| Spirit and Sparks |

And Now, for the Roots

The third period of teshuvah is during Sefirah, when we go all the way to the roots of our actions: to our middos


he Jewish year has three periods of teshuvah. The first, Elul-Tishrei time, is for actions. Shovevim (from Parshas Shemos through Mishpatim) is the second. Even after an aveirah is removed through teshuvah, it leaves a stain on the soul, which we have the power to cleanse during Shovevim. The third period of teshuvah is during Sefirah, when we go all the way to the roots of our actions: to our middos.

Each week during Sefirah, we focus on a different middah. For example, during the first week, the middah is chesed, lovingkindness. Did we sin during the year because of a lack of love or generosity? Or perhaps just the opposite; we weren’t discriminating enough and loved something or someone we shouldn’t have. Each week we dig deeper, giving our middos a much needed pruning.

Something I do every day that’s slowly changing me in a real way

In an Elul issue of Family First, I read Sarah Chana Radcliff’s advice about keeping track of our growth by marking down on a calendar the number of times we made an effort. Someone sent in a letter about a bracelet with a bead that could be moved a notch to keep track of things.

For many years I suffered from obsessive thoughts. I ordered a bracelet and began moving the bead each time I refused to entertain an obsessive thought. In the beginning, I moved my bead over 30 times a day. As my ability to ignore these thoughts grew stronger, I moved the bead much less. As a result of this, I began feeling like a strong, capable person who had power over my mental and emotional health.

Esty Wein


Joy Rebound

As a fifth grade rebbi in Stolin Yeshivah in Boro Park, I see the trends — Rubik’s cubes, kugelach, yo-yos — rising, peaking, and then fading away. When one savvy businessman came out with “gedolim cards” and offered a ticket to Eretz Yisrael to any boy who filled up his entire gedolim card book, my talmidim became obsessed.

Yitzchak*, a withdrawn type, was the only one in my class who couldn’t get onto the bandwagon. Some of the boys, feeling bad for him, helped him out by supplying him with an extra book they had, and their “doubles.”

The two “hardest” cards to get hold of were 190 and 180. If you got those, you could pack your suitcase. One day, Yitzchak walked into class brandishing his ten new packs. And lo and behold, 180 and… 190! Yitzchak had won!

Some children found Yitzchak’s good fortune too much to swallow. “If not for us, he wouldn’t have even had gedolim cards and now only he gets to go to Eretz Yisrael,” they complained. One boy in the class, Aharon, went over to Yitzchak with a big, warm smile. “Yitzchak, I’m so happy for you!” I had to walk out as I started to cry.

A number of years later, I was speaking to a few hundred boys on Rosh Chodesh Av, Aharon HaKohein’s yahrtzeit. As I was speaking, my former student, Aharon, suddenly popped into my mind, and I related what he’d done.

Afterward, I thought it would be nice to call Aharon’s father to let him know. His father picked up the phone and barked, “Who’s this?!”

“Rabbi Leibish Lish.”

“Sorry, I can’t talk right now!”

I was taken aback.

The next morning, I saw I had ten missed calls from Aharon’s father. I called him back and shared how I used his son’s beautiful example to inspire my audience.

On the other end of the line, Aharon’s father was silent. Then he said, “Yesterday, Aharon underwent a minor surgical procedure. Suddenly his vitals started shutting down. The doctors didn’t know what to do. My wife and I became hysterical as we watched our child dying. Then his numbers began stabilizing, and everything returned to normal. What time did you tell that story about him?”

It was at the exact same time that Aharon was given another chance at life.

What’s the secret to a good relationship with my teen?

When our kids become teenagers, it’s crucial to add two ingredients to our parenting: respect and trust.

Many of us see our children as the little people they were not so long ago, not realizing that this child grew up and needs to be treated accordingly. We’re still the parents; we make requests and even issue commands, but before speaking to our teens, we need to adjust our tone and body language as if we’d be speaking to a colleague or neighbor.

Regarding trust, while it’s true that it must be earned, there’s a basic level we give no matter what. If I ask my teen to do something, I don’t micromanage, I trust she’ll do a good job. I don’t snoop, I loosen the rules ⸺ I trust she’ll keep herself safe. If teens are trusted, they’ll live up to that trust, and we’ll then be able to trust them on higher and higher levels.

Mrs. Chavie Galinsky, menaheles of Bais Yaakov Shiras Miriam Monsey and former longtime mechaneches in Bnos Leah Prospect Park Yeshiva High School


Quote: “They say there is nothing as whole as a broken heart, but I have found something more complete: mending the broken heart of one’s fellow man.” (Rav Zusya of Szczucin)


Writing Your Way to Compassion

Therapeutic Writing Part 2 of 6

While we’re naturally rachmanim, sometimes we’re struck by a lack of compassion toward a specific person. To develop compassion for that person, try this exercise:

First describe this person from your own perspective: how they look, behave, what makes them tick. Then write a description from the viewpoint of someone who loves or respects the person.

Finally, turn your page horizontally and draw a timeline of this person’s life from birth until the present, using one color pen to record the person’s struggles below the line, and a different color pen to write the gifts this person was given above the line. Write slowly, trying to humanize and feel for the person.

When you finish, read everything over and write: “I feel compassion toward this person because…”

Yocheved Rottenberg is the facilitator of international therapeutic writing workshops and the author of an upcoming book, both entitled Write Your Way Home.  

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 690)

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