Rucheli's Writings

Readings, Ramblings, and Religious Rantings

“Go to Yourself” October 16, 2010

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The Crossroads of Lech Lecha

This week was our first full week back to class here at Mayanot… and all of us here agree that it was a FULL week. After being on vacation for 3 weeks, your brain starts to get a little out of shape and then all of a sudden your back in class from 7:30 am to 9pm for 5 days a week and you end up extremely overwhelmed on a mental level. Not only that, but a lot of us entered into this Shabbos emotionally overstimulated also. I think many of us are just starting to figure out just how far we still have to go until we figure out who we really are and what path Hashem wants us to take in our lives. And as if that wasn’t stressful enough, most of us feel as if we’re anywhere from 18 to 29 years late to the ballgame…

And then comes Parshas Lech Lecha, the Torah portion that was read in shul this morning. In the very beginning of the parshah, what happens? Hashem tells Avram [at the age of 75!!!] to begin his journey… So if we’re in our mid-20s, it turns out we’re actually half a century early, nothing to worry about ๐Ÿ˜‰

Now granted, it’s not as if Avram did nothing for the first 75 years of his life… but not until this parshah do we really hear about him because this is the first time he does something strictly to have a relationship with Hashem. What did he do? He left! He picked up his entire family and left his land, his birthplace, and his father’s home and he went “south” towards Yerushalayim, towards the very place that I’m lucky enough to be spending my year in right now. And when Avram got here, he was able to serve Hashem better than he ever had before. This is the Holy Land after all, and the connection to G-d here make it so much easier to engage ourselves and those around is in the holiness of serving Hashem.

But after just one year in Israel, what happens? Famine hits the land and Avram is forced to leave. He has to head south to Mitzrayim, to Egypt, where he has to deal with trials and tribulations as crazy as his wife being kidnapped and taken to Pharaoh. Why?! All Avram wanted to do was serve G-d, to be in the holy land and spread the name of Hashem! What sense does it make to leave?

But just as Avram had to leave Eretz Yisrael and go down to Mitzrayim, so to will I (and all of the other girls here at Mayanot) eventually have to leave Yerushalayim and head back out into the world. But Parshas Lech Lecha isn’t just a set of traveling instructions for Avram… the Rebbe teaches us that it is actually a lesson to all Jews on how we should live our lives. When Avram went to Israel, he learned how to serve Hashem better than when he was still at home. But in order to really fulfill his true potential, in order to merit the name change and become the Avraham that we all know and love, he had to first leave the holy land and go wherever Hashem took him. When G-d told him to begin his journey, He didn’t just say Lech (Go), He said Lech LECHA (Go to YOURSELF), and all throughout his journeys both in and outside of Israel, Avraham found ways to return to who he truly was: a soul who wants to serve Hashem.

Even though I’ll have to eventually leave this holy place, Parshas Lech Lecha teaches us that no matter where we go or what we do in life, we can do it in a way that helps us go to ourselves, to connect to who we are on an essential level. And when we are able to really understand that even the physicality of our world can be used in a holy way during our journey of Lech Lecha, then we will be able to follow in Avraham’s footsteps and return BACK to Yerushalayim with the coming of Moshiach, may it be soon!!

Gute voch, shavua tov, may you all have a happy and healthy week as you continue on your journey to yourself ๐Ÿ™‚

[This was my Dvar Torah this Shabbos as said to the Mayanot family and staff ๐Ÿ™‚ Hope you enjoyed!]

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Shabbos with the Schroeders October 11, 2010

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This weekend was the clash of the titans… Science vs Religion, acted out in a single Shabbos dinner. The setting was an unassuming house just a few blocks from Mayanot, at the home of Dr. Gerald Schroeder and his wife Barbara. While much of the battle was acted out in books that filled his shelves (and mine as well), it was one of the only places in the world where you will hear an observant Jew speak about dinosaurs and evolution at the Shabbos table.

