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The Monthly Marriage

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There are two kinds of human love: the intrinsic, calm love that we feel for people to whom we’re related by birth; and the more intimate, fiery love that exists in marriage. This is why the husband-wife relationship is very different from the parent-child relationship.

The love within a family, between relatives who are born of the same flesh, is innate. The love between a mother and child, a brother and sister, two brothers, two sisters, comes easily. Since they’re related by nature, they feel comfortable with each other. There’s an innate closeness between them, so their love is strong, solid, steady, predictable and calm. There’s no distance that has to be bridged, no difference that has to be overcome.

The love between a husband and wife isn’t like that. Their love wasn’t always there; they didn’t always know each other; they weren’t always related. No matter how well they get to know one another, they aren’t alike. They are different from each other physically, emotionally and mentally. They love each other in spite of the differences and because of them, but there isn’t enough of a commonality between them to create a casual, calm love. The differences remain even after they are married, and the love between them will have to overcome these differences.

After all, husband and wife were once strangers. Male is different from female, so in essence they must remain strangers. Because of this, the love between them can never be casual, consistent or calm.

This acquired love is naturally more intense than the love between brother and sister. When love has to overcome a difference, a distance, an obstacle, it needs energy to leap across and bridge the gap. This is the energy of fiery love.

Because the gap between husband and wife will never really close, their love for one another will continually have to reach across it. There will be distance, separation, then a bridging of distance, and a coming back together, again and again. This sense of distance intensifies the desire to merge.

To come together, man and woman have to overcome certain resistances. A man has to overcome his resistance to commitment, and a woman has to overcome her resistance to invasion. So, in coming together, husband and wife are reaching across great emotional distances, which intensifies their love. The absence of innate love actually makes the heart grow fonder.

If a brother and sister were to have a fiery love, their relationship would suffer. It’s not the appropriate emotion for a brother and sister to have. Their love thrives when it’s unbroken, unchallenged, constant, and calm. Not that they can’t have disagreements, but those disagreements don’t disrupt their love. On the other hand, if a husband and wife develop a calm love for each other, their relationship will not thrive. If they are too familiar with each other, too comfortable with each other, like brother and sister, their love will not flourish. True intimacy in marriage—fiery love—is created by constant withdrawal and reunion.

If a husband and wife are never separate, their love begins to sour because they are not creating an environment appropriate to that love. The environment of constant togetherness is not conducive to man-woman love; it’s the environment for brother-sister love or parent-child love.

That’s why the ideal blessing for a married couple is, “Your honeymoon should never end.” A honeymoon—when two people who were once separate come together for the first time—should never end, because that’s what a marriage thrives on.

The love between a man and a woman thrives on withdrawal and reunion, separation and coming together. The only way to have an environment conducive to that kind of relationship is to provide a separation.

There are many kinds of separations. A couple can live in different places, have differences of opinion, or get into arguments and be angry at each other. Often the arguing isn’t for the sake of arguing, but for the sake of creating a distance so that husband and wife can feel like they’re coming together. That’s not a very happy solution. Making up after an argument may be good for a marriage on occasion, but not on a regular basis. It isn’t a good idea to go looking for arguments, especially since separations can take a more positive form.

The physical separation given to us by G‑d for that purpose is a much happier solution. That separation is created by observing a collection of Torah laws deriving from Leviticus 15, called “the laws of Family Purity” or “the laws of mikvah.” The word mikvah refers to the ritual bath in which traditional Jewish women, since the days of the Bible, have immersed themselves following their monthly period and before renewing sexual relations with their husbands.

According to these laws of mikvah, during the time that a Jewish woman is menstruating, and for one week afterward, she is physically off-limits to her husband. For those days, the physical separation is total: no touching, no sitting on a swing together, no sleeping in the same bed.

Through the ages, all sorts of explanations have been given for these laws, but all of them have one thing in common: separation protects and nurtures the intimate aspect of marriage, which thrives on withdrawal and reunion.

This understanding is not unique to Jews. In most cultures throughout the world, the ancients practiced varying degrees of separation between husband and wife during the woman’s menstrual period. Some, such as certain tribes of American Indians, actually had separate living quarters, menstruant tents, where a woman would stay during her period. Later, these customs deteriorated into myths, taboos, fears, superstitions, hygienic arguments and other rationalizations, in an attempt to make sense of a delicate and sensitive subject. But separation was such a universal practice that I wonder if human beings knew instinctively that male-female love thrives on withdrawal and reunion, on coming together following a separation. The body is actually respecting an emotional state. Just as the love between man and woman cannot be maintained at full intensity all the time, but needs a certain creative tension without which it will not flourish, the body has a similar need.

As far as Jews are concerned, we know these cyclical changes were created for that very purpose. This is much more than a coincidence: it is how the body reflects the soul, how the body is created in the image of the soul.

Like everything else that exists in our lives, the cycle of withdrawal and reunion that exists in marriage is meant to be a reflection of our relationship with G‑d. The two kinds of love, calm love and fiery love, exist not only among human beings, but between ourselves and G‑d.

When we refer to G‑d as our Father, it’s an innate and intrinsic relationship. We don’t have to work for it; it’s just there. It’s a steady, constant love, an indestructible love, a love compared to water-calm love.

But we also talk about how G‑d is infinite and we are finite; G‑d is true and we are not; G‑d is everything and we are barely something. Because of these differences, we feel a great distance from G‑d and the need to create a relationship with Him. Establishing a relationship in spite of the differences, in spite of the distance, is more like a marriage. That’s a stormy relationship—fiery love.

More precisely, our soul loves G‑d like a child loves a parent, because our soul is of G‑d. That love is innate and calm. When G‑d tells this soul to go down into a body, that’s a separation. Then our soul loves G‑d with a fiery love, which, like the love between a husband and wife, does not come automatically. Acquired love is by nature intense and fiery.

Eventually, the soul will be reunited with G‑d more intimately than before, just as the intimacy between a husband and wife is deeper when they come together following a separation. Therefore, when G‑d says that a husband and wife have to be modest with one another, that they may be together and then separate, come together and separate again, according to a monthly cycle, it’s not an artificial imposition. It may produce discipline, which is nice. It may keep the marriage fresh, which is important. But there’s more to it than that. It is, in fact, the natural reflection of the type of love that must exist between husband and wife. In order to nurture that stormy, fiery love, our way of living has to correspond to the emotions we are trying to nurture and retain.

If there’s going to be a separation—and there needs to be one—consider the following: rather than wait for a separation to develop, where a husband and wife get into a fight or lose interest in each other, let’s take the cue from the body and create a physical, rather than an emotional, separation. Everyone is saying, “I need my space.” It’s true. Keeping the laws of mikvah, when they apply, is one way of creating that space.

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What If I Mess Up My 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 fifty 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.”


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, six thousand 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 ten or twelve.

“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 ten 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 ten times? Forgive her ten 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.



