Toward a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson
Radio Show Transcript – June 4, 2000
Rabbi Simon Jacobson: Welcome back to “Toward a Meaningful Life” and yours truly, Simon Jacobson. We’re on every Sunday from 6-7pm, 1050AM WEVD in New York. We’ve been getting great emails from listeners who’ve written to me about past shows, future ideas, and in general, following the philosophy of this show, come together in a grassroots type of search for a meaningful life.
We’ve all been inundated with so many different gurus and religious systems dogmatically presenting their style and approach. The philosophy and the theme of this show and of the Meaningful Life Center is that you and I and everyone out there has a G-d-given divine soul that gives you legitimacy and makes you indispensable—therefore you have all the resources you need in your life to be able to find the deepest form of meaning, growth, and developing meaningful relationships, and in a sense feeling like we make an impact, an imprint on this world that changes it in one way or another.
At the same time, the traditional system of Torah and Judaism offers us that power, not by giving us something from outside but something that comes from within. It’s part of the inherent approach of our radio show and of our website and all the other activities of the Meaningful Life Center that each of us has something unique to contribute and that you have it within you—you just have to cut away the impediments.
It’s your comments and feedback that help me decide the topics of future shows. In that context, the “grassroots” have stated that since the holiday of Shavuot is coming up (some of you may not be familiar with this holiday, the holiday 49-50 days after Passover), we should do something on that theme. Shavuot is essentially the holiday of the marriage between heaven and earth. It’s the day when G-d gave the Torah to the human race, to mankind; and it’s compared to a marriage.
So someone suggested that we do something on the cosmic marriage; its parallels with life down on earth, and the issue of marriage in general: of how we, in our personal lives, can find a relationship that’s eternal.
The reason I connect it to the cosmic level is that there is so much disillusionment in relationships, especially with the crisis of intimacy that we go through in our day and time with the high divorce rate, and an erosion of confidence, so that many people feel that there’s no hope. When they enter into a relationship, they wonder what the odds are that anything will be maintained and wonder how long it will last. Is there such a thing as a marriage the lasts forever? Is there such a thing as forever? Of anything eternal?
I also want to address the questions: Is there a spiritual root to the discord in relationships? Is there a secret to an eternal union? How can we heal marriage and introduce some form of eternity into our lives?
These are really large, million dollar questions, particularly living as we do in an age of cynicism. I was invited to speak once somewhere and the host asked me, “So tell me, what is the main topic that people are mostly interested in hearing?”
And I said, “Well, the number one topic that everything is interested in hearing about is relationships, marriage, sexuality, intimacy. And topic number two, in that list of the top ten, at least in my experience, is pain and suffering.”
So the host, without missing a beat, said, “Those aren’t two topics. Those are exactly the same topic.” For him, relationships and pain and suffering are one and the same.
In a way they are two sides of one coin, because if there’s no love there’s no pain and if there’s no connection, there’s no disconnection. Obviously when we stand as observers on the sidelines, we don’t allow ourselves the risk of being hurt, but we also don’t allow ourselves to benefit from the beauty of gaining something in a relationship either.
That’s why I think—particularly in the spirit of Torah thought in general—that every liability can be transformed into an asset; that even those of us who have gone through situations of either divorce or a breakdown of a relationship or who have in some way suffered in relationships (and who has not today?), that, too, can be converted and transformed into something positive because it can teach us what doesn’t work.
You see, in Kabbalistic thought, Jewish mystical thought, the idea of pain, on all levels, has a metaphor in the field of medicine. Pain, per se, may be something that is unwanted in our lives. We don’t like pain, which is why we take pain killers. But if there were no pain, if we did not have the nerves that were sensitive enough to feel pain, we would not be able to grow.
If a person is insensitive and bites his tongue and doesn’t feel it, he can end up G-d forbid hurting himself.
So pain is really a sign that something is wrong. It’s a wake-up call, a reminder that you should do something about it. Obviously if it’s very superficial pain we can solve it either by ignoring it or by taking an aspirin or some other type of intervention. But if it’s an enduring pain, it’s a wake-up call telling us that something’s out of sync.
