Now, if you help bring it…

Every year for the past few years, I’ve written a post that I firmly believe Moshiach can, and will, come this year, and that we’ve just seen the last Tisha B’Av. The first ones were in my journal, and more recent ones are shared here.

And in spite of being wrong, every year, I still believe. I believe that the upcoming Tisha B’Av might be the promised day of celebration, and even if that doesn’t happen, I will believe the same of next year. But I’m coming to realize that it isn’t so simple.

We aren’t waiting for G-d to ‘spontaneously’ decide that now is the time for Moshiach. WE HAVE THE POWER TO BRING MOSHIACH EVERY DAY! WE HAVE THE RESPONSIBILITY TO TRY TO BRING MOSHIACH EVERY DAY!

(Sorry for yelling but that was really therapeutic.) Let me explain. G-d can bring the Moshiach at any time. But He is waiting for us to be ready, waiting for us to receive the Moshiach with open arms as one united people. Learning this made me realize that it’s not that I believe that G-d can bring the Moshiach, because of course He can. It’s ‘do I believe that my fellow Jews have the ability to bring the Moshiach?’ And the answer is yes.

So, why isn’t the Moshiach here yet? Good question. As much as I believe we are each responsible for bringing Moshiach, the only person I have control over is myself. So the question is – ‘If I believe that everyone has the potential to bring Moshiach, and I trust that everyone is doing their own personal best, then what more can I do to bring Moshiach?’

That’s what the Three weeks, and the Nine days, are meant to make us think about. We’re meant to truly appreciate the depth of what we have lost, of what we are missing in our lives each day.  It’s not meant to drag us down into hopeless misery, but to motivate us to do better, to try harder, since we have the potential to bring back, not only what we have lost, but a whole new bright future.

So, do your best. Try a little bit harder. Embrace the pain and sadness and use it to remind yourself that no one else should ever hurt like that because of you. Examine yourself and see where you have room to improve, and if you think you’re doing your best (as I have faith you all are,) you are welcome to climb aboard here and help others improve.

EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU HAS THE POWER TO BRING MOSHIACH TODAY! REMEMBER THAT! YOU ARE AMAZING! WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?!

Lashon Harah Deterrent

This is one, that I, unfortunately, realized too late.

“Did I really just speak about one of G-d’s children like that?”

It works best if you can remember it before you speak.

But honestly, I’m hoping that the public admission of guilt will help be a kapprah for me. What I said wasn’t terrible, but still… I don’t thing G-d liked it very much. It could have been said in a much more ‘It’s not them, it’s me,’ sort of way.

Bonus TotW: Spotting the disguise

A disguise of the yetzer harah I noticed personally yesterday. Giving you all the heads up!

Finally deciding you’re just going to get it over with and deal with the smelly garbage can should be a good thing, right? After all, I’d been waiting on it for too long. But it just so happened (read: sarcasm) that I finally made up my mind to do it while I was trying to convince myself to daven mincha NOW and not hope I’d have time for it later. It’s amazing what horrible jobs you can suddenly LIKE when there’s a mitzvah on the line, I realized, and as soon as I was done I didn’t give myself another moment to think of more jobs.

That’s a little too convenient motivation, don’t you think? So, for all of you to keep in mind– procrastinating chores is not good, but watch out that the chores aren’t making you procrastinate a mitzvah! After all, Mr. Yetzer Harah, in real life it’s much more fun to daven then to scrub the floor!

Thank you for the nagging

I’ve got a bad habit. A fairly harmless one, that many people do. I know I need to work on it, and yet I justify it. ‘I need it to cope.’ ‘I am working on it… a little.’ ‘I’m working on so many midot (traits), I’m just not up for this one yet.’ ‘I’ll be counterproductive, cuz I’ll just end up being resentful and doing it more.’ These were all valid points; I gave the matter some thought, and they went from real excuses to a battle plan for the future. But still, I was doing pretty poorly in the here and now.

