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.

My Story

Hello, my name is Miriam Ribiat and I just would like to thank Chazak for giving me this opportunity to speak on their hotline.

I guess I would say that my story really is a lot about loss, a lot about loss and grieving and I’m not going to go into details about everything that I went through. I went through two big losses that left me with a lot of pain and a lot of sadness and the other two losses that I went through, I will talk more about. Those were my parents, my mother and my father, who both died young. I was married already. I did have some children, but they were both young and they both died for different reasons, but pretty close together when it happened.

There have been opportunities, although I don’t just go sharing my story with random people whenever I feel like it, there were different opportunities that came up that I felt the need to share what happened and when I’d share everything that I went through with details and everything, the response I get is like “Wow! That’s huge and so heavy. How do you go on? How do you do it? How do you be happy? Whoa! How do you do it?”

I guess whenever someone is in a situation, it’s always hard to see how big the situation really is. Sometimes I forget that my story is so big and that people are going to have this response, but what I would really like to do is not to look at it this is so hard and I have such a sad life with so many challenges, but rather to recognize that I’ve definitely been given an opportunity through my challenges to grow and to make changes. These changes have definitely left me feeling better about myself and they have definitely brought me to a place of more contentment and calmness inside of me and of course a very big change that I made was my connection to Hashem. I think like most people, I always wanted a better connection, a stronger connection and I wanted to feel more connected, but I never knew how to really get that connection. When I went through these really challenging times, I was forced to really look at things in a different way and I was forced to really learn how to make a connection with Hashem that I so badly wanted. So although my story might be a big story and it might be a story with a lot of pain and a lot suffering and a lot of challenges, I’d rather really look at it like I have gone through challenges, everyone goes through challenges, no one today is spared any challenges, but I’m grateful for being given the opportunity to make the changes that I made, even though I would never ask for a replay of anything. I definitely could recognize the good that came out of it for me.

There were a number of times when people made comments to me and they said, “You should for sure speak on Chazak.” I always kind of felt like why would I speak on Chazak? So I’ll go on Chazak and I’ll share this story and I’ll be sad and I’ll make people be sad. And then what? How is that going to be mechazek people? It’s really not for me. Let other people that have more what to offer speak. I’ll do the listening. I’m not a speaker type.

Then a couple of months ago through my work I put together a book. It’s called Comfort, Courage and Clarity. It’s like a support group handbook that I guess I’ll talk more about later on, but it took quite some time to put together and after it came out, there was a number of people who looked through it and they gave us really positive feedback. One day I was thinking about it and I said there’s no way in the world that I could have put together this book if not for the things that I went through, the challenges that I went through and the work that I had to do because of it definitely made me be able to sit down and put this whole thing together. That’s when I realized that maybe I do have what to offer and if I could be mechazek in any way, then I guess it’s something that I’m willing to do and I really hope that you could walk away with some chizuk from this and to be an aliyas neshamah for my parents.

I’ll start off with my mother. My mother had this thing that she hated doctors. She was petrified of doctors and she would do anything at all costs to stay away from the doctor, herself or any of her children. So normally our relationship was very much we kind of all knew what’s going on in everyone’s life and we’re not a secret kind of family, but when my mother one day felt a lump, she kept it a huge secret. I guess she told my father but she definitely didn’t tell any of her children. She did call up to make an appointment to see the doctor, but when they said to her, “Oh is this is an emergency?” She said, “No it’s fine. I could wait.” They gave her an appointment for three months later.

So for three months she was holding onto this secret that she might have cancer but she never shared a word with anyone. So when she called me up one day out of the blue to tell me that she just came back from the doctor and that she had cancer, it was very, very shocking for us. It was shocking. It was scary and of course it was very, very, very devastating. She started the treatments and there were definitely ups and downs. So I guess I would say it was a few years of feeling the tension and the fear and kind of waiting for the next scan and once she had the scan, waiting to get the results and either being relieved or worried when we did get the results and that was kind of the way life was.

