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Do You Sound Like an Adult or a Father?

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There’s a story told that the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman, would read from the Torah scroll for his congregation every Shabbat. During the week of Parshat Ki Tavo, the chapter which describes the terribly dire consequences of the Jews’ misbehavior, the Rebbe was on one of his twice yearly trips abroad, and so another rabbi was left to do the reading.

The Rebbe’s 17-year-old son, the second Lubavitcher Rebbe, a sensitive soul, was so overcome by the reading that halfway through the chapter, he fainted. He just couldn’t listen to it anymore. He was so weakened, so traumatized, that weeks later, when Yom Kippur was approaching, doctors were consulted to determine whether it was safe for him to fast.

After the son came to, they asked him, “You’ve heard this chapter read so many times, and you never fainted before. What happened this time?”

The son answered, “This is the first time that I’ve heard it read by someone other than my father. When my father reads it, it sounds like blessings.”

Why don’t we faint, why aren’t we intimidated every time we hear this portion read? It’s because we hear the father — G-d —saying the words to us. When we hear the father behind the curses, they sound like blessings.

This story has relevance in human relationships. When speaking to your children, you can come across as a father, or you can come across as words, as some other role or identity. When you respond reflexively, you don’t sound like a father; you sound like an irritated adult. And when you come across as words, the child hears them as curses. But when there’s a father in those words, then even if they’re harsh, they feel like a blessing.

As a parent, we wear many hats. We can be a policeman, teacher, judge, executor, nurse and a psychologist. But only the hats should change, never the person under them. No matter the hat you’re wearing, the father behind them should always come through.

We can apply this to our own parents as well. We can salvage the relationships with our parents by finding the father behind their words or actions. Sometimes we’re too young to be able to discern the harshness of words from the fatherly essence within them. But when we mature, we can peel away the hat — which was sometimes a hard hat — to discover the blessings and reclaim these relationships. When we want to reconcile, we have to be like the Rebbe’s son and hear the father in the words.

That’s how we salvage the relationship, because when it comes down to it, to have a father is a blessing, even if he’s critical or harsh. A father is never a problem — even when he’s giving you a problem. Not to have a father, however, is completely unacceptable.

So let’s make it easier for our own children. Let’s not wait for them to figure this out on their own. Don’t give them confusing messages. Don’t wear a hat that’s so foreign, that’s such a good disguise that even your own children don’t recognize you. That is traumatizing. That is frightening.

Be thoughtful and mindful in your relationship with your children. That’s when fatherhood comes across best. If you’re mindfully paternal to your children, you will like them in addition to loving them. If you respond to your children on the spur of the moment, as a reflex, it won’t feel fatherly to them. But when your responses are premeditated, they come from the father in you, and your children will sense it intuitively.

Make sure to present your wisdom to your children in a manner that is also wise. Even the wisest statement can be wasted or even counterproductive if it’s thrown across the room or spoken to someone’s back. Wait for your child to come to you; then you know he’s focused and will listen to what you have to say.

Wisdom wants wise methods of expression too. Use a tone that is appropriate for wisdom. If you’re sharing wisdom but it sounds like you’re warning people of a nuclear fallout, the tone doesn’t match the content and the child doesn’t know what to make of it. Speak calmly and gently in words that are understandable. Use words that are already familiar to your children, so that they won’t have to learn a new vocabulary just to get what you’re trying to tell them.

The fact that you choose the words, the fact that you choose the timing, the fact that you choose the content, and the fact that you bother to deliver it, all that feels like a blessing, like a father. And then, even if you have to say things that are harsh, your child will love you, and he will repeat it to his children. And then it becomes the wisdom of the ages, repeated from generation to generation. To hear your children quote you to your grandchildren. That makes life worth living.

Learn more about the art of parenting with our Parenting for All Ages online course!

The Art of Being Human

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If you would be asked to define yourself in a few words, what would come to mind? Would you portray yourself as a man? A woman? A Jew? A Muslim? You would indeed be correct in choosing one or more of these terms. They may indeed serve as accurate descriptions of certain aspects of your life. But you are more than that. You are a human being. What does it mean to be human?

