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 ‘Targum Feldheim’
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.
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: email@example.com.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tomorrow is the day after Labor Day.
We all know what that means.
It’s been looming large on our calendars for the last two months. Advertisements and flyer promotions have been announcing it for the last three weeks. “Back to School Signs” are all over the place, signaling the first day of school.
This day represents the end of long and lazy summer days, the end of time being our own and the beginning of a tight and rigid schedule to last throughout the next ten months.
I know that my children will not sleep much tonight. As early as I send them off to bed to try to get in a good night’s rest for the Big Day tomorrow, I know that they will remain awake, tossing and turning until finally a fitful sleep will mercifully overtake them. Their minds will be racing in nervous anticipation, just as mine did years ago before my own first day of the new school year. Those terrible tight knots in the pit of their stomachs are quite familiar to me.
Sure, excitement is part of their feelings. But mostly, they are feeling worried. Worried about how things will develop.
Will they have nice teachers? Will they be given too much homework? Will the social setting in their group change? Will their friends still be friendly after two months of being apart? Will the material from the new grade be difficult to learn? What extra-curricular activities will they be a part of? What can they do to make this year a better one?
These and a host of other questions will worry my children tonight, as they lie open-eyed in bed, worry robbing them of their much-needed sleep.
So, as my children are lying awake and worrying, I am thinking about worry.
I am thinking that it is very likely the worst possible emotion.
The only emotion even remotely as taxing is hopelessness. But while hopelessness is stressful, I think most of us can deal with it. When we realize that we are powerless to effect a situation, we surrender and submit to the fact that this is how it must be. And we adapt ourselves to our circumstances as best as we are able.
The problem arises however, when we have a gnawing doubt that maybe we can do something to alter the situation. That doubt can ravage us within, as our mind is in a quandary trying to determine our possible options. My children may be wondering and worrying what they can do to make a good impression on their teachers on the first day of school. Just notice, how carefully they select their blouses, socks and even the ribbons for their hair. Or how they choose their pencil cases and notebooks to impress their friends, lest their social status decrease without these efforts.
Speak to your family or close friends. Let them unload and reveal their hidden skeletons. Ask them what troubles them most. Invariably, at least half the time it will be worrying over something that might happen.
Most of us can cope with our issues – even extremely difficult ones. But few of us can deal with the worry of the vast unknown. The “what might happen if…” creates turmoil within. And even when we are genuinely facing a difficult tribulation, what sends us over the abyss is often worrying about the challenge getting worse. What if the pain gets more severe? What if the stress becomes more intense?
So, your grandmother may be able to cope with the arthritic pain in her joints now. But she can’t handle the worry of what might happen ten years down the road when the pain intensifies as she ages.
Your cousin might be managing on his rainy day savings now that he has suddenly been laid off from his job, but he worries about what will happen when that runs dry.
Or your friend who is overweight worries about gaining extra pounds and becoming prone to heart disease or diabetics.
And, of course, your children can usually cope with the demands of their teachers and school friends once the school year begins, but now they are overwhelmed with worry about the unknown.
In truth, worry is at least half of the problem. Removing worry from our emotional dictionaries would be curing at least half of our psychological and physical maladies.
Perhaps that is why thinking positively so central to Judaism. Positive thinking creates positivity – first by removing half of the troubling issue – which is our worry, and next by fostering in us a comforting belief of a greater Being, further opening the spiritual channels for recovery.
Thinking positively removes the negative energy and creates a positive one, thereby ensuring positive outcomes. A nurturing belief or reliance on G-d changes you into a healthier individual, who is now ready for the positive influx.
So, the next time you worry about your job, your health, your relationships, your finances, your aging parents or your children’s first day of school, why not stop to reflect: how can I infuse my circumstances with positive energy and positive thinking to create a more positive outcome?
And, as for the chronic worriers, like myself, here’s a new worry: will I ever stop worrying?
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: 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