Rabbi Simon Jacobson: Hello and welcome to another edition of Toward a Meaningful Life. I’m speaking to you from the West Coast, from Los Angeles, California, and bring you greetings from this part of the world.
With the miracle of radio and airwaves, it’s possible to speak from anywhere in the world, but today I’m speaking from the studio of singer/songwriter, poet, Leonard Cohen, who has been gracious enough to host me. At some point, whether today or some other time, I hope he will share some words with us on the radio show. We’ve become friends through correspondence and now in person, and he’s been gracious enough to allow me to use his studio to bring you another edition of the show.
Tonight we’ll be talking about the topic of loneliness. The reason I chose this topic is that besides the fact that this is such a prevalent issue—one of those invisible enemies in our lives—it’s also the traditional nine-day mourning period on the Jewish calendar, the saddest part of the calendar when we grieve and mourn for the destruction of the Holy Temple that took place close to 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem.
The “nine days” began actually on the first day of the Hebrew month of Av, and it continues until this upcoming Thursday when it will conclude on Tisha B’Av, meaning the ninth of Av. Tisha B’Av is a fast day, a day of mourning for the destruction of the Temple.
One of the lamentations in the Book of Lamentations that we traditionally say on the evening of Tisha B’Av is Aichah Yoshva Bodad, which in Hebrew means “How lonely it is to be sitting alone.” Look how bad it is. I lament the fact that I sit alone.
In other words, the destruction of the Temple created a cosmic loneliness, a personal loneliness. So I felt it appropriate at this time to dedicate a show to loneliness on all levels.
You do find people who are happy, who socialize well, who are extroverts and communicate well. And then there are those of us who feel alone and suffer from loneliness.
But is this truly the fact? Isn’t everyone truly alone, and some just know how to distract themselves better? And is loneliness indeed a bad situation altogether? Is it inherently bad for the human condition to be alone?
I’d like to talk about that and hear your thoughts on the matter as well. In a Kabbalistic context, the ninth of Av, being the number nine, implies ten minus one. “Ten and not nine” is a cryptic statement made in one of the Kabbalistic works called the Sefer Yetzirah, the Book of Formation. So the number nine in a sense is a lonely one because it’s missing the one. That lonely number one. And sitting here in Los Angeles, in a way I feel alone myself, even though I’m speaking to you on the radio.
When you pause to think, the truth is that no matter how many people love you and how close you are with friends and associates, at the end of the day we walk home alone, and there’s a part of us that’s always alone.
I also want to extend my condolences to the family and friends of a close friend of mine, a tragic loss that we had just over Shabbat. Michael Liebert was one of my first students in the classes I give on the Upper West Side. Nineteen years ago, when I began the class, he was the first or second student who came. He was a man truly loved by myself and by so many people.
In a way, when someone does pass on, it reminds us of the loneliness of existence, the loneliness of life and death. I feel he’s been part of the growth of the Meaningful Life Center that brings you this radio show. So I definitely extend my best wishes to his family and friends, for Michael Liebert, Moshe, who passed away just yesterday and today was brought to burial.
So when we talk about loneliness, there’s the issue of our own inherent loneliness. Of course on a very technical level, when we say someone’s lonely, that can be simply due to the fact that that person doesn’t have friends. We don’t have people to party with or hang around with, and when you usually hear people saying that they are lonely, it’s usually about that.
Then of course there’s another deeper level of loneliness where we don’t have a companion, a soul mate, a spouse. Many single people want to get married and find someone whom they can live their entire lives with. There’s a loneliness in that.
So as much as we do socialize and have fun, we want to have that intimate partner. And there, loneliness takes on a different meaning. It’s not that I don’t have anyone to socialize with, I have no one to share my deepest feelings with. I have no one to come home to at the end of the day. That’s another level of loneliness.
In a strange way, in the fast-paced society that we live in, a society that continuously makes demands on us, it really cultivates even more loneliness than slower paced times, because the contrast is so profound.
Here you’re rushing all day, whether you’re rushing to the job, or rushing to satisfy a client or a boss, or you’re in the money market, and then when you have to stop and pause and take some respite, you suddenly realize, I’m really alone in this world. With all this rushing, I’m not necessarily getting anywhere.
