A Guide to the Values-Filled Life


By Shmuley Boteach

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Our culture is showing the cracks of a growing fracture. Soaring divorce rates; a crippled economy that rewards the few and punishes the many; religious-fueled hatred; record rates of depression — the headlines paint a grim picture. We inhabit a society that desperately needs fixing. But as Rabbi Shmuley Boteach reveals in his new book, Renewal, our society can made whole again when we as individuals make the choice to live a life based on values.

For too long, conversations about values have been derailed by political movements trying to score points over hot-button issues like gay marriage or abortion. Boteach, one of our wisest and most respected counselors and spiritual experts, reaches deep into our history and into our shared religious legacy to revive the key universal values of Judaism for our struggling world. He presents these age-old ideas as guideposts for the challenges of modern times. These values, whose roots are in the Bible and thousands of years of Jewish spiritual living, can be applied to anyone in the modern world — from Christians and Muslims to atheists and agnostics — who want to renew their existence and recommit themselves to the most precious things in life.

Renewal shows everyone how to use the timeless values of the Hebrew Bible and Judaism to live a more fulfilling, modern life.

Unlike the Greeks, who believed that life was scripted from birth, the Jews believe in destiny. In short, they reject the idea of tragic fates and instead champion the individuals”; capacity to create their own destiny through individual choice.

Christians and Muslims emphasize salvation, or the need for man to become spiritual — to refine his character and earn a place in heaven. But Jews believe in world redemption, the capacity for the individuals to make heaven here on earth for, the betterment of the community.

What you do is more important than what you believe. Good deeds always supersede good dogma.

Jews are an infinitely curious people and believe that the great bane of existence — boredom — can only be cured by knowledge.

Marriage refers not just to the institution, but rather the softening of the masculine by exposure to the feminine. A culture that does not know how to respect women is bound to collapse.

It is wrestling with our nature, rather than attaining perfection, that constitutes true righteousness. Everyone is somehow flawed, but righteousness is found in the struggle to do right amid a predilection to act selfishly.

Sacred Time
Whereas other religions sanctify space, Jewish values privilege special moments. The Sabbath day, the holiest day of the week, provides a time for connecting with family and friends.


The Michael Jackson Tapes
The Blessing of Enough
The Kosher Sutra
The Broken American Male,
and How to Fix Him
Shalom in the Home
Parenting with Fire: Lighting up the
Family with Passion and Inspiration
10 Conversations You Need
to Have with Your Children
Hating Women: America's Hostile
Campaign Against the Fairer Sex
Face Your Fear: Living with
Courage in an Age of Caution
The Private Adam:
Becoming a Hero in a Selfish Age
Judaism for Everyone: Renewing Your
Life Through the Vibrant Lessons
of the Jewish Faith
Kosher Adultery: Seduce and
Sin with your Spouse
Why Can't I Fall In Love?:
A 12-Step Program
The Psychic and the Rabbi:
A Remarkable Correspondence
Dating Secrets of
the Ten Commandments
(BROADWAY, 2000)
Kosher Emotions
Kosher Sex: A Recipe for
Passion and Intimacy
Wrestling with the Divine
Moses of Oxford: A Jewish
Vision of a University and
Its Life, Volumes One and Two
Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge
The Wolf Shall Lie with the Lamb

To my parents-in-law,
who lead lives of quiet virtue and exceptional communal devotion,
inspired and informed by Jewish values.
Thank you for tolerating me (I know it isn't easy) from the time
I was a rabbinical student in Sydney.
Mostly, thank you for my wife. You did well, even if she didn't.

