I’ve spoken a few times on this show about my wife Raizie. We’ve been married for over 10 years, so you’d think I’d stop speaking about her so often when I lecture, teach, and just generally live in a professional world. But luckily, this podcast isn’t a regular professional world. It’s a show in which I’m working my hardest to embrace these ten big emotional themes. So how can I do that without speaking about Raizie? Especially this week, and talking about love.
As I always do, I have to bring in a quote. This one is a little bit different, speaking of love. This is something my father, Dr. Neil Weissman, has said, that always sticks with me. My dad says, vulnerability is the currency of intimacy. And that analogy of currency is such a good one. You give vulnerability, and in exchange, you get intimacy. True depth. True love.
It can be hard. Downright impossible. And sometimes – it doesn’t work, and you get your freaking heart broken. But if we’re making this a family affair, my sister in law (who yes, I love) said it best: relationships are not tennis. They are full contact sports. There is risk and there is reward. And I’m not just talking about romantic relationships here, by the way. I’ve had serious, intense, friend breakups that have affected me just as much as romantic breakups. Heartbreak is equal opportunity. But so is the incredible feeling, love, that comes with that true vulnerability.
To talk about this, I speak with the legendary Meir Kay. Meir is all over the internet, breaking boundaries and bringing joy wherever he goes, and he’s most well known for his youtube channel, where he’s posted hundreds of videos, showcasing random acts of kindness. He has amassed over 300,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel! I’ve been a fan of Meir for years, but this is our first conversation. And what a conversation it was. I wanted to ask Meir, what are these videos about? What is love, to him? How does he let himself be vulnerable, especially when he knows that sometimes it can be painful? How has love transformed him?
There are so many types of love. Like I love pizza, but not that kind of love. There is the love a parent feels for a child and a child for a parent. We spoke about the different contexts of love, the love we feel for our siblings and our friends, our romantic loves, our relationship with God, and of course we discussed our love languages. More to come on that, but suffice it to say, my love language…is Meir Kay. Friends and family, ladies and gentlemen, I bring you the most vulnerable public conversation I’ve had in my life…with Meir Kay.
Noam: Meir, it is so awesome to have you on the show. Welcome to the Power Of.
Meir: Thank you, Noam. Honored to share space with you. And I’m excited to dive into this topic of L-O-V-E.
Noam: I love it. Love. It’s a big, intense, difficult and important word and we’re going to be exploring that word. I got to tell you something before we go into the word love and what it means. I used to be a teacher, I used to be a principal, and before every Tanach and Talmud class that I taught, I would spend the first five minutes, I would show a Meir Kay video.
Meir: No way. Wow. That’s amazing. I thank you for sharing that. That’s so cool. it’s wild because when I went out to create videos, I expected it to go out and sit on these platforms like social media, YouTube, Facebook whatnot. But I never really envisioned it to be pulled off the internet or shared in classrooms. People shared those clips of like, “Hey, my professor is like showing your clip in my college, university.” It’s been really wild to see the expansion of that. So thanks. Yeah, it’s wild.
Noam: Yeah. I hope it’s rewarding. The reality is you’re impacting so many lives with positivity, with the love that you show in all of your videos. And so I wanted to thank you before we get started here for making this tremendous impact to not just the Jewish world, but to the world at large.
Meir: Oh man. Thank you, man, right back at you.
Noam: Here’s what I see in your films. The through line is love. Am I right about that?
Noam: Why love?
Meir: Well, love, it’s a great question. Well, you know why? I think it’s a combination and as I get older, I sort of connect the dots of my being and how I ended up where I am and we can unpack that. But that being said consciously, a little subconsciously, I grew up in love, the way I grew up, in my background, on a religious and community, social society, it was all about love and acceptance.
I grew up in Chabad. The leader of that movement, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Rebbe, was all about love. It was all about giving, all about obviously strong, and it came out in many different ways, right? It was through like establishing Chabad houses and communities around the world. It was how he opened up his time to not just people who were Orthodox, but people weren’t Orthodox, people who weren’t Jewish, politicians, singers, the whole work. So this was someone who, I had a picture of him in my house, picture in my wallet. The way I translated, the way I saw the Rebbe, wasn’t necessarily about his magnitude of how he knew so much Torah and how he was able to like speak 20 different languages for me.