The Morality of Weakness: Defining Sexual Harassment

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Our first dilemma in dealing with this issue is clarifying exactly what constitutes sexual harassment. Let us look at the following two scenarios:

During a coffee break at an office, a man puts his arm around a woman by the coffee machine and says: “How is it going?”

She responds: “Please take your hands off my shoulder.”

“Lighten up,” he says with a smile. “It’s only a friendly gesture. We’re in a friendly office and we want to keep a friendly atmosphere here.”.

“Do you want me to report you?” She asks angrily.

“Lady, you’ve got a serious problem. You’re overreacting. Lighten up!”

Scenario #2:

A woman walks into a man’s office after hours, closes the door, and says:

“There’s nobody else here now.”

The man very nicely requests:

“Excuse me, please, but could you please leave the door open?”

She says: “What are you afraid of?”

If either of the above ever reached a courtroom, the judge would have a hard time deciding. Is this harassment? Maybe he was just having a bad day. Maybe her imagination was working overtime. Maybe they should both be seeing therapists for their problems.

Even in more obvious cases, it’s difficult to reach a point of clarity about the exact nature of sexual harassment. Remember the Thomas-Hill case that engrossed the entire country in 1991? Every time you turned on the TV, glanced at a magazine or read a paper, someone, somewhere was asking: Is he telling the truth? Is she lying? Is he covering up? Are they both lying? Yet for all the debate, it was difficult for people to figure out exactly what crime had been committed. Under which category in the Ten Commandments did it fall? Did it belong under the category of “Do not covet your neighbor’s wife”? What if she were single? The episode seemed to indicate that society was not as intimidated by harassment itself as much as it was terrified by the fact that it didn’t know how to categorize harassment.

What is Morality?

In order to gain a better understanding of what harassment is, one must first have a clear picture of what morality encompasses.

In simple terms morality emerges from the conscious realization that, “Although I may be bigger than you, I may not use this to take advantage of you. The fact that I am rich and you are poor, or that I am strong and you are weak, healthy while you are sick, does not entitle me to take advantage of your disadvantage.”

G‑d created a world in which no two people are equal. Each has some advantage over the other, be it in size, speed, intelligence, material wealth or connections. And whenever two people get together there exists always the temptation for one to take advantage of the other. G‑d deliberately created a world of imbalance and expressly commanded us not to take advantage of that fact. It is precisely the restraint that we, as human beings, are called upon to manifest that sets us apart from the animals and endows us with our morality. In a world of equal wealth, equal size and knowledge, there would be no crime, but also no morality.

As a rule, human beings try very hard to act with the kind of dignified morality that distinguishes man from beast. They take pride in the fact that although their physical needs are similar to those of animals, they do not live solely by the dictates of the body, but also by the dictates of their intelligence. And while humans have certain physical limitations, they can rise above them when called upon to do so. A mother may be exhausted, but when her baby cries, she finds the energy somehow and rushes to comfort her child. It is this ability to go beyond the confines of our own physicality, to regulate it according to the specific circumstances, that makes us human. As we grow and learn, we shift the center of gravity from our physical needs, to our mind and soul, toward our ultimate purpose.

Respecting Vulnerability

Seen in these terms the nature of sexual harassment takes on a new light.

Unlike other assaults, the sexual assault makes us victims of our own sexuality. For this is a weakness we all have. We are sexual beings, and our sexuality came to us long before we knew what was happening. It’s inherent. It’s part of us now, and we spend a good part of our existence trying to master this thing, to control it. Most of us learn how to integrate our sexuality into the overall structure of our beings which allows us to get on with the business of living. But it’s still an area of considerable weakness — a center of vulnerability. If I’m sitting in my office late at night, and a fellow female worker appears in the doorway, enters the room, gently closes the door, that person is messing with my head, creating a forced intimacy that is not called for. She’s trying to stir up something she has no business stirring up, because here I am trying to keep it all under control so that I can get on with my work and go on home to my spouse. Now if she persists, smiles with a little hint of suggestion in her eyes, and ventures a little closer. . . I’m probably going to end up in one of two situations, both of which are uncomfortable — disgusted with myself or pretty hot under the collar. Neither is where I want to be at this particular moment in time. My response is my business either way, but the person who came through that door, whether or not he/she intended to elicit some kind of sexual activity, is nevertheless guilty of sexual harassment.

Taking advantage of another’s weakness in this manner is an insult to their intelligence, an assumption that they are living by the dictates of the body alone, and it demonstrates a total lack of respect for the human condition.

A commonplace scenario among teenagers further illustrates the boundaries that are all too often crossed in cases of sexual harassment. “Come on,” the guy says. “Don’t tell me you don’t enjoy it. You like it just as much as I do.” (Taking this to its extreme, the rapist says the same thing to the victim: “You enjoy it.”) It’s true that she may enjoy it. But why? Because the body is a physical entity which enjoys any attention, contact or experience it receives. That’s the nature of the physical body which remains sexual from the moment it comes into being until the moment it ceases to breathe. If we were bodies alone we would be full-time sexual beings. And if we say no, it’s not because the body can’t handle it, but because the soul can’t live with it. It may feel good to the body, but not to the soul. The teenage girl might think “Why do you continue to look at my body and ignore my soul?”

A human being, the way G‑d created him or her, is always a sexual being. What we do individually with our sexuality depends on who we are, what we were raised to believe, and what our society has taught us. Yet all of us, regardless of upbringing or background, have that common thread of sexuality running through us. G‑d did not create it so that we would suppress it to the point where we could no longer feel it, but He did provide us with a series of commandments which act as guidelines so that we do not abuse it in ourselves or others, so that we do not cross over those boundaries into the arena of harassment.

In conclusion, harassment indicates a lack of understanding of and respect for human sexuality. We can’t just turn it on or off whenever we wish. It’s always there just under the surface. We keep it there under the surface. And when someone comes and tries to force it to the forefront of our beings, when we don’t want it, or are not ready — that’s harassment.

The antidote to sexual harassment is to understand that being a sexual being is not abnormal, but extremely normal. That’s why we need the Torah‘s commandments. Without commandments we would be lost. What was the crime in the Thomas-Hill fiasco? The crime was the essence of immorality. It was not any specific sin, but the total lack of morality. The solution is to be sensitive to the feelings of others, to other people’s sensitivities, meaning, be respectful of the weaknesses you perceive in others.

Everyone is entitled to their weaknesses. We work on overcoming them. But you have to respect the space that others create around themselves. Morality says: when you see a weakness in someone, don’t take advantage of it. Respect it, go around it, don’t disturb it; don’t enter where you are not invited. When we understand this, I believe, it would make us all better people.


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Are Celebrities Good For Society?

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This is probably the first generation, or the first era, in which celebrities exist. There’s always been powerful people. There’s always been leaders. There’s always been role models. But celebrities are a new invention. Time has produced celebrityhood.

