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Weekly Inspiration from Chana

Weekly Inspiration from Chana

Weekly Inspiration from Chana.
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THE (IM)PERFECT PARENT

PARENTING.  Whew! It’s a loaded word!

A great quote from Dr Koslowitz, an acclaimed parent educator and licensed psychologist, in a parenting article I recently read:

“Parenting isn’t linear. When you bake a cake, if you put in the correct ingredients, in the correct measure, in the correct order, and bake at the correct temperature, you’re likely to get the same results each time. It’s a linear process: A+B=C. Linear processes are not scary because they’re easily controlled and easily corrected. If your cake flops, you know what mistakes to look out for. Was the yeast dead? Did the oven get to the correct temperature? Did you accidentally substitute baking powder for baking soda? Once you figure out your error, you can bake the cake again and get different results. 

Parenting is not like that though. The correct ingredients for one kid might be the exactly wrong ones for another. The temperature that worked for you might be way too hot or way too cold for your child. In raising children, the answer to most questions that arise is ‘it depends’.”

This lack of linearity makes it impossible to be a Perfect Parent. All we can be is what psychologist D.W. Winnicott called “good enough” mothers. Only a cake can be perfect. In raising children however, so much is about “it depends”. Which means that we constantly have to reflect, tweak, adjust, mess up, mess up again, and even after we think we’ve got it right, we come to the recognition that so much of parenting is beyond our control. Each of our children are complex and unique little worlds, each on their own unique journey. The journey will meander through the beautiful as well as the difficult, and more often than not, that’s the only way to get there. It is how our children build resilience, inner strength, positive character traits, and faith in G-d, and most importantly- in a way that affords them the opportunities to make these attributes their own.

Yet so often in our attempt to be everything to our children, we strive to be the perfect parent. We fail to acknowledge that so much is beyond our control. As Dr Koslowitz notes at the end of the article: “There is a certain cultural imperative that we have learned about being perfect, and it’s one we have to actively combat”.

And I believe that bringing HaShem into our parenting careers is a critical ingredient in combating this cultural ideal of perfectionism in parenting.

Here’s why:

The Talmud explains that that there are three partners involved in the creation of a child – the father, the mother, and G-d. And that partnership continues into the child-rearing years as well. And hey, if I had to choose a third partner, having G-d join the partnership is a pretty good deal, wouldn’t you say?!

 I try to live with a recognition and appreciation for this partnership from the day my babies are born. I could never do it without G-d as my partner. Not even for a day. I have come to recognize that parenting is about something so much greater than the finite capabilities of two limited human beings. To create a child is to step out of the boundaries of time and space; to touch the Infinite.  We connect to the Divine energy where “Ayin” (nothing) becomes “Yesh” ( existence). And from that place, a child is created, birthed, and raised. 

This recognition inspires me to give G-d a prominent role in my parenting career. After all, this is about something so much greater than just me and my husband. We merited to touch a realm beyond the physical in order to bring a holy soul into this world; a soul with a mission to make this world a holier and more G-dly place. And so, I strive to imbue my home with Torah values and Mitzvot. As I sing the Shema with my kids from the youngest of ages, recite blessings over food, light the Shabbat candles, serve them kosher food, read Torah Bedtime stories, point out the wonders of G-d’s Creations on a nature walk, or give Tzedakah with them each morning, I feel myself bringing HaShem’s presence into my home and into my children’s lives. 

And with each of my kids’ milestones, joyous occasions, and even a cute remark, I strive to turn to G-d in genuine gratitude. He is my Partner. He orchestrates it all. He deserves my thanks.

And with each temper tantrum, difficult discussion, sibling rivalry episode, loss of patience (on my end馃槉), or time that my child struggles with a challenging emotion, I strive once again to turn to G-d. Yup, He’s my Partner in all this after all. Even and especially now. This was and never will be just about me and my husband trying to raise our child. It is about a mission that my child’s soul has in this world. We are simply the lucky ones to serve as the conduits and facilitators for it. And therefore, no, it won’t look or feel like baking a cake. So much about this child’s journey is beyond what I can know and understand. All I can do is my very best to provide love, boundaries, values and inspiration. After that, I lift the burden off my shoulders and place it in G-d’s Hands instead. “Please G-d”, I say “they are your children too. You have a Master Plan at play here. A journey you have intended for my child, one that is beyond what I can fully comprehend. Guide them. Watch over them. Help them along their journey. So that they may know You and feel You with every fiber of their being. So that the choices and values they embrace are aligned with Yours. Because HaShem- as you know, I can bake (almost) perfect cakes- but as a mother, there is no perfect. I can only do my best and the rest is in Your Hands. This is about You and Your Master Plan.”

So my dear friends, keep baking perfect cakes (and share the recipes with us馃槉) But for the recipe of child-rearing, don’t expect perfect. Don’t expect to be able to do it alone. Bring HaShem into the recipe instead”.


Investing in Eternity

 INVESTING IN ETERNITY

My grandparents have never celebrated a Passover Seder alone. Each year found them surrounded -thank G-d – by their children, then grandchildren, and soon after by great-grandchildren. This Passover- with all the COVID restrictions- was the first. The thought of Bubby and Zaidy celebrating the Seders alone from an apartment across the street from my parents, left us children and grandchildren feeling like we needed to do something to brighten their holiday.

Through collaboration and team effort, we were able to put together a gorgeous “Haggadah Accompaniment” filled with pictures of their over 50 children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren enacting the different steps of the Seder. We included humorous memories and meaningful anecdotes from our past Seders together.

Then, at the point in the Seder when the Ma Nishtana (The 4 Questions) are recited, my brothers came over from across the street and stood by my grandparents open apartment window as they asked the 4 Questions to their dear Bubby and Zaidy through the window. My grandparents’ Seders were thereby uplifted and brightened in a profound way.
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I have a dear friend, older than me, who waited many years to get married. As a religious Jewish girl, this was especially difficult. Most of her friends were married in their early twenties, leaving a big void in her life. In what could have been a period of feeling understandably very sorry for herself and unmotivated to connect with friends who were living the life she so yearned for, I watched in awe as her joy and love for her friends only grew. She genuinely and wholeheartedly joined in each of their Simchas; she was there to help, hug, and share in the joy as her friends got married, gave birth, and celebrated each of their kids’ milestones.

Well thank G-d she did get married! The joy of her family and friends knew no bounds. That is, until about a month ago, when her husband contracted COVID-19 and had to be placed in the ICU in critical condition. Now her family and friends, to whom she had been so loyal and connected throughout her many lonely and difficult years, rallied behind her. We prayed, we took on new Mitzvahs, we encouraged and supported her in every way possible. We tried to envelop her in the cloud of love that she had shown to each of us. And thank G-d, with the help of the Merciful and Compassionate One Above, her husbands condition has improved. May he have a speedy and complete recovery.
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One of Chabad of Cary’s larger donors has generously supported us over the course of the last ten years. As the owner of a small start-up, a successful one, yet fraught with risk and financial challenges, I would often ask him how he so joyfully kept up his generous donations even during challenging times. Without hesitating, he replied: ‘I am well aware that while I have seen much success in many areas of my business thank G-d, I can just as easily lose it all tomorrow. But the Tzedakah (charity) I give, will never be lost. It has been bound with a Mitzvah; bound to that which is lasting and eternal.”

Well, he did lose a lot of his business in the recent COVID -provoked economic downturn. And he is as happy as can be. Because in truth, he did not really lose everything. He invested in that which is lasting and eternal. Nothing and no one can take that away from him.
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3 COVID stories.

3 individuals in my close circle, who were negatively affected by COVID.

Yet, their blow was cushioned. At those trying moments in time, they found themselves enveloped by the authentic love, security, and inner peace that only a connection to that which is eternal can offer.

I have been contemplating the source of that cushion. In what merit it was there for them when they needed it most.

I’ve concluded that each of them had expended time and effort to acquire the gift of foresight.

I view “Foresight” as a special gift. We are sometimes afforded the unique ability to look at our lives from the vantage point of “Hindsight”-with all the wisdom contained therein- yet with the chronological positioning to be able to let that wisdom influence the choices we make today. To let that wisdom inform and shape the way we live our lives in the present.

