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Dear Readers,

Growing up in Iran, Anna learned little about Judaism. When she turned 12, she became obsessed with the Holocaust, grew bitter at G‑d, and decided that He would no longer be a part of her life.

Once, Anna was riding her bike, fell and inadvertently called out, “Oh my G‑d!” Her words made her momentarily think about G‑d. “If You exist, give me a sign. When I turn 18, show me a rainbow.”

She was only 13, and soon forgot about her “deal” with G‑d.

On her 18th birthday, Anna was studying with a friend, but her friend insisted on leaving so Anna could celebrate. Opening the front door, Anna saw a magnificent rainbow.

Years passed. Anna’s family escaped from Iran. She and her husband lived in California, where she was in the early stages of pregnancy with her sixth child. At a routine check-up, the doctor informed Anna that her fetus had a defective heart. The baby would need surgery and have trouble breathing its entire life.

He advised Anna to abort. She refused.

Two weeks before her due date, Anna asked to redo the tests; the results were unchanged. Anna now turned to G‑d. “You remembered me at 13 and 18! Please G‑d, heal this baby.”

Anna went into labor, fearing the worst. The baby was whisked off to neonatal care. Anna’s doctor reappeared and told her, “I have no explanation, but your baby is 100 percent healthy!”

Anna shared her story when I lectured for a Jewish learning event at her home. She pointed to her “baby,” a beautiful and healthy pre-teenager.

Anna reminds me of the powerful Jewish soul. No matter the circumstances or level of observance, the soul restlessly calls out to its Maker, pursuing a connection.

This week’s Torah portion, Pekudei, opens with the various materials donated for the Mishkan, the tabernacle. The donations were given freely, according to the resources and generosity of the individual. The exception was silver used for the foundation.

“The silver of the community was 100 talents and 1,775 shekels … half a shekel for each one … .”(Ex. 38:25-26)

Half a shekel was donated for the foundation. “The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less.” (Ex. 30:15)

The Jewish nation is made up of individuals differing vastly in temperament and abilities, social and religious standing, talents and intelligence.

Each of us can use our unique capabilities and opportunities to be a sanctuary for G‑d’s presence in our world. That is why for all other parts of the Mishkan, everyone donated according to their individual means and desire.

But for the foundation, they gave equally. No matter our differences, at our foundation, in our bond with G‑d, we are all equal.

Moreover, the foundation was made from silver. The Hebrew word for silver, kesef, also means “yearning.” Deep within our souls, at the very foundation of our being, is an ever-present yearning to come closer to G‑d.

Wishing us a week where our yearnings become expressed in positive deeds!

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,

I remember when my young daughter willfully did something against my explicit instruction. She averted her gaze trying to deny her act, or perhaps trying to take it back. She feared anger, rejection and disappointment. But most of all, she feared that this small misdeed would create a separation between us—an end to the loving relationship she cherished.

So we sat down and talked about mistakes, about owning up to them and moving forward. We discussed how perfection is an impossible goal, and how she is so much more than the sum total of her choices.

And then we talked about our relationship, and how my love for her is not dependent on her actions. The love is constant, unconditional. Even when I’m displeased, the love may be hidden, but it is just as strong. Most importantly, we spoke about how facing mistakes together helps us grow closer.

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tissa, the Jewish people commit the grave sin of worshipping the Golden Calf after having witnessed G‑d’s greatest revelations at Sinai.

Moses turned and descended from the mountain with the two Tablets of Testimony in his hands. As he drew near the camp, he saw the calf and the dances. Moses’ anger burned, he threw down the Tablets from his hands and shattered them . . . (Ex. 32:19)

Only after Moses’s excessive supplications and the nation’s repentance was he commanded to carve out the second set of tablets. So serious was the Jewish people’s transgression that the Talmud (Sanhedrin 102) declares: “There is no misfortune that doesn’t have in it something of the Golden Calf.”

Yet, the name of this portion, Ki Tissa, literally means “when you raise up” (referring to a census of “raising heads”), implying that the Jewish people were actually elevated through this episode.

How is it possible for a grave sin to elevate?

The Rebbe explains that the paradox of sin is that teshuvah, repentance, makes it possible to forge a greater connection with G‑d.

Before sinning, our relationship with G‑d need only be strong enough to keep us on track. After we sin, we realize that the enticement of sin meant more to us than our commitment. We then must search deep within ourselves to develop a stronger relationship with G‑d where He means more to us than our indulgence.