The definition of humanity can be unveiled by examining the Biblical account of creation. When God created mankind, He formed the first human being as a composite of both man and woman. Only later was this quintessential human split into two distinct entities. Because a man is not just a man and a woman is not just a woman, these distinctions function only as a secondary reality. They are first and foremost one and the same — human. And to be human is to be formed in God’s image. Being human transcends gender, race, color, or creed. When one identifies oneself as human, one identifies with the innermost aspect of his or her self. And that aspect is uniform between all people, regardless of environment or history.

To be human is to be a partner with God in creation. It is to be an essential part of God’s eternal plan to transform the world. It doesn’t matter whether you are strong or weak, male or female, black or white; these are only facets through which your humanity is expressed.

Both the competition of the sexes and the friction between religions stem from the mistaken perception that one group is more human than the next. But when it comes to humanity, each and every individual is both equal and unique. No two people are identical, for to be human is to have a mission that only you can accomplish.

No two missions are alike; your job has been designed specifically for you. There will never be another task quite like it, nor will there be anyone in the world who can perfect it better than you. And you have all the necessary tools to complete the task G-d has prepared for you.

We don’t all need to belong to the same religion. Women don’t need to emulate men. It doesn’t even matter that some people are born intellectuals while others struggle to acquire knowledge. Just do what you need to do and trust that you have what it takes to make a difference. Appreciate the fact that you are a human being. You have a purpose. You have a mission. And you are exactly who you need to be.

Learn more by checking out the Hashem Needs You e-book!

What If You Mess Up? What Divorce Teaches About Marriage

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Why does G‑d tell you how to get divorced, if He believes in marriage?

Not only does He believe in marriage, He believes that you should be married, and He wants you to be married to the person you are married to.

Why, then, does He allow you to get divorced? Not only allows it, but tells you how to do it?

As with all G‑d’s instructions in the Torah, getting divorced is a mitzvah, a divine commandment. In fact, His instructions on divorce are very explicit. But why?

Because, having said what His instructions for marriage are, G‑d doesn’t abandon you when you get in trouble.

Because He is merciful and compassionate, kind and considerate, He gives you a second set of instructions, in case you can’t follow the first set.

That’s like a cookbook that tells you what to do if you ruin the recipe. Two of my children were once following the instructions on a package of cookie mix. One of them read the instructions aloud, while the other prepared the mix. The child who was reading said, “Now you’re supposed to stir the dough 50 times.” The other one exclaimed, “But I’m already up to a hundred! What do we do now?”

So the first child said, “I don’t know. I’ll go back and see what it says to do.” He checked the box, but the instructions didn’t say anything about stirring the dough too many times. The two of them came to me and asked what they should do. “Should we throw it out? Should we start all over? The instructions don’t tell us what to do if we mess up.”

G‑d isn’t like that. That’s not how Torah — His set of instructions — is written. He tells you what to do if you ruin the recipe.

It’s as though G‑d says to you, “This is the person I have selected for you. This is the person I want you to be married to. You can’t? It hurts too much? Then don’t. Leave. But when you do, please shut the door behind you.”

So He not only tells us we may get divorced, He tells us how. “Here is the divine commandment for how to get in, and here is another divine commandment for how to get out.”

G‑d talks to us that way because He’s married to us.

Like everything else that exists in this world, marriage is a reflection of what exists in the spiritual world. There is an absolute marriage that exists between G‑d and us.

Marriage requires that something which you take seriously and strictly upon yourself, you are very lenient and accommodating about with your partner. G‑d is married to us, and that He takes very seriously. He is committed to the relationship. Therefore, He is lenient and accommodating when we don’t always live up to His expectations.

G‑d says to us: “You messed up? Then try again. You blew it? Then here is what you have to do. You forgot? Then next time, try to remember. You forgot a second time? Try a third time.” That’s how we know that He’s committed to the marriage.

Sometimes G‑d does even better than that. He asks us what our intentions were. For instance, He tells us not to mix meat and milk. What happens if we do? “Well,” He says, “it depends on how much milk there was, and how much meat there was. And did you do it on purpose? Or was it an accident? If it was an accident, this is how you fix it. If it was on purpose, try not to let it happen again.”

G‑d expects you to be married, and to the person He has chosen for you. But He is compassionate and understanding when you tell Him that it’s just too difficult.

Maybe He intended for you to get married and then get out; maybe the laws for divorce are your “escape clause.”

No.

G‑d intends for you to stay married. But if you can’t, if it’s too difficult for you, He understands, and He will help you out.

