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A Chance Encounter of Two Strangers

Ever notice how children are so excited to celebrate events? This is especially true when it comes to birthdays. They count down the days and make elaborate plans on how to spend their special day.

But as an adult, approaching yet another of my own birthdays, my excitement wasn't nearly so keen. Another year passed, I sighed to myself… just another string of days, weeks, and months…one season leading to yet another…and our world remains unchanged…

As the morning of my birthday approached, one of my daughters asked me, "How are we going to celebrate this year?"

Winking, but somewhat glumly, I responded, "How about we celebrate by just forgetting about it?"

Celebrating an event means that the event has special significance and real importance. As such, it also means it carries true responsibility. Celebrating a birthday means celebrating your life, its importance, and its impact on the world around you. It means considering what you have achieved in the past and what you are meant to achieve in the future. It means believing that you, yes you, can make a profound difference and impact on our world.

There are moments when I feel charged and excited about the human potential, but frankly, on that morning of my birthday, I just wasn't. I wasn't in the mood of standing up to its responsibility; my shoulders sagged just thinking about the load. Couldn't we, just this year, just this once, just forget about it?

Fast forward a week-and-a-half later.

I am here in a Miami, Florida, where I have just delivered lectures on Judaism and Feminism and the Jewish approach to prayer. I have about an hour to spare before leaving to the airport for my flight back home. My host suggests that I'd enjoy browsing the famed "Shops of Bel Harbor," exclusive shops situated on a picturesque outdoor promenade and surrounded by luscious palms (my favorite trees) and outdoor fans.

Upon arrival, it doesn't take me long to realize that in these very exclusive shops I wouldn't be purchasing anything, but could still enjoy the surroundings while playing a mental guessing game of how much a dress or a pair of shoes could possibly cost before peeking at the astonishingly high price tags.

And then, about twenty minutes before my ride was scheduled to arrive, a woman approached me in one of the stores.

She began with some small talk before telling me, "I've been observing you for several minutes now. Ever since childhood, I've had a 'gift' of being able to 'read' and understand people. I've never approached anyone like this before, but I'm getting exceedingly strong vibes from you."

I was taken aback, but being tired of the window shopping, when she asked if we could sit in the shade outdoors and talk, I agreed.

She continued, "I feel like you have a strong message to deliver to this world. You are breaking ground and you will break even stronger ground!" She said very excitedly and forcefully. "I can feel your power and I'm telling you that I am getting goose bumps just talking like this to you. But please, don't let anyone or anything stop you from what you can achieve."

The setting and circumstances were almost surreal. Two strangers sitting at this promenade, under the palm trees, speaking so intensely.

Elena told me she was Jewish. We spoke about her Jewish mother (named Chana), her children and her young grandchildren. When I told her that I was here in Florida to lecture for Jewish groups, she gasped exclaiming that that verified her feelings that I had a "message" to share.

We spoke about spirituality and about Elena's strong spiritual inclinations and then about how she could find expression to it in the Judaism that she knew so little about.

And finally, before parting, Elena told me to make a wish. Excusing herself for having such cliché wishes, she confessed that her own wish was for world peace and unity, and that there should no longer be anyone lacking food.

And that was when we spoke about the dream and wish throughout our Jewish history of Moshiach and of world redemption—and how in truth, ever person, every soul, has a message and a mission to accomplish, to give to our world, and how we await that day when the ultimate message of G‑dliness and spiritual serenity will suffuse our entire world.

And as we parted, I wondered, were the messages that this stranger and I exchanged with one another at this surreal chance encounter, ones that we both needed to hear?

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.

How Lawrence Met Esther

Throw a pebble into a vast still river and watch its ripples. Our actions are like stones dropped into a pond, creating ripples that travel outward. For we are all somehow incredibly interwoven and connected.


A little over two weeks ago, I was scheduled to travel to Florida to deliver some lectures. A couple days before leaving, a colleague emailed me an article that had just appeared in the Jewish Week, titled, Godsend: How Lawrence Met Esther.

