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Does G-d Like Playing Games With Us?

February 22, 2009

She rolls the dice. Her face is serious, concentrating on the outcome.

She smiles. She has rolled a winning number. She moves her piece along the cardboard board game and looks to me for approval. She is satisfied with her turn. I smile back at her. How I love to see her so proud.

She rolls again. This time she is able to knock off one of my pieces and advance her own. Her eyes light up and she giggles freely. I feign disappointment, making her laughter even louder.

She is winning the game. She is delighted.

It's my turn to roll the dice. Now I can knock off one of her pieces. She is still unaware of this impending danger. I too pretend not to notice. We both contentedly continue our play.

She rolls once again. Her brow is furrowed, she looks anxious. It is a decisive round. The results are not in her favor. I authoritatively explain since the dice bounced off the board, the throw wasn't valid. (Well, it kind of did.) She accepts my verdict gladly and rolls again. This time she scores a better number. We both smile as she teases me that she will win.

I try to follow the rules of the game. I know that, for her own benefit, I need to teach her how to graciously accept a setback. But with each roll of the dice, with each card that she uncovers, with each turn that she takes, I am inwardly holding my breath, secretly longing for her victory. I want her to smile, to giggle, to feel good about herself.

Yet I also understand that I can't completely break the rules of the game. For her own good.

So only when she's not looking, only when I'm sure that she won't notice my subterfuge, I make sure to give her an advantage in the game.

Because I love her smile. Her carefree laughter. Her delight in her victories.

Because it hurts me more than anything to see her sad, to feel the heaviness of her defeat, to see her eyes downcast when she realizes that she has fallen short of winning.

Because this means so much to her.

So my four year old and I continue our game. And as we play, and enjoy one another's company, I think of You playing the game of life with each of us.

Do You, too, secretly throw in some moves that will help our victory? Do you overlook some ill-fated turns to help us get further ahead in reaching our objectives?

I know we're not playing against You, but at times when we're really down, it can feel like You or the forces that You created, on some level are out to get us, holding us back from what we want so dearly. Are You really just rooting for us all along?

Do You follow the rules of our world, to help us grow as individuals? But do also You keep bending the rules—at least somewhat—to make our play easier? To help us taste accomplishment?

Do You also feel so sad when Your see Your children fall? When You see us disappointed or downcast, just short of our long-hoped for goals? Do You exult in our triumphs?

"I've won!" my little daughter announces happily as she throws the last dice to her victory.

"Yes, you have." I revel in her victory while pretending disappointment.

Little does she realize that her success is truly ours. That my joy is even greater than her own.

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.

Divergent Paths

February 15, 2009

We are walking together. Hand in hand. Me and my youngest daughter.

A forty-something year old and a four year old.

It's Shabbat morning and we're walking from our home towards our synagogue. The walk is about ten minutes, but the heavy snow slows us down. A new thick layer has just fallen last night. Both of us are bundled up warmly.

We have begun from the same point and we're heading to the same destination, but along the way our routes are diverging.

I am determined to choose the fastest, easiest course to our location. She chooses the most enjoyable one, relishing in every nuance along the way.

I stride purposefully and quickly, huddled in my coat, impatiently asking her to hurry along. She is delaying, frolicking, jumping and giggling. She savors the outdoors and experiments with the snow with her gloved hands and booted legs. Time constraints are clearly not a part of her agenda.

I direct my daughter to a well trodden path. I am looking to follow in other's footsteps—to trace the paths that those ahead of me have already tried and tested. She, on the other hand, delights in stepping where the snow has just fallen and is freshest. She is intrigued by her unique imprints and by forging her own new path where no one has stepped.

As we turn the bend, I ask her to join me along the cleared sidewalk, where the trek is least taxing, where the path is smoothest. Yet she is determined to climb the highest mountains and snow beds along the way. She embraces the exertion with joy. And the victory of reaching the peaks and standing tall in victory is a sufficiently intoxicating reward.

As we walk, ever so slowly, she points out to me the many sparkles in the snow. To her, these are precious gifts to behold, diamonds glistening in the sunlight. To be honest, I have barely noticed these shimmers. They have disappeared in my view of the encompassing dull whiteness, as I stride quicker and quicker.

We are walking along the very same route, my young daughter and I. But our paths are diametrically divergent.

Not literally but figuratively.

