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Poking Holes in the Promises Behind Positive Psychology

August 15, 2019 5:04 PM

Dear Readers,

Nowadays, positive psychology assures us that we can be whoever we want to be. It is just a matter of thinking positively, training our mindset or attracting positive forces to our life. Gain the confidence to chase your dreams. Mind over matter. Hard work will yield results.

And so, many of us start to work really hard. We train our thoughts and mind on our goal. We learn practical tools and implement specific strategies.

Yet despite all our valiant efforts, we fail. We haven’t become the “whoever we want to be!”

The very determined ones among us think that failure is just the first step to success. We try harder. We become obsessed with attaining that elusive goal. We fall and get up, numerous times, again and again, convinced that this is a mere prelude for the prize of becoming more.

But after some time, we take an honest look in the mirror and realize that although we may have grown, we have not reached the definition of success that we had set for ourselves. Despite our hard work, despite our positive mindset, even though we “believed that we could,” we didn’t become the “whatever” or “whoever” we set out to be.

What now? Maybe it’s time to surrender and realize the fallacy of this approach.

Surrendering is not failing.

Surrendering means realizing that who I am and where I am in this life of mine is exactly where I am supposed to be. This is who G‑d wants me to be. This is how He wants me to live my life. I am effecting positive change in my world, but perhaps a different change than what I sought. I am accomplishing and improving, but in a different way than I had envisioned.

So the truth is that we can’t be whatever or whoever we want to be. I may never sing like a soprano, have the body of a super model, write an epic blockbuster or become a fabulously generous philanthropist. Nor will I become an amazing hostess like my neighbor, or as sensitive and considerate as my friend. G‑d doesn’t need me to be someone else. But I can and will try to be a better version of myself.

Tracht gut, vet zein gut—“Think good and it will be good” doesn’t mean that my mind will enable my life to unfold exactly as I desire. (Yes, it may, because G‑d is infinitely capable of doing what He wants. But it also may not.)

“Think positive” does mean, however, that at some point I need to surrender to the fact that my life, my circumstances and who I am are already positive.

Surrendering is not a cop-out. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t work harder to improve our lives and strive to be more. But sometimes, the hardest work is the realization and the appreciation that this life that I lead is exactly the life that I am intended to live.

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.

Stop Checking Your Social Media Likes!

August 15, 2019 5:01 PM

Dear Readers,

“Did you check the Google Analytics report? How many clicks did the article get?”

“Let’s evaluate his record and crunch the numbers to see how valuable he is for our organization.”

“Is she an ‘influencer’? How many followers does she have on social media? How many likes does she average?”

“What is his net worth?”

So often in life, we are evaluated by numbers. At our work place, our value is often crunched down to raw numbers. Likewise, our social status often depends on them.

Soon enough, we may even start believing that our worth as a human being depends on the digits in our bank account, our scores on tests or how many followers we have on Instagram.

But here’s a different perspective on those numbers.

I recently met someone who told me that she was so touched by a book she read that it dramatically changed her life. Yet in the marketing report, these weighty ramifications would never be noted; she was merely one consumer who spent $19.99 on her purchase.

Another individual told me she printed out a parenting article, which she hung on her fridge. She said it helped her become a better parent to her four children. It touched her so much, that now, 10 years later, it was still hanging on her fridge! Once again, in some analytic report, she would only add up to one click on some server.

I heard of a sensitive child whose kind teacher rehabilitated his life. The teacher’s salary certainly didn’t reflect his day-in and day-out constant endeavors, care and support.

A hug. A gesture. A pat on the shoulder. A word of praise. These may only be one act, and they may register as very little on an employer’s evaluation form or in your bank account, but such things can literally save a life.

In the very beginning of creation, Adam was created as one single human being to impress upon us the dignity and mastery of every human being, so that if someone helps one individual, they have saved an entire world. Conversely, if someone destroys one individual, they have destroyed an entire world.

While numeric evaluations can be important, isn’t it time that as a society we realize it’s not about crunching data, it’s about touching fellow humans? It’s not grandiose numbers, but simple, day-to-day acts of kindness and inspiration that have such a far-reaching impact.

We are approaching the month of Elul, which is an opportune time for introspection. It’s a time to think about the year that passed and our goals for the coming year. Introspection means looking inner—looking at ourselves, and our potential.

Elul is our chance to more deeply examine our lives—not through the lens of how our numbers compare to the person next door, but by considering this instead: What one small act can I focus on to make another individual’s life a little bit better?

ChanaWeisberg
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.

The Man Who Stopped a Drought

August 15, 2019 4:56 PM

Dear Readers,

The land of Israel had always been dependent on rain for its sustenance. The Talmud shares stories of when a drought became so severe that communities undertook fasts to pray for the much-needed rain. Here are two stories where the people’s salvation came from an unexpected outcome.

