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Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review August 18, 2006 / 24 Menachem-Av, 5766

Who, Me? Insecure?

By Rabbi David Aaron


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The Secret to Inner Peace


I've been involved in education for over 20 years, and I used to think that some people are secure and some people are insecure. But as I came to know my students on a deeper level, I discovered that none of them were truly secure. By definition, if you're human, you're insecure, because your existence doesn't have to be. You don't have to exist and yet you feel in same way you do because you are a soul, a spark of the absolute G-d.

When you sense that there's no reason for you to exist, you feel a certain absurdity in your own existence and yet you feel that can't be right. So you try to justify your existence, but is there something you could do that would make you necessary? Life will go on without you. That's the frightening meaning of death. Death continually tells you: "You don't have to be." Worse than death is the insidious insecurity which death fosters — the fear of death. The actual experience of death occurs only once to each of us. And for many of us, who may die in their sleep or suddenly of a heart attack, the experience of death will not even be painful. The fear of death, however, happens every single day; it is a chronic pain.

Why are we afraid of death? Because death reminds us that we are a mere possibility. We could be here today and gone tomorrow. We don't have to be. Even someone who is successful and important and having a major impact on the world could die suddenly without warning. That's why all Americans (over age 40) remember exactly where they were when they heard that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. JFK was the most important person in the United States. Not only was he the president of the world's most powerful country, but in the eyes of many Americans, he was in the middle of leading the country into a new era of idealism. He was indispensable. Then, one Friday morning, sometime between breakfast and sixth period geography, JFK was no more. A catastrophic reminder that we just simply don't have to be.

The whole Book of Ecclesiastes reiterates this idea of the existential condition of humanity being transient, unnecessary, and unreasonable: "Futility of futilities, all is futility." Life, the world, ourselves, all of it is nothing; it's a vapor. It looks substantive, but it doesn't have real substance. It's disposable.

Made of Free Will
Philosophers and scientists since ancient times have tried to figure out of what elements human beings are made. Kabbalah says we're made of free will. We are a free expression of G-d's free will. Our existence is only mere possibility. And this adds more fuel to the fire of our insecurity burning away at our feelings of significance. The substance of life is free will. But what is free will? Free will is pure possibility. And that's what we are.

Our essence is freedom. On the one hand, we strive to be who we are. And who are we? We are pure possibility, pure freedom. Therefore, we can't help but want to be free and do what we feel. Freedom gives us great pleasure. On the other hand, freedom gives us great pain.

Eric Fromm's classic Escape from Freedom elaborates on this idea that human beings also experience freedom as painful.

RABBI AARON'S NEW BOOK IS OUT

You can buy the book at a discount by clicking HERE. (Sales help fund JWR.).


We human beings live within a paradox. We want to be free, and we don't want to be free. We have a love-hate relationship with our freedom. We hate being free, because it reminds us that we are pure possibility, we're not necessary. Nothing we do has to be. We could do this or we could do that. We could do that or we could do this. And that's really frightening. What ultimate difference does my choice make? If freedom of choice means I can do what I please, then it means that what I do is arbitrary. It means what I do isn't necessary, because if it was necessary, then why would I have the freedom to choice? I would have to do it. But I don't have to do anything, because I'm free. This is why we hate freedom, because freedom reminds us of our insecurity.

People really want to be imprisoned. They don't necessarily want to be in a penitentiary, but they feel comfortable and safe in their own prison. They want to be able to say, "I had no choice. This is what had to happen." It feels good. That's why people go to psychics, to palm readers, to Tarot card readers. They want to be relieved of the burden of an uncertain future. "Tell me what has to be, so now I don't have to choose it." Freedom gives us pleasure, and freedom gives us pain. It expresses who we are — -manifestations of G-d's free will. But it also reminds us of who we are—mere possibility.

Escaping the Dilemma
Throughout the ages, human beings have devised various solutions to overcome their existential insecurity with being mere possibility and to relieve themselves of the pain of freedom of choice.

Solution Number One: Deny!

Denial is a fantastic way to deal with problems. I deny that I'm pure possibility. I'm not pure possibility. Who said I'm pure possibility? Who says the world is created at all? Who said G-d created the world out of free choice and the world didn't have to be? The world had to be. Nature is a necessary outcome, an expression of the absolute reality. Nature is merely a different mode of eternity.

This was Baruch Spinoza's position. The controversial 17th century theologian argued that nature is G-d. Nature is absolute. It wasn't created. It always was. It is. It will be. It is necessary. Man, as part of nature, is necessary. We're not possibility, not unreasonable. Man is a different mode of absolute reality. Therefore, freedom is an illusion. Everything is predetermined. Just like the seed becomes a tree, and the tree produces seed.

This view, known as pantheism, is essentially idolatry. What was the position of the idolater? Nature has to be. Nature is absolute, necessary reality. By merging with nature, humans achieve security.

Ancient man was insecure, so he found security by merging with nature.

If you ever wander around the ancient history wing of a museum, you may be surprised to see that many of the idols of pagan civilizations were animals. They idolized animals. Why would a human being idolize an animal? Because they believed that animals were on a higher level than human beings. They aspired to be animals, because an animal is purely natural, driven by instinct, uncomplicated by the crazy idea of free choice.

Modern paganism also idolizes nature. That's why the goal is to "flow with nature, to do what comes naturally." Of course, what comes naturally might be to kill your father or to leave your wife and kids to have fun with a sprite who is twenty years your junior. All kinds of heinous acts are perpetrated by seemingly good people who say, "It just came to me." The assumption is that if it is natural, it is good. This is idolatry.

This is why the Torah is so adamantly against idolatry.


