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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.

Dear Readers,

Are you feeling drained, stressed, constantly exhausted and not appreciated? Are you feeling unfulfilled in your goals and dreams and overwhelmed?

You may just need to learn how to set firmer boundaries in your life.

Personal boundaries are physical, emotional, spiritual or relational limits that define us as separate from others. Setting boundaries means that instead of taking on other people’s beliefs, standards and feelings, we become in tune with our own. We learn to develop a more solid sense of self that helps us take control of what is important to us and make decisions that serve our value system.

We all need boundaries in our lives. They help us define ourselves, nurture our well-being and empower us to more accurately navigate our life’s journeys. Boundaries need regular maintenance, and there are times when we actively need to defend our boundaries against intrusion.

This week, we read a double Torah portion: Matot and Massei. Matot has the double meaning of being a line or branch, as well as a tribe. Matot are those branches of wood that are cut off from the tree that have hardened. Similarly, matot also refer to the tribes who have developed into their own individual personalities.

Matot begins with Moses speaking to the heads of the tribes. Massei, on the other hand, means journeys and recounts the journeys of the Jewish people from Egypt to the Promised Land.

Part of growing and maturing into your own independent self is finding your backbone, knowing your principles and parameters.

We need to know where to draw our line, when to say a firm and unyielding, “No! This is not who I am or who I want to be.” We need to distinguish between what is helping us get closer to our “Promised Land,” and what is just serving as distractions or detours.

The portions of Matot and Massei are always read during the Three Weeks, the time period from the 17th of Tammuz until the ninth of Av (Tisha B’Av), when we mourn the destruction of the Temple and the onset of our exile.

Exile is not only about being forced to leave our land; it is also about being in a state of moral and spiritual displacement and rootlessness. Exile is about being thrown into a world where values and morals are so spineless that they get swept with the wind, and change with every new whim or societal trend.

This week’s double Torah portion reminds us that as we journey through our national exile—just as we search for direction along the path of our unique personal journey—we need to define resilient boundaries.

When ethical and personal parameters keep blurring, it’s time for us to take out our metaphorical markers and draw definitive lines.

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 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.
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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