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Illustration by Sefira Ross.
Illustration by Sefira Ross.

Dear reader,

It had been a while since my friend, Sally, and I last had lunch together.

“Today’s a very special day,” she announced. “Today are my birthdays--my Jewish birthday as well as my secular birthday.”

I smiled, congratulating her and wishing her many more years in health.

“Do you know how seldom the two birthdays come together?” she asked.

Actually, I did. Every 19 years.

“Exactly,” she said. “I remember, because 19 years ago, my father passed away. What an emotional year that was…”

Every 19 years, the Jewish calendar which is based on the lunar cycle meets up exactly with the Gregorian calendar which is based on the solar system.

At the end of 12 months, the 29.5 day lunar month falls short of the 365.25 day solar year. But the Jewish calendar insists on reconciling the two cycles. Its solution is to add a leap month every few years which makes it ahead of the solar year in some years and lagging behind in others. Only in the nineteenth year do the two meet up—and thus my friend’s joint birthdays.

But why is the Jewish calendar so complicated? Why insist on being in sync with the solar cycle while following the lunar one?

Because Judaism believes in synthesizing and integrating opposites in order to live a fuller life.

And so, we incorporate the moon’s creative qualities of rebirth while at the same time enjoying the sun’s consistency and constancy. We remain faithful to our traditions while incorporating the ebb and flow of our creative talents. We follow the lunar months while retaining the sun’s seasons.

This brings me to the 19th day of Kislev, celebrated this week.

On this day, the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, was freed from his imprisonment in czarist Russia and was able to redouble his efforts of disseminating his teachings. And perhaps there is significance to this special day falling on the 19th --a number that teaches us how to harmonize opposites.

The Tanya, the foundational text by the Alter Rebbe speaks about a battle that is waged every day within every human being between his G‑dly and animal soul. The animal soul is our physical self—our drive to be, our instinct for self-preservation and self-fulfillment. The G‑dly soul is the source of our spirituality—our drive for self-transcendence, our yearning to escape our material existence and connect with the eternal.

Victory is not offered by negating the physical but rather engaging its power and passion for spiritual pursuits. Life is about fusion--partaking of life's pleasures while not being defined by them, but employing them in the service of G‑d.

We succeed when the body looks at the world and sees it as the soul does, as a means for expressing a greater, G‑dly purpose.

Here’s to a great week ahead--celebrating our physical life while using it for higher meaning!

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 reader,

A short while ago, my husband and I celebrated our 30th anniversary. What a landmark! How the years raced by is beyond my comprehension, but that’s how the passage of time tends to be; hours merge into days, which fuse into months, and before long, decades have passed you by.

Unbeknownst to us, weeks before our anniversary our children were planning our celebration. Right under our noses, they had created a WhatsApp family group to discuss “our folks’ upcoming celebration.”

And surprise us they did! First there was the celebratory cake that had been hidden. Then there was the special reservation made just for the two of us. And finally, the coup de grâce: artfully placed was an exquisitely framed collage of each member of our family. It included the most updated pictures of all of them (even our youngest grandchild!) and was accompanied by a heartfelt card thanking us for being their parents.

In the hours and days that ensued, we got to hear some of the behind-the-scenes planning. Only then did we realize how absolutely clueless we were with all the arrangements that were taking place, much of it underfoot.

The texts. The calls. The inquiries. The reservation. The scanning and printing of the photos. The wording on the card. Collecting the funds. So many details.

Each of my children is special, and yet different in his or her distinct way, and each expresses their unique self in the choices of their lives. But each one is exceptional and exceptionally loved.

What touched me most about all the thoughtful surprises was my children’s cooperation. They’re all really great kids, but throughout the years each had their share of mischief. Now they were getting together to mischievously plan something that would totally overwhelm us with their thoughtfulness and love.

Sure, one or two took a more leading role. But whether they lived far or near, from the sons and daughters to the sons-in law, from the youngest who is not yet in her teens to the oldest who is a mother of three, they all lovingly collaborated to bring a smile to their parents’ faces.

My children’s surprise gifts made me think about how we, as the Jewish people, may each be at different stages in our lives, each different in how we conduct ourselves or express our unique sense of selves. There may also be the leaders in our midst taking more active roles. But at the core, we are all G‑d’s precious children. And the greatest gift that we can give our Parent is our cooperation and working together.

