An Ignoble Comeback

Hashem works in mysterious ways. Suddenly the flusher on the toilet is stiff and it takes a lot of effort to push it down and flush. We wanted to blame the new cleaning lady but she came on Friday and it only malfunctioned yesterday.

I’ve been meaning to write for ages. There are half-formed sentences floating around in my brain and half-formed paragraphs written and random papers, littering my desk. I always mean to finish up, type up and post. Somehow, it hasn’t happened until now. All it took is on pretentious commentator to get me up and writing.

On Friday I received an email from WordPress asking me to moderate a comment on a previous blog post titled Tomorrow. The comment read: That a Jewish person can even think about suicide is mind-boggling. The first emotion that came up after read this was indignation. I felt the comment was belittling the suffering that this individual was going through. I then took a step back and realized that the commentator had a point. The truth is, in Judaism, committing suicide is one of the worst sins a person can commit. Hashem gave a person life as a gift and Hashem is the only one who can take it back. If someone were to learn about it from within the good books, suicide would become unfathomable.

Although the tone of the comment threw me off, I conceded that he (I don’t know by whom the comment was written; for some reason I’m assuming he is a male.) was right. However I decided not to let the post through because of the critical tone. I also felt that this blog is not the proper forum for a discussion about suicide.

The next comment, by the same person, hurt more, probably because the judgement was placed on me and not someone else. The commentator dismissed my whole struggle of being stuck in a Rut by saying that speaking negatively breeds negativity and therefore I shouldn’t speak about being in a rut because that is precisely what places me in the rut.

Dear Sir, the blog post was about leaving the rut, about letting go, of redeeming myself from negativity and moving towards creativity, towards positivity. That was the message behind the post. By looking at looking at how much my life had changed for the better, that is what enabled me to leave the rut that held me back. Is that positive enough for you? Or did you not read the post thoroughly before you passed judgment?

Deep breaths. It’s okay. What other people say doesn’t have to matter. I thought I was able to let this all go. But then on Motzei Shabbos he left a third comment on my A little bit about me and my writing. Here is the exact quote: I this and I that. That is not a Chassidish mindset. IN fact, it not even represents a Jewish approach. That you call the community you grew up in “insular” and “sheltered” is quite inaccurate. The community did not insulate you. You merely seek to blame the community for your feelings of guilt for having left the fold. No one stopped you from leaving, did they, young lady? Write on, but write truthfully, even if it hurts.”

I don’t even know where to begin. I think I should make a disclaimer that I am indeed Frum and I have not left the fold. When describing the community I grew up in as insular I wasn’t speaking of the Frum community at large, rather within the  one I grew up in. Regardless of me and where I stand in life, I still maintain that that the specific community in which I was raised is insular and sheltered. As for writing truthfully, I pride myself with my honesty. Some may say that I am honest to a fault. I believe that all of my writings (and in other aspects of my life as well) are honest and truthful.

Like I said before, Hashem works in mysterious ways. It took a judgmental individual to rile me up enough to actually sit down and write. So what is the point of this post (Other than giving power to this person who I want to take hold of by the shoulders and shake him until some sense is knocked into him.)? Definitely, to vent. It doesn’t feel good to be judged by anyone, especially someone who only has snippets of information about you. Other than that, I suppose, this is my ignoble comeback. Hopefully, I’m here to stay.

Tomorrow

Blood. And slit wrists. That’s all I see. Like a flashback, only it hasn’t happened. A pool of blood. A lifeless body. Pale face. Dark hair. White hands and red wrists.

What do you do when someone comes to you telling you they plan to commit suicide?

She’s sitting on my couch; her shoulders hunched, her long hair shielding her face. The room is quiet save for the ticking of the clock and the pounding of my heart.

I sit across from her my gaze flicks around the room, at the cluttered table, at her, at the scattered toys I had been cleaning up when she knocked on the door, back to her, and to the new rug leaning against the wall still wrapped in plastic.

“How are you going to kill yourself?”

My voice is dispassionate. As if I couldn’t care. As if my heart isn’t thudding in my chest. As if my eyes aren’t continuously scanning the room, searching for an escape, afraid of what she might do.

She shrugs. I stare at her until she looks up and meets my eyes. Her eyes are determined.

Go, give her a hug.

I’m so awkward. I’m so bad at displaying emotion .I can’t.

Stop having a conversation with yourself and go give her a hug.

I get up and slowly sit next to her and then pull her into a hug, squeezing her tightly. Hoping I can somehow convey all the things that need to be conveyed.

“When?”

