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Dear Readers,

It was my granddaughter’s first day of playgroup. My daughter had prepared her well. They had packed her knapsack, including some of my granddaughter’s favorite comfort toys.

Yesterday, I listened as my daughter described how difficult this was for her. She was filled with uncertainty. Should she wait another year to enroll her, or would that just create more separation anxiety?

I was about to console her. To tell her that although right now she is consumed with sadness and doubt, these strong emotions will pass. One day, when her all-grown-up baby eagerly waves goodbye as she runs off to play with her friends, she will vaguely remember the emotions of this day and laugh at how far away it seems.

I wanted to say that, but I didn’t. I didn’t because I remembered my own mother listening to me as I told her about my own inner turmoil as I sent off each of my children—first to playgroup, then to overnight camp, yeshivah or even a whole year away in seminary in Israel. She listened as I detailed my worries in each of my parenting dilemmas.

At every stage of my life, each time I felt frightened, nervous, overwhelmed and incapable of meeting a challenge, I’m sure my mother wanted to tell me: “Don’t worry, it will be alright. I know it feels so huge now, but it will pass.”

But she didn’t. She just quietly infused me with her confident warmth, compassion and understanding.

Because my mother knew what I am learning: as much as you want to help a person avoid their challenge, it doesn’t work. They need to work through every experience for themselves. They need to learn its lessons on their own.

At the end of the creation story in this week’s Torah portion, we read an interesting sentence which is also part of the Friday-night Kiddush.

“Then G‑d blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it He rested from all His work which He created to do.” (Gen 2:3)

The wording is curious. Why the need for the words “to do”? G‑d created our world, but to whom or what does the “to do” refer to?

The commentaries explain that G‑d created the world intentionally unfinished, so that humanity can be actively involved in bringing it to its intended goal, to become a home for G‑d. (Bereishit Rabah 11:6)

Each of us has areas in this world which we need to finish. Each of us has areas of our personalities that we need to develop, expand, stretch and improve. While we can give advice or share wisdom with another, none of us can gift another person with the experiences that they need undergo.

Only in “doing” the work that we were meant to do, and experiencing the challenges and growing situations of our lives, do we each partake in making our world a home for G‑d.

Chana Weisberg

Editor, TJW

Chana Weisberg is the editor of She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of five popular books.

Dear Readers,

Climbing steep steps and hiking over bridges, we couldn’t get enough of the scene: stunning waterfalls nestled deep in the wooded mountains. Streams of crystal-clear water majestically dropped over huge cliffs and pooled into creeks surrounded by trees, wildflower and boulders.

At the very end of the summer, my husband and I took our children to a family get-away in the Pocono Mountains and discovered the gorgeous Bushkill Falls. Utterly captivated, we spent hours hiking, climbing, wading in the water and snapping a million pictures.

What is it about a waterfall that is so enchanting? After all, it’s just water doing what it naturally does, flowing from a higher place down to a lower one. And yet, each of those eight fabulous waterfalls nestled in the mountains took our breath away.

But perhaps something deep in our subconscious stirs as we watch those enthralling falls and are reminded about our own origins. Just as the water descends from high, our soul, too, originated in the high spiritual worlds and descended to our “lowly” material world. And just as the water’s fall creates such beauty, our soul’s descent into this world, too, can create enormous beauty.

The gorgeous waterfalls of that day, late in August, remind me of the upcoming holiday of Sukkot, the holiday of rejoicing, when water held a central role.

One of Sukkot’s most joyous observances was Simchat Beit Hashoeivah, the “Celebration of the Water-Drawing.” The Levites and priests would draw water from the Shiloach stream, and it was poured over the altar in a special ceremony. Arriving at the Temple, they were accompanied by joyous trumpet blasts. The nights of Sukkot were spent celebrating with music, dancing and singing.

So great was the joy that our sages inform us: “He who has not seen the rejoicing of the water-drawing ceremonies has never in his life seen joy.”(Sukkah, Ch. 5) Throughout the night, men danced holding torches, scholars juggled, and Levites played music while everyone excitedly watched. Nowadays, even without the Temple, we hold celebrations on these nights.

The Chassidic masters explain the significance of the water celebration. Torah is compared to water, and is G‑d’s wisdom descending and enclothing itself in physical terms and commandments. Like water, which is essential for life, Torah is vital for our well-being. And yet, just as water is tasteless and we can flavor it or spice it with our own ingredients, the unique manner in which we observe the Torah reflects our own special individualized personalities. Our connection to G‑d, so deep and so true, defies any specific flavor.

