Let's Go For Coffee

Will the Real Superman Please Stand Up?

November 29, 2009

Christopher Reeve and George Reeves.

Two men, unrelated, with almost identical surnames.

These two men died young, in the prime of their lives. George was 45 when he died, and Christopher, 52.

They were both American celebrities who achieved stardom for their acting achievements. Both played the starring role of the hero Superman – George, in the original television series of the 50's, and Christopher, in the big budget motion picture films in the 70's and 80's.

On the surface, the two men's lives seem similar. But each held such different belief systems, effectively changing the direction of how they led their lives—and how they died their deaths.

According to the Los Angeles Police Department report, in the late hours of the night on June 16, 1959, George Reeves died of a gunshot wound to the head in the upstairs bedroom of his home. Witness statements and an examination of the crime scene led to the conclusion that the death was self-inflicted and indeed suicide.

The police report states, "[Reeves was]... depressed because he couldn't get the sort of [acting] parts he wanted."

Christopher Reeve, on the other hand, achieved success as an actor, film director, producer and screenwriter.

Then tragedy struck in 1995.

After an accident in a riding competition where he was thrown from his horse, Reeve became a quadriplegic. He required a wheelchair and breathing apparatus for the rest of his life, until his eventual death in 2004, from cardiac arrest.

Five days after being thrown head first to the ground, Reeves regained consciousness. His doctor explained that he had destroyed his first and second cervical vertebrae. After understanding that not only would he never walk again, but he might never move a body part again, Reeve considered suicide.

He mouthed to his wife, Dana, "Maybe we should let me go."

She tearfully replied, "I am only going to say this once: I will support whatever you want to do, because this is your life, and your decision. But I want you to know that I'll be with you for the long haul, no matter what. You're still you. And I love you."

Reeve never considered suicide an option again.

Instead, he underwent surgery and extensive rehabilitation, pushing himself to the limit in his daily therapy sessions. Once stabilized, but still paralyzed from the neck downwards, Reeve used his name and celebrity status to lobby on behalf of people with spinal cord injuries and founded the Christopher Reeve Foundation, which has given tens of millions of dollars towards research and grants to improve the quality of life for disabled people.

Reeve also hosted the Paralympics, narrated, directed and produced films, appeared at the Academy Awards, made a trip to Israel and discussed its progressive research in spinal cord injuries on Larry King Live, delivered speeches across the country, wrote best-selling books that remained on the New York Times bestselling list for weeks, won several awards and starred in acting roles.

And he did this all in the years following his accident, despite his extensive disability.

Each of us is a Superman with superhero status. We have each been given a divine core with infinite potential to reach "stardom." Yet as great as we can reach, is as far as we can fall.

There are times in life when we feel like true stars. Things are going our way. We've reached the pinnacle of success, or realized an important life aspiration. We feel content and happy. The sun is shining brightly on us.

But then, just as suddenly, the tide turns, and we find ourselves in middle of a terribly dark and haunting storm. Our dreams have been shattered, our expectations broken. The world that we once knew is no longer the same, and never will be.

Challenges sap us of our very joy and vigor and drain all the vitality from our lives.

How do we react to our predicament? Do we sink into depression, focusing solely on the unfairness and cruelty of our destiny? Do we rage against an uncaring, G‑dless world?

Or do we rise to the occasion, investing superhuman strength into fighting the obstacles in our paths? Do we resolve to make the best of what fate has thrown our way, celebrating our life to its fullest, while bringing as much joy and purpose to those around us?

We cannot judge anyone's choices. We cannot fathom their circumstances or their demonic, inner struggles.

But at some point or another, at least to some extent, each of us must face such a choice in our own lives.

And, ultimately, only one is the path of a real Superhero.

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.

$5.95 for a Cup of Coffee?

November 22, 2009

"$5.95 for a cup of coffee? You gotta be kidding!"

Well, millions of people around the world enjoying their Starbucks obviously don't think so…

In Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz's book, Pour Your Heart into It, he writes that "the best way to build a brand is one person at a time—starting with your staff."

And so, with his assuming ownership of the company in 1987 he promptly made sure that every single employee became a shareholder in the company. They in turn also became passionate about their coffee, like he was.

The company's astounding annual financial reports indicate that the ball didn't stop rolling there…

Yet, while Mr. Schultz must be credited with amazing results transforming four coffee shops in Seattle into more than 16,000 in 49 countries, he definitely can't claim originality for his strategy.

5,747 years before he took over the company, the world's first Entrepreneur, the Creator of heaven and earth, employed a similar tactic when launching our world into existence.

In describing the Sixth Day of Creation, the verse tells us that G‑d rested from all His work which he created "to make."

To make what?

