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Dear Readers,

Twenty years is a long time. That’s how long Rebecca and Isaac remained childless.

According to the Midrash, Rebecca was physically unable to bear children. It would take a literal miracle to do so. This is why Isaac and Rebecca pleaded to G‑d so often and with such great intensity. Isaac would stand in one corner praying, and Rebecca would stand in the other, not giving up until finally, their prayers were answered.

Soon after they were blessed with children, Isaac and his family relocate to Gerar, where he farms the land and digs wells. He reopens the wells of Abraham and digs his own. He gives the wells names and struggles to retain control over them.

Praying and well-digging have much in common. For both, one needs the qualities that Isaac epitomized: restraint, discipline, faith and introspectiveness.

The word used to describe Isaac’s intense pleading with G‑d is vayeatar. The Talmud (Yevamot 64a) associates this word with a pitchfork. The pitchfork pushes into the ground and overturns the grain. So, too, the prayers of the righteous overturn negative decrees.

The Hebrew word usually associated with praying is lehitpallel. It has the same root as to judge and to join together.

The reflexive form is used, which signifies that a person who is praying is meant to judge himself and acquire a new perspective, while strengthening his bonds with G‑d.

To pray means to step out of the many dichotomies and fragmentations of our lives. To gain a true judgment about ourselves, our relationship to G‑d and our world. To struggle to control our distracting thoughts and our inner turmoil.

To pray means to dig deep within ourselves. To clear away dirt, rocks and debris. To have faith that eventually, we will find water. Deep down beyond our self-centered ego lies the fresh flowing waters of our Divine core. Prayer helps us become reunited with that part of our selves.

To pray means to discover a fresh perspective about who we are and our reality. The person who begins prayers should be very different from the person who concludes them. You began as someone ensnared in your own self-centered reality, feeling arrogant and entitled. By digging deep into your emotional and spiritual self, you emerge as a more humble individual, aware of and grateful for all the good G‑d has given.

In fact, perhaps this is how prayer actually effects change. The person who starts praying may not merit what he or she desires. But the newly transformed, far more spiritual individual concluding prayers may be worthy of what he or she seeks—and use it to further spiritual growth.

In this week’s portion, Isaac teaches us that to pray is to dig.

This week, let’s get out our pitchforks and dig. Let’s dig deeply.

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,

I love flowers, especially roses. So, soon after we moved into our new home, we planted a rosebush in our front garden. The bush has since grown and now produces beautiful, fragrant red roses every season.

Just be careful if you want to pick them, though! Their thorns, or technically “prickles,” can be nasty. Scientists provide different reasons for why roses need those prickles.

Some speculate that the thorns on roses protect them from being eaten by animals attracted to the perfumed smell in the oils of the petals. Also, the typically sickle-shaped, hook-like prickles aid the rose in hanging onto other vegetation as the rose bush grows. Some species of roses, especially ones that grow on coastal sand dunes, have densely packed straight prickles. These trap wind-blown sand and protect the bush’s roots by reducing erosion.

Whatever the reason, the prickles clearly help the rose bush flourish.

In this week’s Torah portion, we are introduced to our matriarch, Rebecca. Our sages applied to her the verse: “As a rose among the thorns, so is my beloved among the daughters” (Song of Songs 2:2). Rebecca is considered to be the proverbial “rose among thorns,” growing up in a corrupt home and conniving society.

As the rose petals rub against its thorns, the roses emit their pleasant fragrance. Similarly, Rebecca’s thorny background enabled her to become her greatest self.

From a tender age, Rebecca witnessed lying, deceit and duplicity. Yet instead of succumbing to evil and allowing it to become a part of her psyche, it sensitized her to the bankruptcy of a G‑dless way of life.

All too often nowadays, we justify every failing we have by laying the blame on our circumstances. Perhaps we were born into a dysfunctional family that robbed us of warmth and positive emotions; perhaps our spouse is cold or indifferent, and doesn’t provide the psychological support we need and deserve; perhaps our education doesn’t meet today’s standards and career goals, and prevents us from achieving success. While all this may be true, from Rebecca we learn how to thrive, despite adversity, by utilizing shortcomings to our advantage.

Rebecca didn’t only overcome the negativity of her background; she used its negativity, its thorns and prickles, to develop a keen perception and awareness of evil. This later enabled her to determine the true character of her sons and to make a monumental decision that would forge the path of history when it came time for Isaac to bless them.

Rebeccas’s life story teaches us that sometimes it’s the prickles, thorns and shakeups life so disturbingly throws at us that can bring out the best in each of us.

