Living with the Times
MyLife Essay Contest 2017
“A decent for a greater accent”
In the beginning, I didn’t know what it meant that I was Jewish let alone know what Chassidus was. I didn’t know that I had inherited the greatest gift. Growing up in a secular family, this was my reality. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t trade my past for anything. Hashem put me in my specific family with all my challenges for a reason. Through this I learned so much, gained strength in every way, and became who I am. As the Baal Shem Tov says, a decent for a greater ascent. Today, I can happily say I’m climbing my way up on the ascending latter towards doing Hashem’s’ will and becoming a better Jew, as we all are. Although looking back, I can’t begin to imagine the dull and strenuous climb it would be without the light of Chassidus.
Personally, my climb towards a meaningful Jewish life might not have even occurred if Chassidus hadn’t been a part of it. Through my learning, there’s been one specific thought that has gotten me through it all. A concept that motivated me to start living and thinking like a Jew. It made Judaism mine, practical, and personal. One of the Rebbe’s most widely said phrases “ live with the times, find the torah in everything you do”. Like the Megillah, the Torah is not a story book that should be read backwards, but used to navigate life’s pulses of ups and downs. The Torah is every Jew’s personal guide to a fulfilling life. 
This essay is a look inside the Torah. It’s a glimpse of how I personally apply the concept of seeing the Torah in my past and present life today. How I left, and continue to leave my mitzrayim everyday of my life. How I was enslaved to a Pharaoh, how I wandered in the desert how I was guided by Moshe Rabbeinu, and ultimately how I live with the times to find my story and my life in line with the Torah.
“I was enslaved to a secular life for eighteen years”
The first of the four reasons the Jewish people merited to be redeemed from Egypt was that they kept their Jewish names. In Judaism we give so much importance to a name. Our sages tell us it’s actually a channel through which we obtain our life force, it mirrors who we are.
Leah is the name I go by today. Although that wasn’t always my name. I actually didn’t know that was my real name until a couple years ago. All my life I lived in a small, quaint Florida beach town. When you think of Florida, you might envision it with a large population of Jews. Unfortunately that was not the case in my community, except for the Chabad house nearby, naturally. My parents sent me reluctantly by the request of my grandmother as a child to the local Hebrew School. There was six children in my class. I remember being so confused going there. They would teach me all these lofty things about there being a creator of the universe, and to be honest I couldn’t relate to any of it. Although this is to be expected considering I went home to a secular family who didn’t validate anything i had learned. As soon as I left Hebrew school, to my knowledge I wasn’t Jewish anymore.
When I became old enough to finally voice my own opinion, I told my family I did not want to continue going because it didn’t seem relevant to me. My parents, not being so concerned about it themselves, did not protest my decision. I was about fourteen years old. One might assume that it was pure coincidence that this was the exact time of the start of my personal Golus, my mitzrayim. However now it seems obvious that there are no coincidences, as one of our sages said, “Even the most particular details involving every member of the Jewish people is controlled by Divine providence” 
If you’ve ever seen a movie about a public high school, they’re not that far off. There, in the middle of my 9th grade year of high school, I met my Pharaoh. Just incase your wondering, no, he wasn’t exactly the egyptian king you might be imagining. Everyone has a Pharaoh. It could be an unhealthy passion, an addiction, or even a person. It’s that one thing that rules over you. The part of your life that enslaves you.  My Pharaoh, as cliche as it might sound, was my boyfriend. He was everything a mindless, immature, teenage girl could dream of… a popular, attractive, charismatic, wealthy senior. He was a great distraction, considering at this age I didn’t want to be home at all. My family was very poor, some days we had trouble keeping food on the table. Thankfully my Pharaoh was there to help me, to take care of me, to help me escape from the reality of my family situation. Little did I know that he was pulling me deeper into my golus, and bringing more darkness into my life than I could have ever imagined.
What started out as an innocent attraction grew into something more troublesome. Slowly he started to like my exterior exclusively and nothing more. Therefore that’s what I became to him, a physical object. The relationship became toxic and for lack of a better word, abusive. As much as I wanted to leave, I couldn’t bring myself to. I became comfortable being treated this way. He had power over me. This is a common phenomenon of the abused. I was extremely afraid of the unknown, what would happen to my life if I left this relationship? Without him, who would my friends be? Who would give me self worth? Who would I be? What would I have? This is the power of Amalek, the doubt in our lives, that fear factor of the unknown.
Comparable to the majority of Jews in Egypt, when they were offered to be liberated, they refused. They stated “why should we leave? Here we have a roof over our head, and food provided for us, we should leave to starve in the desert?” Regrettably, I followed in the footsteps of some of my not so admirable ancestors and chose to toil in Mitzrayim.
