The holiday of sukkot begins tonight. During this holiday, we eat in a sukkah, and my husband also sleeps in the sukkah.
I thought for fun I would post some pictures of my husband and our friends building it and of our decorations.
Buddy helping to put together the frame of the sukkah.
Putting up the straps.
Attaching the canvas.
Adding the sekhakh (literally, covering).
Voila! Our sukkah!
Raizel’s sukkah decoration.
A friend sent me this funny picture about how much food we eat on the holiday. It was so funny, I just had to post it.
The sukkah is a temporary dwelling in which we are physically enveloped by a mitzvah and surrounded by God’s presence. Everything we do in the sukkah becomes an opportunity to connect with the Infinite.
It is a time of great rejoicing. With minutes to go before candle lighting, we wish everyone a good and beautiful yom tov!
The holiday of Yom Kippur starts tonight. For the past few years, I have participated in an “Elul Group” in which everyone says individually over the entire 40 days from the first of the Hebrew month of Elul until Yom Kippur the entire book of psalms, and daily as a group. Each person is assigned one particular day to write something on the themes of this time of year such as: forgiveness, repentance, or personal/spiritual growth.
This year, I became immersed in what I call “An Elul State of Mind.”
Below is the d’var Torah (words of Torah) that I sent out to the group. I thought I would take the opportunity to share it with everyone here.
I would like to thank Caryn and Ruthie for creating this group and for their willingness to maintain it!
This group is a vital part of my avodas Hashem (spiritual work) during this auspicious time of year. I love the structure that it provides!
This year, I wanted to write about Sefer Yonah (the book of Yonah), which is read during mincha (afternoon prayers) on Yom Kippur.
I feel so grateful to this group for motivating me to learn more about this beautiful sefer (book) and its connection to Yom Kippur and teshuva (repentance).
So, thank you Ruthie and Caryn for all your efforts and to everyone in this group for your participation!
Most of us are familiar with the story of Yonah. It is such a visual story that reads like a fairy tale and makes terrific material for a Disney movie. In fact, as I was preparing this d’var Torah (DT), I thought I would look up if there was a movie made on this story.
If anyone is interested, it seems as though there are several!
I work as a nurse in psychiatry.
One time, I was on the in-patient unit and there was a young woman there, “Colleen.” This was the first time that Colleen had been hospitalized for a mental illness. Colleen came to the nurses’ station and said to me, “Carol, sometimes I feel like I am possessed by evil spirits. I feel like they are taking over me, and I cannot rip them out of me. I feel like I would be better off dead.”
As I sat there listening to her, another patient, “Aileen,” who has a history of paranoid schizophrenia said to her, “the soul never dies.”
I was struck by that comment. It reminded me of the Mishnah in Perkei Avot (4:22):
Let not your heart convince you that the grave is your escape; for against your will you are formed, against your will you are born, against your will you live, against your will you die, and against your will you are destined to give a judgement and accounting before the king, king of all kings, the Holy One, blessed be He. (Ethics of the Fathers)
In other words, we can be in so much pain and torment and think that we would be better off in the Olam HaEmes (the next world). However, it is not true. We are all born to fulfill our unique mission in this world. We may think that we can escape from Hashem’s plan for each of us, but we cannot.
Furthermore, on this day of judgement, how many of us are guilty of judging Hashem?
How often do we tell God about how we think the world should be run in general, and how our lives should unfold in particular?
How often do we think that we know better how events should transpire and judge the outcome or the other people involved?
These questions cut to the core of human existence and our dynamic relationship with Hashem.
Sefer Yonah embodies these themes and the struggle between our ratzon (will) and the Ratzon Elyone (The Divine Will).
Sefer Yonah begins with God asking Yonah HaNavi (the Prophet) to go to Ninveh and cry out to her to try to get the wicked people there to do teshuvah (repent).
Instead, Yonah went to the old port city of Yaffo and boarded a ship voyaging to Tarshish, where he thought he would find respite from Hashem’s will.
Why didn’t Yonah want to go to Ninveh?
According to Rashi, Yonah was motivated by loyalty to the Jewish people. Yonah did not want the people of Ninveh to do teshuvah as they were not Jewish and he was afraid that they would listen to him and repent while the Jewish people refused to listen to the prophets when they were told to repent. Yonah didn’t want to make the Jewish people look bad.