Ye shall utterly destroy all the places wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods upon the high mountains and upon the hills and under every green tree. And ye shall overthrow their altars and break their pillars and burn their groves with fire and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods and destroy the names of them out of that place.

—Deuteronomy 12: 2-3


You may wonder why the Torah comes down so heavily on idolaters. I mean, what do you care if somebody feels like bowing down to a rock or a tree? It's a free world. If somebody wants to bow down to a rock or a tree, why should it bother me? Idolatry, however, isn't just about people bowing down to trees. It is deifying nature. Idolatry is a worldview where anything that is natural is good.

The worst outbreak of modern day paganism was Nazism. Essentially, Hitler was a pagan. Here's what Adolph Hitler, ym"sh, said in Mien Kampf:


In nature, there is no pity for the lesser creatures when they are destroyed, so that the fittest may survive. Going against nature brings ruin to man. It is only Jewish impudence to demand that we overcome nature.


Essentially, he was saying, when a lion devours a zebra, is that wrong? Isn't that what must be? Isn't that nature? The survival of the fittest is nature. We human beings shouldn't squelch our nature. It's only the Jews and their Torah who insist that you can overcome nature. Indeed, the Torah teaches that you must rise above nature by elevating everything natural rather than succumbing to it.

Again to quote from Hitler, ym"sh:


It is true we are barbarians. That is an honorable title to us I free humanity from the shackles of the soul, from the degrading suffering caused by the false vision called conscience and ethics. The Jews have inflicted two wounds on mankind: circumcision on its body and conscience on its soul. They are Jewish inventions. The war for domination of the world is waged only between these two of us, between these two camps, the Germans and the Jews. Everything else is but deception.


Hitler, ym"sh, was a true pagan, and he recognized that the set of beliefs which the Jews had brought to the world were antithetical to paganism.

Ritual circumcision, which brings a male baby into the Covenant of Abraham, makes a statement that nature can be improved upon by human spiritual aspirations. Conscience, the other "scourge" which Hitler correctly attributed to the Jews, obligates adherence to moral laws above "doing what comes naturally."

Paganism, by making nature absolute, is one solution to human existential insecurity. Another, opposite solution is to simply accept your existence as unnecessary, as absurd, as nothing. Strive to become nothing, which you essentially are.

Philosophies such as that advocated by Arthur Schopenhauer in the 19th century are based on this conclusion. So are some religions which strive to achieve "nothingness." All desires must be quelled, for desires inevitably lead to suffering. Some of these religions eschew all absolutes, including any G-d concept; a human being fulfills his or her highest potential by entering a state of nothingness.

Between believing that you are absolute or believing you are nothing; there is another way to solving the problem — the way of commandments.

Solving Insecurity
King Solomon in his Book of Ecclesiastes grapples with the devastating awareness that our existence is seemingly absurd:


Utter futility! Utter Futility! All is futile! What real value is there for a man in the gains he makes beneath the sun?


There's no substance to our life; we don't have to be.

But after describing a long journey of trial and error, anticipation and disappointment, after much painstaking personal spiritual turmoil, King Solomon surprises us with short and poignant ultimate answer:


In the end, after all is said and done, have reverence for G-d, and fulfill His commandments. Because that is the all of man.


How do fulfilling G-d's commandments solve our existential crisis of insecurity? How do commandment solve our conflict between the desire for freedom and yet the desire for feeling that who we are and what we do is necessary?

If you want to express your true self, which is a free being, and yet also feel that you are absolute and necessary, you will freely choose precisely that which you are commanded to do, that which you must do. And that brings resolve to the problem of your existential insecurity.

I overcome the insecurity of being unnecessary and fulfill my desire for freedom by choosing to do serve the One Who is necessary. And when you do that you experience the truth about yourself, which you intuited all along —you are a spark of the absolute G-d. And you will never die. You may leave your body and this world but you will exist eternally at one with G-d.

How do I (a being who is only pure possibility) bond with G-d, the absolute reality? Through the commandments, which contain the expressed will of G-d. I choose to do what I have to do and for the One Who has to be.

Unless a spiritual path can articulate for me the expressed will of G-d — telling me exactly what G-d requires of me, what I must do for G-d — there is no way I can ever bridge the gap between my futile human existence and G-d's absolute reality. I can never overcome my existential conflict between feeling like nothing and yet yearning for absolute existence.

Kabbalah teaches that a human being finds peace only in G-d. He will find no rest anywhere else. If we are restless and insecure it is because we have not committed ourselves to working for G-d. The more human beings yearn to connect with G-d in their lives and make G-d part of their lives by serving G-d, the more they experience absolute existence and inner peace.

The only way we can truly bond with G-d is by making His will our will. The commandments are the bridge between the human being who is pure possibility and the Divine who is the absolute reality. Through the commandments we experience ourselves as part of the Absolute; we discover that our true inner self is none other than an expression of the Absolute. We then feel filled with a profound sense of security and peace.

The solution to our existential insecurity is to make G-d's will our will and fulfill His commandments. When we freely choose to do what we must do and dedicate ourselves to serving the One Who must be, then we experience the truth about who we really are — eternal souls, expressions of the Absolute bonded with the Absolute.

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JWR contributor Rabbi David Aaron is the founder and dean of Isralight, an international organization with programming in Israel, New York South Florida, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Toronto. He has taught and inspired thousands of Jews who are seeking meaning in their lives and a positive connection to their Jewish roots.

He is the author of the newly released, Inviting G-d In, The Secret Life of G-d, and Endless Light: The Ancient Path of Kabbalah to Love, Spiritual Growth and Personal Power , Seeing G-d and Love is my religion. (Click on links to purchase books. Sales help fund JWR.) He lives in the old City of Jerusalem with his wife and their seven children.



© 2006, Rabbi David Aaron