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Musing for Meaning

Exponential Growth

January 27, 2013

We often think of growth in linear ways. If I am producing an article a week, that is roughly four per month, and 52 per year. And there is something to that. But when it comes to TheJewishWoman.org, of which I am honored to be the editor, there is no way the growth can be measured in such a way.

Every year, when the “birthday” of the site comes around, I am amazed at how quickly the year went. I often call the site my fifth child. So, we are up to seven candles on the cake. Big girl! One less than my youngest daughter, though her gestation and that of the site coincided. It was at first only an idea and a dream, and over the years became a reality that has developed beyond my wildest hopes and expectations. And, like any mother, I sit here and kvell as it grows up.

What happens behind the scenes is what moves me the most. Reading through the comments and feedback, corresponding with readers, monitoring the women’s prayer exchange, etc. And here are three of the most important things I have learned in the process. Clearly, you will see that they don’t apply just to the site, but to each and every one of our lives:

1. Everyone has a voice and needs to be heard:

The site has never been about professional writers expertly sharing their words of wisdom (don’t get me wrong . . . we have many very talented writers on the site as well). It is about recognizing that every single person has something unique to contribute, and a vantage point that others can learn and grow from. My perspective has something to offer you, and yours to me.

2. Community provides strength and support unlike anything else:

One of the goals when the site was created was to have a safe and open place for women to share their lives. What continuously amazes me is how a woman can write about an extremely sensitive issue such as fertility struggles, or abuse, or a special-needs child, and the comments consistently indicate how many others were going through something so similar. Knowing we are not alone, knowing others understand us, knowing that even in our pain we have that voice, can mean the world. Can transform our world.

3. We never know the impact we have:

I always knew that articles could inspire and teach. Sure, they could make one laugh or even cry. But I have seen, on more than one occasion, how they can even save a life. I have had quite a few readers write on the brink of desperation, reaching out to say how something they read gave them hope, just enough, to try to keep going. Someone’s words touched them and made them feel that maybe life was worth living. Maybe they would be able to pull through. After all, if others could, then maybe, just maybe, they could as well.

Recently, I wrote to a reader to thank her. She hadn’t actually written to me, but I noticed that on almost every single prayer request that came in, she responded. She offered a few words of encouragement, some helpful advice, a note to let the person know she was keeping him or her in her prayers. I was blown away. Her name kept reappearing time and time again in the comments, and I thought how special this woman is, who takes the time to reach out to perfect strangers. She is one of many unbelievable readers that we have, and I feel so blessed to be able to watch such actions unfold before me.

So that is why, as we celebrate the seventh birthday of the site, that we cannot judge its growth in linear terms. Sure, I could tell you how many new authors we added, and how many more articles we published. But I could never begin to tell you how many lives we touched. And when I say “we,” I don’t mean me and the Chabad.org staff. I mean us and you. Because every time you comment, respond, react or read, you change things. And that change is exponential.

My husband sent me a great mathematical understanding of just what exponential growth means. Here is the scenario: You have won the lottery. You have two choices for the winnings. You can either walk away on the spot with $1 million, or you can receive one penny a day, doubled, for the next 30 days. So, which do you choose?

At first glance, a million dollars is a lot of money. And a penny most certainly isn’t. True. But that penny, as small and insignificant as it seems, gains a lot of momentum as it joins with other pennies. Here is what happens.

Day 1: 1 penny. Day 2: 2 pennies. Day 3: 4 pennies. So, not moving very fast here. By day 15: $327. Halfway through the month, and $1 million most certainly sounds like the right choice. Even by day 20: $10,484. Day 25: $335,544, and you know those who chose the $1 million payout are laughing. But then things change. Radically. At day 27, just when the month is about to end, you hit $1,342,177. Day 28: over $2 million. Day 29: over $5 million. And then, on day 30: $10,737,418. One more month, and you would be worth more than the entire global economy. You’d have more money than the world!

We are all pennies. Each one of us valuable, but our true power shows when we unite. Bring us together, and we are unstoppable. Indestructible. Exponential.

Thank you for another year with TheJewishWoman.org. I look forward to growing together beyond our wildest imaginations!

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.

Leaving the Enemy Behind

January 20, 2013

I hate injustice. I always have. And when faced with it, I will fight till the bitter end to redeem the victim.

But there are situations when fighting the negative is just not the way to go. And time and time again, I fail to remember that.

The Torah portion of Beshalach recounts how the Jews ran from Egypt with the Egyptians following right behind. Here they had finally escaped from slavery, they were finally on their way to freedom, and then, bam . . . they hit the sea.

Can you imagine? You run from your enemy, and then hit the stumbling block of all stumbling blocks?

