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When to Follow the Crowd and When to Stand Alone

May 30, 2019 3:50 PM

Dear Readers,

Rebbi would say: “Which is the upright (yashar) path for man to choose? Whatever is harmonious for the one who does it, and harmonious for mankind ... ” (Avot 2:1)

At first glance, Rebbi’s teachings seem contrary to Torah. Aren’t we supposed to be as “bold as a leopard … and strong as a lion” (Avot 5:23) in our zeal and determination to follow mitzvot? Don’t we often stand “on the other side” (one explanation of the word Ivri, “Hebrew”) of the world, or popular opinion, when it comes to following G‑d’s moral code of behavior?

However, this Mishna isn’t explaining what a righteous path is, but an upright one. An upright path refers to behavior even beyond mitzvot.

Some people are scrupulous in following the letter of the law, but are mean-spirited, callous or condescending. Their behavior may be exacting, but it isn’t upright.

The Talmud (Avoda Zara 25a) calls the book of Genesis, Sefer Hayashar, “the Book of the Upright.” Not many mitzvot are listed there, but its pages are chock full of upright behavior. In telling the stories of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs, we learn not only how to love G‑d and follow His commandments, but also how to love and care for our fellows. Abraham implores G‑d to save the wicked people of Sodom, and interrupts his communication with G‑d to welcome guests.

So, this Mishna isn’t teaching us to follow the commandments (that is obvious), but how to follow the spirit of the Torah in a manner that is upright for the doer as well as those around him.

This ethic was taught by “Rebbi,” Rabbi Yehudah Hanassi, the prince—otherwise called Rabbeinu Hakodesh, our holy teacher. The Talmud (Gittin 59a) states that from Moses until Rebbi, there wasn’t anyone with such a combination of wisdom and wealth. Rebbi redacted the Mishna; he was universally respected. He also had a warm relationship with the Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Nevertheless, despite his great prestige, the Talmud (Sotah 49b) attests to his character, “With the death of Rebbi, real humility and fear of sin ceased to exist.”

Rebbi lived his life according to this ideal: reaching great spiritual heights while earning the esteem of his fellow man.

Additionally, G‑d gave each of us unique gifts, talents and abilities. In following the path of Torah, we need to use our own individuality by choosing a path that is “harmonious for the one who does it.” Torah is a roadmap for your life’s adventure; infuse your unique characteristics to become the greatest you!

Similarly, allow others the space to serve G‑d in their special manner, permeating their service with their particular personality and perspective.

So sing your beautiful, personal song. In doing so, you will bring harmony le’oseha, to the one who does so (yourself) and others. Le’oseha can also mean to the One who made us all. In finding our distinct voice within Torah, we bring joy to our Maker.

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.

G-d as Your Friend

May 30, 2019 3:48 PM

Dear Readers,

Our custom is to study Pirkei Avot, Ethics of Our Fathers, one chapter every Shabbat during the long afternoons of the summer months. This week, we begin the cycle anew (after completing it in the six weeks between Passover and Shavuot).

There are different explanations as to why this tractate is called the ethics of our “fathers.”

Parents are the ones who provide the first lessons in ethics to their offspring. Children are naturally born self-centered. Parents teach them the meaning of giving and sharing, and the distinction between right and wrong. Hopefully, we model the behavior we want them to learn and inspire them to become principled, upright human beings.

The sages of the Mishnah are like parents to our nation in the sense that they teach us an ethical and moral code of behavior. They are considered our “fathers,” instructing and training us how to become better people.

(Another explanation is that this tractate is primarily directed at parents. Since it provides so much ethical training, it guides parents in how to model and raise morally inspired children.)

Preceding every chapter is an introductory Mishnah that we learn weekly:

All Israel has a share in the World to Come, as it is stated: “And your people are all righteous; they shall inherit the land forever. They are the shoot of My planting, the work of My hands, in which I take pride.”

These words are definitely encouraging, just as they are fundamental to realizing our abilities.

As we embark on studying and internalizing this tractate, we may feel like we are about to climb an impossible mountain in aspiring to achieve such high levels of behavioral refinement. This Mishnah reassures us that all of Israel has a share of the world to come. At our core, within each of us is a soul from G‑d, pristine and holy. We are “a branch of My planting, My handiwork,” a limb of the Divine Presence. We can reach far beyond what we think.

Moreover, even if we have drifted from G‑d and His Torah, our soul remains connected and can return. Even if we have not lived up to our potential, G‑d “dwells amongst them in the midst of their impurities.” Like a parent who always seeks the good in their child, G‑d doesn’t give up on us, even when we mess up.

Balaam, the non-Jewish prophet who sought to curse the Jewish nation, expressed the essence of our closeness.

“He perceived no iniquity in Jacob and saw no perversity in Israel; his G‑d is with him and the friendship of the King is in him.” (Numbers 23:21)

Deep down, there is no iniquity. G‑d’s friendship is with us. The Hebrew word used for friendship, re’ah, denotes an extremely deep friendship; two people coming together as part of the same whole, for our soul is actually our bond with G‑d.

