I am a Shlucha

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When I was younger
I wanted to be-
Needed to be-
One of the women in this picture.
A fighter,
A shining star,
A blessing,
A shlucha.
I was going to be a woman who helped others,
A woman who changed the world,
One Shabbes meal at a time.
I was going to bring peace by lighting candles,
And battle the darkness which befell us.
I was going to be a shlucha.
Now I’m twenty,
Unmarried,
No children,
No chabad house to my name.
I’ve never handed out candles,
On a busy London street,
And I rely on others,
When I should be hosting them.
And yet I am a shlucha.
I am a fighter.
A warrior.
Here against all odds,
Jewish despite the obstacles,
And I have faith at times when I can’t work out why.
Each night,
When I open my siddur and thank G-d,
For the gift of another day,
I know I have helped others.
I’ve forgiven when I want to hold a grudge,
Loved when I wanted to hate,
Given when I wanted to take.
I am like the women in this picture.
I always was,
I always will be,
And you are too,
For each kind act you do.

The Rebbetzen

Today is the Yahrzeis of the Lubavitcher Rebbetzin.

When I first came to Judaism, and began exploring the texts and traditions which I would later immerse myself in, I was isolated from the Jewish community. I had no connections to the people and places which I would later stumble across on my journey; all I had was books and the Internet and a desire to learn. What I was really lacking was a Jewish role model- and then I came across the Rebbetzen.

Of course, I never got to meet this amazing, strong, inspirational woman, who died years before I was born. But as I discovered more and more about her, the more fascinated I became. I remember a story about how she saved a man’s life, by pushing him out of the way of an explosion, and when lauded for this act, she simply responded, “True, but I pushed another Jew, and for that, one must do teshuva”. Her selflessness shone through her words and deeds, and I found myself longing to be like her.

The Rebbetzen changed the world through kindness. She quietly touched hearts and minds by making everyone feel like a close, personal friend of hers; no matter who they were or what they believed in. And later, while many of my peers began to carry pictures of the Rebbe, I secretly wanted a picture of the Rebbetzen- something I never found, perhaps because of her distaste for the limelight.

Since then, I have been zoche to meet and be influenced by a number of amazing Rebbetzens. But on Rebbetzen Chaya Mushka’s yahrzeis today, a part of me still wishes I could have met her.

Unity

I rarely post about Chabad on this blog. Over time, I seem to be writing about Chabad and Halachically less and less and focusing more on my own thoughts and experiences. But mostly, I write about what inspires me- and this inspired me.

In the face of division – and when I use that word I include both the Reform rabbis bashing Orthodoxy, and the Frum rabbis throwing people out of communities- gatherings such as this one are a truly beautiful response.

http://www.chabad.org/news/article_cdo/aid/3933011/jewish/3000-Women-to-Honor-30th-Anniversary-of-Rebbetzins-Passing.htm#utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=fb_news

I don’t think that the Rebbetzin OBM would be particularly pleased by many of the things seen in frum communities today. But I think that she is looking upon these amazing women from shamayim with the utmost pride.

The Eyes of the Community

“Rabbis and scholars are called the “eyes of the community” and “heads of the thousands of Israel”; and when the head is healthy, the body is then also healthy.

–Hayom Yom, 23 Adar I”

This quotation from the Hayom Yom, which I came across on Chabad.org today, helps us to understand the true role of rabbonim, dayanim and the leaders of yeshivos. Unlike many, I have never followed the route of blind faith in community leaders: too many times, they have failed their communities by refusing to protect women and children who are being abused, shunning those with questions and concerns, and sweeping very real problems under the rug.

Instead, I like to think that the metaphor of rabbonim as the head, and the community as the body, tells us that we have a right to question what they say, and reminds us that what’s in our soul is more important than what’s in any book or community notice. Although we know from the Shulchan Aruch that we need to respect and honour rabbis, this respect is only awarded to those who deserve it. Like thoughts in our head, we should not give a platform to those who spread hatred or division.

The Hayom Yom tells us that the spirit and welfare of the community is dependant upon good leadership- and similarly, poor leadership tears people apart rather than brining them together. Although rabbonim may be the at the “head” of the community, we all need to follow our hearts and souls as well, and never give in to extremism or hateful leaders.

Gut Shabbes! (Beshaloch)

Today is Yud Shevat, perhaps the most important day on the Chassidic calendar. It is the yahrzeis of the Previous Rebbe, and also the anniversary of the beginning of the Rebbe’s leadership, exactly one year after his father in law passed away. I’ve always felt somewhat conflicted about the nature of Yud Shevat. On the one hand, I felt a sense of sadness regarding the passing of the Previous Rebbe, but on the other hand, the Rebbe’s leadership brought the promise of new horizons and a new hope.

Of course, the only way to tackle the darkness which increases in the world when a tzaddik passes away is to combat it with hope and light, which was essentially the lifelong mission of the Rebbe. And on this day we should think about what we, too, can do to change lives and spread light. It doesn’t have to be a big gesture; simply lighting Shabbes candles, or inviting someone for a meal, can change the world and even bring Moshiach. The power is in your hands to transform your life and the lives of those around you; let us continue the Rebbe’s legacy by using that power for good.