Through teshuvah, our failings can be exploited and redirected positively.

The Talmud (Nedarim 22b) states: “Had Israel not sinned with the Golden Calf, they would have received only the Five Books of Moses and the book of Joshua. Why? Because ‘Much wisdom comes through much grief.’ ” (Ecc. 1:18)

Though we strive to have a relationship with G‑d where we do not fail, mistakes are inevitable. Let’s use our mistakes to “to raise ourselves up” and develop an even deeper connection with G‑d.

The sin of the Golden Calf teaches us that mistakes—with G‑d and with our loved ones—can be opportunities to carve out “second tablets,” second chances, replete with even greater potential.

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 almost felt like paradise on earth. In the dead of winter, we were spending a few glorious days surrounded by lush greenery and towering palm trees. A relative who owned a condo in Florida offered us a short getaway. It was a dream come true to escape the snow and luxuriate in the heat for a while.

Of the thousands of people in this 55-plus community, some were snowbirds who worked in colder climates but were able to visit for a few weeks; others resided there year-round.

The premises were beautiful. We swam in one of the many pools dotting the grounds and took long walks along the scenic routes. The community center on the premises offered reading clubs, craft-making activities, game rooms and movie nights.

What an ideal place to relax, where your only worry was whether to play tennis or paint ceramics. So, why were we meeting a disproportionate number of people who looked sad or grumpy? One woman wore a T-shirt with the words, “Living the dream!” But her face read, “Living a nightmare.”

This week’s Torah portion begins with G‑d commanding Moses about lighting the menorah.

“And you shall command the children of Israel, and they shall take pure olive oil, crushed for the light, to kindle the lamps continually . . .Aaron and his sons shall set it up before the L‑rd from evening to morning; an everlasting statute for their generations . . . ” (Ex. 27:20-21)

The light of the candelabra is also a metaphor for the light every soul brings into our world. Every mitzvah we accomplish, every helpful act we do, every positive goal we achieve brings everlasting spiritual light into our environment.

To light the menorah, we need “crushed oil.”

The Talmud teaches: “Just as the olive yields light only when it is pounded, so are man’s greatest potentials realized only under the pressure of adversity.”

In order to bring light into our lives, we need some pressure and challenge. While none of us wants to be “crushed,” when we have that “impossible” deadline, when we embark on a goal that seems “unreachable,” when we push ourselves “beyond” our limits, we discover untapped reservoirs—and we discover our light.

Many of us dream of the day that we can retire and do nothing. But in reality, goals, pressures and even some crushing responsibilities can help us discover our strength and creativity. When time hangs heavily on our shoulders, when our days revolve around finding ways to fill our moments, we feel useless, and our energy becomes focused on the negativity in our lives.

Want to generate light? Create new spiritual goals. No matter what stage of life, from “morning to night”—from our youth till even our very old age—continue aspiring to reach higher.

Rest, vacation and relaxing in the sun may be necessary breaks. But to generate light, pressure yourself to keep contributing.

And that’s something I’ll need to keep in mind when my alarms rings next Monday morning.

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,

My friend shared with me her problem: “My daughter complains that ‘other mothers’ do their children’s projects for them. I will help her with the research, explain to her whatever she doesn’t understand, share ideas and guide her, but I like the actual work to be her own. How else will she learn to express her creativity?

“She complains, though, that her projects are not as glamorous, her essays don’t have the ‘fancy’ words, and her homework doesn’t look as polished as her friends’.

“Am I being a rotten parent, or are these other parents missing the point?”

This week’s parshah, Terumah, as well as a sizable portion of the book of Exodus, is devoted to the construction of the Sanctuary (Mishkan).

The Torah, which is usually so sparing with words, is uncharacteristically elaborate, devoting 13 chapters to describing the Sanctuary. All the materials, components and furnishings are listed and described, sometimes numerous times. In contrast, the Torah devotes only one chapter to the creation of the universe! Only three chapters describe the awe-inspiring revelation of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.

The Sanctuary was a temporary dwelling serving as the religious focal point in the desert. Once the Jewish people entered the Land of Israel, it was replaced by the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Why does the Torah describe the Sanctuary at such great length, while almost glossing over these other fundamental events?

Because G‑d is teaching us the value of our own input.

