Want to keep in the loop on the latest happenings at Chabad of Oxnard. Subscribe to our mailing list below. We'll send you information that is fresh, relevant, and important to you and our local community.
Printed from ChabadofOxnard.com

Racheli's Thoughts



 Thoughts and Reflections by Racheli Muchnik, in loving memory of her brother Rabbi Ariel Rav-Noy, of blessed memory.

Gateway to Heaven

20180712_215244 (1).jpg 

My heart feels open.
Hot tears form.
I feel empty -
Of myself.
I feel full - 
Of His love.

I am surprised by the unexpected rush of inspirational energy that washes over me.

I have just approached the Kotel, the Western Wall.

It's not just about the magnificent stones,
The hugeness,
The history hidden within each crevice.

It's not just about the variety of people,
Weeping, connecting,
Deep in prayer.

It's not just about the birds hovering above,
Who seem to soak in the prayers,
And carry them Upward.

It's more. 
 
It's the place where Adam was created,
Where Avraham stood, willing to sacrifice Yitzchak,
Where Yaakov proclaimed "Zeh Shaar Hashamayim",
"This is the Gateway to Heaven."

That's it! 
The Gateway to Heaven!

King David chose this spot to build the Holy Temple.
King Shlomo carried it out.
After 70 years of Babylonian exile, 
The Second Temple was built here.

And of course the spot for the building 
of the Third Holy Temple,
Which we await each day.

A Gateway to Heaven,
A Gate wide open,
Everyone here knows it,
As they make their way to touch the holy stones.

Around the world,
My brothers and sisters 
Are facing this way,
As they pray.

So here I stand,
Feeling this intense energy,
With my very being.

Today, Rosh Chodesh Av
A time when we mourn the destruction of the Temple,
And yearn for it's rebuilding.  

I will pray.
And He will listen.
For the Heavens are open.

These stones have witnessed 
More tears 
Than I've ever imagined
Can flow.

The stones know
What we believe deep down.
That some really happy times await us
Right here, 
May it be now.  

Amen!

The Cry-It-Out Method

 

Yakov Ariel.jpg

I have not slept in seven months. 
No kidding. 
It's starting to get to me. 

Yakov Ariel, my baby "Arik", just didn't seem to fall into a good sleep-routine like the others did. 

After trying some gentle sleep-training methods, I realized I needed to use the approach I was avoiding.  I would have to listen to some crying.

So after much thought and discussion, Dov and I braced ourselves for a few sleepless nights - for the sake of getting normalcy back into our lives.  I lovingly explained to Arik what we were going to do.  "Yakov Ariel, you are big and strong now.  We know you can sleep the full night.  It will be better for you, better for Mommy.  We will be right here in the room next to yours.  And we will play more in the morning... I love you sweet boy..."

Yakov Ariel cried a lot.  It was painful to listen to.  The poor kid!  He just wants his Mommy! He wants me to hold him close, to nurse him. 

As he cried, I stood outside his room listening carefully.  I kept reminding myself - it's either him crying for some time now, or me crying lots later from sleep deprivation!! 

I listened out to hear - is that just fussing... or real crying?  Has he reached hysterics... or is he starting to settle?  Every few minutes Dov and I took turns going in to soothe him, tell him we love him, and help calm him down. 

It is so hard to hear him call for us and refrain from running to him!  Yet I know it's good for him...  Soon he will be able to settle himself and sleep so deeply.  This will be behind us. 

Soon it will be morning and I will scoop him up into my arms and hold him close.

This morning, after my first good night's sleep in ages, I thought to myself: G-d is our parent.

He is good.  He is only good.  Sometimes He wants something for us that is so good, it requires some "training". Sometimes He opts for the Cry-It-Out method with us - His children. 

Oh, but He is listening!  He is keeping it way more controlled than we can imagine!  We may cry and cry at night.  We may be in such deep pain, it is excruciating.  We feel abandoned!  Where on earth did He go???  We want to feel Him close! 

Yet He is mighty close.  He is carefully monitoring this painful process, making sure we are not completely losing it.  He sends us various forms of comfort and layers of support.  And believe it or not, He is crying with us. עמו אנוכי בצרה.

I find it amazing how in the morning - when I come and take sweet Arik out of his crib - he is all smiles, giggles and cuddles, as if nothing happened last night. 

Yes - we also wake up in the morning - and suddenly all is well!  We are in love with G-d all over again.  It seems like last night was just a bad dream. 

But here's the thing:  Hashem has way more resources than us, infinitely more resources.  Hashem has an awesome method to give us the peace we need.  It's a super-gentle method He will use when Moshiach comes.  A method that can bring endless growth to the entire universe - with no tears!  With no pain!  Yes - it is gain, WITHOUT pain!  It's a method He invented thousands of years ago, when He created the world.  This method is not very complicated for Him at all. 

In fact, He plans to begin implementing it any moment now. 

So hang in there.

He's coming to scoop us into His warm and loving arms.

 

Yakov Ariel

 

RV5A8989.jpg

I knew he would be a boy. In my ninth month of pregnancy my eight-year-old asked me: "Is it possible for Uncle Ariel's neshama (soul) to come back down and be in the baby that's inside you now...?"

Hashem sent us another precious neshama.  It was obvious that we were going to name the baby after my brother Ariel ob"m.  Rabbi Dov's Zaidy - Jack (Yakov) Muchnik was an incredible personality who lived a long and healthy life. The combination of those two names seemed perfect to us. Yakov Ariel.

