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February 22, 2017 / 26 Shevat, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Divine Whispers’

The Little Flame

20 Kislev 5769 – December 17, 2008

Once upon a time, there was a little flame that glowed brightly.

Wherever this little flame went, it brought light and luminosity.

Even in the absolute black darkness, the flame twinkled and illuminated.

But wherever it went, there were also those who didn’t like its radiance. And wanted to snuff it out.

There was the wind that wanted to blow it out…

The sand that wanted to stomp it out…

The water that wanted to drown it…

And the darkness that wanted to blacken it.

But the stubborn flame refused to be extinguished.

Sometimes, the flame itself wished for its end. It yearned to be as dim as the surrounding blackness.

The little flame would doubt its beautiful glow and question its unique sparkle.

During those moments, the flame would flicker and its sparkle seemed like it would fade into obscurity.

But no matter what, something inside the flame kept it shining.

Some called it stubbornness.

Others saw it as luck. Or − perhaps, fate.

While others, predicted its demise, a few recognized it as the greatest miracle ever.

Chanukah is the Festival of Light. We light our Menorahs to commemorate the miracle of the flames that refused to be extinguished. There was barely enough oil for one day, but the flames burned proudly for eight.

But Chanukah also commemorates the miracle of the Jewish people; a nation that refused − and continues to refuse − to be smothered into oblivion, because the little flame continues to shine light into the dark world around it.

Watch Chana Weisberg’s two-minute videocast on www.chabad.org/intouchfor your dose of weekly inspiration. Chana Weisberg is the author of several books, including Divine Whispers − Stories that Speak to the Heart and Soul and Tending the Garden: The Unique Gifts of the Jewish Woman. She is an international inspirational lecturer on a wide array of topics and an editor at chabad.org. She can be reached at cweisberg@chabad.org.

The Little Flame

20 Kislev 5769 – December 17, 2008

Once upon a time, there was a little flame that glowed brightly.


Wherever this little flame went, it brought light and luminosity.


Even in the absolute black darkness, the flame twinkled and illuminated.


But wherever it went, there were also those who didn’t like its radiance. And wanted to snuff it out.


There was the wind that wanted to blow it out…


The sand that wanted to stomp it out…


The water that wanted to drown it…


And the darkness that wanted to blacken it.


But the stubborn flame refused to be extinguished.


Sometimes, the flame itself wished for its end. It yearned to be as dim as the surrounding blackness.


The little flame would doubt its beautiful glow and question its unique sparkle.


During those moments, the flame would flicker and its sparkle seemed like it would fade into obscurity.


But no matter what, something inside the flame kept it shining.


Some called it stubbornness.


Others saw it as luck. Or − perhaps, fate.


While others, predicted its demise, a few recognized it as the greatest miracle ever.


Chanukah is the Festival of Light. We light our Menorahs to commemorate the miracle of the flames that refused to be extinguished. There was barely enough oil for one day, but the flames burned proudly for eight.


But Chanukah also commemorates the miracle of the Jewish people; a nation that refused − and continues to refuse − to be smothered into oblivion, because the little flame continues to shine light into the dark world around it.


Watch Chana Weisberg’s two-minute videocast on www.chabad.org/intouchfor your dose of weekly inspiration. Chana Weisberg is the author of several books, including Divine Whispers − Stories that Speak to the Heart and Soul and Tending the Garden: The Unique Gifts of the Jewish Woman. She is an international inspirational lecturer on a wide array of topics and an editor at chabad.org. She can be reached at cweisberg@chabad.org.

Get Me Out of Here!

21 Heshvan 5769 – November 19, 2008

The black fly was steadily crawling up and down my kitchen window screen. It was desperately − but methodically − seeking an escape, to get beyond the imprisoning panel of the screen, into the wide, open world.


It could smell the refreshing air. It could sense the gust of cool wind blowing across its long transparent wings and short stubby legs. This taste of freedom motivated the industrious fly to continue its painstaking pursuit to reach into that thrilling liberty.


Watching the fly, I realized that unless I provide some assistance, I’d be hearing it buzzing in my ears and disturbing my sleep at night. So I pushed the screen wide open; its escape now made easily attainable.


“Go on, just fly a little to the left and you’ll be free,” I said aloud, as my four-year-old and I sat at our kitchen table, closely observing it.


Inexplicably, though, the fly continued its regimented climb, on the same thread of the screen. Unaware of the open gap, it persisted fruitlessly in its stubborn search for a small hole to make its exit.


I’m told that wild animals that have been confined for a long time react similarly when the lock on their cage is finally released. They continue their nervous, circular pace around the parameters of their prison home, before finally venturing through the open door into their sought after freedom.


And, if you think about it, human beings do the same thing.


How often have you tried to break out of an old and irritating habit or an unhealthy outlook, only to be held back, caged in by the parameters of your imprisoning addiction?


How often have you wished for the freedom of change? How often have you wished for a change in a negative pattern of thinking; a change in an automatic, emotionally triggered response; a change in your habits or routines; a change from the confining, “in your box” way of thinking or acting?


But, like the fly on my window screen, imprisoned by our routines, fenced in by our comfort zones, captured by the familiarity of what we know −  rather than what we’d like to be − most of us, too, are unable to take the plunge and experience the much dreamed-of exhilaration of reaching our uninhibited, full potential.


“An imprisoned individual cannot set himself free,” say our Sages.


In such situations, perhaps only the listening ear of a close friend or mentor can lend us the much needed courage, assistance and direction to forge into a better, emancipated reality.


Eventually, that fly did make its way out. But, it flew away only after my daughter and I repeatedly “pushed” it towards the open screen − and towards its freedom.


Watch Chana Weisberg’s two-minute videocast on www.chabad.org/intouch for your dose of weekly inspiration.


Chana Weisberg is the author of several books, including Divine Whispers − Stories that Speak to the Heart and Souland Tending the Garden: The Unique Gifts of the Jewish Woman.She is an international inspirational lecturer on a wide array of topics and an editor at chabad.org. She can be reached at chanaw@gmail.com.

Get Me Out of Here!

21 Heshvan 5769 – November 19, 2008

The black fly was steadily crawling up and down my kitchen window screen. It was desperately − but methodically − seeking an escape, to get beyond the imprisoning panel of the screen, into the wide, open world.

It could smell the refreshing air. It could sense the gust of cool wind blowing across its long transparent wings and short stubby legs. This taste of freedom motivated the industrious fly to continue its painstaking pursuit to reach into that thrilling liberty.

Watching the fly, I realized that unless I provide some assistance, I’d be hearing it buzzing in my ears and disturbing my sleep at night. So I pushed the screen wide open; its escape now made easily attainable.

“Go on, just fly a little to the left and you’ll be free,” I said aloud, as my four-year-old and I sat at our kitchen table, closely observing it.

Inexplicably, though, the fly continued its regimented climb, on the same thread of the screen. Unaware of the open gap, it persisted fruitlessly in its stubborn search for a small hole to make its exit.

I’m told that wild animals that have been confined for a long time react similarly when the lock on their cage is finally released. They continue their nervous, circular pace around the parameters of their prison home, before finally venturing through the open door into their sought after freedom.

And, if you think about it, human beings do the same thing.

How often have you tried to break out of an old and irritating habit or an unhealthy outlook, only to be held back, caged in by the parameters of your imprisoning addiction?

How often have you wished for the freedom of change? How often have you wished for a change in a negative pattern of thinking; a change in an automatic, emotionally triggered response; a change in your habits or routines; a change from the confining, “in your box” way of thinking or acting?

But, like the fly on my window screen, imprisoned by our routines, fenced in by our comfort zones, captured by the familiarity of what we know −  rather than what we’d like to be − most of us, too, are unable to take the plunge and experience the much dreamed-of exhilaration of reaching our uninhibited, full potential.

“An imprisoned individual cannot set himself free,” say our Sages.

In such situations, perhaps only the listening ear of a close friend or mentor can lend us the much needed courage, assistance and direction to forge into a better, emancipated reality.

Eventually, that fly did make its way out. But, it flew away only after my daughter and I repeatedly “pushed” it towards the open screen − and towards its freedom.

Watch Chana Weisberg’s two-minute videocast on www.chabad.org/intouch for your dose of weekly inspiration.

Chana Weisberg is the author of several books, including Divine Whispers − Stories that Speak to the Heart and Souland Tending the Garden: The Unique Gifts of the Jewish Woman.She is an international inspirational lecturer on a wide array of topics and an editor at chabad.org. She can be reached at chanaw@gmail.com.

When It’s Time to Stop Being Nice!

7 Heshvan 5769 – November 5, 2008

     Is there ever a time to say, “Enough! No more Mr. Nice guy for me!”


    Think about this one before responding with a knee-jerk reaction − it’s not an easy question: Which quality would you like to impart to your child − how to be a nice person, or how to be a successful one?


   In response, you’ll probably wonder if the two are necessarily mutually exclusive. Are they ever?


    We define a nice person as someone who cares about others and is sensitive to their feelings. We’ve all met these sorts of individuals. These are the people who are selfless, seeing beyond their own wishes and putting the needs of others before their own. These are the people we love to be around.


     On the other hand, we identify successful people as those who assert themselves to ensure that their personal goals are being met, irrespective of the needs, wishes or opinions of others. We’ve all met these types of individuals who guiltlessly step on anyone who gets in the way of their climb up their proverbial career or social ladders. These are the types whom we try to avoid − at all costs, but who, nevertheless, seem to be getting what they want out of life.


   So, can the two co-exist?


   Ideally, we’d all like to teach our children how to be accommodating to the perspectives of others. We’d like to teach them how to share their toys, their time on the swing and their snacks. We like to view ourselves, too, as considerate people who willingly give up our seat to the elderly or handicapped, who generously toss a few coins to the outstretched arms of a homeless indigent and who support the neighbourhood PTA. We value talking politely and criticizing sparingly. Until that is, we have a run-in with someone who so blithely takes advantage of our good heartedness.


