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November 23, 2014 / 1 Kislev, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘chuppah’

Eternal Love Story

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Parents know each child is different. Similarly, each month is different; each has a different “personality” and a different function.

What is the nature of the month of Elul?

According to one system of counting, it is the last month of the year. If our fate during the coming year is decided between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, then Elul must be very important.

How do we try to ensure that the coming year will be good?

This is our job during Elul.

Elul has been described by the acronym Ani l’dodi v’dodi li – I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine” (Shir HaShirim 6:3).

Isn’t it strange to think of Elul in this way? We are coming before our Father and King for judgment. We crown Hashem “Melech” on Rosh Hashanah. How, then, can we describe our relationship with the Supreme Judge, who holds our fate in His hands, in such romantic terms? Does this make sense?

Imagine you are on trial for your life. You are trembling in the courtroom. Armed guards are watching you. The prosecutor is about to list your crimes. At that moment, would you tell the judge how much you love him? You would be crazy!

Or maybe not.

The way we put on tefillin offers a parable for life. First we put on the shel yad, which is tied around the upper arm opposite the heart. Then we place the shel rosh upon our head and, lastly, we wrap the retzuah (leather strap) around our hand. What does this teach us? That the heart is primary.

We begin the day by adjusting our emotional orientation. When we place the shel yad upon our arm, our heart is bombarded with holy “radiation” from the tefillin. If our heart is good, we will be good. So we send healing into the heart in order to bring it under the influence of Torah. Following the heart, we place the tefillin upon our head, and then we wrap the retzuah around the hand.

But the heart is primary. As the Gemara says, “Hashem wants the heart” (Sanhedrin 106b). If a person is “happy with his lot” and full of chesed, all else will follow. The heart must be good; then comes the brain. We take our good, generous emotions and the brain conceives of ways to implement them. The last step is action itself, symbolized by the retzuah.

We have to work on our heart. The cause of our Exile was sinas chinam, unwarranted hatred between Jew and Jew. The cure is ahavas chinam, “unwarranted” love. “Sinah” and “ahavah” are emotions, which emanate from the heart. The heart must be cured and trained.

The way we prepare for life by regulating our emotions, so we prepare for our encounter with God. Elul thus becomes the month in which “ani l’dodi v’dodi li.”

We also need an ayin tovah – a good eye.

The Mishnah (Avos 5:22) teaches: “Those who have a good eye, a humble spirit and a meek soul are among the disciples of our Father Avraham. Those who have an evil eye, an arrogant spirit and a greedy soul are among the disciples of the wicked Bilaam.” Rabbi Yissocher Frand asks, “What does ‘ayin tovah’ really mean? It means a generosity of spirit and a generosity of dealing with people.”

* * * * *

On Yom Kippur the kohen gadol enters the Kodesh HaKadoshim. What does he find? Atop the Aron HaKodesh are the kruvim, facing each other. These two figures, male and female, represent a loving couple. When Hashem created the world, he populated Gan Eden with Adam and Chava, who represent the culmination of creation. That they rebelled against Him represents their own weakness, but quite clearly they were created with the ability to live in perfect harmony in the presence of Hashem. If a man and woman live together the way Hashem commands, their relationship is the building block of His world.

But there is more.

The Gemara tells us that the kruvim represent the relationship between Am Yisrael and God. “Rabbi Katina said: When the Jewish people made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem on the festivals, the priests would roll up the partition of the Holy of Holies and show them the kruvim in amorous embrace. ‘Look,’ they would say to the people, ‘God’s love for you is like the love between a man and woman’ ” (Yoma 54b).

Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Nine: Mazal Tov!

Monday, August 13th, 2012

“Didn’t I tell you that everything God does works out for the best?” Tevye said to Nachman as everyone gathered excitedly around the coffin on the beach. “If the Turks had let us disembark in Jaffa, I would never have seen my Golda wash up on shore.”

