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Dear reader,

The Jews in the shtetls were simple, but careful to keep mitzvot to the best of their knowledge. They set times for daily prayers and respected Torah learning. They were sincere Jews who tried their best.

But, for many, an ice had formed around their hearts. They did the right acts, but coldness permeated their souls. The hardships of life, the constant persecutions, the daily drudgery had wiped away their joy and grinded at their sense of purpose. The Jewish body was doing what it needed, but the Jewish soul was lethargic, semi-conscious.

This was the state of world Jewry when the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the chassidic movement, began publicly disseminating his teachings on the 18th of Elul, 36 years after he was born on this day in 1698. This special day, which falls this week, also marks the birthday of his spiritual successor, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, who later established the “Chabad” branch of Chassidism.

So, how did the chassidic movement rejuvenate the Jewish spirit? The Baal Shem Tov’s teachings are vast, but I want to focus on these three simple but profoundly deep ideas:

1) The Baal Shem Tov taught about the soul’s infinite power. Every individual—no matter how simple or learned, no matter your lineage, state of observance, talents, or where you fit into society’s hierarchy—is a child of G‑d, completely bound to G‑d, whose love for you is infinite and unconditional. And since you have this ongoing dynamic bond and relationship with G‑d, you too have infinite capabilities.

2) Since G‑d loves you so much, it follows that He constantly watches over you, and in fact watches over and determines even the minutest aspect of all of creation. Divine providence means that everything in our world, as well as every encounter we have, the good and the bad, is exactly as it is supposed to be, for a positive growth experience.

3) Knowing that everything is predetermined by G‑d, who has such overwhelming love for us, naturally creates a life filled with tremendous joy. Think about how G‑d is all goodness and wishes only good for you. Celebrate G‑d’s love for you and feel the joy in doing His will.

It’s now the 21st century. We’re no longer living in shtetls across Europe, but in large, bustling metropolises. We may be more sophisticated, but the hardships of life, the constant struggles, the daily drudgery wipe away our joy and grind at our sense of purpose. Our souls, too, feel lethargic.

In the month of Elul, in preparation for the upcoming High Holidays, the Jewish soul begins to shine. Eighteen, in Jewish numerology, stands for life, chai. What an appropriate time to revitalize our souls, to infuse ourselves with lifegiving warmth, faith and purpose by focusing on these ideas and studying these teachings, so vital for our times.

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.

3 Steps to Victory

How many battles did you fight today?

None, you say? Think again.

Did you fight fatigue in order to pry your eyes open this morning? Did you fight the mad traffic jam to navigate to work? At the office, did you fight laziness to climb the stairs instead of riding the elevator? Did you fight lethargy to focus on the tasks at hand? Did you fight the clock to meet your deadline? Did you fight your cravings to avoid unhealthy snacks and choose nourishing food?

Every day, every hour, every minute, we wage countless battles.

This week’s Torah portion begins by telling us about our battles and clues us in on vital knowledge to win them.

When you go out to war on your enemies, the L‑rd your G‑d shall deliver them into your hands and you shall capture from them captives (Deuteronomy 21:10).

The Torah doesn’t write “if you go out to war,” but rather “when.” Turbulence and struggle are inevitable.

We fight real wars just as we fight moral ones. We fight character traits just as we struggle to use our time wisely and develop our talents fully. We battle to protect loved ones from the harsh realities of our world and to create a better reality.

Here are 3 important things to know about your wars.

1. Your battles don’t define you.

The Hebrew phrase al oyvecha, “on your enemies,” literally means “on top of your enemies.” Just because we are constantly engaged in struggle doesn’t mean that we are defined by them. We win, and inevitably we lose. Don’t focus on your losses; you are far more than your conflicts. You have a divine soul that is perfect and untarnished in spite of your struggles. So just get back up, re-energized, and begin anew.

2. You are not fighting alone.

When your battles become oppressive, when your enemy gains the upper hand, you may need to take a step back and reevaluate. Affirm that there is no true existence other than G‑d. This means that nothing contrary to G‑d’s goodness and truth has any real power over you. Go to war with the optimistic confidence that “G‑d shall deliver them into your hands,” in order to succeed.

3. You can grow from your experience.

“You shall capture from them captives.” Anything negative in man or in the world can be exploited for the good. You were exposed to your circumstances for a reason. “Capture captives” and find a lesson in every situation.

Wishing us all strength and victory in fighting our many battles!

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,

Can I tempt you? Invest 3 minutes of your time for the next month or so. In return you will find hope, faith and consolation that will invigorate your soul while keeping you in tune with the mood of this time of year.

What do you need to do?

From the first day of Rosh Chodesh Elul until Hoshana Rabbah on the holiday of Sukkot, we’ve begun reciting an extra psalm at the end of our prayers.

This psalm (chapter 27) begins with the words “G‑d is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The L‑rd is the strength of my life, whom shall I dread? . . . For He will hide me in His tabernacle on a day of adversity . . .”

This prayer is appropriate for this time of year, since it hints to the upcoming holidays. “Light” refers to Rosh Hashanah which, like light, wakes us from our slumber to remind us to return to G‑d. “Salvation” refers to the holy day of Yom Kippur, when we take leave of all our wrongs from the past year through forgiveness and atonement. And “tabernacle” (sukkah in Hebrew) refers to the holiday of Sukkot.

In this psalm, King David eloquently begs G‑d to save him from his many enemies. As his adversaries pursue him, he enumerates three stages of deliverance. First, G‑d illuminates his path so he can flee. Then, G‑d protects him and removes the danger. And lastly, G‑d brings him to a place of refuge.

