I am not a confrontational or outspoken person. However, I have strong values and if I deem something worth talking about it is because I am very passionate about it.

A few days ago I read a blog post on the topic of being a strong woman and navigating feminine relationships. It didn’t sit right with me. I tried for a few days to ignore my own voice on this subject, unsuccessfully. Sometimes, things are better left unsaid. Sometimes, the opposite is true.

In this case, I feel like I owe it to the women in my life to share a different perspective on what feminine strength looks like in practice, at least to me.

A strong woman is… the little girl who grew up in a home without boundaries and became a loving mother and wife who managed to establish healthy boundaries for her own family.

A strong woman is… the woman who got up out of bed after chemo treatments to care for her terminally ill mother and work a full-time job while fighting for her own life.

A strong woman is… the woman who had the bravery to leave an abusive marriage and her dream behind, uncertain of the future for her and her child.

A strong woman is… the widow who lived simply so she could give more.

A strong woman is… is the Rebbetzin who shares her husband with the entire community and carries the weight of everyone on her shoulders.

A strong woman is… the convert who came from another country and gave up everything familiar to serve Hashem.

A strong woman is… the woman struggling with infertility yet she is happy for other mothers despite her own longing.

A strong woman is… the mother of three whose youngest child she just learned has a life-altering rare disease. Yet she musters up the strength, courage, and faith to keep advocating for her child and never stop… despite her own deep pain and crushed dreams.

A strong woman is… the mother who tragically lost her child. Yet she gets out of bed and dutifully fulfills her role as a social worker and helps teens in crisis pregnancy situations.

A strong woman is… the woman who created a whole movement and organization to build up other women and encourage them to live their truth, share their gifts, and bring about redemption.

A strong woman is… the mother of an off the derech child who is capable of loving unconditionally.

A strong woman is… the woman who founded a company to train other women to do what she does and isn’t afraid of creating her own competition. She just wants to see other women succeed.

A strong woman is… the woman who has to be the primary breadwinner because she supports her husband in kollel.

A strong woman is… the woman working three jobs to send her kids to yeshivot and seminary.

A strong woman is… the woman whose house has flooded three times in three years yet she remains grateful, kind, and determined to rebuild and stay in her community.

A strong woman is… the woman who is still waiting to find her partner in life. Yet in the meantime doesn’t sit ideally by. She is doing things and going places. Making a difference.

A strong woman is… the woman who became a doctor and helps people day in and day out with her knowledge.

A strong woman is… the woman who suffered a miscarriage mid-pregnancy after rounds of IVF and years of waiting yet exudes joy and emunah.

A strong woman is… the helper behind the scenes always making sure things get done. She doesn’t need recognition for her good deeds or a handwritten thank you card to know she is valued.

A strong woman is… the woman who survived sexual and emotional abuse as a child and now helps bring healing and wholeness to other women.

A strong woman is… is the mother whose child was murdered in their bed by a terrorist. Yet at the leveya, she spoke like a Navi.

A strong woman is… the woman fighting a losing battle with pancreatic cancer and giving shiurim on emunah simultaneously.

A strong woman… is the woman with the fiery Israeli personality who speaks her mind and endears you to her for it. She is as fiercely kind as she is opinionated.

A strong woman… is the woman who never had children but is the Ima of a community and teaches Torah to her adopted daughters.

I could go on.

I know all of these women by name.

They live all different lifestyles.

Some religious. Some not.

Some full-time homemakers. Some #bossbabes.

Some super organized. Others – not so much!

The common denominator with all of the strong women in my life is: their strength never makes me feel weak. Being in their presence is an uplifting experience.

Most of them, likely, would have too much humility to regard themselves as exceptionally strong and most certainly would not regard the majority of women outside their circle this way,

“…fragile, emotional creatures. They look out at the world with a trace of confusion, timidity, or exhaustion. They give off the impression of being ready to fall apart at a moment’s notice. They could never be expected to keep up with the demands of daily life. They need, or appear to need, help.”

If you showed up on their doorstep and asked them to teach you their ways … they would probably give you a funny look and invite you into their half-organized homes because they don’t live in museums… they live life.

The post that inspired this response exhibited a very narrow worldview of what it means to be a strong woman. While, I agree in part that motherhood, marriage, being opinionated, and highly organized are indicative of strength… it is by far the only description of a strong woman. If fact, I don’t think I know a single woman I wouldn’t consider to be strong.

What I do know… strong women are never strong at another woman’s expense.
Strong women don’t usually talk about how strong they are. Strong women often don’t feel very strong. (If you feel strong, it is possible that you never experienced the challenges others have had.) Strong women lift others up not tear them down. Strong women are able to have mutually fulfilling relationships with other strong women.

My Rabbi always says in his talks on interpersonal relationships (of which a good portion of the Torah is dedicated to), “If people like you… Hashem likes you. If people don’t like you…” You get the point.

Navigating any relationship present challenges as we are all at different levels of our own personal development. Sadly there are a lot of broken and unhealthy people out there. However, if you are a woman who considers herself to be strong but repels other women… then it is possible that you are channeling something other than virtuous strength.

I think this image that showed up on my Instagram feed sums up it up nicely…


Another variation of this quote says, “Be the woman who fixes another woman’s crown without telling the world it was crooked.”

I think when women can live this out… that is when they are the strongest. That is when they are a true reflection of the imahot. And that is why it is written, “it is the merit of righteous women redemption will come.”

So to all the strong women… I like your crown. Keep on keeping on! YOU ARE AMAZING!


