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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Posts Tagged ‘Jewish Studies’
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.
The only real lesson that Marc H. Ellis wishes Jews to learn from the Holocaust is that Israelis are behaving like Nazis and that Jews who assist the Palestinian violence in achieving its aims are ethically equivalent to those few Germans who rescued Jews in World War II from the Gestapo.
Marc H. Ellis is a professor and the director of the Center for American and Jewish Studies at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Like Norman Finkelstein, Ellis is commonly honored and cited as a Jewish anti-Jewish and anti-Israel authority by neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers. Ellis has publicly endorsed not only Finkelstein’s wretched little book The Holocaust Industry, but also Finkelstein’s scurrilous ad hominem attacks on the Nobel Prize-winning writer and philosopher Elie Wiesel. Ellis is proud of his collaboration with Finkelstein and endorses Finkelstein’s venomous activities against Israel.
Ellis holds a Ph.D. from Marquette University, a Jesuit institution in Milwaukee and no one’s idea of a serious research center on Jewish thought. His first position after graduation was at Maryknoll School of Theology in Maryknoll, New York, a Catholic school that is evidently not accredited as a research university but is a center for “liberation theologists.” Ellis moved to Baylor in 1998 as a full professor and there he directs “Jewish Studies” all by his lonesome, the sole faculty member at the Center of American and Jewish Studies.
Ellis has published a series of books, all largely promoting liberation theology mixed with his thoughts about the Holocaust and Israel’s endless track record of “inhumane crimes.” Most of these are published by Fortress Press, a non-academic church publisher associated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Ellis sits on the editorial board of Tikkun magazine, which touts Marxism and New Age liberation theology dressed up with some nominally Jewish emblems and slogans. An active collaborator with Tikkun’s Michael Lerner, Ellis is a regular on the Bash Israel lecture circuit and is a speaker in high demand for “Palestine Solidarity” events.
Ellis claims to be some sort of expert on Holocaust Studies and has authored a number of books that claim to be Holocaust scholarship, including Ending Auschwitz: The Future of Jewish and Christian Life and Israel and Palestine: Out of the Ashes, which purports to be a book about the “lessons of the Holocaust” for resolving the Arab-Israeli war.
Ellis sums up in his own words the “lesson” he draws from the Holocaust :
“To have the Holocaust part of Jewish success, to have the victims of the Holocaust become part of Jewish empowerment, is unsettling. To speak of the Holocaust without confessing our sins towards the Palestinian people and seeking a real justice with them is a hypocrisy that debases us as Jews. Surely, the ultimate trivialisation [sic] is the use of memory to oppress others and this, rather than the ‘industry’, is responsible for the difficulties facing those who seek to communicate the historic suffering of European Jews.”
Ellis repeatedly insists that Jews have abandoned “Prophetic ethics.” But there is little in his books to indicate that he has the slightest idea of which ethics the Prophets of the Bible really promoted, or even that he has ever bothered to read those books. He evidently is willing to take Michael Lerner’s word on what they contain.
Ellis’s idea of promoting biblical ethics is to write Israel-bashing pieces for the same al-Ahram Egyptian daily that regularly prints blood libels about Jews. Ellis thinks that Jews should turn their High Holidays into days of mourning for their “crimes” against “Palestinians.”
His latest book is Israel and Palestine: Out of the Ashes (Pluto Press). The first hint one has of the real orientation of this atrocious work, which purports to be a theological re-examination of what it means to be Jewish after the Holocaust, is that the only people Ellis and his publisher could find to endorse the book on the jacket are Edward Said, Noam Chomsky, and others of their ilk. Not a single Jewish theologian. Pro-terror and Islamist web sites have given the book rave reviews. So has the PLO’s web site. Need we say more?
The poorly written book is little more than a vicious anti-Israel broadside. The only thing of value that Ellis thinks Jews should derive from their experiences during the Holocaust is an unambiguous denunciation of Israel and total support for the demands and agenda of the Palestinian terrorists. He is as hostile to the Jews of America as he is to those of Israel: “We as Jews come after the Holocaust, but we also come after the illusory promises of Israel and America. And we cannot find our way alone, only with others who realize that the promises they have been handed are also illusory.”
For Ellis, Israel is the embodiment of all that is evil and all that is wrong with Judaism today. His concept of Israel is of a bunch of “bullies” riding about in helicopters and firing senselessly at poor innocent Palestinian civilians for absolutely no reason at all (an image repeated ad nauseam in almost all his screeds).
