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Musing for Meaning

Don’t Forget the Salt

November 25, 2012

If I can say so myself, I happen to be a pretty good challah maker. While I generally don’t bake, and can’t handle recipes that need to be exact or look a specific way, challah has always been my specialty.

Until this past week.

It smelled good. It looked good. But it tasted . . . awful. It had no flavor, was the wrong consistency, and ultimately was not edible, as hard as my guests tried to smile and digest.

Now when I make challah, I work with about 15 lbs. of flour. (I want to make enough not only to separate the challah and make the blessing, but to have extra I can freeze!) That means a good few cups of sugar, a nice amount of oil, half a dozen or so eggs (see, I told you I’m not exact) and a much smaller dose of salt. It would seem that I must have forgotten a pretty main ingredient to ruin so much dough. But no, tracing back my steps, everything was included. Well, almost.

Too much or too little, and it will ruin itI forgot the salt.

To put this in perspective, we are talking only a few tablespoons of salt. That is all I use. But it turns out that it is the most crucial ingredient there is. Salt strengthens the gluten in the bread, it controls the action of the yeast, and it is a huge part of the flavor. Unlike the other ingredients, the salt is the most important for measuring and ensuring that the right amount makes it in. Too much or too little, and it will ruin it.

Meanwhile, salt on its own is inedible. No one wants to sit and eat a spoonful of salt. We could handle sugar straight up, even oil over our salad, but salt can be tolerated only in very small doses, and added to a food, not by itself.

So, what is the salt in our lives? It is the discipline. It is the rigidity. It is the boundaries and borders that are so very necessary. In small doses. We have to first add the sugar. And we use many times more sugar to the amount of salt. But it is actually the salt that brings out the sweetness of the sugar. (If you have ever been to Israel, this is why a popular food is watermelon with salty cheese . . . or try it yourself: add some sprinkles of salt on your watermelon, and you will see how it makes it so much sweeter.)

We often want to leave out the salt in our lives. It can be so much easier, or certainly seemingly sweeter, to focus on the love and kindness, the sugar, in our lives. The rules, regulations, boundaries and borders can be so hard, whether it be sticking to a schedule, disciplining children, or spending within a budget . . . at least for me. I’m definitely a kick-caution-to-the-wind-and-follow-my-heart kind of gal. But I have learned, the hard way, that by omitting the salt I have ended up with cranky and overtired children, a disorganized home and lack of control in many other areas of my life.

It is actually the salt that brings out the sweetness of the sugarTo combat this, we recently instituted chores and allowances. Yes, it took us many years, but finally we chose this path. It was hard for me to break down tasks, make a weekly assignment, and even more so, to try to stick to it. But try we have. And while we have a ways to go . . . this salt is making my life so much sweeter. Finally, when the kids ask for another few dollars, I can tell them it comes from their allowance money. If they don’t want to pay for it, they don’t want it badly enough. If they need it, I will cover it, but if they want it, then it is up to them. Finally, when the living room is a terrible mess, I can look at a chart and know whose responsibility it is that day, and who to ask, without having to hear a litany of complaints that I am not being fair or picking on one kid over the other.

The important thing is remembering that the salt needs to come in small doses, and really works only when mixed within the sweet. As long as I ensure that it is used to enhance and strengthen rather than guide and dominate, we benefit. After all, too much salt and it ruins everything. All you can taste is the salt, no matter what it went into. Too much salt in chicken soup or split pea soup results in just tasting salt. Whereas when you use only a little, then you can truly appreciate the flavors and subtleties within.

So even though this batch of challah is past the point of no return, I highly doubt I will forget the salt again, hopefully in any aspect of my life. And even though we won’t eat it, fortunately the birds are nowhere near as picky!

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.

Lessons from the Stress

November 18, 2012

In the end, it all worked out. But not because of me.

A few months ago I needed to travel to Montreal. Problem was that my passport had expired. Bigger problem was that I realized my passport was expired the day before I needed to be there.

To make a long story short, after some serious panicking, crying and calling every government agency I could reach both here and in Canada, the harsh conclusion was simply that no way was I was making my flight. I had exhausted every possibility, and nothing could be done to expedite my passport renewal for the next morning.