Let’s use an example, for simplicity’s sake, and say this trait was complaining. I don’t whinge about the little minor things ‘oh, we have to share a bus with xyz’ or at least, what I call the little things (I guess the vending machine not being plugged in when I’m falling asleep and want soda is kind of a medium thing,) but I didn’t think I’d ever be one of those people who just quietly absorbed whatever life threw at them. a) They’re all tazadikeses and b) It just wouldn’t work for me. I need to get stuff out of my system, in order to stay healthy and sane. My friends have learned to live with it, and I’ve learned to pick a new friend each time I want to vent (or whatever my bad habit really is.)

So all the anti-complaining messages I’ve been hearing pretty heavily the past year (in a general sense, eg. school-wide campaign, never directed at me) just dropped my self esteem, left me defensive, made me resentful and justifying everything, and on occasion, left me in tears. (Inadvertently. It wasn’t her fault, she was only trying to help.) I just told myself everything you read above, and it was true. But it also seeped in.

I still indulge in my bad habit; I know I just need to let my feelings out. But I’ve also started paying more attention, in small sometimes subconscious steps. ‘Ok, so she needs to know I was sick for a week, but can I say it in a more positive way?’ ‘Ok, I need to vent, but how quickly can I change the topic?’ ‘Can I push off saying this for five minutes (at which point I will promptly forget it?)’ ‘Can I ask about her day first?’ I think it has less to do with a shift in behavior, and more just to do with having a more positive mindset, and realizing that my friends don’t always need to deal with this, even if they’re happy to. I just try and ‘vent’ in a more positive, long term, cheerful tone, and it takes the edge off. I’ll catch myself as soon as I feel better and not go on any longer.

So, this is a very long post to say a very short thing; To all the persistent, annoying, cheerful, inflexible, nagging people/messages over the past year, thank you for being that. I guess that future time I was going to start changing is now. Now, to work on my procrastination… let’s discuss it later 😛

Constructive Criticism Pocket guide

(Yes, you can print this out for personal use, but please do not distribute without written permission.)

First of all, make sure that your words will be listened too. Double check. Are you sure you’re the right person to address this? Is this an issue to worry about? Is now the right time? If you’re as sure as you can be:

  1. Start in a pleasant, friendly voice. Keep it light.
  2. Talk somewhere quiet where you won’t be overheard.
  3. Don’t judge. Just point out, nicely, that you’ve noticed something, and you thought they might want to know.
  4. Don’t sound like the authority on the subject. You’re talking as a peer, a friend. Friends are awesome mentors and you don’t need to sound better than them to get your point across!
  5. Offer help and follow up, if you think it’s wanted. Not needed, wanted. You don’t want to force the issue.
  6. Plan what your going to say to make sure it’s the right words for now.
  7. Make sure it’s the right time to say it. Make sure it’s not just a quiet place, but a quiet time, and that your friend is in a good enough mood to listen.
  8. And finally, daven. Offer an informal prayer, or a quick kapital tehillim beforehand that it all go well. This is crucial!

If you use common sense and keep your best intentions for your friend in mind, you can’t mess it up too badly. Ask a mentor if you’re not sure. It can’t hurt to wait on it. GOOD LUCK, caring friend!

How to be a critic

I’ve mentioned constructive (I don’t like to call it rebuke, that’s for parents and teachers) criticism in posts in the past, and I thought a longer post about it might be warranted. What exactly is constructive criticism?

Did you know that just like it’s a mitzvah to rebuke someone, it’s a mitzvah not to if you know it’s not likely to be listened to? More often than not, my response is to turn a blind eye, and work on being machmir with myself instead, but sometimes, it has to happen. Here are some tips for being heard, without humiliating anyone or destroying a friendship. (FYI, yes, this post is long, but it’s worth reading. There’s a link to a short form at the bottom.)

