Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Forty Challah Bakers

There are two sides to the segulos debate. There are the firm believers in the effectiveness of segulos, those who believe in their mystical, magical power. And there are those who deny their validity, and will not participate in any segulah events.

I am somewhere in the middle. The sources of many of our commonly practiced segulos are found in seforim and go back hundreds of years. I have no problem with those. But there seems to be new segulos every day, with no known source, and I'm skeptical.

So when a friend called me late Thursday and asked me to join a group of 40 challah bakers, I agreed because she needed that favor from me. But I was worried. I hoped I wasn't ruining anything by not fully believing in what I was going to do.

I'd heard about the 40 challah bakers segulah. Each of the 40 women would make the bracha on the challah in their own homes, usually for the refuah shleima, or some sort of yeshua, for a specific person.

This was a new twist to that segulah. This time, all 40 women would get together in one person's home, bringing their own dough, and taking challah together.

I prepared my dough in the morning, and drove to the address I was given. I parked nearby, and sat in the car for several moments, watching women stream towards the house, lugging huge towel covered bowls of dough. I wasn't quite sure that there was any merit to what I was about to do, but the sight moved me.

We began by lighting candles. The woman who organized this gathering spoke for a few minutes. She spoke about her passion for the mitzvah of challah baking, and how she took that passion to another level. She spoke a little bit about the woman in whose merit we were doing this. She is a young mother battling cancer. She recently had to be put on a respirator, and her prognosis seemed bleak.

We took turns taking challah and reciting the bracha aloud, with everyone answering amen. The first woman broke down halfway through her bracha. Women sobbed openly. Something stirred inside me.

Then we said Tehillim. The entire Tehillim was divided between the 40 women, so that the entire sefer was completed.

I looked around me. I don't know if the number 40 has any meaning, but there is power in numbers - whatever the number is. All these women left their homes on a busy Friday morning - on the hottest day of the year - to daven for a woman most of them do not even know...to beg Hashem to spare her...to plead with Hashem on behalf of the children who still desperately need their mother. The emotion was palpable. I don't know what we were accomplishing. But it was powerful.

I heard the next day that the woman we davened for was taken off the respirator late Friday afternoon.


I don't know. Maybe.

Am I sold? Did I join the ranks of the firm believers?

No. I'm still a skeptic. I still believe in the power of tefillah over the power of segulos. I am still curious about the sources, and wonder where these segulos were 20 years ago.

Would I do it again?

Absolutely. In a heartbeat.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Moving On

I can't sleep. Every time I close my eyes, Leiby is there...walking home by himself, happy and carefree as only a young child can be...and then so scared when he realizes he is lost. I feel his fear, and my heart hurts.

I force myself to think about something else. I don't want my mind to go any further. I don't want to imagine what he must have felt later. I try to think happy thoughts. But everything leads back to the same thing.

And somehow, in my half asleep/ half awake state, that little boy becomes my little boy, and I am jolted awake, my heart pounding, my breath coming in short, shallow gasps.

I close my eyes, and I visualize how "he fought back a little bit", according to the killer's confession. I see him struggling, fighting for his life, and of everything I read, that is what causes me the most anguish, and I am tormented by nightmares. I can't bear to think about that sweet little boy's terror and feeling of helplessness. And I can't sleep.

I get up and go to my little boy's room. I kiss him gently, careful not to wake him. And I'm grateful that he's safe in his bed.

I think about Leiby's mother. How is a mother supposed to go on after this? How can she cope with the pain? How will life ever return to normal?

I can't sleep. I am afraid to close my eyes. I am sad.

And yet...this morning I smiled.

I don't remember what it was that made me smile. But it bothered me. How can I smile? How was I able to forget for that moment...and smile?

And I know that I will smile again tomorrow. Laugh, even. All of us will. The pain will dull...the memories will fade. Time heals. Life will go on. That is the way of the world.

And I'm sad.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


I woke my little boy up this morning, and I had to tell him the news.

How do you tell a child something like this? How do you explain it? How do you even understand it?

My son walked out of the same camp building on Monday, at the same time as Leiby. Maybe he even walked in the same direction. My son came home. Someone else's little boy did not.

I'm a mother. I can't possibly feel the indescribable pain his parents must be suffering. But I can't stop crying. He's our child. We're one family, and their pain is our pain.

I want an explanation. I need to understand. Why, Hashem...why?

Perhaps there is a reason. Maybe I'm just too spiritually weak to understand. Maybe I don't want to understand. Maybe I don't want to hear that there can be something positive in this kind of horror - that I am merely seeing things from my small perspective, and I am unaware of a larger picture, of why this might be necessary.

I drove my son to camp this morning. As I will do every morning for the rest of the summer. I don't know if I'm doing the right thing. He's old enough to walk. He's ready for that little bit of independence. I don't want to hover. I want to raise a secure child. I want to prepare him for adulthood, and keeping him tied to me is probably not the best way to achieve that. But I'm going to be selfish now. I'm scared. It could have been him. It could have been anyone.

I just have to believe that ultimately what Hashem does is good. Even if my small mind can't comprehend it. 

So I wait. I wait for the day, some day in the future, when my questions will be answered. When my human mind will understand and appreciate. And meanwhile...I struggle.