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Dear Readers,

Ever notice that some people bring out the best in you? You are more kind, caring and patient in their presence, and it’s even reflected in your conversations.

Then there are others who bring out the worst in us. In their presence, our words reveal anger, restlessness and other unfavorable traits.

When we interact with a child, we reach deep inside of ourselves to rediscover our own inner child, and our words are full of wonder and spontaneity. When interacting with an intellectual, we express our more cerebral side—our questioning, even cynicism. In shared intimate moments with our spouse, our words reflect softer sentimentality, warmth and love.

In every situation, our words become tailored to the individuals with whom we are conversing; it reflects our relationship with them.

On Rosh Hashanah, we celebrate our connection to G‑d. We coronate G‑d as our King and ask Him to renew His relationship with us. We depend on G‑d as Creator and sustainer, and G‑d depends on each of us, individually, to use our unique talents and personalities to make His presence felt in this world.

So what should our conversations with G‑d sound like?

The prayers throughout the Rosh Hashanah services express many words and emotions, but the central observance of this holiday is the sounding of a shofar, a ram’s horn. It is blown in a series of longer and shorter blasts, and it reminds us of many things, including:

  • the coronation ceremony of a king or official.
  • a baby’s cries.
  • the blast of triumph and conquest.
  • the gasps of breath during a hysterical outburst.
  • the boom of victory.
  • the hiccups after a long cry.
  • a great laugh.
  • the clamor of broken-hearted repentance.

Prayers, too, can be tailored to particular thoughts, emotions and circumstances.

In contrast, the shofar blasts are general and universal. Its sounds synthesize opposites and contrasts, sadness and happiness, triumph and despair, victory and defeat, laughter and tears. It encompasses all the raw notes of our being, harmonizing all aspects of our personality, unifying the many diverse moments and encounters of our lives.

On Rosh Hashanah, as we work on forging a closer bond with our Creator, we realize that our lives will span times of delight and desolation, moments of anguish and anger. The raw sound of the shofar doesn’t represent a particular word, person or trait. It doesn’t represent a specific time or circumstance. It doesn’t even represent a precise conversation or prayer.

Rather, it represents all of these: each and every one of us, with all aspects of our personalities, throughout all of our life’s circumstances, calling out to our Creator.

Because our relationship with G‑d is so raw, so personal and so completely all-encompassing.

Wishing you a happy, healthy and meaningful new year!

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.

Dear Readers,

It’s your birthday. Your young children let you sleep in. Stealthily, they sneak downstairs to prepare a card, hand-drawn, with clashing colors of crayons. They find a crumpled piece of gift wrap for a beaded necklace that they crafted. Finally and hesitatingly, they hand over their special present to you.

And, of course, more than the most expensive gift, their humble offering means the world to you.

Now, imagine these scenarios:

You gave a nice sum of money to a poor person who is down on his luck. You sat chatting with a home-bound, elderly neighbor to brighten his day. You brought over a home-cooked meal to a close friend who is bedridden. Or you read your child his favorite nighttime story—for the 15th time.

Terrific, right? You should feel pretty good about yourself.

But there’s one ingredient that’s essential to making it special and appreciated.

Your children’s humble present meant so much to you because it was given with such love and joy. They offered what they could, and they did it with hearts that were overflowing.

If joy would be missing from any one of your offerings, the thoughtful gift would become ugly. That home-cooked meal—given with a sour, resentful face—just wouldn’t taste the same, just as the time spent in anger or irritation with your elderly neighbor or young child would become almost meaningless. The recipients might benefit somewhat from what you gave, but the act would be missing its soul.

At the end of this week’s Torah portion, we learn why G‑d sent us into exile.

Because you did not serve G‑d with happiness and with gladness of heart, in abundance of everything, therefore you shall serve your enemies . . . (28:47–48)

Different explanations are given as to what this passage mean. Rashi suggests that we didn’t serve G‑d when He gave us an abundance of goodness, so we will serve our enemies in poverty.

But the words seem to imply that we were serving G‑d, just not with happiness.

Maimonides explains: “Even though you served G‑d, you did not serve Him with joy—that is the source of all afflictions.”

Why such extreme punishment for simply lacking joy?

G‑d didn’t create us as perfect beings who can continuously do only good and escape from messing up. But if we serve G‑d with joy—showing Him that we are happy and grateful to do His commandments—then our joy inspires G‑d to overlook our shortcomings. (Likutei Torah 2:20c)

Like any parent, G‑d doesn’t expect the most glamorous and expensive “offerings” from us. He appreciates our humble deeds, such as when I held back from that juicy gossip or when I smiled when I felt like screaming. G‑d understands how much effort even the smallest act of self-sacrifice or self-restraint requires of us.

