Toward a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson
Radio Show Transcript – April 16, 2000
Rabbi Simon Jacobson: Good evening and welcome back to Toward a Meaningful Life with yours truly, Simon Jacobson. It’s always great to see the dynamic of an interactive experience, where you don’t really know in which direction it’s going to head. I often start with a script or with some ideas that I want to share, but then the calls take it to another level entirely. I really want to thank the listeners; it’s just a demonstration of what a collaborative communication can truly be like. If we open up our hearts and speak openly, spiritually, about things that really matter and are meaningful, all kinds of surprises can take place.
So I invite you to call in at 212-244-1050. But, as emcee, I’ll try to define the context of the show and that is, since it’s holiday season, the holiday of freedom, particularly Passover, a season that is celebrated by many people of different backgrounds and different religions, I thought it would be appropriate to take a unique angle on this issue of freedom: what really makes us free and how does one experience freedom?
I first thought of titling the show, “Emotions: Are they our greatest enemy?” It reminds me of someone who recently came to me to consult about certain personal issues and, of course, whenever we’re dealing with a personal issue we get involved in it and it becomes something that we’re invested in. Because we have feelings about it, when we get emotional, our emotions have the ability to entangle us and create subjectivity.
As we were speaking, I was trying to point out to him that there are different ways of looking at this—“this may be your view, there may be another perspective”—and it became very obvious (there are those moments when things become very clear, very crystallized) even to him, and he said, you know, this thing called emotions; I wish we could get rid of them. It would just make life so much simpler, so much clearer.
So emotions, on one hand, are very much a part of our experience (not only a part, but an intrinsic element of human experience). We feel things. We like something, we don’t like it. Love. Pain. We have sensations. If we were just minds, intellects, computers, we wouldn’t be able to experience life.
On the other hand, because of the subjective nature of emotions, they can entrap or blind us. The Bible puts it very clearly. It says that bias, which is shochad in Hebrew, a bribe, blinds the eyes of the wise and distorts the tongue of the tzaddik, the righteous person.
So we know the power that the emotions have, in a moment of obsession where you get totally consumed with something. And I thought it would be appropriate to discuss this at Passover time, because it’s the holiday of freedom and many of you may be at a Passover seder, which is supposed to be a freeing experience.
So I always ask myself the question that I ask people whom I speak to, which is, do you really feel free during the seder or free after the holiday? Do you really feel free of your psychological demons, of scars that you carry? As a matter of fact, someone just told me that she feels more enslaved by Passover than any other holiday. The cleaning that’s done before the holiday; following the letter of the law with such precision can sometimes seem to be an unfreeing type of experience.
So I thought it would be important to address, on a very personal level, what is freedom and how can we really use the holiday as an opportunity to become free.
The angle I’m taking here is that I believe that freedom is very much connected to human experience and to human emotions. The fact that we experience things also means that we become enslaved to them. We become attached to them, for good or for bad, in healthy and unhealthy ways; the biases and denial that it creates.
So the first question that I pose to myself and to the listening audience, and as I like to do is to open this question up to all of your comments as well as to share my thoughts: What kind of role do emotions play in human freedom? How would you define freedom? How do we balance the two? Can we create a situation where we take advantage of the benefits of an emotional experience and at the same time minimize the risks of being blinded to the point of self-destructive behavior or destructive behavior toward others? And ultimately, how does one really learn to become free?
Of course this comes down to the definition of what freedom is. We live in a country today, a democratic country, where freedom is considered to be the epitome and highest objective—the land of the free and the brave—but are we truly free? We live in highly prosperous times, with technology, development. Civilization is getting more cultivated and more evolved and advanced. Are we freer people because of that? Can we say that we’re freer today than we were 100-200 years ago? And how do emotions play into this, psychologically?
Let me give you my definition of freedom, and I invite your rebuttals or opinions on the matter. If you ask most people what the word “free” means, their knee-jerk reaction is, “Freedom? I can do what I like. I can go where I like, I can read what I like, I can meet whom I like. That’s freedom.”
That sound good initially, but if you think about it, that’s really a superficial and meaningless, hollow response because, as you’ll see in a moment, I know people who’ll do anything they feel they like and they’re more enslaved than anyone I’ve ever met.