My tone hasn’t changed much. I want to change it. I want to sound compassionate. But I’m numb. I don’t know how to inject my emotions into the words. My mind is racing. What do I say? How do I deal with this? I was never taught, never trained, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.

It’s not about you; it’s about her. Focus on her.

She tells me she’s planned it for next week. She’s speaking in a monotone. Cold. Calculated. I breathe a little easier knowing it’s in a few days’ time. I was afraid she was going to walk out of my house and do it. My heart is still pounding, painfully. My eyes flicker around the room again and land on the new rug. I am anxious to unwrap and unroll it, to see what it looks like. I want to tell her about it. I want to share it with her. I can’t though. She wants to take her life and I want to talk about the trivialities of my home.

Sarale, stop. Stop thinking about the rug. Can’t you focus on the real issue here?

I can’t focus on the real issue. My heart is still pounding and my mind is still racing. I’m trapped, I’m terrified. I’m watching her. Her fingers are twined in her lap, head down. She looks up for a moment and our gazes lock. I stare at her steadily. Again, hoping that my actions can express more than words can. She’s the first to look away. I feel triumphant. I’ve won this round. Immediately I feel stupid. This isn’t a game.

I say all the things that need to be said, all the things she doesn’t want to hear, all the things she can’t find the energy to care about.

I’m silent. She’s silent, silently twisting her fingers in her lap. The silence stretches.

I want her to cry. I want her to show some emotion, I want her to let it out. I want to cry. I want to scream. I want to pound her head against the wall. I want her to stop sitting there like a statue, frozen on my couch.

My mind wanders. Sentences begin forming in my mind. I imagine myself at the computer, writing this into a blog post.

A blog post, really Sarale? All you can think about is how you are going to write about this?

Yes, it will be raw, real.

You need serious help.

Yes, because I am now having a conversation with myself.

I thought only people in books have italicized conversations with themselves.  Apparently I’m living a story; it is surreal.

We talk a bit. Short, stilted sentences. Single words falling into nothingness. And then she asks for my help. How does one kill themselves?

My voice is rough, my tone colder than before.

“A bullet to the head is probably the easiest but I don’t know where you’d get a gun. Pills work too, though I’m not sure which ones. Slashing your wrists might work. You could find a knife in the kitchen. But someone might find you before… it takes a while to bleed out.”

“Stop.” She trembles.

I’m relentless. “Do you know where there’s a bridge?”

“I said stop!”

She buries her head, her shoulders heave. I’ve made her cry. I’m crushed, though, before I can feel triumphant again.

“I thought you care about me. Why are you helping me?”

Ouch. I thought I was helping. I didn’t know it was a trick question. I inhale; a deep shuddering sigh.

“I do care, so much. So much that I want you to rethink your decision. I know you’re in a lot of pain and you want the pain to stop. I’m not convinced that you really want to die.”

A sniffle. And then a broken, broken voice. “You’re right. I don’t want to die. I just want the pain to go away.”

I don’t feel triumphant now. Not at all. My heart may just explode it’s been hammering for so long. It hurts, physically. My heart aches. It hurts so much.

Silence. Again. Filling the space between us. She breaks it asking me to rate how much I care about her. One being the least ten being the most.

My answer is immediate, before she even has a chance to finish asking. “Ten, eleven, a hundred.”

She laughs. It’s a short breathless sound, more like choking.

“I’ll stay alive for you, because you mean a lot to me.”

My heart becomes heavier. No. I can’t. I can’t shoulder this responsibility. It’s too much. I can’t be the only reason she is alive. No. I can’t.

“For now,” I rush to say.

“For now.”

When she leaves I pick up the toys from the floor and roll out the rug. I need to do something normal. I need to feel normal. I need to worry about the décor in my living room. I need to worry about something inconsequential.

I frown at it. The color is too dark, darkening the whole room. I didn’t even pause to think that maybe it’s my mood that is too dark. It doesn’t look good lengthwise so I turn it around. It doesn’t look good that way either so I turn it back. I push it closer to the couch and then pull it back towards me.

Forget it. It’s no good. I’ll return it tomorrow.

Tomorrow.  I have a tomorrow. I have another day to work things out. I helped her have a tomorrow. And for today that is enough.

All You Got

I was first introduced to the Marcus Brothers approximately ten years ago. It was before they recorded professionally, before they had become an official band. They had written a few songs and recorded them. Someone got hold of the songs and copied them onto a CD. Someone got a hold of that someone and made their own CD. That someone passed it on to a few someones who passed it on to a few more people until it reached my sister. By extension, it reached me as well.