Purim: Hashem is still with us!



Tonight begins the festival of Purim, the most powerful day of the year. Most people associate the holiday with the customs of dressing up in costume, the parties, and the L’Chaims. However, behind the physicality and traditions of this holiday there is a spiritually charged lesson and message. A message so relevant for us today in the midst of a world broken, plagued by terror, darkness, and a tangible spiritual heaviness that begs the question, “Is Hashem still with us?”

“According to the Oral Tradition, this holiday – unlike others – will be celebrated even after the final redemption. The Purim story and the message it conveys will not pale in the light of the ultimate truth revealed in the messianic age and the awesome events that will happen then. What could be so important about the book of Ester that it equals the importance and value of the Torah? Purim is a terrific holiday, by why does it hold such great significance for the Jewish people that it seemingly outshines (and will outlast) the other holidays?”

Before answering those questions, let’s look back at parsha Beshalach.

The Torah tells us about Am Yisrael in the midbar:

“The entire Jewish People traveled… they rested on Refidim and there was no water for the nation to drink… the nation thirsted there for water and the nation complained about Moshe, and said, ‘Why did you bring us up from Egypt to kill me and my sons and my cattle with thirst’… And Hashem said to Moshe, ‘Pass before the nation… and you shall strike the rock and water will come out of it’… Moshe did so in front of the Elders of Israel.” (Shemot 17:1-6)

Chazal say that Refidim alludes to rifyon yadayim, the Jews’ weakening in Torah. The Torah is likened to water so when the Jews slackened off in their Torah learning, it was physically manifested by a lack of drinking water. (Or Hachaim).

The Torah’s account of this incident ends with:

“He called the name of the place Masa U’meriva because of the Jews’ fight (riv) and their trying Hashem (nassosam es Hashem), as they said, ‘Is Hashem among us or not?” (Shemot 17:7)

“The Torah specifies that the Jew’s sin was their doubting of Hashem’s presence, their questioning “Is Hashem among us?” In the midbar, the Jews were on a high spiritual level. The ananei hakavod surrounding them didn’t merely offer physical protection from wars and dangerous reptiles – they also represented the Jews’ spiritual standing. The Jews were on a lofty – “heavenly” – level, meriting the constant revelation of the Shechinah. EVEN SO, THERE WERE TIMES THAT THEY ENJOYED GREATER SPIRITUAL HEIGHTS AND TIMES OF SPIRITUAL WEAKNESS. HASHEM DIDN’T CONDEMN THE JEWS FOR THEIR SPIRITUAL DECLINE – AFTER ALL, HE PURPOSELY RUNS THE WORLD IN SUCH A WAY THAT EVERYONE EXPERIENCES UPS AND DOWNS, AND THESE TRIALS HELP US GROW AND DRAW CLOSER TO HIM; RATHER, HE REBUKED THEM FOR QUESTIONING IF HASHEM WAS AMONG THEM. They felt that at times of spiritual weakness, Hashem wasn’t with them, chas veshalom – and for that they were faulted.”

“The next topic in the parshah is Amalek’s battle with the Jew’s in Refidim. As a rule, the Jews’ exhile always takes place within a nation that embodies the spiritual flaw from which they themselves suffer, so as to help them overcome that negative trait.”

“Amalek, who now waged war against the Jews, also characterized a flaw that they had to correct. What was Amalek’s defining character trait?

On Shabbos Zachor, we read in the maftir:

“Remember what Amalek did to you on the way, when you left Mitzrayim, that he met you (karcha) on the way and attacked all the stragglers behind you and you were tired and weary, and he did not fear G-d.” (Ki Seitzei 25:17)

“Amalek struck the Jews’ stragglers, the weaker among them. The tribe of Dan worshipped idols and was therefore excluded from the clouds’ protection – and it was them who Amalek struck. The Clouds of Glory, were a symbol of the Jews’ spiritual heights, but there was a minority among the Jews who were not on that high level, and Amalek “cooled you off on the way (the word karcha is also explained by Chazal as related to kar – cold). They wanted to show the Jews that they weren’t as holy as they thought – look, there was a straggling minority, too!”

Hashem sends us an antagonist from the outside when there is problem on the inside.

The essential yeshuah (salvation) always comes from the very thing that was lacking.

“Hashem set Amalek against the Jews because to some extent, they, too, shared some of this characteristic of Amalek. They had doubts: “Is Hashem among us or not?” Are we truly close to Hashem, or do the times of spiritual decline or the weaker among us distances us from Hashem? It was when the Jewish nation was “tired and weary” – in a low spiritual state – that Amalek, who “did not fear G-d,” attacked them. Since they Jews doubted Hashem’s presence, they were confronted by a nation that did not fear G-d – that claimed that Hashem wasn’t among them.”


“WHATEVER AM YISRAEL AS A WHOLE EXPERIENCED IN THE MIDBAR HAPPENS TO EVERY JEW IN HIS PERSONAL LIFE…. The nisayon of Amalek – the feeling that Hashem is not with us, chas veshalom – is a formidable one.”

Haman HaRasha was a descendent of Agag, the king of Amalek. At the time of the Purim story, too, Hashem brought against the Jews an enemy who embodied the trait they were faulted with, in order to help them correct their failing.

