Once, I got a call from a man in Israel. I didn’t know him, and he didn’t know me, but he told me that his twelve-year-old daughter somehow became convinced that God was angry at her. This was causing her great sadness and depression and was ruining her life. Suddenly the man put her on the phone and told me to “just talk to her.”
I didn’t know what to say. “God is angry at you?” I asked.
She said “yes.”
So I said “I’m so jealous! You could do something to get God angry?? How did you become so important? You’re only 12 years old and you can anger the creator of the world! That’s incredible.”
After that conversation, her problem seemed to go away.
The problem is, we got it backwards. If God is angry at us, that is a tremendous compliment! The fact that God cares enough about what we do to be made angry means that we have a connection with the creator of heaven and earth. We matter to him. He needs us.
God wouldn’t get angry at us for not doing something he doesn’t even need. And the fact that he needs us is more meaningful than anger, hate, or even love. It means that we are truly connected.
According to some of these articles about the male-female attraction from a scientific perspective, what attracts a man to a woman is some intuitive feeling that the genes will allow the continuation of the species, or that you will have healthy offspring, and that’s what attracts you to each other. But that is inaccurate, and so impersonal.
That makes an intimate relationship mean nothing more than “I think with you I can have a healthy child.” That is so embarrassing. That’s not human relationships.
A man and a woman are attracted to each other because they can complete each other. A man needs to grow by expanding from his own little world into someone else’s world, into a bigger world, and to a greater world, and a woman needs to grow by being more inclusive, including more of reality, more of the world into her own existence. The man extends his existence and the woman encompasses more into her existence. That’s the difference between male and female. That’s why men say women are alluring, as they drew draw you into their world. And man is aggressive. He wants to extend his existence into other areas and other realities. Now the man wanting to expand or extend his existence finds the welcome that the woman presents very appealing. Its irresistible.
So the attraction really begins, as the Torah says, with the woman’s capacity to absorb or to encompass within herself another human being. Men find that irresistible not because of the children they’re going to create, but because of the bond they are going to create. The man becomes a complete being when he is giving and responding to this feminine welcome, to this to this hospitality, and the woman becomes a fuller and a more complete human being when she has more input into her reality and into her world. That’s why it’s important that a man and a woman, when they get married, become husband and wife. Because that kind of a bond doesn’t happen unless the man becomes a husband and the woman becomes a wife. If they remain men and women then they’re still on the prowl and they’re still looking to become complete. But a husband and a wife have completed each other’s existence and that’s what we mean by “live happily ever after.”
This doesn’t mean there won’t be any problems or arguments. It means you are now complete beings. Now fight your battles, go through your arguments, and put up with each other as best you can, but you’re not seeking anymore. You’re not unfulfilled. Now the problems you have are problems you should have as a man and a woman having problems with each other. These are problems you don’t need and you shouldn’t have.
The real significance of the male-female attraction is the completion, because without each other we are incomplete. We are half beings.
That’s a lot more romantic than “I think we could have healthy children and survive the next ice age.”
Once, a very patriotic guy visited Washington DC for the first time. As he walked by the great national monuments, he was filled with pride and love for the nation. But then suddenly he saw something that was completely out of place: he noticed not far from the White House there was a building that didn’t look like American architecture, and he heard people singing inside, but they weren’t American songs, and they were speaking and it wasn’t English, and weren’t dressed like Americans! The man was very offended. Here, in the nation’s capital, people were celebrating their own nations instead of America! He was filled with rage and decided to give them a piece of him mind.
He knocks on the door and says to the people inside “how long have you been living in the United States?”
They answer: “Thirty years.”
He says “for thirty years you enjoyed all the benefits of this country and you don’t have the decency to speak English, to dress like an American, to sing American songs, to build American structures. shame on you!”
Those inside were confused. One of them looked up at the man and said “excuse me but this is the Norwegian Embassy!”
Their job was to show America how they live, and how they dress, etc. If they dressed like Americans and sang American songs and spoke English, they would lose their jobs!
Every Jew, wherever we are, is an embassy. We are here in this world to show the world how it’s done Jewishly. So if we dress different, if we sing different songs, if we celebrate different holidays, that’s our job! If we stop doing that, we lose our job. So, are we justified in maintaining our customs? Of course we are! We are the embassy.