When I hear my brother's name fill our home as we call, chant and sing to our new baby... I get shivers every time. I didn't quite imagine what it would be like to have a new "Ariel" back with us... It's heavy, pretty intense, but so very special.  Like my father said at the Bris: "Our family is now back to the same amount of people we were eighteen months ago..."

My sweet baby, I hope you grow up to have the incredible qualities of your Great-Zaidy and Uncle. I can't wait for you to meet them both!

You are so very tiny... yet you have already brought us all great comfort.

 

I wrote a song for Yakov Ariel, a lullaby, to one of my brother's favorite tunes.  Click here to hear Menucha (age six) sing it to the baby - she wanted to learn every word of it so she can sing it to him at night.  

Hacked From Heaven

 

grass.jpg

They tell me G-d is good.

They tell me that every blade of grass sways by G-d’s command. 

And the movement of that blade of grass is part of the ultimate master-plan for our world. 

But then they told me that my brother passed away suddenly, in middle of the night.

They tell me his wife and young children need to figure out life without him now.

So is G-d really good???

 

There is something else that they tell me.  They tell me that if things don’t seem good, then my job is to make them good. 

If I see imperfections in His perfect world, it is because He is giving me the opportunity to partner with Him and make it perfect.

Today is Ariel’s first Yartzeit.  I have no idea how to process that.  What am I supposed to think?  Feel?  Say?  Do?  No clue. 

Today I woke up to hundreds – literally – of emails, texts, and voice messages.  Apparently in middle of the night, some “hacker” out in San Francisco got into my email account and sent out a message to my over 5,000 contacts.  In a message so cleverly written, the email was asking each recipient to please open the attached PDF to review some documents.  Some of my contacts notified me that my account was hacked.  But an astounding amount of friends were urgently trying to get a hold of me to find out how exactly they could open the attached PDF as it was asking them for their username, password, etc…. 

Simple solution – I should notify my entire contact list that it was spam.  Sounds simple – but my account wouldn't let me send out a single email because of the suspicious activity.  So here I am, spending the Yartzeit hours responding to people I have not been in contact with for years, via text, phone, and an alternate account. 

Anyone who has had their account hacked into can probably relate to the frustration.  I feel violated!  I feel embarrassed!  I feel so sorry for all of those whose accounts might also be compromised because they tried to open a communication “from me”. 

I am once again reminded about how out-of-my-hands life really is.  How G-d runs the world, and doesn’t quite ask for my opinion about what the next step should be. 

True, in the scheme of things this is a truly tiny frustration.  Yet for me it is a significant reminder about my lack of control…

 

So – He is good, and all He does is good. 

Where is the good in some trouble-maker out there trying to rob people’s personal information…??  Meddling into my account and contacting my friends for me??

It didn’t take too long for me to find the good.  I got some insight into what His master-plan with this one was.  And knowing my brother Ariel, he was probably orchestrating things from above.

You see, Ariel had one goal in life – to love his family and to bring as many other Jews as he can into his life with the warmth of Torah and Mitvos.  Ariel had clever ways of going about this!  With his humorous and smart way, he would get people who were hiding from Judaism in the door.  People loved him for it!    

Hannah*, a woman who lives in Oxnard, is someone we have tried many times to involve in our programs and classes.  We’ve had many conversations and many attempts to bring her in with warmth and friendship.  But with the “unsubscribe” button on our website, she showed us that she really wanted her space.  So I gave in.

I know my brother Ariel would not have given in.  While most of us are focused on the big picture, Ariel cared more about that one person hiding in the corner.  So perhaps from above, Ariel organized somehow that an email communication should go out, on his Yartzeit, to every single one of my contacts.  How did he reach Hannah??  I thought I didn’t even have her current email address anymore?!  But Hannah called me, asking me how she can download that PDF.  We got into a great conversation, catching up on the last few years.  She said to me:  “I think Someone Above orchestrated this so I should get back into the fold…  He sure works in interesting ways… I went on your website and noticed you have a ladies group on Wednesday evenings – can I join….?”

Only Ariel could have pulled that off - both in his life, and after.  Hannah is joining class!  Mind you, I wasn’t sure if I was having class this week… But Ariel thinks otherwise.  He is reminding me – “Racheli, what can be more important than learning Torah with your friends in Oxnard??”

I give in.  I will. 

Of course G-d is good.  Of course every blade of grass and every email is part of His glorious master-plan. 

My job is not to ask “why?”

My job is not to complain about His ways. 

My job is to partner with Him, and make it all good.    

Ariel, “Hack the Heavens” for us please!  Convince G-d to send Redemption, and return to your family! 

Ariel, help us make this all good!   

  grass.jpg

 

*Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals. 

 

Abandoned

 

Ferris Wheel.jpg

I felt so abandoned. 

I was standing at the Ferris Wheel at S. Monica Pier, with my three little ones.  I didn't have my phone on me (I had left it behind as I was trying to really focus on my family).  I somehow got separated from my husband and my other children at the park.  Wandering around with my slow-walking three-year-old in search for them was NOT working.  Twenty long minutes were filled with neck-craning to find him, asking favors from passersby to please allow me the use of their phones, and my little ones anxiously nudging "WHERE IS TATTY???".  And then we were finally re-united.  

I was completely not expecting those twenty minutes to affect me to the core as they did.  I had to escape the scene to allow myself a good cry.  Only then was I able to stop and get in touch with why I was so shaken up.

Two weeks away from Ariel's yartzeit, the emotions associated with it are still in my deepest subconscious thoughts.