On the other hand, there are people who can sit in a disciplined way and for 3-4 hours concentrating, meditating, studying, reading, busy at work—seemingly, they are completely controlled by their environment, but it’s their choice, and they are there willingly.
So I would define freedom, and of course the antithesis being the opposite of freedom, slavery, as the following: that when you do something, you do it by no imposition from outside. No one imposes upon you to do something. It’s a true free expression from within, which basically means, if a five-year-old child is allowed to do anything he or she desires, like cross the street, that’s not freedom. Because in their ignorance, they may choose something that’s completely not healthy or self-actualizing. They need to be disciplined; they need to be instructed, educated.
True freedom is learning how to access your own inner self. How to be able to make a choice that is not affected by, or imposed upon by society, educators, community, peer pressure. A choice that’s truly yours and yours alone.
That is how I would define freedom. So when you look at it that way, can we really achieve freedom in a world like ours? Remember, we do live in a very great media age, where we’re exposed and inundated by media all the time—images, identity, labeling, and all the branding that they try to impose upon us. So how does one really find and discover him or herself?
Remember, this touches very much on the element of emotions, because when someone comes to you, or there’s peer pressure (people dress a certain way, you want to feel accepted), that’s an emotional reaction to becoming part of a group, which clearly biases you from being able to stand up and take a position.
It’s sad to say, but when you look at statistics, what people will do when there’s a group pressure, a mass mentality, it’s quite frightening.
So freedom means discovering who you are, which immediately implies that freedom requires some type of education, knowledge. Knowledge makes us free; knowledge is power, because it gives you options.
The first thing that any Fascist government does when it establishes power and control, is to control minds. They cannot give people the ability to have a free-flow of information because information allows people options; they see there are other ways, alternatives, and alternatives creates open ideas in their mind, which is a threat to a Fascist totalitarian regime.
On the other hand, in a country that we consider to be free, as Thomas Jefferson once said, “If you had to choose between a free press and a free government, you would choose a free press,” because without a free press, free expression, there’s no free government, there’s no accountability.
So freedom is very much connected to what you know, the perspectives that you have. It reminds me of one of my favorite stories from the city of Chelm (I’ve recently been telling you some Chelm stories). If you listen to the show weekly, you’ll soon be Chelm experts. So Chelm stories have these unique insights into the human psyche. They’re somewhat outrageous, even farcical, but they have quite interesting insights into human psychology.
Chelm was a small town in Poland that they say was inhabited by very wise people, but the neighbors were resentful so they created this whole folklore and parables of the foolish people of Chelm.
So you hear a lot of stupid jokes about the people from Chelm. In one, there was a farmer in Chelm who had a small farm, but this farm was special to the farmer because it was his baby. He inherited from his parents and grandparents, and he catered to it, cared for it, knew every grain of soil on the property.
One day he gets a letter from his cousin from a big-town farm in let’s say Texas who’s coming to visit. He’s very proud that his cousin is coming to visit him, and the day his cousin comes, he shows him around, showing him every part of the farm. They finally sit down to dinner and the small-town, Chelm farmer says to this big-town cousin: “So what do you think of my farm?”
The big-town farmer thinks to himself, “What should I say?” So he says, “Well, it’s nice and cute, but it’s so tiny.”
The Chelm farmer is taken aback, insulted, and asks, “How big is your farm back in Texas that you call this small?”
Now the Texan farmer is looking for some point of reference and he tells him, “Well, it takes me all day to travel with my tractor from one end of the farm to the other.”
So the Chelm farmer, with deep empathy and compassion, says to his cousin, “Ah, cousin, I once had a tractor like that too.”
So if you ask this question to yourself—we’ll do an on-air survey—check this box: are you close-minded (narrow-minded) or open-minded? Are you subjective or objective?
I don’t know if there’s a person out there who would check off: I’m close-minded, narrow-minded, and subjective—the reason being that part of being subjective is that it makes you think you’re objective. That’s what subjectivity means; it doesn’t let you see clearly.
So this Chelm farmer was also objective. He wasn’t malicious. He just never could envision a farm larger than his own. When he heard that it took an entire day to travel from one end to the other, he thought to himself, it must be the vehicle. He remembers that he once had a jalopy like that too, once upon a time, that took him all day to crank up to go from one corner to the next.
