Simcha

Last year, I didn’t want to celebrate Simchos Torah.

I remember it well; sitting on a dark leather couch and wondering how G-d could expect me to be happy when I had lost a beloved relative, mere hours before the festival began. ‘Her soul was rejoicing,’ someone told me later, and although it brought me a relative kind of joy to think of her spending her final days in comfort and happiness, nothing could mend the wound in my heart.

Except time.

Time, great healer of all wounds. I was certain that I could never enjoy the festivals again, not without someone for whom I cared so deeply, but as months passed, I found it easier. I could rejoice without thinking back to that terrible erev Yom Tov; I could smile without wishing she were smiling next to me. But how could I face Simchos Torah ever again?

Today, I’m sitting here, knowing that it is her Yahrzeis tomorrow, and also knowing that as soon as the Yahrzeis ends, I am supposed to be rejoicing. I wondered how I could do it, and then I realised that the answer lay in the one I lost. Throughout the hardships of life, she had overcome sorrow with a relentless joy; with acts of kindness and charity. No matter whom she lost, no matter how she suffered, she was always there for me, always smiling.

This year, I’ve resolved to do the same. This Simchos Torah, I won’t let anything dampen my joy. Because I know that’s what she would have wanted.

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What We Learn From the Festivals

Yesterday, I wrote about Sukkos, and how the observances of the holiday teach us to embrace- or at the very least, accept- change, rather than fighting against it. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this topic, and it’s no coincidence that I’m in a stage of my life where I am experiencing a lot of changes. My lifestyle has evolved more over the past two weeks than it did in the months prior, and I am aware that there are some huge decisions on the horizon.

I start thinking back to New Year’s resolutions of previous years, from before I was frum, back when I used to have one day to make up hasty goals for the year ahead, and I realise that as someone who is frightened of change, and as someone whose life needs to change quite rapidly, I’m blessed to have the Jewish calendar to look to.

It’s not just Sukkos, and the message of transience. It starts much earlier, with selichos- with confessions and regret- and continues through to Rosh Hashono, when we stand in shul for three days, our hopes and prayers for the new year in the forefront of our minds. Of course I think about change. I think about what I’ve done wrong and what I need to change in my life, of the changes I made over the past year and the ones I’m going to make this year.

And then we come to Yom Kippur, almost 26 hours of fasting, davening, and in many cases, weeping, as we beg G-d for atonement, confess our sins and pray to be sealed for a good year. And finally- Sukkos. The big change. The week of living at the mercy of the elements, reminded of G-d’s ability to turn our lives over at any minute. We need to be adaptable, is the message.

A month ago, being adaptable was my biggest weakness. But through the festivals, I’ve started to get used to it. I’ve been given time to meditate upon what I did wrong, time to confess my mistakes, and plenty more time to think about what I’m going to do right this year. Change is in the air- let’s embrace it while we can.

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.

Parshas Vezos Habrocha: Unity and Individuality

This week, we read the last parsha in the Torah: parshas Vezos Habrocha. As soon as we finish reading it, we begin the Torah cycle anew with the first Parsha, reminding us that no matter where we are in the cycle of our lives, we should look to the Torah as our guidance and moral code, for it is always present, and always relevant.

In Parshas Vezos Habrocha, we learn about the brochos (blessings) which Moshe Rabbenu gave to the twelve tribes of Israel. Many feel that these blessings echo Yaakov’s twelve blessings, generations earlier. What is special about these blessings is their unique nature. Moshe Rabbenu does not deliver a standard, placeholder blessing to all the people of Israel. Instead, he focuses on the unique role of each tribe, and empowers them to do that role.

Throughout the Torah, we are reminded of Moshe’s great leadership skills. This is just one example of his extraordinary talent in leading the people of Israel. He spoke directly to the tribes and in doing so, he not only showed his own confidence in their talents, but he also instilled self confidence in them.

Moshe Rabbenu underlined that each tribe had a unique role, and this applies not only to the tribes of Israel, but to each and every one of us. Yes, we share a goal as a people: to bring Moshiach and rebuild the Temple. But we are blessed with individual strengths and weaknesses which we must utilise if we are to achieve this goal.

You exist for a reason. Hashem wouldn’t have created you, if not for your unique purpose on earth. This year, may we all find the clarity to realise this, and showcase both our uniqueness and unity, to bring Moshiach speedily and in our days.

5778

It’s odd to think that I’m sitting before a blank page and writing, for the first time this year. I want to say something revolutionary, something mind blowing- something that will set a precedent for the year ahead. But no chiddushim or divrei Torah come to mind, on an exhausting day following a three day yontiff. So instead, I would like to give everyone a brocha, that if 5777 was difficult for them, 5778 will be easier.

