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A Psychotherapist’s Shema in Auschwitz

July 15, 2018

Dear Readers,

Shema Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad... Listen Israel, G‑d is our L‑rd, G‑d is One. (Deut. 6:4)

These words, a highlight of our daily prayers, express powerful pearls of faith. But I didn't expect to read them in a timeless best-selling classic.

In Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl describes his experiences in the Nazi concentration camps.

Shortly after arriving at Auschwitz, Frankl was stripped of his most precious possession—a manuscript that was his life's work, hidden in his coat pocket. He then had “perhaps his deepest experience in the concentration camps.”

“I had to undergo and overcome the loss of my mental child. And now it seemed as if nothing and no one would survive me; neither a physical nor a mental child of my own. So I found myself confronted with the question whether under such circumstances my life was ultimately void of meaning.

“An answer to this question with which I was wrestling so passionately was already in store for me…This was the case when I had to surrender my clothes and in turn inherited the worn-out rags of an inmate who had already been sent to the gas chamber...Instead of the many pages of my manuscript, I found in a pocket of the newly acquired coat one single page torn out of a Hebrew prayer book, containing the most important Jewish prayer, Shema Yisroel.

“How should I have interpreted such a ‘coincidence’ other than as a challenge to live my thoughts instead of merely putting them on paper?”

Why has the Shema Yisroel prayer inspired so many through the most trying times?

Aside from its simple assertion of belief, I think there are four key psychological elements:

1) Relevance: Listen, Israel—Religion cannot start and end with theories; it must address our humanness. The Shema does not begin with a depersonalized statement of faith. It addresses each one of us. Listen, Israel, listen to this message, and make it a part of your being

2) Belonging: The Shema is in plural ("our G‑d" and not "my G‑d"), spoken to a collective group. We gain strength from one another and fortitude from being a part of something greater than ourselves. That sense of community is one of our strongest assets.

3) Personalization: G‑d is our G‑d. G‑d, who is transcendental and infinite, is also our personal G‑d, holding us in times of celebration and despair. G‑d is not just an objective ruler, creating and regulating the cosmos. He is "ours," near us, understanding the deepest part of us, more than we do.

4) Individuality: As much as we need a sense of belonging and community, we must not negate our individual differences. The Shema ends with the words "G‑d is one" (rather than G‑d is "singular" or "alone"). One, the first of the numbers, teaches that G‑d is present within the diversity of the world. While conformity stunts growth, the "oneness of G‑d" should empower us to discover and cultivate the G‑dly oneness and uniqueness within each of us.

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.

Watching a Child’s Chemotherapy Treatments

July 8, 2018

Dear Readers,

Seemingly out of nowhere, my friend’s teenage daughter was diagnosed with cancer. Thank G‑d, her cancer is treatable, and her prognosis for the future appears bright. Nevertheless, she has to undergo months and months of chemotherapy treatment, a complex operation and then further chemotherapy to ensure that no cancer cells remain in her body.

For the last many months, my friend has spent most of her days in the cancer ward. She describes how hard it is to watch her child experience so much pain and illness, such physical and emotional suffering.

The chemotherapy protocol is brutal, her daughter has lost all her lovely locks of hair, and she has become terribly weak. “The cancer is treatable,” my friend makes an attempt at humor, “unless the chemo kills her first!”

My friend and her husband take turns sitting at their daughter’s bedside. They watch with mixed emotions as the chemo concoction slowly drips intravenously into their daughter’s body. A part of them wants to pull it out, knowing that this poison will wreak such havoc. Of course, they also know that it is lifesaving.

The Talmud teaches us that “there are four things whose creation G‑d regrets every day. The first is galut, exile.” (Sukkah 52b)

What does it mean that G‑d “regrets” something? And how can something exist if G‑d regrets it? G‑d, as our Creator, is constantly re-creating us at every moment. Should G‑d not wish for something to exist, He does not need to “destroy” it, but merely no longer will it into being and stop providing the Creative force that vitalizes it. (Imagine a balloon—for as long as you blow, it swells, but the moment you stop blowing, the balloon regresses to a mere small piece of rubber.)