These individuals did just that. They did not just live in the here and now. Rather, they made themselves cognizant of life’s fragility. They contemplated the temporal nature of this physical world. They distinguished between the “stuff” of life that is finite and fleeting, and that which is everlasting: relationships with family, friends, G-d and His Holy Torah.

And they invested in it. Blood, sweat, and tears. At times when it was excruciatingly difficult.

I witnessed all that my grandparents invested, often more than they had, to nurture their large family. And now, their family enveloped them in love as they navigated what could have been a very lonely Passover.

I witnessed my friend invest in her loved ones, giving and caring from a place of authentic love, despite the gaping void within her. And now, her friends enveloped her in love, prayer, and support as she navigated the life threatening illness of her husband.

And I witnessed our dear Chabad donor invest in the Mitzvah of Tzedakah even at a time when he was struggling to pay his own bills. And now, his Mitzvah enveloped him in the security and inner peace of knowing that all was not lost, and with the belief that his Mitzvah would only serve as a vessel for future business success.

These individuals created dozens and dozens of eternal moments in an otherwise temporary existence. And a bond with the eternal is… ETERNAL! It is there in the form of love, connection, security, and inner peace here in this world, often during our most challenging moments, and continues with us into the Next World, after we shed our earthly existence.

I too hope and pray for the ability to live with a little more Foresight in my life. To take to heart the lessons I have learned from these role models. Because to invest in family, friends, Mitzvahs, and Torah study is to plant seeds that will continue to bear fruit for eternity. I hope to ask myself a new question from time to time: “What percentage of your life, Chana, is eternal?” And I hope that the number with which I respond, continues to increase in size over time.

Feel free to join me on this journey馃槉.

 

Confessions of a Highly Sensitive Rebbetzin

 Ask me please what I love most about my Rebbitzin role. Because I love sharing it. Just talking about it makes me happy馃槉.

It’s the PEOPLE. The exquisite souls I have the good fortune of interacting with on a daily basis. That includes you馃槉. Each and every one of you.

And that is why while my day- to-day involvement in Chabad activities and programs has waxed and waned depending on what my children were up to and how much they needed me at that particular period of time (think Colicky Cotlar babies..), there is one area that I never wanted to cut back on. The time I invested in my personal relationships with our community members. Be it coffee dates, heart to heart talks about a challenge they were facing, or a one on one learning session to discuss a new Mitzvah they hoped to take on as the next step in their Jewish journey. AHHH! Each of these are a true labor of love thank G-d.

And so as you can imagine, I have made some interesting observations over the last decade (Can you believe we moved here when Rivkah was just a year old?? But I digress馃槉..) One observation that has really stood out for me and I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: THERE ARE MANY, MANY SENSITIVE SOULS OUT THERE. More than you may realize. In fact, you may not even realize that YOU too are one of them. I’ve seen it in all ages and stages: from toddlers to seniors.

And let me explain what I mean by sensitive. I do not mean easily hurt or offended. I do not mean timid. I do not mean frail and vulnerable with no backbone. The best definition I have yet seen for sensitivity is by Elaine Aaron in her books The Highly Sensitive Person and The Highly Sensitive Child (If you haven’t read them- I highly recommend!!!)

One of the characteristics that she uses to define sensitivity is “Depth of Processing”. In short, she describes it as a keen awareness and deep, thorough processing of everything, even the most subtle and intangible, going on within themselves as well as outside of them.

And guess what happens when said sensitive person meets the Rebbitzin. The Rebbitzin (who herself identifies as a Highly Sensitive Person-wink emoji) sees another key element at play: a soul craving spirituality and an authentic relationship with HaShem. Thirsting to connect with his/her own soul, the soul of the world, and the soul of others. This thirst runs deep. Because to the sensitive person, a life devoid of these elements isn’t life. They simply aren’t satiated by what many would consider to be a rich and happy life: school, work, family, vacations, eating, sleeping, exercising, even going about the motions of religious observances and traditions (operative word here being “motions”) like attending High Holiday services or eating latkes on Chanukah. They are too in tune to the deeper meaning of life, to the soul that lies at the heart of everything, to just accept life at face value. They demand more. They need to connect to the essence of life. To its purpose. To its soul.

They are craving authentic Divine spirituality. It is not a luxury for them; it is absolute necessity. It is life itself.

But often they are oblivious to the cry of their soul. All they see and feel are the symptoms: The feelings of anxiety, sadness, resentment, overwhelm, tension, and confusion that begin to fester. They struggle to understand why they find themselves internalizing the most subtle stimuli around them. A flicker of sadness in the eyes of another, saying good bye to a parent leaving on a business trip, the cry of a baby at a Bris, an aging uncle, looking at baby photos of their children. Why life often feels so dense and heavy.

 (NOW A VERY VERY IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER HERE: Many of the symptoms mentioned above are real, must be taken seriously, and often require a trained professional. Nothing I am saying here is intended to take the place of a licensed professional. However, what I am saying is that there is a spiritual element to these symptoms as well that begs to be noticed and addressed.)

Unlike your favorite Teflon coated pan in which you love to fry your eggs, things don’t easily bounce off of these highly sensitive souls. They are take it all in. Think deeply into it. And take it to heart. And the sad part is, they often walk around wondering what is wrong with them. Why they cant hear a friend talk about a problem without feeling drained. Why separation is so hard. Why they cant be satisfied with the typical routine of life that the others around them seem to be handling just fine. They feel handicapped and different. Because unfortunately our society doesn’t really promote or value the sensitive soul. Calm cool and collected seems to be the name of the game in our world today. And so often their voices aren’t heard. But there is so very much that is right with them. Their souls shine brightly through the physical body and world that houses them. Souls that cannot accept the sorrow, the pain, the superficiality of this physical world. Souls that demand more. Need more. Cannot live without more.

They crave an inner peace that only an authentic relationship with HaShem can offer. A relationship comprised of prayer, Mitzvot, and Torah study. A relationship that sheds light on the purpose of life. That reveals the essential goodness in all of Creation. That trains us to see Divine Providence- G-d’s Hand orchestrating every minute detail of each individual’s life. That throughout the challenges, tears, and trials, lifts us into the Hands of HaShem and reminds us that He and He Alone carries us, watches us, and waits for us to call to Him with all that is in our hearts and minds. That beacons us to live with the security that we never ever walk the path of life Alone. That we were designed by a Master Artist- HaShem Himself- and intended to be just the way we are; we can relax and feel comfortable in our own skin.

Each Mitzvah we do, even (and especially!) the ones that we find more difficult or intimidating, are nourishment for the soul. They quench a deep thirst that it has to connect with the essence of Life- HaShem Himself. It plugs us into our Source. Even if you didn’t feel especially inspired by that particular Mitzvah; your soul was nevertheless nourished. It is fuller. It is feeling an overall satiation. Like it is home where it belongs.

(As a side note, I will venture to say that even if your experience with religion has not been a positive one up until this point, don’t confuse the messenger with the message. Perhaps finding a new teacher or mentor to teach and convey the message of Torah to you is in order. It can make all the difference.)

So treasure this gift of sensitivity. Don’t call it a mid life crisis. Forget the red convertible (winking emoji). If you feel overwhelmed by the world around you, this may be part of a very special package HaShem gave to you, as well as to many of the people around you. The gift of a fine tuned soul. That feels and internalizes. That needs to connect to the essence of Life in order to live Life. That is yearning for an authentic relationship with HaShem through Torah study, prayer, and Mitzvot.

True, it may sometimes feel easier and lighter to be Teflon coated. But there is a depth and richness to life that sensitivity brings with it. It is a gift. A blessing. Celebrate it!

Reflections from the Annual Chabad Womens Conference in NY

 Just got home from a beautiful weekend in NY/NJ thank G-d where I attended the Annual Chabad Womens Conference. Sitting at the Gala Banquet last night, the culmination of the weekend’s many workshops and sessions, with over 3,000 of my fellow Rebbitzins and lay leaders from (literally!) every corner of the globe, the emotion I felt most filled with was that of HOPE. Hope for our future. Hope for the world’s future. Hope that we really are working towards a time in which the world will be filled with great light, joy, and G-dliness. That amidst all the darkness and negativity that seem to engulf us, there is a tremendous and ever-increasing amount of powerful positive energy emanating into the world around us on a daily basis.