This year, being a Hakhel year, we have an even more opportune time. Let’s use our immense power of unity to come together—and bring a smile to G‑d’s face.

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 Reader,

In order to save on the escalating cost of water, especially when it comes to watering their sprawling lawns, many homeowners here in southern New Jersey install their own wells that attach to their sprinkler systems. The one-time investment of building a well pays off in the long run by saving on the monthly water bill.

And, so, the men from Ted’s Well Services came a few weeks ago with a huge truck to dig a hole deep down in our backyard. Attaching pipes that would reach down into the ground, they started to shovel.

But not everything goes as smoothly as planned, and the well-diggers encountered a problem. Soon after they started to dig in the location that my husband had instructed, they suddenly were stung by a nest of hornets.

Unbeknownst to me, while most species of hornets build nests in trees and shrubs, some build their nests underground. Apparently, hornets had made a nest in this spot underground and when their home was being dismantled, they began attacking. Only hours later, when the nest was safely removed, were the well-diggers able to continue their work.

They dug deeper and deeper. They explained that there is a current of water at about 40 feet underground; however, the water at that level is not pristine but muddied. Only when you dig really deep—all the way down to 70 feet—do you reach the pure water, without any trace of mud or soil.

The water-digging episode in my backyard made me think about our own personal well-digging. Every once in a while, we all need to dig deep down into our own psyches to get back in tune with our inner selves and once again become focused on our deeper, inner motivations.

Sometimes, though, as we dig, we encounter things about ourselves that we don’t like. Close to the surface, there may be a veritable hornet’s nest of emotions, thought processes or attitudes. This newly discovered hornet’s nest looks dangerous, and it may even attack or sting our self-perception that our core is wholly good. In fact, some of the most famous diggers into the human psyche perceived that man’s strongest motivations were not altruistic, but self-serving and narcissistic. To Freud, for example, our actions were motivated largely by the pursuit of pleasure; to Adler, it was power.

But the Baal Shem Tov saw things differently.

It is written, “ ‘For you (the people of Israel) shall be a desirable land,’ says G‑d” (Malachi 3:12). The Baal Shem Tov explained that just as the greatest explorers won’t uncover the limits of the valuable resources placed within the earth, we will never discover the limits of the great treasures that lie buried within a Jew—G‑d’s “desirable land.”

So, don’t let your well-digging stop too soon. Don’t get stuck by the discovery of a hornet’s nest. Don’t even allow yourself to stop further when you reach water that is muddied. Dig down far and deep enough, and you will reach your pure Divine core, and there you will gain access to your very source, where no soil, mud or gravel can ever dirty.

Happy digging!

Chana Weisberg,
Editor, TJW

P.S. Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims and families of the recent horrific terrorist massacre in Paris. May the day quickly come when mankind learns to live in peace, harmony and divine goodness.

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 reader,

Ever notice how quiet a noisy room becomes when someone whispers a secret? On the other hand, try to lecture to someone, and they will immediately tune you out. You can be imparting the greatest wisdom; it won’t even be heard.

In this week's Torah portion, our matriarch Rebecca teaches us an incredibly powerful lesson on how to communicate with your spouse over a difference of opinion.

The episode is actually very perplexing. Due to her own life experiences, Rebecca keenly understands the different characteristics of her two sons, Jacob and Esau. Isaac, on the other hand, who grew up in the pious home of Sarah and Abraham, doesn’t share her vision.

Jacob is described as a man of integrity and sincerity, “a man in the tent” who sits and studies his books. Esau, on the other hand, is his polar opposite: a “man of the field” who knows how to maneuver his way through his cunning corruption.

Isaac is about to bless Esau. Rebecca intercepts this, and instructs Jacob to dress up like Esau and trick his blind father into blessing him instead.

The commentaries explain that Esau had a very high soul and a great potential. Isaac hoped he would use his “street smart” abilities and his more colorful personality to make Torah values accessible to the world. Jacob, on the other hand, he felt, was simpler, straighter; he wasn’t savvy, and wouldn’t master the necessary public relations skills or techniques.

But while Isaac envisioned Esau’s potential, Rebecca grasped the practical reality. Esau’s suave charisma would be used for nothing altruistic, and the blessings would merely assist him in his immoral goals.