In the Purim story, there are no miraculous divine interventions such as we saw in the Passover story. There are no supernatural plagues and no splitting of any seas. In fact, G-d’s name is not even mentioned once in the entire Megillat Ester. But the miracle of Purim is actually greater than the miracle of Passover because the ultimate revelation of G-d’s oneness happens when He does not have to openly interfere. This is the meaning of Megillat Ester – the revelation of hiddenness. Hidden within the natural world, within the free choice of people, G-d’s plan is being completely fulfilled, step by step.”

“The events of Purim are a higher revelation of G-d’s truth, illustrating how G-d works through humanity and within nature. Within nature we see harmony and cooperation. Rather than crushing all the forces that are against us, G-d uses them toward our future good. Because G-d is one, there is no confrontation between G-d and humanity, between the divine and the natural. Nature and humanity are not violated by G-d’s oneness but included within it and filled with it.”

“The hidden miracles of Purim reveal that His ruling power works through the choices of humanity and that His love for us is hidden within every occurrence and challenge of our lives. Therefore, we can trust that G-d’s love and care is concealed even in the worst times of our lives. On Purim we acknowledge that G-d’s love for us is not only unconditional but also ever-present and eternal. On Purim we celebrate trust in G-d.”

“One of the greatest feelings of joy is to know and experience life in holy harmony with G-d. Because of G-d’s all pervasive oneness and love, we can never really go off course. We are always on target. Our task, however, is to know and feel this in our daily lives.”

How do we accomplish this? How do we KNOW and FEEL this in our daily lives?!?!

The key to our source of strength is this…

“A Jew is a chelek Eloka mima’al, a part of Hashem. We are inherently good and want to do good, and Hashem always has nachat from us. That “good” within us is so basic and intrinsic, so much “us” that we barely notice that it is there.”

“Haman told Achashveirosh, “There is one nation that is dispersed and separated… and they do not keep the king’s laws; it is not worthwhile for the king to let them be.” Haman said this because this reflected the Jews’ feelings at the time. The Purim story happened at the end of the seventy-year exile between the first and second Beit Hamikdash. The Jews were on a low spiritual level and felt that their mitznot were worthless, and that Hashem didn’t desire them or their avodah Hashem, chas veshalom. Haman expressed this feeling when he said, “It is not worthwhile for the king to let them be.”

“Haman boasted to his wife Zeresh and to all his friends of his great wealth and many children, and that Queen Ester had invited only him to the party with King Achashveirosh. Then he said, “And all this is worth nothing to me whenever I see Mordechai.” Haman discounted all the good things in his life, focusing instead on the one negative element. This is Amalek’s middah and the flaw that we correct on Purim. Mordechai stood strong and “would neither kneel nor bow” and “neither rose nor moved because of him.” Mordechai Hatzaddik, like Moshe Rabbeinu in his time, empowered us to stand unflinchingly and not bend to Haman/Amalek.”

“Queen Ester begged King Achashveirosh to annul Haman’s evil plan. She asked, “May my soul be given my request and my nation my appeal.” She intimated that as long as Amalek’s middah is active inside us, we lack the very soul of life – our Jewish identity, the recognition of our inherent holiness, the chelek Eloka mima’al and intrinsic goodness that is our essence. Ester said, “If it pleases the king and if I have found favor before him and the matter is proper before the king, and I am good in his eyes, let it be written to rescind… Haman’s thought.”  WHAT OBLITERATES HAMAN/AMALEK? THE FEELING THAT WE ARE GOOD IN THE EYES OF THE KING OF ALL KINDS, AND THAT WE FIND FAVOR BEFORE HIM.”

“Megillat Ester ends with the words: “For Mordechai Hayehudi was viceroy to King Achashveirosh and great among the Jews… seeking the good of his nation and speaking peace to all their progeny.” The Jews learned to listen to the tsaddik who “seeks good” – who finds and reveals the good within them, creating peace between them and their Father in Heaven by instilling in them the faith that Hashem finds them desirable.”

On a personal level, the custom to dress up on Purim teaches us that when, chas veshalom, we find ourselves behaving incorrectly, it is really only an external “costume,” a momentary “foolish spirit” that overcame us. Our eternally pure soul inside us is “dressed up.” We only have to learn to recognize the “face behind the mask.”

On a larger scale, “On Purim we celebrate that everything in the world goes according to G-d’s plan – whether we see it or not. On Purim we read the Megillat Ester and celebrate the revelation of G-d’s hiddenness within the choices of humanity. To emulate G-d, the Master of Disguise, we too dress up in disguises. G-d’s plan disguises itself and plays out even through the evil people in the world. But on Purim we actually see that it is a disguise! THERE IS ONLY ONE ACTOR, PLAYING A MYRIAD OF ROLES. G-D IS ABSOLUTELY ONE AND ONLY.”

Purim reminds us, “G-d has written a script, and we are the actors in that drama. The question is not whether we are going to pay our parts, but HOW we will play our parts – consciously and willingly or resisting all the way. We can choose to work for G-d’s plan of growth, love, and oneness, or we can choose to work against it. But G-d’s will WILL be done on earth as it is in heaven – always.”

“Mordechai was teaching Ester the great secret of choice when he said, “If you don’t do it, the Jews will be saved anyway, but you’ll lose the starring role.” In terms, of G-d’s great plan, it does not make a difference what you do. But in terms of your own life, it makes all the difference in the world. Do you want to actively, consciously participate in G-d’s plan or not?”

“Purim is a busy day. Melachah is not forbidden, so we find ourselves juggling mishloach manot, costumes, making Purim seudahs, and more. We are occupied with a lot of trivialities – and that is just the message if this Yom Tov. Purim infuses us with the faith that within all the trivialities and pressures, Hashem loves us. Amid this mundane hustle-bustle, our essence is purely good.”

