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Were We Coerced?

February 26, 2019 5:47 PM

Dear Readers,

Were you ever in a situation that you felt your free will was taken away? I don’t mean that someone forced you to do something, but that the choice was so obvious that it wasn’t even a choice.

Imagine after a romantic honeymoon getaway, feeling an outpouring of love to your spouse. Were he to ask you for a favor, it would be difficult to deny his request.

The Talmud (Shabbat 88a) teaches that the Jewish people experienced something similar at Mount Sinai.

“ ... and they stood in the bottom of the mountain.”

Rav Avidmi said: “This teaches that the Holy One, Blessed is He, covered them with the mountain as though it were an [upturned] vat. He said to them: ‘If you accept the Torah, fine; if not, your burial will be there.’ ”

Rav Acha bar Yaakov said: “From here [we learn] a claim of coercion [regarding the acceptance] of the Torah.”

Rava said: “Nevertheless, they accepted the Torah again in the days of Achashverosh, as it is written: ‘The Jews established and accepted.’ They established [in the days of Achashverosh] that which they had already accepted [in the days of Moses].”

How were the Jewish people coerced to accept the Torah? Didn’t we willingly exclaim, Naaseh venishma: “We will do all that the Torah commands us?”

After G‑d’s overwhelming outpouring of love, after witnessing His show of open miracles and wonders, it was like our free choice had been taken away. G‑d enveloped us in such a huge mountainous hug of love that saying anything other than “yes” was impossible, and comparable to death itself.

But then came the holiday of Purim. The name Esther means hidden, and hints that at this time G‑d’s open love and revelation was hidden. Our relationship was in a crisis mode. We felt distant and alienated. We had been thrown out of our bridal chamber, exiled from our home in Israel. Nations were plotting to destroy us. We no longer felt G‑d’s protection or intimate care for us.

And yet, amid this cold alienation, we still chose to be His people.

An entire year lapsed from when Haman issued his decree to annihilate the Jewish people until it would go into effect. Anyone who was Jewish—man, woman or child—would be ruthlessly murdered. But the decree only applied to a Jewish person; whoever converted would be spared. Nevertheless, despite the horrifying threat held over their heads for an entire year, not one person chose this alternative. Every member of the Jewish people recommitted themselves to being G‑d’s chosen people.

This was a huge shift in our relationship with G‑d. We showed G‑d then—and continue to show Him throughout our current long and difficult exile—that our commitment remains more than a bond for good times. Even during our harshest moments, even during our worst fears, even during those days when we feel completely abandoned and dejected, we remain G‑d’s people.

This dedication brought about our miraculous salvation in the story of Purim. May this continuous dedication bring each of our personal and collective salvation today.

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 I Learned From a Health Scare

February 21, 2019 1:36 PM

Dear Readers,

Someone very dear to me recently had a health scare.

Until I got that phone call on Sunday morning, I had taken her health for granted. I also didn’t think so much about how much she meant to me or when was the last time that I told her I love her.

But once I heard that she was taken to the hospital, my heart fell like a heavy knot into the pit of my stomach. I couldn’t stop visualizing her. As much as I tried to train my mind to think positive thoughts—that this was just a scare and everything would be all right—chilling warnings crept into the dusty corners of my brain.

I paced the kitchen, cleaned the floor that was already spotless, said several verses of Psalms and then just tried to keep busy so my mind wouldn’t go into overdrive. Since she wasn’t within driving distance, I couldn’t jump into the car to visit. Instead, I checked my messages over and over to hear any good news.

It finally came by Sunday evening. The scans and tests that they had done came back negative. The doctors ruled out anything serious. Thank G‑d, she was sent back home to rest and recuperate. I finally heaved a sigh of relief, and my breathing returned to its regular pace. I was overcome with gratitude.

By Sunday evening, the situation had returned to what it had been the week before, but by then, I was in a completely different mind space. Now, I was able to appreciate our good fortune. Now I was able to feel immense joy for what I had.

We don’t always recognize the simple blessings in our life—being alive, healthy, having food to eat or a job that pays the bills. But we do recognize a scare or something that doesn’t look positive. When we are faced with a threat and it’s turned around, our relief becomes palpable. Our happiness intensifies even more than before the hardship.

This is the joy of the month of Adar. It is a joy that comes from overcoming a terrible decree. Destruction was pronounced on our nation, and miraculously, all were saved.

The month that was reversed for them from grief to joy” (Esther 9:22).And that is why, “When the month of Adar enters, we increase in joy” (Talmud, Taanit 29a).

The word Adar is very similar to the word adir, “powerful,” in the verse of Psalms (Chapter 93): “Adir [powerful] on high is G‑d.”

