A number of months ago my Rabbi asked me to speak during Yom Kippur services. I gladly accepted and pulled together my story into a speech which I am sharing below. Sadly, I wasn’t able to attend services that day as I was put on strict bedrest at 27 weeks pregnant. My husband delivered the speech and did a fantastic job and I see this as a huge blessing! May you be blessed in the year 5777.
Thank you, Rabbi Blumofe. I find myself at peace with having to speak on Lindsey’s behalf with such short notice. Maybe it’s because I’m like the backup quarterback.. There’s never any pressure on the back up. That said, I hope to honor Lindsey by delivering her words in a way that connect to you.
Good yontif everyone. Thank you for being here. It’s always lovely to have a full sanctuary. Thank you Rabbi Blumofe for being such a courageous leader of our community and a confidant and friend. You are a light among us.
Some context for you as I share part of my Jewish journey:
I was born and raised in El Paso, TX to a Jewish mother and Jewish father in what can only be described as a typical Jewish childhood: You know…Christmas in Mazatlan, Mexico with Christmas trees and all the ornaments, Easter egg hunts, Catholic School and a Smoked ham at Thanksgiving. We laugh about it now. But the truth is that I gained a Jewish identity through Bat Mitzvah study, attending the University of Texas in the AEPhi sorority, going on a March of the Living trip, an Israel trip after college, and ultimately marrying someone Jewish. Yet all those wonderful experiences and I still felt distant from G-d.
When Rabbi Blumofe came to me this past Spring and asked me to share my story at Yom Kippur services, I wondered what to share. So much has happened in the past year, I found it a massive challenge to distill it down into a 10 minute speech. Let’s be honest it’s going to be more like 15. Sorry, Rabbi. One year ago, I was overwhelmed and fed up with the stress of working 80-100 hours per week as an entrepreneurial natural health blogger sharing real food recipes, natural remedies using essential oils and non-toxic DIY recipes. I help hundreds of thousands of people around the world feed healthy, real unprocessed food to their families stemming from traditional recipes your grandparents (***points to congregation***) would have eaten. I also help empower mothers to trust their intuition and learn again to use natural remedies to keep their kids healthy and free of the toxic chemicals pervading their lives. My priorities in life were: 1) work 2) work 3) work 4) my daughter Ella 5) my husband Evan 6) everything else if I had the time…you get the picture. But I am always open to learning. So when a friend in my same industry who has 15 children told me about a time management training video which helped her, she had my curiosity…I figured if it had helped her it was worth taking the time to listen to and learn some of her time secrets. This was October of last year.
What I heard changed my life forever. There I was listening to what I thought would be some leadership training about managing my time better when this coach presenting on the video said I needed to take a day of rest, cut my hours by 75% to 20 hours a week, and that the Bible was the best success book ever written. Now she had my attention. I have since been to seven live events of hers across the country. She teaches the exact opposite of what I had been coached to do. I mean as an entrepreneur aren’t you expected to sacrifice everything and work work work until you reach your dreams?
Much of what I learned in this leadership training came from the Bible and frankly it made so much sense I wondered if I had learned it before somewhere. Turns out I HAD learned it before…I just didn’t recall it until I experienced it. According to the Talmud, each Jew is born with the light of Torah imprinted on its soul. Right now there’s an angel right here in my pregnant belly and this angel is said to be teaching my baby EVERYTHING in the Torah! This explains why I felt I had heard these concepts before. It was TRUTH pure and simple and it spoke directly to my soul. It was the wake up call I was looking for. I felt led to update my priorities and implement what I learned.
I renewed my life with these new priorities: 1) G-d 2) my husband Evan 3) my daughter Ella 4) work 5) everything else. This new set of priorities provided a framework to move forward in my life in a completely new way and set me on a path to this podium today having changed my life and the lives of countless others around me.
I decided to become a detective and see how much of what I had learned from this leadership and success coach who is a Christian was from our Hebrew Bible (aka the Tanach). I didn’t want to be following a Christian theology and knew I could find these concepts in our teachings…if I invested the time to learn. Not spent the time, but INVESTED the time.