When we regret something, it means we desired it at one point, but then no longer do (in the present tense). Applying the term “regret” to G‑d, who is beyond time, conceptually means that G‑d desires some aspect of exile and yet also does not desire it.

G‑d desires the positive ramifications of exile—the amazing strength, fortitude, faith and kindness that emerges from the depths of the Jewish soul after being challenged to the limit. And yet, He also abhors exile—the pain, suffering, cries and tears that it causes us, His precious children.

Until there is a new medical breakthrough, my friend has no choice but to subject her daughter to the ravages of the chemo treatments in order to save her life. On the other hand, G‑d is infinite and has the ability of achieving the benefits even without the pain. Moreover, we’ve been in exile far too long! May all the benefits we have accomplished in exile finally suffice to end our suffering, and may we finally experience how it heralds the final redemption—when all sickness and sorrow will be erased from the face of this earth.

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.

Displaced in My Own Home

July 1, 2018

Dear Readers,

Right now, I’m surrounded by boxes and feel like I could almost drown in them. My house looks like a disaster zone. Chairs and tables are lined up against the walls. My pretty decorative elements, the beautiful wall art and photographs of my loved ones, are long gone, packed away. Nothing is in its right place.

With just a short time until our move, our home is in total disarray, as we pack up the last several years of our lives into cardboard boxes. Our new home, while beautiful, is still unadorned. Its rooms await our furniture and tchatchkas--our touches, small and big, to transform it from an impersonal house into our home.

And so, right now, I feel like I am displaced. Living in a home that soon will no longer be mine, it already feels like it is not mine. And as I visit my bare new home, it, too, does not yet feel like home.

Though I am really excited about our move and feel so fortunate for the opportunities that await us in a wonderful new community, this temporary feeling of displacement can be jarring and disorienting.

Our nation understands this feeling of displacement. Exile is displacement, and we have experienced it for almost two thousand years!

To be displaced means to be shifted from where you belong, from where you should be, from where you are used to being, to a no-man’s land. It means feeling uprooted and disjointed. You live in a paradoxical situation where you are not here, nor there.

There have been times when exile meant terrible persecutions, wars and destructions. But sometimes, exile is more subtle; it means finding ourselves in a world where we are currently staying—where we may even have a roof over our heads and walls that protect us, even physical comforts and luxuries—but where we don’t really feel at home.

G‑dliness is hidden and our souls seek and yearn more cohesiveness, more spiritual connections. The result is suffering, fragmentation, challenges and confusion.

We have just begun the Three Weeks, an annual period of mourning that marks the destruction of our Temples and our ongoing exile.

A positive aspect of displacement is that the feeling is so uncomfortable that it provides the impetus to motivate us to create a more settling environment. The darkest exile, on the other hand, is when we don’t even recognize that we are in exile. Like a sickness that one doesn’t realize is wracking one’s body, nothing motivates you to create change and find healing.

And so, the Three Weeks period is a time for us to focus on exile—and how we each can contribute to its end. It is a time to figure out how each of us can add a little more G‑dliness to our world, to transform it into a comfortable, G‑dly home.

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.

A Home Where Every Electrical Outlet Is Planned

June 24, 2018

Dear Readers,

After living for many years in a small, old house, my friend’s financial situation improved, and so she’s building a new home.

Being a detail-oriented individual, she pored over architectural plans and finally customized a design to meet her family’s needs. Consulting with professionals along the way, she has been involved with every decision—from the choice of colors to the location of the structural beams.

She has envisioned the placement of her furniture to ensure that each electrical outlet is in the most convenient location. She has mapped out every HVAC register to accommodate her window coverings and make certain that her couches will not block the registers for maximum efficiency.

She has thought long and hard about every room. And yet, no matter how scrupulous her plans, no human being is perfect; blunders are inevitable. But her meticulous planning will guarantee that her family will have a beautiful and functional home that accommodates their needs, schedules and lifestyle.

