Emunah and Simcha

I learned a lot over these past few days.

I learned about the meaning of Simchos Torah, and the meaning of simcha itself. I learned that I was stronger than I thought, and that I should trust in G-d more. I learned about who and what really mattered at the end of the day- and I learned how to be thankful for these many lessons.

It wasn’t always easy. It was an emotional festival, more so than any of the other yom tovim, but I feel that through the ups and downs of the holiday, through the celebrating and dancing, as well as the tears and doubts, it taught me the true meaning of emunah.

Emunah is loving G-d and His Torah deep down, even at times when it’s difficult to. Emunah is rejoicing in the gift of Torah and mitzvos- but it also leaves room for the natural human doubts and uncertainties. It sounds counter intuitive. How can doubt be a part of faith? Surely it is the antithesis of faith?

But in reality, it’s not so black and white. Emunah doesn’t mean unquestioning, blind faith- at least not to me. It means a sort of faith and love that is so deep rooted that you can afford to question and doubt and wonder and have bad days, without losing your faith.

And this yontiff, I began to realise that for the first time. I realised that loving and rejoicing with the Torah, and being an observant Jew, didn’t mean that I couldn’t have doubts, and that my love for G-d could withstand the trials and tribulations of day to day life. I’m not perfect; there are times when I begin to wonder if orthodoxy really is for me, or if I need to broaden my horizons. And I now know that it’s alright to feel that way, so long as my love for Torah withstands it, and so long as, at the end of the day, after all the ups and downs, I can stand before G-d and thank Him.

Thank You, G-d, for the gift of emunah, and for teaching me how to use it.

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Privilege and Perspective

Sometimes, I feel that Sukkos is supposed to teach us gratitude. This isn’t the mainstream interpretation: many believe that the purpose of living in the sukkah is to focus on G-d and remind ourselves that we are at His mercy, while, of course, commemorating the booths which the Israelites lived in after they left Mitzrayim.

But I am a firm believer of the old adage, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone”.

Of course, our warm houses, with radiators and soft furniture and- joy of joys!- proper rooves, aren’t gone. We live without them for a week, and then it’s (kind of) back to the normal routine (but hopefully not totally normal, as that would mean we hadn’t learnt anything from living in a sukkah). But to me, it’s still an exercise in gratitude. Are you grateful for your house? Well, live in a hut for a week and then you really will be!

And now for a confession: I didn’t have a sukkah this year.

Of course I went to the shul sukkah. Of course I built a sukkah. But living where I do, having a sukkah at home just wasn’t possible. And perhaps this is why I failed at The Gratitude Test. I try to be honest, and a part of that means that I need to admit that I failed. I bemoaned my “miserable” Sukkos before we even got to Chol Hamoed. Being single, with few friends living nearby, and a largely non observant family, I complained that Sukkos hadn’t been truly joyous, in fact, it had been lonely.

I forgot to thank G-d for the wonderful people I saw on Sukkos, albeit briefly. I forgot to thank Him for my health, my fortune, my relatively privileged life. Until one night, someone delivered some very bad news to me. One of my best friends was very, very ill. She had been to the hospital with the conviction that something was seriously wrong- and she was proven right.

That night, I davened in the sukkah. I davened with a minyan, too, begging G-d to heal her, but when I stepped out to the sukkah, and glanced up at the stars, inhaled the sweet scent of the fruit, I lost my voice. Tears streamed down my face. Tears of worry. Tears of uncertainty. Tears of stress. Tears of “You know what, G-d, this is really unfair because she’s a great person and deserves much better”.

I sat down and I thought. I thought about how lucky I had been this Sukkos, to see my friend before her illness set in. How lucky I was, to be healthy, and, yes, how lucky I was to be sitting here crying and not in some hospital bed. The next day, I made a promise to G-d. He was going to heal my friend, and I was going to be grateful. “She’s been through enough,” I told Him. “Just heal her, already”.

And as I sit by the telephone, waiting, waiting, I know I am going to hear bsuros tovos. And I know that in the future, I’m going to be a lot more grateful.

Sukkos and my Fear of Change

It only really hit me this evening just how close we are to Sukkos. I feel a bit overwhelmed; a bit unprepared; but also, I’m looking forwards to the Yom Tov more than I thought I would. Quite frankly, I love Sukkos. It brings joy and memories which I truly appreciate amidst the hectic rush of the other festivals- and it also happens to be endlessly meaningful.

Everything in life is transient- except, of course, for the Torah- but including life itself. As a baalas teshuva, and as someone who seems to experience immeasurable changes on a regular basis in my personal and religious life, I can relate to transience in a truly unique way. In many ways, I feel Sukkos is my festival.

