Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Right Moment

We spend so much of our time waiting. Waiting on line, waiting for the bus, waiting for appointments. 

Waiting for the phone to ring. 

There's a purpose for the wait. We are meant to be exactly here, at exactly this moment. Waiting. Making the most of this moment, giving it meaning.

My daughter is engaged.

So many people are taking credit for making this happen. They davened, and arranged for forty women to take challah, and went to the Kosel for forty days, and visited the Zhviller Rebbe's kever on Monday and Thursday and Monday. I am grateful for all of it. I am grateful to everyone who thought of her and cared about her. Every tefillah helped. But, ultimately, it happened at the moment it was meant to happen. 

She could have been married a year ago, some people said. Maybe even two or three years ago. If the shadchan had been more aggressive...if his parents had considered it when it was first suggested...if things would have moved faster... But she couldn't have. It wasn't the right moment. The person you marry is bashert, but so is the moment. This is her moment.   

The wait was frustrating, sometimes. But while she waited, she lived fully. She grew, and matured, and blossomed. And I can say now that I am so grateful she didn't get married four or five years ago. I'm even grateful she didn't get married a year ago. She spent those years becoming the beautiful person she is today. She is ready now for this next stage in her life. 

At exactly the right moment. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Keeping Them Safe

When my big girl was little, about six or seven years old, she went with her brothers and her father to watch Simchas Beis Hashoeva in Crown Heights. I stayed home, with whoever was the baby at the time, to prepare for Yom Tov.

It was crowded and hard for little ones to see. So my big girl and one of my boys climbed up one of the police barricades that lined the street. She loves music - she sang before she talked - and she was thoroughly enjoying herself.

I don't remember the details - it was so long ago. There probably weren't very many details. My big girl was standing on the barricade, when she felt someone touch her - inappropriately. She turned around, but didn't see who it was, and assumed she imagined it or that someone brushed against her by mistake. She turned back to watch the dancing, and someone touched her again. Again, when she turned around, she couldn't see who it was, and she turned back. When it happened a third time, she climbed down and went to stand near my husband.

She didn't think to say anything about it until they were driving home, and then she just mentioned it casually. It didn't seem to be a big deal to her.

My normally mild mannered husband was livid. He wanted to turn around and go right back there and kill the guy who touched her. He didn't. He was still able to think clearly enough to realize there was no way he'd find him. And kill him.

My kids were so surprised at his reaction, they still talk about it sometimes. They couldn't understand it. In their minds, it was a tremendous overreaction. They still think he overreacted. All these years later, all those conversations about good touch and bad touch...about personal safety, all those stories they've heard over the years - they still don't fully get it.

My little boy loves seforim. He collects them, buys them whenever he has any money, and spends hours in the local seforim store. When his friend told him about the very large library of seforim in his shul, my son couldn't wait to check it out.

Last Shabbos afternoon, he headed out to the shul.

"Don't stay there if you're the only one there," I warned him. "Or if there's only one other person."

"Or two people," my husband added. "Come home if there are only two other people there,"

My big kids snickered. Here were their parents overreacting again.

"You'd think I was going to a dangerous place," my little boy laughed. "I'm going to shul."

They all laughed.

This summer, my little boy is going to camp for the first time. I'm worried. I always worried when I sent my kids to camp. Sure, I'll talk to him before he goes. It won't be the first time we've had that conversation. I've talked to him about all of this many times. As I have with all of my kids. But I really don't think he gets it. I don't think he can. I don't think any of them did, and I wonder to what extent they do - even now.

If they can't understand why I don't want my little boy alone in a quiet shul, how much do they really understand? If they think a father's anger at the person who touched his little girl is an overreaction, how much do they grasp? Do they really get it?

And if they don't get it, how safe are they? I can talk and explain and tell him everything I am supposed to, but will that protect my little boy? Will anything protect him? If he doesn't really grasp it...if he can't understand the safe is he?

I will do my part. I will talk to him. And I will overreact when I feel it is necessary. But it's not enough.

I am asking You, Hashem - begging You - please watch my little boy, and all the other sweet and innocent little boys and girls. Please protect them and keep them safe. I am sending my little boy away from home, away from my care, and I am entrusting him to You. Only You can keep him safe. Only You can protect him.