So that was his subjectivity. He couldn’t even see a broader horizon. This is an example of subjectivity that is not malicious; however, it’s clearly subjective and limited based on our perspective.
So we are as objective as our perspectives allow us. And that’s where freedom comes into play. That’s why any true free state, free government, has to provide equal opportunity in education, situations where people can access the knowledge necessary to be able to see broader horizons, or else they end up with a perspective that this farm is the only farm in town. And we all have our little farms.
This, I believe, is what the true celebration of freedom is about. How do we get beyond that perspective? How can we see broader horizons? How do we get out of the tentacles, the trap of our own emotional view on things? Because interestingly, of all traps, of all enemies—peer pressure, social pressure, parents, community, media, even real criminals and enemies outside of us—nothing cannot compare to your own enemy within, the enemy of subjectivity.
Now I must say, as a disclaimer, subjectivity per se is not an enemy. It’s what protects us. Protects our young. We protect ourselves because we are subjective. That’s fine. Self interest per se is not a crime.
When it becomes an enemy is when that’s all there is. When you’re so invested in being right, in winning, that you don’t care what the truth is: “Don’t bother me with the facts,” type of thing. “Don’t distract me.” Where your own subjectivity biases you from being able to see clearly. Accountability. Many businesses fail because the owner’s pride doesn’t allow him or her to live up to the fact that he had a mistake that year, and maybe wasted some money.
But true freedom requires accountability, and accountability requires one to step back and look at oneself, explore, assess, to be able to look at one’s life and see if there’s another way of looking at it. That requires stepping back, it requires knowledge, and it requires objectivity, the key to freedom. That’s why emotions play such an important role.
Now, today is a special day for me because it’s the birthday of the Rebbe, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who besides being my great teacher, was also a major forming force in my personal life, and as a result inspired me to write the book Toward a Meaningful Life which in turn has inspired this show. Interestingly, the Rebbe is a man dedicated to freedom, to finding truth, and paying whatever price it takes to become free. And that, as I said, requires being able to look at ourselves from the outside and not ever feeding into our own little comfort zone and insecurities or maintaining our positions just because they’re our position.
That’s a major lesson that the Rebbe inspired me with, who himself was a selfless person like that, and inspired so many in that spirit.
So going back to the topic of emotions, I think the first step is to be aware of the traps in our lives, and the single greatest trap is our own narrow view of things, being invested in a certain way we look at things. If you take any particular situation, if you get into a fight with your spouse, or you’re having difficulties with your children or you can’t get along with people at work, or just in general, rest assured, there’s always an emotional issue involved. Emotions are always right there being part of the culprit.
The problem is that we don’t want to eliminate emotions, we don’t want to eliminate human reactions: emotions play a critical role in our lives. We don’t want to be machines. Yet, at the same time, we have to be able to look at ourselves and really be able to assess where’s this is coming from.
Let me say this. When we talk about emotional subjectivity, as I said, being subjective makes you think that you are being objective, but it requires looking at ourselves, and examining our motives when it comes to any particular situation.
This isn’t an easy thing to do because it requires a certain dedication to truth. There’s a statement made about Abraham; Maimonides writes something that has always moved me deeply. When he writes about Abraham’s dedication to truth, his dedication to G-d, to freedom, he writes that Abraham is called “Avrohom Ohavi” which means “Abraham, My beloved.” Why is he “My beloved?” G-d says, because Abraham was dedicated to truth because it was true (Avrohom oseh es ha’emes mipnei shehu emes).
Abraham was dedicated to truth because it was true; not because he gained from it, not because he benefited either spiritually or materially. It wasn’t even an issue of gratification. It was really an issue of loving truth, being committed to truth because it is true.
This requires deep selflessness, and as Maimonides puts it, this isn’t something we all can achieve quickly. But just to know that there’s a person like that out there, that there were people in history with such dedication, puts things in perspective. Many times I see that we sometimes justify our own subjectivity by saying, “Hey, everybody’s subjective and everybody’s doing the same thing.”
That just tends to make us feel less guilty, but to know that there were people were really committed, who were ready to pay the price, is very inspiring.
