Turn to G-d

Rabbi Meir taught us, “When man is bound up above, he does not fall down below”.

When we focus on G-d and His Torah- the ‘up above’- we begin to realise the fleeting nature of the corporeal world. This doesn’t make us immune to day to day trials and tribulations; but when we experience knocks and blows, we don’t fall down. We remain standing; battered, possibly, but strong. Because at the end of the day, we know that we can put our trust in Hashem.

Being bound up above doesn’t equal an easy life. But it does help us to deal with the problems we encounter. We turn to Torah study; we turn to davening; we turn to G-d Himself. It doesn’t take much to achieve this. Just faith. Put your faith in G-d, turn to Him in times of trouble, and even when you slip, you wont fall.

Think Before You Speak

This morning, I was studying on Chabad.org when I glanced at the daily quote. Often, I get inspiration from the few simple lines displayed on the daily study portal, and sometimes I weave these quotes into articles and divrei Torah. But today, the quote perplexed me. At first, I couldn’t work out why it had been chosen. It quite simply read; ”And Aaron was silent”.

While I pondered over this, trying to find the meaning of these words, thinking of different interpretations and commentaries I’d read, I sat in silence. I wasted no words over my puzzlement, instead choosing to quietly contemplate. And as I realised this, the importance of the daily quote hit me. While I had sat there in silence, I had thought. I had dwelled upon texts. I had used my imagination. And I had reached a conclusion. My silence was constructive.

Sometimes, silence is the wrong thing- or even ossur. In the face of injustice, discrimination, anger or hatred, we need to speak out. We need to argue. We need to correct But lots of times, silence truly is golden. Why? Because when we think, when we explore with our minds, when we pause before we open our mouths, we’re saving others from potential hurt and guarding ourselves against loshon hora. The message of Aaron’s silence is a clear one; think before you speak.

Time for G-d

I began saying the morning prayers as soon as I found a siddur which worked for me- one which was accessible, easy to read, and above all, didn’t take too long to daven from. But over time, my routine became more hurried, and I neglected the crucial five to ten minutes of davening which previously graced my mornings, instead settling for the bare minimum. Between trying to study Chitas, get ready, answer countless messages and emails and sort out any necessary housework, I was left without the time to daven.

Or so I thought.

Then one morning, I accidentally woke up an hour too early. The sun was shining brightly and after I said the Modeh Ani, I started to daven without thinking about it. About half an hour passed before I looked at my clock and realised that I had gotten up an hour early. And yet, I didn’t feel lethargic. I felt ready to start my day, as if Hashem was right beside me, helping me.

Last Shabbes I heard a drosho about the importance of saying the morning prayers. And as I thought about these 2 events, I realised they couldn’t be coincidental. Yes, my life is busy- packed, even. Yes, it often feels like I haven’t a spare moment. And yet… I feel as if saying more prayers is going to make me more productive, less harried. It’s like Hashem is telling me to do this.

From now on, I won’t settle for just saying the Modeh Ani. I’m going to bring Kedushah into the beginning of the day, and hope it graces the rest of my day, too.

Fitting In

Sometimes, I feel that I should write a book about shuls. Something eloquent with a hint of humour, paragraphs of lavish praise and sharp insight among photographs of glittering chandeliers and modest kiddush tables. Or maybe I should stick to Facebook reviews. I was never one for observational comments.

Either way, I am, for better or worse, acquainted with a large number of shuls.

Maybe it’s run of the mill for someone who is becoming frum, but I get the feeling that ten shuls in the space of less than two years is rather more than average. Some of these shuls have been liberal or reform, some modern orthodox, some chabad, some simply traditional. I’ve sat in more womens’ balconies than I care to remember and I could actually write a review of the different mechitzos I’ve stood behind.

I’m not sure if I’m fortunate or unfortunate to have floated between so many communities. Have I ever felt uncomfortable, alone? Without a doubt. Have I wondered if I’ll ever find the right shul for me? Many a time. But now, after much debating and struggling and pleading Hashem for guidance, I think I’ve found my home. Where else but Chabad?

