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Dear reader,

Most of us have been to the synagogue on Yom Kippur. We’ve munched matzah at the Passover Seder. We’ve watched Uncle Marvin kindle the Chanukah menorah while noshing on Aunt Sally’s oily latkes. We may have dressed as clowns with our kids on the joyous day of Purim; and we mourned on the 9th of Av, when our Temples were demolished.

These are all remarkable days on our calendar, days that commemorate significant events. But how many of us draw a blank by the 15th day of Av? Yet the Talmud teaches, “There were no greater festivals for Israel than the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur.”

Seriously? Comparing this unknown day to the holiest day on our nation’s calendar? What is so special about the 15th of Av?

The Talmud writes: “The daughters of Jerusalem would go out in borrowed linen garments (so as not to embarrass those without beautiful clothes of their own) . . . and dance in the vineyards,” and “whoever did not have a wife would go there” to find himself a bride. (Talmud, Taanit 31a)

There are lots of deep explanations about this day. (Here’s one.)

My take is very basic, but it is at the core of what I love so much about Judaism.

Judaism tells us to strive for the heavens while keeping our feet grounded to the earth.

The message of the 15th of Av is so down-to-earth: Experience the mystery of marriage. Taste the wonder of love. See the beauty of two very diverse people uniting in body, heart and soul to create harmony in our world. Observe the selflessness of two individuals coming together despite personal barriers to bring new life to our world. And as you do, realize that you are witnessing holiness.

Judaism teaches us that the 15th of Av is no less holy than the hallowed day of Yom Kippur, when we fast and forgo all our bodily needs in our quest to reach spiritual heights. Why? Because this was the day that marriages were forged.

And marriage is a holy institution.

There’s one more important point. The girls would wear borrowed clothing so no one would be embarrassed. No high-fashion couture clothing surrounded in luxurious posh mansions; no petty competitiveness to outshine one another. The girls danced joyously in the vineyards in simple, borrowed, linen garments.

The matchmaking festivity underscored: look beyond the outer shell and find a deeper soul connection.

In our society, when the sanctity of marriage is being eroded, when our values have become shallow and our ideals battered, this day has a valuable message.

Let’s make the 15th of Av a day of increased love, focused less on superficial externals and more on what really matters.

Chana Weisberg,
Editor, TJW

P.S.: Have we become more shallow? What values do you think we should be focusing on?

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,

Last week my youngest daughter left for a full month of camp, for her first time.

In the last few weeks we went to buy her everything she would need. Together we sat on her bed and labeled all her possessions. And we packed all her belongings into a huge suitcase and a duffel bag.

We spoke a lot about what she could expect in camp. We spoke about different scenarios, and how she could be prepared to deal with them. What if she’d be homesick? What if someone at camp was a bully? What if she became sick?

And then, my husband and I drove her the long distance. We helped her put her bags onto the bus that would take her for the final ride to her camp grounds. We waved goodbye a million times and hugged her just as many.

And now she is on her own.

There’s a bittersweetness to sending your child away. You worry about if she will fall asleep at night. You worry about her making new friends. You worry about the food and the many mosquitoes.

But ultimately you trust your child to her own devices, realizing that it is time for her to experience this taste of independence. You realize that as a parent you can prepare your child only so much. Ultimately, she needs to spread her wings and fly on her own.

And perhaps that’s a bit of what this week’s Parshah is about.

Although the five books of the Bible were written by Moses, the first four books were transcribed word for word as dictated by G‑d, while Devarim was written by Moses “in his own words.”

Moses, a human being, took the divine intellect and processed it through his own mind so that it became part of him.

G‑d wants us to learn from Moses, too, how to use our own words to create a G‑dly experience. To use our own talents, personalities and actions to express the divine will. To take the wisdom that G‑d gave us and apply it to our lives.

And to do so, we need to experience the ups and downs, the successes and the mistakes of our independence.

That is why this section is read on the Shabbat before the Ninth of Av, the saddest day on our national calendar. It reminds us that while independence has many challenges, ultimately the loss of the Temples and the subsequent exile will result in a greater elevation. In the final redemption, at the end of our long and lonely journey, we will experience a more intimate relationship with G‑d, precisely because of our own independent efforts.

Oh, and as I write, I just was e‑mailed a picture of my daughter. She is fearlessly rope coursing, and has climbed to the very top. She is smiling from ear to ear.

And now, so am I.

Chana Weisberg,
Editor, TJW

P.S.: Did you have to send your child away somewhere? Please share what it was like for you.

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,

As the youngest in my family, I always considered myself fortunate to have a special relationship with my parents. (Though I think each of my siblings feels the same!)

