Is it all about you?

Is it all about you? Or is it not about you at all?

Is it sometimes about you?

Is it somewhat about you?

Here’s how I see it:

It’s totally all about you, of course it is.

It would be silly if it weren’t.

If it’s not about you, then what’s the point? Why are you needed?

If it’s not about you, then God has some serious explaining to do why we exist in such a broken world, where so many people live broken painful lives (truth is, he is on the hooks for that regardless).

I’m asserting it’s completely about you.

AND it’s about you getting that it’s not about you. It’s about HIM. And everything that he’s about IS you.

Which means it’s about YOU.

You’ve gotta get that He’s madly in love with you man!!!

That’s radically amazing.

He desires to be with you, to live with you, within you in fact (bitoch kol echad viechad)!

Let that marinate for a bit.

Take the rest of the day to be curious about what He could possibly find so amazing about YOU that He is totally into you.

P.S. Check out what happened yesterday!

IMG_6127

 

Jews and Blacks running together, showing support for one another, being willing to stand for, and take action on, a different type of neighborhood vibe in Crown Heights.

Where were you?!?! Get in on this man for next month’s unity run!

Posted in Bittul

Jews And Blacks Unite (JABU) is launching this Sunday

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Reading Time: 3 minutes, 43 seconds. Contains 746 words  (calculated by http://niram.org/read/)

Skim Time: 2 minutes

 

My intention in this article is: to inform you of an exciting new possibility being created this Sunday for the two communities in Crown Heights: the black community and the jewish community. What is it? A solidarity jog where Jews and Blacks sweat together and show support for each other’s wellbeing.

————–

Ever since I’ve moved here to Crown Heights four years ago, something I’ve been shocked by is, how little relatedness there is between the two communities here in Crown Heights: the black community and the Jewish community.

I’m very clear and certain that both sides have good reasons, substantial reasons for this distance, even tension at times, between the two. Chassidim will point to the 1990 riots and the Jews who were killed or harmed then by black people. Other Chassidim, myself included, have been mugged or harassed by black youth in the community.

The black community has its own good reasons and its own substantial basis for the tension that exists.  I don’t know them as well as I’d like to, but I know they exist.

Let’s be honest. We’re not the easiest bunch to live with. Even God said so (rough paraphrasing here from the Torah: “You guys are so frikin stubborn…you’re lucky I love you so much” says God.) Besides which, there are some jews within our community that have a bit of a bias against black people and black people in the neighborhood have experienced that.

All of which is to say, we’re both of us, human beings with faults and selfish concerns that we live with and which, sometimes even run us. We both tend to stereotype the other. All that means is we have a brain without an off switch.

Great, so we all have a complaint; now what?

Now, some people would like to say there is no real issue, that this is a made up issue, or that it’s just another attempt to portray us in a bad light.

Look, the truth is…there is nothing wrong with the way things are right now.

Really.

We’ve all been getting by, and life is showing up and we’re all dealing with that.

A great many jews here maintain a respectful space for the black community. A great many black people maintain a respectful space for the jewish community.

This isn’t about making right something that is wrong.

This is about blowing the roof off of this big ole thang called the Crown Heights community.

It’s really about the possibility that both communities, in their entirety maintain a respect and dignity for the other even while acknowledging how very different the other is.

So if the goal is to create relatedness, support, even trust between the two communities here, how to do it?

I started stopping almost every black person I saw on the streets and talking to them about the current state of affairs as well as what they think is possible for our communities. This led to many fruitful and beautiful conversations with amazing human beings but no answer.

Finally, one day on the subway, I suddenly discovered the perfect solution. It was great and dealt with both problems.

A monthly solidarity run.

Imagine it: no talking, no figuring out who is at blame for what, or even who can step up to do X Y or Z.

Just male human beings, some jewish, some black, jogging together and showing support for each other’s wellbeing. Taking a stand for what’s possible instead of how it’s always been.

I sweat; you sweat; we all sweat.

[Like the story with Reb Mendel Futerfas who would do mivtzoyim by stopping people on the street and saying. "I jewish, I teffilin, you jewish, you teffilin."

Now, that's achieving relatedness with speed!]

I mean it’s crazy.

If there are any two groups that should be standing shoulder to shoulder it’s jews and blacks, arguably the two most harassed and beat-up-on communities in the world.

We’ll be joined by some courageous and beautiful black human beings who will be taking a stand with us!

So … what do you say?

Will you create a neighborhood where both communities maintain a respectful dignity of the other and even have lines of connection between the two?

Hell, what else are you doing this Sunday besides making a difference ;)

This Sunday, April 19th at 11am, we will be gathering by Eastern Parkway and Kingston and jogging to Prospect Park.

Please email me at berryschwartz [at] gmail to let me know if you’ll be there, if you might be there or just your two cents.

 

 

P.S. What this is not about:

1. This is not about any sort of interfaith dialogue where jews and non-jews have conversations about their religions’ similarities or differences.

2. This is not even about jews and non-jews per se. This is about jews and blacks, neighbors in this community, standing for each other and investing in a respectful relatedness between the two communities.

3. This is not about any specific agenda or hoped-for-outcome. This is simply human beings, some of whom are jewish and some of whom are not AND have dark skin color, coming together to show support for each other’s wellbeing.

P.P.S. If you found this article in any way helpful, empowering or insightful, OR if you disagreed with it and yet it had you come alive and start thinking about what really matters to you AND you want to give something back to me, I have a request of you!

Share it with two people you suspect might like it, resonate with it, or even strongly disagree with it.