And that contrast tends to make the loneliness even more profound. We live in a society where there’s a mass mentality. You see it in stadiums across the country—sports stadiums, arenas, music halls, rock concerts—where thousands and thousands of people come together, and they cheer and they party together. In a sense there’s a kind of camaraderie.
However, you can be sitting in a stadium, in an arena of 50,000 people and cheering along, and be as lonely as ever. As soon as the party is over, as soon as the game, the show is over, there’s a profound loneliness that sets in as we walk home.
As we walk out of that event we suddenly realize, this whole group of people that I was just cheering with, and applauding with, and listening with, and being moved by the performance with, they really are strangers and I am alone in this world. Yet again the contrast.
One of the things that always struck me as perhaps the loneliest experience of all is the performer’s loneliness. When you’re on stage and you’re performing, whether it’s music or art or some other artistic expression you feel an incredible surge and bond with hundreds or thousands of people. But when the show is over and everyone leaves, you have to go backstage and start packing your bags.
Walking out that back door must be, on an existential level, one of the most profoundly lonely experiences possible. That may explain why so many performers have to in some way supplement that high and it creates a very profound sense of “I am all alone.”
So the illusion of crowds, of mass transportation, mass production, industrialization, in many ways contributes to the sense of being alone.
Loneliness is an issue that can be put in a mystical context. Even though it’s mystical, it has deep psychological implications.
For me, personally, the issue is not so much whether we can distract ourselves and find ways to avoid the issue of being alone, which many of us do, but the issue is really an existential one. Existential loneliness essentially means that we are alone in this world. That we’re self-contained human beings.
No matter how much you feel for another person, there’s still a boundary: I’m me and you’re you. And that, when you think about it, has a certain element of pain because it’s something that you can’t get around.
You can party all the time and you can be a happy person, but you can still feel alone. When the Temple was destroyed and the Jews were sitting shiva, their saying Aicha yoshva bodad, “How lonely it is to sit alone,” was the expression of this existential loneliness. With the Temple being destroyed, being torn away from us, we were left with a situation where you suddenly see yourself in a glaring way and you see that I’m not connected.
And that’s what I’m leading to, that loneliness is not just between you and other people. Loneliness can be between you and yourself. You can be very happy being with others and still feel lonely because you’re disconnected from yourself.
If you think about it, you find that that is really the anatomy, the core, of what being alone is all about. In a way, the destruction of the Temple brings up a question which I’m going to pose before we take a break, which is, why would the destruction of a building be such a powerful memory, something that we continuously commemorate? Answering that question will teach us something about what it means to be alone and how to overcome that.
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So in response to my question about the building and the destruction of the Temple, I’d like to say this: The Temple wasn’t just another piece of real estate. It was actually a window that connected heaven and earth.
Fundamentally, when the Temple was destroyed, a cataclysmic change occurred in the universe where we became less in touch with our Divine connection, our calling, our purpose, and our souls.
And that is why we sit in mourning today, thousands of years later. Not because of something that happened so long ago, but because its effects and its re-creation takes place every moment in our lives.
Every time you see a person able to hurt another human being, injustices, Holocausts, on a personal or collective level, it’s a result of our feeling that we are not one and the same.
If your left arm did something wrong, is it conceivable that your right arm would punish it? Obviously not because it’s one organism. And in one organism, every part feels that it’s part of a larger whole.
In the human race, we do not necessarily feel that we are connected in that way. That is why human beings can hurt one another. Parents can hurt their children, we can hurt our loved ones, or strangers. There is an inherent disconnectedness that exists in our lives which is the root of greed, selfishness, and ultimately the potential ability for us to harm one another.
All this is an extension of, an expression and a consequence of, the destruction of the Temple—because as I said the Temple was not just a building, it was a building that represented, as the Bible puts it, “V’asu Li mikdash,” (build Me a Temple) “v’shochanti b’socham” (and I [G-d] will rest among you).
As long as G-d rests among the people, there is a sense of connectedness. That doesn’t mean we’re the same. It just means that we are like different musical notes in one large composition. Just as in a healthy body different organs, different limbs, different systems can all complement each other, and function in a coordinated fashion, the same is true on the larger organism level, the human race. The destruction of the Temple represented the breakdown of that.