Thinking back to Bushkill Falls, perhaps the water reminded us that our soul’s “fall” from its lofty origins into our world creates mesmerizing beauty.

Wishing you a very joyous holiday of Sukkot!

Chana Weisberg,

Editor, TJW

Chana Weisberg is the editor of She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of five popular books.

Dear Readers,

It’s Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, when we are comparable to the angels. For these 26 hours, we can reach the heights of spirituality and cleanse ourselves of all past wrongdoing. As we celebrate our utterly indestructible relationship with G‑d, we can recharge our spiritual batteries for the coming year.

As the day progresses, the realization dawns: the month of Elul, when G‑d is so near, is long gone; the Ten Days of Repentance are mostly behind us; and now, much of this awesome day, this once-a-year-opportunity, has also passed.

And yet, as we watch the sun start to set, rather than the stirrings of our soul, we hear the strong grumblings of our stomach and feel the throbbing pain in our head. A sense of intense disappointment sets in with the realization that we haven’t even begun to achieve what we were meant to.

With these disheartening thoughts, we slowly drag ourselves back to shul. Our hearts are heavy as we read the familiar story from the book of Jonah.

G‑d commanded the prophet Jonah to travel to the city of Nineveh, an enemy of Israel, and warn of its imminent destruction due to the iniquitous behavior of its inhabitants. Aware that if he succeeds and the people repent, Nineveh would continue to pose a threat to his nation, Jonah tries to escape his mission. He boards a ship and when a storm brews, he is thrown into the sea and swallowed by a huge fish. Eventually, Jonah realizes that he can’t escape his destiny and travels to Nineveh, where the people hearken to his prophecy and wholeheartedly change their ways.

A despondent Jonah resting under a dying tree hears G‑d address him: “You are sorry for the plant for which you have neither labored, nor made grow . . . shall I not then, spare Nineveh, the great city, wherein more than 12 times 10,000 people live . . .?”

Jonah’s story teaches us that no one can escape from G‑d or the mission He has for us.

But why do we read this particular story—about a nation that was an enemy of the Jewish people—on Yom Kippur, a day that represents the intimate, indestructible bond between the Jewish soul and G‑d?

As the sun fades and our chance slips away, perhaps this is precisely the reassurance that we need to hear: G‑d cares about all people, even a sinning nation threatening His children. No matter how low we have fallen, G‑d gives us another opportunity. To the bottom of the ocean floor, to the depths of a fish’s belly, G‑d coaxes us to come closer and try harder.

No one is too far gone. Each and every one of us is important. G‑d will not give up until we hear His message and better our ways.

Wishing you a very meaningful and easy fast!

Chana Weisberg,

Editor, TJW

Chana Weisberg is the editor of She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of five popular books.

Dear Readers,

Ever notice that some people bring out the best in you? You are more kind, caring and patient in their presence, and it’s even reflected in your conversations.

Then there are others who bring out the worst in us. In their presence, our words reveal anger, restlessness and other unfavorable traits.

When we interact with a child, we reach deep inside of ourselves to rediscover our own inner child, and our words are full of wonder and spontaneity. When interacting with an intellectual, we express our more cerebral side—our questioning, even cynicism. In shared intimate moments with our spouse, our words reflect softer sentimentality, warmth and love.

In every situation, our words become tailored to the individuals with whom we are conversing; it reflects our relationship with them.

On Rosh Hashanah, we celebrate our connection to G‑d. We coronate G‑d as our King and ask Him to renew His relationship with us. We depend on G‑d as Creator and sustainer, and G‑d depends on each of us, individually, to use our unique talents and personalities to make His presence felt in this world.

So what should our conversations with G‑d sound like?

The prayers throughout the Rosh Hashanah services express many words and emotions, but the central observance of this holiday is the sounding of a shofar, a ram’s horn. It is blown in a series of longer and shorter blasts, and it reminds us of many things, including:

  • the coronation ceremony of a king or official.
  • a baby’s cries.
  • the blast of triumph and conquest.
  • the gasps of breath during a hysterical outburst.
  • the boom of victory.
  • the hiccups after a long cry.
  • a great laugh.
  • the clamor of broken-hearted repentance.