It seems that above all of the thoughts and feelings... his yartzeit brings up traumatic feelings on how life can turn over in a moment...

How is it fair that Hashem can suddenly rip a father away from his wife and kids?? How can that happen without a moment's warning?!

That seems to bug me just as much as the actual loss of a brother...

My few short moments of feeling abandoned gave me the harshest insight, maybe just a tiny glimpse, on the monstrous emotions that must be experienced by those mommies who lost their husbands in middle of nowhere... Stranded!  Abandoned!  Left with little ones anxiously asking "WHERE IS TATTY???"

That familiar heart-wrenching pain is back. It is a level of grief that humans shouldn't be allowed to experience.

Where is Hashem? Where is our Rebbe?  We have a promise from our leader that we are leaving this bitter exile.  We have a promise from our Creator for a better world. 

WHERE IS OUR TATTY???

We feel abandoned.  Did He forget about us...?!  What hurts more than anything else is the fleeting thoughts that the promises of reuniting were forgotten G-d forbid...

Where is He???

Tonight I paid a shiva call to someone who lost their elderly mom.  Saying the traditional words of comfort made me feel alone.  How many times have I heard those words? But where is Tatty?

It is so very hard to believe,  but He WILL suddenly appear.   As suddenly as a father turning the corner in a busy amusement park, to reunite with his family. 

Oh how hard it is to trust.  How hard it is to believe. 

But what's my alternative? 

Visiting Moti

Today I had a taste of the future...

It has been over six weeks - 45 days to be exact - since my son Moti left to Camp Gan Yisroel in Montreal.  It is the camp where Dov celebrated his 7th birthday during the summer of 1985, and spent just about every summer there until he was Head Counselor the summer before we got married in 2001. 

This was Moti's first time away in overnight camp, so sending him for two months was a big deal.

I had been missing Moti so much, it actually hurt!  It's hard to describe my longing for him during the last few weeks, without being able to see, hear or touch him.  It's as if a part of me was missing... I think that this pain has been amplified and intensified because of the loss of my brother this year...  There was definitely a similar trigger for me whenever I walked by Moti's room, saw a photo of him, or heard the sweetness of his voice on a recording he made for me.  It was a recording of him playing his keyboard and singing a melody he composed...  A feeling that felt not so different than the longing I have for Ariel ob"m...

Where are you Moti? What are you doing now? Are you happy?  Are your bunk-mates being nice? Do you miss home?

But my "Yiddisheh Mameh" concerns were comforted by the Friday morning 60-second-phone calls I received.  After a quick hello, he'd say "Mommy, I have to go now".  I guess that means he's having fun?

Dov graciously agreed to my wild idea of both of us taking the flight to visit Moti on visiting day.  We also wanted to be there for my nephew Mendy, my brother Ariel's son, who is also in camp.  As we drove down the windy paths of Chemin De La Minerve in the Laurentian Mountains of Quèbec, toward the campsite, Dov shared his excitement to see Moti in "his" camp.  He described how every single turn, bend, tree, and rock in this camp is saturated with memories, of summers filled with fun, friendships, and good-old growing up. 

As we parked our car, though, I could barely hear him anymore.  My heart was beating too loudly.  I'm about to see MOTI!!!!!  I'm screaming inside, trying to control my wild excitement.  I reminded myself NOT to embarrass the poor kid.  Is it his fault I'm a mother overflowing with emotions??? ;-)

We approach the gorgeous lake on camp grounds, with the Camp Flag proudly flapping in the breeze, and hundreds of boys getting into their "Line-Up" positions. My eyes are anxiously scanning the swarms of sweet faces with yamukahs and tzitzis flying.

Where's my Moti???

My heart is pounding with excitement.

I'm about to see my Moti!!!

And then I spot him.  I see his dimples from across the large grassy field....He's ALIVE!!   As we embrace, I am fighting a sea of tears, from weeks of yearning and built-up emotions.

I remain silent, remembering my commitment to not embarrass the boy.  But in my mind I call out, "Oh Moti, please don't leave again!  Stay with us forever.  The day you were born was the last time I held you in my arms with such joy. I don't want to let go!"  But he wiggled away to join his friends again. 

And I took a step back... I think that I just had a teeny tiny taste of what it might be like when Moshiach comes.

There is actually a blessing that is said after seeing someone that you have not communicated with or seen in over a year.  In that blessing of “Baruch... mechayeh hameisim” one is thanking G-d Who revives the dead.  Reviving the dead?  I think I can now appreciate the connection!

One of the Thirteen Principles of Jewish Faith, is the hardest one (in my opinion) to truly believe.  It is the belief in the Resurrection of the Dead.

So I looked up the words of the Prophet Isaiah, to see it black on white.  He writes: "Your dead shall be revived, my corpses shall arise; awaken and sing, you who dwell in the dust…”

It's for real, everyone.  This ain't just a one-day-visiting-day experience.  This is going to be forever and ever! 

All the aching, all the longing, that indescribable pain we experience now - will vanish at that moment.  Not just vanish, it will be replaced with proportionate ecstasy when we embrace our loved ones once again. 

Today I had a teeny tiny taste of what it may feel like - and I can't wait to experience the rest. 

Let us prepare for the happiest tears we have ever shed.  Ever.

Racheli.jpg Click here for a short video of Moti at Line-Up on visiting day at CGI Montreal.  

 

I'm Not Perfect

 

I don’t like being judged.  I don’t like being criticized. 

