Fear is one of the most destructive forces in our lives.
Names For Fear
The are many names for fear: anxiety that leads to depression, terror, dread, horror, fright, panic, alarm, trepidation, and apprehension.
Fear has a major impact on our lives
These are but a few of the names that all describe a process that has a constant and major impact on our lives.
Fear vs. love
According to Rabbi Schnuer Zalman of Liadi and backed up by the greatest experts on anxiety and stress in our generation the body responds to two basic chemicals, the first is fear driven and the second is love or joy driven.
What fear and love cause
Can you be happy and afraid at the same time? No; the reason is that love produces chemicals that make you feel good, which is why it feels good to be in love; while fear produces chemicals that make you get ready to run the … out of there.
Daniel Goleman in his landmark book Social Intelligence reports that the major reason men stonewall (and many married ladies know what I mean) is simply because their blood pressure becomes raised when they are afraid or in a confrontational situation thus they stonewall (closing themselves off emotionally) in order not to raise their anxiety levels. Let’s be honest, would you want to be shouted at by someone you consider significant, a giver, and important in your life? No.
Men feel fear
Many women are oblivious to the fact that men do feel fear, for men are generally really good at being macho; however the very reason men go into their caves (according to author John Gray “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus”) is precisely because they need to solve threatening situations; they are basically in a state of anxiety until such time that they can see their way out of their perceived or real crisis.
According to John Gottman (famous for his ability to predict 95% of the time – in only five minutes – whether a marriage will work by watching a couple interact,) women have a better ability to calm down after they are anxious, (and this has been tested through telling men and women to think of an anxiety provoking situation and then to relax while they are hooked up to monitors.) Once men get nervous they are not as adept at calming down as women are.
Thoughts Speech and Actions
Now according to Rabbi Schnuer Zalman we have three basic mechanisms through which we express ourselves internally and externally. Thoughts, (which informs us of what we want,) speech, (which informs others of what we want,) and actions (that are an expression of our desire, as the Sages write, where the heart desires the legs go and as is evident empirically as well.)
The effect of calm vs. fear
Now, what makes you think about taking a holiday (vacation,) or leaving your job etc., these are all based on a preexisting fear or love which henceforth we will call, a desire. When you are calm, you think about your desires, such as going on holiday, but if you are afraid then you basically retreat and you try to gain control over the fearful situation.
Love and fear are opposites
Love and fear are in fact opposing emotions. If you are in love, you are not in fear, and if you are in fear you are not in love.
“In Fear” and “In Love”
The reason I say “in fear” or “in love” is because these emotions creep up from our subconscious and affect our entire outlook on life.
In fact according to John Gottman 85% of what’s wrong in marriages is one spouse actually is in a fearful state. Thus they see things negatively (i.e. through the perspective of fear.) And what he recommends (and writes he tried personally and helped him) is to do what Jewish prayer teaches: Prayer (as he writes) is not so much about asking G-d for what you need, but thanking G-d for what you have. The benefit of this is you begin to see the world through a positive pair of eyeglasses. You begin to see the beauty, the benefit, the joy, the goodness of G-d. Once you are “in love”, in a state of joy, then it is easier to see the good in everything and most importantly in everyone.
The spouse who sees the world through the lens of fear basically always sees what’s wrong with their spouse; while the spouse who sees the world through the lens of love and joy, always sees what is right with their spouse.
Is it good or bad
This is reminiscent of a vort (a saying) by the Kotzkeh Rebbe, who was well known for his desire to always be truthful and for people to act truthfully and not for ulterior motives. The Kotzkeh Rebbe asked his brilliant disciples, what is the difference between a lover of truth, and a hater of falsehood? His students did not perceive any difference, for essentially they are the same thing; for he who hates falsehood, loves truth. However the brilliant Kotzkeh Rebbe explained that the difference is, that the lover of truth looks for the truth in everything and will not be satisfied until he understands what is true and good in a particular thing while the hater of falsehood looks for what is false in everything and will not be satisfied until he finds what is false and wrong in everything.