Maybe it's the four decades that are between us that cause each of us to veer towards a different direction, and to see reality through a different lens. Or maybe she is experiencing the joy and challenge of life while I am merely trudging through it.

It was a relatively short walk.

But maybe along the way, there was something that a forty-something year old learned from the innate wisdom of a four year old.

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.

A Far Reaching Whisper

February 8, 2009

My talk was called "Divine Whispers." I would be sharing an array of stories, weaving them together to create a message of how even in the "ordinary" events of our lives, we can find a "divine whisper"—a lesson specially scripted for us. The talk was the highlight of a lovely afternoon and evening program arranged by Chabad emissary Chana Alta Mangel in Blue Ash, Ohio. The food, decor, workshops and program, like Chana Alta herself, were fabulous, offering a perfect balance of beautiful physical and spiritual nourishment.

As the crowd enters the spacious main synagogue, I am sitting at one of the color coordinated round tables when "Esther" walks in and asks to sit next to me. As she'll tell me by the end of the evening, she had no idea that I was the speaker or the writer whom she eagerly reads, but just thought that I might want someone to chat with.

And chat we did...

Esther's eyes shine with pride as she tells me that her daughter, a thirty-two year old beautiful woman, lives in California. She is highly successful, independent and living a fulfilled life.

"The problem began," at this point Esther's voice is lowered into almost a whisper, "when this wonderful daughter met a man whom she planned to marry—and he wasn't Jewish.

"Chana, I was so torn," Esther's eyes mist over. "On the one hand she is my daughter, whom I love unconditionally. I couldn't break our relationship. How could I just estrange her, and at such a time in her life?

"Of course, my daughter couldn't fathom why I was against this relationship, one that she saw as ensuring her future happiness. But on the other hand, I just knew...Chana, I knew it intuitively that this was something that I absolutely could not go through.

"How could I attend this wedding? How could I be a part of it?

"And yet...how could I not?"

Even now, as Esther recounts her story, the tension that was tearing at her is apparent.

"My husband, on the other hand..." Esther continues, "he is a self-professed atheist. He's an intellectual and he claims he doesn't believe in any religion."

At this point, Esther diverts to confide to me, almost in parenthesis, "Chana, any time I attend a class on Judaism, here at Chabad, I really have to listen. The moment I get home, my husband questions everything that I learned. And how he questions! But let me tell you, though he's an atheist, he says the Shema Yisrael prayer with me every night. And on Chanukah, when I lit the candles, I saw tears in his eyes. What an atheist, huh?" She winks.

Esther now brings her husband into her continuing narrative, "So, of course when my daughter was about to marry this non-Jewish man, my husband didn't protest. It was only me. It was such a terribly lonely and confusing time for me." Esther pauses to regain her equilibrium, fighting her strong emotions.

"One part of me even thought of taking my life. I didn't feel I had a choice," she says defensively. "I couldn't attend the wedding and I also couldn't not attend. So, at the time, it seemed like the only option." She pauses as she recalls those terrible feelings.

"The wedding was several weeks off. I was becoming more and more desperate by the day.

"And then it was Yom Kippur night. I was sitting in the synagogue and more and more people were arriving for the Kol Nidrei services. I don't know what gave me the courage, but I marched right up to our rabbi and I ordered, 'Rabbi, I know you have a lot of things on your head right now. But listen to me. My daughter plans to marry a non-Jew in a few weeks and you've just got to pray for her tonight during the services.'

"And I too prayed with all my heart.

"I returned home after services, still shaken from my emotional experience. Shortly after, my daughter calls. She immediately tells me, 'Mom, about my upcoming wedding...Well, the plans have been pushed off...indefinitely.'

"Her words were music to my ears.

"My daughter is still looking to find her soul mate. But now she is dating Jewish men." Esther smiles as she concludes her tale.

And then, as an afterthought, Esther looks at me expectantly. "Chana, tell me, what do you think? Was that a divine whisper on that Kol Nidrei night?"

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.

Six Financial Milestones Before Thirty

February 1, 2009

Several months ago, I came across an article on msn.com titled, "Six Financial Milestones before Thirty." The article explained that by our third decade, for most of us, life is well underway, with about half of all Americans married and most having children.

But whether in the third, fourth, fifth or more advanced decade of your life, the fundamental rules and milestones mentioned in that article can help every person.

And more importantly, it occurred to me that these six financial rules can be applied as valuable principles for all areas of life.

