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April 2019

The Ultimate Truth

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How do we reach the ultimate truth?

We reach the ultimate truth by transcending the apparent truth.
The apparent truth is “I exist, I have needs.” And since I exist, I need to sustain myself, since I exist I need to eat, since I exist I need to sleep, since I exist I need a home etc.
Then psychology comes and tells us that not only do we have physical needs, we have psychological needs. We need love, we need acceptance and self esteem.
Then religion comes along and tells us that not only do we have mortal needs and psychological needs, we have religious needs, we need God to help us and protect us, and we have an afterlife to secure.
The needs pile up and every generation is needier than the last.
The ultimate truth is that God needs us more than we need anything.
All our needs are based the apparent truth that we exist and therefore have needs. But we don’t need ourselves to exist! We have no needs. God is the one who created us, he is the one who needs something.
Recognizing that we are not needy, brings us the ultimate liberation and joy, which is why Chassidim are happy people.

Who Needs This Anyway?

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When the young Chabad rabbis arrived in Minnesota, they wanted to get a minyan together to recite the whole Tehilim once a month, on the Shabbat before the first of each month, as is the Chabad custom.

There were two old Jewish brothers living in Minnesota who were active in the community, and so the Rabbis asked them to join the minyan.
And so they asked them, “would you mind coming to shul early once a month and say they whole Tehilim with us?”
“Just once a month?” they asked, “Why not every week?”
“Its our custom to say Tehilim just once a month,” the rabbis answered.
“You see,” said the one of the brothers, a man named Yehuda, “my brother and i say the whole Tehilim every Shabbat! My brother and i were in a concentration camp. When the Russians came and liberated the camp, they told us we were free to go home. But we had nowhere to go, there was no more ‘home’. All we could do was stand there, with no home, no food, nothing. Suddenly, a polish woman come to us and handed us a fresh loaf of bread. And so, in gratitude to God for sending us the bread, my brother and i decided we would say the whole Tehilim every week!”
How do people who spent years in a concentration camp get overwhelmed with gratitude to God?? How can anyone be that good??
In truth, that is how they survived, both in body and spirit. They saw purpose, they saw meaning in life.
They survived because they did not focus on the “me,” They didn’t concern themselves with “What about me!” or “Why me??” or “look whats happening to me!” They remembered that this is God’s world, running by God’s plan, even though they didn’t understand it.
They remembered that our needs are not real, what is real is God and his needs.

Symptoms of Humanity

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If a person is depressed and feels like his or her life is missing something, what do we do?
If your child says “I didn’t ask to be born!” What are you supposed to do? Prozac? Therapy? Both?
How do we cure that kind of thing?
“I didn’t ask to be born” is  an absolutely true statement. Nobody asked to be born! In fact, the Torah tells us that our souls resisted being born.
Just like we didn’t ask to be born, but were born anyway, we didn’t ask to have to eat, but we do anyway, we didn’t ask to have to drink, but we do anyway, we didn’t ask to have to sleep, but we do anyway.
This means, first of all, eating, drinking, sleep, etc, aren’t our needs, they were imposed on us, and secondly, technically they aren’t “needs.” If a man breaks his leg, does he “need” a crutch? No, he needs to heal. Needing a crutch isn’t a “need”, its a handicap.
In truth, we don’t have any needs. We eat, sleep, and all the rest because God needs us to.
Humans will never be content being just human, because we know all this to be true. We know we don’t really “need” anything. We know that unless we were created for a purpose, nothing makes sense. So when a person is unhappy or not content, its not a sign of illness, its a sign of his or her humanity! In fact, if somebody is perfectly content and at peace in their regular lives, then something is wrong!

Happiness Is Not Optional

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The Torah tells us: “Serve God with joy”.

For most of Jewish history we took that to mean “Be happy while serving God'”
About 200 years ago, the Baal Shem Tov taught us that “If you want to serve God, be happy!” Not that while serving God we should be happy, but rather, simply by being happy we serve God.
Not just in doing Mitzvot, but in life, happiness is not optional. We are obligated to be happy.
When we are happy, its the ultimate service to God.
Chassidim used to say, that although  sadness isn’t a sin, but it will drag you down lower than any sin, and although happiness isn’t a Mitzvah, it will lift you up as much as any Mitzvah

Why God Doesn’t Want You To See Him

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Why can’t we see God?

God is not a spiritual entity, like a thought, God is a very real being. In fact, God is more real than anything physical or spiritual. So why can’t we see him?
Some say, the reason we can’t see God is because we aren’t holy enough. The problem with that, is it implies that God is only in heaven, in holy, spiritual worlds, and not in our world.
It simply isn’t possible that God isn’t here, in our world. So why can’t we see him?
The reason we cannot see God is because he chooses not to be seen.
The reason God hides himself is because he wants us to get to know him for who he is, and not get distracted with his glory and beauty.
God tells us that if we saw him, we would become distracted with God’s greatness, and never bother trying to understand him for who he is, we’d never find out what God thinks, what he likes, what he hates, and what makes him uncomfortable.
God tells us that if we saw him, we would be excited and impressed by his image, but the relationship would be over.
Not only does God do this, he thinks we should do it too.

Married Unconditionally

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A man told Rabbi Friedman “I love everything about my wife!”