Now here’s the tricky part. Why didn’t Rebecca just sit down with her husband over a cup of coffee and explain what she intuitively understood? What would be gained by Jacob committing an act of deception?

When Jacob “dressed up in Esau’s clothes,” he allowed Isaac to glimpse a dimension of his personality that Isaac had never seen. Through Rebecca’s plan, Isaac would finally comprehend that Jacob was not one-dimensional; he was not so piously removed from this world that it would inhibit him from understanding its ways. When push came to shove, Jacob was very capable of using the “garments” of the world—and he would be able to do so in the future for positive results.

So why didn’t Rebecca just communicate this deeper perception to Isaac and persuade him to see things her way?

Perhaps Rebecca realized that even if she would convince Isaac, it wouldn’t be wholehearted. Isaac might accede to her perspective, but he wouldn’t own it.

Because lessons that we own are those that we discover by ourselves. If you really want to teach someone something valuable, help them access it on their own.

Wishing you an enlightening week!

Chana Weisberg,
Editor, TJW

P.S.: Have you ever had a situation where you helped someone discover a new perspective?

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 reader,

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine a holy experience.

What did you picture?

Was it a transcendent mystical moment on a sacred day like Yom Kippur? Was it a spiritual, out-of-body experience? Was it at some hallowed place, like at the Western Wall or on a scenic mountain far away from civilization?

Judaism’s holiest site was the Temple. That’s where the Divine Presence was visibly felt, where heaven and earth kissed. And yet, surprisingly, many of the miracles that took place in the Temple mirrored the miracles that took place centuries before that—in a simple hut that was the humble home of the first Jewish couple.

“Throughout Sarah’s life, three miracles took place in her home: a protective cloud hovered over the entrance to her tent, a blessing was present in her dough, and her candles would burn from one Shabbat to the next.” (Bereishit Rabbah 60:16)

These three special miracles in Sarah’s (as well as in Rebecca’s) home represent the three special mitzvot of the Jewish woman. These miracles were later paralleled in the Temple. Sara’s Shabbat candles resembled the candles of the menorah that burned until the next day’s lighting. Sarah’s challah was blessed just like the lechem ha-panim, the showbreads of the Temple. The cloud of the Divine Presence over Sarah’s tent, like the Shechinah in the Holy Temple, affirmed the greatness within.

Now, think of a city with a thriving Jewish community. Does it have a large and beautiful synagogue?

For most of us, the shul is the center of Jewish life. It’s where we gather to pray, celebrate and study. However, in Jewish law, constructing a mikvah takes precedence over building a shul. The mikvah is a private, much less known place where a woman immerses in a ritual pool in order to resume regular marital relations with her husband. Both a synagogue and a Torah scroll, Judaism’s most venerated treasures, may be sold to raise funds to build a mikvah.

Because in Judaism, holiness is expressed in elevating our regular day-to-day experiences.

Sarah demonstrated that a Jewish home can in some ways be superior even to the Temple, for the Temple was built to emulate her home, rather than the reverse. We value marriage, the home, and peace between husband and wife even more than the most glorified spiritual highs.

Holiness is accessible to each of us. It’s in the angry words we withhold, in the dark moods we overcome and in the challenges that we tackle. It’s in our successes and, perhaps even more, in learning from our failures. It’s in the nourishing food we cook, in the joy we generate, in the encouragement we share and in the love we create.

So, how will you experience holiness today?

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 reader,

I love this time of year. The leaves are turning luxuriant autumn shades; my favorites are the rich, deep mahoganies, auburns and burgundies. There is glorious color everywhere.

In the spring, flowers brighten our world with their brilliant, vivid primary colors. They make me think of bright-eyed children, enveloped in a joie de vivre. They face their days with daring, colorful enthusiasm and flamboyant joy.

But the fall’s aging leaves, the mustard yellows and burnt orange, clinging to life with their last breath, mesmerize me. These leaves are like a mature individual, made wise by his shades of life experiences. Their deeper colors symbolize a fuller perspective of hues and a more multidimensional perception of our world—and of our relationship with our Creator.

Each of us, too, has personal moments of glory when we’re in full bloom, admired by those around us. But these moments too wither, as the wheel of life turns and our moments of accomplishment fade.

