Know Your Worth: Shoshanah’s Story

Perek gimmel, mishnah yud-ches says חביב אדם שנברא בצלם. The fact that man was created in the image of Hashem shows that he is beloved to Hashem.
The mishnah is telling us the proper way to view ourselves. We should not feel arrogant or proud of who we are or of our talents and accomplishments. At the same time, we should not see ourselves as small and unimportant. Our value is based simply on who we are – an entire being representing Hashem. Each one of us is Hashem’s child, and we represent Hashem’s Torah. That is what makes us so important.
Keeping this in mind will help us feel humble but empower us at the same time.
Poor self-esteem hinders our ability to accomplish. It stops us from trusting ourselves. It deters us from achieving what is achievable. It’s not the outlook Hashem wants us to have.
I once knew a girl with self-esteem so low, she was really unable to believe in herself. It was sad to see, once I realized what was happening.
I met Shoshanah (names have been changed) for the first time in camp. Her face seemed to be announcing loud and clear, I am better than you. Actually, I am great. You should want to talk to me, but don’t bother. I will not honor you with a conversation.
Although we had a few interactions over the summer that only served to confirm my initial assessment of her attitude, once camp was over she became a distant memory. And then I met up with her in seminary. Not only did I meet up with her in seminary, but she was very close friends with my roommate Chavie. Chavie was a fun, popular, nice girl. I didn’t see why she liked Shoshanah so much. But they clicked, and Shoshanah was in my room constantly. I got to see a lot of her up close, and I started to understand why she behaved the way she did. Her self-esteem was so low that she had to put others down to feel even a teeny bit of self-worth.
It was painful to see how little she valued herself. She couldn’t make a move without Chavie’s approval. Each morning she walked into our room and pranced in front of the mirror, asking Chavie if she looked good. Would a different skirt match better or would a particular sweater look nicer? She only felt she was worth anything if Chavie approved and if Chavie was by her side. Without Chavie she felt that she was a no one. It was painful to see this on a regular basis.
I don’t know why she felt like this. I don’t know if she had academic issues, social issues or family issues that contributed to her negative thoughts about herself.
But the mishnah reminds us that we are each a tzelem Elokim. Hashem made us with our weaknesses and strengths. He made us with our flaws and our merits. And He made us in His image. He wants us to be proud of who we are. He wants us to believe in who we are and to live life to the fullest, with all the circumstances He has given us.
I don’t know where Shoshanah is these days. But I hope that she got herself the help that she clearly needed. I hope she realized that she is someone beloved by Hashem by virtue of who she is. She doesn’t need Chavie or anyone else to make her feel worthwhile.
As for me, self-esteem is definitely something I have to work on!

This article originally appeared in Links magazine and appears here with permission.

Hidden Yellow Circles

My daughter loves to use her yellow highlighter to write on the wall. I say, “Esther Malki, we don’t write on walls.” She shrugs and asks, “Why? You can’t even see it!” She’s right. You really can’t see any marks. That’s because the ink from this marker only appears when you shine the flashlight located on the bottom of the highlighter at the writing.
Last week Esther Malki was in an imaginative mood and decided to pretend she was having a sleepover. She closed all the lights and cuddled up on the couch with a library book. It was dark. She needed a flashlight to see. Her highlighter flashlight came in handy.
Suddenly she started laughing. “Mommy, look,” she called out. And lo and behold we saw that someone had circled some words in the book with this same marker. We han’t noticed any marks until the light was shining on it.
Now I started imagining. Who had written in this book? Had it happened last week or five years ago? Was it done by a little girl who was bored? Or was it a brother who was bothering his sister? Did they ever wonder if anyone would discover this writing?
It was a great lesson for me that so often we don’t know how an action will affect someone else. And we certainly don’t know who or when.
My parents received many letters following their losses. Once in a while I take out the box of letters (that has been bequeathed to me following their petirahs) and read them through. When I come across a particularly touching one, I think about the person who wrote it. What is striking is that by now, all of these letters are a number of years old. Maybe the letter writers remember sending them or maybe they don’t, but each person who made the effort is still bringing comfort today – and they don’t even know it!
This concept certainly does not have to be limited to the physical world. There are so many people in my family whom I miss. How I crave that physical connection – the conversation, the chitchat, the advice-giving, and just the shmoozing? I know that I can’t have that connection anymore.
But the connection isn’t gone. It just changed.
When a meshulach comes to my door and I pull out a dollar, I say it should be for an aliyas neshamah for… and recite the names of my loved ones. When I do that, I have created a connection. I know I did something for their neshamahs, although I don’t know how big or small. Unquestionably, my actions down here count.
I can say, whatever good I do today should be for an aliyas neshamah for my loved one. I might forget that I said it. I might not know how my little chesed or my berachah said with extra kavanah affected the neshamah. And I won’t know because I can’t shine a light up, give a wave and say, “Hi there, please let me know how my action affected you.”
But once upon a time there was a child who circled some words in a book. And this child didn’t know that by drawing some circles, she taught me a lesson about actions and connections.

