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Love-Hate Relationships

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When God created the universe, he made it with two principal dimensions: Existence and life. The universe both lives and exists.

Something has to exist before it can live, and since nothing existed when God started the creation, the first thing he had to do is to give existence to non-existent things. But then God gave every existent being a life.

The scientific definition of “existence” is simply to take up space. If you occupy space then you exist. If you don’t occupy your space then you don’t exist. Everything in the world exists by virtue of occupying its space. For example, a book on the shelf doesn’t allow another book in that same space. That’s because it exists. Even a thought occupies space. One thought doesn’t allow another thought to enter its space, which is why you can’t think two thoughts at the same time. The same is true with emotions: they occupy space in the heart. Whether it’s love, or even a tree, all things exist in the same way: they take up space.

But when it comes to the life of the various existences, no two are the same. The life of fire is not the same as the life of water. “Life” means the contribution and the function that you bring to the existence. Fire contributes warmth, light, and makes things come apart while water contributes growth and makes things stick together. Even a stone has a “life”: it contributes weight and resistance to movement.

Humans too have an existence and a life; we all take up space and we also contribute to the world. But the two are not always compatible; sometimes what is good for my existence is not good for my life and sometimes what is good for my life is not good for my existence.

For example, when I am alone, I have the whole room to myself and my existence is expanded. I occupy the whole space. But when I am giving a class, there are others in the room who intrude and encroach on my space and steal my existence. When others lessen my space, my existence resents it and hates them for it.

On the other hand, I’m happy and relieved people are there because talking to an empty room is no life. We were born to contribute, and without others I can’t contribute. They ruin my existence but give me life and purpose. So even though my existence resents them, my life loves them! That’s why we often end up loving someone but not liking them, or loving and hating the same person; I love you because you enhance my life, but I hate you because you’re cramping my existence.

This is the ultimate purpose of marriage. Our existence much prefers being single, when we have our own space and own our life. But that part of ourselves that yearns for life and is not satisfied just taking up space can’t bear it. Because in a marriage we are constantly sharing, it is the ultimate life, but it is also the ultimate threat to existence. Nothing humbles our existence more than marriage. Marriage means giving up our existence and turning “my space” to “our space.”

Existence is not something to be proud of. It’s not a talent. Existence means “don’t touch me, i was here first, it’s mine!” It’s childish. It’s also an embarrassment and a burden, because in addition to excluding others, existence also makes demands. We need to eat and sleep and go to the doctor and exercise just to keep taking up space! We need to obey every demand that our existence makes of us. Life gives, life carries us, whereas existence must be carried.

If there’s a conflict, and you have to choose between life and existence, the smart thing to do is to give up the existence and choose life. In our relationships, we should give up our space and let the other person have the space. What do we need it for? It’s just a burden.

Home is where life happens. Every place else is about our existence, but when we come home from work and walk in the front door, that is when our day begins. Until now we were just existing and working to sustain our existence, but when we come home, that’s where we live, that’s where the magic of living happens.

This is what we own to our children. We need to tell them how to brush their teeth, how to cross the street, how to ride a bicycle, to avoid strangers, etc. to keep them from harm. But we also need to teach them how to live beyond just not getting hurt. But sometimes even when we do teach them about life, we ruin it by making it about existence. For example, we tell them to go to school and learn well, which is noble and good, but then we ruin it by saying that the reason they should get a good grade is because then they’ll get into a good college, which will get them a good job, which will enhance their existence. We teach our kids not to lie, which is essential to life, but then we ruin it when we say “the reason you shouldn’t lie, is because people will stop believing you when you’re telling the truth and that will hurt your existence.”

We own it to our children to teach them that they should learn and tell the truth and share because that is how they can live and contribute, not because it will help them take up space and exist. We should ennoble everyday functions by injecting it with life and purpose, not make our values transactional and utilitarian and purely for the sake of our existence.

This choice between life and existence holds the key to unlocking many secrets of the universe. In fact, the mystics tell us that this is the real secret behind creation: God created the world because he exists forever and ever and his existence is everywhere and, but that’s not a life, that’s just a magnificent existence. And so God says “no, I’ve got to create a world, and that world will become my home where I can bring others into my space. Then my existence will be enriched, then my existence will have content and purpose, and beauty and passion.

We are here because even God is not content just existing, and so we aren’t either.

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Proof That God Likes You

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One of the innovations of the Baal Shem Tov was that it can’t be that God created the world a long time ago and then left it, but that God must be creating the world constantly. Every millisecond the world stops existing and God must create it again.

It must be so because of simple logic: When a potter makes a pot out of clay, once he’s finished, he can walk away and the pot will remain. This is because he was working with preexisting material. But when something is made out of nothing, it’s existence must be constantly sustained.