It is fundamental, however, that we regularly remind ourselves of this: “All of Israel has a share ... .” Each one of us has our own share, talents and abilities—our own G‑d-granted gifts and individual life’s circumstances that we must cultivate and develop, as only each of us uniquely can.

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.

Show Up to Shul This Shavuot!

May 16, 2019 5:18 PM

Dear Readers,

They were the perfect couple, so in love.

But there were whispers of rumor …

Did she really love him as much as she professed, or was their union out of convenience? He was extremely handsome, fabulously wealthy; everything that he touched turned to gold. They lived in an elegant mansion that was the envy of many. She came from a difficult past, and he had valiantly rescued her from all her troubles.

Time passed. Challenges appeared on the horizon. They battled infertility, then, they faced a serious health threat. Soon after, they suffered a financial crisis, forcing them from their luxurious home.

Despite all that they had been through, they remained together. Their relationship evolved over time, their love expresses itself differently nowadays, but they remain as devoted as ever.


When the Jewish people received the Torah at Mount Sinai, there was a cosmic union between heaven and earth, between G‑d and His people. We forged our covenantal relationship with G‑d, voicing our acceptance to become His eternal bride.

The Talmud (Shabbat 88a) teaches:

“ ... 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.”

What does this mean? Did G‑d actually force Himself upon us? Like a starry-eyed bride, hadn’t we eagerly and willingly accepted to do whatever G‑d asked?

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (Likkutei Torah, Reeh 22a) explains that this mountain above our heads was actually a metaphorical, overwhelming outpouring of love. After witnessing G‑d’s 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, comparable even to death.

The Talmud continues:

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].”

When did our relationship become more genuine? When we experienced exile and hardship. In the days of Esther, after we had been thrown out of our land, our enemies threatened to kill us, and G‑d’s showering of love was no longer evident—that’s when we proved our devotion and allegiance.

It is now close to 2,000 years since our nuptial home, the Beit Hamikdash, was destroyed and we were exiled from our land. Since then, we’ve experienced the harshest forms of tribulation—from expulsions and genocides, holocausts and pogroms, to cruel acts of anti-Semitism, even today. In our personal lives, too, many of us suffer emotionally, physically or materially, and often, our connection to our eternal Groom feels hidden.

Despite it all, we remain devoted to our Jewishness!

This Shavuot, as the Ten Commandments are read in your synagogue, show up! Show the world that despite all we have been through, “Am Yisroel Chai,” through the good times and the bad, the Jewish people are eternally devoted to being G‑d’s chosen people.

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.

How Do You Face Life’s Greatest Challenge?

May 16, 2019 5:12 PM

Dear Readers,

In life, we all have tests and challenges. A challenge is something (or someone) blocking us from reaching our desired outcome. For some, it is poor health, physically preventing you from achieving. For others, it is psychological, like a difficult childhood that robs you of self-esteem. Challenges come in all shapes and sizes.

But what if overcoming your challenge means surrendering yourself to a life totally devoid of purpose and meaning? What if it involves sacrificing everything you love and hold dear?

“Our father Abraham was tested with ten tests and he withstood them all—to indicate how great was his love for G‑d” (Avot 5:3).

The commentaries differ in enumerating these 10 tests. They include moving from his land and ancestral home, and then facing a famine; wars with kings; being thrown into a fiery furnace when he refused to serve idols; being circumcised at an advanced age; listening to Sarah and expelling Ishmael, so that he wouldn’t negatively influence their son, Isaac. His final, hardest test was to sacrifice Isaac.

The Talmud comments: “G‑d said to Abraham, ‘I have tried you with many tests and you have withstood them all. Now I beg you, please withstand this test for Me, lest they say that the earlier ones were of no substance.’”

Throughout his life, Abraham was on a mission to find his higher calling. He searched for G‑d and then embarked on teaching humankind about this monotheistic Creator. Abraham worried over who would continue his mission; miraculously, at 100 years old, Isaac was born.

Each test that Abraham experienced represented an obstacle on his path, preventing him from realizing his life’s mission. By overcoming each one, he was closer to his objective of making the world a more G‑dly place.

But then G‑d did the totally inexplicable, commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son—an idolatrous practice at the time. Listening to G‑d’s command meant killing his most beloved son. It also meant destroying any chance of an heir continuing in his work. Moreover, it meant extinguishing everything that he had taught.

This was Abraham’s most difficult test. It ran contrary to all that Abraham believed, and it meant sacrificing his entire raison d’être.

Yet, Abraham listened, unflinchingly. Why? Because this was G‑d’s desire. He understood that G‑d was infinitely beyond him, and though it seemed senseless and disastrous, if this was His will, then it became Abraham’s as well.

The attributes of our forefathers and foremothers were transmitted to us, their children. The Jewish willingness throughout the centuries to die for the sake of G‑d is rooted in Abraham’s actions. The seeds of our nation’s love for our ancestral home were planted with Abraham’s perseverance to travel to the Holy Land.