Does that mean your marriage was a mistake? You took a gamble, you lost, now admit it and get out? You made a mistake, so G‑d is telling you how to fix it?

Wrong again.

Your marriage wasn’t a mistake. It was intended since the beginning of time. When G‑d created your soul, 6,000 years ago, He created your “intended” along with you.

Saying that you married the wrong person is like saying you gave birth to the wrong baby. Could you have somebody else’s baby? A woman once said something like that to me. “You have how many children?” she asked, incredulously. I don’t remember how many we had at that time, maybe 10 or 12.

“Don’t you know there are some people who can’t have children?” She was indignant. It was as if she were saying, “Give somebody else a break. Share a little. Don’t have so many kids; let other people have a few.” It doesn’t happen like that. You don’t give birth to someone else’s children. The children that you have were meant to be yours.

As Einstein said, “G‑d doesn’t play dice with the universe.” If G‑d doesn’t play dice with atoms or molecules, then He doesn’t play dice with hearts or minds or souls.

You are married to the person you are intended to be married to. G‑d arranged it. He set it up; He predestined it from the beginning. In other words, His mind is made up that that’s the way He wants it.

You don’t want it? Fine. Since He is married to you, He says, “Whatever you want.”

Will it spoil “some vast eternal plan,” as Tevye asks in Fiddler on the Roof? The answer is yes. Yes, if you get divorced, you will spoil some vast eternal plan — G‑d’s plan. But will He let you? Will He help you? Yes, He will let you, and He will help you.

The reason that G‑d allows divorce, and commands divorce, is because by doing so, He is teaching you how to be married.

So even though G‑d has rules, even though He has laws, even though He has divine commandments, when you sin, He tells you: “You messed up? Try again. You made a mistake and you admit it? Don’t worry about it; you’ll do better next time. You did it ten times already? Ask for forgiveness, and I’ll forgive you 10 times.”

That’s exactly how you should be married — by treating your spouse the way G‑d treats you. With that much mercy and compassion, that much kindness and consideration.

Your wife did it to you again? Forgive her again. She did it 10 times? Forgive her 10 times.

Be as committed to making this relationship last as G‑d has been committed to making His relationship with you last. The moral is, by offering to help you get divorced, G‑d is helping you stay married for all time. The way He has stayed married to you.

Getting to Know G-d

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Throughout history, the question of why G-d is not visible has perplexed the human race. Philosophers and laymen have addressed it in a number of different ways. Some say G-d is by nature not a visible being; they contend that He is a spirit, thought or feeling. This answer is sorely lacking: G-d is, after all, the Creator of the world and all that is in it. If His creation, which is merely a product of His handiwork, is visible, then we should certainly be able to see the G-d, the Originator of all.

Others believe we cannot see G-d because we are not holy. If we had holy eyes, they say, we would be able to see G-d. In fact, even if we see a holy person – not to mention G-d – we might fail to recognize that he or she is holy because we are not connoisseurs of holiness. This solution is slightly better than the first, but it remains a poor answer because the question is not about the visibility of holiness, but the visibility of G-d. The problem remains: Why don’t we see Him, given that He is more real than anything He created?

Ultimately, the only good and proper answer is that we don’t see G-d because He chooses not to be seen. Logically speaking, because He is real, He should be visible to everyone. The reason we don’t see Him is because He acts to prevent us from doing so.

G-d’s ability to remain invisible even though He is very much present stands in tremendous contrast to the human condition. A human being has free choice and can opt to be seen, or not, by choosing his location. If he wishes to remain unseen, he stays in his room, or hides in a cave; if he wants to be seen, he comes out into the public arena. Thus, he is the master of his presence. But a human being is not the master of his visibility. If he is present, then even if he very much wishes not to be seen, he has no power to become invisible. Likewise, if he is secluded and is frantic because he has fallen and needs help, no amount of desperation will make him visible to others. Humans are not truly independent beings. Ultimately, our existence is relative: it is influenced by, and vulnerable to, other people and elements in the world. If I am in your presence, then you become the master of my visibility because you can see me regardless of whether or not I wish to be visible.

In contrast, G-d is the master not only of His presence, but of His visibility. This is the logical explanation why G-d is very much present and yet not at all visible. But our not seeing Him doesn’t mean that He is absent: He’s never absent. G-d is everywhere at all times, even though He chooses not to be seen.

