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Dear Readers,

You’ve experienced a difficult and overloaded day. The tension is mounting, and your head is pounding. Before your headache becomes utterly unbearable, you swallow two Tylenols. To your great relief, within several minutes the pain has subsided, and you can continue working.

You think you are now functioning as your normal self. But think again.

A new study by researchers at Ohio State University found that while acetaminophen—the main medical ingredient used in Tylenol and many other pain relievers—dulls your own pain, it also dulls your empathy to the trials and tribulations of others.

In this study, participants from two groups were tested; one group was given a placebo pill, and the other was given acetaminophen. After the medicine took effect, the groups were each asked to read sad stories of individuals experiencing challenges and hurt. Each group was then asked to rate the pain of the characters. Those who had taken acetaminophen minimized the pain, while the placebo group had greater empathy for them.

Empathy is our ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and feel their emotional landscape from their own perspective. Apparently, the part of the brain that’s activated when you’re feeling pain is the same part activated when you’re imagining someone else feeling the same pain. And if your pain center is dulled, so, too, is your empathy to another’s agony.

Reading this study made me wonder if the converse is also true. Can experiencing a painful situation actually increase our compassion? While empathy comes more naturally to some than to others, if you have experienced a particular challenge or trauma, can you use your experience to become more sensitized to the depth of another person’s pain?

I have met people who have suffered terrible challenges in their lives: debilitating sicknesses, financial crisis and appalling emotional trauma. Some of these individuals have used their pain and suffering to transform themselves into greater people, overflowing with empathy. The depth of their pain seems to reflect the depth of their ability to feel the hurt of another—and to take action, to proactively do something to help.

While none of us ever wants to experience serious suffering in our lives, perhaps we can view our challenges as opportunities to grow into greater more empathetic individuals.

And while the researchers in Ohio never intended to prove that, perhaps this can have even greater ramifications on how we function as human beings.

Wishing you a week full of empathy—and devoid of headaches!

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 was my granddaughter’s first day of playgroup. My daughter had prepared her well. They had packed her knapsack, including some of my granddaughter’s favorite comfort toys.

Yesterday, I listened as my daughter described how difficult this was for her. She was filled with uncertainty. Should she wait another year to enroll her, or would that just create more separation anxiety?

I was about to console her. To tell her that although right now she is consumed with sadness and doubt, these strong emotions will pass. One day, when her all-grown-up baby eagerly waves goodbye as she runs off to play with her friends, she will vaguely remember the emotions of this day and laugh at how far away it seems.

I wanted to say that, but I didn’t. I didn’t because I remembered my own mother listening to me as I told her about my own inner turmoil as I sent off each of my children—first to playgroup, then to overnight camp, yeshivah or even a whole year away in seminary in Israel. She listened as I detailed my worries in each of my parenting dilemmas.

At every stage of my life, each time I felt frightened, nervous, overwhelmed and incapable of meeting a challenge, I’m sure my mother wanted to tell me: “Don’t worry, it will be alright. I know it feels so huge now, but it will pass.”

But she didn’t. She just quietly infused me with her confident warmth, compassion and understanding.

Because my mother knew what I am learning: as much as you want to help a person avoid their challenge, it doesn’t work. They need to work through every experience for themselves. They need to learn its lessons on their own.


At the end of the creation story in this week’s Torah portion, we read an interesting sentence which is also part of the Friday-night Kiddush.

“Then G‑d blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it He rested from all His work which He created to do.” (Gen 2:3)

The wording is curious. Why the need for the words “to do”? G‑d created our world, but to whom or what does the “to do” refer to?

The commentaries explain that G‑d created the world intentionally unfinished, so that humanity can be actively involved in bringing it to its intended goal, to become a home for G‑d. (Bereishit Rabah 11:6)

Each of us has areas in this world which we need to finish. Each of us has areas of our personalities that we need to develop, expand, stretch and improve. While we can give advice or share wisdom with another, none of us can gift another person with the experiences that they need undergo.

Only in “doing” the work that we were meant to do, and experiencing the challenges and growing situations of our lives, do we each partake in making our world a home for G‑d.

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,

Climbing steep steps and hiking over bridges, we couldn’t get enough of the scene: stunning waterfalls nestled deep in the wooded mountains. Streams of crystal-clear water majestically dropped over huge cliffs and pooled into creeks surrounded by trees, wildflower and boulders.