It didn’t matter that, in fact, Nachman had been the one who had reminded a crestfallen Tevye that God’s loving, invisible hand never stops guiding life’s twists and turns. If Tevye, in a moment of despair, had forgotten this teaching of the Talmud, God would certainly forgive him. Now, with Golda once again at his side, Tevye’s faith was stronger than ever.

But Tevye’s reunion with Golda was not the only miracle which had transpired. Since stepping foot in the Land of Israel, Tevye had imperceptibly changed. He couldn’t say why. He couldn’t explain the sensation, but somehow, his mind, his soul, and his heart underwent a rejuvenation, as if the clock of his life had turned backwards, making him feel twenty years younger. Yes, he felt more confident now that his beloved Golda was back at his side. Yes, he felt comforted that the Almighty had returned her to him. But even more than these blessings, the realization that he had reached the Land of Israel overwhelmed all of his thoughts. The prayers, the prophecies, the dreams, the yearnings of two-thousand years, all had come true. Wasn’t it written in the Book of Psalms, “When God will return the exiles of Zion, we will be like those who dream. Then our mouth will be filled with laughter and our tongue with glad song?”

Tevye the milkman, the son of Reb Schneur Zalman, was in Israel! He was in the Land which God had promised to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. It was the Land of Joshua and the prophet Samuel. The Land of King David and his son, Solomon, the wisest of men. It was the home of the Jerusalem Temple, of the Maccabees, and Rabbi Akiva. While Tevye’s faith in the Biblical stories which his father had taught him had always been steadfast, now he was standing on the very soil where Jewish history had unfolded in all of its glory and pain. Suddenly, the ancient stories had a down-to-earth setting. Suddenly, the Land of Israel was real, not just a faraway dream. It was like hearing about a famous person, and then suddenly meeting him, like when Tevye had met the great writer, Sholom Aleichem. What a thrill!

Nachman experienced the same indescribable sensation. Feeling the secret power of the Land surge into his body, he burst into song. Everyone had the same feeling. Everyone sang. They were in the Land of Israel! They were home!

Their singing gave way to exhaustion. It was time to learn their next lesson. Life in the Land of Israel, like its sand dunes, had its ups and its downs. Everyone was astounded at the landscape as they started the trek north back toward Jaffa. Dunes and desert stretched around them as far as the eye could see. Occasionally, they had to make a long detour around a foul-smelling swamp. The land was barren and desolate, as if still suffering from the Divine curse which had fallen upon the soil since the Jews had been exiled from their home. Gone were the lush gardens, the fruit trees, the fertile green valleys, and overflowing rivers of Biblical days. If there had once been milk and honey in the Land, the ferocious sun had long ago turned them to sand. Miles passed without the sight of a single tree or bush. Beside their motley-looking caravan, there was no sign of human life. Eyes searched the horizon for Jaffa, but all they could see was an ocean of heat waves rising off a desert wilderness.

Before long, their enthusiasm started to wane. It was as if they had returned three-thousand years through history to their ancestors’ wanderings through Sinai. Their footsteps became heavier. The fierce sun beat down on their heads. More and more frequently, the men had to set down Golda’s coffin and rest. Tzeitl fainted. Once again, Tevye had to carry her in his arms. Within an hour, their supply of fresh water was finished. Children cried. Grown-ups collapsed in the sand. Complaints could be heard in every corner of the camp.

Life Lessons

Friday, July 27th, 2012

I feel truly blessed these days. The experience of becoming a grandmother for the second time to a beautiful, and thank G-d, healthy baby girl is quite honestly indescribable.

I think back on my concerns before and during the time that my daughter was in the dating “parsha.” I dreaded the prospect and fretted about how she would be received having come from a broken home and a blended family. I prayed that I had raised her with enough confidence to face any challenges. Now I sit back and watch as my daughter and her husband nurture and raise their young girls, while at the same time expertly navigating their assortment of relatives.

My little granddaughters have three sets of grandparents and three sets of living great-grandparents. It is amazing how they are able to keep the “savtas,” “sabas,” “poppas,” “grandma and grandpa” and “bubby and zaidy” in order. These children are growing up watching their parents honor and respect their parents and grandparents no matter what role they play in their lives.