At Sinai (and certainly, at the creation of the world), we were passive participants. G‑d descended in His glory and majesty, accompanied by breathtaking sounds and sights of thunder and lightning, while the Jewish people observed. Due to the non-participatory nature, the impression wasn’t permanent. After the Divine Presence departed from the mountain, it reverted to its former non-holy status. Similarly, the spiritually inspired nation stooped to serve a golden calf soon after witnessing such open miracles.

The Sanctuary, on the other hand, was built with the people’s own materials, with their own hands and sweat. Everyone took part in the undertaking—men and women, rich and poor—each contributing his or her talents, resources and expertise. As a result of this human participation, the material objects themselves became permeated with enduring holiness.

But devoting so many chapters to it, the Torah teaches us that when a person contributes his own resources and creativity, it is real and lasting. Though the end product might not be as earth-shattering or as “polished” as G‑d’s revelation, in many ways, it is more valuable, precisely because it is our own. We also grow through the process by fine-tuning our skills and stretching our talents in ways that being a passive recipient does not.

The message for parents, too, is clear. Help, guide, instruct and brainstorm with your children. But the greatest learning experience is when you help your children actualize their own abilities, to create their own edifices.

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 wonder why fresh flowers make such a great gift?

There’s their fragrant aroma and vibrant beauty. But flowers don’t actually do anything. They don’t satisfy a craving; they can’t be hung on a wall or provide an enduring contribution. To some, they are just wasteful extravagance.

But perhaps that’s precisely why we love them. Flowers represent a small luxury whose sole purpose is to express care. A spouse who gifts flowers may be saying, “I have no idea why you like this. This isn’t about me, but rather, my love for you.”

In this week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim, we read: [Moses] took the book of the covenant, and read in the hearing of the people; and they said: “All that G‑d has spoken, we will do, and we will hear.” (Ex. 24:7)

The Talmud (Shabbat 88a) states: “When the people of Israel gave precedence to ‘we will do’ over ‘we will hear,’ a heavenly voice exclaimed: ‘Who revealed to My children this secret . . . ?’”

In saying “we will do” before even hearing the details of what they were committing themselves to, the nation demonstrated their absolute devotion to G‑d. They were prepared to “blindly” do G‑d’s bidding just because it is His will.

The first step in a relationship is doing for another unconditionally—not because it makes sense, or is logical or practical.

But doing is not enough! Aside from saying “we will do,” the nation also said “we will hear.”

The Chassidic masters explain: “G‑d desires that we should do as well as ‘hear’ and comprehend His will, so that we serve Him not only with our hands and feet, but also with our minds and hearts.”

Action needs to precede understanding, but we can’t stop there, or our acts become robotic and unfeeling. Blindly doing is not enough. We also need to actively engage in the relationship, to understand the other’s wants and needs. To dig deeper into their psyche to recognize what motivates, pleases or cheers them; what angers, inspires or arouses them.

But here’s where we come full circle. Even while working to understand the reasons or benefits in doing their desires, we must still do it just for them.

“Mishpatim were taught after the Giving of the Torah in order to emphasize that just as the other commandments are from Sinai, so, too, are these from Sinai.” (Mechilta; Shemot Rabbah 30:3.)

Mishpatim arethose laws that logically make sense and create a just society. Yet we follow mishpatim not merely because they are practical, but because doing so connects us to our Creator. That’s why Chassidim would wish each other to fulfill the rational mishpatim with the same unquestioning acceptance as commandments whose explanations are mysterious.

So, whether in your relationship with G‑d or with your significant other, here are three relationship rules learned from this week’s parshah:

  1. Do. Unconditionally. Illogically.
  2. Work to understand your partner’s needs and wants.
  3. Never forget: It’s not about me, but you.

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,

“My children are constantly fighting,” laments Susan, a mother of three. “They bicker about the size of their dinner portions. They argue over whose turn it is to do a chore. They fight over who is smarter or friendlier. Will there ever be peace in my home?”

This week’s Torah reading records the momentous event of the Jewish people receiving the Torah.

“In thethird monthafter the exodus . . . they came to the desert of Sinai . . .and Israel encampedthere opposite the mountain.”(Exodus 19:1–2)

The Midrashnotes: Elsewhere it is written, “theytraveled . . .they encamped” in the plural, meaning with dissenting opinions. Here, however, it is written “and Israel encamped,” in the singular form, since all were equally of one heart.

