The Fear Factor

My heart was pounding furiously, my limbs tense and waiting, as I slowly placed the headphones over my ears.  Carefully, I slid deeper into the cave I had created with blankets and pillows, hiding alone in my locked room with a chair propped against the door.  I was ready.

My sweaty palms held the Walkman as if it was a grenade.  I pressed play and waited to be blown to bits.

* * *

Recently, I had a discussion with a group of amazing young women about the concepts of fear vs. love in serving G-d.  I’m all for love, but the one point I had to bring was the incentives that fear gives a person.

Growing up in a religious home, I was given the experience of fearing G-d so that it was second nature to me.  I knew that G-d was everywhere, could see into my thoughts and feelings, and that I wouldn’t be able to hide anything from Him.  At a certain point in my childhood, I thought that G-d had seen more than enough and must hate me.  I grew a bit bolder and decided to give Him a show that would seal the deal and send me straight to hell where I undoubtedly belonged, hence the Friday Night Musical Nightmare.

Breaking Shabbos in that manner was so incredibly frightening.  I was absolutely confident that He was there, despite the layers, locks, and darkness.  I knew Him, felt Him and was desperate to drive Him away.

But that fear….oh that fear…..

Welcoming Him back into my life was a process of love and understanding.  No one wanted to remind me about fearing Him, and there was a very particular slant to all the things I was taught.

Here I am now, in love with my G-d and my life, with no clue how to think of Him as an Almighty G-d who I should be in proper awe of.

I want that fear.  I need that fear.

It’s the only way I can do what I want to do even when I don’t want to do it.  It’s the only way I can push myself to go out of my comfort zone, do things I don’t understand, accept reasoning beyond my scope of intelligence and make a habit of living His way all day, every day.

Trembling before G-d under my blankets when I was twelve years old is the closest I ever really got to acknowledging His absolute sovereignty.

And I’ll never get it back.

B’Yeshiva Shel Maaleh…

I am in a bed with itchy blankets…lumpy pillows…and an empty…hollow…belly.  My son is down the hall, across from this ward…attached to life.  I am weak, scared and uncertain.  I don’t know what to do.  I don’t know what to say.  I don’t know if I can even join the many people who are praying for Tinok ben Bracha…for MY Tinok…

I answer the ringing cellphone gingerly, hoping this time there will be some sort of comfort on the other line.

It is my brother.

Hi…listen, I’m in yeshiva now…I just spoke to the Rosh Yeshiva…and he has a message for you…

I listen.  I wait for salvation.

He said to tell you that you should make him Kadosh.  He said he needs to be Kadosh…for Klal Yisroel…and he’ll be okay…

I hang up wearily.  It is not what I want.  I want a real boy.  One who will disobey me, run free…unfettered to any specific way of serving Hashem.  I know what Mirrer Yeshiva is…I don’t want a Mir boy…

I get up slowly and make my way towards my baby.  I cannot think of him as holy or special…when I have not yet seen him.

I am shaking as I approach his incubator.  The nurses move back for me.  I see him…I see his tiny, tiny body…I see the holes in his chest and the tubes protruding from him…I see his minuscule feet and delicate hands…his translucent skin…I see his heart valiantly beat.  His face is gaunt.  His lips are parched.  But…he is glowing…and he looks like me.

I put my finger in his palm.  I sing…I tell him he is surrounded by angels.  I tell him I love him.  And then I tell him I want him to be Kadosh…always.  I bless him with the strength to do whatever it is he is here to do…and to do it for us all.

I sing about the angels again and his fingers close around mine for just…a second….forever a second…

* * *

The Kotel seems to be beckoning me.  I part from my husband with tears in my eyes, clutching the tehillim to my chest.  My son is just down the road from me…surrounded by other beautiful babies…in a tomb I will never see.  I cannot speak…the words are not yet mine to say…so I hang my head in sorrow and grief…and prayer.  When I leave, I place my small book on a chair nearby…moving on.  Inside, I have written my blessing to my child…my desire that he be Kadosh and belong to everyone.

* * *

I read the news while sipping my coffee pensively.  The shock of the Rosh Yeshiva’s passing fades into an understanding of what he helped me do.  He gave me the strength to separate myself from what I wanted as a mother…and what Hashem wanted from my child.  He said I should make him Kadosh…for Klal Yisroel…and then he would be okay.  I did…and he is okay…and I am okay.

My son…like all Mir boys in the past twenty years…is a product of Reb Nosson Tzvi Finkel.

* * *

There is a place…up above…where there is a special yeshiva…for children…who don’t need us…with a Rosh Yeshiva who is their Father…and now…they have another shiur to listen to…as Reb Nosson Tzvi begins…a new z’man.

History Of The World – Part 1

‘Imma, you know what Toy Va’Voiy is?’

Uh…no sweetie.  How about you tell me what it is?