Rebbi decreed a fast but the rains did not come. Ilfa went down before the ark (to lead the prayers).

He said, “Who makes the wind blow,” and the wind blew. “Who makes the rain fall,” and rain came.

Rebbi asked him, “What do you do (that you merit to have your prayers answered immediately)?”

He said to him, “I live in a poverty-stricken village that lacks wine for Kiddush and Havdalah. I exert myself to bring wine for Kiddush and Havdalah to ensure that the community fulfills its obligation.”

Here’s another story.

Once, Rav came to a place that was experiencing a drought. He decreed a fast, but the rains did not come. Someone stepped forward before the ark in front of Rav to lead the prayers. “Who causes the wind to blow,” and the wind blew. Then he prayed, “Who causes the rain to fall,” and the rain fell.

Rav asked him: “What do you do [i.e., what is your special virtue that causes G‑d to answer your prayers]?”

He replied: “I am a teacher of young children. I teach Torah to the children of the poor, as well as to the children of the rich. From those who cannot afford, I take no payment. In addition, I own a fish pond, and any child who refuses to study, I bribe him with some of the fish and I appease him until he is ready to come and study.” (Ta’anit 24a)

Rav and Rebbi were great leaders whose humility and piety were legendary. Nevertheless, it was the dedication of a teacher and a community-minded individual who brought the rain.

The teacher knew the vital importance of teaching all children. Moreover, not only did he not charge the poor, he used his own resources (his fish) to inspire these children to learn. The other individual, Ilfa, similarly, singlehandedly undertook that all tahe members of his poverty-stricken village be able to fulfill mitzvot. This dedication and love for others is what made the prayers of these seemingly simple individuals even more effective than the prayers of the greatest sages of their time.

I loved reading these stories because it reminded me that in today’s chaotic world, G‑d sees, remembers and values our actions, and especially our dedication to one another. Moreover, the teacher who enabled all the children to learn (even those who wished to rebel) and the community individual who helped his entire community fulfill mitzvot were considered by G‑d so great that they merited miracles!

Why? Because they were helping G‑d’s children come closer to Him.

We are now in the month of Elul when “The King is in the field.” G‑d is accessible to each and every one of us. Let’s reach out to Him, by reaching out to help His children.

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 Need G-d’s Hug?

August 1, 2019 4:18 PM

Dear Readers,

Have you ever experienced a challenging situation and found yourself saying, “G‑d! Please can You hug me? Show me that you love and care for me!”

This week’s haftarah can classify as G‑d’s hug and perhaps we should bookmark it to read whenever we need that extra assurance.

Haftarot are portions from the books of prophecy, read after the Torah portion. This week’s haftorah is the second of a series of seven “haftarot of Consolation.” These seven haftarot begin on the Shabbat following Tisha B’Av (called Shabbat Nachamu) and continue until Rosh Hashanah.

The haftarah begins with the exiled Jewish people expressing their distress that G‑d has abandoned them. “And Zion said, ‘The L‑rd has forsaken me, and the L‑rd has forgotten me’ ” (Isaiah 49:14).

Nearly 2,000 years ago, the Jewish nation was driven out of its homeland and sent into a pain-filled exilethat lasts to this very day. But exile is more than being ousted from our homeland; it is a state where our relationship with G‑d has been damaged.

The Temple was G‑d’s home on earth. It represents our tangible connection to growth, spirituality and connection, and its destruction sent us into exile—a state of fragmentation where our spiritual, emotional and physical selves are disconnected from our Source. We await the time when our world will be redeemed, healed and whole again.

Meanwhile, we don’t always feel G‑d’s tangible presence in our lives. So, we call out to G‑d from our innermost being, from the depths of our hopelessness, “G‑d are You there? Have you forgotten me? I need your embrace!”

G‑d reassures us that He has not forsaken us. “Can a woman forget her sucking child, or not feel compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, but I would not forget you. Behold I engraved you on My palms; your walls are before Me always” (Isaiah 49:15-16).

G‑d compares His love to that of a mother to her baby, a relationship expressing the most intense love and compassion. (Abarbanel) G‑d assures us that just as we would constantly see a message that we have engraved on our palms, G‑d sees us and remembers us (Rashi).

G‑d promises us, too, that very soon, we will witness a different time.

“Look to Abraham, your forefather, and Sarah who bore you … .”

After many decades of marriage, Abraham and Sarah had given up on the hope of having a child, but G‑d gave them a son. So, too, although our exile may extend so long that we may give up hope of redemption, G‑d promises to redeem us (Radak).

“For the L‑rd shall console Zion, He shall console all its ruins, and He shall make its desert like a paradise and its wasteland like the garden of the L‑rd; joy and happiness shall be found therein, thanksgiving and a voice of song” (Isaiah 51:2-3).

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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