Indeed, the Talmud says that the Temple was destroyed because of the irrational hatred that people had for one another. What’s the connection? Because the Temple represented unity.
If you are disconnected from yourself, you will be disconnected from people around you. You see people who have a certain inner majesty, who glow, who have a certain inner confidence, and they get along with everyone. Even with those with whom they disagree.
But if you’re personally split apart, compartmentalized or fragmented, and you agonize over your own split, that usually feeds into the inability to function and communicate with others as well.
So the loneliness we’re talking about, if you really think about it, comes down to who you see yourself as. Are you alone in the world? And we are alone if we’re not in touch with our souls.
Let me give you a practical example. You’re hard at work and let’s say you’re successful. You make a good salary, people admire your work, and you feel you’re contributing something.
You come home and your soul craves for something more. Success is just not enough. You may need a companion. You may need some spiritual inspiration. You may need something transcendental.
As long as you don’t have it, all that success feeds one part of you but another part of you remains quite hungry. And that means you’re alone with yourself. You are inherently lonely because your own being feels lonely. One part is lonely and does not feel connected to another part.
That lies at the root of all loneliness. But one can feel at peace with himself when all parts of you are being fed; when not only your material side, your success is being nurtured, but it is also taking place on a personal level, in your personal life, your psychological life, or in your spiritual life. That’s when the loneliness turns into a type of union, where you have different voices inside of you that all reconnect with each other.
I submit that that lies at the heart of the issue. Are you at peace with your own soul, you own mission?
Now that doesn’t mean that that’s enough. The question that comes up is, what role does communion, friendship and companionship with other human beings play? Can you just be comfortable with yourself and be self-contained?
I’m just suggesting that step number one is, as Hillel said, “Im ein ani li, mi li?” “If I’m not for myself, who will be for me?” And that includes loneliness. If you cannot keep yourself company, no one else can truly keep you company. No one can replace the companionship and harmony that your soul and your body need to create between each other in this lifetime. And we shouldn’t feel depressed if that doesn’t happen so quickly.
That is the battle of life. Indeed, that is the battle that we’re posed with. G-d says, “I give you a body and a soul. I give you a material and a spiritual life. It’s up to you to create companionship between the two. Brotherhood. Sisterhood. They should be at peace with each other. That’s step number one.
Okay, we’re talking about being alone in a world of many people. There are 6 billion people, thank G-d, on this planet, and yet you can feel as alone as ever, because it’s not a numbers game, it’s about what you feel within.
Okay, let’s go to the phones. Daniel, you’re on the air.
Caller: The question is, is there a connection between mental illness and loneliness, that one causes the other, and if so, is it mental illness that causes loneliness or is it perhaps the other way around?
Jacobson: That’s a great question (and may G-d protect us from any such situation). But I do think that they are connected. First, I think we have to begin with a small disclaimer. There’s mental illness that is of a clinical nature, that though it causes deep loneliness, you cannot just heal it with some type of quick fix. Sometimes it’s a chemical imbalance, or forces in our lives that just take over and we can’t say it’s just loneliness.
I would categorize that as being more profound than loneliness; to the point of despair, the bottomless pit where the demons take over and you feel there’s no return. That being said, I do think there’s a deep connection between mental illness and loneliness, which I’ll explain with a preface.
As I mentioned before, we’re in the Nine Days, but today is also the fifth of Av on the Hebrew calendar, the yahrzeit of the Holy Arizal. One of the doctrines that he taught (and you’ll see the connection in a moment) is that there’s a concept called tzimtzum, that when G-d created the universe, in order to create an independent universe where we are self-contained and we feel that we are “it.” He needed to create this type of cosmic black hole where G-d’s presence was shrouded, which allowed us to emerge.
In a strange way, that was the first “split personality” experience. I can’t call it mental illness, but in a way it’s the root of the disalignment between our conscious and unconscious minds.
When a person does suffer from some type of mental imbalance or mental illness, it has to be seen as a consequence of the disalignment of the universe in general.
In other words, if we all lived basking in the unifying light of G-d’s existence, and there was a seamless connection between all of life, there would be no possibility for any type of disconnection or any type of inconsistency.