‘Well, Hashem was all alone, it was a balagan because it was only choshech and all the peoples were in they houses cause it was choshech and they couldn’t go to the park and Hashem was very sad cause he was all by hisself so he made a special bracha and then, pitom!  It was ohr!’

Oh?  Is that how it happened?

‘Uh huh!  And see, now we at the park and it’s light and not balagan so we can all play with Hashem.’

So it was Toy Va’Voy when it was a balagan?

‘OOOF!  IMMA!  You don’t know hebrew.  Ma zeh Toy Va’Voy?  It’s To’uuuuuu Vaaaaa Vo’ uuuuuuu.  I know, HaGannenet Gila telled it to me. Nachon it’s a keif story?’

It’s a beautiful story my love, a beautiful story.

The Greatest Love of All

My beloved! she cries, gripping his tattered shrouds. What will be?

Her upturned face is streaked with rivers of sorrow and fear. Bent at the knees, her broken body only has the strength to crawl. Her shoulders, burdened with unbearable weight, heave with every breath that fills her exhausted lungs. She cannot go on.

He pulls away from her gently, brushing aside some rubble as she lowers her head to the ground. Her bones are growing heavy, there is no time left. She will not move from here. Her eyes are beseeching as she calls out her question once more.

My beloved, what will be?

He turns, his fiery eyes steadying her writhes, and promises her the world.

She smiles, comforted, and drifts off into a 2000 year sleep, secure in the knowledge that he will come back to her.

His mournful cries fill the air, the skies, the heavens, the seas and the bloodied ground with the memories of his loss and the promise of his love forevermore.

He will not leave her. He will not let her fade.

He stands over her still body and repeats his words of hope and love, of joy and life, of freedom and comfort, of security and prosperity, weaving the letters of the words he speaks into a swirling tapestry she will find when she wakes to the sound of her loved one’s mighty roar of everlasting life.

Enough

Too many hearts have been torn from fragile chests, exposed to cold winds.

Too many smiles have been replaced by scowls and cruel grins.

Too many anguished cries have rocked the world around.

Too many broken sighs abound.

Too many limbs have failed to assist.

Too many eyes have been remiss.

Too many children have not been born.

Too many promises have been falsely sworn.

Too many unions have not been sealed.

Too many secrets have been revealed.

Too many bodies have been used.

Too many trusts have been abused.

Enough.

No longer patient, no longer waiting still…standing…in the place that is most loved…in tense silence…as I…DEMAND…for freedom…PLEAD…for mercy…raising my silent scream to deafen the heavens…

And…I wonder…if you…all of you…will be there with me…and raise your eyes to Him as we say…

Enough. 

A Song Of Fire

She lies, unforgiving, at my feet, heaving.

Her dry, brittle brush is burning green and blue flames.

Her voice, rasping in thirst, is beseeching.

“Why do you look at me with a stranger’s eyes?”

I turn my gaze away, repulsed by her neediness.

Do not forsake me now!” she shrieks, feeding the fire with her powerful voice.  “Do not remove yourself from what you see!  For you are the one who lit the match, you are the one who stokes the coals and keeps me alive!  You are mine!

I sit beside her with nothing left to lose and hold my hands out to her.  Slowly, deliberately, she forms blisters on my skin.  I watch them sink into me, scarring my bones.  When she is satisfied with her work, she slinks away, leaving me with the pieces of her she has embedded in me.

Her memories rush through me.  I fight for her, rejoice over her, live with her, forget her and lose her simultaneously.  I feel how broken she is.

I am doubled over in her pain, heaving with her sobs, when I become aware of the fire that is consuming me.

She has set me aflame from within, and I cannot put it out.

We stand together now, she and I, roaring out our passionate refrain.

You are mine!

She is mine!

We will not forsake you now!

And so we live, aflame, in our writhing land, and wait.

You Menuval You

Guest post from the amazing husband who rants really well and doesn’t realize that if he can dictate awesomeness, there’s nothing stopping him from writing it out, except maybe horrible spelling. 🙂

This past week we leined Parshas Kedoshiim, where Hashem gives us the command Kiddoshim Ti’hiu.  Many of us know the Rambam’s commentary on these words.  To sum it up, don’t be Menuval B’Rishus HaTorah, disgusting with the permission of the Torah.

What the Rambam means by this is open to interpretation.

I’ll tell you my take on it.

If you refuse to get up for the 80-year-old woman but jump up like your pants are on fire when she sits next to you, you are a menuval.

If you get upset and self-righteous when a pregnant woman dares to stand next to your seat on the bus, you are a menuval.

If you incite hatred in the name of the Torah because of your fear of change, you are a menuval.

If you think ignorance is piety, you are a menuval.

If you deny your sons and daughters the right to follow other ways of our holy Torah because they are different from yours, you are a menuval.

If you can hate an entire nation for what a few grouchy men did sixty-three years ago when the thought of you didn’t yet exist, you are a menuval.

If you take great pains to avoid looking at a woman while you shove past her on the street, you are a menuval.

