a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson
Radio Show Transcript - March 28, 1999
MIKE FEDER: This is Mike Feder and I am here with
Rabbi Simon Jacobson. We are present at the birth of a new radio
program and I think weíre all excited and a little nervousÖ
the same way as it would be with any child coming into the world.
Let me give you a little introduction about what
this programís about.
I do a radio program on WBAI and for years Iíve
been interviewing authors and people talking about spiritual
matters, and about two years ago I met Rabbi Jacobson who wrote
the book, "Toward a Meaningful Life," published by
Two years ago I interviewed him on the air and
I was so impressed by the wisdom in this book and the way Rabbi
Jacobson presented this wisdom and I wasnít the only one who
was impressed. I got a tremendous amount of mail and calls from
the listeners and I decided it would be a good idea for the
Rabbi to come back which he did over the last two years several
times and we always got an overwhelming response.
This prompted me to suggest that we have a regular
program. Now Rabbi Jacobson is a scholar and teacher and author,
who travels all over the world talking about whatís in the book
but we thought that the radio program would be a wonderful addition
to what he does.
This show has also been important to me because
I have been generally lost in my life without a spiritual connection
and I was seeking myself and as a subtitle to this show, which
is "The program for skeptics and seekers," I think
I fit into both categories. I realized I represented a vast
majority of people who are out there, perhaps you too.
So thatís the origin of this program. Itís personal
for me as well as trying to present a message to other people.
Weíre going to talk about in this book TML, plenty
of topics on every conceivable subject. It starts off with Body
and Soul, Birth, Childhood, Education, Youth, Gender issues,
Current Events, War, Pain, Grief, Death, Suffering, Sex, Marriage,
everything you can imagine. Weíll try to get at what is universal
about these things and try to shed a little light on all our
struggles about that.
I think the last thing to say, and this is the
most important thing, is that this is a show for you, the listener,
we want you the listener to be completely involved in this program.
Toward that end weíll give you information on how to call and
write to us with your comments. We truly do need your feedback
and questions. We will be selecting your questions and taking
your calls on the air which we look forward to.
Now, since we are here talking about TML, the
first thing is, what is a meaningful life?
SIMON: To answer that question let me give a small
introduction as well. I think we live in a time of crisis of
meaning, meaning that we live in a time, in a depersonalized
society, media-oriented, a real aimlessness and emptiness in
Let me share with you a story. I recently met
with a fellow who was dating someone who was coming to one of
my classes and she wanted to get married and heís not interested
in marriage; not interested in that commitment. So they both
asked me if Iíd be willing to speak to him. So we sat down and
spoke and heís very intelligent, very well-to-do, very successful.
Seems to have it allÖand we explored all the different reasons
why he may be afraid of a commitment, a marriage. We looked
at different childhood experiences, his own parents, other fears.
Suddenly, one of those moments that something strikes you, I
realized something. I said to him, "I think the problem
is not marriage with you. I think you have no commitment to
anything. Is there any cause that youíd be willing to fight
for, till the end. And I donít mean the life of your child or
some type of life threatening situationÖa cause, a purpose."
He looked at me (he was intelligent enough to
know that I didnít mean money or career) and he said, "Well,
I donít have a cause like that."
And I said, "Well, thatís your problem. You
have no real passion in anything in life." I didnít mean
to say that it was a problem in his life, I think itís
a problem we all share. So he turned to me in a skeptical and
challenging way and said, "Whatís your cause?"
Itís one of those moments of truth, and something
just spontaneously came to me. I answered, "When I was
a little kid, about six or seven years old, I had this little
quirk, a weird thing, one of these little secrets you carry
with yourself. I would walk often to school when it was raining
and I had this thing, when I walked by the curbside, you know
the water is running into the sewers and it would be blocked
by leaves and garbage, and I had this mishugas, this
eccentricity to clean away some twigs and open up the paths
so that the water should run through."
When he asked me the question I thought, thatís
my cause. As I grew older, my education which was quite intense
spiritually, a Jewish education, I picked that up that wherever
Iím able to, I try to clear away the twigs and open up channels
or arteries. Helping someone achieve clarity in life became
my obsession essentially.
As weíre sitting there he started crying which
he told me later he hadnít done in a long time. The reason I
say it is because it captured for me a moment, those moments
of truth, where I think, thereís a deep aimlessness in peopleís
lives. And in order to compensate for it, many of us are successful
in many superficial areas: careers, making money, but when it
comes to real heart to heart issues, particularly in the area
of relationships, dealing with trauma, pain, dealing with the
realities of life, the invisibles, the intangibles, people really
have very few tools at their disposal.