Still, why would He choose to be ever-present and invisible? Some say He hides Himself to give us freedom of choice. They contend that the very fact of seeing Him would impel us to be good; we would be incapable of sinning. But history doesn’t prove this to be the case. The Jews stood face to face with G-d at Mount Sinai, where they both saw and heard G-d, yet 40 days later they sinned. Clearly, then, our freedom of choice is not compromised one iota by knowing that G-d is real — very real. We still have the option to serve Him or serve ourselves.

Ultimately, the reason why G-d chooses to conceal Himself is because G-d wants to be known rather than seen. By definition, the act of seeing satisfies our innate curiosity about the object or person at hand. The eye experiences pleasure from seeing what is beautiful or interesting, and we tend not to bother exploring any deeper. Seeing people, in particular, doesn’t lead to an intimate understanding of them: on the contrary, it distracts us. Essentially, by making Himself unseen, G-d is saying, “I want to have a relationship with My creations, but an intimate relationship. Because I want you to know Me, don’t look at Me.” And because we don’t see G-d, all these years later — ever since creation, and long after the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai — we are still fascinated with G-d. We have so many questions: What is He asking of us? How does He do A, B and C? Why does He let X, Y and Z happen? We are fascinated with G-d because we’re getting to know Him as a result of not seeing Him.

The same is true to some degree regarding human relations. Modesty is inextricably linked with intimacy. If we are to get to know another person in a profound way, that knowledge must come through the use of our minds: through hearing, thinking and sensitivity. Seeing is easy but, in and of itself, it doesn’t make for a deep relationship.

The Nature of Intelligence

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We find ourselves in the midst of a season of gift-giving. Everyone ponders what they could possibly give their friends and family that they would appreciate.

As human beings, our deepest appreciation is for things that nurture our deepest qualities. And there is no deeper human quality than intelligence.

In our fast-paced, high-powered society, good-sense intelligence is being replaced by artificial intelligence. We are accomplishing more than ever before because we have to think less than ever before.

And yet this explosion of accomplishment is not creating a happier society, only a busier one.

How can we re-learn and re-teach the art of fine intelligence? And wouldn’t that be a meaningful gift to offer a person you care about (such as yourself)?

This article offers one way to do it. While this covers the subject of intelligent discussion of faith, the premise holds true for all unreasonable and thus unhealthy skepticism.

What is the intelligent response upon hearing something new? Is it to automatically doubt the veracity of this new piece of information or flatly reject it because you have never heard it before?

Of course not. That is not an intelligent or constructive reaction.

Imagine an explorer returning from a distant land and reporting facts you’ve never heard before. Would you doubt him? If someone comes back from Australia and tells you he saw a unique animal that carries its babies in its pocket, would you respond, “I’ve never heard of such a thing. I’m too intelligent to believe that”?

The explorer is telling you he’s discovered something you have never encountered. How can your objection be, “I’ve never heard of or seen such a thing”? Is that really an intelligent response?

The healthy behavior when confronted with information you’ve never heard before — and know nothing about — is to assume it’s true and that you’ve just learned something new. To be skeptical is a limiting habit, a learned behavior that can come from being lied to.

For example, when someone says, “G-d created the world,” a common reaction is rejection: “I can’t believe that.”

Why? Why can’t you? Do you have information that points in another direction?

If you do not have an intelligent objection, the sensible reaction is not to doubt the new information, but to assume it’s correct.

To reject an idea, a belief, or an argument on the grounds of never having seen it yourself is counterproductive. Why? Because seeing and hearing new things is how you learn new things! We need to rethink our whole attitude towards how we perceive and process new information.

There also seem to be an unhealthy obsession and demand for proof. If I say G-d gave the Torah at Mount Sinai, the automatic reaction will be, “Can you prove that?”

Why do we need proof? What’s the objection? Do you know for certain that G-d was in Cleveland that day? Does He need an alibi?

Whenever a certain discipline becomes popular, people begin to view everything through the prism of that discipline. When psychology became popular, everything was interpreted through the lens of psychology. (Are you angry with your mother?) When politics is front and center, anything being discussed has some kind of political implications. People often take one idea and make a lifestyle out of it; it doesn’t work.

At the beginning of the last century, science became a god. To establish a scientific fact, you have to test it repeatedly to see that you get the same result.

When science became a god, life became a science. Now, everything has to be proven; everything has to have evidence. (My mother loves me, but where is the proof that she’s my mother?)