Find me on facebook http://on.fb.me/1vOyXKU or twitter http://bit.ly/1BtOnFD or shoot me an email berryschwartz[at]gmail[.com] to let me know how my content is working (or not) for you.

With much humility, fragility and awe at the possibility of you creating lasting change in your life,

Berry Schwartz

Posted in Projects

When some questions are not welcome at the Seder table

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Are there questions that, if people asked you at the seder tonight, would make YOU personally uneasy?

Consider that, in many Jewish homes tonight, while four questions will be received with open arms, many other questions won’t be such as:

1) tatty, how do we REALLY know hashem exists?

2) tatty, if hashem loves us so much and took us out of mitzrayim, why does he stop loving me if I forget to daven?

3) tatty, why do we do mitzvahs? Isn’t it possible to have a happy, fulfilled and meaningful life without them?

4) tatty, if its not possible, then aren’t we really doing the mitzvahs for ourselves so that WE get to have happy meaningful lives?

5) tatty, if torah and mitzvahs make us so special and happy and full of purpose, how come you always seem anxious and even yell at mommy and us sometimes but John next door never does?

6) tatty, if torah makes us so powerful and great and on fire, how come you never speak about your sister and haven’t spoken to her in 5 years?

7) tatty, would you love me if I didn’t keep torah?

8) tatty, you’re looking upset by all these questions. I thought all questions are welcome!

(To be clear, I’m ok with any answers to any of these questions, even the answer of don’t ask questions, as long as it is working for the person giving that answer…the only thing I’m not ok with is pretending to welcome ALL questions when that is not the case.

If this comes across as me sounding angry, resentful, or even frustrated then I have been misunderstood and apologize for not being clearer.

Nothing is wrong. It’s simply a matter of getting more effective at creating environments where our youth truly can ask any and every question without us making their asking of that question mean anything about them or us. )

Posted in Chinuch

How a Litvak attacking me on the train showed me the power of a united frum jewish nation

A litvak attacked me on the train this past week!

Here’s what happened:

 

With much humility, fragility and awe at the possibility of you creating lasting change in your life,

Berry Schwartz

Posted in Uncategorized

How owning your greatness – not shying away from it – can create a natural graceful humility in your life

Reading Time:  8 minutes, 5 seconds. Contains 1617 words (calculated by http://niram.org/read/)

Skim Time: 4 minutes

 

My intention in this article is: to provide a pathway for you to both, own your greatness and not shy away from it AND not have that be a barrier between you and people or have you feeling better than other people; quite the contrary in fact!

——

 

If you’re kinda amazing (and I’m very very clear you are), then how can you be humble?

Let’s use me as an example for this.

Berry Schwartz is a talented individual (gosh gosh blush blush that’s me!) and he knows it.

I do.

I’m extremely gifted at being with people and their raw, messy emotions. I’m slowly becoming talented at speaking and presenting. I’m a quick learner and pick up new ideas and talents quite fast. I’m developing myself to the point where my word is law for me. If I say I will do X, or I will be there by Y, it will be done. And if it isn’t I will clean up the mess and make it right. Let me tell you, that type of work with yourself is brutal, but it’s moving. Like… it’s really becoming that way for me gradually. I’m a pretty good writer (I don’t think I am but people tell me so), have a big brain and intelligence, can consume information rapidly, and, to some extent I know what I don’t know about life. I have a powerful work ethic and focus I can draw on. I’m getting competent (but nowhere near mastery yet) at having people around me see radical results on what’s important to them.

I’ve also worked part-time in law school as a copywriter while still being in the top 15% of my class, created a website/blog and begun a conversation in our community, created a monthly gathering group in my home, begun organizing a monthly solidarity run between black men and jewish men in crown heights, AND been an amazing husband and father (so my wife tells me).

Now, most people, especially in chabad communities, I think, would shy away from that. When they start noticing how great they are, they   start to kind of bend themselves and their brain away from that awareness. And in so doing, they would be losing so much freedom and power to just be with who they are.

I know I’m amazing.

I also know that I know it.

I also know that I don’t feel superior to anybody else AT ALL.

How is that possible?

Well, let’s take a look.

But first, let’s look at what humility is most definitely not (at least in my world).

Humility for most people seems to be a very rational and calculated thought process. It goes something like this.

- they start realizing they’re excelling at something

- they naturally begin to feel good about themselves or just aware of the contrast to other people’s capabilities in this area

- they perceive this as an issue

- they engage in a rational give and take to reduce the perceived contrast

For mussarniks, that might be something along the lines of focusing on sins, focusing on areas of failure, contrasting yourself to those yet greater than you in your area of excellence and so on.

For chabadniks, that goes something along the lines of:

“I think I’m so smart, but my intelligence is not really my own. I really didn’t do anything to deserve it. I’m not better than anyone else because of it. The truth is I’m really just fortunate that G-d gave it to me, and I need to be more grateful for it. I mean, it is true that I’ve developed it somewhat, but so what? Anything else would have been a waste; it’s not like I’m so great because of that. Besides, even what I did achieve wasn’t on my own. Without everything my parents and my teachers did for me, I never could have come this far. Plus, maybe if those guys I make fun of were given this gift, they would’ve done even more with it. So why am I trying to feel important just because I’m smart? That’s not what makes me important. If there’s anything that really does, it is that G-d created me and gave me a purpose. I have a relationship with Him and a truly important responsibility in this world. Nothing can ever take those away from me, and if I have that intrinsic importance, then I don’t have to make myself important. I am already important to G-d. I can just calm down and focus on what needs to be done”

[Taken from the winning essay of the MLC contest. Full disclosure, I submitted an article so make of that what you will :) ]

Notice the individual shying away from taking ownership of their greatness. The attribution keeps being moved from the individual to others, parents, teachers, environment and so on.

