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If You Haven’t Heard of This Holiday, You’re Not Alone

July 27, 2015

Dear reader,

Most of us have been to the synagogue on Yom Kippur. We’ve munched matzah at the Passover Seder. We’ve watched Uncle Marvin kindle the Chanukah menorah while noshing on Aunt Sally’s oily latkes. We may have dressed as clowns with our kids on the joyous day of Purim; and we mourned on the 9th of Av, when our Temples were demolished.

These are all remarkable days on our calendar, days that commemorate significant events. But how many of us draw a blank by the 15th day of Av? Yet the Talmud teaches, “There were no greater festivals for Israel than the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur.”

Seriously? Comparing this unknown day to the holiest day on our nation’s calendar? What is so special about the 15th of Av?

The Talmud writes: “The daughters of Jerusalem would go out in borrowed linen garments (so as not to embarrass those without beautiful clothes of their own) . . . and dance in the vineyards,” and “whoever did not have a wife would go there” to find himself a bride. (Talmud, Taanit 31a)

There are lots of deep explanations about this day. (Here’s one.)

My take is very basic, but it is at the core of what I love so much about Judaism.

Judaism tells us to strive for the heavens while keeping our feet grounded to the earth.

The message of the 15th of Av is so down-to-earth: Experience the mystery of marriage. Taste the wonder of love. See the beauty of two very diverse people uniting in body, heart and soul to create harmony in our world. Observe the selflessness of two individuals coming together despite personal barriers to bring new life to our world. And as you do, realize that you are witnessing holiness.

Judaism teaches us that the 15th of Av is no less holy than the hallowed day of Yom Kippur, when we fast and forgo all our bodily needs in our quest to reach spiritual heights. Why? Because this was the day that marriages were forged.

And marriage is a holy institution.

There’s one more important point. The girls would wear borrowed clothing so no one would be embarrassed. No high-fashion couture clothing surrounded in luxurious posh mansions; no petty competitiveness to outshine one another. The girls danced joyously in the vineyards in simple, borrowed, linen garments.

The matchmaking festivity underscored: look beyond the outer shell and find a deeper soul connection.

In our society, when the sanctity of marriage is being eroded, when our values have become shallow and our ideals battered, this day has a valuable message.

Let’s make the 15th of Av a day of increased love, focused less on superficial externals and more on what really matters.

Chana Weisberg,
Editor, TJW

P.S.: Have we become more shallow? What values do you think we should be focusing on?

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 Best Gift My Parents Gave Me

July 12, 2015

Dear readers,

As the youngest in my family, I always considered myself fortunate to have a special relationship with my parents. (Though I think each of my siblings feels the same!)

More than a lifetime wouldn’t suffice to repay my parents for their many gifts—from material to emotional to spiritual. Countless practical lessons and even more numerous life lessons: what was said, and sometimes what was not.

But if I had to choose their one gift that has most impacted my life, I know what it would be. They have given me the gift of a relationship with G‑d.

Hold on: let me explain. I don’t mean that my parents introduced G‑d into my life—which they did, from the first tender wakeup in the morning to the blessings recited on food, making G‑d ever-present.

I also don’t mean that they taught me what faith in G‑d means—which they demonstrated throughout life’s many ups and downs.

What I mean is far simpler.

By giving me a gift of a beautiful relationship with them, as my parents, they taught me, too, what a relationship with G‑d means.

Our earliest experiences often shape how we look at our world. If our authority figures are severely punitive, that may become how we view all hierarchy. On the other hand, if from our youngest years we are surrounded by an ever-present love, we may look more lovingly at our world. Though we aren’t ever stuck in any paradigm, it takes work to stretch ourselves beyond our natural defaults.

So, when I think of the infinite love, warmth, direction and authority that my parents have showed me, it easily transfers to a love- and awe-inspired relationship with my Creator.

And maybe that’s why I appreciate that this new Jewish month is called Av, Father. Interestingly, other months seem to have more significant name associations: Nissan, the month of nissim (miracles); the High Holidays are in Tishrei, new beginnings (tishrei is the Aramaic word for “let it begin”). What relevance does fatherhood have to this sad month, in which we commemorate the destruction of the first and second Temples, and when some of the most terrifying events in our history occurred?

Av is the month when we reached our lowest point as a nation, when we can easily feel deserted and alone. And perhaps that is precisely why this month needs to be called “Father.”

Only a father can you look you in the eye with a tenderness that says you are straying and it’s time to return. Only a parent can guide you in a better direction, when you know you are “right” but it isn’t working. Only a parent can punish without alienating, his love hidden but still apparent.

This Friday begins the month of Menachem Av, the comforting Father. May each of us finally feel our Creator’s loving, everlasting embrace.

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.

Why G-d Brought a Sin Offering

July 5, 2015
Painting by Yoram Raanan
(photo credit:YORAM RAANAN)
Painting by Yoram Raanan (photo credit:YORAM RAANAN)

Dear reader,

Toya Graham is the Baltimore mom caught on video a few months ago raining blows on her son as she pulled him out of the Baltimore riots. Her approach worked. Her 16-year-old son knew his mother’s tough love was for his own good.

But what if the child being punished doesn’t realize the slaps are coming from love, for his benefit?

At the end of this week’s Torah portion, we have an unusual command: to bring a New Moon sacrifice, offered on behalf of G‑d, as His sin offering. Rashi explains, “The goat brought on the first day of the month differs (from other offerings), as it says ‘to G‑d.’ The Holy One said, ‘Bring atonement for Me because I diminished the moon.’” (Talmud, Shevuot 9a)

Why would G‑d bring a sin offering?

The Midrash explains that in the beginning of creation, the moon complained that both she and the sun shone with the same brightness. G‑d, then, commanded the moon to make herself smaller. But G‑d admits this is unfair, and brings a sin offering to atone for the moon’s injustice. (Talmud, Chullin 60b)

G‑d is the ultimate source of goodness; every interaction that He has with creation is necessarily an expression of good. But, as with any parent’s interaction with her child, there can be two sources of goodness. Revealed Good are the times when a parent will play with her child, give praise and rewards. Concealed Good are those times when she needs to withhold and to discipline, when the motivation for her actions is still love (and even more so!) but it may not be apparent.

The sun represents those times when there is light, love and laughter in our lives. We feel in sync with our Creator and joyful for His abundant goodness. The moon, which represents the Jewish people, waxes and wanes and resembles the dark periods of our history, when we were banished from our land and our light was almost extinguished—like the current period of the Three Weeks of mourning.

Perhaps G‑d wanted us to celebrate, too, the concealed good. Even when we feel His strong hand, the love should be evident. Even in those dark nights of exile, we should experience the moon’s brightness.

But, as the moon pointed out, that doesn’t work in our world. G‑d’s alienation is felt acutely, and we yearn for the warmth of the sun’s rays. Ultimately, in retrospect, we may be able to appreciate these times of discipline, but right now the suffering is far too overwhelming, too harsh, and feels disproportionate.

And perhaps it is for this—for our perception and pain despite the underlying love—that G‑d offers the sin offering, asking us for forgiveness.

We may not understand it now. But in the time of Moshiach, the moon will be returned to her glory. The concealment and suffering will disappear as we perceive G‑d’s open and revealed goodness.

May it happen now.

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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