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Dear Reader,

Do you hear yourself thinking: “Who am I to object? There are others who are far more (fill in the blank: learned, courageous, community-minded, well-connected, etc.). Who am I to voice my protest? Besides, even if I do say something, this is how it always was done and always will be done. I am not going to make any difference!”

This week’s Torah portion is about trailblazers who have the courage to take bold action and create positive change.

After sinning with Midianite women and worshipping their idol, a plague had broken out among the Jewish people. Zimri, a Simeonite prince, publicly takes a Moabite princess into his tent. Understanding the law, Pinchas kills them both, stopping the plague.

The Torah writes that Pinchas was “the son of Elazar, the son of Aaron.” In character and temperament, Pinchas was just like his grandfather—the compassionate and peace-loving Aaron. Pinchas’ zealous act defied his peaceful nature in order to bring about peace between G‑d and Israel. G‑d rewards him with a covenant of priesthood.

Later in the parshah, the daughters of the Tzelafchad petition Moses to be granted a portion of the land belonging to their father, who died without sons. Moses presents their case to G‑d, who establishes their legal right and incorporates this law into the Torah’s laws of inheritance.

Tzelafchad’s daughters were descendants of Machir, from the tribe of Menashe, who had asked Moshe to settle on the Jordan’s eastern side. They understood that they could receive territory there since it would be distributed by Moses and not by Divine lot. But these women loved the Land of Israel itself.

This is why the Torah traces their genealogy back to Joseph, who also loved Israel. Before his death in Egypt, Joseph asked his brothers to swear that they would bring out his bones and bury him in Israel’s holy soil.

The five sisters became the vehicle for the revelation of G‑d’s commandment. G‑d wrote a special chapter in the Torah altering the status quo only once these women stepped up to the plate. While the spies had spoken evil about the Land, these women taught their generation to love it passionately.

So, how can YOU become a trailblazer to create positive change? Here are three things to keep in mind:

  • Make sure your intentions are pure and not motivated by personal gain.
  • Know the law. Pinchas knew the Torah’s parameters. Tzelafchad’s daughters, too, had done their research and presented learned claims.
  • Believe it’s not too late to turn the tide. When no one is taking action, it may just be because YOU alone need to step up to the plate.

Wishing you a bold and courageous week!

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,

Why is it that just as we are about to reach a long, sought-after goal, we falter in those final moments?

Here’s one scenario:

You are about to enter a meeting to clinch this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You’ve researched all the relevant information and every pertinent detail. You’ve given yourself pep talks; you stand tall and confident. But just as you take the last strides towards the conference room, your self-doubt rears its ugly voice and you begin to waver . . .

Here’s another one:

You’ve finally built up the courage to challenge the bully who has been tormenting you. You’ve been encouraged by your closest friends, and you’ve carefully rehearsed your speech. You know this confrontation is necessary and could establish a more balanced relationship. But just as you approach her, your courage wanes and you make an about face . . .

This week’s Torah portion, Balak, begins with the Jewish people at the threshold of the Promised Land. Just before entering, they are contested by their final enemy: the Moabite king, Balak. Balak hires the gentile soothsayer, Baalam, to curse them, but each time Balaam opens his mouth, great blessings emerge.

The word balak means “cut off” or “dead” (Ohr Hatorah). It represents those times when we feel dejected or worthless just as we are about to enter our personal “promised land” and accomplish a vital goal. We feel cut off from our true selves—from the fount of our soul that provides us with the courage, inspiration and motivation to complete our mission. We feel enveloped by a curse of negativity that taunts us and prevents us from actualizing our dreams.

In those moments of despair, we need to remember that just as Balam’s curses were turned into the greatest blessings, so, too, can our negative mindset. We can be our own worst enemy or our best ally. We can choose whether to listen to this deadening doubt that cuts us off from our inner potential or to reconnect with our infinite G‑dly capabilities.

Balak, as it turned out, was actually the ancestor of Ruth, the Moabite convert, who became the grandmother of King David and the progenitor of Moshiach. The soothsayer that he hired revealed the ultimate blessings that will occur in the Messianic era.

We can view our world as an accursed place of pain and corruption, or we can see beyond the veneer to view these evil episodes as merely futile attempts to cut us off from G‑d’s vision.

When you feel cut off from your potential, try to focus on your inner redemptive qualities. Transform your negative, accursed self-talk and become your greatest advocate to bring more goodness into your life and the world at large.

Wishing you an empowering week!

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,

Would it be logical to willingly sign up for a situation that will:

  • Cost you lots of money?
  • Cause you countless sleepless nights?
  • Create innumerable messes (some really smelly ones!)?
  • Rob you of hard-to-come-by time at a period in your life when you are busiest?
  • Wreak havoc on your body (and, possibly, your marriage)?
  • Provide you with crushing responsibility for years to come?
  • Offer no guarantees (whatsoever!) of outcome?