While we may sometimes fail to recognize G‑d in all the straightforward goodness that He brings to our lives, we become aware of His great power and turn to Him with overwhelming thanks when our challenge has been overturned and transformed into an open blessing or miracle.

May G‑d transform all our personal and collective hardships into the greatest joy!

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.

The Power of a Double Dose of Transformative Joy

February 19, 2019 1:56 PM

Dear Readers,

On the Shabbat before every Rosh Chodesh, we bless the upcoming new month. This Shabbat, we will be blessing the month of Adar 2 since we will be celebrating Rosh Chodesh the following week.

On the Jewish calendar, every month has its own distinct flavor that reflects its spiritual essence and character. The month of Nissan, for example, has the quality of freedom. This is expressed on the holiday of Passover, the holiday of our freedom, which is celebrated on the 15th of that month.

The spiritual quality of the month of Adar is joyous transformation, which is conveyed fully on the holiday of Purim on the 14th of Adar. Purim is all about transforming sorrow into joy, desperation into salvation and worry into celebration. It is a holiday that transferred the power from a Jew-hating villain, Haman, who desired to destroy all the Jews, to the great Jewish leader, Mordechai, who together with Esther united the Jews, and helped them rededicate themselves to G‑d and Torah.

But holidays aren’t just dates that we celebrate to acknowledge an event from the past. The energy of each of these holidays and the quality of each of our months reverberates to this day. Moreover, we can tap into these energies to transform the conditions in our own lives. So, during the month of Adar, we each have the awesome ability of using the joyfulness of the month to shatter our despondency and break through all depressing, disheartening barriers. We can use the potent quality of this month to create transformative, positive change.

This year, however, is a leap year, which means that we have even greater potential. A leap year occurs every two to three years on the Jewish calendar and during it, we celebrate not one but two months of Adar. This means we have not just 30, but 60 days of transformative joy! Sixty days to totally and positively change over our lives and our world.

Sixty is actually also a very powerful number. There is a rule in Torah law that the number 60 nullifies. For example, if there is a drop of non-kosher liquid that falls into a pot of kosher soup, the non-kosher, undesirable element is “nullified” by the rest of the liquid that is 60 times its size, and it remains kosher.

Similarly, the Rebbe teaches that in a year blessed with a double, 60-day Adar, all undesirable elements—meaning all those things that cause us sadness, dejection, hurt, worry and frustration—are nullified and redirected by the transformative joy of Adar.

So as we bless the second month of Adar, let’s reflect on how we can each tap into this amazing transformative energy to create such positive and joyous change in ourselves, our surroundings and our world.

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.

Let ‘Little’ Purim Bring You Big Joy

February 7, 2019 4:19 PM

Dear Readers,

It’s time to get ready to celebrate! Put on your smiling, happy and celebratory faces. This Tuesday is Purim Katan, or “Little Purim.”

What is little Purim?

Every year, we celebrate the holiday of Purim on the 14th day of the month of Adar—the day established by Mordechai and Esther as a day of “feasting and rejoicing” in commemoration of the Jews’ salvation from Haman’s evil decree in the year 3,405 from creation (356 BCE).

But approximately once every three years, we experience a leap year, when the Jewish calendar contains not one but two months called Adar: Adar I and Adar II.

During a leap year, Purim is postponed until the second Adar. Nevertheless, we mark Purim Katan, “the small Purim,” on the day that would have been Purim had the year not been a leap year, in the first month of Adar, and in this way get almost a double celebration.

What do we do on Purim Katan? We don’t read the Megillah, nor is there any special mitzvah to send food portions to friends or give gifts to the poor (though that that is always as mitzvah), as is the case on the actual Purim. Be we try to increase in festivity and joy.

As Jews, we always try to be happy, celebrating being the Jewish people living in G‑d’s beautiful world. But at some times of the year, our joy is even greater. In fact, the entire month of Adar (and in this case, both the first and second month of Adar) is a time when we increase in joy due to the upcoming celebration.

Every month possesses a distinct spiritual essence. The month (or, in a leap year, two months) of Adar contains the quality of transformative joy. Adar transforms sorrow into joy, a fearful and disunified people into a unified nation, committed and devoted to G‑d and His Torah.

So when an opportunity presents itself in the first month of Adar in the form of a day that might have been Purim—the most joyous, transformative day of the year—we should certainly rejoice and celebrate.

We live in times that can often feel so dark and challenging. While sadness, despair or depression holds us back and stagnates our progress towards change, joy breaks through barriers and helps us transform ourselves and our circumstances in ways we never imagined possible.

So this week, let’s increase even more in our joy!

How will you be more joyous on Purim Katan?

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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