The commentaries note that a deeper interpretation would read: "Everything which He created to be perfected."

He created an incomplete world which still needed to be "finished."

In doing so, He transformed Adam and Eve – and their subsequent offspring – from stewards of the universe into shareholding partners.

A partner in the creation of the world is both a responsibility and an opportunity.

Either way it changes our attitude from one of mechanical obedience into emotional passion.

While we can get away with doing the bare minimum: a Friday night with friends as the sum total of Shabbat, avoiding prawns and bacon for the sum total of kosher, and sending an annual check to the local charity for the sum total of helping others—that's not the Starbucks attitude.

Remember, you've got shares in the company. Be passionate about it.

$500 for two little black boxes?"

Of course! It's a Starbucks pair of tefillin!

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.

Beyond Co-dependency

November 15, 2009

The Talmud offers a vivid description of how every night at midnight, the Shechinah weeps bitterly for the Jewish people who are still in exile, and for our world which has yet to experience redemption.

As part of our own yearning for the redemption, we are meant to meditate on this and feel the depth of pain experienced by the Shechinah. Our longing for the redemption, we are told, is not only about ridding ourselves of our personal or communal distress, but also about empathizing with how much greater G‑d's pain must be for us.

To be honest, I've always found this concept very difficult. How can I fathom G‑d's pain, when He is the cause of our remaining in this bitter exile? Should I feel sorry for someone who in the process of hurting or punishing others gets hurt himself?

I read about the horrific persecutions throughout history, endured in almost every century and country by our people, who were seemingly abandoned to their vicious tormentors.

On another level, to this day, I see and feel with my very own eyes and heart the suffering of so many around me who confront their own agonizing misfortune—from health issues, to premature deaths, to the inability to have children, to desperate financial woes. And the list of troubles goes on, endlessly.

Shouldn't my emotions be aroused to sympathize with my fellow brethren rather than a G‑d who, on the face of it, distances Himself from our world and our suffering?

It's a question that honestly I have never become totally reconciled with. Maybe it's one of those things we are not meant to grasp, or maybe I just need to try harder and learn more.

When I became a mother, I began to relate in a deeper way to the notion that one who watches the agony of a loved one may, in fact, be in greater pain than the sufferer himself.

I remember once, shortly after I had given birth to my first child, seeing a haunting picture of another mother, in a vastly different situation than mine.

She was a gaunt woman living in a Third World country holding in her arms a malnourished, wretched, wailing toddler. It was clear that her son was crying from hunger. From her vacant eyes looking out to the world, it was also obvious that the pain of this mother's affliction was too difficult for her to bear. Too difficult for anyone to bear.

At that moment, when I looked deeply into the dark eyes of this bent over, young, but so aged, woman, I almost thought that I was looking at the Shechinah herself.

Though the woman was emaciated, her silent cries were not over her own predicament, but rather over her child's torment. As he begged her for a dry crust of bread or a drop of water to moisten his parched throat, her greatest pain, more than any of her own hunger pangs could ever be, was in refusing his needs.

And, so I thought, how anguished G‑d must feel each time He stifles our cries. For every moment He keeps us in exile. For every heartfelt prayer that He refuses. And for every cheek drenched in tears that He turns away.

But immediately another voice countered, almost angrily, that this analogy does not stand. While the mother in the picture cannot provide for her children, despite her best attempts, G‑d is in a position where He can easily, in the blink of an eye, without even any degree of effort—fulfill our every desire and remove any vestige of pain, want and need from our midst.

So the question remained—and remains still.

A while ago, Rhoda began attending my classes and we soon became good friends. Though I still cannot claim to have found an answer to my question, the circumstances of Rhoda's life have provided me with perhaps, a little bit more awareness.

Rhoda is a wonderful, sweet person, always ready to do a favor and help out in any time of need, with true joy. But Rhoda lives under the shadow of a very difficult situation that dims her sunny disposition and brings darkness and torment into her life.

From the outside, Rhoda's life is ideal—she lives in a luxurious home and has no financial worries, but few people are aware that Rhoda's husband is a severely addicted alcoholic.

Over the years, I've watched Rhoda, a naturally optimistic person, turn into a bitter, suspecting, and often emotionally detached individual. Her days have become consumed with "fixing" her husband of his alcoholism. I've seen her try every method she can—from nagging, manipulating and begging, to threatening, punishing and withholding.

Rhoda's caretaking has become compulsive and self-defeating. She has begun making excuses for him to keep him from suffering the consequences of his behavior, but her repeated rescue attempts only enable her husband to continue on his destructive course and to become even more dependent on her. Rhoda feels helpless in the relationship, yet unable to break away from the cycle of behavior that poisons it.

