Friday, April 28

Pesach Passed Over This Year

We interrupt this account of spiritual enlightenment to report to you the saga that was Kasamba’s Pesach.

Hello boys and girls!
I have been away for Pesach for the first time in my whole lengthy life! It was absolutely surreal. I abandoned my side of my family; parents, brothers to go to Italy and party with my in-laws.
Considering that this was my first Pesach ever not having peeled a potato, you would think that I would have loved the whole 'being served' scenario. Read on....

The hotel was like a palace, with ceiling so high that I don't know how they change light bulbs. It was sumptuous and opulent without being gaudy- simply stunning. The hosts were gracious and hospitable, the food delicious. All we had to do was change outfits three times a day, eat and sleep. Sounds great, no?


Pesach just did not feel like Pesach.

Kabbalistic teachings tell us that we do not celebrate holidays as an anniversary of an event; rather we celebrate the energy that allowed that occurrence to happen. So if we try, we can actually tap into the energy that a Yom Tov affords us. This Pesach came and went and Icouldn't tap into its energy. We held a massive family seder in a private through room where people where walking in and out to get to other rooms, the kids felt inhibited to speak in front of the waiters and the passing guests. Even though they had most incredible Rav and Rebbetzin on hand who gave fantastic shiurim, I just couldn't feel anything.
I think I'm just one of those people who has to earn her Pesach. When I spend Pesach at home, my greatest thrill is to mentally tour my home and know exactly where everything is.
I love cooking Pesach food because you get extra points just for making it edible.
So I felt like a gefilte fish out of water; as if I was missing my purpose.

Hotel stays are always geared for 'me, me, me', and it is a testament to good midos that the people in our Hotel behaved so graciously towards the staff. However there was one exception; my little one started to order our poor waiter around. Uh, oh. I'd better keep an eye on her!
People who go to a hotel, sometimes feel stressed by the fashion requirements. I was actually told by numerous people there that it took them a minimum of two weeks shopping to aquire the wardrobe required for Pesach in a hotel. Quick, pass the Valium!
The packing didn't bother me as much as making sure my kiddies had clean clothes for the next meal, which seemed to have come as often as sunrise on the space shuttle; every ten minutes.
(Just how many times do you have to say Shachris up there?)

I came home with a very empty feeling, as if I was so close to something that proved to be just out of reach; but I have to say, Hubby looooved the whole thing.
Too bad on him, IYH next year we're staying home!
(If I don't feel like I've left Mitzraim- does that mean I'm still there?)

Saturday, April 8

My Own Personal Yetzias Mitzrayim

Oh, what was I saying? Yeah, I remember now...
In addition to teaching Hilchos Shabbos, I also prepared my learning partner for all the Yom Tovim and fast days, in other words all the festivals. That year, before Tisha B’av I had prepared for the fast day so well, that I count it as my first real Tisha B’av, ever.

Until then, if there was an award given for the shallowest person, I would have waltzed away with it because I used to think that Tisha B’av was so much better than Yom Kipper. On Yom Kipper you have to be in Shul the entire time, while on Tisha B’av, you can, you know, do stuff. On Tisha B’av, I would sleep until Chatzos, and then I would get up and go shopping. I thought shopping was a great way to stave off hunger. In other words, I held by Rabbi Jimmy Choo and Rebbetzin Prada. Uh huh, I was really deeeeep.

This Tisha B’av was different. I listened to Aichah and my heart hurt. I even managed to squeeze out a few tears (although according to my mother I can cry on tap). I really felt the loss of the Batei Mikdash. Then my friend invited me to go to a video taped shir given by the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation. So, I went with her only to discover that , get ready for this, it is because of Loshon horah that Mashiach hasn’t come yet! D’uh! But seriously, you don’t understand, I never knew that! Throughout all my years of Torah education and even my two year stint in a seminary that was so closed minded it could have been a nunnery, all talk about Shmiras Haloshon went right over my head.
Yeah, Loshon Horah, yadda, yadda, yadda. Even when my poor, naïve, innocent kiddies would come home from school with a ‘no Loshon Hora’ sign, I would smile and put it in the circular file. It’s funny how denial is not just a river in Egypt.

But now, here it was, larger than life on a fifty foot screen, in black and white. Loshon Horah is bad. It is very bad. It is worse than the three worst cardinal sins. And here I was, a FFB, who didn’t realise it, until now. Okay, so, what to do? Well, I ran to a Judaica shop and bought ‘A Lesson a Day’ . I was a real Tzadekes now. I owned the book. I put it on my nighttable with the picture of the Chofetz Chaim on the cover side up. It looked nice there. It looked like I was so frum. I felt so frum. And every time I spoke Loshon Horah, I felt so virtuous turning the book upside down so the Chofetz Chaim wouldn’t hear what I was saying.

At that point I still hadn’t opened the book. It would take me two months to actually open the book. But before that, I had to sink to the forty ninth level, so to speak. (Get it? Just like the Jews in Egypt!) It was before Rosh Hashanah and I remember that I had spoken about every person I knew and some people that I didn’t. I would have spoken about you too, if I would have known you. Something was wrong, I had a bad feeling. It was called guilt.

I did not like the feeling. I didn’t feel like a tzadekes anymore. In fact, I felt dirty and downright sleazy. Suddenly, I remembered something. Several years beforehand I went to a seminar in Manhattan, and there was another ‘frummie’. Being the only frum people there, we bonded and by the end of the seminar, she handed me three tapes. She said, “These are amazing tapes on Shmiras Haloshon, after you finish listening to them, pass them on to other people.” I recall smiling a ‘sure, of course’ sort of smile, knowing full well that I would stuff them in the back of a closet. And stuff them in a closet I did.