Baby Talk

Time to talk about my baby. On a whim I decided to see what the definition of baby is. According to Mr. Webster the definition is (1) an extremely young child, especially an infant; (2) an extremely young animal; (3) the youngest of a group.
Seriously! What does Mr. Webster know? My definition is much more accurate. I would say a baby is a shmushy little thing that you can sink yourself into; it fills you with so much love and joy, and you can stare at it a whole day.
The non-biased fact is that my baby is k”ah gorgeous and so deliciously cute. His innocence makes him edible. I have told him numerous times that he couldn’t just suddenly be born and expect the whole world to turn upside down for him. But he just smiles at me with his precious, toothless smile. Because he does expect it. And he doesn’t care how much he disrupted our lives. He knows how much we love him and how happy we are to take care of him. It is amazing what this little human being can do to adults. He has touched each member of my family in the most heartfelt way.
He has enriched my family tremendously. As a mother it is so heartwarming for me to watch each of my other children play with him. Only a baby can get teenage boys to show so much vulnerability. They get down on the floor with him and coax him to crawl. They imitate his baby garble and fight over who gets to hold him.
He is so innocent, so clueless and has such a special place in our family. Those were my musings as I watched an interaction between my baby and my oldest son.
The thing is that babies don’t stay babies forever. As I watch my eighteen-year-old playing with my nine-month-old, I can’t help but reflect on those newborn days of my oldest. I had no idea what a newborn was. I had no idea what to expect. But all it took was one peek at him, and I was awed. He was so helpless and so perfect. He turned my world topsy-turvy. There was no such thing anymore as a schedule or a routine. But I knew that I was the luckiest person that this baby belonged to me.
The years flew by. That baby is my eighteen-year-old bechor off to a new start as a bais medrash bachur. I still feel lucky that he is mine because he adds so much to my family. He has a place here that no one else can take. And I realized that although a baby engenders immediate and automatic feelings, each person in a family is so important. Each person has his place in the home, a place in his parents’ hearts and a place in each family member’s heart.
Years ago I heard Rabbi Paysach Krohn speak about the berachah of borei nefashos. He asked why the berachah includes the word “v’chesronon” (and all their deficiencies). The answer he offered was eye-opening: no person is completely okay all by themselves. You might be a well-respected rebbi, but you need that baker to bake your bread. And as yummy as the baker’s bread might be, he still needs the plumber, the electrician and the barber.
These thoughts came to mind as I watched my children interacting. Each child is so different. They have their strong points. They have their quirks. But together we make a strong unit. And each person in a family fills a spot that others can’t. We all need each other.
When a member is not here anymore, the void is so gaping that it can’t really be filled. There are deep voids in me because of my losses. But I can’t let the pain of the losses loom bigger than the appreciation that I have for all my other family members. Sometimes it is easy to get lost in the pain and forget the many important people I am so grateful to have in my life today.
Chanukah will soon be here, and it is a time that reminds me very strongly of those who are not here anymore. Watching other, complete families at our extended-family Chanukah get-togethers is painful. It is wonderful to see all my first cousins. But why are my aunts and uncles there with all their children, B”H? Where are my parents and missing siblings? And I am sure that many of you reading this experience similar feelings.
I think of my soft, gorgeous shmushy baby and how he stirs my heart almost every second of the day. Those stirrings have made me realize how precious each family member is — my children as well as all my relatives. They won’t fill the voids, but they fill other deep places. And the truth is that I love seeing all my relatives even though it does cause pain.
This year as we light the menorah, I can assume that I will be holding my baby. (I said he’s heavenly cute, but I didn’t say anything about being well-behaved!) As I express my gratitude for him I would like to focus on feeling gratitude for my whole family. Because just as the Chanukah licht dispels the darkness, each child, aunt and cousin bring light into our lives.