After being friends with Rhoda for a long time, I discovered that Rhoda's response to her husband had a psychological name. Her condition is called co-dependency.

I also learned that co-dependency is not only something applicable to spouses of alcoholics or addicts. According to some psychologists, co-dependency is a condition that is predominant in our society, existing any time there is an unhealthy reliance on another for the fulfillment of one's life's dreams and wants.

Co-dependents are addicted to their dependency on another person and believe they can't function without the relationship that they have with that person. Their very sense of self becomes blurred and they are incapable of discerning where they end and the other begins. Co-dependents take on the problems of others as their own and knock themselves out to take care of things for others that these people could actually do for themselves.1

Why am I telling you about Rhoda?

Because perhaps Rhoda and her co-dependency can shed some light on our relationship with G‑d.

The Sages tell us that our physical world is a mirror of its spiritual source. Everything that happens down here—both good things and bad—is a reflection of a parallel divine reality. That reality is, of course, essentially positive; the negativity that we experience "down here" is but a surface corruption of a deeper, wholly positive truth.

Moreover, everything that we see here in our world is meant to be a lesson to us, to reflect upon and find a greater wisdom and understanding of G‑d's relationship with our reality.

So, as I learned about co-dependency, I kind of got the impression that there is an element of "co-dependency" in our relationship with G‑d.

Of course, one doesn't think of G‑d as being "dependent" on anyone or anything. G‑d is perfect, infinite and complete. And yet, G‑d chose to depend on our efforts and actions here in this world in order to bring about the completion of creation, with the long-awaited redemption. G‑d is waiting for us, to change ourselves in order to bring His idyllic dream to our world. He has made His own completeness, so to speak, to be realizable only in His relationship with us.

But the problem is that we've got this terribly addictive condition that doesn't quite allow us to act as whole as we would like. We are captivated with our selfish urges and neuroses, and trapped in the dysfunctional state of galut or spiritual "exile." As much as we want to get out of it, we can't quite shake it. And G‑d, by His own choosing, is "stuck" in the relationship with us, suffering with us.

The whole of human history bears the hallmarks of this co-dependency. There are periods when G‑d "takes over" to make things right (which ultimately doesn't change the fundamental problem, since we are still flawed). These are followed by periods of "withdrawal"--painful to both of us, since we both won't let go of this notion that our fulfillment and completion is co-dependent.

And the cycle, like the co-dependent cycle, continues on and on.

The irony is that the longer G‑d punishes us with exile, the more, like Rhoda's husband, we resist self-change and the more that this condition becomes so embedded within us. He—and we— have been waiting for an awfully long time for it all to end. Since the day that G‑d created the first man and woman and made them indispensable to the fulfillment of His purpose in creation.

But as I further pursue my research, I find that some psychologists believe that co-dependency, at its core, is not a negative trait. According to these opinions, it is more likely "a healthy personality trait taken to excess." According to this line of thought, "Co-dependency in non-clinical populations has some links with favorable characters of family functioning."2

So, co-dependency at its root is a positive phenomenon. We extend ourselves beyond the narrow confines of our limited selfhood to find purpose, fulfillment, self-worth—indeed our very "identity"--in the greater "self" of our relationships with others.

But this comes at a price. Humans are flawed. So we suffer, not only from our own flaws, but from the flaws of the other we are dependent upon for our completion.

We expect the relationship to heal the flaws (as indeed it can) but until that happens, we hurt. Worse still, our co-dependency can deteriorate to its unhealthy, pathological form—to a dark and bitter galut.

So, I sit here reflecting on our exile, and our longing for redemption.

As I do, I remember the desperation indelibly engraved on the face of that mother from the Third World country. A desperation for her child. For her beloved, only son.

I think, too, of the countless individuals, friends, acquaintances or strangers, who though they may put up a brave face to the world, are in as much of a state of their own desperate need.

I think, as well, of the countless generations of Jewish martyrs who have perished before us, enduring the harsh realities of their exile suffering.

And I add to that overflowing font of pain, the torment of those, like my friend Rhoda, who are stuck in a situation where they so selflessly want to give to a loved one but are forced to wait for his redeeming efforts—and all the while suffer the unbelievable agony of watching that loved one caught in a horrible cycle of self-destruction.

And in that latter category, perhaps I have a tiny glimmer of understanding of the depth of pain that You, G‑d must be experiencing.

I keep trying to tell my friend, Rhoda, to make a life for herself. To get some counseling and the tools to allow her to use her positive qualities of selflessness, but at the same time to set the boundaries that she needs to create the relationship and life that she wants.

But here's where the analogy to my friend Rhoda ends.

There is no help outside of You.