It’s like that joke about the atheist who says to god “we don’t need you anymore, we can do whatever you do!” So God says “can you make a man out of dust like I did?” To this the Atheist says “yes!”, and picks up a handful of dirt to show God what he can do. But God interrupts and says “Wait! Go make your own dirt!”

in other words, even if we could make a man out of dust, we would have to use the dust that already exists.

But god created the world out of nothing, therefore he has to be creating it at every second. You can’t teach “nothing” how to exist, so if you force “nothing” exist with supernatural power, it’s all your power at work, and when your power leaves, the thing dies. The “nothing” doesn’t contribute at all. You’re the creator, you make it exist, and you have to keep making it exist. For example, if you throw a stone into the air it will fly, but will always fall back to the earth. This is because stones do not have the ability to fly, and will therefore stop flying as soon as the external force pushing it dies. Making something from nothing is like making a stone fly for an extended time; it must be forced to do so over and over.

According to the laws of nature, God must constantly create the world. But who made those laws?

God is the creator of all things and is certainly not bound by the laws of nature that he invented. So why would God create a world that needs to be created all the times?

The answer to this question is truly inspirational:

Of course, God could have done it that way, but he prefers this way. God prefers to be involved and engaged with us all the time, it’s his pleasure!

Sustaining us at all times means that we are constantly connected, and that is God’s ultimate joy.

In short, the reason God wrote the laws of nature in a way that forces him to constantly create you is because he likes you.

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The Sound of Silence

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The sages say that words are not as important as deeds. Some famous man once said “’Well done’ is always a better compliment than ‘well said’”. Even if you can defend yourself with words, having done well is a lot better than having the right words. But more than that, the sages spoke about the virtue of refraining from speech. As Reb Shimon, the Mishnaic sage, said “all my life I grew among the sages and I found nothing better for the body than silence.”

But the Rebbe pointed out something very interesting: When Reb Shimon makes his statement about the value of silence, why did he preface it with a mention of his background growing up among the sages? Surely, he doesn’t need to convince us that his opinions are worthy of attention. None of the other sages do that.

The Rebbe explained that when Reb Shimon said “all my life I grew up among the sages” he wasn’t just talking about his background; he was talking about himself. He was saying “I’ve spent my entire life among the sages, but I never stopped growing.” Even as an old man, he was still growing and learning and never stopped being a student. He was saying “All my life I grew, and even at an old age I continued to grow and learn from the sages.”

And so, after a lifetime of growth among the sages, Reb Shimon tells us that the most important thing he learned was that there is “nothing better for the body than silence.”

But Reb Shimon wasn’t talking about just biting your tongue, Reb Shimon’s statement is cosmic.

What Reb Shimon discovered over a lifetime of learning was that there are two ways in which we are supposed to fix the world and elevate it to its godly potential.

One way is to recognize the value of physical life in the physical universe, but also to be conscious of the divine. With this method, one can recognize material pleasures while also acknowledging the value of Torah and Mitzvot. The second approach is to live with the attitude that the physical world is not really important at all. According to this approach, there is no value to eating, to money, to business. There’s no value to it at all unless it serves a divine purpose.

When God created the physical world, he did it with words. God said “Let there be” and there was. But even though those words continue to give life to the world, it is not apparent to human beings. When we see the world, we don’t see the word of God, we just see stuff. Changing this is precisely our job in the world. Elevating the world and perfecting it means to reveal the Word of God that is in everything. When we do that, the world becomes a godlier world. When the creation is conscious of its creator it’s a better world.

So the first method of fixing the world recognizes the importance of the world, but also acknowledges that it will be a lot better if it recognizes its creator, so we serve God in such a way that people will come to know and recognize “who said and the world came to be.”

When we do this, it’s called “Speech”. On a spiritual level, “speaking” means making the Word of God felt and known in the world.

The second method relates to a deeper way of understanding how God creates and sustains the universe. On a deeper level, God doesn’t speak the world into existence, he thinks it. For example, the universe of course exists on Shabbat, but it’s not as physical as during the week. This is because during the week God creates the world with words while on Shabbat God creates the world with thought. By keeping the world in his thoughts, the world continues to exist.

The difference between thought and speech is that thought is personal while speech on the other hand is interpersonal. Speech is for others. Thought is for yourself. That’s why thought is much closer to the soul than speech. When you’re alone, you don’t have to speak because speech is not for you. It’s only necessary when there’s someone else that you need to communicate with. But thought is closer to the soul. It’s for yourself. A “holy day” means, the universe’s existence is drawn a little closer to the creator.

The second way of elevating the world is by going into the level of thought. We don’t want to reveal the Word of God, we want to reveal the thoughts of God. God said “let there be light,” but we want to know what he was thinking. What does he need light for? What is God’s purpose?