Nothing wrong with that. But it’s a very calculated process (almost convoluted).

Personally, this kind of rationalization doesn’t work for me.

For a couple reasons but mostly because I believe in taking ownership of your work.

Yes, I do have a big brain I was blessed with but so were others, and they didn’t achieve the same excellence I did. I am the one who put in the effort and the time and the commitment.

If someone else was me, i.e. had my brain and predispositions etc…they might have achieved what I’ve achieved? Not likely. We all have free choice. Hakol bidei shamayim chutz miyiras shamayim. The fact that I’m working on myself to the point where someone can be upset with me and instead of getting upset too, I can deal with what they’re committed to, what their real communication is (which is almost never just the emotion) is amazing.

And I’m doing it. No one else.

Engaging in this very cerebral dance just seems krum and crooked to me.

Besides which, the very rationalization and cognitive back and forth about this excellence you have is itself the lack of humility!

If humility is forgetting about yourself for a bit, then how can you focus on that?

See, by focusing on that you’re again focused on yourself and what you need to do/become and before you know it … you’re back at square one: YOURSELF AND THINKING ABOUT YOURSELF.

It’s like the joke about the bochur was was a genius but full of himself so they sent him off to a great Rav to learn some humility and when he came back he said…before I was pretty great but now I’m REALLY great because I’m also humble!

I actually was this bochur in the joke!

I remember so vividly in 8th grade in my Litvish school being one of maybe three kids out of hundreds who stayed inside the beis midrash every recess to learn Torah.

Hahaha. We KNEW how special we were, and God did we have chips on our shoulders. And our teachers encouraged that!

We really wore our status of “future talmidei chachamim” on our shoulders and  felt superior to everyone else who was too “weak” to come learn during recess.

So how was I humble then? I wasn’t, but I sure forced myself into thinking I was. I had these really complicated calculations about each kid that , if he was me, he would be doing even more than I was.

So does being humble require being ignorant or lacking awareness of how amazing I am?

No.

Is it thinking about your sins or failures?

Is it me sitting down to reflect on all the areas of my life where I’m anything but great?

The fact that I let my brain take me down some days, down the rabbit hole of anxiety and worrying about the future? The fact that I don’t keep all the mitzvos all the time? The fact that I sometimes am not there for my family in the way I know I could be? The fact that I get angry at God, myself and family sometimes? My lack of clarity about the future? My occasional unwillingness to see the beauty in my life and instead just seeing what I don’t have? The jealousy I feel towards those I perceive as more successful than me? The fact that it’s hard for me to take criticism without getting caught up in looking and defending myself.

Sure I could go there and think about that and maybe fit my heart into the box of feeling small and less than others.

But my God for what? That is so odd for me. It’s so forced and effortful, it’s, dare I say it, snaglike (I kid, I kid).

Then what is humility?

It’s not a brain thing. You can’t get it by pushing for it. You can’t really get it by having these calculations.

Humility is not thinking less of yourself it’s thinking of yourself less. [Read that again]

And not by thinking about how much you need to be thinking less of yourself. It’s a natural graceful thing. It happens when you’re not looking to it and for it.

And it happens when you start to really see people and be struck by how frikin beautiful they are. How incredible they are.

AND THEY DON’T EVEN KNOW IT USUALLY!

Last week, I’m sitting on the four train, and I’m literally crying looking at all the human beings in that train and just seeing so much beauty and wonder.

Ahhh!

You think there’s any chance I can feel superior to others when I see the beauty and wonder that human beings are?

Not likely.

Because when you’re engaged in seeing people, looking past the surface, what you see, what you find, makes it impossible to feel haughty no matter how much excellence or achievements you’ve collected.

So maybe you don’t need to look away from your areas of excellence or how amazing of a human being and Jew you are.

Maybe you can double down, take ownership of your greatness and be complete with who you are.

And maybe when you do that, you start to REALLY feel humbled at the beauty of the people around you.

MAYBE.

Hell, what do I know.

 

Thank you to Jacky Stern, Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe and Rabbi Pesach Sommer for reading a draft of this article and providing insightful feedback.

P.S. Here’s what I’m NOT SAYING:

I’m not saying that it’s wrong to engage in a calculated thought-conversation to make yourself feel smaller by focusing on areas where you don’t seem to be great.

I’m not saying it’s all or nothing…perhaps a blend of the two could work for YOU.

I’m not saying that it’s ALWAYS good to own your greatness (though I may believe that).

 

P.P.S. If you found this article in any way helpful, empowering or insightful, OR if you disagreed with it and yet it had you come alive and start thinking about what really matters to you AND you want to give something back to me, I have a request of you!

Share it with two people you suspect might like it, resonate with it, or even strongly disagree with it.

Find me on facebook http://on.fb.me/1vOyXKU or twitter http://bit.ly/1BtOnFD or shoot me an email berryschwartz[at]gmail[.com] to let me know how my content is working (or not) for you.

With much humility, fragility and awe at the possibility of you creating lasting change in your life,

Berry Schwartz

Posted in Stam

I’m Frum And I’m Proud – That’s Right, I Said It!

 

Reading Time:  4 minutes, 53 seconds. Contains 977 words (calculated by http://niram.org/read/)

Skim Time: 2 minutes

 

My intention in this article is: to clear up the confusion I see arise around the word frum and in the process to have you take a look at what the level of your commitment to halacha is.