Now to be perfectly honest, if the tables had been turned and this happened to my husband, I would not have been terribly supportive. Hate to admit it, but truth be told, I would have rolled my eyes while commenting how irresponsible it was not to have checked earlier. Yeah, I’m real good like that. While I try to work on it, I have a habit of stating the obvious when someone is already down, and often fail to help bring that person back up.

Fortunately, I married someone very different from myselfFortunately, I married someone very different from myself.

Not once did my husband remark that what I did was irresponsible. Not once did he mention that he had reminded me not that long before that I needed to renew my passport. Not once did he act annoyed that my mistake could have cost us income we were counting on, not to mention that I could have created huge problems for the host of my speaking engagement. Not once.

Rather, my husband stopped his own work and tried to see if there were any options. He tried calling the bus companies, the trains, everything. And then, as if it was a no-big-deal offer, he interrupted by tears and said, “It’s okay, I will drive you to Montreal.”

Back up.

We live in Philadelphia. That would be nine hours away from Montreal. It was Thursday evening at 7 PM. That meant leaving that night, driving all night, through the night, with no guarantee that the border would allow me to cross with an expired passport. But he offered.

More so, he had a backup plan. If I couldn’t get into Montreal, he would drive me to Brattleboro, Vt., where I could spend Shabbat; and he would continue to Montreal, where he would teach at the Shabbaton for me.

And he meant it.

So, at about 1 AM on Friday morning, we began the drive. Our very wonderful friends had offered (not that we left them with much choice) to host our kids while we were gone. The plan was to drive all night, arrive Friday afternoon, and then turn around and do the same thing in return on Saturday night.

And so we did.

My knee-jerk reaction to stress is to create more stressAfter nine hours we made it to the Canadian border, where I was—very fortunately—allowed into Canada despite my expired passport. I was able to teach, and managed to incorporate into my teachings my incredible gratitude to both my husband and to Menachem Posner, my fellow editor here at Chabad.org who was running the Shabbaton and who remained calm despite the incredible stress I created last-minute. And when the Shabbaton was over, we began the journey back, holding our breath that the U.S. border would allow me to reenter.

Now, why am I telling you this whole story? Is it because I want you to recognize that my husband deserves the “Husband of the Year” award? True, he does. But there is more. This situation completely shifted the way I view myself and challenging situations, and how often I overlook the inherent goodness and kindness in those around me, even those closest to me.

As I wrote before, had the situation been reversed, I would have been too busy complaining and criticizing to have tried solving the problem. And I am not just saying that to put myself down. Really, I would have done that. I would have done it because my knee-jerk reaction to stress is to create more stress. But by being solution-oriented, a solution was created. I say “created” and not “found,” because the solution wasn’t an option until he made it one. It was not like anyone would have said, “Well, why doesn’t your husband just drive you for 18 hours?” It was something only he could have offered.

Why did he come up with a solution? Because he lives the concept of tracht gut vet zein gut, “Think good and it will be good.” When you are focused on the positive, on ensuring that things work out well, you are much more likely to come up with a way of making them work out well. Menachem took this approach as well. He had advertised a speaker. He had 100 people coming to a catered dinner. There were ads plastered all over the city of Montreal. And his speaker was in Philadelphia, not able to make her flight, and not sure if or how she could come. But he didn’t panic.

I spoke to Menachem probably every hour from the time I discovered my mistake until we made it to Montreal. He remained steadfast in his calmness. He knew that his stress couldn’t change the situation, except for the worse. And he ultimately believed somehow that it would all work out right—it would all work out exactly the way it should.

For those who hadn’t spoken to me from Thursday afternoon until Sunday, all they knew was that I was supposed to go to Montreal, spend Shabbat there and teach, and return on Sunday. And that is exactly what happened. They had no idea, however, what it took to make that happen.

The journey is as important, if not more so, than the destinationOften we wonder: if we end up in the same place, does it really matter how we get there? Boy oh boy, did I discover that it does. The journey is as important, if not more so, than the destination. For how we get there, the attitude, the choices, the roads we take and the ones we leave behind, are ultimately what help define who we are and who we will become.