Celebrities are different from true leaders, genuine leaders in a number of ways. The first, most important thing is that celebrities have a love-hate relationship with their fans. They love having their followers and their fans, but they hate them. They despise their fans for being fools because they know what they are, and they don’t understand people who idolize them. It doesn’t make sense to them. 

One very popular celebrity who maybe deserves more credit than most because he’s a real talent confessed that when he goes to a stadium to perform in front of 30 000 people, he doesn’t understand the people sitting way out in the bleachers there: “What do they come for? What are they looking at? What do they see? What are they doing?” So, he realizes the falseness of it all – how plastic it is and how meaningless it is. 

So, a genuine leader is concerned and committed to his followers while a celebrity has a love-hate relationship with his followers.

Also, a true, genuine leader moves people to a better place. He is not content or is not even interested in fame – he’s interested in results. Celebrities, of course, are not interested in results. They’re not there to lead because, essentially, they are not leaders. And yet, we sometimes hold them up as role models. In fact, we even encourage them to be role models which they can’t do. To be a role model you have to have a very high standard of personal values, personal virtue, more than enough for yourself so that it rubs off on others as well. Celebrities don’t claim to have that kind of virtue. So, let’s take a look at what real celebrityhood should be, both from the viewpoint of the celebrity and the viewpoint of the fans.

What should we be looking for in a leader? Of course, there are many levels. You have leaders, you have great leaders, you have the greatest leaders and so on. So, if we take a look at a good model, one of the earliest is Moshe. Moshe is still to this day our teacher – Moshe Rabbeinu. He is still our teacher because what he said and what he taught was not only relevant and vital to his generation but is still relevant and still vital all these generations later. So, the first thing we learn is that a true leader has an important message – he has something to say. 

Before we get to his personal character, for the quality of his character, we need to look at his message – what is he teaching, what is he saying, what guidance is he offering? You have leaders who were good for a generation or two and then their teachings became irrelevant. Not that there’s anything wrong with that but that means that he was a short-term leader. A greater leader would have a message that would last longer, it would be more embracing of the changes that happen from generation to generation and the message would remain relevant and vital. 

There‘s something about the quality of a leader which we overlook even in our genuine leaders. Nobody is born being a leader of many. A person develops gradually. First, you are the leader, the master of your own fate, of yourself. You get married, you start a family – now you are the leader of a group, a small intimate group. Then people notice that you have something to offer and they come and seek your advice and now you’re responsible for a community. And from there you become responsible for a city, for a state, for a country and then for the whole world. 

The sign of a true and genuine leader is that as he moves to the greater responsibility, he does not abandon his previous responsibilities. He is able to add to, rather than eliminate what came before. So, a man who runs a country but has forgotten his responsibility to his family or even to himself is not the greatest leader. He obviously can’t handle that role because it’s costing him his family, which means he’s not really equipped to be a leader. Leadership should not cause any loss, it shouldn’t cause anyone to suffer leadership. It means you have something to give, you have something to offer for all of those in your world, in your life. So if you have to start eliminating things you’re just not cut out for that job. 

A celebrity, certainly, loses all control of his personal life, of his family life in favor of whatever pleasures of the 15 minutes of fame. So. that’s not a genuine leader. 

What should we be looking for? In other words, what benefits, what results do we look for from a leader? It’s one thing to follow someone who gives good advice, who seems to be wiser than your average beard but following shouldn’t be the end of the line. A good teacher, a good leader empowers the people who follow. He doesn’t allow them to become dependent, he doesn’t allow them to give up responsibility or decision-making and their own burdens. He helps them with their burdens. He doesn’t replace them. So, a true leader does not weaken his followers. In fact, a true leader implies not that he has followers but that he is capable of producing little leaders, because if you’re a leader you should be producing leaders. If you’re a great follower then you’re a wonderful model for followers. 

I was talking to a woman who said that she had given up on having children because she went to an infertility expert and he told her that she would probably never have children. I said: “Why do you go to an infertility expert? Go to a fertility expert! The infertility expert knows people who can’t have children. Go to somebody who knows women who can!” So, don’t go to a person who can produce followers, go to a person who can produce leaders. 

Another quality about true leadership – a true leader does not get exhausted. If you’re cut out to do something and if you have a knack for it, the more you do it the more energy it gives you. When you’re doing something that goes against the grain, it goes against your nature, then you’re exhausted even from a short time. So, when you’re doing something that is slightly out of your nature, you’re exhausted, it wears you down because there’s friction. If you’re doing something you’re born to do, if you are born to lead, then you don’t get exhausted. That’s why we don’t hesitate to consult a true leader. We don’t hesitate to exhaust them because we know that it gives them energy rather than drains them of energy. 

Somebody once asked the Rebbe how he can stand for all those hours giving out dollars, how he does not get tired. The Rebbe said „when you’re counting your treasures you never get tired.“ So, if you think it’s a job it will tire you. If you see it as a burden or a responsibility, then it will exhaust you. But if you see it as a treasure because that’s what you’re born to do then it gives you energy, it doesn’t drain you of energy.

One final thing. A true leader immediately enables you to turn around and have something to offer to others. If you’re studying a subject under a certain teacher and after five lessons, ten lessons, you go home and you see someone who has exactly the issue of the problem that you’re studying, and you can’t think of anything to say, you don’t have any advice, you don’t have any solution after 10 lessons, something is wrong. Of course, you’re not the expert leader yet. You’re not going to take full responsibility, but to have nothing to offer is not right. A true leader has a message for the people that is immediately useful, because if it is relevant and vital why can’t you share it? 

So, sometimes, we surprise ourselves: you go to a class or you read a book and you just barely understood it, you’re not sure you even understood it and yet, when someone asks you a question, the idea comes easily to your lips because it just makes sense. You didn’t realize how easily you assimilated those ideas and now you have them to offer to others. The Rebbe put it in simple language: “If you’ve learned an aleph teach aleph, when you learn the beis you’ll teach the beis”. An aleph is an aleph, there isn’t much you can do with that. A beis is a beis. But the idea, the principle of it, is when you’ve learned something valid, something true, something real, then, of course, you can turn around and share it. If you can’t, it means that what you were taught was so vague or distant, or irrelevant that you can’t even put your own words. Maybe you compare it with what you heard but it doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel like you’re really giving advice. You’re just spouting something. 

Now, the danger of celebrityhood both to the celebrity and their fans is that it destroys life. It destroys people, it destroys a country’s values because that which is false is not only disappointing, it’s destructive in a number of ways. If we follow celebrities, we are lulled into a feeling that we have some kind of a model, some kind of a direction and we fail to look for real teachers, for real models. So, after a couple of years, a couple of generations you have a country without leaders because celebrities have replaced them. Not by themselves but by our own failure because we are enamored with celebrities, we don’t bother seeking true leaders or creating true leaders. 