And yet, so many of us willingly embark on parenthood.

Professor L. A. Paul, a distinguished metaphysics philosopher, explains that deciding to have children is not a rational decision. Rational decisions are based on outcomes, but having children is “an epistemically transformative experience.” You cannot know what the experience of having your own child will be like until you experience it.

You may be so transformed by this baby that his or her wellbeing becomes more important than your own. You may be completely changed, finding room within yourself for another who becomes as important, or even more important, than your own self.

Does that make sense? No. Is it logical? No. But some of the greatest experiences in life result from actions that go far beyond logic.

This week’s Torah portion is called Chukat, which refers to supra-rational laws, and keeping G‑d’s laws due to our devotion to His will even when it is beyond our understanding. It begins with the most enigmatic law—the law of the red heifer, whose ashes were sprinkled on those who became ritually impure.

The clean person shall sprinkle upon the unclean person . . . and he shall be clean at evening. . . . [But] he who sprinkles the water of sprinkling . . . shall be unclean. (Numbers 19:19–21)

One of the fascinating things about this ritual is that although the ashes purify the impure individual, the kohen performing this act becomes impure himself!

Midrash Tanchuma elucidates:

All who are involved in the preparation of the heifer, from beginning to the end, become impure, but the heifer itself purifies the impure! G‑d says: “I have made a chok, a decree . . .”

The Rebbe points out that the Torah is teaching us to care about another person’s impurity and corruption, and to do everything within our power to rehabilitate him.

What about the time, energy and resources that it will rob me of? What if my contact with him will diminish me, emotionally, materially and spiritually?

Just as the Torah instructs the kohen, who is very careful not to become impure, to do so, so must we.

Does it make sense? No. Is it logical? No.

But life isn’t about doing things that are only logical. Our lives are about transcending our egos—putting aside our own self-interests, and opening ourselves up to loving another and doing something purely out of our devotion to G‑d’s will even when it is devoid of rationale.

Indeed, some of the greatest experiences in life result from actions that go beyond logic.

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,

“Mommy! Mommy!” The frantic voice of a crying toddler could be heard in the large supermarket. “Mommy! Where are you?” His cries were becoming louder and more distressed.

At the tender sound of the word “Mommy,” my back tensed and my heart beat furiously. I desperately searched for the voice of the crying child. For that nanosecond I forgot that I no longer have any young children, and my body became physically stressed, thinking he was my own. I noticed other mothers, too, grasping their child’s hand tighter until the little boy was reunited with his mother.

For that short time, this child was every mother’s child. And when we view a stranger’s child as our own, we feel more than just compassion for him; we feel an actual bond that changes us.

There is a chasm between compassion and love. Compassion means I have sympathy, kindness or empathy for you. But there is me, and there is you. I am opening myself up to you; I have compassion for your plight, and I am willing to give of myself to alleviate your difficulty.

Love, on the other hand, means an inherent connection and a personal attachment. To truly love someone means to feel united with him. I am pained by your pain; your happiness is my happiness. There is no evaluation of worthiness or lack thereof. There are no stark boundaries.

This week is Gimmel Tammuz, the yahrtzeit of the Rebbe. From his first talk upon accepting the leadership of Chabad-Lubavitch in 1951, the Rebbe made the ideal of loving every Jew a cornerstone of his mission. He saw an unbreakable, three-pronged union between love of every Jew, love of G‑d and love of the Torah.

The Rebbe taught us how to look at another person. Not only to have compassion for him. Not just to try to “help” him or feel pained by his plight. But to feel united with him.

How can we achieve this level of love? By viewing the other person as ourselves—as our own child, sister or brother. As a real part of myself. And from this perspective, there are no labels or parameters; there is no judgment of good or bad. There is no concept of “another” type of Jew; every Jew is related to me, and is mine.

The Rebbe explained:

Instead of focusing on our personal “I,” we can highlight the G‑dly spark we possess, our true and most genuine self. And when a person’s G‑dly spark shines brightly, he is able to appreciate that a similar spark also burns within everyone. He can thus love another person as himself, because he and the other share a fundamental identity.

This week, in honor of the Rebbe’s yahrtzeit, let’s make an effort to increase acts of love in our world by seeing beyond our differences and finding the divine core that unites us all.

Wishing you a very loving week!

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,

Years ago, I panicked when I was invited to a remote meeting. Not being technically inclined, I worried that I would make some really dumb mistake before this geek. I tried to schedule our meeting after 4:15 PM, so that I could get some help from my technical assistant—my 10-year-old son, who by then would be home from elementary school.