As soon as Yom Kippur ends, we begin building our sukkah, and for a week, we live in it- or at least eat in it- the comforts of our indoor dining table snatched away from us as soon as we’ve recovered from the fast. Then suddenly, Sukkos is over, and we’re taking down the hut we so lovingly constructed, eating indoors again, and counting down the days to the next festival.

It’s a bit of a culture shock to say the least.

And then there’s me. One of my biggest fears is change; one of my biggest obstacles is this fear of change. And as I stood in shul on Yom Kippur, I confessed this sin of resisting change, and I prayed G-d to forgive me and help me. I can’t do it alone, I told Him. And then today, as I sat down to look through the pictures of sukkahs, wondering how I would celebrate the festival, I realised that G-d is sending me a message through the laws of Sukkos.

He’s telling me that it’s okay to be frightened of change. That’s normal. But sometimes, we need to accept it in order to serve Him, and in order to better ourselves. Sukkos is a lesson in accepting not only transcience, and our own reliance on G-d, but also the changes of the world. No matter how hard it rains on our sukkah, the most important things- family, friends, and G-d- lie within our hearts and souls, safe from the forces of the outside world.

Gut Yontiff!

Forgive Me

Tomorrow night is Yom Kippur.
I sit and think of fasting,
Of eight hours spent in shul.
I think of the melodies,
I think of the tears,
The tears I will undoubtably shed.
The tears which fall when I think of you.
I think of the people I have wronged,
And I ask them to forgive me.
I think of the people I have helped,
And I wish I’d helped them more.
I think of those who have loved me,
And I wish I could thank them enough.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking,
A lot of time crying,
A lot of time praying.
And just as the sun peeks over the treetops,
I pray that hope will emerge.
Please G-d,
Write me in the book of life,
Seal me for a good year,
And bestow upon me blessings.

Avinu Malkeinu

This was my first year spending Rosh Hashono in shul, and the thing which struck me most was the beautiful prayer known as Avinu Malkeinu. A day or so after the festival ended, I had difficulty remembering the tune, but the words were imprinted upon my mind, as I read them to mark the Ten Days of Penitence. I immediately began searching for different renditions of the song online, sometimes unable to stop myself joining in with the singing, as the words touched my neshomo in a way that I have never felt before.

Yes, I said it- nothing has ever touched my soul the way Avinu Malkeinu did.

I never normally sing in shul, due to the laws of kol isha (a woman’s voice), but this time, I could not stop myself singing. And as I sang- quietly, lest anyone else should hear- I felt as if I was the only person in the whole world, and it was just myself, and Hashem. My voice broke and I held back tears, as I begged G-d for a good year.

It felt like my whole life was hanging in the balance.

And perhaps, it was. Or at least, perhaps 5778 was. But I know that if this year, I find myself with a fraction of the kovonnoh I possessed in those moments, then Hashem will hear and answer my tefillos. And I know that, no matter what happens to me over the coming year, I will remember those moments spent in shul, crying to G-d and begging him for mercy and blessings.

Gmar Chasima Tova!

The Candlesticks

Many people will be surprised to hear that, throughout my Jewish journey, I have never owned a pair of Shabbes candlesticks. In the beginning, I had to use an electric “candle” in place of kindling Shabbes lights, and later, I began to light candles at relatives’ houses, never really considering buying candlesticks for myself. I never needed to light at home, and candlesticks were expensive.

But today, my arms full of groceries, laden down with tins and packets and even crockery, I set my eyes upon a pair of gold candlesticks and I knew they were mine.

I always imagined that buying my first pair of Shabbes candlesticks would be a beautiful, romantic experience, not one that took place in a crowded little shop, carrying matzah balls and packets of biscuits. But as I paid for them and left, I realised that much of my Jewish journey has been this way. Unexpected. Unromantic. And all the more beautiful for it.

As time passes, I begin to realise that many of us have lost sight of the big picture- myself more than some. We get caught up in fleeting beauty and charm, the trappings of an ‘ideal life’ and forget to cherish the memories and experiences; the moments shared and the laughter spread.

When I make a shehecheyanu on the candlesticks this Rosh Hashono, I’m not going to be thinking about how they could be brighter, or shinier, or more like the candlesticks I see photos of in magazines. Instead, I’m going to think about the beautiful opportunity lying within my hands: the opportunity to spread light.

My Strive For Perfection During Rosh Hashanah

I am very happy to announce that my article on Rosh Hashono has been published by Jewess magazine, a brand new online publication for Jewish women, created by an amazing writer named Kylie Ora Lobell. Seeing my articles published always thrills me, and I am exceedingly grateful to Kylie, for her talent, as well as my friends and rabbi for their ongoing support.

I hope that you find my article inspiring. If you can, take a minute to check out the other articles on this fantastic website, and take the time to let us know what you think.

Please check out my article by following this link!