As a result of the book TML, and the great demand
it created, I realized that itís simply incumbent upon anyone
that has the opportunity to share, (what am I sharing? Nothing
of my own. I donít think Iím teaching anything)
MIKE: This is really the second part of the question,
really. What is this wisdom and where does it come from?
SIMON: I realized that I grew up with a very intense
system based on Torah teachings, an age-old wisdom thousands
of years oldÖmost people have written it off today as being
archaic, primitive, dogmatic and for many good reasons. Thereís
a deep alienation and disillusionment in religious establishment
among Jews and among non-Jews as well, and as I said for good
reasonsÖit has become for others stagnant, irrelevant and they
search in other pastures as one would say.
Personally thatís painful to me because I was
blessed to see within the Torah that deeper wisdom of life skills;
not just some religious dogma about how to keep the Sabbath,
what to eat, what not to eat, doís and doníts, as many people
see it, but really a comprehensive sophisticated blueprint for
MIKE: Letís go back to what you said originally
about your own personal origin or experience of what you perceive
to be a meaningful life. You clear away the twigs, you clear
away the mess so the water can flow. What is this water? What
is the essence that youíre trying to get to flow freely so that
it would provide meaning?
SIMON: Let me talk a moment about the twigs before
I get to that. What I like about getting on the radio with you
and having this discussion with you is the fascinating interaction
between two worlds that donít often meet. Thereís a lot of distrust
between what we call traditional (I abhor labels and stereotypes
as weíll discuss) -- the traditional right-wing religious personÖ
for me spirituality is a freeing experience; itís meant to open
up the channels, clear away the twigs.
But many of the twigs have already been placed
in our lives through the attitudes and stereotypes we have assumed
from those that have influenced us in our lives. Parents, peers,
society, the media. carry around. We all tend to stereotype
from time to time. People just say, oh this guy dressed this
way, this one belongs to a certain group. We file people into
groups and categories. We can and must free ourselves of these
traps. And hereís how.
I believe and I was taught that each of us has
the deepest resource of all at our disposal at all times,
some call it a soul, others call it whatever they call it. I
donít like to be locked into titles and labels because I see
a lot of distance created by them. People say, "Oh, thatís
what you mean by thisÖ" So we have a soul inside us, and
even though it is an invisible force, it is the most powerful
force in your life. The Torah teaches us that the soul is like
an oil well under your house, like a reservoir, resources of
energy thatís there.
What would you do one day if someone said to you
that thereís an oil well there, if you dug for it, millions
of gallons of oil would come up. Youíd find every way possible
to dig and create those channels.
The soul is a well and reservoir of that nature.
For every challenge in life, we have resources to deal with
it. Life is not easy but yet we have the answers and we have
the answers inside of ourselves.
The problem is, between us and the well, there
are many clogged and blocked arteries. Life, the disappointments
in life, the abuses in life, the insignificance that we often
feel in a large world.
MIKE: Doubts, fearsÖ
SIMON: All of the above. Parental influences.
We live in a world where the sensory tools, so to speak, of
our superficial materialistic world tends to block out and not
allow our inner voice to emerge.
So we find ways, we find alternative waysÖ
Why do you think music is such an obsession for
people? Itís an easy way that cuts through the arteries and
gets to that well. Many people donít call it that but thatís
whatís happening. Youíre having a transcendent experience.
MIKE: So we all have a soul. And there are people
who have doubts, myself included, whether or not I have a soul,
but Iím a negative kind of guyÖIím hoping youíre going to save
meÖ by actually sitting across from this table and every week
SIMON: You may save me!
MIKE: Well, I wouldnít presume Ö but who knows
what could happen. So discovering a meaningful life is going
toward your soul, going toward, identifying and clearing away
the debris to reach our own souls and then perhaps are you suggesting
that we link our soul up with other peopleís souls and thatís
how weíre getting this flow going?
SIMON: Look, the most important thing a person
can have in life is purpose, direction. Knowing that when you
wake up in the morning, youíre significant, youíre indispensable.
I would submit this to you and to myself and to all the listeners
that society continuously inundates us with the message that
weíre not significant.
May I share another story with you?
Itís a very powerful story that happened with
me and Iíll be brief about it.
A woman wrote me a letter after reading this book.
She was from St. Louis and she writes that sheís a 47 year old
ambitious, highly successful executive, well-respected. But
beneath the veneer lies a woman in shreds.
Why? She grew up in a highly abusive home, a dysfunctional
home as itís known today, with physical, emotional and psychological
abuse, and basically a sense of total valuelessness; she has
no value in her own eyes. To compensate for that she created
this whole complex structure around herself where sheís needed
and sheís important but she said it doesnít really help too
much. Her life is basically a struggle against suicide often
because of her constant emptiness, no justification to exist.