In order to merit the revelation of Mattan Torah, the Jews had to be enslaved in Egypt for 210 years. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait that long to experience my own Mattan Torah. I was enslaved to a secular life filled with abuse and lack of meaning for a total of 18 years. 18 years of golus; no keeping shabbos, no lighting candles Friday night, lacking the light of Chassidus in my life, and without knowing who I truly am- a Jew.
Just as Moshe put his heart and soul into taking his people out of Egypt, so did my Shluchim. This is the miracle I strive to remember everyday. The life changing moment that I didn’t see coming. The true wonder that happened right before my eyes, the splitting of the sea. They pulled me out from the depths of my dark painful golus and placed me in the highest state of Geula I couldn’t have ever imagined in my wildest dreams. As The Maggid of Mezritch once said: “Certain opportunities and potentials are so lofty, that they cannot be accessed by the conscious self; they can only come about “by mistake”.
“And he called Machon Alte”
My Rabbi decided it would be best for me to leave everything I know and start over. He advised that I detach myself from the place that caused me so much pain. I needed to leave my town, my home, my parents, everything I knew, and go learn about who I am , just as Avraham Avinu did. Therefore, he called Machon Alte. Machon Alte is an ethereal place where girls who did not necessarily grow up religious have the opportunity to go learn in the one of the holiest places in the world, Tzfat, Israel. This is where I learned things I had never even thought possible before, where my true geula began. All the laws and practical things it took to be a Torah observant Jew, everything Hashem needed me to do for him, how to fulfill my mission and repay him for the miracles he had just shown me.
“I was living in a modern day Geula”
In the desert, the Jews were in a state of euphoria. They had everything provided for them openly by Hashem. When they were hungry, manna fell, when they were hot, the clouds of glory was their shade, when they were thirsty, the well of Miriam was there to quench their thirst. Most importantly they had the newly given Torah at their fingertips. Bamidbar, the desert, was the place closest to Hashem. The time in our history that we, the Jewish people, were close and saw G-dliness in a revealed way. Today the closest you could get to the desert as our ancestors experience the immersion in Torah, to go to Seminary.
Machon Alte Seminary was my desert, my time to be a sponge, to soak in all of Hashem’s glory and majesty. When in placed in an environment where all you absorb is pure, organic, and true to your essence one begins to realize what life is truly about. I went from be concerned of what my friends think of me, to how I’m viewed in the eyes of the creator of the world. My limited brain had never dared to wander that far, to use my unique gift of literally being a piece of Hashem to cleave closer to him. I felt in my neshama that there truly is a G-d in this chaotic world. As the torahs says, “Behold, the L-rd our G‑d has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice out of the midst of the fire: we have seen this day that G‑d does talk with man, and he lives”
There, in Israel, I discovered not only myself, but my mission. My life goal, the directives in the way a jew should live, with awe and fear of G-d. For the first time in my life I felt comfortable in my skin, in who I am. I quickly realized that this feeling was one of living in a modern day Geula. I had just received the Torah, and the tools to cherish and live with this feeling for the rest of my life.
“The Rebbe spoke many words”
Amongst the many words of wisdom that have penetrated my soul through my learning, the lesson of living with the times, of finding myself in the Torah, has been the one that keeps my emuna and connection to Hashem strong. When one feels as if something is their personal responsibility, and you are the owner, it’s treated it with care. Today I am humbled to have the merit of continuing my wandering through the desert at Machon L’Yahadus Seminary in Crown Heights. As the words of the torah are eternal and truth, by definition this means never ending, which characterizes a Jews task to cleave closer to G-d and fulfill His mission.
Thankfully, just as our ancestors in the desert did not do it alone, neither do we. As they had thier leader of the generation, we have ours. The Rebbe spoke to us many words with which we use to navigate through this dark Golus. Moshe, the first leader of the generation, left the Jews with a mission statement, and so did ours. I n his first discourse as the Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson stated his vision, and our mission as Chabad’s seventh generation. “Upon us rests the mission to draw from the loftiest heaven below… When you come to a place where they don’t know of G‑dliness, they don’t know of Judaism… you put yourself totally aside… and make sure that those who until now knew of nothing should go into the streets and shout… that G‑d and the world are one.”
This essay is a manifestation and small part of how I wish to fulfill this mission. It is how I wish to solve the misconception of the Torah being a story in the past irrelevant and distant from us. Every place and person should know that this is our personal torah, our personal mission, and most importantly, our story.
 Sefer Niggunim
 Lukkiti Sichos
 Halacha in Gemara
 Haggadah (Gutnick) , Mishnah Siddur
 Shaar-Hayichud-Vehaemunah, Tanya
 Ailimah (ch.36)
 Sichos beis, parshas shmeos
 Book of Shemos, Parshas Zachor
 Book of Shemos, Parshas Bo
 Book of Bereishis, Parshas Lech Lecha
 Tanya, perek Beis
 Deuteronmony (5:21)
 Basi Legani