From the very first time I heard their music it sparked something within me. It kindled my imagination. It resonated.

Over the years they’ve become a band called 8th Day and put our professionally recorded albums. On my recent trip to New York I discovered that the Marcus Brothers had put out a new album. I immediately bought it and on my bus ride home listened to it. The bus is dark and silent. The baby is, thankfully, sleeping in the seat beside me. I put in the ear buds and begin listening. This song. Wow.

This is my favorite song. The truth hit me hard, smacked me in the face, took my breath away, made me marvel. I need to internalize this message. I’ve got to give it all I got.

 

All You Got

after one hundred and twenty-five years

you go up to heaven you climb all those stairs

they won’t ask you were you wise like Solomon

they won’t ask you were you strong like Samson

they’ll ask just one question

and you’ll give just one answer

it’s the end of the game

and only one thing matters

they’ll say did you give it all you got

 

because in this life you only have what you got

so give it all you got

 

in this world we only have what we got

so give it all you got

Such a clever play on words. We only have what we’ve got, but we’ve got exactly what we need to give it our all. That is the only thing that is expected from us; that’s what we’re capable of doing.

 

if you say it’s easy I’ll say it’s not

you gotta give it all you got

if you say it’s not for you I’ll say it’s your lot

you gotta give it all you got

if you say you’re tired I’ll say tick tock

you gotta give it all you got

you could put my album on the shelf to rot

just give it all you got.

No excuses. This is your lot whether you like it or not, it’s what you’ve got, so give it your best shot. (Put my album on the shelf to rot – I love their self-deprecating humor.)

 

after working so hard and wiping those tears

you look in the mirror you face all your fears

don’t be a fool trying to be wise like Solomon

only the weak try to be strong like Samson

I love those last two lines. Don’t be a fool trying to be wise like Solomon and only the weak try to be strong like Samson. True wisdom and strength is to be myself and not try to be like anybody else.

 

I did what I said

I got no one to blame

only one thing matters

at the end of the game

they’ll say did you give it all you got

This is a question I should ask myself every day, during every challenging moment of every day. Am I giving it all I got? Because at the end of the game, when I climb all those stairs, I want to be able to answer: Yes, I gave it all I got.

Stuck in a Rut

I was stuck in a rut. I knew I was stuck. I thought that knowing I was stuck would help me get out of the rut. But it didn’t. I watched as busy people, people with meaningful lives, hurried past me, busy with their meaningfulness. All the while I was stuck with my head poking out of the ground, hopelessly watching their retreating backs.

Stuck-in-a-Rut (1)

I was stuck in a rut. I was doing the bare minimum; enough that my life looked alright but I invested the least amount of energy possible. I was stuck in my rut and I didn’t know how to get out.

So I hauled myself and my baby off to NY on an overnight bus ride.  I was looking for change, for motivation, for an escape from the tediousness of routine.

Friday morning I went to the Ohel.  I had with me a letter I had written to the Rebbe four years previously and somehow had never had the opportunity to hand it in. Standing at the Ohel, balancing the car seat  with a sleeping baby inside on the ledge, I read the old letter. 

Four years ago was a confusing time for me. I doubted everything. I questioned everything. I challenged the foundations of everything I had been raised with. I rebelled. The rebellion hurt, though. I wanted answers, I just didn’t know where to find them. So I wrote to the Rebbe. Because that’s what I was taught to do. Because even at the height of all the pain and confusion I still wanted to believe.

For years later I can look back with the clarity of hindsight an realize that all my questions have been answered. Whatever I had asked for in my personal life had been fulfilled. The Rebbe had answered my letter. Granted, it took time, but I got them. The Rebbe answered all of my questions.

My rut was shrinking. I was beginning to see more than just people’s ankles.

On Sunday I met up with a friend for lunch. She drank coffee, I ate a bagel. She asked me about my creative life. I smiled bashfully; my creative life had ceased to exist. I immediately had to defend myself and explain that while I was hanging out in my rut I had come to the conclusion that it was imperative that I continue writing. I had made an ambitious declaration that I would write a blog post once a week. It didn’t matter what I wrote about and it didn’t have to be perfect, it just had to be written.

My friend wisely reminded me that it’s about letting go of my inhibitions, freeing myself  of worrying about what others think. It doesn’t matter what they think. They don’t make me who I am, I cannot let them control me. I can only succeed if I’m not afraid to express myself, to be vulnerable  to be uninhibited. 

A breath of fresh air. I now had one foot out of my rut. It was time to say goodbye to it.