She picked up TML and there was a line that struck
her, something that struck a deep chord inside of her. The line
was, "Birth is G-d saying that you matter." She read
it once, and then again. She said sheís read it since 500 times
and will read it for the rest of her life.
Sheís tried all kinds of therapy but nothingís
really worked. But something struck her. This was a revelation
for her because she grew up thinking she didnít matter that
much. Her parents told her that she was a source of misery,
an accident. Society, she said, teaches us that weíre another
statistic on someoneís balance sheet. Our value is based on
performance, on production, on buying power, on looks, youth,
climbing the ladder, whatever it may be.
Your value is never based on you. Just because
you exist. No one ever tells you you matter because you exist.
Healthy parents should be telling us that message.
She realized that despite what everyone has told
her and what people have been telling her over the years, she
matters to the One that matters most, for G-d. That for the
mere fact that she was born, that she exists, that she walks
on this earth, is a vote of confidence from G-d who says, I
want you here, youíre indispensable, youíre an indispensable
musical note in the larger composition.
And she said, I have many years to heal, but I
have hope because here is my objective. What I need to do is
to clean away unclog (thatís the term she used) the blocked
arteries that have blocked my arteries, and reconnect to that
moment of innocence, of birth, before I was touched and uncontaminated
by human touch, before it was blocked, and clean away the twigs
(using my expression) and reconnect to that innocent moment
of birth when I was completely needed. Thatís my work. To find
my indispensable contribution to this world.
Now this letter, weíll talk about it in future
shows, itís haunted me and at the same time it puts the finger
right on the buttonÖ
Most of donít acknowledge that when we have problems,
and we all have issues, it may be a relationship, it may be
dealing with psychological scars, problems at work, interacting
with people, or just a sense of emptiness, middle-age blues
as they say, and middle-age keeps getting younger and younger
they tell me.
MIKE: Iíve read about this but Iíve never experienced
SIMON: Well, with all of that, weíre a symptomatic
generation. We deal with symptoms, pain killers, but if you
really cut through it, essentially the teachings that weíre
going to be discussing on the air here talk about, how do you
get to the root of the problem, and the root often comes down
to you donít really think youíre that significant.
So obviously, how invested can you be when you
wake up in the morning in the things that you do, besides the
things that are immediate needs. But in the bigger picture,
who invested can you be when it doesnít really make a difference
at the end of the day?
MIKE: When we come back from our break I want
to prepare you for whatís coming. It took you about 16 minutes
to say the magic word, "G-d." weíre going to talk
about that word, and what it may be and who this might be.
MIKE: Weíre back with Simon Jacobson and the TML
radio show. We are just launching ourselves on this journey
here. You were talking about a lot of the obstacles people encounter
towards understanding themselves, that they have a soul, to
communicate with whatever their essence is. What the meanings
are in life, who they are in lifeÖ
And there is this word "G-d," which
you just brought up, and I know youíve spoken about this before,
a lot of people feel uncomfortable with this word, it turns
people off the same way that a light switch turns off a light.
People will turn away, people donít want to hear about it, people
of every single religionÖthis is sort of a multi-part questionÖ
people in every religion have had problems with this.
You can talk to people who have been brought up
as Catholics, or as Orthodox Jews, Conservative Jews, any religion,
they are so sick and tired of having G-d beaten into them through
I was writing the other day about Hebrew school
that I was forced to go to as a kidÖ G-d is used as a bludgeon
often to hit people over the head..weíre supposed to fear G-d.
And so what we have is a generation of people, a lot of whom
may be listening right now, who donít want to listen to anybody
who is going to use G-d as the source of all wisdom or that
they have to believe, and I was wondering if you can address
Itís odd to say that G-d is an obstacle toward
understanding and meaning for people, but there it is for a
lot of people.
SIMON: Itís not odd at all and I want to add a
disclaimer that I think I should. When we were planning the
show I was thinking that Mike Feder and myself, Simon Jacobson,
were going to be speaking, and clearly we met the first time
we spoke you could definitely say that you were in the category
of skeptic, questioning person, and that point created a lot
of electricity in our conversation. And I was thinking to myself,
isnít this a little bit of set-up, you know, Mike is getting
on the show with me every week, itís not like Iím coming on
your show once in a while, and seemingly any question that you
may ask, yeah Iím sure they set it up already beforehand to
MIKE: Like Iíll be throwing some softballs at
SIMON: Some balls, some type of pre-written script.