But life is not lived in a laboratory.

What we have to introduce to young people is: That what we’ve always known to be true is true. What is wrong with that? Why does that need to be fixed? Would you ever say, “My mother claims to be my mother and she acts like my mother and I want her to be my mother, but I need proof”?

If an idea has been popular for 5,000 years, it would be foolish to say, “There’s no such thing.” Saying that an absence of proof somehow proves that something does not exist is nonsense. There is no intellectual discipline that focuses on what does not exist. Not having a proof does not prove anything.

Intelligence does not work that way.

If you have a reason to disagree, present your reason. If you have no reason to disagree, be excited that you’ve learned something new. That’s the healthier approach.

Generally, when you speak to people who consider themselves atheists, they end up saying something along the lines of “OK, maybe there is some kind of G-d, but I can’t believe He’d be bothered by what I eat!”

If you ask: What is G-d? What do we know about Him? Why does He care what we eat? Those are valid questions. Now you’re starting to make sense.

Now we can have a conversation.

Why Didn’t You Ask Me First?

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Several years ago, I was flying to Argentina to speak. The flight was terrible. I had to fly from Minnesota to New York to Miami to Buenos Aires.

When I finally arrived in Argentina, I was exhausted. I was miserable. The one thing I was looking forward to was being picked up and taken to my hotel room where I could finally sleep off my journey and awaken refreshed the next day ready to work.
But this was not to be.

When the local Chabad rabbi picked me up from the airport, I was told that we would be making a pit-stop on the way to the hotel.

“A woman in the community,” explained the rabbi, “recently lost her son and she’s been too depressed to speak to anyone or leave her home for months. When we told her you were coming, she agreed to speak with you. We are going to stop by her house on the way to the hotel so you can talk to her.”

I was not very happy about this to say the least. Not only was the assignment daunting — What do you say to someone who is so depressed? — I was quite perturbed that no one had asked me first.

‘Why didn’t anyone ask me?’

But what could I do? She was already expecting us so I had no choice.

When I met the woman at her home, she looked as if she had died. There was no light in her eyes. No life in her voice. No color in her face.

Her 19 year-old-son had died in a car accident while he was trying to get home in time for selichos (the penitential prayers leading up to Rosh Hashana). The three other boys in the car survived, but he did not.

She told me about how special her son was. He was respectful, courteous and kind. He was considerate, wise, caring and mature beyond his years.

“That was an amazing boy you had,” I said when she was finished. “And to think, you had him for 19 years.”

She was not at all impressed with my response.

“I understand,” I assured her. “The shock of losing your son so suddenly is horrible. But imagine for a moment that G-d had come to you in advance and told you the following: ‘I’m looking for someone to be the mother of a really special kid for 19 years. Will you agree to be his mother?’ What would you say?”

I thought for sure she would say yes, but to my surprise she replied defiantly: “Absolutely not!”
Now I was completely at a loss of what to say, so without thinking I retorted: “Well then it’s a good thing He didn’t ask you.”

Suddenly a floodgate of tears opened and she began to sob uncontrollably. This woman finally allowed herself to have a good cry for the first time since her son’s death. And she cried out her grief.

After about twenty minutes, she looked alive for the first time since the tragedy. She was a new person. I felt as if I had literally witnessed a woman go from beyond to the grave to among the living right before my eyes.

This was probably the most meaningful, emotional and powerful experience I have ever had in my 50 years of counseling people.

In the car, on the way to the hotel I reflected. When they first told me to meet with this woman I was angry. I was upset. ‘Why didn’t you ask me?’

And if they had asked me beforehand if I would meet with her immediately after my flight, what would my answer have been? I would have said: “Absolutely not!”

And that would have been the wrong answer! I wouldn’t have been able to help her and I would have missed out on something incredible.

Most of the great things we do in life are not done in response to situations we have willingly chosen. We don’t ask for challenges.

If someone asked you if you would like some difficulties or some tests in your life, you would say: No thanks.

If G-d asked us in advance each time He wanted to send us a challenging situation, we would always say no . And then, we wouldn’t do anything noteworthy in our lives. We’d amount to nothing.

So, we have to thank G-d at every moment — or at least every morning when we wake up – for not asking our permission. We all endure our share of pain in this world. It’s all part of G-d’s plan. It is our struggles that help us to grow and become better people.

