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.

Inspiration

I usually try to separate my different interests and occupations and in all likelihood, few of my readers are aware of my involvement in the musical world. I aim not to use this blog for promotion; instead, it’s for divrei Torah, Shabbes times, Halachic insights, and thoughts about my own journey of observance. But today, I spent a very long time on a project which ties in closely to this one.

I created a website for a singer I work closely with, named Yossi Obermeister. It took many hours and afterwards, I looked at the website, unsatisfied. The home page didn’t look how I wanted it to. The service provider was dodgy. The domain was frankly laughable. And I closed the window and didn’t look at it again until just now.

Returning to it, I feel strangely proud. It is, at the very least, good enough. While I was in the midst of it, I didn’t appreciate what I’d done. All I saw was my personal faults and what I had done wrong. In hindsight, I think I did a good job, and made the best of what I had. I can see the work that went into it and feel proud of it.

Often, in life, we encounter obstacles and stressful situations which make us feel helpless and useless. In retrospect, we realise that those around us were right and that we weren’t being idiotic or failing. We were trying our hardest and getting through a difficult situation. And that’s why I appreciate Yossi Obermeister’s work so much. His chizuk gives clarity. It gives encouragement. It gives inspiration. And when I’m having a tough time, it reminds me that the future might not be so bad after all.

With that in mind, here’s the website. Please feel free to get in touch with any feedback.

https://yossiobermeister1.wixsite.com/yossiobermeister

Journeying

Today, I spent a lot of time speaking about spiritual journeys. The conversations weren’t especially pleasant, but I was well equipped for them. This morning, before I entered into the world, and began the usual routine of hectic schedules and travelling and, in today’s case, difficult discussions, I took the time to read some of the Parsha. This week’s Parsha, Shloch is especially dear to me. I love it and feel a deep connection with it.

As I’ve read and written about each Parsha, I’ve tried to foster this kind of relationship with each and every portion, but not always succeeded.

As I review the next few parashos, the first ones I studied, I find myself also reviewing my relationship with the Torah. I look back at my first divrei Torah and try to fill the gaps. In many ways, this past week has been like a personal Simchos Torah for me. Not only is it like the end of one cycle, and the beginning of another, but it’s a journey. And like all journeys I go on, I will take with me the wisdom from the first Parsha I truly connected with.

Parshas Shloch.

Parshas Beha’aloscha: Loshon Hora and Teshuva

The very first dvar Torah I remember writing was on this week’s Parsha, Beha’aloscha. It was only a few paragraphs, and the narrative I chose was surely one which has been oft-repeated, but I remember that I was proud of it. As we made our way through the Torah cycle, and drew closer to Beha’aloscha, I began to look upon it in the way a man might think of his bar mitzvah Parsha.

Beha’aloscha didn’t mark the beginning of my interest in Torah. I’d began reading it daily a short while before. But it was this time last year that I began researching the Parsha extensively and writing my thoughts on it. Returning to the Parsha, with the knowledge I’ve gained over the past year- still but a drop in the ocean of Torah- I am still fascinated, like many, with the same episode, but for a different reason.

The episode is, of course, that of Miriam’s loshon hora and subsequent punishment. To summarise- the Sedra ends with Miriam speaking negatively towards Moshe Rabbenu, and being punished by G-d with leprosy, a blemish which required her to be secluded outside the camp for seven days, for which the inhabitants waited and the camp did not move on without her. After the period of time was up, she was allowed to re-enter the camp.

In the context of a modern day setting, there is no camp to be excluded from, and no waiting period to recover from leprosy. But the punishment and seclusion draw a metaphor to our own personal relationships with G-d; something which is relevant to every person, in every generation. In Parshas Beha’aloscha, Miriam is secluded away from the Israelites and distanced from them as a result of her speaking loshon hora. In a similar manner, when one speaks loshon hora, they find themselves distanced from G-d. He is still there; He is still their Creator and Father; and He will still forgive them, but momentarily, they find themselves pulled away from Him.