And I have to say this to the listeners and to you, and I ask
them all to test it, I really welcome and encourage the true
questions, because I find that weíve been silenced, weíre a
generation thatís been silenced from asking questions, the real
Often being silenced is the result of insecurity.
And when you donít have an anwer you dismiss it, youíre not
allowed to ask questions. So I think that asking questions is
a very healthy and powerful tool to getting somewhere and it
doesnít matter even if itís irreverent and disrespectful.
The issue of course is that weíre searching for
the truth. A question that comes just to justify oneís position,
then youíre not having a discussion, itís just locked.
But I say this to you, Mike, on the air, and everyone
who will be calling in or writing to us, or in any other way
communicating, that we really invite the real issues, because
there are real issues in life, and one of them you just mentioned
is the alienation, the fear, the disillusionment, with that
type of dogmatic teaching, you know, if you donít do it, this
is what will happen to you.
And I must say at the outset that itís not a spiritual
approach. Itís quite a childish approach, that religion, or
Judaism particularly should have been subjected to that type
Thatís why I didnít use G-d right in the beginning
of my discussion because I know exactly what weíre talking about.
When I began a number of years ago teaching I
tried an experiment. Instead of using the word G-d in my discussion,
people who were seeing me speak were definitely stereotyping
me, and you realize youíre at a disadvantage even before you
open your mouth, and they say, "Oh, this type of guy, yeah,
he reminds me of an angry Hebrew school teacher, or an abusive
grandfather, or even healthy memories, you know, sitting at
the seder table, and so I tried an experiment.
Instead of using the word G-d, I used words like
higher reality, non-existential states of existence, the layers
of the subconscious, karma, you get the idea, all these words,
and a few weeks past and someone came over to me and asked me,
"Are you talking about G-d?"
And I said I am but "Shhh, donít spoil it
for the others."
What worked was it allowed for a meaningful dialogue
because this word G-d as many such words, is perhaps loaded
with more stereotypes and misconceptions than any word, because
everyone has an opinion about G-d. Some are obsessive believers
who will kill others in the name of G-d, there are others who
are obsessive agnostics or atheists. But everyone has an opinion
because G-d has far-reaching implications, personal responsibility,
issues of good and evil, issues of education, G-d is a real
topic. It remains so. Even those who reject it, it remains an
issue, and they need to reject it.
MIKE: So you have your money-back guarantee and
your absolute pledge right in front of peopleís ears, that I
can ask you any question I want and they can too.
SIMON: Yes. But remember. For every challenge
that you throw, you have to be willing to accept a challenge
MIKE: No thatís too hard, forget it. Iím going
to ask the easy questions.
SIMON: I invite it because I feel that when I
was growing up, and Iím still growing up in many ways, but when
I was being educated that was invited and welcomed, and when
I came in with that I got as much as I gave. Thatís how it goes.
If youíre invested and youíre really asking a
good question then you have to be ready for the consequences.
King Solomon put it very clearly, "More knowledge, more
pain." Remember that.
But to get back to what I was saying, this word
G-d is a very important component in peopleís lives. Some people
have a very good relationship with G-d. But many establishments,
religious establishments included have a certain bureaucracy
that have made G-d and religion and soul and spirit quite hollow
and irrelevant. And Iíll put it quite bluntly. We were bumped
MIKE: By the hockey game.
SIMON: And I saw that as a personal challenge.
Hockey is simply more important than spirit and soul. So the
question is, can we in any way, change the landscape. Hockey
can make you happy for a moment, can keep you entertained, but
itís not going to help you too much when youíre dealing with
serious trauma. It may be a distraction for a while but itís
not going to really feed your soul. Can we somehow change the
landscape of this world, I donít mean to be cocky and make this
challenge (but itís not just for me itís for all the listeners)
and really bring the biggest and most important issues that
we struggle with to the fore, and maybe one day our show, or
shows like ours, will bump hockey games.
MIKE: Now thereís a certain goal, to use a certain
SIMON: Now, I donít think anyone should be bumped,
I think we can all coexist peacefully as they say. So getting
back to your question, this is exactly the objective of this
show. How can you make you soul relevant in your life, how can
you find spiritual relevance in your life. How can G-d be an
experience that is not just acceptable but that you embrace
in your life because you find that your soul helps you be more
creative, more successful, helps you have healthier relationships
with your spouse with your children, with your parents, helps
you deal with the difficulties and challenges of life, and helps
you access yourself, self-actualize. Anyone who can find a way
that that resource, that oil well as I mentioned, can help us
be better people will embrace that kind of G-d. And that is
the challenge of the show.
MIKE: Okay. So I realize that if Iím going to
ask a really hard question, Iím going to have to be responsible
enough to deal with the answer. I may want to watch the hockey
game, but Iíll figure it out by next week.