Dr. Schroeder is a personal hero of mine, and if I can follow in his footsteps even a little bit, that would be the culmination of my entire life up until this point. He has his PhD in physics from MIT and has studied Torah for decades, but most impressively he managed to combine the two into a series of books that transforms any preconceived notions about both science and religionย of anyone with an open mind.

As an engineer and a born-and-bred scientist, the most difficult part of becoming observant was figuring out what to do with my 18 years of education in the laws of nature. After much bashing of my own ego and humbling of my own intellect, I was able to understand that with our all powerful G-d, anything is truly possible. This doesn’t mean that I resorted to the literally biblical translation of Genesis, with no big-bang, no dinosaurs, and no cavemen. I did have a huge paradigm shift though, and it wasn’t long before I was searching for ways that G-d’s biblical creation and His scientific creation told the same story…

The answers lie in quantum physics.

For anyone unfamiliar with the scientific concepts, I can’t currently explain exactly how it works. But Dr. Schroeder has done a good job of expounding on those same thoughts for those with at least a preliminary understanding of both general relativity and the biblical account of creation. If you’re interested, I encourage you to read at least this article on his website, and if it’s your speed then please by all means, by one of his books ๐Ÿ™‚

The fact that I was able to spend a Shabbos dinner with Dr. Schroeder was unreal. Add to that the fact that he was one of the cutest grandfatherly men I have ever met, and that his wife cooks amazing food, and it made for quite the enjoyable evening. On top of that, his son-in-law is the best Jazz composer in Israel (Daniel Zamir), and his wife is the public face of Hadassah International. We were dining in the presence of greatness!

Unfortunately the environment of the meal wasn’t conducive to intellectual conversations… There was a group of about 15 kids right out of high school that were visiting for the Young Judea Year-Course program, so it was never really quiet enough to speak of anything too serious. Dr. Schroeder did however speak a little bit about Carl Sagan and the Cosmos, as well as the verse in creation that speaks of pterodactyls… Yes, you read correctly ๐Ÿ˜‰

I did manage to stop Dr. Schroeder on our way out the door to thank him for having us (myself, Irina my roomie, and Ariela, the other engineer at Mayanot) over for dinner. I also told him that I would really like to keep in touch with I’d like! I can’t wait… as soon as I finish reading his books, you can bet that I will be right back over!

 

Ra’anana – A Taste of Home September 26, 2010

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Ahuza St. - Central Ra'anana

One of the great things about Mayanot is that they set us up with host families for Shabbat and holidays. You can choose to stay in Jerusalem or travel around Israel a bit to visit some of the families that volunteer to have seminary girls crash their houses for a weekend. I spent this Shabbos in a cute little place called Ra’anana, and it was a taste of home.

The main road is Ahuza Street, lined with palm trees and pretty landscaping – a rare sight in Israel. The houses are more modern and more spread out than most places in Israel, and it’s a quiet neighborhood. Another great thing is that there aren’t very many cats. This may sound like an odd statement, but in Israel there is a serious cat problem. When the British ruled this area, they brought over cats from England to take care of the rats… but now the cats are Israel’s rats and they are everywhere. While they still exist in Ra’anana, they are there in much smaller doses and it’s nice.

Another amazing thing about Ra’anana ย is the huge percentage of immigrants. There are just as many people that speak English as there are native Israelis. Granted, they all have accents… Canadian, British, South African, or Australian… but it’s English none-the-less.

I went to two different shuls there, a small Chabad shul and a gorgeous Sepharad shul named Kehillat Shivtei Yisrael. The Chabad shul was mostly Israeli, but Shivtei Yisrael was completely Anglo. It was beautiful and the men in the shul must have taken choir classes because they all had amazing voices.

