Let's Go For Coffee

Time for a Rest Stop

September 29, 2009

We're on one of those really long family road trips. The kind that parenting experts suggest will imprint fond memories in your children's psyche. And the kind where you never leave home without a bottle of Tylenol and your favorite cup of strongly caffeinated, black coffee.

So, as we're driving and watching the scenic countryside, I try to forget that my cramped legs desperately need a stretch. Instead, I reframe and feel super-proud that I'm providing my children with emotional equilibrium and life-long family memories…

I'm sure they'll never forget the never-ending quests for sugary snacks, the onslaught of ultra-charged comments like: "Are we there yet?" or "I'm soooo bored!" and "Where are we going?!" Not to mention the endless squabbles.

I know I sure won't.

It's getting darker outside. It's a summer rainstorm—huge claps of thunder, frightening streaks of lightening and a flood of heavy rain.

As the noise from the passenger seats of our van gets louder (these must be even fonder family memories being formed), I'm starting to have doubts about whether we really are on the right track. (Not a good idea to share with my stressed-out-in-the-driver's-seat husband.) But doubt has crept into my consciousness and won't go away. Have we missed our exit? Taken a wrong turn? (An even worse suggestion to offer to now-more-stressed-out husband.) And my worst personal fear—are we almost out of gas?

It's been an awfully long time since I spotted the last road sign. And the darker it becomes, the harder I strain to see ahead.

And then, when the despair is almost reaching a fever pitch, I see it. Just another couple of hundred feet away – a rest stop.


Time to stop. Time to stretch. Time to regroup, refocus and remind everyone why we're on this journey, with one another. Time to stock up on cold drinks, new sweets, fuel for the car, and high-powered energy for those driving it.

It's also time to get directions. To reevaluate and make sure we're on the best route.

I heave a sigh of relief. Intuitively, I know that once we get back on the road, everyone will be far more calm and sure of where they are heading.

Our lives, too, are one long journey. Along the way, we each have personal missions to accomplish. Some are big and all-encompassing, while others are smaller, but nevertheless just as important in the overall picture.

As we pass through the various intersections in our lives, sometimes, through it all, life's tediousness bogs us down. The detours along the way cramp our style, make us thirsty, irritated or give us a throbbing headache. Sometimes, we even forget our destination or why we're here. There are moments when the journey seems pointless, monotonous or hopelessly frustrating.

And then, we sight it. Off in the distance, a few days ahead on our desktop calendars, are our rest stops – our holidays, interspersed throughout the year.

These special days are opportunities to restock, to fill up on spiritual nourishment, direction, and reconnection. It's a time to become reinvigorated, refocus on our journey, our purpose, to evaluate where we're heading and if we're on the right route.

So, enjoy the drive. Don't miss out on the glorious beauty of the scenery around (or your kids). And take real good advantage of those rest stops all along the way.

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.

My New Brand of Detergent

September 21, 2009

Last week, I bought a new brand of detergent.

It promises to remove all stains, even those stubborn, impossible-to-remove ones – or your money back. Guaranteed.

Amazing, huh?

I couldn't wait to get a stain just to try it out. And with a family of a bunch of kids, I didn't have to wait very long.

You know what? It really does work wonders. Chocolate, grass, even lipstick — it takes them all out. Effortlessly.

But after a few washes, I noticed something else about my wonder-detergent. As good as a job as it does, it also dulls color. The shirts are no longer as bright. They look kind of worn out. Used.

I guess I shouldn't have expected more.

But imagine if you could find a detergent that removes stains, and simultaneously makes colors look brighter, more prominent. And better yet, even makes the fabric look newer, not worn, but stronger, improving the texture of the material. Not only as good as new — but even better!

Impossible? Probably.

But there is a wonder-gift that G‑d gave our world.

It's got a brand name called Teshuvah, repentance. Not only does Teshuvah remove the stain of sin from the fabric of our souls, it actually makes our souls sparkle even brighter. By making us aware of how stained we've become, it propels us to invest more energy and effort into strengthening our bond and connection with G‑d. And that makes us look even better than ever.

Imagine going through the wash cycle, and coming out looking even newer and brighter. Sounds too good to be true?

Now that's something to package.

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.

Snapshot of the Year

September 13, 2009

I love my kids. A lot.

I realize each one is such a special individual. One has a great, sunny disposition; nothing can get her down. Another has a great deal of sensitivity and behaves with such consideration to those around her, while another is a deeply profound thinker who adds such interesting insights to every discussion.

But, every once in a while, I get so caught up in the minutiae of the day to day, with the busyness and monotony of life that I forget just how special each one is. And just how much I love being their mother.

It's not that I actually forget. It's just simply not at the forefront of my thoughts. Instead, I'm consumed with what each one needs, demands, and wants.

In such moments, it's great to get a reminder. It can be in the form of a friend who may tell me in passing about a small favor one of my children did, and how touched she was. Or a grandparent who might reiterate how precocious or perceptive another one is. Or a teacher who calls up and shares what happened in the classroom and reminds me about how unusually kind and gentle my child is.

And as I hear these comments, I listen with a growing sense of pride. Long after I've hung up the phone, I find myself still wearing a huge smile on my face. From ear to ear.

It's not that I've been told any novel revelation. But, still, it brings to the forefront what I intuitively know is the essential truth, no matter what my children's behavior may be on any given day.

As our year draws to a close and we approach the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, we ask our Father to once again renew our relationship with Him.

I know G‑d doesn't need any "reminders" about the essential value of His children. But, nevertheless, I thought He might appreciate a few snapshots of the year in review, from my small perspective.

