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‘Despite Your Efforts, I Will Remain a Steadfast Jew!’

October 16, 2019 1:39 PM

Dear Readers,

In this week’s parshah, we meet our forefather, Abraham. From his earliest age, he was a lone man fighting against the pervasive values, teaching a belief in G‑d and a moral life.

No sooner was this mighty one weaned, than his mind began to seek and wonder: How do the heavenly bodies circle without a moving force? Who turns them?

At the age of forty, Abraham recognized his Creator. … He began to debate with the people of Ur Casdim saying: “This is not the way of truth that you are following.” He smashed the idols and began to teach the people that it is only fitting to serve the One G‑d. …

When he began to defeat them with his arguments, the king wished to kill him; he was miraculously saved. He departed to Charan and continued to call in a great voice to the world, teaching them that there is One G‑d (Mishneh Torah, Laws Concerning Idol Worship 1:3).

When Abraham is 75 years old, G‑d calls him and tells him, “Go to you, from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you.”

Abraham had already reached the full capacity of his conscious powers, so what is G‑d teaching him now?

G‑d shows him a higher part of himself. There is a higher self in man that lies beyond “his land, birthplace and father’s house,” and is free of all that defines and confines him. This higher self is beyond natural desires, the influence of our home or society and even our rational being. It is the spark of G‑d that is the core of his soul—the image of G‑d in which he was created.

This spark is within each of us, eternally connected to G‑d. It endures pogroms and holocausts, health scares and financial crisis, and sustains us through life’s many hardships.

There is an incredibly touching story recorded in the book Shevet Yehudah that describes the power of this Divine spark within each of us.

During the Spanish Expulsion in 1492, an old Chacham (“wise leader”) together with his family were fleeing for their lives. Suddenly, Arabs attacked, murdering his son-in-law and daughter before his eyes. Half-crazed from grief, the Chacham grabs his infant grandson and flees the desert. This baby was all that remained from his family.

Walking through the scorching desert sun, the Chacham faints. When he awakes, he sees that his grandson has died from thirst and dehydration. Numb with anguish, the Chacham digs a grave. As he is burying him, he turns his eyes heavenward and cries: “It is clear that there are forces above that are determined to alienate me from my G‑d. I say to you: Despite all your best efforts, I will remain a steadfast Jew!”

Wishing you a wonderful week!

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 six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.

The Questions You Need to Ask Yourself Before Criticizing Another Person

October 16, 2019 1:36 PM

Dear Readers,

The other day, my husband and I had a visitor. He was loud and boisterous, making inappropriate jokes. He made his presence felt in an unpleasant way.

Even though I was trying not to judge, my impression of this individual was not positive. In the back of my mind, I was disapproving. Why does he talk so flamboyantly? Does he need to act so audaciously? Doesn’t he realize that his comments are so inappropriate? And look at his garish clothes!

It wasn’t until several days later that my husband learned something about him. “Did you know that he has a special-need’s child who is severely disabled that he cares for?” he asked me. Of course, I had no idea.

I then understood that his “boisterous” manner was his way of coping with his challenge. His jokes and his comments were his way of staying above the darkness that was his reality by keeping a positive and joyous mindset.

Suddenly, my perspective was turned on its head. This man wasn’t the one who needed judging—it was me, for judging him!

In this week’s Torah portion, we read about the tower, which was built in Babel to rebel against G‑d.

G‑d descended to see the city and the tower, which the sons of man had built (Gen. 11:5).

Rashi explains: Obviously, G‑d did not need to “come down” in order to see their crime; but He wished to teach all future judges not to judge a defendant until they see [the case] and understand it.

As parents, educators, friends or colleagues, there are times that we need to intervene and share our negative feedback. But before doing so, we need to “come down” from our condescending positions to see the individual’s reality. We need to acknowledge, too, that rarely, can we fully understand the other person’s circumstances.

Here are some questions we can ask ourselves before judging or criticizing:

  • What am I trying to accomplish with my words?
  • Am I having a bad day, and is this is my way of getting it off my chest? Should I revisit this issue once I’m feeling more positive?
  • Do I want something specific changed or improved? Will my words accomplish that or will they simply alienate?
  • Do I have a close enough relationship to broach this topic?
  • Do I understand and feel empathetic for what this person is going through? Am I talking down to or relating to his perspective?
  • Are my words biting? Can I reword my criticism so that it is feedback rather than condemnation?
  • How can I strategize with this individual not only to focus on what’s wrong, but to accentuate the results that we would like to see?

Feel free to add any additional questions in the comment section below.

Our words and even our thoughts carry a tremendous amount of energy; if we have some forethought, they can be so positive.

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 six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.

