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Are You Listening?

December 31, 2017

Dear Readers,

Here’s an experiment to try the next time you meet someone—it could be an annoying telemarketer over the phone or a neighbor in the local grocery store.

As he or she mechanically and politely utters his greeting of “Hi, how are you?” instead of responding with the standard “Good, thanks,” try something different. Answer something totally strange and unbelievable. Try this: “Great, my monkey just ate its banana” or “Good, the skies are covered with gold.” The only caveat is that your tone, body language and facial expression must reflect nothing out of the ordinary.

I’m curious how many people would actually notice! Would they continue their mindless dialogue, “Oh, that's nice,” or would they just nod perfunctorily as they continue on their hurried way? How many would actually hear you?

Educators lament the lost art of communication. Some claim that with the popularity of instant messaging, chat, texting and e-mails, our children are losing out on the richness of expression, the nuances and variations of vocabulary and the beauty of creative writing.

But maybe our dismal state of communication stems from our lost art of listening, without which real communication can never occur.

In your mind’s eye, think of someone you consider an exemplar teacher, mentor, advisor or even just a really good friend. Chances are that along with his or her other admirable qualities—like wisdom, kindness, charisma and a generous spirit—high on the list will be the ability to truly listen.

Real listening means the ability to focus entirely on others and on their issues, with an open mind and heart.

It doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing with them. But it does mean having the ability to hear things from their vantage point and to understand how they see life.Only someone who is able to appreciate where another is coming from can help her to move from where she is to a more enriched perspective.

Yet how often do we neglect to listen? How often do we respond to our children, our spouses or those important to us with auto-responses? Sensing that they haven’t been heard, it’s no wonder that our children or spouse will continue to complain/request/nudge/nag over and over in the hope that they will finally be listened to. The nudging eventually does stop, but only once they have given up on ever being heard as the lines of communication close and die.

In Judaism, one of the most fundamental statements of belief is the declaration of the Shema: “Listen, O Israel, G‑d is our G‑d; G‑d is one.” (Deut. 6:4)

The central component of the Shema is crowning G‑d in our world by revealing His light and Oneness (“G‑d is one”) within our physical world.

Look closely at the words. It doesn’t say to “proclaim” or “declare” G‑d’s unity, but rather, to “listen.”

Because listening is an intense experience involving perceiving, deep thinking and internalizing. It’s also a transformative act—one that forges a strong bond between the speaker and listener.

The next time someone you consider important to your life speaks to you, treat that person with the respect that he or she deserves.

Stop and focus. You might just be surprised at the whole new awareness that opens up before you.

And if you do try this experiment with a telemarketer, a neighbor or a colleague at work, I’d be curious to hear your results.

Chana Weisberg

Editor, TJW

Chana Weisberg is the editor of 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.

Never Alone


December 17, 2017

Dear Reader,

I was speaking to a friend whose child had been sick with a life-threatening illness. I asked her about her faith. Did she have questions? Was she angry with G‑d?

She told me that as she was going through her ordeal, she didn’t have time to think. She was busy fighting for her child’s life, getting treatment, consulting doctors, and making medical arrangements. But she distinctly remembers feeling overcome with emotion. Her pain was so acute that she felt as if she were punched in the stomach, doubled over. In those moments—and there were many—it was almost humanly impossible for her to continue. “But it wasn’t me,” she said. “I was only able to function because G‑d was holding me upright, moving one foot in front of the other to do whatever was necessary.”

Each one of us is in exile. We are in a cosmic exile, living in a world of fragmentation and disarray, pulling us away from our purpose, our values, and our Creator. We are in a collective, national exile, bereft of our Temple, where G‑d’s presence was palpably felt, in our holy land. We are in a personal exile, carrying a heavy, individual burden of challenge and adversity in our imperfect world.

In this week’s portion, Jacob and his family descended to Egypt, eventually leading to our nation’s first exile.

The portion begins with Yehuda approaching Joseph, the Egyptian ruler, to plead for the release of Benjamin. Several passages later, after witnessing his brothers’ loyalty to each other, Joseph was overcome with emotion and revealed his true identity. In that pivotal moment he declared, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?”

Throughout the turmoil of our own exile, how often do we question: Father, where are you? G‑d, do you hear me? Do you see my worries? Do you hear my cries? Why aren’t you answering me? Is my Father still alive?