So in that context, loneliness and mental illness do have a connection because as I mentioned, the fact that we are self-contained individuals and we do not feel that our partner or our friend or our parent or brother or sister are one with us, tends to enhance and exaggerate the darkness when one begins to feel despair.
Often when I speak to people who are suffering from that type of depression, it’s something you just can’t put into words. You try to tell them, “You’re not alone. You’re not alone,” but their profound sense of being alone is so deep that there are no words that can reach in.
I think that that is a result of, in a sense, G-d hiding the underlying inherent threads of unity that connect us all. So I’m not telling you what the solution is, I’m just acknowledging that the connection between loneliness and mental illness is a very deep one——and in terms of solutions, there are no quick solutions to situations that are particularly of that illness level.
However, I do think that all of us, by understanding and coming to appreciate that we are not alone in this world; that we are inherently connected and ultimately connected with our souls and with G-d has the positive impact that perhaps can help a person back from the brink of despair or hopelessness.
Caller: Okay, thank you very much.
Jacobson: We’re here talking about loneliness, and as I said, you can be in a room with a thousand people and be utterly alone, or you can be in a room all by yourself and not feel that you’re alone. It’s all about being at peace with yourself.
Loneliness tends to make us sense that we are caving in when we feel that we’re like very small dots and we begin to feel that insignificance. That’s what I’d like to talk about next—the connection between loneliness and feeling significant, feeling that you’re needed, feeling that you contribute something.
(Announcement break about Rabbi Simon Jacobson’s Wednesday Night Class, every Wednesday night at 8:00 pm, 346 West 89th St. in Manhattan. You can also hear the radio shows live on the website: www.meaningfullife.com. Sunday nights from 6-7pm (est).)
Jacobson: Okay, we go to David on the line.
Caller: Hi Rabbi. Thank you for taking my call. I wanted to ask, you mentioned one type of loneliness as the type where the person hasn’t found a soulmate and hasn’t gotten married. I wanted to ask if indeed a person goes through life and doesn’t find his or her soulmate, does Judaism regard that as a kind of failing in some way? How does Judaism view that?
Jacobson: Thank you David. I’m sure that’s a question on many people’s minds. My reply is that it’s not a black and white issue, because though on one hand, Torah, Judaism feels that every one of us has a soulmate waiting for us somewhere and that’s how we’ve been created, still, we can’t judge people in their journeys.
Some of us may find it very difficult to find our soulmate, either as a result of our own childhood experiences or a result of circumstances. I don’t like to judge something after the fact, meaning, if one has gone through one’s life and is unable to find that soulmate, tragically, though they’ve searched, it’s between that person and G-d and I would rather not speculate, because I think each is a case by case situation.
Regardless, even if the person could have done more, I don’t think it’s our role to judge that person. Each of us has to look at ourselves and look at the unique challenges of each of our lives.
However, if someone is still in the middle of the process, in other words, they’re of age or they haven’t passed away yet (I’m not saying that we have to wait until the last moment), sometimes we’re doing the wrong things in searching for that soulmate. Our intentions may be in place, but often we’re doing the wrong thing, meaning, we may be undermining it, creating unrealistic expectations, or not allowing ourselves to just open up and let our defensives down. We may be self-destructive. I think it’s wise and healthy for each of us, whoever is looking for a soulmate, to have a trusted friend that you can review and discuss with whether you are doing something self-destructive. Are there unhealthy patterns in your search for a soulmate?
I’m a firm believer that when we’re ready, G-d sends the right person. I know people who met their potential soulmates and they just weren’t ready. Five years later, they’re happily married to that same person. At the first point, they themselves were not at peace with their own soul, which goes back to my earlier theme that if you’re lonely with yourself, you will not find a true companion outside of yourself, because nobody can take away your loneliness. That’s an illusion; an illusion that is fed by this mass mentality environment and society we live in, where you feel that, “Oh, if everybody’s doing it that makes me feel that I’m part of something.” That’s an illusion. You are part of something if you, and all the parts inside of you, feel united under that one umbrella, that one mission.
If not, millions of people can be doing whatever it is and you can feel all alone.