Then one day my parents came into Lakewood. They lived out of town. I’m from Detroit and my parents came in to a chasunah in Lakewood, a cousin’s wedding. It was shortly after the chassan and kallah came in for the first dance and the music is playing and everyone is dancing and suddenly someone comes to the microphone and says, “Is there a doctor in the house?” It seemed like there was a man or a boy or someone from the men’s side that had blocked out and they needed someone. It didn’t sound like anything major. Like okay, someone blocked out. It happens and he’ll be okay but they need a doctor or Hatzalah or whatever it is.

But after a short while, even though the music continued and everyone was dancing, it seemed like maybe this isn’t just a typical case of someone blacking out and he’ll be okay tomorrow morning. It was more like the men started saying Tehillim. It was getting a little scary. And then the ladies starting saying Tehillim. At that point I went to the mechitzah and I was standing by the mechitzah looking to get a glimpse of my father. I just needed to get a glimpse of him. I just needed to know that whatever happened, whoever it happened to, they should be okay, they should have a refuah sheleimah, but it’s not my father. And I’m looking and I’m looking and I can’t see him. Then I see Hatzalah is taking a person out in a stretcher and I’m like okay my father didn’t have a beard, let me see if this man has a beard and then I’ll know that it’s not my father. And the person didn’t have a beard. And then suddenly I think we realized it was my father. It was just that sixth sense just kind of came right in and my mother ran to the men’s section to my uncle who was the chassan’s father and asked if this was my father that this happened to and he said yes.

We ran out to Hatzalah and Hatzalah was working on him and they were working on him for a while and my mother kept on saying it’s not good. They can’t even get him stable enough to go to the hospital. This isn’t good. Then we got to the hospital finally and after a few minutes, I don’t know however long it was, they come out, the Hatzalah guys or whoever came out and said they’re doing everything that they possibly could and again my mother said this isn’t good. They say this to prepare you for the worst. And sure enough shortly afterwards they came and they said they did everything that they could but they couldn’t save him. And my father was niftar.

My father was young. My father was healthy. He had just had an appointment by a cardiologist maybe two to three weeks before. He had a clean bill of health so of course it was completely shocking to us and completely devastating to us. Sitting shivah was so difficult because it didn’t make sense. I guess any shivah is difficult, but this didn’t make sense. Walking around the house, my father was so alive. This happened shortly after Pesach. Look the Pesach counters were downstairs but they weren’t put away yet in the actual Pesach box because they were waiting for my father. My father is going to put it away. Look at my father’s desk. Do you see there’s his wallet with his license and his social security card. This is a person that’s fine. This is a person that’s alive and here. It doesn’t make sense that he’s not alive anymore. The same thing with the Shabbos clocks. The lights are turning on and off on the timers that my father had set so what do you mean that my father is not alive? It was so hard to really grasp it and to really understand it.

Also it was hard because my mother was very private when it came to her sickness. She didn’t want anyone to know so very few people knew that she was sick so although I had wonderful friends and cousins and all types of people that came to be menachem aveil me and I could talk about my father and I could talk about his many special qualities and what a special relationship we had and how much I’m going to miss him, but I had another very heavy cloud of fear hanging over me and that was my mother. I couldn’t say anything about my mother. That definitely made it a little bit more difficult.

She was a tremendous pusher and she went to work until the very end and she did what she had to do and she hosted everyone for Yom Tov and never gave in or gave up, I should say, but it was hard to see that she was getting sicker and sicker. Then miraculously she got better, well not better better but she got better enough that she was able to resume her schedule and continue chemo and continue work.

One thing that we said after my father was niftar was that maybe what he couldn’t do down here for my mother, he could do up there, maybe he could really be a meilitz yosher for my mother. He could go to the kisei hakavod and just beg Hashem that my mother should have a refuah sheleimah. But unfortunately it wasn’t too much after my father was niftar that my mother was also niftar.

Now, looking back I could realize that my mother, she was extremely private. She did not want anyone to know that she was sick. She was so afraid of pity. Pity was like the worst possible thing to her that she couldn’t let anyone know. So it was kept very, very quiet and I would even joke sometimes if she would find out that someone found out that she was sick, she would be so upset it was almost like more upset than on a day that she got back a bad result. It was just the worst thing in the world for her.

