Caterpillars to Butterflies: The Transformative Power of Destruction and Growth
A word from the desk of Shayna Krybus, Toronto, Canada
From destruction and pain, we grow, we flourish.
We're in the middle of the 3 weeks, the saddest time in our annual calendar cycle. We mourn, we limit, we yearn. Yet, after we descend to the lowest of lows, culminating on the 9th of Av, we are presented with an opportunity to rise up. We learn that every Yeridah (descent) is for the sake of an Aliyah (ascent), and we crown these 3 weeks with the most joyous day of the year, The 15th of Av. The 15th of Av, we are taught in Taanit 26b, is one of the holiest and happiest days in our calendar. On this day, we are reborn. We rejoice. Our potential, our hope, renewed. We are transformed.
Everything Hashem does is good, even when we don’t see it. We must use this time to grow in our emunah, believing in Hashgocha Protis (Divine Providence), and knowing that in the midst of a soupy mess, we will grow into something new, more beautiful and more capable than we were before.
We will fly.
Growing Through the Storm
A word from the desk of Sorella Abrahams, Sydney, Australia
As I walked, the rain began to fall, gradually turning into a heavy downpour. I pondered the significance of rain and its dual nature. While it can be an inconvenience, it is also essential for our survival. Rain nourishes crops, provides drinking water, and supports our daily activities. It symbolizes the promise of a better tomorrow, abundant with fresh produce and sustenance for all. Despite being resented as a nuisance by some, rain is an essential element of future blessings.
Contemplating life's challenges and waiting periods, I realized that many endure hardships while anticipating positive outcomes. Whether it's waiting for pregnancy, marriage, health, or financial stability, we yearn for better times. I concluded that these challenges may be necessary for the blessings that lie ahead. The wisdom, strength, and empathy we gain from our present struggles shape our future blessings. Although often presenting as difficult, these challenges are like the water needed to yield the life-sustaining crops of tomorrow.
Reflecting on my own journey, I cannot deny the impact of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Sadly, both my beloved mother and mother-in-law battled illness, dying much too young at the ages of 62 and 73 respectively. Yet, despite the pain they triggered, these experiences have positively transformed me. In a very real sense, I draw upon these lessons – the ‘rain’ of my lived experiences – when comforting patients and their families in hospital rooms, offering support and easing their burdens. And that in turn, brings meaning to my life.
We would never willingly choose these challenges. We prefer to receive abundant blessings without pain or discomfort. Yet, I acknowledge that these difficulties have made me a better person. They have deepened my empathy, understanding, and connection with others on similar journeys within the hospital system. As a chaplain, Shlucha, and CEO of Abrahams Tent, an organization that supports those in hospitals, I have been able to make a difference due to my own painful experiences.
G-d's love for us is unconditional, like that of a caring parent. He holds us during times of pain, and the greatest gift is if we can use these challenges to grow and make the world a better place. I bless everyone to swiftly receive the blessings they yearn for, without the need to wait or suffer discomfort. May these blessings be abundant and unconditional.
The Shadchan Think Tank
A word from the desk of Chana Perman, Toronto, Canada
A shadchan think tank
at an upscale hotel
How to Solve the Shidduch Crisis
Got any ideas? Do tell!
“The girls must do this
and boys should do that.
I've had much success
pulling names from a hat.”
Remarked a second
with confident authority
“Having a strong resume
is absolutely key.”
That is how life goes.
Nothing's as it seems
Boomed a third
“Kids don't exactly have vision.
Let parents be the ones making these decisions.
Let's go back to the olden days
when elders were entitled to have their say.”
A shouting match
Opinions stated with force
Each one knowing best
being in the business for decades, of course.
A wise old man - quiet, not vain
closed his eyes, leaned on his cane
A single tear rolled down his cheek
and slowly he began to speak.
“Cast aside your notions,
your sales pitch, your schemes.
Two halves of one neshama,
can we fathom what this means?”
“See with enlightened eyes
the z'chus assigned to you.
A shidduch is krias yam suf.
For this z'chus - what wouldn't we do?”
“Look at each person
as a beloved part of Hashem.
This is not about you.
It's only about helping THEM.”
“Listen with both ears.
address their doubts and fears.
Offer encouragement and hope
even (especially!) when the answer is 'nope.’ "
“Pray for those in your sphere.
Treat each human with care.
Remember you are dealing with lives.
It's a merit to match husbands and wives.”
The room was silent
then sounds of applause
The think tank disbanded
charged with a cause.
The mood, contagious
became all the rage
Mazal tov, mazal tov
Another couple engaged!
“But I'm not even a shadchan,” you say
“This poem isn’t for me.”
Regardless, its lessons
Ponder the age-old lessons
shared by Wise Old Man
For shidduchim and all else
Let's do all we can
Yogati umatzasi taamin
Wishing us every brocha
May we celebrate many simchas
And in shidduchim, merit great hatzlacha!
This is Challah
A word from the desk of Devorie Kreiman , California, USA
She asks, “Why?
