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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.”

Why Should We Want To Go To Heaven, When God Wants To Come To Earth?

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All religions throughout the world have one thing in common, they all are meant to serve the worshiper. Whether its to give the worshiper greater spiritual enlightenment or access to heaven, the purpose is the same. They use religion to extract favor from God.

But in the end, if the purpose of religion is for God to give us goodies, then who is serving whom? Is the purpose of God to serve us?

The purpose of Judaism is not to help us achieve something, the purpose of Judaism is for us to help God achieve something. After all, he created us.

What God intends to achieve, is a world where he can “fit in” comfortably. It is true that if we’re good, we go to heaven when we die, but getting to heaven is not the point.

When people say that a loved one who passed is “in a better place,” its only partially true, yes, heaven is a place were we experience the ultimate pleasures, but there is not where God is.

After all, why should we want to go to heaven, when God wants to come to earth?

Freed

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When Moses came to Pharaoh to demand that the Jews be set free, he said “So said the Lord God of Israel, ‘Send out My people, and let them sacrifice to Me in the desert.’ “

Though it may not seem as dramatic as we might have imagined, Moses’s statement is the best response to slavery.

Moses did not speak of human rights or the suffering of the Jewish people, he simply said, “The Jews cannot serve you, or any human being, because they were created to serve God, and God needs them to serve him.”

This applies to all people. Every person was created by God for a purpose, and until that mission is fulfilled, we are simply unavailable to serve anyone else. No human being can be a slave to another human because we all were created by God, for God’s purpose, to serve God’s needs.

This does not only apply to literal slavery. It applies to anything that might have a hold on us or “enslave” us in our lives. Everyone has challenges in their lives that they are enslaved to, the trick is to tell them that we are unavailable to serve them at the moment, because we have been entrusted with a mission from the creator of heaven and earth. Then we have true freedom: the freedom to do what we were created to do.

To Hurt God

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We all know that God loves us. Its basic Judaism. It even says it in the Torah. But what does it mean?

How can God love us if God is perfect and can’t be hurt?

If you love someone, but it doesn’t hurt you when they don’t respond to you, is that love?

If you say “I love you, but what you do with that piece of information doesn’t matter to me,” the love is a lie.

If you say, “I love you, but if you don’t love me, I don’t care,” the love is a lie. There cannot be love without vulnerability.

The truth is, God is vulnerable. When we don’t reciprocate his love, it hurts him immensely.

What we do matters to him, because God has a purpose in creation, and if we stand in the way of his purpose for the world, it hurts him, because his purpose is real.

We can hurt him, which is why his love for us is real.