Suicide bombers blowing up Israeli buses and other perpetrators of mass atrocities against Jews do not interest the busy Ellis, who always manages to find time to sit in on board meetings of the “Deir Yassin Remembrance” propaganda committee. He certainly does not think any lessons from the Holocaust can constitute justification for any Israeli soldier actually picking up a weapon to defend his country. Ellis’s Israel is a belligerent, selfish entity, mistreating and enslaving (yes, he uses that term) the Palestinians, as part of some sort of grand pursuit of the goals of the Jewish settlers in the “Palestinian” territories.
Ellis makes it clear that he only feels comfortable with his fellow Jews when they are being victimized. When they stand up to defend themselves, they lose their Jewish soul and their legitimate right to exist. In his zeal to delegitimize Israel (he speaks blissfully of the “post-Israel era” and is a supporter of the “One State Solution,” whereby a single Palestinian state with an Arab majority emerges in all of Israeli and Palestinian territory), he goes even further than the “rabbis” of Tikkun magazine, which Ellis regularly praises as the very embodiment of post-Holocaust Jewish ethical concern and values.
Like Norman Finkelstein, Ellis throughout his book asserts that the Jews have utilized the Holocaust as a gimmick to grasp power, steal property, and oppress the poor Arabs. Ellis cannot imagine the Arabs as having ever done anything that might justify Jewish retaliations and reprisals against them by Israel. According to Ellis, Israel’s original sin was to utilize the Holocaust as an excuse to occupy “Palestinian” land – never mind that the only land Israel ever “occupied” was Syrian, Egyptian and Jordanian.
Ellis is openly contemptuous of any talk about Jews being in need of any national empowerment. Such things constitute “Constantinian Judaism,” to use Ellis’s favorite nonsense term, a malapropism he picked up – one supposes – after spending too much time working in Christian theological institutions. This, deconstructs Ellis, is nothing more than conscripting religion to serve the agenda of the militarist state. Ellis uses it to describe Jews who support either Israel or the United States and, of course, those malicious Jewish settlers. Jews can only fulfill their proper ethical role in history – which, Ellis is persuaded, is to promote socialism and leftist fads – if they are stateless and suffering.
Nor is Ellis willing to acknowledge that any “mistreatment” of Palestinians, such as the assassination of some of their leading terrorists, might have anything at all to do with the atrocities committed by Palestinians against Israelis. Clearly such Israeli behavior could not possibly have anything to do with Jews in Israel having learned a lesson or two from the Holocaust. In a book supposedly about the lessons of the Holocaust for Jews, there is not a word about the Nazi-like demonization of Jews by the PLO and its affiliates or the Islamofascist calls for genocide against Jews.
Ellis, as mentioned, is a passionate endorser of the “One-State Solution,” also known as the Rwanda Solution, in which Israel will simply be eliminated as a Jewish state and enfolded within a larger Palestinian-dominated state that stretches from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. This, insists Ellis, is the ultimate realization of the Jewish mission and the only permissible lesson that Jews may learn from the Holocaust.
Steven Plaut, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor at Haifa University. His book “The Scout” is available at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
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.
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Mrs. Weisberg,
The present era is particularly harsh, especially for the families in Israel. When I was a student at the Hebrew University some 15 years ago, a classmate of mine admired my little boy. Yet she said she could not bring a child into the world who might be blown up by terrorists. I felt sorry for her at the time, but now I realize that her decision was a moral one. A year later, she did have her own child. It seems that the instinctual need for children superseded her moral decision.
I think back on the Hebrew slave women who insisted on bringing children into the world against their husbands’ refusal. Who was morally correct? If Hashem has decreed that we must undergo 300 years of slavery, or 300 years of being blown up, do we have to help Him? Do we have to be his partner in forcing suffering on innocent children?
I want my children to have hope in a brighter future. Reality to me seems otherwise.
Yet I did force my children to live in this world, cruel or not, and I want them to have the most positive outlook possible. How do you deal with these dilemmas yourself as a parent?
You touch some very interesting questions in your letter. I can almost feel your pain, sensitivity and empathy in every word that you write. You are hurting for the pain and suffering of so many people. You feel the suffering is unfair and do not want to be a part of it. I commend the depth of your sensitivity and caring.
But I also feel that caring and sensitivity needs to be directed productively, rather than just “giving up” on it all and saying to G-d, “We want no part in such a world.”
The issues that you bring up can be asked about any form of pain that we encounter in life. Our world is full of pain. For some reason, the world was set up in such a way that sometimes we only grow through these “growing pains”. Every time a child learns how to ride a bike, he invariably skins his knees. When a child begins school, he is full of anxiety and emotional separation pain. Does that mean we stop the child from learning to ride a bike or from attending school? Do we say to G-d, “Sorry, we don’t want to be a part of such a world, where wherever we turn there inevitably is some pain or hardship?” Of course, not.