So, instead of trying to refuse God’s command to prophesize, Yonah sought to minimize his contact and distance himself from Hashem.
In Yonah 1:3 we read: “Yonah arose to flee to Tarshish from before God’s Presence. He went down to Yaffo and found a Tarshish-bound ship; he paid its fare and boarded it to travel with them to Tarshish from before God’s Presence.”
Yonah could not actually run away from God. However, Yehuda HaLevi taught in Sefer HaKuzari that Yonah was hoping to be able to run away from the Shechina (Divine Presence) and God’s prophecies. According to Yehuda HaLevi, all prophecy either takes place in the Land of Israel or is concerning the Land of Israel. As it says in Dvarim 11:12: “The eyes of God are always upon it (The Land of Israel).”
The Talmud, Nedarim 38a states that Yonah went down to Yaffo and found a ship going to Tarshish. He paid its full cost of four thousand dinars of gold and went down into it. Normally a ship that had just arrived in port would not set sail again until a lapse of at least several days while it assembled a sufficient number of passengers to fill up all its berths. Yonah was so anxious to embark that he paid the fares for the entire passenger load.
We all know what happens next. A storm hits, Yonah tells the sailors to throw him overboard, Yonah is swallowed by a large fish and gets spit onto dry land (back in the Land of Israel) after praying in the fish for three days.
This time, when God commands Yonah to go to Ninveh, he goes!
True repentance according to the Rambam is when you are put in the same situation again and you do not repeat the same transgression a second time.
We see from the story of Yonah that no one can escape from Hashem who is omnipresent and omniscient. God was with Yonah on the boat, God was with him when he was thrown into the water and God was with him in the fish (it otherwise would have been impossible for him to live in the fish for three days without oxygen). There is no place where God is not present. God’s immanence is within each and every one of us wherever we may be, in the good times as well as in the bad times.
True sacrifice to God is a contrite spirit; God, You will not despise a contrite and crushed heart.
What this means is that Hashem does not need our sacrificial offerings.
As human beings, we are fallible and we make mistakes. Hashem, in His wisdom gave us free will. What Hashem wants is for us to rise above our desires and choose to do His will — even when we are presented with situations or obstacles that we don’t like or feel uncomfortable.
The story of Yonah teaches us that we cannot run, hide, avoid, or escape from Hashem’s mission for each of us. Our actions reveal who we are and what we stand for.
How we respond to our challenges and to our triumphs in life defines how successfully we have embraced the will of Hashem.
The book of Yonah also illustrates Hashem’s qualities of not only judgement, but also of mercy and compassion. If the teshuvah of the people of Nineveh, who were completely evil, could be accepted, then there is hope for all of us if we are sincere in our attempts to change.
We need to ask ourselves: Are we behaving in a way that brings us closer to Hashem, or distances us from Hashem?
How do we conduct ourselves not only in the mitzvoth which govern our relationship with God, (bein adam l’Makom) but in our relationships with others (bein adam l’chavero)?
Teshuva is really a gift from Hashem — it enables us not only to repair our middot (character traits), but to become better than we were before. As our chachamim (Rabbis) teach, “A person who returns to G-d stands in a place even higher than that of a completely righteous and holy person.”
During this month of Elul, and these days of teshuva, may we all be blessed the strength and clarity to accept with simcha (happily) and achava (love) the tests that Hashem places before us. May we trust in Hashem’s ultimate goodness, knowing that He is lovingly guiding each us to reach our potential so that we can fulfill His mission for us in this world.
May we be privileged to bring Hashem tremendous nachas (joy) through our actions individually and collectively, so that we will see the fruits of our efforts in our lifetime with the coming of Mashiach (Messiah).
May this be a year of peace, happiness, blessings, prosperity, good health and redemption!
May we all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life. Amen.
Zlotowitz, Rabbi Meir (1978) The Twelve Prophets: Yonah, Mesorah Publications, Brooklyn, NY
There was something different about the chocolate chip dot cookies this past week.
My husband does not have much of a sweet tooth. And, in general, the girls are more enamored with candy, and ice cream than homemade treats.
But, this time, my husband ate 5 cookies! More than once he remarked how wonderful they were. Raizel is still gushing, several days later: “these cookies are soooooo good!”
It has made me think: What was different this time? Was there a special secret ingredient?
The answer that I came to was: “Yes. There was a secret ingredient.”