The list could go on forever.  I’ll stop before my emotions run through the page.

In short, being a Kadosh is putting our petty differences aside and smiling when we offer those in need a seat.

Next Year In…Beit Shemesh?

Next year in Jerusalem.

I say it joyfully, songfully and ever so mournfully.

I long for it.  I ache for it.  I wish I didn’t have to.

Jerusalem has always been a symbol of all I think I want.

I’ve lived in Jerusalem.  I’ve breathed Jerusalem.  I’ve soaked up her urine smelling streets with my long flowing skirts.  I’ve stumbled through her alleyways and fallen down her many stairs.I’ve sat on her stoops and stood on her corners.  I’ve watched her garbage cans burn with intolerance and seen her streets throng with hate.  I’ve held on as she was blown apart time after time.  I’ve heard her bloodcurdling shrieks and her awful silence.  I’ve been in her soul and felt her torment.

I left her, torn from her clawing embrace, with the most unbelievably sorrowful feeling. I could not bear to be so far away.  I hated every minute of non-Jerusalem life.  I yearned, yearned, yearned for her every moment of every day.  Until we were reunited.

I saw her then, for what she truly is.  A pitiful, wretched place, surrounded by enemies of all kinds and filled to the capacity with all the anxiety the world produces.  She is a prison, a jailed land of unrelenting torture and pain.  She is adorned with a crown of barbed wire and cement walls.  She is exile.

I used to question if I really wanted redemption.  My answer would be Jerusalem.  Of course, I wanted redemption – I wanted her!  Now I’m not so sure.  I know she is not redeemable right now and that she will need so much effort and hard work to make her beautiful.  I’m tired.  I don’t want to work that hard.  I don’t want her eating me up from the inside.  I want to be free of her.

I want the freedom to let her be.

I Am Doubt, Hear Me Roar

It was about bechira, naturally.

I was in third grade.  I asked the usual question and got called an apikorus because I said it didn’t make sense.

In fourth grade it was about nevuah in fifth grade, har sinai, in sixth, yetzer hara, and in seventh I got tired so I stopped asking with my voice.

Instead, I would roll my eyes or grunt in utter annoyance and get the same comments about my obviously heretic ways.

I was mocking the very core of our religion.  I was juvenile in my beliefs.  I was looking for a way out.  I had a lack of faith.

Ah, but they didn’t know wherein lay the real issue.

Call me what you will, I would think in that defiant inner voice of mine.  You know nothing of my beliefs.  My beliefs were formed when you refused to answer.  My distrust became apparent when you showed yourselves to me.  For I, I do not believe in YOU!

Well, I grew up, grew out and moved on.

I have a very strong belief in God, the Torah and how that translates into practical living.

But that niggling voice in my mind, that girl they called heretic, speaks up every once in a while.

She screams at me.

I DO NOT BELIEVE!

I give her all the answers and she still persists.

Take it with a grain of salt, you can’t believe him, he has faults.

I proceed with caution.  She’s not satisfied.

Can’t you hear me?  Do you even listen to me at all?

I stop.  I listen.  I hear.

I am doubt, hear me roar.

But, no one can.  No one can.

Her voice is getting smaller, and in the distance, I hear her say, I don’t believe in YOU, I don’t believe in you…

On Coming Out…

Well, after much thought, anguished decision-making and painful realizations, we finally decided to do it.

We decided to say no to Chareidi.

Whew.

It’s out there now.

I will be digging my comfortable jean skirts out from under all the black and my husband will, once again, don his blue shirts.

Sounds funny to be basing Chareidism on what we wear, but that’s really the source of this whole thing.

When we decided to throw out our old image and just jump in and do it, we thought we already were Chareidi.  I mean, how far off could we be?  It seemed as though we shared most of the ideological parts of the society.  We just looked a little different.  We thought if we just blended in on the outside, everything would match up perfectly…

Hah!

Here are some memorable quotes that made us see the light…

“Oh, I want to be an architect because I can make a lot of money and support my husband, who is going to be the next Rosh Yeshiva.  And I’m only going to work four hours a day and the rest of the money will be from Bituach Leumi.”

“You only have one oven?  You follow Reb Moshe Feinstein?  Oh, so you take the easy way out.”

“The OU is just a little better than the Rabbanut.”

“The reason why Americans don’t wash Negel Vaser after touching toilet paper is that they’re too weak to keep halacha fully, so they need heterim.”

“If you want to get a good apartment, you really have to apply yourself to your learning.”

“Why do you have to embarrass us by working?”

“We’re very open-minded.  My son just decided to go out to work, and the family is adjusting to it.”

“Of course you are Chareidi.  Just put your peyos up, wear a white shirt and a hat and jacket, have your wife tie her tichels up, only wear nude stocking and cut down on the color, and when you give your son an upsherin, don’t let him stand out, cut his peyos short.”

So you see, it didn’t really work for us.

We’re getting the hell out of here…