The pain that you describe, however, runs deeper than normal growing pains. It is a pain that we see absolutely no purpose in, and we feel, as a result, utter helplessness and hopelessness. However, the fact that we cannot identify a purpose to this pain does not mean that there is none. It means rather that we are limited in our comprehension and constrained by the here and now.
Though we may understand this rationally, this doesn’t lessen our emotional reaction. The history of our people is full of hardship, and you are wondering why we should be a part of it – it seems too much to bear. How can we go on after witnessing it?
Think of the Holocaust survivors, who witnessed the most horrible scenes and destruction. I’m sure they wondered how they could ever find room in their hearts to continue living. Yet, they picked up the pieces and put their lives back together - rebuilding and growing. What is it that allowed these individual to put their lives back together?
I think that they found love. They reached out. They saw that their survival was a reason to live to their fullest, to achieve their utmost. They found the room within themselves somehow to continue.
What gave them the strength? Or for that matter, what gives the strength to the mother in Israel who survives terror and whose family is torn apart, whose babies have died, whose relatives were maimed or left handicapped for life? What gives them the ability to go on?
A common thread in each of these lives seems to be how they push themselves, finding that room within themselves to love and to give more. These heroes respond to hatred, violence, pain, destruction and horrible havoc by finding love, finding a meaning and purpose to go on. They’ve been squeezed to the limit, but they’ve discovered more room to reach out to others and create love, purpose and meaning.
So, though we can say to G-d, “We don’t want any more of this plan of Yours,” ultimately, we are just denying and hurting ourselves. This does not mean to say that you have to accept suffering with happiness. We must do whatever we can to eradicate the evil and suffering. Moreover, we must continue to pray, beg, demand and object to G-d for all the suffering that He allows in our world. In fact, He desires and is waiting for such prayers. Even knowing that ultimately we “grow” from the suffering, we beg G-d to stop it, because being Infinite, He can find another way to help us grow without this pain. We do not, nor should we justify any evil or any pain. But, by the same token, the way that we must react is by fighting this evil, by squeezing ourselves that much more ? even when we feel squeezed to the limit – to discover somewhere deep down a greater love to extend to another.
I admire your sensitivity and care for others. But don’t use it to give up on life. Use it rather to do more, help more, love more. In this way, you can achieve the greatest fight against evil – and cause the ultimate end of evil when only peace and happiness will fill our world, with the coming of Moshiach.
Chana Weisberg is the author of “The Crown of Creation” and “The Feminine Soul”. 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. Mrs. Weisberg lectures regularly on issues relating to women, relationships and mysticism and welcomes your comments or inquiries at: email@example.com
I’m not sure what spurred it, but this morning, during my davening (prayers), my mind wandered.
Maybe it was because I was in the midst of teaching a five-part series on “Chana and Prayer”. Or maybe it was simply the hope of stretching out the davening due to the list of tasks and chores that I knew awaited me once I concluded.
Whatever the case, my contemplation led me to some serious questioning about prayer. My mind wondered: Do my prayers have any significance or meaning? How could they? If You are truly the Master and Creator of all, as I had just mouthed from the siddur, why would You care for or need my humble expressions of my feelings toward You? How could the stream of words exiting my mouth, some with deliberation, some just stumbling carelessly out amidst thoughts of deadlines at work, an appointment I need to arrange, or the button that I need to sew on my daughter’s blouse, possibly be of worth to You?
With these thoughts, I concluded and began my work day. Soon I was working busily at my computer preparing a report that was due by the day’s end.
Though computers are an integral part of my life, I admit that I am not their fan. As much as computers help me, they never fail to frustrate me. And today was no exception.
I tried my best, but for some reason the internet connection was down. If I got lucky, I was able to get connected only to lose the connection moments later as the whole system crashed. I soon realized that with my lack of computer savvy, I was simply incapable of solving the problem on my own.
As frustration set in, I recalled once again my morning dilemma. To me, this was yet another proof substantiating my point. If getting connected to just another computer over a phone line required such expertise; if even the smallest problem such as a virus or a Java code that needed updating or a small glitch on the system could ruin the connection, all the more so a connection with You, Who is so infinitely apart and distant from me!
Maybe a “prayer expert” could create a connection without any interference problems, but what could I possibly accomplish?
Late that evening, I wearily dragged myself off to bed after a full day. My early morning question returned as I was about to recite the Shema. That was when I noticed something small on my pillow.
