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Hiking in the Woods: The Big Picture

September 20, 2018

Dear Readers,

When we moved recently to Upstate New York, we hadn’t realized to what extent we would be surrounded by stunning scenery and luscious landscapes. Driving to an errand now often includes passing through miles of streams on scenic routes overlooking stately mountains. Just a stone’s throw from our home, Harriman State Park, the second-largest in the park system, has 31 lakes and reservoirs and 200 miles of hiking trails.

Deciding to take advantage of the many hiking trails one afternoon, my husband and I set out to Diamond Mountain. We knew we wouldn’t have time to complete the entire five-mile trail, but we figured we’d at least get a taste of the woods. We came prepared with water bottles and hiking shoes, equipped with walking gear.

After following the path for just a short while, we heard the sound of rushing water. Moving a little further, we were rewarded with a sinuous stream next to our path, which often turned into a fast-flowing waterfall. It was gorgeous, and it felt great to be out in nature, enjoying G‑d’s masterpiece.

If you looked closely at our surroundings, you would see many fallen or partially broken trees, dead leaves or broken twigs. Huge roots were protruding along the path, some actually helping us to climb up the higher parts of the mountain. Rocks and stones were scattered haphazardly, and we stepped on them since the stream was turning parts of the ground into mud as it gently cascaded down the hill.

In a detached analysis of our environs, you would see absolute chaos. Everything was strewn about: leaves, trees, rocks, water, earth, seemingly indiscriminately and out of place. In our own home, we never tolerate spilled water on our floors or broken pieces lying about, yet this was precisely what made the natural scene so beautiful—and so calming.

Despite the apparent disarray, it was obvious that there was a Creator who created it. Every pebble had its place in the grand scheme, enhancing its environment, contributing to the grandeur of its majesty. Our surroundings seemed to be singing in unison, “How wondrous are Your creations, oh G‑d!”

In our own settings, in our homes or offices, we sometimes seek “perfection” and often don’t recognize how each of us is uniquely contributing to our surroundings and the big picture. And yet, within nature, the beauty of each broken tree branch, insect or protruding piece of earth was clearly vital for the beauty of this picturesque setting. The imperfections created the perfection.

On Sukkot, we leave the tidy structures of our homes and dwell outdoors with the open sky and bright stars twinkling above our heads. During this season of joy, we leave our orderly habitat to gain an appreciation of our Creator and His creations, and all that He has given us—and to remember, how each and every one of us has a vital part in creating this glorious grand picture.

Wishing you a Chag Sameach!

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.

Don’t Worry About Nudging G-d

September 12, 2018

Dear Readers,

Years ago, a young couple spent a few days as guests in my home.

Almost from the time they crossed my threshold, the husband was politely approaching me to ask for things that his wife needed. Could I possibly give him a warmer blanket? A softer pillow? A cold drink. A hot drink. From one moment to the next, his wife needed something to make her more comfortable.

Did I become irritated with this couple’s seemingly endless list of needs? Actually, no. Every time the young man asked me for something for his wife, I smiled inwardly and was pleased.

Let me explain.

You see, the young man making all those requests was my son-in-law, asking on behalf of my oldest daughter, who at the time was in her early stages of pregnancy and not feeling well. So, every time that my son-in-law came to ask for something, I was happy. Every request showed me how much he cared about my daughter. I could rest assured that once they left my home and went back to their own, my daughter was in good hands.

I think about that visit every so often when I’m about to pray.

As I stand before my Creator, I wonder if I should have the chutzpah to ask for this or for that (yet again). Sometimes, after G‑d has granted me something really “big” for which I am truly grateful and had prayed for a long time, I wonder if I should have the audacity to ask for the next thing that I, or my family or a member of my community needs.

And then I remember my reaction to my son-in-law.

We are all G‑d’s children. G‑d cares for each of us—for our physical and our spiritual well-being. And when we approach Him time and time again to ask for this and that, He undoubtedly smiles as well, relishing the connection, happy that we are taking care of His children.

In fact, this is really the essence of prayer. Biblically, we are commanded to pray and call out to our Creator, specifically when we have a want or a need.

Because every want or need that we are asking for is undoubtedly making our circumstances easier and will help us focus better on fulfilling our purpose of creating a G‑dly world, without the distractions of missing something important in our lives.

On Yom Kippur—the holiest day of the year—we ask G‑d to give us life, happiness, health and sustenance. We ask for our mistakes to be forgiven and to be given a fresh start. We ask for all this because as we say in our prayers, “We are Your people; You are our G‑d. We are Your flock; and You are our Shepherd.”

Wishing you an easy fast and a meaningful 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 five popular books.

A 10-Minute Car Ride That Got a Little Bumpy

September 2, 2018

Dear Readers,

I had a little bit of a wake-up call the other day.

It was evening and I was with my husband, headed on an errand to a store. My husband drove as I sat in the passenger side, chatting. It was a pleasant summer night, and so we rode with our windows open until we arrived at our destination. But in those 10 minutes, something happened.