At the very end of the summer, my husband and I took our children to a family get-away in the Pocono Mountains and discovered the gorgeous Bushkill Falls. Utterly captivated, we spent hours hiking, climbing, wading in the water and snapping a million pictures.

What is it about a waterfall that is so enchanting? After all, it’s just water doing what it naturally does, flowing from a higher place down to a lower one. And yet, each of those eight fabulous waterfalls nestled in the mountains took our breath away.

But perhaps something deep in our subconscious stirs as we watch those enthralling falls and are reminded about our own origins. Just as the water descends from high, our soul, too, originated in the high spiritual worlds and descended to our “lowly” material world. And just as the water’s fall creates such beauty, our soul’s descent into this world, too, can create enormous beauty.

The gorgeous waterfalls of that day, late in August, remind me of the upcoming holiday of Sukkot, the holiday of rejoicing, when water held a central role.

One of Sukkot’s most joyous observances was Simchat Beit Hashoeivah, the “Celebration of the Water-Drawing.” The Levites and priests would draw water from the Shiloach stream, and it was poured over the altar in a special ceremony. Arriving at the Temple, they were accompanied by joyous trumpet blasts. The nights of Sukkot were spent celebrating with music, dancing and singing.

So great was the joy that our sages inform us: “He who has not seen the rejoicing of the water-drawing ceremonies has never in his life seen joy.”(Sukkah, Ch. 5) Throughout the night, men danced holding torches, scholars juggled, and Levites played music while everyone excitedly watched. Nowadays, even without the Temple, we hold celebrations on these nights.

The Chassidic masters explain the significance of the water celebration. Torah is compared to water, and is G‑d’s wisdom descending and enclothing itself in physical terms and commandments. Like water, which is essential for life, Torah is vital for our well-being. And yet, just as water is tasteless and we can flavor it or spice it with our own ingredients, the unique manner in which we observe the Torah reflects our own special individualized personalities. Our connection to G‑d, so deep and so true, defies any specific flavor.

Thinking back to Bushkill Falls, perhaps the water reminded us that our soul’s “fall” from its lofty origins into our world creates mesmerizing beauty.

Wishing you a very joyous holiday of Sukkot!

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 Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, when we are comparable to the angels. For these 26 hours, we can reach the heights of spirituality and cleanse ourselves of all past wrongdoing. As we celebrate our utterly indestructible relationship with G‑d, we can recharge our spiritual batteries for the coming year.

As the day progresses, the realization dawns: the month of Elul, when G‑d is so near, is long gone; the Ten Days of Repentance are mostly behind us; and now, much of this awesome day, this once-a-year-opportunity, has also passed.

And yet, as we watch the sun start to set, rather than the stirrings of our soul, we hear the strong grumblings of our stomach and feel the throbbing pain in our head. A sense of intense disappointment sets in with the realization that we haven’t even begun to achieve what we were meant to.

With these disheartening thoughts, we slowly drag ourselves back to shul. Our hearts are heavy as we read the familiar story from the book of Jonah.

G‑d commanded the prophet Jonah to travel to the city of Nineveh, an enemy of Israel, and warn of its imminent destruction due to the iniquitous behavior of its inhabitants. Aware that if he succeeds and the people repent, Nineveh would continue to pose a threat to his nation, Jonah tries to escape his mission. He boards a ship and when a storm brews, he is thrown into the sea and swallowed by a huge fish. Eventually, Jonah realizes that he can’t escape his destiny and travels to Nineveh, where the people hearken to his prophecy and wholeheartedly change their ways.

A despondent Jonah resting under a dying tree hears G‑d address him: “You are sorry for the plant for which you have neither labored, nor made grow . . . shall I not then, spare Nineveh, the great city, wherein more than 12 times 10,000 people live . . .?”

Jonah’s story teaches us that no one can escape from G‑d or the mission He has for us.

But why do we read this particular story—about a nation that was an enemy of the Jewish people—on Yom Kippur, a day that represents the intimate, indestructible bond between the Jewish soul and G‑d?

As the sun fades and our chance slips away, perhaps this is precisely the reassurance that we need to hear: G‑d cares about all people, even a sinning nation threatening His children. No matter how low we have fallen, G‑d gives us another opportunity. To the bottom of the ocean floor, to the depths of a fish’s belly, G‑d coaxes us to come closer and try harder.

No one is too far gone. Each and every one of us is important. G‑d will not give up until we hear His message and better our ways.

Wishing you a very meaningful and easy fast!

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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