Lying haphazardly on my pillow was a small crumpled white sheet of paper with colorful markings. In the center was a huge, misshapen orange-crayoned heart. Inside the heart, in my seven year old daughter’s inimitable, partially legible handwriting were purple letters forming this message: DEAR MOM, I LUV U. THANKS FOR BENG MY MOM.
As I read those ten crayoned words, the question that gnawed at me all day dissolved.
Did I need this card? Of course not. Why, I had bought the paper and crayons myself and given them to my daughter. After several days, when my daughter wouldn’t notice, I would unobtrusively discard this card, just like I had with so many of her and her siblings’ cards from the past. I try to keep some of their cards in a small treasure chest on my dresser, but eventually they reach their final resting place in the trash because no one has room for so much clutter.
But at that moment, this card was more beautiful than the most precious painting. It didn’t bother me that the words were misshapen and spelled incorrectly. I didn’t care that the purple and orange color co-ordination was a clashing eyesore. Nor did I consider how much thought or care she put into it, or whether her behavior tomorrow would be in accordance with her fond message of love. Because, to me, none of those things mattered.
It meant the world to me that a little girl who loves to draw took out a minute of her day to scribble some tender words on a paper. Gazing at the little scrap of paper lying on my pillow filled me with a warmth that was beyond explanation. My daughter’s small note forged a bond of connection, appreciation and love that was stronger than any glitches and interference could possibly disrupt – despite her lack of expertise, foresight and artistry.
The next time I daven, I’ll picture my words forming an offering of beautifully crayoned words and pictures on a piece of crumpled white paper expressing deep love and longing to be connected with You. I’ll picture, as well, the large treasure chest that I am sure You must keep
overflowing with all our prayers – even our most simple verbal scribbles. I’ll imagine You taking the time to tenderly read through our cards formed from our tears, our innermost thoughts, hopes, wishes and gratitude.
I have no doubt that You keep and treasure each of our tiniest verbal offerings. After all, I’m sure You aren’t worried about clutter.
Chana Weisberg is the author of The Crown of Creation and The Feminine Soul. 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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Mrs. Weisberg,
I enjoy your column and was deeply touched by the “bittersweet” simcha at the bris of your friend’s Down Syndrome child that you wrote about several months ago. I especially was inspired by how you portrayed life: all human beings experience joy and sorrow in our lives, and we can find our love of Hashem even in the midst of our difficulties.
One life difficulty that particularly troubles me is how so mothers cope with the emotional and physical trauma of having a sick child. I have a friend whose baby was born with a serious heart defect. The mother was warned of this problem during the early stages of her pregnancy, and now the doctors have no hope for this child’s future. The mother spends every spare minute at the baby’s cribside. She, her husband and her several young children are suffering terribly. It makes me wonder how or why must these people cope with such problems?
Thank you for writing. I am touched by your sensitivity and caring for your friend.
We are taught that every child has a neshama, a special soul that descends to this world for its particular mission. Chassidic philosophy explains that “special children” have extremely high souls. So high, in fact, that when they descend to this world, their body cannot contain this high revelation. Consequently, the body – or the vessel if the neshama – “breaks.” This “breakage” can be manifested in a physical, emotional or developmental deformity. For this reason, some great Torah leaders would rise when a “special child” passed by – out of great respect for the elevated soul housed within this “broken” body.
This is all on a theoretical level, of course. It takes a unique and special individual to implement these ideas in the everyday reality of dealing with the myriad obligations faced in caring for a special needs child.
When I was growing up, I had a classmate whose sister was born late in her mother’s life and had many mental and physical problems. The family treated this sibling with the utmost of normalcy and took her with them to all programs or events without the slightest degree of embarrassment or discomfort.
This classmate once explained to us, in a rare moment of openness, how at first, it was difficult for her and her older sister – both extremely bright and talented girls – to accept their new sibling. “There were so many things that she needed. So many things that she was unable to do, so many deficiencies. It was difficult for us to see past her disability to the special neshama that she possessed.
“But over the years, we came to appreciate something incredible. We thought we were giving to her, but in truth, she gave to us so much more than we could ever fathom. She taught us the meaning of love - true, unconditional love. She loves us all so deeply, all the time. No matter what kind of day we had, or how exasperated and moody we become.
“And she taught us joy. She showed us how to be happy. Always to smile, despite the challenges or difficulties of life.”
I have another friend who had many misfortunes in her life – health issues, problems with parnassa (earning a livelihood) and a non-stop slew of hardships that kept on falling on her shoulders. When things finally seemed to be getting under control, this friend gave birth to a child. The newborn was born with several deformities.
