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Dear Readers,

As the seasons change, our daylight hours become increasingly shorter, and the nights, coldness and darkness become longer and more intense.

This week, we usher in the Jewish month of Kislev. Now is the time when we especially appreciate cuddling indoors by the glow of a fire, sipping a steaming drink, surrounded by friends or family.

As the blackness lingers outdoors, we need to create greater brightness within; the power of each and every light becomes more appreciated.

In this month of Kislev, we celebrate the victory and power of lights.

The holiday of Chanukah commemorates the victory of the lone light of the Jewish people against the overwhelming darkness and misery from the Greeks around us. While the Greeks subjugated and persecuted us, a brave band of Jews stood up to them, and, against all odds, won. Our miraculous military victory was echoed by the miracle of the oil—the small cruse of one day’s supply that burned brightly, outshining the darkness and lasting for eight days until a new supply of oil could be made.

During the month of Kislev, we also celebrate the 19th of Kislev, which is considered the “New Year” or “Rosh Hashanah of Chassidism.” On this date, in 1798, the founder of Chabad Chassidism—Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, known as the Alter Rebbe-was freed from imprisonment in czarist Russia, heralding in a new era in the revelation of the “inner soul” of Torah.

Chassidic teachings emphasizes the power of light to eradicate darkness. By shining the simple light of truth on something—by exposing the G‑dly intent of our world—the surrounding darkness melts into oblivion.

What this means to each of us is that the gloom doesn’t need to be fought; it needs to be illuminated with the light of truth and our power to believe in our G‑d-given abilities to prevail.

In our own lives, each of us confronts a challenge, a difficulty, a tragedy or pain. The first step in defying our struggles is releasing our inner core power.

Realize the potent spark of G‑dliness within you, and you will discover the strength to tackle whatever is holding you back from achieving your goals. The most powerful weapon we have to conquer our fears, demons, foes and enemies is finding and strengthening our inner essence . . . knowing who we are and why we are here.

Conquering even the most pervasive darkness begins by first lighting up the candle of our own soul.

Wishing us all a month filled with light and happiness!

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,

Close your eyes and try to imagine a holy experience.

What did you picture?

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

I bet you didn’t picture a mundane day at home.

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

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

These three special miracles in Sarah’s (as well as in Rebecca’s) home represent the three special mitzvot of the Jewish woman. These miracles were later paralleled in the Temple.

Sara’s Shabbat candles resembled the candles of the menorah that burned until the next day’s lighting. Sarah’s challah was blessed, just like the lechem hapanim, the showbreads of the Temple. The cloud of the Divine Presence over Sarah’s tent, like the Shechinah in the Holy Temple, affirmed the greatness within.

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

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

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

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

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

We can all experience holiness. Even in our own homes. Today and every day.

Wishing you a holy week!

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,

Sometimes, when I look around, I feel surrounded by negativity, by doom and gloom.

I see the many social wrongs that are being tolerated. I discern rampant judgmentalism and condescension in our communities. I see a world that is very far from the ideals of where it should be.

Rather than feeling like we are progressing forward on our sojourn towards a better reality, our situation can sometimes feel pretty helpless. It can feel like steps backwards. There are undeniably too may collective ills, too many cracks and far too many people not walking the walk or talking the talk of the high ideals that the Torah aspires to.

But then I remember. G‑d doesn’t demand perfection.

In this week’s Torah portion, there’s an unbelievable exchange between Abraham and G‑d. G‑d has just informed Abraham that He intends to destroy the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. True to his character, Abraham pleads for mercy and begins brokering with G‑d.

He begins his negotiations by entreating G‑d to forgive the people if there are even 50 righteous individuals in these cities. Eventually, he squeezes G‑d to withhold punishment if even 10 righteous people exist.

In these highly populated yet morally depraved cities, where the cruelest behaviors were tolerated and encouraged, all that was necessary to prevent destruction was 10 people standing true to their morals.

10. That’s all.

Maimonides tells us to view our world as being half-good and half-evil. We don’t need to change the world and all its moral wrongs. All we need to do is one act of goodness to tip the scales in our favor.

Just one positive act by one individual.

And that person can be any of us.

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,

Do life’s hardships overwhelm you and make you feel disconnected from G‑d?

The first parents of our nation present a powerful lesson on how to approach such times. In their advanced years, Abraham and Sarah are told to travel to Canaan.

Canaan, the ancient name for the Land of Israel, also means “merchant.” A merchant symbolizes wealth, bounty, opportunity. Spiritually, too, the name signifies a profound closeness to G‑d. Abraham experiences a closer relationship with G‑d, and is promised that he will inherit Canaan.

But then a challenge appears . . . “There was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt.”

Spiritually, a famine is a test of faith, when our spirituality becomes dulled.

Abraham instructs Sarah: “When the Egyptians see you, they will say ‘This is his wife,’ and they will kill me. . . . Therefore, please say that you are my sister, so that they will benefit me because of you . . .”

There is a metaphorical, spiritual lesson in these words.

In Canaan, a land of spiritual bounty, Abraham and Sarah live openly as husband and wife, and love each other as only spouses can.

But then Sarah and Abraham end up in Egypt—Mitzrayim, in Hebrew—a name that connotes constraints and limitation. Abraham instructs Sarah to conceal their true relationship and to say that she is his sister.

The relationship of siblings is innate, inborn and constant. The bond with a spouse, however, is chosen; its love is created and is subject to change. That’s what gives the marriage its intensity and passion.

King Solomon speaks of the Jewish people’s relationship with G‑d as being that of both a sister and a wife.