A true leader, a true role model can’t impose himself on people and wouldn’t. So, the only way a real leader develops is that people seek his advice or seek his teachings and that makes him the teacher. He can’t impose it, he’s not a dictator. 

So, if we don’t go looking for the proper role model there will be none, they won’t exist. So, we have pretty much a society in which there are no role models. Even when we elect a president, we don’t know what we’re looking for. We don’t recognize the quality or the character that we vote for because we’re looking so superficially. We’re judging so superficially out of habit. If you idolize a celebrity, how are you going to become a maven to understand who a true leader is and what it takes to be a true leader. So, even our voting, even our choice of political leaders is very poor. 

The difference between a political leader and a celebrity is slowly disappearing. Celebrities are becoming political leaders and political leaders are becoming celebrities. They shouldn’t be. A political leader wields too much power to allow a celebrity to get to that position. A political leader has power. A celebrity only has popularity. 

So, on the one hand by allowing celebrityhood to replace real leaders we become impoverished in the leadership field. We don’t produce leaders. Those who should be leaders are unheard, unknown. The effect that it has on us, if we look up to people who may not even have the morals and the qualities that we do have. When we’re looking up to people we should be looking down at. What does that do to our own value system? What does that do to our ideals, to our morals? It’s a terrible thing. 

So, we actually degrade ourselves by giving attention, energy, thought to celebrityhood. We know young people who become celebrities. Not only they ruin their lives but often cut their lives short. Suicides, overdose – because it’s impossible to live that way. It is so false, the role of the identity is so false, that it destroys the people. And yet we find ourselves looking up to them as they are destroying themselves. Well this leads to a lot of depression. 

If the most popular, the most famous, and the most rich can’t seem to find joy in life, what chance do we have, who are not part of Hollywood? What chance do we have? They have all the glamour, they have all the wealth, they have all the fun, they have all the opportunities, and they kill themselves. Well, life stinks. What will it take to have a good life? So, by defining their lives as the good life and then watching them deteriorate in front of our eyes – that’s really depressing! So, if we are an unhappy society it’s probably because of celebrityhood. 

We build up the straw man, we say this is our idea of the good life, and when that turns out to be a disaster where do you go from there?

Learn more with over 200 hours of wisdom you can hold in your hand! 

Celebrity se liší od skutečných, nefalšovaných vůdců mnohá způsoby.

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Myslím si, že jsme pravděpodobně první generace nebo první éra, ve které existují celebrity. Vždy tu byli silní lidé, vždy mezi námi byli vůdcové. Vždycky existovaly vzory. Ale celebrity – to je nový vynález. Čas vytvořil celebritství. Celebrity se liší od skutečných, nefalšovaných vůdců mnohá způsoby.


Podle mého mínění první a nejdůležitější věcí je, že celebrity souběžně cítí lásku a nenávist ke svým fanouškům a následovníkům.

Milují to, že mají své následovníky a fanoušky, a zároveň to nenávidí. Mnoho z nich opovrhuje svými fanoušky, považují je za blázny, jelikož jsou si vědomi sebe, nechápou lidi, kteří je idealizují – nedává to smysl.


Jedna velmi oblíbená celebrita, která si možná zaslouží větší uznání než většina, protože je skutečným talentem, přiznala, že když přijde na stadion a stojí před 30 000 lidmi, nechápe obecenstvo, které sedí venku na tribunách. „Proč sem chodí? Na co se to dívají? Co vidí? Co to dělají?” Uvědomuje si tedy falešnost toho všeho – jak je to umělé a nesmyslné.



Skutečný vůdce je tedy zúčastněný a zavázaný svým následovníkům. Celebrity mají ambivalentní vztah lásky a nenávisti ke svým přívržencům. Skutečný vůdce vede lidi na lepší místo. Nestačí mu nebo ho ani nezajímá sláva – zajímají ho výsledky.


Celebrity samozřejmě nemají zájem o výsledky. Nejsou tu proto, aby vedly, protože v zásadě nejsou lídři. A přesto je někdy považujeme za vzory. Ve skutečnosti je dokonce povzbuzujeme, aby se staly vzorem, kterým nemůžou být. Abyste byli vzorem, musíte mít velmi vysoké mravní hodnoty, osobní ctnosti, jichž má být více než dost, aby mohly přecházet i na ostatní. Celebrity netvrdí, že mají tento druh mravní hodnoty.



Pojďme se tedy podívat na to, jaká by měla být skutečná celebrita, a to jak z úhlu pohledu celebrit, tak i z pohledu fanoušků. Co bychom měli hledat u lídrů?  Existuje, samozřejmě, mnoho úrovní. Máte vůdce, máte skvělé vůdce, máte největší vůdce a tak dále. Pokud se tedy podíváme na dobrý vzor, jedním z prvních je Mojžíš. Mojžíš je dodnes naším učitelem – Moshe Rabbeinu. Stále je naším učitelem, protože to, co řekl a co učil, bylo nejen podstatné a životně důležité pro jeho generaci, ale je stále podstatné a stále důležité pro všechny tyto generace následující. První věc, kterou zjišťujeme, je tedy to, že skutečný vůdce má důležité poselství – má co říct.



Než se dostaneme k jeho povaze, osobní kvalitě, proberme jednoduše jeho poselství – co učí, co říká, jaké vedení nabízí? Takže máte vůdce, kteří byli dobří pro jednu, dvě generace a poté se jejich učení stalo nepodstatné. Ne že by na tom bylo něco špatného, ale znamená to, že byli krátkodobými vůdci. Větší vůdce by měl poselství, které by trvalo déle. Byly by to hluboké změny, které se přenášejí z generace na generaci, přičemž by poselství zůstalo významné a zásadní.


Je něco, co přehlížíme i u našich skutečných vůdců. Nikdo se nenarodí a nevyroste jako vůdce. Osobnost se vyvíjí postupně. Nejprve jste pánem svého vlastního osudu, sebe sama. Oženíte se, založíte si rodinu – nyní vedete skupinu, malou intimní skupinu. Pak si lidé všimnou, že máte co nabídnout, a začnou vyhledávat vaši radu, tehdy přebíráte zodpovědnost za komunitu. Pak se stanete odpovědnými za město, stát, zemi a poté za celý svět.



Znamením skutečného lídra je to, že když přechází k větší odpovědnosti, neopustí předchozí odpovědnost. Spíše než zavrhnout, co bylo dříve, je schopen přidat další. Takže člověk, který řídí zem, ale zapomněl na odpovědnost vůči své rodině nebo dokonce sebe samému, není tím největším vůdcem. Zjevně tuto roli nezvládá, protože ho to stálo rodinu, což znamená, že není opravdu vybaven pro tuto roli. Vedení by nemělo způsobit žádnou ztrátu, nemělo by nikomu způsobit utrpení. Znamená to, že máte co dokázat, dát, máte co nabídnout všem ve svém světě, ve svém životě. Takže pokud musíte začít zavrhovat věci, nejste pro tuto práci stvořeni.