Accepting The Message From The Messenger

I once saw the following quote: Empathy is like giving someone a psychological hug.
When my sister died only a few months after my father’s petirah, Mrs. Z, who had been through her own challenging times, felt my mother’s pain; her heart ached for her, and she wanted to give my mother that psychological hug. So as she left the shivah house, she handed my mother a paper with some material to learn, something that had kept her going through her own challenges. It was a medrash that she found inspirational and comforting. She was hoping that when my mother was ready, it could benefit her as well. But as she left the house, she felt very unsure of herself. Had she done the right thing by giving it to my mother? Was it tactless? She was only trying to show she cared, but maybe it had been insensitive.
During that shivah my mother herself was very sick, although not many people were aware of it. Her passing a short while later shocked the community. This woman was especially shaken, and she figured she would probably never know if that medrash had been helpful or hurtful.
Several months ago, Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah invited Rabbi Nachman Seltzer to speak on the topic of impacting neshamahs, and that is when I met Mrs. Z. She shared wonderful things about my parents, and then she mentioned this medrash that she had given to my mother and how concerned she was that perhaps it had been inappropriate to do so. I remembered that paper. And I told her that my mother had taken it to her rav, and he translated it for her. Mrs. Z so much appreciated hearing that and offered to bring a copy of the medrash to my house.
Mrs. Z dropped it off one day when I wasn’t around. I saw it lying on the counter and knew that I had to call her to thank her, but I tend to procrastinate when it comes to making phone calls.
A few weeks later, on Tisha B’Av, I took out a box full of nichum aveilim letters that people wrote to my family, and there, rolled up, was the paper with this medrash, including several sticky notes with the explanation from the rav. I knew that I had to call Mrs. Z to tell her that my mother had really learned what she had given her.
But I procrastinated again – until one quiet evening when I thought about Mrs. Z. and realized I had no excuse not to call. So I picked up the phone and dialed. As soon as she heard my voice, Mrs. Z. told me that she had just come from my aunt’s house. I wasn’t sure what she was talking about until she told me that my husband’s aunt was sitting shivah for her father. I couldn’t believe it! Why hadn’t anyone told me that this aunt was sitting shivah? She lives locally, and I have a relationship with her. Imagine if I wouldn’t have been menachem avel! I was really upset.
I called up a friend to vent. As I was finishing my story, I suddenly stopped and said, “Wait, I did hear the news, and there is still time left to be menachem avel. Hashem sent me the message. Meeting Mrs. Z. those few months ago set the wheels in motion to ensure that I would hear about my aunt sitting shivah. Hashem sends us what we need to hear through the right messenger, at the right time. I didn’t have to be angry that I hadn’t found out from what I considered to be the right source.
My anger deflated like a balloon leaking air.
Yes, Hashem sends us the messages we need to hear at the right time, through the right person. Becoming angry that I didn’t receive a message from the one whom I perceive as the right messenger is ga’avah. What’s more, it can cause sinah, and it can be the source of so much pain.
It is important for me to remember this. Let go of what I perceive as a wrong. Because whatever happened was supposed to happen in exactly the way that it happened, with the people that it happened with. After all, Hashem is orchestrating every sequence of events, not people. It’s a message I am really working on internalizing; it is too important not to.