So we go to Kathy on the air.
Caller: Hi. It’s Kathy from Stanford. It’s a pleasure listening to you. The four glasses of wine at the seder. Usually when you’re at a party and they give you a glass, you try to find a potted plant and dispose of the alcohol.
Jacobson: That’s called cheating!
Caller: Well, if you’re driving. Would you discuss the wine in the seder and how much can you sip without going below the required minimum?
Jacobson: Okay, thank you for the call. Although Kathy’s question doesn’t seem directly connected to what I’m speaking about, I will connect it. Kathy’s asking, for those who may not be familiar with it, on Passover, there’s a seder. A seder means a traditional meal, but it’s more than a meal, it’s an entire experience with a large focus on children and education, of recreating the Exodus experience, the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt 3,312 years ago. During the seder (upcoming Wednesday and Thursday nights this year) there are many traditions, including eating matzah which is unleavened bread, like crackers, that are not allowed to rise, and drinking four cups of wine, which is what Kathy is referring to.
Her question is a technical one, which really requires speaking to a local rabbi, but I will respond. Of course, barring health considerations and other issues, four cups of wine are required to be drunk, but if you drink three-quarters, you’re doing pretty well. However, if someone has health issues, that clearly changes things.
Now, the significance of the wine, in the context of what we’re speaking about here, and the matzah (the bread that we eat throughout the year represents the inflated ego, while matzah represents humility), is the key element I was addressing here, I just wasn’t using the traditional language, that the first step to freedom is ceasing to see the “farm” in the way that you’re so accustomed to, and that requires humility. It requires searching out people or books that can teach you that there are broader horizons. It requires getting out of your own subjectivity. So matzah represents the experience of humility.
On the other hand, humility on its own, as I mentioned earlier, is insufficient because you can become so subjugated that your personality is missing. So the drinking of the wine represents that. Coupled with humility, wine represents the drink of the wealthy. Wine is a rich drink, so it represents the idea that we also taste, and we don’t completely annihilate ourselves.
Humility does not mean self-annihilation, it means focusing your emotions, recognizing there’s subjectivity with humility, and then channeling them in the right direction. As I stated, emotions happen to be a necessary driving force in our lives.
Without that type of passion, commitment, your subjective belief in something, we would all be blasé and very complacent and indifferent. So emotional experience is something that is to be encouraged. What we need to take care of is to make sure that we don’t get trapped by emotions, that we don’t allow it to consume us, that we allow it to be a tool for true freedom. And that requires the humility of the matzah.
So going back to the subject at hand, discovering that type of opening requires two things, and this is across the board. If you’re having an argument with a friend or a spouse or a child or someone at work, or you’re just stuck in a particular situation—patterns that you can’t get out of—how often are we inspired to make a move (I’m not going to make this mistake again), and then we go back and go back to the same old pattern.
That’s an example of an emotional habit that you just can’t get out of. You get accustomed to the way you deal with things. People who may have short fuses, get angry quickly, that’s an emotional reaction. These are all examples of emotional traps that hold us hostage. So how does a person truly free himself? That’s what I call freedom. I can’t tell you how often I hear people who sit at a seder table with children and guests and friends and strangers, and they see that the people who host it are the same obnoxious people they know all year round. And they don’t experience freedom. They see the same old people doing things by habit, by rote—and my intention here is not to be critical, but to make a point, that you can do many things traditionally, and not necessarily be a freer human being.
The Passover experience has to be one of freedom. Two things are required and necessary if one is to achieve a freedom outside of one’s own subjective self. The first thing is knowledge. Knowledge comes in two forms. It can come in the form of a book, information; it can come in the form of a teacher—someone who exposes you to something outside of yourself.
As long as it’s an extension of yourself, it’s you. It’s like that doctor who once told the patient, “I’ll tell you when you need a second opinion.” That’s not a second opinion. When the doctor tells you, I’ll tell you when you need a second opinion, you’d better find yourself another doctor. Because if he’ll tell you when you need a second opinion, it means it’s his opinion. The whole point is that you want to have another view.
So number one is a teacher or a body of knowledge, a book that opens you up to another perspective. It may be different from yours, it may enhance yours. But don’t be afraid of truth. That’s what growth is all about.
