Sunday, February 24, 2013



Thirteen years ago I made the decision to become religious. I thought the choice was mine, but I know Hashem choose it for me, I simply followed His lead. This is how it happened:

Brief Excerpt from my upcoming book...
"Learning to PAUSE- How I Became the Master of My Emotions"

The conflicts, chaos and a relentless creative vision inspired my search for the next best thing that would bring me closer to G-d. I still hoped to find wisdom, strength, and courage to manage the unmanageable challenges I was facing. Previously I experienced many spiritual awakenings. I ventured through 12-step programs, meditation, even the concepts of Buddhism, anything I could find; struggling to “accept what I cannot change, finding courage to change what I can, and praying for wisdom to know the difference."

There were many times when I found profound love, closeness, and heartfelt joy for my Higher Power but none can compare to the moment I walked up the stairs to the women’s section of an Orthodox shul. That was the moment my soul came alive. The connection was something so deeply historic that I could hear the prayers of my grandmothers and grandfathers echoing in my ears. I could feel my soul uniting with the whispers of their words. The rhythmic chants washed the turmoil away, soothing me. My essence was rising up to the surface. Opening my ears to the sounds of the new language, I let myself flow with the rhythm of the melodies and the music of the prayers. I became one with it; whole and holy.    

From that moment on, my mind was made up, nothing could stop me. Following my “open to anything” attitude, I was ready for the next adventure without thinking too much about what I was doing. Without a moment's hesitation, I was certain that this was unlike anything I had ever experienced before; something so deep and soulful. There were no words,  just pure feeling. My journey into Judaism had begun. 

 When something touches my soul I listen to it. Becoming religious is no easy task; changing the food I eat and serve to my family, staying home on Friday nights and Saturdays, no more restaurants, fasting, rocking the family boat, and then the ultimate task in Observant living- a 3 day Yom Tov. No doubt- it is a struggle. Like climbing Mt. Everest, I can see there is a top but I cannot see what is on it. Every step requires strength and focus, reminding me where I want to go, but each one an effort. So why push through the difficulties? Because the reward makes every challenging step worthwhile.

"In the place where a baal-teshuva stands, not even the greatest tzadik can stand."

Hashem recognizes the struggle. He knows what it takes to make your way through the process of teshuva. He appreciates how much energy goes into every change that takes place. He rewards you by welcoming you into His Holy Presence and literally brings the Shechinah upon you. Like the seashore, teshuva expands and extends forever. Hashem loves the person who engages in the teshuva process even more than the perfect tzadik and loves you even more than before the sin.

There are times when I have to ask for forgiveness and sometimes I am the one who has to forgive. 
When I ask for forgiveness, I do teshuva. I follow the process of looking at myself to see how I can make amends for my wrongdoings.  Teshuva is about acknowledging your imperfections, instead of being ruled by your ego. When you are engaged in teshuva, you recognize your flaws and mistakes. For that, Hashem draws you close and surrounds you with His love, forgiving you and embracing you, lifting you above the most perfect tzadik.

And then there are the times I have to forgive others.
As Tomer Devorah teaches, so too shall you; draw close, surround others with love, forgive and embrace those who recognize their flaws. A baal-teshuva shows Hashem just how much he wants to change, yet people in our lives do not always show us in the same way.

Since we are the students of Mussar, it is our task to recognize when someone is seeking forgiveness. It may be the smallest gesture- a smile, a phone call, or simply a change in their tone of voice- we have to open our hearts and draw him closer, even closer than he was before.

Working in a vaad this week, one woman responded to this lesson. "Again? Why do I have to always be the one to give in, when do I get something back?" That's when the vaad really began. It brought forth the question we all ask, "Why am I working so hard, what's in it for me?"

 There are two reasons we have to work hard to forgive others:
1) The way we treat others, Hashem is with us. Our compassionate actions open up the gates of Shemayim. Hashem showers His compassion and blessings upon us when we emulate His ways.
2) Nachas.

What is "nachas?"One of those classic Yiddish words that must be felt to be described in words. It is the ultimate joy, pure pleasure. Funny (or brilliant?) that this Yiddish word is usually spoken in reference to ones' children. So much hardship, effort, struggle, worry, anxiety, chaos, sleeplessness goes into being a parent, that when you finally experience the purity of "nachas" all of the turmoil disappears.

To quote the great Rabbi Avigdor Miller, "Never expect nachas from others, (your children) the only true nachas you can get is from yourself." So what is about"nachas" that we so deeply desire?

Nachas is related to the word menucha, to rest. When we experience nachas, there is an absence of turmoil, no worries, anxiety or chaos. The soul is at rest. It is a quiet place, an inner peace- menucha ha nefesh- the resting of the soul. When we forgive others, we bring nachas to ourselves. Why are we learning Mussar, struggling to achieve what seems to be against human nature? From it, we can create our own inner peace. We are responsible for our own nachas. We have to bring the quiet, restful place into ourselves, no one else can do it for us. We are in charge of our own joy, it comes from how we react and interact with others.

One of the original vaad members always says, "You know when you are acting in Mussar mode, it feels so right. You just know it." What is it about that feeling? It is nachas. Mussar aligns the heart and mind with the soul, in perfect harmony. Just like Yiddish, you know what it is, because you feel it.

For that Hashem draws us even closer, embracing us with His Divine Love.
 That is the Goodness of Forgiveness.

May Hashem shower His compassion and blessings upon you when you forgive others and when you ask for forgiveness.

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