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How Children View Their Birthdays, and What That Teaches About Hands-On Experiences

March 25, 2018

Dear Readers,

We often tell children, “You’ll become 3 on Sunday at your birthday party.” So it is no wonder, a recent study reveals, that children as old as 4 or 5 believe that birthdays serve an integral purpose—of actually helping you get older!

In other words, in their eyes, the birthday is not just a celebration, but an actual passage creating a change in our age. (Conversely, without the party, they believe that they don’t become older.) Only by about 7 or 8 do children generally recognize that we age continuously, and that time marches forward, irrespective of the merriment.

This study provides insight into the mind of a child, and really, the mind of a human being.

Children, like most adults, attribute far greater importance to hands-on experiences. Events that are fully lived through, physically and emotionally, become more real and can actually create change in us. By celebrating an event with activities of great joy or grieving a loss through acts of mourning, we integrate passages of time, allowing us to mentally move forward.

Great teachers know this. They make their lessons impactful and memorable by helping their students experience a subject by engaging the visual, audio, tactile or other senses.

Judaism arguably is the greatest hands-on classroom ever.

Throughout the year, Judaism is full of practices that make us pause from the monotony of the day-to-day routine, and take notice, be mindful and internalize. In addition to the many layers of meaning and deep mystical or spiritual reasons behind so many of our daily laws or holiday practices, these rituals also help us get into the right spirit to fully experience an event or idea, through our minds, hearts and senses.

Take the holiday of Passover. We are expected to relive and actually feel our freedom. We drink four cups of wine to feel personal royalty. We eat bitter herbs to relive our slavery. We dip into salt water to taste sad tears. We crunch on matzah after scrutinizing our homes for chametz to remove excessive arrogance and airiness.

Each of these activities helps us not only to pass through this celebration, but to relive it. These ritualistic acts enable us to summon up the depth of our spiritual emotions. And the more real we make the act of reliving the event from our past, the more we are able to feel it and grow from it in our own lives.

As we prepare the many, many details for the holiday of Passover, let’s keep in mind that we are recreating for ourselves and our children an experience that will not just be celebrated as something that passes us by, but something that can and will actually transform us for the future.

Wishing you a very happy, kosher and liberating Passover!

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.

From Celebration to Illness: The Cycle of Life

March 18, 2018

Dear Readers,

I recently went to celebrate the engagement of a young woman in our community. Several months ago, on the holiday of Simchat Torah, she approached me to ask me for a blessing that she should meet her soulmate. A little high on the happiness of the holiday, I wholeheartedly blessed her that she should find her bashert (intended) before the end of the year. She told me that she felt the sincerity of my words, and that it infused her with belief and hope.

My father taught me about the power of a sincere brocha, a blessing. As a wise and beloved rabbi, he is so often called upon to give blessings, along with his sage advice. Over the years, so many of his blessings—some truly miraculous—have come to fruition. He would humbly tell me that we are all shluchim, messengers of a Higher power. He taught me never to be stingy with wishing good upon others because as G‑d’s beloved children, we have unbounded powers.

After wishing the young couple a future of happiness, my husband and I went to make another visit. Friends of ours have just learned that their teenage daughter has an illness. She had been experiencing pain in her knees for some time, and recent tests confirmed that she has a growth (further tests will determine whether or not it is benign). The parents are understandably apprehensive, and my husband and I felt that we should stop by to offer hope and comfort.

Life is full of such occasions. We go from times of celebration to times of fear and worry, often giving way to despair or grief. Only with the passage of time does the cycle begin again as the wheel of life turns, and we have new occasions to rejoice and celebrate.

Throughout this cycle, there is one comforting thought: G‑d is with us, embracing us, and wants only our good. We do not understand the hard times or the reasons for the pain or sorrow, but we can be comforted in knowing that G‑d is not abandoning us. His love for us is even more effusive than the love of a parent for their only child.

These are the words that I told my friend as she was trying to win over her despair and think positive thoughts. These are the words that I told the young woman as she yearned to meet her intended life partner. And these are the word that I tell myself—sometimes several times a month, sometimes several times a day—as I go through my own personal challenges.

We are now preparing for the holiday of Passover. This is the holiday of our birth as a nation, when we became G‑d’s beloved, chosen people. May our liberation in this special month be experienced by all of us collectively and by each of us personally.