The second thing that’s required is being able to examine your emotional side. Am I subjective in a particular area? Is there a way that I can get beyond it? And you may need that body of knowledge or that teacher to help you get to that point.
So briefly, those of the two elements, and I’ll try to elaborate more as we go along.
We have Mary on the air.
Caller: Hi. I wanted to say that I enjoy your program very, very much and just one little quick point. I so agree with you that you need your emotions. I agree with you that you need to have knowledge, you need to learn. But the most important thing, I think, is to apply that knowledge. So many people have a lot of information but they don’t apply it to their lives. It’s always separate. They have their studies, they have their knowledge, and then they have how they really live.
I think the most important thing is to incorporate that into your life. And make it real in a way that makes sense to you.
Jacobson: I completely appreciate that point, Mary, and my question to you is, how do you go about doing that? As an example, there are people who are intelligent; they understand a certain situation very intellectually, but they just can’t bring themselves to do it. How do you get over that hurdle?
Caller: That’s the challenge. I was having a conversation with someone the other day about that and I said, “You know, there’s this prayer ‘Love G-d with all thy heart and all thy soul.’” Can you imagine how it would change your life if somebody really lived it for a week? I don’t know a lot but the little bit that I know, I put into use. In other words, when I have a problem, the challenge is for me to see how would the information that I have, the knowledge that I’ve studied, how would I then make it work for me in solving my problem. It’s not a separate thing. If you love G-d with all your heart and soul every day, you’re a different person. So I’m saying I think it’s so important to just live it. You don’t have to know so much, but whatever you know at every point make it work for you. Personalize it. People think that ideas are very lofty and they sound wonderful, but they don’t know how to bring them into their lives.
Jacobson: But Mary, here’s the problem. Sometimes a person is invested in something for healthy or unhealthy reasons. And even if they understand that they’re doing the wrong things, they’re just locked. How do they get beyond that emotional hurdle?
Caller: Well, you said it. It’s ego. You have to realize that you have to let go of that inflated ego that made me all puffed up with my own pride and thinking I was right. You have to eat matzah, in the sense that you have to reduce yourself and see what else is available. So you really gave that answer.
Jacobson: Okay, thank you, Mary. We have Bill on the line.
Caller: Good afternoon Rabbi. I’m reading from a book here and I have a question that sounds like what you’re talking about. Can I read it?
Jacobson: What’s the name of the book?
Caller: It’s by Aryeh Kaplan. Meditations in Kabbalah. You must be alone when you do this. Meditation, hisbodedus, is a state of rapture so as to receive the Divine influx which will bring your mind from potential to action. Isn’t that what you’ve been trying to say?
Jacobson: It’s very appropriate and very well put and I think it’s an important element. Actually, it’s a point I had not made and I’m glad you brought it up, and that is a need to be able to create a space and just silently look at yourself. Sometimes when we get so caught up in the merry-go-round of life, the emotions really take over because we’re on the move. When you have to pause and take that step back, it allows you to really see yourself in a more objective way: Do I really like what I see? Do I really like how I’m behaving? Is this the best I can be? Is it what makes me proud, my family proud, my children proud? I think that’s a very important point.
Caller: Like refreshing yourself spiritually.
Jacobson: Exactly. And creating that space. Where did you pick up the book if I may ask?
Caller: I picked it up at a New Age store in Nyack, down in Rockland County. I was very fascinated over the years. I’m trying to find an instructor now.
Jacobson: Do you live in Nyack?
Caller: No, I live in Spring Valley.
Jacobson: Well, when you get off the line, if you leave your phone number with Steve (our engineer), we’ll try to put you in contact with someone who can help you, if you like. So Bill, thank you for the call and thank you for bringing that insight into the picture.
The point is really well taken, and I particularly want to mention what Mary had said, because it brings to mind the story of Bertrand Russell, who was once behaving unethically. He was a professor of ethics at Cambridge, or whatever university he was at, and someone asked him, “How can you behave in such an unethical way when you teach ethics?” And he answered very simply, “I also teach mathematics and I’m not a triangle.”
Which means, essentially, though some academics are very proud of that statement, you can teach something, be knowledgeable, be an expert in it, erudite, and yet not be it. You can be expert, know it, but not be it.