My expired passport ended up being a beautiful blessing. It showed me how I can improve in how I respond to my situations, and more so, to the situations of others when they do something irresponsible. It showed me how fortunate I am to work with someone who can remain calm and focused and not feel the need to reprimand, even though he easily had the right to. And most importantly, it gave me one more opportunity to see how blessed I am to have a partner in life who is a true partner. One who supports me, believes in me, and in doing so allows the good that he is thinking to become our reality.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.

Reflecting Back on Hurricane Sandy

November 11, 2012

One of my favorite quotes is the following: “An entire sea of water can’t sink a ship unless it gets inside.” There is so much negativity that surrounds us, people and situations aiming to bring us down, but it can happen only if we allow them within. There is the ship of our mind, the ship of our heart and the ship of our souls.

I find the parallels between protecting ourselves emotionally and the guidelines for protecting oneself physically to be amazingly similar. It’s been about two weeks since Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on the East Coast, as well as other places throughout the world. I am only now starting to pack away all the supplies we had ready to go. The kids have finally put back their clothing that was sitting by the door in case of an evacuation. And all the water we froze in bottles and containers has just been defrosted.

I find the parallels between protecting ourselves emotionally and the guidelines for protecting oneself physically to be amazingly similar

And as I put away each item, I think about the significance and what it represents. Reflecting back, there were rules we followed for our safety. Namely, we were instructed to do the following:

1. Stay home.

2. Have all nonperishable food and water accessible.

3. Have flashlights, candles or other sources of light accessible.

4. Have phones and computers fully charged.

5. Bring inside what you can.

As the winds began to gain speed, the first thing we were told was to stay inside. No matter how exciting and wonderful things are outside, when the situation becomes dangerous, it is home we must go. But to do this, we must feel at home within ourselves, and we have to make our homes a safe place. When our home is empty, we can’t provide ourselves with what we need. There is nothing wrong with outside help, and we most definitely should have friends who support us. But we must provide ourselves with the essentials.

When our home is empty, we can’t provide ourselves with what we need

What was required to make our homes a safe place? We needed to ensure we had what we might need, without relying on outside help if we were to lose power or it wasn’t safe to leave. So we stocked up on water, nonperishable food, flashlights and first-aid kits, and we charged our phones. As prepared as we were, we did not want to lose contact with the outside world. We should always be able to reach out if need be, to ask others for help.

We needed light. When we are surrounded by darkness, we need to provide our own source of light. And we always have that light within. Sometimes we can’t even see it until the outside light goes out or is diminished. But it is always there. Our soul is compared to light, and is a piece of G‑dliness; therefore it is a light that will never be extinguished. As it states in Micah, “When I sit in darkness, G‑d is my light.” We just changed the clocks back. Our waking hours are filled with more darkness than any other time of the year. We must ensure that we counter that with the light only we can create and provide.

We need to know what to bring inside, and what to leave, perhaps even close by, but outside

My youngest daughter made an interesting observation as she played with the flashlights. She commented how we can have a flashlight, but not a flashdark. She was noticing how, if the room is dark, we can always add light and take away the darkness. But if the room is filled with light, it is really hard to make the light go away. The best we can do is close our own eyes and refuse to see it. We can make it dark for ourselves, but it is very hard to make it dark.

Then there is the outside. We can’t prevent it if a tree is to fall or branches go flying, but we can try to keep them out of our path as much as possible. We bring inside what we want to protect. We tie down what we can that remains outside. We move our car into a safe place. And if things get bad enough, and it is no longer safe, we evacuate.

The outside world has so many wonderful things we should draw from and incorporate into our lives. But not all of it is healthy or positive. We need to know what to bring inside, and what to leave—perhaps even close by—but outside. And we need to make sure that what is outside won’t go flying away or flying towards us. Ultimately, what we don’t bring into our homes, we don’t want coming in uninvited. We do the utmost to ensure this not happen, be it with sandbags or taped windows. So too, there are aspects of the world that we may utilize but that are not an intrinsic part of us.

