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.

A World Without Music

During the Omer mourning period, we do not listen to music. It is one of many customs which reflect our sorrow surrounding the deaths of Rabbi Akiva ‘s 24,000 disciples. Although this is the first day without music, I already feel markedly different. The air is heavier, my mind quieter, my thoughts more somber. It’s as if someone has flicked a switch and plunged us into silence and darkness.

I think it’s fitting.

I recall the Omer period last year, when everything was so different. I didn’t listen to music much then- not as much as I have done recently- and I didn’t stop for the days of the Omer. I was newly observant, and still acclimatising. As far as my memory is concerned, there was no mourning period. I want this year to be different.

I’ll miss the melodies and harmonies as I click the keys; the musical accompaniment to my writing, and the songs which touch my soul. But in some strange way, I like it. It feels appropriate, cleansing, even, and I know that though I might struggle through this time, Hashem is with me, even after the music has stopped.

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!

Gut Shabbes! (Chol HaMoed)

Many of us are feeling on edge. We began the week with cleaning; moved onto Seyder prep; celebrated a two day yontiff;  and then, in all likelihood, forked out an eye watering amount of money on a Chol HaMoed trip. The house is messy already, all the food is unleavened, and you’re exhausted.

Enter the Shabbes Malkah.

We all know how stressful holidays can be, though they are wonderful, and on a yontiff, we spend more time cooking than we do resting. Shabbes is a chance to rejuvinate. Let’s hope that we can all delight in it this week!

In London, Shabbes candles should be lit at 7:38 PM, and Shabbes goes out at 8:51 PM tomorrow. When lighting your candles, please keep in mind Chaim Elozor ben Baila, Moshe ben Hadasa, Moshe ben Ghenya and Chashachana bas Bryna. Thank you and gut Shabbes!

Parshas Shemini: Kosher and Kedushah

Over Peysekh, we traditionally study special Torah readings, but in order to reach my goal of writing a chiddush on each Parsha, I have instead chosen to write about Parshas Shemini, which I feel is one of the most complex and beautiful Parshos.

Parshas Shemini features a stark contrast. After reading about the sacrifices in great detail, seemingly for weeks upon weeks, we’re presented with the laws of Kashrus. It’s initially hard to find a connection. On one level, both topics discuss food in one form or another- the offering of an animal, or the laws of animal consumption. But nonetheless, this is a somewhat tenuous link, and we know from experience that when the Torah places two subjects close together like this, it is to teach us an important lesson. So what’s the connection?

Last week, I discussed how we can make sacrifices to G-d in lieu of the offerings, and drew upon Rabbi Wolf’s solution to this problem, which presented tefillah as an alternative. But Parshas Shemini offers yet another answer. The laws of kashrus are parallel to the sacrifices- and this is why they are placed together in the Sedra.

When we offered sacrifices, we were taking everyday things- grain, and animals, and salt- and elevating their status by offering them to G-d. When we presented them to Him, they were turned from mere flesh and bones into something Holy- a representation of our love for Hashem, and our fear of Him. It may feel as if we can’t do this anymore, as there are no longer sacrifices- but in fact we can, and that is where Kosher comes in.

Kashrus actually follows the same principles as the sacrifices. We’re taking the most mundane thing of all, namely food- something basic which we need to survive- and we’re turning it into something Holy. Something beautiful. Something which, just like the offerings, represents love and fear and also dedication to G-d and to following his word.

Particularly around Peysekh, when Kashrus is especially hard,  it’s easy to dismiss it as a mundane mitzvah. But it’s not. Rather, it’s our very own, 21st-century equivalent of the offerings and sacrifices.

 

Freilichen Peysekh!

Tonight, we begin the festival of Peysekh, in which we commemorate the exodus from Mitzrayim and our subsequent freedom by holding two Seyderim- special meals at which we read the Haggadah- and by ridding our homes of chometz (leaven). From tonight until Wednesday night we celebrate two days yontiff (in which the laws of Shabbes apply with some small exceptions regarding cooking- consult Chabad.org for full details!), and next Monday night through Wednesday night is also a yontiff. I won’t be updating the website on these days, but it is likely that I will be writing on chol hamoed- the intermediary days.

In London, Yontiff candles should be lit tonight at 7:31 PM, and tomorrow (from a pre-existent flame!) at 8:43 PM. The yontiff ends at 8:45 PM on Wednesday. Remember to recite Shehecheyanu, and if you can, please keep in mind Chaim Elozor Ben Baila, Moshe ben Hadasa, aand Chashachana bas Bryna for a refuah shleimah!

I would like to wish all my readers, friends and family a freilichen and Kosher Peysekh. I hope that you find the festival both enjoyable and liberating. Gut Yontiff!