Hashem may we merit to have the koach and clarity to obliterate the middah of Amalek from within. Help us to see the yeshuah (salvation) that comes from the nisayon (trial). Help us to be able to say and fully believe the words, “Ribono shel Olam, You love me any way; You have nachat from me the way I am.” Increase our joy and the clarity that comes from our awareness that You, Hashem, love us and are always with us. AMEN!

Chag Sameach Purim,


*The content of this post is mostly loosely paraphrased quotes from two books I studied this week and highly recommend, Inviting G-d In: Celebrating the Soul Meaning of the Jewish Holy Days by Rabbi David Aaron and My Soul Desire by Avraham Tzvi Kluger.


“Getting Things in Order” – My thoughts on this weeks middah.


Generally, I am an organized person. I’m not sure how many people daydream of becoming a professional organizer or read Don Aslett’s book, “How To Have A 48-Hour Day” numerous times for fun. 😉 “Obsessed” is an understatement for my love of all things planner and stationary related.  Working at The Container Store would not be lucrative for me.  My paycheck would be history before it cleared my bank account!!!


Our family has doubled in size and my personal responsibilities have mysteriously quadrupled! Not sure how that works!?! Keeping my home organized has proved exponentially more difficult with two toddlers! Keeping things in order (inwardly/spiritually) also takes much more concerted effort.

Similar to Humility, order is a foundational middah because it is essential to developing any discipline. “Without steady, systematic practice, one never emerges from mediocrity into excellence, whether it be as a violinist practicing scales for hours daily to prepare for a great solo performance, or a runner hitting the trail every day, rain or shine, to get ready for a marathon. Likewise, spiritual development requires an ordered life.”

“Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe said in the name of the Alter of Kelm that order can be compared to the clasp on a pearl necklace. The pearls are what make the necklace, and they are definitely more important than the clasp, but without the clasp the pearls will fall off and scatter, and all that will remain of the necklace is the string alone. Similarly, a person contains an abundance of strengths, intellect, character traits, and qualities. But without order, all these virtues will scatter, and he or she will be left with nothing.”

My key observations on this middah were…

1) Order is fragile and requires maintenance. In Gan Eden, Hashem charged Adam and Eve to: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). Subdue it, because disorder is ready to break out at all times! Indeed, much of Jewish life is about maintaining order within this dynamic creation.

2) Order is a priority among the middot because its presence or absence will be evident. As Alan Morinis writes, “External disorder may be a reflection of internal disarray.” We might be able to mislead ourselves or our friends about other traits, but disorder will be evident. Order, then, serves as a barometer of our overall progress in Mussar.

3) Practicing order in one’s personal life involves developing and utilizing other middot.

Disorder is often the child of a rebellious ego that resists humbly occupying a rightful space. All that it whispers in your inner ear can be reduced to “I want” or “I don’t want.” I want to have fun, and cleaning up after myself is no fun. I want my leisure, and setting things in order is work. Humility – occupying one’s rightful space – is essential to order. {Ouch!}

Likewise, honor is essential to practicing order. “When you live with other people and you are content to make a mess in shared spaces, you dishonor the people you live with. Honor is due to all human beings not because of the greatness of their achievements but more simply because they embody an inherently holy soul. When you activate this inner sensibility, you want to keep things in order not just for order’s sake, but also for the higher purpose of honoring the people with whom you share relationships. All of us, are after all, are made in the divine image, and so when we honor people we honor G-d.”

I loved this thought… “Instead of fruitlessly yelling at the fire to cool down, you need to ask yourself, “What’s the water in this case? In other words, what’s the corresponding trait that will, if strengthened, cause the obstacles to orderliness to evaporate as if by themselves?”

Reflecting on any area of disorder in one’s life will likely reveal work that should be done with related middot!

Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald, was a book I read several years ago. Although the book is written from a secular perspective, the author was unknowingly writing about Mussar. 😉 He made several noteworthy statements which I took the liberty of making sound a little more Jewish:

If my private world is in order, it will be because I am convinced that the inner world of the spiritual must govern the outer world of activity. 

 If my private world is in order, it will be because I have made a daily determination to see time as G-d’s gift and worthy of careful investments.

 If my private world is in order, it will be because I have determined that every day will be for me a day of growth in knowledge and wisdom.

If my private world is in order, it will be because I absorb the words of *Torah* into my attitudes and actions.

 If my private world is in order, it will be because I have begun to pursue the discipline of seeing events and people through the eyes of Hashem so that my prayers reflect my desire to be in alignment with His purposes and promises for them.

 If my private world is in order, it will be because I have chosen to press Sabbath peace into the rush and routine of my daily life in order to find the rest G-d prescribed Himself and all of humanity.

Alan Morinis’s summary is best:

“The essential value of practicing order is that by voluntarily aligning ourselves with an orderly way of living, we draw ourselves closer to the divine way of being. When we are orderly, we emulate one of G-d’s intrinsic characteristics and that draws us closer to G-d.”

In parsha Chayei Sarah, we read in Ch. 23:1 “Sarah’s lifetime was one hundred years, and twenty years, and seven years; the years of Sarah’s life.” At first glance, this pasuk sounds a little redundant. However, the commentary suggests that the phrase “the years of Sarah’s life” means they were all equal for goodness. Our forefather Abraham is described as being “advanced in days” in Ch. 24:1. Commentators explain that every moment of his every day was productive and fulfilling! They were not time wasters! They were history makers! As their progeny, we should follow in their footsteps and emulate our creator.  