The same is true in relationships. Healthy people who have gone through a break in relationships learn to grow from it—in essence, what it teaches them is that what doesn’t work often is a reminder and a type of an illumination which shows what does work.
That’s why I find that oftentimes people who have suffered in relationships or who have gone through a divorce can often teach us about the light itself. Many people who are in marriages are often complacent—a certain taking it for granted—where they just go through the motions. Some people just stay in a relationship because of their children.
There’s the famous Yiddish joke where the 103-year-old man and the 101-year-old woman come to rabbi after living together for 80 years and they say, “Rabbi, we want an immediate divorce. We can’t wait another minute.”
He says, “You’ve been married for 80 years! Why can’t you wait another minute?”
They said, “We just have to get out of this thing.”
The rabbi said, “So why did you wait until now?”
And they answered, “We waited for the children to die.”
It’s a classic joke, but at the same time a painful joke to tell, because often relationships, due to other circumstances that keep people together, are not necessarily due to their own compatibility and their own shared vision and joy. Many people see it as a minefield that they navigate: that no relationship is perfect but “we’re trying to work it out.”
However, the Torah tells us that it is expected of us that we can live up to a much higher standard. We don’t have to write them off or live a resigned type of approach to relationships. It has a lot to do with how we see ourselves. Often, people who have suffered and who have allowed themselves to grow through it—not to become bitter and choose not to go through it again because of the pain they endured—can teach us much, because it’s the eclipse of the sun that teaches us dimensions and illuminates elements of the sunlight that even regular daylight cannot teach us.
It’s often the edges of light, the shadows of light that can teach us about the light.
The reason I connected the topic of this show to a cosmic level is that one of the problems with dealing with relationships and its problems—marriage and divorce—is that each of us is subjective. When you’re in it, you can’t really look at it from the outside. And when you do look at it from the outside, you’re either too young or, if you’re too much on the outside, you don’t really appreciate what it means to be in a relationship.
So is there any way to find some type of objective quintessential relationship? That’s where, I believe, parallels to marriage on the cosmic level can help us understand marriage on a human level.
Humans are not perfect and therefore there is no such thing as a perfect union. However, when you have a backdrop of some type of quintessential or more perfect picture, you can look at what makes that work, and perhaps glean and learn messages on how to apply that to your own personal life.
With that being said, let me give you a little background. The Talmud describes the holiday of Shavuot as a marriage, a marriage between G-d and mankind—you could say a marriage between heaven and earth, between that which is above and that which is below, our material lives and our spiritual lives. When the people left Egypt, the Midrash tells that they turned to G-d and said, “You redeemed us from this bondage. We’d now like to commit to You. We’re ready to commit to what You want of us, to live our lives according to Your mandate.”
And interestingly, G-d stopped them and said, “Before you accept My mandate, before you accept My commandments, my laws, my mitzvot, accept My sovereignty, kablu malchusi. Accept Me.”
And the question is a very obvious one. What was G-d saying exactly by telling them that? And what message does it have? Clearly, when you think about it, it really gives us a very powerful message.
What is it about a relationship that creates a commitment? The usual commitments in our lives are contractual commitments. Two people make a contract, or two businesses make a deal, a partnership, and the contract binds them together. They state in the contract in the fine print in the regular print, “Here are the terms. This is what I do for you and this is what you do for me.” And that’s their commitment.
If they’re people of their word, they’ll honor their commitment. There are also I’m sure many doors or loopholes, circumstances where if they want to get out of their relationship, there are ways to do that.
However, the basis of the relationship is a contractual one. It’s not necessarily based on mutual love; it’s based on mutual interests, which is not the same thing. As a fellow once told me, the reason you take a partner in business is not necessarily because you like the person, but because you can’t do it without him or her.
So in a way it’s simply a way of creating a collaboration to be able to achieve a goal that is mutually beneficial.
Is a marriage that type of contractual arrangement, or is there more to it? Of course on a more romantic, idealistic level we can say that there’s much more to it—there’s a certain beauty to it called love. But yet, many people do treat a marriage relationship as a contractual agreement.
Obviously it’s based on some type of emotional connection, but it’s also about mutual benefit. What G-d was telling the people was, “I don’t only want a contractual relationship with you. I want you to accept Me, My entity, My existence.”
