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One Letter Off

February 24, 2008

My head was spinning, reeling from hours of exerted concentration.

We were a few hours into yet another knotty computer training session, necessary for my work here at Chabad.org.

This time it was my editor (and boss) at our headquarters in Brooklyn who was helping me via remote connection, from my home in Toronto, to learn what I considered a hopelessly complicated program. Either he was born actually enjoying this technical stuff or he was breezing through it due to his years of experience. I, on the other hand, was desperately lost, fumbling and tripping my way through all this complex technical jargon.

Here was my opportunity to finally put an end to the torment.

"How are you doing, Chana?" he finally asked. "Ready for more, or have you had enough for now?"

My eyes were blurry from the screen, my forehead, crumpled in concentration and my legs, cramped from hours in the same posture. Here was my opportunity to finally put an end to the torment—at least until the next session.

"How about we stop here and call it a day?" I meekly implored.

"Sounds like you're a little overwhelmed." He was astute. "How about I just show you one more really simple thing—how to 'pull text' from each article?"

His request sounded more like a statement than a question. So rolling my eyes, groaning inwardly and intuitively knowing that the task didn't sound simple at all, I attempted to sound more agreeable than I felt as I stoically muttered, "Ok, sure."

We plowed ahead. Being as technically-challenged as I am, simple computer tasks never amount to being simple. This, too, was no exception and after following his very precise instructions, I was still rewarded with the large red words crossing my screen spelling ERROR.

My instructor checked to see where I had gone wrong.

"Oh, there you are," he announced confidently. "Check the body of the document. Do you see your mistake?"

There are some very important things in life that have exacting, sensitive formulas to bring out their desired results.

Though I checked and rechecked, it all looked fine—a mere hodge podge of letters and symbols.

"Look again. Do you see that extra symbol?" he asked. Sure enough, the deviant symbol was black-and-white evidence of my apparent crime. "This program is very sensitive," he explained. "Even an extra dot, an extra symbol or a missing one will cause an error and make it awry. It is very precise."

Honestly, I'm not really sure, nor do I think I ever will appreciate, why such a small deviation out of hundreds of letters can cause such a significant error. Nor do I think I will ever understand why it all needs to be so fixed. But then again, I'll be the first to admit that I'm no authority in these things and will just rely on the experts' directions.

But aside from a hefty headache, that training session did leave me with the realization that there are some very important things in life that are way beyond my comprehension but have exacting, sensitive formulas to bring out their desired results.

I'm often asked, just as often as I ask myself, why parts of Torah law need such precise formulas. Why should sixty seconds spell the difference between a prohibition of igniting the Shabbat candles rather than a positive deed bringing more light and holiness to our world? Why should a thread of linen in a wool garment make it unwearable? Or why can't a small sip of milk follow a hearty meaty meal? What difference does it really make?

But that computer session did show me the importance of all these meticulous instructions.

Because it is far more gratifying to create a nicely flowing document, than big red letters across your screen reading ERROR.

Now, if only I could remember all those detailed instructions…

Can you share a time in your life when something so small spelled the difference between being on track and causing a serious error?

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.

The Shadows in our Lives

February 19, 2008

"Look there, Mommy!" It is mid-afternoon and Sara Leah and I are strolling along the sidewalk.

"Yes, honey, I see it. It's a shadow."

"It keeps moving." She's pointing and gesticulating. "And, there's you, Mommy." She's pointing again. "But what is a shadow?"

"It's like a reflection of you," I am stalling to formulate a response that a three-year-old would understand. "See it almost shows a picture of you and what you're doing. Now it shows us walking."

There always has to be some light in order to make a shadow.

"When does a shadow come?"

"See the sun is shining. But we're blocking its light from going on the sidewalk, so it's making our shadow at our side."

She nods. "So shadows happen during the day?"

"Well, not only. Tonight, when we're cuddling in your bed, I'll show you our shadows on the wall of your room." She's smiling in anticipation. "The night light in your room makes the shadows appear on the walls. There always has to be some light that's being blocked in order to make a shadow."

There are shadows on walls or sidewalks—those dim figures caused by intercepting the light. We can play with our shadows and have fun with their varying images.

But then there are also the "shadows" in our lives—those periods of intense gloom and unhappiness. Those are the moments when we feel fear, doubt or a threat to the joy of our lives. When a dark, foreboding feeling or shady thought is blocking the sunny rays of illumination in our lives.

But if we take a different perspective, maybe we can realize that there are no shadows in the absolute blackness of night.

To cast a shadow there always has to be some light shining through—and some "light" in our lives.