This perspective difference, lies at the heart of the Chasidic worldview. Chassidus (modern Jewish mysticism) is adept at finding the hidden truth, the inner positive reason behind bad things; thus changing negativity, into positivity; darkness into light; bitterness into sweetness.
Find good in bad
In fact according to Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov the way to get a negative to change into a positive in actuality, is by finding the positive in the negative.
Let me give you an inspirational example:
I visited a young teenager in hospital who was put there by his aggressive half-brother; while you and I would probably be busy nursing our wounds, this teenager told me, that everything that G-d does is done for a reason and this was a message that he should be studying more.
Forgiveness and wellbeing
Such a spirit is awesome and most beneficial for people. We now have proof of a direct link between holding grudges and illnesses, and a possible link between forgiveness and wellness.
In one study, people were asked to forgive people who upset them and their blood pressure was monitored; remarkably as they forgave there was a 30% reduction in blood pressure, just through the singular act of forgiveness. Hypertension is a known killer, and so forgiveness, letting go of the anger, is a wonderful method to wellness.
Anger is negative fear
In fact Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov one of the greatest mystics of all times calls anger, negative fear.
You are only angry when you are afraid; I.e. you believe you have been harmed and thus there is potential to be harmed again; However if you believe that you will never be harmed, ever again, then you might feel pity on the aggressor and not anger.
Forgive for your sake
These days there is a movement among victims (after gaining justice,) to forgive the people who harmed them for their own sake; as this forgiveness releases them from the anger, resentment, and feelings of being raped which the aggressor caused on the victim.
In my own life I have had to come to terms with a few very evil people whose happiness was literally making others miserable. One individual’s perverse pleasure which unfortunately he was pretty good at was breaking people’s spirit and his joy in life was to get friends to become enemies, and to try to emotionally destroy people to the best of his miserable ability. Apart from recognizing a pathological part to his nature, it was most revealing to me that ultimately the only person he is really successful in destroying is himself. His behavior results in a progressive lack of trust and admiration from all who get to know him, and he remains an island onto himself, grasping to the few people who may give him some attention, all the while self-justifying his own madness, by shifting identical blame onto others.
Unfortunately psychopathic behavior is very deep rooted and to my understanding it is in fact implanted in childhood, as one pathological liar I had the unfortunate pleasure of getting to know, told me in one of his very rare truthful moments, that his mother would beat him until he was bleeding and that basically he disconnected from people. (A pathological liar is basically mentally disturbed in the sense that they believe the fantasies and fiction they make up.) This was a glorious insight into the mind of the pathological liar; they can do untold harm to others and are commonly referred to as psychopaths for due to the way they were treated as children they disconnect from humanity and have absolutely no love for other people (and usually posses a very strong self-hatred as well,) this is turn allows them to feel no empathy for their victims, as they literally do not feel a part of the human race which is why it is so very difficult for normal people to understand their bizarre emotionless cruel behavior.
According to Dr. Kulick, a renowned psychiatrist and Freudian scholar, they are basically very depressed people (very sad,) however they do not know it. They have lost the ability to be in touch with their own hearts, having closed it at childhood, or during some trauma, and they are depressed but unaware of their own anti-social behavior.
A soft heart
This concept of having a supple soft generous heart is very very important.
Rabbi Schnuer Zalman explains that for a person to be good they need to have an open heart which I interpret to mean a happy, open, generous, loving, soft, heart.
When a person is in a state of fear they simply cannot feel any other emotion but fear which drives them to remove themselves from the fearful situation.
Every single anxiety related illness is from some kind of general fear that plagues a person indefinitely – what we call stress. (Incidentally I was just called by the cleaning lady as someone was trying to steal from my car (I live in Johannesburg South Africa,) anyway I didn’t want to go outside to save my car valuables because my life is far more precious and I have insurance in any event. So I pressed the panic button (a standard unfortunate feature in South African homes) and the person finished stealing what he wanted from the car and I was looking out the window and he causally comes up to me with a bit of a faraway look in his eyes and says “he is hungry”. I wasn’t really very well disposed towards him so I gave him a little bit of money and sent him on his merry way.