Prayers, too, can be tailored to particular thoughts, emotions and circumstances.

In contrast, the shofar blasts are general and universal. Its sounds synthesize opposites and contrasts, sadness and happiness, triumph and despair, victory and defeat, laughter and tears. It encompasses all the raw notes of our being, harmonizing all aspects of our personality, unifying the many diverse moments and encounters of our lives.

On Rosh Hashanah, as we work on forging a closer bond with our Creator, we realize that our lives will span times of delight and desolation, moments of anguish and anger. The raw sound of the shofar doesn’t represent a particular word, person or trait. It doesn’t represent a specific time or circumstance. It doesn’t even represent a precise conversation or prayer.

Rather, it represents all of these: each and every one of us, with all aspects of our personalities, throughout all of our life’s circumstances, calling out to our Creator.

Because our relationship with G‑d is so raw, so personal and so completely all-encompassing.

Wishing you a happy, healthy and meaningful new year!

Chana Weisberg,

Editor, TJW

Chana Weisberg is the editor of She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of five popular books.

Dear Readers,

It’s your birthday. Your young children let you sleep in. Stealthily, they sneak downstairs to prepare a card, hand-drawn, with clashing colors of crayons. They find a crumpled piece of gift wrap for a beaded necklace that they crafted. Finally and hesitatingly, they hand over their special present to you.

And, of course, more than the most expensive gift, their humble offering means the world to you.

Now, imagine these scenarios:

You gave a nice sum of money to a poor person who is down on his luck. You sat chatting with a home-bound, elderly neighbor to brighten his day. You brought over a home-cooked meal to a close friend who is bedridden. Or you read your child his favorite nighttime story—for the 15th time.

Terrific, right? You should feel pretty good about yourself.

But there’s one ingredient that’s essential to making it special and appreciated.

Your children’s humble present meant so much to you because it was given with such love and joy. They offered what they could, and they did it with hearts that were overflowing.

If joy would be missing from any one of your offerings, the thoughtful gift would become ugly. That home-cooked meal—given with a sour, resentful face—just wouldn’t taste the same, just as the time spent in anger or irritation with your elderly neighbor or young child would become almost meaningless. The recipients might benefit somewhat from what you gave, but the act would be missing its soul.

At the end of this week’s Torah portion, we learn why G‑d sent us into exile.

Because you did not serve G‑d with happiness and with gladness of heart, in abundance of everything, therefore you shall serve your enemies . . . (28:47–48)

Different explanations are given as to what this passage mean. Rashi suggests that we didn’t serve G‑d when He gave us an abundance of goodness, so we will serve our enemies in poverty.

But the words seem to imply that we were serving G‑d, just not with happiness.

Maimonides explains: “Even though you served G‑d, you did not serve Him with joy—that is the source of all afflictions.”

Why such extreme punishment for simply lacking joy?

G‑d didn’t create us as perfect beings who can continuously do only good and escape from messing up. But if we serve G‑d with joy—showing Him that we are happy and grateful to do His commandments—then our joy inspires G‑d to overlook our shortcomings. (Likutei Torah 2:20c)

Like any parent, G‑d doesn’t expect the most glamorous and expensive “offerings” from us. He appreciates our humble deeds, such as when I held back from that juicy gossip or when I smiled when I felt like screaming. G‑d understands how much effort even the smallest act of self-sacrifice or self-restraint requires of us.

As long as we do so with joy.

Wishing you a joyous week!

Chana Weisberg,

Edior, TJW

Chana Weisberg is the editor of She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of five popular books.

Dear Readers,

I recently read an article about a successful entrepreneur. She is a busy, hands-on mother of three young children who also runs a prosperous business. Several employees work for her, and she is constantly involved with launching new projects. To top it off, she is also writing a book about her business ideas.

How does she manage to balance it all?

She explained one key tool to avoid becoming sidetracked. At all times, she keeps with her a small black notebook. Throughout her many meetings, she jots down notes or important reminders. This way, she clears her mind to focus on her goals, rather than on what tasks she needs to remember.

More importantly, at the beginning of her day, she writes down three or four goals she wants to complete that day. She needs to be flexible to accommodate the many diversions that will require her attention. But, if at the end of the day, she can see that she accomplished those three or four goals, she knows she is on track.

This week’s Torah portion, Ki Teitze, begins with the words: “When you go out to war on your enemies, the L‑rd your G‑d shall deliver them into your hands.”