So we kept it very quiet. I was used to just kind of like don’t pay attention to my feelings. I’m feeling afraid. I’m feeling anxious because I’m waiting for the results. I’m sad because of the latest results. I’m nervous. I don’t know what’s going to be. Well yeah I could talk to my own family about it, I could talk to my sisters about it even my mother a little bit, but no one else. Basically, just shove it aside and keep on going.

So when everyone died, I really didn’t know how to grieve because I’m used to we don’t feel our feelings. We just have to go on. We can’t let people pity us. Imagine that I call up a friend and I tell her how sad I am and maybe I even start crying, she might give me pity. There’s no way. There’s no way I’m doing that. So I didn’t really know at all about properly grieving. After my father died, I was able to concentrate on my mother. I had what to focus on, but after my mother, there’s no one sick to focus on.

Now in the beginning it didn’t matter so much because I was very, very busy. I had little children b’li ayin hara, I was working a lot of hours, my husband was not around much so I was really basically on my own mostly so I was so busy it was really easy to keep on going. Some people made comments “I don’t know how you go on”. “I don’t know how you still laugh”. And I was like I don’t know. This is what we do. I mean we’re mothers, we’re busy and we just have to do it. Are my laughs always so real? No. There’s pain under there but this is just what we do. This is just how we go.

One night I had a chasunah, my cousin’s wedding. It must have been about a little bit after a year after my mother was niftar. It must have been shortly after my mother’s first yahrtzeit. I had a wedding. It was my cousin’s wedding. I was feeling very sad because it was a very close cousin and my parents definitely would have been at this wedding. I was feeling sad. I went to this wedding and I was feeling a lot of pain.

When I got to the wedding, I was feeling that pain. I’m looking around and I’m seeing all my aunts and uncles and everyone that’s there and very much noticing how my parents aren’t there. Then I noticed something else. My cousins and their whole families are there. Unless someone lived out of town or whatever it was, but all the siblings were there so it hurt me so much. I have two sisters bli ayin hara left so they were at the wedding and I was able to express my pain to them a little bit and I was grateful that they were there but those that weren’t. It was so clear to me who wasn’t there and it hurt.

And then I was talking to a distant cousin, a distant relative and she said to me, “Oh so where do you live? You live in Lakewood. Where in Lakewood?” And I told where I live and the development that I live in and that my other sister also lives in this development and it’s so nice that we’re both next to each other. “And your other sister?” And I said my other sister lives in Far Rockaway and then I was quiet. The end of the conversation. There’s no one else to talk about in my family.

Again this left me with a lot of pain but I’m at a wedding so smile and be happy, dance, do whatever you do at weddings, but don’t sit and mope. Don’t sit and be sad. So I did whatever I had to do.

That night in the middle of the night I woke up and I guess what I was having was a mild panic attack. I couldn’t catch my breath. I was so uncomfortable. I didn’t call Hatzalah or anything, but I was just like ahh this is very, very uncomfortable. It lasted for quite a while and eventually I don’t know if it stopped and I fell asleep or I fell asleep and it stopped, but eventually I did fall back asleep and the next day or two days later, whatever it was, I was talking to a friend of mine and I was telling her what happened.

Now this friend is not a therapist but I always tell her that she should be. She happens to be very, very good with this type of stuff.

So we were talking about what happened and she said to me, “One second Miriam. You went to this chasunah. Did you tell anyone that you’re going and that it’s hard for you?” I said, “No I don’t think so. Why would I tell anyone?” “And what about at the chasunah, you were faced with all these painful situations, Did you speak to anyone at the chasunah? Did you call anyone afterwards? Anything? Did you share your feelings and what’s going on for you?” I said, “No. Why would I?” She said to me, “You’re denying all your emotions and the body is not okay with that. It’s going to make you feel and if you insist on ignoring it and not paying attention to what’s going on inside of you, then your brain is going to make sure that you have to face it. So if you don’t face it, either you could start getting sick a lot, something will start hurting you or in your case, you’ll start having a hard time breathing.”

