Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

20 Tammuz 5765 - July 27, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

by Sara Glaser

Dear Readers,

We would like to present, in installments, a short but very worthwhile book by Sara Glaser, known to a wide public as the initiator of the Lifesaver's Guide - the book and the practical step-by-step lecture series — to more efficient living and housekeeping and living, which has the Approbation of HaRav Hagon R' Chaim Pinchos Sheinberg shlita and lbch'l Rabbi Nachman Bulman zt'l. Highly recommended, as well as the Hebrew version, Chochmas Noshim, with haskomos from Rov and Rebbetzin Weber of Neve Yaakov and the Belzer Rebbetzin.

In the opinion of recognized rabbinical authorities, LIFESAVER! and CHOCHMAT NASHIM books, tapes, classes, and workshops may be paid for with ma'aser money (funds set aside for charitable purposes) if the intent is to be, or to help one to be, a better wife or mother. Enough for a foreword, and now, forward . . .

We hope you find this autobiography, making its published debut in YATED, interesting and inspirational.

Chapter One

I was born at age fifty! It is hard to imagine, but that was the way it was because my life really began then.

A friend gave me a book called The Torah. It was an English translation of the Five Books of Moses. It contained no commentaries, footnotes, or explanations. I was unfamiliar with the Torah (the Bible or Old Testament) which is why it was given to me.

About nine months later, as I was scanning my bookshelves to see which 'friend' I wanted to renew a relationship with on a long Saturday night, I noticed it for the first time since I had put it on the shelf. The thought occurred to me that maybe it was time I learned something about my heritage. I knew I was Jewish, but I'd had no religious education, nor did I know what Judaism was all about.

I grew up in Brooklyn, and although there were a number of Jewish families in our neighborhood, I don't recall any being religious. Momma kept a kosher kitchen until I was about eleven. Even afterwards, she never allowed any pig meat or seafood in the house, or mixed milk with meat products. Friday nights, she always lit Shabbos candles. Unfortunately, I never thought to ask her why.

As I took the book off the shelf, I did not know what to expect, or whether I would find it interesting. I certainly didn't give any thought to the possibility that it could radically change my life. But that is exactly what this book did! My outlook, values, behavior, and lifestyle were gradually transformed. Of course the Torah (Chumash) is not just a book. It is Hashem's gift to us, a blueprint for living a meaningful, fruitful, peaceful life, now and forever.

I had always fluctuated between believing and not believing that there was a G-d. If there was, why did He let such terrible things happen to innocent people, to babies, children, and the helpless? But if there was no G-d, how could our magnificent universe exist, and run with such precision and regularity? More and more questions surfaced as I continued to read. I became engrossed with the Torah from the very beginning, and the more I read the more involved I became, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.

I knew no religious Jews I could approach with my questions. In trying to find answers, I read anything dealing with Judaism that I could get my hands on. I read books by a wide range of Jewish authors, with Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative, Modern Orthodox, and Orthodox points of view

I learned that millions of Jews had seen, heard and were part of Hashem's miracles in the Exodus from Egypt, and in the receiving of the Torah, at Mount Sinai. These are facts, witnessed and passed on by an entire nation, from generation to generation. They are not dreams or stories related by one individual to a few others, and then related to more and more over time, and accepted as such.

As stated in Deuteronomy (4:33-39), when Moses was speaking to the Jews before their entering Canaan, "Has any nation ever heard G-d speaking out of fire, as you have, and still survived? Has G-d ever done miracles bringing one nation out of another nation with such tremendous miracles, signs, wonders, war, a mighty hand and outstretched arm, and terrifying phenomena, as G-d did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?

"You are the ones who have been shown, so that you will know that G-d is the Supreme Being, and there is none beside Him. From the heavens, He let you hear His voice admonishing you, and on earth He showed you His great fire so that you heard His words from the fire.

"It was because He loved your fathers, and chose their children after them, that G-d Himself brought you out of Egypt with His great power. He will drive away before you nations that are greater and stronger than you, so as to bring you to their lands, and give them to you as a heritage as He is doing today. Realize it today and ponder it in your heart: G-d is the Supreme Being in heaven above and on the earth beneath — there is no other."

