How to Love the Jewish Way

When we think of a happy, ideal couple, we tend to think of something like the image above. Two people, lost in one other, basking in each other’s positive energy. Anyone who has been in love knows this feeling, and this pose.

As an alternative, the ideal couple looks more like this:

Two people, facing the same direction. Side by side, partners. What are they facing? God, the universe, a mission – they serve something higher than themselves.

The first situation is a kind of intoxicating love, but the ultimate goal is happiness alone and is simply not sustainable. The second type represents the kind of love that can last a lifetime because it involves happiness directed not only inward for the couple but for something greater than themselves. This concept is beautifully symbolized in the Chupah (Jewish wedding canope) which is always open on all sides, representing the home of the first Jewish couple, Abraham and Sarah, whose home was open to all.

LOVE IS IN THE AIR

Today is a special, almost mysterious day – the holiday Tu B’av (the 15th of Av), or as some call it “Jewish Valentine’s Day.”  Unlike most Jewish holidays, there are not many specific mitzvot or rituals to perform. However, the great Sage Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel is quoted in the Mishnah as saying:

 

“There were no better (i.e. happier) days for the people of Israel than the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur, since on these days the daughters of Israel/Jerusalem go out dressed in white and dance in the vineyards.”

 

For Tu B’av to be spoken of together with Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, is a pretty big deal. Why compare this day to Yom Kippur? Because in Judaism, for a man and woman to unite and do great things for the world, is as holy as it gets. It’s a holiness like Yom Kippur.

 

Judaism understands the concept of soul mates as a man and woman, who together can fulfill their purpose on earth better than they could alone. A soul mate, or what some call their “beshert”, is someone who enhances one’s ability to achieve full spiritual potential. It also means having a partner in carrying out the Divine mandate to make the world a better place. A soul mate is nothing less than our missing other-half necessary for our completion and perfection.

LOSING THE ABILITY TO LOVE?

There was a great article in Elite Daily earlier this year called “10 Reasons Why This Generation Is Losing The Ability To Be In Love”, which seemed at first like a fluff piece, but actually offered real insight into a problem I personally have observed in many 20’s/30’s with whom I am privileged to interact and teach. The author offers the following explanations as to our generation’s challenge with loving: an unwillingness to make compromises, egocentricity, addiction to instant gratification, a fear of giving up freedom and making decisions, and general confusion about how to love. “Love is so incredibly complex,” the author says, “that most people simply haven’t been able to get a grasp of it.”

 

I think the author makes a lot of great points, though I don’t think this phenomenon is unique to Millennials. I especially agree with the idea that most of us don’t really know how to love. If it came naturally at one point, our society has so twisted the idea that we’ve un-learned it.

THE KEY TO LOVING

The key to being good at love goes back to what we consider an ideal couple. If we are simply looking for someone to GIVE us that feeling, to share that magical energy, to make us happy, then it is no wonder relationships today are so short lived. They are simply too insular – a dynamic that is really quite difficult to maintain.

Relationships, like healthy bodies of water, need to be fed by an external source. In searching for our soul mates maybe we’re only asking part of the question we should be asking. Maybe instead of just wondering “Is he or she right for me?”, we should also be asking “are we right together for the world?”. The Hebrew word for love, “ahava”, has its two letter root as “hav” which means “to give”. Love, and the happiness which comes from loving, only results from giving to others. Love becomes much more doable when you focus less on what the relationship gives to you and more on what it allows you and your partner to give. This higher purpose of giving is where we get that needed energy – this is the river that replenishes and sustains.

And so my unsolicited advice is to look for someone who you are not only attracted to and enjoy being with but with whom you can also see yourself doing great things for other people. Whether it’s building a family or helping those less fortunate, remember happiness and love can only be achieved through giving. Find the one who will stand next to you, facing the same direction.

Peace Through Strength – Stop The Deal!

As seen on The Algemeiner

When it comes to arguments or debates I’m usually pretty good at seeing the “other side”. My years spent studying Talmud and going to law school have taught me that life is complex and there’s always another perspective. But when it comes to the deal the US Administration has brokered with Iran, I just don’t get it.


Does the administration truly believe the Iranians will keep their word and honor this agreement? We all know the only real gauge of any country’s future performance is their past performance and based on what we’ve seen with Iran and their nuclear program in the past, what is our government thinking? Even if the deal is honored (with a big “if”), it still allows for a nuclear Iran in another ten years. And my biggest problem with the deal is what it does right now: pumping vast amounts of money and support into the hands of the largest terrorist sponsoring government in the world. Are we so naïve as to not believe that this American funding will not find its way into the hands of Hamas, Hezbollah and other terror groups Iran finances?

IT’S NOT DEAL VS. WAR

Many that support the deal are labeling the opposition as warmongers. They are painting a picture that turning down this deal is synonymous with a step towards war with Iran. This is simply not true. The alternative is allowing time for sanctions to create a situation where the Iranian economy is so bad that either the government becomes so desperate they have no choice but to agree to stop their nuclear ambitions or their own people force them to do so in order to improve the economy. In short: the alternative is NOT WAR — it’s staying strong and insisting on a better deal.


