Category Archives: Religion & Beliefs

Every Star, Every Galaxy, Every Grain of Sand

There are 300 billion stars in the Milky Way alone. That’s just the Milky Way, though. It’s hard to know exactly how many galaxies exist in the universe, but the estimation is about 100 to 200 billion galaxies. Mah rabbu ma’asecha Hashem doesn’t seem to cut the awe of these statistics. Every star is a huge ball of energy, with precise chachma. Every star required a creator. Every star originated for another reason. Why did Hashem create so many? These stars are seemingly useless.


Avraham Avienu was promised that his future generations will be as many as the stars in the sky and the grains of sand. Think about a clear night in upstate New York. As a young child, I have vivid memories of fun summers with my family in a Boy Scout camp, completely deserting civilization. Dirt paths connected small cabin and camp sites, and the roads were obviously unlit. The scariest was Friday nights. After sharing a Seudas Shabbos with the camp in the Dining Room, my family would embark on the scary journey back to our cabin. The path, the trees, the bumps in the road, and the distance ahead was all a blank black canvas. There was just one thing visible. Above was a warm blanket speckled in tiny white dots of different sizes and arrays. To my seven year old logic there must have been one hundred stars above. Now, I obviously understand it was many millions more. My family would trek the ten minute walk through pitch darkness, walking up a hill and then turning right to go down a hill, passing the gentle little stream which now was just an audible sound and not a scenic site, and finally making it to the open field in front of our cabin, merely by looking up at the stars, having only them for light.


We are those zerah of Avraham. It’s ironic, because when Avraham was promised his descendants would be like the stars and the sand, to him all that meant was looking up at the vast sky and trying to count them, which was obviously impossible. It took thousands of years of research until the telescope was invented and the concept of vaster galaxies became known. Only a scientific notation of a percentage of the stars is even visible to the human eye! A tiny percent…And of course it is all a moshul to Am Yisroel.


In Pirkeih Avos, Perek Gimmel the mishnah teaches us, “Kol ha shochayach davar mi’mishnaso, ma’aleh alav ha’kasuv ki’iloo mit’chayiv bi’nafsho (3:10).” This is obviously something difficult to understand. How can this be interpreted?


The Torah is made up of 600,000 letters corresponding to the original neshamos of klal yisroel. From this it is implied that every Jew is represented by a letter in the Torah. This comes to show us the importance of every Jew, as the halacha clearly states that a sefer Torah missing even one letter (even the little decorations on the letters) is posul. This shows us our enormous achrayas to fulfill our own tafkid, as my letter counts just as much as yours! Well this too connects to this mishnah. I can pride myself in knowing “my letter” of the Torah. I know that I try to serve Hashem and keep His Torah. I know my place and morning after morning, I wake up and try to play my role as a frum Jew. But does every Jew wake up with this knowledge? Just recently, I met a man who found out he was a Jew from his mother’s side only after his great-grandmother passed away and they found all her letters. Did he wake up morning after morning with the knowledge of his tafkid in the world as a chayil in Hashem’s army? Am I forgetting that portion of the Torah? This is one way to understand the mishnah. Am I forgetting that last “davar mi’mishnaso?” Am I looking front and back, ready to help the next Jew up and on his/her way down the derech of Torah?


Rav Noach Issac Oelbaum quoted a beautiful idea which sheds light on this topic. When Yaakov mourned Yosef’s “death” the shvotim tried comforting their father by gathering the entire family, showing Yaakov his big and happy family. But still, even seeing his 11 sons and daughters, as well as all their children didn’t comfort Yaakov because Yosef was still missing. This past summer I really wanted to go to the Siyum haShas, but because I tend to decide things pretty last minute I wasn’t able to. The huge Kiddush Hashem which was achieved was beautiful. Seeing pictures of endless black hats, a stadium full of Jews, all with one common goal— to continue in the ways Hashem and His Torah. Though I can confidently say Hashem was schepping nachas and smiling down upon us that night, as it began to rain but everyone remained in their stadium seats, continuing in the celebration, I can also say Hashem still felt an ache for the larger percentage of Jews who still live life and don’t know. It is pretty hard to count, but most statistics show that between 20% to 10% of the Jewish nation is frum.


Startlingly a tiny percent, yet not random. Only 1/5th on the Jewish people left Mitzrayim, the other 4/5th had been killed in makkas choshech because of their sins. 1/5th is 20%. The same percentage as an estimation of the religious Jews today.


There are thousands of labels we can give ourselves. Chariedi. Chashidish. Orthodox. Tzioni. Mizrachi. Modern Orthodox. Litvish. Sfardi. Conservative. Reform. Traditional. Non-affiliated. Jewish Rebirth. The list can go on and on. Regardless, every Jewish neshama still shines, no matter which galaxy it is part of. Every Jewish person, no matter where or what or why makes a huge difference to the bigger picture. You matter. Every letter is a crucial part of the Torah. Every last grain of sand. Every last flickering burst of energy.


