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!

Is This Freedom?

“Don’t make Purim so Sameach that it’s not Kosher, and don’t make Peysekh so Kosher that it’s not Sameach”

I keep seeing this quote from the Bostoner Rebbetzen repeated beneath complaints about the stress of Peysekh preparation, and on numerous chizuk pages. At first, I dismissed it as being just like the famous tznius guideline “Be attractive, not attracting”- in other words, catchy but absolutely useless. But as Peysekh drew closer and I became overwhelmed by the preparations, it began to finally resonate with me.

We’re meant to be celebrating freedom, and we can’t do that by enslaving ourselves.

Just as Pharaoh enslaved us as prisoners in Mitzrayim, we are often our own slave drivers. Between negative thoughts about Peysekh, worries about the yontiff and Seyder, and above all, the hard physical labour preparing for the holiday, we find ourselves miserable and anxious when we should be rejoicing. It seems as if we have collectively forgotten to delight in the holiday.

This can’t be the true meaning of freedom. So this year, I’m trying my utmost to follow the words of the Bostoner Rebbetzen. May we all merit to enjoy a Peysekh which is truly “freilichen” as well as Kosher!

After Purim

For most of us, Purim is over.

The shlochmonos have been given; the coins placed in the tzedekah box; the Megillah read or heard; and the seuda eaten and cleared away. Many of us have been preparing for this holiday for many weeks, and now, a mere day after it began, it’s all over. A few will be feeling relieved- no more planning, cooking, buying; no more noise, no more invitations. But most aren’t. Most of us are disappointed. It’s all over- or so it seems.

But in fact, this is where the real lesson lies. If you’re feeling disappointed, it means that you enjoyed Purim. You miss it already, and probably can’t wait for next Purim. So let’s take a look at what exactly Purim is about. It’s about laughter and joy. It’s about gifts and meals. But above all, it’s about helping others, and spreading the light.

Chanukah isn’t the only holiday which features light. Believe it or not, Purim does, too. We’re sending gifts to friends, feeding others, and helping the poor. What better way to spread light? So if you’re missing Purim, resolve to make every day just like Purim. Resolve to help others and spread happiness, and, just as we do when we read the Megillah, search for G-d everywhere, even when He appears to be hidden.

Taanis Esther

The fast of Esther began today at 4:51 AM, and ends at 6:35 PM.

This is the most lenient of the fasts we encounter throughout the year, and as such, you do need to fast if you are pregnant, and may also be exempt from fasting if you are ill or elderly. In any event, we should remember the origins of this fast day. We commemorate Esther HaMalka’s three day fast, which she undertook in preperation of approaching the king Achashverosh, a selfless act which she performed for all Jews, and could’ve led to her death. Nonetheless, she did it- but only after fasting and asking other Jews to do the same, in an attempt to petition G-d to help her.

Her plan worked, and we survived. But before the joyous holiday of Purim, we need to remember the hardships and struggles which came before it. On this note, I wish everyone an easy fast!

Brochos

I’ve never been good at remembering to say brochos. Memorising them was difficult, and saying them in front of people who are non observant or non Jewish has caused me endless embarrassment. I’ve made excuses for this terrible habit for long enough, until I realised that these excuses probably mean little or nothing to Hashem. He has blessed me with so many wonderful things. Is it really so hard to thank Him for them?

And so, I began a very practical journey to a very spiritual and beautiful mitzvah. Reading about the importance of brochos wasn’t doing much. So I decided I had to start by learning them and buying the necessary materials. Chizuk could come later. Only I found it didn’t need to. Once I knew what to say, if came naturally. And this, in itself, was chizuk. Today, I bought a siddur with the text of Birkas Hamazon, because I realised it was missing from my repertoire. Rather than just waiting, I went out and fixed the problem. And this makes me immensely proud.

There are still some things about the frum lifestyle which I haven’t yet conquered. But this journey gives me hope for everything else to come.

Gut Shabbes and Chag Sameach!

Shabbes is always special. This week, it’s extra special, as Tu B’Shevat, the new year of trees, falls on the same day. Normally, we mark the day by planting trees, but as it falls on shabbes, we can’t this year. Instead, we will be eating different fruits to celebrate. As the holiday falls on the 15th Shevat, many have the custom of eating fifteen different fruits. Some also eat the seven species of Israel. Even if you don’t do this, it’s a wonderful mitzvah to eat a fruit which you haven’t eaten this year, so that you can say the Shehecheyanu brocha! No matter how you choose to celebrate, spend some time thinking about the nature of this special day. The trees are just a part of the scenery to us, but on their new year, we should remember just how crucial they are. Truly, they are a massive gift from Hashem. We partake in their fruits and use their produce on a daily basis, rarely stopping to thank our Creator for them. Tonight, lets change that, by delighting in the gift He has given us!

On that note, I’d like to wish everyone a wonderful Shabbes and Tu B’Shevat. In London, Shabbes candles should be lit at 4:49 PM tonight, and Shabbes ends tomorrow night at 6:00 PM exactly. When lighting your candles, please remember Chaim Elozor ben Baila, Yisroel ben Esther HaCohen and Boruch ben Soroh Gittel for a refuah shleimah. Gut Shabbes!

 

 

Gut Shabbes and Freilichen Chanukah!

This week, shabbes is followed directly by the first night of Chanukah! So after enjoying the Havdalah ceremony, light your Chanukiah (instructions can be found online on Chabad.org), and enjoy its radiance- alongside with latkes and sofganiyos, and perhaps a game of draydel! But first and most importantly, there’s shabbes; in London, shabbes candles should be lit at 3:37 PM, and Shabbes ends at 4:54 PM (after which you can light your menorah). While lighting your candles, please remember Chaim Elozor ben Baila and Yisroel ben Esther HaCohen for a refuah shleimah.

Alongside my usual wishes for a gut shabbes, I’d like to wish all my readers, friends and family the happiest of Chanukahs. Last Chanukah I could never have guessed I’d be where I am now, and the love and light in my life shines brighter than any menorah. A Freilichen Chanukah!