Wishing you an empowering 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,

One of the things that I love about Judaism is its occasional irreverence.

Bear with me as we review an intriguing episode recorded in this week’s Torah portion.

The third day after Abraham’s circumcision, G‑d visits him to alleviate his pain. The weather is particularly hot, to prevent traveling wayfarers from disturbing Abraham. But the hospitable, gregarious Abraham sits at the opening of his tent distressed by a lack of visitors, and so G‑d sends him three angels disguised as humans. Abraham runs to serve his visitors.

Abraham says to G‑d: “My L‑rd! If now I have found favor in your eyes, pass not away, I beg you, from your servant.” (Gen. 18:4)

Rashi provides two explanations for this verse: 1) Abraham is addressing the most prominent of his guests, asking him and the others not to pass by his tent without availing themselves of his hospitality; and 2) Abraham is addressing G‑d, asking Him to stand by while he feeds his guests.

I find the second explanation fascinating.

The Talmud further expounds: “Said Rav Yehudah in the name of Rav: This is to teach us that taking in guests is greater than receiving the Divine Presence.” (Shavuot 35b)

Imagine the following scenario during ancient times of dictators or despots.

Your monarch—the mightiest, most powerful ruler in the world who can decide your fate at whim—has privileged you with his personal visit. Standing in his glorious audience, you notice homeless stragglers who look like they could use a hot meal and a shower. Only a deranged individual would excuse himself in order to care for these nomads.

Or, in more contemporary terms:

After months of effort and using all your connections, you’ve managed to secure a meeting with a powerful businessman who can change the course of your career. As you begin your pitch, your cell phone rings and the caller ID informs you that an unknown telemarketer is on the line. You’d have to be an unstable fool to ask this wealthy magnate to hold on while you take the call.

And yet, that was precisely what Abraham did. The King of Kings personally came to visit him, and he asks Him to wait while he prepares some tongue with mustard to feed strangers!

But suppose those straggling nomads or that irritating telemarketer was actually not some unidentified stranger, but the son of your monarch or the daughter of your wealthy magnate, who for whatever reason is requesting your assistance. The scenario changes entirely; the foolhardy act of impudence becomes the greatest act of compassion.

The Talmud is teaching us that every human being is a child of G‑d. And just as every parent would forego their personal honor and willingly wait while you tend to his or her child, this, too, is G‑d’s greatest pleasure.

As for Judaism’s impudence, sometimes apparent disrespect masks the greatest reverence.

Wishing us a week in which we tend to G‑d’s children to help them in whatever way we can!

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,

Where do you go when you want to get in touch with yourself? When life seems to be spinning out of control, do you escape to a special place, perhaps a beautiful retreat alone?

What do you do when you want to feel alive with every fiber and every pore of your being pulsating? Do you go for a run, paint, dance, sing or do something that pushes you to your limits?

When you’re feeling distraught, what do you do to calm yourself? Do you try a new experience or do you revert to what is familiar to you?

One of the oldest debates in psychology is the nature versus nurture debate. Are a person’s actions predisposed by DNA or do life experiences create a lasting influence on one’s behavior and decisions in life? Are we born this way, or have we become this way due to our environment?

And does the debate perhaps go deeper? Are we merely products of our genes and our environment, or is there a higher self that we can strive to be that’s totally independent of both our natural instincts and background?

In this week’s Torah portion, Abraham is told to leave everything that is familiar to him in order to find a deeper part of himself.

“Go you from your land, from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you.” (Gen. 12:1)

The Chassidic masters explain: Eretz, the Hebrew word for land, is etymologically related to the word ratzon—will and desire; so your land also translates as your natural desires. Your birthplace, moladtecha, is a reference to the influence of home and society. And beitavicha, your father’s house, refers to man as a mature and rational being, forging his mind-set, character and behavior with the transcendent objectivity of the intellect.

Just as a seed develops into a thriving plant after it first decomposes in the ground, sometimes we need to leave everything familiar to us—our natural environment, our automatic responses, our usual inclinations, even our rational self—in order to find greater growth. Away from the lights and observations of others (and free of our own self-imposed predilections), we experience the unbounded power of a new self.

Leaving behind the old “I” of everything I know and love can be really scary. The seed buried deep down in the earth seemingly decomposes into nothingness. But free from these limiting expectations, like the seed, we can also produce our greatest yield.

So, this week, let’s think about how we can free ourselves from the limits of both nature and nurture to discover our greatest selves. What can we do in one area of our lives that would free us from external and internal expectations to reach unknown terrain? Let’s start this journey by sharing ideas in the comments below.

Wishing you a week of unbounded potential!

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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