Nowadays that son spends his time studying in a yeshivah, but he still helps me from afar. My new in-house personal assistant is my 12-year-old daughter. To her, and to the younger generation, technology is intuitive.

Why are children so much better with apps, electronic toys and computers than their adult counterparts?

Researchers at the University of California set out to find out.

They discovered that young children, even 4-year-olds who couldn’t tie their shoes yet, were better at gadgets than adults.

Psychologist Alison Gopnik, who led the study, thinks it’s because children approach solving problems differently. They try a variety of novel ideas and unusual strategies. “Exploratory learning comes naturally to young children. Adults, on the other hand, jump on the first, most obvious solution and doggedly stick to it, even if it’s not working,” she said.

When approaching a solution, adults rely on their ingrained way of doing things, whether or not it’s been successful. Children, on the other hand, have much more flexible, fluid thinking and are far more willing to explore an unlikely hypothesis. In fact, the younger the child is, the more flexible his or her thinking.

We often get stuck with the familiar, afraid to make necessary changes outside our comfort zone. We approach our relationships by dancing the same steps and reacting instinctively, even if that has intensified the conflict in the past. We solve problems using the same tried-and-true methods, even if these created the problems. We may be afraid to leave an unhappy job or circumstance because it is all we know.

In this week’s Torah portion, when the spies return from scouting the Land of Israel, all but two shared a false negative report. One of their statements was:

“It is a land that consumes its inhabitants” (Numbers 13:32).

The word for “its inhabitants,” yoshvehah, literally means “its settlers.”

The chassidic master Rabbi Yitzchak of Vorka extrapolates from these words: “The Holy Land does not tolerate [but rather ‘consumes’] those who settle down, content with their achievements . . .”

Holiness means constantly climbing and reaching higher. We cannot allow our lives to “be settled” with stagnation; at every stage, we need to explore new opportunities for growth.

Through their technical expertise and by their constant open-minded curiosity, children remind us that our ingrained patterns shouldn’t keep us stuck in a rut. To truly thrive, we need to open our minds to new possibilities and keep reaching higher.

Wishing you a great week!

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,

“Fifteen days left!” That was a note on the fridge of a hard-working teacher, counting down till the end of her school year. My children, too, are doing a similar countdown.

How often do we will away time? Caught in a traffic jam, we fume about how long it is taking us to arrive at our destination. In a doctor’s waiting room, we tap impatiently while awaiting our turn. Though our tapping and fuming doesn’t make the time go any faster, it expresses how we want to move on to “the more important stuff.”

As women, especially, we enthusiastically await life’s next milestones—the baby finally sleeping through the night, speaking her first words, walking his first steps, beginning that first day at school—only to wake up one day to an empty home, wondering where the time went.

We can’t wait to graduate, earn our degrees and begin our first job. Then, we’re eager for the next, better job opportunity until we find ourselves pondering when we will finally save enough to retire.

Interestingly, when recording the life of righteous people, like Abraham and Sarah, the Torah uses the phrase, “zekeinim, baim bayomimthey were old, they entered many days.” If they were old, isn’t it obvious that they lived many days? The wording implies, however, that living many days isn’t necessarily entering our days. We can will away our time, looking for the next prospect, or we can live in the moment, entering each of our days by experiencing them fully.

Similarly, in this week’s Torah portion, we learn about how the Jewish people journeyed in the desert.

“Whether it was for two days, a month or a year, that the cloud lingered to hover over the Sanctuary, the children of Israel would encamp and not travel, and when it departed, they traveled. At the L‑rd’s bidding they would encamp, and at the L‑rd’s bidding they would travel.” (Numbers 9:22-23)

Sometimes, they camped for weeks at a location; other times they remained for just a day. At every location, the Levites assembled the Sanctuary, including the wall sections, pillars, tapestries, furnishing and every one of its hundreds of foundation sockets. Several thousand Levites were needed for this formidable task.

Was it really necessary to assemble and disassemble the entire structure if they were to remain for only one day at a particular location?

The Rebbe explains that this teaches us that every one of our “stations” in life is significant. At times, we may feel that we are just at a waiting point, at a stage before the next, more meaningful phase. But every day, every moment—somehow, even those caught at the long supermarket checkout line—can be entered into and transformed into an opportunity for growth.

At every juncture, we need to assemble our own Sanctuary by finding a way, at this moment, to join heaven and earth.

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,

I learned a new word recently: “mansplaining.”

Wikipedia defines it as: “a portmanteau of the words man and explaining; to explain something to someone, typically a man to woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.”