Here’s a one paragraph summary of the article: frum = giving your word and committing to what God wants, i.e. halacha (if you believe that) as a whole system. It does not correlate neccesarily to behavior or how much you do but rather whether you’re comfortable being known as someone who is committed to halacha.

 

——–

So many observant jews I know detest the term ‘frum’. I do too at times. It just seems that no label could exist that would do justice to the complexity of people’s relationships to Judaism, God and Halacha.

As one of my readers wrote to me in response to my last post:

“As I told a Rabbi a few months ago, I’d rather be browsing the internet on a Saturday as opposed to sitting around a Shabbos table where gossip is being consumed along with Kiddush. Nuff said.”

Is someone who breaks Shabbas but is absolutely given over to not gossiping and engaging in lashon hara as a direct result of their commitment to halacha, are they “frum”?

Maybe they’re even better than someone who keeps shabbas but gossips at the shabbas table! After all, the Gemara says that lashon hara is like murder, adultery and idol worship?!

But after all is said and done, I think there is value in the term frum. And I think there is a definition of that term that would capture that value.

Frum = someone who is committed to halacha as an actual commitment. Meaning, someone who has given their word, literally given their word to God to respect and honor the boundaries that halacha sets up.

Now, this doesn’t mean that a frum person doesn’t have lapses, even serious lapses in their performance and observance of halacha. But their lapses are seen within the context of a breakdown in performance and adherence to halacha and are recognized as issues to be worked on.

Take me for example. Most people would consider me a frum person right?

Certainly I look it with the beard!

And yet, I have serious lapses and failures in performance. There are days I don’t wear tzitzis…there are days I don’t daven…days I come close to trimming my beard…days I speak lashon hara… Mondays and Thursdays I don’t hear kriyas hatorah (notice the jarringness of the earlier examples and the relative casualness to my “confessing” I speak lashon hara occasionally – how interesting)…BUT all these lapses are seen as issues and real problems, and when they occur, I engage with them from a place of how-can-I-ensure-this-won’t-happen-next-time type of thing.

I.e. frumkeit is a place to come from, a position you take, a platform of commitment. It does not correlate necessarily to behavioral actions or to how much, i.e. the quantity of things being observed. Instead it is a contextual thing. It is a notice of where the person is coming from. AND it is an ease with being known as a halachic jew, one who is committed to being there for God, a comfortability with what you are. Have you ever heard a black southern baptist preacher talk or met one? Let me tell you, they’re at ease with who they are and being known as someone committed to their church.

IT’S CRAZY that frum people don’t have that! And I think it’s because we think in terms of behavior.

“How can I say to this stranger, yes I’m frum when I missed maariv last night.”

Instead of, “Heck yes, I’m frum and proud and I’m committed to God and halacha. Yes I have lapses. So what? WHO I AM is built on what I’m committed to, not on my weak moments, my failures, my foibles!?”

Just think about a husband who clearly tells his wife, “Every Tuesday, consider us unmarried. I will not be there for you and any commitments I gave you, are not commitments for me on Tuesdays.”

Or a husband who says, “When it comes to finances, you’re on your own and I will contribute nothing to you.”

We would say there is something fundamentally lacking in his “marriedness” in his commitment.

And yet, a husband who doesn’t say that but instead, often (maybe even more than once a week like in the above example) is not there for his wife, is not fundamentally lacking in his marriedness.

To be sure, there is a serious issue with his performance but the wholesomeness and integrity of his commitment is solid. He is coming from the place that he should be there for his wife every day, in every issue.

Yes, he often isn’t. But those lapses are seen as failures of performance and will be addressed to the extent he is able to in the current moment (depending on his character and what he is currently dealing with in life).

That is like me not wearing tzitzis or not davening. It doesn’t alter my commitment to God, it doesn’t alter my belief in how important, even vital, these mitzvos are.

This also works within various groups of Jewry. A modern orthodox woman who keeps everything her posek says, even when its not convenient or uncomfortable may be frum, even with her wearing pants and not covering her hair, while the litvak who gossips and doesn’t even see it as an issue, or the chassid wearing two pairs of tefillin but who talks during kriyas hatorah as a matter of course without even being committed to changing that, indeed doesn’t even relate to it as an issue, are both not actually frum.

Their failures are not lapses in performance and are not even seen as such. Rather, they’re committed to parts of halacha but not to all of halacha.

I think this is an important distinction because it has value in clarifying where someone stands.

You know, I rarely wear a kappote, and yet, in my mind I am totally a kappote-wearing chabadnik, I have a commitment in the matter (though I have serious lapses here). Yet, someone else might in actuality wear a kappote much more often than me, and yet, declares that he is not a kappote-wearing chabadnik, he has no commitment to it and thus is not a kappote-wearing chabadnik even though he wears it more than I do!

 

 

Thank you to Shternie Kagan and Tzvi Bleich for reading a draft of this article and providing valuable feedback.

P.S. Here’s what I’m NOT SAYING:

I’m not saying what you hold valuable in your heart is more important than what you do (though I might believe that).

I’m not saying that it’s a free for all and that as long as you have a system of halacha that you commit to, you’re frum. I.e. there are poskim beyond the pale (an obvious example would be reform, reconstructionist etc…)

 

P.P.S. If you found this article in any way helpful, empowering or insightful, OR if you disagreed with it and yet it had you come alive and start thinking about what really matters to you AND you want to give something back to me, I have a request of you!

Share it with two people you suspect might like it, resonate with it, or even strongly disagree with it.