What impressed me, what inspired me, even though I didn’t even know at the time as a kid, was his capacity to love and to accept all people. That being said, too, on the flip side, a more personal side as well, a deeper side, I would say the reason why I give out so much love and create these circumstances for people able to tap into their inner love and connect with others, is because I felt like I needed that a lot more in my life growing up.
So now as I’m older, I’m like, oh wait, I’m giving the thing that I want to be received back. That’s why I’m so attracted to that unconditional love.
Noam: So you give love. I want to come back to the giving love. And you also spoke about the Lubavitcher Rebbe. We’re actually, at Unpacked, we’re going to start a new series called Great Jewish Heroes. The first one we chose was the Lubavitcher Rebbe and one of the reasons for that is the love that the Lubavitcher Rebbe showed the world, exactly like you’re talking about is something that we want everyone to learn about and everyone should know about that. So it’s interesting to hear that. Did you meet the Rabbi?
Meir: I was young but yes, I do have a couple of photos, a clip of me walking by like twice, but I was young. I was like two and like three when I met the Rabbi. Yeah.
Noam: Oh, okay. Meaning this person that you didn’t really get to know personally. Personally it nevertheless influenced you so much, to want to share that love. But you also pointed to this idea that you wanted to teach about love, to share love, because you want more love in your life and you were kind of searching for that. So the way to do that is by giving. So I want to hold onto that. I want to come back to that in a little bit.
I want to go into love. The way we’re going to do this is. We’re going to be about love from a global perspective. Then we’re going to get into personal, romantic, then we’re going to get into God, then we’re going to get into friendship. And we’re going to talk about love in all of these different contexts. Speaking about love in general, have you read five love languages booked by Gary Chapman?
Meir: Yeah, it’s a classic. I haven’t actually read the book, but I did like 10 different types of these tests online, which sort of break down the psyche and I did get down to my top love language. You want to go first?
Noam: Before we get into these love languages–
Meir: I’m excited!
Noam: Yeah. I’m excited too. We’re sharing this with audiences that we haven’t necessarily spoken to, so it’s going to be interesting, before I share with my wife what my love language is, we’re going to be sharing with all of these listeners. Gary Chapman, in the book, spoke about five different love languages. The first one is words of affirmation, the second one is quality time, the third is gifts, the fourth is acts of service and the fifth is physical touch. So I’m going to start with you Meir, you’re my guest. In all the inventory that you’ve done, in all the analysis you’ve done, the self-reflection, which are your loved ones?
Meir: I was surprised. And this may be like the classical male way of loving is physical touch. I thought physical touch would be my number one. I’m the hugging guy. I’m the high five guy, different, but actually number one for me, was–is–quality time.
Meir: Yeah. That is for me. Quality time is number one. Number two is physical touch. But number one is quality time.
Noam: I don’t know you very well, Meir, and I had a very strong reaction to your number one being quality time as though I know you well. I’m like, “What Meir? That’s so not you,” but, but I’m trusting you.
Meir: I was like truly, and that made me go back to a different test. And it was just coming back to quality time.
Noam: It’s so interesting because when I watch your video on just hugging everyone, you know the video I’m talking about?
Meir: Yeah. Oh yeah, sure. The one with the blindfold hugs?
Noam: Yeah. The blindfold hugs. Goosebumps the entire time! But I also felt like this must come from a place also from a love language perspective that you feel like, showing that love, the best way to do that is by physical touch. That hug, that moment that we get. A hug from a significant other, hug from a stranger. Just that feeling, that embrace.
Meir: Right. Right. You’re the man. Pretty good.
Noam: So pretty good. And she’s like, “okay, cool, good, nice.” I might appreciate acts of service. That’s not her love language. So you hear what I’m saying? Like there’s a difficulty of dealing with the thing that I love versus totally showing the love language of someone else’s love.