And yet, the feeling of never fitting in has not left me. Only now, it manifests itself differently. If I’m not the one sitting alone, telling myself none of these people want to speak to me, then someone else is. There’s a theory in many games, including Bridge, that if within half an hour, you’ve not worked out who the terrible player is, it’s you.

The moral is: there’s always a terrible player.

And I remembered this theory as I thought about my experience with shuls. Replace the terrible player with the person who doesn’t feel they fit in. The black sheep. The lonely soul. Call them what you want, they’re the equivalent of the terrible bridge player in that there’s always one of them.

Feeling happy and at home in your shul? Great. But in my experience, it means someone else isn’t. I’d love to be proved wrong. I’d love for you to tell me that in your shul, everyone feels a happy sense of belonging. But I just don’t think it’s true. In my past, there’s always been one person who feels like a hopeless misfit. Usually me. And now that it’s not me, I know what my task is.

To find that other misfit and help her feel as at home as I do.

Gut Shabbes! (Shlach)

Earlier this week, I wrote about how the story of the 10 spies in Parshas Shlach represents the importance of physical mitzvos, and that we need to do good and help mend the world through our actions as well as through our thoughts and prayers. Over the past few days, it’s become obvious that Tikkun Olam is needed more desperately than ever, as lives and livelihoods have been lost in my home city. But just as we’ve been reading about physical mitzvos, so have Londoners been out on the streets, performing mitzvos.

We are told to live in the present, and as Jews, that means living in the weekly Parsha. Never before have I seen such an example of living in the Parsha, is thousands have turned out to help those injured or affected in any way, by donating money, objects, and- most precious of all- time. Tiku l’mitzvos. This Shabbes, may we all merit to take part in the mitzvah of honouring and keeping Shabbes, and may there be no more tragedies like those we witnessed this week.

In London, Shabbes candles should be lit at 9:02 PM, and Shabbes ends at 10:35 PM tomorrow. While lighting your candles, please keep in mind Chaim Elozor ben Baila, Moshe ben Hadasa, Moshe ben Genya and Chashachana bas Bryna. Thank you, and gut Shabbes!

Strength in Response to Tragedy

Last Sunday, a Kosher supermarket, near where I sometimes shop, burnt down. The owners were left with nothing; no home, no shop, no belongings. Though overshadowed by the much larger scale Grenfell Tower fire which occurred yesterday, claiming numerous lives and injuring dozens, I was unable to stop thinking about either catastrophe. Both tragic. Both terrifying. Both come into the category of ‘my worst nightmare’.

But amidst so much loss and tragedy, there was a small silver lining.

Chesed. Loving kindness. Community spirit. Tzedekah. Call it what you will- it’s beautiful. Just now, I read that the couple whose lives were wrecked when their shop and home burnt down, have been offered a new home and new jobs by a Jewish businessman. Meanwhile, collection points near Grenfell Tower have had to turn away donations due to the staggering amount of items offered by people trying to help.

There’s no possible way we can view these fires as anything but tragedies. So many lives and livelihoods claimed over the course of a few days; so many dreams wrecked and homes destroyed. But alongside the smouldering inferno of flames and smoke which have caused so much havoc, the fire of Torah and the warmth of loving kindness have done their hardest to mitigate the damage. In times like these, every little good deed counts. Every penny donated and every item offered count for something.

May we soon merit to witness the arrival of Moshiach, and an end to all tragedies, speedily and in our days.

Elevation into Holiness

Earlier today, I was reading an article about shechita. It talked about the spiritual background of the practice, and explained how the ritual slaughter method carried a great deal of meaning. The animals we eat, cattle for example, come from the coarsest environment of all. They live amidst the dirt of the world and represent something which isn’t exactly Holy. How are we to transform this coarse background into something spiritually elevated?

Enter the role of shechita.

When we slaughter animals according to G-d’s laws, we are minimising the animal’s suffering- but there are plenty of rules we would probably rather not follow. They’re difficult to understand, time consuming, or messy. And at the next stage, when we shop at the supermarket, we have to pay more and search harder to find correctly slaughtered meat. It’s a challenge. And it’s through this challenge that we elevate the coarseness into spirituality.

This is why shechita is so important. It’s not about us. It’s about G-d. And through our devotion to Him and His laws, we can take something simple, and make it Holy.