Life is chaotic, but our souls don’t need to be. The wisdom of Mussar is that we can increase our inward order through practical action in our outward surroundings.

My Mussar phrases/meditations for this week were:

“All your actions and possessions should be orderly – each and every one in a set place and set time. Let your thoughts always be free to deal with that which lies ahead of you.” – Rabbi M.M. Lefin of Satanov, Cheshbon Hanefesh

Take time, be exact, unclutter the mind. – Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv, the Alter of Kelm

I have only hust a minute
Only sixty seconds in it.
Forced upon me,
Can’t refuse it,
Didn’t seek it,
Didn’t choose it.
I must suffer if I lose it
Give account if I abuse it
Just a tiny little minute
But eternity is in it!
– Unknown

My Mussar practices for the week were:

Look at your daily routine and see if it is working; if not, change some part of your routine so it is more lifegiving.

Take a room or space that is out of order and make a plan to organize it.

Take an area or your life that needs discipline (health, fitness, prayer) and make a plan to make time for it.

Make a habit of “Eating the Frog First!” There’s an old saying that goes, “If the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning is eat a live frog, then nothing worse can happen for the rest of the day!” Whatever the task on your to-do list is that will take the most time or you are least motivated to do… get it done first. You will save time and energy by procrastinating/stressing less!

Reflecting on and accounting for areas in need of improvement in my life was a reminder that I have a lot of work to do. At the same time, I was encouraged to “beware the barrenness of a busy life.”

“The busier we are, the more important we seem to ourselves and, we imagine, to others. To be unavailable to our friends and family, to be unable to find time for the sunset, to whiz through our obligations without time for a single mindful breath, this has become the model of a successful life.” – Wayne Muller

The purpose for cultivating order is not for the quantity of things you can check of a to-do list. Cultivating order is about putting {quality} back into how you use your time!

May Hashem help you and I to avoid “the barrenness of a busy life” and grow in the attribute of orderliness.



“My Thoughts on Humility”


Last week I began my Mussar cycle and studied the first middah – anavah (humility). It was a productive and enlightening study!

The introduction to Everyday Holiness says: “Spiritual truths are not so much learned as recalled. Some ideas that we encounter, even if for the first time, don’t strike us as new information but more like memories being reawakened within us. It is as if our hearts innately possess these truths and so we don’t need lessons, only reminders of wisdom that we already know. These reminders awaken us, and then we see life more clearly and we know what we must do.”

In my mind, I thought I knew what humility was all about. However, over the course of the week, I was reawakened to the bigger picture of humility and its true definition.

 Humility is not an extreme. It’s balanced in between pride and self-debasement.

Humility is an accurate recognition of self, neither too grand or too diminished.

Real humility is always associated with a healthy self-esteem.

 Generally, humility is the first middah one studies in the Mussar cycle. In Duties of the Heart, Rabbi Bachya ibn Pakuda helps direct our attention by posing a question: “On what do the virtues depend?” His answer is clear, “All virtues and duties are dependent on humility.”

The importance of humility is underlined in the Talmud, where we read: “One who sacrifices a whole offering shall be rewarded for a whole offering. One who offers a burnt-offering shall have the reward of a burnt-offering. But one who offers humility to G-d and man shall be rewarded with a reward as if he had offered all the sacrifices in the whole world.”

“The Mussar teachers stress that humility is a primary soul-trait to work on because it entails an unvarnished and honest assessment of who you are. Without this accurate self-awareness, nothing else in your inner life will come into focus in its true measure.”

Just as you can’t work on perfecting the middot in your life without true humility (honest self-assessment), you cannot obtain humility without a healthy self-esteem.

It’s obvious that pride and arrogance are antithetical to humility. But a low opinion of self or self-worth has no relation to true humility either!

True humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less. – Timothy Keller

As someone who is naturally a bit shy and introverted – this was a great lesson!

I have negative experiences affect my self-esteem in a big way and I don’t always speak up when I have something to say for fear of saying the wrong thing.

I learned it is equally as important for people who are timid and perhaps shy, to understand their level of humility better. “Someone who is too humble might find themselves in a situation where action is call for, but they think to themselves “who am I to act?” As Mordechai said to Esther, “It’s such a time as this…” Someone with a weaker ego (sense of self-worth) might think that they are not worthy of the task.”

 I am worthy of the task, and I need to sacrifice what I think is humility to act on another’s behalf.

A story in the Talmud helped me begin to get a sense of the distinctively Jewish understanding of humility:

The passage begins: “The anivut [humility] of Rabbi Zechariah son of Avkulas caused the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem” (Gittin 55b-56a). This was a cataclysmic event in Jewish history that is still mourned today. How could a virtue like humility cause so terrible a catastrophe?

To understand, we have to enter the story a bit earlier, when a man named Bar Kamtza sought revenge on the Jewish leaders of Jerusalem, by going to the Romans to claim that the Jews were rebelling. To prove his point, he told the Roman leadership to send a sacrifice to the Temple. Normally such a sacrifice would be offered up, but Bar Kamtza caused a minor blemish on the animal that was unnoticeable to the Romans, but which he knew the rabbis would see and so refuse to accept the offering. This refusal would be “proof” that the Jews were in rebellion against Rome.

When the sacrifice came before the rabbis in the Temple, they noticed the hidden blemish, and understood immediately what was going on. One sage suggested that they offer the sacrifice anyway. Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulas, however, argued that if they did so, people would draw the incorrect conclusion that it was permitted to offer blemished sacrifices.

