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Illustration by Sefira Ross.
Illustration by Sefira Ross.

Dear reader,

It had been a while since my friend Sally and I last had lunch together.

“Today’s a very special day,” she announced. “Today are my birthdays--my Jewish birthday as well as my secular birthday.”

I smiled, congratulating her and wishing her many more years in health.

“Do you know how seldom the two birthdays come together?” she asked.

Actually, I did. Every 19 years.

“Exactly,” she said. “I remember, because 19 years ago my father passed away. What an emotional year that was . . .”


Every 19 years, the Jewish calendar, which is based on the lunar cycle, meets up exactly with the Gregorian calendar, which is based on the solar system.

At the end of 12 months, the 29.5-day lunar month falls short of the 365.25-day solar year. But the Jewish calendar insists on reconciling the two cycles. Its solution is to add a leap month every few years, which makes it ahead of the solar year in some years and lagging behind in others. Only in the nineteenth year do the two meet up—and thus my friend’s joint birthdays.

But why is the Jewish calendar so complicated? Why insist on being in sync with the solar cycle while following the lunar one?

Because Judaism believes in synthesizing and integrating opposites in order to live a fuller life.

And so, we incorporate the moon’s creative qualities of rebirth while at the same time enjoying the sun’s consistency and constancy. We remain faithful to our traditions while incorporating the ebb and flow of our creative talents. We follow the lunar months while retaining the sun’s seasons.

This brings me to the 19th day of Kislev, celebrated this week.

On this day, the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, was freed from his imprisonment in Czarist Russia and was able to redouble his efforts of disseminating his teachings. And perhaps there is significance to this special day falling on the 19th—a number that teaches us how to harmonize opposites.

The Tanya, the foundational text by the Alter Rebbe, speaks about a battle that is waged every day within every human being between his G‑dly and animal souls. The animal soul is our physical self—our drive to be, our instinct for self-preservation and self-fulfillment. The G‑dly soul is the source of our spirituality—our drive for self-transcendence, our yearning to escape our material existence and connect with the eternal.

Victory is offered not by negating the physical, but rather by engaging its power and passion for spiritual pursuits. Life is about fusion—partaking of life’s pleasures while not being defined by them, but employing them in the service of G‑d.

We succeed when the body looks at the world and sees it as the soul does, as a means for expressing a greater, G‑dly purpose.

Here’s to a great week ahead—celebrating our physical life while using it for higher meaning!

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,

A short while ago, my husband and I celebrated our 30th anniversary. What a landmark! How the years raced by is beyond my comprehension, but that’s how the passage of time tends to be; hours merge into days, which fuse into months, and before long, decades have passed you by.

Unbeknownst to us, weeks before our anniversary our children were planning our celebration. Right under our noses, they had created a WhatsApp family group to discuss “our folks’ upcoming celebration.”

And surprise us they did! First there was the celebratory cake that had been hidden. Then there was the special reservation made just for the two of us. And finally, the coup de grâce: artfully placed was an exquisitely framed collage of each member of our family. It included the most updated pictures of all of them (even our youngest grandchild!) and was accompanied by a heartfelt card thanking us for being their parents.

In the hours and days that ensued, we got to hear some of the behind-the-scenes planning. Only then did we realize how absolutely clueless we were with all the arrangements that were taking place, much of it underfoot.

The texts. The calls. The inquiries. The reservation. The scanning and printing of the photos. The wording on the card. Collecting the funds. So many details.

Each of my children is special, and yet different in his or her distinct way, and each expresses their unique self in the choices of their lives. But each one is exceptional and exceptionally loved.

What touched me most about all the thoughtful surprises was my children’s cooperation. They’re all really great kids, but throughout the years each had their share of mischief. Now they were getting together to mischievously plan something that would totally overwhelm us with their thoughtfulness and love.

Sure, one or two took a more leading role. But whether they lived far or near, from the sons and daughters to the sons-in law, from the youngest who is not yet in her teens to the oldest who is a mother of three, they all lovingly collaborated to bring a smile to their parents’ faces.

My children’s surprise gifts made me think about how we, as the Jewish people, may each be at different stages in our lives, each different in how we conduct ourselves or express our unique sense of selves. There may also be the leaders in our midst taking more active roles. But at the core, we are all G‑d’s precious children. And the greatest gift that we can give our Parent is our cooperation and working together.

This year, being a Hakhel year, we have an even more opportune time. Let’s use our immense power of unity to come together—and bring a smile to G‑d’s face.

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,

In order to save on the escalating cost of water, especially when it comes to watering their sprawling lawns, many homeowners here in southern New Jersey install their own wells that attach to their sprinkler systems. The one-time investment of building a well pays off in the long run by saving on the monthly water bill.

And, so, the men from Ted’s Well Services came a few weeks ago with a huge truck to dig a hole deep down in our backyard. Attaching pipes that would reach down into the ground, they started to shovel.