   Ever had a situation where you are being neglectful to yourself (or your family) by tending to the whims of fussy Uncle Ben, critical cousin Sally and selfish neighbor Rhonda? Are you being considerate − or a wimp − by being a ‘”yes man” to your boss’s opinions or by kowtowing to your tyrannical co-worker’s quirks?


   There are times when decidedly un-nice behaviour is the best response. Our traditions give the wise advice: “With a sly person, be sly.” To achieve the greater goal, the correct response may be to deal deceitfully − or arrogantly, or selfishly, or sternly − with a person who only understands that negative language. With people who can’t see beyond the little circle of their ego, ask yourself, is being nice the correct approach or will a more stern method ultimately achieve the greater good?


    How do you draw the line?


    Maybe the answer lies in evaluating our motives.


    Ask yourself, “Why be nice?” Do you believe this is the right way to approach life? Or do you just want to be thought of as a nice person? Do you genuinely believe that your child should share the coveted park’s swing with others, or is it your fear that he will be labelled as the ill-mannered bully? Why are you giving a rubber stamp approval to your friend or co-worker? Is it because you agree with what s/he is doing, or are you reluctant to appear disagreeable? Why are you generously offering your time and energy to others − do you want to be considered kind, or do you genuinely believe in the cause?


    Perhaps the key is developing an inner strength.


    Let’s impart to our children − and demonstrate to ourselves − the backbone to stand strong, whether that means having the courage to act with kindness and sensitivity (which should always be our default) or to act with deceitful slyness or gruff sternness to those that only understand that language − to achieve the best outcome.


    Some of the most self-centered people look strong on the outside, but are weak within, completely incapable of overcoming their personal biases and whims. And some of the nicest, kindest people may seem weak on the outside but have the steely determination within − to do the right thing. Whether that means saying an accommodating, sweet “Yes” (in most cases) or an unkind, stiff “No.” Not because they are affected by how others will view them, but by how their Creator does.


   What do YOU think? When is it time to stop being nice?


    Watch Chana Weisberg’s two-minute videocast on www.chabad.org/intouchfor your dose of weekly inspiration. Chana Weisberg is the author of several books, including Divine Whispers − Stories that Speak to the Heart and Soul and Tending the Garden: The Unique Gifts of the Jewish Woman. She is an international inspirational lecturer on a wide array of topics and an editor at chabad.org. She can be reached at chanaw@gmail.com.

When It’s Time to Stop Being Nice!

7 Heshvan 5769 – November 5, 2008

     Is there ever a time to say, “Enough! No more Mr. Nice guy for me!”

    Think about this one before responding with a knee-jerk reaction − it’s not an easy question: Which quality would you like to impart to your child − how to be a nice person, or how to be a successful one?

   In response, you’ll probably wonder if the two are necessarily mutually exclusive. Are they ever?

    We define a nice person as someone who cares about others and is sensitive to their feelings. We’ve all met these sorts of individuals. These are the people who are selfless, seeing beyond their own wishes and putting the needs of others before their own. These are the people we love to be around.

     On the other hand, we identify successful people as those who assert themselves to ensure that their personal goals are being met, irrespective of the needs, wishes or opinions of others. We’ve all met these types of individuals who guiltlessly step on anyone who gets in the way of their climb up their proverbial career or social ladders. These are the types whom we try to avoid − at all costs, but who, nevertheless, seem to be getting what they want out of life.

   So, can the two co-exist?

   Ideally, we’d all like to teach our children how to be accommodating to the perspectives of others. We’d like to teach them how to share their toys, their time on the swing and their snacks. We like to view ourselves, too, as considerate people who willingly give up our seat to the elderly or handicapped, who generously toss a few coins to the outstretched arms of a homeless indigent and who support the neighbourhood PTA. We value talking politely and criticizing sparingly. Until that is, we have a run-in with someone who so blithely takes advantage of our good heartedness.

   Ever had a situation where you are being neglectful to yourself (or your family) by tending to the whims of fussy Uncle Ben, critical cousin Sally and selfish neighbor Rhonda? Are you being considerate − or a wimp − by being a ‘”yes man” to your boss’s opinions or by kowtowing to your tyrannical co-worker’s quirks?

   There are times when decidedly un-nice behaviour is the best response. Our traditions give the wise advice: “With a sly person, be sly.” To achieve the greater goal, the correct response may be to deal deceitfully − or arrogantly, or selfishly, or sternly − with a person who only understands that negative language. With people who can’t see beyond the little circle of their ego, ask yourself, is being nice the correct approach or will a more stern method ultimately achieve the greater good?

    How do you draw the line?

    Maybe the answer lies in evaluating our motives.

    Ask yourself, “Why be nice?” Do you believe this is the right way to approach life? Or do you just want to be thought of as a nice person? Do you genuinely believe that your child should share the coveted park’s swing with others, or is it your fear that he will be labelled as the ill-mannered bully? Why are you giving a rubber stamp approval to your friend or co-worker? Is it because you agree with what s/he is doing, or are you reluctant to appear disagreeable? Why are you generously offering your time and energy to others − do you want to be considered kind, or do you genuinely believe in the cause?

    Perhaps the key is developing an inner strength.

    Let’s impart to our children − and demonstrate to ourselves − the backbone to stand strong, whether that means having the courage to act with kindness and sensitivity (which should always be our default) or to act with deceitful slyness or gruff sternness to those that only understand that language − to achieve the best outcome.

    Some of the most self-centered people look strong on the outside, but are weak within, completely incapable of overcoming their personal biases and whims. And some of the nicest, kindest people may seem weak on the outside but have the steely determination within − to do the right thing. Whether that means saying an accommodating, sweet “Yes” (in most cases) or an unkind, stiff “No.” Not because they are affected by how others will view them, but by how their Creator does.

   What do YOU think? When is it time to stop being nice?

    Watch Chana Weisberg’s two-minute videocast on www.chabad.org/intouchfor your dose of weekly inspiration. Chana Weisberg is the author of several books, including Divine Whispers − Stories that Speak to the Heart and Soul and Tending the Garden: The Unique Gifts of the Jewish Woman. She is an international inspirational lecturer on a wide array of topics and an editor at chabad.org. She can be reached at chanaw@gmail.com.

The Essence Of Evil

22 Sivan 5768 – June 25, 2008
If you were to stare evil in the eye, what would you see? What would be its character traits? What would form its origins?

 

Of the many malevolent characters recorded in the Bible, Amalek, the grandson of Esau, stands out as the greatest villain. He is the archetypal enemy of our people. He is the father of the nation that first waged war against the Jewish people upon their miraculous emergence from their Egyptian bondage.

 

Throughout our long history, Amalek’s murderous intentions have had many anti-Semitic heirs. One of these was Haman, from the Purim miracle, who sought to annihilate every Jew from the face of civilized society.

 

Traditionally, any mortal threat to the Jewish people is referred to as an Amalekite design.


What are the origins of such a character who has proven to be the nemesis of the Jewish people and their G-dly quest throughout all time?

 

In Genesis 36:12, we are introduced to Amalek’s parents. “Timna was a concubine of Elifaz, son of Esau, and she bore Amalek to Elifaz.”

 

Some verses later, we are told more about Timna’s background. “And the children of Lotan were Hori and Hemam, and Lotan’s sister was Timna” (Genesis 36:22).

 

We are also given information about the status of Lotan, Timna’s brother. “These are the chiefs who came of the Horites; the chief Lotan, the chief Shobal, the child Ziboen, etc.” (Genesis 36:29).

 

Elifaz’s concubine, Timna, was no common woman. She was the product of a royal family, her brother claiming the position of one of the Canaanite chiefs.

 

The Midrash (Genesis Rabba 82:14) fills in some missing details by explaining that Timna sought to convert to Judaism. She came to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob for acceptance, but they refused. She became a concubine to Elifaz instead, insisting, “It is better to be a maidservant to this nation than to be a princess in any other nation.”

 

Being from the seed of Abraham and Sara was so prestigious that such an action was not extreme.

 

Timna perceived the great respect and honor given to this clan, and she was willing to sacrifice her personal dignity in order to be attached to such a prominent and prestigious people – even if her connection would be a servile one.

 

I’ve always been puzzled by this story.

 

Timna’s actions seem so righteous, altruistic and pure. Why then would they result in a child who represents the antithesis of goodness, and who is the very paradigm of evil?


But perhaps events in modern society can shed greater light on the inner anatomy of evil.


The greatest evil in our time is undoubtedly manifested by suicide bombers (practically all of whom are part of the Islamic faith). According to data reported recently by Robin Wright in the Washington Post, these bombings are on the rise.

 

“Suicide bombers conducted 658 attacks around the world last year more than double the number in any of the past 25 years The bombings have spread to dozens of countries in five continents, killed more than 21,350 people and injured about 50,000 since 1983 The highest annual numbers have occurred in the past four years.”

 

According to William Saletan of slate.com, the logic of these bombings is that “The more people you kill, the more you demoralize the infidel because the infidel is too weak to tolerate the shedding of blood.

 

“But not you. You’re strong. You’re willing to guarantee, not just risk, the deaths of your followers to deliver the bombs. And they’re willing to die. You don’t have to tether your mechanism to a dog or mongoose and hope the dumb beast does its job. You’ve got much smarter animals at your disposal: human beings.”

 

On the surface level, the psyche of a suicide bomber seems to be a spiritual one − to get closer to the G-d that they’ve constructed. But on closer analysis, it becomes obvious that theirs is the lowest form of greed, selfishness and evil. They willingly shatter innocent lives and bring immeasurable pain and suffering, in order to reach the pinnacle of their personal, gross physical pleasures.

