Leading the Exodus

We read this past week about the moment at which three dynamic leaders stood at the edge of the sea, and how different their experiences were surrounding that moment. A mentor shared a bit about something she spoke about and it really made me think about those three leaders – Moshe, Miriam, and Nachshon.

Moshe leads the cause and then stops to pray when he feels he’s unsure of how to move forward – literally and figuratively.

Miriam packed her timbrel, inspired others to pack theirs, and was ready to celebrate the salvation she believed was coming.

Nachshon stepped right into the water and hoped the people would follow and God would provide – the ultimate display of faith.

These three leaders were all necessary, as are their leadership styles today.

We need people who are slow and deliberate and look for guidance along the way. We need people who are optimistic and ready to inspire others with their passion. We need people to boldly step out and take the first risks.

We need modern day leaders like these three to work in tandem to continue guiding Am Yisrael on our journey. It didn’t end when we exited Egypt or entered Eretz Yisrael, in fact it had only just begun.

The Cadence of Kaddish

I have been wanting to write about saying Kaddish for months now, but I always felt like I needed to tell a grand story, to find some way to encapsulate all the emotions and experiences in one cohesive post – and that was too daunting a task. However, this weekend, I had the honor of hearing four women speak who wrote about their experiences for Kaddish: Women’s Voices in addition to the co-editors, and I realized that vignettes are just as important and powerful. So I’d like to share just a few of the moments which stick out in my head the most, on both a personal and communal level.

Early on, I realized my Kaddish had a specific cadence, and that while I tried to match it to the other mourners, it always came out in this very specific way. After some reflection, I placed it – it was my grandfather’s cadence. I grew up sitting next to him in shul and listening to him say Kaddish “for the people who have no one to say it for them” on a consistent basis, and it must have imprinted in my mind.

I love that long after his death, I continue to find ways in which he continues to shape my life.

One Erev Shabat, I was at a shul that was not our regular place and the women’s section is a balcony. As mincha (the afternoon service) was ending, the man who was leading the tefilla (prayers) paused and looked around to see if anyone was saying Kaddish. When no man spoke the starting words, he moved on quickly and finished the tefillot with it being uttered at all. So while my husband who often said Kaddish for me in the days when I couldn’t make it to services myself (five weeks of modified bedrest and a newborn were a bit of a hindrance to that), could have said it for me so that it would be heard, he didn’t even realize until it was too late.

Another Erev Shabbat I was staying with friends who lived in an amazing yishuv in Gush Etzion. I had been told it would be ok for me to say Kaddish, but found myself standing in a community member’s kitchen, removed from the main tefilla in their living room by a wall, and unsure if I’d be heard when the time came. There were again no male mourners saying kaddish, but rather than skip it the leader just said it quickly himself and I said it along with him from my side of the wall. (Though it didn’t feel nice to me to say Kaddish so quickly, I was able to do so.) I noticed he slowed down the next few times and wondered if a man had joined him I couldn’t hear.

After davening, our host mentioned that a mutual friend had told the man leading to slow down because a woman was also there saying Kaddish. I never asked if he knew it was me, or he could just hear a voice – but either way, it was a simple act that was greatly appreciated. And as we walked up the hill, the leader approached us, asked me a few questions, and apologized for not noticing me. Another simple act that was greatly appreciated.

Not saying Kaddish the last month was extremely hard. And it sometimes continues to be. It gave me a concrete space and action to be present with my mourning and my loss, and for both my husband and I to reflect on my amazing mommie. There are still times that I start to say it and have to catch myself – this is no longer my ritual, no longer my place and space.

Without a doubt the most profound Kaddish experience, is this one.

Post by Melissa - Photo Copyright Yitz Woolf

Post by Melissa – Photo Copyright Yitz Woolf

Saying Kaddish for my mother, with the cadence of her father, at the brit of my son who was named for both of them.`

 

 

 

Its my birthday and I’ll blog if I want to

Post by Melissa

Post by Melissa

I’ve started to write a few blogs recently, but feel like its weird to just dive back in after my hiatus without saying hello and giving some closure. So, I figured what better day than my 32nd birthday to do just that!

I had a very difficult pregnancy, then a very intense labor and delivery, and then got to snuggle an adorable baby boy at the end of February. He is quite possibly the cutest giant tiny human on earth (and I’m not the only one who thinks so). At this point, I am planning on not posting his photo or many stories about him on the blog, though I do occasionally post it in semi-public places online, the blog is more public than I’m willing to make his life right now.