“When you accept the entity of G-d, I know, and I can rest assured that you will follow My edicts, my requests, my commandments.”
So what G-d was saying is that the first thing in a true relationship is not about the details. It’s not about what you do for me and what I do for you. And it’s not that you promise me that whatever you ask me I’ll do for you.
A relationship is about embracing the sacred space of another. In the case of G-d, it was the sacred existence of G-d. And it was also necessary, interestingly, that G-d embrace the sacred existence of mankind, or else there’s no true partnership, which we’ll talk about soon.
What we can learn from that is that the basis and foundation of a true relationship is the respect of the sacred space of the other person—not what they ask of you, not the details, not when they’re in a time of need you’re there for them. That all follows and is all necessary, but it’s not the foundation.
In every building you have a foundation that is invisible, and you have the structure itself, the floors. No building can withstand pressures if it doesn’t have the foundation, even though that foundation is not seen. But it is the basis of a true relationship that there’s a mutual and common respect for each other, that “you embrace me,” as G-d said to the people, “Accept me and then accept My laws.”
Once there’s an acceptance of the essence of the person him or herself, then you can be confident and comfortable that when there’ll be a problem or needs, they will be fulfilled.
That respect is one the crucial things missing in relationships today. Often there are other factors that keep people together, it may even be different levels of compatibility, but it’s not necessarily respect for the individual.
Now if the truth be told, I have to qualify that by saying that our relationship with G-d is also quite a rocky relationship. We have many difficulties. We’ve had many periods of separation and it’s not easy because a relationship with G-d requires also personal responsibility. We don’t always like the way G-d is running the show. We have many grievances and complaints about different issues or our needs not being met or seeing innocent people suffer and so on.
So it’s not exactly a simple relationship. However, at the same time, it can teach us about what it means to really embrace an entity outside of yourself, because that’s ultimately what it comes down to.
Let me take a break here to tell you about our new newsletter, “Meanings,” which has a lot of content and a lot of good information. We’re offering it to our listeners (and readers) free by writing to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling us at 1-800-3MEANING (1-800-363-2646) or at the Meaningful Life Center, Suite 303, 788 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11213. If you give us your email address, we’ll send you our inspiring Thought of the Week that comes from myself and we have great comments and feedback on them. They’re something that you can share with others.
When people speak to me about relationships, I usually hear some type of resignation, or some are just completely confused about the matter. We do live in New York, sometimes called “the mecca of singles,” but it’s clearly not a place where marriage and an eternal relationship is the number one thing on people’s minds. On the other hand, people do aspire to it, and there’s no question that love is something that each of us needs and we’d like to be able to find some type of love that is consistent and at the same time exciting.
For many, that’s become the conflict. Can something consistent also be exciting, because if it’s too consistent you get bored with it, and if it’s too exciting, it doesn’t last.
That’s how it’s become polarized and in a way what makes it very difficult to commit. I recently spoke at a singles weekend, and someone asked the question, “What’s the ‘clickability’ factor: what makes people click into each other and what makes people not click into each other?”
To go to another point, there’s something I once heard that was quite moving—that there are three types of love in commitment. There’s one type where you really love someone and when they ask you to do something for them, even if you’re uncomfortable with it or it takes some exertion or effort, you still go ahead and do it.
Now one would think that that’s the deepest type of love. It’s not. There’s a deeper love where your partner, your beloved, doesn’t have to ask directly, but even if they allude to you that that’s what they want, you pick up the hint and you do it as well. That’s a deeper form of love because you go beyond the immediate request.
That too is not the deepest form of love. The deepest form of love is when you anticipate what your beloved would enjoy. What would they like? And without them even alluding to it or speaking about it directly, completely unexpectedly, you go ahead and do it. That’s the deepest type of love, because that means it’s not about a contractual relationship; it’s not just about needs, it’s about the true acceptance of the other person.
And you think about it to the point that you go beyond the letter of the law. That’s the deepest type of love because it’s self-generated. It’s not because of expectations. You may not get anything for it. It’s not done for a reward. It’s a form of something that’s self-generated from within.
