Blah Blah Blahg

A little of this, a little of that, and a whole lot of blah blah blah....

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Leaving Mitzrayim: The Meaning Behind Cleaning

January 31, 2012: It's a grey & dreary commute this morning, and yet, from the thick of the clouds is a visible and glorious blue sky trying to break through. So, too, are we gifted the ability to in times of cloudiness see the inevitable clarity of blue skies to come. 
Pesach (Passover) will begin in just over a week from now. Many of us are busy scrupulously cleaning our homes, but what about some deeper cleansing? What about some more personal taking of inventory this time of year? There is a common frame of thought in Judaism that even though the Exodus from Mitzrayim  (Egypt) took place generations upon generations ago, we are still today a generation of people in exile. We are still slaves in a deep and personal sense, only the Mitzrayim we exist in is sadly self-created and self-perpetuated.

The Jewish people are no strangers to oppression. We are a people and a faith seemingly obsessed with Exodus. However, the Exodus which we commemorate on Pesach is unique. Once a year on Purim we talk about our freedom from Haman's evil schemes and once a year at Chanukah we commemorate our freedom from the genocidal rule of the Syrian-Greeks. Every single day we recall and mention the redemption of the Jewish people from Mitzrayim. From this it is clear: G-d is not just some omnipotent force no longer intervening in our every day lives. On the contrary, G-d not only created the world, He is vastly involved in our daily existence. What's more, if G-d is so powerful and so compassionate that He could redeem our ancestors from Egyptian bondage, how can He not also provide us with our every need? How could we still exist in a state of fear, doubt and worry?

And this is where my Pesach cleaning comes in. I am, B"H, traveling this year. There are some preparations to make in my apartment in New York and, of course, planning and logistics to iron out before I make a trip I am extremely excited to make, but for all intensive purposes, the most scrupulous preparations I am privileged to make are the more personal and individual type I spoke of above. This past Shabbos in really thinking about what exactly my personal Mitzrayim might be and what trajectory to take in order to free myself from it, I realized I, like so many others, am a slave to doubt. This is nothing new; it's been my Mitzrayim for all of my life. In many amazing feats of triumph, I have overcome it, and in just as many amazing pitfalls, it has overcome me.

Previously, the greatest antidote to worry for me has been a twofold approach:

1. Accepting with complete faith that I have everything I need.


2. Asking myself, will this matter in 20 years? After which I ask myself, will this really matter in 20 minutes?

The convergence of this twofold path has been the ability, albeit, with struggle, to let go when necessary and let G-d. Many times like a child playing with a toy steering wheel in a car, we mistakenly believe we are in control when we are not. Additionally, we have this idea that not only do we drive the car, but we dictate the GPS system and how we get there. Also not so! Many times, we can set the location on that GPS, but it is up to G-d how we reach our destination. And this line of thought along with some amazing reading this past Shabbos is what brought me to a greater understanding of how I can continue, with G-d's help, to free myself from the bondage of worry and doubt.

In her fabulous book, G-d Winked: Tales & Lessons from my Spiritual Adventures, Sara Yoheved Rigler writes about her experience of being diagnosed with breast cancer. She explains the spiritual process she underwent to overcome her fear and sadness. She cites my classic go-to line "Everything I need, I have." But she adds to it a beautiful counterpart: "Everything I have, I need." Often when faced with strife, we ask why rather than focus on what or how. As soon as we overcome one challenge we become obsessed with overcoming the next--so much so that we can miss the beauty of the miracle. It brings to mind the classic song by the Rolling Stones: You can't always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, well you might find, you get what you need.

Freedom for me is recognizing that everything I need is within and around me; all I need to do is reach out and grab it. If my hands are full because I'm clinging to what I think I need (or what I think I want), I have no room to hold the abundance of blessings before me. In so many ways, it is easy now to feel grateful for the struggles with my health that I overcome daily, with G-d's help. It is easy to feel gratitude for the continuing education I have through my work and through my growth in Yiddishkeit. It is easy to see the beauty in sharing my life and path with some very amazing and loving people. The harder parts are those in-between times. The times we are in waiting or the times in which the waters seem calm
It is easy to see the beauty and power of G-d in the aftermath of a storm. When the sun breaks through the clouds and the dew rests on each blade of windblown grass, it's easy to feel touched by the miracles of every day life. However, during the storm, we can feel as though the waters will overcome us, as though the sun will never shine. What's even worse is our propensity during times of sunny ease to only feel the pending doom of possible rain. Rather than existing in what was or what might be, how might our lives be different if we existed fully in the here and now, driven both by our wisdom from the past and our undying hope for the future?