Every day, we face a battlefield trying to realize our hopes, goals and dreams, while various forces within our lives work to defeat us. Every day, we struggle to prioritize our commitments, deciding which things can be put aside and which cannot.

In every battle, the way to achieve victory is to gain the higher ground, to go “on (or over) our enemies.” We cannot become stooped in the minutia of daily life; we need to rise above it, while keeping an eye on our ultimate goals. Most importantly, we need to remember that it is G‑d who will lead us to victory and help us access our talents to succeed.

Later in the parshah, we are commanded: “When You build a new house, you shall make a guard rail for your roof.”

Building a house can mean working on any endeavor, goal or mission that we set out to achieve. In order to succeed and avoid being dragged into life’s many distractions, we must remain sufficiently aloof from them. We accomplish this by building a guard rail to keep us on track. By setting appropriate boundaries, we can focus on what’s important so that we don’t fall away from our agendas.

Not all of us are suited to build large and successful businesses. But, more importantly, all of us can—and should—make it our business to build our spiritual selves into the people we wish to become.

The New Year is right around the corner. Perhaps now would be a good time to make a list of our three or four spiritual goals for this coming year.

And with G‑d’s help, we will succeed.

Chana Weisberg,

Editor, TJW

Chana Weisberg is the editor of She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of five popular books.

Dear Readers,

Scratching. Squeaking. Crashing.

Those were the noises we were hearing last fall from our rooftop, on top of our bedroom. Little feet were scratching against the roof tiles, quickly scurrying across. Just as I would be falling into a deep sleep, I’d waken to the sound of crashing. The noise was incessant, and began to seriously interfere with my sleep. Were nocturnal animals taking shelter in my attic?

After some investigating, my husband and I discovered the culprit: squirrels. They had made a playful path across our roof. The crashing sound was the result of the nuts and acorns they were hoarding before the onslaught of winter.

Squirrels are a common sight in my backyard and neighborhood. From afar, these animals with their fluffy tails look cute and harmless. But once they get too close to your home, they become a real nuisance. Aside from the noise, squirrels can chew their way into attics to make a nest for their young. Worse, they gnaw on power cords, which can ruin your electrical system and potentially cause a fire.

Apparently, we had a real squirrel problem that we needed to deal with before our health and house were compromised.

It turns out that the squirrels were not actually living in our attic, but just using our roof space as their playground, reaching it from nearby trees. After cutting off some branches, we waited to see if the problem would be solved. That was the first night in many that I finally fell into a deep and uninterrupted sleep.

This week’s Torah reading, Shoftim, means “judges,” and it opens with the command to “appoint judges in all your city gates.” These words teach us that we need to appoint judges and law-enforcement officials to ensure a just and civil society.

But these words also hint to trespassers of a different kind.

Siftei Kohen elaborates: “The human body is a city with seven gates—seven portals to the outside world: the two eyes, two ears, two nostrils and the mouth. Here, too, it is incumbent upon us to place internal ‘judges’ to discriminate and regulate what should be admitted and what should be kept out, and ‘officers’ to enforce the judges’ decisions . . .”

The gates to access our soul are our eyes and ears and mouths. We need to supervise closely what we allow to gain entry into our home and environment. We need to fill our mind space with meaningful, uplifting thoughts, by making sure we block out ideas and practices that compromise our spiritual welfare.

Some behaviors, mannerisms and lifestyles may seem appealing from afar, but aren’t conducive to our emotional, intellectual or spiritual growth. These are better left outdoors, barred from entering our inner sanctums.

As it turns out, even squirrels aren’t innocuous after all.

Chana Weisberg,
Editor, TJW

Chana Weisberg is the editor of She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of five popular books.
Often we need a break from our daily routine. A pause from life to help us appreciate life.

A little pat on the back to let us know when we're on track. A word of encouragement to help us through those bleak moments and difficult days.

Sometimes, we just yearn for some friendship and camaraderie, someone to share our heart with. And sometimes we need a little direction from someone who's been there.

So, take a short pause from the busyness of your day and join Chana Weisberg for a cup of coffee.

Chana Weisberg is the author of Tending the Garden: The Unique Gifts of the Jewish Woman and four other books. Weisberg is a noted educator and columnist and lectures worldwide on issues relating to women, faith, relationships and the Jewish soul.
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