When my marriage broke down, my children and I went through “demolition” and “restructuring,” then, together with my husband and his two children, we went through blending and re-building. Now, years later, as the dust has finally settled, we are able to extend ourselves and encompass the very people who were once the opposing team, fighting our right to live and grow as a family.

That does not mean that there are not those occasional moments when past feeling and present reality seem to clash with one another.

Take for instance the birth of my new granddaughter. It was an amazing experience. I was honored to be a part of those moments with my daughter and son-in-law. I worked hard coaching my daughter through her labor. I kept in mind that as excited as I was to be there, this was also a private moment for my children to connect over the birth of their newest family member. I was cognizant of that fact and did my best to allow them their “space” emotionally, but to also take the opportunity to share this special time with my daughter.

We all bonded as the labor progressed, and my granddaughter was born naturally. The room was charged with that special euphoria saved for miracles. As my son-in-law and daughter welcomed their new daughter, I stood in awe of the greatness of Hashem. Then suddenly the spell was broken, my lovely daughter who had been raised by my husband for the past 16 years, turned emotionally to her husband and said, “I need to call my father.”

I knew immediately which father she meant and that it was not the man who took a young girl abandoned by her biological father at the age of 6, loved her unconditionally from the moment they met and helped raise her into the mature and capable woman she is today. She did not mean the man who walked her to the chuppah just a few short years before or who holds her two-year-old on his lap as he sings at our Shabbat table. No, she did not mean my husband, she meant my ex-husband.

Certainly from a non-emotional standpoint her actions were reasonable, even practical. She knew that I would immediately call my husband who had been checking in all night, begging to join us and waiting impatiently for the blessed news. Yet, when I heard the emotion in her voice as she requested her “father” be called, it was a “wow” moment for me.

I knew that over the last half year or so there had been more frequent contact between my daughter and her father. I just did not recognize how important that bond was for her. In the past I feared that closeness, as my ex-husband’s track record of hurting those close to him spoke for itself. But now things were different. My daughter, now an adult, had set the ground rules. She understood the risk she was taking and chose to take it. Maybe this time things would turn out differently. Maybe this time he was in a different place in his life; a place that could accommodate his own emotional needs without sacrificing the emotional needs of his daughter.

A Parent’s Anguish

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis,

This is the most painful letter I’ve ever written. I’ve been through many horrific experiences. My parents were survivors of the Holocaust; they were shattered people. I know you will understand this since you too are a Holocaust survivor.

The scars of that period never heal in those who went through it. As much as my parents celebrated, as much as they laughed and rejoiced, the nightmare was forever with them. My parents raised us with much love. They literally lived for us. They saw their entire families wiped out and now their children represented all that was lost. They never felt a need take a vacation alone – when they did go away it was always with us, their children.

This was the nurturing I was exposed to, and I brought up my own children the same way. They were always my first priority. I was always home for them. I was always there for them. This was equally true of my husband.

As we know, at the bris of every baby boy we say a berachah that the child may merit to enter the covenant of Torah, chuppah and ma’asim tovim. Yes, the dream of Torah-committed parents is different from that of secular parents, whose hope is that the child will grow up to be successful, which in our society means to make loads of money.

Every Friday evening when I lit Shabbos candles I took an extra few moments to pour out my heart and beseech Hashem to grant my husband and me the privilege of seeing our children under the chuppah embracing a genuine Torah life.

Hashem blessed us with eight children – six boys and two girls. Baruch Hashem, all our children found good shiduchim and we saw them all under the chuppah. But very soon everything fell apart with one of them.

I once met a woman from Jerusalem who had five children, one of whom was killed while serving in the army. An insensitive person visiting her during the days of shiva foolishly said, “Thank G-d you still have four children.” She told me that remark was like a knife in her heart. If somebody has five fingers and one is amputated, would you say to that person, “Your hand is fine – after all, it’s just one finger that’s been severed”? If you lose a finger your entire hand is damaged and can no longer do that which seemed so simple only yesterday.

