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A Cure to the Modern Epidemic of Narcissism

November 28, 2019 3:16 PM

Dear Reader,

Once upon a time, humility was a sought-after trait. Our grandparents understood that if we didn’t develop a humble, selfless nature, then arrogance and self-centeredness would consume us. It wasn’t the loudest, boldest or overconfident individual who was most admired, but someone with inner dignity, refinement and modesty.

A dictionary definition of humility is: “a modest or low view of one’s own importance.” Examples given are: “Letting someone ahead of you in line when you see they are in a hurry” or “an athlete who credits his success to his teammates, even though he has great skill.”

Then our generation came along, and we realized that humility had a real down side. If someone has a “low view of his own importance,” always crediting others, he wouldn’t develop ambition. If we think we’re “lowly,” why even work towards improvement?

So a new trend started: Parents and educators began telling their children how special, worthy and unique they are. Self-esteem became the key to success in life.

The down side to this wash of self-esteem is that it leads to the preoccupation of the self. Social scientists now claim that narcissism has become “a modern epidemic” demonstrated by people needing excessive admiration and approval, while showing disregard for other people’s sensitivities. Coupled with a society that prizes fame, wealth and celebrity, we create people who seek only what they feel is best for them.

So which values should we be inculcating within ourselves and our children?

In his book of Tanya, the Alter Rebbe—Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi—addresses this dilemma.

The sages taught that before we were born, we needed to take an oath: “Be righteous. Don’t be wicked. Yet, even if the entire world tells you that you are righteous, think of yourself as though you are wicked.”

But this requires clarification, because it says in “The Ethics of the Fathers: to “never consider yourself wicked?”

Furthermore, if a person considers himself wicked, he will be disheartened and won’t be able to serve G‑d with joy. On the other hand, if he does not become depressed from this, he could come to treat life irreverently, G‑d forbid.

So, should we feel humbled and lowly (“wicked”), or will this just cause us to not treat life seriously?

The Alter Rebbe goes on to explains that every person is born with a G‑dly soul that has unbounded potential and can help us become the greatest spiritual beings. We also have an animalistic soul that seeks self-preservation and needs taming, or it can bring us to the lowest form of selfishness.

So it seems that we need to redefine humility and self-esteem. Self-esteem isn’t about self-aggrandizement, just as humility isn’t about feeling “lowly or unimportant.”

Realize your greatness, but recognize that your talent, abilities and your highest worth stems from the powerful, unlimited G‑dly soul that G‑d gave you. Feel humbled in appreciating your enormous, unbounded potential and your responsibility to use your gift to create heaven on earth.

Our greatness and humility must be intertwined, stemming precisely from our connection to the Infinite—and our duty to make our world more G‑dly.

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.

What the Californian Mountains Meant to Me

November 28, 2019 3:13 PM

Dear Readers,

I was recently lecturing in Southern California. In many neighborhoods, majestic mountains surround valleys, providing a scenic backdrop to the cities.

At my home in Pomona, N.Y., I’m also surrounded by stately mountains. From my living-room window, I watch the changing view as the seasons shift, each scene beautiful in its own right. I watch the blossoming mountain with bright summer greenery turn into the deep-hued foliage of fall, only to become white and snow-capped in the cold of winter, and to once again begin budding in the early spring.

Unlike the mountains near my home, though, the Agoura Mountains surrounding the Conejo Valley were brown and desolate, like a desert. I was told that the wildfires that spread through California ravaged the flora and accounts for their desolation. Nevertheless, their bleak austerity was uniquely and exquisitely breathtaking.

The Alter Rebbe explains that conceptually, mountains represent the idea of love. Just as they reach out and upwards from the earth, we, too, express our love for another and G‑d by reaching out and upwards, outside of our limited selves.

Aaron, the High Priest, personified love (“he loved every creation and brought them closer to Torah”). Within the Hebrew name “Aharon” is the word, har, “mountain.” Aaron sought to fan the love between individuals, especially husbands and wives, or those in disputes, and he exhibited unconditional love and compassion for his people. The kohanimthe priests and the descendants of Aaron—perform the services in the Temple and likewise represent limitless love and empathy for the Jewish people.