And it was an extra special kind of positive energy I felt last night in that room. It was so soft and so powerful all at once. It was the light of feminine energy. 3,000 empowered women sitting in one room, with one goal in mind: To recharge, re-inspire, and re-empower themselves to go back to their posts in every corner of the world to spread light, joy, and positivity. The light of Torah, Mitzvot, and Ahavat Yisroel- unconditional love and concern for a fellow Jew’s physical and spiritual wellbeing. And WOW! There were some pretty incredible stories shared on stage last night, portraying the self sacrifice and Ahavat Yisroel of Chabad emissaries and their lay leaders. I was left humbled, inspired, and above all, filled with HOPE.

It was in the merit of the righteous women that the Jewish people were redeemed from slavery in Egypt many years ago, and it will be in the merit of the women of our generation that we will be redeemed from the long, dark Exile in which we find ourselves today.

So dear women on this Whatsapp chat: Please know that each of you are part of a very powerful network of women. A network that is changing the world’s landscape; person by person, Mitzvah by Mitzvah. Add your precious Mitzvah to the ever growing beam of light that we women are working to project into the world. Each Mitzvah makes that beam a little brighter, and in effect, a world that is a little more luminous.

L’chayim to us women!!!!

What My Son's Excema Taught Me about Kashrut

 About 3 years ago, we had my son Levi tested to see what was causing his eczema rashes. Gluten turned out to be the culprit. He’s been off of it since and it has thank G-d made a tremendous difference. What I found incredible was not just the physical improvement, but the emotional one as well. He no longer seemed irritable and anxious.

Food is a pretty big deal in our lives, don’t you think?! Its effect on our physical and emotional health is tremendous. Hence the saying: “You are what you eat”. Just ask the person suffering from celiac. The nutritionist who helps the child cut back on their sugar intake and sees amazing results in their behavior. The football player who has a strict diet regimen to ensure maximum weight gain, strength, and health.

Well then, it doesn’t seem to be too far a stretch to say that food has a tremendous impact on our spiritual health as well.

In fact, the great Maimonides was once in Yemen and came into contact with an extraordinary Torah scholar. Their friendship developed and this great scholar would write to Maimonides with many Torah questions to which the latter would send responsa.

One day, the Yemenite Rav wrote a letter to the Rambam (Maimonides) asking a certain philosophical question with which he was struggling. After some time, the Rambam wrote back: “Investigate your shochet (the one who slaughters and koshers your meat).

Shocked at having received this response, the Yemenite Rav immediately investigated his shochet and found that he had been feeding the community non-kosher meat for the past thirteen years!

It is interesting to note that the Rambam (Maimonides) was not known as a mystic; he is best known as a great Rabbi and Royal Doctor, known for his logical, legal, and rational approach to Torah.  Yet, he sensed that someone of the Yemenite Rav’s caliber of Torah learning could only ask such a question if a seed was implanted within him that went contrary to Torah beliefs. When the Rambam thought about it, the only conclusion was that he was unknowingly eating non-kosher food.

Wow! That’s a pretty powerful idea! The kosher status of the food we eat has a tremendous impact on our spiritual sensitivity.

Now to explain: What does spiritual sensitivity mean?

We all have a holy soul; a Divine Spark bequeathed to us by G-d at birth. Given to us regardless of anything we do right or wrong. It’s our birthright.

But the soul is in a physical body, living in a mundane world, which by very definition masks the G-dliness in all of Creation. How fine- tuned the soul will be to its inherent connection to G-d, how easily it will be able to sense and appreciate itself, the soul of others, and the soul of the world will very much depend on its sensitivity to Kedusha- holiness. And there are many ways to nurture and develop that sensitivity. Kosher food is a biggie.

And before you dismiss spiritual sensitivity as a beautiful and lofty goal but not one of the items you feel the need to work on in the immediate future… Spiritual sensitivity actually plays a greater role in our lives than we may realize. Just think of some of the character traits you may be working to improve in right now. Perhaps some of the areas you find yourself working on are: Forgiveness, Judging others favorably, Seeing past your own struggles to help another in need, Appreciating the Light, Joy, and Purpose in a world that often feels so dark, and many others.

Guess What? With a fine- tuned spiritual antennae, these labor-intensive perspectives become so much easier to attain. It’s like donning a new pair of glasses, “soul lenses” that color the way you look at yourself, others, and the world in a whole new light.

I’d love to hear (in the Comments section below this article) from those of you whose homes have been koshered over the past years. Who bravely took the plunge. And some of you that koshered your homes are amazing cooks and have a real appreciation for good food! Please tell us what it was like for you.

Ultimately, we don’t know the reason for the Mitzvah of Kosher; as opposed to Mitzvahs like giving charity or visiting the sick, which are not too hard to rationalize. Kosher is the type of Mitzvah called a Chok. We accept them as Divine Decrees given to us by G-d despite their incomprehensibility to our finite human brains. (Similar to when your husband picks up his socks from the floor simply because you asked him to do so, even though it is completely incomprehensible to him as to why it would be meaningful to you:馃槉) But we trust that the Creator and Designer of Life itself does know best. The One Who created food, created my body, and created my soul. I’m pretty sure He knows how they are meant to be used. Just as I’d trust Steve Jobs to explain to me the best way to use all the functions that an Apple device can offer; I’d feel pretty confident that he knows what He’s talking about馃槉.

So the impact that eating Kosher food has on our spiritual health is NOT the sole REASON behind the Mitzvah. But it is a true benefit, a very powerful effect that it has. And a glimpse into its impact on our spiritual sensitivity helps us appreciate the Mitzvah just a little more. 

OK, so having said all that, and because the words “going kosher” can evoke feelings of intimidation and overwhelm, I am going to briefly break it up into four steps here. Its easier to digest when you see the steps involved. And remember: Its not an all or nothing proposition. It can be taken one baby step at a time, letting the process evolve.  (And for those of you that already keep kosher, let me know if you’d like suggestions on how to “upgrade” your level of kashrut to the next level.)

 

Stage One:

• Buy only kosher meat.

• Avoid eating meat together with milk.

Stage Two:

• Buy only products that bear reliable kosher certification. You’ll be surprised how many items on the grocery store shelves are kosher.

• Divide your pots, pans, and cutlery into “meat” and “milk” groupings, even though you previously may have used the newly designated “milk” spoon for “meat.” (You may want to mark your utensils with their new designations, so that you do not mix them up.) This is good practice for what’s yet to come—practice that will help minimize mess-ups once your kitchen is kosher.

Stage Three:

• Invite a rabbi to your home to survey the kitchen. He’ll advise you on how best to divide the “milk” and “meat” sections. He will also help you determine which utensils can be made kosher, and which will have to be replaced.

· The big day: The sinks, oven and utensils are koshered.

Stage 4

YOU DID IT!!! Enjoy your new Kosher kitchen. Call your local Chabad Rabbi anytime with questions as they arise!

Sleep: Spiritual Detox

 Looking for a good detox regimen?

Did you know that our bodies have a natural detoxing system that they utilize each night while we sleep? As we sleep, our inner cleaning squad goes to work and removes all toxins that have accumulated in our brain throughout the day.

Kabbalah teaches that everything in the physical world is a mirror reflection of a spiritual truth and reality in the Higher Worlds. So yes, you guessed it. While your body works to rid itself of harmful toxins as you sleep, the soul is undergoing a spiritual detox up above as well.

Why specifically while we sleep? Because, that is when it is free!

Let’s use death as a comparison. After all, our sages tell us that sleep is 1/60th of death. (I know..death is not exactly what you want to be thinking about on a Wednesday afternoon, but just for explanatory purposes here).

When someone passes away, the soul is liberated from the limitations of the body and the physical world that housed it. As a result, its faith and love for G-d become that much stronger. Its relationships with others become that much deeper.  It lives in a purely G-dly reality.  A reality where there is no strife, no tension, no conflict. All is pure and good. 

BUT…

To do so, it must first undergo an intense cleansing process. It needs to be purified from the effects of any unholy speech, thoughts, and actions that it endured while alive in a physical world.

Sleep is a microcosm of this process. 