If I Could Do the Year Again…

It was a beautiful fall morning, that Friday of my brother’s petirah. Sunny with a cool nip in the air. The trees were covered in leaves, some colored and some still green, with only a smattering of crunchy leaves covering the ground. But inside the house, no one was aware of the beauty outdoors. We were all sitting with my brother, watching him as if in a trance, as he fought for his last breaths. After his petirah, our house filled up with family, who, like us, walked around in a daze. But our friends noticed something remarkable. By late morning, when my brother had already been niftar, the trees had shed all their leaves. The leaves were our tears and the empty branches were the gaping hole in our hearts.
The trees taught me that it’s okay to cry. It is okay to sit in the pain and to really feel it. But after experiencing so much sickness and death in my immediate family, I stopped feeling. Lucky trees that they can shed all their tears. But my tears dried up. I took my pain, put it into a box and closed it up tightly. There was always some pain that bubbled its way out, spilling into my stomach and heart. But it was so easy to keep myself busy and run faster and faster from the pain.
For me the year of aveilus for my parents was very hard. I was angry. I didn’t want to keep all these halachos. I was in pain; I was grieving. Listening to music or going to a function wasn’t going to make me forget. Of course, I kept the halachos, but only what I absolutely had to. Looking back, I realize how I hurt myself. I didn’t gain what I could have from the year(s) of aveilus. Hashem gave me this time to really feel and fully experience the sadness of my losses – an important step in the healing process. I think that any pain I have today would be less intense if had taken proper advantage of that opportunity.
I like to run. I like to pretend that everything is fine. But I hope that I learned enough to recognize how important the year of aveilus is. Not only is it beneficial for the aveil, but it benefits the niftar as well. And so I look back and think, “If I could redo that year of aveilus, how would I do it differently?”
I think I would really let myself feel the pain. Each time I would be unable to go to a chasunah or would feel a desperate need for new clothing that I couldn’t buy, I would sit and experience the pain. Cry it out. I would focus in and realize: I am keeping these halachos because my mother/father died, and I am so sad. I think I would shoo the guilt away if it would tell me that I can’t take off work, or I must make the entire Shabbos from scratch. Instead of denying my grief, I would recognize that during this year there is no such thing as too much crying: I can cry it out, talk it out, sit in it, feel it.
I would try to have a better understanding of what the neshamah is going through and recognize that my mourning benefits the neshamah of the niftar. This in itself would be a nechamah, since I am happy to do anything for my parents/siblings.
The pain will always be here. But I think that if I had allowed myself to mourn properly, at the end of each year of aveilus, I would have felt more ready to carry on with life – without so much heaviness left inside of me.
This article originally appeared in Links magazine and appears here, with permission.