The Torah, whose purpose is to bring peace, was given in the third month because the number three teaches the value of diversity.

“One” implies a single reality and suggests absolute conformity. “Two” indicates divisiveness and disparity, as in two opposing, rival approaches. “Three” finds an underlying unity between disparate entities.

The Torah wasn’t given in the first month, which suggests exactness and conformity. While the Torah expects law and order, it respects our individual natures and our creative expressions.

Conflict arises between people when conformity is demanded. As a parent, do you say: “The rules in this house are that everyone must strictly follow this routine”? What if a child isn’t able to follow a set regimen, a firm schedule or an inflexible list of expectations?

The Torah wasn’t given in the second month of the year, indicative of two rivaling opposites.

Conflict arises when people feel that they are being compared to, or “pitted” against, each other. As a parent, do you ever say: “Why can’t you be like your sister, whose room is always so neat?” or “Why doesn’t your brother ever need to be reminded to do his chores?”

One of your children may be particularly neat, while another might be highly creative. Contrasting the two is not only unfair; it can be destructive.

The Torah, whose purpose is peace, was given in the third month. The message of “three” is the beauty of a world with endless possibilities, nuances and talents coming together in the harmonious goal of creating greater goodness.

Teach your child the power of three:

  1. To appreciate himself for whom he is—not by comparing himself to another, nor by judging himself against a rigid set of expectations.
  2. To value the special qualities that he has, rather than see himself as lacking a certain quality.
  3. To work with others doesn’t diminish him, but rather helps him and those around him achieve a greater, common good.

Our mission as parents is to utilize the power of three—to uncover and actualize the special talents and contributions of all of our children.

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,

Are you working towards a big goal? The many steps along the way are necessary, but can be so tiresome. Imagine if we could be gifted with reaching our finish line without all the effort.

This week, the Jewish people experienced the miracle of the sea splitting.

Moses tells them: “Stand still and see the L‑rd’s salvation . . . The L‑rd will fight for you, but you shall remain silent.” (Exodus 14:13-14)

The Talmud (Sotah 30b) teaches: “At the time the Israelites ascended from the Red Sea . . . the baby sat upon his mother’s knee, and the suckling sucked at his mother’s breast. When they beheld the Divine presence, the baby raised his neck and the suckling released the nipple, and they exclaimed: ‘This is my G‑d and I will praise Him . . . ’ ” (Exodus 15:2). Furthermore, “A simple servant girl saw at the Sea what Isaiah, Ezekiel and all the other prophets did not behold.” (Mechilta)

And yet, just three days later, the story takes a complete turn.

“They walked for three days in the desert but did not find water . . . The people complained, saying, ‘What shall we drink?’” (Exodus 14:22-24)

This was not a respectful entreaty for water, but bitter and insolent complaining (Rashi 14: 25). Moreover, their grumbles and grievances continued throughout their 40-year desert sojourn, in one failed test after another.

How can we reconcile a nation that reached such spiritual heights with such faithlessness?

The Jewish mystics describe two types of Divine-human encounter: itaruta de-l'eyla and itaruta de-letata, respectively, “an awakening from above” and “an awakening from below.” The first is initiated by G‑d, the second by mankind.

An “awakening from above” is spectacular, supernatural and overwhelms the natural world. An “awakening from below” has no such grandeur; it is human, coming from our own commitment and effort.

In the “awakening from above,” we are passive recipients to G‑d’s gift. This revelation overwhelms us while it lasts; but afterwards, we revert to who we were.

An “awakening from below,” by contrast, may not be as spectacular, but it transforms us.

Perhaps this explains why Moses had a vision of the Jewish people at the end of times and envied them. Though his generation experienced the greatest revelations, he admired the simple character of Jews at the end of the long exile.

Why was he was envious?

Moses saw Jews that had been battered and badgered through a tortuous exile. He saw Jews who had been afflicted materially, emotionally and physically, and were enveloped in a spiritual darkness, directionless, on a lower level than previous generations.

And yet, he saw Jews who—despite their circumstances, despite the difficulties—held on. He saw people who—despite all they had gone through—still put forth the initiative to remain connected to their Creator.

He saw them. And he envied them.

Because it’s the effort that’s expended that makes something yours. Free gifts may be nice, but personal exertion is enviable.

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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