I often think about that woman’s story. In a way I too have lost a finger have been offered foolish consolation. “Don’t get upset, you still have seven children from whom you have nachas.” They can’t comprehend that I go to sleep and wake up with just one thought: “My child, my child, my child is missing.”

My other children are exemplary in their commitment to Torah, their devotion to mitzvos and the respect and love they show us, but this one son and his wife have caused us terrible anguish. And that anguish has taken over our lives and gives us no peace.

This one son married a girl who has agendas. I do not pretend to be a psychologist so I will not even attempt to analyze the situation. But this little wife has made a great breach in our family and destroyed our harmony, our unity. She does not talk to or recognize any of my other children, her husband’s siblings. She does not visit them and does not communicate with them. She will not allow my son to see his siblings or to visit and talk to them.

My son gives the impression that he is in accord with this. The cousins do not know each other. They are not permitted to spend time together.

Why does my son allow this? I don’t know. We all live in the same community and our family tragedy has become public knowledge. Our entire family has suffered. A hundred and one times I have tried to reach my son and daughter-in-law but it has been to no avail. The same holds true for the attempts made by my other children.

My husband and I begged, cajoled, and compromised our dignity – and our children did the same – but our son and daughter-in-law snubbed all our efforts. They locked their doors and their hearts.

Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Five: A Husband For Ruchel

Monday, July 16th, 2012

The next morning, Hevedke was waiting out on the road when Tevye and his Zionist entourage took up their journey. The two men stared at one another in silence.

“He has more guts than I thought,” Tevye brooded, giving the reins of the wagon a whip.

Hava was hoping that her father would give Hevedke a chance to prove his sincerity, but there was no sign of conciliation in her father’s angry expression. Hava herself was confused. Her heart was torn between a man she still loved, and the realization that the bond between them could never be sanctified as long as he belonged to the tormentors of her people. It wasn’t enough that Hevedke was ashamed of the evil decrees of the Czar. Unless he tore up all ties to his religion and his past, he would always remain one of them. Even if he were to fast a hundred days to prove his love for Hava, that would not be enough. Hava knew that he loved her. He had to prove he loved God by taking on the yoke of her people. Though Hava felt compassion and pity for Hevedke, she didn’t plead with her father to accept him into the fold. If she had listened to her parents in the first place, the whole painful situation would never have occurred. Now she wanted to make amends for the breach she had rent in the family. She wanted to be faithful to her father. She wanted to show her mother in Heaven that she was sorry for the pain she had caused. So sitting beside her father as their wagon drove down the road, Hava fought off her desire to gaze at the man she had lived with only a short time before. She stared forward at the future as if Hevedke did not exist, as if they had never crossed paths, trusting that one way or the other, God would restore peace to her torn, aching heart.

That evening they reached the Jewish shtetl of Branosk. The ultra-religious community was smaller than the Jewish community of Anatevka, but the sights, sounds, and smells were the same. The same wooden porches, tiled roofs, and shutters. The same sagging, weathered barns which stood erect by a miracle. The same aroma of horses, chickens, and soups. The same beards and black skullcaps on the men, and kerchiefs and shawls on the women. Even the fiery red sunset had been stolen from Anatevka and pasted over the Branosk forest.

The villagers rushed out of their houses when they heard that pioneers on the way to the Promised Land had arrived in the shtetl. Children and teenagers crowded around Tevye’s wagon. They all wore the caps and long curling peyes sidelocks which distinguished the Branosk community. Apparently, they had seen other Zionists, but the sight of Tevye, a bearded, God fearing Jew among them, was a novelty to be sure. Ben Zion jumped up on a porch and tried to deliver a spirited harangue, inviting the townspeople to throw off the yoke of the Russians and join them in rebuilding the ancient Jewish homeland, but he only drew heckles and a rotten tomato. Tevye and his daughters attracted a far larger crowd.