PEACE THROUGH STRENGTH

Peace is the ultimate goal, let’s not forget. As Jews we pray for peace every day. In the Grace after Meals (benching), we conclude the prayer with the well known phrase :

“Hashem will give might to His people; Hashem will bless His people with peace.”


What does “might” have to do with peace? Can true peace be imposed by might?

President Obama’s general strategy of reconciliation and negotiation, while appropriate and even admirable for some countries, is not appropriate for every situation. This is the Middle East, not Sweden or some other peace loving country. In this playground, there are a whole different set of rules. Jordan and Egypt, the only two Arab countries to ever make peace with Israel did so because they became convinced that Israel could not be defeated militarily, and because they weren’t run by religious extremists. Iran is not intimidated by Israel’s military prowess and it’s a country run by religious fanatics. However, it has also shown that it responds to strength. Interestingly, the ONLY time in history Iran actually suspended its nuclear program was in 2003, when the U.S. was already in Afghanistan and then went into Iraq.

No, peace can not be forced by might, but it can be earned. Peace is not a deal, it is a process, and sometimes the right next step is standing strong and holding out for the right kind of peace, even when it’s scary.


TAKE ACTION

For these reasons and more I strongly encourage you and all peace-loving people, Jew and non-Jew alike, to take action. Here is what you can do:

  1. Join me and MJE in attending Wednesday’s Stop Iran Rally in Times Square
  2. Take a moment out of your day to call or email  your member of Congress
Call
(202) 225-3121
to reach Senate and House members through the Capitol switchboard
your members of Congress
your members of Congress
  1. Educate yourself on the issue by reading suggested articles below
  2. Attend the MJE dinner this Friday Night (July 24) where we will be hearing from Joel Mowbray, an expert on counterterrorism, about the ins and outs of the Iran Nuclear Deal. REGISTER HERE
  3. Also attend our Tisha B’av program, this Saturday night (July 25), which will be devoted to learning more about Anti-Semitism and the Iranian threat. REGISTER HERE



Photo Courtesy of StandWithUs

BACKGROUND INFO/ INTERESTING PERSPECTIVES

Too Many Options! Creating True Freedom Through Limitations


We’ve all been there: standing in aisle five of the supermarket trying to decide which jar of mustard to buy. Do we go organic, or for the brand with whole mustard seeds? Or do we simply pick the one in the brightest yellow bottle?
Contemporary Psychologist Dr. Barry Schwartz gave a fascinating Ted talk (with over seven million views!) on what he refers to as the explosion of choices we now have in our society. Some examples Dr. Schwartz cites:

Shopping: The suparmarket at which he shops, offers 285 varieties of cookies, 75 brands of iced tea, 230 types of soups, 174 types of salad dressings and 40 different brands of toothpaste from which to choose.

Healthcare: It used to be that when you got sick you went to the doctor who told you what was wrong and what medicine to take. Today doctors are trained to give you “options”. Option A or option B. Option A has certain benefits and certain risks. Option B has these benefits and these risks. “Doc; which one should I choose?”. “You need to choose yourself, you’re the patient”.

Family Life: Back when most people tried to get married and have kids when the first opportunity presented itself, the only choice one had to make was: with whom? Today it’s not just whom do I want to marry but when? Before my career gets off the ground or after? What if I choose to push that decision off till after my career is doing OK but then I fall in love? More choices.

Work: Technology has enabled us to work every minute of every day from anywhere in the world so now we have to keep deciding whether or not we should be working at any given moment! We could be with a friend, spouse or significant other and the cell phone buzzes. Even if we choose not to pick it up we still have to decide whether to take the call or answer that email.


There’s no question – we value our freedom. For the most part, in western society we are fortunate enough that the freedom we worry about is not literal. For us, freedom has become synonymous with having options — with the ability and privilege to choose for ourselves from endless possibilities, accountable to no one else. These days we have so many more choices to make and so many more options to choose from, but are these endless options making us more happy? Studies actually demonstrate the opposite…
Giving Up The Driver’s Seat

In the TEDxStanford talk, “Sometimes it’s good to give up the driver’s seat,” marketing professor Baba Shiv reveals that discomfort over making choices extends into medical decisions. Five years ago, Shiv’s wife was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“The most harrowing and agonizing part of the whole experience was that we were making decision after decision,” Shiv shares in his talk. “The wisdom of the ages is that when it comes to decisions of importance, it’s best to be in charge. But are there contexts where we’re far better off taking the passenger seat and having someone else drive?”
Shiv decided to test the theory on undergraduate students about to solve word puzzles. While one set of students was asked to choose between two teas — caffeinated or relaxing chamomile — the other group was told by the researchers which of the teas to drink. In the end, the students assigned a tea solved more puzzles than those who were given a choice. Shiv hypothesized that this is because making the choice allows a person to have doubt about their decision when faced with the prospect of immediate feedback.
Shiv’s thoughts on choice are counterintuitive. But his work is part of a growing body of research on choice. Below, more studies — many from TED speakers — suggest that having a variety of options isn’t always what we need.