I have always thought of myself as somewhat of a perfectionist.  I was hard on myself, and wanted things done ‘just right’.  As time went on, I began to realize that just about everyone around me is a ‘perfectionist’ in their own unique way.  Some with achieving perfect handwriting, perfect parenting, perfect relationships, or perfectly clean homes.  Who doesn’t want perfection?

That is because Hashem created us that way!  He created us “betzalmo” - “in His Image” – which is perfect!  And He gave us a very perfect driving force within – our G-dly soul.  So we will forever feel agitated – until we reach perfection, until that perfect space within us is nourished.  And we will forever feel uncomfortable in an imperfect world – for deep within, we know it wasn’t meant to be this way forever. 

When I used to whine to my mother as a child, “it’s not fair!!”  She’d respond with a smile, “Yup, life’s not fair!”  I remember clearly how much that concept bothered me.  I think children know in their gut that an unfair world is not a reality that will exist forever. 

So if I have an unrealistic wish to be perfect, it makes sense that it hurts when someone points out that I am not… It bugs me to be reminded that I am human!  That I am not perfect. 

It’s a funny thing, because on the one hand – G-d wants us to do incredibly huge things – like Him!  He wants us to be G-dly!  To spread light!  To achieve great heights!  Yet He made us human… and humans make mistakes…  So as great as He wants us to be, He also wants us to remember how small we really are in His presence…

When people give constructive criticism with loads of love, respect, and with the full intention of helping me grow – I embrace it.  It still is not easy to swallow – but I do appreciate the opportunity for growth.

Cherish criticism, for it will place you on the true heights”, said Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber of Lubavitch. 

Yet I have seen that criticism that comes without respect, reproof that is void of love and concern… can really hurt.  My instinctive reaction?  To judge right back…!  “Who says you’re so perfect???  Who gives you the right to correct me?” I throw a tantrum in my mind. 

My brain takes me on a trip, jumping between two types of feelings.  From feeling painfully guilty for the actual mistake I had made that was just pointed out.  To extreme irritation at the person pointing out my mistake. 

Until Moshiach comes - “life is not perfect” - and people will say things the way they do, sometimes lacking tact and feeling. 

Yet in truth – G-d has sent those harsh words my way for a reason: for my good.  

Perhaps G-d is simply trying to remind me that I have lots yet to achieve.  If arrogance is the most un-G-dly character trait, then a dose of humility is a priceless opportunity to welcome G-d in.  My mistakes have been pointed out, to perhaps remind me that I am NOT PERFECT and I have a lifetime to work towards perfection.  G-d’s greatness is infinite – so I really have forever and ever to unite with His perfection.  G-d is protecting me from arrogance that may come from getting no criticism at all. 

I can be thankful to all those who have pointed out my mistakes, for they keep me on my toes and remind me that there is more work to do.  They remind me how small I really am.  They help me stay motivated to strive higher, and deepen my relationship with Hashem and with others.    

So to all those who have felt judged or criticized by me in the past – I am truly sorry for any pain I have caused you.

And for all those who have pointed out my mistakes – thank you for the reminder that I have more work to do.

Am I perfect?  Certainly not!  None of us are – and there’s no need to judge each other for that.  G-d wants us to strive for perfection and for a perfect world - so let’s support each other with this seemingly impossible task. 

We will never be bored of growing!  We are taught that when Moshiach comes, we will go “mechayil el choyil” – from strength to strength.  During that time there will always be new opportunities for growth, exciting content to learn, thrilling heights to reach, and refreshing goals to achieve. 

I look forward to a time when we can celebrate each other’s accomplishments and support each other’s growth – with mutual respect and good-old teamwork.  

 

 

Airplane Mode

 

Last week I put my phone on Airplane Mode for 48 hours.  It was NOT easy.  I just needed to get away.  True, I warned all parties who needed to know that in case of emergency, they can either call 911, or my good-sport of a husband Rabbi Dov…

Yet knowing that I was missing text messages, notifications, and emails at every moment and I wasn’t available to respond… was quite a challenge!  True, I turn off my phone every Shabbos… but this was different.  This was something I was choosing to do on a typical Wednesday and Thursday. 

Yet suddenly I noticed opportunities opening up that I would have never dreamt of!  Opportunities to reflect, to feel inspired, to truly relax,  and to bond with loved ones in a meaningful way. 

It almost felt like Moshiach-times!

 I think about the clear directive that our Rebbe gave us – to begin to create a "bubble" of Redemption around us as a preparation for the real-deal.  It is something I struggle with, and find myself searching for ways to fulfill it - practically.

Since I was a child, I was taught that when Moshiach comes, we will travel to the Holy Lang on clouds.  Perhaps it was the prophet’s allusion to airplane travel..?!  Will we all take chartered flights to Israel when Moshiach comes…?

There’s nothing like lifting off, (putting that phone away!), and seeing the ground, miles and miles below.

I think I am going to implement a new way to create that “Redemption-bubble”.  Perhaps I can give myself designated times that I literally put that phone on airplane mode - forcing myself to focus on the spiritual, and on those who I love and who are right at my side. 

When I put my phone on airplane-mode, I can visualize what it will feel like to be lifted off of my feet, and away from the current stresses and reality called exile – off to magical heights, and back home to the Holy Land. 

I can start to warm up for that exciting journey right now.

Okay, phone off. 

 Try Dov if you need something :-) 

 clouds-from-airplane.jpg

"Kick Me!"

