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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 TheJewishWoman.org. 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 TheJewishWoman.org. 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 TheJewishWoman.org. 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 TheJewishWoman.org. 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,

You are holding your grandmother’s delicate tea cup when it slips from your fingers and crashes onto the hard floor, shattering into a hundred pieces. The laws of nature affirm that it cannot be made whole again. Sure, you can try to repair it, but it will never look quite the same.

You heard the juiciest gossip about a neighbor and just had to share it with your friends, who in turn told it to theirs. The rules of speech assert that once words have been uttered, they can never be taken back. Sure, you can say new ones in an attempt to cover the old ones, but you can’t unspeak what has already been said.

You’ve crossed a line in your closest relationship. You ripped out a piece of your loved one’s heart. The guidelines for relationships insist that your crime is beyond reprieve. Sure, you can apologize and may be able to work on rebuilding the relationship, but the original breach of trust cannot be bridged.

Conventional wisdom declares that the past cannot be undone, and some mistakes are beyond amnesty.

The Hebrew word for sin, aveirah, comes from the root avar, which means “to pass” or “to cross over.” When we commit an aveirah, we have trespassed and crossed over the line of propriety.

And yet Torah wisdom teaches us that our sins can be mended. Not only can we undo the past, but we can even reach a better state than before we have sinned.

How is this possible? Only through the gift of teshuvah (which means “repentance” or “return”).

The concept of teshuvah—of being able to recreate our tarnished past—is not logical. That’s because, teshuvah, like Torah, preceded creation and is rooted in infinity, beyond time and space.

G‑d created us with the freedom to choose and the potential to fail. Before creating the world, He created the concept of teshuvah. He said to it: “I am about to create man in the world, but on condition that when he turns to you because of his sins, you shall be ready to erase his sins and atone for them!” (Zohar III 69b)

Teshuvah can be accessed any time of year by: a) regretting our action; b) admitting our wrong; c) genuinely apologizing to those we’ve hurt and compensating them for any damage done; and d) resolving not to repeat it.

Elul, the month preceding the High Holidays, is a special time for Divine grace. Now is the time to access this gift by rectifying the deficiencies of this past year, and molding a new and better future.

Wishing you a Chodesh Tov!

Chana Weisberg

Editor, TJW

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. 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,

The age of 2 has notoriously been dubbed “The Terrible Twos” as toddlers begin to assert their independence. As if on cue, my sweet granddaughter has become adamant about doing things “all by herself.”

One of her most popular refrains is “Self do it!” Her solution for tasks that she’d prefer to push off, such as bed time, is simply, “Mommy, go away!”

But while one minute she is stridently trying to do things on her own, the next minute she’ll eagerly snuggle up to have a book read to her. She will declare an appreciative “tank you” when I dress her doll after her own frustrating attempt, but will stubbornly refuse to hold my hand while climbing the staircase. The look of victory in her eyes after she reaches the top is priceless.

From about six months of age, the seed for independence is sewn and continues to grow, for some of us fiercely. Independence doesn’t mean that we don’t need others, but rather, that we contribute our fair share, our own efforts, to our relationships and life’s circumstances.

In this week’s Torah portion, we read the second paragraph of the Shema prayer, while last week’s Torah portion contained the verses of its first paragraph.

We are obligated to recite the Shema, a central prayer, every morning and evening. It contains fundamental beliefs about loving and serving G‑d, learning and teaching Torah, and practicing mitzvot. Much of the second paragraph, however, seems to repeat the first, with a few important differences.

The second chapter speaks about the reward and punishment we will earn by following the commandments, whereas the first leaves this out entirely. In addition, the first chapter addresses the Jewish people in the second person singular (you), as individuals, while the second chapter speaks to us in the second person plural (you, collectively).

There are two aspects to cultivating our relationship with G‑d, and each is reflective in the respective paragraph of the Shema. The first is G‑d’s gift of connection to us, without which we would never be able to have a relationship with Him. The second is our efforts and struggles, using our finite capabilities—our intellectual and emotional selves—to reach higher and come closer to G‑d.

Reward is only mentioned in the second paragraph because by definition, a reward is something that must be earned by our own merits, not bestowed as a gift. Only once we sweat for something can we really experience the joy of its accomplishment.

Moreover, by struggling to improve our moral character, we become fuller beings. In working on any new endeavor, we develop other parts of our personality—resilience, determination, empathy, generosity. We become not singular beings with one gift, but pluralistic, multidimensional beings.