Jealous, Envious or Happiness

Perek 5: mishnah 19 mentions that ayin tovah is one of the traits that earns a person the title of “student of Avraham Avinu.” Talmidim of Avraham are those with a good eye, who don’t feel jealous of other people’s good fortune. Feelings of envy and jealousy can create real discord inside of us and with those living around us. These feelings really rob us of a peaceful existence.
The words envy and jealousy are used interchangeably. But really, the meanings are different: Envy is wanting what someone else has, while jealousy is worrying that someone will take what you have.
It can be all too easy to feel envious. Sometimes we can have these feelings because circumstances really don’t seem fair. Why is it fair that that all three of your neighbor’s daughters got married at nineteen, and your twenty-seven-year-old sister is still single? How is it that your friend is celebrating a simchah in her family, and you are sitting at a sick parent’s bedside? Why are you so happy with a grade of 85% after studying for hours, but your classmate is disappointed with her 93%, and she didn’t even open her notebook to review? Why did you have to spend your own, hard-earned money on a longed-for new item, when your friend’s mother bought her two of them?
And it is so easy to feel jealous. Your jealousy can make you feel that you must always be in the hallways with your best friend, or someone else might take your place as her best friend. Or it can make you feel that you must be the most dedicated employee, or someone else might take over your job. And it is jealousy that can cause you to feel angry that the bachur agreed to date your friend and not you.
Feeling envious or jealous doesn’t allow a person to live a contented life. If you are always wondering why someone has what you don’t, then life becomes bitter. Don’t be a student of Bilaam, but rather, a student of Avraham Avinu. Know that what you have in life – both the physical possessions and the circumstances – is tailor-made for you. No one can take away what truly belongs to you, so why let negative feeling rob you of happiness?
My older sister was always happy with other people’s good fortune. What was really amazing to me was how excited she was when I got engaged, and she was not yet married. She was bursting with joy. She was so excited to start planning the wedding. And I wanted to say, “Esti, why are you so happy? Don’t you feel a little jealous? You have been dating and dating. Most of your friends have a few children already. And now your younger sister is engaged? Aren’t you human?”
Yes, she was human. And she couldn’t wait for her chassan to come along. But she knew that I hadn’t taken her chassan away from her. This was how Hashem planned my life and this was how Hashem planned her life. And therefore she lived a truly contented life with genuine simchas hachaim. No envy and no jealousy tearing her kishkes out. Isn’t that how you want to live?
This article originally appeared in Links magazine and appears here in revised form, with permission.

Time to Move

Life moves forward. Phases come and go. Situations change. And time continues to move.
I look back and see how I always thought that wherever I was, I would be there forever. I would forever be in elementary school. Then, of course, I’d be forever in high school. As a young newlywed, I thought I’d be at that stage forever – and I certainly couldn’t imagine being the mother of teenagers.
But time does not stand still – and neither do we.
Sometimes we find ourselves in troubling circumstances. A difficult teacher, a fight with a friend or a painful family situation. We might think we’ll be in that situation forever.
Or we can find ourselves in a great situation and loving it. Maybe we have wonderful social status, a great family or a teacher we’re thriving under. We might be lulled into thinking that things will always be pleasant and easy for us.
But I learned that life propels us forward. Ready or not, the phases come and go. It doesn’t only have to do with age. Situations change. The minutes blend into each other, creating hours. The hours merge together forming days. And suddenly we are at a different stage of life.
Actually, I cannot lay sole claim to these observations. Take a look at Pirkei Avos, ה: משנה כה – פרק “בן חמש שנים למקרא, בן עשר שנים למשנה…בן שמונה עשרה לחופה, בן עשרים לרדף…”. The mishnah talks about the stages in life and tells us what a person is ready for at each stage. During each stage there are changes that happen to us, preparing us for the next stage.
As life progresses we are presented with various situations, some difficult and some joyous. But through each one Hashem wants us to grow emotionally, to work on ourselves to change and be ready for the next situation that life will bring. And more: the way we handle the experiences that life hands us will hopefully make us into better ovdei Hashem.
As we came into the season of Purim this year, I remembered how the conversations in my house used to sound. The big decisions were about whether to dress up as a lion or a tiger or maybe even a British soldier.
Boy, how times have changed. Now the conversations are centered around other topics. “Ma, I’ll get drunk anyway, so can’t you buy me schnapps? “Guess what! This year I am smoking on Purim.” I look at my teenage boys and wonder when they got so big. When did we stop deciding which costume they would choose?
Then Purim ended, and I was thrown into Pesach. I remember how Shushan PUrim used to be the start of the countdown for going to spend yom tov with my parents. Now, Shushan Purim is panic day because somewhere along the lines of time I learned how to make Pesach, and it’s time to do it again.
It only seems like minutes from season to season. I have to stop and ask myself – Am I changing, growing emotionally, as my life pulls me along? Did a year’s worth of experiences prepare me for the next set of experiences? Have I grown closer to Hashem? Have I become more compassionate toward others?
The Mishnah can be used as a constant reminder to look at ourselves and evaluate if we are continuing to grow and change through each stage in life.
The Torah gives us all the tools we need to navigate everything we’ll experience. How will we make the most of each life situation? That’s up to us. As Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendel Holmes said, “The great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.”
Let’s make sure that we are moving in the right direction.

