I've waited for this moment since the day you were born some twenty years ago. And yet, I feel thoroughly and utterly unprepared.
Just moments ago, you called me with the news, the news of a lifetime.
You both decided!—he is the one for you, you are the one for him—you've each found your life partner. And though the last many days I've hoped for, prayed for and anticipated this, I am speechless now as I hold the phone receiver.
"Mommy, he proposed!" you gush with enthusiasm. I can barely mouth the words "mazal tov!" and I'm finding it difficult to breathe.
I want to wish you a life full of happiness, a life full of goodness, love, warmth, joy, beauty, achievement and fulfillment. Instead, I meekly and wordlessly push the phone receiver into your father's hands, as he stands expectantly at my side. My throat is choked and my cheeks are drowned in tears.
"Mommy and I are so happy for you," I barely hear my far-more-composed husband telling you, our oldest daughter. "Mommy is so happy for you that she can't even talk!" He smiles reassuringly to me. Somehow I manage to nod my consent, thoroughly overcome with emotion.
How can I feel so unbelievably happy, yet be crying so profusely at the same time?
I think back to the last many nights. I remember waiting up for you until late at night, just to hear how your dates went. To ask you an endless stream of questions….to listen to you describe your conversations….to share with you in the wee hours of the morning. I think back to the nervous jitters that have been playing in my stomach, to my constant wondering, "is he the right one" and my searching for clues on your thoughtful face.
I remember a little further back in time. How anxious I was about this new stage in your life. How in the world were we to find your life's partner? Who would possibly be special enough for you, our wonderful eldest child? Who would be the one? It seemed like a search for a needle in a haystack would be simpler. It was almost like throwing up a barrel of apples chopped in halves and trying to piece them back together again.
But thank G‑d we are not running the world ourselves. The Master of all souls, the Matcher of all matches guided us, wondrously orchestrating this all.
"Forty days before an embryo is formed, a heavenly voice calls out—so and so is to marry such and such," says the Talmud. This has been orchestrated from before you were born. Your souls are partners, matching halves of a single whole. The Talmud describes the search for a spouse as looking for that "lost part" of yourself. How amazing it is that you have found the key to your completeness!
We must only thank G‑d that the journey has been so easy and painless for us.
"Chana, why are you crying?" my husband asks, as only husbands can. "One cries when one can't find a shidduch (life partner), not when you've been blessed to find one so quickly."
Indeed, why am I crying?
I am getting ahead of myself. Let me take a few steps back…
We are in the car driving back from New York, where we've been on a family trip.
We had heard of a fine young man. We inquired more about him and he sounded so similar and compatible to you. The two of you met, and then you met again. You spent hours together, talking, sharing, discovering one another.
Now, we're on our way home, back to Toronto. He will follow shortly and you will meet again. You seem excited, but in a special way, different from the previous times. At the same time, you seem serene, as though you intuitively sense you've found the missing part of your soul.
A small voice inside my head whispers, this is the one, the one we've searched for, the one we've waited for. The idea makes me deliriously happy while at the same time it terrifies me. Is he really the one? Have the years flown by so quickly? Has the time really come? Is our child ready to begin a life of her own?
It's a long way back to Toronto. But if my intuition is correct, we will never be going back to life as it was.
My mind is racing. My thoughts are all with you. You and your future journey.
Nothing in your highly accomplished life has been as monumental as this new journey. What a colossal decision you face.
Am I guiding you in the right direction? I feel so helpless, so small, so limited—what do I know?
In the first moments of your life, when I cuddled you, swathed in the hospital's snowy white blankets, I was not much older than you are now. I held my first child and was overwhelmed by feelings of maternal protectiveness. I silently pledged to protect you forever, to only allow life's goodness to be showered upon you. What a silly promise, what a hollow pledge.
Now I sit feeling almost paralyzed with doubt and fright, emotionally incapable of moving forward.
But then I remember. We are not here alone. As much as Daddy and I love you, we are not your only parents. There was a third partner in your birth, who as much as we are limited is wholly unlimited; as unsure and full of apprehension that we are, He is sure and confident. He cares about you as much, no—can it be possible?—even more than we do. He is watching you, looking out for you, guiding and protecting you, placing you precisely on the right path.
My mind is still racing. But it is also reassured. No, we are not in this on our own…
I've been walking around in a daze for the last many days.
