Thursday, October 10, 2013

G-d Knows You're Insecure, and It's Cool

By: Shayna Chana Hulkower

Lech Lecha is one of my favorite Torah portions. There are so many geshmak (Yiddish for enjoyable) things we can talk about that are meaningful to our everyday lives, but I will settle for two short ideas.

We learn from Avraham this week that it's a Jew's natural disposition to be slightly neurotic. Let me explain: G-d has to reassure Avraham twice that he will have kids. First He says that He will have so many offspring they won't be able to be counted (13:14). But Avram (before he becomes Avraham, lehavdil, it's seems sort of like before a super hero gets his powers and their alternate identity), is still insecure and doesn't believe he's really going to have kids. I don't blame him, he's almost 100 years old at this point. We get stuck in ruts, to the extent that even when the Creator of the Universe tells you it's going to end, it can be hard to break a mind set. G-d has to literally say to Avram 'Al tireh Avram' (15:1) - 'Don't be afraid'. If you will allow me the poetic license, He's saying, 'Chill, it'll be cool, promise.' Everyone needs extra reassurance now and then. If G-d can reassure Avram and not be snarky, then we certainly have the potential to be a little nicer to each other when a friend, family member, or coworker is freaking out over something we think is trivial. Know that you can be Godly just by being patient and nice. You don't get stressed out, they get the reassurance they need, everyone wins.

The second idea was told to me by my brother, in the name of Rabbi Wolf of Aish HaTorah. I was complaining to him a while back about someone that I had to deal with on a regular basis and just frustrated the heck out of me. I wanted so much to let go of my feelings of dislike towards her, but she was just this magic combination of impatient, flighty, and insecure, and I could tell I wasn't the only one not amused by her behavior. It was so hard to get anything done with her, and often it created more work for me. However, I wanted nothing more than to put my feelings aside and learn to like her. It was quite the challenge.

As I was explaining (complaining) to my brother my conflicted feelings, and he stopped me in mid-sentence to get my Chumash. He fervently flipped through the pages until he found the passage he was looking for (it was quite cinematic). He pointed me to the part in the text where Avraham and Lot separate (13:9) and Avraham says: 'Please separate from me; if you go left, I will go right, and if you go right I will go left.' Avraham was the first guy to break into kiruv - trying to turn people on to monotheism and generally being decent human beings, so you know he had a ton of patience. But no matter what he tried, Lot still wasn't getting it. It was probably made all the more frustrating by the fact that they were related. So finally, he gave up. He said you go one way, I'll go another, and we don't have to be aggravated by each other anymore. My brother reassured me (how Godly of him!) that we don't have to get along with everyone. If Avraham Aveinu can get to the point where he says, 'I tried my best to make it work, we'll both be happier if we just move on,' then kal vchomer - all the more so for the rest of us. Move on (and away) from the person as best you can. Sometimes the square peg isn't going to fit in the round hole, and that's ok.

Shabbat shalom!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Rav Ovadia's Greatness Is Still With Us

By: Shayna Chana Hulkower

I had a chance to see Rav Ovadia and I never took advantage of it. And now, it's too late.

I'll admit, for an Ashkenazi baales teshuva from Long Island, my fascination with Rav Ovadia was rather unexpected for most people. At first, I thought he was cool for purely superficial reasons: the gold-trimmed robe and turban, the sunglasses at all times of the day and night (and even indoors). I could tell that Michael Jackson stole his look from the Rav. As I learned more and more about him, and his teachings, I was really impressed. Regardless of how things he said were portrayed in the media (and usually taken out of context to be inflammatory), he was truly a genius when it came to halacha. Rabbis from around the world would come to him with their impossible to answer questions. He was well-known for ruling on issues in ways different from most other Rabbis. For example - while riding a bicycle on Shabbat is generally not allowed, the typical reason given is the same one as for why we don't play instruments on Shabbat - because it might break, and we will fix it, and THAT is an aveira. Rav Ovadia ruled differently - he said that on Shabbat we are supposed to conduct ourselves differently than we do during the week. So, if most of the world rides their bike during the week (whether for commuting or exercise), then it's only right to davka not ride a bike on Shabbat, because your manner of travel should be different.

In fact, he has many famous rulings, such as: finding a way for women whose husbands were killed but missing in the Yom Kippur war to remarry without finding their bodies; and was well known for being lenient to ensure as many Jews were keeping the mitzvot properly as possible. He quoted Rabbi Yosef Karo, the writer of the Shulchan Aruch, who said that we should not be more stringent than necessary when keeping laws, because then we are adding to the Torah given to us by Moshe at Har Sinai, which is an aveira.

When I first came to Israel I lived in Har Nof. One of my favorite parts of living there, is every day on my way to school, I would walk past Rav Ovadia's house. There was a shorter route, but I felt that there was something special walking past the tzaddik's home on HaKablan. Almost every morning I would tell myself, next week I should wake up a little earlier, and daven at the shul below his home. Anyone could go, and from what friends of mine who had davened there told me, there was always space on the women's side, and maybe I could get a bracha from the holy Rav. I'm sure you can see where this story is going: despite living in Har Nof for 7 months, I never made it to his shul. Once I moved to Nachlaot, I would sometimes float the idea of going super early for shul, but mostly I was regretting not going when it was easier.

And here we are today - when the option to go has been taken away from me. The only person who is to blame is myself. How often do we put things off until tomorrow that we could really do today? Whether it's saving money, going to bed earlier, starting a diet, whatever - when we're actually in a situation to make the choice that will set us on the path to success, we postpone it until tomorrow. The problem is that when tomorrow comes, how often do we wish we had done it yesterday?

I'll never have another chance to be in the same room as HaMaran Ovadia, but that doesn't mean I can't learn from this mistake. The next time I have the opportunity to put my money where my mouth is and actually start doing the thing I really want to put off I won't. There is an idea that when a tzaddik dies, the middot that person excelled at are released into the world, and available for you and me to grab on to and incorporate into ourselves. If there is one thing that can be said about Rav Ovadia, he was prolific. I'm sure that some of his productive energy is there, and waiting for me to chop it. Let's keep the things that made him great with us. A tzaddik never dies as long as we keep being motivated by his greatness. Even though I can never see him again, I can keep his greatness with me at all times.