At first I wanted to say, “Oh come on. That’s so ridiculous. I’m not into this whole mind body connection thing and it makes no sense,” but what I started seeing was that it was really true. I saw how it was so clearly direct. It was so directly related. I remember talking to a friend, “Since yesterday afternoon I can’t breathe again. It’s so uncomfortable.” And she said to me, “Well, what’s going on your life?” I said nothing really and then I started telling her about a neighbor that had a very traumatic situation with a child that brought up all my trauma from my family. I think I was nervous about something with my child. I think there were a few things that really weren’t nothing. And she pointed out to me all these things are big things. Not one of them is just a nothing. I realized I’m doing it again. Either I pretend that everything is fine and I won’t listen to my feelings or I’ll deny it, I’m good at minimizing all the feelings also like I shouldn’t be sad. It doesn’t make sense. It shouldn’t be such a big deal. I don’t know what my problem is. But I saw how I would be so affected from not facing what’s going on inside of me. I had to really start facing it.

So what I had to do, is besides acknowledged that this is how I’m feeling, I had to really speak it out with people also. One of the reasons that I had to speak it out with people is because sometimes I think that I’m really feeling one way and really what’s bothering me is something that’s completely different. An example would be like I could call up a friend and say, “Uch. I’m so annoyed. I asked my husband to come home early to help me out. I’m not feeling good. I’m so busy. I have so much going on. I just needed his help and of course he didn’t come home. Why couldn’t he come home?”

But in talking it out, I might realize that of course my husband is not coming home. I knew he wouldn’t come home. He can’t come home. He doesn’t have that choice to just come home because I want his help today, but what I’m really feeling is the loneliness. I’m not feeling good and my mother, although she lived out of town, she wouldn’t be able to really physically help me, she would call me up. She would want to know how I’m feeling and she would tell me to take Tylenol or ask me if I had time to lay down, whatever it would be. And I missed that motherly connection and that motherly love and concern and I wanted it. And I’m not feeling angry at my husband but really I’m just feeling lonely and sad and missing my mother. So it’s important for me to really talk it out to understand what I’m feeling.

Now of course there are different types of people. There are people that I will not talk it out with because they’re not people that would make me feel comfortable. I have to find those people that are the right people for me. I have someone in my life that although she’s very sweet, she would give me pity like from here to the sky. “Oy Miriam, I feel so bad for you. It must be hard. Nebach.” Okay I’m not talking to her. That’s not what I need to hear.

I know someone else that whatever I tell her, whatever topic, whatever time of day or whenever it’ll be, it’s going to always turn into all about her. So when I’m in a lot of pain because I went through a lot and this person really didn’t go through what I went through and she starts telling me all about her and what’s going on in her life, nope not for me. It’s not someone I’m going to open up to. If there’s someone that makes everything into a joke or someone that really just can’t get it and will just say “come on, it’s time to snap out of it already. It’s been long enough.” Then these are people that I’m also not going to speak to. But I had to find myself a few, whether it’s friends or cousins or aunts or sisters, a few people whom I could really feel comfortable talking to and explaining to them what’s going on for me so that I could feel better and not get these breathing attacks.

After a while, I said to myself, “Okay so here I am working so hard on being in touch with myself, but how is this avodas Hashem”? I understand you go through a lot, and people could say I started working on better davening and better connecting to Hashem, I started working on shmiras Shabbos and lashon hara, whatever it is, there are plenty of things to work on, but guess what? I went through a lot and I started working on feeling my emotions. It didn’t seem like it’s really avodas Hashem. So I had to again talk it out and figure out is what I’m doing ratzon Hashem and why.

I realized a few things. Number one is that Hashem gave us emotions and if Hashem gave it to us, it’s something that we need. It’s a necessary part of us. And just like I want my eyes and I’m grateful that my eyes see and that my ears hear, and my nose smells and my feet walk, baruch Hashem, I need my emotions also. I’m not going to say to Hashem, “Oh, Hashem my eyes. It’s great. Thank you for giving me my eyes, but the emotions? No thanks. I don’t need that.” I can’t really say that. I can’t tell Hashem, “You made a mistake. The eyes and the ears are good. The joints are all good and I’m glad that you gave that to us but the emotions? That’s not needed.” Obviously, that’s not the right way to go about this. If Hashem gave it to me, then that means that He gave it to me for a reason and I have to be aware of them and not just send them away.