“Very nice,” said Rabbi Friedman, “but do you love her?”
“What about her?” asked the man.
When a man marries a woman for her money, or vise versa, we all condemn it, because the marriage is a sham. He is not marrying her, he is marrying the money, with her as the proxy. In other words, if he could get the money without her, he’d gladly dump her.
Marrying for money is obviously wrong, but in truth, marrying for any “thing” is wrong.
If a man says that he’s marrying a woman because of her kindness, or her intelligence, or her sense of humor, or her family, then he isn’t marrying her, he is marrying kindness or intelligence or a sense of humor, or a family!
On a deeper level, when a man says “I’m going to marry that woman because i love her and she loves me,” he is making the same mistake. He won’t be marrying her, he’s marrying the love, and as soon as the love fades, the marriage is over. Ch”Sh.
The only way to have a real marriage is to marry for the sake of being married. When a man who wants to get married meets a woman who wants to get married, they can have a real marriage.
In other words, when a man who wants to forget about himself, and become one with, and devote himself to a woman, meets a woman who wants to forget about herself, and become one with, and devote herself to a man, they have a marriage. They have each other.

How To Be Wise

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At the Passover Seder we talk about “four sons,” the smart son, the wicked son, the simple son, and the son who does not know how to ask.

Some say that the son who does not know how to ask is the worst of them all, because his inability to ask a question comes from indifference.
Some say he is the most honest and sincere, who doesn’t need to ask questions.
Some say the “smart son” is the best because, well, he’s the smart son.
In truth, the simple son is the wisest son, and the one we should emulate.
The wisdom of the simple son’s question answers the questions of the others.
The smart son asks “Why are there different kinds of Mitzvot, some we do understand, some we do not understand?”
The Simple son answers “What is this?” What is a Mitzvah? Figure out what a Mitzvah is and your question goes away, then your question will go away.
The wicked son asks “Why do you do this service?”
The Simple son answers “What is this?” What is service? If you know that, then your question goes away.
This is a very important lesson in how to think. Before we get caught up in the details of any subject, we need to ask ourselves what are the definitions of the words we keep using: “What is this?”
If you have a question about God, ask yourself “What is God?’
If you have a question about Torah, ask yourself “What is Torah?”
If you have a question about parenting, ask yourself “What is a father/mother?”
If you have a question about marriage, ask yourself “What is a husband/wife?”
That is how we become wise.

The Reason God Needs You

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God, we are told, is perfect, and therefore needs nothing.

But if so, why did God create the world?

If God is perfect and needs nothing, why did he make us?

The truth is God does need us, not because God is imperfect, which would be absurd, but because he is perfect.

How is this possible?

If a person has a perfect existence, why have a friend?
If a person has a perfect existence, why get married?

The reason a person who doesn’t need anything gets married or makes friends is because being perfect is pointless if you are alone.

We are made in the image of God.

The one thing God doesn’t have from his own perfection is another. God in all his infinite perfection is still alone. God is infinite, but its all him, no part of God’s infinity isn’t him, and so he is alone.

That is why God created us. He needs us in order not to be alone. He needs us to have togetherness. We are the purpose of creation.

After all, God himself wrote in the Torah: “Its not good… to be alone.”

Stay tuned for a book by Rabbi Friedman coming out in the next few months on this topic

How To Stay Sane

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In the USSR, many Chassidim were sent to prisons, gulags, and firing squads for daring to commit “crimes” such as teaching children Hebrew or building a Mikvah.

One such Chassid was sent to a gulag in the north pole. It was known that people who when sent to that gulag never came back sane, if they came back at all.
This Chassid however, returned to civilization after serving his sentence completely sane.
His friends asked him, “how did you do it? How did you maintain your sanity in a place where no one can?”
The Chassid answered “The rest go crazy because when you take away their ability to hunt, drink and enjoy themselves, you take away everything they live for. But I, What did i do at home? I prayed to God three times a day as Torah commands, What did i do in the north pole?  I prayed to God three times a day as Torah commands!”
When we live without purpose, we aren’t really alive at all, and even when life is good, we suffer. But when we live with a purpose, no matter what happens to us we maintain our sanity and our happiness, because our purpose doesn’t change. No matter where we are, we know who we are.
When we live without purpose we can be knocked out with a feather, but when we recognize that we were created for a purpose bigger than ourselves, we are invincible.
And that can never be taken away from us.

Getting Close

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How do Mitzvot bring us closer to God?

Obedience to God does not bring us closer to him.
Obedience is the expression of recognizing authority, and authority is an expression of distance. The more distant a person is over us, the more authority they have over us, which makes us more obedient. There’s the obedience we have to the regional manager, and then the obedience to the CEO of the company. Obedience means distance, not closeness. You don’t feel closeness with the person who obeys you or vice versa.
Closeness can only come when we are invited by the person we want to get close to, to participate in something that’s already close to them. When there is something close and precious to them, and they invite us to participate with them in that thing, that brings closeness. If there is nothing that is already precious to them, there is no way to get close. We become close when we get involved with something closer to them than ourselves.
When God tells us to keep Shabbat, its not a commandment, its an invitation to participate in something that’s already precious to God. God says “My Shabbat,” or “My Yom Kippur,” or “My Friday Night Candles is very important to me, please do it with me.”
That is how we become close to him.
This is why the word Mitzvah doesn’t really mean “a commandment,” it means “a connection.”