  1. Keep a pleasant voice
    Start with something kind and friendly, such as ‘Hey, Shprintza, do you have a moment?’
  2. Move it to a private place
    99% of the time, this isn’t just an ‘if possible.’ Most people will willingly come somewhere quiet for a moment, but if no-where quiet can be found, you should almost definitely wait until later. This is to avoid anyone accidentally overhearing, which could be lashon Harah as well as rather embarrassing. Use your discretion! Also, keep a quiet tone of voice– my ‘inside voice’ carries quiet well sometimes, so I have to constantly remind myself to go one level softer than I would otherwise– if you think that will help.
  3. Again, be cheerful and non-judgmental.
    You should approach this at an angle of ‘You know, I’ve noticed sometimes that you blablabla bla bla. I don’t know if you realized but that’s really abababab. I thought you might want to know that smurfy smurfy smurf.’ You can’t deny that you noticed what their doing, but for your own peace of mind as much as for the other person you should assume that they didn’t know better. Often, that’s all it is. Even when you know that they probably do know and just need a reminder, taking that tone can get you listened to. Also, have you ever heard about ‘I statements’ vs. ‘You statements?’ Even when you’re talking to someone else about them, ‘I statements’ can soften your words. Look above for an example.
  4. Do NOT patronize
    Approach them as a friend, on their level. You’re just giving advice.
  5. If relevant, offer to help in the future
    Sometimes, one little reminder is all it takes. But if your ‘notice’ is a bolt out of the blue for the other person, or they’re genuinely interested in learning more, remind them that you’re available to follow up.
  6. Plan what you’re going to say before you say it.
    When I have something important to say, at any time, I know I’m not always going to get it right on the first time. So, I’ll rehearse it in my head beforehand. (This is helpful beyond measure in all areas of life.) Often, I can’t find a quiet place for some time, and that gives me the chance I need. When you’re planning, think about your friend’s nature. Are they the sensitive type who needs to be gradually led to an idea, or are they blunt and straightforward and would much rather just hear ‘Um, Sarah, you’ve got a huge run in those tights and you might want to find a new pair STAT’?
  7. Don’t heap it all on at once
    It’s happened more than once where I’ll say something that doesn’t even really register as criticism, ‘Lea, that bun looks great but there’s a cute little curl sticking out at the back. Just in case you don’t have eyes in the back of your head;’ and then, notice or see shortly after something that fits the ‘do say’ conditions above. Maybe it’s just that I’m the sensitive type mentioned above, but I wouldn’t like so much ‘problem fixing’ all at once. Unless it’s something really really minor (you be the judge) I’d rather wait a little while and see if the problem will resolve itself. Sometimes, it does, and then you don’t have to say two things at all.
  8. Remember, you can ask a mentor if you’re not sure.
    They are always available. If you don’t want to get ‘the authorities’ involved in whatever minor thing this person did, you can leave out names and the most crucial details, or ask someone who dosn’t know your friend. Sometimes, though, knowing both sides of the story can give a more careful response. And, above all these tips, DAVEN!!

Whew, that was quiet the post! Makes up for all the other weeks, I hope. In all seriousness, though, the goal of reading this isn’t for you to become an expert at criticizing your friends. We’re all perfect :), and I hope you’ll never need these skills. This way, though, if you ever see the need, you’ll have a better idea of how to encourage maximum improvement with minimal pain.

(Pocket guide! here, along with a few more tips.)

Change is good

When I cry out to G-d in a fit of frustration, it seems that the most often comment is– “Why so soon after the last test?! Can I not be allowed to breath freely or smile without worry for a minute?!” It seems that the tests come one after the other– as soon as one finishes, the next is less than a day away, and sometimes hours or even only 30 minutes past the last one. And I’m not talking about little things. I’m not going to get into an objective ‘is this an issue or not’ because we could spend all day topping each other; but to me at least, these are very big things. Things outside my ability to handle that can often take months to resolve.

