Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Planning Your Own Wedding Shtick

Wedding preparations (among other things) have been consuming me lately, hence the lack of frequency in posting - despite my thoughts that this would change. The good news is that basically everything is done!

In other news, why is it that I often have trouble coming up with shtick to do at other's weddings, but as we near my own I have a mental list of over a dozen things that I think would be the perfect shtick to perform?

A certain family member keeps telling to knock it off with planning my own shtick (yes, I've arranged for a few things already). I can't help myself, though. I simply have so many creative ideas that could turn out to be quite hilarious and entertaining.

Is it bad manners on my part to send my ideas to friends as a not-so-subtle nudge to inspire them?

Anyone know how to moon-walk and want to make an appearance during the dancing? ;-)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Beautiful Mind: Jewish Approaches To Mental Health

This year's annual Medical Ethics conference organized by the Yeshiva University Student Medical Ethics Society will cover topics related to mental health and is called "A Beautiful Mind: Jewish Approaches to Mental Health."

The conference will take place on Sunday, October 31st!

This event, as are all the events MES puts together, is a MUST attend for anyone interest in pursuing a career in healthcare (that's pre-meds, pre-nurses, pre-psychologists, etc) as well as students interested in pursuing a career as a teacher, counselor or rabbi.

The annual MES conference is always very well organized, with fantastic speakers presenting on a variety of fascinating topics that show how halacha and hashkafa impact the way we interact with major areas of discussion in the world around us. You will not be disappointed if you take the time to go!

This particular conference is very significant since it is one of the first of its kind in the Orthodox Jewish world that is addressing issues related to mental health in such a public, yet dignified manner.

I've been to the last few conferences, each of which was an amazing and enjoyable event unto itself. This year I'll be there with ASoG, and you should go too!

For more information, click here - and to register (cuz you know you want to) click here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Pomegranate Seeds

Just a thought that occurred to me during our Rosh Hashana dinner and simanim eat-a-thon.

Of course, we had sections of pomegranates as part of our ensemble (it also doubled as our shehechiyanu, since it is newly in season*) of simanim that were festively displayed on a platter at our dinner table.

After frustratingly working through the levels of outer shell and inner peels to get to the ruby-red seeds, someone mentioned that the work needed to access the edible part simply wasn't worth it.

While this person had every right to express their annoyance with the process of extracting the pomegranate's seeds, I think they inadvertently taught me a very important lesson.

They were absolutely right that it takes an extra amount of effort peeling and plucking to finally get a chance to enjoy the tart sweetness of the pomegranate's fruit. But that's precisely the point!

Why do we have a pomegranate as one of the simanim on Rosh Hashana? As the yehi ratzon says: "May it be the will before You HaShem our G-d and G-d of our forefathers that we may have as many merits as a pomegranate."

Midrashically, a pomegranate is said to have 613 seeds, corresponding to the 613 mitzvos given to us in the Torah. While that might not be biologically true, I think the idea we learn from working hard to get to the delicious innards teaches us that earning zechuyos and doing mitzvos is not always the easiest thing - but in the end, it is worth the effort we put into our actions.

As I was disassembling my own pomegranate, I noticed that there was one section of seeds that had gone bad. They which were brownish, deflated, and generally yucky. It would seem to me that this is also representative of how we perform mitzvos. Namely, that not every mitzvah we fulfill was really done with the most optimum intent and personal commitment.

While it is true that I may, for example, put on tefillin and daven shacharis with a minyan every day, I certainly don't get up each morning and wrap the straps around my arm with the same enthusiam and vigor as I really should. The mitzvah, like any mitzvah, is a beautiful gem that I can add to my collection of zechuyos. If I just do the mitzvah for the sake of doing it and my heart isn't behind it, I don't lose out on getting some sort of "credit," but the zechus I earn is not quite as lovely as it could have been - hence the kinda gross, misshapen seeds.

May we all take this lesson of the pomegranate's seeds to heart during these aseres yemai teshuvah and do our best to fill our zechuyos storehouse with gleaming, beautiful mitzvos. (Teshuvah in particular is certainly worthwhile, since it will turn those gross seeds into nice ones, if done b'ahava). In doing so, may we all merit to have a year full of bracha v'hatzlacha in all areas of our lives (especially shidduchim) and be inscribed for lives that are kulo tov.

Gmar Chasima Tova!

P.S. Though I cannot think of any specific incident wherein anything I may have written offended anyone (which I haven't already apologized for), please know that my intent is never to post anything harmful on this blog. If I did somehow offend you, I regretfully apologize and ask for your forgiveness.

*As Rav Simon explained in his most recent RIETS Contemporary Halacha Shiur (unfortunately not on YUTorah.org), the notion of getting a "new fruit" to serve as the shehechiyanu on the second night of Rosh Hashana is commonly mistaken to apply to a fruit that the ingester hasn't eaten in a year. In actuality, it refers to a fruit that is newly available because it has just come into season. It seems that this is a very common mistaken notion - I actually had no clue about this until that shiur.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Teshuva Season 5770 Thoughts

First off, for those who haven't read my teshuva season thoughts from last year, please check them out here. It was one of my earliest posts, long before this blog received any sort of following or prominent linkage (thanks Bad4), so I don't think many of the current readers have seen it.