Why wasn’t I safe?
Why should I even bother
To take another step?”
to what I have no answer for,
I pull out what I can offer:
flour and water.
Basics. No matter that she’s grown. She still needs to be my little girl, coming here to
get what she needs.
rich oil and eggs.
Whatever can make this day, this moment, go down more smoothly.
I sprinkle in the promise of sweetness.
There always has to be something sweet to fall back on.
While we’re waiting for the rest…
salt it with my tears.
But not too many. Because that’s not the answer either.
We rise. Sometimes screaming “No” as we do. Always. We rise.
It’s a mess.
I want to turn my back on it. On all of it.
How will this make it okay?
What’s in front of me, right now, is unformed.
I tug and pull at the dough. And my hands ache.
Why can’t we set everything up neatly for our children. “Go this way. Stay in the lines. You’ll be fine.” The way we used to run a pen through a maze— so they’d get from beginning to end without getting stuck or lost.
That would be good.
Really, it’s already good.
Only we can’t always tell. Why?
I pound the thick dough. It yields. Springs back at me with new life.
And I ask.
I ask for her to be too busy and too happy
To look back at this time when she cried out “Why?”
I separate the portion that reminds me that only what I give stays mine. I hold the piece high like a trophy.
We’ll go on. We’ll create. We’ll nurture. And we’ll ask and ask…
“This is challah.”
Faith, Unity and Endurance
A HAKHEL CBI word from the desk of Chaya Hitin, Rehovot, Israel
Life in Israel has taught me moment by moment, headline after headline, that every second is a gift, impossible to take for granted. The pace of our lives here shifts in a perpetual kaleidoscope of crises and grief filled events.
There is no normal. The ground shakes with looming, centuries-old earthquakes of man-made, G-d sent devastations and conflicts. Living is a fight, employment is a struggle, religion is often a source of conflict, enemies endlessly plot, and humans diverge.
And yet, and yet, and yet…
When we invert our perception of the status quo; the painful, terror-filled daily murder of our young and innocent, the wars and strikes and vicious media… when we flip our fear, we discern faith in every fiber of our being.
Our collective body. The sticky web of our global soul. Strength, resilience, graciousness, gratitude…and, Hashem.
And I commit today, as I do every day, to surrender my attempt to control and believe Hashem is the Master of the whole universe, in all its details, big and small, bitter or sweet. The toddler weeping on her father’s fresh grave, the elderly woman crushed on the way to her bomb shelter, the rage that things are wrong and unjust.
On a micro-level, my uphill battle to maintain balance, thrive, succeed and remain devout – even when it feels so out of reach, skimming the tips of my sanity. All of this is Him.
We are crushed to nothing, to disperse more light. Forced out of complacency, Israel and its holy people radiate in these moments. The mass prayers, the food drives, the infinite charity. Blinded by the radiance of unconditional love, kindness and redemption, we endure the endless rebirth of spring… petals wilting, dying for the sweet, new luscious fruit to come.
In this I need to trust.
A word from the desk of Yaffie Begun, S. Paulo, Brazil
Years ago, I received a phone call from a woman who was undergoing chemotherapy and needed a wig. Carla was only able to come in on Friday afternoon, a time when I typically do not take appointments due to its proximity to Shabbos. However, given her circumstances and the desperate tone of her request, I agreed to make an exception and meet on Erev Shabbos.
When she arrived, she introduced herself as Carla Goldman Coelho. I inquired if she was Jewish? She replied in the negative, clarifying that she had married a gentile. I explained that if her mother was Jewish she was Jewish too, as were her two sons! Despite my explanation, Carla didn’t seem convinced, but in any event was inconsolably preoccupied with the imminent loss of her hair. I recommended a hair salon not far from me where she could cut and style the wig (as I only sell wigs but do not service them).
With a supportive smile, I asked Carla if she might want to bentch licht, as this could be a source of many brachot, and perhaps help her emotionally as she navigated through this difficult time. Carla thanked me but declined, and left with her new purchase in hand.
Not long after Carla left, my sister-in-law called and asked if I could quickly hop over to the very salon I had recommended to Carla, as she wanted my opinion on the style of her own new wig. As it was Erev Shabbos, I quickly made my way to the salon to offer my thoughts. Entering the salon, to my surprise I immediately saw Carla sitting there waiting to be seen. I never imagined she would make her way to the salon directly after leaving my house, assuming she would arrange for the styling the following week.
When she saw me enter, tears filled her eyes and Carla began to weep. Between sobs, she explained that as she left my home, the vivid image of her grandmother bentching licht came to mind. And, although she wanted to capture that same feeling, she was too ashamed to return and ask for the blessing and instructions on how to light the Shabbos candles. However, when I walked into the salon she realized it was a sign from Above. I wrote down the blessing and explained to her how to light Shabbos candles.