To start with I decided to take a day of rest which I obviously knew to be Shabbat just to see how I felt. After just one day of COMPLETE rest on Shabbat, I felt better than I had felt in ages. No phone, not even on airplane mode. No TV. No laundry. No cooking. Just rest. I started to order one book after another. I was studying on my own as best I could, which for someone like me whose brain is attached to my mouth meant talking about everything I had learned to my dear husband. He, at this point, was convinced I was going to switch careers to become a rabbi which meant in no uncertain terms he would be missing football on Saturdays. To me this was EXCITING stuff! I really wanted to discuss it with someone. I had SO MANY QUESTIONS.
At the time, I didn’t feel comfortable reaching out to Rabbi Blumofe. But G-d has an interesting way of making things happen. Last October Rabbi Blumofe was looking for a natural remedy and reached out to me through a recommendation by someone in the community. It was through this request that our study of essential oils in the Torah began on a weekly basis. I was curious about Torah and Rabbi was curious about oils. It frankly felt like an awesome privilege to be asked to teach the Rabbi and learn from him at the same time.
To say this was transformational for me and my family is an understatement. My two passions had been thrown together which sparked an even deeper understanding of our Torah as we continued to study. I shared my understanding of the weekly parshas on my blog. If you’re interested in learning more please feel free to reach out to me directly.
Just a year ago I had no space in my life for anything new, big or small…and now look at me, I’m 27 weeks pregnant and looking forward to adding to our family…at 39 years old…by choice! Studying Torah and honoring Shabbat has truly made the room and space in my life to raise another child with absolutely no fear or stress. It has completely changed my relationship with my husband and daughter. We honor each other. We speak with kind words. We work with diligence and excellence. We show respect to all and we relish in the fact that we are able to give tzedakah. When I walk in my door and see the mezuzah I am reminded that what I have is enough and that we have a peaceful home I WANT to be in. Which is the POINT of our tradition of having the letter Shin on our mezuzah. It means – “Shadai” – “It is enough”. We have found peace through how we treat each other and how we prioritize G-d in our lives. Success is no longer about spending money on things which I cannot take with me when I pass on. Success is about a strong healthy relationship with my spouse and child and parents. Success is about how peaceful I feel in my home and how I can be a blessing to others.
Yom Kippur to me is actually much more than about fear of being cursed or blessed this coming new year…it is a day to WAKE UP to ACTION. It is a day to pray, yes. You will get to hear the shofar one last time after Ne’ilah for one reason and one reason only…to wake you up!! To wake you from the spiritual place of today and to put you into action. Your job, pure and simple, is to inspire others so that they might praise and know G-d. By demonstrating peace, kindness, refinement and consideration, we can all bring honor to Hashem. Smile. Open doors for others. Say thank you. Say please. Be diligent in how you live your life. If we run around stressed out by work, with kids who disrespect us, complaining non-stop, ranting on Facebook, gossipping and never being grateful for what we have then we are NOT OWNING OUR JEWISH HERITAGE. Why would anyone else want to live like us? We are supposed to be the LIGHT to the world.
So what does this mean in practice? What should we DO in our actions? I don’t know…all I know is that learning Torah is a great place to start to return to being a Jew again…to wake up our soul that already knows everything anyway! One amazing mitzvah to start with is actually spelled out for us in the reading from last Shabbat right before Yom Kippur. Vayeilech in Deut is when Moses is about to die, but not before he seals the Torah with one final mitzvot or commandment to round out the 612 we have already been given. What is it? He says: “So now, write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the Children of Israel. Place it in their mouth….” Deuteronomy 31:19. This 613th commandment to us as Jews for all time is the command that every Jew write a Torah scroll. This commandment can be fulfilled by each of us writing a single letter to complete a Torah scroll, so don’t worry you don’t have to write the entire thing yourself! Moses passed on over 3000 years ago and yet the Torah lives on because of this commandment. When YOU are long gone, what kinds of values will live on in your children?
In gratitude for all that the Torah has done for us, we were elated when last Spring Rabbi Blumofe asked for us to be a part of an effort to write a new Torah for CAA. Given that Evan has become increasingly engaged we immediately gave anonymously to kick off the effort to get the soferet started. Studying Torah has changed our whole mindset on tzedakah because G-d’s instructions for giving are spelled out for us right there in our instruction manual. The Torah teaches that when we give, we get, and in the end, that which we give away is the only thing we really have. Last year, we decided to pay off all of our debt (including our mortgage) because we want to have more to give away. That which we don’t pay in interest we can donate. This is a conscious decision. G-d very clearly commands each and every Jew regardless of income level to give 10% to tzedakah. We want to INSPIRE others through our giving.