Celebrita rozhodně ztrácí veškerou kontrolu nad svým osobním životem, nad svým rodinným životem ve prospěch jakéhokoliv potěšení z 15 minut slávy. Tak to není se skutečným vůdcem.


Co bychom měli očekávat? Jinými slovy, jaké výhody, jaké výsledky požadujeme od vůdce? Jedna věc je sledovat někoho, kdo dává dobrou radu, kdo se zdá být moudřejší, než si myslíte o sobě, ale u následováním by to nemělo končit. Dobrý učitel a dobrý vůdce činí lidi, který ho sledují, lepšími. Nedovoluje, aby se stali závislými, nedovoluje jim vzdát se odpovědnosti nebo rozhodování a odhodit vlastní břemeno. Pomáhá jim s jejich břemenem. Nenahrazuje je. Skutečný vůdce tedy neoslabuje své následovníky. Skutečný vůdce ve skutečnosti neznamená, že má následovníky, ale že je schopen produkovat malé vůdce, protože pokud jste vůdce, měli byste produkovat vůdce. Pokud jste skvělým následovníkem, pak jste skvělým vzorem pro následovníky.


Mluvil jsem se ženou, která řekla, že se vzdala možnosti mít dětí, protože šla k odborníkovi na neplodnost a ten jí řekl, že pravděpodobně nikdy nebude mít děti. Řekl jsem: „Proč chodíte k odborníkovi na neplodnost? Jděte k odborníkovi na plodnost! Expert na neplodnost zná lidi, kteří nemohou mít děti. Běžte za někým, kdo zná ženy, které můžou mít děti! “ Nechoďte tedy k člověku, který produkuje následovníky, ale k člověku, který může produkovat lídry.


Další kvalita skutečného vedení – skutečný lídre se nevyčerpá. Pokud jste rozhodnuti něco udělat a máte na to talent, čím víc to děláte, tím více energie vám to dává. Když děláte něco, co vám je proti srsti, jde to proti vaší povaze; pak jste zakrátko vyčerpaní. Takže když děláte něco, co je trochu mimo vaši povahu, jste vyčerpaní; unavuje vás to, protože existuje tření. Pokud děláte něco, pro co jste se narodili, jestli jste se narodili vést, pak se nevyčerpáte. Proto neváháme konzultovat skutečného vůdce. Neváháme je vyčerpat, protože víme, že jim to spíše dodává energii, než ji odčerpává.



Jednou se kdosi zeptal Rebeho, jak vydrží celé hodiny rozdávat dolary, aniž se unaví. Rebe řekl, že když počítáte své poklady, nikdy vás to neomrzí. Takže pokud to pokládáte za práci, bude vás to unavovat. Pokud to vnímáte jako břemeno nebo odpovědnost, vyčerpá vás to. Ale pokud to vidíte jako poklad, protože pro to jste se narodili, pak vám to energii nevyčerpá, ale dodá.



A konečně. Skutečný lídr vám okamžitě umožní, abyste se otočil a byl s to nabídnout něco ostatním. Pokud studujete předmět pod vedením určitého učitele a po pěti deseti lekcích jdete domů a uvidíte někoho, kdo má tentýž problém, který studujete, a nenapadá vás nic, co byste mu řekli, nemáte ani po deseti lekcích žádnou radu či řešení, něco není v pořádku. Samozřejmě ještě nejste odborným vůdcem. Nebudete nést plnou odpovědnost, ale nemáte co nabídnout? Skutečný vůdce má pro lidi zprávu, která je okamžitě užitečná, protože pokud je podstatná a zásadní, proč ji nemůžete sdílet?


Někdy tedy překvapíme sami sebe: chodíte do třídy nebo si přečtete knihu a sotva jste jí porozuměli, nejste si jisti, zda jste jí vůbec rozuměli, a přesto, když vám někdo položí otázku, nápad snadno přijde vaše rty, protože to má smysl. Neuvědomili jste si, jak snadno jste tyto myšlenky asimilovali a nyní je můžete nabídnout ostatním. Rebe to vyjádřil jednoduchým jazykem: „Pokud jste se naučili alef, učte alef, když se naučíte bet, učte bet“.   Znamená to, že alef je alef, s tím se toho moc dělat nedá. Bet je bet. Ale myšlenka, její princip je, že když jste se naučili něco platného, ​​něco pravdivého, něco skutečného, ​​pak se samozřejmě můžete otočit a sdílet to. Pokud toho nejste schopní, znamená to, že to, čemu vás učili, bylo vágní nebo vzdálené, nebo nepodstatné, že to neumíte vyjádřit ani vlastními slovy. Možná to srovnáváte s tím, co jste slyšeli, ale necítíte se dobře. Nemáte pocit, že opravdu radíte. Jen něco chrlíte.


A teď, nebezpečí celebritství je v tom, že ničí život jak celebrit, tak jejich fanoušků. Ničí lidi, rozkládá hodnoty země, protože to, co je falešné, není jen zklamání, je to destruktivní mnoha způsoby. Pokud sledujeme celebrity, máme pocit, že máme nějaký vzor, nějaký směr a pak selháváme ve vyhledávání skutečných učitelů, skutečných vzorů. Takže po několika letech, několik generací máte zemi bez vůdců, jelikož je nahradily celebrity. Přicházíme k tomu vlastním selháním, protože jsme zamilovaní do celebrit, neobtěžujeme se hledat a vytvářet skutečné vůdce.


Skutečný lídr, skutečný vzor se nemůže lidem vnutit, ani by to neudělal. Jediným způsobem, jak se skutečný vůdce vyvíjí, je to, že lidé hledají jeho radu nebo jeho učení, což z něj dělá učitele. Nemůže to vnucovat; není diktátor.



Pokud tedy nebudeme vyhledávat vhodné vzory, žádné nebudou existovat. Takže do značné míry máme společnost, ve které neexistují žádné vzory. I když volíme prezidenta, nevíme, co vlastně hledáme. Nerozpoznáváme kvalitu ani povahu kandidáta, pro kterého hlasujeme, protože se díváme velice povrchně. Soudíme povrchně ze zvyku. Pokud zbožňujete celebritu, jak získáte umění rozpoznat skutečného vůdce a jak se skutečným vůdcem stát? Takže i naše hlasování, dokonce i náš výběr politických vůdců je velmi ubohý.


Rozdíl mezi politickým vůdcem a celebritou pomalu mizí. Celebrity se stávají politickými vůdci a političtí vůdcové se stávají celebritami. Nemělo by to být, nemělo by to být. Politický vůdce má příliš mnoho moci, aby umožnil celebritě dostat se do této pozice. Politický vůdce má moc. Celebrita má jen popularitu.