A safe home of another is always better than a dangerous home of our own

And then we must have that evacuation plan. When we learn that our home is no longer safe because the outside influences are just too great, just too dangerous, we remove ourselves. We need to know our limits. We need to know when the boundaries and borders we have created are just not strong enough. Because if that water gets inside, that is when it can sink us. But only if it gets inside and we are still there. So when that water becomes too threatening, we use our backup plan. We remind ourselves that we have others who care for us, others who will take care of us, and we go to them. It won’t be our home, but a safe home of another is always better than a dangerous home of our own.

How powerful that the Psalms that were recited on the very day of Hurricane Sandy, the 13th of the month of Cheshvan (corresponding to 10/29/12), read as follows:

“Deliver me, O G‑d, for the waters have reached until my soul! I have sunk in muddy depths without foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the current sweeps me away.”

We must prepare. We must plan. We must be ready. But we must always remember Who runs this world. And that no matter where we go, we are not alone. And when we live with that, we really are always home.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.

Real Cyclists Don't Dope

November 4, 2012

Growing up, my husband dreamed of riding in the Tour de France. He trained for years, investing hours a day, with an incredible focus and dedication. He rode against the best. He lost against the best. And then, in the final race which would determine who would be able to ride in the Tour, he missed the cutoff.

Narrowly.

Fortunately, my husband’s talents are far and wide, and riding was only one of them. Because he didn’t pursue biking professionally, it allowed him to discover a love for philosophy that led to a love for Torah learning, and now he is a world-renowned rabbi and expert on Kabbalah and chassidic philosophy. But every year, until recently, he would watch the Tour and comment on how many of the riders he knew, how many he had raced with, how many he had lost against.

After all these years, the truth finally came outAnd then, after all these years, the truth finally came out. It was never a fair competition to begin with. He was racing against dopers. He was racing against some of the fastest riders in the world, who made themselves unbeatable through the use of performance-enhancement drugs.

My husband has never had more than a sip of alcohol in his life. He has never smoked a cigarette. Needless to say, he never, ever would have agreed to doping.

Looking back, it is hard to know if he would have made the cutoff for the Tour had the other riders that did been drug-free. It is impossible to know if they were truly even on drugs during that particular race. But it is a question he will always ask himself.

I am grateful he never made that team. I am grateful that he never became a professional cyclist. If he had, our lives would have gone a very different way. We all know that every decision we make moves us in a certain direction, and wherever one foot goes, the other is going to follow. No matter how we step, there are never guarantees. And we should question if we are moving in the right direction, or if perhaps we should retrace those steps, or even leap somewhere else.

While hindsight is 20/20, our understanding of the present is limited. Our only guide is heading in the direction where we want to eventually land, and making honest choices to get there. The Alter Rebbe, the first rebbe of the Chabad movement, teaches us that in life there are two paths, the shorter longer way or the longer shorter way.

Rarely are there true shortcuts in life. The diet that promises that you will lose 10 pounds in a week is at best false advertisement, and at worse a dangerous starvation method that will likely cause even more weight gain in the future. The great deal on something discounted much more than any other store is most likely not the real deal. We want to get ahead, we want to succeed, we want to win . . . but we need to ensure that we not cheat ourselves or others along the way.

It is hard to know if he would have made the cutoff for the Tour had the other riders that did been drug-freeWhat is so sad about this systematic doping revelation is that it not only destroys the reputations and records or those who were found guilty, but that we now have to wonder who the real winners were: who were the deserving athletes who trained so hard and never received their recognition? By the “winners” attempting to take the shorter road, they forced everyone else onto the longer road. But the longer road is really the only road. And ultimately, is the truly shorter one.

Nothing can take back what has happened. But the lesson can, hopefully, teach and inspire us to recognize that our long road is really shorter than it seems. And as long as we are being truthful, moral, and ensuring our actions are not hurtful to ourselves or others, we should move ahead confidently and enjoy the view along the way.

And while my husband never did have the chance to ride in the Tour, he now has the chance to ride with our four children . . . and that is most definitely the road he wants to be on!

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
Every situation we find ourselves in is a lesson waiting to be learned. That is what this blog is about. From the people I meet, the places I go and the experiences I have, stories emerge, each teaching me something that I hope you will find useful for your life as well.
Sara Esther CrispeSara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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