And indeed, I did ponder it in my heart a great deal, as well as in my mind. The Torah presents the truth, the facts, for us to examine as they really are. As a result, I no longer needed to depend upon what I could see with my own eyes. At that point, I knew Hashem existed.

I also knew that my search for the `right' temple or synagogue was over. I had been attending all kinds of congregational services, trying to see where I felt comfortable. When I realized that I believed in Hashem's existence, and His Torah, I knew there was no choice.

I joined an Orthodox shul, because only there, acceptance and observance of the Torah, and its halachos, are without any modification. The Torah does not alter its contents and laws in order to suit society's changing values. The Torah warns us not to add or detract even one letter from it. We cannot `pick and choose' those commandments we find convenient or easy to observe and disregard the others that Hashem gave us.

The status, power, and/or money of a few, or many, do not change what is true. The truth is constant and absolute, no matter how inconvenient it is physically, financially, politically, or otherwise; or how uncomfortable or difficult it may be for those who don't want to `stand out' as being different from the majority.

I learned continuously, and as the months went by I felt an intimate relationship developing between Hashem and myself. I sensed His Presence near me much of the time. My repentance was such that there were nights my pillow was wet from crying as I became aware of and acknowledged transgressions, and asked for forgiveness.

I found myself excited and nervous preparing what I would wear on Shabbos for Him, as if I was preparing for a special date. I would hope that I pleased Him with the flowers I chose and carefully arranged each week. I was concerned that everything I thought, said, and did was acceptable to Him.

I am convinced that Hashem's Spirit helped me to grow closer to Him because I can see no other way that I could have reacted and responded as strongly as I did, without His help. I had no observant friends to call on for guidance and explanations.

Most of my Shabbosos those first few years were spent alone. Sometimes I would go to other congregants' homes for Shabbos meals. Friendships that I enjoy to this day developed with these warm, giving people.

I lived on the fifth floor, and a considerable distance from the shul, whose members were mostly middle-aged and older. Few were able to join me in the long walk home, let alone climb five flights of stairs. However, the lack of companions gave me the opportunity to read and learn more.

I designed a learning program for myself. Starting on Sunday and ending on the Shabbos, I would start reading the Torah portion relating to the current week, with all its commentaries. I would then read the Haftarah, and then discourses by well-known rabbis on the parsha. If time permitted during the week, I would also read other books including those dealing with Mussar.

My changes were gradual but steady. I became aware that the Torah was refining me, inside and out. My thoughts, speech, dress, behavior, choices, and priorities were being altered.

A dramatic example of my changing from the inside out had to do with my being a chain smoker. For years, I'd smoked three to four packs of cigarettes a day. I knew it was bad for my health, but as much as I wanted to stop, I couldn't. I tried many times. I even went to a hypnotist. Nothing seemed to help. Not even my teenager's pleading. In the beginning, even while observing Shabbos, I would keep a cigarette and matches in my pocket so I could `light up' as soon as Shabbos was over.

One day as I was reading the Torah, the words on the page seemed to jump up and hit me in the eyes. To paraphrase, it said that our bodies, which Hashem gives us, are holy vessels, and therefore we should not desecrate them. It is a sin to do so. Instantly, I realized this is what I was doing by smoking. I stopped that very minute. Cold turkey, as the saying goes. How could I disobey Hashem? I have never smoked since.

It took six long, difficult, nerve-wracking months, to stop wanting a cigarette, and not be nervous and irritable because I wasn't smoking. There were so many times that I felt like climbing the walls, or screaming, crying, or doing something wild. Eating, or drinking something sweet, like ice cream, malteds, or cake, helped to weaken the desire for a cigarette. While at work, whenever I had the urge to smoke, I would send my secretary out to buy me something sweet. I gained thirty-five pounds during this ordeal.

I realized, to my surprise, that a habitual smoker is addicted, just like those who take drugs, and I was going unassisted through what is called withdrawal symptoms. But with Hashem's help, I was successful. This experience clearly showed me that I can accomplish or achieve something, no matter how hard it is, if I consider it really important or want it strongly enough; and if Hashem deems it to be.