They were baked while making lots of blessings and focusing on everything that we have to be grateful for. The cookies became infused with our positive intentions, which then elevated them from the mundane to the sublime.
Here is what happened:
On Sunday, before we started baking, I asked my girls: “what is the first thing that we need to do before we start?” Both girls answered: “wash your hands!”
Then, after we washed our hands, I asked: “what is the second thing that we need to do?
I got a few blank stares, and so I answered: “make a blessing!”
Although I did not want to sound pedantic, we then had an impromptu lesson on “why do we need to make blessings?”
The girls and I discussed how making a blessing reminds us to be grateful to God. We are allowed to eat, but, when we make a blessing, we are saying “thank you” to Hashem (God) for giving us such delicious food, that makes us happy and keeps our bodies strong.
Then, I told the girls, “We should just list all the things that we have to be grateful for to Hashem.”
So, as we were making the cookies, we had what I call a “radical gratitude session.” We shared every single thing that we had to be grateful for: eyes that see, glasses to help us see, the ability to read, a computer to find our recipes, legs that walk, a mouth that talks, ears that hear, mouths that can chew……
The whole time that we were baking the cookies, we were sharing on all the numerous things that we had to be grateful for.
The outcome were the delicious cookies.
Another time, while I was cooking for Shabbat, I kept repeating the phase, “this is in the honor of the holiness of Shabbat.” (L’kavod shabbas kodesh)
That night, as we were enjoying our Shabbat meal, I asked my husband, “how did you like the food?”
My husband, not knowing my intentions while cooking that morning replied, “Everything tastes like the holiness of Shabbat.”
I couldn’t help smiling when he said that. How could he have known what I was saying the whole time I was cooking?
So, our thoughts are very powerful, even to the point that they transform our food from ordinary into other worldly.
May we all be blessed to focus on everything we have to be grateful for and transform everything we do to bring more blessings and good into the world.
I have been very quiet lately because unfortunately, Raizel has been very sick. I am trying to visualize the positive and praying for her to receive a complete and speedy recovery.
However, I am happy to say that today was the first day in a very long time that Raizel was actually feeling somewhat like her old self.
To celebrate, I agreed to make “Chocolate Chip Dot Cookies.” This is something that Raizel has wanted me to make for the longest time.
Since I am time challenged, I usually, prefer to make Chocolate Chip Cookie Squares. But, Raizel REALLY wanted to make “dot cookies,” so I agreed.
In exchange, Raizel agreed to let me take lots of pictures and post this recipe because, “I know that blogging makes you happy.” A sure sign that she is feeling better!
Chocolate Chip Dot Cookies
1 cup oil
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2-3 eggs (depends on if you like your cookies chewy or crisp)
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups flour (spelt or wheat)
12 oz. chocolate chips
Optional: 1 cup nuts
By hand or with a mixer: Mix sugars, oil, and vanilla a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, until blended. . Stir in flour, baking soda and salt. Stir in nuts and chocolate chips.
With only 2 eggs, the dough will be quite stiff. We made a second batch with 3 eggs, and the dough was much easier to manage. The stiffer dough made crispier cookies. The softer dough made chewier cookies.
Drop cookie dough by rounded teaspoons about 2 inches apart onto parchment lined cookie sheet.
Bake in a 375°F preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until light brown.
When slightly cool, remove from cookie sheet and place on wire rack.
Food processor directions
Cream together the sugars, oil, eggs and vanilla. Add the flour, salt and baking soda and gently pulse until just blended. Mix in by hand the nuts and chocolate chips.
Drop cookie dough by rounded teaspoons about 2 inches apart onto parchment lined cookie sheet.
Bake in a 375°F preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until light brown.
When slightly cool, remove from cookie sheet and place on wire rack.
Tips: Initially, I made this recipe using only 2 eggs. I found the dough very stiff, and it was difficult to incorporate all of the chocolate chips. Since I had so many chocolate chips left in the bowl, Raizel, Yaffa and I made a second batch with 3 eggs. The dough was much softer and easier to manage.
I have discovered that chocolate chip cookies are a very forgiving recipe.
My husband and Raizel both declared that “these cookies are killer!” My husband actually ate 3, which is very unusual for him and a true vote of confidence.
