Sukkos and my Fear of Change

It only really hit me this evening just how close we are to Sukkos. I feel a bit overwhelmed; a bit unprepared; but also, I’m looking forwards to the Yom Tov more than I thought I would. Quite frankly, I love Sukkos. It brings joy and memories which I truly appreciate amidst the hectic rush of the other festivals- and it also happens to be endlessly meaningful.

Everything in life is transient- except, of course, for the Torah- but including life itself. As a baalas teshuva, and as someone who seems to experience immeasurable changes on a regular basis in my personal and religious life, I can relate to transience in a truly unique way. In many ways, I feel Sukkos is my festival.

As soon as Yom Kippur ends, we begin building our sukkah, and for a week, we live in it- or at least eat in it- the comforts of our indoor dining table snatched away from us as soon as we’ve recovered from the fast. Then suddenly, Sukkos is over, and we’re taking down the hut we so lovingly constructed, eating indoors again, and counting down the days to the next festival.

It’s a bit of a culture shock to say the least.

And then there’s me. One of my biggest fears is change; one of my biggest obstacles is this fear of change. And as I stood in shul on Yom Kippur, I confessed this sin of resisting change, and I prayed G-d to forgive me and help me. I can’t do it alone, I told Him. And then today, as I sat down to look through the pictures of sukkahs, wondering how I would celebrate the festival, I realised that G-d is sending me a message through the laws of Sukkos.

He’s telling me that it’s okay to be frightened of change. That’s normal. But sometimes, we need to accept it in order to serve Him, and in order to better ourselves. Sukkos is a lesson in accepting not only transcience, and our own reliance on G-d, but also the changes of the world. No matter how hard it rains on our sukkah, the most important things- family, friends, and G-d- lie within our hearts and souls, safe from the forces of the outside world.

Gut Yontiff!

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Our Sukkah

One of the last times I saw you
It was beneath the boughs of the sukkah,
With citrus scent hanging in the air,
And the stars shining in our eyes.
And we smiled, sharing a private joke,
As you told me to build you a sukkah.
Of course I said yes: we’d build it together,
But it was not to be.
For that winter I stood at your grave,
Weeping, a slip of paper in one hand,
A stone in the other,
A stone which I laid so tenderly,
Upon the mossy earth,
Beneath which you lay- eyes finally dim.
And I thought of my promise,
When sukkos passed last year,
But I couldn’t find the strength,
So for another year I waited.
Today, I saw you again,
Standing in my mind’s eye,
Surrounded by lanterns and laughter,
As I stood in the sukkah I built.
This year, I did it.
Next year, I’ll do it again.
And it will always be for you.

~ In memory of a beloved friend.

Gut Shabbes (And Gmar Chasima Toyvoh)!

Tonight, we enter what is known as the Shabbes of Shabbeses- Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and the second holiest day on the calendar, after the little known Tu B’Av. We abstain from physical pleasure, in lieu of a lofty spiritual pleasure, and unlike Tisha B’Av, this is not a day of mourning, which is why it can occur on Shabbes. Starting tonight, we do not eat or drink, wear leather shoes, apply creams or lotions, engage in marital relations or bathe. Additionally, all of the Shabbes laws are observed- this means no writing, using electricity, or carrying.

Fasting is considered more important than davening in shul, so this should take precedence if you feel that you cannot get to shul. However, if you are ill, pregnant, or elderly, please consult with a doctor to see whether it is safe to fast or not. In London, the fast starts at 6:24 PM, when yontiff and Shabbes candles are lit. It ends tomorrow at 7:29 PM.

I would like to wish each and every one of my readers and friends an easy and meaningful fast, a gut shabbes and a gut yontiff. May Yom Kippur be filled with introspection and meaning, and may Hashem inscribe us all in the Book of Good life. Gmar Chasima Toyvoh!

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.

Avinu Malkeinu

This was my first year spending Rosh Hashono in shul, and the thing which struck me most was the beautiful prayer known as Avinu Malkeinu. A day or so after the festival ended, I had difficulty remembering the tune, but the words were imprinted upon my mind, as I read them to mark the Ten Days of Penitence. I immediately began searching for different renditions of the song online, sometimes unable to stop myself joining in with the singing, as the words touched my neshomo in a way that I have never felt before.

Yes, I said it- nothing has ever touched my soul the way Avinu Malkeinu did.

I never normally sing in shul, due to the laws of kol isha (a woman’s voice), but this time, I could not stop myself singing. And as I sang- quietly, lest anyone else should hear- I felt as if I was the only person in the whole world, and it was just myself, and Hashem. My voice broke and I held back tears, as I begged G-d for a good year.

It felt like my whole life was hanging in the balance.

And perhaps, it was. Or at least, perhaps 5778 was. But I know that if this year, I find myself with a fraction of the kovonnoh I possessed in those moments, then Hashem will hear and answer my tefillos. And I know that, no matter what happens to me over the coming year, I will remember those moments spent in shul, crying to G-d and begging him for mercy and blessings.

Gmar Chasima Tova!

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.

Hear My Voice

G-d, turn your face to me,
Let Your ears hear the sound of my pleading:
As I stand here, looking up, and begging You:
Watching the night sky for a sign that You are there,
Even though I know there won’t be one.
Sometimes it’s like You’ve hidden Your face from me:
Turned away,
Walked out,
Upped and left,
Like so many others in my life.
But I know You haven’t:
You who created me,
You who breathed life into me,
You who gave me the ability to shed tears,
As I shed tears tonight.
I wonder if You cry with me,
And I wonder if you smile,
Knowing it will all be alright.
Please G-d, let it be alright,
For my patience has worn thin,
And I can take no more.