 

The motive behind these men and women “of faith” is their realization that our world is a temporal place where it is impossible to have ongoing infinite pleasures. These ongoing physical delights can only be attained in their world to come.

 

The manifestation of Amalek in our generation can be said to be in these suicide bombers. And the seed of their motivation is mirrored in the actions of their ancestor, Timna.


Our patriarchs and matriarchs selflessly gave of themselves to reach out to humanity and teach the beauty of monotheism and G-d’s path of truth. They eagerly taught and accepted converts into their midst. If they rejected Timna, it was out of their perception that her motives were insincere.

 

Timna was not searching for G-d, but rather for her personal aggrandization. Her motives were not selfless, but rather all about herself.

 

Had Timna truly wanted to join a nation serving G-d and following His ways, she would not have “settled” for joining the family of Esau, whose path was the antithesis of the Abrahamitic teachings. Timna desired, rather, to be part of a powerful but not necessarily G-dly or spiritual people.

 

She was willing to temporarily sacrifice her personal status, but only for what she perceived as a greater, more fulfilling eminence. Her actions were not about G-d, but entirely about herself. Our perceptive Patriarchs realized this and therefore rejected her from joining the nation of G-d.

 

In the era of Redemption, evil will be eradicated and all mankind will be rectified. Only one nation − that of Amalek − will not be a part of this vision.

 

“Their hand is on G-d’s throne, [this denotes a Divine oath], G-d shall be at war with Amalek for all generations” (Exodus 17:16).

 

Amalek is beyond repair. The evil of Amalekites punctuates their entire selves because they represent the opposite of G-dliness. Their devotion is entirely egocentric, even while dressed up as an act of devotion to G-d – and as such represents the greatest evil fathomable.

 

The greatest distortion of goodness is an act of selfish malevolence adorned in the religious garb of purity, an act of evil acted out in the noble name of G-d.

 

Chana Weisberg is the author of several books, including Divine Whispers − Stories that Speak to the Heart and Soul and Tending the Garden: The Unique Gifts of the Jewish Woman. She is an international inspirational lecturer on a wide array of topics, and an editor at chabad.org. Visit Chana’s blog, Let’s Go for Coffee, at www.chabad.org/618216. She can be reached at chanaw@gmail.com.

Religion Is Not A Quick Fix

25 Nisan 5768 – April 30, 2008
         Not only was I raised in a “religious” home, but with my father serving for the last 50 years as the rabbi of our − at first fledging, and now, vibrant − Toronto community, I was given the endearing designation of being “the rabbi’s daughter.”

 

         From an early age, I came to realize that this is how I was looked upon by members of our community − with all the expectations and implications that that entails. It was almost an unwritten rule that, no matter my age or that of my siblings, we would be seen as an example and product of the religious lifestyle that my father’s position represented. As such, from the outside at least, I think I always was conscious that our family life had to be viewed as the “idyllic” life associated with Torah observance.

 

         After all, you wouldn’t want to go to a dentist whose teeth were crooked. Who would take lessons from a fitness instructor whose fatty cellulite bulged? Or, sessions with a marital therapist whose marriage you knew was in shambles, or a psychiatrist who couldn’t begin his day without this daily dose of tranquillizers!

 

         And so, the rabbi who was “selling” a Jewish lifestyle that provided meaning, happiness and fulfillment, likewise needed to lead the perfect, ideal life − replete with model children (and teenagers) who obediently and respectfully followed his lead. He also had to have a blissful marriage of honeymoon quality. Otherwise, what subtle message was he sending about the Judaism that he was working so hard to promote?

 

         I think a lot of us look at Judaism that way − as a means to provide us with the deeper − perhaps even the deepest − gratification, joy and purpose in our lives. We see it as a means to an end − much like daily exercise and healthful living. I’m willing to push myself, exercise and strain my muscles, and even deny myself some tasty pleasures − provided that I can visibly reap the benefits of a well-toned physique. With a religious lifestyle, though, we expect the benefits, like its many rules, to be all encompassing: fulfillment in every aspect of our emotional, spiritual and intellectual wellness.

 

         Religious people, goes the assumption, don’t ever have any crisis of faith, any questions, or any doubts. They live placid, self-fulfilled lives, without any downs, devoid of any earth-shattering questions.

 

         Despite its rigorous demands, who wouldn’t want to live even the most regimented life − as long as its promised return was happiness in every aspect of life: a meaningful communal life, harmonious family life and abundant personal fulfillment?

 

         How peaceful. And how unrealistic.

 

         Here’s a little confession. Ready? It’s not a perfect lifestyle.

 

         Let me clarify, religious life does offer meaning and joy, close familial ties, improved relationships between parents and children, and so much more in so many areas of life.

 

         But religious people also have questions. They too have crisis of faith, moments of feeling isolated and abandoned by G-d. Their lives are not a tranquil paradise, and to some degree they face some of the same issues of contemporary society.

 

         In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that I’ll bet that respected rabbi or lecturer that you’ve just heard who inspired you with his fiery passion, and ignited your soul with his powerful message, woke up this morning consumed with doubt as he faced some quandary in his own life. Yes, up there from the pulpit he sounds so confident, so full of faith, but behind the scenes, he deals with conflict and questions in his life too.

 

         Does it make the rabbi, lecturer, (or author) a hypocrite? I don’t think so. I think, rather, it makes him a seeker; someone who thinks and someone who feels. And someone who is a seeker will not be satisfied with the status quo or with standard answers and beliefs, but will constantly be probing deeper and searching for more.

 

         In fact, it is probably in his greatest moments of earnest searching and honesty that, that pulpit rabbi or inspirational lecturer or writer has come up with the ideas that you find so beautiful. Because he questioned. Because he felt disillusioned. Because he was angry at G-d and the society around him. And because he was alive with emotion. Not because he was comfortable with platitudes and accepted norms.

 

         Non-thinkers, non-feelers and non-seekers, whether religious or not, will never have any questions or doubts, because they live one-dimensional lives. But Judaism is multi-dimensional and seekers will be bombarded with questions. They will question their level of commitment, their value system, their stereotypes, their realness, their goals, and the norms within their society. They will have questions about the suffering in our world – their own, their close ones and those around them.

 

         So what then is the point of leading a religious lifestyle if it won’t stifle the onslaught of questions, the crisis of faith? If it will not squelch the soul’s tugging and yearnings? If it won’t provide me with a serene, self-righteous lifestyle? With a harmonious family life and with children who obediently follow my lead? In short, with easy, one-dimensional answers?

 

         Imagine a woman in difficult childbirth saying, “I can’t wait for this to be over, so that I can finally relax again!” You would undoubtedly think that little did she know but her new experience would be full of everything but relaxation. Her nights would be filled with round-the-clock feedings; and her days consumed with caring for this little one. And of course, as her child grows older, the physical exertion would just grow to bigger, emotionally draining problems. Relaxation? Not as a parent!

 

         A religious lifestyle similarly doesn’t afford us with the triteness of Great! Now I can finally relax! Becoming accustomed with the laws, making them a habitual part of your life, and even immersing yourself in its intellectual depths, also doesn’t ensure that from here on in, your life will run idyllically, all pain and conflicts erased.

 

         Living a Torah life is about far more than ensuring the means to your greatest pleasure.

 

         It is about being given the instruction to live a life that G-d wants of you. It is about being given the tools, the venue, the building blocks to search deeply within, to probe intensely, in order to deal with whatever crises or conflict you face.

 

         It’s not about immediate gratification, or about experiencing the unruffled life of non-thinkers, non-feelers and non-seekers.

 

         It is about seeking your potential and searching further yet − and those moments can be demanding, agonizing and anything but gratifying.

 

But ultimately, it is about knowing that there are answers.

 

         And moreover, that there is a Knower.

 

         Chana Weisberg is the author of four books including the best-selling Divine Whispers and the newly released Tending the Garden: The Unique Gifts of the Jewish Woman. She is associate editor for www.chabad.org, and an international lecturer on a wide array of issues. To date, she has lectured on three continents and in over fifty cities throughout the United States. She can be reached at: chanaw@gmail.com.

Getting Past The Whatever Attitude

7 Adar I 5768 – February 13, 2008


A parent turns to her teenaged son and asks, “What’s bothering you?” “Whatever,” answers the kid with a disconsolate shrug.


 


A husband enquires of his wife, “Did I do something to upset you? Is something wrong?” Her disappointed face grimaces, “Whatever”

 

A father questions his daughter, “Have you finished your homework? Did you study for your test?” The daughter turns up the volume on her head-phones and mutters, “Whatever.”


Overheard in conversation: What should we do about the terrorism? About the starving children in Africa? About global warming? “Whatever.”

 

To me, nothing captures the spirit of the times like this ubiquitous whatever-ness. We are a “Whatever” Generation that lives by the motto of “live and let live”; our first commandment is “Thou shalt be open-minded to other people’s morals” or, alternatively, their desire to be lacking in morals. Our openness is lauded as tolerance, but to me it smells more like apathy.

 

I’ve noticed that when I ask my children what they want for dinner, I’ll never hear “Whatever”; I’ll be very specifically informed which foods they like and dislike, and how they prefer it to be cooked. But as soon as something beyond our most immediate needs is at stake, it becomes too much of an exertion to express a passionate stand, to formulate a well-reasoned opinion, or to intervene with practical assistance. So we suffice with “Whatever.”

 

The “Whatever” mindset has seeped into every facet of our society – into politics, into our schools, the workplace, our relationships, even how we dress. Youngsters and adults wear frayed cuffs, torn jeans, underclothing peeking out or pants almost falling off. Anything that screams “Whatever” (ironically, we’ll spend many hours and dollars to achieve this look of casual indifference).

 

“Whatever” means I don’t really think that you sincerely care. Even if you are concerned enough to ask, I don’t think that you’ll put forth the necessary effort to change the situation or help me improve my circumstances. So, let’s be honest: if you don’t really care about this and I certainly don’t, then why are we even bothering to discuss it?

