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Dear Readers,

How do you view humanity? Are people born innately good or essentially evil? Do we have a basically good nature that is corrupted by society or a basically bad nature that is kept in check by society?

It’s a fundamental question that has been debated endlessly.

A study conducted by Scientific American tested people’s responses based on two mechanisms: intuition or reflection. “Intuition is automatic and effortless, leading to actions that occur without insight into the reasons behind them. Reflection, on the other hand, is all about conscious thought—identifying possible behaviors, weighing the costs and benefits, and rationally deciding on a course of action.”

Based on these responses, the study suggested that people’s first and intuitive impulse was to cooperate; only upon further reflection did they decide to be more selfish. The test concluded that people are instinctively willing to give for the good of the group, even at our own personal expense.

But does this mean that we are naturally cooperative, or that it has become instinctive because cooperation is rewarded by society?

Researchers at Yale University experimented on babies who have the minimum of cultural influence. Basing their study on the fact that babies will reach for things they want or like—and will look longer at things that surprise them—their results suggested that even the youngest humans have an instinct to prefer good over evil, friendly helping motivations over malicious ones.

But if we’re born good, why do parents have to devote major efforts to raise children to become good adults? Why don’t we naturally express gratitude, and instead need to learn it? Why does every civilization require so many laws and consequences to control human behavior? And why has so much evil been perpetuated by humanity over the centuries?

This week’s Torah portion begins with the verse: If you walk in My statutes (Leviticus 26:3)

The Talmud explains that the word “if” is to be understood as a plea on the part of G‑d: “If only you would follow My statutes . . . ”

But the word chok (“statute” or “decree”) literally means “engraved.”

A rabbi once remarked: “Every Jew is a letter in the Torah. But a letter may grow somewhat faded. It is our sacred duty to mend these faded letters and make G‑d’s Torah whole again.”

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch objected: “No, the identity of the Jew cannot be compared to erasable ink on parchment. Every Jew is indeed a letter in G‑d’s Torah, but a letter engraved in stone. At times, the dust and dirt may accumulate and distort—or even completely conceal—the letter’s true form; but underneath it all, the letter remains whole. We need only sweep away the surface grime, and the letter, in all its perfection and beauty, will come to light.”

So, are we born good or evil? What are your thoughts on the matter?

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,

Imagine that it’s the end of an especially trying week. You feel depleted emotionally, and physically drained. You bump into a particularly difficult individual—an acquaintance, colleague, neighbor—someone who has a knack of rubbing you in all the wrong ways.

Generally, you try very hard to remain positive with this individual, but it requires every ounce of your patience and guard not to fall into the trap of escalating negativity. Today of all days, is there any hope?

You bite your tongue, you take deep breaths, you try hard to remain pleasant, but the conversation quickly deteriorates.

And then something happens. Perhaps precisely as a result of your worn-out state, this individual recognizes your effort—and responds positively.

Surprisingly, from that point on, there is a change in the dynamics of the relationship. It’s almost as if this individual sensed that your effort was proof of how much he or she meant to you. Or perhaps it was the other way around. Perhaps your circumstances finally made you understand just how important this relationship is to you.

There is an interesting passage in this week’s Torah portion.

“If you shall say: What shall we eat in the seventh year? Behold, we shall not sow, nor gather in our produce! But I will command My blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth fruit for three years . . . ” (25:20–21)

The seventh year is shemittah, a Sabbatical year; Jews are not permitted to plant or reap. After planting uninterrupted for the previous five years, the sixth year’s growth is naturally less abundant. Nevertheless, G‑d assures us that this year will provide sustenance for that year, as well as for the seventh year and beyond.

Metaphorically, the seven-year shemittah cycle corresponds to the seven millennia of history. For six thousand years we labor in preparation for the seventh millennium, the era of Moshiach that is “wholly Shabbat and tranquility.”

We may wonder: “What shall we eat in the seventh year?” If the spiritual giants of earlier generations failed to bring about a perfect, tranquil world, what can possibly be expected of us? If the efforts from five millennia of history could not achieve the universal Sabbath, what can be expected of us, the “sixth year,” exhausted and depleted of spirit?

The Rebbe explains that precisely because our spiritual resources are so meager now after so many centuries of harrowing exile, our trials and achievements are so much more meaningful—and so much more precious to G‑d, who promises to bless our efforts.

And perhaps, too, our insistence to maintain a connection with G‑d despite the ravages of our exile finally makes us realize how important this relationship is.

Because often when our situation seems hopeless, when we are at our rope’s end and we still hold on, our smallest effort yields the greatest result.

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,

You’ve taken a wrong turn. You’ve made a decision that you now recognize is going to cost you dearly. Is there any way to get back on track? Can you make up for the lost time and momentum? Is the path of return too tedious and too impossibly difficult?

Judaism has an empowering and uplifting message, learned from the fascinating holiday of Pesach Sheni, “the Second Passover.”

In the first year after the Exodus, the Jewish people were instructed to bring the Paschal sacrifice on the 14th of Nissan and eat it that evening, just as they had done the previous year. There were individuals, however, who had become ritually impure and could not bring the offering. They approached Moses, asking for some recourse.

In response, G‑d established the 14th of Iyar as a Second Passover. Anyone who did not bring a Passover offering—either because of impurity or because he had willfully transgressed G‑d’s will—was given the opportunity to compensate for his shortcoming by bringing an offering on Pesach Sheni.

