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Caution: Don’t Fall Off This Roof

August 31, 2014

Dear readers,

Did you build a fence around your pool? Or a guardrail around your roof or balcony?

This week’s Torah portion cautions us about erecting a fence around our roof or any dangerous area, like a swimming pool, balcony or tall staircase. You say that you don’t have any situation requiring a fence? Nevertheless, this law still applies to you!

Aside from its important and practical safety application, we learn a fundamental lesson about our behavior. The roof is the highest part of any structure. Metaphorically, this law teaches us to build guardrails to protect us from feeling too elevated or conceited.

These guardrails are meant to prevent us from allowing our feelings of swollen self-esteem to degenerate into selfishness. Egotism is one of the worst traits, and can cause us to “fall off our roof” by becoming so preoccupied with our own selves that we block out others, and even G‑d, from our lives.

It can also cause others to “fall off our roof,” because when we are full of our own conceit, we distance others and cannot reach out to them. If you’ve ever met a conceited person, you could relate to this. Even if they are conveying a positive message, it is usually difficult to learn anything from someone who has this ugly trait.

The building of the guardrails around the roofs of our new homes also teaches us that whenever we begin a new situation in life (“when you build a new house”), we are more prone to having our spiritual state tested. Changes or new circumstances can be challenging. At such times we need to set new parameters and principles for ourselves, to make sure that we keep our standards and values in check and don’t plummet downwards.

As women, we wear many hats and go through many phases of change in our lives. At some point we all have a message to share, whether as a teacher, counselor, mother, negotiator, doctor, psychologist, or in any of the many functions we serve throughout our day.

We all need G‑d’s presence, comfort and assistance openly in our lives. We also all need the friendship and wisdom of others. Let’s make sure our demeanor doesn’t block them out of our lives.

So, this week, let’s find the time to fetch a hammer and work on building that fence!

Chana Weisberg,
Editor, TJW

P.S. It’s hard to believe that the High Holiday season is so quickly approaching! In collaboration with the amazingly creative team at JCreate, we’re preparing for you an exciting crafting magazine, Craft It Jewish, full of incredible ideas to enhance your holidays. Here’s a special sneak preview.

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.

Are You an Addict?

August 24, 2014

Dear readers,

Have you ever been in a dangerous situation where you had a fight-or-flight reaction? Suddenly, some force beyond your logical mind takes over and gives you tremendous energy and strength to lead you to safety.

I recently reviewed a wonderful article from a colleague in Toronto who counsels addicts. He explains that this fight-or-flight reaction is coming from the midbrain, whereas the ability to think logically or on an abstract level, to appreciate spirituality, art or music, comes from another center of the brain called the prefrontal cortex.

It is the midbrain that becomes addicted. This means that in trigger situations, the addict’s midbrain will demand with all its strength—with the same might that made you flee for safety—that the addict take the substance. All resolve is ripped away when the midbrain becomes triggered. That is why the addict will often feel afterwards, “I can’t believe that I just did that.” The “I” is the person, while “that” is the midbrain response.

(You’ve experienced something similar if you’ve ever been on a diet and suddenly felt an impossible craving. Suddenly, several huge slices of the forbidden chocolate cake disappeared—eaten by you—before you could even think and stop yourself!)

In treatment, the addict needs to learn how to give the midbrain equal or better emotional and spiritual replacements than the addiction it seeks.

After reading this, I had two thoughts:

  1. We can never “judge” an addict, or what he is going through, since we do not experience the powerful tug of his midbrain.
  2. Many of us, too, have smaller forms of addiction. When we experience stress, worry or fear, we also go to our addictions. Our “addictions” can take the form of comfort eating, excessive shopping, gossiping, shouting, melancholy, or any other unhealthy response or activity.

This week we greet the new month of Elul. This is the month immediately prior to the new year, and demands stocktaking and introspection. It is also the month that has the acronym ani ledodi vedodi li, “I am to My beloved and My beloved is to me.” G‑d is closest to us; He beckons us and asks us to come close to Him.

There is no better time than now to introduce positive change into our lives—to reflect on all those negative addictions, all those reactions and unhealthy choices that we automatically and so easily steer to without any mindful thinking. It is time to replace those tendencies with a schedule that is saturated with more positive, nurturing spirituality.

None of us should be judged for our natural tendencies, however negative. But we also are not free from doing the hard work of freeing ourselves from our addictions and reaching a state where our actions are in tune with where we strive to be.

This month, we have the added advantage of G‑d reaching out to us and extending a helping hand.

Let’s grab it.

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 Is the World Blind?

August 17, 2014

Dear readers,

Too many times over the last many weeks I felt like shouting, “Wake up, world! Can’t you see the difference between the good guys and the bad ones? Are you blind?!”