Now what is so very interesting about this incident is that he wasn’t really hungry because I had some fruit in the back of the car which he did not take but he did empty out the money in the ashtray and try to see what was in the boot (the trunk.) So the way I interpret the situation is that he is possibly on drugs and basically needs his next fix and thus he has lost all human dignity and has lost his self-respect which is why he is willing to humiliate himself asking for money after having stolen money, as he is disconnected from himself.
In fact the way most drug addicts start their rode to recovery is through what they call hitting rock bottom, they hit a spot which is so dreadfully humiliating that for the first time they decide to take a good look at who they have become and decide to change.
Only the individuals desire to change – to want to lead a better life can help the individual; No one in the world can force a free man to stop taking opiates that make him feel good; in fact according to my humble opinion it is no surprise that so many millions of people are on drugs for modern society has given them the message that it’s all about self-gratification and although thankfully I have never taken drugs, obviously they are the every easiest and quickest route to self gratification.
That being said I have developed a simple system that can actually very accurately predicate the phases of drug addiction and I have had the pleasure of working with many drug addicts, having served as a Rabbi in a town that was famous for its drug rehab centers.
We have two sides to us; the first is the primary instinctual benefit that occurs through all behaviors. For this reason the instinctual reward system through drugs is very great. (Have you ever heard of someone addicted to drugs that give them pain?) The second is uniquely human and it is our identity which is based on pride or shame.
So when the shame of the drug addict, (realizing that he is a junkie living in the streets without family etc.) is greater then the benefit of taking the drugs, then the junkie will stop. However the reason they all go back, (very few actually stop for good) is simply because the person does not get into a healthy pride situation. Therefore they then crave the instinctual pleasure and thus a very vicious cycle ensues and it is easily predictable based on the previously mentioned factors.
To a certain extant all of our behaviors follow this model but now is not the place to get into it.
What is pride? Pride is when your behavior matches your identity. So if your role model is your father and he is a dentist than when you become a dentist you become proud of yourself. Although you may not realize it, every non instinctual behavior that you do is based on this system of role modeling which is why it is important that you choose healthy good productive role models and not allow movie stars and pop stars to become your role models.
The wise Jewish sages teach “Love blinds us to our faults,” the reason it may take a drug addict or any person for that matter quite a long time before they realize the faults of their behaviors, and the shameful state that they have reached, is because they are blinded by their self-love and they simply cannot recognize their own shame which is very evident to everyone around them. They think that people are simply trying to limit their pleasure and they find ways and means of doing it and in the process lose their beloved spouse, children, business etc. The reason for this is that their love of the pleasure blinds them to the shame of what is going on around them and they literally walk around blind to reality; as the saying goes love is blind.)
The Yetzer Hara
According to Jewish mysticism G-d has placed a negative angel in each and everyone of us whose job it is to get us into a state of worry, sadness, and ultimately depression, as this world is all about rising to the challenge to be good instead of only selfish; a choice that only freedom of choice can provide. This negative angel has a few common practices which I will now enumerate. The first is worry. It gets us to worry about everything, and as mentioned, while a person is worried they cannot act clearly and be themselves, and thus be giving and helpful to others. The second is doubt. Now this doubt is also doubt of one’s own goodness. As the Chassidic saying goes, the negative angel dresses itself up as a pious individual – the gangster dresses like a saint – and presents some very convincing arguments.
For example, the story is told of a Rabbi who received a large some of money to distribute to charity. The Rabbi then received a call from a man who needed to marry off his daughter and it just so happened that the amount that the man needed was almost exactly how much money the Rabbi received. The Rabbi believed that this was ordained by G-d in Heaven in order for him to help this poor man who needed to marry off his daughter. However then another thought crept into his mind “Is this really the right thing to do, to give someone so much money; shouldn’t I give this money to six different people instead?” The Rabbi immediately told the poor man “I will give you everything you need for your daughter’s wedding.”
The Rabbi knew about his negative angel – and obviously the second thought of not giving and helping this poor man was from the negative angel. If we are not aware of this negative angel in us we are pretty much doomed. One man who loved Judaism told me that he doesn’t think he should go to synagogue as his negative attitude might affect others badly. Now in my own life I can easily see that every time I want to do a good thing the negative angel has a far “better idea” for me.