I realized also that when I’m not in touch with myself and I don’t know what’s going on inside of me, I’m much more short tempered. I’m putting so much energy in making sure that I don’t feel the pain that I become very short-tempered. I could walk into my son’s room and I asked him to clean up his room or told him rather and it’s still a huge mess and I’ll say, “This is what you call clean? I mean there are socks and there’re shoes all over the floor. What about books and pajamas. Why is that called clean? Can’t you see? Don’t you see the floor is covered in all types of things? Why do you think this is clean?” But if I’m in touch with myself and I’m not all on edge and short tempered and jittery, then I could walk in and I could say, “Oy, the floor had lots of things on it. It’s really not cleaned up yet. Please clean it up”, which is of course a much nicer way of talking. It makes the atmosphere in the house much nicer and it’s the type of mother that I’d much rather be.

With people outside the home, I’ll become very judgmental. It’s so much easier to look at other people than look at myself. So instead I could say, “Oy. How did she say such a thing? That’s an awful thing to say.” “She’s wearing that? Doesn’t she realize that it’s so not tznius? What’s she thinking.” “Oy, so and so. She made a decision. It’s really going to affect her family very negatively. I don’t know why she’s doing that.” But if I’m in touch with myself, I know what’s going on for me, what other people do and say is not my concern. I don’t have to focus on that. If someone asks me my opinion, my advice, I could help them do something but I’m not going to judge them for it because it’s not my business and I don’t need to judge them for it. So right there I recognized how this is avodas Hashem. It makes my ahavas Yisrael all around much better when I’m in touch with myself.

In addition, when I face my feelings, then it makes my connection to Hashem so much better because I’ll come to Hashem with it. “Hashem, I’m feeling so sad today. I’m in so much pain. Please could You help me with this pain? Could You take away the sadness and replace it with joy? Could You help me out with the loneliness?” I don’t even have to ask Him to take it away. I could just tell it to Him and that could make me feel better. “Hashem, I’m really feeling this pain today. I’m really having a hard day with getting through my day. I’m having such a hard time with focusing on my kids or making a potato kugel because I’m just having so much pain today.” I could just bring it to Hashem and it makes my connection to Hashem that much stronger.

Once I take that step and I bring it and I talk to Hashem about it, then I could figure out what’s the next step that I have to take. And I realized that I have from my siblings and my parents a beautiful, beautiful legacy to pass down to my children. Why can’t I share it with them? That will definitely be very connecting. If I tell them, boys, (I have mostly boys), “Boys, I’m feeling so sad today and so lonely because I’m missing my father, but do you know what kind of person my father was? My father was such a family man. His family values were so strong. Not everyone has such strong values. It was so important and it was so special.” What about my mother? I could tell my children about Bubby and how she did so many Hashem but she didn’t even realize that she was doing it. Somebody needs help. It only takes an extra few minutes. What’s the big deal? She was constantly doing things for people. Some of the things were bigger, some of the things were smaller, but she was just always out there for people.

Now of course talking about these things to my children, it’s not going to take out the pain. The pain will still be there, but I’m talking about these people. I’m passing down their lessons to my children and I’m connecting with my children. And of course this is going to be something that’s going to make me feel much better.

Someone said to me, she summed it up in one sentence and I thought it was a very smart sentence. She said to me that really our emotions are vessels for us to connect to ourselves, to others and to Hashem, and I see that when I do connect to myself, to others and to Hashem, how much of a better person I am. I could really be a better eved Hashem. There’s more joy in my life. There’s more happiness. There’s more calmness. There’s no looking at other people. I realized that yes this is definitely part of my avodas Hashem.

Now I might sound like wow! I mastered this skill. I could talk to people about what’s going on for me, no problem. I face my emotions. I deal with it. It’s far from the truth and I think that’s one of the reasons I chose this particular topic to talk on, because the more I talk about it, the more I work on it, and hopefully the better I’ll become.