G‑d, on the other hand, is perfect and infinite, and knows every scenario and situation. When G‑d created our world, He intended for us to be His partner in making it into a home where G‑dliness is palpable. And so, when designing our world, G‑d “looked into the Torah” and used it as His blueprint to warrant that our world’s “design” would accommodate all parts of the Torah (Midrash Rabba).

This week, we celebrate the Chassidic holiday of the 12th of Tammuz, when the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe was freed from prison in the Soviet Union, where he was charged with teaching and spreading the light of Torah. Right at the outset, the Rebbe took the stance that while the Soviet authorities imprisoned his physical body, they could not touch his spiritual self.

When his tormentor waved his gun before him and threatened that “this toy has the power of making many a man talk and divulge secrets,” the Rebbe famously responded: “That toy can affect someone who believes in many gods and one world. But that toy has no power over someone who believes in one G‑d and two worlds.”

At times, when we study Torah, we may think that these are beautiful ideals, but they don’t “fit”—or are unrealistic—for our imperfect world. We’ve got to cheat or lie, every so often, to succeed in business. We must gossip occasionally to become popular in our social circles. We can’t possibly be expected to scrupulously observe every detailed law of Shabbat or kashrut. Surely, we’ve got to bend some of the rules in order to function in our world!

But if G‑d “looked into the Torah and created the world,” this means that nothing in our physical world can interfere or “block” the Torah and its commandments. Though often a situation may appear to be antithetical to Divine will, this is merely a façade, providing us with a challenge and opportunity to overcome—and be G‑d’s partner in creation.

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.

Why Is My Phone Not Charging?!

June 17, 2018

Dear Readers,

Have you ever plugged in your dying phone for its battery to be charged, only to come back several hours later to see that it hasn’t recharged at all?

You’re certain that you properly plugged it into the outlet. In fact, it still is plugged in. Only upon closer inspection do you realize that the charging wire wasn’t snug enough, and it became loose from the electrical hole.

While having a phone that is low on power (especially when you most need it!) can be exasperating, when our spiritual batteries are not charged up, that’s really problematic. We all need to connect spiritually to our inner selves, to our souls, to our spiritual side and to our Creator. This connection fortifies us, strengthens us and enables us to be our best selves. It also provides us with the confidence to strive more and do more, knowing that G‑d is at our side, assisting us.

But there are times when we think that we are charging our spiritual batteries, and yet we remain depleted. We may be doing the right motions, but something is missing. We may be plugged in, but the power is just not coming through.

We may be saying the right words of prayer, reciting the blessings on our food or even studying the books of Torah, but our heart is not in it. The motions are there, and it looks like we are connected, but there’s no charge.

Judaism teaches us how to be mindful throughout our day so that each mundane activity can become a spiritual endeavor, giving us a power boost by connecting us to our Creator. Before we eat, we say a blessing thanking G‑d for providing us with sustenance. After using the bathroom, we give thanks that our organs are working properly. Upon awakening, we acknowledge our gratitude for another day of opportunity. As we leave our homes, we kiss the mezuzah on our doorposts, realizing that G‑d is guiding our every step and endeavor. We dress and act in a manner that reminds us of our spiritual origin and connection.

But what if these reminders that are supposed to make us more aware become just acts that we do by rote? What if those very acts that are meant to make us more mindful have become mindless?

When our actions become lifeless, our spiritual batteries are not being charged. At that point, we need to re-examine what’s loose in our connection—what’s not working and why the power isn’t coming through.

Not getting the spiritual charge we need is not an option; we need to find our loose wire.

What do you do to get connected? (I’d love to read it in the comments below.)

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.

Packaging Popcorn and Parenting

June 10, 2018

Dear Readers,

Every time I find myself wondering if I am hovering just a little too much over my children, I think of popcorn packaging. It came in my box from Amazon the other day, protecting my new light fixture.

I’m sure you, too, have encountered this kind of packaging. It’s those little tiny white bubbles used to fill a box to ensure that the contents, and all its little pieces, are well-insulated.