Na jedné straně tím, že jsme umožnili celebritám nahradit skutečné vůdce, jsme ochuzeni v oblasti vedení. Nevytváříme vůdce. Ti, kteří by měli být vůdci, jsou nevyslyšení, neznámí. Ovlivňuje nás, pokud vzhlížíme k lidem, kteří možná nemají ani morálku a cnosti, které  my sami máme. Takže vzhlížíme k lidem, na které bychom se měli dívat spíš z výšky. Co to dělá s naším vlastním hodnotovým systémem? Co to dělá s našimi ideály s naší morálkou? Je to hrozná věc.



Takže se vlastně degradujeme tím, že věnujeme pozornost, energii, myšlenky celebritám. Známe mladé lidi, kteří se stávají celebritami. Nejen, že jim to ničí život, ale často jim to život zkracuje. Sebevraždy, předávkování – protože takovým způsobem nelze žít. Je to tak falešné, role identity je tak falešná, že ničí lidi. A přesto zjistíme, že k nim vzhlížíme, přestože se ničí. To vede k velké depresi.



Pokud nejpopulárnější, nejslavnější a nejbohatší nemohou najít radost ze života, jakou ji máme šanci najít my, kdo nejsme součástí Hollywoodu? Jakou máme šanci? Mají všechen půvab, mají všechno bohatství, mají veškerou zábavu, mají všechny příležitosti a stejně páchají sebevraždy. Život smrdí! Co bude zapotřebí k tomu, abyste prožili dobrý život? Takže pokládat jejich životy za dobré a poté sledovat, jak se jim hroutí před našima očima – to je opravdu depresivní! Pokud jsme tedy nešťastnou společností, je to pravděpodobně kvůli celebritám.


Vytváříme si polní strašáky a říkáme, že toto je naše představa o dobrém životě, a když se ukáže, že je to katastrofa, kam odejít?


God Needs Your Feedback

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When the Alter Rebbe when he was in jail in Czarist Russia, word got out that there was an unusual, exceptional human being in the jail, and people came to ask for advice and ask for wisdom. One of the Czar’s minister came, who was an avid student of the bible. He asked the Alter Rebbe, “What does it mean when G-d asks Adam, after he ate from the tree of knowledge ‘Where are you?’” The minister wanted to know the Rebbe’s understanding of asking Adam, “Where are you?” as if G-d couldn’t see him and didn’t know where he was. At first the Alter Rebbe told him what Rashi says – that it teaches us good manners, that when you start a conversation you don’t start it abruptly, particularly if it is a critical conversation that you’re going to criticize a person. You don’t start with the criticism. You start with a polite, “How are you? Where are you?” But the minister said, “I know that. I read that. I want to know how you understand it. In other words, what is the deeper meaning?


The Alter Rebbe said to him that after G-d creates a human being and gives him a certain amount of time to fulfill his purpose, then G-d comes and asks “How are you doing?” “How are you progressing in your mission?” He wasn’t asking where are you physically, he was asking “where are you” spiritually. And that’s not a question to inform G-d of where you are, but it’s to make the person think and take stock of his life and of his achievements. In the case of Adam, Adam was about 10 hours old, and G-d wanted to know – “how are you doing? You have had 10 hours, how is it going?” God was asking for a progress report.


But actually, if you think about it, G-d is asking Adam not only to take stock of himself. He is asking Adam to report back: “Tell me how you’re doing.” Which gives us a little insight into a story where a reform Rabbi who was very enamored with the Rebbe interviewed the Rebbe. He heard the Rebbe give this explanation as to what it means, and if G-d asks every person, “Where are you?” This Rabbi asked the Rebbe, “Do you ever ask yourself “Where am I?” And if you do, what is your answer? Obviously, no Hassid would ask this question, but thank G-d somebody did, because the Rebbe’s answer was, “I ask myself that every day, but I can’t answer it because my mission, my job, is to inspire others. So I can’t tell you how I am doing unless I hear from others. If you’re inspired, let me know.”


Even G-d needs to hear from us – are you inspired? Because every teacher needs to get feedback from his students to know whether they are listening, whether they got it, whether it has been effective. Even the Moshe of the generation, like Moshe himself, needed people to give him feedback: “What’s going on? Is my message getting through?” So just another example of where we can see such a personal and great closeness – a personal relationship that G-d has with us where it’s not a one-way street. He gives, but we have to give feedback. G-d is asking “Where are you?” He’s asking that we tell him how we are doing.


The Rebbe often asked that the people should write good news not just painful questions or painful issues. When things are good, the Rebbe needed to hear that.

What’s Wrong With Religion?

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Religion offers salvation, enlightenment, a place in heaven. Religion teaches self-improvement: humility, devotion, patience, faith. Religion demands a standard of behavior that benefits our souls, our bodies and our society. I’m glad Judaism is not a religion. Because all of the above can be self-serving and narcissistic. Religion can be its own worst enemy.

Religion emphasizes the importance of being good, and of being right. It condemns those who are bad and those who are wrong. Those who practice a religion strive to be perfect. If they fail they may be condemned, and if they succeed they may become intolerant of others. I’m glad Judaism is not a religion.

Religion must invariably create a caste system — more religious is better, higher, holier. Less religious is lesser, lower, more profane. The pious can be measured in percentages. 100%, 50%, 2%.

Religion insists our nature is evil. To be good, we are told, we must resist our natural impulses and replace them with other worldly virtues. You can’t be “you” and good at the same time. You must therefore sacrifice the “you” and choose “good.” I’m glad Judaism is not a religion.

What is Judaism? G‑d gave us commandments that are dear to Him and essential to His vast eternal plan. When observing a mitzvah we are doing something for Him. Something He desires infinitely, that affects Him eternally.

We serve Him instead of seeking to be served by Him. The opportunity to serve provides an escape from narcissism by taking us beyond ourselves. The objective now focuses on the deed rather than on the person.

Is it good? Is it right? That is the question. My own goodness and righteousness is not the issue. Even when I’m not all good I can do that which is truly good. And when you do a mitzvah it is as good regardless of who you are or what you are. The gratitude for this opportunity brings real joy to life. Hence, “serve G‑d with joy,” because serving is the only means to joy.

When you are devoted to serving G‑d you naturally want others to do the same, for only together can we fulfill His plan completely. Cooperation, not religious competition.

Equally significant is the fact that we are born to these mitzvahs. G‑d created us for this mission. It is therefore our truest self that fulfills the mitzvah, not a denial of self.

The 613 mitzvahs don’t make you religious or pious. They simply bridge the most Jewish in the Jew with the most G‑dly in G‑d. One to One.

The mitzvahs are the many intimacies we can share with G‑d. They express the Jew in you. Every mitzvah counts — every Jew is precious. Now, that’s Judaism.

Learn more with our God Needs You Audiobook

What Does it Mean to “Believe in G‑d”?