The greatness of the Rebbe’s achievement was that he raised an entire generation of ordinary, average students, but he raised them with the conviction that they are embassies, that they are not private citizens, and that you don’t live for yourself; you take responsibility for your family, for your community for the world. because we were born to make the world better. That’s our mission, that’s our job, that’s our purpose.
How can we believe in a God? Why should we believe that something we can’t see with our own eyes is real?
We all understand that the most meaningful and real things in life are not visible. First of all, intelligence is not visible, emotions are not visible, and even in the physical reality, what you see in an object with the naked eye is not the reality; we know that under a microscope a thing looks very very different. Physics tells us that what we don’t see with our eyes are the building blocks of everything. It’s more real than what we do see. For example, gravity is not visible, and yet gravity is one of the most fundamental laws of nature.
In the course of human development, all real progress has been when we go past what we see and find out what’s really real.
But on a deeper level, the one thing that we know is absolutely real is the human need for meaning in life. We must have meaning in our lives, otherwise we become disillusioned and we break down. But has anyone ever seen “meaning”?
But where does the need for it come from? It’s not philosophical or scholarly; every human being, even if he never opened a book in his life feels a need to have some meaning. But where does that come from?
It must logically come from the existence of meaning. If there never was a meaning to life, then why would we be looking for it? It would be like being homesick without ever having had a home.
We know instinctively that we have a meaning for our lives. The fact that we’re all looking for meaning is not a collective disease or sickness; it’s because life is meaningful. And if life is meaningful, then there’s an author to that meaning. If existence is meaningful, then it must be meaningful to its creator, as that’s just simple logic.
After the soul leaves the body, it enjoys the pleasures of being disembodied and not having to schlep a body around. But the soul leaves the body gradually because during life they become very attached to each other. To some degree the soul never completely gives up on its body, even after the body has decomposed. That’s why going to the gravesite where the body is buried enables us to communicate with the soul better than anywhere else. To some degree the soul is still hung up on its body.
But there’s also the concept of Resurrection. Someday that body will be resurrected and the soul will come back to its body because it never gave up on it. The body that helps you serve God has acquired some holiness that will never be lost and the body deserves a reward just as much as the soul because without a body you can’t do mitzvahs. A soul cannot put on tefillin, a soul cannot eat matzah, a soul cannot light a Shabbos candle or go to the mikveh, so without the body the soul can’t do any of the mitzvahs. Why then should only the soul be rewarded in heaven without the body when the body is more than 60% of the mitzvot? That is why we believe that there will come a time when the body will get its reward by being resurrected and reunited with its soul and live forever.
The pleasure of being a soul is a much greater pleasure than having to carry a body around. But on the other hand, for a soul whose entire existence is to serve its creator, in heaven it’s frustrated it can’t serve God. On earth, we serve God, but in heaven you are served and God gives you the pleasure and the reward for everything. But the soul wants to come back and be needed rather than needy in heaven. In heaven, you’re not needed, you’re rewarded. The souls in heaven are waiting for Mashiach so that they can come back into their bodies.
Heaven is not the ultimate goal in Judaism, it’s a holding pattern until the world becomes a little nicer and a little godlier, the soul will stay in heaven. But as soon as the world is ready, the soul wants to come back live on earth and serve God. Because it has no ego, it doesn’t want to be served. It wants to do the service.
To work too much is not correct because you have to balance the value and the quality of your existence with the purpose for which it exists. So, if you’re putting in 22 hours a day just for getting your existence comfortable, when are you going to attend to the purpose and the meaning of that existence?
We’ve got to balance our time with getting rich and knowing what to do with it. We’re spending all our time getting rich but where is it going?
A Rabbi once asked one of his congregants,
“do you have time to study?”
He said “no, I have no time to study after work, i have to make a living!”
“Why?” the Rabbi asked.
He said “I work so I can send my kid to yeshiva!”
The Rabbi smiled and said “you know, everyone I asked tells me the same thing, so who is this kid that everyone is trying to send to Yeshiva? and when that kid grows up, is he gonna come and tell me that he’s too busy to study because he has to send his kids to yeshiva?”
The Rabbi’s point was, when are we gonna get to the punchline? If everybody is working full time to make it possible to go to yeshiva, but nobody actually goes, what are we doing it all for?