The band called 8th Day helped me pull my second foot free. The stood me up and sent me running forward to live my life. Perhaps next week I will explain in a post titled All You Got.

Baby, Exile, and Redemption

My baby was born small and early. He’s in the hospital until he gains enough weight to go home. It’s difficult, I’m not going to deny it. I come to the hospital in the morning and leave in the evening. It’s exhausting. It’s like the hospital walls suck up all your energy so that you leave completely drained.

This has been a learning experience in many different ways. For one I now understand what it means to be awaiting the coming of Moshiach.

I wake up in the morning and think: Maybe today, maybe by some miracle he gained enough weight overnight and can come home today. I come to the hospital, put my stuff down, and anxiously ask the nurse,

“How much does he weigh?”

She smiles and tells me. He’s gained a significant amount since yesterday.

“He’s gaining really nicely,” she tells me.

I thank her happy that he’s gaining but at the same time I feel disappointment. He’s not coming home today. Another long day in the hospital. And then a seed of hope pushes forward. Maybe tomorrow. He’s so close to his discharge weight, maybe he’ll come home tomorrow. My faith is restored.  He will come home, and soon. I know he will.

I go over to his crib to wish him good morning and feed him.

This scene repeats itself daily. I re-experience those emotions every day. The anxiety, hope, disappointment and then again the inexplicable hope.

Moshiach is coming. Possibly today. Maybe tomorrow. But he will come. I know he will.

On the same theme of redemption this experience has taught me what Golus means and the pitfalls of Golus.

I wake up in the morning and pack up to go. I have a bag full of food, a cooler with milk I pumped during the night, and some entertainment to pass the long hours in the hospital. I grab my stuff and hurry out the door to make it on time for his morning feeding.

This is exile. I’m forced to leave my comfortable environment and go out to a strange place. A place where other people are in charge and there is a whole new set of rules. It’s not my place; this is not where I belong.

But then it becomes routine. Rush out the door at nine thirty, come home at two for a much needed nap, and return at six thirty for the evening feed.

Repeat every day. It’s not so strange anymore. I have my spot, the chair behind the curtain to give me some privacy. I know the nurses; they know me. It has become regular.

This is the pitfall of exile. I’ve forgotten it’s exile. I’ve forgotten that this isn’t the way things are meant to be. I can’t forget because then I become complacent. No. I want my baby home. That’s where both of us are meant to be.

Golus. We become complacent forgetting that this is exile, this isn’t where we belong. Hashem, enough. We want to go home.

My King is in the Field

The king is in the field.

Thank you to fifty percent of my Facebook friends for reminding me. Should I actually click on the link to chabad.org and read the article?

Maybe.

What does it mean?

The king is in the field?

If I put a question mark at the end it turns it into an incredulous tone. Can it really be that the king is in the field?

It’s obviously a metaphor.

A field is a wide open space, it doesn’t belong to anyone in particular. It’s emptiness, vastness, freedom.

The king who is normally cloistered in his palace is now in the field, open to visitors. He’s accessible, approachable.

All I have to do is close my eyes and imagine.

The field stretches, seemingly endlessly. The grass is browning and crunching under my feet. The sky is blue, scattered with clouds and rays of sun. I can feel the kings presence. I hesitate. Do I have the audacity to approach the king with my sob story? with my excuses? with my bumbling effort at a fresh start?

His presence is so palpable and surprisingly not intimidating. He smiles, invitingly waiting for me to  step forward and address him. Trembling, I lurch towards him and speak.

Dear King,

I’ve come because you are here, I’ve come because I can, because I’ve been waiting all year for this opportunity to speak with you.

There is so much I can say, I should say yet it is so difficult to express myself. There is so much that I’m afraid to say, to admit.

Dear King, I’ve screwed up, many times. You’ve told me not to do certain things and I’ve gone ahead and done them anyway. Please, don’t take it the wrong way; I didn’t do it to make you angry or to purposely defy you. It’s just that… I did it. I knew I shouldn’t, I sort of hoped that I had enough strength of character not to do it, but I screwed up. It’s so lame. I don’t even have any proper excuses.

I’m sorry. Really, I am. I can’t even say that I didn’t mean to do it because I did. I did it knowingly. Yet it’s written that a person doesn’t sin unless a spirit of folly enters them. Right?

My spirit’s been pretty folly-full. I know that. And I know that you know that too.

I want to change. I want to be a better person. I want to have a better relationship with you. I don’t want to have to rely on this once a year arrangement where I can cry, beat my chest, say I’m sorry, and wipe my slate clean.