The rabbis then suggested that Bar Kamtza be killed to prevent him from telling the Romans and endangering the Jewish people. Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulas responded again, by saying, “If we do so, then people will incorrectly think that those who inflict blemishes on sacrifices are put to death.”

As a result of this unwillingness to accept either course of action, Bar Kamtza succeeded in his plan. The sacrifice was denied, and the Romans took this as proof of a Jewish rebellion. The Romans attacked and ultimately destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple.

The Talmud concludes: “The anivut of Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulas caused the loss of our home, the burning of our sanctuary, and our exile from the land.”

What can we learn of the Jewish concept of humility from the story of Zechariah ben Avkulas?

Rabbi Zechariah showed humility because he did not act with presumption — either by offering a blemished animal that contravened the rules, or by condoning murder. But he actually manifested too much humility in shrinking from the task at hand. He held the fate of the Temple and his people in his hands, yet he seems to say, “Who am I to make such unprecedented decisions that will potentially mislead the people as to the law?” This was his excessive humility. His sense of self was flawed because he saw himself as less capable of solving a real-life dilemma of great consequence than he actually was. For surely if God sent the challenge, Rabbi Zechariah had the capability to handle it.”

Another of my favorite stories was of Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pschishe who used to carry two notes in his pockets, so that he could reach in to fetch out one or the other, depending on the need. One said “For my sake was the world created” (Mishnah – Sanhedrin 4:5). The other had the words: “I am dust and ashes” (Genesis 18:27).

I learned from Orchot Tzaddikin (The Ways of the Tzaddikim), that humility manifests itself in six ways.

  • In the intensity of a man’s anger. If he is greatly shamed by word or deed and is in a position to take revenge but forgives the other for the sake of the Blessed Creator – this is a sign of humility.
  • If one suffers a great loss and he vindicates G-d’s justice, accepting all with love, this is a strong sign of humility and submissiveness.
  • If one hears people praising him for his wisdom and good deeds he should not rejoice in his heard, but rather reflect that his good deeds are very insignificant to what he ought to do, being like a drop in the great ocean.
  • If the Blessed One graces a man with wealth and children and He gives him wisdom in abundance, understanding, and honor; he should be even more humble and lowly before the Blessed Creator and honor men and pursue their good to an even greater extent than before.
  • If one reproves himself for having harmed another in word or deed and goes of his own volition, without another’s intercession, and asks for forgiveness, humbling himself before him, undoing the wrong, and speaking ingratiatingly – this, too, is a sign of humility.
  • One should be given to soft words. And one should not preoccupy himself with beautiful garments and adornments. And he must not be given to luxuries. All these are signs of humility.

Lastly, as a parent of two toddlers this quote was a good reminder, “Another extremely good form of humility is humbling oneself before one’s students, explaining everything that is difficult to them – to the older one on his level and to the younger one on his. And he should explain again and again with a pleasant expression and demeanor until they understand, and not say: “How can I answer so that he understands; his heart is as hard as stone!” But he must review the matter patiently numerous times. We are familiar with the reward of Rabbi Preida (Eruvin 54b), who reviewed a lesson four hundred times for the benefit of one student.”

 My Mussar phrases for the week were:

 “Always seek to learn wisdom from every man, to recognize your failings and correct them. In doing so, you will learn to stop thinking about your virtues and you will take your mind off your friends faults.” – Rabbi Mendel of Satanov (Cheshbon ha-Nefesh)

“Upon the heels of humility comes fear of Hashem.” (Shekalim 9b.)

“For my sake the world was created… I am but dust and ashes.”

“Know before whom you stand.”

My psukim of the week were:

 May He guide the humble in to justice; may he teach the humble His ways. Ps. 25:9

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8

My Mussar practices for the week were:

In a conversation, focus intently on what the other person is saying and not on what you will say next.

Practice active listening and talk less.

Prefer someone’s needs over yours.

When someone says something that does not agree with your opinion, consider holding your tongue and letting it go.

And my favorite…

 “As you are in the presence of another person, whether in conversation or activity, take a few deep breaths. Focus on the verse, “Know before whom you stand.”

While this verse is typically used to bring us before Hashem in humility and induce proper kavanah (focus) for prayer, it can also help us to guard ourselves in front of others – for they too are made in the image of Hashem.”

“If we are able to have a better understanding of whom you stand before on this planet, you can better know Whom your stand before in the Heavens.”

 Shalom Chaverim,



{Memories: A Time for Teshuva and a Time for Simcha.}

5775 is off to a great start! It’s been a very busy but meaningful and memory filled holiday season here at the Bobylev home!

Below is a collection of my favorite pictures from the last few weeks… it will be nice to look back and reflect on these one day. 🙂


During Elul, we implemented a new tradition of blowing the shofar with the babies each night as apart of our bedtime routine.


We had a beautiful Erev Rosh Hashanah dinner… just us. 🙂


I managed to send out New Year’s cards to close friends and family! I love writing letters.


We found a nice spot for tashlich in our neighborhood! Ori asked, “Where are the ducks???”


I held Noach the entire time because he was threatening to go for a swim!


Erev Yom Kippur was my grandmother of blessed memories’ 2nd yartzeit! It was an honor to remember her on such a holy day.


We had fun making sukkah decorations with some of our preschool friends!


Our almost finished sukkah! This year we added lights, paper chains, and pictures of famous sages for inspiration!


Dinner in the sukkah with guests!