To find a person like that is, of course, the greatest gift in life—to have someone that you feel that way towards consistently. But that is another reason why G-d said to the people, “I want you to accept Me. Because when you accept Me, I know that you’re in it for the long haul. You’re committed.”
And that requires an understanding of spiritual compatibility, which leads me to the second point in relationship.
At Mattan Torah, when the Torah was given at the revelation at Sinai, what took place was—and this is why it’s called a marriage—not just a revelation, not just some type of miracle, but actually the formation of a partnership.
The Talmud compares G-d and the human being as partners, and as we know in a true partnership, two equals each bring something to the relationship. True partners. That partnership is a second critical component in any healthy relationship. So number one is the unconditional acceptance of the individual. And number two is partnership, where each brings something to the relationship that creates a give and take dynamic, which of course means that it’s not based on some type of unhealthy balance where often you find one person more demanding or one person less demanding; one person more aggressive and the other more passive.
Obviously, we need both things in a relationship, but there’s also the issue of having a situation where two partners rely on each other not to compensate for their own lack but to complement each other—each one has something unique to bring.
I often come across relationships where people find a partner where one is completely dominant and one is completely passive. That’s usually a sign that something’s out of sync. But that can often be replaying a similar relationship between parent and child.
The partnership element is a critical one. Even with G-d, it’s a partnership. That’s the beauty of it. One of the philosophers asked Rabbi Akiva, “If G-d wanted you to circumcise your children, we didn’t He create you circumcised? Why aren’t you born circumcised?”
And he replied, “If G-d wanted us to have bread, why didn’t He give us bread? Instead He gave us the ability to plant seeds that turn into grain that we need to harvest and finally thresh into flour, mix with water and then bake.”
In other words, there’s a partnership. G-d provides the resources but we stand behind the counter. We are the ones who are actually processing this world and turning it into a civilized one, without which the world would remain unrealized.
Look today at all the technology that human beings have developed; that they’re able to take a world, created by G-d, with all the resources and the unbelievable amount of forces at work (of which we’re just beginning to touch the surface) and manipulate them into a world that’s a more civilized world, a better world, a world that can join together and transcend time and space which we do through communications. Just being here on the radio is a perfect example of that.
We have Vladimir on the line.
Caller: Hi Rabbi. It’s my second time calling you. I called you last time when the topic was abortion.
I want to talk about friendship and companionship. What does the Torah say about that? A lot of times in today’s world people get lonely. What about friendship and simple companionship?
Jacobson: Thanks, Vladimir. It’s a good question. We have different stages in our life as we develop, and companionship is something that’s critical from the minute you’re born. I will go beyond that and say from the moment of conception.
In a way, when a child is in its mother’s womb, it’s a form of companionship, a form of nurturing, but at birth you bond with your mother; you bond with your father. It’s been demonstrated that in the early stages of life, companionship is critical. We’re probably just beginning to scratch the surface of the importance of friendship, not just with your parents and immediate family, but peers.
People learn things from strangers. There’s a need for companionship. Now, I’m not sure what your question was addressing—companionship of a man and a woman, or general companionship of the same gender—but since I’m addressing companionship, I might as well address it in a fuller context. And I will address it also in the context of complete union through marriage, which is the ultimate companionship.
The Bible puts it this way: G-d created a man and a woman as one entity and then separated them into two, and that is why they’re drawn to each other.
The reason that human beings need companionship is not only for support and for nurturing, but it’s also that we become greater through it. We unite with G-d, with a larger picture, through other people, because each of us has our own unique, individual talents. Like a musical composition, there’s no musical note that can function on its own in order to create beautiful music.
Beauty does not mean one-dimensional. Beauty is not cloning and it’s not sameness. Beauty is harmony within diversity; that there are many forces at work, each contributing a certain component and together they create beautiful music.
This is the secret of all growth and all beauty and all unity in life, whether it’s a business project or a film or some other form of collaboration. It’s all about bringing different forces and great talent together: that’s when we see great creations are achieved.
On a personal level, this is human beings working with each other. So companionship is not just about making you less lonely, it’s the other way around. The reason you’re lonely is that you don’t feel complete without other people contributing something to your life.
