Jewish Zeal

 

It has been widely acknowledged that the three people who had the most profound cultural and political influence over the last hundred years were Jews: Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, and Albert Einstein.

The zeal of Marx was centered around his theory that the ultimate motivation of human beings was economics (money!). The zeal of Freud derived from his theory that the all-encompassing driving force behind human behavior was the desire for pleasure. These self-centered theories were disproved by Victor Frankl, a Jewish psychologist who survived imprisonment in a concentration camp during the Holocaust. In “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Frankl reported that those who survived the camps were typically the ones who would share their last crust of bread with another starving prisoner. Frankl said it was a search for meaning, not pleasure or materialistic concerns, that was the ultimate motivator of human behavior. (Check out this amazing video from 1972.)

The zeal of Einstein drew its power from asking basic questions about the universe and, even if took many years, in answering them. Isidor Rabi, a Jewish physicist who won the Nobel Prize in 1944 (22.5% of all Nobel prize recipients have been Jews) and could have been speaking for Einstein and Jewish geniuses in general, explained how he entered the field of science when his neighborhood friends were all becoming doctors, lawyers, and accountants: ”My mother made me a scientist without ever intending it. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school: ‘So? Did you learn anything today?’ But not my mother. She always asked me a different question. ‘Izzy,’ she would say, ‘did you ask a good question today?’ That difference – asking good questions – made me become a scientist!”

Jewish Mother Zeal

Ah, the Jewish mother! She, no doubt, is the source of Jewish zeal. A Jewish mother is a nuclear reactor of energy that is measured in megatons. It is no wonder that her children are blessed with zeal. To mention one example of this, I am acquainted with a woman in Israel who has 10 children, works full time as a physician, and observes the Sabbath, too.

Jewish Zeal for Adopted Culture

The list of zealously enterprising and creative Jews includes the founders of the first five movie studios, as follows:

  • MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
  • Paramount (Adolph Zukor)
  • Universal (Carl Laemmle)
  • Warner Brothers (Harry, Albert, Sam, and Jack)
  • 20th Century Fox (William Fox)

Speaking of culture, don’t forget Bugsy Siegel, who founded Las Vegas as a mecca for gamblers.

Do you subscribe to the philosophy of Ayn Rand? You are actually enthralled by the scribblings of Alissa Rosenbaum.

“God Bless America” was written by Irving Berlin, a Jewish composer and lyricist, as was “White Christmas.” Other Christmas songs written by Jews include “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow,” “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” and “Sleigh Ride.”

When Jews enter a foreign culture, they quickly and zealously adopt it as their own.

Donald Trump Has the Zeal of a Jew

Donald Trump is an incredibly zealous individual, which makes his daughter’s conversion to Judaism a reasonable proposition. The practice of Judaism is a highly zealous endeavor, where every aspect of life — from what you can eat and what you can wear to the days of the month when you can have marital relations — is scrupulously delimited. An aside: whenever I hear Trump speak, I hear the expressions and the cadence of New York Jews, who have surrounded Trump his entire life. Clearly, Jewish zeal has rubbed off on him.

Ultimate Zeal: the Lubavitcher Rebbe

The ultimate example, from our own times, of a life lived with zeal – since it has propelled so many others to live with zeal, too — was the life of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Having escaped from the Holocaust and arriving in America in 1941 at the age of 39, the Rebbe, from his headquarters in Crown Heights (Brooklyn), transformed a post-Holocaust Jewish world that was in tatters. The Rebbe inspired the creation of more than 2,000 Chabad Jewish centers around the globe. He and his emissaries rescued thousands of Jews from assimilation through an emphasis on the joy and zeal of Chasidic Judaism.

For a distillation of Chasidic zeal, read “Souls on Fire” by Elie Wiesel. Caution: while reading this book, wearing gloves is advised to prevent burning your fingers as you turn the pages.

If Your House is Burning Down, Save the Fire

There is a story about a Chasid whose house is burning down. He runs to his rebbe and asks what he should save. The rebbe tells him not to worry about his material possessions, but to make sure he saves some of the fire.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe was famous for personal interactions around the clock and his door was open to all who wanted to talk to him through the wee hours of the morning. My father, in 1967, was fortunate to spend an hour in the Rebbe’s presence and, upon returning home, commented that there was something uniquely extraordinary about that man.