That, for me, captures the trap of emotions, because you might think that that sounds like a very objective teacher; he’s knowledgeable but he doesn’t act on it because he remains objective. But no, that’s an emotional choice.
I have spoken to many people who have difficulty with faith, with G-d, not for intellectual reasons but for emotional ones. They may have been hurt by a religious establishment or religious experiences, or, which is even more common, they are afraid of personal responsibility.
G-d is not a simple matter. If you accept G-d, it means that you accept a certain personal responsibility. But no one is ready to get up there publicly and say, “Hey, I don’t want to be responsible!”
So we have all kinds of reasons. We say, “Well, who says there’s a G-d? Maybe it’s survival of the fittest. You see the wicked prosper. There’s no justice.” And that basically gives us the license to do what we like. And I speak to myself as well. If most of us are able to weasel out of a situation, and you have good excuses, and if you’re intelligent enough you always come up with brilliant excuses, we’re invested in that, because basically, you can do what you like. You’re not accountable, you don’t have to answer to anyone. And that is, in a very interesting way, perhaps the most powerful statement of subjectivity.
Now what stops a person from having an attitude like that? That’s what I was referring to when I asked Mary the question. Why would someone not have an attitude like that? That’s a very difficult question. I’ve struggled with it and I’ve asked many people.
If you’re alone in a room, there’s no one around, no one will honor you for your altruism, why would you really behave in an ethical way or in a truthful way if you can get away with it and there’s no fear of law enforcement, cops, or shame?
Ultimately it comes down to internal integrity. Your own inner integrity and your own being true to yourself. Honesty is something that can’t be taught to someone. It’s what I mentioned earlier with Abraham, when you just have that sense…that Abraham was committed to truth because it was true. Why some people can have that commitment and others are completely oblivious—they don’t really care what’s true, what’s right—they will just forge ahead and step on anyone they can step on. That’s how powerful subjectivity is.
It controls you to the point that everything else doesn’t matter. Intellectually, you can sit that person down and he’ll admit, “No, we need to be kind to each other.” I mean, most people believe in some form of justice. But when it comes to behavior, our own personal choices, we don’t want to be told what to do. We don’t want to have that type of accountability.
And that is, as I said, a powerful form of subjectivity, and humility, and the matzah we described, is the key to being able to get out of it.
So to sum up what I was saying earlier about reviewing our own emotions requires a teacher, an objective person whom you trust, that is also sensitive to you, not judgmental, but sensitive, who can help you look at yourself in a different way. It’s what we do anyway, in business, before you make a decision: you usually consult with one or two people if you want to make a correct decision. In business the stakes are high.
In our personal life, one of the beautiful key things that the Torah recommends, is that each of us has someone whom we can talk to: a mashpia, a rav (“assei lecha rav”) someone who you can talk to objectively about your particularly situation that helps you get beyond your own way of looking at it; it gets you beyond your own farm, and we all have our farm.
Let’s go to Mimi on the air.
Caller: Hi Rabbi. I’m not Jewish, but I love your program. You’re so wise and I’m having a tremendous problem with emotions and with G-d.
Jacobson: Those are the two top issues.
Caller: My husband died about three years ago and one of the things that’s making me really crazy lately is older men, especially one I know, who is very cruel to his wife, and then his wife died. And I say to G-d, why did You do this? You take my lovely, lovely husband and leave this man here? This man who is so wicked! And I get very angry at G-d and that scares me.
Jacobson: Mimi, I share your feeling and sometimes we don’t understand the mysterious ways of G-d. But I don’t think anger necessarily will help. They key is to look at yourself and see what’s productive, what productive results come out of your anger. I mean, your husband I assume was a very fine man.
Caller: He was the love of my life. He was like my twin.
Jacobson: That is beautiful to hear. That itself is worth the call. I think it’s important that you focus on how to share with others the inspiration and the message that your husband, your twin, experienced, because we need more of that in this world. You know, the way to combat evil and cruelty, I believe is always through light.
Now, if you have a direct influence on that gentleman, it’s one thing. But to focus your energies, instead of directing your anger at G-d or to others, how do you bring that message that your husband was so dedicated to, to other people, whether it’s family or friends?