Often people confuse loneliness with some type of need. But loneliness is really a symptom of something: a reminder that you’re not complete on your own. So if you’re lonely, it may sometimes be that because of the selfish space you’re stuck in, where you’re in a self-contained or self-protective space, you search for a companion.
Now companionship is on many levels. There’s a companion on a very basic, non-sexual level, a platonic companionship which would consist of having someone to speak to even at a young age, someone to share with, someone to do something exciting with.
The quintessential or the epitome of companionship is a man finding a woman and a woman finding a man and joining together in a union that isn’t just intellectual, emotional, and psychological, but also physical—of intimacy that ripples through the entire system.
And it’s not just sexual either. Unfortunately, we live in a society—I believe I’ve done a show on this—where sexuality has become divorced of intimacy. Sexuality is a quick-fix for some, which in a way tries to compensate for loneliness.
But anyone knows that if you reach pure hedonistic sexuality, it never, never resolves the loneliness issue. In a way, it makes you even lonelier—because for the moment it may distract you, but after a while you begin to see that it doesn’t spill over into the rest of your life. It becomes like an addiction, a drug, that for the moment gives you some type of high but then you need more of it.
Intimacy is much more than sexuality. Intimacy is companionship, where two people can spend time speaking to each other. Two people can spend time enjoying each other’s company, and it’s not only about sexual release.
In that context, marriage is the epitome of companionship. Often the way we bond with friends helps us understand who we are, and helps us develop to find a soul partner in marriage.
The truth is, it’s very hard to talk to an audience out there because all of you are in a different place. Some of you may be young listeners who are not yet at the age of finding an eternal partner. Others may be in marriages, others may be out of marriages, others may be looking to find the right soul mate.
So each of us is in a different type of place. It’s hard to answer Vladimir’s question about finding a companion because ultimately it’s about where you are in your life. You may need a companion on a very basic level.
But then there’s the ultimate, which is to try to find something that is all encompassing. I should add, by the way, that marriage should never preclude all other companionships, having friends in many different areas. Ultimately, a healthy union should actually cultivate and inspire relationships that extend into all of our activities.
Marriages where two people are just with each other and there’s nothing else going on may sound very beautiful, and there are times where it has to be that way, but a true relationship also has to spill over and create a balance where there’s more going on: having guests at your table, and in other ways that create that type of union.
So far I’ve addressed two parallels to the cosmic marriage with G-d: the issue of unconditional acceptance of the necessity of a partnership.
Ultimately, to address the issue of resignation and pain and all that comes with that is not an easy one, because as I said, when you’re in that situation, you don’t really feel that there’s a way out. But I believe that it comes down to not just the issue of whether the divorce rate is high and marriage rate is low, but how we see ourselves.
I would even be bold enough to put it this way. If you can’t learn to marry yourself, you will have great difficulties marrying another. What I mean by marrying yourself, I don’t mean falling in love with yourself—that doesn’t require too much effort. Most of us have some type of self-love. What I mean by marrying yourself is integration. Integrating the different parts inside of you.
I can’t help but cite the line that I often do, from Reb Mendel of Kotzk who put it this way when he talked about relationships—“If I am I because you are you, and you are you because I am I, then I am not and you are not. If I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am and you are.”
In simple words that means that if you define yourself by your proximity in relation to another person instead of defining yourself from within, if it’s not self-generated identity, ultimately you will not be able to have a relationship with another person.
That, I believe, is the real issue at hand when you talk about the crisis today. It’s self-discovery. The reason that we don’t marry at age one but wait is, as the Kabbalah puts it, that we need those years of developing a sense of self—what do I want? I don’t mean a sense of self to the point of arrogance, where there’s no room for anyone else, but a sense of confidence in yourself.
Healthy parents help us develop that sense of confidence. When you’re confident, you more or less know what you want, what you really want from deep within.
Often, relationships are compensators in that we try to use them to help us find ourselves. That is an error. Sometimes it may work, but often it can create more problems because it’s bound to lead to frustration because it’s impossible that another person give you an identity. No one can give you yourself. Only you can give you yourself, or in different words, G-d can give you yourself. A certain type of being in touch with your soul.
