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The Self-Made Child

Terumah

February 26, 2017

Dear Readers,

My friend shared with me her problem: “My daughter complains that ‘other mothers’ do their children’s projects for them. I will help her with the research, explain to her whatever she doesn’t understand, share ideas and guide her, but I like the actual work to be her own. How else will she learn to express her creativity?

“She complains, though, that her projects are not as glamorous, her essays don’t have the ‘fancy’ words, and her homework doesn’t look as polished as her friends’.

“Am I being a rotten parent, or are these other parents missing the point?”


This week’s parshah, Terumah, as well as a sizable portion of the book of Exodus, is devoted to the construction of the Sanctuary (Mishkan).

The Torah, which is usually so sparing with words, is uncharacteristically elaborate, devoting 13 chapters to describing the Sanctuary. All the materials, components and furnishings are listed and described, sometimes numerous times. In contrast, the Torah devotes only one chapter to the creation of the universe! Only three chapters describe the awe-inspiring revelation of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.

The Sanctuary was a temporary dwelling serving as the religious focal point in the desert. Once the Jewish people entered the Land of Israel, it was replaced by the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Why does the Torah describe the Sanctuary at such great length, while almost glossing over these other fundamental events?

Because G‑d is teaching us the value of our own input.

At Sinai (and certainly, at the creation of the world), we were passive participants. G‑d descended in His glory and majesty, accompanied by breathtaking sounds and sights of thunder and lightning, while the Jewish people observed. Due to the non-participatory nature, the impression wasn’t permanent. After the Divine Presence departed from the mountain, it reverted to its former non-holy status. Similarly, the spiritually inspired nation stooped to serve a golden calf soon after witnessing such open miracles.

The Sanctuary, on the other hand, was built with the people’s own materials, with their own hands and sweat. Everyone took part in the undertaking—men and women, rich and poor—each contributing his or her talents, resources and expertise. As a result of this human participation, the material objects themselves became permeated with enduring holiness.

But devoting so many chapters to it, the Torah teaches us that when a person contributes his own resources and creativity, it is real and lasting. Though the end product might not be as earth-shattering or as “polished” as G‑d’s revelation, in many ways, it is more valuable, precisely because it is our own. We also grow through the process by fine-tuning our skills and stretching our talents in ways that being a passive recipient does not.

The message for parents, too, is clear. Help, guide, instruct and brainstorm with your children. But the greatest learning experience is when you help your children actualize their own abilities, to create their own edifices.

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 Number Three Teaches Us about Parenting

February 12, 2017

Dear Readers,

“My children are constantly fighting,” laments Susan, a mother of three. “They bicker about the size of their dinner portions. They argue over whose turn it is to do a chore. They fight over who is smarter or friendlier. Will there ever be peace in my home?”


This week’s Torah reading records the momentous event of the Jewish people receiving the Torah.

“In thethird monthafter the exodus . . . they came to the desert of Sinai . . .and Israel encampedthere opposite the mountain.”(Exodus 19:1–2)

The Midrashnotes: Elsewhere it is written, “theytraveled . . .they encamped” in the plural, meaning with dissenting opinions. Here, however, it is written “and Israel encamped,” in the singular form, since all were equally of one heart.

The Torah, whose purpose is to bring peace, was given in the third month because the number three teaches the value of diversity.

“One” implies a single reality and suggests absolute conformity. “Two” indicates divisiveness and disparity, as in two opposing, rival approaches. “Three” finds an underlying unity between disparate entities.

The Torah wasn’t given in the first month, which suggests exactness and conformity. While the Torah expects law and order, it respects our individual natures and our creative expressions.

Conflict arises between people when conformity is demanded. As a parent, do you say: “The rules in this house are that everyone must strictly follow this routine”? What if a child isn’t able to follow a set regimen, a firm schedule or an inflexible list of expectations?

The Torah wasn’t given in the second month of the year, indicative of two rivaling opposites.

Conflict arises when people feel that they are being compared to, or “pitted” against, each other. As a parent, do you ever say: “Why can’t you be like your sister, whose room is always so neat?” or “Why doesn’t your brother ever need to be reminded to do his chores?”

One of your children may be particularly neat, while another might be highly creative. Contrasting the two is not only unfair; it can be destructive.

The Torah, whose purpose is peace, was given in the third month. The message of “three” is the beauty of a world with endless possibilities, nuances and talents coming together in the harmonious goal of creating greater goodness.

Teach your child the power of three:

  1. To appreciate himself for whom he is—not by comparing himself to another, nor by judging himself against a rigid set of expectations.
  2. To value the special qualities that he has, rather than see himself as lacking a certain quality.
  3. To work with others doesn’t diminish him, but rather helps him and those around him achieve a greater, common good.

Our mission as parents is to utilize the power of three—to uncover and actualize the special talents and contributions of all of our children.

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.

Why Did a Nation Who Witnessed Miracles Keep Grumbling?

February 5, 2017

Dear Readers,

Are you working towards a big goal? The many steps along the way are necessary, but can be so tiresome. Imagine if we could be gifted with reaching our finish line without all the effort.

This week, the Jewish people experienced the miracle of the sea splitting.

Moses tells them: “Stand still and see the L‑rd’s salvation . . . The L‑rd will fight for you, but you shall remain silent.” (Exodus 14:13-14)

The Talmud (Sotah 30b) teaches: “At the time the Israelites ascended from the Red Sea . . . the baby sat upon his mother’s knee, and the suckling sucked at his mother’s breast. When they beheld the Divine presence, the baby raised his neck and the suckling released the nipple, and they exclaimed: ‘This is my G‑d and I will praise Him . . . ’ ” (Exodus 15:2). Furthermore, “A simple servant girl saw at the Sea what Isaiah, Ezekiel and all the other prophets did not behold.” (Mechilta)

And yet, just three days later, the story takes a complete turn.

“They walked for three days in the desert but did not find water . . . The people complained, saying, ‘What shall we drink?’” (Exodus 14:22-24)

This was not a respectful entreaty for water, but bitter and insolent complaining (Rashi 14: 25). Moreover, their grumbles and grievances continued throughout their 40-year desert sojourn, in one failed test after another.

How can we reconcile a nation that reached such spiritual heights with such faithlessness?

The Jewish mystics describe two types of Divine-human encounter: itaruta de-l'eyla and itaruta de-letata, respectively, “an awakening from above” and “an awakening from below.” The first is initiated by G‑d, the second by mankind.

An “awakening from above” is spectacular, supernatural and overwhelms the natural world. An “awakening from below” has no such grandeur; it is human, coming from our own commitment and effort.

In the “awakening from above,” we are passive recipients to G‑d’s gift. This revelation overwhelms us while it lasts; but afterwards, we revert to who we were.

An “awakening from below,” by contrast, may not be as spectacular, but it transforms us.

Perhaps this explains why Moses had a vision of the Jewish people at the end of times and envied them. Though his generation experienced the greatest revelations, he admired the simple character of Jews at the end of the long exile.

Why was he was envious?

Moses saw Jews that had been battered and badgered through a tortuous exile. He saw Jews who had been afflicted materially, emotionally and physically, and were enveloped in a spiritual darkness, directionless, on a lower level than previous generations.

And yet, he saw Jews who—despite their circumstances, despite the difficulties—held on. He saw people who—despite all they had gone through—still put forth the initiative to remain connected to their Creator.

He saw them. And he envied them.

Because it’s the effort that’s expended that makes something yours. Free gifts may be nice, but personal exertion is enviable.

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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