According to my favorite Chasidic Rebbetzin, Esther Jungreis, “Contrary to how it is most commonly translated, tzedakah actually doesn’t mean charity, it means justice of righteousness telling us that to give is an obligation to do justice. The word tzedakah reminds you that what you have is not really yours but has been given to you by G-d for distribution. If all belongs to G-d, and we give, we are only returning that which G-d gave to us. Charity on the other hand, is a totally different concept. It is derived from the Latin word caritas, meaning “love”, suggesting that we have an option–to give to those we love and to withhold help from those we dislike. In the world of tzedakah such options do not exist. Whether we like someone or not, we have a responsibility to give, because it is the right thing to do and for which we get no special credit, even as we deserve no reward for paying our taxes.”
Surprisingly I learned that when we are called to give tzedakah, our first and foremost responsibility is to help those closest to us. As it is written: ‘Between relations and poor strangers, relatives come first’. I take this as our community comes first.
The CAA community has not written a Torah in 20 years. Every generation of Jews no matter how bitter the time, has undertaken this mitzvah – to write a Torah with enormous sacrifice, zeal and love. The dedication of a new Torah scroll is like a wedding celebration! It is a huge JOY and honor to be able to be a part of it. Nowadays many simply ‘donate a Torah’ to a shul and consider the mitzvah fulfilled. And yes that is a very nice thing to do. But if you read the Parsha carefully…our task isn’t just to put quill to parchment to write out the holy words…we are to teach the words to the Children of Israel and place this SONG into their mouths. Why a reference to a song? Because according to a wonderful commentary from Rebbetzen Jungreis, a song is something you can never forget. Even if you forget the lyrics, the melody remains in your heart.
We want you to invest in the time to learn it as we have and experience the peace and shalom in your home that is possible with the instructions contained within it.
And so we stepped up to chair the new project this year 5777 called 10,000 Faces of Torah. So called because it is our goal that we snap 10,000 photos of members of this and the broader community participating in writing a part of our new CAA Torah to fulfill this mitzvah. We will provide ample opportunities for you to learn and discover meaning in our holy books and to decide which words, verses, aliyot and parshas speak the loudest to you so that you can then be a part of writing that part of our Torah with our soferet. We will be bringing the soferet here to Austin three times over the coming months starting on Dec 2-4 and again in the Spring a couple of times to allow you the opportunity to witness and be a part of the writing of the words that speak to you. Every act of tzedakah to support this project will be endowed for future generations to enable all who want to learn Torah to be able to access resources to do so! This is the first time ever CAA has ever embarked on an endowment of this scale and magnitude with the purpose to bring light to our community and beyond to secure our sacred space for all that it needs and can be. How will you participate?
I am sure I can see three types of people sitting here today (and those not sitting here today):
- The first type of person is thinking, I really want to fulfill this mitzvah, how can I help support this effort financially to secure our sacred space for years to come? There is a brochure on each of your seats with all the giving levels. If any of those are a match for you, great, if not, that’s fine too. PLEASE come to our Torah studies to think through which words of Torah have meaning for you.
- The second type of person is thinking, how can I get my children involved in this mitzvah? We will be doing a lot of work within CAARS and the AJA to teach our children about this mitzvah in the coming year and my daughter for one has already committed to give tzedakah for one word – her Hebrew name…and she is well on her way to achieving this goal…and she is 7. If your child is not at CAARS or AJA you WILL be given the opportunity to engage them.
- The third type of person is thinking, wow I never thought of this mitzvah in this way and I really had no idea what was in the Torah. I want to learn more and I am happy to give of my time and home as a host for one of these Torah sessions. Please sign me up for that!
No matter what type you are, please fill out the brochure from your seat after Yom Kippur is over and return it to the CAA office. Or you can visit the website to fulfill your level of participation now. Please note all donations can be paid over a 3 year period. Please do contact me, Cynthia Winer or Joe Steinberg for more information. At least it’s a chance for you to have more peace in your life with those around you.
If you do not know exactly which letters, words or phrases speak to you from the Torah please reach out to me and we will help you learn where your connection may be.
May we find peace in wholeness through our community study of Torah in 5777 and not stress in our brokenness. The root of the word Shalom or peace is Shalem or wholeness. Only then will we feel united and whole as a community here a CAA and as Jews worldwide.
Gmar Tov and Shana Tova