I pause; my thoughts swirling, I’m trying to pick up on one stream of thought. Trying to express that feeling, that movement  in my heart

And yet with all the things I’ve done wrong you’ve come out here, onto my turf, into this g-d forsaken earth.  You’ve given me a chance.

So really what I’m trying to say is this:

When you go back to the palace, I’m coming with you. I’m coming back with you onto your turf. Because I love you. Because you love me. Because we both know that we’re meant to be together. We’re in this relationship together and I’m committed to our relationship.

Goodbye Mayanot

Dear Mayanot,

So it’s become tradition that when someone leaves they leave a love note pinned to the bulletin board. Almost as soon as I came back from my trip to NY I started planning in my head what I would write. I wondered when the girls put them up; I never saw anyone do it. I always just came in the morning and saw it there already. I imagined myself creeping up in middle of the night while everyone is sleeping and sticking it on the notice board.

Anyway, as I was saying, I was planning this letter for a long time. Every once in a while a good line would pop into my head and I would be like: omg, I should totally write that. But now as I sit at the computer, with my contact lenses going fuzzy, I’m blanking out. There’s so much to say. I’ve been here for so many days, so many hours, so many minutes. A minute, here, can be so filled with learning and growth. How do I quantify my time spent here? How do I express it all in one letter? If I want anyone to read this I should probably keep it short. I don’t know if I can.

I came to Mayanot last September with the title Shlucha. I felt ill-suited for the job. A Shlucha is meant to be a role model and I didn’t feel that way. I felt lost and confused, trapped in my Judaism. At times wanting out, envious of those who lived the glittery (in my opinion) secular lifestyle, and at other times terrified of leaving what was familiar, of hurting my parents, of being considered a failure. I was disillusioned by the life I lived and came to Mayanot as the last resort. If Mayanot couldn’t save me, nothing would.

I started to learn, to really learn. I’d learnt Chassidus all my life but it had always been abstract, something that was intellectually satisfying but not practical. That changed when I came to Mayanot. I learnt so many new things. I learnt that Chassidus is applicable in my modern life, that G-d wants a relationship with me, that G-d cares about what I do, I can make a difference in my life and in the world, I can change, I can become a better person.

My experienced here became a journey of self-discovery. My questions became: What does this concept mean to me? Can I apply it to my everyday life? How do I apply it? How do I deepen my relationship with Go-? And then came the urgent realization that I need to share what I’ve learnt with others.

Slowly but surely I changed. It wasn’t something conscious. When I looked back at the weeks that had flown by I realized that I had internalized certain concepts, that they became a part of me, that I started thinking differently, I had different perspectives than previously, I felt differently about certain things, feelings I had never felt before. It was so real to me, so true. Judaism had stopped being restrictive, it became something I lived, it became who I was.

I don’t know when exactly it happened, or how exactly it happened, but it did. Day by day. Walking through the door, drinking from the water fountain, smiling to the people around me, being within the walls of Mayanot, attending Farbrangens and classes, using a glass mug, somehow all these things were a part of it. They became a part of me, and I a part of it, a part of Mayanot.

Tonight is my last sleep in Mayanot (that’s if I get to bed). Mayanot has changed my life irrevocably. As I leave now I’m different than the timid, uncertain girl that first walked through the Mayanot gate. I now have a new self-confidence in myself and in my ability to motivate myself and others. I do feel like a role model because I know who I am. I feel like Mayanot has handed me the truth and now I hold it tightly in my fist. I never want to let go of it.

The best part is that the changes don’t stop here. Mayanot has given me the ability to continue on changing, to learn from every encounter, every experience becomes a story with a moral. Everything is a lesson, something that I can grow from. This is a gift I will forever treasure.

Thank you Mayanot for being here for me and for others like me who are seeking the truth. Thank you for your warm accepting environment that lets us grow at our own pace in a way that we can change our lives in a real way.

Good luck Mayanot. I bless you with success. May you have the ability to reach out and touch so many Jewish women so that they in turn go out and touch so many more.

Goodbye Mayanot. Although I am leaving physically I am comforted because I know that a piece of Mayanot is lodged in my heart and is there to stay, forever.

With a prayer in my heart, a blessing on my lips, and tears in my eyes,

Sarale Gourarie

 

 

Last Day of Teaching.

