Connections Are Essential in Life

4 years ago Shayna Solkowitz 0

This ‘Ted Talk’ was delivered at my Chabad house for Shavout all night learning, enjoy 🙂

Hey everyone! If you don’t already know me, my name is Shayna, and I’m finishing up my sophomore year in high school. What I’m going to be talking about encompasses a lot of different aspects, and here at Valley Chabad, we try not to run on Jewish standard time, so let’s get started.

If you didn’t already know, for the past 49 days, we have been counting the Omer. Notice how I didn’t say we’ve been counting down the days of the Omer–why? A countdown is what you do when there’s time in between you and a goal, Once the day comes, the goal is or is not achieved, and someone is just counting the days until that time–no work is involved except patience… which is hard work, don’t get me wrong. During the Omer, we don’t merely countdown the days and wait for the receiving of the Torah.The Omer is an opportunity to work on ourselves. Thus, we count how many days since we started working toward the gift we are working towards, and not how many days until we receive our precious gift, the Torah.

Also, another note is that during a countdown, you start with a high number and then it gets lower and lower, but during the counting of the Omer, we start low and work our way up, higher and higher.

Why is the Omer a thing? Why do we need to work on ourselves? While our nation was in Egypt, we were on the lowest level of spirituality. We can’t just expect to go from being on the lowest level possible to then being able to receive the Torah–I mean it is the Torah after all. We have to work on ourselves so that we can receive the Torah when we’re at our best. Okay, so today we aren’t quite on the lowest level as we were in the desert, however, that doesn’t that mean we can’t and shouldn’t continue to work on bettering ourselves in 5779. Thus, we continue the count of the Omer 3,331 years later. You might be wondering as I did, Well how are we supposed to work on ourselves? There are so many things that humans have to work on, where do we even begin? The Rabbinic texts give us seven specific character traits or middos that we focus on during the Omer:

The first one is chesed, or kindness, then comes gevurah, which is discipline, then tiferes, or harmony, netzach is endurance, hod is humility, yesod is bonding, and finally, malchut is leadership.

Every week and every day, we work on a different set of characteristics. For example, on the second week and the first day of that week, we learn gevurah and chesed, and how they work together; going along with this, we learn that love is the underlying reason for discipline. That’s why we get screamed at by our parents when we’re five years old and run into the middle of the street. Not because our parents want to yell at us, but because they love us and don’t want us to get hurt. So, basically, there’s something similar to this every single day with all of the different middos.  

Now we talked about how we work on ourselves during the Omer, but to me personally, we have to work on not only ourselves, but also our connection with Hashem, which segways right into my next point.

Our relationship to Hashem is compared to a rope between us and Hashem because it tethers  us. How can we make that rope stronger? Can we make it shorter, so that we’re closer? I believe that, and especially based on what I’ve been learning recently, yes. To me, the way that we connect to Hashem more, or on a deeper level, is through mitzvahs. In my mind, every single mitzvah that we do is another string in that rope which connects us. The more mitzvahs that we do, the thicker, and thus stronger, the rope, or connection to Hashem will get. One thing that I’m a pretty big believer in is that every mitzvah counts. I’ve had some of my friends ask me before, “Is it worth it for me to keep part of Shabbat, if I know I can’t keep all of it?”  I tell them that YES! it’s better if they keep Shabbat for Friday night, rather than not keeping Shabbat at all, every mitzvah counts! I tell them that it’s okay if you say the bracha after you’ve taken a bite of that apple, at least you have Hashem in mind, and every mitzvah counts!. Every mitzvah we do is a string in this rope, another connection with Hashem.

Woodcliff Lake boys wearing teffilin at end of year BBQ.

Now, you didn’t think that I’d get through a whole talk without mentioning CTeen, did you? To me, CTeen is the knots in the rope. Now, knots may sound bad, I mean, they’re a hassle to get out. However, in this scenario, knots are great. Knots make the rope both stronger and shorter, thus making us closer to Hashem and our relationship stronger. Also, during a game of tug of war, that knot holds your hands in place so that your hands don’t slip and fall backwards. The knot guides your hand to move forward, but makes it difficult to move backward. So, why is CTeen the knots? During CTeen events, especially during Shabbatons, I’m not only doing mitzvahs myself, but these are the times I get to encourage others to do mitzvahs. I get to help the girl who hasn’t lit Shabbat candles in months say the bracha. I get to say the bracha at Friday night dinners with teens who haven’t said the bracha Al Netilas Yadiyim since the last CTeen Friday night dinner. I get to capture the moment on Instagram when the boys put on tefillin for the first time since their Bar Mitzvah, or even for the first time, period. I’m trying to peel off a string from my rope, pass it to others so they can create their own connection to Hashem.

Speaking of Instagram, how many of you have a social media account? Now, just imagine if the room was filled with teenagers… Okay, so social media you either hate it or you love it. It either helps your life, or harms it. It’s either a tool or a weapon, and I think it’s very important that we use social media as a tool to reach out. By using social media, I get to reach out to, and educate teen’s who may have otherwise not have been exposed to yiddishkeit. On the CTeen Woodcliff Lake Instagram, there are ALMOST 300 followers, but that doesn’t mean we get 300 teens at our events, I wish, but these teens who don’t come are still getting the opportunity to learn a little something Jewish… I hope.

“Life is all about making connections”- this was said by a man named Ken at the CTeen DC Shabbaton in 2018. Whether it’s connections with Hashem, connections with others or connections with ourselves, connections are essential to our life. The Omer was and is a time to really connect with ourselves in order to be the best person we can be. This year in CTeen, I hope to make more, stronger and long lasting connections than I ever have before. Now, I challenge all of you, go connect with your yiddishkeit on a deeper level than you ever have before. And finally, remember to pause sometimes, and connect with yourself to make sure you’re being the best you can be.

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