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Musing for Meaning

Seeing What We Want

June 24, 2012

I had never seen so many cops before. Every light I passed, there seemed to be another one lurking. What was going on? Or were they always there, and I just hadn’t noticed? Until I got a ticket. Okay, two tickets in a very short time span.

I remember how, when I was pregnant with our first child, suddenly it seemed like everyone around me was also pregnant. And, funny enough, they must have all given birth around the same time I did, because as soon as my baby was born, everyone else was also toting around a newborn.

When you are running late, have you noticed that every single light is red? We generally find that whatever is going on in our lives, whatever we are thinking about, is what we are apt to see. And no doubt, what we see is there to be seen. But there is so much more happening around us that we are often blind to, because we simply are not looking in the right place or in the right way. When you are running late, have you noticed that every single light is red? And when you are having a great day, they are somehow all green? Yet we know it is not the case. It is just that we don’t pay attention to those few green lights if we are anyway behind schedule, yet don’t even mind them when things are going well.

There is a concept in Jewish philosophy that the reason we are given two eyes is because we need to have two ways of looking at ourselves and at the world. Our left eye is our critical perspective, the eye that sees with judgment, whereas our right eye is the one that sees through a lens of loving­kindness. The challenge is to achieve the proper balance, to know when and what to look at with a critical eye, and when and what to look at generously and optimistically. And ideally, to make sure both eyes are working together, so that we are both discerning and loving simultaneously. We want to ensure that we not overlook that which could be unhealthy or negative, but to also have a positive and kind outlook.

There is nothing wrong with noticing the things around us that relate to what we are experiencing. Yet we need to be careful to notice and appreciate what happens around us that may not be as relevant to our lives. If everyone around you looks pregnant because you happen to be, look more carefully and notice those who don’t have children and may want them. And if you are having a miserable day, with everything going wrong, pay a little more attention to all the things that went right, from the biggest gift of them all, that you woke up this morning!

The reason we are given two eyes is because we need to have two ways of looking at ourselves and at the worldAfter my children say their morning blessings, they recite a number of verses established by the Lubavitcher Rebbe. One of them is a phrase from the Talmud that translates as: “If one says he has looked but has not found, don’t believe him. If he says he has found but didn’t look, don’t believe him. But if he says he has looked and he has found, believe him.” I always assumed this was speaking of tangible, material things, and would remind myself of this passage whenever I was frustrated about misplacing something. But to be honest, it would sometimes only serve to further annoy me, as I would shout aloud, “I have looked and I have not found . . . believe me!”

But today, as I was getting exceedingly annoyed with the long line at the grocery, I tried to look around a bit more. I remembered the nice guy at the deli counter who gave my son a lollipop, and the woman at the bakery who made sure to get me my favorite bread even though it hadn’t yet been shelved. Then there was that sweet old woman who stopped to offer her blessing for a great day. And, just as I glanced at my watch for the hundredth time, the guy in front of me in line who offered that I go in front of him since I was in a hurry. Was the line still long? Sure. But it was no longer the only thing I noticed. When I made sure to look with both eyes and not just one, I saw a whole different picture. And a much prettier one at that. Actually, I saw exactly what I wanted to see, since we really do find what we are looking for.

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.

Beyond the Physical

Reflections on Gimmel Tammuz

June 17, 2012

It was September of 1993. An hour earlier our plane from Tel Aviv had landed at JFK, and we were making our way, with our endless luggage, to Crown Heights, Brooklyn. We had come to celebrate the wedding of a close friend. I had never been to New York before.

Eventually, we pulled up alongside the beautiful home where we would be staying. But just as we were beginning to unpack our car, a wailing siren split the air. It was a familiar sound. I had heard it every Friday evening in Israel, announcing that it was time to light the Shabbat candles. But in the middle of the week? In the middle of the day?

Before I knew it, everyone was runningBefore I knew it, everyone was running. Sprinting. I had planned on carrying my bags into the house, but that was not to be. I was suddenly being pulled along with everyone else. Confused and bewildered, I looked at the woman whose hand was gripping mine and asked where exactly we were going. “To see the Rebbe,” was all she said.

Next thing I knew, we were in a sea of people. I had never seen so many women crammed together before—all I saw were backs and heads. I was still holding onto Sarah, my friend’s sister-in-law to be. We had yet to be formally introduced, but I was now clinging to her for dear life, fearing that if we separated I would never find her, or my way back home, again.

Being that the Lubavitcher Rebbe had not been well, I understood that his coming out on the balcony during the prayer service was a big deal. But I hadn’t realized how big of a deal, until that moment.

The atmosphere was stifling, and I began to question what I was doing there. With literally hundreds of women crowded into the synagogue with me, there was no way I was even going to get a glimpse.

But I was wrong. I had no idea what Sarah was capable of. Before I knew what was happening, she yelled at the top of her lungs, “She’s never seen the Rebbe! Let her see the Rebbe!” And with that, the sea split. Somehow everyone managed to make a path, and Sarah and I walked to the front of the women’s section, where I had a perfect view of the Rebbe.

As soon as we got there, and I looked, the Rebbe turned his head towards me, seemed to look me directly in the eye, and nodded.

I had never seen the Rebbe before. How was it possible he knew I was there? And why would he have looked at me? I started to wonder if maybe it was wishful thinking, but from the looks of all those around me, it was pretty clear that they had seen it too. The Rebbe had looked right at me.

To backtrack a bit: I had not been raised with any connection to Chabad. I grew up in a traditional Jewish home, attended Conservative Jewish day school through junior high, and then continued on to public high school and college. By the time I went to Israel for my junior year in college, my Judaism meant nothing more to me than a cultural heritage. If anything, I made it my goal to be as multicultural as possible. I studied every philosophy, every religion, every “ism,” except for Judaism, of course. It was the one religion I knew the least about, but I was sure it had nothing to offer.