Part I

I woke up bleary eyed. I went to bed last night at 3 am and tried to get up at 7. I had given my students a test over a month ago and today was my last day of teaching. so of course last night at ten o’clock I sat down to the grade the tests. Why would I do it any earlier? On the first test that I graded I left a little personalized note to the student, about three lines. Why? i don’t know. Maybe I overwork myself, or maybe I’m a devoted (albeit last minute) teacher. Either way I just added another hour of work for myself. For the easy students writing a note is easy. For the challenging students it’s challenging. And rewarding. Finding the good in everyone.

Either way this morning I stumbled out of bed and into the shower. Coffee. That’s what I need and everything would be fine. I got dressed and deciding that it took too much energy to pull on my boots, I slipped on my flats. I put the water up to boil. The only thing I could think about was coffee. About ten minutes later as I’m coaxing my contact lenses into my tired eyes I heard the rain pounding against the windows and roof. Great. It’s ploching outside. That’s a Yiddish word but I haven’t found an English word that describes that sort of downpour. Because it’s more than pouring, more than a downpour, it’s ploching. That meant I’d have to put on boots, and a sweater plus a jacket because my jacket doesn’t have hood.

The kettle whistled. I was about to pour the coffee in a cup when i realized there’s no sugar. Great. Last week i tried coffee without sugar and it ended up down the drain. My yearning for coffee intensified. I needed it. That meant that I needed to leave 15 minutes earlier so I could buy a coffee in the central bus station. I smeared on some makeup. Through my half closed eyes it looked decent so I grabbed my bag, mumbled a good day to my apartment mates and headed out the door.

I stopped in the doorway to outside the apartment building. I wished I had a stronger word even than ploching. Deluge. Yeah, I checked it up in the thesaurus. I had no choice. I hurried out into the rain. My boots don’t have good traction. They’re fashion boots, not meant for the rain. I sort of slipped and slid down the block, trying to hurry and glance over my shoulder to ensure the bus wasn’t right behind me, and not fall flat on my face. As the sidewalk slanted downward towards the street so did I. My feet slipped out from under me and I instinctively put my arm out to break the fall. My palm met the wet pavement at the same time as my bag. Splat. Ow. More embarrassed than hurt I continued, watching my every step. I crossed the street and a Chassidish Bochur was standing there. Did he see me fall? Mortifying. Well, even if he did, he was probably more mortified than me so i supposed it’s okay.

I didn’t miss the bus. I moved into the bus stop to protect myself from the driving rain. I stood in a puddle. The whole street is a puddle; there was nowhere else to stand. I waited inevitably for the water to seep into my very nice unprotected boots and soak my toes. More and more people squeezed into the bus stop, anxious to be out of the rain. I could just imagine what the bus will smell like with lots of wet humans on it. And i wondered what was worse; waiting in the cold bus stop with fresh air, or on a warm stuffy bus. The bus pulls up spraying water on the first anxious people to get on. I’m relieved when it shows up. my stomach was growling and still the only coherent thought i could manage is: coffee.

Traffic. The bus inched forward and then it slammed to a stop. Standstill. Repeat. An old man with a white beard, orange knitted kippa, and heavy American accent was cursing out the Israel government for turning Yaffo Street into a train track. A woman tried to respond kindly but he yelled over her. She turned to look out the window. Rain splattered the windows and the inside of the bus was steamy. At long last the bus pulled to a jerky stop and grateful, I carefully jumped off and hurried, head bent, to the entrance.

Part II coming soon…

I Have Come to My Bridal Chamber; באתי לגני

I have come to my garden, my sister, my bride… (Song of Songs)

I stared at the page in front of me, at the little black letters lined up neatly in organized rows. It seemed daunting to me. It was just individual letters, not words and sentences that convey a message. I sighed as I pulled the book closer to me. I’d give it another shot. See, my problem wasn’t with actual comprehension. I could understand it if I really wanted to. What bothered me was: What does all this mean to me? Do these letters, words, lines, paragraphs, pages – do they hold any meaning for me? Personally? In my life?

I peered into the book, at the open page. Basi Legani… I have come to my garden, to my bridal chamber. Bridal chamber. Those words caught my attention. Maybe this was talking to me.

This world was God’s home, where He felt comfortable, where He could kick his shoes off and put His feet up on the couch. And then He was forced to leave. He wants to come back and that’s our job. We are meant to bring Him back here to this physical world, to His home.

My thoughts veered off sharply into the realm of fantasy. The idea of a home had my imagination running off into the near future. Did I care what color the towels would be? Do the towels have to match the linen? I’d love a black leather couch. Where can I find a cookbook that has tasty but easy to follow recipes? Do they have Cooking for Dummies?