Many of us stagnate in lives that are going nowhere. We are either stuck in destructive patterns that undermine our happiness and snuff out our potential, or we run on a treadmill of routine that slowly kills off our dreams. In our hearts we know we are born for something higher, but by the time we hit our thirties and forties we have settled for a life that does not match our original expectations in any way. Then we tell ourselves that those long-ago visions of our future were never realistic in the first place. Mature people, we reason, adopt a more sober perspective. But the nagging sense that we deserve so much more never quite leaves us.
None of us are born thinking we are ordinary. Feeling special is an essential part of the human birthright. If you don't think you are special, you won't seek to contribute your gift to the world. But I meet people every day who seem content to throw away their days chasing money, watching TV, and accumulating as many possessions as possible. It's as if humans never evolved beyond the hunter-gatherer stage. We live in a culture where discussing the latest HBO series passes for stimulating dinner conversation. America has become a country of great contrasts: We're the wealthiest nation on earth and consume three-quarters of its antidepressants.
What happened to the feeling that we are special and the knowledge that special people don't waste their lives pursuing ordinary things?
Somewhere along the way that vital feeling of uniqueness died in us.
But it can be recaptured. What is needed is not another self-help book or personal empowerment seminar. We in the modern world do not suffer from a lack of motivation—most of us still get up in the morning and put in a full day's work. For the most part, we either are in a relationship or want to be in one. It's not that we're not trying to create a special life, but rather that we forgot what's important. We do not need a pep talk. We need a new vision of what truly matters, a new set of rules for how we should conduct our lives and to guide us in devoting our mental, intellectual, and emotional energies.
As a counselor, I have discovered that the principal cause of malaise is embracing the wrong values. Our culture never taught us what is truly precious, so we chased things that in the long run did not accord with our deepest desires.
Just think about the disparity between how you expend your daily energies versus how you wish to be eulogized one day. Does anyone want their rabbi, minister, priest, or imam to get up in front of the crowd that's gathered and launch into a discussion of the size of the house you lived in, or the luxury detailing of your BMW? Does anyone imagine they'll be most fondly remembered for how thin they were, or how much they exercised? Are there any among us so shallow as to want our legacy to be how many partners we bedded? And if not, why does the pursuit of these things drive us to endless distraction?
If your time is spent pursuing what doesn't accord with your deepest desires, you are living a lie—a sin against G-d, who gave you life so you could consecrate your existence to higher things. It is time to renew, recalibrate, and reorient our lives to focus on what matters.
This is not a self-help book. It is not a book that will teach you how to be an optimist or how to win friends. Even less so is it a book that tells you how to awaken your inner giant. No, this is a book about building a new life by rediscovering life's most precious values. In it you will discover a revolutionary take on the whole concept of values.
In this book I will reacquaint you with an eternal understanding of what in life is precious—and what thoughts, attitudes, and judgments we should run far, far away from. I'll introduce you to ancient values and their contemporary application. For those of you who are already familiar with the Bible's values, I hope you will find that the material presented here is fresh, even surprising.
I am a rabbi fully devoted to Judaism. But I do not observe my religion merely because it is the faith of my ancestors or because I want my children to embrace our tradition. Important as those things are, they are subordinate to something far more significant, namely, that my faith imparts to me a knowledge of life's infinite preciousness and potential. I don't want to throw my life away or dwell on stuff that's beneath me. From time to time we may all tell a lie, but living one is a different matter entirely.
I plan to turn some of your most cherished values upside down. While we think we know ancient values, we often have only a superficial understanding of the eternal truths embedded in them. For example, many people still believe in astrology and, by extension, fate. They believe their life was scripted before they were born. But nothing could be further from the truth. Fate is a myth designed to have us submit to forces beyond our control rather than bending those same forces to our will. It is profoundly disempowering. But in this book you will discover the Jewish value of destiny that can overpower your subservience to fate and the conventional life.