In June we left Israel as planned, just days before the kidnapping and the subsequent turmoil and war. It broke my heart to be in CA and not in Israel, but alas – it was what it was.

We mostly spent our summer in CA with my dad, learning Gemara, visiting people and places in San Diego, and getting ourselves reacclimated to life in America. After two years in Israel, it definitely took time to get used to customer service, not bagging our own groceries, and having to check for food being kosher.

Also this summer we had the unveiling of my mom’s tombstone and the whole family was together for that, which is always nice – though I hate it has to be for such sad reasons. We tried to balance the sadness of that by the joy of spending the time with the youngest member of the family and remembering the cycle of life.

We did take some time to sign our lease in NY and then visit our friends and family in Denver, reconnecting with a place that meant so much to us for so long. And we took some amazing family photos and new headshots (as seen above) with our beloved wedding photographer/friend.

Our first Shabbat in our new community was my mom’s first Yarthzeit and yesterday was my first real Yizkor, so I’m now in a new phase post-aveilut. I’m trying to embrace all the things which reminded me of her and were too hard to deal with last year as ways of honoring her memory in the coming years. (This includes recognizing and celebrating birthdays, hence my acknowledging that in this post.)

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What now, you ask?

Well, we are finally living the dream.

D (who is now going by his Hebrew name, so shall hence forth be N as in Nachum) is now a first year student at Yeshivat Chovevi Torah (YCT).

I am also a first year student – at Yeshivat Mahara’t! (Surprise! Only not, right?)

When Jessica and I started this blog, N going to rabbinical school was the goal but it seemed far off, and then as life happened it kept getting pushed back – so its crazy to think that its finally happening. And that I’m doing it too.

Not surprisingly, having a high-needs baby and being in my first year at Yeshivat Mahara’t already keep my plate quite full. Yet, I find writing cathartic and good for processing my thoughts – so I’m hoping to post semi-frequently both here and on the JOFA blog, “The Torch,” but I make no promises on frequency or remembering to cross post the ones from JOFA.

I hope you all had a wonderful year, and a rejuvenating Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur. :)

Review: Talmudic Images

Post by Melissa

Post by Melissa

Anyone who has ever learned the Talmud, be it in daily practice of Daf Yomi or a single shiur, knows that the wisdom of our sages is vast and keeping track of the sages themselves is quite a task. This is where Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz comes to our rescue with Talmudic Images, one of the recently released books in The Steinsaltz Library from MAGGID, a division of Koren Publishers Jerusalem.

Rabbi Steinsaltz brings the knowledge only someone of his vast learning and teaching experience can to this book, as he chronicles the lives of thirteen of the most often cited sages from both the Tannaitic and Ammoraitic generations. He utilizes the Talmud to paint a picture of the lives of our sages, weaving together stories from different masechtot (volumes) and incorporating bits of history along the way. Having access to the bigger picture of their lives allows us to better understand their positions and approaches to the debates in which we see their names bandied about.

In addition to the fact sharing, Rabbi Steinsaltz elucidates on the reasons for each sage’s particular approach to halacha, based on the information he has pieced together about their lives.  These insights are truly eye opening for the reader, and allow for a much deeper comprehension of the nuances of the positions which are upheld by our greatest sages time and again.

After having completed the monumental task of translating and commenting on the entire Talmud, Rabbi Steinsaltz is in a unique space to be able to offer such comprehensive overview, while keeping it concise and interesting. He brings enough material on each sage to allow the reader to get a clear view of who they were and the historical context in which they lived, without being overwhelmed by too many details.

This book is not only an interesting read as a stand alone book, it is an essential reference (not to be confused with Rabbi Steinsaltz’s Talmud Reference Guide) for the casual and regular Talmud learner.

Personally, I am excited to be able to have this book in our collection for a lifetime of review, and intend to purchase Biblical Images – a similar piece about the people in TaNaCh, as well.

 

*Disclaimer: I was not compensated for this honest review, though I did receive a complimentary copy of the book. 

The First Day

Apparently the roller coaster of the pregnant avel continues after the pregnancy ends….

 

Today is my *first* Mother’s Day.

My first as a mother.

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My first without my mother. 

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I have been having anxiety about today for weeks – ever since the first “Mother’s Day is coming!” email arrived in my inbox. I cringed every time I deleted another one. I cried as I entered giveaways on Facebook. I smiled as I looked at the little guy in my arms.