Just recently I had a yahrtzeit for my father and I lit that yahrtzeit licht and pretended that it just wasn’t his yahrtzeit. I didn’t tell a soul. I couldn’t talk to anyone about it and even my own children. My boys are teenagers now and they’ll see the candle. “Oh, it’s Zeidy’s yahrtzeit. We should learn mishnayos.” And I’ll say yes but I’m doing my parents and my siblings such a disservice by not coming forth to my kids. “Today is so and so’s yahrtzeit. Do you know his or her name? Please let’s make sure to learn mishnayos. Let’s make sure to make this a good day for the neshamah. Let’s really give it an aliyah.” I want to show them the importance of this, but it’s just so painful for me. I can’t even talk about it. So it’s definitely something I still have a lot of work to do.

I told you why I spoke about this particular topic. Really there are so many other areas in life that I had to work on. I had to work on better connecting to Hashem. I realized that I thought I was much more in control of situations that I was in and I had to realize that I have no control, but I’m really powerless over most situations. But Hashemis in control so let me turn to Him. I had to understand more about Olam Haba, like what happens to the neshamah? What is a yahrtzeit all about? What’s yizkor all about?

Yizkor was something that I had a very hard time with because I always remember my parents. I have to go to shul a couple of times a year to remember them? That’s funny. That’s what I’m always talking about or thinking about them and remembering them. What does it mean to be a meilitz yosher? People say it but what’s it really mean? I had to really work on my understanding of all these concepts a lot better.

I guess also another thing that’s connected to sharing my feelings with people was also learning how to accept people’s empathy. Not pity but empathy. People want to care and it’s okay for me to let people care. That’s something that I had to work on very, very much. These are really many different things that I worked on and that I could talk about, but I guess not now.

Maybe it was two years, two and a half years, I’m not even sure. It was two or three years probably after my mother was niftar and I started working for Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah. Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah is an organization that started off for people that either didn’t have the time or the ability to learn mishnayos or gemara, but they had a yahrtzeit or a shloshim for someone in the family. They would come to Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah. Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah has yungeleit that are sitting and learning and they would learn the mishnayos or the gemara, whatever it would be that the family member wanted. Then we also branched out to Better Than a Segulah, which is a similar thing where we have people sitting and learning as a zechus for people that need a yeshuah for something.

But one thing that we realized was that people, when they’re going through a death or when they went through a death of a close family member, they don’t know what to do with themselves. There’s not enough guidance out there and it’s a very confusing time. It’s a painful time and so many questions come up. If I’m in so much pain, does that mean that I don’t believe in Hashem? But why is it still hurting and it’s already two years later? I cried so much. Does that mean I’m depressed? I have to go get a medicine? There are so many questions that come up and so many different things that people grapple with.

So when I joined, one of the things that I started doing was writing for Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah and I would write about my own experiences. I wrote about Yom Tov, having Yom Tov without my parents, making a bar mitzvah. My first bar mitzvah after my mother died was very, very painful. But when I made my second bar mitzvah, I thought it won’t be so painful because this is how I’m used to doing it and yet the pain came up so strong, maybe even stronger, like again I’m making a bar mitzvah and my parents aren’t here. This just seems wrong. I wrote about having a niece or a nephew named after a person that was niftar, named after my parents or my siblings and all the pain that that brought up. So there’s so many things that go on in my daily life that bring up pain.

I would write every couple of weeks or so. I would post something and eventually we took it and we made it into this book called Comfort, Courage and Clarity. It’s made for adults that lost parents and it’s written in the format of a support group. The beginning of the book says how to run a support group and the actual format of a support group when a support group gets together, how do you begin, what do you say and what do you do and who says what and whatever it is so this way we figured if there’s someone that went through this loss and they need support and there isn’t enough support in their town or community then they could start their own support group if they feel like they have the ability because it’s all here. Then it’s divided into twelve different sections and under each section, it has a few different writings. A lot of it is mine. I worked together with someone else, Mrs. Ruchy Rosenfeld and then we gathered a lot of articles from past publications over the past many years. The topics are exactly like that, like celebrating Yom Tov without our parents and making a simchah and finding the hope and finding the joy. These are some of the topics that are in the book.