So the fact is, thereís a hockey game on right
now, but Iíll stick with this program because I do really want
to get beyond it.
The second part of this question is, here you
are, youíre a rabbi, youíre a Jew, youíre an Orthodox rabbi
to boot, now these kinds of divisions have created thousands
of years of warfare, of hatred, fear, prejudiceÖ do people need
to have any knowledge of Judaism to be Jewish, I mean, is this
show limited to people Ö
Listen, when you say G-d it triggers a negative
response in a lot of peopleÖ here you are, youíre Rabbi Simon
Jacobson, what is the necessityÖ do you need to be a card-carrying
member of any religion, let alone a Jew, to be listening, to
SIMON: Well, letís say another disclaimer. I just
wrote an article thatís been published called "Was Moses
Orthodox?" Obviously, my rhetorical question was meant
to address the issue of labels. When you say the word Jew, you
say the word Orthodox, you say the word Conservative or Reform,
you say the word secular, I tend to believe that most of us
tend to stereotype
Do we stereotype because it gives us a sense of
control in our lives or we like to file things, but we stereotype.
You see someone look a certain way, itís a knee-jerk reaction,
Oh, they belong to that group. If we can, we file people in
that way. But we hate when someone stereotypes us. I believe
the words that weíre using here, even Jew, and including definitely
Orthodox, have been stereotyped and thatís why I avoid using
any of these titles and labels, not because I cannot explain
myself or defend the position, but Iíd rather took about the
real issues that matter.
When you deal with anything thatís soul or spiritual,
the first thing you have to do is cut away from man-made labels,
or else it might as well not be spiritual, then itís another
industry. Itís not an industry weíre dealing with here. As I
said earlier, itís you. Itís your person. Your person canít
If I asked you, Mike, or asked any of the listeners,
who are you? So youíre going to tell me, Well Iím a radio show
host, or Iím a computer programmerÖ thatís not who you are,
thatís what you do. You will find that you will not really have
words that describe yourself, because youíre not the sum of
your parts, you can say, okay I have intelligence, I have emotions,
I have experiences, but itís still only components. Those are
manifestations of who you are. You can tell me about your interests;
you like music, you like jazz, you like hockey, whatever.
So I have to piece together a puzzle and say,
"Okay, Mike Feder has these types of qualities, but we
all know that this doesnít even begin to touch the surface.
It scratches the surface. When it really comes down to who you
are, actually conventional language is insufficient. Thatís
why we donít really use it, the containers are too small. The
intensity of a true intimate expression is insufficient in regular
language. Thatís why we create the language of metaphor, of
poetry, of music, art, more transcendental types of vehicles
so to speak.
The soul needs different tools than the body does
to function. The body needs arms and legs and food and drink
but the soul too needs nourishment. Itís nourishment comes from
something thatís compatible to it. It may be awareness of it.
Itís like a child, all it needs is awareness, so respect that
I exist. Is that a tangible? No. Because you canít buy that
in a store.
On the other hand, that can do more for a human
beingís welfare than all the food in the world. Love. Anxiety
is a voice of soul speaking to us when weíre in pain. Anxiety
means that thereís something misaligned, something inconsistent,
seamless. So the soul speaks to us, it speaks to us in voices,
that beckon and ask us for nourishment.
Unfortunately, most of our schooling in our homes,
we are not really taught how to respond to that call. So it
has all kinds of weird ways of acting out. Thatís what meaningful
life is about. Finding that type of deeper meaning. And thatís
why we cannot be afraid of questions. Everyone has to bring
their issues or else youíre not getting to the bottom line.
Because you want to get to that inner place. Thatís why I tend
to avoid all these languages and labels.
And letís speak about the things that really matter.
When people love. Is that much difference between one way of
loving and another way? This for me is what Judaism is all about.
Even though Judaism is a label, Jew, non-Jew, but for myself
what I was taught is that the Torah that was given at Sinai
from G-d is a blueprint, a manual, like an engineer creates
in a complex machine, and gives you a userís manual how to use
this machine in the best way possible.
I see the Torah as a universal blueprint for Jews
and non-Jews and it has a message for all of us. Obviously the
message has to be as diverse as we are as human beings, so clearly
thereís a message for Jews and a very powerful one, which we
may be able to touch upon.
Passoverís coming this week and thereís a universal
message of Passover to the entire world, and thereís also a
uniquely Jewish message but the key here is not labeling it.
Diversity between people, whether itís male or
female, or Jew and non-Jew, or black or white, or whatever way
people are distinguished, should not be used as a stereotype,
but used to appreciate that weíre different types of musical
notes in a large composition and every note has to be taught
how to play itís music.