I reigned in my thoughts, trying to refocus on the Ma’amer. So how do I bring God back here together with my leather couch? I continued on in the Ma’amer and the Rebbe answers the question. The way we can bring it back is through subduing the evil and to transform it to good. In the words in the Ma’amer it is called Etkafiah and Et’hapcha respectively. This is how we enable God to feel comfortable here once more.

It’s kind of the same thing with my home, I realized, feeling excitement spreading within me. This Ma’amer really is talking to me. Etkafiah and Et’hapcha really are necessary ingredients in building a home. I want to subdue outside influences so that they don’t enter and disturb the sanctity of my home. I also want to be able to transform my home into a warm place, a place of goodness, light, happiness, positivity and Godliness. A home isn’t just the walls and the furniture within. A home is the atmosphere and I have the power to form and transform it to be something positive and great.

I sat back, thoughtful. This is what the Ma’amer was telling me. The best part is that through me subduing and transforming my home that’s how I bring God into it in a way that He can be comfortable and call it His home as well.

I closed the book in satisfaction and stood up. I walked away, grinning; laughing at myself that I couldn’t help but think that green would be a good color for towels.

Chanukah!

I gaze into the Chanukah flames

They twinkle

And sparkle

Alive

I hear them whispering…

And so I sit

Watching

Thinking

Listening

Listening, oh so closely…

…Night in ancient Jerusalem. A crescent moon and a few lone stars shine over the dark and deserted streets. In strategic points across the city spirals of smoke can be seen rising from large pagan alters. Even during the day the streets are nearly empty; it is a city in mourning, huddled within herself, trying to find comfort and protection from the Greek enemy. Yet Greek culture can be seen pushing its way into the Judean city. The alters manned by Greek soldiers, men dressed in short robes, the smell of roasting pork, and doors painted over with Greek inscriptions.

In the center of the city in one of the main streets there is a house with such an inscription. Just above the inscription is a wreath of roses. It is a large house, one of the largest on the street and obviously wealthy. It is the home of a man once called Eliakum Hakohen now known as Yakum the Hellenist. Once one of the respected Kohanim in the Bet Hamikdash; now one of the respected governers of King Antiochus.

Inside the house, in the large sitting room, reclines Michal, wife of Yakum. She gently rocks her newborn baby, quietly humming a sweet lullaby to her child.

“Sleep my sweet child.” She stood up and gently laid him down in his basinet. Then she sank down on the sofa and sighed deeply. She should really go to bed, she knew, but the memory of a conversation she had earlier that day with her husband disturbed her.

“Elia… err… Yakum, you know our baby will be eight days old tomorrow,” she began tentatively.

His reply was brusque, “Don’t even say what you’re thinking. The answer is no.”

“But…”

He cut her off sharply, “I said no. No child of mine will be circumcised. It’s against the law. I will not hear another word on this matter.”

Michal bit her lip and remained silent, though she knew that she would have to go against her husband’s command. No child of hers would remain uncircumcised. She was a proud Jewish woman and nothing would stop her. She regretted having to resort to an alternate plan, one she had created when her grandmother had visited her the day before.

The baby’s wail disturbed the quiet and Michal wearily stood up and lifted him out of his crib. She sat down heavily on the sofa and cradled him in her arms. Immediately his cries ceased. Slowly her eyes began to close as sleep overtook her.

Michal awoke with a start. She lay the baby aside and peered out the window. It was very dark; just before dawn. Her pulse quickened. It was time to execute her plan. She seized the child and noiselessly slipped out of her house, baby clutched tightly to her chest. Please, please don’t cry now, she begged silently of her child. Her heart pounded and she rounded the corner and hurried down the desolate streets. The sun was soon to rise and it was imperative that no one see her.

“Please G-d,” she prayed, “Please help me. Keep me and my child safe.”

As she rounded another corner, her heart stopped. At the end of the street she saw an alter with smoke rising lazily from it. No, she wasn’t going to sacrifice a pig on their pagan alter. Truthfully though, did she really have a choice?  She was the wife of Yakum the Hellenist and King Antiochus’s governor! Everyone believed that she was the pampered wife of Yakum and a staunch Hellenist. No one would believe her if she were to tell them that she was a prisoner in her own opulent home, that she was a practicing proud, albeit hidden, Jewess.

Michal’s steps slowed with indecision. What should she do? Sacrifice a pig as she was expected to? Or stand up to her hidden faith and lose her life and her child’s?

As she neared the alter, her heart began to hammer in relief. The Greek soldiers manning the alter were deeply asleep. She quickened her pace once more, stepping around the soldiers, murmuring a quiet prayer of gratitude.