Find me on facebook http://on.fb.me/1vOyXKU or twitter http://bit.ly/1BtOnFD or shoot me an email berryschwartz[at]gmail[.com] to let me know how my content is working (or not) for you.

 

With much humility, fragility and awe at the possibility of you creating lasting change in your life,

Berry Schwartz

Posted in Foundational

My Commitment To Non-Frum Jews

Reading Time:  6 minutes 31 seconds (calculated by http://niram.org/read/)

Skim Time: 4 minutes

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My intention in this article: is to have you take a raw look at how you relate to other jews, particularly within the context of judaism, and particularly with jews who are not receptive to your message.  I do this by giving you a window into my own struggle and journey on this. First it was about mitzvos, then it was about jewish souls, then it was about God. And now it’s about jews, wherever they are currently consciously holding. 

 

———

This past Yom Kippur, something astonishing happened that gave me real clarity on on a dilemma I had been wrestling with for a while.

I was outside a shul in Manhattan, when I get a tap on the shoulder.

It’s an older looking guy, probably in his fifties, bald, with the type of eyes that tell you he’s been through a couple rough patches in his life, and the type of forehead that tells you, his big brain only made it worse.

“Can I speak to you?” he says.

“Sure thing” I respond.

He gives me another once-over with those rough eyes. “I’m 53 years old and I’ve never broken my Yom Kippur fast…but I think I will tomorrow morning.”

Ok, now I’m interested.

I won’t go into all the details of his life (BT then into Breslav, then Chabad, then Litvish, then Carlebach then a PHD in Kabbalah then separated from wife and living with Jamaican girl) but I got something out of that experience that produced a clarity for me.

This man was clearly (he said as much) breaking Yom Kippur because he felt hurt and rejected from his community and because his teacher and rav had stabbed him in the back. And, no matter how long we spoke, he couldn’t shake the power of that story and narrative he had spun. That he simply HAD to break his word to God because someone else broke their word to him (?!).

And that night, I got clear on what my motivation and intention is in dealing with non-frum jews with respect to Judaism (and sometimes this holds true even for frum jews).

You see, I’ve been conflicted about this for some time and had quite the evolution on this.

As a Lubavitcher, I’ve had the privilege and opportunity to do mivtzoyim.

Mivtzoyim, of course, is where Lubavitchers take to the streets and stores to invite jews to learn Torah, put on tefillin, light shabbas candles and a great many other things besides.

And the truth is, I’ve struggled with mivtzoyim over the last couple years.

The motivation for me has not been clear for a long time.

It used to be, for me, about getting jews to do mitzvot, with the emphasis on the mitzvah.

I used to go down Melrose Avenue in L.A. every Friday feeling like a polar bear emerging from his winter den clumsily shaking off the icicles all over his neck. As a child, I used to imagine that my dad turned into a polar bear when he put on his tallis and for a long time, I thought of myself as a kind polar bear.

You know, I sometimes really forgot there was a world out there, so intensely focused as I was on yeshiva and learning.

And then, the World would smack me upside the head every friday, insisting that, no, no, it was still here and how!

And I would focus on getting out there, and getting the mitzvah.

But as I learned more chassidus and shed my litvish upbringing, I realized that God actually cares about jews first and foremost, not mitzvot.

So then it became about being there for jews, not necessarily mitzvot. You know, giving jews the opportunity to get in touch who I believed they really were: their godly soul.

But then, that became hazy for me as well, at some point.

Although it’s a longer conversation, the short of it was that it just seemed that the lawyers and florists and doctors and janitors and travel agents were more humoring me (or even humoring Judaism) then actually getting anything out of it.

To be sure, there were many exceptions and many jews who genuinely appreciated and thoroughly gained from the weekly visit but they were not in the majority, at least for me.

Now, I believed that their soul was being nourished from the weekly visit and yet it didn’t seem enough. I wanted to have an actual impact on them. I wanted to be able to relate to them where they are now, with who they hold themselves out to be right now! And standing in where they are right now, to have an impact THERE. In this world, and not “just” on a soul level.

And one day, frustrated with the lack of tangible impact, I declared that, really, I was doing this for God. Because HE cares about jews and deeply desires a relating to them and them to him, so, ok, I’m taking a stand for God.

I was a God hustler.

And that was so simple and cool.

But then, like a year or two ago, that stopped working for me.

There are many many jews who truly await the spunky penguin-like chabad boys who boisterously and joyously descend upon them every friday. They really appreciate the opportunity and convenience of doing the mitzvah, hearing some Torah, getting some shabbas candles and so on.

But what about those who don’t? How was I to relate to them? Ignore where they are holding in life and who they hold themselves out to be because I believe their soul and God will both be delighted in their begrudging mitzvah?

Don’t get me wrong. I actually believe in that theological and metaphysical truth.

I just couldn’t do it when the person in front of me was so not holding there.

But this Yom Kippur episode resolved it all for me!

My commitment is to facilitate you dealing with your Judaism and your relationship to God from a place of clarity and power not from a place of hurt, confusion or reaction.

In other words, I’m not committed to specific results such as a non-frum person becoming frum.

My beliefs are that every jew has a godly soul that, when given some nourishment will rear its gorgeous head and make itself known and expressed.

But when I’m speaking to you, relating to you, and getting down and dirty with you, I’m focused on YOU. Not on any other person or factor – not even God and not even on your soul.

I’m committed that people don’t break Yom Kippur from a reaction to a lot of hurt and shame and story that a person might be suffering from.

