Let's Go For Coffee

One Letter. One Life.

July 26, 2009

Chana's Note: We never know when we will do something seemingly simple that will make a huge impact. Here's a great true life story, from one of my colleagues, illustrating how a short response to a letter actually saved a life. Of course the greater message to all of us is: what "little" act can each of us do that may have a life-altering result?

Here at he.chabad.org, Chabad.org's Hebrew site, we receive hundreds of letters each week. Some are written by travelers looking for a Chabad center in a specific area (is there is Chabad center in Venice?—There is). Others have halachic questions (is it permissible to eat bread without rabbinical certification in Turkey?—No). And still others are looking for advice on personal matters, or for information on an endless variety of topics.

Among the questions we received recently, one stood out:

"I became pregnant a few weeks ago… I already have several small children, and I cannot care for another baby… Can I pray to G‑d to terminate the pregnancy?"

The letter was assigned to Mindi Schmerling, who serves as a Chabad emissary in Tel Aviv. She identified with the writer: "Thank G‑d, I am the mother of five children. I know what it takes to raise children. It's not easy. Still, to bring a Jewish child into the world is a great merit, which, to our sorrow, not everyone gets a chance to have!"

She continued: "Take a break for a moment, ignore the chaos, breathe deeply, and imagine yourself and your family in twenty years. Picture yourself a little older, surrounded by a warm and loving family, sons and daughters, brides and grooms, grandsons and granddaughters. Try to feel those emotions. You did it? You experienced it? Now try and remove some of the family members standing next to you from the picture.

"Can you do that? I think that you can't—it is nearly impossible. It is not possible in a dream, and it's also not possible in reality!"

Mindi concluded with some advice on how the woman could more easily meet the blessed challenge of raising children (click here to read her complete answer).

A few weeks ago, she received the following email:

"Hello, dear Rebbetzin. I want to tell you that we have a baby boy, and his name is Oshri. I thank you for your letter. It helped me put things in perspective. I was able to completely abandon my previous thoughts about the pregnancy, and accept everything with love. Thank G‑d, I gave birth to a boy who is amazing and like an angel, and I would not exchange him for any amount of money. May you be blessed for saving me and Oshri."

Hundreds of questions each week, thousands every month. We helped another child come into this world. And that makes it all worth it.

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.

Have We Lost Our Heart?

July 19, 2009

When an institution, organization or government loses its heart and is unable to override a system of rules and regulations that it itself has created, that spells its demise.

There are many movements that started out with the right ideals. People who were truly motivated to do good and benefit mankind. But as they succeeded in developing a structure and hierarchy, the attention shifted from the ideals to the system itself—and ultimately to the power of those running the system.

The State of Israel was founded on the ideals of creating a safe and secure home for the Jewish people—a land where Jews would not have to fear persecution, pogroms and expulsions from their homes and villages. Thousands upon thousands of young Jews gave up their lives to create this home and to ensure the security of their fellow Jews.

Among all the holy souls that have lost their lives to this ideal, there are those that stand out for their awesome acts of heroism and self-sacrifice.

One of these heroes is Roi Klein.

The government of Israel is now poised to evict Roi's widow and orphaned children and expel them from their home. Without discussing the political issues involved, let's assume that this decision is legally correct. (Parenthetically, ignoring thousands of illegal Arab structures while destroying the Jewish ones is blatant discrimination, and hence illegal in any country, specifically in a Jewish homeland.) Let's also assume that in the minds of those responsible for this decision, destroying Jewish homes and expelling Jewish families will somehow increase the security of the State of Israel. Nonetheless, I believe that from a Jewish point of view, this act is unconscionable and goes against the very core of Jewish values.

Let's rewind 3,000 years, to the historic narrative when the Jews were suffering under the brutal oppression of their Egyptian overlords. One cannot imagine a more justifiable mission than the one given to Moses by G‑d Himself, to free the Jewish people.

The mission entailed breaking the stubbornness of Pharaoh's heart through ten miraculous plagues which would ultimately teach Pharaoh that defying G‑d's order to free the Jewish people was useless.

Irrespective of the importance, justice and morality of the cause, there were certain plagues that Moses was unable to perform. G‑d did not instruct Moses to strike the Nile to transform it to blood and produce the plague of frogs, nor did He instruct him to strike the earth in order to bring the plague of lice.


Because some eighty years earlier, the Nile had offered Moses' protection. As he was floating in a tiny basket within the Nile's waters, Moses was rescued by Pharaoh's daughter. The earth, too, allowed Moses to bury a cruel and vicious Egyptian task master whom he killed for brutally beating a fellow Jew.

The idea of lifting up a stick against inanimate objects that involuntarily offered Moses protection many decades earlier was simply not an option.

Not even for the most moral, justified cause. Not even for the sake of freeing his oppressed brethren from their brutal slavery. Not even for a mission that G‑d Himself had chosen him.

Roi Klein did not only offer protection to his fellow comrades in order to save their lives, but he did so at the cost of his own. He did it voluntarily. He did it with the full knowledge that his devoted wife and children will suffer the heartbreaking pain of his loss for the rest of their lives.

Roi Klein's act embodies the greatest of virtues that a human being could possibly aspire to attain.

For the government of Israel to lift up a stick against his family, and not only strike them, but actually destroy their home and expel them from their community, is simply beyond the pale of everything that Judaism stands for.

To sign the petition against the demolition of Roi's home, click here.

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.