I was shaken up when I realized that when we left being slaves in Egypt, we then became servants of Hashem. I repeatedly re-read these pertinent passages, giving them much thought before I could go on, because of their significance.

I was becoming aware of the enormity and completeness of my relationship with Hashem; both my dependency on Him for everything, and anything, and my responsibility to obey His commandments. It is all-encompassing, from birth until death!

I realized that the Torah teaches us the importance of responsibility, duty, and self-discipline, and to conduct ourselves morally at all times. In today's world, the focus is on rights, privileges, what is `coming to us,' and doing `what feels good.' As my Torah reading and learning progressed, I better understood that the responsibilities incumbent upon us extended to all our waking hours, from the moment we open our eyes in the morning until the moment we go to sleep at night.

Friends would ask me if I didn't miss eating or doing those things I used to enjoy before becoming religious. I simply explained that since I replaced those things I gave up with things that give me greater satisfaction, I don't yearn for or miss them; and that I now have an inner peace I never knew before.

The Creator, Sustainer, and Controller of all existence is also my best Friend, Who does only what is best for me. There are no random, inconsequential, meaningless occurrences in my life.

For example, in 1980, during my first year as a Torah- observant Jew, I was taking a night course after work on the subject of Shabbos laws. One evening, while the rabbi was speaking, I suddenly began a private conversation with myself in my mind. It had nothing to do with the subject at hand, and to this day, I cannot explain how or why it happened, except, that perhaps Hashem thought it was time for me to address this issue again. When becoming observant, I asked a rabbi if I should wear a wig. He said it wasn't necessary.

Should I be wearing one? I now asked myself. Ask the rabbi. Wait! If you ask the rabbi and you don't like his answer, you're stuck, because you cannot `shop around' asking different rabbis until you get the answer you want. So don't ask! But now that I thought of the question — if I didn't ask, I wouldn't be honest with myself, or with Hashem.

The moment this thought entered my mind, I saw my hand go up and heard myself asking the rabbi the question. The rabbi said he would discuss it with me at the next session.

I was not looking forward to his answer. If he said I should cover my hair, it could be uncomfortable. I would miss the pleasant feeling of my hair blowing in the breeze. It also would increase my expenses. Mainly, I liked my hair. It was a physical part of me that I felt good about. Since childhood, I had an inferiority complex about my face being ugly. Having a part of me that I thought was attractive, therefore, was important to me.

I waited all through the next class for the rabbi's answer to my question. After class was over and only he and I remained, he said that he had checked with three rabbis who were authorities on Jewish law. He was told that since I was previously married, I should be covering my hair. Well, that was that. I asked for it, and I got it.

The next day found me driving from Silver Spring where I lived, to Baltimore, to a sheitel lady's house to try on wigs. I bought and immediately wore one, the same color and style as my own hair. I hoped no one would notice I was wearing a wig.

It did not take long to find out. I was sitting at the dining room table, about twelve feet from the front door, when my son came home. He did not even have his second foot in the apartment, when he looked at me and said, "You went and did it! You're wearing a wig!"

About an hour later, I was picking up a friend to drive to a shiur. As I drove up, before she even got inside the car, she smiled and pointed to my hair, indicating that she saw I was wearing a wig. Well, so much for trying to look natural.

Surprisingly, covering my hair turned out to be less important than I imagined. What turned out to be of greater consequence was the good feeling I had, doing what I learned was right. In addition to feeling spiritually better and thus happier, an added bonus was that I no longer had to be concerned about whether my own hair looked good or not underneath the wig.

However, eleven years ago, I stopped wearing them. It was not an easy thing to do and it took a long time to make this decision. There was no question that I (and most older women) look better and younger in wigs as compared to wearing a fabric head-covering such as a snood, scarf, or tichel, and or a hat. But because it was hard for me to tell the difference between one's real hair and a sheitel, I felt I was not appearing in public as someone who people would know immediately is covering her hair.

So, in spite of the fact that I look different from most of the Orthodox women I know, I decided it was more important to do what was best for me spiritually. I have never regretted my decision.

[to be continued]


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