Needless to say, the Jews did not agree on how to proceed. There were four main opinions.

The first group had had enough. There was no way they would return to Egypt, but they saw no other way out. Figuring they had reached their end, they basically gave up: I hate injustice. I always have. And when faced with it, I will fight till the bitter end to redeem the victimrefusing to let the Egyptians kill them, they figured they would just do it themselves by drowning.

I know I wouldn’t have gone along with this group. For one, drowning is one of the most miserable deaths, and there would be no way I would volunteer for that. But more so, I wouldn’t want to give my enemy the pleasure of fulfilling their mission for them.

The second group wanted to go back and surrender. Now, that is so not me. No way in the world would I have let myself be enslaved again, when freedom was close enough to taste. But that group felt they were better off alive and enslaved than free and dead.

The third group absolutely refused to give up, either by returning to slavery or by drowning in the sea. If they were going to die, they were going to die fighting till the last breath. They would turn away from the sea, head straight for the enemy and battle for their freedom.

Now, here is the group I would have joined. This is exactly where I find myself so often in life. Someone did something wrong. Something happened that was unfair. And I You just have to move. You have to know where you need to get to and refuse to let anything stop thatcan’t rest until I have fought and fought to right that wrong. The thing is, sometimes fighting isn’t the way to change the situation. Sometimes, the right thing to do is to walk away. Not face the negative, but turn one’s back on it. Disarm it, not through battle, but through refusing to engage. Usually, I figure this out a bit too late.

And then there was the fourth group. Feeling that there was nowhere to go and nothing to do, what was left but to stop and pray? I mean, sounds like the right thing to do. Certainly a holy option. Yet there is a time and place for everything. And when your enemy is on your tail, stopping is not the right choice, even if it is to pray. G‑d wants to hear from us, but not in place of action. Not in place of us doing what we gotta do.

Now, all of these groups had a logic to their approach. Not necessarily the healthiest or appropriate logic, but a logic nonetheless. And perhaps that was part of the problem. When faced with the seemingly impossible, it is beyond logic, beyond nature. You just have to move. You have to know where you need to get to and refuse to let anything stop that.

Moses took charge, unified the four factions, and made it clear that there was no time to waste and only one direction to go . . . and that was forward. Yes, the Egyptians were on their tail, and the sea was in front of them. The difference was, he didn’t view the sea as an obstacle. He didn’t focus on the water before him, but on the end goal, which was to get as far away as possible from Egypt.

And no, it wasn’t easy. It’s not like we put our toes in the water and the sea split for us. Then again, is the answer to any major dilemma in life simple? If it is, it wasn’t a real dilemma. It took Nachshon ben Aminadav, the first brave soul leading the group, to enter the water up until his neck before those waters parted way. Up to his neck! We all know the expression “to stick your neck out there”—well, it is true. If we want something badly enough and if we believe it needs to happen, we better act on it.

If we give up hope, all is over. If we surrender, we will never have the strength to leave again. If we are busy fighting, we will have our backs turned to where we need to be heading. And if we stop and pray, we will relinquish the G‑d-given strength and power that He bestowed upon us to do the right thing through our actions.

And that is really why this hits home so deeply for me. I know I would have been back there fighting. And it is not a question of whether or not I believe that there is a direction I should head, and that I should keep going at all costs. It is more that I sometimes am so busy fighting what is behind me that I forget to look ahead. When I am busy dealing with darkness, it makes it impossible to bring in more light.

Of course, there are times when the enemy must be dealt with head-on. But that is When it is behind us, when it is in the past, we need to leave it thereonly when that enemy stands in the way of our getting where we need to go. When it is behind us, when it is in the past, we need to leave it there. Even if we are sure it is chasing us, we have to keep going with our goal and destination in mind. It is so tempting to turn around, to want to see how close the enemy is getting; but every time we do so, we slow ourselves down and risk falling for the trap of engaging rather than ignoring.

And, as satisfying as it is to fight that fight and defeat the enemy—I have, as my mother would always tell me, a habit of winning the battle but losing the war. So, as tempting as that third group might be, it is the last group which we need to join.

Fortunately, there was that group of Jews that just kept moving forward. Straight into the water they went, and when they were submerged up to their necks, that was when the sea split. The most amazing of miracles was waiting to take place, waiting for those who were willing to face their future head-on.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.

Living Like a Tourist

January 13, 2013

It’s hard to believe that this very week marks exactly eight years since we left Israel. And being that we lived in Israel about eight years, it means we have now been out of the country as long as we were there.

We moved to Israel immediately after getting married, and all four of our children were born there. And since moving back to the States, we haven’t been able to return.