How to tell where your thoughts come from
There is a great art in deciphering which idea is from your good angel and which is from your bad, but the general rule of thumb is that any idea which leads to helping and giving, is definitely from your good angel; and any idea that is about stinginess and meanness is from your negative angel no matter how justified it may seem to be stingy or mean at the time. If you will be helping another person it is good; (Now sometimes this may mean to be stingy such as not giving a drug addict money which will enable them to buy drugs or perhaps not allowing a child to play with a knife but the critical difference is that it is about the person in front of you, not a rationalization of how many other people can be helped instead etc.) And if you will be hurting another person emotionally, financially, or spiritually it is simply put bad, no matter what the circumstances of the situation are.
Don’t give up
Another classic trick of the negative angel is driving you nuts until you give up. Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov explains it with following example: Once upon a time a wealthy man bought a beautiful mansion; a man came to him and said “all my life I envied the owner of that house and had I known it was for sale I would have bought it, please sell it to me.” The wealthy man said “No.” The next day the man came back. “Please” he begged “I love your home more than anything in the world, if you will have mercy on me, please let me use one room as an office.” The wealthy man said “No.” The next day the man came back and said “you know I realize that you are justified, I should have never asked you to sell the home or to give me a room for an office but I beg you, please give me one hook in your home.” The wealthy man thought “If I give this rascal a hook I will get rid of him.” “Sure” he said. “Thank you, thank you, thank you, please tell me which hook is mine.” So the wealthy man took him to a hook in the house and showed him which hook belonged to him. “A million blessings on your head, you kind, generous soul,” and with that he left. The wealthy mans happiness was short lived though. For every other minute of the day this man was in and out of his house, hanging his coat, hat, or umbrella on the hook, and in a moment of utter desperation the wealthy man screamed “here take this miserable, bothersome house.” And inwardly the conman smiled; satisfied that his con had worked again.
For a praying Jew this can be easily seen during prayer – as the sages of Jewish mysticism report that the time of prayer is the time of war – for then the negative angel starts to put weird ideas into the head of the person who is praying; fantastic schemes of how to make money, and every other fantasy the person thought imaginable, and these ideas at the time seem realistic and true but the very moment the person stops praying these ideas are seen as ridicules thoughts that only a lunatic would dream of. This is an empirical fact for praying Jews, and the reason is simple, the distraction of the weird and wonderful ideas does not allow a person to pray, and thus to develop a closeness to G-d, and it is this that the negative angel desires, for one who is close to G-d can easily destroy the negative angel; and if they are exceptionally close perhaps even eliminate the negative angel altogether.
The benefits of trusting G-d
In my own life, closeness to G-d has had tremendous benefits which is really the main reason I am writing this book. Like most people I was basically passive, you know we try to avoid confrontational situations like the plague, and try to not have to say no to people because basically we can’t. However after I deepened my trust in G-d, I lacked fear from people; I had no problem telling people no and even took on some heavyweights over the wrongs they were doing and through persistence tenacity and sticking to my guns eventually persevered.
Life is about love
I have learnt many things from not fearing people but first and foremost I have learnt that life it is not about not fearing people, it is about loving people. The reason you need to say yes is not because you are afraid to say no, but because you want to help; for example today as I was walking out of the grocery store and an elderly couple asked me for a ride home. “Sure” I said, happy to be of assistance, as I got in the car I asked them where they lived, figuring nearby. “No on the other side of town.” Making a quick calculation I realized that I had the time to take them where they wanted to go so I didn’t get upset and had a very pleasant ride; (by the way as I was driving I asked this man of 93 what life taught him and he immediately replied “I am learning new things every day!”) Anyway as I got to this guys house he invited me in, so not wanting to offend him I went inside and we had a pleasant chat. I think he would have kept me there all day but I firmly told him I needed to go pick up my daughter from school, and I left with the promise to keep in touch.
So the point is that I didn’t help this guy because I had to, I could have easily said no, but I wanted to, and I will limit my help for him to the extant that it doesn’t impact on my other responsibilities and duties.