~ Alti Bukalov


Thoughts on Tisha B’Av

I hope you all had an enjoyable and meaningful fast and now sit satisfied and full as you think back to your inspiration.

I wanted to share one thing I gained this year.

I am in Camp Nageela right now, a camp for girls who are interested in expanding spiritually. As you can imagine, Tisha B’Av is a little different when girls have no concept of what it is at all and come into this day confused as to why staff members are crying and starving themselves. At first I was a little annoyed, feeling like I was robbing myself of Tisha B’av. After all, it’s hard to compare the inspiration I would have gotten if I could have listened to endless shiurim or moved to Ohr Naava for 24 hours to helping girls make a skit about Titus and OD kids while they fall asleep blasting non-Jewish music on their iPods. I don’t know, I just felt like I was robbing myself of what I could have had.
But then it all changed. I reluctantly got out of bed to teach my Davening Group, who usually has an endless amount of energy and doesn’t let me speak a second. This morning it was different. I came down holding one of my favorite books, On the Derech, and sat down against the wall and said, “Today I’m being serious – anyone who doesn’t understand why we are being serious or can’t be, please just leave now. We are learning today.”

One girl left. She came back a minute later.

For the next half hour, I spoke about yissurim and Hashem being there with us no matter what. Each girl begged to share a story. We all ignored the loud announcement saying “Davening Groups are now over…”
But it got better. At 2:00, the staff put on a cantata. Scene after scene, the staff portrayed the frightening things which happened to the Jews throughout the ages. Sitting among campers, I got chills as I heard gentle weeps from all over. At the end, the camp showed a video about the suffering in Eretz Yisroel today.

For the first time in my life, I cried on Tisha B’Av as I held a girl in my arms as she wept. A 9-year-old girl. In public school. Keeps nothing at home. Her first year in camp. And she was crying like I’ve never seen before.

And I was, too. I don’t cry. It takes a lot for me to cry. But I was bawling.

Here’s a neshama who somehow feels it. Somehow, even with no understanding before, now feels that emotion. That tzelem elokim. That pintele yid, that Jewish spark.


And as I sat with her, I cried. I cried because I’m holding a girl who’s wearing shorts. I’m sitting in a room full of over 100 neshamos. Beautiful neshamos. But they are robbed of what they could have. And their neshamos want it because they’re c
And then every girl received a paper person on which each girl wrote a kabbalah she took upon herself.rying now.

Through teary eyes, I watched as girl after girl came up and handed hers to be hung up.

Here is one I wanted to share with you.

I don’t know about you, but after watching a girl yearn so hard for the next Bais HaMikdash to be built, I couldn’t hold it in. Standing in a semi-circle with my bunk of 4th graders, many of them crying as we all sung “Yisroel Yisroel, where have you been all these years…” I couldn’t help but suddenly need Moshiach. What is it we still need? Every one of those kabbalos were written genuinely. Everyone of those Shemas and Brochos girls committed to say are greater than our daily mitzvos.

I cried because suddenly it ached that this is what the Chorbon brought. Children who now see it for the first time. Children who will go home and eat tried. Children who beg their parents to switch to Yeshiva. Children. Babies. Tinokim sheh’nishbah.

Why didn’t Moshiach come today?


~ Alti Bukalov

When Torah Comes to Life

I never thought of leyning – the ritual chanting of readings from Tanakh during synagogue services – as a possibility for me. As an Orthodox Jewish girl, leyning was supposed to be the domain of the boys. It was deemed immodest, non-halakhic, and – the greatest taboo of all – “Conservative,” for a girl (even as part of women’s tefillah) to read from the Torah.

High school exposed me to a wider range of halakhic positions. I was disturbed to discover that over half the girls in my freshman Gemara class had leyned at their bat mitzvahs. These weren’t girls who had no respect for halakha; they were, for the most part, girls with a deep commitment to halakha and whom I trusted to make decisions that remained within the pale of Orthodoxy. So what was I missing? What was it that led my new friends to accept something that was so tabooed in the community of my childhood?

The next few years took me on a roller coaster ride of varying sentiments about women leyning and about the role of women in Judaism in general. It was not an issue I was willing to shrug aside by either completely accepting or completely rejecting these new ideas. So I went on my own quest to find a satisfying answer. Following a series of conversations and reading a collection of books and articles, the details of which are beyond the scope of this article, I concluded that reading from the Torah was something with which I was personally comfortable. Indeed, women leyning, at least in the presence of other women, is something which should pose no halakhic issue at all.

During my senior year of high school, my friend Ricki agreed to teach me how to leyn. With the elaborate crowns above the letters, I could hardly make out what the words were, but at the same time, I felt more connected to them than I ever had before. When I leyned, I was participating in a Jewish tradition that existed long before me and that will continue to exist long after me. By serving as an active link in that chain, Tanakh became more than a historical account or interesting literary work. I no longer had to rely on someone else’s interpretations to feel connected to the text. Leyning the words took them out of the page and brought them to life. It didn’t matter that I was completely tone deaf and anyone listening to my leyning would probably cringe. Leyning became a way for me to connect to my heritage and to the sacred words of Tanakh, completely devoid of any external concerns.