The Three-Step Dance That Destroys Relationships

September 27, 2019 1:47 PM

Dear Readers,

Have you ever imagined what would have been if Adam and Eve had acted differently?

I don’t mean that they wouldn’t have eaten the forbidden fruit. On some level, that was part of the Divine plan. We weren’t created perfectly, like mechanical robots, always doing the right thing. Temptation, challenges and failings are part of our human journey.

But how do we react to our failings?

Suppose when G‑d confronted Adam and Eve about not obeying His explicit commandment, they would have contritely said, “Oy, we can’t believe we just did that!”

After all, “You gave us everything we could ever want and just asked us to abstain from one thing, and we disregarded it. We’re so sorry. You must be so disappointed. Please, forgive our ungratefulness, selfishness and lack of care.”

I know it is hypothetical, but how do you think G‑d might have responded? It’s hard to admonish and punish those who so humbly and profusely apologize for their misdeed.

Instead, after eating of the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve do something illogical; they hide from G‑d.

When G‑d calls to Adam, giving him an opportunity to express his regret, he messes up by avoiding to take responsibility, “I heard you calling and I was afraid because I am naked.”

And finally, in his fait accompli, when G‑d rebukes him point blank about his sin, Adam blames someone else for his actions: “The woman that You gave me … it was all her fault!”

Eve, similarly, has a disastrous response, blaming the snake and saying: “The serpent enticed me.”


Does it sound familiar? How do we react when we’re confronted by a mistake? Do we try to hide and avoid the issue? In defending ourselves, do we then lie, deny or make excuses for what we did? Finally, when pressed, do we blame someone else for our own actions?

Hide: “I’m not avoiding you … I had a lot on my head. I thought I’d let you cool off first.”

Deny: “It’s not true; I didn’t. You are taking this totally the wrong way!”

Blame: “Come to think of it, it’s really your fault!”

As humans, we all make mistakes. Inevitably, we will succumb to our shortcomings, and there will be times when we fail. But how will we react to those failings?

The hardest three words to say are “I am sorry” or “I messed up.” But they are also our most empowering.

G‑d has gifted us with the treasure of teshuvah, “repentance,” which literally means “return.”

In its process, we can turn the clock back, return to what we were, and not only undo what we have done wrong, but become greater people in the process. It only works, though, when we are ready to acknowledge our mistakes and own up to our actions.

Wishing you a week of greatness!

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 six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.

Growth Comes From Many Directions

September 27, 2019 1:39 PM

Dear Readers,

And you shall take for yourselves . . . the splendid fruit of a tree, fronds of dates, the branch of the thick-leafed tree and aravot of the river . . .

On Sukkot, we make a blessing on the Four Kinds. Each one is so noticeably different; the tall, thin lulav, surrounded by leafy branches, opposite the round, robust etrog.

The midrash explains that the etrog, with its pleasant taste and fragrance, represents the perfected person who studies Torah and fulfills mitzvot. The lulav represents the scholar who studies but does not act. The fragrant but tasteless myrtle (hadas) represents the activist whose day is full of good deeds but doesn’t study, and the scentless and tasteless willow (aravah) represents one who neither studies nor observes.

By commanding us to hold them all together, the Torah teaches us that just as we need all Four Kinds for the fulfillment of the mitzvah, we must join with others to reach our greatest selves. Even the etrog, which symbolizes such virtue, must be held with the humble willow. We can and must learn from everyone.

But perhaps the Four Kinds also teach us about how to approach these various parts of ourselves.

One of the greatest hindrances to positive change is our own negative self-talk. We berate ourselves for lacking certain qualities. We shame ourselves for not being consistent, and we predict that we’ll never be “good enough.” We criticize our weaknesses and allow them to define who we become. To forge forward, we need to find growth in all parts of ourselves.

We may have wonderful moments when we feel like the etrog, aligned with our goals. But we may have far more moments when we feel like the willow, unable to connect to our soul powers, feeling bland and insipid. We may be reclusive and fail to act, or impetuous, acting without forethought.

As we shake the Four Kinds towards the different directions and then bring them to our heart, perhaps the subtle message is to realize that we will have these different moments but we can grow from each of them.

This does not mean that we should not strive to be like the etrog. But it does mean that we recognize that our battles and our struggles are also precious to G‑d. We can learn from our failures in perhaps an even deeper way than what we achieve with our etrog perfection, because growth does not happen as a straight line.

As the seasons begin to change outside, let’s remember that the earth needs winter’s hibernation to produce the beautiful foliage of the spring. Our withdrawals and setbacks, our humble willow moments, too, are all parts of what can make our lives beautiful.