When a person, usually a male, mansplains it means that he has little respect for the listener since he assumes that the listener, being female, does not have the same capacity to understand as a male.

Women who have been subjected to mansplaining describe that this invalidation silences women, crushes their feminine perspective and dismisses them as being less credible. But truthfully, it also robs the male of something valuable—a perspective that would enrich his own.

Though a fairly new word, perhaps this week’s Torah portion admonishes us against this behavior.

The Sota is a woman whose husband suspects (and has limited evidence of) her infidelity. The couple comes to the Temple where a kohen fills an earthen vessel with Temple water and bitter earth, and dissolves in it the letters of G‑d’s name. When she drinks the bitter waters, the unfaithful wife dies; the faithful one is exonerated and blessed.

The Chassidic masters explain this episode metaphorically as a struggle between spirituality and physicality, between the soul and the body, and between the masculine and feminine perspectives.

The soul, represented by the husband, cannot fathom the value of the body, represented by the feminine. The soul views physicality as something detracting from his Divine service and does not appreciate her needs or perspectives.

But while the body’s temptations often hold the soul back, that’s only one side. The soul could not accomplish its mission—or perform any mitzvah, for that matter—without its body: its brain, mouth, hands and legs. G‑d chose to give the Torah to human beings—souls cloaked in physical bodies—and not angels. The Torah commands us about earthly matters and how to live in our physical world. In fact, in the feminine era of Moshiach, we will understand the body’s true value, and the soul will actually “be nourished by the body.”

That is why in the Sota episode, after the struggle between the soul and the body, the name of G‑d is dissolved specifically in an earthen vessel, validating the significant role played by feminine earthiness and physicality.

So, perhaps the lesson for us is not to have a one-dimensional worldview that disparages or disregards people or perspectives that differ from our own. By marrying the spiritual with the physical, by wedding the masculine with the feminine, by incorporating a range of diversity, we become greater beings.

Let’s stop mansplaining, womansplaining or peoplesplaining, and start seeing the inherent worth in all of G‑d’s creations.

Let’s open our eyes to appreciate the value of someone or something beyond ourselves. We will not only broaden and enrich our personal understanding, but we will also achieve the impossible—of joining heaven and earth.

Chana Weisberg

Editor, TJW

P.S. Have you ever been mansplained? How did you respond?

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,

Years ago, when I was in school, there was no uniform policy. Any long-sleeved, white blouse with any navy mid-length skirt could be worn. We expressed our individuality through the particular style blouse or skirt that we chose.

In schools that do enforce uniforms, students will often distinguish themselves by colorful hair accessories or bold jewelry.

In his book on prison life, Erving Goffman writes that when people are incarcerated, they make their clothing look different—by stretching out their sock, for example—so that it doesn’t look like anyone else’s.

We all need some way to express our individuality. And yet, when given our autonomy, don’t we want to have what “everyone’s wearing”? Ironically, we sometimes express our individuality by copying “everyone else.”

Seemingly, we have two opposing forces tugging at us: our need to stand out as individuals vs. our need for belonging.

In fact, too much individuality can often lead to a lack of identity.

Psychology professor Martin Seligman bemoans this aspect of modern society. “In the past quarter-century, events occurred that so weakened our commitment to larger entities as to leave us almost naked before the ordinary assaults of life ... . Where can one now turn for identity, for purpose and for hope? When we need spiritual furniture, we look around and see that all the comfortable leather sofas and stuffed chairs have been removed, and all that’s left to sit on is a small, frail folding chair: the self.”

In our pursuit of individuality, have we forgotten the goal of community?

In this week’s Torah portion, Bamidbar, the tribes camped in the wilderness, “each man by his division with the flag of their fathers’ house.”

Rashi explains: “Every division shall have its own flag staff, with a colored flag hanging on it; the color of one being different from the color of any other.”

Each tribe had its own leader, its own place to camp, its own color and flag, and its own representative stone on the breastplate worn by the High Priest. Each tribe was allotted its portion in Israel that best suited its vocation, as shepherds, vintners, seafaring merchants, scholars, etc.

Bamidbar is always read around the holiday of Shavuot, when the Jewish people received the Torah as “one man, with one heart.” Their communal unity did not stop them from having distinct tribal identities.

And perhaps here is the crux of successfully integrating individuality with community.

We all need to feel a sense of belonging to something greater—a people, a community, a way of life. Only when we feel a secure sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves can we really have the freedom to discover our individuality.

But this larger entity must also provide the framework for each of us to strive to become our unique personal best.

Wishing you a wonderful Shavuot holiday! May we learn to feel “as one man with one heart” while finding our own oneness as well!

Chana Weisberg

Editor, TJW

P.S. What takes precedence in your life: your sense of belonging or individuality?

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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