Studying Kohelet on a rainy afternoon.


Noach smelling our etrog.


…Followed by Noach trying to eat the etrog. {grin}


Oriyah shaking the lulav in her very “stylish” new cowgirl boots.


 Ori showing off her edible sukkah creation!


 Havdalah and s’mores in the sukkah!


A Simcha Torah gift for the hubby… we are looking forward to reading it aloud together each week.


Simcha Torah candies! The kiddos loved these. Thank you pinterest!!!

Chag Sameach! I hope everyone was uplifted and inspired this High Holiday season!



{The Mitzvah of Challah – Part 1}


The aroma and taste of homemade challah is unparalleled! Challah is the traditional braided bread that we eat on Shabbat and it’s unlike any other bread!

For example, say you have dinner at a friend’s house and you really enjoyed one of the dishes they served, so you ask for the recipe. You go home and try to make the recipe yourself but it doesn’t turn out the same. Likewise, no two challahs are the same! Even from week to week my challah tastes a little different!

Chassidus has a very interesting insight it to why this is. There are seven traditional ingredients in most challah recipes: water, yeast, egg, oil, sugar, salt, and flour. But there is also a special eighth ingredient… our souls. When we are making challah we are putting our souls and energy into it and it adds a dimension of spiritual nourishment. Who knew making bread could be a spiritual process?!?

The mitzvah of challah provides a weekly opportunity for reflection and a time of prayer for ones family.

 When making challah you add the ingredients in the order they are listed. Following this simple rule is a great reminder of how orderly Hashem is and how he orchestrates our lives.

 Water –

The first ingredient is water. Water is our lifeline – we can’t live without! Water is essential. Water represents Torah, which is our spiritual lifeline and essential to our well-being! Torah flows down to us from Hashem, just as water flows out of a faucet!

 When we add water to our bowl we can think…

“Where in my life do I need more Torah?

Yeast –

Yeast represents growth and expansion. When we add the yeast to our water it’s a perfect time to pray for the spiritual and emotional growth of each member of our family.

Yeast causes the bread to rise. We can pray also that Hashem would assist us in rising to meet our full potential!

Egg –

The egg represents the renewal of the lifecycle. It is also representative of a great potential “about to hatch” or waiting to be revealed. When adding the egg to our recipe, it’s a great time to pray for physical and spiritual renewal for our family. Also, to pray for those “great potentials about to hatch” in our lives… whatever they may be.

Oil –

 Oil represents Hashem’s anointing. The Jewish kings were anointed with oil. Many women have the tradition of saying each of their children’s names as they add the oil to the mixture.

 We can pray for the anointing to do what Hashem has called us to do, that our families will walk in and under the anointing of the Ruach and feel the pleasure that the anointing brings and that Hashem would make us sacred and set apart.

 Sugar –

 Sugar represents blessings!

When adding the sugar, pray for your family to have a sweet life, a constant remembrance of the sweetness of Hashem, and that sweet words will flow from our mouths to those around us.

Sugar also represents emunah (faith). When we have the proper faith – everything becomes sweeter, even things that seem difficult – because we realize that everything is from Hashem and for our good!

We can pray that our emunah would be strengthened.

Salt –

Salt is the next ingredient and it represents discipline and criticism. We need salt in a much smaller measure. There is a tradition to shake a little salt off the top of your measuring spoon as a reminder that we should give others less of a rebuke than what we sometimes feel is necessary.

Salt also represents purification. In the kashering process, salt is rubbed onto the meat to extract the blood and toxins. When we add the salt we can pray that Hashem would remove anything toxic in our lives… in our mind, soul, or bodies.

Flour –

 Flour is the foundation of the bread.

When you add the flour pray for your family’s foundation to be firmly established in truth.

Flour also represents sustenance. We can pray for blessings on our financial provision, also over relationships that sustain us.

Kneading –

The next step is kneading the dough.

When we knead the dough we are creating unity. It’s a great time to reflect on the oneness of G-d and pray for unity within our homes and communities.

Now to let it rise!

 How many of us like waiting? We can pray that our families will have endurance to wait on Hashem until it is time for His work to be accomplished.

I hope this post inspires and encourages you all in this beautiful and meaningful mitzvah.

(I’d like to note that these thoughts are not original but a compilation of various teachings I’ve either read or heard.)

Shabbat Shalom!



{Torah and Tea: Thoughts on Elul and the High Holidays.}

Shavua Tov,

It’s a quiet Saturday night, I am sipping a cup of hot tea (HELLO FALL) and I have a chance to blog.:D

Growing up, Pesach was my favorite holiday. I love the story of redemption – both physical and spiritual. I love the traditions and symbolism of the Seder. I love how Pesach brings people together. And… I love chocolate covered matzah!!!

But as I have grown older (and hopefully wiser) I am eager to celebrate the High Holidays! They are just a few weeks away now!

The month leading up to the feasts is called Elul. The month of Elul is a time of preparation – spiritual preparation. It’s a time for introspection and reflection. It’s a time for doing teshuva. It’s a time for getting back on track spiritually.

Ultimately, the month of Elul is about returning. I have spent a lot of time over the last several weeks thinking about what exactly we are returning to and what the High Holidays are really all about.

I’ve recently read, “Inviting G-d In: Celebrating the Soul-Meaning of the Jewish Holy Days” by Rabbi David Aaron. His book is filled with beautiful descriptions of the feasts that I have to share!