As you take out whatever is in your package, these circles are bound to fall on your floor, your counter and any other surface within several feet. As you try to sweep them up, they fly all over, escaping from your broom. Static ensures that they get stuck on the walls and other vertical surfaces (and your clothing as well).

So, while these popcorn bubbles are great at protecting, they are also a pesky nuisance, often getting in the way.

Which brings me back to parenting—or really, any form of mentoring.

Parenting is a challenging balancing act. There is a fine line between hovering too closely in your protectiveness and being too laissez-faire, not guiding or protecting enough. As parents, we need to be aware of what is happening in our children’s lives, while also giving them the space to grow, make their own decisions and test their own water—even if that means sometimes making their own mistakes. We try to prevent them from doing something that will hurt them or their future, but at the same time, we cannot stick to them and stagnate their growth or independence.

Our goal—like the goal of any good mentor or educator—is not only to teach them right from wrong, but to have them become independent thinkers who have the tools and moral clarity when confronted with new situations. If we are constantly making those decisions, they never learn how. If we are always organizing activities for them, planning their schedule or taking care of their responsibilities, we aren’t teaching them how to become autonomous, responsible adults.

Similarly, in his very first Chassidic discourse, the Rebbe expressed the role that he saw for himself in assuming the mantle of leadership. He made it very clear from the outset that while guiding and teaching, he would expect his Chassidim to themselves become leaders in their own right. “The leaders of Chabad always demanded that Chassidim must achieve things themselves … You think you have laid the burden on me … that you can have a peaceful life … Make no mistake! No one is relieving you of your missions … no one is relieving you of any work.”

The Rebbe taught us that there are leaders who have many followers, and then there are leaders who create many leaders from their followers. Each of us is a leader in some area of our lives. And our job is to guide those looking up to us to become his or her own leader as well.

Because while we seek to protect and guide, we never want to hover and stagnate.

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.

How NOT to Salt a Pot of Soup

June 3, 2018

Dear Readers,

There was a funny video that was going around.

A man who was cooking a large pot of soup, ladled out some, blew on it and then sampled a drop to see if the soup’s flavor needed any tweaking. Tasting that it needed more salt, he added more salt to the pot with one hand, while still holding the ladle with the other. He then tasted another drop from the ladle, but when the soup wasn’t any more salty, he poured more salt into the pot.

He added more and more salt to the soup, while simultaneously holding and tasting from the ladle, bewildered that his soup wasn’t becoming any more flavorful. Finally, he became so frustrated that he dumped most of the container of salt into the pot.

But, of course, the soup was becoming more salty—in fact, much too salty! He was simply tasting it from the original ladle in his hand!

Watching the man continue to salt his soup, I felt like yelling out to him: “Stop tasting from the ladle and get new soup from the pot!” No doubt, yelling at a man in a video would have been just as productive as what the man himself was doing.

But don’t we so often do that?

A husband will buy his wife roses to compensate for the lack of time and attention he’s been giving her. When he sees she isn’t happier in the marriage, he’ll buy her a larger and larger bouquet, or fancier and fancier gifts. But it’s not the gifts she’s missing, it’s him!

Or we’ll punish a child who is acting up and trying to get our attention. But the more we punish him, the more he seems to be acting up. When he can’t get our positive attention, he’ll settle for our negative attention.

We find ourselves working on resolutions to problems without actually monitoring the original problem and how it is being affected or changing. We look at the same solutions that we’ve been trying over and over—sometimes for years and years—even while knowing that those solutions have never worked. So why do we think that they ever will?

Unlike angels, who are considered “standing” from a spiritual perspective, the souls of humans are mehalchim, “walkers” who stride from level to level and peak to peak. We need to constantly reach for new heights, ascending higher and higher. We can’t do that by using the same solutions that don’t work or by stagnating our creativity within the realms of what we’ve always tried.

Only by fearlessly exploring new solutions—by challenging ourselves to discover new avenues, while constantly monitoring its effects on our changing situation—can we grow as people.

Because nobody likes soup that’s too salty . . . or dealing with the same problems over and over again.

Wishing you a week of discovering new potential!

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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