We make cuts in our lives to make our existence better and try to establish ourselves comfortably so that we can live a life, but then we have no time for it because we put in 22 hours!
The question we must ask ourselves is: Where is our life? We put in a long day at work and then come home, but what is home? Is it a break from life? Is it a place where we can collapse and chill out and rest up for another day of life, or is this where our life happens?
Once, I was asked to speak to a group of Hebrew students.
When they told me they were studying Psalms, I asked them about the verse from where King David says “As a deer thirsts for streams of water, so I thirst for you, God.” (Psalm 42:2) “Do you thing this is an exaggeration?” I asked, “Or was King David only talking about his own feelings?”
Surely, I said, we don’t yearn for God like an animal dying of thirst yearns for water, and the class seemed to agree.
“But,” I said “we have all done things that we’re ashamed, we all have said thing we are ashamed of, and we have all thought thoughts we are ashamed of; How can we live like this? How can we live being ashamed of our thoughts, words, and actions?”
We all know the pain of shame and guilt.
To live in shame hurts terribly. It hurts more than the deer’s thirst for water in the desert. So, is it an exaggeration that we need God, that we need beauty and innocence and holiness as much as a deer needs water?
We’d like to believe that God loves us, and in fact, the Torah says that God loves us. But if what we do doesn’t really count, and if whether we follow his commandments and Mitzvahs or not doesn’t really matter to him that much, then what does it mean that he loves us?
You can’t really have love without vulnerability. If what I do can’t hurt you then you can’t love me. If I say I love you very much, but if you’re not interested in me then I don’t care, or, I love you very much but if you don’t play along with what I want then that’s okay because I I don’t need you, then that’s not love, it’s manipulation. It’s like saying love me and you’ll benefit, but if you don’t only you lose, that’s not love. If it doesn’t hurt me, if I don’t need your participation, if I don’t need your relationship with you, then I can’t claim to love you.
Without recognizing that God has an investment in his creation, we can’t say he loves us. Obviously, he created the world for a purpose, and that purpose needs to be realized. It’s not like “yeah I had a purpose, but if it doesn’t work out it’s also good.” God creating the world for a reason means he’s got an investment, which means that it matters to him. He cares, he needs to have it a certain way so that whether we choose to do it or choose not to do it makes a huge difference. We can hurt him. That’s why when he says he loves us it’s real love, because you can only love that which could love you back or might hate you back. If you can’t afford to love someone who might hate you back it’s not real love.
When God created the universe, he made it with two principal dimensions: Existence and life. The universe both lives and exists.
Something has to exist before it can live, and since nothing existed when God started the creation, the first thing he had to do is to give existence to non-existent things. But then God gave every existent being a life.
The scientific definition of “existence” is simply to take up space. If you occupy space then you exist. If you don’t occupy your space then you don’t exist. Everything in the world exists by virtue of occupying its space. For example, a book on the shelf doesn’t allow another book in that same space. That’s because it exists. Even a thought occupies space. One thought doesn’t allow another thought to enter its space, which is why you can’t think two thoughts at the same time. The same is true with emotions: they occupy space in the heart. Whether it’s love, or even a tree, all things exist in the same way: they take up space.
But when it comes to the life of the various existences, no two are the same. The life of fire is not the same as the life of water. “Life” means the contribution and the function that you bring to the existence. Fire contributes warmth, light, and makes things come apart while water contributes growth and makes things stick together. Even a stone has a “life”: it contributes weight and resistance to movement.
Humans too have an existence and a life; we all take up space and we also contribute to the world. But the two are not always compatible; sometimes what is good for my existence is not good for my life and sometimes what is good for my life is not good for my existence.
For example, when I am alone, I have the whole room to myself and my existence is expanded. I occupy the whole space. But when I am giving a class, there are others in the room who intrude and encroach on my space and steal my existence. When others lessen my space, my existence resents it and hates them for it.
On the other hand, I’m happy and relieved people are there because talking to an empty room is no life. We were born to contribute, and without others I can’t contribute. They ruin my existence but give me life and purpose. So even though my existence resents them, my life loves them! That’s why we often end up loving someone but not liking them, or loving and hating the same person; I love you because you enhance my life, but I hate you because you’re cramping my existence.