 

So the teenager sulks silently and explores all kinds of harmful pursuits in order to forget his misery. The couple joins the 50 percent of the married population in divorce court because they couldn’t be burdened with the extensive effort necessary to work through their conflicts. And our children continue to feel that their education is irrelevant.

 

I’m not sure how this whateverness became so ingrained in our society. Perhaps it began as true tolerance for the practices of others. Maybe the media bombardment of atrocities and calamities – natural or man-caused – created within us this defence mechanism to counteract feelings of absolute helplessness in the face of so much tragedy. Or maybe it happened with the fast-paced speed of technological advancement: with the whole world our village, we sense ourselves to be insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

 

Regardless of its causes, this caustic apathy needs to be counteracted from the roots upward, beginning with the earliest and most formative years of our children’s lives. We must impart two basic values to our children, values that Judaism has been espousing from time immemorial:

 

The Torah teaches us that when G‑d created the first human being, Adam, He created him as a single individual (unlike every other plant or animal species). The reason, explain our sages, is that G‑d wished to teach us, for all perpetuity, the importance of every human being; that every person is indeed an entire world.

 

On the other hand, mankind was created last of all creations, on the sixth day of creation. Our sages explain that this was to teach us responsibility to our world. If a human being acts with morals and ideals, acknowledging his responsibility for the rest of creation, he is higher than all creatures. If, however, man shuns his responsibility, he has sunk lower than even the smallest insect crawling on the earth.

 

Our challenge is to inculcate our children with these essential, foundational beliefs:


You matter. You are important. You are a being with infinite potential. You are a whole world, and you can make an impact. Respect yourself. Respect who you can be. And act in accordance.

 

As great as you are, your greatness is only reflected in realizing that there are things greater than you that are worth sacrificing for: values and morals, community and family. Your personal happiness is not an end to itself, but you must feel a sense of responsibility for your world.

 

These simple but fundamental values are what distinguish us as human beings. They are essential for us to believe and for our children to trust, because there is just too much at stake, for us to abandon our children to the cruelties of an irreverent, and irrelevant, whatever world.

 

Chana Weisberg is the author of four books including the best-selling Divine Whispers and the newly released Tending the Garden. She is a associate editor for www.chabad.org  and lectures worldwide on a wide array of issues. To have her speak for your community or to be a part of her upcoming book tour, please contact her at chanaw@gmail.com.

Did She Cry Because Of You?

28 Tishri 5768 – October 10, 2007


         One of my favorite teachings from the Talmud is a marriage-related lesson. Aside from its psychological insight into how men and women operate differently, I love this teaching because it sheds a world of light on how to behave toward people in general -not only husbands to wives or wives to husbands, but towards everyone we encounter.

 

         Rav said, “A man must always be careful to never pain his wife. Because her tears come readily, her pain comes quickly.” (Talmud, Bava Metzia 59a)

 

         Notice the wording.

 

         It doesn’t say be considerate to your wife. Nor does it say be nice and sensitive to her, because your definition of consideration or sensitivity might be very different than hers. And your way of being nice might not be what she needs or craves.

 

         Nor does the Talmud tell us, “She might be oversensitive, so just do your best, but in truth it’s really her problem.”

 

         Instead, Rav teaches us, “She cries easily, so it’s your responsibility to be extra careful.” It is your obligation to make sure you don’t do things or say things that distress her.

 

         You might feel, “Hey, this is something silly. She’s being petty; she’s overreacting. A little constructive criticism never hurt anyone. Eventually, I’m sure she’ll come around.”

 

         But if she feels offended, the Talmud is saying, make sure you don’t do it. Her tears and her feelings are imperative.

 

         What an amazing lesson on how to regard another individual, especially the most central other in your life.

 

         So often we judge others by our own standards – I wouldn’t mind having unexpected guests drop by, so you shouldn’t either. Or, I enjoy sharing, so you must also. I appreciate a good joke even if the joke’s on me, so there’s no reason for you to take offense. We tend to think that as long as we treat the other in the same way that we like to be treated, we’re doing okay.

 

         The Talmud, however, teaches us to take ourselves out of the equation and view the situation from the other’s perspective.

 

         A friend who has experienced many challenges, including raising a child with special needs, commented that some people give too much significance to trivial issues. After overcoming real hurdles, she had a low tolerance level for someone who “sweated over life’s small issues.”

 

         “But, Susan,” I disagreed, “For that individual, at this point in his life, it is a big issue. For him, this is something tragic.”

 

         In fact, perhaps if we act with empathy towards others, assessing our words and behavior towards them, not by our own standards but by how they are affected, perhaps we can then beseech G‑d, our “Cosmic Spouse,” to act that way towards us as well.

 

         “Dear G‑d,” we could then argue, “we know that from Your perspective many of our wants and needs are trivial and petty. We also understand, that from Your seat on High, our pain, anxieties, conflicts and tensions may serve some higher cosmic purpose. But from our limited perspective, from the here and now, the pain is real and the suffering, unnecessary. Please G‑d, in Your infinite power, spare our tears. Make things not just good in truth, but good to us.”

 

         May we merit the fulfillment of the prophecy in this upcoming year, “And G‑d will wipe away tears from every face” (Isaiah 25:8).

 

         Chana Weisberg is the author of four books including the best-selling Divine Whispers and the newly released Tending the Garden. She is a associate editor for www.chabad.org   and lectures worldwide on a wide array of issues. To have her speak to your community or to be a part of her upcoming book tour, please contact her at chanaw@gmail.com.

Allergies!

24 Av 5767 – August 8, 2007
        My day begins as a perfectly sunny, breezy, late summer morning. But then we meet. The encounter leaves me debilitated, my eyes red and swollen and my beautiful day in ruins. No, I’m not talking about my confrontations with Sally, my moody, volcanic boss. Nor am I referring to huffy Aunt Beatrice, who dispenses scathing criticism on my children’s behavior and my parenting skills at every family get-together. I’m not even speaking about my grumpy neighbor Harry and his huge brown dog that grunt threateningly at anyone who approaches the vicinity of their immaculately manicured lawn.

 

         I’m not talking about how encounters with difficult people can spoil a hitherto wonderful day, but about my seasonal meeting with plant pollen, which leaves me sneezing, coughing, and itching, with a runny nose and swollen, watery eyes.

 

         Like an estimated 45 million Americans and Canadians, I suffer from hay fever, otherwise known as seasonal rhinitis or pollen allergy. Pollen allergy, like any other allergy, is sensitivity to a normally harmless substance. Scientists think that people inherit a tendency to be allergic, or that it develops when the body’s defenses are weakened.

 

         When allergic people come into contact with an allergen, their immune system responds to a false alarm, treating the allergen as a hostile invader and mobilizing to attack. The result is a powerful reaction releasing inflammatory chemicals and basically leaving you feeling miserable.

 

         In fact, if you think about it, allergic reactions are a lot like our reactions to Aunt Beatrice, Boss Sally and Neighbor Harry. Their anger, criticism or condescension is really harmless, but it affects those of us who have a tendency to allow it to bother us, especially at times when our defences are down. It’s not the “allergen” that causes the inflammation, but our reaction to it that leaves us feeling so miserable.

 

         So, if you’re like me, what can you do to get some allergy relief at this time of year? And, is there any method of relief for those encounters with the “difficult” people in our lives?

 

         Basically, there are three approaches to the treatment of hay fever:

 

         1) Avoidance. Avoidance of the allergy means staying indoors, wearing face masks to filter out the pollen when outdoors, or relocating to a place where the offending plants don’t grow. But this extreme approach means missing out on some of life’s most beautiful experiences. Moreover, it is usually not sustainable, and thus offers only short-lived relief.

 

         While we can try your best to avoid, reduce and/or filter our exposure to disparaging people, this method is quite costly to ourselves and, at best, only works in the short term.

 

         2) Medication. Hay fever symptoms can often be controlled with antihistamines or decongestants. The drawback to this method–in addition to the undesirable side effects of these medications–is that the problem hasn’t really been solved. The allergy hasn’t been cured – only its symptoms have been mitigated.

 

         We can stop ourselves from reacting negatively, answering back, or inflaming the experience of a confrontation with a negative person. We can control the outward eruption of irritation, anger, or hurt, and continue to function normally. Still, we haven’t dealt with the root causes of our predicament. Inside, we are still seething…

 

         3) Immunotherapy. Otherwise known as allergy shots, the aim of this treatment is to increase the patient’s tolerance of the allergic substance. Diluted extracts are injected under the patient’s skin, followed by carefully monitored, larger doses. The body eventually learns that its irritable reaction is derived from its own misconception and stops treating the pollen as an enemy. The drawback of this method is that it takes time to build up tolerance and prolonged treatment may be needed.

 

         We can change our reaction to “irritating” people by training ourselves to look beyond their surface crabbiness and see the person behind the unattractive façade. We can learn to accept that the “enemy” is, in essence, a good person; it is only that external circumstances have twisted his behavior into negative patterns. When we identify our misconception and start looking at people in that way, their behavior becomes more bearable, and eventually it no longer inflames us.

 

         Like allergies to pollen, there’s no easy cure for difficult people, and exposure to them can be just as (if not more) debilitating than the dreaded hay fever. Indeed, pollen only affects us at limited seasons of the year, while difficult people tend to intrude into our lives at all times.

 

         Which makes adopting an effective method of treatment all the more worthwhile…

 

         Chana Weisberg is the author of four books including the best-selling Divine Whispers and the newly released Tending the Garden. She is a associate editor for www.chabad.org   and lectures worldwide on a wide array of issues. To have her speak for your community or to be a part of her upcoming book tour, please contact her at chanaw@gmail.com.

