Do All You Can

As Yom HaShoah draws to a close, I ponder once again how we can commemorate such a tragedy.

Over the past twenty four hours, I have read numerous inspirational quotes; gazed upon hundreds of stark images; and sat transfixed as survivors recounted the horror of the Shoah. Amidst this horrifying sea of pictures and words, one quote in particular rises to the top of my mind.

I’m handing it over to you. Do all you can.

The Rebbe zt”l uttered these words, and Chabad.org posted them. Is it a coincidence, I wondered, as I gazed at the sepia picture of the Rebbe and read those ten powerful words. Is it a coincidence that this was posted today, of all days?

It’s not.

Silence speaks a thousand words, as I wrote yesterday. But actions speak even louder. And so, we remember those who suffered and those we lost; those who fought and those who died; and as we vow ‘never again’, we also resolve to act. To do something. To do the right thing. To do all that is within our power to prevent something so horrific from happening again.

Do all you can.

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 Splitting of the Sea

Tonight, we stay up all night to study Torah and re-enact the splitting of the sea. After hours of study, we spill water on the floor and dance around it, rejoicing as the Israelites did after their exodus from Mitzrayim.

What a beautiful and powerful custom, and what an amazing metaphor.

Pesach is all about freedom. The exodus from Mitzrayim has many parallels in our own lives, and the splitting of the sea is especially powerful. It represents a miraculous path through our own troubles- the sort of path which appears at a moment when you are lost and hopeless and surrounded by despair. It’s a miracle.

This year, mat we all merit to have our own ‘splitting of the sea’.

In London, the yontiff starts tonight at 7:41 PM, which is when candles should be lit. On Monday candles should be lit after 8:55 PM, and the yontiff ends at 8:57 PM on Tuesday. When lighting your candles, please remember Chaim Elozor ben Baila, Moshe ben Hadasa, Moshe ben Genya, and Chashachana bas Bryna.

Gut yontiff!

The Chabad Movement

“G-d said to Moses: the waters which protected you when you were cast into the River, and the soil which protected you when you buried the Egyptian — it is not fitting that they should be afflicted by your hand.”

I read this Mishna on Chabad.org today, and to me, it summarised the entire ethos of the Chabad movement.

Elevate the corporeal and make it Holy.

Turn darkness into light.

Appreciate everything around you.

Use every resource you have.

I couldn’t pick just one of these messages, so I chose all of them. When we personify these things, we become one of the Rebbe’s Chassidim.

Mending Ourselves (And the World)

Continuing upon the theme of Tikkun Olam (mending the world), we read this fascinating passage in the Hayom Yom; ”A chassid creates an environment. If he does not, he had better check his own baggage carefully, to see whether his own affairs are in order. The very fact that he fails to create an environment should make him as broken as a splinter. He must demand of himself: What am I doing in this world?”.

What initially drew me to this paragraph was how unusual it initially seemed. I wasn’t entirely sure what it meant. What dors it mean, to create an environment?! I spent most of today thinking about it, until I remembered what I had spent a significant portion of last week writing about; Tikkun Olam!

There’s a saying that charity begins at home, and I think, in many ways, this applies to the Hayom Yom. Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t to say that we should rest on our laurels; rather, we should be constantly striving for bigger and better things. But we need to start with what’s closest to us; ourselves. Upon realising this, the previous sentence- ”…see whether his own affairs are in order,” made sense. It’s about self improvement. How can you mend the world when you haven’t mended yourself first?!

On a totally conflicting note, we shouldn’t wait until we’re perfect before we begin helping others. As the Rebbe zt”l said, ”If you wait until you understand the meaning of life, will there be enough left to live meaningfully?”. So let’s begin today. With ourselves. With our actions, our intentions, and our speech. And it may come as a surprise, but as we work on these very simple things, we will realise that we are in fact mending the world at the same time as ourselves…

Parshas Ki Sisa: Man and G-d

This week’s parsha contains a famous episode: that of the golden calf. After Moshe Rabbenu ascends mount Sinai and does not return, the people form a statue of a calf out of their golden jewellery and despite Aharon’s attempts to distract them, they worship it, incurring G-d’s wrath. He decides to destroy the Israelites, but Moshe begs for mercy, and He relents. When Moshe descends the mountain he smashes the stone tablets with the testimony inscribed on them, and destroys the calf, alongside killing some of the idol worshipppers. G-d forgives, but warns that he will visit their iniquities upon their children and their children’s children. Moshe once again climbs Mount Sinai, whre he is taught the 13 Divine attributes, and where G-d inscribes the covenant upon a second set of tablets.

The story of the Golden Calf is famous for a reason. It is rich with meaning, and teaches us about G-d’s mercy and human nature. It’s also an astounding and physically overwhelming scene, which makes it very memorable. But before all of this ‘excitement’ takes place, there’s another passage in the Torah which is perhaps less shocking, but certainly relevant to our lives; the Israelites are commanded to contribute exactly half a shekel of silver to the Sanctuary. Both the rich man and the poor man must give exactly the same amount; one half shekel. While this initially seems like a confusing and unnecesssary rule, it in fact teaches us a lot about the nature of G-d.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe teaches, ”People differ in their intellect, character and talents, in the quantity of their material resources and the timbre of their spiritual sensitivities. But all are equal in the very basis of their bond with G‑d: the intrinsic commitment to Him that resides at the core of their souls. So while every man contributed to the making of the various components of the Sanctuary in accordance with their individual capacity, all gave equally of the silver of which its foundation was made. As regards the foundation of the relationship between man and G‑d, the “rich man” cannot give more, and the “pauper” cannot give less.”

What does this tell us about our nature as a people? It tells us that we’re one. That we’re all equal before G-d. And most importantly, that our external, superficial natures mean nothing; it’s what’s on the inside, what’s in our hearts- and, most importantly- our souls, which really counts for something. In the 21st century, we hear a lot about labels. Labels are for clothes, not for people, one slogan famously declares- and it seems that this very ‘2017’ viewpoint was in fact derived from the Torah, and echoed by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, many years before.

So what can we take away from this? How can we apply it to modern life, when there isn’t a Sanctuary to contribute to? Above all, we should know that as a people, we are all equal and we all have the spark of Moshe Rabbenu in our souls. In fact, we’re like a massive extended family, and our father is G-d. So don’t think that because you don’t dress as a ‘chassid’, or because you’re not as religious as your neighbours, you aren’t  one of his children. You are. Everything else is external. Even your level of observance is- because once you start working on your relationship with G-d, you’ll want to take on more mitzvos. A Jew forever remains a Jew- and, thus, one of G-d’s children- no matter what life decisions they make.