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April 23, 2014 / 23 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Divine Whispers’

Religion Is Not A Quick Fix

Wednesday, April 30th, 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

Wednesday, February 13th, 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?

Wednesday, October 10th, 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!

Wednesday, August 8th, 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

Wednesday, July 11th, 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

Wednesday, May 30th, 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

Wednesday, March 15th, 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

Wednesday, May 18th, 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

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/jewess-press/barren-beauty/2005/05/18/

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