Garbage

25 Tammuz 5767 – July 11, 2007
         For the past two years, any time we’ve met our neighbors on our front lawn, near the street’s curb, the discussion has invariably turned to the very pressing issue of… garbage.

 

         The city of Toronto is running out of space to dump its garbage. Apparently, and understandably, none of the residents want it in their backyard. So the city has embarked on an ambitious recycling program – with the result that cleaning up after a regular weekday meal in the Weisberg residence has become a very complicated project.

 

         “Where do these paper plates go?” my eight-year-old son wants to know.

 

         Which garbage?” my two-and-half-year-old daughter asks, holding a banana peel.

 

         I guide my toddler to the beige compost bin resting on the kitchen counter. Leftover food, peels or eggshells get deposited there. Sara Leah smiles as she tosses in her peel and I smile thinking about how as this waste eventually decays it will be turned into fertilizer, enabling other food to grow more productively.

 

         I direct my son to the large, blue recycle bin kept nearby in the laundry room. I explain that the cardboard packaging, paper and hard plastics that go here will be recycled and transformed into something useful. My son’s eyes shine as he contemplates all the new usages of our colorful cereal boxes, lasagna packages and egg cartons.

 

         And finally, there’s our much-less-used old garbage bin looking forlorn in the kitchen corner. The only thing it gets these days is real garbage – items that cannot be recycled into anything. The foam disposable plates (which we stopped using) used to go in there, along with the flimsy plastic wrapping that covers so many commercial packages. This garbage will cause the most damage and contamination to the environment through its elimination.

 

         I admit that it took me a while to get used to the new system, grumbling together with my neighbors at the front curb. But now I actually feel good every time I toss something into a bin, envisioning its future incarnations.

 

         As I tidy up after dinner one evening, it occurs to me that not only garbage has these three categories. Every word we utter has its respective destination.

 

         Some words foster growth and development. These are the affirmations we give to our spouses, children and friends for something positive they’ve done. The words generate feelings of acceptance and love, bringing us closer to each other and motivating us to continue in our productive path. These words should be used generously, as they fertilize growth.

 

         Then there are those words that, in and of themselves, may not be positive. Sometimes, we have no choice but to criticize, to correct an error or point out a failing. But with some thought and effort, these words can provide guidance and direction, and even transformation. If doled out carefully with warmth and love, and “processed” properly and in the right circumstances, these words can help an individual “recycle” the negative in himself into something positive, by defining his strengths and weaknesses and finding outlets for his talents, creativity and personality.

 

         Finally, there are irredeemable words that ooze with negativity. Words which, spoken in the heat of anger or in a moment of thoughtlessness, are devoid of any constructive value. They’ll poison our environment and bring hurt and pain into the hearts of those around us.

 

         Like our household waste, every word that leaves our mouths leaves an impact. Every word is recycled back into our environment, leaving an indelible impression on those around us. It may fertilize growth, it may be recycled into something useful – or it may contaminate our surroundings.

 

         As we streamline our garbage disposal, perhaps we should also consider how we dispense our gift of words.

 

         Chana Weisberg is the author of four books including the best-selling Divine Whispers and the newly released Tending the Garden. She is a associate editor for www.chabad.org    and lectures worldwide on a wide array of issues. To have her speak for your community or to be a part of her upcoming book tour, please contact her at chanaw@gmail.com.

Tending The Garden

13 Sivan 5767 – May 30, 2007
         I’m often asked why it is that men played such a major role in Jewish history. “Where are the feminine voices, the feminine role models? Why are they not leading the way?”

 

         The short answer is that the women are there of course, in full force, but working through their inner mode, often not noticeable to the indiscriminating eye. But to understand why they are not at the forefront we need a deeper understanding of the workings of our world and of the purpose of why we are here to begin with.

 

         “I have come into My garden, My sister, My bride” (Song of Songs 5:1).

 

         A common perception is that the purpose of our world is for human beings to fulfill G-d’s will in order to receive their reward in the World to Come. This, however, is a simplistic (and selfish) level of relating to G-d.

 

         The Midrash explains that, “G-d desired to have a dwelling place in the lower worlds” (Tanchumah, Naso 16). G-d wanted a relationship with us here in this physical world. This world is  G-d’s “garden” where we can become connected and united with Him. We connect to G-d through the study of Torah and the practice of mitzvot, which changes our world into a more G-dly place, where G-d can feel “at home.” Ultimately, the depth of our relationship will be realized only after the redemption, in the Messianic era. Our job now, however, is to prepare the world for this time.

 

         A garden is made up of plain earth. But it is precisely within its lowly, sullied soil, that the most radiant, dazzling flowers can grow. Similarly, it is specifically in our physical world that the most profound relationship between G-d and us can be forged.

 

         Making our world into G-d’s garden requires two roles. First, we must uproot the weeds and clear the debris from our garden. We must subjugate the darkness and negativity, which obscures the G-dly source and essence of our world. Second, and perhaps more importantly, we must tend to the garden’s various plants, nurture them and ensure that they blossom fully. We must cultivate and bring out the latent inner qualities and potentials of all aspects of our world. Both of these roles are necessary in transforming our physical world into a divine garden. On the whole, they reflect the respective roles of man and woman.

 

         When we fight negativity – the spiritual “weeds” and “debris” around us – by drawing down new holiness to overcome it, we are employing the external, “masculine” mode. When we reveal the inherent beauty in creation by working within the physical reality to uncover the holiness already there – cultivating the physical earth so that it brings out breathtaking flowers – we are employing the inner, “feminine” mode.

 

         These are two roles and two directions to creating a home for G-d.

 

         Bringing G-dliness down into our world. Or raising and elevating our reality to reveal its inherent G-dliness.

 

        Conquering negativity and physicality. Or cultivating and uncovering the essential positivity within creation.

 

         Man’s primary role is to introduce new G-dliness to our world. He accomplishes this primarily through his Torah study. Woman’s primary role is to uncover the G-dliness that already exists within creation. Mitzvot bring out the inner spirituality within the physical realm of our world.

 

         Man does by bringing in a new element of G-dliness into our world. Woman is by revealing the G-dliness in what already exists. Both roles are vital.

 

         When evil abounds we need to fight it headstrong. We vanquish darkness by introducing more G-dly light into creation. It is useless, even counter-productive, to sit down and negotiate with terrorists who wish to destroy you – you need to fight them head on. But there comes a time when the evil has been largely subdued and the second approach – of finding the inherent good, and revealing the common ground of unity – is more effective.

 

         From the beginning of time, we have fought the evil around us by defeating value systems that were antithetical to a G-dly world. The masculine energy was largely at the forefront of this battle. But we are now at the doorstep of a new era. Moshiach will overpower all evil and then focus his energies on education and cultivation. In order to transform the very fabric of our world and reveal its implicit G-dliness, the feminine approach of nurturance and uncovering is more appropriate.

 

         So, to get back to the original question, where are the women’s voices? Why aren’t they noticeable?

 

As mentioned, they are there, but because their role is from within, their approach is by necessity more hidden, more secretive. They work from behind the scenes, not always discernable to the non-discriminating eye. We need to discover and tap into their energy, their hidden, inner voices to learn from their depth of wisdom how to deal with the challenges of our own lives.

 

         As we stand on the threshold of this new era, the importance of the feminine role is becoming more accessible and appreciated. Geulah, redemption, is the feminine era. It is an era of peace, when we no longer need to fight the negativity of our world, but rather inculcate more and more goodness and G-dliness within creation.

 

        Redemption is described as the time when “Nekeiva tesovev gever The female shall surround the male” – Jeremiah 32:21) when the feminine qualities will take precedence over the male qualities. After resting our weapons we will bask in and absorb the tranquility of peace. Having overcome the darkness, we will finally appreciate the splendor of the light.

 

         Women are charged with bringing this era because they are intrinsically connected to its feminine vision. The world is ready for more of this feminine perspective. Let us not lose our feminine approach, our feminine mode or our feminine touch; let us use it to transform our world into G-d’s garden.

 

         Excerpted from the newly released book, Tending the Garden-The Unique Gifts of the Jewish Woman (Targum Press), now available in Judaic bookstores worldwide.

 

         Chana Weisberg is the author of four books including the best-selling Divine Whispers and the newly released Tending the Garden. She is a associate editor for www.chabad.org  and lectures worldwide on a wide array of issues. To date, she has lectured on three continents and in close to fifty cities throughout the United States. To have her speak for your community or to be a part of her upcoming book tour, please contact her at chanaw@gmail.com.

A Tribute To Women

16 Adar 5766 – March 15, 2006

Behind every successful man, stands his wife – or so goes the proverbial saying. But what about behind every successful woman?


After consulting with numerous women, I’ve concluded that the phrase should go something like this: Behind every successful woman…are her very busy hands – juggling motherhood, husband, family, career and household responsibilities. And the list goes on!


I met a friend this past Shabbat and she reinforced what I am hearing from many women. “Chana, I just don’t have any time for me. There’s everyone that comes first: There’s the children – from youngest to oldest. They each have their own set of urgent and immediate concerns – from preparing their food, to the clothes they wear, to solving their emotional issues with friends at school.


“Then there’s my husband, who needs my advice or focus. He says I’m his best critic and seeks my assessment for his work.


“Not to mention my own work, with its time-consuming preparations. Or the occasional call to help with this or that community project.


“By the time my day is done, I am absolutely drained. I find that time for me is hardly ever a part of the equation.”


Sound familiar? I hear this complaint all the time from women in all walks of life – professionals and homemakers, liberated women, modern thinkers and conservative types.


So what is it, that makes us women behave this way?


Perhaps it is societal expectations that pressure us to be the “wonder woman,” who “has it all.”  Or perhaps it’s our proverbial guilt. Maybe it’s our inability to let go, or our tedious, hands on devotion to all areas of our lives.


