On Sunday, April 29, Emet Outreach held a world-class couples’ event with delicious cuisine, a capella music, fantastic wine (provided by HaKerem), and an uplifting social atmosphere. Yet the most memorable part of the evening was an inspirational, brilliant, insightful lecture by Rabbi YY Jacobson, one of the most talented, dynamic, and popular speakers in the Jewish world today.
The sold-out event at the Bukharian Center of Jamaica Estates was jam-packed with over 240 guests, and many more were turned away. It was streamed on TorahAnytime.com’s homepage, where an additional 3,000 people watched live.
The topic was “How to Like the People you Love.” Rabbi Jacobson was sharp, funny, and inspiring as he discussed common marriage struggles with immense candor. He provided insights into the psychology behind great relationships, and gave illustrative stories and examples. The crowd was captivated for nearly an hour, and roared with laughter throughout the evening.
Emet’s directors decided to invite Rabbi Jacobson to send a powerful message to their couples and alumni. “It’s our responsibility to help our over 500 Emet couples and thousands of alumni continuously strengthen their commitment to Judaism and develop their relationships,” said co-founder Rabbi Akiva Rutenberg. He added, “It took a lot of work to make this happen, but it’s well worth it, to show our students how devoted we are to their growth and success.”
Before the lecture, Rabbi Rutenberg shared an update with the crowd about Emet’s recent highlights and events. He mentioned that three separate Emet Shabbatons took place that past Shabbos, and the organization’s programming on five campuses continues to grow and thrive. He expressed his heartfelt appreciation to Emet’s ten talented and dynamic full-time m’karvim and m’karvos, and introduced the newest team member, Administrator Rabbi Hersh Goldberger, a musmach of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim.
Rabbi Rutenberg thanked the generous donors and sponsors in attendance, and singled out the Lena and Richard Harris Foundation as true partners in Emet’s work. He mentioned that one sponsoring family that was in attendance but chose to remain anonymous told him that their grandfather, whom the event was dedicated to, was a “man of chesed and truth.” The event was also dedicated in memory of Ben-Z’kunim ben Tamara.
Should Marriage Be Pleasant?
Rabbi Jacobson began his speech by quoting the famous pasuk, “Hinei mah tov u’mah na’im,” which means, “Behold how good and how pleasant.” He pointed out that “good” and “pleasant” often do not coexist. He asked if marriage is supposed to be good or pleasant.
Rabbi Jacobson then posed another question. We mourn the loss of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 talmidim during S’firas HaOmer, who died because they did not treat each other with the respect expected of such great students. We know that Rabbi Akiva taught that the most important principle in the Torah is “V’ahavta L’rei’acha Kamocha” – we must love our neighbor as we love ourselves. How is it possible that the talmidim of Rabbi Akiva did not treat each other properly when their rebbe embodied the concept of loving one’s fellow Jew?
Rabbi Jacobson explained, in the name of the Shem MiShmuel that the two concepts, love and respect, are actually very different, and nearly opposites. Love comes from being “one” with a person. Respect on the other hand comes from contrast. When we recognize and cherish each other’s differences, we build respect for each other.
Rabbi Akiva emphasized love, and his students followed in his footsteps. However, respect comes from the midah of appreciating each other’s differences and contrasts. Rabbi Akiva’s talmidim, on their level, fell short in that area, which resulted in their tragic demise.
Rabbi Jacobson said that very often the differences in a marriage come from each spouse seeing a subjective viewpoint. To illustrate this, he told the true story of a woman who had a bad relationship with her father. He was a chronic complainer, and no matter how hard she tried, she could never seem to please him. Toward the end of her father’s life, the woman decided that she would try one more time to bond with him, and invited him on a road trip.
She was driving, with her father in the passenger seat, and commented to her father about how beautiful the area was, and her father responded by saying, “How can you think this ugly area is beautiful? This place is grotesque.”
Seeing that even in this gorgeous location her father could not help but complain, the woman felt completely dejected. She closed up, and virtually gave up on any hope of bonding with her father.
Thirty years later, the same woman was driving with her husband, and the area looked familiar. She remembered that they were in the exact spot she’d driven through with her father 30 years earlier, only this time she was in the passenger seat. She was shocked to see that from her father’s seat, there was a cesspool that was not visible from the driver’s seat she’d been sitting in 30 years earlier.
Needless to say, she felt terribly guilty. Her father was not being negative. He simply saw a different set of facts. Rabbi Jacobson explained that, often, both spouses are being honest even when they disagree, because they have different perspectives.
In closing, Rabbi Jacobson related a powerful story about two children during the Holocaust who were separated from their parents and brought to a death camp. While on the train, the 15-year-old sister tried to protect her eight-year-old brother. Then she noticed he’d lost one of his shoes. Frightened and lonely, the stress became unbearable, and she lashed out at her brother for being careless. Although her actions were quite understandable, she ended up regretting that conversation for the rest of her life. When they arrived at the camp, her brother was immediately sent to the gas chambers.
From that day forward, the woman resolved to always speak to people in a way that she would never come to regret, even if it’s the last conversation she ever had with them. The crowd sat in stunned silence.
A Man of Many Talents
Emet’s co-founder and Director, Rabbi Mordechai Kraft, said that Rabbi Jacobson’s lectures use just the right blend of substance and entertainment. “He’s extremely brilliant and insightful, and the points he makes about human psychology and relationships really resonate,” said Rabbi Kraft. He added, “Even his jokes are carefully delivered as a powerful tool that keeps the crowd engaged and captivated.”
About Emet’s Couples’ Division
Each year, approximately 50 “Emet couples” get married and start a family. Several years ago, in response to a growing need among alumni for continued guidance, counseling, and Jewish education, Emet launched its Couples’ Division. It offers special events, lectures, shalom bayis guidance, parenting advice, relationship counseling, one-on-one lessons, and other programs throughout the year. The division has over 1,000 members and continues to grow each week. The highlight of the year is Emet’s three-day Couples Retreat, which takes place each Thanksgiving Weekend at a gorgeous oceanfront resort on the Jersey Shore.
To see Rabbi Jacobson’s entire lecture and other Emet videos, visit EmetOutreach.org.
By Josh Margulies