MIKE: (Announcements) We are on air from 6 to
7 every Sunday evening, provided we donít get bumped by hockey,
lacrosse, womenís softball, or menís pole vaulting, we are going
to be here as regularly as possible every week.
Let me move on to something that occurred to me
when I was thinking about this program this morning. And this
is something that Iíve thought about for years. When Iíve read
Buddhist textsÖ this is a followup question to the issue of
labelingÖ what youíre saying is that there are various structures
of wisdom, thereís Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism,
all kinds of religions in the world, I hope Iím not slighting
anybody by leaving anything out, but I think later on a good
program would be to talk about comparative religions, different
wells of wisdom, why are they different, and how do they have
A question I want to ask you is, and this has
intrigued many people in my generation for a long time is, you
read the wisdom of the Buddhist monks, sometimes I read this
book the I Ching, the Taoist wisdom from thousands of years
ago, you can read the Old Testament, the New Testament, there
are rabbis, monks, saints, there are people who dedicate their
whole lives day and night to contemplating, if not living out,
a life of the spirit, of idealism, but the rest of us live in
a real hard world, a day to day world of bosses, of violence,
of greed on the street. That is, we donít live in an ivory tower.
Iím not suggesting that you do, but a lot of times when you
read about the sayings of people like this, these are people
who have isolated themselves in beautiful monasteries in faraway
places, they live and they study. They have support systems
where they donít have to work for a living where people pay
them just to study, to contemplate the soul and G-d, to do the
right thing. The rest of us are out there, we are run down by
taxes, by bosses, by my mayors who may be occasionally be out
of control, by differences of opinion, by wars, by landlordsÖ
you see what Iím driving at here.
How do we bring anything that we might say here
into our life day to day, what kind of meaningful life can we
have when we have to face these constant problems all the time.
Itís easy enough when people are spending their whole lives
doing this but here we are down on the ground, us mortals.
SIMON: Well, thatís precisely what makes life
meaningful, are the challenges. If we had no challenges of this
nature, it wouldnít be meaningful at all. Then it would just
be a prewritten script that consists of leading an ascetic life.
What Judaism teaches, and this is again a universal message
and Iíll use this even to apply it to the upcoming holiday of
Passover this week.
Passover is considered the mother of all holidays
as they say. The root of it all. Essentially the celebration
of freedom. Of a people coming out of slavery. Enslaved. And
experiencing true freedom. Obviously this was not just physical
freedom, but spiritual freedom. But the key, if you look at
how the holiday is celebrated, is not through ascetic climbing
a mountain, prayer and meditation alone, itís experienced at
a seder table, where there are special foods, thereís the matzah
and thereís the bitter herbs and wine. Thereís family. Itís
not sitting privately along meditating. One can say spiritual
freedom requires as you put it, escaping from, or at least insulating
oneself from a material world.
This is a theme weíll discuss quite often but
just simply put, the challenge of a life of meaning is to achieve
spirituality and spiritual serenity in a world of difficulties.
We all have those difficulties, whether itís the overburdening
employers, or the peer pressures to make ends meet. That is
the rush hour of our lives. Yet we also have a resource called
the spirit, the soul.
The challenge is, can you integrate the two, can
you create a partnership between the two. That without escaping,
without having to leave and separate yourself from this material
world, you can actually find spiritual peace and the key here
is not to see the body and the material life as an adversary,
but see it as an ally with potential.
The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic
movement, born 300 years ago this year, he cites a verse in
the bible that says, "When you see the donkey of your enemy
being overburdened by its burdens, donít ignore it. Itís incumbent
upon you, your responsibility is to help out even though itís
The way he translates it is this. The word chamor
in Hebrew also means chamor, coarse materialism,
matter. When you see the challenges of life, the difficulties
of life overburdening us, and you see them as your enemy, because
theyíre challenging what you find pure, theyíre taking you away
from your family, you donít have time for yourself, you donít
have time for your soul, you donít have time for G-d.
So you may think that they way to do it is to
ignore it, or to run away, asceticism, escapism. The answer
is no. "You go and assist it and help it. Because in there,
in the material world lies great potential. Your job is to channel
it, use that world, that material world, civilize it, and allow
it to become a conduit, an environment where itís spirit and
spirituality can be comfortable.
I know itís difficult but we all can do it, and
this is what this show is all about. We will discuss ways to
do it. And I want to make some suggestions here on the show
how we can do it.
None of us, youíre a working man, a working woman,
what are you going to do, break away from life and start anew?