Me and My Computer

July 12, 2009

Chana's Note: I felt that this article so accurately described the connection—and obsession—many of us have with our work. But most importantly, it challenges us with one of the greatest difficulties of modern times: Can you "be present", "in the moment" and totally focused on whatever it is that you are (or should be) doing at any given time?

Anyone who knows me, either professionally or personally, knows I am a workaholic. It is not unusual for me to start answering emails at 7:00 am when my kids get up and continue until 3:00 am when I finally go to sleep. Don't get me wrong, I don't work the whole way through. I have no problem taking a break to have lunch with a friend, get a manicure, or a variety of other non-work related things. But ultimately, because I have no set hours and no boundaries, I seem to always be working.

This is about to change. And I am not sure how I feel about that. We are heading to Vermont for a month. Myself, my husband and our four kids. We are going to be staying in a beautiful renovated farmhouse in a very rural area. And ready for this? There will be no internet access nor cell phone reception in the house! And I am petrified.

It is not that I won't be online daily. I will be. I need to be. Afterall, I am the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. My job is to be online. But it is not just about that. I can rationalize how badly I need to be online to work, and I do, but if I am honest, it is much more than that. Is my work my job, or is it my escape from my life? Do I work so hard because I need to or because I want to? In many ways, it is the one area, the one thing I can control in my life. But in reality, I think it ends up controlling me.

I will need to be completely present in my life The thought of endless hours in the evening without checking email, looking at my Facebook account or reading the news, is actually not a relaxing thought. It makes me nervous. It means I will need to be present, completely present, in my life and not my virtual life. And that is scary to me.

My kids can't wait. They feel that they compete with a computer for my attention. And unfortunately they are right all too often. My computer and I are close. We have a real bond, a real understanding. But I think our relationship is just too intense. We need a break. It is time for a breather. And though I am not sure I am ready for it, I know it is what is necessary. So for the next month, our relationship will be more limited. It will be more restricted. And I am sure I will miss it. Though I doubt it will miss me. But hopefully, if I utilize this break properly, it will allow me to connect to those I love in a more powerful way. It will force me to stop escaping and to start focusing. And it will hopefully result in my becoming a better friend, a better mother, a better wife, a better editor and a better me. Wish me luck. When I can get online, I'll let you know how it is going!

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 Threat of Extremism

Part II: When Liberty and Equality Become an End Goal

July 5, 2009

This piece is a continuation from last week's blog post: Part I: Radical Islam's Goal of World Domination.

Last week we examined the distortion of the role of the Afterlife in radical Islam. This week we will look at another positive core value that is being distorted – albeit by people on the opposite spectrum of society – and this too is resulting in promoting the goals of radical Islam.

Most of us in the Western world vociferously defend the concepts of equality and liberty. Freedom of religion and multiculturalism are the foundations upon which American and Western societies were built. The democratic process ensures that every voice is heard and equal opportunities are made available for all. Unlike dictatorial societies, we pride ourselves on freedom of expression and every person's right to say and do as he or she chooses.

But what if that same freedom is giving voice to terrorists who want to destroy our very value system? Or what if by providing fanatics with a platform and rights, we ultimately enable the success of a program intended to suppress our own freedoms? What if through the medium of multiculturalism, one group intends to overtake and dominate all others and ultimately to forcefully impose their culture?

This is the astounding situation that is facing us in Western civilizations across the globe. Moreover, radical Islamists are very aware of our democratic mindset and plan on using these very noble principles to destroy the very fabric of life that we so cherish.

For the sake of freedom of religion and freedom of speech, we allow fanatical Imams to immigrate into our midst, teach the most hateful, inciteful messages of Islamic world domination and encourage their faithful to promote this plan through all means—peaceful or hostile—at their disposal.

Ironically, those who usually lobby for the rights of women and other exploited minorities are instead promoting the rights of people whose treatment of those same individuals is abhorrent.

We are protecting the rights of people who view women as less than human. People who come from a culture where "honor killings" are common. In radical Islamist cultures, if a young woman is found to have engaged in a "forbidden" sexual relationship (which might mean a relationship with a non-Muslim, or might mean that she has been forcibly raped) she is often killed by the members of her own family in order to honor their name and reputation. And this is the culture that they want to force upon us; these are the people whose "freedoms" we are so concerned about!

Why? How can we make sense of this irrational advocacy by elements of our press and large segments of our society for those whose goals are so antithetical to their own?

But perhaps the convictions of liberty and equality have become so distorted by many of us that these noble values are being applied to an extreme fanatical and irrational measure. Our ideals have no longer become a means to the end of a better life, but an end goal in themselves.

Have we become so shortsighted in the application of our values to the extent that they have become our new idolatry? Are we are even willing to forego our ultimate freedom and way of life for the sake of defending the voices of those who wish to destroy our way of life?

So, once upon a time, I used to believe that our world could be divided into black and white, good and bad. And, I believed, that the more of a good thing, the better.

But I've come to realize that in our complex world, almost everything—even good, noble causes—requires a balance, context and boundary.

Maimonides writes (Laws of De'ot ch. 1) that we should stay away from extremes. Not too miserly, not to giving. Not too indulgent, but not abstinent either. Not the local comedian, but not a sour face either. The proper path, he teaches, is always the middle ground—even with regards to admirable character traits.

Because the loftiest of traits or convictions, when taken to a fanatical extreme, can in fact become the worst possible manifestation of evil and destruction.

That is how the most beautiful concept of leading a more spiritual life can become malicious.

And how the noble virtues of liberty and equality can become their own, equally horrific, self-serving idolatry.

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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