As long as we do so with joy.

Wishing you a joyous week!

Chana Weisberg,

Edior, 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.

Dear Readers,

I recently read an article about a successful entrepreneur. She is a busy, hands-on mother of three young children who also runs a prosperous business. Several employees work for her, and she is constantly involved with launching new projects. To top it off, she is also writing a book about her business ideas.

How does she manage to balance it all?

She explained one key tool to avoid becoming sidetracked. At all times, she keeps with her a small black notebook. Throughout her many meetings, she jots down notes or important reminders. This way, she clears her mind to focus on her goals, rather than on what tasks she needs to remember.

More importantly, at the beginning of her day, she writes down three or four goals she wants to complete that day. She needs to be flexible to accommodate the many diversions that will require her attention. But, if at the end of the day, she can see that she accomplished those three or four goals, she knows she is on track.

This week’s Torah portion, Ki Teitze, begins with the words: “When you go out to war on your enemies, the L‑rd your G‑d shall deliver them into your hands.”

Every day, we face a battlefield trying to realize our hopes, goals and dreams, while various forces within our lives work to defeat us. Every day, we struggle to prioritize our commitments, deciding which things can be put aside and which cannot.

In every battle, the way to achieve victory is to gain the higher ground, to go “on (or over) our enemies.” We cannot become stooped in the minutia of daily life; we need to rise above it, while keeping an eye on our ultimate goals. Most importantly, we need to remember that it is G‑d who will lead us to victory and help us access our talents to succeed.

Later in the parshah, we are commanded: “When You build a new house, you shall make a guard rail for your roof.”

Building a house can mean working on any endeavor, goal or mission that we set out to achieve. In order to succeed and avoid being dragged into life’s many distractions, we must remain sufficiently aloof from them. We accomplish this by building a guard rail to keep us on track. By setting appropriate boundaries, we can focus on what’s important so that we don’t fall away from our agendas.

Not all of us are suited to build large and successful businesses. But, more importantly, all of us can—and should—make it our business to build our spiritual selves into the people we wish to become.

The New Year is right around the corner. Perhaps now would be a good time to make a list of our three or four spiritual goals for this coming year.

And with G‑d’s help, we will succeed.

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.

Dear Readers,

Scratching. Squeaking. Crashing.

Those were the noises we were hearing last fall from our rooftop, on top of our bedroom. Little feet were scratching against the roof tiles, quickly scurrying across. Just as I would be falling into a deep sleep, I’d waken to the sound of crashing. The noise was incessant, and began to seriously interfere with my sleep. Were nocturnal animals taking shelter in my attic?

After some investigating, my husband and I discovered the culprit: squirrels. They had made a playful path across our roof. The crashing sound was the result of the nuts and acorns they were hoarding before the onslaught of winter.

Squirrels are a common sight in my backyard and neighborhood. From afar, these animals with their fluffy tails look cute and harmless. But once they get too close to your home, they become a real nuisance. Aside from the noise, squirrels can chew their way into attics to make a nest for their young. Worse, they gnaw on power cords, which can ruin your electrical system and potentially cause a fire.

Apparently, we had a real squirrel problem that we needed to deal with before our health and house were compromised.

It turns out that the squirrels were not actually living in our attic, but just using our roof space as their playground, reaching it from nearby trees. After cutting off some branches, we waited to see if the problem would be solved. That was the first night in many that I finally fell into a deep and uninterrupted sleep.

This week’s Torah reading, Shoftim, means “judges,” and it opens with the command to “appoint judges in all your city gates.” These words teach us that we need to appoint judges and law-enforcement officials to ensure a just and civil society.

But these words also hint to trespassers of a different kind.

Siftei Kohen elaborates: “The human body is a city with seven gates—seven portals to the outside world: the two eyes, two ears, two nostrils and the mouth. Here, too, it is incumbent upon us to place internal ‘judges’ to discriminate and regulate what should be admitted and what should be kept out, and ‘officers’ to enforce the judges’ decisions . . .”

The gates to access our soul are our eyes and ears and mouths. We need to supervise closely what we allow to gain entry into our home and environment. We need to fill our mind space with meaningful, uplifting thoughts, by making sure we block out ideas and practices that compromise our spiritual welfare.

Some behaviors, mannerisms and lifestyles may seem appealing from afar, but aren’t conducive to our emotional, intellectual or spiritual growth. These are better left outdoors, barred from entering our inner sanctums.

As it turns out, even squirrels aren’t innocuous after all.

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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