However, Jay liked the batch with 2 eggs, which was crispier, and Raizel liked the one with 3 eggs that was chewier. So, either way, they were a hit.
I even think that they could easily be baked at 350*F and still come good.
Here are the pictures. Both girls wanted to have their pictures taken making the cookies.
First try, only using 2 eggs
blending in the flour, with a more stiff dough.
Trying to blend in all the chocolate chips.
This is the dough with 3 eggs. Much soother!
Baking in the oven.
Voila! The final outcome.
Slightly off topic, but, I wanted to share the pictures that I made of the prayer to say prior to taking medication. Unfortunately, we have been saying this prayer very often lately.
This is a second version of the one above:
This picture is a personal prayer that I wrote to reinforce my desire for any medication to be effective and helpful.
This is my personal prayer.
Enjoy the cookies and may everyone in need be blessed with a speedy and complete recovery!
Shared Joy: Happy Mother’s Day, Lag B’Omer & The Egg
Recently, in addition to being time challenged, I have been life challenged.
I am always dispensing advice and providing comfort to people in distress who are suffering.
Unlike many of my patients, who have mood disorders, I am not an emotionally volatile person. If I am in a bad mood, then chances are, there is a specific reason. But, I also practice rigorous self-care. All of the tools and techniques that I provide to my patients, I practice myself. Coping and maintaining a positive attitude is a daily mental discipline.
I am grateful for the disciplines that I practice. This past year has been particularly stressful, and these past few months have been even more so.
One unfortunate side effect is that I have been unable to blog recently. I find blogging creative and fun. It is so nice to finally have this opportunity to connect and share with everyone again. I have missed it!
There are too many wonderful celebrations today for me not to post. Today is Mother’s Day, as well as the holiday, Lag B’Omer.
Lag B’Omer is a festive day, which celebrates the passing of the great sage and mystic, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, author of the Zohar. It also commemorates the end of a semi-mourning period. During the weeks between Passover (which just passed) and Shavuot (which will be occurring in about 2 weeks) there was a plague that occurred in which many of the students of Rabbi Akiva (teacher of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai) passed away. The reason for the plague was because “the students did not act respectfully towards each other.”
On Lag B’Omer, the deaths ceased, and the period of mourning ended.
LOL! On Lag BaOmer, we also light bonfires.
The theme of this holiday is about loving and respecting people — even if you do not agree with them. It highlights the destructiveness of having one’s ego invested in being right, at the expense of the relationship or preserving the dignity and honor of another person.
Since the mourning practices are suspended, Lag B’Omer also happens to be a very popular day to get married. Unbelievably, today would have been my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary.
Today is Mother’s Day too. As I have shared in the past, my mother has always been very ambivalent about Mother’s Day.
This year, my mother called to thank us for the flowers we sent her. My mother yet again confirmed her ambivalence for what she calls a “Hallmark Holiday.” My mother said, “Everyday should be Mother’s Day. We should treat our loved ones nicely all of the time.”
I thought her comments dovetailed nicely with the theme of Lag B’Omer.
Yaffa is a happy camper. The words mean “like 1 person with 1 heart.” Meaning, we are all united and share each other’s joys and sorrows.
In keeping with her iconoclastic ideas, my mother has also informed me that she no longer wants to receive flowers for Mother’s Day. Instead, she is requesting that the money spent on flowers should be donated to a charity of our choice. What a nice idea! I just had to share it with everyone!
Yaffa ate a hard-boiled egg for the first time!
However, the coup de grace for today is that Yaffa ate a hard-boiled egg for the first time. It took a lot of cajoling and effort, but she did it! We are so proud!
So, happy Mother’s Day to everyone, Happy Lag B’Omer, and congratulations Yaffa!
The questions, I am afraid are a little bit difficult. But, my rule is, “if I have to think too much about it, then I can’t do it.” So, I will answer the first thought that pops in my mind, and assume that it is the right answer.
Please show your support and visit both of these wonderful blogs.
1. DESCRIBE YOUR 2016 IN 3 WORDS.
Time challenged, intense and full of change.
2. WRITE THE NAME OF 2 PEOPLE WHO HAVE CHARACTERIZED YOUR 2016.
There have been so many people who have been so generous and helpful this year. I could never limit it to only 2 people.
First of all, we moved. But, the neighbors from our old street were so wonderful and supportive. We miss everyone so much!