It's all "official" now. We celebrated the l'chayim, the engagement party. We actually had two parties--in "his" hometown of New York, and in our own home in Toronto.
But first, of course, we went to the Ohel, the resting place of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, to announce the engagement and to receive the Rebbe's consent and blessing.
How many times in the past did I come to this very place with my wants and needs. How many tears have I shed here, how many worries have I shared here, how many dreams and expectations have I hoped for and prayed for here!
But this time I was there not for myself, only for you. To pray that you be blessed with all the joys and goodness that life can offer.
I am no longer as young as you, starting out on life's journey. I have traveled down many of life's paths—some good, some wonderful, and some not so joyous.
I've stared challenges in the face and must admit that though I tried to meet them head on, and, with G‑d's help, overcame many of them, sometimes I didn't try hard enough. I'm ashamed at how I've succumbed to some trials. Some days weren't easy.
But as difficult as those moments were, the most difficult thing for me now will be watching you confront the challenges that life throws at you.
I cannot imagine how I would be able to bear watching you face a devastating difficulty.
For a mother, to watch her child struggle with a formidable challenge is so much more unbearable than facing it personally on her own. I feel so desperate for your future happiness.
I don't think you will understand this. I don't think that I could have understood how my own mother felt when I had to face difficult times. Probably you won't be able to experience these emotions until you have a child of your own.
But these were my thoughts at the Ohel. These were my prayers. And as I prayed, it dawned on me that perhaps our own Father feels the same about each of us, His children.
Does He, too, feel pained as He watches us travail through the ups and downs of life? When He watches us struggle, yet refrains from interfering so as to allow us to grow from in process, does He, too, feel aggrieved? Do His tears mingle with ours--even more copious than ours?
The kabbalists speak of galut hashchinah, the pain that G‑d experiences as He watches us struggle through our dichotomies and challenges, so far, so forlorn, so separated from Him.
Perhaps at this moment, as a mother, I can begin to better fathom what G‑d feels….
Gowns, gowns, gowns. That is our search now.
Long gowns and puffy gowns. Taffeta or satin, silk or lace. Simple elegance or elaborate extravagance. Traditional and classical, or chic and trendy. These are our dilemmas.
The choices are so many. The fabric. The style. The fit. The color.
We're in a desperate search for the perfect gowns. For you. For each of your siblings. And for me.
"What do you think, girls?" I hear myself wondering. "We could add a little lace here. Or how about a velvet sash there? Hem it a little higher. It needs a good pressing there…. This one definitely has potential."
The shopping is a welcome distraction to a racing mind. It's almost like I believe that the frenzy of perfect preparation will prepare you for the perfect life.
Clothes, clothes, clothes. We're shopping until we drop or until we find the best outfits to suit you. There will be seven days of sheva brachot, seven days of festivities celebrating your wedding. Seven days of you being the queen.
That's a lot of outfits! I want you to look your best. To feel just perfect on your special days.
As we run around looking for the best clothes to complement your outer appearance, I think of another type of clothing. We spend hours looking for clothes for our bodies, but the kabbalists tell us also of another clothing—the clothing for our soul.
Our soul, too, clothes itself--in our thoughts, words and actions. Just as our physical clothing project something about ourselves and our "style," so, too, and all the more so, our spiritual "clothing" reflects our inner personality, who and where we are.
True, I want to put forth my best physical appearance at your wedding, but in my heart of hearts, I ask myself why I'm not making the same type of preparation for my spiritual appearance.
And in our frenzied search to find the best gowns, I remember that perhaps I need to give a little focus and preparation to my spiritual clothing, too.
Today we signed the contract with the wedding hall and made the requisite deposit. The location of your upcoming wedding is now finalized and confirmed. It will be just so beautiful!
I find that these days I'm carrying a little notebook around with me everywhere I go, just in case I remember something to jot down, lest I forget even one small detail later before I get home to a pen and paper…
At the hall today I wrote down in my book a number of things for us to take to the wedding. Included in my list was this: "don't forget the glass to break under the chuppah." And, I find myself jotting down as well, "remind chosson (groom) not to wear shoes with soft sole."
You've watched the video from our own wedding countless times, when Daddy had a hard time breaking the glass with his soft-heeled shoes! It took a number of attempts, in fact. There was a collective sigh of relief from our guests when the glass finally did break and the uproarious "mazal tov" issued in unison from everyone present.