When we sleep, the soul is no longer limited by the constraints of a body. It doesn’t have to eat and sleep and wash the dishes.  It isn’t thinking about politics or sports. Its power to think isn’t slowed down by the conscious human mind, it’s power of vision not regulated by the physicality of the human eyes. This lack of consciousness allows part of the soul to ascend higher and reach places that it cannot go during the day, while awake.

And then, with this newfound spiritual energy, we hopefully awake in the morning refreshed, and energized with renewed vigor to maximize the potential of the new day that awaits us, a day laden with golden opportunities to fulfill our mission here on Earth: connecting to G-d through Torah study and Mitzvot.

It is for this reason that we say the words “Shehechezarta Bi Nishmati” (Thanking G-d for restoring our soul to us) in the Modeh Ani prayer each morning upon awakening. There was a part of our soul that departed from our body during sleep, ascended to new spiritual heights Above, and has now been returned to us by the grace of the Living and Merciful G-d.

BUT…

That happens best when we first do our part before sleep to cleanse ourselves of any “spiritual toxins” that lie in our conscious minds.  That is why the Shema said before retiring to bed for the night is a very auspicious time for self reflection. Many holy and righteous individuals would spend hours performing a Cheshbon nefesh – a detailed accounting of all the speech, thoughts, and actions in which they had engaged during the day. Anything that was negative and unholy, they worked to release through a heartfelt resolve to improve in the coming day. They cleansed themselves of this negative energy thereby opening their “spiritual pores” to receive the new G-dly light that they looked forward to receiving while they slept.

And now friends: I have a most amazing prayer recommendation to prep you for this nightly spiritual “soul detox”. I highly recommend adding it to your Shema routine before bed. (This prayer is said before the Shema.) But warning: It can be a tough one. Ready to hear why? In this prayer, we cleanse ourselves of any hurt feelings, grudges, or resentments we may be feeling towards another. In other words, we practice Forgiveness. Easier said than done, I know. And let me tell you, there have been many nights I have had to really sit and think, do a little meditation, and some inner work before saying this prayer. But boy was it worthwhile! With forgiveness in my heart, I was able to then turn to G-d in this prayer and ask Him to forgive me. To cleanse me of the mistakes, intentional and unintentional, that I may have done that day. I fell asleep in peace knowing that my soul was prepared to detox above as I slept below .

“OK”, I hear you say: “Forgiveness for minor offenses is hard, but doable. It often brings us closer to those we love. Like a rope that is cut and then bound together by a knot. The knot now connects the two pieces of rope in an even stronger way than before it was cut.”

“But then there are the bigger offenses that we may have been subject to. What about the terribly hurtful things that someone may have done to us? What about the person who never even asked for forgiveness?”  What forgiveness looks like in such situations is a difficult and sensitive topic to discuss.  And beyond the scope of a Whatsapp post. I deem it better discussed in person and so I am saving that for an upcoming Shabbat Womens Prayer Circle discussion馃槉 ) Stay tuned..:)

 For now though..here is the prayer preceded by a brief meditation. I would love to hear your thoughts after implementing this prayer into your nightly bedtime routine.

It’s probably one of the toughest and most sensitive subjects to discuss. And beyond the scope of a Whatsapp post. But to explain briefly..

( VERY IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER HERE: I am not discussing evil acts here like theft, terrorism, abuse, and the like G-d forbid. These are cruel and evil acts that we have a responsibility to stop and punish as harshly as necessary, to ensure that we and our loved ones remain safe and secure. Rather, I am referring here to hurtful actions like family members who do not talk to one another, someone spreading rumors about you, and other very hurtful acts. This differentiation is very important to the discussion below so that its lesson is not taken out of context.)

What makes the Forgiveness conversation so tough is that it touches upon some deep but difficult ideas. Because Forgiveness is about recognizing that our soul is on a journey. And that part of that journey, as long as we are in Exile, will include encountering hardships along the way; hardships which were ordained by G-d to happen to us. NOTHING happens due to bad luck or coincidence. There is purpose and yes, a good purpose to it all. But we don’t always merit to see and understand what that purpose is. Which makes it SO SO SO difficult at times. But it is this foundational Jewish belief that lies at the premise of FORGIVENESS.

If everything that happens to us is ordained by G-d and is a part of our soul’s unique journey, then what is meant to happen to us will happen regardless. What is left to be determined is how this will play out. G-d has many agent He can work through. So the hurtful incident was meant to happen The person that chose to hurt you in this way chose

Joseph is my Forgiveness Role Model. Talk about family drama… His brothers sold him into slavery, separating him from his father for 22 long painful years!!!!! And yet, what does Joseph say upon revealing himself to his brothers?!?                         He recognizes that this was ordained from G-d to happen to him. He recognizes that these painful events were meant to happen to him for some Greater Reason- they were somehow a part of his soul’s journey.

But here is the big “But”: G-d could have made Joseph undergo this hardship in many different ways. Our sages tell us that G-d has many agents that He works through. The fact that Josephs brothers chose to do this was absolutely wrong and for this they had to undergo much suffering and hard inner work to repair their relationship with HaShem and Joseph.

However, as far as Joseph was concerned, forgiveness meant ridding HIMSELF of the hurt and toxic emotions. Joseph’s forgiveness did not lessen the severity and magnitude of his brother’s sins. It did not make their actions right or OK. What it did do however: Cleanse him of the anger, resentment, and victimhood that threatened to engulf and paralyze him.

Sometimes we feel, like Joseph, that we have been sold into slavery by another. We feel shackled and chained by the terrible words and actions of others. In these instances, forgiveness is freeing yourself from this emotional prison. Recognizing that for some Greater Reason unknown to us, we were meant to endure this pain. And we leave our oppressor to deal with the consequences of their horrible actions; chains, that in truth, they shackled around themselves.

It is hard. It is painful. It takes a tremendous amount of faith in G-d. It is incredibly liberating.

Here is the prayer below in Hebrew, English, and transliteration.

Would love to hear your thoughts….

Autumn Recipe Exchange

 Personally, I love this time of year. After living here for almost ten years now, thank G-d, I think that autumn is officially my favorite season here馃槉. The crisp cool weather, the gorgeous foliage colors, crunchy leaves underfoot on our beautiful family walks, and of course, the flavors and aromas of my autumn inspired dishes that I love to create at this time of year.

And so on this lovely Wednesday morning, with Thanksgiving menus on many of our minds, I thought it would be fun to initiate an Autumn Recipe Exchange amongst us women here. I’d love to share a few of my favorite recipes here and then I’d love to hear some of yours. 

But of course, as this is our Jewish Women’s Connect Whatsapp group, my job will be to add the appropriate “bracha”/blessing said on each of the recipes you share. After all, Thanksgiving is all about expressing our gratitude for all the many blessings we can count as our own. How beautiful it would be to recite the appropriate blessing on each of the delicious dishes at your Thanksgiving table. Happy cooking and feasting..and blessing making!!

Note: The blessing on all three dishes below is “Mezonot”. When you have a food with multiple ingredients, one makes a blessing on the most substantial ingredient (For example: On cereal and milk, one would say the appropriate blessing for the cereal, as the milk is considered secondary to it. The same for pasta and cheese, etc ) In foods with a grain as one of its ingredients, the grain is usually considered the most substantial ingredient and therefore determines the blessing on that particular food. Hence Mezonot being the blessing on all three “grain” recipes below.

Here is a link to all the blessings. https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/90551/jewish/Texts-of-Blessings-Before-Eating.htm

And I still have some more of those really nice pocket size cards with all the blessings that I am happy to mail out to you if you’d like. I have already mailed out a bunch to many of you that requested them. Just private message me your address and I’ll stick it in the mail for you.:)


Sweet Potato Pie:

6 sweet potatoes, peeled and halved. Boil in water until soft. 

Meanwhile in separate bowl, mix the following ingredients:

½ tsp salt

9 T honey

¾ cup vanilla soymilk or almond milk

2 T oil

3 eggs- check for blood spots first (blood in an egg renders it unkosher)

Mash sweet potatoes. Add honey mixture. Mix well. Pour into frozen store-bought pie shells. Sprinkle with cinnamon on top. Bake at 450 for 10 minutes. Then reduce temp. to 350 and bake for 45 minutes. ENJOY!!


