Rucheli's Writings

Readings, Ramblings, and Religious Rantings

!!הבקעה בעברית (Breakthrough in Hebrew!!) October 20, 2010

Filed under: My Blog — rucheli @ 12:27 am
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The Building Blocks of Hebrew

“Communication is key.” We hear that over and over and over again in every context… relationships, family time, politics, etc. So what happens when communication is impossible? What do you do when you find yourself (or put yourself) in a foreign country where the language could not be more different from your native tongue? How do you communicate?

Unless you want to stick to a game of charades the entire time you’re there, you have no choice but to learn the language.

It’s not easy, especially when there are sounds that don’t exist in English, practically every word is conjugated as male or female including the numbers, and you really don’t even have much time that you can set aside to studying the language. Now add in the fact that you are expected to be able to read and translate writings from Hebrew into coherent English sentences on an hourly basis, and the frustration can make you crack. Thank G-d, today marks a huge breakthrough for me… one that will (G-d willing) alleviate much of the anxiety I’ve been having in classes so far this semester… (more…)

 

Tuning Our Lives October 18, 2010

Filed under: My Blog — rucheli @ 9:20 pm
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The Piano Tuner

Every once in a while, a person wanders into your life that has the ability to make you completely reevaluate your priorities. Sometimes it’s a person that you end up being life-long friends with, but often times it’s a complete stranger. No matter who it is, it will always catch you by surprise.

During class a few days ago, a man literally stumbled into my life. He walked through the door of the Beis Medrash at Mayanot with a very specific job to do… we have quite a few musicians among us and our piano was incredibly out of tune. And this man was here to fix it. But there was something incredibly odd about this man and his circumstantial timing…

Before I explain, it’s important to know that at the time of this story, a class was in process that was discussing a concept called “Nissayon.” While there is no direct translation from Hebrew, the closest we can get to an English equivalent is a challenge or a test from Hashem. The shoresh, or grammatical root, of the word is “Nes”, which means a flag-post or sign. What purposes does a nes serve? There are two main functions: 1) something that can be raised up high and 2) something for other people to see. The sages teach us that a nissayon serves the same two purposes.

Every time we are challenged by G-d, no matter how difficult or overwhelming it might be, it is actually considered a chessed, or kindness, from Him. This doesn’t really make sense at first look. How could us getting very sick (G-d forbid) qualify as a kindness? We’re taught that these tests are placed in front of us so that we pray to Hashem, an act that actually raises our souls to higher levels of G-dliness. When we recover or overcome these challenges, we are spiritually stronger than we were before, a gift from G-d.

Additionally, a nisssayon serves as something for other people to see. It’s unfortunate, but many times it takes something awful happening to the people around us for us to realize how precious life is… Your best friend’s father passes away at an early age (G-d forbid) and you treasure your parents so much more. Your coworker gets divorced and you treasure your spouse so much more. A family member spends a significant amount of time sick (G-d forbid) and we finally start getting check-ups at the doctor regularly. These are horribly trying challenges for those suffering through the pain, but for everyone else the nissayon serves as a sign from Hashem, a nudge in the right direction.

It was during this conversation that the piano tuner opened the door and walked into the room… and he proceeded to walk straight into the air-conditioning unit sticking out of the wall at shin-level. He continued to stumble into the room before Chaim, our grounds-keeper, walked into the room to guide him. After a few seconds of being dumbfounded, we all realized at the exact same moment that this man was completely blind. We watched in complete awe as this walking “nes” entered our lives at the exact moment that we were learning the meanings, reasons, and results of a nissayon.

As he slowly moved his hands along the side of the piano, feeling for the bolt that would unlock the lid and let him access the strings of our piano, a feeling of complete awe entered the room. Sight is a function that we consider so autonomous that we completely take it for granted, but this living sign from G-d made us all rethink the wonders of our daily lives. But this wonder at our own lives only lasted a few minutes, because before long the piano tuner was plucking at the strings and making minute adjustments, feeling his way between the different notes and remembering what tools were placed where in his bag. And then our view of this nissayon as a sign to ourselves transformed right before our ears into a display of an aliyah, a rising up of the soul. This man had not only overcome the pain of this immense challenge, but he had used it as a springboard to succeeding in life. He had used his sense of hearing, his compensation for his loss of sight, as a means of making a living. Not only was he living and surviving, but he was thriving, evidently as one of the best instrumental technicians in central Israel.