If you had a wonderful Rosh Hashono, I hope that the year ahead will be even more wonderful.

If you found the holiday hard, I pray that every other holiday this year will be joyous for you.

If you have hopes and wishes for 5778, I ask of G-d that they all come true.

If you’re longing for happiness, I wish you a year of unprecedented happiness.

If you’re pining for children, I daven that this year, you get to have children.

If, like I, you feel strangely hopeful, strangely optimistic, but also scared, and anxious to see what the year will bring, I turn towards the heavens and beg that this year, G-d will bring us the peace, the serenity, and the joy that we have spent so many years searching for. May our journey always be marked by clarity, and may we have only joyous occasions from now on.

~A gut gebenscht yohr~

Parshas Haazinu: Trials, Tribulations and Trust

This week’s Parsha, Haazinu, which we read directly before Rosh Hashono, comes in the form of a song, delivered from Moshe Rabbenu to the Israelites, shortly before his death. Although the Parsha concludes in the usual written format, it is strikingly unique and beautiful in the way it is written, as Moshe Rabbenu conveys his instructions to the Jewish people through a musical covenant, reminding them of their past, and telling them of their future. But why is Moshe delivering these powerful words in the form of a song- right before he is about to die?

One of the most well known figures in Jewish history is Dovid HaMelech- the King David. Dovid is remembered for his remarkable eloquence- an eloquence he showcased in the book of Tehillim (Psalms), written almost entirely by him, a book found in Jewish homes across the world to this day. Many read Tehillim daily, as part of studying Chitas (Chumash, Tanya and Tehillim), while others read them on behalf of the sick, or in times of distress. No matter when or why we read them, there is no doubt that Dovid wrote a great many Tehillim in difficult times. His songs and dedications never stop praising Hashem- even though he, personally, was going through all the trials and tribulations imaginable.

Dovid HaMelech was a man of great faith, and it was this faith which inspired him to thank and praise Hashem at every moment, no matter how terrible his life appeared to be. Similarly, this remarkable faith in Hashem is the reason why Moshe Rabbenu sang in this week’s Parsha, even right before his death, when he realised that he would never live to enter the land of Israel. Still, he sang out to G-d and thanked Him, and admonished those who would rebel against Him; even referring to his own sin, when he spoke harshly to the Israelites before striking the rock to provide water, and calling G-d ‘the Rock, perfect is His work’, in reference to this difficult topic.

So what do we learn from the song in this week’s Sedra? What does it teach us about the upcoming year- a subject which is surely on our minds right now, with Rosh Hashono around the corner?

There is no guarantee that 5778 will be a brilliant year. There will, almost undoubtably, be trials and tribulations. There will be revealed blessings, and moments of joy, but there will probably also be hidden blessings; moments which are not so joyful or easy to understand. And throughout it all, we must keep singing. We must keep praising G-d. We must keep trusting in Him, because it was this trust which sustained Dovid HaMelech and Moshe Rabbenu throughout the most difficult times of their lives, and because it is this trust which forms the basis for this week’s Parsha.

Gut Shabbes! (Nitzovim-Vayelech)

So, this is it. The last Shabbes of 5777. In just a few days we’re going to be entering a brand new year, and please G-d, we shall all be inscribed in the Book of Life, and be blessed with a year of happiness, good health, success, and wealth. It’s on occasions like this that I start to feel emotional, thinking back through all the Friday nights and Shabbes mornings I’ve enjoyed this year…

Believe it or not, thinking back is actually a good idea, as Elul draws to a close, and especially when, later on, we prepare to be judged by G-d. So tonight, as we prepare to welcome the Shabbes Queen for the last time of the year, let’s think about how our Shabbes experiences have been, and how we can do better. Have we kept Shabbes, and have we kept it in a way that is meaningful to us? Have we extended our hospitality to others? Have we treasured the day in the way we should? It’s between you and G-d, at the end of the day, but I know that I will be reflecting on these things over the next few hours.

In London, Shabbes candles should be lit at 6:57 PM, and Shabbes ends at 8:02 PM tomorrow. When lighting your candles, please keep in mind Chaim Elozor ben Baila, Moshe ben Hadasa, Moshe ben Genya, Chashachana bas Bryna, Chaya bas Perel, Chana bas Mushka and Rivka Miriam bas Tsivia Bina for a refuah shleimah. Thank you, gut Shabbes, and Shana Tova!