The broken glass, as I know you are aware, is meant to remind us of the destruction of the Holy Temple. Even in a moment of such blissful happiness at the unison of two souls in marriage, we remember that we are still in bitter exile.
Interestingly, though, the breaking of the glass has become the signal for everyone to call out the congratulatory, "mazal tov!" It's almost as if it is the breaking glass that confirms the marriage, validates the joy, and endorses the momentousness of this wonderful new beginning.
I was thinking about this today, after making those notations in my little notebook. Why has a moment that is meant to signify the sadness of the Temple's destruction developed into such a congratulatory event, the signature moment, almost, of the marriage ceremony?
But then it occurred to me that perhaps the deeper message of the breaking of the glass is the reminder that being in exile means that our lives are not perfect. That we are not complete, but rather broken.
Remember, there is no person who is flawless. Right now you believe (and you should believe so) that your chosson is so perfect, so wonderful, so talented and so capable, so sensitive and caring. He, too, surely feels the same about you--that he is marrying the ideal woman, faultless to the core, and that there is no one in the world as special, intelligent and caring as you.
The two of you together have also dreamed the perfect dream of how complete and perfect your life together with be. How much you will both accomplish, how you will work side by side harmoniously, how meaningful and fulfilling it will all be.
Perhaps the breaking glass under the chuppah is there to remind you (and all of us) that every vision is a little bit flawed, that every dream has a hole in it, that every life has some cracks. That every person, has imperfections, deficiencies, areas of incompleteness.
Perhaps it is only when you are each prepared to acknowledge that you don't need to be flawless for there to be a strong love for one another, that your life doesn't have to be perfectly whole for it to be rich and meaningful--only then you can truly begin your new life together.
So under the chuppah, you will make that small symbolic "shattering" of your perception of each other's perfection, and accept one another wholly as you are, cracks, fissures and all. Only then will you truly forge the bond between you. Once you break your vision of your lives and dreams being so whole and perfect, you are ready to begin to repair our world, to pick up the broken pieces of our exile to begin building a redeemed existence.
May it be with good mazal!
Yesterday was Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. It reminded me that, for a bride and groom, their wedding day is their personal Yom Kippur. It is the new couple's personal day of atonement, their fresh new beginning.
Many people in shul were wearing white to symbolize our hoped for purity and cleansing on this special day. And I imagined you on your wedding day, in your beautiful, pristine white gown, so pure and innocent, so cleansed and renewed, beginning the first day of your new life. Your new married life.
Yesterday we were judged for the coming year. So much was at stake. So much was in the balance.
I thought of all the things that have happened to us since last year's Yom Kippur. The monumental change that has overtaken your life and our lives. And thinking that all this has been ordained and sealed from the last Yom Kippur made me feel awed at what is in the balance now for the coming year.
For all of us.
Of course, I prayed for each of your siblings, for their respective growth in their current station in life. And of course for me and Daddy. For all of our many personal needs and wants.
But my thoughts were especially with you.
As I stood in prayer, my mind was flooded of the image of you and your chosson. Of you standing under your chuppah. Of you setting up your new home. Of the children that will hopefully one day fill it. Of you both finding your unique place in the world, your way to make your individual impact.
Suddenly all the words that I was saying took on so much more meaning. Not only for me and our family, but now for a new family that is mine too.
It was an awe-inspiring revelation. Almost a fearful one, until I heard the voices of the congregation rise in prayer and my unsteady voice joining in their chant.
Our G‑d and G‑d of our fathers: pardon us, forgive us, grant us atonement. For we are Your people and You are our G‑d. We are Your children and You are our Father. We are Your servants and You are our Master…We are Your flock and You are our Shepherd. We are Your vineyard and You are our Watchman…We are Your beloved ones and You are our Beloved…
I repeated those words to myself—We are Your children…and You are our Father! Words that ever since I became a mother became so much more intense, so much more meaningful for me.
I know how much I, like every mother, wants only goodness for you--only the very best of everything--and how I would stop at nothing to give it to you if only I could.
And this thought made me feel at ease.
For on this Yom Kippur, and on every day, our Father must feel the same.
I've caught your little sister humming. She is mimicking the sound she's heard in shul many times over the last month, of the kohanim reciting their blessing. Ay yai yai yai yai yai yai…she hums on and on.