The lesson we learned from this ordinary man facing this immense nissayon is one that will stay with me forever. It made this foreign concept that we were learning into a relevant concept; it brought the words of the Torah and our sages to life literally before our eyes. If that isn’t a sign from Hashem, I don’t know what is…

 

The Reverse Akeidah October 14, 2010

Filed under: My Blog — rucheli @ 12:58 am
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“Would you be able to…”

The host of a meal that I attended during Rosh HaShanah this year added his own twist to the standard introduction rounds. “Go around the table and I want everyone to say your name, where you’re from, and whether or not you would have been able to sacrifice your only son on G-d’s altar.”

I’ve gotten used to being asked tough questions at a Shabbos or Yom Tov table, and sometimes even being forced into an impromptu shpiel on this weeks Torah portion (i.e. “D’var Torah”), but even looking back this question still catches me off-guard. What’s the “right answer” here?

Yes? — How could you be so heartless?!
No? — What, you don’t believe that everything Hashem does is for the best?!
I don’t know? — You’re learning Torah full-time, how could you not know the answer to a simple yes or no question?!

As the question worked it’s way around the table, I entered a mild state of panic. I was being coerced into exposing my very principles in front of a room full of 65 other people (it was a huge house), and I had no idea what answer would fly out of my open mouth when it was my turn. When the spotlight was finally shining on me and I was blinded like a deer in headlights, I heard someone that sounded a lot like me answer, “Hi, my name is Rucheli, I’m from Florida, and I hope that I would have the strength to do whatever Hashem asks of me in my life.” I breathed a sigh of relief. It was a dry, safe answer… Well done, subconsciousness, well done. Another moral disaster was averted and the rest of the High Holidays carried on without incident.

Setting the Stage

Both fortunately and unfortunately, when you are spending time in an institute of higher Torah learning (yeshiva or seminary, etc), the things that bother you are never allowed to fall to the wayside and be buried by the passing sands of time. And while I can’t speak for other places, the teachers here at Mayanot are incredibly adept at digging out the skeletons of our spiritual closets and making us examine every aspect of our lives from the viewpoint of Torah and Mitzvot.

Clearly, my attempt at forgetting my Rosh HaShanah dilemma was a hopelessly futile one. (more…)

 

Photo Tour of Mayanot October 10, 2010

Filed under: My Blog,Photos — rucheli @ 4:38 pm
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Well I’ve been here for a little over a month now, so I figure it’s about time that you all see where I’m spending my year 🙂 If you follow my flick religiously, you’ve seen these photos already. But for those of you who don’t, or for those of you who do but would like some commentary, I’m proud to present my photo tour of Mayanot! Enjoy, and feel free to comment below to let me know what you think of our humble abode 😉

 

The Mayanot Building

The Mayanot Building - It Does Not Normally Look Like a Castle 😛


(more…)

 

Park-Hopping October 8, 2010

Filed under: My Blog — rucheli @ 3:20 pm
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One of the great things about Israel is that parks are everywhere. In fact as a country, Israel has one of the highest number of parks per capita in the world. And we at Mayanot like to enjoy these parks as frequently as possible 🙂

After Simchat Torah in Israel was over, everyone outside of the country of Israel still had 2 days of the holiday left. If you’re wondering why that is, I recommend this article from AskMoses.com which explains it pretty well.  In any case, because the rest of the world was still celebrating Simchat Torah, Israel didn’t want to miss out on the fun… thus the concept of Hakafot Shniot was born. Literally meaning “second circles”, it’s a celebration of the fact that everyone else is still celebrating. The only difference is that since the holiday itself is already over, we get to use live music, microphones, special lighting, and huge open expanses filled with food vendors and popcorn machines. These Hakafot Shniot celebrations happen all over Israel, with the larger ones in Kfar Chabad, Bnei Brak, Chevron, and here in Jerusalem.

Photo by RealJerusalemStreets

While the original plan was to take a bus to Chevron, none of us felt like rushing to the bus station and traveling after the chag was over. Conveniently, the biggest Hakafot Shniot was at Gan HaPa’amon (Bell Park) just down the street from school (15 minute walk). I had no idea it was going on, but while I was at dinner with a few of the other girls, I got a call from Menucha saying that we should head over after we ate. So after we paid our tab at Tal Bagel, we walked over and found a huge crowd of people flooding the entire park.