Terror or peace. Darkness or light. Evil or goodness. Hate or love.

The lines are drawn so clearly. This is not just a war fighting for our existence, this is a cosmic confrontation of right and light against wrong and evil.

So, we listened to every morsel of news, cheering our brave troops. United, we reached into our pockets, and even deeper into our hearts, with extra prayers and good deeds. And at the same time, those blinded by hate emerged from the woodwork, viciously inciting violence in the streets or maliciously spreading lies on their airwaves.

This week’s Torah portion begins with the verse “See, I have set before you the blessing and the curse.” The choice is clear. It is something that not only can we understand with our minds or feel in our hearts, but it is so tangible, we can actually “see” (the name of this week’s portion, Re’eh) the disparity.

Perhaps the laws of kashrut, elaborated on in this week’s portion, teach us what qualities are needed to see and bring those blessings into our lives.

On a spiritual level, the laws of kashrut teach us how to avoid assimilating subtle negative character traits. For example, the closed, unsplit hoof of the non-kosher animal represents rigidity, being closed off and untouched by the plight of others. The split hoof of the kosher animal symbolizes approachability and sensitivity to others’ suffering. The kosher animal that chews its cud symbolizes the quality of thoughtfulness and “chewing over” ideas.

To be kosher, fish need both fins and scales. Scales represent integrity; fins represent ambition. Ambition can be positive, providing us with the impetus to maximize our G‑d-given potential and leave our imprint on the world—but only when guided by integrity. Unchecked ambition, without the requisite integrity to follow G‑d’s morals, is a recipe for horrific malevolence.

Over the last several weeks we have witnessed terrible evil, motivated by unchecked ambition and callous, evil indifference. Leaders using their women and children as human shields to promote their agenda were unresponsive to the plight of their impoverished citizens, building tunnels of terror rather than schools and hospitals.

Leaders—and media representatives—spread hostility by caring more about their careers and popularity than exposing the truth.

The Torah teaches us the prerequisite for choosing blessing: moral integrity and sensitivity to the plight of others. Lacking these qualities can result in horrific consequences and becoming so blinded that curses appear as blessings.

“See, I have set before you the blessing and the curse.”

May we finally experience the day when real blessings will be abundant, and when goodness will vanquish all evil.

And may the distinction between the two be clear to all—as clear as sight itself.

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.

Does Motherhood Make You More Vulnerable?

August 3, 2014

Dear reader,

Is it just me, or did you notice how motherhood has this way of making you more emotional? And as the years pass and my children grow up and the grandchildren begin to come, it just deepens.

A few weeks ago, at the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, a friend forwarded me a touching video about a little boy watching his father being called up to service as he longed for him to return home safely. To be perfectly honest, I couldn’t watch, and stopped it midway. It just pulled too strongly at my heartstrings.

My youngest daughter, noticing my reaction, assured me, “It’s all right, Mommy. The father comes home. It has a good ending.”

There’s nothing more difficult for a parent than to watch her child in pain. I can’t fathom the terror in the hearts of the mothers and fathers in our Holy Land as they try to protect their helpless children, feeling exposed to attack at every moment of the day or night.

And yet, it is in these moments of utter vulnerability that we realize that we actually are not vulnerable, but that despite it all we are encased in the arms of our Father, who is guiding us and shaping our soul’s journey.

Though G‑d is beyond gender or particulars, the Shechinah is considered the immanent and feminine aspect of G‑d, the part that accompanies her children in their pain through their exile journey. The Shechinah feels her children’s sorrow just like a parent, and yearns for them to be encircled in her warm embrace, where they can never be alienated from one another.

I’d like to share with you verses written by my ten-year-old daughter, Sara Leah, describing this better than I can.

PLEASE SMILE
By Sara Leah Weisberg

There is a sound that I cannot hear,
There is a sound that I just can’t bear.
There is a sound that makes my heart dry.
You ask what it is; it is your cry.

It pains me much to see you in tears,
I wish to comfort you in all your fears.
Your smile gives a smile to me,
Always happy I wish you’ll be.

In my heart, you are there.
O Bnei Yisrael (children of Israel), to me you are so dear.
Give me a smile and let me know you’re fine,
So that your happiness will also be mine.

This Tuesday is the fast of the 9th of Av. It is the saddest day on our calendar, marking the destruction of our Temples and the ensuing long and anguishing exile. It is the day that the Shechinah weeps and laments together with each of us.

But just as this day is the saddest day of the year, it can become, at any moment, the happiest day of reunification, with the immediate ushering in of the final redemption.

May our prayers be answered that this Tisha B’Av be transformed to one of joy, as we become reunited with our Maker in absolute peace and everlasting happiness.

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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