Motzei Shabbos was my fifth first-night selichos at YU. Each year I receive an enormous amount of inspiration by the ruach-filled atmosphere in the beis medrish as President Joel leads us into the phase of Elul where the focus on teshuva kicks into high gear. Honestly, it's a scary time in my mind, since things begin to seem really serious. True, we've already had several weeks of L'Dovid HaShem Ori twice a day and shofar blowings after shacharis, but the overwhelming feeling of awe as the yomim noraim approach doesn't hit me until selichos start.

I think this teshuva-season I've been more distracted than usual, not really paying attention to the fact that I have a lot to answer for as well as a boatload of things to work on - things I should have put effort into this past year, things I slacked off where I should have, and new challenges that arose and confronted me with tests I'd never experienced and thus had little hope of passing. How many times have I failed to resist temptation, in things both big and small, when I could have - and should have - been stronger, putting the yetzer hara in his place as I know, deep down, with the strength I honestly know I possessed.

The primary source of my distraction - and this is far from an excuse, because what good are excuses before the Master of the Universe - has been the ongoing wedding preparations and general craziness of engagement. Aside from keeping my mind focused on other things instead of performing serious self reflection and cheshbon hanefesh, I have faced new tests wherein I know I've stumbled here or there, particularly in the realm of relating to, and showing proper sensitivity toward Another Shade of Grey (ASoG). Sure, I could just chalk it up to the whole "I'm a guy, you're a girl, and we just don't quite understand each other yet" notion, but I would like to think I'm a bit better than that. As I said, excuses don't really mean much at all.

Thankfully, she is a very forgiving person, and I tend to apologize profusely upon realizing I've made an error of some sort. There is a lot of adjusting yet to be done, more awaits us as the wedding approaches, and certainly even further nuanced points of compromising, etc will come up during our married life together. So no matter how gentlemanly a guy may be (a goal I aspire to), when it comes to male/female dynamics within a relationship, everyone has some growing room before things really come together.

I wish I could say I had the same enthusiastic, though appropriately humble, confidence I expressed in the aforementioned early post when I began this blog last year, but instead I'm just a bit worried. I have spent far too much time engrossed in my own concerns without giving HaShem due attention, which is definitely not a good thing in my mind. Granted, some of the distractions with regard to getting ready for the wedding have been entirely necessary and are proper preparation for the mitzvah of getting married. However, I have begun to think that I may have taken advantage of the "oh boy, I'm getting hitched" mindset to dodge other responsibilities that would normally have been at the forefront of my thoughts.

Anyway, here I am, a year after starting a hashkafa-based blog that transformed into a shidduch-based blog, soon-to-be-married and shouldering a boatload of responsibility the likes of which I have never dreamed of. I've been reading/learning the sefer "Yom Hachupa L'Chatan" in preparation for the wedding. The sefer ephasizes the significance of the wedding day and how it is akin to, and in many ways, surpasses the signficance of Yom Kippur. Whereas the average Joe (or Jo-anne) gets one Yom Kippur a year, the wedding day comes once a lifetime (hopefully). Not only that, it has the ability to wipe one's slate entirely clean!

I guess it's kind of nifty that I get to go through two Yom Kippur's in a somewhat short time span, especially since the annual Yom Kippur precedes my own person Yom Kippur, which will hopefully prepare me well for the boat-load of teshuva I need to do for this past year as well as the last 20-odd years of my life (and yes I know responsibility doesn't kick in until 13 and heavenly punishment until 20).

I have one friend who got married shortly before Rosh Hashana several years ago. I thought he was lucky since that meant he'd be going into Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur with a sparkling white neshama from kapara he received on his wedding day - what could be better! He replied in turn that while my idea had some merit, he had plenty of time over Sheva Brachos and Yom Tov to potentially make more mistakes and rack up enough aveiros to need teshuva all over again.

But, there is still time. As Rav Goldvicht emphasized in his pre-selichos drasha, the word "Hayom" as found in Tanach is darshened by Chazal to refer to Rosh Hashana. The overring point that he emphasized regarding the meaning of "Hayom" is that the power of teshuva has the ability to create a person anew - today. In performing a heartfelt teshuva shelayma, all the mistakes, sins, transgressions, both intentional and unintentional, from the past are completely wiped away - as though they never existed.

One particular example that he cited was the commentary of the Sfas Emes on the incident where Sara laughed at the angel's proclamation that she and Avraham would have a child within the year. HaShem confronts her and asks why she laughed - to which she replies that she didn't laugh. How could our fore-mother Sara dare to say that to HaShem's "face" when it was quite clear that she did, in fact, laugh just a few moments prior? The Sfas Emes explains that upon realizing that she had erred in expressing the laughter, she immediately did teshuva, regretting her outburst. Since teshuva, if done properly (and certainly she did teshuva whole heartedly) can totally erase the negativities of the past, her response that she had never laughed was actually true, from a certain point of view.

May we all merit to engage in proper introspection, find what we need to correct, and implement the necessary changes to improve ourselves and our actions for this coming year. May we all draw closer to our King and Creator, Who will hopefully recognize our sincere efforts to bend our will to more accurately represent what He desires of us in this world - and in doing so, may all our heartfelt requests for the coming year, for good health, happiness, success, sustained spiritual growth in Torah and Mitvos, and of course finding the proper zivug (or maintaining Shalom Bayis, as the case may be J) be speedily written and sealed for all of Klal Yisrael.