It was an incredible article about a Persian Jewish woman, Esther, in her 80s, living in Florida, who had been widowed forty years earlier. She was beginning to feel very lonely and had decided to move back to her family in New York, when her friend suggested—and worked hard to convince her—to meet with Lawrence.

After Lawrence and Esther met only a few times, they knew they were meant for each other and Lawrence proposed. Though Esther felt that this was her dream come true, she still felt she had to "sort things out."

"I was in my 80s," she explained. "What would my children think? My siblings? My community? Would they understand? Would I be ostracized?"

As Esther was toying with these doubts and uncertainties, she "happened upon" a question and answer published on the Ask the Rabbi section of our Chabad.org website. Another elderly woman was asking me, "Is it right in Judaism to seek male companionship or marriage at my age?"

As the Jewish Week quoted, I responded, "There is nothing at all wrong with looking for a spouse at your age. You are still a person and you still need love, companionship and emotional support."

Reading this response strengthened Esther and enabled her to take the plunge. She broke the news to her children and her family, and to her great relief, they were all truly happy for her.

The article concluded, "Lawrence and Esther married on September 9, 2007."

Reading this, I was amazed by how we just never know how a little action of ours can have such a profound influence on someone's life. Something so small can create so much happiness. Our words, our actions, our writings—our smiles and our greetings, are all so powerful and so significant.

With that thought in mind, I boarded the plane for my lectures in Florida.

My first talk was at the Chabad campus at the University of Miami. There I met a woman who is the shlucha (Chabad emissary) of a neighboring community. We began chatting and she told me that just the previous Shabbat she had hosted a young man who was well on his way to Jewish observance. He had informed her that that his entire Jewish education came from one address--from the insights, articles and information here on our site, at Chabad.org!

The next evening, I was scheduled to talk at "The Shul" of Bel Harbor and, since it was just days before Rosh Hashanah, my topic was on prayer and forging a relationship with our Maker through our sincere words of expression.

After the lecture, an elderly woman approached me, "You know," she said. "You and I have been in touch before."

"Really?" I responded, perplexed.

"Yes," she continued. "I wrote to you a long time ago, on Chabad.org. I am a widow and I asked you if at my advanced age, I should consider remarrying."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing! The woman with whom I had corresponded with a while back, whose response prompted another woman (Esther) to marry (Lawrence), and consequently, about whom an article had just been published in the Jewish Week just days before, was standing in front of me!

I immediately filled in my new friend on the aftermath of her letter and how it had caused another woman to find so much happiness. She was incredibly pleased to hear of the positive effects of her letter and concluded, "Well, if a woman in her 80s can get remarried, then maybe I, too, should redouble my own efforts!"

And the ripples continue…

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.

From the sliding glass doors of my kitchen, I can observe them. They are all energetically at work—my husband and my youngest two children, ten year-old Yisroel Pinchas and his younger, four year-old sister, Sara Leah.

Though it is an autumn day, early in October, it feels more like a balmy afternoon in the height of the summer. In another couple of days, the holiday of Sukkot will be upon us, and the three of them are working diligently to put the finishing touches on our erected sukkah.

My husband stands in the center of the sukkah, perched high on a ladder, and his two helpers are handing him the evergreen branches, lying in our backyard in a nearby pile. As his helpers hand him the bunches, my husband places them atop the sukkah roof, completing our hut as the Torah instructs, as a temporary dwelling, shaded with foliage.

But really this scene could be happening in any other setting, at any other time—with my husband working on a project and his little helpers industriously extending the effort to assist him.

With a smile, I watch my children scurrying back and forth to bring my waiting husband more and more branches, as the shrinking pile on the ground slowly dwindles. Yisroel's arms are overflowing as he strenuously carries the largest and heaviest branches. Sara Leah, too, is trying to mimic her brother, as she competes with him in hauling the largest bundles that her little arms can carry.

But as I watch a little closer, I notice Sara Leah alternating between really large and really small bundles. While some of her bundles are almost bigger than she, I notice on other trips, she is also deliberately selecting the tiniest little branches, which she holds with as much significance and determination. I watch her with utter fascination carrying a solitary tiny branch with equal resolve and devotion as her largest piles.