She loves cuddling under your father's tallit as she hears the kohanim chant their centuries-old priestly blessing with their hands outstretched, drawing down Divine blessings for all of us. I imagine that she senses the specialness of the moment as the congregation suddenly turns somber, and the room radiates with benevolence as the kohanim recite the blessing, reaching its crescendo when the entire congregation responds with a loud "Amen." May it indeed be G‑d's will that this abundance of compassion, kindness and protection cascade down to His people.
As the priests bless us with Divine fortune and munificence, we are all quietly whispering our own personal prayers. At this auspicious and holy moment, what are we requesting?
Master of the Universe! I am yours and my dreams are yours.
I have dreamed a dream and I do not know what it is.
May it be Your will, that all my dreams concerning myself and concerning anyone of Israel, shall be for good...
If they are good dreams, strengthen and reinforce them.
But if they require healing, heal them...
As you have transformed the curse of the wicked Bilaam from a curse to a blessing, so shall you transform all my dreams concerning myself and concerning all of Israel to good...
I was wondering why we would use such an opportune moment to pray for our dreams? After all, we're not prophets or holy people whose dreams foretell the future or carry messages of great significance. But then I thought the more conceptual meaning of "dreams."
Almost from the moment that we become a breathing, living and conscious being, we dream.
We dream an exquisite dream about how our life will unfold. We dream dreams of what we want to achieve. And just as avidly, we dream about what we don't want our life to become.
We dream about our successes, and we try to avoid dreams about our disappointments. We dream about our brave encounters, about our courage, about those moments, rife with meaning, when we finally arrive at our goals and savor our success.
I'm sure you have dreamed so much about the perfect spouse that you would marry, about the special qualities and character traits that would make up his personality. You must have dreamed about the kind of home you will build together, full of love and warmth. Perhaps you even dreamed about the kind of parents that you will, G‑d willing, become, about how many children you will have, the color of their hair, the fine features on their faces, the striking personalities that each will possess.
But most of all you dreamed about how the two of you would fulfill your many yearnings, passions and cravings, your wants and your desires.
As you look forward to your future, do you wonder if these dreams will materialize? Do you fear that they may remain unfulfilled hopes that never come to fruition? That despite your cherished hopes, life may hold a different fate in store for you?
In all honesty, do you ever wonder which of your dreams have real merit? Would life truly be better if all your dreams were realized?
Perhaps this is the deeper message in that prayer about our dreams said while the kohanim chant their blessings.
At this moment, as we stand opposite the blessing priests, we come face to face with our true selves, with our innermost soul. Perhaps we are now ready to re-evaluate our life's dreams, expectations and values and to concede that not all of our dreams and goals are positive or productive. And we acknowledge, too, that as we busy ourselves with the many mundane aspects of life, we haven't properly extended the necessary exertion to make our good dreams happen.
In this moment of candor, as the flow of blessing descends from Above, perhaps we are asking for our most rudimentary need—so crucial to living a happy and fulfilled life:
I have dreamed a dream and I do not know what it is.
May we be granted the wisdom to dream good dreams—positive and meaningful ambitions, hopes and desires that will truly promote our growth and welfare.
If they are good dreams, strengthen and reinforce them...
Help us to realize those good dreams and visions; strengthen and reinforce them.
But if they require healing, heal them...
But heal those dreams that are unhealthy or unrealistic. Remedy our perspective if it is distorted or confused. Focus our values, yearnings and aspirations to help us find the right path in life.
Dreams are such a significant part of being human. Let us continue to dream, hope and aspire. But only those dreams that are valuable, favorable and constructive—for us, and all of Israel.
My beautiful daughter, may you have only positive dreams about your future, and may all these dreams be answered to their fullest.
And the congregation answers, Amen!
Plates and cutlery, pots and pans. China and crystal, porcelain and stainless steel, shiny or matte.
Pillows and duvets. Towels and curtains. Table and chairs.
We're on a mission to set up your new home.
How exciting! You will have a home of your own; a place where you and your life-partner can grow with one another; somewhere for you both to feel comfortable.
True, it's only a temporary, rented apartment. Only a few bare rooms. But for now, it will be your own little space, your own little corner in this big, wide world. It's your sanctuary to escape the pressures of daily life, to nurture one another, and to fill with love, warmth and kindness as an antidote to the apathy and coldness beyond its enclosing walls.