Meir: Right. So you would think so. I thought so too, physical touch it’s a very powerful one. It is number two in my love language sphere. However, for me, what I’ve realized on the streets and like this one, when I’m in these circumstances where it’s really touch and go, what is the quickest thing that one could give that is a love language or a way of connecting with somebody? And that’s usually through a physical touch or a high five, a hug. Words of affirmation as well could be something quick, I do through all my compliment videos, I put out there and compliment people and those do very well and people really take to it. But I do draw to physical touch. But when it comes to me and my own personal love language, and specifically when I have time, when there is time to deep dive with somebody, I love that.
Noam: There is no person that my parents, specifically my mother, quotes more than Dr. Edith Eva Eger. So mad respect you for throwing that out there. Amazing.
Meir: But Noam, what is your love language? Have you shifted the way of loving once you found out what that is?
Noam: I would say that words of affirmation mean a lot to me, and I think that my colleagues know that and I try to do the same for them. By the way, words of affirmation might not be their love language often. But for me, I want someone to demonstrate that if I did something good for them it’s recognized.
What my love language is absolutely not is gifts. I used to work with somebody who would buy the fanciest scotches or like whatever, some people, it is, by the way, but for me it’s like scotches are okay. If you’re over 21!
Meir: Yeah. But of course, of course, l’chaim. For me, growing up Chabad, bar mitzvah, it’s all good, tefillin, l’chaim! But I definitely hear that. I connect with you on that as well. So that’s interesting when you point out very well to be conscious of what other people’s love language is so you can speak that language to them.
Noam: And then, a real loving person will ensure that the subject of their love gets the type of love that they deserve and that they want, that they earn. Right? So like, We got to figure those things out. I think that–my wife’s not here. Her name is Raizie so let’s just call her Raizie.
Meir: Wow. Wow.
Noam: Are you married, Meir?
Meir: I’m not married. I am actually in a relationship. I would say my first healthy one in my life.
Meir: Yeah, at 31. I’m in this relationship.
Noam: You’re only 31.
Noam: Oh my gosh. You’re 31. That’s incredible.
Meir: And it’s amazing, and this relationship, talking about love, and we may go there in this conversation, but boy, have I learned a lot about what it means to love and to be in relationship, and to grow in that.
Noam: We’re definitely going to go into that and the romantic.
Meir: Right. I’m asking about tricks for like a long-term relationship, I’m asking for a friend.
Noam: To the listener, I heard that loud and clear. Asking for a friend. Yeah. What’s the deal with that? I want to get personal. I want to speak about romantic love for a little bit here. There is a Scottish writer named Robert Lewis Stevenson who said, “you can give without loving but you can never love without giving.” I think that’s not Stevenson’s idea. I think it’s a great one, but in Judaism, the shoresh, the root, ahav, like yahav, which means to give. Right? To love is to give, to give is to love, right? So to Edith Eva Eager, there’s another four letter word, which is give. G-I-V-E, which is synonymous with love, just like T-I-M-E, which is synonymous with love, which I love. So getting personal with you, and thinking about love from a romantic sense, how have you been transformed in your new relationship status?
Meir: It’s a great question. So, I totally agree with that idea, and I think capital T, truth, that give, G-I-V-E, is another way to say love, L-O-V-E. I’ve learned that through my experience that, through my volunteering work, by showing up for others, that I come to know myself and love myself more, and just feel that bond of this love. You can’t necessarily see it, but, oh boy, you could feel it. And the more I give, the more I’m just doing the different things in my life, whether it’s through the videos and creating those scenarios, or even going to Camp Simcha for a bunch of summers and like giving it my all.
And it’s just sort of like this incredible energetic battery. You may seem excited in a row, you stay at all these nights in a row and you give all this energy and you feel depleted and tired, but it’s not true. I get more energized by doing all that. It doesn’t make sense. But I think it’s definitely a spiritual principle. As you mentioned in this universe, that we live on, that the more you give, the more you get back, the more energy you get and you really are able to tap into what love is. It’s really less about chasing after but just by doing it. Sort of like happiness by being in it, by taking the action, it leads you to this place, to this place of nirvana, and place of love.
So I’ve experienced love in the giving sense through friendships, through volunteer work, but more recently like you mentioned, to segue into the romantic relationship. This is a very new thing for me. I think the reason why, and for many different reasons why previous relationships haven’t worked out. And they are few and far between; I’ve actually avoided romantic relationships for many different reasons because, man, intimacy, vulnerability, do I have to say more than that?