Do you have children?
Caller: One son.
Jacobson: So there’s the next generation, and I’m sure you have other friends and people you associate with. That’s the key. I’ve always believed that when people are angry about something, there’s always a way to channel angry energy into something that’s positive and constructive. It may be difficult, because it’s easier in a way to say, “How could that person be alive when he or she is so cruel, when my husband isn’t,” but there’s no benefit in that. And I think you want to do things that are beneficial.
You have to think of it this way. How would your husband have behaved had he seen a person like that? Would he have gotten angry?
Caller: He didn’t like him either!
Jacobson: Great. Well, that’s what twins are like! So I guess your husband would have liked this radio show. Maybe he hears it somewhere up there.
Caller: Oh I hope so. I kind of believe that and I certainly hope so.
Jacobson: Well, I thank you for the call and thank you for your kind words about the show.
Caller: You’re welcome. It’s lovely. I just love listening to you.
Jacobson: That’s very nice of you; you sound lovely yourself and I hope this show brings some comfort to you in your situation. Really, our goal has to be to bring light into the world in every way possible. So thank you for that, Mimi.
We have Matthew on the line.
Caller: I saw in a seder book that the Lubavitcher Rebbe seemed to say that ultimately there was never any kind of exile. That ultimately freedom is inherent in us in some way, and I wonder how this plays out in a religious life. I mean, is it like a secret that you can’t tell as you’re mourning the destruction?
Jacobson: Okay, let me explain your question. Matthew is reading in a Haggadah, which is a commentary on the prayer and the traditional service said on Passover, from the name of the Lubavitcher Rebbe whose birthday is today, by the way, that freedom has become an inherent thing.
After the exodus from Egypt—I’ll just elaborate on what you said—the Maharal of Prague actually writes (if you look up the source, the Maharal of Prague, a scholar in the 17th century) that the freedom from Egypt wasn’t just a one-time event, but it actually infused the human race (the Jewish race) with inherent freedom; that they no longer would ever be enslaved to another people.
However, that of course is an inherent quality that needs to be accessed. We can still choose to be enslaved. I see people who are enslaved to money, people who are enslaved to employers and people who are enslaved to other passions and drives and lusts and desires.
So what the Maharal of Prague is stating, and what is cited by the Rebbe, is that there is a power in each of us to truly be free, and we have to cut away the impediments and allow that freedom to emerge. That’s part of what we’re discussing on this show here, how one gets away from emotional subjectivity and the things that lock us and allow that freedom to be accessed.
But the message of hope is that everyone has the power to be free. All men are created equal. All of us have an image or an aspect of G-d within us. And that allows us to experience complete freedom.
Caller: Well, I read it as ultimately that there never was any kind of exile, that ultimately reality is freedom, like this radical freedom. Is that true?
Jacobson: Well, I would explain it as being that internally we truly are free people, but the fact is that we celebrate Passover every year to access that freedom. So even though it’s inherent, there are many things that are inherent, Matthew, in you and me, but we still need to dig for it. We need to get rid of the impediments. But the word “inherent” means that it’s in there somewhere. It’s not something that we need to acquire. We don’t need to go buy freedom. It’s in your power to be free. It’s in your power not to worship any force outside of yourself and G-d.
Okay, thank you Matthew for the call.
(Taped announcement about the book The Spiritual Guide to the Counting of the Omer here including information on how to contact Rabbi Jacobson: firstname.lastname@example.org, or his website at www.meaningfullife.com, 1-800-363-2646 (1-800-3-MEANING) or at the Meaningful Life Center, 788 Eastern Parkway, Suite 303, Brooklyn, NY 11213.)
As a follow up to the freedom of Passover, comes 49 days of personal refinement, which is really the original 49-step program. Before there were any of our contemporary 12-Step programs, there is a 49-step system that allows people to take each day and look at our emotions, something I will address more at length on next week’s show, and that is, it’s one thing to say, “Okay, I have emotional subjectivity.” That’s a very general statement. The real question is, how do we look at our particular emotions, whether it’s anger, jealousy, love? How do we balance it in a way that taps and excavates the powerful, positive forces of the emotion and eliminates or discards the negative subjectivity that may bias or blind us.
