If we define Religion as a program of gaining spiritual reward, then it is not.
Everyone is trying to sell us something by telling us we need it. Whether it’s a car, a vacation, or a toaster, the pitch is the same: you need this for you. Religion has been given the same pitch; they say “be religious” because you need salvation, or enlightenment, or inner peace. They tell you to be religious for your personal gain.
When everyone is looking for personal gain, bad things happen.
But then there is Judaism. In Judaism, it’s not about what we need, it’s about what God needs. It’s about what’s needed of us, not by us.
This is a much people way of thinking. Not “what do I need?” but “What is needed of me?”
Many a father has told his daughter “don’t you go out dressed like that!” and it certainly is important that dads continue to do so.
But we need to remember our priorities.
There’s an old saying that “familiarity breeds contempt,” and there certainly is a lot of truth to that. Many times when someone starting living together with a close friend in the same room, their friendship gets ruined. There’s something about being too close that is bad for a relationship. When we get used to seeing someone at their sloppiest, we lose respect for them. Familiarity, indeed, breads contempt.
How then can a family, and especial a husband and wife, protect themselves from that contempt?
The answer is dignity.
We need to live in a dignified manner that is respectful to each other and doesn’t make it too difficult to be respected by them. This means speaking, eating, and dressing in a respectful and dignified manner.
So perhaps, if someone’s daughter is dressed in a less than dignified manner, they should say “don’t you be in the house dressed like that, if you want to dress like that, go out.”
The most important thing is to protect the dignity and harmony of the home and those living in it. They deserve more respect, not less, than the strangers outside.
In modern morality, love is the ultimate virtue. Love is valued above all things, supposed to be the answer to all problems, and ascribed with almost magical powers. But unfortunately, this has caused many people to put too much focus on love, without even knowing that they were doing something wrong.
If a man told you he was marrying a woman for her money, that would be considered wrong. But why is that? If she has what he wants, isn’t that the perfect basis for a marriage? But of course, it is wrong.
It is wrong because if you marry someone for their money, then you are not marrying them; you are marrying their money. Essentially, you are saying “I don’t want you. I want money. And I will use you for money.”
To marry means to open ourselves up and share our lives with with another human being with their own personality and quirks. But if you don’t want that person, but only their money, you are not opening yourself to them.
The same logic, however, should be applied to love. We should not marry someone for love. Love is a thing that we want, but marriage is about much more than “things.” Marriage is about the person.
What love and money have in common is that neither of them are a person. We should marry for the person, not for love.
Love is important. But it’s never more important than the person.
When we make marriage about an exchange of love and forget how to connect to the person themselves, beyond their love, we don’t bond as a couple should, and remain alone. But when we do connect with each other, we create a bond that will last forever.
The stories of the Bible are fairly well known. But the anglicized title of the first book of the Bible; Genesis, reveals something interesting. Genesis means the beginning. But the book of Genesis was not the beginning.
The Bible begins with “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.” Meaning, God created the world in the beginning. The creation was not the beginning, it was in the beginning.
Many times, when we study the Bible, we forget how it all started. Before there was a world, God was alone and decided to go ahead and create the world. This means that there is something he wanted for himself that he gets by having a world. That desire was the beginning.
The Bible isn’t here to tell us how to live our best lives. The Bible is here to tell us what God wants from us.
“Yes, they’re sharing a drink they call loneliness, But it’s better than drinkin’ alone”
These words were written by Billy Joel in his classic song The Piano Man. But what can they teach us?
There is Loneliness, and then there is Aloneness.
When someone is lonely, they can go to the bar and be with others. But then there is Aloneness. Loneliness can be shared, but Aloneness can’t. When we get home from the bar, then we are alone, and that is hellish.
When we feel alone in the world, we can’t function as healthy humans. Even our immune system shuts down.
There’s only one way to avoid Aloneness. That is intimacy.
Today there are many who feel alone even though they are happily married. They like each other, they are attracted to each other, but the intimacy is missing and therefore they both feel alone. Intimacy is the only thing that can make a person not Alone.
It’s a great feeling to know that your money is working for you. I remember this old commercial when they first introduced dishwashing machines. It was of a woman relaxing on a recliner with the dishwasher running in the kitchen and she says “I’m doing my dishes!”