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s death, delivered a talk, in 2004, where he beautifully described what zeal is ultimately all about: personal transformation that has the power to transform the entire world. The following are excerpts from that talk.

“The Talmud, in a few short sentences, records a dispute that took place some 2000 years ago between the two major ideological schools of the time, Beit Shammai (‘House of Shammai’) and Beit Hillel (‘House of Hillel’). The subject of their dispute was: ‘Is it better for a man to be born or not to be born?’ For two and a half years they argued. When the decision finally came, it was agreed by all that it’s more worthwhile not to be born. The only qualifier was that once one is born, one should at least do the best one can.

“But there is a different way of answering the question. Instead of answering ‘yea’ or ‘no,’ to find a third answer. This is what the Lubavitcher Rebbe tried to do. He said, instead of answering the question ‘is man worthy of being here in this universe’ let us make a new human being, a new kind of existence from which the answer must be positive.

No Matter How Much You Do, You Must Do More

“I experienced this myself in my relationship with the Rebbe. I wrote a letter to the Rebbe where I tried to describe what I was doing, tried to explain that one project I’m involved with is enough work to occupy me all day, every day. There was also a second project, which was also enough work to fill my entire day. And then there was a third undertaking which was a full day’s work. I told the Rebbe that I find it hard to carry on with them all, and that every day is more difficult than the one before, because there is just so much. So what should my priorities be? What should I cut out? This is the letter I wrote. So he responded — this is practically the last letter I received from the Rebbe — the Rebbe’s answer was, ‘continue all these things that you are doing and add more to all of them.’

“You know the famous story about the farmer who comes to the rabbi complaining about his small house so full of children. It’s unbearable. So the rabbi tells him to take a goat into his house, a noisy, smelly, dirty goat. Very soon the farmer comes back to the rabbi. ‘Every problem I had is worse’ he cries. The rabbi tells him to take the goat out. So he takes the goat out of his house and soon he’s back to tell the rabbi what a big wonderful house he now has.

“A very old story but what the Rebbe did was similar and yet quite different. When people complained about how hard their work was he would give them more to do. When they complained how terrible that was he would give them even more. He told them to add the goat, and then he’d give them camels to put in their house! That was the way he worked all the time. Whenever anybody complained about their inability to cope or the hard times they endured, he would suggest ‘take on something more.’

“Obviously, this is against the laws of nature. You have a certain amount of space, you are confined by the limits of the human condition. What did the Rebbe do? How could he overburden people like this? I will give an answer from the realm of physics. There is something in physics — you have a certain amount of pressure on something, and there is a point at which it can take no more. When you put ten times, one hundred times that pressure on it, something happens. The molecules collapse and the very nature of the object changes. In astronomy you have what is called ‘white dwarves.’ These are small stars, the size of the earth, sometimes even smaller. The mass they contain is many times that of the sun. Each cubic centimeter of a white dwarf weighs many tons. Why? Because the matter collapsed and became something else, the laws themselves changed.

“In a way, this was what the Rebbe wanted to do. He wanted to change the very nature of human matter, human behavior, the very way the human being operates. With everybody he encountered, he tried to change their nature into something completely different. They weren’t people anymore, they were something else.

“The Rebbe wanted to do something that was far more reaching than any revolution. He wanted to make this kind of irreversible change in human nature, this change in human history, he wanted it to become entirely different.

“The Rebbe understood people, he understood them very well because many of them revealed themselves, became more than naked in his presence. They told everything that they had to tell, their failings, their weaknesses. And his message to us was: Run! And if you cannot run — Walk! And if you cannot walk — Crawl! But always advance, advance, advance!

The Nuclear Spark Inside

The Lubavitcher Rebbe often said that there is a spark of zeal inside of every Jew that, once harnessed, has indescribable power, on the level of atomic force. Just as an atom is infinitesimally small but, once split, megatons of force are released, so too the divine essence of the Jew which, once tapped, releases an unfathomable reservoir of transformative energy.

There are 51 comments.

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  1. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Fascinating. Did you become a white dwarf?


    This conversation is one in our long line of conversations done in the Group Writing Series. This is under October’s theme of Zeal. We still have several openings this month, if this has inspired you to write about something for which you have zeal or reminded you of someone with zeal. Come sign up.