The roads were not well-lit, and inside the car it was quite dark. I felt a little quiver of movement on my hand. Soon after, it was on my arm. But by the time I looked down, nothing was there—or at least I couldn’t see anything. A few minutes later, my hand was becoming itchy. Soon after, my right leg also began to itch.

By the time I got out of the car, I realized that there was an unwanted guest in our car. A very hungry mosquito had a very good meal, biting me in several places. My hand and leg were covered with bites and with every passing moment, the itchiness was becoming harder and harder to bear as ugly red splotches began covering parts of my body.

I know, getting a few mosquito bites is not monumental. Medically, it’s usually a non-event with no long-term repercussions. Within a week or two, the bites would be healed and there would be hardly a trace that they were ever there to bother me.

And yet, mosquito bites can be very irritating. For the next several hours, despite the ointments and sprays that I put on for relief, the itchiness was relentless. My skin became red, inflamed and hot, and I was in discomfort. I woke up several times that night just to scratch the itch, which made it even more itchy!

So what was my wake-up call?

Had I been hiking in the woods, rather than driving on the city streets for a short distance, perhaps I would have been better prepared and protected from the mosquito. Yet in just 10 minutes, in the comfort of my car and not its native environment, the mosquito was able to attack me and cause great discomfort.

And so, if something that small can quickly and without warning cause something negative, then just imagine the converse. We are far bigger and have far more capabilities than mosquitoes, so imagine what we can create and accomplish, even in a short period of time, for the good.

Moreover, while the effect of the bites was negligible, every act of goodness is something real and true, and therefore in some measure, everlasting.

Rosh Hashanah, the New Year with all its new potential is almost upon us. Ten minutes was all it took to create discomfort. Ten minutes is all it can take to create something positively magical for the coming year.

Wishing you a happy and sweet 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.

Your Worth Is Not Based on a Number!

August 26, 2018

Dear Readers,

I met a woman who told me that her daughter attends an elite school where academics reign supreme. Her daughter studies excessively and considers herself a failure if she achieves a grade below 90 percent.

I was shocked to learn that her daughter was only in sixth grade! Apparently, the road to success starts young. Only those at the top of their class are guaranteed entry to the best high schools, where the stakes became even greater for acceptance at the best universities.

Too often, if feels like we designate and rank people based on numbers or letters. What’s your earning power—can you boast a six- or seven-digit salary? Do you live in a McMansion with seven, eight or more bathrooms? What’s your IQ? What’s your SAT score? What’s your net worth? How many Likes or Friends do you have on social media? What’s your BMI and weight?

Do we judge people and define their worth as human beings based on how they rank in these many areas?

We are now in the month of Elul. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the Alter Rebbe, employs a parable to illustrate how G‑d is especially near us during this month. To have an audience with a king, in the royal palace, requires the admission of a hierarchy of dignitaries. But every once in a while, the king goes out to the field to see his subjects, where he converses with them and addresses their needs.

When the king enters the field, the field equalizes everyone. Everyone is empowered and permitted to greet him. All partitions that usually separate him from the populace—status, power, money are nullified.

Similarly, during Elul, “G‑d is in the field.” Though G‑d is always accessible, during this month G‑d comes to us, and it is our chance to seek Him in a more open and personal way. Irrespective of what we have or have not achieved in the last year—or how we compare to the guy or girl next door—it’s our opportunity to focus on strengthening and developing our personal and intimate relationship with G‑d.

This week marks the 18th of Elul, the chai or “life” of the month. This day is the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe—revolutionary pioneers who spread the teachings of Jewish mysticism. These spiritual giants taught that we are all children of G‑d, who loves us more than the love of a parent to an only child. No matter where we are on the spiritual rung, societal hierarchy or any other ranking, each of us possesses a Divine spark. Every individual—no matter how simple or learned, no matter our lineage, state of observance, talents or net worth—is completely bond to G‑d, whose love for us is infinite and unconditional.

We are here in this world to grow, improve and connect to G‑d. Our shortcomings do not define us; rather, they give us reason to celebrate our efforts in coming closer to G‑d and revealing our Divine spark.

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.

G-d Doesn’t Expect You to Be Perfect!

August 19, 2018

Dear Readers,

If you’ve been following this column, you know that we recently moved into a brand-new house. Everything—from the appliances, to the freshly painted walls, to the wood-stained floors—is new.

At first, it took some getting used to. I couldn’t readily remember in which cabinet I had stored my spices, my morning coffee or my favorite sweater. I knew though that in time, I would become familiar with my surroundings. Still, it was all so exciting—cooking on a perfectly clean, unused cooktop, and learning how to use the gadgets on my new washing machine.

Firsts are exciting. Like the first day of school, the first day after a newborn is home or the first day after the wedding. Everything is new, special and … still just about perfect.

But eventually, the freshness wears off. The baby begins to cry incessantly throughout the night, the new school uniform begins to get creased and frayed, and you and your spouse have your first big fight.