Where was he going, they wanted to know? To Eretz Yisrael, he answered, the Land of Israel. With the heretics, they asked? Tevye said that by accident they were traveling together, for safety along the way. But, Tevye assured them, his family was headed for a settlement more religious than the city of Vilna – in God’s Chosen Land. What could be better than that? For hadn’t they heard? The great Baron Rothschild, may he live several lifetimes, was building “frum,” God fearing communities throughout the Holy Land. Everyone who came got a villa and acres of orchards bursting with olives, pomegranates, fig trees, and dates.

People bombarded Tevye with questions. He answered with authority, as if he truly knew, as if he were the Baron’s agent, auctioning off parcels of land. When a question came his way for which he did not have an answer, he responded with a verse or two of Torah. One thing was clear – the expulsion which had hit Anatevka was sure to reach Branosk. Surely they had heard that the Czar’s Cossacks had been thundering throughout Russia, slaughtering thousands of Jews. Now was the time to flee for their lives. Now was the time to stop praying for God to take them to Zion, and let their feet do the talking instead.

Matana’s Gift

Friday, July 6th, 2012

Dear Readers: The long, lazy days of summer are upon us and it’s time to sit back with a cold drink and good book. The following is a reprint of a fictional story I wrote a long time ago. Though it is made up, there are parts that are all too real. Long lost objects have miraculously turned up under the most unlikely circumstances. This story is in memory of a second cousin, David, who was blown up in his tank during the Yom Kippur War. His wife had their first child, a girl, eight months later.

* * * * *

It was the Thursday before her daughter’s wedding and Chana Bendiner had so much to do, so many minute details to attend to. Yet here she was in her attic, blowing the dust off a photo album that had remained buried, but not forgotten, for over 20 years. She stared at the leather-bound cover, gently caressing the embossed gold lettering, unable to open it, yet unable to put it down.

For Chana Bendiner knew that the photos that lay within, unseen for two decades, would unleash a torrent of bittersweet memories, releasing intense emotions from the deeply buried vault in her heart in which she had locked them – an soul-numbing process that had taken years of effort and a deluge of tears.

Inhaling deeply, prepared to have her breath taken away by a tsunami of memories that would flood her inner core, she opened the album book.

Looking up at her with a smile as radiant as snow bathed in sunlight was her 22-year-old self, her blue eyes as bright as the skies over the Kinneret; her hair a honey-blond cascade of curls spilling out from her bridal veil. Chana wryly touched her light brown sheitel, grateful that it covered the grey strands that had stealthily infiltrated her hair.

Her smile trembled and her face contorted as she looked at the young man at her side, her chatan, her golden-voiced Dov, Berel to the older generation. His puppy-brown eyes glowed with life, framed by thick auburn eyelashes that matched his thatch of auburn hair. A subtle brown sheen barely saved him from being labeled a gingi – a redhead.

Both native New Yorkers, Chana Rotgerber and Dov Walbrom had met at a kumsitz melavah malka at the home of a mutual friend in Jerusalem. Chana had been enchanted by his mellow tenor voice as he sat on the floor, strumming his guitar and singing Israeli folk-songs. He in turn could not take his eyes off her. He would later describe her as human sunshine. To their mutual relief and delight, they discovered that both had made aliyah, determined to give of their talents and skills to enhance their ancestral homeland.

The two and a half years of their marriage were of fairy-tale caliber: both delighted in the existence of the other. The “icing on their cake” had been the birth of their redheaded, milk chocolate-eyed baby girl.

“Go figure,” Chana had exclaimed to her ecstatic, peacock-proud husband as she scrutinized her newborn daughter. “For nine months I grow this human being inside me, my waist explodes and may ankles swell – and she’s the spitting image of you! It’s like I had no part in all this!”

“Well at least we know she’ll be good-looking,” Dov teased as he dodged the pillow Chana had thrown at him.

They had named their child Matana. Chana had had her heart set on naming her baby after her mother’s sister, who had perished in the Holocaust. She knew however that the name “Matel” was not quite appropriate for a sabra, and she was delighted when Dov, a bio-engineer with a creative bend, had come up with the name Matana, which was Hebrew for gift. It was perfect, sounding enough like Matel to satisfy the thrilled grandparents, yet preventing the teasing that would have been the inevitable fate of an Israeli child called Matel. Almost immediately after her naming, Matana was nicknamed Mati, and that was what she was called from that moment on.