I’m committed that people don’t let the parts about Judaism or God they DON’T like stop them from getting real juicy with the parts they do like IF THAT’S WHAT THEY ACTUALLY WANT. And sometimes it takes a while of conversing until they get in touch with that that is what they want and that’s ok. Sometimes it takes a while for people to realize that they DO want their bf/gf/job/family etc… back in their life. God is no exception, Torah is no exception and Judaism is no exception.

I’m committed that they get access to dealing powerfully with the parts they don’t like and growing.

But my commitment is to them, to their clarity, to their journey, to where they’re holding and who they hold themselves out to be right now.

I happen to believe that when the static is gone and the person’s misconceptions about life, God and Self are cleared up, they almost can’t help but embrace Judaism… and I’ve seen this time and time again.

It’s certainly not true for everyone and this doesn’t mean that everyone who leaves Judaism has life issues. (I’m not even talking about “issues” in the normal sense, in the sense that most people think when hear the word issue.)

Is that right?

Likely not.

Fact is…I’m wrong more than I’m right.

Thank you to Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe, Dr. Susskind, Shternie Kagan, and Tzvi Bleich for reading a draft of this article and providing insightful feedback.

P.S. Here’s what I’m NOT SAYING:

I’m not saying this is the only right way to approach your commitment to other jews’ judaism.

I’m not saying that it’s wrong to relate to someone’s soul instead of where they are currently consciously holding.

I’m not saying it’s either/or.

I’m also not just trying to dress up my commitment to other jews’ judaism in a more palatable or “progressive” vibe.

P.P.S. If you found this article in any way helpful, empowering or insightful, OR if you disagreed with it and yet it had you come alive and start thinking about what really matters to you AND you want to give something back to me, I have a request of you!

Share it with two people you suspect might like it, resonate with it, or even strongly disagree with it.

Find me on facebook http://on.fb.me/1vOyXKU or twitter http://bit.ly/1BtOnFD or shoot me an email berryschwartz[at]gmail[.com] to let me know how my content is working (or not) for you.

 

With much humility, fragility and awe at the possibility of you creating lasting change in your life,

Berry Schwartz

Posted in Foundational

I’m small, petty and jealous – and that’s awesome!

oh_yeah______by_jollyjack-d6cypdv

Reading Time:  5 minutes, 56 seconds (calculated by http://niram.org/read/)

Skim Time: 3 minutes

 

My intention in this article is: to give you some freedom from feeling bad from petty and small thoughts that most human beings have…or even simply to stop having them have a say about who you are to yourself or others.

Here’s a one paragraph summary of the article: I’ve been frustrated lately and jealous of others in the public sphere. I no longer am because I no longer confuse who I am with the ramblings of my brain!

————

I’ve been so frustrated lately.

You see, I want to be making a difference for people in real time in real life..

And yet, I keep coming back to this prison of myself.

I keep being distracted by: “How will I make enough money? How will I be a great parent? How will I be more committed and more present with my wife and family? What’s going to be with my career? What’s going to be with my avodas hashem? How will I arrange this project that I committed to?”

And on and on.

Those would not be so bad by themselves. They’re pressing concerns but not embarrassing concerns.

Then come the petty shameful concerns…the concerns that make me feel small and ugly.

“Why is person X getting to write about issues that I deeply care about and taking a stand for something while I’m not? I want to take a stand on creating change in the community, I want to be heard, I want to share my vision and my thoughts and connect with others around these issues. I want, to have a voice making a difference on this and I want, WHOAAA DARE I SAY IT, I want that voice to be MINE!”

I even start comparing stats, how many people liked my posts, how many people replied on my email subscriber list when I sent out that last article, how many shares did I get. Ha!

Jolts of jealousy shock me and my stomach mutates into a petting zoo of jellyfish.

Am I really so small and petty? Do I really think the world is a zero-sum feeding frenzy of people jostling for the limited change possible? Is this me?!

And here, my friend is where it gets messy and murky.

I become sad and upset and angry at myself. I call myself names. I envision how horrible people would think of me IF ONLY they knew how small and ugly I really am inside!

(The jellyfish have now had babies.)

And then, two weeks ago, I got something that transformed this for me, it gave me some space around this issue.

What I realized is that acting small is not so bad at the end of the day. It’s the shame, confusion and upsetness that rides that train which is so disgruntling, self-defining and corrosive.

Chassidim, being the deliciously witty and awesome human beings that they were, knew this well. They used to say, its not the sin the yetzer hara is after, its what comes after the sin.

BUT SEE HERE’S THE THING!

How many times had I heard that at farbrengens and yet I never truly EXPERIENCED it!

You see, here’s the thing. We give wayyyyyy too much credence and significance to thoughts.

Ever felt jealous of someone else’s success in a field you desperately want to create change in?

Ever been attracted to a woman not your wife?

Ever felt bad for hoarding a limited resource out of fear of scarcity?

Ever stereotyped a minority and felt bad?

Ever judged someone crassly without any reason and felt small afterwards?

Sometimes we don’t even THINK these things! Like, we’re not even thinking them, we’re just thoughting them!

It’s just the chatter of a brain that doesn’t have an off button, that shares many traits with animals (in fact in many ways has traits no animal has, such as a capacity for pleasure in someone else’s pain), that simply has you on survival mode for most of the time, that simply spouts forth some jumble of sensations and thoughts and feelings.

And then, WE GET UPSET OVER IT!! What a frikin joke. LOL.

Are you your brain? Are you your thoughts? Are you your feelings? Do you EVEN control your thoughts and feelings?

My goodness, it’s comical that we get upset over these things.

And just like that, I had so much freedom from the jealousy, from the pettiness, from the smallness.

Because what was happening was that I was taking ownership of something that is not ME.