    But October is passing like the pages of Souls on Fire that Yehoshua mentioned above, and November is coming. Our theme for next month is Elimination. If you have a tale to tell or a commitment to make in eliminating something or being eliminated, come pick a date and sign up.

    • #1
  2. Columbo Member
    Columbo
    @Columbo

    I am profoundly glad to have a Jewish Mother in Heaven who prays constantly for all of us.

     

    • #2
  3. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Fascinating. Did you become a white dwarf?

    I’m 1/1024th white dwarf.

    Good post, Yehoshua. Thank you.

    • #3
  4. Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu Inactive
    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu
    @YehoshuaBenEliyahu

    Percival (View Comment):
    I’m 1/1024th white dwarf.

    That would not get you into Harvard, however, since you would need to be a dwarf of color for someone to look twice at your application.

    • #4
  5. Kay of MT Inactive
    Kay of MT
    @KayofMT

    As a convert to Judaism, I had to learn how to be a Jewish mother. I have “A Very Lovely Training Manual” by Dan Greenburg, “How To Be A Jewish Mother.” My daughters say I have taken the idea to far, but the author’s mother’s forward states:

     “I just wanted to tell you that this book was written by my son who is a very capable young man. I haven’t actually read what he has to say here but I’m sure it’s very pleasant if he wrote it. You’d think that it would’t be such a hardship on a young man who writes so nicely to write an occasional letter to his mother who loves him, but it seems there are more important things to a young man these days than his mother.  All right, never mind. I only hope you will like the book and I pray that the whole experience has taught him something.”

    • #5
  6. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Wonderful post, Yehoshua! The Lubavitcher Rebbe was an amazing man. My torah study partner worked with him–she lives in Beitar Illit, and it was a moving experience to meet her and her husband on my trip there, witness their devotion to Judaism and be welcomed with such warmth and joy.

    • #6
  7. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @

    Columbo (View Comment):

    I am profoundly glad to have a Jewish Mother in Heaven who prays constantly for all of us.

    And, that my/our Boss is a Jewish carpenter, yes, @columbo?

     

     

    • #7
  8. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @

    Thank you, as always, YB-E, for this informative, colorful, and meditative piece!  You inspire us all to ask good questions, too.

    • #8
  9. Columbo Member
    Columbo
    @Columbo

    Nanda Panjandrum (View Comment):

    Columbo (View Comment):

    I am profoundly glad to have a Jewish Mother in Heaven who prays constantly for all of us.

    And, that my/our Boss is a Jewish carpenter, yes, @columbo?

    And all the people said Amen! St. Pope John Paul II referred to the Jewish people as our elder brothers (and sisters) in faith, and I embrace that too!

    • #9
  10. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Freud was wrong.  Marx was wrong and evil.  

    I guess one out of three isn’t so bad?

    • #10
  11. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Freud was wrong. Marx was wrong and evil.

    I guess one out of three isn’t so bad?

    In Freud’s defense (and there is a phrase that I’ve never had occasion to use before) he was going where no one had ever gone before. He was about as wrong as Columbus thinking that he’d reached India.

    • #11
  12. Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu Inactive
    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu
    @YehoshuaBenEliyahu

    Percival (View Comment):
    In Freud’s defense (and there is a phrase that I’ve never had occasion to use before) he was going where no one had ever gone before. He was about as wrong as Columbus thinking that he’d reached India.

    True enough.  In the end, I suppose, it’s also not fair to blame people for the unintendended consequences of their theories.  For example, we cannot blame Freud for psychologists such as Blasey Ford.

    • #12
  13. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Fantastic post! I’ve already forwarded the Frankl video to friends and family. The opposite of what Frankl proposes is what Dubya called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” This is what terrifies me about the current pope. He keeps lowering the bar, we’re going to see a lot more un-actualized people. 

    Thanks YBE. I’ll be carrying this with me for a long time — hopefully the rest of my life. 

    • #13
  14. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Just brilliant. Thank you very much, Yehoshua, and may the Lord bless you.

    • #14
  15. Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu Inactive
    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu
    @YehoshuaBenEliyahu

    Skyler (View Comment):
    Marx was wrong and evil.

    Marx was not evil, any more than Darwin was evil.  Neither Marx nor Darwin advocated violence, yet those who debased their theories — Lenin, Stalin, and Mao in the case of Marx and the Nazis in the case of Darwin —  were mass murderers and the embodiment of evil.