As she neared the outskirts of the city the baby began to weep.

“No sweetheart,” she moaned, “You mustn’t cry now. We’re almost there.”

Day was beginning to dawn and the first early risers were emerging. Michal took a deep breath, trying to calm the thumping of her heart. If she were caught… the outcome was too gruesome to contemplate. She lifted her eyes heavenward,

“G-d, I’m doing this for you and only you. I don’t even know what I’m going to say to my husband when I return home. I have nothing to answer to him. I can just imagine his reaction when we wakes up and sees both of us gone. He might even hand me over to his Greek friends. I’m begging you dear G-d, please, please watch over me and my child. Keep us from harm.”

She frantically rocked her child, willing him to be quiet. Yet his cries intensified. The streets were beginning to become more populated and people were now staring at her hysterical baby. Michal pulled her kerchief lower over her head, praying that she not be recognized. The palpitations of her heart increased. She wasn’t going to make it… someone was going to report her and then it would all be over…

And then the city gave way to narrow pathways and rolling hills. Michal glanced over her shoulder and ascertained that she was not being followed. She sighed in relief yet continued her hurried pace.

It wasn’t long before she came to a large boulder. She knew that just beyond was a small cave and he was waiting there for her but how would she get it open? She shifted the baby over and tried moving the boulder aside but it was too heavy for her weakened body. She leaned against it, panting.

Then suddenly, she heard footsteps. She froze. So this was the end… Her thoughts ran in a disjointed manner. After all her precautions she was still going to get caught… someone had followed her all the way to the outskirts of the city… they were going to kill her and her baby…maybe her husband had found out…it was easier for him this way to get rid of his cumbersome Jewish wife… tears filled her eyes as she began to whisper the Shema.

“Michal, is everything okay?”

She lifted her head proudly. She was ready to die sanctifying G-d’s name. “Yes,” she said defiantly.

“Michal, are you sure? Do you know where you are?”

Michal blinked and looked up at the man in front of her. It wasn’t a Greek soldier. The tall lean figure, the long white beard, it was all so familiar. She gasped, “Oh Grandfather, I thought… I was so scared… I didn’t realize it was you!”

He chuckled. “That much I was able to tell. Now I assume you would have some trouble with this rock.”

“Yes,” she said stepping aside.

Without too much effort he moved aside the boulder and ducked into the small cave. She stooped down and followed him inside.

He looked at her gravely.”Now, you’re sure you want to do this?”

“Yes.”

“Are you certain? It’s extremely dangerous.”

She nodded.

“Are you absolutely positive you want to do this?”

“Yes!” she cried desperately, “My son is Jewish and today he is eight days old. He must have a Bris!”

“Do you understand what were to happen if you were caught, heaven forbid? Do you know that if the Greeks find a child that is circumcised, they throw the mother and the child down from the top of the city walls? ”

“Yes, I fully understand the ramifications.” Tears glistened in her green eyes. “You said you would do this for me, why are you asking me so many questions? Please, go ahead. I want my son to be entered in the covenant of Avraham, I want him to be a real Jew.”

“If you say so.” He gave her a hard look one which she returned.

He saw her determination and nodded once. He produced a sharp knife and ran his fingernail against the blade and nodded once more.

“Hand me the child, please,” he said in a surprisingly gently voice.

Wordlessly, trembling, Michal handed her baby over. He lay the baby down on the rough floor of the cave and kneeled over beside him, ready to begin the ritual. Michal watched; her hands clasped tightly together, tears streaming down her face.

With a swift motion the circumcision was done. The cries of the baby filled the small space, echoing off the walls.

“And his name will be called in Israel…” he paused and looked up at her.

“Yochanan,” she whispered in a choked voice.

“Yochanan.”

He bandaged him up and handed him back to his trembling mother. She rocked him gently and slowly his sobs began to subside

“Thank you,” she whispered her eyes upon her child.

“Quickly return to the city. It is still early. Remember to try to be casual, as if you’re taking your baby for a walk. Don’t do anything suspicious. May G-d watch over you.”

She looked up into his wise old face. “Thank you Grandfather.”

“Be well, may G-d be with you…”

…With a loud crackle the first candle waved goodbye. I sat, palm stuck to my cheek, watching as the other candles sputtered and died away.

Yet they remained blazing inside my heart and soul.

I felt invigorated by her Emunah and Mesirut Nefesh.

This wasn’t a story of long ago. This is a story that I was going to continue…

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