It’s not enough to reveal to the world the Word of God that makes the grass and the animals. That’s good, but it’s not good enough. Looking at a sunset and saying “there’s the word of God!” is good, but it’s not enough. We want to reveal to the world God’s thoughts, God’s intention.

While functioning on the level of thought, words are not important, and that’s what Reb Shimon called “silence”. Reb Shimon was saying, “all my life I grew among the sages, and I discovered there are two ways to be holy. One is to see the importance of the universe and improve on it by revealing the Word of God, and the other is to see no importance at all in the physical universe, the only important thing being to ask ‘what does God want with his universe?’ the first level is called speech, the second level is called silence.’

What Reb Shimon was saying has cosmic impact. He’s not just saying “don’t talk!” He’s telling us to get to know “The Thought,” be busy with “The Thought.”

Reb Shimon teaches us that he grew up among the sages and found nothing better for the body than silence. Meaning, revealing The Word of God in the universe (the “body”) is good, but the best thing is to reveal The Thought of God.

In other words, to make this world great, it’s not enough to see how the world is connected to God’s words, we must know how we fit into God’s plan and the purpose that God has in mind.

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For The Love of God

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We are supposed to love god with all of our hearts. But is loving god possible? Is God lovable?

We are told that what took place at Mount Sinai was that God revealed himself. But what does that mean? Everyone already knew there was a God. Adam and Eve, Avraham, and others even spoke to God. So what was revealed at Mount Sinai that we didn’t know before?

Before Sinai, we knew there was a God, but we had no idea what he was. We had no idea that he cared. We had no idea that it bothers him if we do certain things and pleases him greatly if we do other things. God bared his soul at Mount Sinai. He showed us his innermost self.

The most romantic and dramatic phrase are the first words of the ten commandments: “I am god your god.” God was saying “I am yours. I identify with you, I belong to you. I’m yours!”

We have been studying that line for thousands of years, and the message is quite clear: God desperately needs us. He created the world because he needs us. He’s been begging all these years “be mine!”

So is god lovable.

If God reaches out to us and initiates a relationship and says “please be mine” how could you not love him?

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A Weird Story

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I gotta tell you this amazing story true story that has had a huge impact on how I think about the world. One day, a mother called me up and told me that her 14-year-old son had attempted suicide and was placed in the state hospital for 48-hour observation. I knew that hospital, and I knew the place was dangerous. I thought this poor kid must be scared out of his wits and must be desperate for company, so I went as soon as I could.

But when I got there, i went into his room and saw him lying back on in his bed reading a comic book, completely relaxed. Even when he heard the screaming from the other patients it didn’t seem to bother him. So i tried to make some conversation with him, but he was not interested at all, he didn’t even look up. I said “your mother asked me to come see you, she’s worried about you, what should i tell her?” but he completely ignored me. I kept trying to start a conversation but he just kept shrugging me off. Finally, he looked up and said rather rudely “why don’t you go home? The chaplain has already been here!”

I said “What did the chaplain say?”

“Something stupid” he said.

Now I was curious. “What did the chaplain say that was stupid?” I asked.

He said “The chaplain said i shouldn’t kill myself because god loves me.”

“That’s stupid?” I asked.

He said “Yes.”

I said “I agree! I can’t imagine god loves you, you’re not very pleasant to be around.

Now he looked up.

“What’s your point?” he asked, clearly curious.

I said “God created you, so obviously he needs you. There must be something you can do for him that nobody else can, otherwise he wouldn’t have created you. So i think he’s stuck with you whether he likes you or not.”

He said “well, what if i don’t want to do what he created me for!”

So I told him that that’s called freedom of choice. That’s the choice we all need to make.

The conversation didn’t go much further than that, but i learned something really amazing that day. The chaplain’s answer was stupid for a very simple reason: This kid tried to kill himself. What message does that send? It means that he saying to the world that he doesn’t feel like he’s necessary. Now the chaplain comes and says “no, no don’t kill yourself, god loves you! ”But what the kid heard the chaplain saying was “fine, you’re right, you’re not necessary, but don’t kill yourself because god loves you.” When he hears that he thinks “wait a minute. If i’m not necessary, but you love me, that’s why i should live? What am I, your pet?”

For a gerbil that would work. Nobody needs a gerbil, but they’re cute. But that’s what the chaplain seemed to be saying to him. “You’re not necessary, but god finds you cute so hang around for his entertainment.”

That’s not a good deal for a human being

For me, the lesson of the story was: We need to be needed much more than we need love. I need to be important to you more than i need you to take care of me. Because if you need me, then i have a purpose. If you’re just taking care of me, all you’re going to give me is an existence and that’s depressing.

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