That they remained in their little hiding place all these years was a miracle all by itself, because I believe that getting rid of as many earthly possessions that one has and hasn’t used in the past year is like purging. It’s the closest I will ever come to being a bulimic. I can’t even explain the high that I get from throwing things out. Sometimes it’s even better than getting the stuff in the first place. Anyway, those three tapes had survived many such purging ‘search and chuck’ episodes, and they were right where I had put them. I took them out but did not need to dust them off (because I am not a shluch, you know).

I put them in the tape recorder and decided to cook while I listened to them. The tapes were a three part series about Shmiras Haloshon given by Rabbi Mendel Kessin. If you had walked into my kitchen during the time that I was listening, you would be forgiven for thinking that it was the onions that made me cry. It wasn’t. Rabbi Kessin’s pure and simple words washed over me like scalding water. He held back no punches. He told of the terrible punishments for Loshon Horah, spiritually and physically. I had no idea. He also recounted the enormous reward for withholding evil speech, I felt there was hope. That evening I finally cracked open my spanking new, never before touched, ‘Lesson A Day’.
To be continued....

Tuesday, April 4

Hey, Anyone got Some Change?

Human Before Jewish gave me an idea from her outstanding blog; before Pesach I will clean out my soul and try to go back to my spiritual journey. That's right boys and girls, it's time to get 'happy clappy' with Kasamba! But you know what, I am totally unqualified to write about growing spiritually. I might as well hang up my computer and clear off some desk space for housewifely knick-knacks. Then again, maybe not...

The only thing I know is what I’ve experienced and what I am experiencing. I feel as if I started a journey seven years ago and it’s been a bumpy ride. I still have a really long way to go, but if I look at all the miles I’ve already covered, I know I will continue. I was brought up FFB (Frum From Birth) only to become FFH (Frum From Habit) somewhere along the way. It took a friend’s near death experience to shake me and wake me up from my spiritual inertia. I think that makes me sort of a BT (Baal Teshuva) who is trying to rack up divine FFP (Frequent Flyer Points). The funny thing is, that every time I think I’ve reached the pinnacle of what I consider to be really frum and saintly, they go ahead and raise the bar. So I end up feeling like a tzadekes for a grand total of two minutes.

Never mind, I’ve now resigned myself that I am somewhere firmly in the middle and I will always have to reach higher, but every day that I am alive affords me that opportunity.

When I finally set down the mundane and routine, I remember looking around at the world anew. I was so full of appreciation to the Creator for saving my friend from the clutches of death, that it was all I could do not to celebrate in the street. The world for me had transformed into a wonderland, a place incandescent with Hashem’s spirit. I felt as if everything around me was shimmering, waiting for me to notice it. It was only later that I learned that that is one of the first phases of spiritual awakening. Meanwhile, my husband still wanted supper, and my kids still needed laundry doing, while Mummy was busy gazing at nature.

Didn’t they ever look at a tree? I mean, really look? Needless to say, the suppers still needed cooking, laundry still needed to be laundered, which I did end up doing, albeit with the zombie like countenance of a Hari Krishna. In retrospect, I really have to hand it to my family for putting up with me during my initial burst of enlightenment, and not just locking me in the shed.

Then, to make a long story short, I got involved with the JLE (Jewish Learning Exchange, part of Ohr Sameach) tutoring every Tuesday night. The subject that I would teach would be chosen by the learner. Horror upon horrors, the Baalas Teshuva that I was teaching asked me to teach Hilchos Shabbos. Hey, I keep Shabbos, so that shouldn’t have been a problem, right? Wrong. You see, there was this tiny eency weency thing that I did every Shabbos that meant that …. I really wasn’t keeping Shabbos. Okay, I admit it, I used to put makeup on the holiest day of the week, on Shabbos (and Yom Tovim too). Every time I did it, I would tell myself that because it was part of my Levush it wasn’t really an Aveira, in fact, it was a mitzvah because Hashem enjoys when I look beautiful…etc….

Don’t kid yourself, I knew. In my heart of hearts, I knew perfectly well that what I was doing was wrong, but I kept on doing it anyway. But now, how could I teach Shabbos when I wasn’t really keeping it? It took three makeup free weeks for me to be able to announce that I wasn’t going to put makeup on Shabbos.

I learned many things from this experience:
1-I learned that my husband found me just as attractive even without a fresh coat of warpaint.
2-I learned that if I put on Lechem Mishne (double portion) of makeup before Shabbos, and slept like an Egyptian mummy in a sarcophagus, at least a third of the makeup would remain on my face (leaving two thirds on my pillow).
3-I also learned that by doing something I’m supposed to do, makes some people uncomfortable. After one particularly turbulent Friday night, I came to Shul Shabbos morning looking like an impressionist painting, only to be greeted by a chorus of, “Ugghh! You look terrible! Get yourself home and put on some makeup!” In fact, a friend of mine, said in front of a group of people, “Kasamba, what is wrong with you? No makeup? When did you become such a Rebbetzin?” The funny thing was, that at the time I was really embarrassed, but then she called me up a mere few weeks afterwards and said, “Okay, I’m also gonna do this ‘no makeup on Shabbos’ thing, just tell me what to do…”

Then, the weirdest thing happened. Shabbos changed. Just like that. No longer was Shabbos my day to be seen and show myself, Shabbos became a day when I no longer felt the need to check the mirror one hundred times to see if my lipstick was wearing off. Suddenly, I had to be completely dressed for Shabbos, before Shabbos. I know that sounds strange, but prior to this time, I lit Shabbos candles in a robe and a snood knowing that I would put makeup on and get dressed after I benched lecht. Shocking isn’t it? Suddenly I found myself completely dressed for Shabbos, caked on makeup et all, and it was so different.

Shabbos became about what is going on inside me instead of outside.
To be continued....

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