Category Archives: Focusing on the positive

A Wave from Above

It’s my nature. If I have questions I have to ask. This became a very important tool for me to help me get through difficult times. I have called so many different rabbonim and speakers to ask them questions on something they said or wrote. My family would laugh at me when I would report back and say, “This time I called Rabbi…” But I really find that it helps – a little more understanding on difficult subjects helps me to get through difficult challenges.
In the previous Links magazine, Rabbi Henoch Plotnick wrote an article. No surprises that I had questions after reading the article. And this time I was fortunate that his number was written right there under his article. That made it really easy to call.
So I dialed his number and told him my name and maiden name; we do have a mutual connection, so that took away some of the awkwardness. I began by telling him that I have questions about the following part of his article:
I once found myself being menachem avel a father who lost his teenage son to leukemia. In such a circumstance, one is often better off saying nothing. However, the broken father begged me to say something, anything! I shared with him a ma’amar Chazal…with Hashem putting the words into my mouth. The Gemara related that when a parent loses a child, r”l, any evil decrees against the parents are ripped up, as the deceased child enters the next world and pleads, “How could you give them retribution in the Next World if you have already given them such torture In this world?” I simply shared with this emotionally pained father that his yissurim were not without purpose or benefit. They might be his ticket to Olam Haba.
Rabbi Plotnick then goes on to relate that after the shivah he heard that this tanchum resonated a lot because the father understood that his tzaros had value. There was something in it for him.
I questioned him about the Chazal that when a parent loses a child, any evil decree is ripped up. My family continued to have a lot of suffering after my brother died and again after my sister died. So what does that Gemara mean? Of course, there isn’t any real answer because we don’t know much down here, but we spoke about the hashkafos of emunah and discussed stories of tzaddikim accepting their yessurim.
During the conversation, I stated that I wish I could have one dream or one conversation with one of the family members of mine who was niftar. I want to hear that they have insight into what happened and how it all makes so much sense. And even more, I want to hear that they are all doing well and are very happy up there.
Maybe one day I’ll be zoche to that.
As we were wrapping up the conversation, Rabbi Plotnick said to me, “I’ll tell you a secret. The conversation I had with that grieving father – that was with your father. Not only that, but I repeat it all the time to grieving parents and they are mechazeik from it. And each time it gives chizzuk, your father and brother have an aliyah.”
I got the goosebumps. A conversation that my father had many years ago is still out there. It is still being talked about and written about, and it even came my way to help comfort me. Was this my daddy throwing me down a, “Hello, I’m still connected to you”?
This conversation took place on כח ניסן, during the early evening hours. My father’s yahrtzeit is onכט ניסן . We were just an hour or two away from the yahrtzeit.
No, I still didn’t have that dream. But as I approached this hard day for me, I was remembering my father’s wave. And I think he was telling me, “We are okay, and it all makes sense.”
May his neshamah have many continued aliyahs.

This article originally appeared in Links magazine and appears here with permission.

Do You Know Who You Are?

Do you remember that girl in your class who was really pretty, whose hair was always perfect? Did you compare yourself to her and feel ugly? How about the girl who always had a witty response? Did being around her make you feel as if you were just so dull?  Do you still find yourself thinking like that? Does your super-clean sister-in-law make you feel like an incompetent housekeeper or your stay-at-home neighbor make you feel like an incompetent mother? Do you ever feel that you are boring, that you always mess things up, that you’re not so smart or talented or just a complete failure?
Guess what? You are normal. Probably many of the people you think are better than you look at others and also feel inferior in some way. It’s almost as if this is a mandatory qualification for being a woman.
I know a tenth grader who is on top of her class academically. She has a wonderful personality and lots of friends, and her middos are extolled by many of her teachers. Yet when I asked her why a teen who has everything going for her would have low self-esteem, she looked at me as if I was crazy and answered, “Isn’t it obvious why?”
Low self-esteem doesn’t stay behind in a classroom. If it isn’t worked on, it follows us straight into the workforce, marriage and motherhood.  But no matter our stage in life, it’s never too late to work on improving the way we feel about ourselves.
In פרקי אבות, פרק ב: משנה ו, it says, “.ולא הבישן לומד” What does this mean? One can’t learn because of embarrassment? Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski writes that if a person has a question in learning but won’t ask because he feels that he should know it, or he must not be smart because no one else has this question, then he loses out on very important learning opportunities. How can a person learn if he always feels embarrassed? This is not a good embarrassment, nor is it humbleness. It comes from feeling bad about one’s self and the repercussions are not positive.
With these kinds of feelings it is hard to achieve anything. How can you accomplish if you always feel that if your ideas had merit someone else would have come up with them or that you’re just not capable of carrying them out? Nowhere in the Torah does it say that you should feel incompetent or unqualified. And as the Mishnah says, your shame will stop you from understanding, learning and accomplishing.
There is one kind of embarrassment that is praiseworthy. This comes from anivus, true humbleness, like Moshe Rabbeinu displayed. We all know that Moshe Rabbeinu was an ענו מכל אדם. Yet, Moshe was the leader of Klal Yisrael. He knew his strengths and used them for עבודת השם.
We are all mirrors reflecting tiny pieces of Hashem’s various middos. Therefore, we must be careful to acknowledge when a talent exists within us. It is not egotistical to know that you are a great organizer, a wonderful listener, a talented party planner or a very patient, loving mother. Rather, realize that you are a reflection of Hashem’s attributes. When we can acknowledge that the strengths we have are from Hashem and we are ready to use them for our own growth or for the sake of those around us, then we are acting in a G-dly way. This is a positive kind of “embarrassment.”
So let’s say you are the typical mother and wife fighting those nasty voices in your head telling you that you aren’t good, that you are inferior to others. You don’t know how to handle this child’s issue. You aren’t sure that you are showing enough support to your husband. And maybe in general you are doing something wrong because your children almost never show responsibility. What are practical applications to help you like yourself?
You can know that like every living person, you are perfectly imperfect. Your flaws were given to you by Hashem, Who wrapped them all up together in a box for your life’s journey. (You can imagine what color your box is, the size of the box and whether it has a bow or not.)
Accept your limitations – they are from Hashem. But don’t become complacent about them. Work on them with Hashem. Ask Him to help you make changes to turn your negatives into positives. And don’t forget to recognize your strengths. Find them. Remind yourself every day about the qualities that are specific to you.
Talk back to your negative voices. You can tell them, “Listen here, Voice, I know you are trying to making me feel bad about my flaws. But guess what?  Everyone has flaws. I also have strengths. That’s what I am trying to focus on. So you can keep telling me that I am not good enough, but I will keep telling you about all my strong points.”
Consider the following quote: “It’s not what you are that is holding you back, but rather, what you think you are not.”
Learn what you are so that you can use your kochos fully.
This article originally appeared in Links magazine and appears here in revised form, with permission.