When you do a Mitzvah like, for example, saying the blessing on a cookie, what you are doing is giving a final divine purpose and fulfillment to so many things: the dough, the flour, and the water and the sugar and whatever it is that went into the cookie. All of it is now experiencing its elevation into the realm of godliness because it now has served the godly purpose. But even more than that, the flour came from a company, and now that company has participated in a Mitzvah and has been made holier. The farmer who grew the wheat, the tools he used to plow the field, the manufacturer of those tools, even the earth itself, has now produced godliness.
Everything that contributed to the existence of that cookie has now realized its potential godly purpose.
But when we give Tzedaka, they domino effect of holiness is even longer. It can change a person’s life and help him do all kinds of Mitzvahs, including giving Tzedaka to others. When you give Tzedaka, your money goes to work for you. You can sit back and say “I’m changing the world!”
There was a man who struggled terribly with thoughts of suicide. He fought them, but tragically, after six years of fighting he succumbed and ended his life.
His mother was beside herself with grief. But more than that, she was angry. In her frustration she kept saying “what a wasted life!”
But she was wrong.
He was suicidal for six years before he actually killed himself, which means that for six years he fought this monster. He fought like a lion, and for six years he was successful in refusing to kill himself. To stand up to such a demon is not easy. But every time he refused he became holier.
But not only did he get holier, every time he refused to kill himself he weakened that evil impulse for everybody in the world. Because he said no over and over again to the temptation of killing himself, everyone else who struggles with this affliction will now have a little easier time saying no to that temptation. Every time he said no, the demon of suicide shrunk. We all live in the same bubble and when a person does something good on one side of the world, it helps everybody in the world be better.
A man who refuses to kill himself for six years despite the temptation is a hero. Even though after six years it wore him down.
Imagine a soldier defending a position against the enemy. He defends it successfully for six years but eventually he runs out of bullets and falls. Was that a wasted life? Certainly not.
The man’s a hero.
In our lives, we all tend to underestimate our own contribution to the world. You don’t have to win it all to make the world a better place. Every small victory against the temptations of evil, even just a delay, makes the world a better place.
For the last 80 years or so people have decided to marry based on how much they love each other. But there’s a problem with that, because love and marriage do not “go together like a horse and carriage”. It’s not true.
If you’re not in love with marriage, if you’re not enamored with marriage, if you don’t believe in marriage, and you don’t want to be married, then don’t, no matter how much you love someone!
A couple came to me and said “we’re madly in love with each other, so we want to get married.” I said “but then it’s too late!”
The love came before the marriage, and that doesn’t work. You have to be committed to the idea of marriage before getting married.
So, if a man says to a woman, “you know marriage is not my thing. But now that I met you, and you are so fantastic, I’ll marry you!” she should not marry him. Don’t do it. There will be moments where he won’t think you’re that fantastic, so don’t put all the weight of the marriage on you being fantastic.
The miracle of Purim, being natural and “enclothed” in natural events to the extent that even God’s name is not mentioned in the Megillah, is a turning point in Jewish history. It is where God became real enough that we don’t have to refer to him to know that he’s there. Without even mentioning God’s name, we have a book of Torah: Megilas Esther. It’s one of the books of Torah but it doesn’t have God’s name.
That is a great achievement. God has become so real to us and our relationship has gotten stronger after the destruction of the Temple, not weaker.
On Purim we realize something about our relationship with God and something about ourselves: it’s like if a man was running to get a doctor for his wife because she isn’t feeling well, and when you stop and talk to him he admits that he doesn’t really love her particularly at this moment, and they’re not getting along so well, and yet he’s running to get a doctor. If you question him and say “what’s the hurry? if you don’t love her, take your time!” He would simply say “what’s love got to do with it? my wife needs a doctor!”
Our relationship with God is similar. Sometimes we love him, and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes he loves us, and sometimes he doesn’t; like when there was a destruction and he threw us out of the land.
But when he needs me to keep Shabbos or put on Tefilin, we are there for him. Whether we love him or not right now, he’s our God, and if this is what he needs from us, we are there.