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Dear reader,

She came over to me before my lecture and confessed that she wasn’t a believer. She wished she believed, but after years of propaganda in the FSU, belief was so hard for her. Belief in G‑d. Belief in the goodness of humanity. Belief in Torah and the Jewish people.

The woman who approached me was a participant at a weekend resort on the West Coast where I was invited to lecture a couple of weeks ago. The Shabbaton was organized for Russian Jews by the inspirational Davidoff family. My schedule was packed with lectures geared to educate and encourage.

As the woman spoke, her auburn curls bounced off her shoulder; her dark brown eyes were searching. We couldn’t talk because the room was quickly filling and my lecture was about to begin.

That’s why I was astounded when I glanced at her face as I shared the story of a little boy who in a moment of panic and fear covered his eyes and recited the Shema Yisrael prayer.

The face of a nonbeliever listening to the story would have been hard, or at the very least indifferent. Yet as I searched her face, I noticed a tear trickling down her cheek, which moments later was joined by several more.

This week we read the Torah portion of Vayechi, which speaks about the death of our patriarch Jacob, who was also named Israel, the name of all Jews. This portion concludes the book of Genesis and marks the end of an era. The next book, Shemot (Exodus), begins with the children of Israel suffering the harsh Egyptian servitude and exile.

Interestingly, this portion that speaks of Israel’s death is titled Vayechi, which means life.

On the words, “The days drew near for Israel to die” (Genesis 47:29), the Midrash comments:

Said Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish: “The days of the righteous die, but they do not die . . . It does not say ‘and Israel drew near to die,’ but ‘the days of Israel drew near to die.’

Israel does not die. What a potent reminder as we enter into the long night of exile. Our days may be filled with blackness and disbelief during our long exile sojourn, but Israel’s spirit remains intact. Our belief may be hidden, deep down, but it is alive.

Before the end of the weekend, I had occasion to speak once again to the woman with the searching eyes. “You know,” I said to her gently, “for someone who thinks she is not a believer, I can only tell you that I covet your level of belief!”

Of course, the woman demurred, saying it was not true. Saying that she had so far to grow; saying how she wished she could be more.

And I thought of how the darkness cannot destroy the soul of Israel. His days may be difficult, but his spirit remains alive and vibrant.

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 reader,

Here are some of my favorite images:

Sitting around a warm, crackling bonfire while leaning against the huge limb of one of the many trees in the woods.

Cuddling near the glowing fireplace in the corner of my home, surrounded by the sounds of family.

A lit fragrant candle gracing a lavish guest room in anticipation of its occupant.

The graceful glow of the Shabbat candles illuminating a long, dark Friday night.

And, driving through a Jewish neighborhood on a cold Chanukah night watching the many glowing candles in so many doorways and windows warming up the night.

What is it about fire that so enamors us?

As I sit watching each sparkling Chanukah light, and I try to absorb its message, here are some ideas that come to mind:

  • it’s bright
  • it keeps reaching upward, striving higher
  • even while reaching upward, it stays grounded
  • even a small glow brightens a heavy, gloomy blackness
  • it stands tall, shining brightly irrespective of what’s around it, unaffected by the surrounding dark environment
  • it provides warmth
  • it can guide through the night
  • it represents optimism
  • each fire is so similar, yet so unique
  • its glowing colors have a magnetic pull
  • it’s physical, but also mystically spiritual

That’s my list. I’m sure there’s a lot more, but now it’s your turn. What is it about the glowing candle that attracts you?

Wishing each of you a happy, beautifully illuminating Chanukah, when your own inner light shines and overcomes any darkness in your life.

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 reader,

There is no denying that reading the news nowadays is not a happy activity. We’re inundated with tragic stories. It feels like our world is going crazy.