You are the only one who is able to heal us of our addictions and restore the sanity in our lives. Only you can provide us with the strength to overpower our surface defects and finally exult in the inherent perfection and beauty of our relationship with You.

So it is You, G‑d, that I respectfully beseech, joining with the countless others awaiting our redemption, and say the words of prayers repeated by so many, for so many long and harsh centuries, under all kinds of difficult circumstances.

Please G‑d, the cycle has continued far too long. At the very least, "do it for Your sake."


Breaking Free of the Co-dependency Trap


'Family of Origin and Current Relationship Influences on Codependency'
Family Process Volume 37 Issue 4 Page 513 Issue 4 - 528 - December 1998

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.

What's Your Favorite Color?

November 8, 2009

I love this time of year.

There's a nip in the air but the harsh winter has yet to set in, which makes walking outdoors ever so refreshing. But what I really love most about this season is the glorious colors everywhere.

Taking a walk hand-in-hand with my youngest daughter, she giggles happily as she jumps on the piles of fallen leaves. We count the trees that have become bare and note those that still carry foliage, tenaciously gripping onto their last few days, or weeks, of life.

But mostly, we exult in the many changing colors. Her favorites are the brighter shades of cherry pink and blood red, while I prefer the richer, deeper mahoganies, auburns and burgundies.

Along the way we observe how entire trees, previously a light shade of forest green have transformed into fiery mixes of orange, rust and dark browns, while others have just as magically become golden and mustard yellow.

In the springtime, we often follow this same path.

Then, too, we observe the colors all around us, in the newly blooming flowers breaking free from their restricting buds. Even now, we still spot a few lingering remnants of petals in vivid pinks and magentas, canary yellows and lipstick reds.

As the spring flowers rupture the embryonic sac of the dark, frozen winter earth, they color our world with their brilliant, primary colors. They remind me of bright-eyed children, full of verve, enveloped in a joie de vivre. They have yet to be disillusioned by any of life's disappointment and they face their days with daring, colorful enthusiasm, and flamboyant joy for the wonders of their world.

But it is the aging leaves in the fall, clinging to life with their last breathe, that truly mesmerize me.

These leaves remind me of a mature individual, made wise by his life experiences rather than his inborn childlike naiveté. He has lived through both the goodness and the darkness of life, yet, he perceives our world in glorious multicolor. His experiences have brought about a transformation where he no longer fits into one dimension of color but has emerged a richer individual, carrying an array of hues and shades, ideas and perspectives, empathy and perceptiveness.

Though the fall colors are more sedated and far less glitzy than the bold and youthful primary colors of spring, to me, they characterize a paradigm of depth and dignity. They symbolize a fuller perspective of right and wrong, a more tolerant view of people and their chosen paths, and broader insight into our world – and our relationship with our Creator.

What is your favorite season? What message does it say to you?

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.


November 1, 2009

The other day I needed to do some bloodwork for my annual check-up. This time, I decided I'd be conscientious and take care of it on time. At least, semi on time.

Usually, I try to look away — anywhere — to avoid the sight of that gory, red blood. But, that day, I guess I was being brave.

The nurse stuck the needle into my arm and, immediately, a gush of blood filled the container.

But one container doesn't suffice. Sure enough, when the container filled after a few seconds, the nurse had another empty one on the ready… And then another… And another.

I was still being brave, though feeling a tad fainter and growing paler by the minute, but still watching, mesmerized in some strange way.

I was thinking about the blood.

My blood. My deep, red blood. My deep, red blood that is flowing right out of me.

As the nurse replaced the containers, the needle was still stuck in me and I expected the blood to continue dripping out, but as if obediently awaiting the nurse's instructions, it had stopped. Nothing was gushing.

For a second, I almost entertained the horrific thought that there was no more blood left in me! But soon, the new container was properly in its place and the blood continued racing out – at high speed – into the empty container.

Maybe it was my lightheadedness from losing all that blood, but I began to wonder – why? Why the pause in the rush of blood when the nurse changed the containers?

That's when I realized that the needle isn't what draws the blood. Though the needle pricks the skin, the vacuum in the empty container draws it out.

The profundity began to sink in (or was it, again, my increasing lightheadedness making it seem profound?): An empty vessel can draw in with greater intensity than one which is full.

It sounded like a deep lesson for life.

It's not the needle, the probing and searching, that will fill us with meaning and life-giving blood, as much as the emptiness.

Only a person who is empty – not full of himself, not arrogant, but aware of his inadequacies and parts of himself, and his life, that are "empty" – can be more strongly motivated to fill himself with goodness and fullness.

The blood work was over. The concerned nurse observed my pale face and asked me if I wanted to rest for a few minutes.

I'm fine, I assured her. Emptier, perhaps, but ready to become fuller.

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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