 

FB_IMG_1432274271398.jpg“Can you imagine wearing a “kick me” sign on your back, and not being able to take it off?”  That was one of the many moving lines that Tikvah Juni shared at last night’s Friendship Circle Garden Party that my brother and sister-in-law hosted. 

Tikvah is a woman with Down’s Syndrome.  She was flown out to speak to all of us – friends, supporters and volunteers at the Friendship Circle in Los Angeles.  Her story moved us all to tears, and climaxed with a long and thunderous standing ovation.

  She spoke about what it feels like to be different.  About the pain and hurt she experienced as a child.  She reflected on the joy she had when she was once invited to a slumber-party by the “cool girls”.  She didn’t think twice when she was told that it would cost her money to attend the party.  She asked us all to stop and imagine the pain and hurt she felt when she later found out that she was the only girl who was asked to pay… 

With a huge smile, she shared:  “Being socially awkward, being in a wheelchair, being different – that’s HARD!  Being friendly?  That’s EASY!”   That got us all really thinking.  It is often hard to be friendly to people that are different.  But to think about how much harder their life is…!

And that’s when she shared what it feels like to wear a label “different” and not be able to take it off.  To wear a metaphorical sign that reads “kick me!” and not be able to rid yourself of it.

We have an incredible member of our Oxnard community with special needs.  He is truly loved and cherished by all.  He brings joy and laughter with his random comments that come from left field at any moment.  See, when it comes to people with outright special needs – in a way it might not be so hard to be warm and kind. 

But Tikvah mentioned people who are simply socially awkward.  How they didn’t choose to be like that. 

I never really thought about it that way.  In every social circle there are those that simply don’t “fit in” for whatever reason.  But it’s not their fault!

Living with Moshiach’s imminent arrival in mind, I hope to take steps towards true inclusion.  Including everyone into the community and making room in my heart for every type of person. 

The ultimate “inclusion” awaits us!  A world where everyone truly fits in!  Where every single person is valued and treasured for who they are.  Forget about “kick me!” I think we’ll be saying “pinch me!” when we see the world the way it will appear during that special time…

 

IMG-20150514-WA0005.jpg

Rabbi Dov and I at the Friendship Circle Garden Party. Friendship Circle of Los Angeles, is directed by my brother Rabbi Michy and his wife Miriam Rav-Noy.

 

 

  

Pause

 

I often find it very hard to “pause”.  It’s just too hard to STOP and reflect, laugh, smile, or to connect with those who are physically around me. 

(Being honest here - connecting with people across the world through “Whatsapp”, for example, is so much easier!) 

 I also often think about how just about every mistake I have ever made in my life, big or small, could have been prevented had I ‘paused’.  Had I taken a moment to think things through, get advice, and reflect, before allowing my words to go out, my action to be done, or before hitting send on that e-mail. 

 Last Monday, I paused – big time.  An 11-year-old beautiful girl in the Chabad community passed away after fighting illness for many, many months.  Chaya Spalter from Los Angeles had been in my daughter’s bunk in overnight camp this year.  I paused.

 At the funeral, I listened to her grandfather speak.  Rabbi Ezra Schochet – the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Ohr Elchanan Chabad - spoke from his heart.  I could not believe the words I was hearing.

 Rabbi Schochet asked us all to remain strong with our faith and trust in G-d, and continue to serve Him with joy.  A tragedy like this can bring up a lot of questions.  He did not want those questions to get in our way.  He explained to us that any despair could cause pain to the soul of his granddaughter.  A joyful and determined girl, she deserves for us to have more faith, not less

 He then spoke about how dedicated her parents were to her throughout her illness.  Rabbi Mendy and Hadassa Spalter supported their Chaya day and night.  He said “I’m sure every parent in this room would do the same…”  But then he added –  let us be dedicated parents without illness...

His words touched my heart.  In his moment of pain – he gave us all clear guidance on how to move forward. 

I’ve been thinking about what mitzvah I can take upon myself in Chaya’s honor.  I want it to be in this area of bringing joy to my life, and to the life of my children.  Joy filled with faith and trust in Hashem. 

Today I was driving my children to school, hoping to make it on time to a staff meeting.  My five-year-old realized she forgot something “important” at home and began to cry, scream and tantrum about it.  There was no way I could turn back now.  She forgot it – that’s life!  In the past I would likely have let her cry it out until we got to school, knowing that she has the full choice of calming herself down if she chooses.  “She’s being irrational”, I’d say to myself.  “She’ll know better next time, and she’ll learn that a tantrum accomplishes nothing other than a self-inflicted headache.”   

But today I paused.

 I thought about the words I heard at that funeral.   I pulled over to the side of the road and parked the car.  I whispered to myself, “Le’iluy nishmas Chaya Mushka bas Menachem Mendel” (Let this be in the honor of Chaya Spalter).  I wordlessly unbuckled my daughter and gave her a hug as she melted into me and slowly calmed down.  All she really needed was that hug.  Time paused at the side of the road at that moment. 

 I got back in the driver’s seat – and I made it on time for the staff meeting after all.  How long was that pause?  30 seconds?  Maybe 60 seconds? 

 I think I know what I personally want to do in Chaya’s honor.  And I pray that I can keep to it until Moshiach comes and beyond.    I am going to search for daily opportunities to pause and give the time to myself and those around me in order to add in smiles, laughter, faith and trust.   I am going to “invest” in more happy moments by pausing and giving time to others.    