God and Masks

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Sometimes we get so caught up in our own problems that we forget to empathize and feel compassion for others. And when we do, we almost never consider feeling any compassion for God. Why would we pity God? God has everything! But in the current global situation something has happened that makes it easier to feel for God.

Today, for safety reasons we wear masks on our faces when we interact with others. A lot of people have strong opinions about the effectiveness of the mask, but one thing is certain: nobody enjoys wearing it. Wearing the mask isn’t fun. It’s annoying. But we must.

Through this we get a feel for what it’s like to be God. In order to create the world, God had to put on a mask to hide himself from us. He must. Otherwise, if we saw God, we would be overwhelmed and lose our individualism and our free will. So he concealed himself so that we could be ourselves.

God has been wearing his mask for almost 6000 years now, and will continue to wear it until the coming of Moshiach, when the world will be holy enough to see and know God without losing its self. With every mitzvah and good deed we do, Moshiach gets closer, and God gets closer to taking off his mask. So let’s do an extra Mitzvah to make that happen a little sooner, because as we all now know, wearing a mask is no fun.

What Nobody Told You About Adam and Eve

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Do you know the story of Adam and Eve? If we truly understand what took place on that day in the Garden of Eden, it would help us understand a lot about what we are supposed to being doing here in this world.

In the beginning, G-d created Adam and Eve and placed them in the Garden of Eden with very specific instructions: “You may eat the fruit of all of the trees besides for that one.” What will happen if you do eat from that forbidden tree? “The day you eat from it you will die.”

Within an hour of those explicit instructions Adam and Eve both ate the forbidden fruit. Now G-d approaches Adam and asks him, “Did you eat from the tree that I told you not to eat from?”

What does Adam answer? “Eve made me do it.”

Because they ate from the forbidden tree, G-d banished Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and placed them in a world where people would be forced to make a living “by the sweat of their brow,” have difficulties growing wheat, and where pain would inevitably accompany birth. The snake would be humanity’s great enemy; it would kill man, man would kill it.

And that’s the story as we’ve always known it.

Hasn’t it ever struck you as a bit odd? Why would G-d choose to start the Torah with such a horrible story? The Torah is about to introduce 613 commandments that we are to observe despite being shackled with an evil inclination. Yet how does G-d begin the Torah? By telling us a story about these two people, Adam and Eve, who are living in paradise, a place where the evil inclination cannot even exist, and after being given just one simple commandment they break it within the hour.

That is not very encouraging.

And if there is no evil inclination in the Garden of Eden, how could they have transgressed this one commandment, and so soon?! If G-d Himself told us to eat from any tree that we wanted, except for one, wouldn’t we listen?

If the A-mighty G-d spoke directly to you, wouldn’t it make an impression? When G-d addressed the assembled at Mount Sinai, they all died and needed to be revived. But when He asks Adam to refrain from eating from a tree, Adam’s response is, “I’ll try”?

That can’t be; it’s not possible.

It is also bad psychology. When you tell a child, “Don’t touch that crystal vase,” you do not add, “if you do…” What do you mean “if you do”? You don’t! You never introduce the possibility that they will break your rules. When you say, “If you do…” you’re in effect saying that it’s possible that they will touch that vase.

However G-d goes even further than that. He didn’t say “If you eat from it,” He said, “The day you eat from it.” What day is that? Who knows, maybe today. There is a mixed message here.

And where did Adam learn to blame someone else? His automatic response to G-d’s query was that Eve had forced him to eat the fruit. This man was only a few hours old, having been created just that morning, and he’s already blaming others?

Then, finally, G-d warns Adam and Eve that eating from the tree will bring death. G-d then adds more punishment. Not only will humans die but their lives will also be filled with suffering?!

The whole story as we know it appears quite problematic. But the main problem is, if you would want to start teaching your child the Torah, would you start with this story? Even if it did happen, why talk about it? And right in the beginning of the book?

Maybe the story isn’t all that simple.

Adam and Eve were the most righteous people in all of history, and only the Messiah’s soul will be greater than theirs. Adam and Eve consciously remembered being in heaven when they were informed that their souls would have a special spiritual mission to fulfill in a physical world. They were told that they would be placed in physical bodies and sent into the lowest world of all in order to reveal G-dliness in even that spiritually dark place. That they would have to work to create a dwelling place for His glory in a world that did not naturally recognize Him.