But I’ve given it out in different ways but now in this romantic relationship, I’m being seen in a different way. And by this person seeing me in different ways and shining a light in different places and my being, maybe perhaps even some of the dark places or my shadow parts. And holding that, I’m able now to tap into a whole new level of Meir, and give from a new place.
That allows me to feel, let’s say love, right? Feel love. That I never was able to express before or share before or feel before, because I never had that dynamic. So every dynamic, every relationship shows something else. The love that I can receive from my parents, the love I receive from a friend, the love I receive from my camper is all very special, all very unique, from each one. And now the one I received from my partner is a new one. And it’s initially sort of uncomfortable, too. It’s like, “whoa, what am I feeling here? What am I seeing here?” But by her giving, now I’m able to give back. Love, I would say, is also heal, H-E-A-L. This healing here as well, that’s taking place. And so by the more giving that we give to each other, we do this dance, she opens up more, I open up more, I open up more, she opens up more and that’s like intimacy, right? That’s intimacy: into me, I see. I’m able to see into myself, into her.
Noam: I was going to ask you, towards the end of our conversation, I’m going to be getting into that, and talking about vulnerability. So I just heard this idea from Leon Kass. Leon Kass is this really thoughtful, introspective scholar at the University of Chicago. This is something I’ve thought about, if we’re doing tips on marriage.
Meir: Let’s hear it!
Noam: So Leon Kass speaks about love on this recent podcast with David Brooks. What Leon Kass points out is that, it’s really easy to love someone when the sun is shining, but can this person get in the boat and row against the stream when things are tough? That’s love.
Noam: Yeah, it’s a very similar idea. It’s the same idea actually. I’m lucky to have people; a few people in my life are like that. My parents, my siblings, some of my closest friends. But when I think about Raizie, when I think about my wife, the first thing that comes to my mind is that when I’ve gone through the crappiest parts of my life, the worst parts of my life, without a doubt, the person who is there with me yomam va’layla, day and night, all the time, was my wife.
So when I heard Leon Kass describe love that way, first of all, I thought of my wife, but also I thought like this is a really important idea to share with many of us with, with anyone who’s listening. To think about the reality is that love is not always going to be sun shining. That’s not the love experience. That’s really not. The test of love is going to be very much so when you need a row against the stream, is that person there with you? So do you have people like that in your life? That when things are not good and you row against a stream, they row against that stream? And are you that person for other people?
Meir: Yeah. I’m getting goosebumps because there are a few names of people that come in my life. I think about how grateful I am. I’m going to that from this, to this place of gratitude, because I do. I do have those people in my life. I have some incredibly close friends who know it all. I’ve shown up in that way for them too. It really entered a new level of companionship and relationship, friendship because of when I was able to be vulnerable with them.
Then, boom! We just opened up like a whole new stratosphere. And now we’re just growing in that. So by showing up in a very vulnerable space, Brene Brown talks a lot about that. It brought us so much closer together. So, the answer is yes. I have experienced that. And now being in a relationship, I now understand what it means, work. I understand we’re talking, we’re doing all these comparisons of four little words. So like W-O-R-K work. Love, I think work is to love, right?
Meir: It’s like, I get it. My parents say, grandparents, “Oh, it’s love, but also work.” I’m like, what are you talking about? What’s that even mean? And now here I am, in this relationship. I love my partner and it’s time to get super tough. We have to work at ourselves and because this person is a straight out mirror to who I am. And it’s normally right when I’m out there in the world, we know this awareness 101. If I’m judging somebody, it’s usually cause I’m judging myself on that same particular mannerism. So like when I’m like looking at my partner, I get upset about something or get annoyed about something like, wait a second. That’s what’s a mirror for me to look at it. And it’s not because it’s constant. She’s there always. The work is always there and yes, there’s beautiful moments and there’s incredible times.