I’m sure these play a part. But a voice inside of me says there is an underlying, soul-level reason that allows us to be pulled in so many different directions, accepting this simply as our role and responsibility.


I think women have an intuitive understanding that assuming these many roles is the noblest way of defining “me”.


(Don’t misunderstand.me I am not implying that it’s not important for women to find time for themselves – to do the things they enjoy or that rejuvenate them. Nor am I trying to belittle women’s valiant efforts in balancing all that they do.)


But despite this, I think, women often allow themselves to be put into a position where others’ needs take center stage – even at their own expense – because they believe that this is the highest and most selfless way of living. As such, this doesn’t detract from the definition of “me,” but rather defines the highest form of it.


Let me explain.


What motivates a human being to accomplish the good (and the bad) in his life?


Individual motivations vary, but there is an underlying denominator. Most of our acts are motivated by how we want to be perceived.


We want power, or we want respect, affirmation or recognition for how smart or capable we are.


Sometimes, though, it’s not the respect or recognition of others that we seek – but our own. In other words, I might act kind because I want to think of myself as a kindhearted individual, using my talents for the betterment of mankind.


This is true even if we think we’re doing something because “it’s the right thing to do.”


Suppose I spent a half-hour calling someone just to cheer her. Or maybe I was really exhausted and still pushed myself to daven (pray) properly. No one knew about these things. In fact, I took pains to make sure not to boast about it.


But why did I want to do “the right thing?” Isn’t it because I wanted to feel good about myself for doing the right thing? And feel even more satisfied about not boasting about it?


On this level, our motivations are usually self-serving.


But suppose your day consisted of things – little and big – that you did; not because it made you feel particularly “right” or “good,” but simply because it had to get done. Suppose your day revolved around others, not in a way that made you feel you were a selfless individual, but rather simply taking care of your responsibilities, tending to what needed to be tended to.


I doubt many women pat themselves on the back for getting dinner cooked, or for spending a few quiet moments with a sad child.


Ask them why they were the one to wake up for a crying child in the middle of the night and you won’t hear that they are seeking the recognition or respect of their family. Nor will you hear a smug “Well, of course, because it’s the right thing to do.”


More often than not, she’ll simply say, that it had to get done or he was crying, or he needed me, or that I love my family.


Notice the shift in focus. It’s no longer about me. It’s no longer about how others view or perceive me. And most importantly, it’s not even about how I view myself.


In fact, I doubt many women even think about their underlying motives.


Which woman has the time? There’s far too much that needs to get done!


Chana Weisberg is the author of four books – the latest, Divine Whispers: Stories that Speak to the Heart and Soul. She is also a columnist for www.chabad.org’s Weekly Magazine. Weisberg lectures on issues relating to women, faith, relationships and the Jewish soul and is currently scheduling a worldwide book tour to promote Divine Whispers. To book a talk for your community, or for information on her books or speaking schedule, please contact: weisberg@sympatico.ca  



Barren Beauty

9 Iyyar 5765 – May 18, 2005

Ever since I can remember, my husband’s practice has been, like many men, to buy me a lovely bouquet of flowers for Shabbat. Tastefully, he arranges them on the Shabbat table, as his show of appreciation for the extra pre-Shabbat preparations and week-long exertions.

He never fails to delight me with his innovations. Sometimes, it is an exotic bunch that I have never seen before, exuding an irresistible perfumed aroma. Other times, it is the allure of the strikingly bold color co-ordination that stands out. While yet, other times, it is the novelty of an artistic vase housing the brilliant bunch.

This past Shabbat was no different. As I scampered into the dining room to kindle the candles, just moments before the appointed time, I couldn’t help but notice a captivating array adorning our table.

This time, however, the arrangement was more unique than any of its many predecessors.

About a dozen or more, simple, thin, redwood branches stood elegantly in a narrow clay pitcher, glazed to an olive green, earthy tone. The branches were naked of any of their leaves or flowers, very much resembling the barren, wintry outdoors.

The arrangement was definitely distinct from the colorful blooms and leafy greens I and my children had become accustomed to. And, at first my children protested to having them on our Shabbat table.

But looking at the mahogany colored branches, I discerned a distinctive beauty, a certain essence, bereft of adornments, detached of scent, stripped of garments or presentation.

This was not the attractiveness of dazzling flowers or the thick foliage of blooming trees standing in their full height and glory, exulting in a sun’s bathing rays, surrounded by chirping birds and children merrily and boisterously playing.

This was rather the exquisiteness of a barren, winter day, of a gray horizon surrounding raw trees in a vast, empty landscape trapped beneath layers of white icy snow.

It symbolized the splendor found within the desolate, dark period of our lives, in the wonder of finding ourselves and exposing our potential – within our hardships and our pains.

This was a steadfast, veiled beauty that does not wilt with the decaying rose buds nor evaporate with the flaccid, spicy leaves-like the successes of our lives which become obsolete with the passages of time.

My children found it difficult to appreciate.

“Are you really planning to keep this?” My youngsters queried at the end of Shabbat as they noticed me placing the branches as an artsy keepsake on the side table of our living room.

But, I realize that this is a kind of beauty that takes the maturity and the experiences of living to recognize.

Only after riding the ups and downs of the roller coaster ride we call the wheel of life, can one fathom a beauty in the downs as well as the ups. Only after experiencing the immense barrenness of the desert can one perceive the dramatic charm in the grooves of its landscape.

To me, these dozen or so, simple rosewood branches represented not the colorful, eye catchy charismatic beauty of doing, succeeding and accomplishing but rather the simpler and stark, pristine purity of being and living.

And that held an unmistakable beauty.


Chana Weisberg is the author of four books, the latest, Divine Whispers soon to be released by Targum/Feldheim. She is the dean of the Institute of Jewish Studies in Toronto and is a scholar in residence for www.askmoses.com. She is also a columnist for www.chabad.org‘s Weekly Magazine. Weisberg lectures regularly on issues relating to women, relationships and mysticism and welcomes your comments or inquiries at: weisberg@sympatico.ca

Stalemates Or Soulmates? Chochma/Bina Dichotomy Part II: “Joe, We Need to Talk!”

24 Tevet 5765 – January 5, 2005

Joe is sitting in the den. The remote control keeps his hands busy while his unseeing eyes gaze straight ahead. His mind is focusing on a problem that had stumped him all week at work. The project has been stalled for several days now due to an unforeseen glitch.

Sarah walks in. Always the perceptive one, she immediately senses that something is amiss. She notices her husband’s tense posture, the crease on his brow, his clenched fists, his expressionless eyes, his shoulders slumped in defeat.

Sarah wonders if she did something to contribute to Joe’s bleak mood.

“Maybe he’s upset with my purchases this afternoon,” Sarah thinks to herself. “Maybe, our financial situation is really worse that I thought… And here I was telling him all about my friend Debra’s vacation plans. How could I have been so thoughtless!” Sarah reprimands herself.

Quietly, Sarah walks up to Joe’s side and offers, “Honey, can I get you a drink?”

Joe hadn’t heard Sarah approaching and is startled by her question and her presence. “Huh?” he says.

Joe is currently in his chochma mode. Chochma is the thought process we experience when we are looking for a concise, all-encompassing, abstract solution to a particular problem. Our vision is concentrated on the issue, to the exclusion of all else.

Sarah is employing the bina faculty of her mind. Bina is the faculty we use when we focus on the details, when we process and analyze particular nuances of a situation, when we use non-verbal cues and tones of voice as signals for evaluating emotional responses, when we break down an idea into words and sentences in order to communicate it to another.

“Joe must feeling pressured at work,” Sarah muses. “All those lay-offs at his department are surely beginning to worry him.

“That must be it. He doesn’t want to worry me, but he wants us to start budgeting more wisely.

“But I just wish he was more open with me. He always tells me his job is fine. Why can’t he just be straight with me about what’s really going on?

“Come to think of it, he’s had that faraway look in his eyes all week long.

Sarah clenches her fist angrily, “Oh, I wish he would just talk about it!”

Sarah repeats her offer of a drink to a blank-faced Joe. “No,” Joe answers somewhat gruffly. He almost leaves it at that, but then softens his response by adding, as an afterthought, “Thanks, but no.”

In Sarah’s mind, the solution to Joe’s problem will be found by speaking it through and thereby working it out. This is how problems are solved in bina mode – by discussing and elaborating on its particulars – as opposed to the quiet and intense focus most suited to the mind’s chochma mode.

Sarah is even now more convinced that something is really bothering Joe and that she has contributed to it. She sits down opposite Joe. After a moment or two of absolute silence, she tries again.

“Joe…” she begins.

Joe’s thoughts are miles away. He is examining a new angle. If he can just find a connecting link between these two parts, then he’d find the resolution he was so desperately seeking!

Almost in a fog-like trance, Joe hears Sarah saying something.

“…So, I was thinking that maybe I should return those purchases – you didn’t really seem to like them too much…”

Joe is too close to the solution to divert his attention. “Hmm, ok,” he manages, hoping that would put an end to whatever question Sarah is posing.

Sarah pushes on, “And Joe, you know the vacation trip that I told you Debra was taking with her husband…” Sarah describes the plans in detail. “Well, I think that this year maybe we should skip it and wait, till… you know… till things settle down more here…” She gives Joe a meaningful look to hint at her keen grasp of the situation.

Joe grunts an acknowledgement. All he hears is the word “vacation” and he thinks if he can just get this problem solved he’d be entitled to take several extra days off – and probably a nice bonus too – which should make Sarah really happy.

Chochma is an illusive thought process – the nutshell solution is in our mind, but we still haven’t grasped its entirety. “I’ve got it,” we may say to ourselves, but we haven’t yet figured out just what it is that we discovered.

When the chochma thought process is interrupted, we will often feel like we’re going to “lose it” – and the abstract idea will vanish.