But not everything goes as smoothly as planned, and the well-diggers encountered a problem. Soon after they started to dig in the location that my husband had instructed, they suddenly were stung by a nest of hornets.

Unbeknownst to me, while most species of hornets build nests in trees and shrubs, some build their nests underground. Apparently, hornets had made a nest in this spot underground and when their home was being dismantled, they began attacking. Only hours later, when the nest was safely removed, were the well-diggers able to continue their work.

They dug deeper and deeper. They explained that there is a current of water at about 40 feet underground; however, the water at that level is not pristine but muddied. Only when you dig really deep—all the way down to 70 feet—do you reach the pure water, without any trace of mud or soil.

The water-digging episode in my backyard made me think about our own personal well-digging. Every once in a while, we all need to dig deep down into our own psyches to get back in tune with our inner selves and once again become focused on our deeper, inner motivations.

Sometimes, though, as we dig, we encounter things about ourselves that we don’t like. Close to the surface, there may be a veritable hornet’s nest of emotions, thought processes or attitudes. This newly discovered hornet’s nest looks dangerous, and it may even attack or sting our self-perception that our core is wholly good. In fact, some of the most famous diggers into the human psyche perceived that man’s strongest motivations were not altruistic, but self-serving and narcissistic. To Freud, for example, our actions were motivated largely by the pursuit of pleasure; to Adler, it was power.

But the Baal Shem Tov saw things differently.

It is written, “ ‘For you (the people of Israel) shall be a desirable land,’ says G‑d” (Malachi 3:12). The Baal Shem Tov explained that just as the greatest explorers won’t uncover the limits of the valuable resources placed within the earth, we will never discover the limits of the great treasures that lie buried within a Jew—G‑d’s “desirable land.”

So, don’t let your well-digging stop too soon. Don’t get stuck by the discovery of a hornet’s nest. Don’t even allow yourself to stop further when you reach water that is muddied. Dig down far and deep enough, and you will reach your pure Divine core, and there you will gain access to your very source, where no soil, mud or gravel can ever dirty.

Happy digging!

Chana Weisberg,
Editor, TJW

P.S. Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims and families of the recent horrific terrorist massacre in Paris. May the day quickly come when mankind learns to live in peace, harmony and divine goodness.

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.

Ever notice how quiet a noisy room becomes when someone whispers a secret? On the other hand, try to lecture to someone, and they will immediately tune you out. You can be imparting the greatest wisdom, yet it won’t even be heard.

This week, Rebecca teaches us an incredibly powerful lesson on how to communicate with your spouse over a difference of opinion.

The episode is actually very perplexing. Due to her own life experiences, Rebecca keenly understands the different characteristics of her two sons, Jacob and Esau. Isaac, on the other hand, who grew up in the pious home of Sara and Abraham, doesn’t share her vision.

Jacob is described as a man of integrity and sincerity, “a man in the tent” who sits and studies his books. Esau, on the other hand, is his polar opposite: a “man of the field” who knows how to maneuver his way through his cunning corruption.

Isaac is about to bless Esau. Rebecca intercepts and instructs Jacob to dress up like Esau and trick his blind father into blessing him instead.

The commentaries explain that Esau had a very high soul and a great potential. Isaac hoped he would use his “street smart” abilities and his more colorful personality to make Torah values accessible to the world. Jacob, on the other hand, he felt, was simpler, straighter; he wasn’t savvy and wouldn’t master the necessary public-relations skills or techniques to succeed.

But while Isaac envisioned Esau’s potential, Rebecca grasped the practical reality. Esau’s suave charisma would be used for nothing altruistic, and the blessings would merely assist him in his immoral goals.

Now here’s the tricky part. Why didn’t Rebecca just sit down over a cup of coffee and explain to her husband what she intuitively understood? What would be gained by Jacob committing an act of deception?

When Jacob “dressed up in Esau’s clothes,” he allowed Isaac to glimpse a dimension of his personality that Isaac had never seen. Through Rebecca’s plan, Isaac would finally comprehend that Jacob was not one-dimensional; he was not so piously removed from this world that it would inhibit him from understanding its ways. When push came to shove, Jacob was very capable in using the “garments” of the world—and he would be able to do so in the future for positive results.

So why didn’t Rebecca just communicate this deeper perception to Isaac and persuade him to see things her way?

Perhaps Rebecca realized that even if she would convince Isaac, it wouldn’t be wholehearted. Isaac may accede to her perspective, but he wouldn’t own it.

Because lessons that we own are those we discover by ourselves. If you really want to teach something valuable, then help others access it on their own.

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,

Close your eyes for a moment and 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 at the Western Wall or on a scenic mountain far away from civilization?

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.” (Bereishit Rabbah 60:16)

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 ha-panim, 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 shul 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, much less 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 our 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 marriage, the home, and peace between husband and wife 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.

So, how will you experience holiness today?

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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