Every time we work through something and it’s tough, but the reward is so incredible. Because just like my friendship was with this one particular friend. It opens up a whole new dynamic of a relationship, and now we’re able to go to a whole new depth of being that I never knew could exist. That is the payoff because when I go about and have let’s say quick flings with people in my life, it’s fun, it’s exciting, but it only hits a certain level of relationship, and doesn’t go any further because at first bump or second bump in the world, I forget about it. Let’s go somewhere else.
When I stick it out with somebody and then we go into this relationship, deeper and deeper, there’s a new level of excitement that can never exist in the short term. That could only exist in a long term relationship. There’s certain payoffs, certain sacrifices I’m sorry, that we have to find new ways of excitement, that flirtation of that new doesn’t exist yet we have to find it however, on a much deeper level, man, it’s a full body experience that I cannot exist other than when I commit to my one person. And she commits to me.
Noam: That is…that commitment, I think, is the antidote to loneliness. Could we learn some Torah together for a minute here? Are you cool with that?
Meir: Oh please. Let’s go, teach me.
Noam: Talk Torah to me, I’m with you. The relationship between love and loneliness is described at the very beginning of Genesis, the beginning of Bereishit, when God is searching for a partner for man among the animals, nobody suitable. It says that, lo tov l’h’yot ha’adam l’vado, e’e’seh lo ezer k;negdo, which means that there was no one who was fitting for Adam, so I’m going to make him a helpmate of sorts and what Avivah Zornberg points out in her psychological thriller, I would call it, The Beginnings of Desire: Reflections on Genesis. She knows that it’s really only achieved, this loving relationship between men and eventually woman, is only achieved when a man himself comes to recognize the pains of solitude.
Meir: I could agree more. Man, Torah is the best I’m telling you. There’s so much truth. I do a whole lot of reading when it comes to self development books and self help books and all that kind of good stuff. I listen to podcasts and Ted talks, all the good stuff. Now that I’m rediscovering Torah as an adult and really choosing to do it and choosing the topics that excite me…
Noam: That’s the best, by the way. Rediscovering Torah as an adult. It’s crazy. It’s amazing.
Meir: It’s amazing. It literally takes all the self-development books that I’m reading and peels it back an extra layer. I’m like, yes. It’s like the best improv book for learning. When you read that, it’s like, yeah, duh, yes, I get it. I’ve heard it in so many different languages and quotes but Torah just hits it man, it hits my soul. I’ve experienced that the pains of solitude and loneliness and that sort of topics on the videos and the topics that I try to bring out in my social experiments with people experiencing homelessness or my reason why I’m invited to talk to young adults, those in high school, middle school and colleges to talk about, you know, companionship, friendship, leadership, loving yourself, because I know what it means, I could be alone.
We are all going to die alone, no matter how close we are to our partner. There’s always that little angst or perhaps that little pain deep inside us, that we are sort of afraid of, or we sort of want to maybe numb or stay away from. But once I think from my experience, sit in it, and we’re able to be alone or lonely, you could be alone with yourself. Once I’ve recognized that I could be alone with myself and that’s all through a practice of coming to love myself, right? I’m only able to love somebody else once I know how to love myself, then I’m able to enjoy that alone time, going out to the mountain for four days and traveling, backpacking and doing my own thing rather than just being alone in my own house and isolating myself from the world because I’m afraid or fear and all that stuff. I may be on a tangent right there.
Noam: No, I love that. Not a tangent at all because I think that the solitude that you’re talking about, the loneliness that you’re talking about, yes, it happens in a big city and the ability to be alone and not feel lonely is a special thing. Speaking of being alone and not feeling lonely. This is part of the conversation about love of God. Okay. Because, I want to speak a little bit about that. Which is, God is some Being that for many people, we can’t even speak about. It’s like, let’s not do this whole God thing. It’s too divisive.
It’s too much. Listen. You’re a student of Torah maybe, there’s another student of the Rebbe, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, a blessed memory. Rabbi Steinsaltz says something I want to read to you, and then I want to talk about. He says, “There’s no essential difference between the love of God and the love of man. But since the love of God is not described in so many publications sold at corner kiosks (like those self-help books you’re talking about with illustrations and cartoons), the matter seems to be much more difficult. Sure. There’s difficulty. The Love of God depends on one’s ability to be aware of Him, not in the sense of one knowledge of what is written in this book or another but in terms of personal consciousness.” So I think loving God is really important, certainly from an instrumental perspective. Like, it’s important to not feel lonely and to always have God by our sides. Shiviti Hashem l’negdi taid, I place God by my side always. Always. But how do you get there? What spiritual practice has Meir Kay taken on to ensure that there is love of God in his life? How do you do that?