No matter how we act, G-d is still there. But we can only become closer to Him through loving and fearing him, and through performing his Mitzvos. When we transgress- in this case through the sin of loshon hora- we draw further away from Him. This doesn’t alter His nature in any way; it just means that we need to do Teshuva in order to return to him and enjoy the close relationship which we once had.

Just as the Israelites waited when Miriam was excluded outside the camp, G-d waits for us when we make mistakes. Sometimes He waits days; sometimes months; and sometimes, years. Decades may pass before we truly realise our nature as Jews, and long to return to our Creator. But no matter how much time goes by, G-d still waits and doesn’t let go. May we soon merit to see the day when all Jews return to Hashem, and we witness the arrival of Moshiach- speedily and in our days!

The Mitzvah Which Changed My Life

Earlier today, I was reading a fascinating article by Kylie Ora Lobell, named ‘Why I Pray Every Day’. I felt that I could relate to Kylie’s emotions on every level; although, unlike her, I am not a convert, I feel that, as a baalas teshuvah, I had encountered much of the same uncertainty and confusion. What’s more, her hurried days, beginning with oversleeping and ending with a feeling of stress and a glance at the to-do list sounded so much like my own that I could hardly believe it.

Lately, I’ve been waking up feeling overwhelmed and anxious about the day ahead, spending much of the day- like Kylie- trying to balance housework, writing and a number of other tasks, and going to bed late feeling both exhausted and stressed and yet as if I’ve accomplished nothing. There’s never a moment when I’m not thinking about what I need to do next, if I’ve done enough, if there’s something else to tick off.

Other than when I daven.

Yesterday, I was so busy that I almost forgot to daven. I ended up davening a ‘Belzer mincha’ at an extremely late hour. As I remarked on this, someone else told me that I wasn’t obligated to do such a thing. Very true. But, as a woman- in spite of, or perhaps because I’m not obligated- I derive a great sense of peace from prayer. Admist the hustle and bustle of the day, I take a few minutes away from the tasks and lists and stress and worry and simply talk to my Creator. Yes, I use a siddur, but as I say Tehillim and speak to G-d, my words are anything but rigid and structured.

It’s life changing.

Since I became observant, I took on many things, all of which have helped me in one way or another, if only through bringing me closer to G-d. Tznius, for example, something which was always at least slightly important to me, has given me a greater amount of self-esteem and confidence since I began observing it fully. Torah study, meanwhile, has expanded my knowledge and effected me intellectually as well as spiritually. But there’s nothing quite like davening. Nothing which has enriched every single day of my life in such a unique and special way.

Truly, prayer has changed my whole life.

Thanks

Today, I checked Chabad.org’s “The Jewish Woman” website and found my own article- “The Power of Saying Thanks” there. I had known for a while that Chabad were publishing me, but there’s no feeling quite like seeing your own words on your very favourite website. I was momentarily speechless, then elated. Mostly, fittingly, I was thankful.

I’ve worked hard for this moment. I’ve submitted more articles than I can remember, written more words than I can remember, spent more hours then I’d care to admit. And finally, I’ve done it. It’s a small victory, I admit it. Being published on Chabad.org. It’s not like I’m in a book or a magazine even, it’s not like I’m suddenly famous or admired.

But that doesn’t matter. I’ve achieved my personal goal. And yes, I’ve worked hard, but I know that I wouldn’t be celebrating this moment if it weren’t for a number of amazing people. My friends who have supported and helped me. My family who have been there for me. My rabbis who have encouraged and listened to me. Above all, I’m grateful to the editor of the Jewish Woman, Chana Weisberg, and also to my Chabad rabbi, with whom I shared my articles before I even started this site, and who read and commented on my work while juggling a million other things.

And I’d like to thank you, you who is reading this now, for helping me along the way. Thank you for everything. My article can be found below, and I request that if you enjoy it, you take a minute to comment on the link, so that the article gains popularity on Chabad.org. Sharing on social media is also greatly appreciated. Once again, thank you.

http://www.chabad.org/theJewishWoman/article_cdo/aid/3677091/jewish/The-Power-of-Saying-Thanks.htm