He is Your child - these are Your children. Don't let anyone harm them - please.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Happily Ever After

I don't like suspense.

For as long as I can remember, whenever I'd read a book, as soon as I'd get to a part that was even mildly suspenseful, I'd flip to the back just to make sure everyone was alive and well. As long as I knew that, I could relax and enjoy the book. It's how I read A Little Princess and Little Women and even the Little House books. It's how I read everything. I needed to know that everything would turn out happily ever after. I didn't want to go through the entire book worrying.

I still read that way. I still flip to the back to make sure the character I am getting to know doesn't get sick or die or get divorced. I just need to know.

Sometimes, the character does die. Sometimes she does get sick...or lose her baby. It's not always all happily ever after anymore. But I still flip to the back to check. I still need to know. I don't like it, but at least I know.  

Real life has enough stress. I don't want more of it when I read.

Sometimes I wish I could do that in real life. I wish I could flip to the back - just to make sure it all ends happily ever after. Just to make sure everything turns out make sure that everything I worry about - everyone I worry about - turns out fine at the end. I just want to know.

But what if it doesn't? What if it's not all happily ever after? Would I still want to know? 

Hashem directs Moshe, "כְּתב זאת זִכָּרוֹן בַּסֵּפֶר, וְשִׂים בְּאָזְנֵי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ." Write this as a memorial in the book and place it in the ears of Yehoshua. The Gemara explains that this refers to, among other things, the Megillah.

According to this, Moshe wrote the Megillah long before the story actually happened. He was instructed to tell it to Yehoshua, and it was passed on to the leader of each generation - until, and including, Mordechai.

U'Mordechai yada es kol asher na'asa...

Mordechai knew.

Mordechai knew what was going to happen. Mordechai knew the end of the story. He knew how it would all turn out. He knew that it would all end happily ever after. While Esther was wondering why she was chosen...while the Jewish people were worrying about Haman's decree...Mordechai knew.

I was talking to a woman whose 31 year old daughter is getting married. I wonder...all those years of worrying and waiting, would they have wanted to know? When she was 21, would it have been easier for them to have known that she would not get engaged until she was 31, or would they rather not have known - and kept hoping that it might happen any day? Would I want to know?

If things do not turn out exactly as I hope...if it's not all happily ever after...would I want to know?

I don't know the answer to that. If I was given that option...if I had to decide...I don't know what I would choose.

I just want happily ever after. I want to flip to the end and see that it all turns out happily ever after.

Like the story of Purim. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Matchmaker, Matchmaker

A Roman noblewoman asked Rabbi Yosi ben Chalafta, "In how many days did G-d create the world?"

"In six days," he replied.

"What has He been doing since?" she asked.

"Since then," Rabbi Yosi replied, "He's been matchmaking."

"That's ridiculous!" the noblewoman exclaimed. "Why, even I could do that!"

To prove her point, the noblewoman took one thousand of her male servants and one thousand of her female servants and matched them together as husband and wife.

The next morning, men and women came to her with broken bones and wounds, pleading, "I don't want this one! Please get me out of this!"

The noblewoman immediately called for Rabbi Yosi ben Chalafta. "There is no god like your G-d!" she proclaimed. "It is all true, your Torah is indeed beautiful and praiseworthy, and you spoke the truth!"

Rabbi Yosi replied, "It seemed easy in your eyes, but it is as difficult before G-d as the splitting of the Red Sea."

Shidduch suggestions for my daughter do not come often, and as unlikely as some of them seem to be at first glance, I can't afford to easily dismiss them. But sometimes the suggestions are so completely inappropriate, they would be insulting, if not for the fact that the people making these suggestions do not know my daughter at all.

It's hard to excuse, though, when the caller knows her well.

This time it is someone my daughter was friends with in high school. She asks what my daughter is looking for.

It's an interesting question, coming from her. I know she has a pretty good idea of what my daughter is hoping for. She and my daughter are not in touch as often as they once were - she is married and has a little boy - but they were close friends for years. Long enough for her to know the answer to that question.

I answer it anyway. I describe some of the qualities my daughter would like to have in a husband. I tell her that she would like to marry someone who is seriously learning and hopes to continue to do so for a little while. I know she knows all this. I know these are not foreign concepts to her. It is what she, too, was hoping for and who she married. I know she understands exactly what I am saying, and I'm not sure why she is asking.