Meir: That’s a great question. Before I jump into that, I’m curious to know, I’ll sort of throw it back to you. How has the relationship with God changed between you growing up, let’s say 14, 15, to the relationship you have with God now today.
Noam: Oh, I’m a complicated soul, Meir, if you’re going to be asking me love of God questions. When I was three years old, or two years old, I asked my mother why it is the case that we don’t believe in Jesus and as Jews why we believe in the one and only God. Apparently she tells the story, these intense conversations about these things. And she’s like, ” you’re going to be a complicated soul, if this is what you’re thinking about. My concept of God, I think for most people, used to be this man in the sky with a big beard. It was exclusively about reward and punishment, in many ways, when I was much, much, much younger.
And then my wife likes to describe that her conception of God was the Michelin man in the sky. Like that’s what she sees, this sweet ghost, like doughy ball, or whatever. We tend to view God in that way as we’re younger. As I got older, I never had an image of God. I stopped having this image of God. And I started kind of thinking more from a Kotzker perspective. The Kotzker rebbe was this great rabbi that lived in the 19th century, who was really difficult in many ways, and also had moments of darkness in his own life. And he would say love is placed on your heart and then it’s on your heart, but you’ve got to let it in. So you love God when you let God in. It’s there for you, but you got to bring God into your life.
And the way I’ve chosen to do that in my life is by imitating God. Whenever I’m imitating God, then I feel a love for God. So I guess an example would be tzedakah, giving money to people who are less fortunate than me or people giving money to organizations that really matter. When I do that, and I invest and I make someone else’s day better, and this is, Meir, you do this better than anyone, right, is, I feel God, I feel that godliness within me.
Like, if someone were to say to you, for college students, does God care about you? Does God show justice? Is God kind? A lot of college students would be like nuh, nuh, nuh, God is not. I don’t know what God is. But if I were to say to you that caring is a form of Godliness, kindness is Godliness, right? Is divine. I think many of us would be like, “Yeah, that’s true.”
And so there’s this distinction between defining how God views the world and defining character traits which are divine. I find that really, for me, uplifting, and that’s when I feel God the most, when I’m able to behave in a divine sort of way. Is that more than what you were asking for? Is that more of what you were bargaining for?
Noam: Absolutely not. I would say that’s my take. I should be more humble in my response. In my opinion, I think absolutely not.
Meir: Maybe I’m just assuming here, even though God slash religion, is a big part of your relationship, life, upbringing of children, you still don’t necessarily have to believe in the same way or practice the same way?
Noam: No way, because that is stripping someone’s humanity away from them. We all have, like we said earlier, different love languages. If I made Raizie have a love language that was about acts of service when her love language is about quality time, then that’s not fair to her. So if she connects to God, let’s say, through singing zmirot, singing, songs and I connect to God through learning a really ridiculously challenging piece of Jewish philosophy, why would I want her to connect to God in that way? It doesn’t work. And by the way, I think in the Jewish educational system, we have to pay a lot more attention to this. I’m preaching, but let’s let everyone connect to God in their love language. Let’s let everyone express their love language. If we force love languages upon people, it’s never going to work.
And I think that maybe that’s part of the challenge of why there’s attrition in the Jewish world, why less, fewer, and fewer Jewish people are deeply connected to God and to Judaism, there are more Jews of no religion. It’s because of the fact that, I think, we’re telling people, here’s what it means to love God. No, there are so many different ways to love God. Of course there are mitzvot, commandments, of course, there’s halacha, Jewish law. Haha. Yes. And, there are so many ways to express that.
Meir: Totally. And I love that and it’s a sort of a rhetorical question, I love that you opened up in that way and you went down that direction because that is something just like I grew up in a system where I believe that it was a lot more restrict, a lot more black and white. And the gray scared people and it’s like, you got to fit into this box. I think, at least Orthodox world, has gotten a lot more compassionate towards the souls and young people, boys and girls who have different versions or want to explore, and just have different ways of connecting to God, to Judaism, to themselves and totally agree.