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Even the honest atheist will agree that a first cause, an original being, must have preceded the universe. This original cause or source is what so humbled Einstein, although he incorrectly described it as a religious experience. The questions of faith begin with how we understand this First Cause, its nature, and its relationship to us and to the universe.

The statement, “I believe there is a G‑d” is meaningless. Faith is not the ability to imagine that which does not exist. Faith is finding relevance in that which is transcendent. To believe in G‑d, then, means not that you’re of the opinion that He exists, but that you have found relevance in Him. When a person says “I believe in G‑d” what s/he really means is “G‑d is significant in my life”.

In discussing our relationship with G‑d, the question we first need to ask, is, Who cares? In what way is He relevant?

For some people, G‑d is relevant because they are concerned with the origins of existence. For others, G‑d is relevant because they are concerned with the afterlife, and faith is a prerequisite for getting to heaven. Finally, for others, G‑d is relevant because they believe that life has purpose.

In Judaism, particularly in Chassidism, the interest in G‑d comes from the conviction that life has meaning. The recurring question in Chassidic thought is: Why is a soul sent into the world to suffer in a physical body, for 80, 90 years? We know there is a purpose, that G‑d is the author of that purpose, and we want to know and understand it.

Chabad Chassidism teaches that the mind is the soul’s capacity to detect logic, the heart is the soul’s capacity to respond negatively or positively. The respective functions of the mind, heart and soul are often confused.

One who lives by his heart exclusively, trusts only what he feels. One who lives by his mind exclusively, trusts only what fits. But neither of these tells you the truth. The mind demands that logic be trusted, the heart demands that the emotions be trusted. Yet both can be mistaken. They do not reveal inherent truth. For that, we turn to the soul, the neshamah. Because the soul is a part of the Divine — and that is truth. When we have faith, when we find relevance in G‑d, we are trusting that instinct in the soul that tells us that G‑d is the purpose of life.

In pragmatic terms, the mind, the heart and the soul must each fulfill their function: when we know all that can be known, when we come to the edge of knowledge and logic itself tells us that we have reached its outer limits and it cannot handle what lies beyond this point, faith enters. Where the mind is no longer adequate, the soul responds to truth. This is faith.

This faith, this soul response, is necessary in the fulfillment of that category of mitzvot known as chukim, supra-rational laws, laws that do not subscribe to reason.

If someone has difficulties with these particular commandments, that is an indication that they may be relying on the mind and heart at the expense of their own capacity to react to truth — the expression of their soul. When a Jew fulfills a mitzvah before they’ve fully intellectualized it, they are allowing their neshamah to respond to truth.

It is an ability that often needs to be cultivated. The sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (1880-1950), recounts in his memoirs that as a small child, he once asked his father to explain to him why we follow a particular custom with regard to the saying of Modeh Ani upon waking in the morning. Instead of giving the answer, the Rebbe’s father led him to an elderly, simple Jew, and asked the Jew, “Why do you say Modeh Ani in this particular way?” To which the man responded, “Because that’s how my father taught me to do it.” The Rebbe’s father might have just as easily given him the rational reason for the custom. Instead, he saw it as an opportunity to exercise his ability to respond with faith.

This is why in Chabad-Lubavitch it is our approach to invite a Jew — even one who claims not to believe — to do a mitzvah, before we engage them in a discussion on faith. Because in consideration of the existence of the soul, we can assume that we don’t have to convince people of life’s Divine purpose. We just have to get them started, and with each mitzvah they do, their neshama asserts itself more, and questions become answered of themselves. By way of analogy, if a woman’s maternal instinct appears to be absent, you don’t argue the philosophy of motherhood with her. Just put the baby in her lap and her maternal response will emerge.

The relevance we find in Him will differ from person to person. Being that He is everything, people will experience G‑d in every possible way. He is the G‑d of Abraham and Isaac, of Benevolence and Might. And it is also true, as G‑d says, “I am known according to my deeds.” Some will know Him as a rewarding G‑d, others as a G‑d who punishes, who provides, who saves, who enlightens, who inspires, and so on and on..

In the beginning, G‑d revealed Himself as the creator, master, king — all very impersonal roles. In Halachah (Torah law) G‑d reveals His laws, but doesn’t allow His “personal feelings” to show. Later, in the Kabbalah, G‑d makes Himself vulnerable; He shares intimate details. He is humanized in a two-way relationship. So the Halachist has great respect for the wisdom of the commandments, while the mystic sees G‑d as taking the mitzvot personally. When G‑d says, “don’t cut down fruit trees,” if we were sensitive we would not only hear a commandment, but we’d see something about G‑d. Kabbalah reveals that something. The halachot are the details; Kabbalah reads between the lines.

Kabbalah gives us a very different perspective on G‑d’s “anthropomorphic” behavior. It reminds us that Torah comes to teach us about G‑d, and that expressions such as “G‑d spoke,” “G‑d’s hand,” “G‑d’s anger,” need to be considered from Torah’s or G‑d’s perspective. We are not the reference point for G‑d’s behavior; G‑d should serve as a reference for our behavior. He created the world. Speech, hand, anger, jealousy — these are all His creations, these are all Divine rights. Our speech, our hand, our anger, our jealousy — these are only metaphors for the real thing, not the other way around. When we read that “G‑d raises His hand” and splits the sea, we need to measure our own hand against that. When we raise it, what happens? Nothing. We learn then that we are not quite as powerful as G‑d. When we read that G‑d gets angry and punishes because He created a world with a Divine purpose, and that purpose is frustrated, we ought to measure our own anger against that. What have we created? Nothing. We may not, therefore, get angry and punish as G‑d does. Considering G‑d’s anger and other attributes in this way brings us to a humbling recognition. Only when our anger or jealousy is an expression of moral indignation does it reflect true, Divine qualities. Only then, may we exercise such expressions. Whatever truth there is in anything in us, it is the extent to which we embody what it is He tells us about Himself.

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Why Is Torah Law So Restrictive of Contact Between the Genders?

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When a man and woman are together in a room, and the door closes, that is a sexual event. Not because of what is going to happen, but what has already happened. It may not be something to make novels of, but it is a sexual occurrence, because male and female is what sexuality used to be all about.

It is true that in our world today, in the “free world” certainly, people have, on the whole, stopped thinking in these terms. What happened was that we started putting up all these defenses, getting steeled, inured, against the constant exposure and stimulation of men and women sharing all sorts of activities—coeducational school, camps, gyms—is that we started blocking out groups of people. We can’t be as naturally sexual as G‑d created us to be. When a man says, “I have a woman friend, but we’re just friends, nothing more, I’m not attracted to her in any sexual way, she’s not my type,” you’ve got to ask yourself what is really going on here. Is this a disciplined person? Or is this a person who has died a little bit?