Financial Times 

Researchers Sheena Iyengar and Emir Kamenicar looked at the retirement savings choices made by half a million employees through the Vanguard Group. Analyzing the data, they found that for every 10 additional funds offered to an employee, the chances that an employee would invest in none of the above increased by 2.87%. Dr. Schwartz in his talk explains: “With 50 funds to choose from, it’s so damn hard to decide which fund to choose that you’ll just put it off until tomorrow. And then tomorrow, and then tomorrow,” he says. “By not participating, they are passing up as much as $5,000 a year from the employer.” 

Life and Death Decisions 

It seems that when it comes to having options, less is more and this principle holds true when it comes to more serious life issues. In her Ted Talk “The Art of Choosing,” Iyengar tells of another study conducted on parents in both France and the United States faced with the horrible decision of whether to take their infant off of life support. In the United States, this decision rests on the parents. However, in France, this decision is made by medical professionals. Iyengar and her fellow researchers looked at how the parents felt a year after in both countries. They found that while American parents harbored hugely negative emotions about the experience, the French parents were more able to reframe the tragedy with statements like, “Noah was here for so little time, but he taught us so much.” Although the American parents felt strongly that they would not have wanted their doctors to make the decision, their experience with this challenging situation was in the end worse than their counterparts in France. 

Mo’ money, mo’ problems 

Schwartz mentions another favorite study conducted by David G. Myers of Hope College and Robert E. Lane of Yale University. In looking at market data, the two found that — even though the gross domestic product had doubled in the United States over a 30-year period — the proportion of the population describing themselves as “very happy” had declined by about 5 percent. When given far more choices 14 million Americans reported feeling less happy than their peers 30 years before.

Trapped In The Wild
The studies demonstrating this point are endless – but the message is clear. More options does not always equal more happiness. In fact, the most common results of all this “freedom” are paralysis and/or crippling doubt – a phenomenon I refer to as being “trapped in the wild.”
We have so much open space, with nothing limiting our choices and with more and more options presented to us every year. We are simply not equipped to make so many good decisions day in and day out, particularly in those areas in which we have not been properly trained.
SO WHAT TO DO!? Not make decisions? Put them off? Second guess ourselves? No.
One answer is to stay in the driver’s seat, put your foot on the gas and don’t look back… but consult a map, and bring along a co-pilot! My navigation app of choice? The Torah. My co-pilot? God …

Torah – A Navigation App

Considering the alternatives are stalling out, going the wrong direction over and over again, or crashing and regretting, consulting some kind of system like the Torah to help us make some of the more important choices isn’t such a radical or crazy religious thing to do. Not only does it help us make better decisions (especially if you believe Torah comes from a higher place), it takes some of the pressure off deciding so many important things for ourselves. The Torah is a tried and tested way to make choices and to pave a good path in life. It is a system that, regardless of where you believe it comes from, has maintained the Jewish Nation throughout centuries of persecution, and not only allowed us to survive, but to give back to the world in such a powerful and productive way.


The word Halacha (which refers to Jewish law) derives from the word halach which means to go or to walk. Torah helps us walk through life, enabling us to make decisions not simply based on what we think or feel is right but what we believe our Creator does. Following Halacha doesn’t fix all problems but gives us a better framework for approaching the more delicate and challenging parts of our lives.


Take the example of Judaism’s laws of Family Purity. Referred to in the Talmud as a “Hedge of Roses”, the halacha prescribes a period of abstention between husband and wife during the woman’s menstrual cycle and somewhat thereafter. Besides the mystical reasons underlying this area of Jewish tradition, this practice has the practical benefit of creating a monthly kind of honeymoon for the couple. A healthy sexual tension is created during the period of refraining and a reunion of sorts takes place each month after the woman returns from the mikvah (ritual bath) and the couple can once again be intimate.  Many couples of course decide on their own when to be with one another, but then again it’s another choice we are forced to make that might be better decided by a higher authority who knows more. Following the laws of family purity transfer at least some of the decision making from the couple to God. It doesn’t guarantee a better sex life but it is interesting to note that the divorce rate among couples following these laws is dramatically lower.


We like to think that the more choices we get to make the better off we are, but we know that true freedom is not necessarily manifested by having no limits. Narrowing our options by consulting a “navigation app”, especially when we have faith in the system we consult, actually produces more happiness than deciding everything on our own. The sooner we stop pretending we know it all and start looking for  guidance from a higher place, the sooner we will feel more content and fulfilled.  
A Challenge For You

And now I challenge you. Take note this week every time you are prompted to make a decision. Whether it’s something as mundane as brand of mustard to buy, or as important as what type of degree to get or to commit to someone you’ve been dating – take notice of how you make that decision. Do you consult a value system, a particular mentor, a philosophy, or are you completely on your own? Do you feel overwhelmed and stuck, or do you feel empowered and confident? Why? Just hold onto these answers, or share them below. We will continue to explore this topic in future blog posts.