It was a very quiet, relaxing weekend with a very sweet family. The father went to Mayanot Men’s Program 13 years ago, so he knows the system. He and his wife have 4 kids, and the girls were very attached to me after treating me like a jungle gym for 3 hours straight. It reminded me of my Rabbi’s kids โ™ฅย Ra’anana was a great break from the craziness and on-top-of-each-other living of Jerusalem, and was a much appreciated taste of home (humidity included). Yet another successful Shabbos ๐Ÿ™‚

 

Shabbos in Yerushalayim September 4, 2010

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Well this weekend was my first Shabbos in Yerushalayim… What an amazing way to start off my time in Israel!

My 10 hour flight from New York actually was not as awful as I was expecting it to be… the two kids in front of me who were screaming as the plane took off fell asleep pretty quickly and slept for about 8 hours of the flight, BH! The kosher meals were actually pretty tasty, and the seats weren’t the least comfortable I’ve ever had. I got into Israel around 1:30 in the afternoon, landing in Tel Aviv. After going through passport control and waiting FOREVER to get my luggage, I caught the Sherut (shuttle) to Jerusalem. I pulled up in front of the Mayanot building around 3:30pm and who was the first person I saw? Menucha (Mackenzie) Howell, my soul twin and instant best friend from the JLI retreat last year!! Instant reaction: “WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?!?!?!” Turns out that the seminary she was supposed to go to this year was having some logistical problems and she ended up at Mayanot instead. For the year. BEST YEAR EVER, I’m sooooo excited she’s here, I can’t even describe it!!

So I got settled in and unpacked as quickly as possible, and then hurriedly got ready for my first Shabbos in Yerushalayim (the result of which was my hair looking all too similar to a lion’s mane). We davened (prayed) Minchah (the afternoon services) downstairs and then lit candles. After that we walked about 40 minutes to the Kotel, or the Wailing Wall, in Old City. In case you don’t know, the reason the Kotel is so important to the Jewish people is because it’s the remaining wall around the Temple Mount from the turn of the era that is closest to the Holy of Holies (where the Holy Ark was in the Temple). So that is where Jewish people come from around the world to pray and ask G-d for blessings or healing, etc. It means that the Kotel is an extremely moving place. However right now, the week before the High Holidays, it also means that it is a very VERY crowded place. So unfortunately my davening at the Kotel this Shabbos was not the best davening I’ve ever done, and trying to stand with my feet together during the Amidah was a little bit like playing limbo as hundreds of women shoved their way past me to get to the wall. I guess its a good thing that I’ll be here all year and have plenty of opportunities to go back and try again.

After the Kotel, we all walked back to Mayanot and made Kiddush for our Shabbos meal. The food was great, the company was even greater, and Rabbi Levinger (our amazing head Rabbi here at the school) had each of us go around and do a short introduction. We didn’t get through everyone, since there are 40 of us and some of the intros weren’t quite so short, so we cut the post-meal Farbrengen (Chassidic gathering) off at about 3am. I went outside with some of my new friends and talked until about 4am and then PASSED OUT since I didn’t sleep on the plane.

I woke up at about 1pm today, missed Kiddush downstairs so I made on Challah, and then enjoyed lunch with the girls and the Levinger family (the Rabbi, Rebbetzin, and their 5 adorable children ka”h). We went around and had any of the girls who didn’t introduce themselves last night do so today. Then several of us went on a walk to a really nice local park where hundreds of other neighbors were out for the traditional Shabbos stroll. We ended at the Levinger house for popsicles and niggunim (wordless melodies), followed by Havdalah (closing services for Shabbos). Now we’re hanging out at the dorms waiting for Selichos services after midnight tonight. (If you don’t know what Selichos is, check the Teshuvah Network for an article I’m posting there now ๐Ÿ™‚ )

All in all, Israel is amazing and I can’t believe I’m actually here. Classes start tomorrow morning, I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes. And pictures are coming soon!

Love and miss you all. K’Siva V’Chasima Tova, L’Shana Tova U’Mesuka!