Another example is the belief in the value of education. Ever ask yourself why Americans today are more educated than ever before, and yet seemingly vastly more ignorant? For all of the college degrees we earn, we seem utterly unaware of the most basic facts of history, geography, and philosophy. Wisdom is in scarcer supply. That's because we should never have valued education in the first place. I know a number of people with PhDs who have completely messed up their lives. Likewise, nearly all the doctors who worked in Auschwitz were highly educated, but that didn't stop them from becoming some of the biggest monsters in history. We should pursue enlightenment, not education. Here you'll discover the difference between the two.
The same is true of salvation, one of the world's favorite values. Salvation is concerned with the state of your individual soul. Are you saved or are you lost? But is that what really matters, where you are going at life's end? Or is redemption, the contribution you make to the wider world here and now, more important?
We cannot keep fumbling in darkness only to wake up to how misguided our values were when we hit age sixty-four. It is time for us all to become more self-aware. Precious years are passing by, years that cannot be recovered.
Let's discover now what is truly valuable so we can live anew. This urgent truth applies collectively as much as it does individually.
The United States is suffering from a terminal deprecation of values. Greed has collapsed our economy and suffocated our spirit. Families scatter to the winds and divorce rates remain high. Our youth spend an average of eight hours a day disconnected from face-to-face interaction and real-life emotions. So where is the discussion of values that might reverse this societal decline?
Well, by way of a single example, the serious discussion of values that we so desperately need has been hijacked by the never-ending discussion about abortion and gay marriage.
For two decades I have watched these issues dominate the cultural debate on values. Whatever your views on gay marriage—whether you believe that gays should have the same rights as heterosexuals or you object to gay marriage on biblical grounds—one thing is for sure: The debate has nothing to do with imparting real values to our culture or saving the institution of marriage from certain destruction. We straight people don't need help from gays in destroying marriage, having done an admirable job of it ourselves, thank you very much. But so-called defenders of the sanctity of marriage and eternal values have chosen a convenient scapegoat.
Not even 10 percent of the American population is gay, but more than 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce. This was happening years before gays came out in significant numbers, let alone demanded the right to marry. In fact, the only men who seem to still want to get married in America are gays. While they are petitioning the Supreme Court to tie the knot, straight guys are breaking into a rash and running to the hills every time their live-in girlfriend of five years pushes for a ring on her finger.
The true cause of marital breakdown in our time is an absence of real and substantive values. We Americans are an ambitious lot. We want to succeed in everything we do. What we fear most in this country is being a failure, a "loser." But being a winner has come to mean having money, having power, and being famous. Where is the incentive to be a good man? The misguided values in our culture today encourage us all to have a career rather than a calling, to focus on our own ambition rather than cultivate our gifts to benefit other people. The only thing our young people learn about selfless love is that it is subordinate to unconstrained sexual pleasure, a funny, old-fashioned notion out of place in a ruthlessly efficient culture where you are always number one. We've redefined success to encompass only the professional sphere. In Hollywood, you can be on your fourth marriage and have all your kids in rehab, but so long as people are still paying $10 to see your movies, you're considered a success. On Wall Street, you can take the American taxpayer to the cleaners and pursue a life of endless womanizing, all fueled by gargantuan, government-facilitated bonuses, but as long as you drive a Ferrari and still occupy that $25 million Hampton estate, you'll still be welcome on the cocktail party circuit.
These are the rancid values being proffered to a nation that fought for freedom and became the world's first modern republic. More of the same is not going to help us rediscover our truest selves. We need a new set of values anchored in time-tested tradition.
Religion plays an indispensable part in this renewal—but not more of the same religion. As in the case above, with the extreme focus on gay marriage, we have arrived at a place of eroded values precisely because religion has, to an extent, lost its way.
Christianity in the United States generally comes in two forms. The first consists of the formal, mainline denominations, which tend to be more socially liberal and have either endorsed or tacitly embraced most secular values. The second is composed of the charismatic congregations who condemn the culture's mores and seem to delight in those judgments. Islam faces numerous problems as it confronts the modern world, including an aversion to democratic values and a rising number of fanatics who preach violence in G-d's name.