Learning how to leyn exposed me to a skill that would help me participate in tefillah, but more importantly, it opened my eyes to an entirely different way of approaching and connecting to Tanakh. Teaching me how to leyn rekindled Ricki’s passion for leyning.  Both of us recognized the importance of acquiring this skill, but also realized that unless a child learns to leyn for his or her bar or bat mitzvah, it is unlikely that he or she will ever learn. So we decided to share our passion with others by creating an organization called The Leyning Partnership. The Leyning Partnership’s mission, most broadly, is to make leyning more accessible to people of any gender and all backgrounds. It provides information about online resources that teach leyning, pairs up tutors with students to provide free access to high quality education, and engages in open discussion about the role of Torah reading in public prayer and about the role of women in Torah reading. Our goal is to enable the widest possible range of people to learn to leyn in a way that is most convenient to them.

Current impediments to leyning include financial, halakhic, and geographical constraints. The Leyning Partnership seeks to overcome all these boundaries. When leyning lessons cost up to $100 an hour, it is difficult to afford such a luxury, especially if you are not actively preparing for your bar or bat mitzvah. The Leyning Partnership counteracts this by providing free, volunteer-based tutoring to interested students, so that cost does not have to be a deterrent. As I articulated earlier, many people have halakhic concerns regarding women leyning. By explaining sources in a non-biased way, the Leyning Partnership seeks to address these concerns. Finally, some students are constrained from learning how to leyn because of geographic disabilities: they live too far from the mainstream Jewish world to find anyone to teach them how to leyn. The Leyning Partnership provides lessons via Skype in order to eliminate this problem. You can find out more about our programs by visiting our website, or visiting our Facebook page.

I am not asking you to learn something that makes you uncomfortable. My personal analysis led me to the conclusion that it is acceptable to leyn, but there are a range of interpretations that could lead to a variety of conclusions. I am asking you to consider the idea of leyning as something that might be more halakhically acceptable than you have always assumed. Even if it is not something that feels immediately compelling to you, I am asking you to consider it as something that could expand your relationship with Tanakh and Judaism. Opening yourself up to this possibility really can change your life.

~ Leah Slaten

How My Life Changed in 90 Seconds

Jerusalem, Israel – November 20, 2012


Shema Yisrael. (Hear O’ Israel).

The words that I rushed through this morning.

Never again will I do that.


Today was normal. Well, not totally normal. For one thing, I was in Israel, in Jerusalem. That’s definitely something special, and it is not something that is usual for me. I live in New York, and I am a proud American citizen; however, Israel is always on my mind and in my heart and soul. It also wasn’t a normal day in Jerusalem for me. Most of the time when I’m in this holy city it’s for vacation and to visit family. However, the purpose of my visit this time was to choose a seminary for myself for the following year. The day was not routine, but I was having a wonderful day learning about the particular seminary I was visiting.

That all changed very quickly. Sometimes, it takes just a short amount of time to make the largest impact on our lives. Sometimes, it’s not about the years you spend at a certain school or the hours you try and decipher the meaning of a text. Sometimes, your life can change in the blink of an eye, and the most formidable experiences for you will happen so quickly you have to take a step back and realize what just happened. That is what I intend to do, and I invite you to listen in on my thoughts. Continue reading How My Life Changed in 90 Seconds

Should I Be Jewish Just Because My Parents Are?

The following is a question submitted by a Maidelle reader:
My parents decided to keep Shabbat and kosher and send me to a Jewish school and all that stuff. How can I enjoy Judaism if it’s just a tradition from my parents? As I grow up, I need to grapple with the decision to take religion or observance for myself. I don’t know.

We asked another one of our readers, Chaya Freeman, to respond, here is what she had to say:
I’m probably your age, so I’ve been thinking through the same question. It’s a funny question, the type I like to flick off with a simple answer that doesn’t make much more sense than the question does. I tell myself, my mother is Jewish, and therefore I am, too. A sheep is born a sheep because its mother is a sheep, and I was born a Jew because my mother was born a Jew.

But the question is a good nudnik question and it doesn’t leave me alone. Sure, being born to a Jewish mother is a sign that I am Jewish, but it’s not the reason I am Jewish. Continue reading Should I Be Jewish Just Because My Parents Are?

God is Always There

God is always there
Waiting for you to stretch out your little pinky so that He can tug on it and engulf you in a never-ending warm hug
God had a treasure house of blessing to shower you with all you needed to do was place your hand on the faucet
You just had to whisper God’s name and He would have sat beside you wiped your tears and when He’s with you your life problems are as simple as typing the wrong letter and having to press the backspace button
God had your salvation waiting from the day you left the womb like an exquisite show waiting for someone to lift the curtain Continue reading God is Always There