I will hold on to the vision of Moshiach coming, of Chaya’s reunion with her family, and of a magical “bunk reunion” – where I see Chaya, her friends, and my daughter partying away, in good-old Chaya style. 

And then joy, faith and trust will come easy for us all. 

Chaya Spalter.jpg

Where Are You?

 

Where are you Ariel?

Last night I was going through that never-ending task list, checking off what I accomplished and “bumping” to tomorrow what I didn’t get up to.  A reminder popped up on my calendar.  It read: “Connect with Ariel”.  It was a monthly reminder that I set for myself two or three years ago.  I’m not sure what exactly prompted me to set it up.  It was the realization that life goes by too fast, and Ariel is a brother I want to carve out more time to spend with. 

I’m ashamed to admit how many times I simply deleted that reminder.  Telling myself, “I’m just too busy this time”.

And where are you now, Ariel?

I’m ready to connect!  I have all the time in the world!  My task-list is totally and completely not important anymore.  The endless amount of issues waiting for me to deal with, emails to respond to, text-messages to field… none of it matters anymore.  Now I just want to spend time with you.

But where are you?   Seriouslywhere’d you go???

They tell me I can talk to you and that you can hear me.  Is that true?  Can you hear me?  Every time I try, I say the opening words and then my heart shuts down making it impossible for me to continue. 

I’m ready to spend time with you, I’m ready to slow down and connect with my brother.  But now I can’t do it in a way that I want to.  I can’t pick up the phone.  We can’t go out to lunch.  And if you had not left us, would I REALLY stop what I was doing today to have a coffee with you?  I’m embarrassed to honestly answer that question.

I am going to work on this.  I am going to try to talk to you.  Is it true that you can hear?  I wonder if you can answer in some way.  I wonder if you can respond.  I would love to hear what you would tell me right now. 

I’m crying as I write this because I miss you.  Yet I feel so bitter and upset with myself that I didn’t spend more time with you while we had you.

I know you’ll come back with the coming of Moshiach.  Yet today I am in this moment.  And at this moment you are not here physically…. yet.  In this moment I don’t know how we can communicate, and I really want to. 

I always thought of myself as someone who can be in tune and believe in higher words, in spiritual realms.  But suddenly I find myself questioning it.  Can you really hear me, Ariel? 

I know that it won’t help me to believe otherwise.  So I will believe it.  I will believe that you are right here – everywhere – and can be a part of my life. 

I won’t erase that reminder from my calendar.  When the words “Connect with Ariel” pop up – I will!  I’m not sure exactly how, but I’m working on it.  

 

 

Heavenly Names


When Rabbi Dov and I were expecting our first child, we received a memorable voice message from my grandmother, Savta Eivy ob"m.  We kept the message on our good-old answering machine for many months, replaying it often.

On the message, my Savta said, in Hebrew "I am so excited for your baby to be born!  I wanted to suggest that you consider calling him after my husband.  He was such a good man, and the baby will be very successful with that name."  She went on for a bit more about how special it would be for the child to be named for my grandfather, and then she ended the message with saying:  "and if the baby turns out to be a girl - then it makes no difference!"

Dov and I found the message to be humorous and sweet.  Her comfort in sharing what she hoped we would name the child.  And her ending words were just so....classic!  We ended up having a girl after all. 

Sometimes extended family members have hopes and ideas on what the new parents will name the newborn child.  They may secretly hope for a meaningful name, an interesting name, something exciting and creative to top off the family simcha.

Some parents spend months of pregnancy with piles of baby-naming books, trying hard to choose the perfect name.  I even have a friend who couldn’t decide on a name until weeks after her baby was born!  It's a huge decision!  We are taught that a spirit of prophecy comes to the parents upon the child's birth - on what the baby's name should be.  A name is directly connected with the soul of the child, a soul that only begins it's descent after birth.  (That's why we are encouraged to make the naming decision after birth). 

There is often an unspoken (or spoken) pressure that the parents feel from family and friends on what to name the baby.  Letting go of that pressure and focusing in on that prophecy can be a challenge at times.

With two of our children, we struggled.  We knew that we wanted to have children named for our beloved Rebbe and Rebbetzin - Rabbi Menachem Mendel and Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson.  Yet, I struggled.  There were other family members I so much wanted to name for.  There were many exciting, interesting, and creative names I dreamed of.

Yet my inner voice said that choosing the name of our child is a once-in-a-lifetime thing - and the name will affect the child for life.  I need to make it a very pure and G-dly decision. 

I reminded myself of Chana the Prophetess, the famous Chana who was barren for many years.  Eli the High Priest found her in deep and emotional prayer in the Holy Temple.  Eli thought her to be drunk!  Chana replied with her famous words:  "I am not drunk!  I am pouring my soul before G-d!"  I have learned from the explanations of our Rebbe that she communicated with Eli that her prayer for a child and her desire for a child was not a selfish one.  It was with pure motives- to give the child to G-d. 

 Indeed, Chana followed through with her words.  When her prayers were answered, and she was blessed with a son, she nursed him until the age of three  She then brought him back to the Temple, giving him to Eli to teach him and raise him in the way of G-d.  She gave up the son she so longed for - to serve G-d's people!   He grew up to be the famous Shmuel the Prophet, leader of the Jewish Nation. 

Why do we bring children into this world? Not as our little "side-kicks", not as a cute and fun accessory.   We bring children to this world because G-d said we should.  We raise children to serve Him and beautify His world.  These children belong to Him!  The precious bundle lands in our arms only to do with him or her as He wishes.  And to direct the child in His ways.