So it’s critical that a person come to peace with themselves in that way. I think finding the companion within your own self, within your own soul is the first step to finding the companion outside of yourself.
Okay, David, thank you for your call. Ellen, you’re on the air.
Caller: I think that one must learn how to deal with rejection. I find that rejection in my life has led to terrible feelings of loneliness.
Jacobson: Rejection from?
Caller: All sorts of situations.
Jacobson: From family? Friends?
Jacobson: Well, I would agree that rejection in childhood is definitely a big feeder into loneliness because it feeds into the feeling that no one is with you, that no one is in your corner, and you don’t have validation. Is that what you’re referring to?
Caller: Yes, and a feeling of very low self-worth. And that makes you feel very lonely.
Jacobson: That’s a good segue into what I was going to discuss before: the importance of feeling important or significant. The theme that you often hear from me on this show is that “you matter” and that you are meaningful. Not just in a subjective, circumstantial way to the people you love, or people close to you, or people who applaud you, but that you are meaningful and significant to G-d.
You’re meaningful and significant on a cosmic level. You have a contribution to make that is unique and indispensable. I’m not going to repeat the story that I’ve so often shared, and many of you who have received our newsletter have read the most moving letter from that St. Louis woman, but essentially, the underlying theme from those who haven’t heard it before, is that “Birth is G-d saying that you matter.” If you value yourself based on looks, youth, economic status, even family loving you, those are all temporary, subjective and arbitrary factors, and if your value is based on any one of them, when you take it away, then your value goes down.
Your true inherent value is because you’re here on earth and you’re here for a mission. And when you have that sense of significance, that you matter, that is the single greatest force that battles true, existential loneliness.
Because when you wake up in the morning, remember, even if you have a loved one lying right near you, you still can be profoundly alone. The excitement to jump out of bed knowing that you have a mission to do, something that you’re needed for today, is ultimately the solution to any type of sense of deep loneliness.
Without the feeling that you matter and that you’re significant, all the activities that distract you cannot really supply you with that, of being part of a bigger picture, part of contributing something that no one else can do except you.
That is ultimately the best solution to loneliness—significance.
Now what healthy parents do is not necessarily give you a sense of importance. What they do do is not undermine your sense of importance. They don’t invalidate you. That is the key.
Unfortunately in an abusive and dysfunctional home as Ellen was just sharing with us or alluding to, when you feel rejected or you feel invalidated, what’s happening is the undermining of your spirit. When a child is continuously silenced, continuously put down, dismissed, or even worse, continuously abandoned in the most subtle of ways, the child grows to feel that he doesn’t exist, that he’s not significant.
Parents come home from work—they’re so busy they don’t even notice their children. Or they notice them and they entertain them in a very superficial way.
Do you know what children need more than anything else? It’s not gifts or places to travel to. It’s not even time. It’s validation. The acknowledgment that when they see the look in the eyes of a parent, they get the message that they’re important. That they’re valuable.
Can you imagine? It’s something that doesn’t cost any money. You can’t buy it in a store. No gift can replace it. But what is more valuable to the human condition and to what makes us productive, healthy, wholesome, not lonely but complete human beings, is that look in the eye from your mother or father, from people around you, that says you matter. You matter to me. You’re valuable. You’re indispensable.
They don’t give it to you and they can’t take it away from you. It is G-d that gives it to us. And when a person has that significance, that is the single most powerful force that helps you travel through life.
The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, his father died at a very young age. We all know that when you lose a parent at a young age (G-d forbid), it has a traumatic effect on us. Many people become very insecure because of the lack of a parent, the nurturing that the parent would have provided.
However, the father of the Baal Shem Tov left him with a legacy, and said something to him that although it could not replace a father—obviously a father can never be replaced—it dramatically did much to give the Baal Shem Tov the power and the confidence and the security to do what he needed to do in his life. We can learn from that.
What did he tell him? On his death bed he told his little Yisroelik, his little son Yisroel, the Baal Shem Tov, “Remember that you’re never alone. You’re with G-d. And you must fear nothing except G-d.”
