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Miriam’s Message to the Powerless

May 27, 2018

Dear Readers,

A teenager was complaining because her school had punished her for a misdemeanor, while her partner in crime had escaped even a reprimand. “Since her father is on the school board, they won’t punish her! How can I respect such an unfair system when the principal has no real principles?!”


At the conclusion of the shacharit (morning) prayers, we recite the Six Remembrances. These are six occurrences that happened at the birth of our nationhood. According to many authorities, we are obligated to remember them every day.

G‑d commands us to remember our Exodus, the revelation at Sinai and sanctifying the Shabbat day because they are integral to who we are and our destiny as G‑d’s people. Remembering Amalek’s G‑dless attack and our obligation to obliterate them also provides the necessary reminder of the danger of evil and how we must be on guard to eradicate it.

Even remembering our rebelliousness soon after receiving the Torah reminds us of the many times our nation erred and strayed, and to be careful not to repeat this pattern.

However, one of the remembrances has always struck me as odd: “Remember what G‑d did to Miriam on the way when you went out of Egypt.”

Miriam loved her younger brother, Moses, and when she heard that he had separated from his wife (not realizing that G‑d had instructed him to do so), she spoke to her brother Aaron about it. G‑d punished her with leprosy.

This daily remembrance reminds us not to speak ill of others or jump to conclusions about their behavior, even if we have positive intentions. The temptation is so great that we need to be reminded daily!

Nevertheless, there are other instances of evil talk, some of which caused far greater harm than Miriam. Moreover, the wording is curious in that it doesn’t remind us of what Miriam did, but rather “to remember what G‑d did to her . . . ”

Miriam saved Moses as a baby; she was a prophet, a holy woman and a righteous leader who taught and guided. She also had “powerful connections” as the sister of Moses. One would imagine that G‑d would overlook a minor misjudgment by a person of such stature!

Nevertheless, G‑d didn’t and commands us to remember this daily, so that we internalize that in G‑d’s book—because of her greatness—she needed to be an even better example.

We live in an imperfect world where it is easy to become cynical about justice, even among those meant to be our mentors or leaders. So often if feels like it’s not what you know, but who you know; it’s not about your personal integrity or effort, but your power or cunning.

And so, G‑d reminds us daily that ultimately, there is true justice. In G‑d’s system, you are seen for what you are, for what you accomplish and for what you aspire to be.

And that’s something worth remembering daily!

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.

Your Dreams and the Priestly Blessings

May 22, 2018

Dear Readers,

In this week’s Torah portion, we are introduced to the priestly blessing.

The L‑rd spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying: This is how you shall bless the children of Israel, saying to them: “May the L‑rd bless you and watch over you. May the L‑rd cause His countenance to shine to you and favor you. May the L‑rd raise His countenance toward you and grant you peace.”1

The first time the priest​ly ​blessing was pronounced was the day that the Tabernacle was inaugurated. Since that time, the Kohanim continue to bless the congregation (outside of Israel, on every holiday), creating a channel for Divine favor.

As we listen to their blessing (before their last words), we recite our own personal prayer asking to be healed of negative dreams:

Master of the Universe! I am yours and my dreams are yours. I have dreamed a dream and I do not know what it is. May it be Your will that all my dreams concerning myself and concerning anyone of Israel shall be for good. ... If they are good dreams, strengthen and reinforce them. But if they require healing, heal them. ... As you have transformed the curse of the wicked Bilaam from a curse to a blessing, so shall you transform all my dreams concerning myself and concerning all of Israel to good...

Why do we use such an opportune moment to pray for dreams that are considered meaningless?

Conceptually, every one of us is a dreamer.

We dream about our goals and aspirations, and about savoring our successes and cherished hopes. We dream, too, about what we don’t want our life to become. We look towards our future wondering if our dreams will materialize. Sometimes, perhaps we even question which of our ambitions have real merit; would life truly be better if all our dreams were realized?

Perhaps this is the deeper message in the prayer about our dreams said while the Kohanim chant their blessings.

Standing opposite the priests, we face our innermost soul, ready to re-evaluate our life’s dreams, expectations and values. In this moment of candor, we pray:

I have dreamed a dream and I do not know what it is.

May we be granted the wisdom to dream good dreams—positive and meaningful ambitions, hopes and desires that will truly promote our growth and welfare.

If they are good dreams, strengthen and reinforce them...

Help us to realize those good dreams and visions; strengthen and reinforce them.

But if they require healing, heal them...

But heal those dreams that are unhealthy or unrealistic. Remedy our perspective if it is distorted or confused. Focus our values, yearnings and aspirations to help us find the right path in life.

Dreams are such a significant part of being human. Let us continue to dream, hope and aspire. But only those dreams that are valuable, favorable and constructive—for us and for all of Israel.

And the congregation answers: Amen!