As we raise our children, and concerns and fears pop up at every step of parenting – it helps me to remember this.  To remember that my child belongs to G-d.  He gave me the honor of holding onto him – and I am to do my best with each day I have him. 

So in choosing that name, I reminded myself that the energy and significance of the name must be one that will help the child follow this path of G-dliness and of purpose.  That the child grows up with a clear identity on why he or she is here to begin with. 

When our baby girl was born we wanted to find that heavenly name.  We chose to name her after Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka.  True, she will share her name with countless other Chabad women and girls around the world.  Her name will not be “original” or “unique”.  Yet how lucky we are to have a child with this legacy!  A daughter who can carry the Rebbetzin's grace, kindness, sensitivity, humility, modesty and other-oriented nature - all qualities that we now see that Hashem has graciously blessed our Chaya with!  What a gift to grant her a name with this energy, with this message, with her life's mission cut out for her - to be a daughter of G-d, a daughter of her holy ancestors...

When our baby boy was born, after many girls - we once again searched for that heavenly name.  Lots of ideas popped into my mind.  My Savta's voice message came back to me.  Ideas and names swirled in our minds.  Yet that resounding inner voice, what the sages call "ruach hakodesh" - prophecy - was clear.  We will give him the Rebbe's holy name!  When "Menachem Mendel" was called out at his bris, I had tears flowing.  Our seventh child will now share a name with our beloved Rebbe - the seventh Chabad leader.  Little Menachem's crystal clear blue eyes, his sweet and gentle nature, and his very apparent holy spirit, carry the energy of our Rebbe. 

Menachem means comfort - and our Menachem brings us comfort.

While I was in in labor with Menachem, my two-year-old  Devorah Leah came to sit on my lap.  Snuggling and enjoying closeness with me and the unborn baby, she called out suddenly:  "Come Baby, Come!"  During the most challenging moments of active labor, her words rang in my mind again and again :  "Come Baby, Come!"

Whenever I felt progress slow down, the words came back, and I whispered them to myself :  "Come Baby, Come!"

It was fascinating how the process quickened its pace and smoothly progressed as I kept focus on that mantra.

And as I held our baby boy in my arms - I knew the lesson would stay with me.

We are waiting for the coming of Moshiach.  When the "birth pangs" of this exile are at their peak - I need to hold onto that:  "Come Baby, Come!" mantra.  Come, Moshiach - Come!  This mantra will propel me forward towards better times!  It'll make it go fast, it'll make it go smooth, and it’ll make it happen now.  We can't sit here with intense labor forever!!

This again made our baby boy's name really meaningful.  Our Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson was the one who prophesied that Moshiach WILL COME in this generation.  The Rebbe spoke about this constantly - that Moshiach will come, he will come... He will come in this seventh generation - the seventh from the beginning of the Chabad movement. 

So the name is deeply powerful for Dov and I.   We are so grateful that we didn't miss the opportunity to have his energy join our family.

Thank you Hashem for our Chaya Mushka.
Thank you Hashem for our Menachem Mendel. 
Thank you Hashem for gifting us with all of our children.

We commit ourselves to do our very best to gift them back to You, by raising them according to Your will.   

 Introducao.jpg  16791.jpg   

  chaya3.jpg       Menachem.jpg

Permission to Feel


Am I allowed to feel what I’m feeling? 

Since the day my brother Ariel passed away, I have been bombarding myself with this question. 

I’m “just a sister”!  Why is this taking me over?  Why am I filled with such heaviness?  I’m just a sister!  I “should” be thankful to have my husband and children!  I “should” be thankful to have my parents!    

I know that may sound ridiculous to read, black on white.  I know that my friends may read that and yell at me for being so hard on myself….  I know many would try to convince me that OF COURSE I deserve to have all of these feelings – it’s a HUGE deal to lose a brother! 

(Wouldn’t it be helpful if we were as compassionate to ourselves as we were to our friends…?)

As time moves on, I think I am spending WAY more energy on arguing with myself about my feelings then actually giving myself permission to feel the feelings.

 I am reflecting on how I have often dealt with heavy emotion in the past.  And I think I’m not the only one….?  Don’t we spend way more energy on being annoyed at ourselves for having a feeling that we’re feeling than actually experiencing the feeling?!  (You may have to read that last sentence twice to get what I’m saying!)

So if I’m annoyed at someone I love, I feel insulted.  It’s possible that if I allowed myself to just be annoyed, and work out that feeling – I can move on quite gracefully.  The problems begin when I start to be upset at myself for being annoyed!  Now it’s starting to get complicated!  (I suspect that I may have confused a male reader by now… processing emotion in this particular way is something found way more by women, no?)

WHY IS THAT?  Why is it so hard for me to feel the feeling I seem to be feeling? 

I know that I often feel guilty about being sad because we have been trained that the Chassidic approach is to fill our hearts with constant joy and trust in G-d.  Chassidim of old were called “The Frelichers” – the Joyful Ones, for they were known to be overly joyful in their service of G-d.  Oh boy, now the guilt over my sad feelings is mounting! 

Yet I remember an important Chassidic thought.  In Proverbs there is a verse that tells us how to deal with worry, sadness, and negative feelings.  “A worry in a man’s heart – yash’chena”.  That last word of the verse is the instruction on how we deal with those feelings.  The word “yash’chena” can be translated in two ways, according to our Sages, representing two methods in dealing with worries and fears.  Method #1:  Remove the worry from one’s mind!  Just forget about it!  Move on!  (I know some people who are able to successfully take this route)Method #2:  Discuss it with others, talk it over.  Chassidic philosophy encourages that while choosing someone to speak it over with, one should be careful to find “others” who are completely united with him for they lovingly empathize with him. 