My ticket out of Mitzrayim isn't a coupon redeemable everywhere to get exactly what I want when I want it. It is a coupon redeemable anywhere to see that I have what I need and I need what I have. It is the ability to approach things that feel scary with humor, compassion and kindness--even and especially toward myself. It is the realization and gratitude that all of the many blessings I have received came to me not when I asked specifically for what I wanted or felt I needed or deserved, but rather were bestowed quietly upon me when I let go and asked merely for the clarity to see what I already have. It is with that realization, which I am also grateful for, that I continue my journey on this path. I wish all a good week to come and a season filled with revealed blessings and only good news!

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Doting Doda: How Becoming an Aunt Has Utterly Spoiled Me

When I was a little girl, I used to refer to my big sister, (pictured to the right holding a baby version of me) as Other Mother. Perhaps this was largely due to her strong leadership qualities (such a fine line between leading and dictating...) but my sister definitely always carried that maternal instinct within her. It led her to be not only a great big sister, but also a talented early childhood educator, a wonderful wife to my brother in law and, with G-d's help, now an amazing mother. But let's back up a bit...

As soon as I found out OFFICIALLY (some members of my family have loose lips) that my sister and brother in law were expecting, I decided once and for all that I would spoil this baby rotten. I was just dying to become a doting doda (Hebrew: Aunt) and I immediately began practicing my catchy one-liner: "When Mommy and Daddy say 'no,' you just ask Doda!" I instinctively predicted many things while my sister was pregnant. My family has a custom not to find out the sex of a baby prior to birth, but I was sure I was getting a nephew. We also have a custom not to discuss names prior to birth, but I was sure his name would be Benjamin. "What if it's a girl?" asked a best friend of mine when I told her this. "I don't care. I'm calling it Benjamin. And it's not, it's going to be a little boy." My maternal grandfather, Bernard, affectionately referred to as Ben, had passed away in the month of November last year, the same month he was born in. The baby was due right around the time of my grandfather's birthday and I just had a strong feeling about it.

That said, this baby began his life in this world already maintaining one of the finest qualities of both his parents: he was quite the over-achiever! He stuck around the womb for an extra 10 days! Now, I hate being late with a passion. I personally arrived into this world 6 weeks early and promptness is a quality I have tried to set a precedent for in my family. Nonetheless, my nephew Benjamin Harry was born on November 28 and from the moment he first held my finger, I was in complete awe. I also realized very quickly that I'd made a mistake. It was not me as an aunt who would dote on this little boy; it is quite the opposite. From the first time I held him, this special little boy has spoiled me rotten!

There is something very amazing about growing up with a big sister. You share secrets, you share stories, you share bad haircuts and some battle scars. You pretend about weddings, you play with dolls and you dream of the day you will be all grown up and filling the important roles of wife and mother. And then to see it happen is at once beautiful and surreal. Two of the happiest days of my life thus far have been watching my sister walk to the chuppah (marriage canopy) and seeing my sister become a mother.

This may all sound rather corny, and I assure you that although we shared some things, sharing in general was never our strong suit. In 1987 I shared the chicken pox with my sister, and I don't recall even once receiving a thank you or any sign of appreciation! That said, the fact that my sister shares her son with me is the most personal and special gift a sibling could ever ask for. I totally forgive her for not letting me borrow her clothes...

And now onto this special little boy. He is named for both of my late grandfathers, may their memories be for a blessing and their neshamas have an alliyah.  My grandfather, Ben, OBM, was a man of great generosity. He had a passion for giving in every way he could. My nephew so clearly maintains the essence of this character trait. He is giving with his smiles and his affection and I can see already he will grow to be generous in many ways. My grandfather, Harry, OBM, was a man of great chesed (loving-kindness). He had a heart of gold and lived to bring a smile to your face. My nephew, too, has the innate ability to bring smiles and warmth to everyone around him. He already has a sense of humor! Both of my late grandfathers were men of great honor, great intensity and great wisdom. Benjamin will surely grow to be a man of deep integrity and intellect. My nephew also has won the jackpot in the parent pool. He is surrounded by love, gentleness and some pretty powerful senses of humor. Benjamin will no doubt walk this world with confidence, kindness and the ability to laugh it off when all else fails.

The honorable Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis says the following regarding the raising of children in her book, The Committed Marriage:

"It's important that you cultivate a good eye--a positive attitude--and you can start by learning to sing... I'm not suggesting that you sing on stage, but that you sing in your heart and make your home a place of faith and song. Learn to do this for your own sake as well as for the sake of the children who will be born to you one day. You may wonder what this has to do with preparing for parenthood--but children are very never know what tomorrow will bring, but if you show them how you sing away your worries and anxieties, you will bestow upon them an inheritance that is priceless, by far more precious than gold." 

And now for a present just for Baby Benjamin, his new favorite lullaby from Doda! Because there's nothing more sleep-inducing than watching two grown women and two grown men in their pajamas singing and playing instruments...
(kol isha warning)