 

This article originally appeared in Links magazine and appears here in revised form, with permission.

I Deserve It

 

Hello. My name is entitlement. And I am here to protect you. You see, you have been through a lot, and therefore it is important to know that yes, you deserve whatever it is that you may desire. You deserve it by virtue of what you have been through, and I am here to ensure that you know that. I know that there aren’t too many girls in your school or neighborhood who sat shivah for a parent. So if you feel the need for leniency from you teachers, then, yes, you should get it. You need an extra outfit, or a new pair of earrings – then go for it. Of course you should. After all, how many girls in your camp had to pack without their mother’s help? So make sure that you get whatever you want. If someone says something insensitive to you, it is okay to feel angry at that person and maybe even mumble nasty comments under your breath. After all, there aren’t that many girls who watched their parent wither away from sickness. No one has any right to say anything hurtful to you, even it was unintentional.
You want to know why I am qualified to talk this way. Simple. Because according to Webster’s, the definition of me is: the condition of having a right to have, do, or get something; the feeling or belief that you deserve to be given something (such as special privileges).
And you deserve it. So I am making sure that you know that. I am your friend who only wants you to be happy.

Have you ever had this voice of entitlement reverberating inside your head? Maybe it’s even there subconsciously, without you realizing it. It might be something that you don’t even want to admit, and you push it away.
But I think that I can introduce you to this “voice” because somewhere along the journey of my life, this friend that calls itself entitlement wormed its way into my head and heart. You see, I can tell you why I feel entitled.
If I would repeat the words that my sister’s friend said to me, you would agree that she is mentally unstable. How could anyone say such a thing? And yet she is very normal and said the most hurtful and untrue words. I know I am entitled to be angry at her forever.
If all my neighbors upgraded their kitchens, then shouldn’t I be able to do it as well? After all, I am the one who spends the most time there cooking, serving and cleaning up. And with all my hardships, I would think that at least I am entitled to what has become the norm in my neighborhood.
And if Hashem is still sending me hard situations after everything I have been through, can’t I say, “Hashem, it is enough. I don’t deserve this. I am entitled to only good things from now on.”
But one fine day, I turned to entitlement and I said, “Are you really helping me to be happier, or are you making me feel angry that my life isn’t perfect? And besides, why do you think that I am entitled to that perfect life? Yes, I know that I have been through challenges that most others haven’t been through. But it is what Hashem chose for me. Looking toward Hashem and asking Him for help in accepting the pain and to guide me in how to deal with it will bring me to a much happier place. Having entitled feelings will only keep me in my unsettled frame of mind.
You see, really, I believe in Hashem. And everything that happens is straight from Hashem. Even a person who is hurtful to me is only the shaliach of Hashem. So if Hashem gave me many painful nisyonos and then continues to put me in painful situations, it is because He knows what is best for me. It doesn’t make me entitled to anything. And staying angry or constantly running to keep up with everyone isn’t what will bring me to happiness.
In Pirkei Avos, perek gimmel,mishnah ches, it says “Ten lo mi’shelo she’ata v’shelcha shelo.” Rabbi Twerski explains that we should never feel resentment toward someone to whom we are giving tzedakah because we aren’t entitled to that money. When Hashem blesses someone with money, he is also being told to distribute it to those who need it. It isn’t all his to keep.
Each brachah that we have in our life is something Hashem in His kindness gave to us. He didn’t give it to us because we are entitled to it. He gave us lots of gifts because He loves us. We aren’t entitled to physical or mental health. We aren’t entitled to loving parents, looks or popularity. By recognizing that all these are gifts from Hashem, we can appreciate all the wonderful berachos He has given to us. And did He put me and you in some excruciating, painful situations? Yes. Does that make us entitled to now live on easy street? NO. Can we still feel happy? Yes. It’s a decision we can make. To decide to want to feel the happiness and accept what Hashem chose for us and to be grateful for the good that He gives us along the way.
And so I say to entitlement, “I am sorry. I do not want to be your friend. You are not here to make me happy. You are here to feed your own ego. I will not listen to you. I am ready to have a more serene existence. I will recognize that good. And I will recognize the challenges as something that Hashem has given to me to grow from. But entitled? Sorry, no room for that in my life. Bye-bye.”