After each reading, there’s question that are very self-introspective. When a person sits down and really is able to honestly answer the questions, it makes them learn about themselves. It makes them realize some things that maybe they didn’t realize before and it came out and baruch Hashem we have gotten very positive feedback from it.

After it was out for a while and we got the feedback, I said okay, one second. I was only able to write the articles that I wrote and I was only able to write those self-introspective questions because this is work that I did. Almost all these questions, I think there was one time that I said, “Hmm I don’t know if I could answer that question.” But really all the questions I’m able to answer and that’s because I did a lot of work on myself. When someone said, “Hmm I think you should speak on Chazak” pretty recently someone said that to me. I said okay. Maybe I really do have what to offer. Maybe it’s time to stop thinking that I really never worked on myself and I don’t know what to say. That is what made me come and speak on this hotline today.

I hope though that it was helpful to at least some people. I hope that it’s able to be mechazek some people and if anyone is able to gain any chizuk from this and able to make any changes because of this, then it should be an aliyas neshamah for my parents and my siblings and we should have no more suffering in Klal Yisrael and only simchos. Thank you so much.

A Mother’s Tefillah

To My Twins,
I walked into your room this morning and saw your bar mitzvah corner – your tefillin bags, your new shirts and cufflinks. Everything all piled up waiting for the big day. I found myself smiling as I opened up the curtains to let in the sunshine that entered my heart and to keep the smile on my face as I walked out of the room.
I can’t understand how thirteen years have flown by. I remember staring in awe at two of the exact same babies lying side by side. I just looked at you and couldn’t believe you were mine. I felt your soft skin, smelled your baby smell, and I was in baby-bliss land. I thought I wanted you to stay newborns forever. But as you developed and became these cute infants I was certain that that was the perfect stage. Then you turned into toddlers who were always on the run with identical curls bouncing up and down, and I was sure that there was nothing cuter in this world.
After your upsherins, you continued to bring me such joy. When the older boys became bar mitzvah, I knew that yours weren’t too far off. But somehow, I couldn’t imagine that it was really going to happen.
I feel grateful. Because I know that B’ezras Hashem you are growing up and reaching milestones that all parents want for their children. And no, I can’t go back in time to those newborn days, and I couldn’t bottle up your cute giggles and creative ideas. But I can look ahead to a bright future that, with Hashem’s help, you will have. As you reach this milestone, it should be the first of many until 120.
My Bubby (your Great-Bubby)’s family was blessed with arichas yamim. I remember when Bubby’s mother was niftar. I couldn’t understand why it was so sad. She was well into her nineties. And she left behind nine children whom I thought were already all so old. As the years went by, Bubby’s siblings did start to reach old age, and they began to pass away. Each time a void was felt. The age didn’t matter.
Now Bubby is sitting shivah two weeks in a row. She lost one brother, and as soon as shivah was over, another brother passed away. That means that now six of her siblings have been niftar. I know that that each one was a marvelous person who lived a long life and left behind families of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.I feel Bubby’s pain at the loss of six siblings.
And then I started thinking. I thought about those two brothers who were niftar. And I realize that once upon a time, a very long time ago, these were young boys standing at the cusp of their bar mitzvahs. I don’t know how big their celebrations were. But I am sure the simchah was huge. I know that as they entered into adulthood, their parents davened to Hashem that these boys should grow up to be ehrliche Yidden and go b’derech haTorah. And although these young children were raised in America during the early 1900s, the prayers of their parents were answered. They married frum girls and raised wonderful families.
Their progeny certainly testifies to their gadlus.
So Moishy and Dovi, as you stand at the cusp of your bar mitzvah, I am thinking of Bubby’s family. I know that your kiddush will be bigger and fancier than a 1920’s celebration. But a mother’s tefillos remain the same. You should grow up B’ezras Hashem to go b’derech haTorah. There will be good times amidst the challenges life sends our way. There will be trying times interwoven with happy times. But I hope that my tefillos will reach Hashem, and you will be zoche to continue on a Torah path until 120.