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.

Here's How You Really Are a Miracle

March 11, 2018

Dear Readers,

This coming Shabbat, we welcome the new Jewish month of Nissan. The Torah calls it chodesh ha-aviv—the month of spring—since in the Land of Israel (and here, too) you can already feel the early signs of the season. It is also referred to as the first of all the months of the year.

“This month shall be to you the head of the months; to you it shall be the first of the months of the year.” (Exodus 12:2)

Two weeks before the Exodus, G‑d showed Moses the crescent new moon and instructed him to set the Jewish calendar through the mitzvah of sanctifying the new month.

Up until this point, Tishrei, the month of creation, was considered the first month of the year. Although Tishrei still begins the New Year, celebrated by Rosh Hashanah and the High Holidays, when counting the months, Nissan is considered the first month and Tishrei the seventh.

Why the change?

When G‑d created the world, He set up Divine forces, which we call nature, to govern it. Miracles were the exception. Therefore, Tishrei—the month in which the world and its natural forces came into being—was considered the primary month.

Then came Passover, the holiday when we became G‑d’s chosen people. Every Passover, we celebrate our miraculous exodus from Egypt and the birth of the Jewish people—a nation that would become living, walking miracles. Once the Jewish people become a nation, this month is counted as the first month.

The miraculous Exodus and our subsequent survival throughout the many tumultuous centuries of our history defy the very laws of nature. As Mark Twain so aptly and famously quoted, “All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains.” The existence of the Jewish people proves that when you are attached to G‑d and His Torah, you can even overcome natural limitations.

And the most profound way in which we transcend nature is by breaking through our physical and emotional limitations, striving higher and bringing an awareness of an infinite G‑d into this finite, material world.

In this month of Nissan, which defined in Hebrew also means “miracles,” let’s look around and find the many miracles in our lives! Let’s applaud, too, the many miraculous people who refuse to succumb to the challenges, pressures and setbacks that seemingly come on a daily basis, and instead insist on bringing more happiness, goodness and greatness to our world.

Wishing you a chodesh tov—a good, strong month!

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.

If You Just Won the Lottery, How Would It Change Your Life?

March 4, 2018

Dear Readers,

If you just won $550 million, how would your life change? Would you continue living in the same home or community? Would you keep your current job or hobbies?

Undoubtedly, there would be many changes to your lifestyle. You might choose to upgrade your home, your travels, your vacations. You may begin frequenting more upscale shops or restaurants.

But how would such a win affect your relationships? Would your closest friends and confidants still remain that way? Would your friends view you as the same person? Would you become more generous and kind . . . or more wary and guarded?

A New Hampshire woman holds the Powerball lottery ticket that recently won $559 million. She described herself as a longtime state resident and “engaged community member.” She is fighting in court to remain anonymous so that she can continue to “walk into a grocery store or attend public events without being known.” She wants to continue living in New Hampshire, and plans to contribute a portion of her winnings to charity and give back to the community “that has given her so much.” But she wishes to do so without others knowing about it.

By the time you read this, the courts may have decided whether or not she can maintain her anonymity. But her quest highlights how a change in our status—financial, social or otherwise—can alter our relationships with others, for both good and bad.

It is a clear goal in Judaism to “walk modestly with G‑d” (Mica 6:8). Judaism abhors flaunting and praises those who do goodness quietly for its own sake, rather than for personal recognition or the affirmation of others. Maimonides teaches that the highest form of charity is one in which the giver doesn’t know the receiver and the recipient doesn’t know who helped him (Laws of Giving to the Poor 10:8).

On the other hand, when someone publicly does good deeds, he encourages others to act similarly. When billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffet started the Giving Pledge, they encouraged other extremely wealthy people to also commit more than half of their capital to charity and social causes. Their generosity spurred more acts of generosity.

Similarly, the Rebbe once responded to a philanthropist who wished to donate anonymously: “If a building is dedicated in your name and your name on its wall is visible to all, others will also want to give and more people will thus benefit.”

Most of us don’t find ourselves in the enviable position of winning a windfall like this New Hampshire woman. But all of us do have choices on how to conduct ourselves in our interactions with others, whether we do something quietly and anonymously, or more publicly to encourage more good deeds.

No matter what we wind up doing, our main consideration should be to increase the acts of good in our world!
Wishing you a great week,

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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