What does he mean, “She’s not my type?” When did all this “typing” come into existence? It’s all artificial. It’s not true to human sexuality. And it really isn’t even true in this particular context, because given a slight change of circumstance, you could very easily be attracted. After all, you are a male, she’s a female. How many times does a relationship begin that is casual, neighborly, and then suddenly becomes intimate? The great awakening of this boy and girl who are running around, doing all sorts of things, sharing all sorts of activities, and lo and behold, they realize—what drama, what drama—that they are attracted to each other. These are grownups, intelligent human beings, and it caught them by surprise. It’s kind of silly.

So, closing a door should be recognized as a sexual event. And you need to ask yourself: Are you prepared for this? Is it permissible? Is it proper? If not, leave the door open. Should men and women shake hands? Should it be seen as an intimate gesture? Should any physical contact that is friendly be considered intimate? Hopefully, it should.

These laws are not guarantees against sin. They have never completely prevented it. There are people who dress very modestly. They cover everything. They sin. It’s a little more cumbersome, but they manage. All these laws are not just there to lessen the possibility of someone doing something wrong. They also preserve sexuality—because human sexuality is what G‑d wants. He gave us these laws to preserve it, to enhance it—and make sure it’s focused to the right places and circumstances—not to stifle it.

We have become callous about our sexuality. Even in marriage, a kiss on the run cheapens it, makes it callous—then we run to the therapist for advice. And do you know what the therapist who charges $200 an hour for his advice says? He tells the couple not to touch each other for two weeks. Judaism tells you that, free of charge. Yes, there are two weeks each month during which a husband and wife don’t touch. This therapy has been around for 3000 years. And it still works. It’s a wonderful idea.

When you don’t close the door on yourself and that other person, you are recognizing your own sexuality. You are acknowledging the sexuality of the other person. Being modest, recognizing our borders, knowing where intimacy begins and not waiting until it is so intimate that we’re too far gone, is a very healthy way of living. It doesn’t change your lifestyle dramatically, but enhances it dramatically, and you come away more capable of relaxing, better able to be spontaneous, because you know that you can trust yourself. You’ve defined your borders. Now you can be free. It takes a load off your mind, and it makes you a much more lovable person.


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Terrorists in Heaven?

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Some say that so much evil has been done in the name of religion, that religion is clearly dangerous to society. Looking back at history, one has to admit there is indeed a point in such criticism. Which begs the question: how is that possible? How can it be that any evil can come from religion, which ought to be about G-d and about morality?

In our times, people who murder in the name of religion are called terrorists, fanatics, and extremists. But these labels are misleading; using them confuses the discussion and will not help us get a handle on how to respond to the reality of their acts.

Is there really such a thing as a terrorist? Of course not, just ask around. Nobody will claim the name. Nobody raises their kid to be a terrorist; parents raise their children to believe and follow doctrine. It’s just that some grow up to be such fervent believers that they decide to use terror to “persuade” others of the truth of their faith. Their drive is their faith, the terrorism their tool.

Westerners, many of whom have only a superficial understanding of religion, seem completely baffled by such fervent belief. Extremists, they call them, as if to say, a small amount or a moderate amount of faith is acceptable, but believing too much, that’s extreme. Believe, but believe just a bit. More than that and you will come to evil. If we take moderation to mean restraint of passion, then the suggested standard is live a religious life that you don’t get so excited about. How tempting does that sound?

Does this make any sense? After all, what is wrong with being extreme? Nobody criticizes Mother Theresa for living her life the way she that did; her extreme example seems to be acceptable. A school fires a teacher because the teacher refused to call a little girl in the classroom by the boy’s name she had chosen and the same people who criticized religious extremism see nothing extreme about the firing. Clearly, one person’s extremism is to another nothing but the logical end of a cherished belief. After all, if one’s cause is just, why not be an extremist? If one knows something to be true and good, how can one have too much of it? How can good become too much good? On the other hand, a cause that is not just or true or good is not just or true or good even in moderation. A little bit of evil is still evil.

If someone’s beliefs lead him to commit evil acts, then there must be something in the belief that is itself false and the beginning of evil. This is true of communism, it’s true of criminal codes of behavior and it is also true of religious beliefs. In the case of religion, the most dangerous belief of all is, that if one is a truly devoted follower one will go to Heaven.

On the face of it, this sounds spiritual. It sounds noble. Truly religious. But really, it’s evil. At base, this belief belies the attitude that this world is not a great place to be, and that Heaven is going to be much better. So religions prescribe all manner of paths for escaping this world. Achieve nirvana, which is meditational escape. Choose a redemptive belief that will score you a good seat in Heaven. Or maybe, take down a large building and that will get you straight to Paradise.

It’s not that Jews don’t appreciate self-sacrifice; simply that our conception of it was never about spurning this world. The great examples of mesiras nefesh that we exalt are stories of people who clung to mitzvos, the fulfillment of which is only possible here in this world. Heaven is a great place, but there will be no opportunities there for the free choice to serve G-d by doing His mitzvos. From the Jews under Greek rule before the Chashmanayim revolt to the Jews in Soviet Russia, our history abounds with stories of heroic Jews who fearlessly kept the mitzvos and paid for it with their lives. However, all those heroes who died would have wanted to stay here, in this world, even for only more day, just to be able to do a few more mitzvos. They did not seek death or Heaven, what they sought was not to be divided from mitzvos. It was their enemies who sought their deaths.

When violence fell upon the shluchim in Mumbai, the whole world recognized the noble self-sacrifice of this young couple. But in case anyone misunderstands, the mesiras nefesh of the Holtzbergs was not that they were willing to go live in a dangerous place, but that they were going to do mitzvos in this place. Their mesiras nefesh was demonstrated over and over again before they lost their lives, by the chessed they did each day, the Torah they unceasingly taught, and the mitzvos they directed Jews in. They were vitally engaged in this world, not the next one. That was their mesiras nefesh.

Thank God, we are not called upon to make such sacrifices. But the good for which those people were willing to die, that we still have. And we have the ability and opportunity to be extremely devoted to that good. Fanatically. Passionately. Confidently. Joyfully.

Jews are to be a light unto the nations. In a time of darkness such as ours is now, we will not bring more light in the world by congratulating ourselves at how moderate we have remained. Moderation is not progress; instead progress is judged by how clearly people are able to see the difference between right and wrong, and how devotedly they choose to pursue it.

There is nothing wrong with being extremely devoted to good. The world needs more of that. There are enough people around who believe that this world is evil. The most effective antidote to this mistaken idea, its most compelling refutation, is the counter-belief that this world has much good in it and has the potential for much more.

Rambam says: It should not enter your mind that Moshiach will perform miracles or that nature will change when Moshaich comes. Miracles are necessary only when nature doesn’t cooperate with good and the G-dly. When Moshiach comes, nature itself will have become holy through our Torah study and performance of Mitzvot and the miracles will not be necessary. Let us seek to work here, to sacrifice our lives in making it a world of goodness and of light.


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