As I found myself among the Californian mountains, teaching Torah to such receptive individuals, I thought about how each one of us represents a mountain. Despite the gravity of life, we strive to reach higher, to battle the inertia of selfishness and materialism, and ascend to more altruistic heights. And regardless of the many challenges and hardships in our lives, our nation seeks to stand taller, reaching up in greatness, determined to bring more G‑dly ideals into our lives and our world.

At the same time, like each of the captivating mountains, every life story is unique. One person might stand taller, another with his or her exclusive shape. One person has flourishing greenery, while another may appear barren. Some of us may be encountering a season of ice-cold winter, while other times, we may be leading colorful lives.

Through it all, our beauty is expressed in efforts of reaching up and trying our best. Judaism encourages us to express our love for G‑d and our fellow in our own singular ways, as individualistic beings. None of us can compare our circumstances, challenges or growth to anyone else’s.

Interestingly, perhaps some of the most exquisite beauty is found precisely in our barrenness. After being ravaged and feeling so destroyed, we do not succumb to hardship, but courageously reach up and out to G‑d, and to our fellow humans, in love.

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.

Three Things a Well Can Teach us About Our Inner Psyches

November 19, 2019 12:13 PM

Dear Readers,

Recently I was talking with a teenager. In our conversation, she mentioned that she didn’t really view herself as “good.” I think on some level, many of us feel that way—we don’t think of ourselves as being such great people. But if we can’t envision our intrinsic goodness, then what’s the point of even trying to improve?

As we dig into our psyches and analyze our actions or motivation, we realize things about ourselves that we don’t like and that might even muddy our self-perception that our core is wholly good. We may discover that what drives us is not altruistic, and, instead, seems self-serving and narcissistic.

But we need to remember that beyond our emotions and desires, beyond our experiences and achievements lies our pure, Divine core. This is the part of us that is essentially good, where no deed or act can ever muddy. This is our selfless core that wants to bring goodness into our world.

It is written, “‘For you (the people of Israel) shall be a desirable land,’ says G‑d” (Malachi 3:12). The Baal Shem Tov explained that just as the greatest explorers won’t uncover the limits of the valuable resources placed within the earth, we will never discover the limits of the great treasures that lie buried within our inner selves—G‑d’s “desirable land.”


This week’s parshah speaks of Isaac, who was the longest-living Patriarch; he lived 180 years, compared to Abraham’s 175 and Jacob’s 147. What did Isaac do for much of his long life? Isaac was a well-digger. He reopened the wells originally dug by Abraham, dug several wells of his own, named them and struggled to retain control over them.

While the Torah is describing actual wells that Isaac dug, metaphorically it also details his service of digging deep within himself, refining his character to reach greatness.

Here are three things we can learn from a well about ourselves:

1) Dig hard and deep.

The well-digger labors really hard and deep to get the purest water. Similarly, effort is required in our lives. The best things in life need to be cultivated and worked on. The more you exert yourself to refine your character and actions, the more you will become in tune with your soul.

B) Digging a well just exposes the water that is already there.

The well-digger knows that if he burrows far enough, eventually he’ll hit water. Your perfect, Divine soul is within you, but you need to put forth effort to get in tune with it, to access and expose its powers.

C) Well water cannot be destroyed, but we can stuff it up or obstruct its flow.

Our pristine soul is within us, an essential part of us, but we can block its voice with our own choices. Each of us has the freedom to choose how to lead our lives.

Wishing you a wonderful week of deep digging to expose your beautiful soul!

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 Did Threading a Needle Become So Difficult?

November 4, 2019 3:13 PM

Dear Readers,

Have you tried to thread a needle recently? Why does the hole seem to get smaller and smaller the older I get?

Without my reading glasses, the task is impossible. It looks like the thread is going directly into the hole, but when I peek through the other end, I realize that it was a miss. Finally, I concede defeat and put on my glasses, and suddenly, the task is doable.