So when I started exploring my Jewish identity during my year in Israel, it came as a shock to all who knew me. But then again, all who knew me knew that once I became passionate about something, there was no stopping me. So when I began to fall in love with my land, my people and my religion, we all knew this would be a lifelong commitment. Needless to say, I have been learning ever since . . .

I had never seen the Rebbe before. How was it possible he knew I was there?At that time I didn’t even know what Chabad was, but I knew that all the classes I loved, all the teachers who spoke directly to my soul, were teaching something called “Chassidut.” I didn’t know what that meant, but knew I liked it. And those teachers had something else in common as well. In all their homes was a similar picture of their great rabbi, whom they respected and admired in a way I had never seen before.

He had a beautiful smile, blue eyes that seemed to look right into you, and a warmth and love that could be felt from the mere photograph. That was all I knew about Chabad, and all I figured I would ever know.

But on that day when the Rebbe looked at me from afar, I realized that you can know someone, deeply know and connect to someone, whom you have never met. In that second-long glance, everything changed. He was no longer “the Rebbe”; he was my Rebbe.

I never did get to meet the Rebbe in a more direct way. I never did get to receive a dollar and blessing from him on a Sunday morning. I never did get to sit in his office and receive his guidance. But there was much I did receive.

I was fortunate. I did get to see the Rebbe that one time. And during that visit, I wrote to the Rebbe and received a blessing to go back to California and graduate from college, which I did.

I graduated on June 12, 1994, the date known in Chabad as “Gimmel Tammuz,” the third day of Tammuz, the day our Rebbe passed away.

Did my life change forever on that day? Of course, as did the lives of everyone who knew the Rebbe. But I also discovered something. Because my relationship to the Rebbe was not based primarily on direct experience, but rather through philosophy and directive, my relationship to my Rebbe did not change that day.

It is hard to believe that it has been 18 years since Gimmel Tammuz. There is a whole generation of Chabad chassidim who have never met their Rebbe in person. And yet they know him. They love him. And he continues to guide and inspire them.

I don’t focus on what we have lost, though the loss is great beyond words, but rather on what we haveFor me, that is the message of Gimmel Tammuz. I don’t focus on what we have lost, though the loss is great beyond words, but rather on what we have. The Rebbe’s greatness was not limited to meeting him, hearing him speak or receiving guidance from him in a meeting. It was not limited to looking into his eyes or receiving a dollar from his hand. His greatness was that he was able to pass down to others, those who met him and those who never did, what it means to live life as a Jew, in a passionate, meaningful and positive way.

I saw the Rebbe only once. But I continue to see him every day of my life, in what I do, in who I am, and in the eyes of my four children.

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.

Talking Without Speaking

June 10, 2012

I feel way too young, and yet way too old, to be dealing with teenagers. One is full-blown, another one preteen; but just as my children started the “terrible twos” at one, teenagehood seems to be setting in early.

The other day, they were complaining that I have favorites. Of course, I favor everyone except for the one who is complaining at the time. But, interestingly enough, they all got together and voted on it. They decided that I love my youngest the most, followed by the next youngest, and then the second-to-oldest and then the oldest. They didn’t even realize that they went in order.

I will admit, at times, I don’t like them all the sameWhat I didn’t try to point out to them was that not only was this the order of their ages, it was also a perfect ranking by attitude: smallest to largest. And while every good parent will say, and most definitely put in print, “I love all my children equally,” I will admit, at times, I don’t like them all the same. And yes, it is a lot easier to speak sweetly to my little girl who thinks I am the best thing on the planet than to the one who sometimes wishes I wasn’t even on it.

As I write this blog, it is almost one in the morning. Not that this is particularly late (or early?) for me, but what is making this moment unique is that I am getting nonstop e‑mails from one of my darling daughters. She is angry at me, and won’t go to sleep. But she doesn’t want to talk. So instead, she is sending me e‑mail after e‑mail depicting in great detail what I have done wrong, along with pictures of me that she manipulated in some program to make me look oh-so-beautiful.

While I do not want to deal with the waking of my sure-to-be little monster in the morning, for now I am greatly enjoying our exchange.

Because there is a distance between us and she doesn’t see me, she can be more open. She is also actually reading my responses, whereas she would most likely not be willing to listen to my words. And, as angry as she is pretending to be, she is loving the attention she is getting and the back-and-forth we have going. You see, she is saying things that she honestly wouldn’t dare say to my face: no doubt, smart thinking on her part. But because it is in e‑mail, I am finding it funny rather than insulting as she intends. Even more so, I am able to write what I wouldn’t have the patience to say. I definitely believe that when we least feel like saying “I love you” is exactly when it needs to be heard the most. So, for every e‑mail I am getting (and I have received another five since my last paragraph), I am able to write back telling her how much I love her, how sorry I am she feels this way, and how I will try harder next time.

And guess what is happening?

No matter how hard she throws her punches, I’m not going anywhereShe is calming down, starting to joke around, and realizing that no matter how hard she throws her punches, I’m not going anywhere. Specifically because we are not talking, we are actually communicating. If we were having this conversation face to face, she would have been sent to her room a while ago, angry and upset, and I would have been frustrated. Instead, she has been able to unload what is bothering her, get my attention (albeit through the keyboard) and receive love notes for every bit of anger mail that she sent. Whether or not she wants to believe it, she is reading it. And every time I tell her how much she means to me, it goes somewhere into that brain and little body of hers and plants a seed.

Well, after 27 e‑mails, it appears she has forgotten why she was so mad at me in the first place. Now if only I could get her to go to sleep . . .

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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