But we are going back.

Not to live, but to visit. And not all of us, but I and my two oldest girls. And we can’t wait.

Even though we lived in Israel, I feel like I somehow forgot to experience IsraelAs I started to plan our itinerary, I realized how much there is to do and how short the time is. Every day we will be in a different part of Israel, visiting family and friends. If things go as planned, by the time the trip is complete we will have been in the north, south, east and west of the country. And the goal is to ensure we visit all the landmarks and museums and holy sites.

Even though my children lived in Israel, they were young when we left, so they don’t remember much. But my girls can’t wait to visit the local makolet (market), where we picked up their bags (yes, bags) of chocolate milk every morning. And they still remember some of their friends from preschool. But they certainly don’t recall much else.

As we sit and plan, my girls ask me what it is like in the Golan, the north of Israel. “I don’t know . . .” is my reply. I can’t even recall if I have ever been there. They want to know how long it will take to hike Masada. But I don’t remember, as the last time I did the hike, I was on a teen tour in high school. And the weather in Ashdod? Hmm, never been there myself. Not even sure exactly where Ashdod is without looking at a map.

I realize that almost every place I am taking my girls is a place I have either never been to, or haven’t been to in years. Even though we lived in Israel, I feel like I somehow forgot to experience Israel. How sad that we will be in more places, and see and do more things on one short trip, than I managed to do in eight years!

There is something about settling in a place, living in a place, that can inadvertently take away from tapping into all of its potential. Now, I dream of being able to walk to the Western Wall and touch the stones and just have a chance to connect and pray. But when I actually was only a half-hour’s walk away, we rarely made it there. It wasn’t that we didn’t value its importance, but we were busy. We had our regular lives to live. And when packing lunches, doctor appointments and grocery shopping can fill one’s free time, there is little left for some of the most important things.

Planning this trip reminded me of the necessity to sometimes be a tourist in our own lives. When we are aware that we will be in a certain place for only a very set amount of time, we don’t want to waste it. We want to make sure we experience all there is to experience, see all there is to see. We need to make time to see the people we care about.

I never had a chance to get to Tel Aviv to say goodbye to my grandfatherOne of my biggest regrets in life is that when we lived in Israel I never had a chance to get to Tel Aviv to say goodbye to my grandfather. I was very close with him, and before I had children, had visited him as often as I could. But by the time he wasn’t well I already had two children, two babies, and taking four buses to visit him in his old-age home proved too overwhelming. Even as I write this, knowing how truly difficult it was, I can’t get past the fact that it was not impossible. I could have made the trip. It would have been difficult, but it would have meant the world to him (and me). I just kept pushing it off, waiting for a better time, a more convenient time—and sometimes, that time just never comes.

It was actually with my grandfather in mind that this trip came about in the first place. This was not really planned. It just happened. It happened because it is something we have wanted to do for years. But there was never a good time. It was always too complicated. Too expensive. Too something or other. And then I looked at the calendar, and realized that life is not getting more simple.

And now it is happening. It so easily could not have. After all, for years it hasn’t happened, for reasons I don’t even remember. But now that it is, I can’t understand why it took until now.

But because it did, we are all so grateful to be going. We are so aware of the tremendous opportunity we have, and the gift this is. And, because we are going as tourists this time, we will be seeing our country through different eyes. We will be visiting family and spending time with them, fully aware that this is not something we can do any day we want. We won’t just be sitting on the bus to get from point A to point B, but using the ride as a chance to look at the scenery and appreciate Israeli culture and life as it happens alongside us.

Only when we assume we may not have another opportunity do we grab one when it becomes availableBut I don’t want to be only a tourist on this trip. I hope I can incorporate the lesson of living this way into my everyday life here as well. When we think we have all the time in the world, we push things off. When we assume we can go next week, or the week after, or in a few months, and enjoy that outing with our children, chances are it won’t happen. Because only when we prioritize, only when we recognize the importance of doing what should be done now and not later, does it happen. Only when we assume we may not have another opportunity do we grab one when it becomes available. Only when we reserve that time, make those plans, and be that temporary tourist do we actually get to experience all the treasures around us.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.

The Bad Parent

January 6, 2013

In the back of my mind I have naively assumed that if there are the right ingredients, in the right order, and you follow the directions, the end product should be a success.

But life doesn’t happen that way. And I do know that. I really do. But still, I think I have been mistakenly putting a tiny bit of blame on the baker, and forgetting that the Chef runs the kitchen.

We seem to judge others, consciously or not, by how our life works. If my baby sleeps through the night, I must be doing something right. If your baby cries all night long, you must be doing something wrong. Simple as that. I mean, after all, your baby must be cold or hot or hungry or too full or something fixable. You just haven’t figured out what is wrong.