The past two days have been the first two days of school. And, looking back, I really have had that break I asked for. Sure, I spent the first day back telling people not to hug me because my guts might fall out onto the floor (yes, I really was feeling that sick at first, and it was beyond hilarious when I said it to an over-enthusiastic teacher); I had a dilemma with my lunchbox and a horrible time with my safa diagnostic test, and I still don’t have my new headphones. But all of these, in the grand scheme of things, are pretty minor. Most importantly, I had the resilience to treat them as such.

But I’ve never laughed so much on the first day of school before. Ever. Or nearly any day, in fact. It turns out I can take better care of myself then I though, and so my health’s basically been stable. (To the utter shock of the resource room director, who’s known me for a while.) I won’t say the past two days have been so easy, but they’ve been amazing fun, amazing growth, and a lot of a lighter load then I’m used to getting from Above.

No doubt, even if I wasn’t ‘due’ for another test right now, writing this will seal the deal. But that’s ok. It won’t erase what a wonderful start of the year it’s been. I hope I’ll cherish these simple sweet memories for a while.

It’s ok to get upset when bad things happen. For me, acknowledging it’s hard, and that each test pushes me past what I think I can do, even as I usually come out ok, is how I get the strength to pull together and move on with life. But there’s a flip side. You have to knowledge the good. Believe it or not, I just did.

Thank you G-d, from the bottom of the healthy heart You gave me, written with the fingers that feel pretty good today, recognized with the amazing brain You gave me to use, on the computer that works well, for a day that was good not just in hindsight, but right here and now.

Life is short―like this post

This thought of the week is sponsored by the following event.

Just five minutes ago, I was sitting at my desk, on the computer, playing another round of mindless games—not because I needed to sit for a moment, or because I wanted the brain benefits they offer. Just because I was bored, tired, and honestly, too lazy to come up with something more productive and interesting to do.

Suddenly, it occurred to me. ‘Is this really what G-d gave me the gift of life for?’ And I realized that tired or bored, I had so many things I could be doing.

This post is the result.

Thank you.

The Wall

I’m working on a story, and in one scene, a girl is planning to go daven at the Kotel. Suddenly, it hit me. Since the time is unspecified, but not recent, did they even have the Kotel? Here’s how I put it in my notes.

Hang on. It’s hard for me to understand this, but in that era, would they still have the Kotel? Or, I mean, have it yet?

Being so young and living in Chutz La’Aretz, it’s easy for me to take it for granted. But here, for a moment, I didn’t. It suddenly gave me a new-found appreciation for something that  I think many of us sometimes take for granted. It’s our anchor, and I realized for a moment how lost we’d be without it.

Still clinging on

Waking up this morning was a real shock to the system. It hit me, suddenly. Today is Friday. The fast is in 48 hours– less, even. Somehow, I didn’t think I’d still be here. Moshiach, where are you? We were supposed to meet yesterday!

That’s the one hard thing of constant belief and optimism, of still being a complete Maamin no matter what. You will get let down. And it hurts. If you intensely believe that the Redemption will come that day, watching the sun go down can shatter you. Even as you think, ‘so tomorrow, then,’ a voice says, ‘why not today?’ Even as you say ‘there’s one more weekday until Tisha b’Av,’ it’s easy to think, ‘we’re running out of time. We had a week and now we have a day.’

I don’t give up. Even when a car horn in the silence makes me stiffen and my heart pound. Even when there’s Shofar blowing somewhere in the building, and someone jokingly yells ‘Moshiach,’ and even as you scowl for them making fun of something so sacred, you wonder if they could be right. And you cry when they’re not.

This turned into a very long good morning. But you understand, don’t you? What it’s like to have a shattered spirit but still cling to hope. One can’t always just say, ‘So if not today, then tomorrow,’ with a smile. If the ‘not today’ doesn’t cause pain, where will you get the strength for the ‘tomorrow?’ Sometimes, the roller coaster of hope and despair gets the better of me.

But today, I’ll go down fighting. Moshiach won’t just randomly show up. He’s waiting for us to bring him in.