I was allowing my ME to be defined by something that is, most decidedly, NOT ME.

Instead, I let go of needing to be the “type” of person who doesn’t think those things. I let go of trying to figure out who I am based on those thoughts! I stopped looking at my life and inner world like a forensic analyst sweeping a crime scene, trying to piece together who I am.

“Oh, did I have those thoughts of jealousy and ego? Ah. I must be a small person. Damn. I wish I wasn’t. That sux. Let me go feel bad about myself now.”

Instead, I experienced a sense that I don’t need to do that. I get to say who I am, no one else. Not my thoughts, not my chatter, not the twinges of my heart and body but ME. The part of me that is beyond my thoughts and feelings. What we might call the Self or the Soul.

[And the coolest part? As often happens, whenever I experience something truly remarkable, something that gives me real freedom in life as it happens in real time (and not as some concept about freedom), I realized, MY GOODNESS IT'S ALL IN CHASSIDUS (to wit, chapter 28 of Tanya...).]

I think that freedom comes to us when we let go of having to take ownership for the smallness of our brain and create a sense of self that is larger than our thoughts and feelings. An I or ME that is defined by our values, our commitments and our beliefs instead of our moods, our thoughts and our feelings.

And the sense of freedom that comes from not having to hide those common thoughts is TREMENDOUS.

A friend of mine recently met me and my brain was having all these thoughts about how this friend is an obnoxious good for nothing because he didn’t pick up my calls for a week. So instead of hiding that thought and having it essentially run the conversation because I would be positioning everything I say to not let that upsetness show itself, I instead got real straight with him. I said, “Look Mendy, I’m so sorry but you didn’t pick up my calls and now all these thoughts are coming up for me and placing a big ole fat obstacle between us and I want to apologize for that and say that I know you are a good friend of mine and that those thoughts are nonsense.”

Besides creating more intimacy and connectivity between us than we had felt in a long time, it was so freeing.

I’ll wrap with an incredible story.

One of my best friends and mentors is a man called Robert. Robert taught me this in a powerful way, though I didn’t fully get it until recently.

Robert and I were at a conference sitting next to each other. Two more different men, perhaps, could not have been sitting next to each other. Robert is a strapping 6 feet and built like a juggernaut. He’s bald and is a black man. I am, well… me (redhead, white white skin, 5 feet 8 inches, and let’s just say NOT built like a juggernaut).

After sitting next to each other for three hours, I got up to go when I feel a strong tap on my shoulder. It’s Robert. He wants to talk. He looks…nervous but excited.

“It’s Berry right?”

“Yes” I say.

“I want to tell you…[long pause]…I’ve been with you for some time now, and the whole time, the only thing I kept thinking was…Jew…money…Jew…money… and I want to ask your forgiveness for that and own up to that.”

“Robert. I LOVE that. Thank you so much for telling me that! I get high off people being raw and real!” I exclaimed.

Long story short, we stayed riveted to the spot for the next 4 hours talking and meet at least once a month ever since.

Robert could have felt bad or ashamed or small for having those thoughts. He could have felt bad about it or justified it or denied it or hid from it or minimized it

Instaed, he said, screw my thoughts, they’re just thoughts my brain bubbles over with and mean nothing. Let me go forge a bond with this man that is based on who I really am, what I really think, not some thought or feeling.

Amazing things happen when you give up being your brain.

Thank you to Jackie Stern, Dr. Yisroel Susskind, Shternie Kagan and Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe for reading drafts of this article and providing helpful feedback.

 

P.S. Here’s what I’m NOT SAYING:

I’m not saying you should never take ownership of your thoughts and feelings (though I might believe that).

 

P.P.S. If you found this article in any way helpful, empowering or insightful, OR if you disagreed with it and yet it had you come alive and start thinking about what really matters to you AND you want to give something back to me, I have a request of you!

Share it with two people you suspect might like it, resonate with it, or even strongly disagree with it.

Find me on facebook http://on.fb.me/1vOyXKU or twitter http://bit.ly/1BtOnFD or shoot me an email berryschwartz[at]gmail[.com].

Posted in Youarenotyourbrainthoughtsfeelignsorsensations

I’m moving from “what’s wrong” to “what’s possible”.

Reading time: 6 minutes

Wrong-landscape

For the past year, I’ve been so struck by what’s not working for the frum community that that has become the focus of my writing. Without meaning to, I slowly drifted into writing exclusively about what’s wrong and what’s simply not working.

But that’s not what I want to be about!

You think the world needs another do-gooder with a blog who loves pointing out what’s not working?! Certainly, the frum community doesn’t need that.

So no more! From now on, this space is about what is possible for frum men and the community at large.

Some call conventional shlichus outreach. I suppose those people would call this inreach.

My intention is to be someone that explores how frum men can access being with life, as life is lived in day-to-day living, in a very powerful way. And sharing that journey and process with you.

More specifically, the intention of this space spreads into two dimensions.

Self and Soul

On the level of Self, i.e. as a Human Being, this space will be dedicated to looking into how human beings live life and what are accessible powerful mindsets and ways of being, that allow human beings to flourish, whatever flourish would look like for you IN REAL TIME.

This includes real-world, offline events, some of which have already begun (such as  monthly gathering of men in Crown Heights and a gathering in Lakewood).

On-line, the major focus on the level of Self will be tools and mindsets that work in real time, and give you access to being with life as it is and dealing with it very powerfully (see later for expectations you can have of this space and which, if unmet, are good grounds for telling me to go fly a kite).

You see, human beings deal with tremendous amounts of struggle. Have you ever seriously struggled with a relationship or a life situation?