Take all these aspects of yourself, hold them close to your heart, and accept that each of your inborn characteristics, your successes as well as failures, can all be sanctified and directed higher.

Wishing you a joyous Sukkot!

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 six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.

The One Day That You Can Uncover Who You Really Are

September 17, 2019 4:06 PM

Dear Readers,

If you had to strip away all the outer layers of yourself, what would be left? What remains at the core of your being when you remove social mores, other people’s reflections of you and even your own view of yourself? Take away your talents and attributes, where you work or what you accomplish in your day, who you have relationships with and associate with—and what is left?

Stop and think about that for a minute. Picture the deep-down real you.

It’s the you that is not well-heeled; a you that is not masked by cosmetics; a you that is not dining or well-fed; a you that is even independent of your most important relationships—just YOU.

The Torah describes the holiday of Yom Kippur as achat bashana, a holy event that happens “once a year.” This phrase can also be literally translated as “the one of the year.” The Chassidic masters explain that Yom Kippur is the day that our intrinsic core breaks through the multiple surface layers that separate and define our lives on the year’s other days. It brings out the core of who we really are, without all outer definitions.

And what is at that core?

At the core of our being is a goodness—a goodness that is ever-present. On the deepest level of our being is our soul, which has a quintessential bond with G‑d, the source of all goodness.

This bond is immutable and can never be disconnected, whether we choose to access it or act upon it or not. It is a bond that is independent of our abilities, talents and choices.

So often we forget who we are at our essence. We become distressed by what others think of us or preoccupied with negative perceptions of ourselves. We berate ourselves for all the things we are “not.” But every year, on one day, achas bashana, we can tap into that underlying oneness and remind ourselves of our actual potential.

And perhaps the laws of the day are meant to help us strip ourselves of all outer accoutrements and come in tune with that inner self. Stripped of food and drink, conjugal relationships, leather shoes, cosmetics or creams—not even washing ourselves—we face our true selves. Bare of any outer masks and alone from our most important relationships, we focus inward. We spend our day meditating in prayer so we are able to draw strength from what lies beneath.

Yom Kippur is a day once a year that empowers us to reach deep within ourselves and realize who we really are, and rediscover the depths of our connection—our oneness—with G‑d.

Wishing you an easy fast and an uplifting Yom Kippur!

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 six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.

How Is G-d Our Father and Our King?

The Avinu Malkeinu Prayer

September 9, 2019 11:48 AM

Dear Readers,

One of my favorite prayers sung on Rosh Hashanah (as well as on specific times during the year, like on public fasts days and during the 10 days of repentance) is Avinu Malkeinu, where we repeatedly request blessings and salvation from G‑d, as our Father and our King.


Both the king and parent paradigms are genuine and powerful. Yet they move in opposite directions. A monarch establishes a definite distance and authority over his subject. Parental love, on the other hand, is characterized by attachment and closeness.

During our prayers, we merge the two paradigms of G‑d as king and parent.

Prayer is a paradoxical activity. On the one hand, a basic element of prayer is acknowledging all of the undeserved goodness that our King has showered upon us—articulating our thanks and appreciation for it. We acknowledge G‑d’s ultimate goodness and that whatever happens to us must be good.

At the same time, the commandment to pray is to express our spiritual and material needs and wants. Anytime we feel that something is amiss in our lives, we are commanded to ask G‑d to correct those things.

Yet if everything originates from our generous King—who is the ultimate goodness and who knows far better than us what is good for us—how can we ask Him to “change” His plan? How can we “demand” more goodness from our benevolent King while realizing how unworthy we are?

Because prayer is G‑d allowing us to not only relate to G‑d as a transcendental king on a spiritual level, but also as an imminent, caring parent. Prayer is G‑d saying, “Show Me how things look from your viewpoint, from within your world.” It allows us not to bypass our inner emotions, wants, fears, needs and insecurities, but to focus on them, put them in perspective and validate them.

At the same time that G‑d as our king decrees Divine law, we beseech G‑d as our parent who is always present, ministering to and facilitating for us. Nothing—not the material aspect of our world, nor our physical natures—can sever the unshakable bond between a parent and child. Prayer is realizing that our Creator’s love will shake the very fabric of our world to bring us fulfillment.

From this deep place, we see our Creator not as a foreign, faraway Being who is only concerned with the spiritual growth of His subjects, but rather as a loving Parent who intimately relates to us on our level and with our wants. G‑d, as a parent, shares in our pain and cries together with us, holding our hand in darkness and distress.

On Rosh Hashanah, as we coronate G‑d as our King, we connect with G‑d’s innermost desire to forge a connection with us—as our Father first, and then our King.

May our Father answer all our prayers for the good in this coming 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 six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.
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 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 six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.
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