I recently studied an unbelievable talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the greatest mystic, philosopher, and Judaic scholar of our generation. He taught that when a person knows their purpose in life they are calm. They live according to their purpose and this fills them with relaxed purpose instead of frantic energy. Basically, you can be a fireman, rushing to put out fires, or you can be a researcher discovering cures to illnesses. Obviously the energy of a fireman is frantic energy, while the energy of the researcher is relatively purposeful, meaningful, and calm energy.
The story is told about four Rabbis, the greatest minds and spirits in a generation of scholars, mystics, and poets. They decided to delve into every aspect of Judaism from the simple to the esoteric, learning all of it. Of the four, one went mad (crazy,) one died, one became a heretic, and one, the greatest one, became even greater. The reason given is that Rabbi Akivah (the successful one) “entered the paradise of knowledge peacefully, and left peacefully.”
I never really understood what this meant; obviously this was very very powerful knowledge to completely alter the previous three very great scholarly and holy men; so what was it that Rabbi Akivah possessed that the others did not? The answer is that Rabbi Akivah possessed a singular purpose; he was dedicated only to G-d goodness and kindness in his life. For this reason his entering into the paradise of knowledge was not for his own desire, to quench his own thirst for knowledge, but was part and parcel of his duties as a religious Jew to study G-d’s wisdom – the Torah and it’s commentaries in order to know how to become a good person – and being a great scholar, to delve deeply into the deepest realities and esoteric wisdom of the Kabbalah. For this reason he kept his sanity, for there was a higher purpose; an ultimate goal to what he was doing; it was not about his personal ambition but about G-d’s ambition; and thus when it was time to leave the paradise of knowledge (perhaps to retain his objectivity and earthiness) he left the paradise of knowledge only wiser from the experience, but his central purpose in life was untouched even an iota. In fact to give you a glimpse at his dedication to G-d I will share with you the well known story of how when the Romans tortured him to death (raking his skin off with iron combs) he smiled. His dear students who were with him and were obviously distraught asked him, why he was smiling. He replied “Every day I say in the Shema [prayer] that I am ready to sacrifice (give) my life to G-d and I have always wished for this opportunity to arise so I can fulfill this dream.” Obviously Rabbi Akivah was no mere mortal, he took the words of prayer to heart, and he genuinely desired to have the merit of giving his life to G-d, which is why he enjoyed being killed as a Jew.
There have been millions of Jews who were murdered for being Jewish however few have actually desired to be murdered for being Jewish. Rabbi Akivah was one of the precious few who knew that the connection that he had with G-d would only increase due to this supreme sacrifice and thus he deeply desired it.
There are countless stories of self sacrifice that I can tell you but I would like to mention but one precious story. The Nazis were rounding up the Jews in the ghetto to send them to their final destination, death; oblivious to the panic and commotion stood a holy Rabbi engrossed in his prayers to G-d; he was oblivious to the two nazis that came to take him to his death; he was focused only on his love for G-d and the sweetness of the Jewish psalms and prayers; the Nazis, usually cold blooded killers were awestruck by this site, the presence of mind to ignore imminent death and thus were afraid to touch this holy man; they quietly turned around and left the room. The holy Rabbi finished his prayers and realizing that the truck taking his beloved congregation to their deaths was about to depart, he ran downstairs calling “wait wait,” the truck started rolling off and the Rabbi ran faster until he reached the truck jumping on to join his brethren in whatever fate G-d had planned for them.
You or G-d goodness and kindness
Now after I learned the above teaching from the Lubavitcher Rebbe (purpose brings tranquility) I started practicing it. I started realizing that the many varied choices I make (which I believe to be good choices) are more than my personal choices, they are in fact what G-d expects from me to do. So now instead of being overly engrossed in my writing or studying (which are generally good things) I can easily go back to my children or family to assist them; whereas before I would find it difficult to leave the important things I was doing. I now see my passion for my passions, as being my passion. If I am really objective and I want to do the right thing, what G-d wants from me, I must put my own passion aside, even if my passion is a good passion and achieving good; I must do what the right thing is, right now, and that is obviously attending to the person who needs help now, and my personal writing and learning can wait for another time, while the person that needs help cannot.