You can imagine the power of a child hearing that as the last words from his father. The power that he instilled in this little Yisroel, who turned into the Baal Shem Tov, was that confidence that you can make a difference, and when you’re ready to do so, nothing can stand in your way. Don’t wait for a consensus, don’t be disturbed or intimidated by other people’s opinions. You need to tread your new path and you do so.
And this Baal Shem Tov went ahead and founded the Chassidic movement and taught the dimension of Judaism that is so critical to our lives today, the soul of Judaism. Not just the body but the soul.
And this all began with those words that his father said to him. “You’re not alone. You have a G-d. You have a mission.”
It’s not just about a G-d in heaven. It’s about a mission on earth: that your soul was sent down on a mission and you have a purpose. That is the single most powerful force that helps us get beyond Aicha Yoshva Bodad.
Interestingly, the alter-ego to the bodad, the loneliness that we say in Eichah, its antithesis, is said in a blessing at the end of the book of Deuteronomy in the Bible, where it says: “This is a nation that sits alone, bodad, it’s unique.” So “alone” can also mean “unique.”
There is unhealthy loneliness and there’s healthy loneliness. All of us need to have an element of uniqueness. Remember, if you were not alone, then you would perhaps be a clone. Would you rather feel like an extension of someone else’s personality or someone else’s need or someone’s else’s demand?
You have a unique place. The key is to recognize that your uniqueness is not loneliness. Your loneliness makes you unique and therefore alone, but you are one with G-d in that uniqueness. You are one with your soul, with your mission.
Okay, we have Martin on the air.
Caller: Hi Rabbi. Thank you very much for taking my call. This is the second time I’m listening to your program and it was quite by accident. The first time I listened to you a friend of mine told me about your program and it was very interesting, and I’m listening for the second time today. I’m quite impressed with what you say. You’re quite a personality, and what you’re saying today is very tif, very deep.
I have a question for you and it’s affecting me indirectly.
I have a niece and she lives in a very frum [religious] area in Brooklyn, and I think she’s very lonely. Part of the reason that she’s lonely is that she’s trying to follow the pattern of the frum community, and I’m not being critical. Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not knocking frumkeit, I’m a frum person myself, but in this case, the mistakes that they are making by teaching a child, for example, a girl, that you can only marry such a person who sits and learns the entire day, but if you’re not cut out like a cookie cutter, you don’t fit that. And you’re getting older and you’re watching all your friends get married, and you are refusing to listen to a mother or an uncle who are trying to set you up with a normal guy who’s not learning an entire day, only part of the day. She’s locked into this frum ideology which is wonderful but doesn’t fit everybody. I think she’s very lonely.
Jacobson: What do you suggest?
Caller: What I suggest she won’t listen to, G-d bless her, and I don’t want to badger and bother her.
Jacobson: Well, tell me what you suggest.
Caller: I don’t know. I’m not such a chocham (wise person)! If I was a chocham I wouldn’t be asking questions! I feel very bad because time is marching on and the market is getting less and less. It’s not an easy matter.
Jacobson: Well, let me ask you a question, Martin. You say you’re frum, which means observant. Are you lonely?
Caller: Everybody gets lonely once in a while.
Jacobson: No, but I mean do you have this conflict of on one hand having to conform so to speak to the standards of your brethren, of your community, and on the other hand, your own individuality? The way you’re describing the situation with your niece, do you at all have that dilemma? If you don’t, why not?
Caller: How does that shed light into her situation?
Jacobson: The reason I’m asking is that I think that by looking into our own selves, what it is that you have that she doesn’t, then perhaps we can share something with her about how to integrate frumkeit with our own unique individuality. Do you follow me?
Caller: Not really.
Jacobson: Look, if the issue is about being pressured by a community, then any one of us who grows up in an observant home should have that problem. That’s what I’m trying to say. And if we have that problem, how do we resolve it?
Caller: Well I think it’s the person sometimes more than the community. The community is a very influencing factor, but it’s the personality of the person being timid and following and being overwhelmed by what they see living away by themselves and away from their parents, living in the New York area and living by a family, and watching her roommate…
Jacobson: That’s exactly what I was getting at, because you hit the nail on the head. So if your niece were living in a community that was not observant, she would also be conforming perhaps to the intimidating forces of her peers. So it may not be observance of frumkeit that’s the issue here. It may just be her personality in light of the community around her.