To create your little sanctuary, I'm trying to help you set it up as comfortably as possible. We're planning ahead and purchasing all the things that you might need to make your life feel more settled. To make this new home, far away from your old home, feel cozy.
And so, we find ourselves shopping once again. As we compile our lists, and as we add items to our over-laden shopping carts, I realize something. It is not just large and expensive purchases that will help make you comfortable in your new home. Often, it is the "small" things, even the inexpensive little details, that will spell the difference between feeling at home or feeling displaced. What a difference something as insignificant as a dust pan, a can opener or a face towel can make, when it is missing!
And I think about our world, too, and how the Chassidic masters saw it as G‑d's home here in the physical realm. A world which He created and wants to feel comfortable and welcome in. And it is we who determine how comfortable and "at home" He will feel in it, by making our world a more hospitable place for His presence through our deeds and actions.
Each and every mitzvah that we do--like each item we purchase for your new home--transforms our world into a more inviting abode for G‑d.
Often we think that it is only the big purchases, the "expensive", eye-catching mitzvot, that truly make a difference. We defend our neglect by figuring that some things are just too "costly" for us, and what we can offer is insignificant.
But in truth, we cannot measure the significance of any mitzvah. What appears inconsequential to us might, in truth, be so dear to Him. Who can tell the true worth of the many, small and seemingly negligible mitzvot--those often unnoticed little "details" we try to incorporate in our lives.
It may well be that it is these little things that make the difference between bare rooms and walls, and a comfortable, cozy home.
Today, we went to choose your veil and tiara. The flowing white gauze framing your lovely face reminded me of the posts and roof of the chuppah that will envelop you and your chosson. The lovely tiara encircling your head brought my thoughts to the wedding ring that will encircle your finger under the chuppah.
My mind immediately filled with the image of you on the holiest day of your life standing under the encompassing chuppah, circling your partner-for-life seven times, receiving your seven blessings, and having the wedding band being placed around your finger.
Enormous spiritual energy will be enveloping you in those holy moments. We are told that the very gates of heaven open wide, wider than the starry sky under which you will be standing, to unleash an abundance of blessing to the new couple, and all those present, in those special holy moments.
And much of that blessing is being brought down into our world, and into your life, through you. As your life-partner places the wedding band on your finger, he is symbolizing that all his encompassing blessing is coming down into this world, through and due to you. Your face will be veiled at this moment, not only because it is a time of such quiet introspection and prayer, but also because of the awesome holiness that is radiating through you. For as the sages of the Talmud explain, blessing only comes to the home through the wife, the woman of the home.
Remember this exceptional power that you have been given. Realize that it is you who brings the Divine blessing into your home, filling it with an atmosphere of purity, goodness and beauty...
The day is drawing nearer and nearer. The excitement, anticipation as well as the nervous anxiety is palpable. Our minds, like our days' schedule, are completely dominated by the preparations for your upcoming wedding.
In a little over a week, your life will be changed forever. A shiver runs up my spine as I picture in my mind's eye your chosson being escorted to the badekin, coming to veil you, his bride.
In those moments, just prior to the chuppah, your father and grandfather undoubtedly bless you. They will wish you the customary, traditional blessing, "May G‑d help you to be like our matriarchs, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah." May you be given the inner strength to find within yourself the fortitude of Sarah, the perceptiveness of Rebecca, the unconditional love of Rachel and the intense, powerful prayers of Leah, among our matriarch's many other positive qualities.
I, too, will bless you. But I know that as I say my words of blessings in that emotional moment, as you are about to enter into this momentous new stage of your life, I will not have the presence of mind to truly think of all the goodness that I wish for you.
For the past twenty years, every Friday night, as I lit my Shabbat candles, I have prayed for you and for your growth. And for the next many years, G‑d willing, I will continue to do so, forever.
I wish for you so many things, both general as well as so many particulars. So many blessings. So much goodness.
But most of all I wish for you, and for your future husband, a life in which you will see the fulfillment of all the desires of your heart for the good. A life of true inner happiness. A redeemed life that will bring all of our world to its awaited state for which it was created.
Mazel tov, my dear, dear daughter.
With all my love, with all my heart and soul,