My G-d, My G-d

I found this prayer in an old Siddur. Perhaps few of my readers would have read from such a siddur; perhaps it is too modern, too cutting-edge, too controversial even (and prayer is no place for controversy). And yet, as I read the words on Shabbes afternoon, my neshomo was touched. Prayer bridges all denominations, and when we utter these words together, we are connected as one big family…

Eli, Eli

My God, My God,
I pray that these things never end,
The sand and the sea,
The crash of the waters,
Lightning of the Heavens,
Each human prayer.

אלי, אלי, שלא יגמר לעולם החול והים רשרוש של המים ברק השמים תפילת האדם

Tu B’Av

Another Tu B’Av has passed, only this year, it wasn’t the happiest day on the calendar. Perhaps it’s not permitted to be sad on such a joyous day, but amidst all the flowers and greetings and statements I’ve heard- some despairing, most smug, all disheartening- I’ve found it hard to smile and rejoice. I’ve dwelt upon the past, and I’ve prayed G-d to help me, but sadness remains.

I know that words hold an immense power, but I’m not sure if it’s superstitious for me to wonder if all those times I swore I’d never want to marry left me in this state. Perhaps my vow not to marry was heard by G-d, and perhaps He has decided to teach me a lesson about my words. Perhaps that’s why I sit here, now, reflecting on 15th Av, and wishing it were my turn to say “Soon by you”.

They say man isn’t supposed to be alone, but I’m going to hazard a guess and say that women aren’t supposed to be, either. One thing I know for sure, is that it hurts to be alone when you were happy just a short while ago.

Transforming Learning

In today’s Hayom Yom we read about the importance of truly connecting to Hashem when we study Torah; “Uknei l’cha chaver (lit. “acquire a friend for yourself”) was changed to read v’kaneh l’cha chaver- “the quill shall be your friend”. This was, in turn, interpreted to refer to the “quill of the heart”, meaning that “whatever one learns one must experience emotionally”.

When I read about this today, I began to think about my own relationship with learning. When I read Sefer HaMitzvos, for example, I sometimes feel disconnected. Reading about the laws of keeping slaves and returning property is all well and good in the context of Biblical times, but the promise of “When Moshiach comes these laws will be relevant again” isn’t always enough to make me really connect with my learning.

B’ezras Hashem, in this day and age, there are a number of resources available to make learning accessible and relevant. There are videos and websites, shiurim and Q&As. There is no shortage of material, but unfortunately, I rarely find myself using it. Reading the Hayom Yom this morning strengthened my resolve to do so, and made me want to suggest that we all have an obligation to enhance our learning until we truly feel our souls connecting to Hashem every time we read words of the Chumash, Tanya, or any other text.

Torah study links the Earth and the Heavens, and we have a duty to do everything in our power to strengthen that bond.

Gut Shabbes! (Va’eschanan)

Sometimes, my views and actions attract a lot of attention from both my non observant and Chareidi friends. People seem shocked by my “values” and in many cases, they are shocked that a frum woman could believe certain things. “Why do you want to invite such people for Shabbes dinner? I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that,” or “How can you put up with such a person? I couldn’t, and I’m not even frum”. They feel that because I’m Chassidic, I should stick to mixing with other Chassidim, and that I am free to exclude people based on their religion, denomination or orientation.

I’m not your average Chossid. As someone coming from a non observant background, certain parts of my old lifestyle have stayed with me. I might have abandoned secular newspapers, music and films, but my views sometimes differ from those of major Chareidi rabbonim. I come under fire for this a lot, and sometimes, I begin to wonder if what I’m doing is necessary or even right.

Then I read the Hayom Yom today.

“The Alter Rebbe repeated what the Mezritcher Maggid said quoting the Baal Shem Tov: “Love your fellow like yourself” is an interpretation of and commentary on “Love Hashem your G‑d.” He who loves his fellow-Jew loves G‑d, because the Jew has with in himself a “part of G‑d Above.” Therefore, when one loves the Jew – i.e. his inner essence – one loves G‑d.”

What I do is second nature to me. Supporting someone- anyone- who is having a hard time, inviting people for a meal, or just giving them a chance to vent their frustrations- I don’t do it because it’s a mitzvah. I do it because I love every Jew- and, yes, every Noahide- who I encounter. We may be Chassidim, but that doesn’t mean we should shut ourselves off from those around us. Because when we fail to love each other, we fail to love G-d.

G-d gave us the precious gift of Shabbes in love. This Shabbes, let’s embody G-dliness. Let’s bring Holiness down to earth. Let’s spread love among our neighbours, without stopping to judge them or think badly of them just because they’re different.