Lately, these glorious leaves have been arriving at their final destination—with their final descent to the ground. The trees, soon to be bared, remind me of the celebratory cycle of life, and how quickly love and birth changes seasons into loss and heartbreak.

Yet the fading trees outside my window also seem to be whispering an inspiring message. The small sapling that was so weak and hapless that it could almost be blown about by the raging winter winds has grown taller, thicker. Its branches now reach up to the heavens; its roots have taken a firm grip in the earth. Though its leaves have fallen away throughout each of the seasons, its core has developed and matured.

Through the passage of time, each of us, too—and our nation as a whole—develops into a stronger being, with a surer sense of who we are and deeper convictions.

Over the last few weeks, as the Jewish people, we’ve experienced too much loss and heartbreak. Hopelessly, we’ve watched the precious lives of our brothers and sisters being smothered to death with guns and knives, murdered by those who hate us.

And yet, even as precious, beautiful leaves are ripped away from our tall tree by these winds of hate, the tree of our nation, the Jewish people, continues to grow stronger, our roots extending ever deeper.

There are those who think they can break us or destroy us. They take away from us our best and greatest, our most colorful and beautiful. But they do not understand that the Jewish tree “is a tree of life for those who grasp it.”

Am Yisroel Chai! Let us pray and resolve to do extra mitzvot for the safety of our brethren. But as we do, let us remember that the tree of the Jewish people is alive, its roots are strong and resilient, and its branches continue to reach ever higher.

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 reader,

Are you ever filled with such despair that you feel like your life is hopeless? In such moments, prayer is the opportunity that G‑d offers us to communicate with Him, to turn to our Creator for comfort and salvation.

And yet, during such challenging times, as you pray, do you ever hear yourself thinking: “Now, hold on, this is too much to be asking. There’s just no way that G‑d is going to move heaven and earth to grant me this request. Maybe I should ask for something a little bit more realistic, a tad more practical.”

In the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, G‑d promises Abraham to make him “into a great nation.” Years later, after undergoing trials and tribulations, G‑d reassures Abraham and tells him, “Fear not, Abram; I am your shield; your reward is exceedingly great.”

Abraham responds, “Behold, You have given me no seed.” Of what purpose is all that You are blessing me with if I cannot have a child of my own to continue after me?

At this point, “G‑d took him outside and said, ‘Gaze now toward the heavens and count the stars, if you are able to count them!’ And G‑d said to him, ‘So shall be your offspring!’” (Genesis 15:5)

Rashi questions the need for bringing Abraham outdoors. Simply understood, G‑d was taking Abraham out of his tent to see the stars outdoors, since his children would be as numerous as them.

But on a deeper level, G‑d was implying to Abraham that he needs to step outside the natural order and rely on G‑d’s miracles.

Abraham said: “Master of the universe, I have studied my astrological pattern, and it is clear that I will not sire a son.” G‑d responded, “Go outside the sphere of the stars, because no stars control the destiny of Israel!”

Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: “How do we know that no star controls the destiny of Israel? From the verse “He took him outside.” (Talmud, Shabbos 156a)

Abraham realized that according to the rules of nature, he was not destined to have a child. He realized that naturally Sarah would not have a child. But G‑d was telling him: a Jew must go outside—he must leave the natural order, because his prayer has the power to reach his infinite G‑d, who extends beyond the sphere of this world.

Prayer can create the miraculous by elevating us beyond the natural order.

Indeed, thirteen years later, when that miraculous son is born to Abraham and Sarah, he is called Yitzchak (Isaac), which means “laughter.”

From this son of laughter descends the great nation of laughter with whom G‑d establishes His special bond.

Because the very essence of the Jew and his existence is forever a laughing, miraculous wonder—explainable only through our prayers and our deep bond with our Creator.

Let us continue to pray for the safety of our brothers and sisters in Israel and for a speedy recovery of those who were wounded.

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 reader,

My youngest daughter told me that she really likes one of her teachers because she makes her lessons “so interesting.” At every opportunity, this teacher brings tangible objects into the classroom. She regularly conducts experiments to visually illustrate concepts, just as she uses practical metaphors to make abstract ideas more concrete.

Every teacher knows that if you want an idea to really come alive for your students, you need to involve them—and as many of their senses—as possible.