But when they got to this low world, G-d pointed at everything and told them that they should feel free to “eat from all of those trees, but don’t eat from the Tree of Knowledge, and if you do you will die.”

But these instructions confused Adam and Eve. “What shall we do about that tree?” they wondered. “If we are here to fix this world, it seems that the one thing that needs fixing is that tree! The one we were commanded not to eat from.” So Adam and Eve decided to have a little talk.

“G-d is giving us a choice,” explained Eve to Adam, “either don’t eat from the tree and live, or eat from the tree and die. It’s not a mixed message, it’s a choice.”

“Then let’s not eat from the tree,” answered Adam.

So Eve said, “We have to eat from that tree. That’s what G-d wants; it is our destiny.”

“How do you know that?” Adam asked.

“Because nobody dies here in the Garden of Eden; that means that we are not in the lowest world.”

“We’re low enough. If G-d wanted us to be in a world where humans die He could have put us there Himself.”

“That’s not how G-d works!” exclaimed Eve. “G-d takes you until the door, but it’s your decision whether to enter or not.”

G-d always takes you to the threshold, and then He leaves you there. He wants you to decide.

So Adam told Eve, “I think you’re right. It is good that G-d created a wife for me, if it were not for you I wouldn’t have understood the choice.”

So they took fruit from the forbidden tree and ate it.

G-d then calls out to Adam, “You ate from the tree that I forbade you to eat from? How did you know that’s what I wanted you to do?”

“How did I know? I didn’t know. She knew.”

“Well that is good,” G-d answers. “Let me tell you about the lowest world. When you go into the world outside of this Garden of Eden you know pain, hard work and enemies. That’s the lowest world. That’s the world I need you to fix.”

Simply put, Adam and Eve weren’t bothered by whether they lived or died. What they were really discussing was the future of their children, what kind of people they would be.

Adam wanted to ensure that his children would all remain righteous. How do you do that? Don’t eat from the tree. If you don’t eat from the tree then you’ll stay in the Garden of Eden, you’ll never die, there will be no sins, and all of your children will be pious.

Eve didn’t want that. She wanted her children to be forced to struggle, to have to repent for their inevitable shortcomings. She eventually convinced Adam that one who must struggle to find G-d is worthier than a naturally righteous man.

So Adam ate from the tree.

In the first story of Torah, the Torah’s telling us, we are in this world because it’s better to struggle than to have G-dliness handed to us on a silver platter. Who chose this path for us? Our mother Eve. She knew that it would be very painful and that it would take a long time. But she knew that in the end her children would return to G-d and that then the world will really be fixed.

Look at the difference in the two ways to tell this story:

In one version G-d comes to Adam and asks (angrily), “You ate from the tree that I told you not to eat from?”

That’s not what happened. Actually G-d came to Adam and marveled (smiling), “You ate from the tree that I told you not to eat from?”

It’s the same words. It just depends on whether you assume that G-d is angry. He’s not; why assume such a thing?

Eating from the tree was not an act of rebellion against G-d, nor was it succumbing to their appetite, for they had no desires other than to serve G-d. The choice they had was between one holiness and another. Their motivation came from their G-dly souls.

It is known as the “sin” of the tree for sin means stepping down from an innocent place to a lower place, and they certainly did — not out of weakness but out of devotion to their mission.

The mystical reality is this: All sin is distasteful to G-d and against His will. All sin also has its purpose in G-d’s plan. Hence sin violates His will, He despises it, and sin furthers His purpose — by moving us to teshuvah (repentance).

Adam and Eve chose between fulfilling His will and fulfilling His purpose. Our evil inclination tempts us to defy G-d’s will, not to fulfill His purpose.

This Shabbat Is A Major Holiday

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On Shabbat, December 5th, the 19th of Kislev, Chabad and others in the Chassidic community celebrate the holiday of Yud-Tes Kislev. It is a momentous day that has been celebrated with joy and reverence for over 200 years. It is the most important day on the Chassidic calendar, the “Rosh HaShana of Chassidism.”

Why?

In the fall of 1798, on the day after Sukkot, Russian soldiers arrested Reb Shneur Zalman of Liadi on charges of treason. Reb Shneur Zalman was famous as the author of the Tanya and the founder of the Chabad movement, his new approach to the relationship between man and God had inspired thousands, but now he was being held as a political prisoner in The Peter and Paul Fortress, the “Russian Bastille” which would hold the Decembrists and Dostoyevsky, Trotsky and Tito.