    • #15
  16. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Marx and Freud recognized two of the four sources of the corruption of men: money (Marx), pleasure (Freud), power, and honor. They just didn’t recognize that the their solutions to the influences of those “natural” tendencies was also corrupting. 

    Frankl recognized that meaning and purpose are elevating to mankind. Same with the Church. The West’s rejection of adherent Jewish and Christian faith is the West’s downfall. 

    • #16
  17. Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu Inactive
    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu
    @YehoshuaBenEliyahu

    Mark Camp (View Comment):  Thank you very much, Yehoshua, and may the Lord bless you.

    Thank you for the blessing.  And as we say in Hebrew:  המברך יבורך

    Hamevraich yevurach, meaning:  let the one who blesses be blessed.

    • #17
  18. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    Simply beautiful. Thank you.

    The exhortations of the Rebbe remind me of what drove some of the saints whose lives I study. My patron, St. Martin de Porres, was known for his inexhaustible spirit of love and service. The Lord gave him the ability to be in more than one place at a time and there are well-documented cases of his being seen in one town while he was also publicly visible in another. The more of the Lord’s work we try to do, the more grace He gives us to complete His tasks.

    • #18
  19. Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu Inactive
    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu
    @YehoshuaBenEliyahu

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Marx and Freud recognized two of the four sources of the corruption of men: money (Marx), pleasure (Freud), power, and honor. They just didn’t recognize that the their solutions to the influences of those “natural” tendencies was also corrupting.

    Frankl recognized that meaning and purpose are elevating to mankind. Same with the Church. The West’s rejection of adherent Jewish and Christian faith is the West’s downfall.

    Well said.  Marx also maintained that the world he envisioned would come about as a natural process.  He saw communism as an inevitable historical development where people would no longer exploit one another.

    Freud envisioned psychologists as we envision nurses, except that they would have primarily mental, as opposed to physical, health concerns.   Psychiatry as a profession, and the grooming of professional psychologists, was anathema to Freud and was an American invention.

    As you infer, the problem with Marx and Freud, both of whom were idealists who wanted to improve the human condition, was their rejection of religion.  Any theory regarding human behavior that has no religious aspect to it is dangerous.

    • #19
  20. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu (View Comment):

    As you infer, the problem with Marx and Freud, both of whom were idealists who wanted to improve the human condition, was their rejection of religion. Any theory regarding human behavior that has no religious aspect to it is dangerous.

     

    Sheesh.  How do you even start to get that conclusion?

    We’ll have to politely disagree about how religion is the greatest evil man has created, but Marx was evil because he advocated for socialism and communism.  He hoped that it would develop spontaneously, but he certainly hoped it would happen that people would live in an oppressive state where their own money and property would be confiscated for the benefit of others.  That is evil.  

    Freud was brilliant and revealed a lot, but he went way too far and his followers went even further wrong — a problem we still suffer from today.

    • #20
  21. Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu Inactive
    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu
    @YehoshuaBenEliyahu

    And let’s just agree that the religion to which you do not subscribe, I do not subscribe to either. 

    • #21
  22. GrannyDude Member
    GrannyDude
    @GrannyDude

    Man’s search for meaning is a value-neutral force. That is, it doesn’t necessarily result in virtue that you or I would recognize as such, and can be and has been harnessed to very dreadful ends. To his credit, Freud and his followers thought they would be able to understand and alleviate genuine suffering. So did Marx. They were incorrect, but not deliberately cruel. 

    This is what the Bond movie villains (and their ilk) never demonstrate: that all those bad guys swarming to protect the Evil Lair wouldn’t be willing to fling themselves wholesale into the path of Bond’s bullets for mere money or fear; they’d need at least some sense that their sacrifice would pay off spiritually.  

    Lenin, Hitler and Mao believed in their own projects, and provided followers with a sense that they were part of creating something better, and thus the terrible things they were incited to do had meaning. (Otherwise only the genuine psychopaths could’ve done them.)  Heck, the Antifa ninnies, shrieking feminists and earth firsters all believe that their behavior (smashing the windows at Starbucks, clawing at the doors of the Supreme Court, spiking trees) are deeply, even transcendently meaningful. 

