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Can You Undo the Past?

August 28, 2016

Dear Readers,

You are holding your grandmother’s delicate tea cup when it slips from your fingers and crashes onto the hard floor, shattering into a hundred pieces. The laws of nature affirm that it cannot be made whole again. Sure, you can try to repair it, but it will never look quite the same.

You heard the juiciest gossip about a neighbor and just had to share it with your friends, who in turn told it to theirs. The rules of speech assert that once words have been uttered, they can never be taken back. Sure, you can say new ones in an attempt to cover the old ones, but you can’t unspeak what has already been said.

You’ve crossed a line in your closest relationship. You ripped out a piece of your loved one’s heart. The guidelines for relationships insist that your crime is beyond reprieve. Sure, you can apologize and may be able to work on rebuilding the relationship, but the original breach of trust cannot be bridged.

Conventional wisdom declares that the past cannot be undone, and some mistakes are beyond amnesty.

The Hebrew word for sin, aveirah, comes from the root avar, which means “to pass” or “to cross over.” When we commit an aveirah, we have trespassed and crossed over the line of propriety.

And yet Torah wisdom teaches us that our sins can be mended. Not only can we undo the past, but we can even reach a better state than before we have sinned.

How is this possible? Only through the gift of teshuvah (which means “repentance” or “return”).

The concept of teshuvah—of being able to recreate our tarnished past—is not logical. That’s because, teshuvah, like Torah, preceded creation and is rooted in infinity, beyond time and space.

G‑d created us with the freedom to choose and the potential to fail. Before creating the world, He created the concept of teshuvah. He said to it: “I am about to create man in the world, but on condition that when he turns to you because of his sins, you shall be ready to erase his sins and atone for them!” (Zohar III 69b)

Teshuvah can be accessed any time of year by: a) regretting our action; b) admitting our wrong; c) genuinely apologizing to those we’ve hurt and compensating them for any damage done; and d) resolving not to repeat it.

Elul, the month preceding the High Holidays, is a special time for Divine grace. Now is the time to access this gift by rectifying the deficiencies of this past year, and molding a new and better future.

Wishing you a Chodesh Tov!

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 to Go from Distress to De-stress

August 14, 2016

Dear Readers,

Nature has a calming effect on us.

Studies show people who take walks in nature, as opposed to urban settings, were less depressed and had better memory skills. City dwellers have a 20% higher risk of anxiety disorders and a 40% higher risk of mood disorders than those in rural areas.

One study, traced patients recovering from routine surgery in identical rooms, but some were facing a brick wall and others were facing trees. Consistently, the patients facing the trees recovered earlier and required less pain medication.

Why does nature restore us and help us regain our emotional equanimity?

Psychologists attribute it to attention restoration theory, ART, which suggests that urban environments force us to use directed, top-down attention to concentrate on specific tasks. Since we can only focus for so long, directed attention gets depleted quickly. Forests, streams and ocean, on the other hand, are attention-grabbing but demand very little from us and replenish our exhausted mental resources by allowing us to think as much or as little as we'd like.

But perhaps there is a subtler, more spiritual reason as well.

Recently after a hard day, I went to a picturesque stream. Surrounded by huge trees and enveloped by water, I felt my tension evaporating. Snapping a picture of the gorgeous scenery, I posted it with the simple caption, “destressing.” When my phone’s spell-check tried to change “destressing” to “distressing”, the similarity between these words hit me.

Can we turn “distress” into “destress”, by simply changing our perspective from “i” to “e”?

When I am surrounded by work, to-do lists, and stressful situations, my focus is on I. I worry about all that I need to do, I sulk over the people who insulted me, and I simmer over the situations that anger me.

But surrounded by nature, my focus was on eeverything around me. The huge trees that swayed with the wind, the slow motion of the river, the wild geese flying overhead and the fish swimming below, the hiking path hewn from earth that had been walked on by others, each with their own life story. Each of these seemed to be whispering about the existence of a Creator who designed us all. The I of my existence, the I of my emotions, the I of my careful plan that hasn’t materialized takes a backseat to everything around me.

In nature, I was almost forced to take greater notice of a world far bigger than my own little one. I couldn’t help but see a world designed by a Designer who continues to watch over each of His creations—and who can certainly calm my own worries and restore my equanimity.

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.

So Hard to Say Goodbye

August 7, 2016

Dear Readers,

We recently visited my parents in Toronto. It was so special to catch up on the many small and big conversations that are hard to have from a distance.

I am blessed to have amazingly devoted parents. But ever since we moved to New Jersey a few years ago, I miss no longer living around the corner from them. And as the years pass, every opportunity to be together becomes all the more precious.

Often in life, out of necessity, we are busy moving forward. We become distracted with the next stage, phase or project of our lives. We’re dealing with today, with the here and now, and preparing for tomorrow. Little time or energy is left for looking back.

And yet, traveling back to my home town, memories came flooding back. There was the same street that my father drove me on route to my elementary school, which years later, I drove to my children’s schools. There were the familiar scents of my mother’s best home-cooked meals. The love and warmth from my past engulfed me.

When it was time to leave, I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to say goodbye until our next visit. “I will really miss you,” my mother said as she hugged me. I found myself too choked up to respond. But holding her in my embrace for those extra few seconds, I knew she intuitively understood exactly what I felt, as only a mother does.

Parting is painful. As we age, it becomes even more painful since we have the acute awareness of how very precious each day actually is. When we are confronted with that parting hug, we are reminded of its tormenting reality. Love is about unity and togetherness. Separation creates an aching tension, a deep hurt that screams its dissent.

And so, I sit now reflecting, just days before Tisha B’Av, a day of fasting and prayer. This day that marks our deepest, most agonizing separation from G‑d, with the destruction of His home and the displacement of His children into the ravages of exile. The Kabbalists describe the shechinah’s cries as a mother who mourns being separated from her child.

And so, this Tisha B’Av, I would like to think of the mourning of this day as an opportunity to feel the hardship of separation. As I experience the pangs of hunger—as my stomach groans its protest—I will think of G‑d giving me His hug, saying to me: Remember, I really miss you. You are too far away. It is time that we spend more time together, in intimate reunion.

Wishing you an easy and meaningful fast, and wishing that this Tisha B’Av be transformed into a day of celebration!

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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