This past year, I've been fortunate to meet many treasured Jewish souls around the world in all different kinds of communities, far and near, big and small. Some live in thriving Jewish communities where their Jewish commitments and lifestyle is obvious, while others are much less so.

Here are just a few of the precious memories that come to mind.

  • The lovely couple in the Hague who came from such diverse backgrounds to embrace Judaism and, despite the disparaging comments directed at them, teach others the beauty of having a large Jewish family.
  • Esther, the Cincinnati mother who prayed so hard for her daughter to marry a Jew.
  • The countless letters we received here at chabad.org after the horrible Mumbai tragedy… The woman who wrote, "I am resuming lighting Shabbat candles after a long absence. We must not let darkness fill the world." Or the man who wrote, "I decided that in memory of the slain Jews I would begin to put on tefillin at least once, if not more ,every week, to spread the light of our faith. "
  • The little girl who, with such utter happiness, simplicity and joy, held the synagogue door open for me one Shabbat morning.
  • The religious man in Heathrow Airport who was picking up his family but noticed me—a complete stranger—becoming very anxious when my arranged ride had still not arrived. Kindly, he offered to drive me, together with his family, to where I was staying—even though it was completely out of his way.
  • Shirley, the ninety-year-old woman in Bakersfield, California, who wrote two books and is an active volunteer lecturer. She humbled me with her questions, and especially with her quest for continuous growth.
  • My twenty-year-old son who, one very early morning last week, arrived home from out of town after a thirteen hour bus ride, and remained locked outside on our porch for over two hours until someone opened our front door, because he refused to knock and possibly wake up his parents.
  • The twelve and thirteen-year-old girls who gathered at their rabbi's home for a Friday night Shabbat dinner in Manchester, England, and who, with their questions, demonstrated that they truly wanted to understand the meaning of being Jewish.
  • The many Chabad emissaries I met throughout the world, living in such far-flung places and who tell me about how privileged they feel to live where they do and reach out to one more Jewish soul. As one emissary told me so poignantly, "I only cried once. It was when we sent away our eldest son, at a tender age, to study in a Jewish school, and I saw my wife with tears flowing, so pained by the separation. She was crying about sending her son so far from us, because she is living here just in order to enable the local children who are far from their Judaism to come closer. "

The memories are flooding in. There are so many. Each one is just a small snapshot. Some are simple acts, while others, more profound. Some involve just one or a few individuals; others, have a ripple effect felt by many.

But all of these snapshots join many more, and together form a beautiful collage that portrays a tiny glimmer of the whole picture of just what the Jewish soul is all about.

So, as our year draws to a close and with a new one fast approaching, I know, G‑d, You surely don't need my pithy "reminders" in order to want to reestablish Your special bond with the precious Jewish soul.

But still, I figure, as you read, You surely must be smiling. From ear to ear.

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.

A Crumpled Letter

September 6, 2009

From the great synagogue in Tel Aviv to his performances in the role of Jean Valjean in the hit Broadway show Les Miserables, Dudu Fisher is an international star singer and cantor.

Those who have attended his concerts know that Dudu beautifully intersperses medleys of songs throughout his concerts, both soul-stirring and humorous, both cantorial and traditional, composed in Yiddish, Hebrew or English. And along with his songs, Dudu adeptly sprinkles in his own unique blend of anecdotes, jokes and short but genuine life stories.

When Dudu performed at the banquet event of the Davos retreat organized by the EJSN, he brought tears to my eyes—tears unleashed by unrestrained laughter as well as poignancy, beauty and hope.

It was at Dudu's concert that I learned, too, of his trials and struggles during his prestigious singing career—and the many times that he needed to turn down performances that were scheduled for Friday nights, Saturday matinees or other Jewish holidays.

But over and over again, regardless of the fame or career advancement that these opportunities could have afforded him, Dudu refused to bend the law to play on these holy days.

As he spoke and sang and related some of his tests and triumphs, I wondered: In a world where careers could be destroyed by such refusals, what provided Dudu with the fortitude to remain true to what he knew was right, despite what must have been amazing temptation?

And then Dudu shared with us a special story.

The story took place more than half a century ago, with a young woman who was in her late stages of pregnancy. She was devastated to hear her doctor's verdict.

"You must terminate the pregnancy," he sternly warned her. "There is danger to you and/or the baby and I advise you to abort immediately."

Feelings of devastation, panic and despair overcame her. What should she do? How should she proceed?

Before coming to a resolution, the woman sought the advice of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe.

The response that she received was swift and decisive: "The mother and the baby will both be healthy."

It took a great deal of courage for the woman to disregard her doctor's dire advice, but the woman's faith in the words of the holy Rebbe wouldn't allow her to do otherwise. She saved the piece of paper on which the Rebbe's response was written, in the hope of being able to one day show it to her unborn child.

I picture her glancing at this paper meaningfully whenever her faith faltered. I see her fingering it tenderly during her most tense moments and holding it close to her heart as a precious lifeline, to invigorate her and fortify her decision.

More than a month later, a robust baby was born to a healthy mother.

"The woman in the story," Dudu relates passionately, "was my maternal grandmother.

"And the child was my mother."

Dudu pauses for impact.

"And this," Dudu takes out a folded paper from his pocket, "is the letter that the Rebbe wrote to my grandmother."

Dudu passed around a copy of the letter for all of us to see.

And as he continues singing, I am wondering if in times of tense or difficult decisions, he too, fingers this paper tenderly. I wonder if he, too, holds it close to his heart and draws the faith and fortitude necessary not to falter, but to do what he knows is right and true.

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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