In particular, I must mention “The Mayor” of the block, whose kindness, warmth and caring are a source of inspiration. He, and his wife and children set a beautiful example for not only the block, but for anyone and everyone who has the privilege to be connected to them.
Secondly, my husband’s life was saved by 2 doctors in particular and many other people in the synagogue where we prayed. Are there ever enough words to acknowledge the miracle of a life saved?
Two more people who I feel so grateful towards are the youth group leaders at that synagogue, Marvin and Divsha. This wonderful couple were so caring and kind to both my daughters. They gave my girls a sense of place in this world that I so greatly appreciate and treasure.
All of these people and so many others have touched my heart this year. The wellspring of gratitude that I feel for all these people is ever-flowing and infinite.
3. WRITE ABOUT THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACE YOU’VE VISITED IN 2016 AND WHY YOU LIKED IT SO MUCH.
I know that this answer is evading the question, but, every place is beautiful. One of my greatest pleasures was to sit on my glider and watch the sun rise in the morning. Another great joy was to sit on our front porch swing and watch the people walk by, especially when it rained.
4. WRITE THE MOST DELICIOUS FOOD YOU’VE TASTED IN 2016.
Anything made by my mother and sister was completely awesome! My sister made a BBQ turkey that was truly memorable!
5. WRITE THE EVENT WHICH HAS MARKED YOU MORE OF THIS IN 2016 (EVEN GLOBAL EVENT).
On a personal level, moving was a very significant personal event. I am still adjusting and transitioning to the change.
On a national level, the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States was of great significance. It is a topic of conversation at work and throughout our society. We are all on a journey and it remains to be seen where all of this will lead.
Inspired by my patients, I pray for the success and ongoing strength of this new administration, this country and the world. May we all be blessed with peace, joy, good health and abundance.
6. WRITE THE FINEST PURCHASE YOU’VE MADE IN THIS 2016, AND IF YOU WANT, LINK A PHOTO.
We bought a new house. That was a significant and huge undertaking!
7. WRITE 3 GOOD INTENTIONS FOR THIS 2017.
Spend a set amount of time daily for self-care and relaxation. Blogging is included in this category
Pause before responding when aggravated or upset.
Learn how to use Facebook (OK, this was 4, but who is counting?
8. WRITE 1 PLACE YOU WANT TO VISIT IN 2017.
I love going home to Toronto and visiting with my mother and childhood friends.
9. WRITE 1 PLATE/FOOD YOU WANT TO EAT IN 2017.
Hmmmm…. This is not so important to me. I would love to learn how to make soap (this is not edible) and make time to do more sewing.
The wonderful people I would like to tag are: (I am afraid that I do not know how to make short links. Maybe I should make that another goal for 2017?)
Monica at One Way To Health — A budget friendly journey to a healthier and happier you.
This blog is my creative outlet for what is otherwise a very hectic and intense life. I consider it to be an open miracle that I am able to juggle so many responsibilities and still maintain it.
To cope with my many challenges, I have been attempting to spend 1 hour a day thanking God for every difficulty that I have, rather than complaining and feeling sorry for myself.
My efforts have been bearing fruit. I find myself feeling more optimistic and better able to cope. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude is really the most healing and healthy thing that one can do to cope when challenged.
As part of this effort, I try to spend time each day truly appreciating and being in the moment.
Yesterday was a wonderful opportunity to practice this habit.
It snowed throughout the day beautiful light and fluffy snowflakes.
The snow covered rose bushes in front of our house.
Growing up in Canada, we really enjoyed the snow. We always appreciated the wonder and purity of snow as it falls. I love when the ice and snow freeze over the branches of the trees and they make beautiful lacy patterns on the windows. Each snowflake is so unique and beautiful!
When I think about snowflakes, they remind me of life. I can try to reach out and touch a snowflake. But, when I do, it is lost. The snowflake melts and is gone.
A snow covered tree in front of our house.
My father was fond of saying, “In life, you need to stop and smell the roses.”
There are no roses blooming during the winter. However, I thought our bushes in front looked very pretty with the snow. I loved seeing how the snow gently piled up on their branches.
I think that my father would be happy to have me stop and notice the beautiful snow falling on the rosebushes, even without any roses blooming.
So, as Raizel and I were driving home at dusk, I took pictures of them and thought I would share them on the blog.
I never thought that blogging could be so much fun!