"I spoke to her about two years ago," she says, "and she told me all of this. I was just wondering if anything changed - if she still wants the same thing."

"Yes. Absolutely." I am a little annoyed. I do not like her superior tone of voice. Yes, she is married for two years, and I am happy for her. But my daughter is still young. Too young to give up on her dream of the kind of person she wants to marry and the type of home she hopes to build.

She hesitates. Maybe she senses my annoyance.

"The boy I have in mind was seriously learning full time. But -" she pauses, and then rushes on, "he's already 23, so he joined his brothers in their business."

I thank her for thinking about my daughter, I explain that this is not what she wants, and I hang up.

"What chutzpah!" I tell my husband.

"Such chutzpah!" I tell my daughter later.

I can deal with inappropriate - even ridiculous - suggestions, when I can justify it because the caller doesn't know my daughter. But not this. Not from someone who knows my daughter well enough to understand that her suggestion was not suitable.

I am highly insulted. Angry, even.

The splitting of the sea was an entirely supernatural event. Why did Rabbi Yosi believe that matchmaking is as hard as splitting the sea?

To the Roman noblewoman, everything makes sense, including marriages. She sets out to prove herself. She doesn't just match haphazardly. She takes into account height and weight, disposition, likes and dislikes. Everything makes sense, and so all the matches should work perfectly.

But they don't. Because marriage is not a sensible act. Marriage is not the result of natural order or logic. Marriage is the result of a voice from heaven declaring, "So and so is to marry so and so."

And that is where the shadchan comes in.

Intellect does not have the power to complete a match. Shidduchim don't fit into any pattern. They follow no law or logic, and sometimes make no sense at all. Matches are made by turning nature upside-down. The shadchan, sometimes, resorts to strategies that are less than honest. She sometimes suggests matches that are inappropriate and insulting.

But she is doing her job. I see that now.

I am now thankful for the work they do. And I am thankful when they think of my daughter. Even when I don't like their suggestion. Even when they employ mistruths.

Shidduchim sometimes don't make sense. And sometimes, the only way they happen is through the strategies of the shadchan.

Because shidduchim are as supernatural as the splitting of the sea.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Answered Prayers

My Friday afternoons are full. But a small part of them belongs to my son. He needs to get back to yeshiva, and we talk while I battle the pre-Shabbos traffic. It's when I get to hear about what is going on in his life and in his thoughts. It's when I get to hear the things he doesn't normally share - the things that boys his age don't seem to feel a need to share. There is something about this quiet time - just me and him - that gets him to open up. I wouldn't give it up for anything.

It is late this time, and I am in a rush to get back home. I wait impatiently for the light to change, as I watch a man in a wheelchair cross the street and struggle to get up on the curb. No one seems to notice. He tries two or three times. People hurry by, oblivious to his struggles - all but one man who stops to help and waits to make sure he is okay before he goes on.

I point it out to my son.

"Do you see that?" I ask. "That was really nice of him."

He looks at me, surprised. "Why is that even worth mentioning? It's not nice - it's normal. It's how it should be. It's what anyone would do."

I know it's not what anyone would do. I just watched people walk right by and ignore it. I see it all the time.

But I know without a doubt that it's what my son would do. I know it wouldn't even occur to him to do any different. I know he'd notice when someone is struggling or needs help. I know he'd notice when someone is lonely or hurting. And I know he'd never just pass them by without offering his help. I know this because I know the kind of person he is.

I look at him, and as he talks, I am struck by how much he's grown, by how much he's matured. It happened so gradually that I could have missed it. He is my child, but he's an adult now. A sensitive, generous, giving adult. An adult I am so proud to have had a part in raising.

I know that who he is...who he not to my credit. I know that we parents can do all the right things, but we have no control over the end result. And I know that I did not always do all the right things.

I don't know why I am so lucky, why I am so blessed.

The Baal Shem Tov taught that every prayer is answered, but the answer may not be what we expect, when we expect it.

I've been through challenges and hardships. I know pain. And I've prayed.

Sometimes those prayers were answered. But often, they were not. And I've wondered...where did those prayers go? Where are those tears?

