeavor, he created a connection with me that wasn't there before. He gave me a good feeling. Love is created by giving to another person, not by taking.

Here we are at the beginning of the 9 days leading to Tisha b'Av - let's spend our time during these days handing out compliments to family, friends and strangers for no reason other that to make that other person feel good. G-d willing, perhaps Tisha b'Av this year will be a joyous holiday instead of a day of mourning. Please G-d.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

It's Thursday! Almost Shabbat!

Okay, it's officially Thursday, but really it's 12:13am on Wednesday night.

You turn around and it's the end of the week. Crazy! What that also means is that Shabbat is coming. It's the only day we have to breathe a bit and to just 'be'. This is the day that HaShem wants us to 'just enjoy the day.' We do not work, we do not create - we just enjoy the results of what we have put our energy into the whole week. 

This doesn't just happen. We have to prep for our day to just 'be'. We buy or cook special foods in advance that we can actually take the time to appreciate eating on our special day of Shabbat. 

There's the lighting of the Shabbat candles - making time Holy. There's Kiddush and Challah - making our eating of the meals Holy. It's the singing and the giving thanks to the One and Only Creator. It's a special time.

At our house we have a Shabbos Party. In some houses it's called the 3rd meal of Shabbat. We make sure to have the kid's favorite foods and drinks. In advance, a couple of the children prepare a dvar Torah (words of Torah - might just be three sentences) that they give over at the Shabbos Party. It's pretty exciting for them to be the focus of attention.

[The book that they prepare their dvar Torahs from is published by Tzivos HaShem, called Living Jewish: A Handbook for Life, and I have a photo of it above. The book is so well done that I love looking through it myself and recommend it to everyone - children and adults!]

Here's a great article about Shabbat and how important it is in a Jewish person's life.

Shabbat Shalom!

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Time Flies, Life Changes -Random Thoughts

It's more than three months since I last wrote, and life has changed. Wow. Looking over my last post from the beginning of April, I could never have imagined.

Pesach was successful - aka we put away our Chametz, pulled out the Passover paraphernalia, and actually returned it all to it's hiding place when we were done with the holiday. 

My father passed away May 23rd. (Ran back for the funeral with my two youngest and had the most exhausting shiva ever - but ever grateful to friends and family who were able to stop by and those who contacted me in other ways.) There's never a good time to go - but I know that he had a good life, thank Gd.

The school year ended, phew. It was a doozy... but at least it wasn't on Zoom (aargh!)

And now we're doing "Mommy Camp", no joke, we have the t-shirts to prove it.

In other words, I'm cooked. I'm tired. But I'm not so cooked, and not so tired to appreciate what I have. I have been waiting for this summer for two years! Covid summers are borrrrrrring. So finally, we are here and we're going to take full advantage of it.

Life is crazy, and there are parts I *really* would NOT miss not being a part of ie. funerals and shivas. And honestly, I hate going to these things, I'm more of a wreck than the person at the funeral/shiva - so unfortunately, I'm not so great at going, so I have to shout out and thank those who came to be there with me and my family.

So while we can't do much about the parts of life we could do without, we need to focus on the parts that we can "control". We are running Mommy Camp - mornings are for running around, we return to the house around noon, for the 2 year old's nap time and serving lunch - and for the downtime where the kids enjoy their computer time for coding and games. Then in the afternoon we try to get some art project done - or our new hobby (hopefully)... woodworking!!! (I just got hammers, nails, saw and a drill!) Haha!!!

Life is quite the roller coaster - ups and downs and not much "control". But HaShem trusts us to learn and grow from each turn on that roller coaster... and we should learn to trust ourselves too.

Hope you are all enjoying your summer! 

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

A Worthwhile Podcast to Follow

You must check this podcast out.

I do not say this lightly. Nisa Harris has created a podcast named Shomea V'Oneh - reading a chapter of Tehillim/Psalms - then follows it with a short explanation of that chapter. 

Tehillim is something special. They are prayers written and compiled by King David. It is incredible that we have something so amazing available to us. Some of those prayers are praising and thanking Gd, and some are ones we say when we are in need of help on a personal or national level. Every Jew should have this book on their shelf on home, alongside a Chumash (the 5 Books of Moses), and a Tzedukah box.

Click here to read her piece in The Layers Project Magazine.  I sincerely recommend reading this article written by Ms. Harris and following her podcast. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Dirt is not Chametz

Hi everyone! I hope everybody had a wonderful and enjoyable Purim.

