Rucheli's Writings

Readings, Ramblings, and Religious Rantings

Tuning Our Lives October 18, 2010

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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…

 

“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 😉

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 🙂

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

 

Finding Freedom October 5, 2010

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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.

 

“It Takes One to Know One” September 26, 2010

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I had the pleasure of spending the first day of Sukkot by the Schloss family in the Old City on Thursday, and it was a great time with an amazing view from their rooftop sukkah overlooking the Western Wall. Rabbi Schloss is an extremely intelligent man, and very good at making seemingly unrelated concepts essentially intertwined with each other. So based on a “Dvar Torah” (Word of Torah) by Rabbi Schloss, here is a quick thought of the day:

At least twice a day, Jews around the world say the Shema prayer. Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad… Hear Israel, the L-rd is G-d, the L-rd is One.

What do we mean when we say that the L-rd is One?

Interesting discoveries have been made in relatively recent times about the concept of being “one”. There are no two people exactly alike; there are no two snowflakes alike; there are billions and billions of grains of sand and no two grains of sand are alike. You could build machines to produce identical items and there will still be nothing produced that is exactly the same as anything else. It is inherent in the very nature of the world that there are no two things can be identical. What does this mean for us?

Everything in this world is unique for a reason; because Hashem, our Creator, is so unique that it is against His nature to create things that are identical.

When we declare in the Shema that Hashem is One, we are recognizing that not only is He unique, but all of His creations are unique as well, including us! So Rabbi Schloss summed up this entire concept into a few brief words:

When we say Hashem is One, He looks at us and says, “You know what…It takes One to know One.

 

What’s in a name? September 1, 2010

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Trying to catch up on blog posts since the last week or two have been crazy trying to get ready for the big move… but if you also follow (or stalk) me on Facebook, I’m sure you’ve recently noticed the name change. So, as one friend so poignantly asked, “what’s up with that”?

Fist things first, what is this “Rucheli” thing I call myself now? Well it’s a nickname lovingly given to me by Malka, one of my best friends. It’s short for my Hebrew name, which is Ruchel Yisraela. I was named after my great-grandparents on both sides of my mother’s parents… my my mom’s mother’s mother and mom’s father’s father. And a year ago when I really started becoming more observant, I was thinking back and forth about using my Hebrew name more often, but Ruchel Yisraela is a mouthful. And so Rucheli became the standard name I introduced myself as to the different members of the Jewish communities I found myself involved with, whether it was Crown Heights or the Snorkel & Study program or the JLI retreats, etc.

Recently, as I’ve gotten closer and closet to leaving for Israel, and as I’ve had more and more constant contact with people who call me Rucheli, it’s become natural to me. But I never really thought about “changing” my name because my family has never known me as that. But two days ago in Miami for my going away/birthday party, my family gave me a cake that said “Happy Birthday Rucheli” on it… and that was it 🙂 So Rucheli is officially the name I’m using from now on whenever I meet someone new, and if my old friends want to start calling me that as well, all the better 😉

So what is so great about Hebrew/Jewish names anyways? Why would I want to be called by a name different than that which I grew up with all my life? Because for a Jew, the Hebrew name is a string connecting the soul to G-d. When someone faints, what do you do? You whisper their name in their ear to wake them up again. Same too with a Jewish name… When your soul is struggling or sleeping, someone saying your Jewish name can wake it up and help restore it to it’s rightful place as part of G-d. This is how powerful a Jewish name is, and it is also said that your destiny and your Jewish name are completely intertwined, with every letter in your name representing a key event or turning point in your life. Masters of Kabbalah (the ancient Jewish mysticism, not the Madonna side-show) actually tell us that when parents give their children their Jewish name, they are actually receiving prophecy from G-d, since they are fore-telling what is already destined to happen to their child and summing it all up with one (or sometimes two) Jewish names.

With a name that means so much and which has evidently played such a pivotal role in my life getting to this point, why wouldn’t I want to use it as often as possible? 🙂

 

The Day the Prophet Died: Leadership lessons from the life and death of Moses February 22, 2010

mosesYesterday marked the 3,403rd anniversary of the birth of the greatest prophet of all time, Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses Our Leader. The same day, 120 years after his birth, also marks “The Day the Prophet Died.”

Moses was the human scribe for G-d’s Divine Torah. He was the leader of the nation of Israel. He was the greatest prophet who ever lived. He was G-d’s partner in the salvation of the Jewish slaves in Egypt. So what made Moses great? What can we learn from his birth, his life, and his death?

Rambam, also known as Maimonides, called Moses “the most perfect human being.” Our sages teach us that “The Divine Presence spoke from his throat.” Yet the Torah itself states that Moses was also “the most humble man on the face of the earth.” To discover the true essence of our greatest prophet, and to uncover the myriad of lessons to be learned from him, one must return to the very beginning of his journey on our planet. Yesterday 3,403 years ago, a baby was born that was so special that his parents’ home was immediately “filled with light.” Yet this precious baby boy awaited the same fate as all Jewish boys in the times of Pharaoh… he was given to the Nile river. Protected only by a reed basket, Moses floated through the crocodile-infested river swamps. Already, long before Moses began to fulfill his potential, we can learn a valuable lesson about leadership from our greatest prophet… Leaders don’t just appear as a gift from above; they emerge from among the people. To be a great leader, you have to start by sharing the fate of the people you lead, just as Moses did so many years ago.