This is a very important point and took me years to get right (and of course I am still working on it;) if we are passionate about something, we must really be aware if we are the “center of attention,” or the thing is. In other words, is this really about the goodness and kindness, or is this really about my personal joy and moral satisfaction in what I am doing.
Conditional and Unconditional Love
To clarify this the Rabbis teach that there are two kinds of loves: conditional and unconditional. Unconditional love is when you help someone to your own detriment, and conditional love is when you help someone to your advantage. When a couple marry they are usually in a state of conditional love, only after many years of giving to each other do they reach a state of unconditional love.
The Rabbis give an example for unconditional and functional love which helps clarify this point. “What is unconditional love? This is the love of David and Jonathan (Yonasan.)” Jonathan warns David that his father the King wants to kill David in order that David should run and hide; and do you know why King Saul wanted to kill David? For he accurately predicted that David would be the next king of Israel instead of his son Jonathan.
“What is conditional love this is the love that Amnon had to Tamar”, his beautiful half sister. He was sick with love, but obviously couldn’t marry her, so on the advice of a friend he asked his father the king to send Tamar to him while he feigned an illness and pretended to need someone to look after him and there in the privacy of his bedroom raped her. He then hated her with the same amount of love that he loved her before. If he really loved her, why did he hate her after he raped her? Because he never loved her, he loved intercourse and believed she would be a prize.
This clarifies what is conditional and unconditional love.
How many of us really love unconditionally? How many of us would get on a truck leading to our death, having escaped the claws of the Nazis? How many of us love G-d to the point that we would be grateful to G-d for being tortured alive for the privilege of giving our lives to G-d?
The point I am trying to make is that it is not enough to eliminate fear, you must also learn how to love.
Trusting in G-d
Trusting in G-d is a unique package for it will eliminate fear and create a wonderful love at the same time.
The benefit of trust
If you trust in G-d’s goodness and kindness, you can be in a pretty rotten situation but maintain your equilibrium and hopefulness for a better future. Few of us actually use this wonderful tool. Many people would write to the Lubavitcher Rebbe asking for his blessing in times of financial crises and he would write back to “Trust in G-d” and explain that when one trusts in G-d they have a better mind for business as well. We all know that anxiety changes our perspective on reality, and does not allow us to think clearly. In fact our sages teach that decisions based on fear are bad decisions. Think about how when the stock market starts going down everyone sells their shares, losing millions if not hundreds of millions (collectively) when all they need to do is wait a few days and it will usually bounce right back. Fear causes panic and panic is basically a flight mechanism. The reason fear is so powerful is that in certain situations it is so important. Fear in a life threatening situation is vital, for all of mans preconceived ideas and desires must be eliminated in order to survive. One man survived in a garbage dump, eating garbage to survive the nazis, and this was an older man; so when it comes to life threatening situations it is necessary to have an override button; however fear in our day and age is the worst thing possible, and psychologists are suggesting to eliminate fear entirely, as it produces very harmful toxins in the body, suppressing the immune system and leading to a host of diseases.
I was visiting a man in the hospital and he was there for anxiety, he was obviously very tense and I wanted to help him so I asked him if he knew what to do when he gets anxious? He told me “relax,” not very convinced; (As one psychologist reports that telling a worrier to relax is like telling an insomniac to fall asleep;) I said “actually there is a reason why you are worried so you can’t just relax; it is through trusting in G-d, that G-d will help you and take care of you.”
Free from worry
It is only through this trust, that man can make it in life. There will always be something to worry about, and no one is given the blessing of having freedom from worry, but we are given the blessing that we can be free from worry through trusting in G-d and thus eliminating all worries in the first place.
By trusting in G-d we actually merit G-d’s help, it is sort of like if you trust in someone they don’t want to let you down; so the trust despite whatever circumstance you are in opens up a new channel for divine blessing in your life.
Let’s get back to the importance of love; we have obviously opened up a channel for love of G-d, but that is not enough.
The big mistake almost everyone makes is that they see G-d as a father not as a mother. In fact there is a greater parallel to G-d giving like a mother, with love like to one’s own, than a father that sometimes is a little bit colder and harsher in his approach.