This week, Shabbes candles should be lit at 4:21 PM in London, and Shabbes goes out at 5:35 PM tomorrow. When lighting your candles, please keep in mind Chaim Elozor ben Baila, Shmuel Yossef ben Soroh Malka, Moshe ben Soroh Malka, Moshe ben Genya, Moshe ben Hadasa, Chashachana bas Bryna and Chaya bas Perrel for a refuah shleimah. Thank you, and gut Shabbes!

Gut Shabbes! (Va’eiro)

Yesterday, I wrote about an insight of the Rebbe’s, which explains the miracle of the staff. When Aharon’s staff swallowed the Egyptian serpents, it did so in the form of a staff- not as another serpent. The Rebbe teaches us that this reflects our nature and role in life; we are not warriors, and when we are forced to fight back, we do so without bitterness and vengeance.

Today, I read another chiddush of the Rebbe’s, about the ‘self-sacrifice’ we read about later on in the Parsha. The Rebbe explains that true mesirut nefesh is not to die as a Jew. In many religions, martyrdom is a major part of the faith, but in Judaism, the challenge is to live as a Jew. True, throughout our history we have been persecuted, attacked, and killed, but our duty of self sacrifice comes not in dying but in living. This, in many ways, complements the message I shared yesterday; we are not warriors, we are survivors.

This week, Shabbes candles should be lit at 3:58 PM in London, and Shabbes ends tomorrow at 5:14. When lighting your candles, please keep in mind Chaim Elozor ben Baila, Shmuel Yosef ben Soroh Malka, Moshe ben Soroh Malka, Moshe ben Genya, Moshe ben Hadasa and Chashachana bas Bryna. Thank you, gut Shabbes, and gut Choydesh!

Challenging Texts

This morning, as I always do, I read the Tanya. Written by the Alter Rebbe- also known as the Baal HaTanya- it forms the basis of Chabad Chassidic teachings, and explores Jewish mysticism through a series of analogies and teachings which I can only hope to ever fully understand. But not understanding the Tanya isn’t my only problem. Rather, it’s the bits which I feel I have a pretty good understanding of which trouble me.

I’ll be honest. My interest in Judaism, even before I became observant, has always been rather scholarly. The learning is actually what first attracted me to Judaism; I loved shiurim and Torah study classes, and reading and writing about the various commentaries on the Parsha was always the highlight of my week. I thrived on the intellectual rigour of Judaism, while a part of me remained aware that my interest was beyond the limits of a “normal” baalas teshuva. Frum girls like myself were supposed to stick down to watered down Chumash study, and reading Tehillim, and my passion for study set me apart slightly from most of the other frum women I knew.

But more recently, I reached a point in my learning where my viewpoint changed from one of exploration to one of challenging. External circumstances had made me begin to doubt my faith, and as davening began to mean less and less to me, I turned to the texts to look for answers. Reading the Tanya this morning, I found none. Instead, I found troublesome passages. Things which made me feel confused and argumentative. Things which, had they not been written by the Alter Rebbe, I would declare to be untrue.

Take the section about science, for example. We should not study the sciences of the “nations”, he writes. The message here seems to be “science is goyish and we should eschew it”- and I think “what about Rambam?”. The Rebbe goes on to write about instances in which studying science is permissible- when it leads to furthering one’s faith in G-d, or when it helps one keep the halachos.

Of course, I can’t stop reading here. I’m not satisfied with this explanation. And so, I spend more time than I care to admit working on the issue. I remember all the discussions I had with a scientist, who thought that Torah law was unscientific, and I realise that I don’t belong to either viewpoint- I think both can, and should, be combined. The minutes tick by as I continue my research on this pressing issue, trying to reconcile the Alter Rebbe’s viewpoint with my own, and that’s when I realise why I love this part of Judaism so much.

If there’s one thing which is bound to stop me from leaving Judaism, it’s this. These dilemmas. These discussions. These dialogues. Perhaps this is what the Alter Rebbe meant when he spoke about using science to elevate one’s understanding of the Torah; I’m using my doubts, my lack of faith, and my need to question, not to eschew Judaism, as many have done before me, but to further my love for it. It gives me a platform to explore and learn. Perhaps this was Hashem’s intention all along…

Nittel Nacht

I was always in two minds about the observance of Nittel Nacht. The Chabad custom is not to study Torah on the evening of December 24th, the reason for which is partially spiritual (not wanting to add vitality to the unclean forces which are present at this time) and partly practical (Jews who appeared in public were often attacked at this time, so they refrained from going to yeshiva or kollel). But despite this very good basis for observing Nittel Nacht, I felt somewhat suspicious of it in the past. It seemed too much like acknowledging a day which should not be acknowledged, and so I felt more comfortable sweeping it under the rug.

But this year, as I find myself with a different outlook on the whole December 25th conundrum- balancing family concerns and my own morals- I also have come to appreciate another purpose for Nittel Nacht. Studying Torah, I believe, gives us a purpose. It instils us with a G-dly life force, and by studying Hashem’s laws, we not only honour Him, but advance our own understanding. In short, Torah study is a necessary part of my life. But just as after Yom Kippur we appreciate a glass of water more than ever, perhaps Nittel Nacht will provide a much needed break, and give us a chance to return to Torah study with increased enthusiasm. Perhaps, extraordinarily, we can do what we do best and elevate this night into something very Holy- a chance to strengthen our Torah study over this upcoming week.

For those who wish to observe Nittel Nacht, a useful article can be found here.