The second chapter of the Shema teaches us that while the fruits of our labors may be less glorious and less brilliant, they are more real.

Just ask my 2-year-old granddaughter.

Chana Weisberg

Editor, TJW

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. 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,

Nature has a calming effect on us.

Studies show people who take walks in nature, as opposed to urban settings, were less depressed and had better memory skills. City dwellers have a 20% higher risk of anxiety disorders and a 40% higher risk of mood disorders than those in rural areas.

One study, traced patients recovering from routine surgery in identical rooms, but some were facing a brick wall and others were facing trees. Consistently, the patients facing the trees recovered earlier and required less pain medication.

Why does nature restore us and help us regain our emotional equanimity?

Psychologists attribute it to attention restoration theory, ART, which suggests that urban environments force us to use directed, top-down attention to concentrate on specific tasks. Since we can only focus for so long, directed attention gets depleted quickly. Forests, streams and ocean, on the other hand, are attention-grabbing but demand very little from us and replenish our exhausted mental resources by allowing us to think as much or as little as we'd like.

But perhaps there is a subtler, more spiritual reason as well.

Recently after a hard day, I went to a picturesque stream. Surrounded by huge trees and enveloped by water, I felt my tension evaporating. Snapping a picture of the gorgeous scenery, I posted it with the simple caption, “destressing.” When my phone’s spell-check tried to change “destressing” to “distressing”, the similarity between these words hit me.

Can we turn “distress” into “destress”, by simply changing our perspective from “i” to “e”?

When I am surrounded by work, to-do lists, and stressful situations, my focus is on I. I worry about all that I need to do, I sulk over the people who insulted me, and I simmer over the situations that anger me.

But surrounded by nature, my focus was on eeverything around me. The huge trees that swayed with the wind, the slow motion of the river, the wild geese flying overhead and the fish swimming below, the hiking path hewn from earth that had been walked on by others, each with their own life story. Each of these seemed to be whispering about the existence of a Creator who designed us all. The I of my existence, the I of my emotions, the I of my careful plan that hasn’t materialized takes a backseat to everything around me.

In nature, I was almost forced to take greater notice of a world far bigger than my own little one. I couldn’t help but see a world designed by a Designer who continues to watch over each of His creations--and who can certainly calm my own worries and restore my equanimity.

Chana Weisberg

Editor, TJW

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. 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,

We recently visited my parents in Toronto. It was so special to catch up on the many small and big conversations that are hard to have from a distance.

I am blessed to have amazingly devoted parents. But ever since we moved to New Jersey a few years ago, I miss no longer living around the corner from them. And as the years pass, every opportunity to be together becomes all the more precious.

Often in life, out of necessity, we are busy moving forward. We become distracted with the next stage, phase or project of our lives. We’re dealing with today, with the here and now, and preparing for tomorrow. Little time or energy is left for looking back.

And yet, traveling back to my home town, memories came flooding back. There was the same street that my father drove me on route to my elementary school, which years later, I drove to my children’s schools. There were the familiar scents of my mother’s best home-cooked meals. The love and warmth from my past engulfed me.

When it was time to leave, I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to say goodbye until our next visit. “I will really miss you,” my mother said as she hugged me. I found myself too choked up to respond. But holding her in my embrace for those extra few seconds, I knew she intuitively understood exactly what I felt, as only a mother does.

Parting is painful. As we age, it becomes even more painful since we have the acute awareness of how very precious each day actually is. When we are confronted with that parting hug, we are reminded of its tormenting reality. Love is about unity and togetherness. Separation creates an aching tension, a deep hurt that screams its dissent.

And so, I sit now reflecting, just days before Tisha B’Av, a day of fasting and prayer. This day that marks our deepest, most agonizing separation from G‑d, with the destruction of His home and the displacement of His children into the ravages of exile. The Kabbalists describe the shechinah’s cries as a mother who mourns being separated from her child.

And so, this Tisha B’Av, I would like to think of the mourning of this day as an opportunity to feel the hardship of separation. As I experience the pangs of hunger—as my stomach groans its protest—I will think of G‑d giving me His hug, saying to me: Remember, I really miss you. You are too far away. It is time that we spend more time together, in intimate reunion.

Wishing you an easy and meaningful fast, and wishing that this Tisha B’Av be transformed into a day of celebration!

Chana Weisberg

Editor, TJW

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. 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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