This really requires a more detailed examination of who you are and what your emotion is in a particular situation.
So traditionally, there’s a 49-step process that begins the second night of Passover and concludes, interestingly, 50 days later with the holiday of Shavuot, which is the revelation at Sinai. And these 49 days are a traditional 49-step program of looking at different elements of your emotions. The Kabbalah, which documents the DNA and the framework of the human psyche and of the cosmos, spells out that a human being has seven emotional faculties.
When we say we’re emotional, it can take on many different forms. There’s the emotion called love, there’s an opposite emotion called fear. There’s an emotion called compassion, there’s an emotion called fortitude, ambition. There’s humility and there’s bonding, and finally there’s sovereignty.
I’ll discuss those seven emotions next week in detail, and I welcome your calls and e-mails regarding that show because in that show I would like to address, what do you actually do in a particular emotion situation. You can even call it an anatomy of our emotional psyche and how we can look at ourselves in a particular situation, and see which areas are strong, where we are weak. Some of us love too much. Some of us love too little. Some of us are too ambitious and we don’t know how to temper that. Emotions can be very positive but if they’re in excess, they become unbalanced and then they become subjective and can become destructive.
So it’s a question of really looking at that whole spectrum, and I’ll do that next week in detail.
So Passover is right around the corner and its message is a universal one, to Jews and non-Jews, and that is the ability and the power for us to be free; how we free ourselves from our emotional tentacles. It’s not just a question of going through the emotions, it’s also an issue of introspection. To use the seder as an opportunity for discussion, where we speak to each other and discuss this.
When you eat the matzah, don’t just eat the matzah. Think about it. Say, this is the food of humility. How can I implement humility into my life? Where am I subjective? How can I free myself of subjectivity? How do I free myself of the “farm” that we are so often held entrapped by?
These are things that each of us can think about, and Passover is a perfect opportunity to do so — what better example to set for our children, our families and friends, when we do that. I also would encourage everyone who does not have a seder to go to a Passover seder, to find a friend, and if you have a difficulty, please call me. I’ll be happy to help connect you with a seder in the area where you may be.
Okay, we’ll go to Robert on the line.
Caller: Hello Rabbi. I’m from the Bronx and I’m interested in some guidance. I am a candidate for conversion to Judaism and I have difficulty with letting go of some of my past, including friends and many of the things I used to do, which weren’t necessarily bad. Where would I find guidance on that, besides from the Rabbi who’s sponsoring me at this time?
Jacobson: If you leave me your number, I’ll speak to you afterwards, because I think it would be wiser to do that, so I can hear more about your situation. Okay, Robert?
Okay, we go to Shani.
Caller: Hello. I was wondering how much emotions play a role in relationships in finding your beshert.
Jacobson: Well, it’s probably the number one force in our lives.
Caller: Is it more important to be rational or is it more important to be emotional?
Jacobson: Well, Shani, I’ll repeat your question for those who don’t know what “beshert” means. In finding your soulmate, Shani is asking the question, how important a role do emotions play and how important is it to be rational?
I would say that in the initial stages of dating, being rational is more important than emotions because sometimes we can get swept away by externals; we can be desperate or we can feel nurtured or affirmed. But I think it’s important to have a rational, sober view, however, at the same time, to lock ourselves up and become too rational about things can also stop you from being spontaneous.
I think it’s really a question of balance. It’s a perfect example of how important it is to use a friend or a wise person whom you can consult with that helps you see, “Am I being too emotional? Am I being too rational?”
It’s hard to answer. I don’t think it’s one or the other. It’s really a combination and finding the right chemistry, the right balance between the two.
So let’s go to Ruth.
Caller: First of all, happy birthday to the Rabbi.
Jacobson: Yes, Rabbi Schneerson.
Caller: I visited his grave and you mentioned it on the radio and I just turned on the radio… I want to wish you a happy and kosher Passover.
Jacobson: Thank you Ruth. You’ve been listening to Toward a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson. We’ll be on next week continuing the discussion on emotions, its trap, how we look at particular specific emotions and I want to wish everyone true freedom, internal and external freedom, this Passover for all of our listeners of all backgrounds and all faiths. Thank you very much.