The Gift of Life

One morning, I woke up and couldn’t breathe.

In the moments that followed I silently begged G-d to help me, to save me, to return to me the gift I had taken for granted. Those were the most heartfelt prayers I had ever uttered, and when finally I could smell and taste the air again, I cried out to G-d in thanks.

I will never forget this episode as long as I live.

The feeling of choking and spluttering and gasping for air, as my lungs terrifyingly closed up, was not one which will leave me in a hurry. When I began to breathe again, after what felt like hours of asphyxation, I felt sicker than I ever had done before in my life.

But I was alive.

As I recovered I said the morning prayers. Thanking G-d for my soul and body felt especially heartfelt after what had happened to me that morning, following a bout of sickness. I’ve not felt anything like it since, but it taught me a powerful- if terrifying- lesson.

Never take anything for granted.

The Jewish prayers are unique. Our tefillos are unlike those of any other faith. As a baal teshuvah- returnee to Judaism- I’ve been curious about many religions, and have read and explored their liturgies, hymns and prayer offerings. Within many of them, the central theme of thankfulness is present, but I’ve never seen it explored the way it is in Judaism.

In Judaism, thankfulness is before us every moment of our lives. We thank G-d when we wake up and go to sleep; before and after food; when we pray; when we wear new clothing, and even when we go to the bathroom. Life is one long expression of thanks to our Creator, through our words and through our deeds. This unique, constant thankfulness resonates with us all. When you’ve lost something or someone, you are engulfed with greif but aware of what you had. You realise, at last, how precious a gift G-d had given you.

But in Judaism, we don’t wait for loss to say thank you. We say it every day, for reasons not immediately obvious. Because often, these reasons are the most valid of all.

Teshuva

I thank G-d often for the fact that I became observant.

It’s not come without it’s trials. Expenses, new schedules, family feuds, and, yes, countless tears and moments of frustration. There have been days, particularly early on, when I considered giving it all up. When the difficulty of teshuva overwhelmed me and I wished I’d never begun. But the sadness always passed, as I encountered a new miracle and immersed myself again in the beauty of Yiddishkeit.

Sometimes, I still think- “Imagine if I’d never become frum”.

There are people who live their lives without observance; who were taught the Torah in their mother’s womb, never to touch it again. That could’ve been me. But instead I was blessed. Blessed with the kind of wisdom which allows me to recognise how little I know. Blessed with a beautiful and warm community. Blessed with the knowledge that the One Above is watching over me.

Thank you, G-d, for helping me to do teshuva.

My Exodus

A two day yontiff means a lot of things.

It means trips to shul- walks in the freezing cold, waiting to be embraced by the warmth of the synagogue, the holiness, the harmonies. It means meals. Endless meals, endless preparation, piles of dry, crisp matzah, mountains of green salad needing soaking, plates of coconut macaroons.

And it means a lot of time for thinking.

I think about what I’m going to write after the yontiff ends. I know I shouldn’t be thinking about that. Yet I can’t help but worrying; what if I run out of ideas? So I think, and plan, though I don’t write. But I nonetheless find the break much needed; rejuvenating, even. Have I turned into an old person? Unable to muster the energy to continue my daily activities? No. I just appreciate a holiday. I wince as I realise I don’t actually have energy anymore. I’m not old. Just wary and tired and busy.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t get a little bored on the yontiff. No shopping, no telephone calls, no messages. No signs of life. Shul deals with this. I immerse myself in prayers, in the company, in the latticework of the mechitza and the swirls of the Pesach tablecloth. A home from home.

Back home- or perhaps before shul- I sat on the white paisley duvet and tears sprang to my eyes and ran down my cheeks. I needed to be sick. I blinked away tears and sickness and frowned because I didn’t realise why I was crying. For once in my life I wasn’t sad. Not especially. I was, actually, ok.

I never thought I’d be ok.

Amidst the worries and heartbreak and sickness and sorrow, I’m ok.