Apple Cranberry Crumble

6 Granny smith apples peeled and sliced thinly

In a separate bowl, mix together:

4 1/2 cups flour

2 1/4 cups sugar

3 scoops vanilla sugar

3 heaping teaspoons cinnamon

Add oil to bowl and pinch with fingers until it forms a nice moist crumble

Pour thin layer of oil into 9 x 13 glass baking pan. Heat oil in oven for about 15 minutes until very hot. Layer bottom of pan with half the crumble. Add all apples on top. Sprinkle about 1 cup fresh cranberries over the apples. Layer with remaining crumble so that the apples and cranberries are covered with crumble. Squeeze lemon juice around perimeter of pan and a few squeezes over the middle as well. 

Bake on 350 for about 1 hour until apples look very soft and mushy. (You can see apples through sides of the glass pan) You can serve this as a side dish or as a dessert with vanilla ice cream. YUM!!!

 

Pumpkin Muffins 

4 eggs (check for blood spots first)

2 cups sugar 

1 cup oil

Mix well

Add and then mix well:

2 tsp baking soda

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp cinnamon

2 cups flour

Add and then mix: 

1 15. oz can 100 percent pure pumpkin

Optional: You can fold in a cup of chocolate chips or Craisins

Spoon into well- greased muffin tins and bake on 350 for about 15 to 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. ENJOY!!

 

Embracing Opposite Emotions

 Have you ever had an epiphany that was so simple yet so profound?

I had one such experience some years ago. I was reading a reflection from a very special Chabad rabbi who had lost his wife at a young age leaving him widowed with young children. The Rabbi described attending a family member’s wedding a short while after his wife’s passing. His grief and mourning knew no bounds; may no one ever know of such sorrow. At the same time he described the joy he felt that night for his dear family member who was celebrating the happiest day of his life. And so, though the last thing he felt like doing that night was dancing, he allowed himself to be pulled into the circle of dancers. To be lifted for a few moments into a different world. A world of joy and bliss. The dancing that had previously felt like a dishonor to the grief and sorrow, now took its place in juxtaposition to the joy and celebration. With unbelievable inner strength, he had carved out a space in his heart for both emotions to rest.

I read it a few times. I pondered its deep message. And then it hit me. So simple, yet so profound.

Our hearts can carry and even embrace two opposite emotions. And to embrace one emotion does not mean to deny the other one.

May no one ever have to internalize this message in the wake of such horrific tragedy. But think about it on a smaller scale. How many times a week we grapple with this very challenge.

“How can I cook dinner for her after her recent surgery? Do you know how badly she hurt my feelings last month?”

“How can I come to Shabbat services? Do you know how much anger I feel towards G-d?”

“I cannot show up to that community gathering. I am feeling too down to be around people right now.”

Two emotions. Both feel very raw and very real.

Compassion and hurt. Anger and Connection. Participation and Isolation.

They feel mutually exclusive. But they are not.

Our hearts can carry and even embrace two opposite emotions. And to embrace one does not mean to deny the other one.

Where do we get the strength for this?

In one word: G-d. We need to be touched by the Infinite.

The more we work to bring G-d into every facet of our daily lives and deepen our faith in Him, the more space we make for this miracle to occur .

Because to connect with G-d, the great Infinite Almighty G-d, is to tap into the Infinite within ourselves. A place that is not limited to one emotion or the other. A place in which two opposite emotions can comfortably reside. Without being in conflict with one another.

In addition, a life lived with G-d at its center, a life that we recognize is not lived of our own accord, opens us up to G-d’s call of the hour to us at a given moment. When we are feeling sad, down, afraid etc. we are cognizant of the fact that we answer to a Higher Power- G-d, and what He asks of us at this particular time. It empowers us with the ability to embrace bravery, joy, compassion, and connection even if we’re feeling anything but that.

This is G-d’s call of the hour to me at this moment.

G-d is asking that I embrace both emotions right now.

And He is giving me the strength to do so.

As a nation, we have lived with this reality throughout our long and difficult exile. We have carried the hardships of “Galus” with broken hearts and tear filled eyes. And yet, those very same hearts and minds have carried abounding faith, joy, optimism, perseverance, and Jewish pride, determined to make the world a bright, kind, and G-dly place. May we merit the coming of Moshiach speedily in our days, when no longer will our hearts have to carry emotions that seem to tug us in opposing directions. Rather we will be filled with ONLY joy, faith, connection, peace, and G-dliness.

Tea Essence

What a blessed whirlwind the last month has been thank G-d! Holiday after holiday with many Shabbats sprinkled in between; a continuous flow of prayer, cooking, meals, inspiration, guests, Mitzvahs, and family/community connections. So much to process, so much to internalize.

I kinda think about the month of Tishrei like “tea essence”. Have you ever made tea essence? It’s pretty cool. You put a bunch of tea bags (you can combine different flavors if you’d like) into hot water and let them steep for a while. What you’ll get is a concentrated tea liquid. You can then store it in the fridge and use the tea essence as you would a tea bag. Add it to hot water and you got yourself a nice cup of delicious tea. But don’t make the same error I once made and mistake that tea essence for regular tea. Whoa that tea essence stuff is very concentrated- way too intense to drink on its own. It’s meant to be diluted into many individual cups of tea.

Likewise with the month of Tishrei. You have to admit, it’s a pretty intense month. I mean from all the hours we spend at services on the High Holidays to the fasting on Yom Kippur to the many Mitzvot of Sukkot to the intense joy and celebration of Simchat Torah (if you have seen the Rabbi after an hour or so into the dancing on Simchat Torah, you know what I mean馃槉馃槉馃槉…) Yup, to me it feels like that super concentrated tea essence. I couldn’t keep that up all year. But I am not meant to. By creating that spiritual concentration of inspiration and connection, we then have our very own store of tea essence to pour into each individual day, week, and month that follows in the New Year ahead.

I have been trying to use the last couple days since the conclusion of Simchat Torah on Tuesday night, to think of one or two teachings/ moments of connection with G-d/ Mitzvah goals I hope for,  that  I can now bottle up and store for the coming year. So that they may flavor my thoughts, speech, and action for the coming year.

And I’d love to hear from you now: Was there a special “Aha!” moment you had this past month over the many holidays we celebrated? A specific teaching or insight that touched you deeply, a moment of inspiration, a special feeling of connection to G-d and to your own soul, a desire to live more Jewishly this upcoming year…If you’re comfortable sharing with us, we’d love to hear!

 And now, with my tea essence in hand, I wish you all L’chaim! L’chaim to a year filled with deep and meaningful “neshama” connections: to G-d, to our own soul, to the soul of others, and to the soul of the world. A beautiful year awaits us G-d willing! LCHAIM!!!

P.S. G-d willing I’ll be back to my regular schedule now of posting my weekly message on Wednesdays.

 

Being the Good for Another

 Have you ever seen a quote that really resonated with you? I recently came upon one such quote.

It went something like this: “Sometimes when it feels like nothing good is happening to you, remember that you just might be the good thing that is supposed to happen to someone else today”.

I remember getting a call recently from someone I know who is going through an excruciatingly difficult time in their life. One I do not wish upon anyone G-d forbid. I picked up the phone expecting to see how I could be of assistance to them. But no! This person had called to see how I was managing with my 9 year old son leaving home to live at his grandparents this year in order to attend a Jewish Day School (as we serve as Shluchim in a small town without a Jewish Day School).

I was speechless to say the least. My son is thank G-d doing well and though we miss him dearly, we are so happy that he is surrounded by loving family and friends in NJ and will be home to visit often. My missing him coupled with the joy of where he is was a simple bittersweet emotion that we parents experience in many ways throughout our parenting careers.

 

But nevertheless, this friend of ours took the time to reach out for one purpose: to check in and make sure I was OK; to let me know I had been on their mind constantly over the last few weeks. No words came to me at that moment. Just tears. How on earth they had found the mental and emotional space to make room for something so small, relative to the all consuming issues they were facing, confounded me and simply melted my heart.

The ability to see past our own troubles, challenges, and hard days and reach out to another in need is truly an exemplary “Middah”. Often, we are so enmeshed in our personal difficulties, that it seems impossible to make room for another.