So do I push away negative emotions?  Or do I discuss it with myself, with my spouse, with my best friend? 

Method #1 rarely works for me.  I am so thankful that the same Torah that teaches me to be joyful at all times, also validates that sometimes very non-joyful feelings come.  And what am I to do with those?  If they don’t go away by pushing them away – then I got Method #2 waiting for me.  I talk it over, I write about it, I discuss it with wise and loving people. 

In other words – I HAVE PERMISSION TO FEEL WHAT I AM FEELING!!  How liberating!!  I can feel it, I can experience it, I can talk it over until I flush it out – all for the sake of getting back to serving G-d with joy.  

While in exile – I need to allow myself to process my feelings…

In preparation for Redemption – when we will know of only joy.

 

So yes, I have permission to feel.  And yes, if a feeling comes up – it is from G-d.  He wants me to process it and move on.  I can try to convince myself that I “shouldn’t” feel from today until tomorrow – but it will get me nowhere.  If I’m feeling it – I must do something with it, because ignoring doesn’t always work.  

 All of those voices that bombard me with “Why are you feeling what you are feeling?   Just get a hold of yourself and move on!”  Well those words are the voice of the very sneaky Evil Inclination – trying to confuse me and make it hard to process an emotion and move gracefully towards joy and trust.

I will work on removing the word “should” from my vocabulary:  that voice that tries to squash my emotions with good-old-Jewish-guilt.  The Evil Inclination hard at work once again.   The wagging finger telling me “you should be happy” will turn into a compassionate voice that whispers gently: “I want to be happy.  And I will be happy.  With time…” 

So I WILL give myself permission to feel what I am feeling.

 And in no time, I will embrace that joyful attitude I so crave.

And we all will – with the very uncomplicated and everlasting joy that awaits us…

 

Think Good

 

A song I wrote.  Click on the image below to listen.  In "What I Tell My Fears", I share the significance of the Hebrew Prayer quoted in this song. 

 For women and girls only, please! :-)  

 Think Good 

Think good when it's tough and
Think good when times are rough
Think good when all looks bright and
Think good thoughts late into the night

Think good when thoughts are knocking
They're knocking at my door
Think good even when it's not my way
Think good thoughts forevermore

Al tira mipachad pisom
In my mind no fear will roam
Utzu aytza vesufar
He will wipe away the tears and heal the scars

Ve'ad zikna Ani hu
Ani asisi - He is in control
Ani asisi - He is in control
Ani asisi - He can do it all...

IMG-20150330-WA0032.jpg 

 

What Now...?

 

I told myself that I was not going to write about the Sassoon family’s tragedy.  I want to write about happy things!  This is too much...  I have been numb and speechless since I heard the devastating news this past Saturday night.  I said I would never find words to express my feelings on it.

 As the week is coming to a close, though – I am searching for comfort.  I am searching for words that might help me move forward.  But I can’t find any.

 Just as I thought that there could be nothing more painful than my innocent nieces and nephews losing their father… we now have a father who loses the same amount of innocent children… and to this I am left in total shock. 

 I was just starting to get back on my feet, just starting to find some light in this darkness.  And now this. 

 I heard the haunting recording of the Sassoon children, singing Shwekey's “Cry No More – Yerushalayim!”.  I felt like their souls were singing to me from Heaven. 

 I embraced my daughter this morning before sending her off to preschool.  I didn’t want to let go.  The darkest of fears pounding on my mind’s door. 

 I am trying to picture our parents in Egypt.  I am thinking of the pain and devastation upon seeing their own children slaughtered by the merciless King Pharoah.  Coming home from endless hours of slavery and torture, to find out that their babies were taken by the Egyptian officers, never to return. 

 I am reflecting on the words we read in the Torah: וַיִּשְׁמַע אֱלֹקים אֶת נַאֲקָתָם  “And the children of Israel… cried out, and their cry ascended to G-d from the labor. G-d heard their cry, and G-d remembered His covenant... And G-d saw the children of Israel, and G-d knew”. 

G-d knows, G-d hears. 

He knows what we are going through, He brought the pain. 

 

Why?” is not even worth asking.  I won’t waste my breath. 

What now…?” is a better use of my energy. 

 

What now…?  Get ready for Pesach!

What now…?  Prepare for Redemption!

What now…?  Strengthen my belief.

 

Last week – I thought I believed.

Now I feel like I need to start all over again.

 

Back to the basics I go:

There is a G-d. 

He created this world. 

He has a plan. 

He told us this world was not going to be a jungle forever. 

He told us to believe in better times. 

  

What now…?  One foot in front of the other.

What now…?  Demand and cry out to G-d for mercy.

What now…?  Hug my children tight.

 

Dear G-d – if You wanted us to have a taste of Exile before Passover – You succeeded.  We get it. Now we’re ready for You to play Your part in the story.  We need an Exodus all over again!  Take us out of this bitter state!  Restore Your Glory in Yerushalayim!  Let us truly “Cry No More!

 

Nothing is too hard for You, Hashem. 

 

I am still numb.  But I will do my best to focus on the “What now…?” 

I will do my best to strengthen that belief.

 

Until You wake us up for real.

 Sassoon.jpg 

Looking for older posts? See the sidebar for the Archive.