Because of the yontiff? In spite of the yontiff? I don’t know. But this year, that was my own personal exodus. To sit there, with tears on my cheeks, and realise that despite it all, I was ok. I wanted to be ok, so I would be. And for some short time, I was. More things came after that. Loneliness and shock and despair. And I wasn’t ok. But I knew that if I worked on it, I could be ok. I could take control. I could make it better.

And that’s what I’m trying to do.

The Supernal Soul

“And I, Daniel, alone saw the vision, but the people with me did not see it; yet a great terror befell them, and they fled into hiding” (Daniel 10:7). But if they did not see the vision, why were they terrified? Because though they themselves did not see, their mazal (supernal soul) saw…
–Talmud, Megillah 3a”

I came across this quote today on Chabad.org, and I found it extremely inspiring. Why? Because I feel that, through the incident of Daniel’s vision, it teaches us an important lesson about the Jewish neshomo, and our personal journeys through life. Many of us- Baalei Teshuva in particular- have moments when we don’t feel connected to G-d. We don’t feel like one of His children (cv”s). It feels as if all the other frum Jews are privy to an amazing vision- and amazing source of Chizuk- just as Daniel was, but we can’t see it.

We shouldn’t despair when we feel this way. I believe that’s what the Talmud is telling us. No matter how far away you feel from G-d, your supernal soul is connected to Him. So no matter how unconnected you feel on a surface level, your soul is witnessing G-d’s miracles and cleaving to Him. Listen to your soul. The rest will follow.

Jewish Blog Recommendation!

Have you ever wanted to read about the struggles of conversion to orthodox Judaism, through the eyes of someone who’s actually going through it? Are you interested in a first hand account of the trials and tribulations, the judgements, the difficulties, the learning, the triumphs, the joys- every little aspect of it, in fine detail?

If so, I have the blog for you.

Just click the link above and started reading. As a baalas Teshuva- a Jew born into a non-observant home- I can relate with the author in many, many ways. Except for her, it’s even harder than it was for me. Every time I see a new post from her, I applaud her courage and strength in the face of an amazingly gruelling process. I hope that you feel the same way, too.

Miracles

Early today, I watched an amazing video by a Chabad shlucha named Chana Weisberg.

She attempted to answer the Purim-themed question ‘Why are there no miracles today?’ by telling us that there were, in fact miracles- ones we encounter on a regular basis without even realising they are miracles (the Iron Dome, for example). She argued that the most miraculous miracle of all was one which appeared to be natural. And on this note, I began trying to find miracles in my life.I couldn’t think of any, and that was when I turned to the Purim story. Why couldn’t I have something as dynamic this?

It was as I thought about this that I realised I was living with the most amazing miracle of all. By celebrating Purim with my family and friends, I was doing something I thought I’d never do. Last year- or several years ago, even more so- I would never have guessed that I could merit to enjoy the festival with a warm community and a family who embraced my Torah observance.

So what if my shlochmonos come from a shop, or if I haven’t planned my seuda yet? I have food in my cupboards, a roof over my head, money to give to charity and gifts to give to my family. And that is the greatest miracle of all.

Shlachmonos

Today, I found myself surrounded by shlachmonos- Purim gift baskets- in every shape, size and colour imaginable. Some were simple and elegant; others were extravagant. Looking at the selection of designs, I began to feel overwhelmed. How on earth was I going to choose one? And who would I send it to? How would I afford it? Could I manage alone? What if I couldn’t deliver it on Purim: what then?

And as I stood there, worrying about the whole Purim dilemma, I suddenly remembered something I wrote yesterday about simchos. About gratefulness. About blessings. Sometimes, we’re so busy with our problems, that we forget to count our blessings. Then I thought about Purim last year, when my family weren’t observant. There were no shlachmonos. No cards. The seuda was meagre at best. And going to shul on the day was unthinkable!

This year, I have a family to celebrate with. I have a time, and a place;  means and ways. I glanced at the shiny cellophane and the colourful sweets, and this time, I wasn’t thinking of the price, of the difficulties. I was thinking of how good it is, to be able to celebrate Purim with those I love.