The Torah tells us that by nature we are Gomlei Chasadim- those who do acts of kindness for another. We are wired to see past our own life and all that consumes us and into the soul of another, to what they may be needing or feeling.

To be a Jew means to live from a place of “Or”- light. As the Torah describes the plague of darkness (Exodus 10:23):“No person could see his fellow...,for three days; but for the children of Israel, there was light in all their dwellings" 

The ability to "see his fellow" is the way Torah defines darkness vs. light in this passage. Because true light is the ability to see, not just on a physical level, but on an emotional and spiritual one as well, into the soul of another. To live from a place of light is to radiate empathy, sensitivity, and genuine Ahavat Yisroel for another, despite the darkness that seems to engulf us at times.

And something miraculous happens in the process: We are uplifted too.

Because we are connected. Essentially bound to one another. And when I reach out to connect with you, soul to soul we are now bound, and together we uplift each other. 

Sister to soul sister we are intertwined. Through our symbiotic relationship, we bring healing and joy to the world. I lift myself out of the mud for a moment to reach out to you. And as my hand extends to you, pulling you higher and higher, I in turn feel myself carried by your love and care. Together we now soar. Higher and higher.

 

So dear friends: make today the day you reach out to another. Even if you’re not feeling it right now. And allow yourself to feel that tug from the other. That is you being lifted. Higher and higher. Together you will soar.

Blessings: A Conversation Between Me and My Kids

Recent conversation between me and my kids: (the abridged version馃槉, with some adult lingo thrown in here for clarity’s sake)

Kids: “Why did HaShem make us with a need to eat?”

Me: “Great question! Well, let’s think: Why do we eat? Or the flip side: what would happen if we did not eat?”

Kids: “If many days went by without eating, we couldn’t survive.”

Me: “Aha. So we need food, something outside of ourselves, in order to survive. Well, imagine if HaShem had not made us that way. Picture being able to just go and go and go day after day without eating or drinking.”

Kids: “Would be so cool!” (Apparently someone forgot how much they love mac and cheese for a moment there馃槉馃槉)

Me: “Hmmm…But we might also begin to think that we can survive without any outside life source. We might start to believe that our lives are lived by virtue of our own strength and power. So I wonder if our needing to eat so many times a day (yes, for those of you that know us…Cotlar children like to eat so many times a day馃槉馃槉) is a way of HaShem giving us so many opportunities each day to never forget that our lives are not lived by virtue of our own capabilities. Our reliance on a food and water source outside of our bodies for survival, is a very tangible reminder that we human beings depend on something outside ourselves for every breath we take, namely HaShem, the One that breathes life into us anew every single second of the day. Hence, the Mitzvah to say a special blessing before eating and drinking in recognition of this.

Bingo! It actually resonated with them. I thanked HaShem for putting the right words into my head to help answer their question.

I must say: The different blessings said on the various food groups is actually one of my favorite Mitzvahs to teach my kids. There they are sitting at the table, about to excitedly dig in to their bowl of mac and cheese or frosted sprinkle cupcake. But then: Pause. This is my moment to teach them to use their uniquely human gift of mind over matter. To remember the true Source of their food and nourishment. To recognize that their life is gifted to them each second of the day and night by a Higher Divine force. To thank G-d. And with the recognition of where our every breath comes from, comes the reminder of how that life is meant to be used: to make the world a more G-dly, holy, kind, and beautiful place.

And only then do they dig in to said mac and cheese馃槉

With the approaching holiday of Rosh HaShana, some of you have asked me for ideas for a New Years Resolution (aka new Mitzvah) idea to work on for the coming year. This conversation with my kids brought to mind this most beautiful mitzvah of the blessings recited before eating and drinking. After all,  Rosh Hashana is all about asking HaShem to be our Ruler and King once again. To once again breathe life into us, our families, communities, and the world at large each and every second of the new year ahead. How appropriate then, for those looking for new Mitzvah ideas, to take on the Mitzvah of reciting the appropriate  blessing before eating. (They are short- just one sentence long).

And so I have an offer for you. I’d love to be a part of this special Mitzvah. Private message me and I’ll mail a pocket size bracha card to you with all the blessings in Hebrew and English to keep in your purse for an easy and convenient way to assist you in saying the correct blessing before eating and drinking. It won’t take long to learn the different  food groups and their respective blessings. It can actually be a fun process to figure out which blessing is said on a particular food. (And maybe just maybe one day we’ll have to have a Jewish Womens Brachos (Blessing) Bee at Chabad of Cary!!:)

Looking forward to hearing from you!

For now though, I gotta run and put up another pot of mac and cheese馃槉.

High Holidays

 The High Holidays are in the air.

When you think Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, how do you feel?

 “Huh?” I hear you ask.

But yea, you heard me right. How do the HIGH HOLIDAYS make you feel?

“Hmm…Give me a minute”, you say.

After all, you’ll need a few minutes to pause and actually relive the High Holiday experience. To really feel what it feels like. Only then, will you be able to articulate the feelings they evoke.

By way of example from a far more physical and mundane scene; one we can all relate to:  It’s Sunday afternoon. The family is hanging out together and someone suggests ordering in from a local restaurant. “Great idea!”, Mom says. Turning to everyone, she asks whether to go with pizza or Chinese takeout. “Hmmm…Give me a minute” you say.

Why do you need a minute? You know what you like to eat. What is there to think about? What will you know after that minute that you hadn’t known before?

 

Simple. You KNOW what you like to eat. You don’t need a minute for that. But in order to decide what kind of food you’re in the mood for right now, you do need a little time to FEEL how pizza will taste and FEEL how Chinese food will taste. Only then, do you opt for the Chinese (if you’re a girl after my own heart馃槉)

Because there is knowing something and then there is actually feeling it.

Enter the holy month of Elul. The month preceding the High Holidays. A window in time gifted to us by G-d. A time to think about the approaching High Holidays. To learn and to know what those Holy Days mean to us as Jews. But much more than cognitive recognition and abstract knowledge, it is a time to work on the deepest form of knowledge: Truly feeling these ideas. Owning them. Allowing them to transform our paradigms and day to day living.

Because while pizza and Chinese food may only take a minute or two to feel, the High Holidays need a lot more time to be felt. A whole month.

A month to really feel the feeling of approaching G-d on Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur as         AVINU-our Parent and MALKEINU- our King.

MALKEINU-Our King. Master of the entire Universe. Creator of Heaven and Earth. Think about the bird’s eye view you have when flying. You look out the airplane window. You can’t discern a group of people, let alone an individual. Think about G-d’s view. The entire universe. The cosmos. The myriads of spiritual worlds and realms. And yet, to G-d you are His entire universe. The whole world was worth creating just for you. His deepest most essential desire is to connect with you through the Mitzvot you do.

Imagine a distinguished figure that you revere. They hardly know you, but boy, do you know them. You have read every book of theirs. Follow them in the news. Know every bit of advice they’ve ever given anyone. They are your ultimate role model. Imagine getting a call from that person one day. Asking for a favor. They need you for something that only you can do for them. Do you care what it is they are asking? Of course not! Little ME is needed by BIG him/her?!? I’m humbled and honored beyond words to connect with them in this way.

Yes. HaShem, Ruler and Master of the entire Universe put your soul into this world because He wants a relationship with You. He asks you to fulfill the Mitzvot. The ones that excite you and even the ones that don’t. Little ME is being asked to connect to Malkeinu-the ultimate and Infinite King of all Kings- HaShem Himself.

Feelings of awe fill us. Reverence. Humility. Yearning to connect.

AVINU- Our parent. No love can mirror the love of a parent to a child (assuming it is a healthy parent-child relationship of course). G-d is the Ultimate Parent. He created you. Has been there with you for every joy and every sorrow. Every triumph and every downfall. The celebrations and the challenges. As life meandered through the beautiful and the painful, He was right there with you. He knows you better than you know yourself. He knows your strengths. Your weaknesses. Your personality. Your potential. How hard you have tried. How badly you want to do good. Whether you always succeeded at it or not.