This is not to say that there isn't amazing good work being done by millions of Muslims and Christians the world over. On the contrary, the vast majority of the faithful are good people who stand up for what's right. It does mean that religion in our time is becoming divisive and is therefore compromising its own ability to positively influence the values discussion.
All of this points to the need for greater influence on the part of that other great world religion, the one that gave rise to both Christianity and Islam, and that's Judaism. Jewish values are uniquely suited to modern times.
Jewish values deliver a program for developing human potential that is suited to people of every spiritual persuasion. Forget the tragically mistaken notion that Judaism is only for Jews. Jews do not proselytize, it's true, believing that we must all, in the words of my friend Marianne Williamson, "honor our incarnation" and that the faith you were born to is the way G-d expects you to worship. But this was never supposed to imply that Jewish values weren't meant to influence all the earth's inhabitants, non-Jews included. Plenty of Westerners meditate and do yoga. That does not mean they intend to embrace an Eastern faith. Jewish values are universal.
After 3,300 years of near-exclusive practice by Jews, why do I say that in these times, the values I put forth in this book are for everyone? Because while Western society has figured out the answers to nearly all the great macrocosmic questions, it has failed utterly at the smaller ones. We know how to build skyscrapers, but a lasting marriage eludes us. We know how to launch satellites into space, but we are flummoxed when it comes to deepening our everyday interests beyond celebrity gossip. We can zap messages across the globe in nanoseconds, but we haven't yet overcome our addiction to the impulse purchase.
It is into this contradiction that Judaism fits in. Jews and Judaism have always focused on the small yet profound questions of existence. How does a man remain attracted to his wife for the duration of their marriage? How do families make special moments holy? How can we ensure that we are always honest in our commercial dealings? And how do we raise children who are motivated, respectful, and intellectually curious? It goes without saying that a failure to master these questions virtually guarantees an unhappy life.
Whatever our background, we all seek the same thing: happiness. But happiness is not something that, as Thomas Jefferson surmised in the Declaration of Independence, can be pursued. Rather, joy is the natural by-product of a life in harmony with G-dly values.
Every religion is known for certain characteristics: Christianity for its deep faith, Islam for its strong passion, Hinduism for its penetrating spirituality. Judaism stands alone not for its rejection of the divinity of Jesus or the prophecy of Mohammed, but for its singular concern with values. Most of the values the Jewish people bequeathed the world are no longer accredited to the Jews. Jews gave the world the one true G-d. Today the name is Jesus or Allah. The Hebrew Bible's idea that all men are created as equals today goes by the name democracy. Consider also the teaching of Leviticus 19:18, that one must love one's fellow man as oneself, is today called the Golden Rule and attributed to Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, though Moses proclaimed it thirteen centuries earlier.
Jewish ideas today come with the name Christianity, Islam, secular humanism, communism, utopianism, democracy, New Ageism, and even atheism and agnosticism. But there is a second tier of values—values that are wholly Jewish and that have not been embraced by the world, but that can bring great healing. They are, in acrostic form, DREAMSS, or destiny, redemption, enlightenment, action, marriage, struggle, and sacred time.
I touched on destiny and redemption above. And there are other Jewish values—as you'll discover as you read on. Judaism is not just a collection of arcane ideas. It is a program of action to ensure that G-dly values actually take root within our psyches and each successive generation. Jewish values take spiritual abstractions and translate them into a tangible reality inseparable from everyday life. Not every religious tradition appreciates that values are useless unless they are ingrained into the human character. We forget how easy it is for ideas and ethics to go out of fashion. Just fifty years ago, the Nazis trampled on all cherished values and almost succeeded in building a world based on darkness. All great ideas, as well as civilization itself, corrode with time.
The monumental values discussed here cannot remain like flowers cut off from their roots, for they will slowly wilt and die. I seek to promote the idea that the Jewish religion is a holistic set of inextricably linked values that together compose a state-of-the-art system for maximizing human potential. No other method of living has so celebrated life amid a history of death.
Long ago G-d gave the Jews a mission to spread light through G-dly values. It's time to hear that message again.