Caller: How can a relative like myself help her?
Jacobson: First of all, I’m trying to understand. Is what I just said accurate?
Caller: Yes, definitely.
Jacobson: So then the issue is not really about Judaism per se—and I think it’s important to distinguish—her personality is one where she (I won’t call her a follower) but she tends to conform or to buckle to the pressures around her. Is that accurate? I don’t know her which is why I need your help here.
Caller: I think that she’s like an ostrich that puts its head in the sand to avoid the issue. She won’t answer you if you talk about something she doesn’t want to hear like that.
Jacobson: How old is she?
Caller: She’s 25-26.
Jacobson: And going to school, working?
Caller: Working. Learning at COPE, an institution, and working at a nice office.
Jacobson: To answer this quickly, since I don’t know her, so it’s hard to speak through you, she needs to have people like yourself who are supporting her, who are not asking her to do anything, but just supporting who she is and helping to cultivate her strengths.
Caller: Time marches on. We don’t get younger.
Jacobson: I hear what you’re saying, but nevertheless, for her in any way to get anywhere, she needs to have the support and strength that people will say we’re behind you. I mean the way you’re describing her it doesn’t sound like she has any mental illness or any problem like that, thank G-d. So perhaps it requires people reinforcing a type of strength. I don’t know what her parents are like, and I don’t know what kind of influence you have, but … we don’t have that much time to elaborate on the show because time is running down, but I will say this to you. As an uncle, you should encourage her to access whatever strengths she has, and maybe look for a shidduch, a match, that’s appropriate to her that will not force her to be something she’s not.
The fact that she’s single perhaps is G-d’s way of saying that we have to find her the right type of person who will appreciate her timidness and her personality, and at the same time not crush her existence. Am I making any sense to you?
Caller: Yes you are.
Jacobson: I think that’s what we should pursue. And I’d be happy to pursue this further. Feel free to email me at email@example.com and if you email me, perhaps we can talk some more.
Caller: Thank you.
Jacobson: Thank you for the call and for your kind words.
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Jacobson: Okay, we have Charles on the air.
Caller: How are you Rabbi. Nice to talk to you. Someone spoke before about rejection and I wanted to ask a little bit about rejection. We have somewhat of a history in Jewish history with people being alone. Noah was alone, Yosef was without his brothers’ company, Moshe came down from Mount Sinai with the Torah and found the people worshipping an idol. I think what I want to ask you is, on some level, is the answer to loneliness social acceptance, the acceptance of mediocrity? Could lowering one’s standards in today’s society overcome loneliness for somebody? Is there any potential logic to what I’m asking you or is that part of the insanity that you discussed earlier in the first phone call?
Jacobson: I think that conformity to mediocrity and resigning ourselves so to speak to the status quo tends to just create more loneliness, because conforming to those around you, satisfying others, may create an illusion of acceptance for the moment, but as I said earlier with the mob mentality, it’s ultimately a disaster. When you stop to think about yourself, you start saying, I’m even lonelier because I can’t even stand up for myself.
So I agree with your statement, Charles. Thank you for the call. We go to Ellen on the phone.
Caller: Thank you for taking my call. I am a Holocaust survivor. We were seven sisters and brothers. One of my brothers had seven children. The whole family was 130, with cousins, because my father was one of ten children. And everything was wiped out and I was left alone. After the war, I was like a shiksa during the war. They were killed by the Polish and by the Germans.
I was only two years old when my mother passed away and my mother saved my life the whole time. I had just started school, and typhus was going around and I got typhus too. A lot of children died growing up. My mother came to me at day, not at night, and I didn’t recognize my mother, and she brought me a glass of sour milk and she said drink it and the glass give to Yoel, my father’s brother. So I opened my eyes and I said to my father (my father was sitting and saying Tehillim) “di mame hot gezogt ich zol dir geben dos gloz” (mother said I should bring you this glass). “Un er hot ongehoiben tzu vaynen” (and he began to cry). “Di mame hot gebracht a refuah” (mother brought a cure). I didn’t hear anything more from my mother.