This is the ultimate purpose of marriage. Our existence much prefers being single, when we have our own space and own our life. But that part of ourselves that yearns for life and is not satisfied just taking up space can’t bear it. Because in a marriage we are constantly sharing, it is the ultimate life, but it is also the ultimate threat to existence. Nothing humbles our existence more than marriage. Marriage means giving up our existence and turning “my space” to “our space.”
Existence is not something to be proud of. It’s not a talent. Existence means “don’t touch me, i was here first, it’s mine!” It’s childish. It’s also an embarrassment and a burden, because in addition to excluding others, existence also makes demands. We need to eat and sleep and go to the doctor and exercise just to keep taking up space! We need to obey every demand that our existence makes of us. Life gives, life carries us, whereas existence must be carried.
If there’s a conflict, and you have to choose between life and existence, the smart thing to do is to give up the existence and choose life. In our relationships, we should give up our space and let the other person have the space. What do we need it for? It’s just a burden.
Home is where life happens. Every place else is about our existence, but when we come home from work and walk in the front door, that is when our day begins. Until now we were just existing and working to sustain our existence, but when we come home, that’s where we live, that’s where the magic of living happens.
This is what we own to our children. We need to tell them how to brush their teeth, how to cross the street, how to ride a bicycle, to avoid strangers, etc. to keep them from harm. But we also need to teach them how to live beyond just not getting hurt. But sometimes even when we do teach them about life, we ruin it by making it about existence. For example, we tell them to go to school and learn well, which is noble and good, but then we ruin it by saying that the reason they should get a good grade is because then they’ll get into a good college, which will get them a good job, which will enhance their existence. We teach our kids not to lie, which is essential to life, but then we ruin it when we say “the reason you shouldn’t lie, is because people will stop believing you when you’re telling the truth and that will hurt your existence.”
We own it to our children to teach them that they should learn and tell the truth and share because that is how they can live and contribute, not because it will help them take up space and exist. We should ennoble everyday functions by injecting it with life and purpose, not make our values transactional and utilitarian and purely for the sake of our existence.
This choice between life and existence holds the key to unlocking many secrets of the universe. In fact, the mystics tell us that this is the real secret behind creation: God created the world because he exists forever and ever and his existence is everywhere and, but that’s not a life, that’s just a magnificent existence. And so God says “no, I’ve got to create a world, and that world will become my home where I can bring others into my space. Then my existence will be enriched, then my existence will have content and purpose, and beauty and passion.
We are here because even God is not content just existing, and so we aren’t either.
One of the innovations of the Baal Shem Tov was that it can’t be that God created the world a long time ago and then left it, but that God must be creating the world constantly. Every millisecond the world stops existing and God must create it again.
It must be so because of simple logic: When a potter makes a pot out of clay, once he’s finished, he can walk away and the pot will remain. This is because he was working with preexisting material. But when something is made out of nothing, it’s existence must be constantly sustained.
It’s like that joke about the atheist who says to god “we don’t need you anymore, we can do whatever you do!” So God says “can you make a man out of dust like I did?” To this the Atheist says “yes!”, and picks up a handful of dirt to show God what he can do. But God interrupts and says “Wait! Go make your own dirt!”
in other words, even if we could make a man out of dust, we would have to use the dust that already exists.
But god created the world out of nothing, therefore he has to be creating it at every second. You can’t teach “nothing” how to exist, so if you force “nothing” exist with supernatural power, it’s all your power at work, and when your power leaves, the thing dies. The “nothing” doesn’t contribute at all. You’re the creator, you make it exist, and you have to keep making it exist. For example, if you throw a stone into the air it will fly, but will always fall back to the earth. This is because stones do not have the ability to fly, and will therefore stop flying as soon as the external force pushing it dies. Making something from nothing is like making a stone fly for an extended time; it must be forced to do so over and over.
According to the laws of nature, God must constantly create the world. But who made those laws?
God is the creator of all things and is certainly not bound by the laws of nature that he invented. So why would God create a world that needs to be created all the times?
The answer to this question is truly inspirational:
Of course, God could have done it that way, but he prefers this way. God prefers to be involved and engaged with us all the time, it’s his pleasure!
Sustaining us at all times means that we are constantly connected, and that is God’s ultimate joy.
In short, the reason God wrote the laws of nature in a way that forces him to constantly create you is because he likes you.