More than a lifetime wouldn’t suffice to repay my parents for their many gifts—from material to emotional to spiritual. Countless practical lessons and even more numerous life lessons: what was said, and sometimes what was not.

But if I had to choose their one gift that has most impacted my life, I know what it would be. They have given me the gift of a relationship with G‑d.

Hold on: let me explain. I don’t mean that my parents introduced G‑d into my life—which they did, from the first tender wakeup in the morning to the blessings recited on food, making G‑d ever-present.

I also don’t mean that they taught me what faith in G‑d means—which they demonstrated throughout life’s many ups and downs.

What I mean is far simpler.

By giving me a gift of a beautiful relationship with them, as my parents, they taught me, too, what a relationship with G‑d means.

Our earliest experiences often shape how we look at our world. If our authority figures are severely punitive, that may become how we view all hierarchy. On the other hand, if from our youngest years we are surrounded by an ever-present love, we may look more lovingly at our world. Though we aren’t ever stuck in any paradigm, it takes work to stretch ourselves beyond our natural defaults.

So, when I think of the infinite love, warmth, direction and authority that my parents have showed me, it easily transfers to a love- and awe-inspired relationship with my Creator.

And maybe that’s why I appreciate that this new Jewish month is called Av, Father. Interestingly, other months seem to have more significant name associations: Nissan, the month of nissim (miracles); the High Holidays are in Tishrei, new beginnings (tishrei is the Aramaic word for “let it begin”). What relevance does fatherhood have to this sad month, in which we commemorate the destruction of the first and second Temples, and when some of the most terrifying events in our history occurred?

Av is the month when we reached our lowest point as a nation, when we can easily feel deserted and alone. And perhaps that is precisely why this month needs to be called “Father.”

Only a father can you look you in the eye with a tenderness that says you are straying and it’s time to return. Only a parent can guide you in a better direction, when you know you are “right” but it isn’t working. Only a parent can punish without alienating, his love hidden but still apparent.

This Friday begins the month of Menachem Av, the comforting Father. May each of us finally feel our Creator’s loving, everlasting embrace.

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.
Painting by Yoram Raanan
(photo credit:YORAM RAANAN)
Painting by Yoram Raanan (photo credit:YORAM RAANAN)

Dear reader,

Toya Graham is the Baltimore mom caught on video a few months ago raining blows on her son as she pulled him out of the Baltimore riots. Her approach worked. Her 16-year-old son knew his mother’s tough love was for his own good.

But what if the child being punished doesn’t realize the slaps are coming from love, for his benefit?

At the end of this week’s Torah portion, we have an unusual command: to bring a New Moon sacrifice, offered on behalf of G‑d, as His sin offering. Rashi explains, “The goat brought on the first day of the month differs (from other offerings), as it says ‘to G‑d.’ The Holy One said, ‘Bring atonement for Me because I diminished the moon.’” (Talmud, Shevuot 9a)

Why would G‑d bring a sin offering?

The Midrash explains that in the beginning of creation, the moon complained that both she and the sun shone with the same brightness. G‑d, then, commanded the moon to make herself smaller. But G‑d admits this is unfair, and brings a sin offering to atone for the moon’s injustice. (Talmud, Chullin 60b)

G‑d is the ultimate source of goodness; every interaction that He has with creation is necessarily an expression of good. But, as with any parent’s interaction with her child, there can be two sources of goodness. Revealed Good are the times when a parent will play with her child, give praise and rewards. Concealed Good are those times when she needs to withhold and to discipline, when the motivation for her actions is still love (and even more so!) but it may not be apparent.

The sun represents those times when there is light, love and laughter in our lives. We feel in sync with our Creator and joyful for His abundant goodness. The moon, which represents the Jewish people, waxes and wanes and resembles the dark periods of our history, when we were banished from our land and our light was almost extinguished—like the current period of the Three Weeks of mourning.

Perhaps G‑d wanted us to celebrate, too, the concealed good. Even when we feel His strong hand, the love should be evident. Even in those dark nights of exile, we should experience the moon’s brightness.

But, as the moon pointed out, that doesn’t work in our world. G‑d’s alienation is felt acutely, and we yearn for the warmth of the sun’s rays. Ultimately, in retrospect, we may be able to appreciate these times of discipline, but right now the suffering is far too overwhelming, too harsh, and feels disproportionate.

And perhaps it is for this—for our perception and pain despite the underlying love—that G‑d offers the sin offering, asking us for forgiveness.

We may not understand it now. But in the time of Moshiach, the moon will be returned to her glory. The concealment and suffering will disappear as we perceive G‑d’s open and revealed goodness.

May it happen now.

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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