We seem to judge others, consciously or not, by how our life worksYeah, well, that logic worked well with my first, who did sleep through the night. But it threw me for a loop with my second, who had colic and cried, no matter what, all night long. And then I was the one receiving those snarky looks from others who would hear my baby scream, as they wondered just how long it would take me to figure out what I needed to fix.

And as our children grow, it is oh so easy to continue along that trend. The toddler having the temper tantrum in the supermarket aisle must need a nap, or is spoiled rotten. I mean, why else would a kid be throwing such a fit? And then in school, if a child isn’t behaving or able to concentrate, it is because either the teacher or the parent is doing something wrong.

Now, I do believe that nurture has a significant impact on how a child grows up. And I also don’t believe that nature is set in stone. People can change, and there is neuroplasticity, proving that with the right effort we can shift—if not transform—our nature. Judaism teaches us that we are constantly struggling between our yetzer tov (positive, healthy inclination) and our yetzer hara (negative, unhealthy inclination). Everything we do is a choice. And the better prepared we are for that choice, the easier it will be to make the right one.

But as my children grow into young adults, I have reached a new conclusion about parenting. And that is the following: Being a good parent does not mean that your child will not have problems. It means that you will be better prepared to deal with those problem when they arise.

I have watched some of my friends face devastating situations with their children. Children who were raised with love, support, kindness, morality and stability. The ingredients were there. They were mixed properly. But sometimes along the way, things happen that we can’t predict and from which we can’t protect ourselves or our children. The “bad” parent is not the one whose child ends up doing the wrong thing. The “bad” parent is the one who doesn’t intervene, react, and try to change the situation once it happens.

Things happen that we can’t predict and from which we can’t protect ourselves or our childrenThe only thing worse than watching someone you love suffer as her child falls to a terrible place, is watching those around you judge the one you love. Perhaps when we judge others and assume there is some fix, some ingredient that was missing, something she could have done differently or better to avoid that situation, we don’t need to consider that this could happen to us. But it can. And nothing we do will change that. The only variable remaining is how we will respond if it does.

Recently, I went to my doctor for my annual well visit. When my blood results came back, it showed that I have high cholesterol. The first thing my doctor did was discuss with me what I could change to get my cholesterol on track. She told me what to eat. I responded that I already eat those foods. She told me what not to eat. But I already don’t eat them. She told me to begin exercising. I explained that I have been going to the gym three times a week for the past year. And then she told me that cholesterol is also genetic. That I am doing all the right things. That while I can strive to improve, it may not ever be enough. I made need intervention. I may need medication. After all, there is only so much I can control.

My doctor was great. There was no guilt. No blame. No telling me that something was my fault when it was pretty clear it wasn’t. Not to say that it couldn’t have been. If I smoked, drank, was obese, never exercised and ate heavy saturated fat products . . . yeah, that could lead to high cholesterol. Then again, I could do all of that and have my cholesterol in range. No givens. No guarantees. We do what we can, and then we pray for the best.

If only we granted other parents the same respect and understanding. Why are we so quick to assume that they are doing something wrong? Why do we automatically suppose that any issue their child is facing is a result of their action or inaction? It might be. But it could very likely not be. After all, having a child is not addition. It is not 1 + 1 = 2, where the child is only a result of what the parents put into it. Procreation is multiplication. The mitzvah is pru u’revu, “to be fruitful and multiply.” Multiplication is greater than the sum of the parts. Yes, there is the mother and the father. But the end result is more than that. And something we ultimately have little, if any, control over.

Recognizing that I am not in control is something I inherently know and yet struggle withRecognizing that I am not in control is something I inherently know and yet struggle with. I get that I don’t run this world. I get that there is so much that makes no sense and that I cannot understand. And I do really, truly believe that there is a plan and a reason for everything, even if I don’t have a clue what that is. But that doesn’t mean I like it when things pop up to remind me that my hard work may not pay off in the way I want it to.

Yet I also believe that every good thing we do, every kind word, every positive action, every step in the right direction, absolutely changes things. Everything counts. Not always how we intend, but when we deposit into our spiritual, physical or emotional bank account, sooner or later we will be able to withdraw.

After all, what makes a good patient or a good parent is not being able to avoid all illness or challenge in life, but being willing and able to deal with it. And the more resources in that account, the easier it will be.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
Every situation we find ourselves in is a lesson waiting to be learned. That is what this blog is about. From the people I meet, the places I go and the experiences I have, stories emerge, each teaching me something that I hope you will find useful for your life as well.
Sara Esther CrispeSara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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