I read this moving piece from my dear friend Esther and thought of all the ways I could honor my mommie. I had grand ideas of what to write and say and do. I thought of the things both big and small that we we used to do together and how to incorporate them into a special ceremonial remembrance.

Then last night I got a text from my dad that said in part “you had a great example of what to do, now just love your child like she did” and I realized that I honor her every day. Every time I tell my son I love him. I every time I snuggle him close. Every time he wraps his tiny little hand around her necklace. Every day, in every moment, just by being the mom which comes naturally after having such an amazing woman as mine.

I realized that I am lucky to have had such an amazing mommie, who without being here to celebrate my first Mother’s Day as an Eema, is no doubt with me in everything I do as a mom every day.

Continually opting in to Orthodoxy

There has been a lot of talk online over the past few months about Orthodox Feminism – ranging from how it is not possible, to how oppressed we are, to why we stay Orthodox. The posts on the latter topic seem to come mostly from women who grew up within the structure of Halacha that Orthodoxy provides, and “don’t know what they’re missing” in more liberal streams where egalitarianism reigns along with the thoughts of our oppression.

Well, I know “what I’m missing” and I’m still staying Orthodox.

I grew up Conservative. I loved wearing a kippa and tallit, laying tefillin with the minyan on Sunday mornings before teaching Hebrew School, serving as shaliach tzibur, and leyning. (I was good at leading and leyning too.) I started keeping Shabbat and Kashrut as a Conservative Jew. I started dressing in a tzniut way as a Conservative Jew. I got married and started covering my hair and keeping Taharat HaMishpacha as a Conservative Jew.

And yet, today, I am an Orthodox Jew.

I opted in to Orthodoxy for a variety of reasons, but they were my reasons and they still are. I was not coerced or strong armed in any way. I made a decision based on intellectual honesty and intuition. I am happy in Orthodoxy and do not feel oppressed or held down. In fact, I feel uplifted. I have had more exposure to learning and to text since becoming Orthodox. I have had more meaningful Shabbat and holiday meals, with richer conversations since becoming Orthodox. I engage in more mitzvot in my daily life since becoming Orthodox.

I opt in to Orthodoxy everyday.

So no, I can’t lead the entire service or serve as a witness and I don’t wear my tallit and tefillin anymore, but I still have a fulfilling and meaningful Jewish experience and won’t let anyone attempt to convince me otherwise.

Life is a journey, God is the guide

Today in my Chumash class, we were asked to think/write about how we view or relate to God as part of a discussion about revelation. I had to (sadly) admit to myself that I don’t really think about God on a regular basis, I have just internalized the relationship as a part of who I am and how I engage with the world. When I had to stop and think about it, I found myself caught up in a metaphor which I wanted to explore a bit more with you.

If life is a journey, then surely God is our guide and the Torah is the guidebook.

To expound it a bit more, Talmud is the sequel, Halacha is the “must see” lists, and commentaries are all the reviews and blogs which people write to distill their experiences.

Sometimes, the books are enough to keep the traveler going on a good path and having a fulfilling journey, but sometimes they leave one wandering, lost, or disconnected. Sometimes the traveler has to set aside the books, and talk personally to the guide. Sometimes a person on a journey has face the guide directly to get answers for the difficulties.

The guide is always there, even when a traveler forgets and gets caught up planning for themselves.  While one can pick the places they want to go from a book, they may be closed for renovations or generally disappointing. Meanwhile, the guide knows exactly where to go and can help weary travelers get out of these slumps – if only they would stop to ask and open up to the answer.

The traveler can’t get mad at the guide when it doesn’t work out, rather they have to slow down and be willing to open up to the answers. One has to be willing to give up control sometimes, and just trust that the guide knows what is best.

The guide is able to see the bigger picture of the journey, while the traveler is caught up in the day to day activities and the minutiae of the logistics.

While the guidebooks, “must see” lists, and reviews tell other people’s experiences, only the guide knows the individual traveler and what is best for their unique experience. The guide knows all the options, while the individual is limited to their minimal exposure to the books.

It may be hard for some of travelers (myself included) to embrace this, but it seems like the only way to truly get the most personally fulfilling journey possible is to find a balance between being self-directed with texts and giving up some control in connecting with the guide and allowing him to lead.

Quite simply, despite all of our best intentions as travelers, we can’t always rely on the texts to get us through our journey. We need a personal relationship with our illustrious guide, God, in order to maximize the experience of our journey. (And it doesn’t hurt to have good traveling companions either!)

 

{This blog has been cross-posted to These & Those, the Pardes student blog, which I help manage.)