Several weeks ago, when I read about the ghastly butchering of fathers in prayer shawls, I went into my numb mode. It’s a mode that I noticed I’m going into more and more, kind of like an emotional dissonance. A part of me wants to just fall apart as I absorb the impact of such enormity. My rational self, though, claims that it’s impossible to feel the plight of so many widows and orphans, and it’s too overwhelming to absorb every tragedy, from babies and teens to fathers and mothers, murdered in cold blood.

And so, every time I read an article about some horror, I brace myself and monitor just how much I will let myself really feel. After all, isn’t it easier—and more productive—to shut off the emotional pain?

But then I think: isn’t that exactly what those forces of evil who wrought this tragedy want us to do? Isn’t that exactly what they do—stop themselves from being human beings and feeling the plight of another—in order to execute their insane, barbaric brutalities?

This week we celebrate Chanukah, when the forces of light and goodness won over darkness and evil. We light our menorahs to celebrate the miraculous rekindling of the Temple’s menorah.

But our Chanukah lightings differ from the Temple’s menorah. We light the menorah after nightfall as opposed to during the day, and we light it outside (or at the doors or windows of our homes) rather than within.

During Temple times, holiness was palpable. The menorah was lit during the day, but its rays reached deep into the night; it also didn’t need to leave the inner sanctum of the Temple to radiate and influence the mundane world without.

But times are different now. In the moments before dawn, the darkness is the most enveloping. We are now at the prelude to the dawn of the messianic era (which is also why we light eight candles, representing a time beyond the natural order). The darkness is all pervasive. We need to go out into the dark, out of our comfort zone—and fill it with light.

While it may be more comfortable to stay indoors, within our deceptively soothing numbness, none of us have that luxury.

We cannot fall into the trap of closing off our emotions—or our efforts—to the darkness around us. In order to change the darkness, we need to actually feel its depth. That doesn’t mean we let it paralyze or immobilize us; to the contrary, feeling another’s pain, feeling the surrounding coldness and blackness, is the only way to propel us to change it—through more effective prayers and affirmative actions.

Wishing you—and our whole world—a bright Chanukah and a new era of peace and light!

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 reader,

I was driving the other evening. It wasn’t late, but due to the short daylight hours, it was dark. Very dark. And the street was winding.

Only discernible within the cloak of blackness were short, shining red lines in front of me, and from across the median, small white circles. All these little blotches of red and white kept marching forward, in sync, almost as if they had their own volition.

Only up close did it become obvious that these shining traveling lights were actually affixed to vehicles—cars, trucks and vans.

And then the irony of those little traveling lights hit me.

Strong chunks of heavy metal—now transportation vehicles—were equipped with the technological capability of traversing great distances at rapid speeds. If these sturdy chunks of metal would collide, they could wreak havoc, even death.

And yet we rely on basic, simple lights—red ones in the rear of the car, and white headlights leading the way in front—to guide these tough, powerful transporters. The simple, soft lights effectively warn away vehicles from coming too close, while also illuminating the path.

Just basic, effervescent lights.

This week we celebrate the 19th of Kislev, which is considered the “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 a new era in the revelation of the “inner soul” of Torah.

The Tanya, the foundational text written by the Alter Rebbe, is largely devoted to discussing a battle that is constantly waged by every individual. It is an internal fight between our “G‑dly soul” and our “animal soul.”

We encounter this clash hundreds of times a day in the myriad choices we make between good and bad. It is our lifelong struggle between transcendence and selfishness, between refinement and coarseness, between soaring spiritually higher and being imprisoned in the inertia of materialism.

Or in simpler terms, it is choosing to be the one who takes the higher ground instead of getting pulled into the mire of revenge, anger or resentment.

So how can we win this constant battle?

To me, one of the most moving parts of chassidic teachings is its emphasis on 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.

In other words, the darkness doesn’t need to be fought; it just needs to be illuminated with the light and truth of Torah, by mindfully focusing on our purpose, and regularly studying and applying texts that enlighten our soul.

The rigors of battle subside if only we can keep that truth constant in our hearts and souls.

Because as we travel along our dark, winding roads, the potency of a simple light distills the darkness—and protects.

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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