So here they are:

Scale Back the Credit Card

Many of us "live on credit" in our psychological and spiritual lives tooMany people are credit-carding it up. But Sarah Young-Fisher, author of the "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Personal Finance in Your 20s and 30s," says that a thirty year old needs to be "living on your pay check." You should be getting by without taking on credit card debt and saving at least 10% of your total salary for the future.

Many of us "live on credit" in our psychological and spiritual lives too. We borrow time, energy or resources from meaningful pursuits, and "purchase" instead the temporal, material and trivial—without building up a strong emotional or spiritual foundation.

Even in the daily grind of life, meaningful time spent bonding with family, children or friends, or special time dedicated to your inner soul should never be squandered.

Living on credit, without a healthy balance, it too expensive. The debt eventually catches up with you and robs you of your inner serenity.

Own a Home—or have a plan

Young-Fischer says that home ownership should be a top priority. As well, when you do buy, she says, "buy what you can afford, not what you love."

A home is where you feel comfortable to be yourself. It's the place that you can let your hair down and throw off your heels. It's a place which is uniquely and exclusively you, furnished according to your personality, your likes and dislikes.

Owning your own home – or having a plan to own it, figuratively and spiritually – means setting down roots.

Surround yourself with an environment that is conducive to your spiritual goals, a place that is a safe oasis from the pressures, struggles and divisiveness of the outside world.

Start slowly, buy what you can afford, but keep in mind how you'd like to grow, at your own pace, into someone that you will love even more.

Have Skills

Even for those who do not consider themselves entrepreneurs, most workers should expect multiple changes in employers and job titles throughout their careers. "Develop a set of marketable skills," says Gregg Fisher, founder of a N.Y. financial firm.

In life, changes constantly come our way. Good ones and bad ones. We usually can't avoid most of life's storms, but we can prepare and strengthen ourselves inwardly to help us weather through them.

Expand and develop your spiritual skills to deal with, or embrace these changes. Don't look at your religious identity as stagnant, or your spiritual maturation as "in the box." Explore new ways to constantly grow as a person and to grow in your relationship with your Creator.

Give Money Away

"Establish a regular charitable giving plan," says Scott Hanson, author of "Money Matters: Essential Tips and Tools for Building Financial Peace of Mind."

Hanson believes that we are an emotionally deprived nation that spends to feel good. "When we feel down, we head to the mall."

But it's "financially healthy to give." The good vibes one feels from giving to a cause can also create that feel-good factor, even more than that 80% discounted cashmere sweater.

Giving helps us to become who we are meant to beCharity is the one commandment that regarding which G‑d says, "Test me on this one! I promise you that if you give to others in need, I will repay you for your giving tenfold!"

Whether it is giving of your money, time, energy or resources, giving is enriching. Giving helps us to become who we are meant to be. And its emotional, spiritual and financial paybacks are additional incentives making it worth our while and "healthy to give."

Know Thyself

Having a firm grasp on your priorities and values is one critical component of a healthy financial life. Is impressing your friends one of your values? So why do you feel the need to have an expensive leased SUV in your driveway?

"People get so caught up that their goal becomes having another zero before they go," Hanson says. "Money is not the most important thing. You'll never have any fun with it if it is."

Knowing yourself means looking into the proverbial mirror and becoming in tune with your spiritual goals. It means not needing to impress others. It means not defining yourself by your external circumstances. It means realizing your essential worth as a creation of G‑d.

And it means discovering who you are—and who (not what) you can be.

Know Smart People

"It is important to have strong advisers in your life," Young-Fisher says. Knowing a good tax preparer, financial adviser, attorney and insurance agent can save you untold amounts of money and stress.

Just as it is important to have good financial advisers, it is even more essential to know emotionally intelligent and spiritually "smart people."

"An imprisoned individual cannot set himself free," say our Sages.

Often we cannot release ourselves from a challenging situation or a spiritual or emotional rut. We are too caught up in our situation to see beyond it. Seek an expert—a mentor, guide or true friend who can be an invaluable source, a great listening ear and a reservoir of wisdom in helping you find the direction you need.

So, it turns out that the "six financial milestones before thirty" aren't only financial, and aren't only for thirty-year-olds. But these milestones are six wise principles for leading spiritually meaningful, successful—and enriching—lives.

And in today's economic climate, that's definitely something worth investing in.

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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