Soon after, Jacob descended to Egypt, “seventy souls” in all. Only sixty-nine individuals from Jacob’s family, however, are enumerated. The Midrash provides one explanation for the discrepancy:

The Holy One, Blessed be He Himself, entered into the count and thus it totaled seventy, to fulfill his promise made earlier to Jacob “…I shall descend with you to Egypt…”

G‑d had appeared to Jacob and promised, “I am G‑d, the G‑d of your father. Do not be afraid of going down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up…” (Genesis 46:3-4)

The Talmud (Megilah 29a) elaborates: “See how beloved are Israel in the sight of G‑d! In every place to which they were exiled, the Divine Presence went with them. They were exiled to Egypt, and the Divine Presence was with them; they were exiled to Babylon, and the Divine Presence was with them; and when they will be redeemed in the future, the Divine Presence will be with them.”

We don’t understand the purpose for all our difficult sojourns or persecutions. But throughout them all, G‑d assures us that He is with us. We are not alone; G‑d hears and cares. It may not take away our pain or our suffering, but it is comforting to know that G‑d is by our side.

In those heart-wrenching moments, when we feel as though we cannot continue, G‑d is holding our hands, holding us up, and helping us to take one step after another.

Chana Weisberg Editor, TJW

Chana Weisberg is the editor of 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 G-d Needs You


December 3, 2017
Art by Yitzchok Schmukler
Art by Yitzchok Schmukler

Dear Reader,

Do you ever feel alone? Not necessarily lonely, but alone, even though you are surrounded by people.

You may have different values from those around you. You may have a different perspective or way of looking at reality. You may feel like an outsider, not quite fitting in to the norms of your society.

And that’s just when you may be presented with a challenge. An opportunity to get recognition. A means to get ahead in life. A prospect that will make your life so much easier.

The catch? Taking that path will not be true to who you are or to what, deep down, you know is the way you ought to be.

A part of you insists, who cares? Why make your situation so difficult? It’s not as if your life has ever been a bed of roses! You’ve been inundated with adversities, confronted by adversaries, and surrounded by people who don’t care about you.

And, who will know? Why stubbornly remain so forlorn because of your unrealistic ideals? Besides, look at how your life has turned out. It’s not like your unwavering values have gotten you very far.

How should we respond to that cynical voice within?

Joseph is presented with this question. He had experienced a harsh life; he was reviled by his brothers, sold into slavery, a stranger in a strange land. Finally, just as fate was beginning to smile—and he had secured an important position—the wife of his master, Potiphar, took a liking to him.

It came to pass, after these things, that his master’s wife laid her eyes upon Joseph. She said: “Lie with me.”1

The Talmud comments: “Each day, Potiphar’s wife would attempt to seduce him. Cloth she wore for him in the morning she would not wear for him in the evening . . . She said, ‘Surrender yourself to me.’ He answered, ‘No.’ She threatened him, ‘I shall confine you in prison . . . I shall subdue your proud stature . . . I will blind your eyes.’

Joseph refused. And he said to his master’s wife: “ . . . How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against G‑d?”2

Said Joseph to her: “I am afraid of the Holy One, blessed be He.” Said she: “But He is not here.” (Midrash)

And then finally, after all her unceasing efforts, one day Joseph was about to relent.

“He entered the house do to his work, and none of the household staff was inside.”3

The Talmud fills us in on what happened: At that moment his father’s image appeared to him through the window, and said: “Joseph, your brothers will have their names inscribed upon the stones of the ephod . . . Is it your wish to have your name expunged from amongst theirs and to be called an associate of harlots?”4

Since the Torah had not yet been given, it is questionable whether Joseph had to risk his life to refrain from this sin. Nevertheless, when he saw the vision of his father, from whom he had been separated for decades, he regained the strength to desist. Why?

Jacob’s face resembled the beauty of Adam, whose sin he worked to rectify. Adam’s sin of eating the forbidden fruit seemed insignificant, but it had cosmic ramifications for all of humankind. When Joseph saw the visage of Adam, he recognized that, while our deeds might seem trivial and our personal affairs isolated, every deed can affect our moral balance, as well as the moral standing of all of creation—for now and all times.

Life sometimes showers us with intensely lonely moments of cold indifference. In those times, we need to remember that our every action has significance and lasting consequences.

We need to respond to our cynical voice: Right now, G‑d needs me to be true to the visage of my Father—by being true to my inner self.

Chana Weisberg,
Editor, TJW


Chana Weisberg is the editor of 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 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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