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.
I believe that you control your destiny, that you can be what you want to be. You can also stop and say, "No, I won't do it, I won't behave this way anymore."
Foremost among the threatened Jewish values is the idea of destiny.
Destiny is the simple but radical idea that where you're going is far more important than where you've been. Destiny is both tremendously exciting and a tremendous burden. It means that you have to form a vision of your future. It also means you're forever forced to acknowledge that you have a choice.
Most people today no longer believe in choice, and science has been moving away from choice for decades. Do you have difficulty controlling your temper? It's in your genes, modern science says. We are told that we are genetically predisposed to certain behaviors and addictions and so have very little control over how these genes express themselves in our lives. Tempted to commit adultery? You cannot help it, evolutionary biology informs us, because men were designed to spread their genetic material as far and wide as possible. Evolution, especially—whatever its scientific merits—teaches us that we are more animal than human.
We see this denigration of choice in other domains as well. Sigmund Freud, one of the greatest thinkers of the twentieth century, encouraged us along this path when he posited that we are all masters of our mental household far less than we might suppose. Even Christianity doesn't entirely believe in choice. The Calvinist idea of predestination is pretty hostile to the idea of choice. And mainline Christianity maintains that only one choice really matters, and that's the choice you make about Jesus. You can lead a charitable life, be faithful in marriage, and provide thousands of people with secure jobs, but you are going to burn in hell unless you accept Christ's salvation.
The prevailing idea is simple: You can never rescue yourself. You are who you are. There's nothing you can do to elevate your station.
The ancient Greeks were not to be outdone in this department. They believed in something called fate, the precise opposite of destiny. Fate tells you that your point of origin is a mightier force in your life than your destination. The Greeks believed that everything that would ever happen to you had been decided before you were born. Every instant was preordained by the gods. That's why the Greeks excelled at tragedy—the essence of all the great Greek tragedies is that the hero or heroine is doomed to a sorry end because he or she cannot overcome his or her fate. Achilles took an arrow in the tendon of his heel. Odysseus was compelled to spend years of wandering after the Trojan War. The gods needed entertainment, and so they pushed you around like a piece on a game board. You were a stock character in a melodrama you had no hand in writing.
The siren song of fate lingers still. Popular astrology says that your character traits, as well as the kind of romantic partner you're compatible with, were shaped by the positions of the stars on the date and hour you were born. The moral of the zodiac is that you are so insignificant, and the choices you make are of so little consequence, that giant balls of gas hovering thousands of miles away have more power over your heart and mind than you do. What's even more astounding is that people seem to like this idea.
Fate is truly the most pervasive idea in the history of the world. Most of us cling to the idea of fate in one form or another, whether we express it or not. How many times have we heard social anthropologists say that poverty breeds violent crime? A very depressed man once said to me, "My grandparents are divorced. My parents are divorced. And now I'm getting divorced. It's fate. A family tradition!" The thought that he could break the tradition hadn't occurred to him. Or if it had, he'd dismissed it immediately.
Judaism completely rejects the belief that man is born doomed to a predetermined fate. Even more, Judaism rejects the idea that your past determines your future. Jews instead offered the world the most thrilling concept ever conceived, namely, that no human life is scripted and that each of us possesses freedom of choice. Sophocles may have stated, "Awful is the mysterious power of fate," and "Pray not at all, since there is no release for mortals from predestined calamity," but the Jew responded with the triumphant words of King David, "Lo amus ki echyeh: I shall not die for I shall live and speak the glory of G-d."
Judaism proclaimed that each and every one of us, regardless of our point of origin, can place a destination ahead of us—a vision of whom and where we want to be—and that by reaching that destination we transform fate into destiny. We proclaimed that what people make of their lives depends entirely on their actions. Notwithstanding modern behavioral sciences or genetic predisposition, the soul within us gives us infinite choice. We can always rise above circumstances. In every situation and in every predicament, we can choose.
This truth is embedded in the very beginnings of the Jewish faith. The father of the faith, Abraham, was a nobleman and very wealthy when G-d informed him that his children and his children's children would be slaves for four hundred years. G- d wanted Jews to begin at the bottom rung of the social ladder. Slaves are born to work, sweat, and keep their eyes to the ground. They concentrate on the task immediately at hand. They are not allowed to have dreams. Imagine Abraham's reaction to this news. I doubt he was thrilled.
The Jews started as slaves because the Jewish nation was going to teach the world that you could lift yourself up and set yourself free. Fate is where you start and conclude your life focused on your beginnings. But fate is a lie—that's the story of the Jewish exodus from Egypt. Destiny says your destination is what matters. That is what distinguishes you. Destiny is the truth. You are not an animal, subject to instincts, reflexes, and forces beyond your control. Your life is unscripted.
All Negro spirituals draw inspiration from Jewish history, from our path from slavery to emancipation. As Martin Luther King Jr. said in a famous speech in Detroit, segregation was guaranteed to suffer defeat "because it is nothing but a new form of slavery covered up with certain niceties of complexity." His religion had revealed to the black man "that figuratively speaking, every man from a bass-black to a treble-white is significant on G-d's keyboard." In that truth, King glimpsed both his and his people's destiny.
Long before the Civil Rights Act was passed, King declared, "In a real sense, we are through with segregation now, henceforth, and forevermore." What was his inspiration? He referenced it in the beginning of the lecture he gave in Memphis, the night before he died: Moses standing in Pharaoh's court centuries ago and crying, "Let my people go."
It is hard to underestimate the impact of this orientation. "The Patriarchic Covenant introduced a new concept into history," wrote Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik. "While universal (non-Jewish) history is governed by causality, by what preceded, covenantal (Jewish) history is shaped by destiny, by a goal set in the future." Most historians work from the assumption that what has happened determines what will


On Sale
May 25, 2010
Page Count
240 pages
Basic Books

Shmuley Boteach

About the Author

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is one of the world’s leading relationship experts and spiritual authorities. His twenty-two books have been bestsellers in seventeen languages, and his award-winning syndicated column is read by a global audience of millions. He is the host of TLC’s award-winning Shalom in the Home and was Oprah Winfrey’s love, marriage, and parenting expert on Oprah and Friends. He served for eleven years as rabbi at Oxford University, where he built the Oxford L’Chaim Society into the University’s second largest student organization.

Today, Newsweek calls him the most famous rabbi in America. The winner of the highly prestigious London Times Preacher of the Year award, Rabbi Shmuley is also the recipient of the National Fatherhood Award and the American Jewish Press Association’s Highest Award for Excellence in Commentary. He lives in New Jersey with his wife, Debbie, and their nine children.

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