Reb Shneur Zalman was interrogated day and night. They demanded to know what his “revolutionary” movement was all about, what Chassidism was, and why he and his followers were sending money to the Ottoman Empire, an enemy of the Czar. Of course, they were misinformed. Chabad was not a political “revolutionary” movement and the money he was supposedly sending to the Ottoman Empire was actually being sent to poor Jews living in Israel who happened to live under Ottoman rule. But in a dark prison fortress in Czarist Russia, the truth could be of little use, especially for a Jew. Execution seemed imminent.

When he was suddenly released by order of Paul I on the 19th of Kislev, a storm of euphoria and relief swept over the Jewish community. They celebrated for days. But for Reb Shneur Zalman and his followers, this was much more than just a close call or a narrow escape, this was divine vindication.

What happens in this world is a reflection of what goes on in heaven. Reb Shneur Zalman’s arrest was a reflection of the uproar in heaven he had caused when he began teaching the secrets of the Torah to the common man. The angels in heaven cried out that these secrets were too holy and precious to be spread on earth. They cried out that Reb Shneur Zalman must be stopped. Reb Shneur Zalman’s release was a reflection of the heavenly court’s verdict that he should be allowed to go on teaching the secrets of the Torah.

Today the 19th of Kislev is celebrated all over the world because it made the availability of these secrets possible for all.

But God doesn’t have secrets like a spy or a politician have secrets. He doesn’t have some dangerous deep dark secrets that he is forced to hide. Most human beings don’t even have those kinds of secrets. If one of those secrets leak out and become widely known, then they are no longer secret, but a true secret will always be secret, even if everyone knows. A true secret means the personal and intimate part of ourselves that are too personal to be exposed, not because it’s embarrassing or damaging in any way, but because it simply doesn’t belong in public. It is secret because we reserve it for our inner life and not for our social life.

There are some things we don’t share simply because the outside world won’t appreciate the beauty of it. That is why it hurts when you tell a friend something personal, and they then share it with others. It is your secret. It’s not just a piece of information, it’s a part of you that must be treated with sensitivity and modesty. Some things don’t belong in the cold, uncaring light.

This kind of secret isn’t defined by how many people know it. The whole world knows what happens when the bride and groom go to their room on their wedding night. But we don’t mention it because it’s still a secret.

But sometimes we must reveal.

As parents, we don’t tell our children how desperately we need them to be good people. We tell them all kinds of reasons why they should be good, but we never tell them how much it means to us. We don’t tell them because we don’t know how they will treat such a revelation of vulnerability. What if they laugh? What if they lose respect for us? But when we have tried every argument and still our children are slipping away, then we open up. When we have tried everything, when we are desperate, then we show our children how vulnerable we are. Then we tell them, with tears in our eyes, how much we need them.

That’s why the secrets of the Torah were not revealed until about 250 years ago. Down through the ages Jews were holy and wise men and women. They understood the Torah’s wisdom, the appreciated holiness and godliness. And so there was no need for God to reveal his own vulnerability, how much he needs us to be good, how desperate he is for us to be his. But as the wise and the holy passed away, and new generations of Jews came who did not appreciate holiness and godliness, who could not see the wisdom of the Torah, then God felt the need to tell us his secrets.

Especially today, most Jews don’t respond to righteousness and spirituality. The only thing left is to tell them the secret: God needs you. Desperately.

That is what we celebrate on the 19th of Kislev.

And then we get Channukah

Is God Confused?

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God created us and told us that there are things he would like us not to do. “Sins.”

But if he doesn’t want sin, then why create humans who sins? God sounds a little confused, he creates sin and then hates it!

God said “let there be light” and there was light. God said “keep Shabbat” and… well we try. Why can’t God just snap sin out of existence if he hates it so much??

The answer is that God created the world because he wants a relationship, and you can’t have a relationship with someone who is controlled by you or anything else. A real relationship is when two free-willed individuals choose each other. Nobody wants to be married to a robot, we marry another human. Maybe the argument could be made that marriage to a robot would be easier than marriage to another person; no fights, no give and take, no pain. But that would defeat the whole point of marriage.

This is why God gave us the power to sin, the power to hurt him. We cannot imagine the pain that we cause God when we sin. But God chooses to continue to feel that pain if it means a relationship with us.