Perhaps these sinister shadows in our own lives, too, can be diminished if rather than on focusing on their intangible, menacing silhouette, we focus on noticing the surrounding light.

Have you ever overcome the effects of a "shadow" in your life—by focusing on the surrounding light?

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.

Religion is Not a Quick Fix

February 12, 2008

I wrote the following after answering one of the questions on our Ask the Rabbi section titled: I'm beginning to lose interest in being religious.... It was a question from someone who was no longer feeling inspired in his observance of the mitzvot. What interested me was the number of responses to this article and how it struck a chord with so many. Here are my thoughts after reading the many comments. Please share yours in the comment section below.

Not only was I raised in a "religious" home, but with my father serving for the last fifty years as the rabbi of our, at first fledging, and now, vibrant, Toronto community, I was given the endearing designation of being "the rabbi's daughter."

From an early age, I came to realize that this is how I was looked upon by members of our community, with all the expectations and implications that that entails. It was almost an unwritten rule that no matter the age of me or my siblings, we would be seen as an example and product of the religious lifestyle that my father's position represented. As such, from the outside at least, I think I always was conscious that our family life had to be viewed as the "idyllic" life associated with Torah observance.

After all, you wouldn't want to go to a dentist whose teeth were crooked. Who would take lessons from a fitness instructor whose fatty cellulite bulged? Or, sessions with a marital therapist whose marriage you knew was in shambles, or a psychiatrist who couldn't begin his day without this daily dose of retinol!

And so, the rabbi who was "selling" a Jewish lifestyle that provided meaning, happiness and fulfillment, likewise needed to lead the perfect, ideal life, replete with model children (and teenagers) who obediently and respectfully followed his lead. He also had to have a blissful marriage of honeymoon quality. Otherwise, what subtle message was he sending about the Judaism that he was working so hard to promote?

Who would take sessions from a marital therapist whose own marriage was in shambles?

I think a lot of us look at Judaism that way—as a means to provide us with the deeper—perhaps even the deepest—gratification, joy and purpose in our lives. We see it as a means to an end—much like daily exercise and healthful living. I'm willing to push myself, exercise and strain my muscles, and even deny myself some tasty pleasures—provided that I can visibly reap the benefits of a well-toned physique. With a religious lifestyle, though, we expect the benefits, like its many rules, to be all-encompassing: fulfillment in every aspect of our emotional, spiritual and intellectual wellness.

Religious people, goes the assumption, don't ever have any crisis of faith, any questions, or any doubts. They live placid, self-fulfilled lives, without any downs, devoid of any earth-shattering questions.

Despite its rigorous demands, who wouldn't want to live even the most regimented life—as long as its promised return was happiness in every aspect of life: a meaningful communal life, harmonious family life and abundant personal fulfillment?

Here's a little confession. Ready?

How peaceful.

And how unrealistic.

Here's a little confession. Ready? It's not a perfect lifestyle.

Let me clarify, religious life does offer meaning and joy, close familial ties, improved relationships between parents and children, and so much more in so many areas of life.

But religious people also have questions. They too have crisis of faith, moments of feeling isolated and abandoned by G‑d. Their lives are not a tranquil paradise, and to some degree they face some of the same issues of contemporary society.

In fact, I'll go so far as to say that I'll bet that respected rabbi or lecturer that you've just heard who inspired you with his fiery passion and ignited your soul with his powerful message, woke up this morning consumed with doubt as he faced some quandary in his own life. Yes, up there from the pulpit he sounds so confident, so full of faith, but behind the scenes, he deals with conflict and questions in his life too.

Does it make the rabbi, lecturer, (or author) a hypocrite? I don't think so. I think, rather, it makes him a seeker. Someone who thinks and someone who feels. And someone who is a seeker will not be satisfied with the status quo or with standard answers and beliefs but will constantly be probing deeper and searching for more.

In fact, it is probably in his greatest moments of earnest searching and honesty that that pulpit rabbi or inspirational lecturer or writer has come up with the ideas that you find so beautiful. Because he questioned. Because he felt disillusioned. Because he was angry with G‑d and the society around him. And because he was alive with emotion. Not because he was comfortable with platitudes and accepted norms.

Non-thinkers, non-feelers and non-seekers, whether religious or not, will never have any questions or doubts, because they live one-dimensional lives. But Judaism is multi-dimensional and seekers will be bombarded with questions. They will question their level of commitment, their value system, their stereotypes, their realness, their goals, and the norms within their society. They will have questions about the suffering in our world—their own, their close ones and those around them.

So what then is the point of a religious lifestyle that won't stifle the onslaught of questions or the crisis of faith?