    Indeed, the neurological sensation of meaningful-ness is, in itself, highly motivating and even addictive. This is why the experience of the numinous, or the emotional dimension of spirituality is insufficient and even dangerous without a solid structure to channel it. And even then…

    • #22
  23. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    GrannyDude (View Comment):
    Indeed, the neurological sensation of meaningful-ness is, in itself, highly motivating and even addictive. This is why the experience of the numinous, or the emotional dimension of spirituality is insufficient and even dangerous without a solid structure to channel it. And even then…

    Right. Man is a religious animal. The outcomes tend to depend on which religion he adheres to. Leftism is dominant in the West and we’re seeing how well that works out…

    • #23
  24. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    GrannyDude (View Comment):
    Indeed, the neurological sensation of meaningful-ness is, in itself, highly motivating and even addictive. This is why the experience of the numinous, or the emotional dimension of spirituality is insufficient and even dangerous without a solid structure to channel it. And even then…

    Right. Man is a religious animal. The outcomes tend to depend on which religion he adheres to. Leftism is dominant in the West and we’re seeing how well that works out…

    That is not the conclusion we should come to.  A more accurate and beneficial conclusion would be that the proper role of civilization is diminish the tendency towards tribalism and mysticism and emphasize equality of rights and the rule of law.  

    • #24
  25. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Skyler (View Comment):
    That is not the conclusion we should come to. A more accurate and beneficial conclusion would be that the proper role of civilization is diminish the tendency towards tribalism and mysticism and emphasize equality of rights and the rule of law.

    Your point doesn’t rule out religion, @skyler. In fact, equality of rights supports being able to live one’s religion when it doesn’t interfere with the practices of others.

    • #25
  26. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    For instance, the biggest threat to our country right now is fundamentalist Muslims.  We have a hard time countering them because we like to imagine that the purpose of religion is to be peaceful and so we suppose that islam’s  intent is toward peace. It isn’t and never has been, yet we act as though it is. We ought not to have governmental protections for religions that murder people as a policy, but we can’t easily separate sane Muslims from the murdering ones.  

    Freedom of religion is very important, but we should treat all religions with suspicion and as a society we should be very leery of any religion seeking to control government.  

    • #26
  27. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):
    That is not the conclusion we should come to. A more accurate and beneficial conclusion would be that the proper role of civilization is diminish the tendency towards tribalism and mysticism and emphasize equality of rights and the rule of law.

    Your point doesn’t rule out religion, @skyler. In fact, equality of rights supports being able to live one’s religion when it doesn’t interfere with the practices of others.

    Of course.  I never said no one should be allowed to have a religion.  That would be foolish and impossible, along the lines of making alcohol illegal.  

    • #27
  28. Kay of MT Inactive
    Kay of MT
    @KayofMT

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    Your point doesn’t rule out religion, @skyler. In fact, equality of rights supports being able to live one’s religion when it doesn’t interfere with the practices of others.

    Islam is not a religion, it is an ideology. It interferes with the practices of all legitimate religions, in so much that all unbelievers of islam should be dead or paying “jizyah” to be allowed to live and becoming dhimmi. That our government allows this shows the ignorance or compliance with islam. It should be outlawed in this this country and all Western countries. And had been for the most part until recent times. They use our “freedom of religion” as an excuse to implement their nefarious practices. Child brides, mutilating their little girls, killing gays and Jews, and other things.

     

    • #28
  29. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @

    Kay of MT (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    Your point doesn’t rule out religion, @skyler. In fact, equality of rights supports being able to live one’s religion when it doesn’t interfere with the practices of others.

    Islam is not a religion, it is an ideology. It interferes with the practices of all legitimate religions, in so much that all unbelievers of islam should be dead or paying “jizyah” to be allowed to live and becoming dhimmi. That our government allows this shows the ignorance or compliance with islam. It should be outlawed in this this country and all Western countries. And had been for the most part until recent times. They use our “freedom of religion” as an excuse to implement their nefarious practices. Child brides, mutilating their little girls, killing gays and Jews, and other things.

    The more Muslim folks interact positively with the faiths of Western Civ., the more personalized and internalized their faith becomes – and less a threat. It has been said that: “The best Muslim is a bad one.” rather tongue-in-cheek.

     

    • #29
  30. RufusRJones Member
    RufusRJones
    @RufusRJones

    The United States needs to slow way, way down on Islam. All of it is sharia supremacist. I had a boss that was a “moderate” Muslim. He was very frank about the fact that there were people in his own religion that wanted to kill him.

    • #30
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