The Jewish Secret to Dealing with Grief and Regaining Hope

My friend, Margaret Feinberg, is a well known writer who treasures and draws from her Jewish background. She’s been through a tough few years battling cancer and shares what she’s learned about the co-mingling of joy and grief in her new book and Bible study, Fight Back With Joy: Celebrate More. Regret Less. Stare Down Your Greatest Fears. She has found the particular Jewish practices of mourning both powerful and, paradoxically, life-affirming. I think you’ll agree You can learn more at www.margaretfeinberg.com. Follow her on Twitter @mafeinberg.

While itching under my arm, I felt a lump. I thought it was my imagination at first. It turned out to be my worst night.

Tests soon revealed I had breast cancer.

When We Fail to Achieve Our Goals

Happy New Year! In the excitement of thinking about goals for the coming year, I decided to take a look at what I had written and resolved at this time last year. My excitement quickly waned.

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A year ago, following Michael Hyatt’s fantastic program, I had written 10 goals for 2014. I achieved only two of them. Is this a failure? Perhaps. Yet, it puts me in good company. And it also reminds us of the real reasons we set goals. 

How Wisdom Comes With Age

Tonight is the last night of Chanukah. All eight candles are lit. Our wisdom and spirits burn brightly. May this be a year of growth, happiness and peace.
As a child my mom brought me to synagogue every week. She sang in the choir, so I typically  sat near a older man named Dave Miller.

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Dave always had a smile on his face. He would crack jokes to me throughout the service. He seemed like the happiest man in the world.

As I got to know him more, however, I saw the weariness behind the smile. He had not had an easy life. His wife died at a young age. He had struggled in business. His kids lived far away.

Still, he radiated happiness. As David Brooks wrote recently, age and happiness go hand and hand. Perhaps our expectations change. Perhaps what we value shifts. Whatever the case, studies suggest a strong correlation. 

Weak Bodies, Strong Souls

Indeed, we not only grow happier. We also grow wiser. Now, neither is a guarantee. As my grandfather often said, the only sure things in life are death and taxes.

Yet,  age and experience give us more opportunities to grow in wisdom. As the body grows weaker, our soul can grow stronger.

The Chanukah Lights

We embody throughout Chanukah. The oil we use to light the candles represents our bodies. It is physical matter.

The flame, on the other hand, represents our wisdom. It creates light. It brings intangible warmth.

On the first enough we have a lot of oil—enough for eight nights—but only one flame of light. We are strong in body and short in wisdom.

As the holiday progresses, however, the oil diminishes but the flames grow brighter. We grow in wisdom, even as our bodies deteriorate. 

The wisest person I knew was my 95 year old grandfather, who taught me profound as he lay on a hospital bed. I think of him as the eight lights of Hanukkah burn brightly.

My Chanukah at the White House

President Obama had a busy Tuesday. First he upended a 50-year US-Cuban Cold War. Then he celebrated Chanukah with 400 Jews from across the United States. He probably got a national security briefing somewhere in-between.

Doing the best I can to wish the President a Happy Chanukah

Doing my best to wish the President a Happy Chanukah.

As I watched the president speak and light the Chanukah candles last Tuesday, I felt immense gratitude.

Gratitude for having been born in the United States; Gratitude for the community in Highland Park, Illinois that I serve and represented at the White House; and Gratitude for seeing the lesson of Chanukah realized that very day, as American Alan Gross returned home from a Cuban prison.

In fact, the President delivered extraordinary remarks, drawing from the Chanukah story to describe the day’s events.  Chanukah, he reminded us, is not only a story about an ancient Jewish community. It is about the struggle of many around the world today. 

The Secret of Achieving Your Dreams: Lessons from the Bible’s Greatest Dreamer

As the year turns, we dream. We dream of what we might have done this past year. More importantly, we dream of the future. We plan and set goals.

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My friend Michael Hyatt teaches an amazing process for this, and one of his key insights is “Dream big, even delusional, then dial it back a bit.”

But I have a counter-intuitive suggestion. The best way to achieve our dreams is to help others achieve their own. 

This idea did not originate with me. It’s right out of the Bible. In particular, we see it in the life of Joseph, the youngest son of the Israelite patriarch Jacob and Prime Minister of Egypt. 

Discover the Secret to Live Long and Prosper on #GivingTuesday

The land of Israel has two main bodies of water: the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. They are both fed by the Jordan River. Yet, they differ significantly.

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The Sea of Galilee is full of life. It has greenery, fish, and living creatures. The Dead Sea, as its name implies, has no life. What’s the difference?

The Dead Sea, as Jonathan Sacks has pointed out, receives water, but does not give it. The Sea of Galilee both receives and gives. In other words, the Dead Sea is a reservoir. It keeps its water for itself.

The Sea of Galilee is a spring. It gives its water to others. In that giving, it becomes alive.

This geographic feature has a lesson for each us. Giving enhances living. The more we give, the more we live. How? 

How Faith Helped Knock Down the Berlin Wall

Speaking to a Polish priest friend recently, I asked why we had so many Polish-born priests here in Chicago. The obvious reason is that Chicago the largest-speaking Polish-speaking population outside of Warsaw.

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He revealed to me, however, something more profound.

During the Cold War, the church was where young Poles found freedom. During a time of misery, the church was where they found hope. The church was where they found generosity. The church was where they were human beings, not pawns in a political showdown.

Why Mark Zuckerberg Wears the Same Shirt Every Day

In a recent interview Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was asked why he wears the same shirt everyday. He answered in the same way Steve Jobs answered a similar question.

Mark Zuckerberg in his standard gray shirt.

He wants to focus his brainpower for the big questions. Deciding what to wear every day, he said, would be a needless waste of intellectual capital.

Zuckerberg is known to be a minimalist in his lifestyle, and this answer reflects that philosophy. It may also reflect some of the lessons he learned growing up at his synagogue. While Judaism does not embrace simplicity in the same Zen Buddhism does, several core practices embody it.

Will God Condemn Brittany Maynard for Choosing to Die?

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On the most sacred Jewish holiday of the year–Yom Kippur–we literally imagine our own funeral. Men traditional wear a white sash that will also serve as their burial shroud. The purpose is to picture our own death in a way that helps us live more fully.

What if, however, we could not only imagine our death, but choose it. And what if that choice seemed the right and dignified thing to do.

The Hardest Question We Ask of God

The eternal question of religion is why do bad things happen to good people. Hundreds of thousands of volumes have addressed the questions. We still yearn for a satisfying answer.

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The horrific and highly-visible impact of hurricanes and natural disaster continually raise this question. How can we come to grips with thousands of homeless families, a couple killed while walking a dog, a woman electrocuted in front of a fallen transformer, and other horrors? How do we come to grips with broken promises, betrayals, senseless hatred?

The Bible offers two main answers. I will add a third articulated most popularly by Rabbi Harold Kushner, who wrote When Bad Things Happen to Good People.