Chana Weisberg

Editor, TJW

Footnotes

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.

Help Me Choose the Right Paint Color!

May 13, 2018

Dear Readers,

We’ll be moving to a new home soon and, as a result, I’ve been doing research on paint colors. I have lots (and I mean, lots!) of samples to help me choose just the right hues. While I wasn’t surprised that muted or pastel colors have many shades and variations, I thought that picking out a black or white would at least be simple.

Was I wrong!

White happens to be one of the hardest “colors” to select. Every shade has an undertone, ranging from warmer, creamier yellows to colder gray or blue tones. While the paint chip might look like it’s just a regular white, once it’s up on the wall, you might see it as green, purple or pink, depending on the light and time of day. Surprisingly, even black—the absence of color—has undertones ranging from blue-black, brown-black or charcoal-gray.

I also learned that colors are greatly affected by their surroundings. The very same color in a north-facing room can look completely different in a south-facing one with stronger sunlight. Moreover, other colors within the room, like your furnishings, or even trees outside the window can change the appearance of a color. So a white room with lots of shrubbery outside may reflect a green shade.

To really choose your perfect color, you need to see how it interacts with the many other things within its environment.

Which brings me to people. Every one of us is so complex! We all have fundamental “undertones,” positive and negative traits that can be triggered in different situations. Moreover, our environment plays a huge role in helping or preventing our true undertones from surfacing. The right, supportive circumstances can bring out our best colors.

So, if your child (or you) is not succeeding, check if the environment needs tweaking. Maybe he or she needs a different kind of learning style. Maybe you need a more creative work environment.

Pirkei Avot states, hevei zahir bemitzvah kallah kevachamurah, which literally means “be careful with small commandments as you are with more serious ones.” The word zahir, “careful,” also means “to illuminate.” Mitzvot, “commandments,” are G‑d’s guidebook, communicating with us how to lead the most enriched, blessed, meaningful life that refines and illuminates ourselves and our world.

This coming week we celebrate Shavuot, when the Jewish people received the Torah. We answered, naase venishma, “we will do and we will listen.” We vowed to do—to adhere to G‑d’s will—even before we understood all the particulars of what we were expected to do.

We commit ourselves to “do,” knowing this is G‑d’s will and ultimately best for us. But then must come nishma, “learning” how to uniquely apply ourselves to this body of laws and find our own path within the Torah.

This is all about learning how to find the right outlet, environment and surroundings to imbue our lives with our greatest hues and talents. So that all our undertones can truly shine!

Wishing you a Chag Sameach!

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 Agony of an Ingrown Toe Nail

May 6, 2018

Dear Readers,

I was hopping around in pain. Every step felt tortuous.

No, I hadn’t broken or sprained my foot. And no, my shoes weren’t pinching. There was a far simpler reason for my pain.

I had an ingrown toe nail.

Did you ever have one? A miniscule piece of nail growing in the wrong direction causes such discomfort. If left unchecked, it can even cause a huge, pussy infection.

It’s amazing how something as innocent as a nail in such a minor place on our bodies (not on any of your body’s major organs, but on the foot’s toe!) can create unbearable suffering.

And yet, those very nails on our hands or toes can be so helpful. Nails can caution us about our health; malnutrition can change their color and provide an early warning. Nails help us scratch our back or scrape a piece of dirt off of the counter. We can gingerly use them to help pull a splinter out of a child’s skin. They can serve as a substitute for a guitar pick. When manicured, they add a pretty sparkle to our appearance.

But hopping around in agony, all I could think of was the suffering that this tiny nail was causing. Because sometimes something positive or even neutral in the wrong place or at the wrong time can wreak pain and devastation.

The Hebrew word middot, “characteristic,” also means “measurements.” When we work on our character, we need to work on measuring each of our traits for the proper responses in any given situation. When misplaced, a character trait that is usually positive can become negative, and vice versa.

Take kindness, for example. We should be utilizing this characteristic often, giving and sharing abundantly. But there are times when giving can be unproductive and possibly even destructive. Giving unconditionally to a child or an individual who is abusing our gifts or destroying them is not doing anyone a kindness. At the same time, withholding when we should be giving can be equally devastating.

Or consider anger—one of the worst character traits, which should be avoided at all costs. There are times when anger, or at least appearing to be angry, might be necessary. When a child does something terribly wrong, a parent or educator may need to appear “angry” to impress upon him or her how unacceptable that behavior was. (That doesn’t mean we need to yell or act out in anger; just the appearance of a disappointed face can sometimes be effective.)

During the seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot, as we prepare spiritually to receive the Torah, we work on our middot, by consistently and carefully measuring and monitoring our internal feelings and responses. Each of our character traits can be used positively or negatively, depending on the situation.

Because if even something like a tiny toe nail in the wrong place can wreak absolute misery, then imagine the power of something positive in the right place and at the right time.

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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