And that leads me to a third component in a successful relationship (and the converse is true, that when you go through a divorce you often can tell and teach this to others) which is the issue of spiritual compatibility.
You hear a lot of people asking, “How do I find my partner? What makes us compatible?” So of course there’s the basic, the obvious reasons, ingredients, like intellectual or emotional or psychological compatibility—we can have a good conversation, we enjoy the same things.
Just look at the singles ads and you can see how people identify themselves. You try to find somebody who enjoys what you do.
There’s one important component missing in all of that. Spiritual compatibility. So you may wonder, what does that mean exactly? What is spiritual compatibility? Does that mean religion—that you go to the same synagogue, the same church?
No. Spiritual compatibility has to do with vision, with the vision of what you really want with your life. Your mission statement.
Imagine two companies trying to merge, and one or both of them don’t have a mission statement. What kind of company will that turn into? It will be a disaster.
A mission statement means that you have a higher objective of what you want to achieve in your life. Spiritual compatibility means finding someone who shares a vision with you. What happened at Sinai was that there was a vision shared by G-d with mankind. A vision of how this world can be a better place.
G-d said, “I will provide the resources and you have to utilize them to make this world a better place, a G-dlier, holier place.”
Without getting into how to do that, the idea is that there was a vision that was shared. There’s no greater gift in life than having a vision because without vision everything else becomes details.
Now we can get caught up in an objective, like making a lot of money, being happy, entertaining ourselves, but don’t confuse that with vision. Vision means the ability to see, the ability to go beyond yourself and have a deeper vision.
In a way, what looking for a partner entails is not just the desire to build a home and family together, but a spiritual vision of who we are together as a family, how we want to impact the world, how you envision your unique contribution to others, how you intend to build something that is greater than both of you, greater than the sum of the parts. What is the music that you want to play? What legacy do you want to provide?
And that’s something that obviously is not emphasized enough. Not in school and definitely not later in life. Once we get caught up in the details of making a living and making ends meet, it gets increasingly difficult to do so.
The equivalent would be that when you build a building, you need to have a blueprint. And the blueprint consists of a vision. What is this thing that we want to build together? That’s spelled out and then you go ahead and build.
But imagine you already have all the builders there: you have the electricians and the plumbers and the air conditioning people and the bricklayers—they’re all there building, but no one has really defined what this building is supposed to look like.
That’s often what a relationship really looks like. So it’s important to have a shared vision. But before you can have a shared vision, you need to develop your own vision. And that’s why “if I am I because I am I,” has to be the basis of how we begin; a certain sense of self-discovery, because you embark on this journey called marriage.
Okay, we have Marvin on the air.
Caller: I think the more you give of yourself, the more self you feel. In other words, the more you share with others (it’s like a contradiction but it really isn’t), the more you share of what you know and what you feel with others, the more sense of self you get.
How would you comment on that?
Jacobson: I can’t agree more and I think it’s an extremely important point. You see, we live in a world, Marvin, where many people are insecure, and they think that the only way they can maintain security and confidence is to hold on to what they have, so they’re afraid to give, because by giving they feel that they may be giving away a part of themselves.
Caller: But like I said, the more you give of yourself, the greater the sense of self, because it’s unlimited.
Jacobson: I agree and I think that that’s a message that can’t be announced and can’t be reiterated more … and as much as you say it’s not enough. When people come to me with an issue in their relationship, usually you hear about the needs that people have, and they list all their needs. The question is, what do you bring to the relationship, what do you give? That is really a major issue.
But I believe that giving has a lot to do with your own sense of confidence. I find that many people don’t want to give, not because they’re selfish or narcissistic. That’s just a symptom. It’s usually a result of living in a world where dog eats dog. We’ve been trained that if you don’t take care of yourself, no one else will. So we don’t trust.
Giving requires trust. It’s a trust of being vulnerable because you’re in a position to give.
How many people do you know who will take that first leap and be the first one to give? Or do they wait until someone else takes the first step? That person who’s willing to take that risk, and I don’t mean a child who is juvenile or some type of immature folly, I mean that person who has that strength, a true leader, is someone who’s ready to give even before he or she receives.