In Canaan, when we are in a space where we feel G‑d’s presence and bounty in our lives, G‑d is our beloved, our spouse.

But then a famine arrives. It’s a period of scarcity and challenge, testing our resolve. The relationship becomes strained. We no longer feel the richness, the “merchant” of Canaan. We are in Egypt, a place of meitzarim, of limitations.

Now comes the lesson—“say you are my sister.” Realize that even in moments when you feel disconnected from G‑d, from your nation and from your soul, G‑d is with you. G‑d isn’t only a spouse, but also a sibling.

We are G‑d’s people because G‑dliness is inborn in our being. Like the bond between siblings, it may not always be passionate, but it is always there.

We crave a relationship with G‑d that is alive, vibrant and passionate, like the relationship of a loving spouse. We want to feel like we’re living in the Holy Land, surrounded by spiritual blessings.

But even when we experience our personal famines—times of meitzarim, constraints and hardships—our relationship with G‑d still exists.

And we can always tap into this love and revive it.

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,

Do you ever think to yourself: “I’m drowning! I’m swamped with life’s demands!”

Whether it’s slaving away at our jobs, sinking into the insurmountable pile of our bills or worrying about the hundreds of big and little things that challenge us, how can we stay afloat? When life comes rushing at us—leaving us with a never-ending “To Do” list, and making us feel confused and overwhelmed—how can we cope?

In this week’s Torah portion, we read about the great flood. The Hebrew word for flood, mabul, also means disorder and confusion. In a world full of disorder, our priorities can become skewed and distorted.

How did Noah handle the overwhelming floodwaters?

First, he builds an ark.

The Hebrew word for ark is tevah, which also means “word.”

When the world is churning, threatening to drown the spark of vitality within us, we need to enter into the tevah—the world of word.

We need to find moments of solitude, to regroup and regain our composure by studying the words of Torah and meditating on the words of prayer. We need to carve out a time to discover a soothing haven of wisdom and perspective against the raging floodwaters of life. We may not be able to save the world, but we can build for ourselves an ark, a sanctum of time, protected, and filled with purpose and meaning.

Noah’s ark was built from gopher wood, which is soft and able to withstand the pressures of the floodwaters. A stronger but less flexible wood would have snapped. The Talmud teaches: “It is better to be as soft as a reed, than as hard as a cedar.” (Taanit 20b)

In dealing with the pressures of a sometimes hostile world, we benefit most by having a soft, yielding nature, looking for resolution rather than confrontation.

But the gopher wood was covered with pitch. Without this waterproof covering, the floodwaters could have seeped in and destroyed the ark. As much as we need to be supple and compromising, when it comes to matters of principle, morals or ethics, we need to be impenetrable.

And finally, to test whether the earth was dry enough to be habitable, Noah sent out a dove who returned with an olive branch in its mouth. The dove is the universal symbol of peace. A raw olive is inedible. The olive’s precious oil is produced after processing. Only when we are at peace with ourselves can we find and process the precious potential within our surroundings.

Noah teaches us that to find our inner peace, we need to:

1) Immerse in the teivah, the words of Torah and prayer;

2) Become more compromising like gopher, while remaining impenetrable in our morals like pitch;

3) See the potential around us, even in an inedible olive.

Then the raging waters calm down, and we are able to find the beauty and blessing hidden in every person and every creation.

When Noah emerged, he beheld a new world. And we can, too.

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,

We recently celebrated the joyous occasion of the marriage of our third daughter. For the final sheva brachot, we had the privilege of hosting the young couple, together with other family members.

I enjoyed watching how my new son-in-law seamlessly merged into our family’s dynamics to truly becoming a son, and brother, to the rest of us. I loved observing, too, how the young couple interacted with each other, seeing their kindness and tenderness, and witnessing how two independent souls and personalities were fusing to become united as one.

During this special time—this beginning of their new life together—the newlyweds are in their own bubble of time and space, living in a dimension all of their own. It’s downright obvious in the glances, smiles and giggles that they exchange, and in the little gestures that they do for each other. Even while conversing and intermingling with others, there is almost an invisible wall encircling them—building, strengthening and protecting their budding relationship, where nothing exists but the two of them.

Perhaps that’s a little like the holiday of Sukkot.

We have just experienced the High Holiday season, where we spent our days reinforcing our connection and recommitting ourselves to G‑d. We asked G‑d to renew His relationship with us, just as we re-pledged our allegiance. It was a serious and awesome time. And now, G‑d asks us, before going back to the mundane schedules of our lives to spend one more holiday enfolded in the joyous celebration of His loving embrace.

We leave our material possessions, the protection of our permanent homes and the distraction of the daily grind of our schedules, and enter into the temporary sukkah. We enter with our entire being—eating, drinking and living there. For an entire week, we make this transient, precariously roofed hut into our home.

But within the walls of the sukkah, we realize that our protection and gratification does not come from the bricks of our homes or in the pleasure of the materialism we have left behind. Encircled within its bare walls, we have entered a new dimension of time and space, where we can feel our bond and connection with G‑d. As we look up to the open sky, we come to realize that only this relationship has eternal meaning, and that G‑d is our only Protector and Provider.

Hopefully, we will hold onto G‑d’s embrace. Hopefully, we will take the joy with us as we back to our permanent homes and into the nitty-gritty schedule of daily life, though now, greatly enriched.

Wishing you a very joyous Sukkot and Simchat Torah holiday!

And wishing my new son and daughter tremendous happiness and joy in their life together!

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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