Our hearts are filled with a longing to fall into G-d’s loving embrace. To feel the comfort and security of knowing we are in G-d’s hands. Our loving parent. The G-d that knows me better than I know myself. I matter to Him on the deepest of levels. A yearning to return to Him fills me. To return to my roots.

As a child, as the month of Elul approached each year, my mom would read to us from the wonderfully vivid description written by the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe (Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, 1880-1950) of how this Elul season felt in the town of Lubavitch, where he was raised. The Previous Rebbe writes that “a breeze of Teshuva (re-balancing/re-prioritization/return) could be felt in the town”.

As a child, that imagery of a breeze resonated with me. To some extent, with the approach of Elul, I could feel that breeze in my own home. In my community. In my school.

The people around me seemed a little more focused on their spiritual Avodah. On helping others. On prayer. On their choice of words in conversation. Less frivolous talk and chatter. There really was a palpable Teshuva breeze in the air.

The people around me were pausing to think, reflect, and then feel. Really feel.

To feel the feeling of approaching G-d on the High Holidays as our parent and as our King.

To feel how life looks from that vantage point. My priorities. My relationships. My goals. My day to day living as a Jew.

After a month of this inner work, the High Holiday experience is a transformative one. Wisdom alone is not enough to transform. The power of change lies in the wisdom that bears fruit to feeling, experiencing, and owning.

So my friends, let’s get into Elul mode. For the next month, the wind of change is at our backs. It’s a time of inspiration. Sometimes it may be subtle as a faint breeze, but it’s always perceptible to the spiritually awake.

Feel it. Use the opportunity.

The weather’s right.

 Play the Avinu Malkeinu tune below as you take a few minutes to think, reflect, and then FEEL.

The tune is playing. You are thinking. You are feeling. AVINU. MALKEINU.

And now I ask you once again: “HIGH HOLIDAYS”. How do you feel?

And I have a feeling that your response is no longer “Huh?”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g-ottJ5Ie0Q

My "Uninspiring" Message

Today’s post is the uninspiring post. Wait!! Before you stop reading (after all, I did promise you inspiring messages with this Whatsapp group), please hear me out for a few minutes 馃槉馃槉

Let’s be honest. If someone were to approach me and ask: “Do you feel proud and grateful to be a Jew?” an immediate YES. “Do you strive to connect to G-d and your Jewish heritage through Torah study and Mitzvot?” Yes again. “Do you find each Mitzvah inspiring and fulfilling? Here is where my answer changes to SOMETIMES.

Yes, that’s right. Let me explain:

If souls could be categorized by type, I’d classify myself in the “Type Spiritual/ Emotional” category. Prayer, song, meditation, a Chassidic farbrengen, a heart to heart talk with someone in need- I am there. Fully. In these moments, I can feel my soul’s power turning ON, radiating energy waves to every limb in my body. I feel alive, inspired, charged.

But there are other Mitzvot that don’t have that same effect on me (I wont enumerate those right now..Not all my secrets at once馃槉). They don’t necessarily trigger my spiritual/emotional antennae.

And that, my dear friends, is how I learned the difference between SPIRITUALITY and JUDAISM. So often we mistake them for being one in the same.  But there is a subtle yet profound distinction.

Simply put, spirituality feels spiritual ( Duh, you say馃槉) But lets think about it for a minute. Spirituality has no defined boundaries or parameters. It can be anything beyond the physical and material. As such, we seek out a spiritual path beyond our earthly existence that leaves us feeling uplifted, inspired, motivated, at peace, connected to a deeper place within ourselves.

And make no mistake about it. Judaism SHOULD feel like all those descriptions above. It should feel uplifting. It should feel inspiring, motivating, peaceful, a way of connecting to a deeper place within ourselves, etc. As we say in the V’zos HaTorah prayer sung in shul each Shabbbat upon the lifting of the Torah: “D’racheha Darchei Noam V’chol N’sivoseha Shalom..The ways of Torah are pleasant and its ways are that of Shalom-peace”.

But it does not end there. Because Judaism is not just a path of spirituality. It is so, so, so much more. It is a relationship. An eternal, unbreakable, and essential bond that we, finite human beings, share with Our Creator- HaShem.

And we all know that relationships don’t always feel and look like peaches and cream at any given time. Sometimes we don’t feel inspired. We don’t see how doing or not doing XY or Z for the other in our relationship will make a difference. But that is exactly when the relationship reaches a pivotal point, a defining moment. That is when we do it just for the other. Simply because that is what they have asked of us. Because it makes a difference to them. We show up. We do what we have to do (or don’t do what it is were asked not to).

Sounds uninspiring? Perhaps.

But, commitment to a relationship? You bet!

The beauty unique to a real, committed, and loyal relationship has just emerged.

You’re officially connected, authentically connected.

You are in a real relationship. And that is priceless.

That is precisely why truly successful people do not measure their success by how much money they make or which car they drive. Truly successful people recognize the loved ones in their lives with whom they share an authentic relationship, as the true litmus test of their accomplishments in life. And that is why, in our old age, (G-d willing, may we all live to a ripe old age), all that matters are the loving family and friends that surround us. Real relationships have no price tag.

Is it hard work? Of course! It’s kinda uninspiring to be uninspired. But the results, the connection born from putting aside one’s own feelings for the other, Ahhhh! Priceless indeed.

My friend recently recounted a conversation she had with her father as a child that left an indelible impression on her. Her mom really wasn’t feeling well one day. Her mom decided that it must be from the mold created by the very large pile of autumn leaves decomposing on their lawn. Though the doctor didn’t see this as a plausible cause, her mom felt that these leaves were the culprit. And so without missing a beat, my friends father asked her to join him in getting rid of the leaves. Her father was a distinguished Rabbi with an extremely demanding schedule. He was the last person you’d see doing yardwork. But he raked away every last leaf, not even wanting to hire someone to do the job for him. My friend turned to him at one point as they were raking and asked “This is a huge job. Why are we doing this. Do you really think this will even make a difference in the way Mom feels?” And then came her father’s words, which have stayed with her to this day: “That is not the point, sweetheart. All that matters is that this is what Mom needs from us now”. Powerful!

Let’s keep on doing and increasing in those Mitzvot that come naturally to us. That feel spiritually uplifting from the get-go. Judaism should feel beautiful, joyful, spiritual. Each Mitzvah is so very precious and forges an authentic connection with HaShem. 

Then, let’s also take a few minutes to think about those other Mitzvot. We all have them. Those Mitzvot that feel uninspiring to us or perhaps too daunting to even take a first baby step in. Perhaps its praying at a time when you’re just not feeling it. Or discussing with the Rabbi how to designate an hour or two on Shabbat to shut off all gadgets and electronics, driving, and working, to observe Shabbat with family and friends. Maybe it’s a discussion about how to take the first steps in keeping a kosher kitchen.

No, it may not feel as inspiring or spiritually fulfilling (at first) as the Mitzvah of visiting the sick or attending a Shabbat synagogue service. But there’s a powerful energy that lies precisely there. Here is where you get to turn to HaShem and say “This one HaShem- is just for YOU!”

Hard at first? Its very possible. But the deepening of this unbreakable bond with the Infinite, HaShem Himself, Creator of Heaven and Earth…AHHHH! Priceless….

Boker Tov!

On this lovely Wednesday morning, I have the word “FARGIN” on my mind. It’s a Yiddish word. I can hear my grandmother saying it now. She uses this word all the time in conversation with me.

For those of you, that were in attendance at our Shabbat Womens Discussion group some time ago in which we discussed the topic of “FARGIN”, you know where I’m going with this conversation. But no worries- I deem it important enough to review and discuss again, so come along with me for the ride, be it a review of our previous discussion or for the very first time.

The first time I used the word FARGIN in conversation with my husband, Rabbi Yisroel, he asked me to translate, having never heard of this Yiddish word before. I tried. But no English translation I could think of seemed to do the word justice. The best I could think of was “rejoicing in another’s joy”.

But it means so much more. Let me try to explain. 

To FARGIN is a Middah- character trait- so fundamental to being a Jew. If the basis of the entire Torah is the Mitzvah of Ahavat Yisroel- loving another as we love ourselves- with authentic, unconditional love, then the Middah of FARGIN stands at its helm.