I marvel every time I see this friend at the checkout counter of the grocery, walking her children in their strollers or taking them to the park. She has a continual smile on her face. Her demeanor is always positive – sincerely positive. She always has a nice word to say to everyone she meets and she’s genuinely concerned to ask how others are managing with the everyday issues of life!
These people – super mothers, sensitive family members with hearts of gold – are the unsung heroes and the inspiration to so many of us.
Chassidic teachings tell us these special children have special neshamas. It seems that this applies to their inspirational family members as well.
A few years later, I attended the bar mitvah of this same friend’s son. After many speeches, my friend explained, “Today is a momentous day for us, in that my son has reached his bar- mitzvah. But it also has significance for another reason. Today, my youngest sister has also turned bas- mitzvah. And to celebrate her special day, I would like to call her up to the podium to recite aloud a bracha.”
Her sister hobbled up to the podium. Her words were mispronounced and sounded almost like gibberish. She recited hamotzi, and as she concluded and we responded “amen” in unison, there wasn’t a dry eye in the reception hall.
When this same friend just a few months ago gave birth to her own Down Syndrome son, I wondered how she was coping, but I didn’t have the courage to call. Instead, I opted to buy her a card. I deliberated on what would be appropriate – a card congratulating and wishing mazal tov on such a happy occasion, or a condolence card wishing sympathy and strength and almost ignoring entirely that this was even a simcha.
Finally, I chose a card with a short poem saying something to the effect of how with every situation we confront in life we can choose to use the opportunity for growth for ourselves and those around us, who are undoubtedly watching us to see our reactions.
I then wrote a personal note saying how impressed I was with her talk years ago about her mother’s courage to have her sister, and what she and her siblings learned and gained from this special child.
I wished her mazal tov on the birth of her son and acknowledged that she must be feeling very torn at this very bittersweet simcha. “I’m not sure if I should write this at all, or whether this is the time to say this,” I concluded, “but I wanted you to know that I am sure that just as you used your sister’s birth as an opportunity to enrich your life and teach those around you how to face challenges successfully, that you will do the same with this special son of yours. You have been inspirational to so many of us and I am sure you will continue to be.”
And she, as well as the many other families you write about, continues to inspire us.
Chana Weisberg is the author of The Crown of Creation and The Feminine Soul. 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. Rebbetzin Weisberg lectures regularly on issues relating to women, relationships and mysticism and welcomes your comments or inquiries at: email@example.com
Instead, I found myself driving on the quiet side streets near my home trapped behind a student driver, driving in a gray training car. She drove slowly, v-e-r-y slowly, unbearably and painfully slowly. This was clearly her first experience on the road. Despite the deserted streets, she waited at every stop sign for what felt like an eternity, deliberately looking one way and then the other before proceeding. She drove much below the already low speed limit, and
at every bend in the road slowed down further still.
Usually, I would be impatiently fuming about how this threw off my schedule by delaying me (by at least three extra minutes!). On any other day, I would have thoughtlessly swerved in front of this car and raced ahead to my destination.
But this afternoon, I didn’t. Patiently, I drove the remaining distance to my home behind her. I didn’t check the speedometer five times a minute to verify that she was still driving at least ten kilometers under the limit. Tolerantly, I waited by each stop sign as she checked to her right and to her left, though no cars were anywhere in sight. Considerately, I drove far behind her gray car, making sure not to tailgate even slightly, so as not to unnerve her.
What was the change in my mood this afternoon? Had I evolved into a more patient person? Or was I perhaps enjoying the suburban scenery along the route?
No, it was none of the above. The change in my perspective on this Tuesday afternoon was for an entirely different reason.
You see, just yesterday, my own 16-year-old daughter came home in just such a driver’s training car. Excitedly, she entered our home and described to me her first adventure as a driver.
Always the ambitious one, she had taken her written test the day after her 16th birthday and now was able to drive a car with an instructor. She eagerly embraced this opportunity to demonstrate her responsibility and maturity.
Proudly, I had watched her turn into our driveway, just yesterday, and observed her patiently and carefully looking to her right and to her left before proceeding.
So, right now, when I saw the student driving ahead of me in just such a car, I didn’t see a nameless stranger. I could almost visualize my own daughter sitting beside her own instructor. And suddenly, the few moments stolen from my day’s schedule didn’t matter at all.
When I was able to see my own child in that car, my own view was completely transformed. I found all the patience in the world to allow her to enjoy her driving experience.
* * *
When we can foster a feeling of empathy for another like we have for ourselves, our perspective changes entirely. Our world becomes a far more patient, more accepting – and better – place.
Chana Weisberg is the author of The Crown of Creation and The Feminine Soul. 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: firstname.lastname@example.org.