There are ways in the details of your life, what
youíre doing right now, that you can achieve this. Knowing,
number one, that itís inside of you. You donít need to travel
somewhere on some mountain, to find your soul, to find G-d.
One of the Chassidic Rebbes once said, they asked
him as a little child, "Whereís G-d?" And he said,
"Wherever you let Him in."
So itís up to us to let Him in. Itís up to us
to recognize that we do have a well, a reservoir of resources
and we have to learn how to dig, he have to learn how to create
pails to draw the water, the oil, the resources and energy.
And to do that, the key is to find in your own material life,
meaningful life, meaningful day, from tying your shoelaces to
the most significant events, where is the spirit in that experience?
How can I allow it to emerge in my life and then it will spill
over and begin to affect you. Itís simple but difficult because
it requires a new habit, a new beginning.
I want to make a few suggestions, but I see you
have some skeptical question coming.
MIKE: I just got through reading a book called
The Snow Leopard by Peter Mathieson. Itís one of the
great spiritual journey books. Itís an ancient tradition. People
took journeys to the mountains, to the desert, in every religion
in every place in the world at all times, to test themselves.
When they went up on the mountains to find themselves.
Now why did people do these things? Why did people,
sometimes founders of whole religions, had to feel that they
had to out into a rough place, a different place, a quiet place.
Why is it that they found it necessary to do that if youíre
saying that we can deal with these difficult problems, we can
try to get in touch with ourselves, right smack in the middle
of the Big Apple hereÖ
SIMON: Great question.
MIKE: I loved this book The Snow Leopard. I
want to travel someplace where all I hear is wind chimesÖI donít
want to look at anyoneís face, I donít want to hear a radio.
Donít you agree that sometimes we all might need to get away
to clear our minds. How do you expect us to reach a soul in
the midst of this crazy place.
SIMON: Itís a good question. The answer lies in
that everything has itís time. Thereís a time to speak and thereís
a time to be silent. Thereís a time to experience what youíre
describingÖ Generally speaking the teachings that weíre dealing
with here, that the Torah teaches us is as follows:
Younger age or school years when youíre home are
essentially when you are on a mountain. Youíre protected, you
should be protected, youíre cared for, you donít have to be
working for your own living, in a healthy functional home. Children
are really building an arsenal, in a sense itís like a training.
All training has to happen not in time of battle. If youíre
training in time of battle, you will never get trained, so you
need to have a certain state of peace.
So childhood, educational years, is meant to achieve
that. Even in our day, and even in our busy schedules, there
are times where you need to take that day off, or that weekend
off, or even longer than that, sabbaticals, where you do the
equivalent of creating a cocoon, a womblike state, an insulated
state, but the question is whether you remain there.
The point Iím making is that of course we requires
moments like that, but the key is that thatís only a preparatory
stage. Now when you come into the battle you are well armed
and you have the resources and the skills with which to deal
with a tough life. And not only to be affected by the tough
world around us but to affect it. Because in life, it goes one
or two ways. Either you will be influenced or you influence.
Thereís no middle ground. And though itís appealing, the escapism,
I would say that there are times when you need that, there are
times when you definitely need that. A person should make time.
Essentially, part of the suggestions I was going to say was
creating such a space in time, but not be afraid and afterwards
to bring that into the world and into our lives.
But Iíd like to add, that my great teacher, the
Rebbe as they call him, this book TML is based on his teachings,
the Rebbe in the chain and in the line of many great Rebbes
before him all the way back to Moses, his birthday is today.
Itís the 11th of Nissan on the Hebrew
calendar, a few days before Passover, and I think itís appropriate
to mention that because though
MIKE: He would have been up in his 90ís by nowÖ
SIMON: Yes. He was born in 1902. So though I didnít
mention it earlier, much of the great impact and influence on
my life is his teachings and remain so. And I would say that
I wouldnít be aware of my soul the way I am were it not for
At the same time there are also stereotypes about
the Rebbe as well because not everyone knows who he is and what
he represents, but much of the teachings that we discuss here
today are directly influenced and impacted by him. I think itís
appropriate to mention that.
But now let me give you a suggestion or two.
MIKE: This is something I can take home with me
tonight, right? I can start working on right away? I want results
right away from this!
SIMON: Yes. They say whatever is built overnight,
dies overnight. But remember this. Everything begins at some
moment. The question is carrying it on, maintaining it. Hereís
We live in a rush hour in our lives. Weíre busy,
busy, busy, overwhelmed, making ends meet and things like that.
But in Jewish tradition thereís a beautiful and powerful tool
(I hope in every show we come away with some practical suggestion
that people can do something about). Or at least write to us
and give us your suggestions.