So, too, one of the drawbacks of living in our new home was that we noticed immediately when something became scratched, dented or nicked. Almost as soon as the movers left, we could already see the effects of our furniture, pushed or moved over ever so slightly, on our wood floors, or the small scratches on the walls. Small dents or scuffs began to appear—no matter how careful we tried to be—and were more noticeable because of the newness.

But surprisingly, with those newly acquired small scratches, there was also a sense of relief. The novelty was wearing off slightly. This was no longer a “brand-new house” to look at; it was now being lived in. It was becoming our personal home and sanctuary, where we would create memories.

Real life isn’t about being perfect. Real life can be messy. It is full of mistakes and mishaps and spills and breakages. It is about things and, more importantly, feelings, becoming tarnished or stained, smeared and discolored. Human beings aren’t perfect. We aren’t meant to live perfect lives, but we are meant to keep reaching higher, to fall down and still have the courage to keep getting up.

And that is what is so beautiful about the month we are in.

Elul is an opportune time of forgiveness. It is a time or introspection, evaluating where we are and how we can be. Teshuvah means returning—returning to the true, pure self that never changes. It’s not a time of beating ourselves up for our failures, but one of realizing the constraints of our humanness and coming to terms with our falls, our dents and our scratches, and nevertheless making the effort to clean ourselves off, get up again and try harder.

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.

Translating Thoughts Into Action

August 12, 2018

Dear Readers,

Read about the great minds of history—those individuals who conceived of and constructed philosophies, theorems and academic systems that furthered the development of human intelligence and knowledge. These individuals are considered the heroes of our past—people who have enormously influenced our lives.

And yet, despite their colossal intellectual contributions to humankind, more often than not, the private lives of many of these famous personalities did not reflect their lofty ideas. On a personal level, their moral behavior often left much to be desired.

In this week’s Torah portion, we are taught an interesting law about which trees may be cut down and which may not:

When you approach a city to wage war against it . . . you must not destroy its trees. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down. Only trees that you know do not yield food you shall cut down . . . (Deut. 20:19–20).

In instructing us about how to wage a war, the Torah is also providing guidance in fighting our metaphorical battles—combatting against those forces that stunt our personal spiritual growth.

The greatest benefit of a tree is the fruit it produces. Similarly, the greatest hallmark of a human being must be the fruit that his intellect creates; knowledge must be absorbed by our emotions to create proper feelings and then actions.

Our intellectual understanding cannot remain in the realm of the abstract, but must affect what we do. Only then can we consider ourselves fully developed and complete human beings.

“Trees that you know do not yield food shall be cut down.” Intellect that remains cold and aloof is like a tree that has not produced fruit; it hasn’t served its function.

This verse is a necessary reminder that the true test of an individual is not so much intellectual qualities, but how he or she refines and elevates their emotional self and actions. How they translates those ideas into positive deeds and practice.

So, this week, here’s to doing!

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 Clutter Impacts Your Life

August 5, 2018

Dear Readers,

Not too long ago, we moved. Cardboard boxes are still strewn around my home, waiting to be opened and for their contents to find a permanent place.

Before I moved, I came face to face with all the STUFF I own—and all the STUFF that I really didn’t need.

I had a mound of office supplies in case one day I would desperately need a folder (or a dozen!). There was the almost-empty cartridge of printing toner, just in case I ran out and desperately needed to print something immediately (even if it will come out blurry!). And, of course, there’s all the old clothes I haven’t worn in years but am hoping will fit again, or the special sentimental wedding gown I wore to my child’s wedding that I couldn’t part with, even though I know I won’t wear it again.

Endless amounts of books, photos, furniture, dishes or toys that we really didn’t need. According to the National Association of Professional Organizers, Americans collectively waste nine million hours a day searching for misplaced items.

The Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 rule claims that roughly 80 percent of the results come from 20 percent of the causes. Look into your closet, and you’ll notice that you probably wear 20 percent of your clothes about 80 percent of the time. Kids play with about 20 percent of their toys 80 percent of the time.

What this means is that we’re keeping 80 percent of our stuff on the chance that it will be used occasionally, and we can likely do away with most of it.

But here’s the thing about having so much unnecessary stuff. It’s not just about finding where to store it and remembering where you put it. Having things we don’t need takes away from what we do need by diluting our focus.

It’s like eating junk food. When we fill our stomachs with empty caloric food, we may feel full, but we’re really not. We’re missing out on the healthy nutritious food that our bodies would be craving, but are too full to even realize it.

Or it’s like our daily schedule. When we fill our day with things that just numb our mind, passing the time, we may feel like our days are full because our moments are occupied and our minds not restless, but that isn’t the case. Those spiritual or meaningful pursuits that our soul craves are suppressed by the many busy activities filling our day.

We are about to begin the final month of the year before the Jewish New Year. The month of Elul is a time of introspection, a time of looking back at what we have accomplished and considering new directions. Now’s the time to take stock of our things, our time, our consumption and our priorities.

Now’s the time to re-evaluate our schedules and consider which 20 percent we should be focusing on that truly makes a difference.

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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