Ahhh you have?

Good.

So you’re human. And the one thing we can be sure of is that many more struggles are headed your way. The only certainty in life is uncertainty. The only guarantee life makes is death. (And that’s awesome if you think long and hard about it.)

But the struggle, the suffering often comes from what chassidus calls the animal soul and what I call the brain.

The circumstance never generates the struggle by itself. Whatever circumstance you’re in, let me assure you there are other people in those circumstances as well and some of those people are not suffering.  Which means it’s a choice.

Frum men deal with a lot of extremely difficult and heavy responsibilities:

They deal with the normal stuff human beings struggle with.

Then, on the level of Self, they deal with large families and the mental, emotional and financial challenges that presents.

Money – nuff said.

Wife – how to have a happy, fulfilling relationship, dealing with attraction to other women, for many, dealing with pornography,

How to stay connected to purpose and meaning on a human level.

Then on top of all that, dealing with everything on the level of Soul:

How to keep Judaism alive and enlivening.

How to remain grateful and appreciative of God even when rent for next month seems impossible and you’re like my God, gimme a break!

How to give over Judaism to your kids

And on and on.

Here’s the deal though. If you will get anything out of this space, you will have to play with and take on the life-changing idea that the suffering, the limitations we place on ourselves, the loss of friends and family and connection and love and presence, all those things are on us.

They’re choices we make.

Every time we’re angry or sad, we chose that anger or sadness. It sure  as hell does not feel that way but there it is all the same. So if we’re the ones who took that on, we’re the ones who can actually get access to mastering that struggle and pain.

Ready for a slogan?

If you have 50% of the responsibility, you have 50% of the power. Once you take on that you’re fully responsible (not as a burden but as an opportunity) you gain tremendous power in your life.

On the level of Soul, i.e. as a Jewish Being, this space will be dedicated to giving you access to transforming the quality of your relationship with God and Judaism. Major themes I will focus on in this area is accountability, both for you and God (more on that in upcoming posts), and starting to experience Judaism as not just a system of rules but as an opportunity to have enlivening and truly profound relationship with the Unlimited One, based on what He has communicated works for him.

In upcoming posts, I will spell out with more detail the major themes I will be exploring on the level of Self and Soul.

But here are the expectations you can expect from this space.

This space will be exploring how to master the Self and start to use our heart and brain instead of having our brain and heart use us.

Nothing I write about or advocate is something that I have not used in my own life and validated experientially as a powerful and enlivening way of living. Much, maybe most of it, is influenced by my investment in chabad chassidus as well as various life experiences I’ve had that were transformational for me (i.e. produced lasting shifts and change, not temporary highs).

Let’s talk about the type of results you can expect to get out of engagement with this space:

You can expect to start waking up at times, actually, like in reality, as you naturally are upon awakening – excited to be alive.

You can expect to experience, like an actual EXPERIENCE, like simply the way life seems to you (not as some concept you are struggling to fit yourself into), to experience a sense of lightness and freedom in your life with whatever you are struggling with. Many of us live life like we’re in front of a firing squad, cringing and just waiting to hear that gunshot, see the world shrouded by a dark quickly creeping curtain of darkness.

Imagine having some space, my goodness, SPACE, to just be with whatever God is throwing at you.

You can expect to begin feeling like you’re an actual partner in your relationship with God, like you have an actual say, as if it were an actual relationship between you and the big Guy upstairs (without compromising halacha).

You can expect to feel like things that never seemed possible are suddenly appearing as doable, reachable and possible.

You can expect to begin seeing yourself, not as what you’re feeling emotionally or thinking in your brain, or even feeling in your body, but as Something beyond all that, something capable of not living life based on how you feel or think or desire. To begin to know yourself as a Self capable of generating almost anything possible.

If after sticking with me for a while, you’re not getting access to things like that, then please, please tell me and give me a good riddance!

Who am I to be making claims like that? I’m a nobody.

Really.

I’m not wise, I’m not old and saturated with life-experience, and I’m certainly not holy.

I’m simple a facilitator, someone who will hold you accountable and someone you can hold accountable as well (more on that in upcoming posts).

But here’s the REAL secret (might as well spill the beans now):

YOU WILL BE THE ONE CREATING ALL THIS CHANGE IN YOUR OWN LIVES NOT ME!

I have nothing, no power, no magic, no holiness (beyond, you know, the Godly Soul inside me).

I will simply be giving you some space to have some room from all the stuff that life throws at you, and when human beings have space, they get the power to shift whatever it is they need to shift to begin dealing with their “stuff” in a natural and intuitive way.

That reminds me, if you ever find me giving someone advice about a specific situation, please, please call me out publicly.

How comical. As if I could know more about what that person is dealing with than what they know themselves?!

No no no don’t make me laugh.

The only thing that I could possibly do for you is give you the context and space to deal with whatever you’re dealing with from a place of openness, aliveness and courage.

And even that, is not me, it’s you creating the change through playing with the tools laid out in this space.

Oh, by the way, nothing I write is true.

It’s all made up. Every. last. word.

The minute you think that I think or am proposing that what I’m saying is true you’ll do what human beings do in that situation.

You’ll begin checking with yourself, do I really think this is true? But what about that person and this person? What about factor X and Y? And doesn’t Science/Torah say that ….”

No, no friend, none of that please.

What I’m offering you is made up.

So stop checking if you agree with it.

Just take on to play with it in real-time in life and see what happens.

Posted in Foundational

RUN YOUR HEART – DON’T LET IT RUN YOU

Posted in Uncategorized
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