Now it’s 1942, the 15th of July, my mother came to me when I was asleep and she said, “Today is the first, di deitchen zeinen gekumen oif di Yidden, du antloif” (the Germans have come for the Jews. You escape). I woke up my sister and I told them, Der mama hot mir gezogt az ich zol antloifen, di deitchen zeinen gekumen oif the Yidden, mit a truck” (mother told me to escape, the Germans are coming for the Jews with a truck). Zogt zi mir: in a cholem gloibt men nischt, ober azoy vi s’iz di mame, ken zein emes” (she said to me: “we don’t believe in a dream, but since it’s mother it may be true”). But she didn’t say which month.
Anyway, this was in the country. We had animals. I still got property there but the Polish don’t give it back to you. So I said to my youngest brother, I’ll give you a cow, and you’ll give me from Sofie. He said, okay, whenever you come back I’ll give it to you back.
But the you have to go to the city. I didn’t know because I didn’t know which month this was. And I am in the field with the cow and Offie comes to me in the field and he said to me, don’t be afraid. The Germans came with their truck and I saw who goes in and your brother with all seven children went in. Nobody got any extra luggage, your brother got a prayer book and a shawl under his arm. Because I’m from a Yiddishe shtib (home).
Jacobson: I hear you and I really appreciate your sharing this with us.
Caller: He came for the cow. So how could I do it? Because people in the field… if I gave him the cow the people would go tell the Germans.
Jacobson: I really appreciate your sharing this with us.
Caller: I’m alone. I’m just 80. I’m legally blind.
Jacobson: Ellen, can you leave your number with Steve the engineer so I can talk to you some more after the show? Stay on the line and he’ll take your number, okay? I really appreciate your call.
Yehoshua, you’re on the air.
Caller: I was very impressed with your active listening and I want you to know that. It’s a beautiful thing to witness. I wanted to mention on a more collective or national level, regarding validation and the beauty of nurturance within the Jewish people, since we’re coming to Tisha B’Av, and particularly we could be demoralized with the events that transpired from Camp David, I think it’s extremely important not to have enervation of the spirit, enervation of the will.
We need to affirm Jewish identity, and we need to affirm Jewish symbols or concepts that are extremely important to Yidden everywhere. Yerushalayim, Eretz Yisroel. The kedushah [holiness] of Eretz Yisroel and the kedushah of the Jewish people.
Jacobson: I appreciate that validation.
Caller: So we could always use a little more nurturance.
Jacobson: You know, validation on a communal level begins with validation on a personal level, so I appreciate your words. And as Hillel said, “If I am only for myself, what am I?” So first we have to begin with “If I am not for myself, who will be for me,” and then comes the second half, “if I am only for myself, what am I?” That we need a community to support us.
Thank you for your call Yehoshua.
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Okay, we have a minute left. It’s been interesting talking about loneliness and hearing your calls. A final thought: the Meaningful Life Center was established, in a way you can say to deal with loneliness, because I believe, and our philosophy is, that if you have meaning in your life you’ll be a little less alone, because meaning becomes your partner.
You can have a biological life and not feel that it’s meaningful, not feel that you’re significant, and then life is a very lonely journey. All alone. It doesn’t feel like you’re making a difference. Why wake up in the morning except for having a job and having to go to work or other external responsibilities?
When you have meaning in your life, when you feel that you matter, that you’re part of a mission, that G-d put you here to fulfill a mission, that becomes your partner, your driving force, your ally, your resources, something you can rely on even when you’re in a bad mood, because the mission continues. And that’s what we’re dedicated to here in our organization to help us all find that type of meaning and to join forces, join hands, in a grassroots effort of each of us helping each other find meaning. Because when we have meaning in our life, it breeds meaning and focus breeds focus. So on a concluding note I’d like to suggest to all of you that tomorrow morning you try the Modeh Ani exercise that I often suggest, which is, as soon as you wake up, acknowledge that your soul has been returned to you. Acknowledge that you are significant. Thank G-d that you are significant and you have a mission to fulfill in this world, a higher calling.
And in the immortal words of the Baal Shem Tov’s father, “You are not alone. G-d is with you, and G-d accompanies you through this journey.”
Thank you. This is Simon Jacobson and Toward a Meaningful Life. Please join us next Sunday from 6-7pm at WEVD 1050AM.