Joe’s brain, operating in the chochma mode, can only store detailed information if it is organized into some coherent form or has relevance to him. Irrelevant and random information – which can actually aid the bina process (as a way of “broadening” the idea by contrasting or testing its particulars against them) – is just distracting noise, and its introduction will often disrupt the chochma process entirely.

By now, Sarah is convinced that their financial situation is in shambles and is strongly questioning the stability of their relationship. She wonders: if Joe is so reluctant to share this crisis with her, what does that indicate about their marriage?

“Joe. Really, I think we need to talk,” Sarah perseveres. “Something is bothering you.”

“Oh, I’m just thinking about an issue at work,” Joe answers simply.

Sarah nods meaningfully. “Yes, Joe. I understand. You’re having some difficulties. Let’s talk about it.”

“Really, Sarah. I just need to think,” Joe says, sounding a little more annoyed than he had intended.

Sarah is hurt and feels rebuffed. “Why can’t Joe share his problem with me? Doesn’t he trust me?” Sarah decides she must be adamant – to demonstrate to Joe just how much she cares about him.

“Look Joe. I don’t want you to be so worried. Whatever it is that is happening at work, we’ll work it through,” she reassures him.

Joe nods, hoping that would be the end and that he can finally get some peaceful silence.

But Sarah is persistent. “Please, Joe. Let’s talk about it,” she almost pleads. “You need to get it off your chest. You’ll feel better if you unload. Trust me!”

Joe shrugs his shoulders, desperate for some quiet. “Sure, Sarah. We’ll talk later about whatever it is that you want to talk about. But right now, I’ve just got to work this through.”

Joe is frustrated that Sarah keeps thwarting his thought process. He was on the verge of a solution and now he has to backtrack and re-think this from its foundation. He cannot fathom why Sarah insists on these discussions just when he’s on the edge of grasping an important break-through. It almost seems like she purposely antagonizes him with her interruptions!

Sarah, on her part, is feeling both worried and insulted. She tried so hard to be considerate, valiantly struggling to be in tune with Joe. And what does she get? He rudely shuts her out, offensively rebuffing her.

“I was being so caring and I barely got a grunt in acknowledgement!” Sarah fumes. “What kind of a relationship is this anyway? Why doesn’t he confide in me?”

Sarah is worried. She still doesn’t have a clear picture on just how stable Joe’s work situation is.

The longer Joe remains tuned out, the more Sarah is fuming at his response. And the more anxious she is getting….

No matter how many times Joe reassures Sarah that he cares about her, every time he rebuffs her due to his preoccupation with a problem, she takes it as a personal insult and an affront to their relationship. Regardless of how stable their relationship is, she will question why he is acting so distant.

An hour later, Joe is happy and content. He has finally solved this major glitch and his superiors are sure to be pleased. In the best of moods, humming a favorite tune, he seeks out Sarah and is totally baffled by her icy stares and deafening silence.

Joe makes a few attempts at humor. Next he tries some casual conversation.

After meeting with Sarah’s gruff or sarcastic responses, Joe hastily ceases.

“Sarah must be in a bad mood about something,” he reasons. “Maybe she has a problem at work, or had an argument with one of her friends… It looks like she doesn’t want me to interfere. She probably just needs some time on her own,” Joe concludes and retreats into his study, hoping to give Sarah the space he imagines she desires.

Sarah watches Joe’s back turn on her and now feels even more justified in being outraged. “If Joe really cared about me, he’d make sure to persist until I told him what is bothering me, instead of his half-hearted attempt at silly conversation! He knows I’m worried sick and want to talk.”

Sarah feels utterly rejected. “If our relationship meant anything to him, he would make sure we spoke openly until we got to the bottom of this and worked it all out.”

It might take Sarah and Joe several years and much frustration before they realize that they are experiencing a typical interplay of chochma and bina.

(To be continued)

Chana Weisberg is the author of four books, the latest, Divine Whispers soon to be released by Targum/Feldheim. She is the dean of the Institute of Jewish Studies in Toronto and is a scholar in residence for www.askmoses.com. She is also a columnist for www.chabad.org’s Weekly Magazine. She lectures regularly on issues relating to women, relationships and mysticism and welcomes your comments or inquiries at: weisberg@sympatico.ca.

Soulmates Or Stalemates? Men Are From Chochmah; Women Are From Binah (Part One)

10 Tevet 5765 – December 22, 2004

After a long and taxing day at work, followed by the usual battle with rush hour traffic, Joe finally arrived home. He couldn’t wait to sink into his favorite living room chair and read the evening newspaper.

Turning his key in the front door, Joe heard the familiar sound of his wife, Sara, busy clamoring around in the kitchen.

“Hi, Sara! I’m home,” he announced cheerfully.

“Hi, hon. I’ll be right with you,” Sara called back, her voice sounding enthusiastic, but with an edge of tiredness.

“How was your day?” she greeted him a moment later at the side of the sofa.

“Good,” he answered, relaxing in his coveted place. All he was thinking about was how great it felt to be home.

“How was your meeting?” Sara queried, watching his features closely.

“Great,” he responded matter-of-factly, scanning the paper.

“Did Mr. Kohn like your presentation?” Sara continued.

“Yes,” Joe mumbled, and looked up to smile. “Very much.”

“Well, what did he say?” Sara pressed further.

Joe nodded wearily and without looking up managed to utter, “Just that it was good.”

A moment of uncomfortable silence passed between Joe and Sara. Joe almost didn’t feel the silence, but he did happen to glance up at Sara and notice the slight scowl that had developed across her face. Reprimanding himself for not reciprocating, he looked into Sara’s eyes and politely asked, “So, how was your day, Sara?”

Sara’s face brightened as she sat down across from Joe.

“Well it was alright, I guess,” she began slowly, waiting for him to express further interest.

When he said nothing, she continued, “Remember, Anna, my co- worker? Well, her apartment door just broke and she couldn’t find anyone to fix it so Carl gave her the name of his handyman and he was supposed to come to fix it this morning. Anna was waiting and waiting and Carl’s handyman forgot to come. So Anna got stuck at home waiting. She couldn’t possibly leave until it was fixed. Can you imagine?! Anyway, she came late to work and I had to cover all her calls and appointments. You can’t possibly fathom how hectic that was!”

Sara paused for a moment expectantly and Joe grunted in sympathy before she resumed, “And then for lunch, I was supposed to meet Debra, that friend of mine that I told you about who just moved into town. Remember her?”

This time Sara didn’t wait for a response. Joe’s eyes have a faraway expression.

“Well, Debra and I were going to connect for lunch but her son, Jonathan, who’s in our Jacob’s second grade class, just got sick. Debra had to cancel at the last minute. Oh, this reminds me,” Sara has a worried look over her features. “Jacob wasn’t feeling well when I picked him up from school this afternoon and he’s in his room resting now. Can you believe Jacob sleeping in the middle of the day?!”

“Huh?” Joe managed. “Oh, right. He must really not be feeling well.”

“I better go check on him now.” Sara concluded and scampered off to little Jacob’s bedroom.

Joe heaved a sigh of relief and returned to reading the evening newspaper.

* * *

In homes all across America and the world over, husbands and wives are meeting at the end of their day and finding a similar scenario playing out in their living rooms.

She’ll greet him and ask eagerly about his day.

He’ll answer in monotones that it was fine, good, or bad.

If he’ll remember to reciprocate and inquire about her day, he’s sure to get a run-down of all the details of what happened to her at work… or what the kids did at home… or what happened to the next door neighbor or co-worker.

He’ll wonder when or if she’ll ever finish the tirade of endless, intricate and irrelevant details and get to the important parts.

She’ll be frustrated that he doesn’t elaborate more about his day or inquire more enthusiastically about hers, so that they can share their feelings and experiences more openly with one another.

We have an interplay here of Chochma (conception) versus Bina (analysis).

He is employing his Chochmah, his masculine mode of cognition while she is using her Bina, her feminine, intuitive powers.

What is Chochma and Bina?

We activate our Chochma and then our Bina in every thought process that unfolds in our minds.

Chochma is the original flash of insight. It involves the thrill of a new idea. When you feel struck by some new insight or new concept, you are in your Chochma mode. Chochma is that concise nutshell of an idea that you just conceived. But you’ve only conceived it – you haven’t yet developed it, or even really understood it.

Bina is the meticulous systemizing and quantifying of the solution that Chochma has conceived. Bina involves taking that flash of insight, focusing on it, and probing its particulars.

* * *

Little four-year-old Boruch was bored. It was a rainy, gloomy day and all his friends already had playmate dates by the time his mother had tried to make arrangements for him that afternoon.

“Why don’t you build something with your blocks?” his mother suggested brightly.

Boruch looked at his colorless wooden blocks and scowled, “What should I build?”

“I’m sure you will think of something wonderful,” his mother encouraged him as she got busy in the kitchen.

Boruch sat for several moments staring at the large container in front of him. Suddenly his face brightened. He looked as though a light bulb had just gone off in his head.

That’s because a light bulb did go off in his head. The light bulb of chochma, conception.

Boruch’s faculty of chochma has just conceived a grand new idea.

“I know,” Boruch said aloud. “I’ve got it!” he smiled enthusiastically, excited with his new brainstorm.

But a moment later, a serious expression returned to his features. He sat in concentrated focus for several more minutes. It looked now like the wheels of his brain were churning, prodding, figuring.

They were. The machinery of Bina was taking over as Boruch focused on the details of the structure that chochma had just conjured up in his brain.

He pictured the intricate parts of the building and he meticulously and systematically quantified in his mind the various parts to his plan.

* * *

Chochma is conception, the first flash of inspiration that comes to your mind.

When you are problem solving, chochma is that flash of idea in which you realize you’ve just grasped a solution.

“I’ve got it!” you think to yourself, knowing you’ve just come across something grand and wonderful, but not realizing yet the details of the solution.