In London, Shabbes candles should be lit at 8:25 PM tonight, and Shabbes ends tomorrow at 9:41 PM. When lighting your candles, please keep in mind Chaim Elozor ben Baila, Moshe ben Genya, Moshe ben Hadasa, Shmuel ben Soroh, Chashachana bas Bryna and Shai bas Odeya. Thank you, and gut Shabbes!

Parshas Va’eschanan: The Missing Echo

In this week’s Parsha, Va’eschanan, Moshe Rabbenu continues his repetition of the Torah. He emphasises the unique importance of the events recorded in the Torah, and describes them as unprecedented, before going on to list the Asares HaDibros- the Ten Commandments- and the verses of the Shema, the Jewish declaration of faith. Amidst all these complex details and narratives, there is one short line found in the Parsha which has been commented on countless times and which, perhaps, holds the key to understanding life as a Jew in the 21st century: “With a great voice which was not again”.

This sentence refers to the Divine voice which recited the Ten Commandments to us, and many have attempted to interpret what exactly it means. Some suggest that it refers to a physical aspect of the voice: its power or the fact it spoke uninterrupted. Others believe that it relates to the unique and special nature of the event, an event which will never again be repeated. But the Lubavitcher Rebbe provides a truly dynamic and relevant explanation for these words.

He teaches us about the symbolism of an echo, and what the lack of echo represents: “An echo is created when a sound meets with a substance which resists it: instead of absorbing its waves, the substance repels them, bouncing them back to the void. But the voice of the Ten Commandments permeated every object in the universe. So any “resistance” we may possibly meet in implementing the Torah is superficial and temporary. Ultimately, the essence of every created being is consistent with, and wholly receptive of, the goodness and perfection that its Creator desires of it.”

The Divine nature of the Torah means that no matter how far away society seems from following Halacha, our very existence is in fact in line with the Ten Commandments and the teachings of G-d. Our minds may temporarily become distracted and we may stray from the precepts of the Torah but our souls still cleave to G-d and are permeated by His essence.

The Torah will always “fit in”. Sometimes, society seems as if it doesn’t, and sometimes societal trends tempt us to stray. But in these times- the footsteps of Moshiach- we need to remember what the Rebbe told us about the echo in this week’s Parsha, or rather the lack of an echo. Nothing can repel the Torah, and nothing can resist the Word of G-d. When we all realise this and implement the Torah’s teachings, we will merit to greet Moshiach (speedily and in our days, iyH!).

A Time for Mourning

Yesterday was, in my eyes, the first time I properly observed Tisha b’Av. Between fasting, wearing white, and going to shul for both evening and morning services, I feel that I kept to the day’s laws and customs as well as I could, and, perhaps strangely, I felt proud of myself doing this. As a BT, it takes a lot to wake up at six AM for services and to observe a fast day which is relatively new to me, and not something I grew up with.

But when you look past the day’s practices, it’s what’s inside that matters the most. Abstaining from food and wearing white are mere reflections of what’s going on in our hearts, minds, and- above all- souls. And yesterday, for the first time, I felt a true, heart-rendering connection to the Temples that we lost.

My days are governed by to do lists and streams of thoughts and worries. Other than on shabbes, I write an article every day. I also set reminders to daven mincha and maariv, study Chitas, answer various messages, and deal with household chores. Tisha b’Av was absent of these things. I couldn’t study Torah, and I decided not to write or work. I cried, I said kinos, and I felt my heart ache.

I mourned the Temples and the baseless hatred which had destroyed them. And today, I stopped mourning. I entered back into everyday life. And above all, I resolved to change the world. To mend it. I wasn’t going to sit and mourn; there’s a time and a place for that, and yesterday was that time and place. Today, my role is to rebuild the temple, to counter the hatred, and to make sure that next Tisha b’Av is spent joyously and not in mourning.

May we merit to see the arrival of Moshiach and the rebuilding of the Temple, speedily and in our days iyH.

Tisha B’Av

Beginning tonight, we enter the fast of Tisha B’Av, known as the saddest day on the Jewish calendar when we mourn the destruction of the Temples. To commemorate this tragedy we fast, avoid certain pleasurable activities, and hold special services in shul. If you are a healthy adult who is able to fast, it is forbidden to eat or drink, and if possible, it is advisable to go to shul for the prayer services.

The most basic mourning prohibitions are as follows (thanks to Chabad.org for the information):

Eating or drinking
Wearing leather shoes
Bathing or washing
Applying ointments or creams
Engaging in marital relations
Sitting on a normal chair until after halachic midday
studying Torah
Greeting one another
Wearing festive clothing

In London, the fast starts tonight at 8:50 PM. Halachic midday is at 1:06 PM tomorrow, and the fast ends at 9:29 PM. May we soon merit to see the rebuilding of the Temple and the transformation of Tisha b’Av into the most joyous day of the year, please G-d!