That is the person who you know has a certain confidence level, who doesn’t need to wait and see who else is going to do the same that I’m doing. In relationships, it’s equally that way. That confidence is what ultimately fuels the security in any enduring relationship.
So is there such a thing as forever? No. Human beings, mortals, can’t create something that’s forever. But G-d is forever. Spirituality is forever. Bodies die. The soul does not. If your relationship is driven by mortal forces, it can never be forever. However, if it’s driven by a common vision, by something that’s beyond you, by a confidence in yourself that comes from your own soul that’s self generated, that you matter and you are indispensable, then you are introduced forever into your life and into your relationships.
That’s what it comes down to, that in any type of union it is the ability to give and the ability to be able to transcend your own self that makes something eternal.
We go to A.J. on the line.
Caller: Good evening Rabbi. I guess we could spend from now until midnight on this subject and I have a comment, but first, are you acquainted with the fact that the Reverend Bishop Sheen—remember him?—wrote a book called Three to Get Married; of course, the third entity being G-d.
What I wanted to comment on is that you mentioned something about anticipating somebody’s needs and providing for needs, however, I think that the greatest love is when we reject what are beloved wants at times even though it evokes their disfavor. And when you do that, because you want the best for the person, they may ask for all kinds of things but he knows it’s not good for their soul and sometimes people have to reject children’s requests or a spouse’s request because it’s not good for the family or it may not be good for that particular party, and that can be a very hard thing to do at times, but it has to be done for the best interests of the parties involved.
Jacobson: I think that’s a point very well taken and I appreciate it. There’s no question that in any type of relationship—there’s an expression that I use in my book Toward a Meaningful Life about love, which is “If you’re close when you should be distant, you’ll end up being distant when you should be close.”
I think love, like a dance, requires a to and fro type of motion, it requires giving and taking, it requires restraint and extension, and like a heartbeat, it has contraction and expansion, like when it breathe, we exhale and inhale.
I think that’s very important because no relationship can endure with just a motion forward, it has to have a motion back. And there are times where we do need to reject. I have to say, that when it comes out of love, a loving person usually can make that decision in a healthier way. I often find that people reject the requests of their children or of their spouses, not necessarily for healthy reasons. Often it’s out of greed or discomfort or your own personal selfishness.
But when it’s coming from a loving place, when you know that that person can give, and then there are times when they choose not to, then you can trust that to some extent. So thank you A.J. for that call.
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Even though we live in a war-scarred generation, many of us experiencing divorce, many of us in situations where perhaps our first relationships was not perfect, at the same time that does not create a situation of resignation and lack of a hope.
On the contrary, it should teach us about what doesn’t work, and instead of addressing the symptoms, it should help us get to the root of things. I think it has a lot to do with discovering your own self, and discovering it within a relationship as well.
So what can a person do practically? In a relationship, let’s say, that’s in the doldrums, where the vicissitudes of life have taken over and either your children keep you together or it’s just inertia or the fear of finding it even worse if you get out of this relationship, there are things that can be done to infuse a relationship with certain vitality. The first and single most important thing of the points I made here tonight are the acceptance of the individual, stepping back and looking at that individual. Two, the partnership that you’re in, and three, the element of a vision.
But how do you do it practically? Here’s my suggestion. First of all, try to find something new to do with your partner, which means, perhaps beginning to go to a class together, studying something together, particularly something spiritual, something that you both find inspiring and warming. Reading together. Even if you haven’t done that in years, maybe it’s time to begin something on that level, designating a half hour or an hour a week to do something together in that fashion.
Summer’s here, and of course people are thinking about their travel plans: that’s part of the romantic journey, often people think that’s what will infuse a relationship with some new vitality. That may or may not work. It may be new and it may be a distraction. Try something new that when you go on vacation, maybe take along some type of book or invite guests to your table, or make sure that you’re a guest at someone’s table, or discuss things that are beyond the here and now. Not just the stock market, not just the Internet, but something spiritual.
I don’t think there’s a person out there who doesn’t have a spiritual self. For those of you who are terrified of the word, you can call it your transcendental self if you like. A need for something that is beyond the mortal, beyond the here and now, beyond the immediate needs of life, and that is a form of spiritual connection. That is what brings foreverness and eternity into otherwise temporary and transient lives.