We are after all G-d’s children, we are G-d’s creation and if you would have created a human, you would be oftly proud; and G-d is very proud of you; it is an intrinsic love. In fact Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov explains that G-d has a greater love for you than your own parents do; even if you were an only child and born to them when they were getting on in their years (thus their love would have been exclusively for you.)
It is important to remember the following principle in human relations. People’s hearts mirror each other. I was giving a Jewish mysticism class and a Doctor replied “yes, it’s true; yesterday I was driving my bike through a slum and when I was open and friendly the faces I received back were open and friendly and when I was fearful the faces I received back were anxious and cold.” So the face that people show you most of the time (99%) is in fact a reflection of the fear or love you have for them.
Who needs to make the first move, the world or you?
Most of us believe we are entitled to love; but we are not; we need to give love to get it. Many people end up in the psychiatrist office simply because they believe that they have given unconditional love to others but have received none in return; (according to one psychologist a friend of mind this feeling is felt often by women;) but the real question these people and perhaps you need to ask yourself is: am I bartering love? Is my love conditional or is it unconditional? Is it selfless in nature? Am I ready to give to others even if they spit at me in return. And in case you think that this is difficult, doesn’t every parent give to their little child who only demands more and more and more never cognizant of the fact that they are at the receiving end of the line.
The way to achieve this love is to have self-love. “You should love your friend as yourself” is a twofold message, not only does it show you how much love you need to have to your fellow man, it also teaches you how to love your fellow man. If you love someone else conditionally, that love is dependent on what that someone can provide you with, and will die as soon as s/he cannot provide you with it anymore. However you manage to love yourself unconditionally, this is because there is an intrinsic self-love. If you can understand that the next person is you, and you are the next person than you will love them as you love yourself. In truth there is only one real way to do this and that is to realize that you are not only a body but you have a soul, a soul of life from G-d and the person sitting next to you has a soul of life from G-d too, and even if that person is not a good person it doesn’t mean that their soul isn’t just as precious as yours just like a dirty diamond is still a diamond in the ruff.
My grandfather said the following story at my wedding. There was a diamond merchant named Mones who was a disciple of Rabbi Sholom Dovber (the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe;) on one of his visits to his Rabbi, the Rabbi enquired about simple people who lived in his city. The somewhat startled Mones (perplexed why such a great Rabbi and leader of world Jewry should be interested in simple people who seemed quite nondescript) said to Rabbi Sholom Dovber “I don’t see what you see in them?!” Rabbi Sholom Dovber didn’t answer him, but asked him if he had any stones with him that he could see. Mones was quite pleased as he had some very expensive ruff diamonds on him so he showed them to his Rabbi. The Rabbi looked at them and said “I don’t see what you see in them?!” “Rabbi you have to be an expert” replied the somewhat taken aback Mones. “Aha, so you have to be an expert” repeated Rabbi Sholom Dovber slowly. The same applies to seeing the greatness in your neighbor’s soul. You are no expert in souls. Do you know if they would be like Rabbi Akivah or like the Rabbi who joined his community or not.
There are many stories told of the greatness of non-descript people and I will share a few with you so you can fully appreciate this point. A great sage (in the olden days) once met Elijah the prophet in the marketplace and asked him “who will merit Heaven?” “Those two people over there” replied Elijah the prophet pointing to two jesters. The Rabbi was perplexed; “those two clowns, all they do is tell jokes”, he thought to himself, “however there must be something special about them”. So he approached them and asked “tell me, why do you guys tell jokes all day”. “Well you see” they said quietly to the Rabbi “whenever we see someone down or sad we go over and tell them jokes to cheer them up.”
The story is told about another sage who saw in a prophetic dream that his reward in heaven would be the same as some guy who was a glutton whose sole pleasure in life was eating. He decided to pay a visit to this glutton. When he asked if he could stay over – despite the many steaming pots of food in his home – the glutton replied, “I would love you to but I don’t have food for you.” To make matters worse he saw how the glutton would eat most of the food leaving only a bit for his kids. He asked the glutton the meaning of his strange behavior. “Well you see (remember this was in the olden days) I was once journeying with some fellow Jews and we were attacked by anti-Semites and although I could have run away I fought as hard as I could and saved them. So I vowed I would always eat to be strong so I could help my brethren under anti-Semitic attacks in the future.”