It takes me a few moments to realize what is going through her little mind.

To Sara Leah, the big branches are indeed important, but the little ones are equally so. They, too, have a rightful place on top of the sukkah and they, too, have their own worthy role to play. To her, these little branches are not just an afterthought, nor are they second choice, but indeed just as credible and just as essential.

Sometimes, the older we get, the more we tend to look out for the "larger" things in life. Those things that will make a bigger impact, provide more "shade" or greater prominence for us. Or those things that will help us to complete our tasks faster.

Sara Leah, though, reminds me constantly of the value of the little things in life—the things that may not be as large or glitzy, nor as noticeable or distinguished. These are those small gestures that are so easy to overlook for the larger and seemingly more important ones, the small acts and moments that usually don't earn us any award or recognition.

Like the kind word said to our loved ones amidst the hustle and bustle of the many important chores in our day to day schedule.

Like the smile extended in greeting a neighbor or co-worker amidst the vital projects that we are working on.

Or like the thoughtful moments taken out to say a blessing of gratitude to our Creator in middle of all the many essential and valuable tasks in our day.

As Sara Leah later explained to me, the larger bundles were like the "Mommy and Daddy" branches, and the little ones, were, like her, the "little Sara Leahs."

And what could be nearly as precious as something as little and endearing as she?

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.

It's me again.

Down here.

This tiny fleck, in the huge vastness of Your universe.

Me asking You, once again, to fulfill my needs. My wants.

I've stood here, in this very place or another, so many times before, asking of You. It's always a similar pattern, the overall themes being almost identical. Only the details of each request change, with the passing seasons and years of my life.

Sometimes, I wonder if You hear me, way down here. This tiny fleck, in this lowly world.

Do my requests seem so small? Irrelevant? Maybe silly? Or insignificant? Or perhaps irreverent or ungrateful in light of all that You do for me?

But I stop my mind from thinking those thoughts. I tell myself, that You care. Even about me. All the way down here. Even about my little needs and my unessential wants. You hear me and see me. You know me.

It is true that I realize that life here in our world means that we each have our own "pekeleh"—our own package of difficulty or hardship that we are meant to carry with us in our lives.

Each of us has hurdles or challenges that we encounter. Those things that are meant to develop us and make us into the special "I" that weathering these storms makes us become.

Through the hardships, through the challenges, we become better people. It is how we grow and develop.

It is also true that I realize that were I ever able to switch "pekeleh" and assume someone else's packaged hardship, instead of my own, I know I wouldn't be able to cope.

Though from the outside it may not appear so, once I would become intimately familiar with any one else's challenges, I'd find them far too weighty a burden to carry.

Because I know that my "pekeleh" has been formed and created to tailor fit my character, my strengths and weaknesses, and my own unique soul powers.

I realize, too, if I had to choose anyone's "pekeleh" I would eventually choose my very own.

It is also true that I am grateful for all the good, all the fortune and all the happiness in my life.

So why is it that I am standing here once again, speaking to You? Beseeching You? Requesting so much of the same theme, once again?

Perhaps I should just accept all—the good and the bad—that life offers.

Perhaps I should just find the good, even in the bad.

Why do I stubbornly insist on continually complaining to You for the hardships in my world, for the pain, and for the lacking?

Why do I repeatedly ask for more good, for more happiness, and for more abundance?

Because, ultimately, I believe and know that You are the source of all good.

That You are infinite in Your abilities. That nothing at all is beyond You.

Yes, my challenges and hardships are meant to develop me into a better person, and carve away the coarseness of my persona. These trials and tribulations in our world are meant to refine our universe to become a better place.

But being Infinite, I know, that You have ways of helping us achieve all these benefits, all these positive outcomes—without the difficulty.

Nothing is beyond You.

Even accomplishing all these eventual advantages—without the pain. Without the hardships and challenges. And without the tears.

And that is why, I stand here, once again, asking of You.

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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