For 10 months after Mati’s birth, her father would croon her to sleep, composing different tunes and changing the words to suit the baby’s mood. Often her doting daddy would spend hours playing his guitar, tape-recording the music that flowed from his hands. When Chana had asked him what he was so busy with, he told her he was working on Mati’s wedding march. It would be played as they walked her to her chuppah and her waiting chatan.

Important Moments In Becoming A Ba’al Teshuvah (Part I)

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

You don’t become a ba’al teshuvah overnight. There were many events in my life that contributed to the deepening of my religious commitment, including a party I attended with young, beautiful church members who tried to make me one of them, and how I met their “Jewish priest.” (I’ll discuss both experiences during the course of this continuing column.)

Two key factors helped me in my religious progression: I come from a family that practiced chesed on many levels and, since childhood, I’ve had an intellectual curiosity that seeks the truth.

As a playwright and humorist when I moved from Philadelphia to New York to further pursue my creative dreams, little did I know, thank G-d, what I was getting myself into. A little over two years after arriving in the Big Apple, I was religiously observant. And my parents, who had given me such a strong foundation in the trait of kindness – so important to religious Jewish observance – showed me yet more kindness by accepting my new lifestyle.

At Lincoln Square Synagogue, where my religious growth had been accelerated by my attendance in the beginner’s service led by Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, I was often asked what had led me to become shomer Shabbos. I’d answer that I was writing plays whereby the main character was trying out so many different lifestyles, but by the end of the play, he was returning to synagogue. I decided to follow his lead.

Looking back, there was one evening that ultimately played a major role in my religious growth. It’s time to go back to the day of the church party. Earlier that day, I was alone writing at an eatery. Relatively new to New York, being alone was a recurring theme in my daily life. At least while I was writing I didn’t experience the loneliness and lack of connectedness to others that I felt strongly at other times.

My focus on writing was suddenly interrupted by the sound of nearby sweet, feminine laughter. I looked up to see two beautiful women at the next table. Having walked down the aisle at my chuppah around eight years prior and seeing my marriage within my faith break up in divorce, I was not overly particular as to the religion of a woman I’d meet – particularly if she was stunningly attractive. And the two women next to me were beauty pageant material.

You can’t go out with two ladies at a time, so I paid attention to the one closer to me. I was surprised by how eagerly she responded to my repartee, considering the fact that we were perfect strangers. Usually, even with the best of my witticisms, there would be a longer period of time breaking the ice – perhaps with a few smiles at first and a begrudging response to one of my observations. While being careful with a new guy who’s trying to chat her up is the common modus operandi of women I’ve encountered, this lady (I’ll call her Susan) was laughing and verbally responding right from the get-go.

I passed it off to my irresistible charm and sense of humor, but as I would later learn there was something else going on. During the enjoyable conversation, she mentioned something about being involved with a church in the neighborhood. But I was so taken by her looks and personality (and by her singular wonderful trait of laughing at all of my jokes) that her religious affiliation barely registered.

Then she said something that made me feel good all over. She invited me to a party that she and the other woman were attending that night.

“Yes” was my reply, a millisecond after Susan was done talking.

“Oh good,” she said, obviously very happy that she would see my face there.

“It’s a lot of fun. We play board games. We talk. Everybody gets along.”

It sounded good to me, as I could not remember the last party I had been to. Then I quickly went over in my mind whether I had another commitment that night. No, I was scot-free. And aside from some proofreading work in the early parts of the next three days, I was free to spend time with Susan during the rest of those days. The same applied to all day on Friday and on Saturday after 11:30 a.m. (I spent one Saturday morning a month attending a beginner’s service at a synagogue in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn.)

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/jewish-columns/lessons-in-emunah/important-moments-in-becoming-a-baal-teshuvah-part-i/2012/07/05/

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