I know of one young couple that always wanted to go to Israel and had finally accumulated enough air miles to go when a member of their community died and the wife (who really wanted to go to Israel) suggested to her husband to give their air miles to this guy who needed to go to his father’s funeral in Israel, which he did.
There are countless stories of selflessness from the person next to you but because they are humble you will never know. Perhaps if you were drowning they would save you; unfortunately we are so isolated that people are unaware of each other’s problems, however do you really know how the guy or lady next to you would react if you needed help.
I recently participated in the most amazing blood drive; this poor girl got leukemia and an urgent SMS was sent out to the Johannesburg Jewish community that people should come to donate blood (so they could test the blood to see if it was a match and then request for people to give platelets) in any event I went to donate blood and I was amazed by what I saw, hundreds of Jewish people had come, all to donate blood. It was such an inspiring sight because not a single person there actually knew who they were giving blood to, and some were coming for the first time and the newspaper reported that it was the largest blood drive they ever received in that hospital all starting from SMS’S the night before.
One of the great tragedies of the holocaust is the millions of unsung acts of heroism, for while the barbarians were slaughtering innocent men women and children, millions of people heroically risked their lives to help save, comfort, and console their fellow man.
One story that I read is about Shimenkeh. This one girl was always told about Shimenkeh as she was growing up; “you need to be like Shimenkeh” her survivor father would always tell her. Who was Shimenkeh? She never knew, for her father never spoke about the holocaust. “You must behave like Shimenkeh, for he was a true Tzaddik (pious man,) he lived and died like Tzaddik”. When her father was on his deathbed he called his beloved daughter over and said “I am sure you want to know about Shimenkeh, who he was, well I will tell you. There was once a little boy frightened and alone in the Nazis hellhole, he was weak and dying and someone stole into the kitchen and stole potatoes for this boy to survive. The nazis realized the boy was getting better and as part of their plan was that many people should die of illness and malnutrition they were furious, secretly they realized that he was somehow given extra food, they threatened to torture the boy to death if he would not reveal the name of the man who was feeding him. In great terror and filled with shame he divulged the name, Shimenkeh. Shimenkeh was hung as a lesson to all, not to feed the sick and when he walked to the gallows he walked happily knowing how good he was.”
“When Shimenkeh was in line with his wife and children as we came to the camp the nazis wanted to send his wife and children to death however Shimenkeh began screaming and shouting, the nazis threatened to shoot him “go ahead shoot me I don’t care.” The nazis not wanting to create too much of a commotion allowed his wife and children to be in the line of the living.”
“Some people had to do terrible things to stay alive” continued her father “while others lived nobly in the death camps; Shimenkeh never pushed in front of line to get bread, which meant he often went hungry; Shimenkeh was a true saint, I wished I had died like Shimenkeh …”
There is a very powerful lesson in the above mentioned story. Having values that you are willing to die for is at the heart of Jewish practices. If your values are expendable than in fact you have no values, you are simply following the crowd and you will drift with the wind going in the direction of the masses, doing what is comfortable and acceptable, but who are you? Do you know what you stand for? Do you have values that you are willing to die for? Are there people you are willing to die for?
Love means that you are willing to sacrifice yourself for others; that it can be so powerful is evident from the love parents have for their children.
Love is a potent force, it allows you to be a saint. A great Rabbi and ancestor of mine would add the following prayer after his daily morning prayers, “Please, G-d, allow me to see the good in others and not the bad”. By seeing the good in others you will love them. Again remembering that you and they have a common soul, for just like the flame of a candle, wherein one flame can light every other flame in the world, all souls come from G-d, the original flame, and who knows how great your friends soul is?!
Love is about giving
And finally love is not about receiving it is about giving; love is not about your giving but the benefit that comes to another; true love is that you enjoy your friend’s successes more than you enjoy helping him become successful.