My Nephew Eli

He was gentle and he was kind. He was wise and witty. He was a dazzling beacon of sunlight to all those who knew him. He was my nephew – my nephew Eli whom I never really knew because of the distance we lived from each other.

He was a courageous warrior, fighting his sickness for four long years, unwilling to surrender.  But the disease was more powerful than he was and eventually took over his body. On September 29, 2016 my nephew Eli returned his neshamah to Shamayim. He was only eleven years old.

As his father wrote, “It is with forever shattered hearts that Eli was niftar.”

I realize I lost out on an opportunity to get to know this valiant soldier.

So I asked his parents to tell me about Eli, about the extraordinary little boy whom I never really knew. And I now echo his father. It is with a forever shattered heart that I will never know Eli the way I would like to.

When Eli was five years old, an adult would have been forgiven for thinking that he was closer to twenty. He astounded everyone when he asked his zaydie for a set of Chumashim for his afikomen present that year. His zaydie would have been fine with buying him a remote control car or a scooter. But at that young age, Torah was what he cherished. When he received his gift, he went outside, sat on his big electric car and read the pesukim of the Chumash. He didn’t yet understand what he was saying, but he understood the pleasure that the timeless words were giving him.

By the time he was seven he had read through the entire Chamishah Chumshei Torah. As he got older, just reading the words wasn’t enough for him. He wanted more knowledge, more understanding. And so he started reading The Medrash Says. Like a sponge, he soaked everything up. He asked questions to his zaydie, a big talmid chacham, and zaydie would be astounded at his young grandson’s knowledge.

Sadly, by the time Eli’s class was starting to learn mishnayos, he was already sick, only attending school sporadically. One day his father drove him to school and arranged a time to pick him up shortly after. Eli walked into his classroom and was exposed to mishnayos for the first time. By the time his father came to pick him up, Eli had learned two mishnayos ba’al peh.

It wasn’t just Torah that he loved – he loved tefillah too. Eli loved to daven, especially with his zaydie. He always wanted to go to his grandparents’ home for Shabbos so that he could spend time davening in shul with zaydie. Eli didn’t want to lose out on an opportunity to connect with his Borei Olam and therefore had many alarms on his phone to remind him about different tefillos. As he left the hospital, it didn’t matter that he had just been through harsh treatments; often, shul was the first place he stopped.

Yes, you can be forgiven for thinking that we are talking about an adult. But the amazing thing was that if you looked at Eli, you saw a child. He loved to play and joke. He liked reading and playing wii games. He was a kind, caring and fun-loving brother. He was very sensitive to the needs of his siblings, giving each one what they needed.

And he was a compassionate friend as well. He cared about his classmates and was the first to run over to console a friend who was hurt. He acted with extreme selflessness. Whether it was giving his time or his snack, it was done with a smile. As a letter from his classmate testifies: “He was the brightest, sweetest, most loving, sharing boy. “

Eli accepted his challenges. While most children were in school and riding bikes, Eli had to be admitted time and time again to Children’s Hospital. Maybe for treatment. Maybe because he had fever or maybe for extreme pain. But he didn’t complain. His attitude belied his age. He wanted to do what needed to be done and then continue on with life.

He had to take foul-tasting medicine with awful side effects. But he took it with acceptance. He was also scrupulously honest. If it was time to take his medicine, he would tell his mother he needed ten more minutes. His mother trusted that he would come get it when he said he would – and he did. He was so young, and yet he understood that each word we utter has value. In his mother’s words: “I learned about emes from my son.”

The Gradon house is open to many guests. Some of the regular guests are recovering addicts. About eight months ago, one of the guests had just reached a four-year anniversary for his recovery. Each guest sitting around the table had the opportunity to say something positive about this person. When they came to Eli, his father passed over him. But he said, “No, I also want to say something.” Everyone stopped to pay closer attention to this child. What was he going to say? With a maturity beyond his years he said, “Just as you conquered your addiction, so too, you should conquer your aveiros.”

Eli had no aveiros to conquer. He was only a katan. But his love of learning, of Torah and mitzvos, made him seem like a tremendous gadol. And as family friend said, “We were not zocheh to keep Eli.”

I feel sad that I didn’t have enough of an opportunity to know this little tzaddik who was my nephew. But I learned a lesson. Family is most important. Many of our families are large, and we have extensive extended family as well. This is something that is so easy to take for granted. But I can say, “Eli, in your death, you have taught me the value of family.”

Eli should be a meilitz yosher for his parents and siblings and for all of his extended family, and may we be zocheh to the geulah sheleimah very soon.