That’s what it comes down to. It’s critical to emphasize that this is not just an issue of marriage, it’s an issue of how we see our lives in general. That the investments we make are not just for the here and now; that what you do today can have eternal impact. Interestingly, in the Kabbalah, when it talks about the concept of marriage, of union, (actually the word used is, yichud, union) is seen not just as something between two individuals, it’s between two phenomena, two experiences.
And when you meet someone, it’s not just a temporary meeting. You travel, you meet someone, you may be meeting them just for entertainment reasons, or business reasons, or in your mind, by accident. Every meeting, every encounter, every walk on the beach can be turned into something eternal if you allow it to have some spiritual value. If you allow it to be an opportunity that allows you to see yourself in a new way. Share a message with a person in a new way.
And many of us have experienced this. You go somewhere, you travel, you may think you’re going for one reason, and something unexpected happens. We have the power to transform temporary moments into eternal blessings. To take a seed and create an eternal flower out of it. But what that requires is that you utilize the moment not just for personal gain and benefit at that moment, but you allow it to be a stepping stone, a springboard for some type of spiritual growth, for some type of message that comes out of it.
It’s really looking at life in a new way. I don’t claim to say that this radio show and the Meaningful Life Center in general is here to teach anything radically new; on the contrary, I would be more than gratified if I could be a contributor, like a gardener, that just helps clear away some of the weeds so that the flowers can emerge.
And the flowers are inside of you, inside of each of you as a listener, whether you’re single, whether you’re married, whether you’re in a situation of despair, whether you’re lonely or whether you’re comfortable. Every one of us has a flower, and that flower, interestingly, is multi-dimensional, it continues to grow and grow.
Another way of putting it is that each of us is a musical note and you can learn to play that music. It requires confidence, it requires getting in touch with that part of yourself, it is in a way clearing away the noises and sounds of our distracting lives and this requires having some bittul, the Hebrew word which means having some type of humility, modesty, a certain suspension of self and allowing other things to emerge in your life.
That bittul should spill over not just in your personal life but also in how you deal with others and how you meet people and how you ultimately bring it to your relationships. So when you talk about how you heal from wounds, it comes down to the hope and understanding that we have that part of soul inside of us.
On a final note, I would like to say that the people who have touched us the most deeply in our lives are those who have a certain type of silent majesty. I don’t know if any of you have ever met someone like that, but I’m sure that throughout our lifetimes, each of us has a person that we can identify that has a certain silent majesty. What I mean by that is that it’s not just about how loud or aggressive or how flamboyant they are, but rather, that when you’re in their presence, it gives you a sense of security.
That security allows you to learn to trust. I often find that people look in relationships for some type of panacea, some type of perfect situation, something that will save them. But in truth, as someone once put it, “Trust is built not on perfection, but on accountability.” In other words, we can all make mistakes. The key is whether you cover up your mistakes, whether you ignore them or deny them, or whether you’re able to acknowledge and grow through them.
So we live in a world where we’ve all made our errors, our mistakes. The key is what you do with it. Trust is built on accountability. The ability to be accountable for a past error and do something about it. When you have that type of attitude, then there’s a certain security that can help us grow.
When it comes to our personal relationships this factor is critical, whether we see it in our partner or in ourselves. People with silent majesty, who have that ability to exude a certain confidence can help us greatly in this area. And that’s what I want to lead to as my second suggestion, besides finding a partner, a class, or a book or something spiritual in your life, introducing something eternal, is to find a person of that nature, someone whom you can trust, someone who’s friendly, who in a sense embodies the wisdom of ages and can give you that type of sage wisdom. Often it’s an older person who’s gone through the ego trips, has gone through the different ups and downs of life, and I want to wish you all that we should be able to find that type of person in our life, and be able to bring into our personal lives the ability to find eternity both in our marriages and our relationships and in everything that we do.
We thank you for listening and for being a partner in the Meaningful Life Center, and becoming a partner in creating a better world. This has been Simon Jacobson with Toward a Meaningful Life.