Did the hole get any bigger? Of course not. But my perspective changed. My eyesight became stronger and what appeared blurry before is now much clearer.

A Torah perspective is like putting on reading glasses. The challenges in our lives still remain as thorny, complex and difficult. The hole is the same hole. But what had felt like an impossible, insurmountable hurdle has just gotten a drop less intimidating because our priorities are clearer. The possibility of overcoming what had felt so debilitating suddenly has grown larger. That doesn’t mean the problem will be solved instantly, but we can feel encouraged that what we are going through is purposeful, and for our growth and benefit, even when we can’t discern how.

Prayer is an example of reaching such an enriched perspective. The word to pray is l’hitpallel, which is reflexive. Prayer is considered avodah shebalev (Taanis2a), a “service of the heart.” It requires work and service, but ultimately, it is meant to create a change within us. We recognize all the good in our life, and as we seek G‑d’s assistance with our current trial, we can breathe a little easier, knowing that G‑d has heard us.

Shabbat is another means of changing our perspective. Every week, it brings illumination to our world, which so often seems so dark. While every mitzvah introduces light into the world, the Shabbat candles generate actual light.

Picture a home in the few minutes before the onset of Shabbat. It is often frenzied as last-minute tasks are hectically being done in preparation of the holy day. The moment after the candles are lit, a peace descends. Is it the same room, the same walls as five minutes ago? Of course! But it’s an entirely different environment as a new spiritual, peaceful aura encapsulates our world.

Every mitzvah accomplishes this. So when we say a blessing on our apple, we broaden our appreciation and gratitude, just as we do when we give charity to a fellow. When we hang a mezuzah on our door, we remember that we are being embraced and protected by G‑d.

The word mitzvah has a dual meaning: “commandment” and “bond.” Every mitzvah connects us to G‑d by doing His command, and gifts us with a clearer perspective of how to view ourselves and our world.

Wishing you a week of wonderfully clear perspectives—and easy needle-threading.

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.

Do You Like Airports?

November 4, 2019 3:11 PM

Dear Readers,

Some people hate airports. They are so big and busy. There’s so much noise and confusion, in addition to so much walking from one part to another.

Personally, I like airports. Let me clarify: I don’t mean that I like standing in a long security line snaking forward slowly when my plane is about to close its doors. But when I have those few extra minutes before my plane departs, I like to watch all the people coming and going, rushing to and from their destinations, imagining where they all might be heading. I watch the families with young children heading off to their long-awaited vacation spots, and the men and women in work attire preparing to clinch their next big deal. I like to look out the floor-to-ceiling windows, and watch the planes descend and ascend on to new journeys.

What I like about airports is the movement. Some people are running and some walk leisurely; some work on their laptops as they await their departure and some talk on phones about their upcoming meetings.

Most people in airports have a sense of purpose about them; they know what they need to do. There is constant movement. Determined, focused movement.

Every traveler has a destination. No one just flounders, unsure of their endpoint. If a traveler doesn’t know how to progress, they ask for assistance. If something has gone wrong along the way—they missed a connecting flight, or their flight has been delayed or cancelled—they actively work on arranging new solutions.

Airports remind me of a quote from the book of prophets. The Prophet Zechariah says: “I shall make you movers (mehalchim) among these who stand still (omdim)” (Zachariah 3:7). From a spiritual perspective, the souls of human beings are considered mehalchim (“walkers”) who move, while angels are considered “those who stand still.”

We need to constantly be on the move, reaching for new heights. We cannot suffice with stagnating or staying as we are. Rather than remaining stuck, we chip away at our fears and insecurities and whatever is blocking our progress. We challenge ourselves to go that extra mile, to reach up and develop parts of ourselves we never thought we could, to discover new areas of growing or new solutions to our challenges.

The growth and movement we seek may start with a call, an email, an offer or an inquiry to learn or do something new, but it can help us travel to new frontiers, to reach destinations we never imagined possible.

Wishing you a week of positive movement.

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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