“The great sixteenth-century master of the Kabbalah, Rabbi Isaac Luria – better known as the Ari – explains that the story of Adam and Eve is a paradigm for understanding this process of awareness, especially in reference to what is spiritually happening during the High Holidays.

The Torah teaches that Adam was not just a man; he was androgynous, both male and female. Neither part knew the other existed. After creating this being, G-d said that it is not good for Adam to be alone. The Torah relates that while Adam was sleeping, God separated the two beings. Adam woke up to find his other half, Eve, whom he realized was of his essence. At this point, Adam and Eve stood face-to-face, chose to unite, and experienced the ecstasy of love.

The Ari explains the story of Adam and Eve as the quintessential love story, which parallels the love story between us and G-d. Just as in the case of Adam and Eve, we experience the feelings of loneliness and alienation that actually create the yearning and the anticipation for the final conscious reuniting with G-d.

Similar to Adam and Eve –who began as one entity joined back-to-back yet knew nothing of each other’s existence – we too are intrinsically connected to G-d whether we know it or not. But without knowing it, we cannot experience the blissful joy of oneness. Until we experience alienation from G-d, yearn for oneness, and consciously choose to reconnect to G-d, until we move from being back-to-back to being face-to-face with G-d, we will not know the ecstasy of ultimate love.

According to the Kabbalah, the period beginning with Rosh Hashanah, extending into Yom Kippur, followed by the festival of Sukkot and ending with Simchat Torah, is an especially opportune time for realizing our ultimate and eternal connection to G-d and to each other. Each Rosh Hashanah, we return to a state of back-to-back with G-d – we are one with Him, but we do not know it. We yearn to return to G-d during the ten days of awe from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, the day on which we are finally granted forgiveness. It is that forgiveness that reestablishes and reveals our face-to-face connection, and the joy of that forgiveness empowers us to achieve the ultimate realization of our oneness with G-d on Simchat Torah.”

Rosh Hashanah –

Rosh Hashanah is also known as Yom HaDin or the Day of Judgment. It’s the day on which G-d remembers every single little thing you did over the last year – both good and bad – and decides your fate.

The thought of being judged is a little scary and overwhelming! Yet on Rosh Hashanah, we rejoice in trembling. We acknowledge that Hashem is a righteous and compassionate judge!

One of the most beautiful traditions of Rosh Hashanah is the sounding of the shofar. It beckons us to awake from our spiritual slumber and return to Hashem and to Torah. It is also a reminder to Hashem!

“The oral tradition teaches that when we blow the shofar, the King, who is sitting sternly on His throne of judgment, suddenly gets up and takes the seat of compassion (compassion is the process of kindness overriding justice.) The whole nature of the day changes when we blow the shofar. With just one piercing sound, the day is transformed from a day of judgment into a day of compassion. Why? Because by blowing the shofar, we willing submit ourselves to judgment. And that very act ignites, so to speak, compassion in G-d.”

On Rosh Hashanah, Hashem judges us not because He wants to get back at us and slap us around a little. He is judging us because He loves and cares for us. On Rosh Hashanah, we are returning to Avinu Malkeinu, “Our Father, Our King.”

Yom Kippur –

Yom Kippur or The Day of Atonement is a day of love and forgiveness.

“The Talmud teaches that in this world, when something good happens to us, we praise God: “Blessed be He who is good and does good.” But when something bad happens, we must say. “Blessed is He who is a true Judge.” However, in the future we will say, “Blessed is He who is good and does good” even about the misfortunes in our lives. In other words, when we will look back and see the whole picture, we will realize that every bad thing that happened to us contributed to G-d’s plan, which is to bring upon us ultimate goodness. This is also true about every bad thing that we did.”

There is a connection between Yom Kippur and Purim.

“On Purim we are able to say “blessed is Haman” because although he was evil, even Haman contributed to G-d’s plan for goodness. Yom Kippur is like Purim because on that day even our misdeeds can be seen as positive forces in serving G-d’s will and plan. Therefore, on Yom Kippur G-d forgives us and we can forgive ourselves. The darkness can serve the light, and the ugly past can be recycled into a beautiful future.”

On Yom Kippur we are returning to G-d, our Forgiving Parent.

Sukkot –

“On Rosh Hashanah we experience G-d as a Judge. On Yom Kippur we experience G-d as our Lover. According to the Kabbalah, when we sit in the close confines of the sukkah, we feel G-d hugging us.”

“Judaism teaches that the goal of life and the source of true happiness is holiness. We are holy when we are whole – integrated and harmonious with our inner self, with our nation, with the rest of humanity, with nature, and with G-d. We accomplish this by fulfilling the commandments of G-d.”

“From Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur, we work our way back from disintegration to wholeness and happiness. On Sukkot we reach the finish line and celebrate becoming whole again. As part of this celebration of wholeness, we take the four species and wave them toward the four corners of the world, as well as up and down.”

“The Talmudic sages tell us that the four species represent different parts of ourselves. The citron symbolizes our heart; the palm branch symbolizes our spine; the shape of the myrtle leaves suggests our eyes; and the willow leaves look like our mouth. Therefore, when we hold them together to fulfill the commandment of waving them on Sukkot, it is as if we are pulling ourselves together and dedicated ourselves to G-d.”

On Sukkot we celebrate wholeness and return to our Lover.

Each passing year, the thought of Hashem as a compassionate Judge, a forgiving Parent, and a faithful Lover become more and more profound to me!

I pray that as we finish out the month of Elul, chop apples, fast, and dine in our sukkahs we are reminded of the soul meaning of the High Holidays and who we are returning to!