So what then is the point of leading a religious lifestyle if it won't stifle the onslaught of questions, the crisis of faith? If it will not squelch the soul tuggings and yearnings? If it won't provide me with a serene, self-righteous lifestyle? With a harmonious family life and with children who obediently follow my lead? In short, with easy, one-dimensional answers?

Imagine a woman in difficult child birth saying, "I can't wait for this to be over, so that I can finally relax again!" You would undoubtedly think that little did she know but her new experience would be full of everything but relaxation. Her nights would be filled with round-the-clock feedings; and her days consumed with caring for this little one. And of course, as her child grows older, the physical exertion would just grow to bigger, emotionally draining problems. Relaxation? Not as a parent!

A religious lifestyle similarly doesn't afford us with the triteness of Great! Now I can finally relax! Becoming accustomed with the laws, making them a habitual part of your life, and even immersing yourself in its intellectual depths, also doesn't ensure that from here on in, your life will run idyllically, all pain and conflicts erased.

Living a Torah life is about far more than ensuring the means to your greatest pleasure.

It is about being given the instruction to live a life that G‑d wants of you. It is about being given the tools, the venue, the building blocks to search deep within, to probe intensely, in order to deal with whatever crises or conflict you face.

It's not about immediate gratification, or about experiencing the unruffled life of non-thinkers, non-feelers and non-seekers.

It is about seeking your potential and searching further yet—and those moments can be demanding, agonizing and anything but gratifying.

But ultimately, it is about knowing that there are answers.

And moreover, that there is a Knower.

What does leading a Jewish life mean 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.

Flexing Those Spiritual Muscles

February 7, 2008

In a moment of optimistic determination, I signed up for a three-month membership to "Changes for Women." Unlike a gym or other fitness center, the popular concept of this and other such centers is a circuit of several machines that participants stays on for no longer than 45 seconds each. Every machine is meant to flex, strengthen and build stamina in different muscle zones. Instructive signs provide direction all around the circuit.

Over the last several weeks, I've learned about different muscle zones that I never knew existed, like front, rear, anterior and side deltoids, rhomboids and glutes among such exotic sounding exercises as "pectoral fly" and "hip abduction."

The experience is enhanced by the variety of movements, clear guidance and the feeling that this is something you can tackle and succeed at. But the best part of the work-out by far, is that it only lasts 35 minutes!

"The more I come, the more energized I feel," a fellow workout companion enthuses. How noteworthy that the more we exert ourselves, the more we unearth a new reservoir of energy.

The sign above the front door was the finishing touch, compelling me to sign on the dotted line. It read simply: "Spend just 2% of your day, for yourself." That's quite a powerful sell in a day and age when most of us can barely even find the time to sneeze!

Working out on those machines made me think about how our spiritual wellbeing can also use a boost of stamina and flexibility.

I realized, too, that it doesn't require hours upon hours of introspective meditation or an exhaustive, spiritual revamping. With the investment of just a few, scattered seconds or moments throughout your day, along with clear guidelines, you, too, can strengthen your spiritual muscles and get in synch with your inner self.

Here's a list of my own suggested exercises, listed by duration, prescribed times, and spiritual zone exercised:



Spiritual Muscles Used:


How many times:

Say words of thanks to G‑d for the gift of another day of life

Immediately upon awakening

Introspection, connection with your Maker

15 seconds

Once a day, every morning

Say a blessing on your food or drink

Before eating or drinking

Gratitude and appreciation for what you have

2-5 seconds

Several times a day

Pick up the phone and say a kind word to your mother or father

Any time you have a spare moment (make sure you FIND that moment)

Kindness, honouring and respecting your parents

5-15+ minutes

As many times as you are able, depending on circumstances

Extend your arm and touch the mezuzah

Every time you pass a doorpost with a mezuzah

Awareness, reminder of your identity

3 seconds

1-100 times a day

Pray to G‑d or meditate

Morning, afternoon and evening

Synchrony with your inner self, evaluation of your priorities, developing a relationship with your Creator

8 min. to 1 hour+ depending on spiritual stamina

1-3 times a day

Give charity to someone who needs it, or drop a few coins in the charity box

Any time, especially before your prayers

Compassion, awareness of the plight of others

5 seconds (10 seconds if you need to allow time to find your wallet)

At least once a day

Sure there's a lot more that you can do. But be careful not to strain your spiritual muscles too much or you might get disheartened with the workout and give up altogether.

You might just be surprised at how an investment of a few seconds several times throughout your day can give you loads of spiritual energy while revitalizing your whole being.

How about spending 2% of your day for yourself, for G‑d and for all of humanity?

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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