My son is turning into a beautiful adult, following in the path of his older siblings. They are everything I could ever have wished for. They are all my hopes and dreams come true. Maybe this is where all those prayers went. Maybe this is the result of my tears. Maybe I was not meant to have whatever it is I prayed for. But those prayers were not wasted.

And...if this is where they went, if this is how my prayers were answered, if this is what I was given instead of what I prayed for...I am grateful. If all my prayers and tears were gathered and saved just for this...I am blessed. I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. It is worth all the pain...all the anguish...all the tears - it's worth it all.

It is the answer to my prayers.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Gift of Fading Memory

There are occasions in our lives, when our emotions are so powerful, our pain so strong or our work so difficult, that we are certain we will remember it forever. Every detail is etched on our minds and hearts, and we know we could never forget.

We do remember for a while. And then the memory fades, allowing us to put the experience behind us - perhaps to even grow from it - and move on with our lives.

It's a blessing, really.

During one such time in my life, we were asked to temporarily host a ten year old boy with some serious issues. He stayed with us for three weeks before he had to be placed in the psychiatric ward of the hospital.

I don't remember a lot about those weeks. I don't think I want to. But I do remember that it was more physically and emotionally draining than I ever imagined it could be, and that it took a tremendous toll on everyone in the family and turned our lives upside-down.

I remember how I felt so sad that he ended up in the hospital despite all our efforts to keep him out; and at the same time, so relieved to have my life back.

And after it was all over, I remember telling a friend how this was the most difficult three weeks of my life.

Looking back, I don't know that it was. I've had other challenges that were at least as difficult, if not more so. But time passed. I forgot...and I healed. And those other things didn't seem so hard anymore.

With time, the same thing happened with this. I thought I'd never undertake anything like this ever again. But when I was recently asked to have a boy in my son's class stay with us for a few days, I agreed. The memories of that ordeal have faded, the hardships have dimmed. I can hardly remember why I found it so excruciating.

Meanwhile, those few days are stretching into weeks, and he's still with us.

It's a funny thing, the mind. 

The heart, too.

There are times I've been so so much pain...I didn't know if I could ever heal.

But time passed. The hurt faded. And sometimes, when I look back, I almost can't remember what it was that hurt so intensely. Almost.

When that happens, I am finally able to judge favorably; to try to see things from another point of view. Maybe even forgive.

It's a blessing.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

One Step At A Time

I couldn't do it. I just couldn't.

I've been with the chevra kaddisha for a while, and there is very little that fazes me. I've seen a lot. And most of the time, I get down to work and do what I am there to do. It never becomes routine, and I never get used to seeing the pain that people suffer, but I can put my feelings aside while I get the job done.

Sometimes, though, I can see at first glance that it will be difficult, and for a minute, I get a feeling of dread. Only for a minute. The feeling quickly passes, as I start doing whatever needs to be done.

This time, I was prepared in advance. I knew it would be difficult. But I had no idea how difficult until I was there. I took one look, and I knew I couldn't do it.

I looked around at the women who were there with me. I was the most experienced of the group, and they were watching me and waiting for my direction. It was up to me to get them started, to tell them what needs to be done and how we were going to do it. They were counting on me.

"I can't do this," I told them. "I can't do it."

I saw the look in their eyes turn to panic. One woman removed her apron.

"It's impossible," she said. "She's just going to have to buried the way she is. There's nothing we can do."

I was tempted to agree. I felt so overwhelmed...I had no idea how to accomplish what needed to be done. I didn't know where to start. But I knew this was my responsibility.

"No," I said, sounding more confident than I felt. "We can do it. We have to do it. Let's get started."

Thinking about the whole process and the ultimate goal was daunting, but I could think about the first step. We could start with one step, and worry about the next step when that was done.

We could do it. One step at a time.

It's like life, kind of.

Sometimes I look at my life, and I'm overwhelmed. There are so many things I need to fix, so much to do, so much I want to be. I look at my role models, and I know that this is how I would like to be some day. But it's daunting. I don't know where to start. It's too hard. I just want to give up.

But I know I can do it. One step at a time.

This is a lesson of the Chanukah menorah. We light one small flame at a time, representing small steps, but we aspire to ultimately kindle all of the candles.

The ultimate goal may be drastic change, but it has to be accomplished taking one step at a time.