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The Tree That Touched the Heavens

January 28, 2018

Dear Readers,

The older I become, the faster the seasons seem to revolve, passing by at an almost dizzying pace.

In the spring, the flowering trees brighten our world with their vivid primary colors. They make me think of bright-eyed children, enveloped in joie de vivre. They face their days with daring, colorful enthusiasm and flamboyant joy. But the fall’s aging leaves—the mustard yellows and burnt orange, clinging to life with their last breath—mesmerize me. These leaves are like a mature individual, made wise by her shades of life experiences. Their deeper colors symbolize a fuller perspective of hues and a more multidimensional perception of our world . . . and of our relationship with our Creator.

As I watch the transforming scenery, I am reminded of a verse from Ecclesiastes, “a generation has passed, a generation has arrived, but the earth stands still forever.” The names change and the backdrop may be different. Some families are larger, and some individuals achieve more colorful accomplishments. But each eventually repeats the cycle of life as love and birth changes season into loss and heartbreak.

Each of us, too, has personal moments of glory when we’re in full bloom—sharing our abundant shade with others, giving off beautiful deeds for the world to appreciate. But these moments wither away, as the wheel of life turns, and our inspiration and accomplishment are depleted. We start off our lives full of wonder, full of hope and belief in our unlimited potential, only to have our expectations tumble down into reality with the passage of time.

Sometimes, I wonder if there is any point or purpose to these cycles. Is our world progressing forward, or are we simply in a cycle of endless and meaningless repetition?

Yet the fading trees seem to be whispering an inspiring message.

When we moved into our home several years ago, our tree was but a small sapling, so weak and hapless that it was almost blown about by the raging winter winds. Over the changing seasons, it has grown taller and thicker. Its branches now reach up to the heavens; its roots have taken a firm grip in the earth. Though its leaves have fallen away through each of the seasons, its trunk is fuller and more mature.

Through the passage of time, each of us develops into a stronger person with deeper convictions and a surer sense of who we are. And looking back into our history—even when precious, beautiful leaves have been ripped away from our tall national tree by the winds of aggression and turmoil—the tree of the Jewish people continues to grow stronger, our roots extending ever deeper. The Jewish tree “is a tree of life for those who hold fast to it.”

For man is a tree of the field. (Deut. 20:19)

Through the seasons of our lives, each of us is developing into a fuller, taller, more mature tree, while awaiting the time when our branches will touch the very heavens.

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.

When Catching a Virus Can Be a Good Thing!

January 21, 2018

Dear Readers,

Every year, just before the onset of winter, I read dire warnings about the upcoming flu season. This year is supposed to be a particularly dreadful one, which makes the aches and pains accompanying the flu all the more ominous.

But no worries; free shots are available, which presumably will help lessen your chances of getting sick. By injecting your body with a small dose of the flu virus, the vaccine stimulates your body’s immune system to make antibodies that attack it. This way, if you’re exposed to the flu virus, your immune system will recognize it, and immediately produce antibodies to fight it even before those aches and pains set it.

I find it interesting that viruses are also used in gene therapy, where genetic material is inserted into cells to compensate for abnormal genes. Since a gene that is inserted directly into a cell usually doesn’t function, certain viruses are used to deliver the new gene by infecting the cell. These viruses are modified so they can’t cause any disease but just deliver the necessary therapy.

Though I don’t really fully understand how it all works, what amazes me about this technology is that something that we consider negative or harmful—a virus—is being used for such positive outcomes.

Everything that G‑d created has a purpose. If this is true in all realms, how much more so does this apply to each of us, human beings who are created with a spark of G‑dliness? We each have an essential reason of why we are here!

In “Song of Songs,” G‑d refers to our world as His garden. A garden is a place of delight, where we enjoy spending time. And yet, a garden is also a place of toil, where we need to work hard, sweating as we plant and tend to the vegetation, producing gorgeous, blooming flowers while eliminating ugly, harmful weeds.

G‑d created our world with the vision that it would serve as His home. He envisioned a lowly place, filled with spiritual blackness, where creations who have free choice—and who are capable of embracing the darkness or rejecting it—would ultimately transform it into light.

We do this on a personal level when we strive to transform our own darkness, temptations and negative traits into light. We use our circumstances and personalities, too, to create more positivity and beauty in our world.

And as I read about new vaccines that ward off terrible illness or viruses that are used to spread healing, our world is looking more and more like a beautiful garden.

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.

Take the Bathing Suit Test

January 7, 2018

Dear Readers,

I’ve heard the expression that you are what you eat, but do you ever feel that you are what you wear?

Often, our choice of clothing reflects the image we want to project to the world. That’s why so many advice columns offer suggestions on what and what not to wear to a business interview or cocktail party. The members of the Royal family have rules on how formally they must dress for public engagement—from gloves to military uniforms to the length of their skirts. Private schools often enforce uniforms for their students, but even many public schools now have dress codes.

Usually, these codes are all about how our clothing affects others, either in what impression we make or in the image we want to project. But recently, I read a fascinating article proving just how much our clothes affect us!

A study was conducted by the University of Michigan, headed by Barbara Fredrickson, about how clothing correlated to academic performance. A random group of college-age men and women were asked to wear bulky sweaters or swimsuits: a one-piece suit for the women and swimming trunks for the men. Each participant was seated alone in a windowless room, with no observers, and asked to take a math test. Fredrickson later compared how the type of dress affected the test scores.

Men wearing swimming trunks did slightly better than those wearing sweaters. But for the women, there was a significant difference. The women in swimsuits fared much worse than those in sweaters, scoring only about half as many answers correctly! Subsequent research confirmed these results.

Dr. Leonard Sax, a psychologist and author, concluded that when women wear skimpy clothing, self-objectification occurs. Self-objectification distracts and makes it hard to focus on academics. They feel self-conscious.

Remember: These women were in a windowless room with no one watching them. Yet their clothing caused them to assess themselves as an object on display. Sax asserts that girls who self-objectify are more likely to become depressed and less likely to be satisfied with their bodies.

There is a very beautiful phrase in the book of Psalms (45:14) that reads, Kol Kevudah bas melech penima (“the very honor of the daughter of the King is within”). Every Jewish woman is the daughter of the King, and spiritually, she instinctively understands that her worth and honor come from within.

In Chassidic philosophy, the term penimiyut (“inwardness”) is discussed at length. Penimiyut is the opposite of superficiality or externality, and it means inward integrity—someone who lives according to his actions, who projects outwardly what he is inwardly.

A woman intuitively feels that her worth is far more than the external image she presents to the world. And yet, as this study indicates, her mode of dress affects how she views herself.

In a superficial world that objectifies women, the verse from Psalms reminds us to cherish inwardness, to stay true to our essence and to remember that we are a spiritual being.

And in a world that very much objectifies women, don’t let your dress objectify you.

How does your clothing make you feel about yourself?

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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