And generations later—even when it may not seem to make sense, and even after we suffered so much abuse, hatred and genocide just for being Jewish—our nation remains strong and devoted to G‑d, just like our forefather, Abraham.

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.

Do You Want Wealth, Wisdom, Strength and Honor?

May 7, 2019 3:30 PM

Dear Readers,

Wisdom, strength, wealth and honor are positive things we may aspire to have. But not all of us are born with great intelligence. We may not have the stamina to run marathons, and most of us are not born into richness or honor. Nevertheless, we each can acquire these virtues if we just reframe what these qualities truly mean.

Ben Zoma says:

Who is wise? He who learns from every person …

Who is mighty? He who subdues his personal inclination …

Who is rich? He who is happy with his portion …

Who is honored? He who honors others … (Avot 4:1)

Do you want wisdom? There are people who score high levels on their IQ tests, but in practical life’s skills are lacking. Thirst for wisdom, and you will become wise. Realize that you can learn something from every person, and every encounter will increase your intelligence.

The key is humility. Just as silver and gold come from the ground, likewise, we can gain knowledge from anyone, even those who seem lowly. Every person is a creation of G‑d, and if this individual crossed your path, there is something you can learn from him (even if it’s what not to do). The holy Rabbi Zusya of Anipoli learned three things from infants: a) to always be busy; b) to cry out without shame for their needs; and c) to feel content when their basic needs are satisfied.

Do you want to be strong? Many animals possess far greater strength than even the most trained human; donkeys carry heavy loads, and lions are fierce warriors. However, human beings are unique in that we can become masters of our passions and gain self-control over our actions. If you want to be strong, focus on strength of character. He who is slow to anger is better than a warrior, and a master of his passion is greater than a conqueror of a city” (Proverbs 16:32).

Do you want to be rich? Material wealth is transient. The thrill of buying something new is lost with the itch of the next purchase. “One who has one hundred wants two hundred” (Kohelet Rabbah 1:34). There are wealthy people who are paupers, constantly hungering for their next windfall. Only when we have an inner contentment—realizing that what we have is exactly what G‑d wants us to have—can we be truly wealthy.

Do you want respect? Respect others! A person who respects others recognizes that every individual is created in G‑d’s image. Sensitivity to human dignity is in essence showing honor to G‑d. We can only give to others what we possess, but each of us has that essential dignity to honor others.

We don’t choose our life’s circumstances, nor do we choose what talents or abilities we are born with. But we can control how we react to our circumstance. Internalize and integrate these qualities into your personality, and you can acquire them all!

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.

Three Motivating Thoughts to Keep Us on Track

May 7, 2019 3:25 PM

Dear Readers,

What are three motivating thoughts that we can reflect on to keep us on track with our purpose and life’s mission?

Rabbi Akavia, the son of Mahalalel, would say: Reflect upon three things and you will not come to misdeed. Know from where you came, where you are going, and before whom you are destined to give a judgment and accounting.

From where you came—from a putrid drop; where you are going—to a place of dust, maggots and worms; and before whom you are destined to give a judgment and accounting before the supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He. (Pirkei Avot 3:1)

Since the teachings in Pirkei Avot are very succinct, why the repetitive wording? Why the elaboration, in the second part, which could have been included originally?

There is a two-pronged message here.

The best approach to motivate ourselves and others is an encouraging attitude and a positive self-image. Remind yourself about your greatness so that you will live up to those expectations. If you are aware of your true strength of character, you will strive to follow a moral code of behavior that won’t include actions that are beneath you. That is what the first part of this Mishna teaches us.

In more severe circumstances, however, we may need the shock of stronger, more negative language, as the latter part elucidates, to fully understand the consequences of our decisions and to stop us from falling further.

Here are three encouraging thoughts to meditate on regularly to help us make better decisions and reach higher:

Know from where you came

At the core of our being is a Divine soul, an actual part of G‑d. This is who we inherently are and what defines our self-worth. No matter what we do, this part of us always remains undefiled, pure and pristine. When we are tempted to act in a manner unbefitting our sacred soul, we need to remember our source. Realize your greatness, and your actions will reflect this awareness.

Where you are going

Every morning, we thank G‑d for entrusting us our soul for another day. Think about the tremendous potential and the heights you can attain. Think of where you are going, your life’s mission and all that you can accomplish in this world.

Additionally, if you are experiencing a challenge or difficulty, look at the bigger picture. Realize that this is only one piece of a much larger puzzle, and that you can prevail.

Before whom you are destined to give a judgment and accounting

If someone isn’t important, their actions, too, are inconsequential. But our lives are so significant, and every one of our actions counts. Each person is an entire universe. We can build or destroy worlds with our words and deeds. Knowing that I matter and my every decision matters motivates me to be more mindful and to spring to action.

Wishing you a meaningful 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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