This article originally appeared in Links magazine and appears here with permission.

A Wave from Above

It’s my nature. If I have questions I have to ask. This became a very important tool for me to help me get through difficult times. I have called so many different rabbonim and speakers to ask them questions on something they said or wrote. My family would laugh at me when I would report back and say, “This time I called Rabbi…” But I really find that it helps – a little more understanding on difficult subjects helps me to get through difficult challenges.
In the previous Links magazine, Rabbi Henoch Plotnick wrote an article. No surprises that I had questions after reading the article. And this time I was fortunate that his number was written right there under his article. That made it really easy to call.
So I dialed his number and told him my name and maiden name; we do have a mutual connection, so that took away some of the awkwardness. I began by telling him that I have questions about the following part of his article:
I once found myself being menachem avel a father who lost his teenage son to leukemia. In such a circumstance, one is often better off saying nothing. However, the broken father begged me to say something, anything! I shared with him a ma’amar Chazal…with Hashem putting the words into my mouth. The Gemara related that when a parent loses a child, r”l, any evil decrees against the parents are ripped up, as the deceased child enters the next world and pleads, “How could you give them retribution in the Next World if you have already given them such torture In this world?” I simply shared with this emotionally pained father that his yissurim were not without purpose or benefit. They might be his ticket to Olam Haba.
Rabbi Plotnick then goes on to relate that after the shivah he heard that this tanchum resonated a lot because the father understood that his tzaros had value. There was something in it for him.
I questioned him about the Chazal that when a parent loses a child, any evil decree is ripped up. My family continued to have a lot of suffering after my brother died and again after my sister died. So what does that Gemara mean? Of course, there isn’t any real answer because we don’t know much down here, but we spoke about the hashkafos of emunah and discussed stories of tzaddikim accepting their yessurim.
During the conversation, I stated that I wish I could have one dream or one conversation with one of the family members of mine who was niftar. I want to hear that they have insight into what happened and how it all makes so much sense. And even more, I want to hear that they are all doing well and are very happy up there.
Maybe one day I’ll be zoche to that.
As we were wrapping up the conversation, Rabbi Plotnick said to me, “I’ll tell you a secret. The conversation I had with that grieving father – that was with your father. Not only that, but I repeat it all the time to grieving parents and they are mechazeik from it. And each time it gives chizzuk, your father and brother have an aliyah.”
I got the goosebumps. A conversation that my father had many years ago is still out there. It is still being talked about and written about, and it even came my way to help comfort me. Was this my daddy throwing me down a, “Hello, I’m still connected to you”?
This conversation took place on כח ניסן, during the early evening hours. My father’s yahrtzeit is onכט ניסן . We were just an hour or two away from the yahrtzeit.
No, I still didn’t have that dream. But as I approached this hard day for me, I was remembering my father’s wave. And I think he was telling me, “We are okay, and it all makes sense.”
May his neshamah have many continued aliyahs.

This article originally appeared in Links magazine and appears here with permission.