Whether we find ourselves in the throes of a terrible illness, a financial crisis or a severe emotional problem, these are the three stages of deliverance we all seek.

Worry, sadness and despair associated with a challenge can be overwhelming. Darkness haunts and immobilizes us, blocking our path so we cannot see. The first step to recovery is finding a ray of light or hope to illuminate the enveloping darkness.

Next we need a path, a real solution for our problem, so that the severity of the danger or difficulty is eased.

And finally, even after a solution is in place, we need to learn how to find serenity—a calm state of mind, a place of refuge which can handle the inevitable struggles.

As the year draws to a close and a new one full of promise peeks around the corner, we ask G‑d to help us through our personal trials. The concluding words of the prayer are the foundation for improving our mindset. “Hope in the L‑rd, be strong and let your heart be valiant, and hope in the L‑rd.”

May the coming year be a year of blessing for us all, where we find salvation from our challenges as well as a year of deliverance and redemption for our nation and our entire world.

Chana Weisberg,
Editor, TJW

P.S.: How do you deal with the challenges of your life?

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,

Summers here in southern New Jersey can be very hot, very muggy and very humid. So when a friend called to invite me to swim in her pool, I eagerly accepted. She told me she swims every morning at 8:15 together with another friend, her swimming partner. They have been doing this for years; it’s their escape, a terrific form of exercise and a great way to invigorate their day.

The pool was large, gorgeous and refreshing. When I arrived, the two were already hard at work. My friend swims eighty laps every morning (did I mention the pool was large?) and her friend does the same.

Dipping toe by toe, I slowly stepped into the pool before jumping in. While my friend’s goal was eighty laps, I knew I’d be happy with eighteen. While my friend and her friend executed perfect front crawls, their strokes calculated and strong, I chose to do some relaxing backstrokes and breaststrokes. The important thing for me was just to keep on moving, which I knew was great exercise, even with my sloppy strokes. I was careful to stay in my “lane” and be considerate of their space as I gazed at the brilliant blue sky and the soaring trees, and I felt grateful just being there.

Swimming my own program, I thought of the new month we are entering.

Elul is an opportune time for introspection. It is a time to think about the year that passed and our goals for the coming year. Sometimes we can get so caught up with comparing ourselves to others that we miss the point. But introspection means looking inner, looking at ourselves and our potential.

Elul is the time when “G‑d is in the field”—right here in our neighborhood, at our jobs, in our homes. The Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, explains that to come before the king in the royal palace requires the admission of a hierarchy of officers checking our credentials, but when the king comes out to the fields, anyone can approach him.

Elul is our chance to seek G‑d out in a more open and personal way, without protocol blocking the way. Irrespective of what we have or have not achieved in the last year, and irrespective of how we compare to the guy or girl next door, it’s our opportunity to focus on strengthening and developing our own, personal and intimate relationship with G‑d.

Because we’re all in the pool of life. Whether we succeed in doing eighty or eight laps is irrelevant. What is important is that we take the plunge, be considerate of others’ space, enjoy the stunning scenery and focus on moving forward!

Wishing you all a wonderful new month!

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,

This past Sunday was visiting day at my daughter’s overnight camp. Waiting for their parents to arrive, campers stood by the gate, gazing down the road, expectantly.

As we drove into the camp grounds--the second car to arrive--I spotted my daughter at that gate. She was holding a bouquet of wild flowers, white and yellow, picked just for me. Her eyes lit up when she noticed us.

She knew that we would be bringing all her favorite treats. She had asked us, too, to bring insect repellant to replenish her supply and batteries to replace her flashlight’s worn ones.

But she wasn’t standing at that gate waiting for things. Holding her bouquet, waiting for as long as it would take, she was waiting for us. To hug us. To tell us all about the last two-and-a-half weeks, filled with fun, learning experiences and great new friendships. The time flew by but also felt like an eternity, so far from us.

The moment that I saw her eyes light up, our long drive to camp was worth it. We had started our journey especially early, leaving extra time for unexpected delays because we had envisioned her standing by that gate.

Standing and waiting. Watching car after car. Wondering when her parents would finally arrive.

Sure, she would understand that it was a long drive, that there were delays. But the vision of her face falling with each passing car, every minute feeling like an hour, every hour feeling like an eternity, motivated us to be at that closed gate early.

She showed us around the picturesque grounds. She proudly led us to her bunk house and her cubby, where her clothes were folded so precisely. She admitted it wasn’t always so orderly but that morning there was a strict bedside inspection. The camp gate would be locked to all visitors until the grounds were perfectly prepared.

Remembering the glorious day we spent in each other’s company, I think of a very different kind of gate.

I think of us, the Jewish people, standing at the gate of galut, exile, waiting to feel G‑d’s embrace. Sure, we may also be anticipating the plentiful treats of redemption. We may be awaiting necessary supplies, too, like health or livelihood that will abound in that era. Or we may have become so disappointed with the long wait that we’ve run off to play.

I understand, too, that G‑d is waiting for us to feel proud as we display our neat cubbies of all we’ve accomplished during exile.

But, as decade after decade passes, every year feels like eternity. We stand at exile’s gate, waiting and waiting, hopeful and expectant. We clutch our bouquets of mitzvot, personally hand-picked, longing for G‑d’s warm embrace.

Dear G‑d, won’t you finally open the gate?

Chana Weisberg

Editor, TJW

PS What are you anticipating in the era of redemption?

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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