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Are You a Victim of Your Circumstances?

November 20, 2016

Dear Reader,

I love flowers, especially roses. Soon after we moved into our new home, we planted a rosebush in our front garden. The bush has since grown and now produces beautiful, fragrant red roses every season.

Just be careful if you want to pick them, though! Their thorns, or technically “prickles,” can be nasty. Scientists provide different reasons for why roses need those prickles.

Some speculate that the thorns on roses protect them from being eaten by animals attracted to the perfumed smell in the oils of the petals. Also, the typically sickle-shaped, hook-like prickles aid the rose in hanging onto other vegetation as the rose bush grows. Some species of roses, especially ones that grow on coastal sand dunes, have densely packed straight prickles. These trap wind-blown sand and protect the bush’s roots by reducing erosion.

Whatever the reason, the prickles clearly help the rose bush flourish.

In this week’s Torah portion, we are introduced to our matriarch, Rebecca. Our sages applied to her the verse: “As a rose among the thorns, so is my beloved among the daughters.”1 Rebecca is considered to be the proverbial “rose among thorns,” growing up in a corrupt home and conniving society.

As the rose petals rub against its thorns, the roses emit their pleasant fragrance. Similarly, Rebecca’s thorny background enabled her to become her greatest self.

From a tender age, Rebecca witnessed lying, deceit, and duplicity. Yet instead of succumbing to evil and allowing it to become a part of her psyche, it sensitized her to the bankruptcy of a G‑dless way of life.

All too often nowadays, we justify every failing we have by laying the blame on our circumstances. Perhaps we were born into a dysfunctional family bereft of warmth and positive emotions; perhaps our spouse is cold or indifferent and doesn’t provide the psychological support we need and deserve; perhaps our education didn’t meet today’s standards and career goals, and prevents us from achieving success. While all this may be true, from Rebecca we learn how to thrive despite adversity by utilizing shortcomings to our advantage.

But Rebecca didn’t only overcome the negativity of her background; she exploited its negativity, its thorns and prickles, to develop a keen perception and awareness of evil. This later enabled her to determine the true character of her sons and to make a monumental decision that would forge the path of history when it came time for Isaac to bless them.

Rebecca’s life story teaches us that sometimes it’s the prickles, thorns, and shakeups that life so disturbingly throws at us that can bring out the best in each of us.

Chana Weisberg
Editor, TJW

Footnotes

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.

Don’t Ignore the Call!

Vayera

November 13, 2016

Dear Reader,

One of the things that I love about Judaism is its occasional irreverence.

In this week’s Torah portion, on the third day after Abraham’s circumcision, G‑d visited him to alleviate his pain. The weather was particularly hot, to prevent traveling wayfarers from disturbing Abraham. But the hospitable, gregarious Abraham sat at the opening of his tent distressed by a lack of visitors, and so G‑d sent him three angels disguised as humans. Abraham ran to serve his visitors.

Abraham says to G‑d: “My L‑rd! If I have found favor in your eyes, pass not away, I beg you, from your servant.”1

Rashi provides two explanations for this verse:

  1. Abraham was addressing the most prominent of his guests, asking him and the others not to pass by his tent without availing themselves of his hospitality; and
  2. Abraham was addressing G‑d, asking Him to stand by while he fed his guests.

I find the second explanation fascinating.

The Talmud further expounds: “Said Rav Yehudah in the name of Rav: This teaches us that taking in guests is greater than receiving the Divine Presence.”2

Imagine the following scenario during ancient times of dictators or despots.

Your monarch—the mightiest, most powerful ruler in the world, who can decide your fate at whim—has honored you with his personal visit. Standing in his glorious audience, you notice homeless stragglers who look like they could use a hot meal and a shower. Only a deranged individual would excuse himself in order to care for these nomads.

Or, in more contemporary terms:

After months of effort and using all your connections, you’ve managed to secure a meeting with a powerful businessman who can change the course of your career. As you begin your pitch, your cell phone rings and the caller ID informs you that an unknown telemarketer is on the line. You’d have to be an unstable fool to ask this wealthy magnate to hold on while you take the call.

And yet, that was precisely what Abraham did. The King of Kings personally came to visit him, and he asked Him to wait while he prepared some tongue with mustard to feed strangers!

But suppose those straggling nomads or that irritating telemarketer was actually not some unidentified stranger, but the son of your monarch or the daughter of your wealthy magnate, who for whatever reason is requesting your assistance. The scenario changes entirely; the foolhardy act of impudence becomes the greatest act of compassion.

The Talmud is teaching us that every human being is a child of G‑d. And just as every parent would forego personal honor and willingly wait while you tend to his or her child, this, too, is G‑d’s greatest pleasure.

As for Judaism’s impudence, sometimes apparent disrespect, masks the greatest reverence.

Chana Weisberg
Editor, TJW

Footnotes
2.

Shavuot 35b.

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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