And that’s one of the things that I love so much about Judaism. It’s a veritable living classroom. At every step of our day, week or month, there are scenarios that make us stop and consider something about our lives.

Take food. Every holiday has its own symbolic foods that aren’t just supposed to enhance our gastronomic experience (or our waistline), but to actually make us think about the experience. So, just as we begin a fresh new year, we dip an apple or challah into honey, so that we will think about sweetness and consider how to bring more of it into our lives and the lives of others.

But it goes further than food. To impress us with the concept of unity on Sukkot, we tangibly hold and make a blessing on four different kinds. To remember the power of a lone voice of light, we physically kindle a Chanukah menorah in the darkest of months to light up our environment.

And it’s not just about holidays.

This past summer we went on a few road trips. At the start, one member of the family read aloud tefillat haderech, the prayer said for traveling, and we all repeated. The prayer beseeches G‑d for our safety, reminding us of a time when traveling was laced with danger, like the possibility of being attacked by robbers or wild animals. While driving nowadays in a car may not present such dangers, the prayer reminds us that as we travel beyond our comfort zones we need extra protection and guidance from Above.

On one of our road trips my daughter noticed a rainbow in the sky, providing us the opportunity to say its blessing. The rainbow was G‑d’s promise to Noach not to destroy our world. In fact, our sages teach that when a rainbow appears, it is a reminder that that we deserve to be flooded again. On the other hand, a bright rainbow also portends the imminent revelation of the light of Moshiach. The lesson of the rainbow’s blessing for us was about how each of us can bring more beautiful color into our world.

And so, over and over, Judaism takes an apple or a citron, a candle or a rainbow, and gives us a tangible opportunity to pause and consider a message that we should incorporate into our lives.

Wishing you a great week, full of real life lessons.

Chana Weisberg,
Editor, TJW

P.S. As the terrorist attacks continue, our thoughts are with our brothers and sisters in Israel. Join us in doing extra mitzvot as a merit for their safety and as we pray for the recovery of all those who have been wounded.

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 reader,

It was the last weekend of the summer, and we seized the opportunity to visit my parents in Toronto. After a beautiful Shabbat together, we decided to break up our long drive home by stopping midway.

That is how we found ourselves driving along the serene country roads leading to Watkins Glen State Park in the New York Finger Lakes region. My husband had read that it had a reputation of leaving visitors spellbound by its natural beauty and awe.

The Glen is only 2 miles long, but its stream descends 400 feet, winding over and under waterfalls. Hiking on the main gorge trail, which includes 19 waterfalls, we were not disappointed, and couldn’t believe the stunning views at every bend.

We kept snapping pictures, sure that we didn’t want to miss the picturesque view only to find one even more gorgeous as we continued along the stone walkways over bridges and through tunnels. We could have stayed all day, but realized we better head home if we were to arrive before midnight.

What made the views so astounding was the stream of water cutting through the Gorge. The steep drop creates a powerful torrent that eroded the underlying rock at different rates and left behind a staircase of waterfalls, breathtaking cascades and pools of water.

As my husband, two daughters and I walked over and under the waterfalls, we reflected on the power of the continuous water stream to bend and reshape hard stone. It reminded us of the story of the 40-year-old illiterate shepherd who was inspired by droplets of water that created a deep hole on a huge stone. He wondered if it was too late for his own stony heart to be softened by studying the wisdom of the Torah. Akiva the shepherd became the great Rabbi Akiva, the wisest scholar of his day, who had 24,000 pupils, and often told them that it was a drop of water that changed his life.

We’ve just experienced a month overflowing with the rush of one long continuous spiritual high. Our days were crammed with the awe-inspiring and joyous holidays throughout the month of Tishrei. Many of us may have made resolutions of positive change that we hope to introduce into our lives, to keep up the connection and inspiration throughout the year.

But then we enter into the mundanity of the day-to-day, and somehow those resolutions feel lame. The spiritual highs have been replaced by the drudgery of paying bills and trudging through a routine of far too long to-do lists.

So, perhaps now would be a good time to remember the lesson of the dripping water.

Seemingly small, continuous meaningful acts do matter. A soft drip-drop, consistently applied over time, can puncture the mundane terrain.

And create astounding beauty.

Wishing you a beautiful week ahead!

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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