Do I Live in La-La Land

 

248-968-8072.This was my phone number. For years. It was the number that I learned when I was old enough to learn about phone numbers. It was the number I gave out to my friends to call me. It was the number I called when I was in camp and seminary, and I needed to hear my parents’ voices. It was the number I called after I got married just to say hello, to ask for a recipe or to shmuess. It was the number I continued to call after my mother became a widow, and it was the number I called to see how she was doing when she was sick.
After my mother died there was no reason to call that number anymore. There would be no family members of mine answering the phone. So you might think me a little nuts, but I called it anyway. Sometimes it was because I needed to talk to my mother so badly that I simply had to call, even though logically I knew it made no sense; even though it went straight to the operator, who informed me, “This number is not in service,” I talked anyway. “Hi, Ma. So I really needed to talk to you and tell you what happened today….” And that annoying operator talked straight through my conversations.
Sometimes I had to call to see if that number had been appropriated to someone else. Because that number belongs to my family. And woe to anyone who might claim that number as their own. I will call that person and harass them. I will tell them that this is really my number. I will explain to them that this number belongs to me and my family, and I will beg them to ask the phone company for a new number. Okay, honestly, I wouldn’t do any of that stuff. What would I really do? I would probably call my sisters, and we would be sad together.
As time goes on, I do call less and less. So it was rather surprising when the other day I had that urge to call my mother. I went to the phone and started dialing. 248-96 and my finger almost pressed the 7 not the 8! That would be the number to my aunt, to whom I speak frequently. I couldn’t believe it. Is her number becoming more familiar to me then my own old number? I always dialed it by rote. I didn’t really think about it. Has “my rote” changed? The thought was sharply painful for me.
Then my brain kicked in. I thought, “What is rote?” Rote is doing something over and over again without even thinking about it. It is okay if the number I dialed by rote had changed. It isn’t a significant action that must be done with thought. I had to re-orient myself for a minute to put things in the proper perspective.
On the other hand, there are many things that must be done with thought that can so easily become rote. Davening, saying berachos, the way I talk, following clothing trends…. But dialing a phone number can become habit or not. It’s not important.
While driving the other day, the song והערב נא began playing. Every time I hear it touches something in me. As a mother of boys, I have my hopes.
I want my children to grow up to be those perfect adults. Adept at handling all of life’s challenges. Proficient in halachah. Capable in whichever area they work. The kindest husbands and the perfect fathers. Of course, I hope that regardless of the path they take, they become talmidei chachamim, ehrliche Yidden, true ovdei Hashem and big yerei Shamayim. In a word, I want them to be perfect.
With yeshivah and school now starting, my dreams have been reawakened. What will this year bring? Will this year’s rebbi be a good match for my child? Will it go smoothly or will there be many challenges? Each child is so different. But will this be the year that each one will reach that level of absolute perfection?
Do I live in La-La Land?
I know that there is no such thing as a perfect person. Even in my own children, perfection doesn’t exist. But how I hope that amongst the imperfections there will be ehrlichkeit, yiras Shamayim and ahavas Yisrael. Is there something that I can do to help make it happen? And can the answer please be an easy one?
The truth is, I don’t live in La-La Land. I know that there is no easy answer. The answer is about me, and it is truly a hard one. It is to teach by example. Live the way I want my children to be. Am I a good example? Is my life like dialing a deeply ingrained phone number? Do my days follow one another without much thought? Do I do everything out of habit, without any hislahavus?
We pass so much of who we are on to our children.
So I got thinking: “What have I learned from my parents and grandparents, and am I passing it down to my children?”
Some of the lessons that I learned from my father, and his father, are about staying on the straight and narrow path in all areas of halachah. I learned about honesty and integrity at all costs. I saw the importance of having a set time for learning and keeping to it, no matter what. I learned about having a close connection a rav or a rebbe.
And from my mother and her mother, I learned about tznius, vatranus and concern for others. I learned about the middah of giving and loving your family. And my mother showed us what chesed is. Quietly helping out others. I saw her working on her faith when facing crisis and remaining upbeat during challenging times.
There is a tapestry woven full of messages and morals for me. I have so many ways to make sure that I go through my day while being aware of what I am doing and making the day count.
Incorporating these lessons into my life on a daily basis will trickle down to my children. I know that this is what will help my children grow up to be, if not perfect people, true yirei Shamayim.