MIKE: Weíll give you your money back if it doesnít
SIMON: Itís called the Modeh Ani exercise. Weíll
call it the spiritual mission statement. Personal mission statement.
We hear a lot about mission statements. Businesses. Corporations.
Everyone needs a mission statement or else you cannot be focussed
enough to fulfill your objective. Especially when you have many
employees, many departments, there has to be some type of focus.
But if someone asked you as an individual, whatís
your personal mission statement, most people will say, well,
itís very complicated, if you have a few years, weíll discuss
it, or Iíve decided not to have one now. Iíll have one when
I retire, Iíll have plenty of time to think about it, or, I
have several options. Or I decided thereís no need for a mission
statement. Should anyone answer that in business, it would be
ludicrous. Whatís your objective? What are you trying to achieve?
So why is that we donít tolerate it in business
but we do tolerate it in our own personal lives. Simple. Itís
called accountability. In business thereís the debtors. Someone
comes knocking at the door because thereís a bottom line. If
you donít have a mission statement, you donít have an objective,
ultimately waste and inefficiency is going to seep in and it
will not be able to last.
In our personal lives, we donít have to answer
to anyone. So that lack of focusÖ
My submission is this. You think it does less
damage in your own life? No. It does worse damage. Except it
implodes instead of explodes. What do you think happens to a
person who day after day goes through the wear and tear of life.
Slowly the fragmentation of life, the billion little fragments
without any focusÖ
You know getting up in the morningÖ list the things
you did this morning, or yesterday, hundreds of things, when
you go home list everything youíve done, probably a hundred
and fifty items. I got up in the morning, I exercised, I showered,
I brushed my teeth, small business meeting,
Then try to create a thread between the items
and see how many items can be grouped into one common denominator.
You will find that very few can be. What happens is, it doesnít
sound like much, but day after day, week after week, decade
after decade of such fragmentation begins to erode the spirit.
Because thereís no one reason for being here. So you suddenly
wake up one morning and say, "What am I doing with my life?"
I may have money, I may be prosperous, I may have friends. I
may even be in a good marriage with good children. But thereís
So hereís a suggestion. In the morning, thereís
whatís called the Modeh Ani. As soon as you wake up, before
you do anything else, (nobody has a business appointment as
soon as they get up) the first conscious moments that youíre
awake, dedicate not to business, not to anything personal, thereís
a well-known prayer called "Modeh Ani" that says I
acknowledge to G-d (you donít even mention the name of G-d)
you say "I acknoweldge to You, for returning my soul to
Now this isnít just a thank you for life, but
itís more importantly, Iím thanking You for making me significant,
for making me indispensable, for being meaningful. That I am
meaningful and everything I do is meaningful. Just acknowledging
that but with focus. Not just lip service is a powerful powerful
exercise. When a person begins to do that every morning, youíll
see that that awareness begins to affect other areas, because
then you start thinking, well, how are the other things Iím
doing significant or not significant? So thatís my suggestion
for this opening show, Modeh Ani.
MIKE: Now if I do that every day, starting tomorrow
morning, when I come back next Sunday, Iíll report back to you.
SIMON: Yes. And next week Iíll tell you what to
do before you go to sleep! Because itís part of it. Essentially
itís creating an oasis, creating a space and creating a power
that a person begins to acknowledge that there are more forces
at work that meet the eye, that meets our own eye.
MIKE: Also that weíre not alone in the world.
Unfortunately we have to stop now. Youíve been
listening to Rabbi Simon Jacobson, author of TML, this is a
new program called "Toward a Meaningful Life" with
Simon Jacobson. And weíll be here every Sunday night between
6 and 6:56 pm. My name is Mike Feder and let me remind everyone
that we want your input. If you want to ask questions or make
comments, you can call a 1-800-3MEANING, or 1-800-363-2646,
or you can write to Meaningful Life Center, 788 Eastern Parkway,
Suite 303, Brooklyn, NY 11213. Email: email@example.com.
Weíd like to thank the people who have made this
show possible. Just this week weíd like to thank from the bottom
of our hearts James and Anne Altucher who are celebrating
the birth of their daughter Josie and they helped us very much
to get this first important show off the ground.
In the last few seconds do you have something
you want to say?
SIMON: I hope it gets harder and I hope that this
is a real journey for you and myself and for everyone who listens,
because there are so many issues that people are afraid to ask
about because they were silenced, that creating a platform is
in itself gratifying and itís a spontaneous situation, we donít
know where weíre headed and where weíre going.
I also want to wish all the listeners a happy
and kosher Passover. Wish is a celebration of freedom and may
this show be part of allowing that freedom to emerge to accessing
our souls. To remember that you and everything you do is meaningful.