There are three points that I find fascinating about this holiday:

  1. Unlike other holidays, which were unilaterally commanded by G‑d, this holiday was inspired in response to the outcry of individuals.
  2. Unlike Passover, which is seven days in length, this holiday accomplishes its purpose in only one day.
  3. The holiday falls a month after Passover.

The lesson of Pesach Sheni is that it’s never too late.

No one is ever too lost or too forgone to make amends in their lives. When we stray or mess up, if we recognize how far gone we are and we are shaken to our core, we can rebound. But what’s fascinating is that this rebounding is not the regular step-by-step conventional formula. In a single instant—or in this case, in a single day—rather than the seven-day process of Passover, we can redefine our past and mold our future.

But for this to be real, it needs to come from deep within. It’s all about the inner cry—the resolve that we have to make change a reality in our lives.

And that is why Pesach Sheni needed to happen through our own motivation, by us crying out to G‑d that we shouldn’t be left out. This is also why it is celebrated in the month of Iyar, whose theme is individual endeavor, as exemplified through the counting of the Omer and our work on self-refinement.

We all mess up. We weren’t created as perfect individuals who can always make balanced judgements. But the good news is that we don’t need to. Even when we make the worst possible error, there is no cause for despair. Quite the contrary, there is cause for acknowledgement, resolve and then action.

As a great quote reads: There are those who debate whether the glass is half-full or half-empty. And then there are those who realize that the glass is refillable.

Let’s refill those glasses!

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,

Optimism and positivity.

That’s the Torah’s approach to how we should view almost every circumstance. We try to see the glass as half-full, rather than half-empty.

Even during trying times, we highlight what we have rather than what is lacking, and all that we need to be grateful for, as opposed to focusing on our wants and needs.

On a psychological level, this is very beneficial. The more we emphasize our gratitude, the more positive we become as people. As I heard from one motivational instructor, “It’s not that happy people are thankful, it’s that thankful people are happy.”

But on a spiritual level, this approach is even more powerful. Positive thinking can actually change our reality in a majorly good way.

“Think good, and it will be good” is a popular Chassidic saying that means that positive thoughts create a positive reality. When we open the channels of our faith in G‑d by trusting Him to create a good outcome, we generate what we are hoping for. By believing that G‑d is infinite so He can provide for us in a way that we perceive as positive, G‑d reciprocates and directs that positive reality into our lives.

Even if things get so bad and we don’t see those positive outcomes—and we see no seed of goodness in our suffering—we assure ourselves with our faith. “All that G‑d does is ultimately for our own good” we tell ourselves, even if we can’t currently comprehend how that is so.

But there’s one time when this attitude just does not work. Moreover, not only is it not praiseworthy to be positive, it is actually downright destructive.

That is when it comes to others.

Never look at the suffering of another person and think, “Well, at least he has something good in his life to be grateful for.” Similarly, thoughts like “This was meant to be” or “All is for the good” is completely out of place when it comes to another person.

When you see someone suffering, it is downright cruel to think that this individual has been given a test in order to strengthen him or help her become a better person. Our job is not to philosophically come to terms with another’s pain, but to alleviate it.

So, the Torah’s approach is this: The next time you see someone suffering, drop the smugly righteous “It’s all good” mantra. Instead, roll up your sleeves and see what you can do to help.

Wishing us all an amazing week of helping others!

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 advantages of living in Southern New Jersey is the close proximity to several states along the Northeast Corridor. I’m just a few hours’ drive from so many vibrant cities.

And recently, I discovered a hassle-free and relaxing way of getting there—through the popular Amtrak train.

No need to rush through long lines of airport security or to navigate crowded highways. The train offers a relaxing trip, with free Wi-Fi, all the way from Boston in the north to Washington, D.C.

This past fall, I took a train to Rhode Island, and I was transfixed by the gorgeous scenery and changing colors of the foliage just outside my window. Recently, I traveled to Virginia, equally mesmerized as the train bolted past barren forests and deserted lakes in the dead of winter.

As I boarded, I noticed a sign that cautioned, “Watch the gap.” This sign is similar to the ones in London’s uber-efficient mass-transit system, the Underground. In England, mementos are readily available in tourist areas imprinted with the famous “Mind the Gap” slogan.

The Amtrak signs, like the London Underground, caution travelers to watch their step when boarding and leaving the train, and to carefully walk over the slight space between the train and platform.

Noticing these signs, I thought that as we travel through our own life’s journeys, we need caution specifically when we are going on a new path. When we comfortably travel in one direction, the gaps aren’t so obvious. It’s when we take a different track or when we leave one to examine another that we need to heed the gaps that can cause us to fall. As we embark and disembark, we are presented with new choices, each with potential slip-ups and possible falls.

On the Jewish calendar, we are now on a spiritual journey from Passover to Shavuot, a 49-day methodical process of self-refinement within the human psyche. Each week, we examine a new character trait that needs spiritual and emotional refinement. Each day within that week, we focus on all the different aspects of that trait. In our first week, for example, we tackle chesed (lovingkindness); in the second week, gevurah (discipline); and so on.

As we travel through each of the days of the week, we concentrate on refining this trait in our lives by exploring its parameters and boundaries. And as we begin our travels each week—as we venture to new directions in our quest for self-improvement—we need to mind the gaps and watch out for the possible stumbles in finding the proper expression of each trait.

It’s only in shifting directions and tackling new possibilities that we reach our ultimate destinations.

Wishing you a wonderful 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.
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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