...and surprise, about four weeks later we find ourselves at the Seder table for Passover. It's really quite incredible. Get rid of that Purim candy! Someone suggested on Facebook that we should be giving Kosher for Passover candy at Purim time so we don't have to stress about getting rid of it so quickly. It's clever, but I'm pretty sure that idea will not go mainstream anytime soon.

So, not to stress anyone, the first Seder is a week from this Friday night. Believe it or not, this shouldn't be a big deal on the "cleaning" front. The magic mantra that you need to start repeating to yourself is, "Dirt is not Chametz."

I'll tell you a quick story. Many years ago, I did not know what I needed to clean for Pesach. Seriously. When I heard the expression, "time to clean for Pesach", I thought we needed to actually clean the house for Pesach - dirt and all. This is very stressful for someone when their house would generally fall on the cluttered side of living. An understatement of that would be... it was hard.

I ended up going to Israel some years later to study more about my Judaism and one of the most important ideas I heard there regarding Pesach was that dirt isn't Chametz. Chametz is leavened bread - in other words, food made with flour... bread, cake, cookies... you get the idea. 

What should we practically take away from this? Where don't you eat? The bathroom! See, that was easy, knock that off the list. The bedrooms? Just vacuum and make sure there's no sandwich hiding under your blanket. In my house, the basement is a food no-go zone, I'm very strict about that since it's virtually impossible to get it clean (in other words, it's a toy filled area - try not to kill yourself there). 

Think about what you can cross off your Pesach Chometz cleaning list before you start. It'll make your life soooo much easier! If you eat in front of the television, that room will need to be cleaned - vacuum under the couch pillows (maybe you'll find some treasures!) and clean the floor. The kitchen obviously, will be your focus. Self-cleaning ovens are Gd's gift to mankind (along with whiskey and coffee) and you'll end up with dealing with stove tops/fridges/floors. Truthfully, it's not terrible.

If you need more information - I am not a rabbi and do not play one on TV - please check Aish and Chabad. They are the main two websites I depend on.

Please remember that the goal is not to drive yourself crazy before Pesach. G-d wants you to come to the Seder and actually enjoy yourself. I know that this runs counter to all the Jewish mother jokes out there - but we are not supposed to hate Passover preparations - or Passover. Holidays, or Holy Days are there in order to help us connect us to our Creator and remind us of all that's been done on our behalf over the last 3300 years. 

Wishing everyone a Wonderful and Enjoyable Passover/Pesach.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Life is a Choose Your Own Adventure

Lo and behold my kids have discovered the "Choose Your Own Adventure" series - and they are loving it. About a day into reading the one book we own (yes, I'll get more), my 9 year old son says, "Hey! Life is like a choose your own adventure!" I was just blown away by that epiphany. He is totally correct.

However, in the books it is very clear when you have to make a decision. At the bottom of the page it gives you your choices.

"If you decide to run for it through the back door of the house, turn to page 40.

If you decide to wait where you are and prepare to defend yourselves, turn to page 30."

Funny enough, life never clearly points out those important "choice" moments.

A car just cut you off in traffic, leaving you at a red light. Should you-

a. Run the red light, so you can catch the perpetrator and give him a piece of your mind.

b. Stop at the red light, breathe deeply and carry on with your trip.

c. Stop at the red light, and give the jerk a piece of your mind anyway.

d. Be aware of your children in the backseat who will hear your rants about lousy bleeping drivers.

Every choice we make, whether big or small fills in the puzzle pieces that make us human beings. The trick is to be aware of those "choice" moments - and choose correctly as best we can. Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler talks about these choice points, that real free will happens when there is a conflict in how we would approach a choice. 

For example - I don't have issues with murder. Do I have free will in that topic, no, because that's really not an issue for me. I do, however, have issues with losing my temper. That is a very real issue for me. So when one of my kids spills the entire jug of milk on the floor when trying to pour themselves a glass of milk - this will hit my "choice" moment. Do I freak out at the kid who really feels bad enough or keep my calm and clean it up? If I keep my calm, then I conquered that choice and established a precedent for next time (don't worry, there will be a next time) - and my "choice" moment moves forward. The idea is to keep growing and creating a better You.

Judaism is about using the Mitzvot to create a better You, a better You who will create a world that G-d wants to be a part of. 

Let's recognize our choices in our own personal Choose Your Own Adventure book of life and see how we can move our "choice" moments forward.

Have a great week!