Bina is the elaboration, understanding the aspects or particulars of the plan, idea or solution.

Chochma encompasses the entire idea, but in a nutshell. Chochma remains vague without the groundedness of Bina figuring out how the details will come to play. On the other hand, Bina cannot formulate without the illumination and inspiration of Chochma.

While both men and women use Chochma and Bina in each and every part of their thinking process, the masculine mode excels at Chochma while the feminine mode excels at Bina.

“Bina yeteira nitna l’isha,” say our sages. Women were given an extra measure of intuitive bina.

Recent studies on the brain exemplify these differences between the genders.

Men’s eyes are larger than women’s, which allows them what scientists term a “long distance, tunnel vision” – or more accurate vision, but in a narrower field. Women, on the other hand, have a wider peripheral vision, in effect allowing them to see almost 180 degrees around them.

Women will often comment how their husbands are excellent at map skills, navigating in complicated terrain, but will lament how the same husband is hopelessly lost when trying to find a matching pair of socks in his own drawer!

This is all part of the interplay of the chochma/bina dichotomy – the insight that navigates so accurately through a general problem, vs. the wider peripheral vision that sees the applicable particulars.

Similarly, men have fewer cone-shaped cells in their retina, the part of the eye handling color. Men will invariably describe something as red, blue or green. Women, on the other hand, with their greater variety of cone-shaped cells, might describe colors more specifically as bone, aqua, mauve, or teal.

These distinctions point to the male’s excelling in the Chochma mode – the concise, nutshell thought, or the vision that sees more accurately, but in a more concentrated, narrower field. Women, on the other hand, excel in Bina. Her thoughts are not as focused on the outcome, but she sees rather the wider, peripheral vision, the particulars and implementation of the plan.

The Chochma/Bina dichotomy is most pronounced in the communication styles of each gender.

Studies show that men use language to compete and gain the upper hand in conversations, and therefore favor succinct, focused sentences. For this reason, men have tested as better at vocabulary and definitions, since precise expertise in this area is so important for using communication competitively. Men’s sentences are short, direct, solution-oriented and to the point.

Women, on the other hand, have been found to use indirect speech to build relationships and rapport. They are process oriented and they use language in a roundabout way to build participation.

Women will also use words as reward or punishment to demonstrate their affinity or disregard for an individual. (Many a man who has insulted his spouse can describe the scathing and deafening “silent treatment” punishment that women are so notorious for!)

Furthermore, a woman’s powerful multi-tracking of right and left brains allows a woman to speak and listen simultaneously on several unrelated topics. With her multi-tasking, wide bina scope, she considers this building relationships.

Men, on the other hand, interrupt only if they are becoming competitive or aggressive. Their lack of multi-tracking and their concentrated Chochma focus makes men take turns talking and they become resentful with a “rude interruption.”

Women will often wonder, “Why can’t he communicate more openly? Why can’t he share his thoughts and feelings more expressively? What is he really thinking?”

A woman’s superior Bina mode craves this more open communication and intimate connection. She relishes the details of the situation, the particular nuances, facial expressions and colors of an experience.

Men, like Joe, will wonder why women have to elaborate or speak so much. “Why must Sara analyze the details of everything I say or do? Doesn’t she realize I just need some time to relax without talking?”

Joe is not withholding information from Sara. He regards a simple “good,” “lousy” or “great” as an adequate communication of his day’s experiences. A man’s Chochma mode favors more concise and direct lines of communication and sees communication as a means to an end rather than as an experience in itself.

In truth, Sara and Joe are not trying to aggravate one another. They’re both communicating – it’s just that they communicate in different ways.

The distinctions in the makeup of men and women have always been the source of the magnetic attraction and curious allure that draws us towards one another. These differences, however, can also be the cause of intense frustration between spouses, and even siblings and co-workers.

How we deal with our gender differences can spell the difference between a successful and a resentful relationship.

Sara and Joe must each realize that their partner is simply communicating in his/her respective Chochma or Bina mode. This is their first step to gaining a better understanding and appreciation for each other. Sara needs to learn to appreciate her husband’s need for quiet relaxation time when he comes home from work, just as Joe needs to learn to find time to satisfy his wife’s need for closeness, connection and self-expression through communication.

At some point, each will have to suppress their inclined mode of communication to become more in tune with the other. This give-and-take is part of what a relationship is all about. It’s also well worth the small sacrifice for the benefit of a healthier and more successful relationship.

Chana Weisberg is the author of four books, the latest, Divine Whispers soon to be released by Targum/Feldheim. She is the dean of the Institute of Jewish Studies in Toronto and is a scholar in residence for www.askmoses.com. She is also a columnist for www.chabad.org’s Weekly Magazine. Chana Weisberg lectures regularly on issues relating to women, relationships and mysticism and welcomes your comments or inquiries at: weisberg@sympatico.ca

An Afternoon Act

19 Heshvan 5765 – November 3, 2004

You.

Yes, it is you that I’m talking to.

I know you probably don’t remember me. I’m sure you can’t possibly understand why I want to thank you. You probably never realized the impact of your words.

But yes, it was you.

Definitely you.

This happened a little over a year ago.

It was a typical end-of-the-year school play. I, like all the other mothers of this third grade class, dutifully arrived at the school auditorium, prepared to feel awash with gratified pride. Our lips were pursed to smile unabashedly with delight, our cameras set to flash endless pictures of our young daughters’ performance.

Like a number of other prompt mothers and grandmothers already present, we zealously arrived early to snap up a coveted front-row seat, to snatch a first-hand glimpse of our daughters, and to send confidence-building winks and smiles their way, to allay any lingering pre-play stage fright.

As a grandmother of one of my daughter’s friends, you were there too, to share in this moment of joy. You were circulating around the room, passing by each row and extending a welcoming greeting. A smile passed over each face after you shared some pleasant or witty word of kindness.

I sat impatiently awaiting the play to commence, as I observed you finding something to say to so many people. Watching as you stopped by each and every chair, I surmised you must have many friends and are acquainted with many people.

Then you reached my chair. I didn’t expect you to pause at all. After all, we don’t really know each other and only meet infrequently on these rare school occasions.

So I was surprised that you did stop right in front of me. You made direct eye contact and you politely exchanged some perfunctory comments. I was waiting for you to move on to someone you knew better, but instead you took an extra moment to find a point in common with me-me, a young mother and you, a seasoned grandmother. You said that you knew my father well and you told me what a beautiful person he is and how you saw the same inner beauty in my eyes.

It was almost a strange comment to be saying to a near stranger; almost too serious and meaningful for such a chance encounter; almost a ridiculous compliment, given, the context – almost, but not really.

Somehow those few words spoken so genuinely touched me deeply and heartened me. I smiled like all the others by whom you stopped, inwardly encouraged.

Maybe some other day I would have regarded your comment as meaningless, almost silly, and certainly not worth a second thought, but not that day. On this day, it became engraved in my thoughts.

You see, just that morning, shortly before I arrived at the school play to enjoy the respite of an afternoon of motherly pleasure, I had received a phone call. The call blackened my world and stole my cheer.

I was informed the tragic news that my father’s medical tests pointed to a large growth. The doctors’ prognosis was grim.

It wasn’t until several months later – after endless tears were shed, earnest communal prayers recited and a harrowing surgical experience – that a miraculously benign growth was removed and my father recovered fully. But at that moment, after replacing the phone into its receiver, my world-view turned dismal.

I drove to my daughter’s play trying to collect my thoughts as tears blurred my vision. It wouldn’t be fair to burden my young and excited daughter with my emotions. Today was her special day. She had so eagerly anticipated proudly demonstrating the culmination of several weeks of preparation to her mother.

For her sake, I would have to withhold my intense feelings. I would have to put the grim news in the back recesses of my mind, and, at least for these few hours of the afternoon, pretend that I knew nothing.

The moment that you approached me, I was trying desperately to remove any vestige of worry from my mind. I was trying to erase the creases of tension from my knotted forehead, to force my lips into a casual smile, and focus my mind on the impending play. For my daughter’s sake, I had to laugh at all the comical parts and clap when applause was called for, even if I heard and saw nothing but the vision of my father before my eyes. I told myself I could not and would not allow melancholy to overtake me – at least not now.

And as I felt the anguish of this mental wrestling, you approached me. You said your sweet words – words that any other day may not have sounded nearly so appropriate or nearly so sweet.

You had no idea how your sincere words were a pleasant distraction that comforted a mind racing with bleak thoughts.

You see, when someone is in a difficult circumstance, when one’s worldview becomes dark and oppressive, any smile and any kind word of encouragement becomes a soothing balm – just as any harsh, critical words becomes that much more painful to endure.

Unbeknownst to you, you uplifted me on that day.

And, in retrospect, thinking about you making your rounds up and down the aisles, I could see that you did that for every person in the room. I don’t know what emotional burden each of the other mothers and grandmothers were carrying, but I could witness their momentary encouragement as you passed by each of them.

We all carry some hurt, some struggle and some pain. Whether we share it with others is our own choice. But a word of kindness from another – even a stranger – can penetrate into our psyche to slightly lighten our burden and temporarily brighten our demeanor.

I think most of us rarely realize the effect of our words. Maybe if we did, we would choose them more carefully.

But that is why I wanted to take this moment to share my appreciation to you.

Yes, you.



Chana Weisberg is the author of four books, the latest, “Divine Whispers” soon to be released by Targum/Feldheim. She is the dean of the Institute of Jewish Studies in Toronto and is a scholar in residence for www.askmoses.com.  She is also a columnist for www.chabad.org‘s Weekly Magazine. Chana Weisberg lectures regularly on issues relating to women, relationships and mysticism and welcomes your comments or inquiries at: weisberg@sympatico.ca 

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/jewess-press/an-afternoon-act/2004/11/03/

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