Because to FARGIN means to WHOLEHEARTEDLY and AUTHENTICALLY be happy for another’s blessings, joys, celebrations, successes, position of power etc.

What is the big deal one may ask?

A great Chossid by the name of Reb Mendel Futerfas once remarked: “To commiserate in another’s suffering, anyone can do, but to truly and genuinely rejoice in another’s joy, that takes a Chossid to do.

At first glance, it seems puzzling. Of course our knee jerk reaction upon being asked whether we’d rather celebrate another’s joy vs. sorrow G-d forbid, would be the former.

But stop and think for a moment:

Add the words WHOLEHEARTEDLY and AUTHENTICALLY to the way you rejoice.

Now throw in an area of life that you are currently struggling in or waiting for your blessing in. The other person is rejoicing upon reaching a place you so desperately yearn to be. A place you are struggling to be.

Ok now answer the question.

 And a Chossid means so much more than wearing the Chassidic garb. Reb Mendel was referring to one who works to study and internalize the teachings of Chassidic Philosophy. We can all do that, regardless of level of observance.

Because through the study and practice of Chassidut, a slow, subtle, yet transformative change begins to occur in the way we view ourselves and the way we view another. We begin to see life through a new lens: from a ‘soul perspective”, from a higher reality. Here are some of the ways this new perspective manifests:

1)   We begin to feel a true and genuine soul love for another developing within us. Such genuine and altruistic love to the point where I can put aside my own struggles in this very area of life that my friend is rejoicing about, and be truly happy for them!!

2)   We also learn to appreciate and truly feel that being happy for another’s success will only serve as a vessel for blessings in our own lives.

3)    We recognize that success in not a zero-sum game. The other person didn’t take anything away from you. Everyone has their own destiny and journey.

Yes, on second thought, the Middah of FARGIN can be a challenging character trait to attain. It has so many manifestations, often subtle and subconscious in nature.

Think about waiting years to get married, get pregnant, see “Nachat” from children.

Watching someone take on a leadership role at work, synagogue, volunteer organization that you wish you could have.          

Aaron, the brother of Moses was the ultimate “Farginner’.

It is fascinating to note that of all the worthy qualities that Aaron possessed, and there were many, the Torah chose to introduce him as a farginner.

It was at the end of a week-long negotiation session between G鈥慸 and Moses. G鈥慸 was urging Moses to accept the leadership position He was offering. Moses didn't want to hear of it.

"Moses' reluctance was because he did not want to assume 'superiority' over Aaron his brother, for Aaron was both older than Moses and a prophet."

Indeed, in the words of Moses, "Until I took his place, Aaron served as the Israelite prophet for eighty years!"

Moses' reservations were quite justified.

Just imagine being a leader of an entire people, in addition to being G鈥慸's communicator, for nearly a century, then having to step down abruptly—to be replaced by your younger brother, no less!

Anyone else would have been doubly devastated, barely coming to terms with the change and replacement, let alone rejoicing in it.

Not Aaron.

Said G鈥慸 to Moses: "Behold, Aaron is going out to greet you and he will see you and he will rejoice in his heart…" "It is not as you think, Moses, that he will resent you because you are ascending to greatness…"

The later narrative demonstrated the truth of these words, completing the lovely portrait of Aaron drawn by G鈥慸: "Aaron went [to the wilderness] and encountered Moses at the mountain of G鈥慸, and he kissed him."

The Torah doesn't usually record family affections and sentiments. But this was no average show of love.

In Aaron's scenario it was one step beyond; remember the context: Aaron was about to be sidelined by his younger brother, to live out the rest of his life in Moses' shadow, relegated to second place.

This was the kiss of a farginner.

This exquisite act does not go unnoticed by the Midrash, which comments: "It was due to Aaron's heartfelt rejoicing that he merited to wear the sacred choshen, the high priest's breastplate, which is placed over the heart."

We have our work cut out for us馃槉 Let’s get to work on “farginning” another. Let’s try to connect with another from that place of positivity and abundance within us. And in this merit, may HaShem shower each and every one of us with ALL the blessings we need and are waiting for in our lives, materially and spiritually.

HAPPY WEDNESDAY!!

Wrestling with Faith

I wrestle with faith sometimes. Yes, that’s right. At times, I find it to be a struggle. Here’s the part I find hard:

Over the years, I have studied quite a lot of Torah’s teachings on faith, G-d, and our relationship with Him. Of course, I know it and believe it with utmost certainty. When challenge strikes, I work hard to take all that I have learned and know and create a bridge of connection between mind and heart. To let all that I know to be true flow through that bridge; wash over my heart with a sense of peace, calm, and ability to let go and let G-d take over the reins of the issue at hand.

But sometimes I feel a blockage in that bridge. I know my faith very deeply on an intellectual plane but it isn’t properly reaching the visceral in me. I feel myself struggling to really and truly internalize all that I know to be true. In Chassidic jargon, we refer to this internalization of knowledge as “Da’at” And sometimes I feel challenged by the “Da’at” dimension of my relationship with G-d.

Then I discovered a most powerful tool. One that has the power to encompass the world of intellectual ideas but with a language that the emotions of the heart can understand. THE POWER OF IMAGERY.

And one image in particular really stood out for me. Words I had been singing each Yom Kippur began to take on new meaning the more I thought about them. “Ki Hinei Kachomer B’yad Hayotzer” -We say to G-d: “As clay in the hands of the craftsman/potter, so too are we in Your hands”. I contemplated that image for a while. Oh, the power it contained!! There I was, a piece of clay, in the Hands of the Ultimate, Infinite, and All -Knowing Craftsman- G-d Himself. And G-d didn’t want me to return my soul to Him (after 120 years on this Earth G-d willing) looking like that same hunk of clay. Just like that potter, G-d has a vision for what that clay can become; the beautiful piece of pottery that can emerge. I may not see it, but He sure does. And as my life meanders through the blessedly beautiful times as well as through the challenging and the difficult, G-d is there, shaping, forming, and sculpting me into the beautiful piece of artwork I am intended to become.

Of course we have to do our part. (The metaphor isn’t perfect- We have freedom of choice- the clay does not). We need to make a vessel for G-d’s blessings through expending great effort into the physical and spiritual choices we make. Mitzvot and Prayer have the ability to open new channels of blessings. Consulting with a Rabbi/Rebbitzin/mentor is a great way to make sure we are doing our part.

But then, allow your body, your emotions, your mind to relax. Conjure up that image of the clay in the potter’s hand. Feel G-d shaping and fashioning you into just the person you are meant to be; revealing the inner beauty and light that lies waiting in potential within your soul.

And as you do so pray, pray hard. That G-d’s shaping and forming be in a way of REVEALED good; that you feel the love in each movement.

I am including a music video here, with the above- mentioned ideas, that has become a Cotlar favorite馃槉 My kids now ask me to play it for them when they are feeling like they need a boost. In fact I was recently talking to Rivkah about someone she knows well who is going through a difficult time and she suggested on her own that I send this video to that friend to uplift her. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do in our home.

Exercise for The Week:  Practicing Applying Faith in a way of Da’at

Step outside each night before getting ready for bed (weather permitting馃槉)

Pause. Let go of the maddening thoughts of the day. Empty your mind.

Look up at the stars. The vast expanse of sky. The universe around you.

G-d is above it all. Above time and space. 

Yet He chooses to be intimately involved in every last detail of Your life.

 He is orchestrating EVERY SINGLE thing in your life from the big to the most minute.

 He is the true Source for everything that occurs in your life.

Resolve to do all that you can to make a vessel for His blessings. In the physical arena as well as the spiritual -Mitzvot and Prayer have the ability to open new channels of blessings.

And then say the Shema, said each night before going to bed.

And finish off with these most powerful words (which I have included a recording of below)

讘旨职讬指讚职讱指, 讗址驻职拽执讬讚 专讜旨讞执讬 驻旨指讚执讬转指 讗讜止转执讬 讬职讛讜指讛--讗值诇 讗直诪侄转.

B’YADCHA AFKID RUCHI PADISA OTI ADO-NAI E-L EMET

In Your hand I entrust my soul; You have redeemed me, O Hashem, G-d of truth.

You are entrusting Yourself to G-d. Rest assured. You are in the Best of Hands.

Layla Tov!

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