Putting her wig aside, Carla re-scheduled an appointment for the following week, as it was clear to her that the imperative of the moment was for her to return home and kindle the Shabbos licht at the appointed hour. Motzei Shabbos I received a voice note from Carla, happily sharing that she had indeed lit candles with her two sons by her side, and very much felt the presence of both her grandmother and mother!
Never underestimate the power in you! Wherever you are and whatever you do, you can kindle the flame and spread light!
The Power of Challah
A word from the desk of Esther Vilenkin, New York, USA
One Friday afternoon, we gathered for our weekly Challah bake. My husband had just presented an overview about the significance of Challah when a woman raised her hand and shared a Challah miracle story.
She introduced herself as the programming and recreation director of an elder care center. At this facility, one floor housed many people from Eastern Europe and she tried hard to find activities that would interest them. This group was her most challenging as they always seemed to remain disengaged and uninterested, staring blankly into space, motionless. She researched music, art, dance, etc. but it was very difficult to find things they cared for. One day she decided to make Challah with them.
She arranged the ingredients beside a large bowl and pitcher of water and announced her intention. Before long, to her delight and amazement, the group became animated, arguing and recalling how they made Challah when they were younger. She watched this miracle unfold. They were full of life and passion - connecting with each other and remembering their youth.
Through baking Challah we impart to our children a divine consciousness, an awareness of HaShem and how He is with us in everything we do. We convey meaning and purpose through connecting the mundane to divine service. When we separate Challah, we recite a blessing acknowledging that all we have is a gift from HaShem.
This is underscored by the verse (Numbers 15:20) where the mitzva of separating Challah is mentioned. Dough is described as “The first of your kneading bowl”. In Hebrew, the word for kneading bowl is “Arisa” which can also mean cradle. This highlights the importance of bringing the awareness and higher consciousness of HaShem’s – presence even to a child from the stage of the cradle, or infancy.
In the elder care facility, the residents making Challah displayed their love for Judaism and the investment of devoted parents who instilled in their children the enthusiasm and excitement of making Challah. It was an indelible part of their identity, and remained with them for decades. This had the power to bring them together, to share their commonality and sense of togetherness, cherishing their heritage.
The Key to Fulfillment
A word from the desk of Simcha Youngworth, Johannesburg, South Africa
When one of my daughters was in Grade 6, she asked to read a book that her father and I felt was inappropriate. When I questioned her as to why she wanted to read that particular book, she explained that the girls in her class were discussing it at every recess. She felt left out, unable to participate in the conversation. I understood her dilemma. The book was her key to popularity.
I reminded her that, like everything else in our lives, the blessing of popularity is also bestowed from G-d. She agreed to hold off reading the book, to rather do what was ‘popular’ in the Heavenly realms. After a few weeks, when some of the girls tried to discuss the book, others suggested that it was insensitive to do so – given that not all of the girls were reading the book. End of problem.
In Pirkei Avos, Rabban Gamliel counsels, ”Seek to fulfil His will as if it were your own, in order that He will fulfil your will as if it were His own”. Believing that success comes from compromising our G-d-given values stands in stark contrast to the teaching that all blessings come from Above. The ways of the Torah sometimes appear counter-intuitive. The world says, “be sexy” if you want to attract a marriage partner; whereas the Torah says, “be holy”. If you are looking to attract a ‘soul-mate’, you should give your soul the opportunity to shine. The ways of modesty and holiness, although contrary to the secular practices of the world, are the keys to transforming ourselves into a flawless receptacle to receive G-d’s blessings.
But what if you have already embraced these practices, yet the blessing of marriage still proves elusive? That is a time to hold fast to and express confidence in representing a wholesome vessel and that G-d’s salvation comes in the blink of eye!
The Gift of the Present
A word from the desk of Fradel Laine, Panama City, Panama
How often do we find ourselves doing one thing, while our minds drift to something else that has already happened or a thought about something that we would like to happen?
On Yud Shvat 5730, the Rebbe related the following personal anecdote: Late one night, the Rebbe entered the Frierdike Rebbe’s study in Leningrad. The Frierdike Rebbe had just finished taking Yechidus and would be leaving in an hour-and-a half to catch a train for an important meeting in Moscow.
The trip was fraught with danger, yet he calmly sat organizing papers as if nothing else was happening. Observing this, the Rebbe could not contain his surprise and asked his father-in-law, “I know that Chabad Chassidus is based on the principle that ‘the mind rules the heart’, but to such an extent?” The Rebbe Rayaatz replied, "we cannot make our days longer, nor can we add additional hours to our nights. But we can maximize how we use our time, by regarding each segment of time as a world of its own. When we devote a portion of time, whether it is an hour, a day or a minute, to a certain task, we should be totally invested in what we are doing as if nothing else exists in the world."
Around the world, as we prepare for the uniquely unifying Challah Bake International event, let us mentally, emotionally and spiritually focus all of our kavanos – concentration and intentions – to bring down brochos for yeshuos, refuos and shidduchim for our beloved children.
While we await the fulfillment of these brochos – as they surely will be – let us fully invest ourselves in the gift of the present.