We all know the story of Moses’ childhood. He was rescued by the Pharaoh’s daughter and raised in the palace as an Egyptian prince. During his life of royalty we learn another lesson from Moses. After sharing the fate of your people and rising through the ranks, you must never forget where you came from. During all his years as a prince of Egypt, Moses never stops feeling for the plight of his fellow Jews. The first open display of this is on the day that Moses becomes an adult. He went out “to his brothers” and saw the last seconds of an Egyptian beating Jewish slave to death. Moses felt compelled to act and does so by striking down the Egyptian, sacrificing his life of royalty in a single blow. The very next day Moses went back out among the people and witnessed two Jews arguing with each other. He realized that the Jews were not slaves because of Egypt’s great power over them, but rather because of their lack of Ahavat Yisrael, or love for a fellow Jew. If only the Jews could band together, Moses realized, they could rise up and free themselves. With an epiphany like that, you’d think that Moses would act! He should have become the leader of the Jewish people immediately and helped the nation of Israel band together, right? Bu instead, Moses became a shepherd. How could he do such a thing? Why?!

Although at first glance it may be tempting to see Moses as a coward, we shouldn’t ever let ourselves make such a grave mistake. In fact, Moses is actually teaching us yet another lesson in leadership. A leader is not someone who simply defends his people or fights alongside them. He is not just a teacher, a governor, or a preacher. He is also a nurturer. In fact, you could argue that the primary, most important task of a leader is to develop and provide for his followers. And so, in order to become the “faithful shepherd” of the people of Israel, Moses fled Egypt to herd the sheep of Jethro in Midian.

There is a story in the Midrash that tells us of the day Moses was chosen by G-d to be the leader of Israel. It takes place as Moses is tending a flock, and a kid runs away. Moses chased after it until the kid came to a spring, where it began to drink. When others would have been frustrated over having to go on such a chase, Moses simply cried “Oh! I did not know that you were thirsty!” And just like that, he picked up the kid and cradled it in his arms as he carried it lovingly back to the flock. The Midrash tells us that G-d saw this and said, “You are merciful in tending your flock, so you will tend to My flock, the people of Israel.” The Lubavitcher Rebbe teaches us that not only does this story in the Midrash display Moses’ compassion; it also shows that he understood the true reason why the kid ran away. It was not out of malice or ill-nature; it was simply because he was thirsty. This is a priceless lesson in leadership. Studies have shown time and time again that people by nature want to be successful, they want to contribute, and they want to achieve great things. If someone you lead is “running away,” chances are that they are just thirsty. Instead of firing them or reprimanding them, find a way to nurture that person’s thirst to succeed and you will have no problem carrying them back to the flock. Only once Moses understood this was he able to take his true position as the leader of the Jewish people.

After a lifetime of preparation for his task as the leader of Israel, G-d decides it’s about time Moses got on with it. So what happens? G-d reveals himself to Moses from amongst the branches of the miraculous burning bush, and he says to Moses: “I have seen the afflictions of My people, I have heard their cries, I know their sorrows.” He tells Moses to get going. You know the song: “Go down Moses, way down to Egypt’s land. Tel ol’ Pharaoh, let my people go!” And what does Moses say? “Ehhh… I think I’ll pass, but thanks for the offer.” In fact, not only does Moses say no, he refuses to go. And not only does he refuse to go, he sits there and argues with G-d for seven days and seven nights, pulling every excuse in the book. Excuses of humility, excuses of ignorance, excuses of disbelief, and even excuses of speech impediments! And when G-d continues to insist, Moses finally breaks down and begs: Oh please, my G-d, don’t send me! “Send by the hand of him whom You shall send!” But what does this cryptic plea mean?

We’ve already long established the fact that Moses was the greatest of all prophets. He spoke with G-d face to face. He received Divine Visions while fully conscious, no trances or dreams needed. So it comes as no surprise to us that Moses knew the future fate of the Jewish people. He knew that if he took them out of Egypt, it he was the one that brought them to the land of Israel, then it would only be a matter of time before they faced exile again. And so Moses refused, begging G-d to instead send the final redeemer of Israel, the Messiah that would bring about the end of all exiles and the return of the world to the Garden of Eden’s pure state. Moses was willing to sacrifice his very relationship with G-d for the sake of his people. And so the next lesson of leadership to be learned from Moses is one of intense self-sacrifice.

This lesson of self-sacrifice is one that is seen over and over again throughout Moses’ lifetime. Moses continuously offered his status and his very life in exchange for the people of Israel’s forgiveness and redemption. He fought for our forgiveness after the sin of the golden calf. He fought for our redemption the whole of the 40 years in the desert. He never accepted that the fate of the Jewish people was another impending exile. Even on the last day of his life, Moses pleaded with G-d and beseeched Him to prevent further exile, to the point where G-d grew angry and said to Moses, “Enough!” But for Moses it was never enough. Kabbalah teaches us that even though his life on earth ended 3,283 years ago, his fight lives on. The Zohar, the book of Kabbalah, tells us that every Jewish soul has a spark of Moses’ soul at its very core. The Lubavitcher Rebbe taught us that Moses was a teacher, whose job it was to open a small window for the inner knowledge to pour down into the conscious mind. So how do wake up that part of Moses that lies within each of us? By waking ourselves. And how do you wake yourself? By finding someone in whom Moses is already awake. The Rebbe taught us that only the awakened can wake others. This is the final lesson to be learned from the birth, life, and death of Moses, Our Teacher: Awake the Moses within you. If you’re already awake, wake others. When all of us truly connect to the spark of Moses within each of us, only then can his fight for the end of all exiles truly see fruition.

May you all be blessed with the awakening of the spark of Moses in your soul, and with the final redemption of our people with the coming of Moshiach now!