We grabbed a spot on a hill to the left of the stage and sat back and enjoyed the show. The live bands were great, the dancing rabbis were entertaining, the Head Rabbi of Israel was there and inspiring, and the company was the best ♥ What an amazing way to appreciate the fact that this was the best possible year to be in Israel during the chagim (holidays)! While the rest of the world had three different weekends where they couldn’t work or clean or drive or use technology for three days in a row, we had one, and the rest of the time we had breaks between the holiday and Shabbat. Perfect!

Lunch Time!

Lunch Time!

Another unrelated but equally enjoyable parks experience was the picnic in the park that a group of us decided to have last week. Another park down the street (this one only 10 minutes away) is situated on this plateau above the surrounding area and has beautiful trees and grass and landscaping… something that takes a lot of effort in most of Israel. So we decided one day during lunch that we were going to drop by the local market, pack some lunch food, and enjoy the amazing weather we’ve had recently. The result was 2 hours of worry-free relaxing and food with some of our favorite girls.

It really is incredible how a country in the middle of the desert can turn itself into such an oasis. Then again, anything is possible.

 

The Torah’s Feet October 6, 2010

Filed under: Poetry — rucheli @ 1:56 am
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silent shuls but sukkahs filled
one last wave of the species as
Hoshanah Rabbah brings closure
to the homes Hashem willed

parchment rolled
inanimate scrolls
ink and hide hidden
under velvet and gold

men start circling
wooden doors open
dancing and drumming
and circles of singing

whats this? are you seeing?
the parchment moves
up and down and around and around
the Torah starts living

once a year it happens
hide and ink come to life
and Jews forget strife
for the sake of these actions

these yidden all meet
at the shul to dance and
sing and give for once
the Torah some feet

 

Finding Freedom October 5, 2010

Filed under: My Blog — rucheli @ 10:42 pm
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The Mayanot girls were lucky enough on Sept. 28th to have Rabbi Shmuley Boteach join us for breakfast and Chassidus in the sukkah. If you’ve never heard of “America’s Rabbi”, he has authored several books including the best-seller Kosher Sex and he is also the host of the TV show “Shalom in the Home” on TLC. He is a world-famous lecturer / life coach on all subjects having to do with getting over the broken relationships of your life, whether with yourself, your parents, your spouse, your children, or G-d. He also happens to be one of the most compelling speakers I’ve had the pleasure of listening to.

Last week Rabbi Boteach stopped by with his wife and daughters to take a look at the school. His daughter is joining us here as of tomorrow, so they got the full tour. Afterwards he sat down and said a “quick 30 second thought” for about 30 minutes having to do with the root of all fears… the fear of being insignificant. It really hit home for a lot of us, and it’s true. Every true fear (not talking about phobias of spiders, etc.) that we have in life has to do with the fear of being insignificant. The fear of death, the fear of being alone, the fear of being poor; all of them stem from the insecurity generated by the fear of being insignificant.

The result of this fear is that we spend our entire lives trying to do something to prove our significance to the world. We work hard for good grades so that we can get into the best college to get the best degree to make the most money so that we can “be someone” in the financial world. We sacrifice our family lives in order to work extra hours for that promotion so that we can “be someone” in the company. We give up our own needs and wants to fulfill the needs and wants of others so that we can “be someone” that the people around us want us to be. We spend so much time doing things that we never actually get to just BE ourselves.

Something incredible happened when Rabbi Boteach was telling us all of this… a revelation of sorts about why I’m here. I worked in high school to get good grades and good SAT scores so that I could get a scholarship to go to college. I went to college on this prestigious scholarship and worked hard to get good internships. I held countless leadership positions in countless extracurricular activities to boost my resume. I worked my butt off to get a great job when I graduated so that I could do something with my life.

The time came to graduate, and the job offer that I worked so hard to get came my way. And I turned it down.

People called me crazy. My family worried that I did so much to get to where I was and then I just let the offer sit there; they worried I would never use my degree. My friends couldn’t believe that I was turning down the kind of opportunity that we had all had our eyes set on for the last five years of our lives… longer, 18 years of education! But I said “no thanks, I’m going to Israel.”

Maybe I’m crazy.

Or maybe I’m tired of doing, doing, doing.

So I bought a one way ticket to the other side of the world, to a place where I don’t have to DO anything. Here, I can just BE. I can be myself, I can return to my essential soul, to my natural state of existence. Yes, I’m still learning. Yes, I’m still “doing” things. But the reasons for my actions have changed entirely, because for once I’m not trying to do something in order to do something else in order to get something that society sees as a quintessential part of being significant. Instead, I just get to live.

I think that for the first time, I’ve finally realized what it means to be free.