And that being said, there’s still stuff that I have to work through in my relationship to recognize, oh wait, that’s too much. Like that’s too much. That way of connecting to God is, is too hippy dippy for me. But I was like, oh wait, actually let me appreciate, how can I learn to appreciate? How can I learn from that way of practice? And how lucky I am that my partner wants to create a relationship with God in her own way.
That’s a win, that’s a massive win. Oh, it’s beautiful, and it allows me to also explore within myself and be a little less judgemental about myself when I don’t connect necessary to a way of connecting to God, to the way I’ve been brought up and just like learned to explore.
Noam: Is this antiquated of me to say like you have two people, you can’t see us, we are wearing funky hats, we’re like bro-y or not. And like we’re talking about the most vulnerable concept possible, which is love and intimacy and connection.
Meir: It’s amazing. I think it’s beautiful. And especially that we just met each other for the first time 20 minutes ago. I just want to answer your question about like God and how God shows up. So as for me, my spiritual practices to connect with God, they vary. I don’t necessarily connect with God going to shul the way, I don’t know if I ever really did. Reading from a text I didn’t really understand and connect with, it’s beautiful, and the camaraderie, and the community, I love. But now the way I connect with God and connect with my God, because I have to make God personal to me and not just this idea of what God is and, and overall arch like this overall cloud man, this sky-like, is by spending time in nature, by having deep, meaningful conversations with him.
Noam: Modeh ani being the…
Meir: Modeh ani, yes, being the traditional prayer that the Jews wake up to and say, it’s great, thank you God for treating my soul. It’s so cool to look back. It’s like, oh, wait, we’re taught gratitude for the first thing when we wake up in the morning. Cool. I love that. Let me take that practice and write down 10 things a day, and practice and meditate as to why I appreciate things in my life. And then scientifically you start reading the books and how that scientifically changed the neural pathways in your brain. Oh my Gosh, how cool. It’s good to connect to science in that manner. So by spending time alone, in a healthy manner, being in nature, by meditating, by connecting with the prayers that I connect with in my tradition and saying those over in a practice, by spending time with, with, with friends who I could go with there, quote, unquote, with, these are ways for me to connect with God and how God connects with me.
Noam: I think it’s beautiful. I now want to speak about the vulnerability, the intimacy of love in terms of our friendships. One of the greatest medieval scholars of all time, Maimonides, the Rambam, wrote a great commentary and he speaks about friendship. This, these ideas from Rambam, from Maimonides, come from Aristotle, actually. He talks about three different types of friendship, three levels of friendship. Okay.
Level number one of friendship is friendship of utility. The friendship of utility is someone that gets something from someone else. It could be, I go to the Grove, shout out to the Grove, here in South Florida, I go hang out with the woman by the counter, and she’s like selecting like the challahs, or the baked goods, or whatever it is. And we have a nice relationship, but I give her something, money, she gives me something in return, a delicious danish. That’s our relationship. It’s developed into friendship of sorts, right? Many people have all different types of friendship. It’s a friendship of utility, that’s one level.
The second level that my humanity speaks about is a relationship that is of a love that is based on fun, that is based on pleasure. That could be somebody who loves playing tennis and they say, “Hey, let’s go play tennis together.” It could be someone who loves going to the mountaintop with you and in nature and saying, “Hey, we both like this. Let’s have fun doing this.” It’s that sort of friendship, it’s that sort of a relationship. Whatever the thing is golfing, whatever the interest people have, video games. Okay.
The third level and this is the highest level of a friendship is the type of friend, right, that he calls, Rambam says the type of relationship that is about hatov, which means the pursuit of good. And Rambam describes this relationship, so interesting, I never saw this, as a relationship between a teacher and a student. He says that is the ideal relationship in Judaism, the ideal relationship in general, it’s done well obviously. When you have a friendship, that is not about what I get from you, not about what you get from me and not about that we both like doing the same thing, but that we’re both pursuing the good together. Any relationships you have like that, and that you could talk about?
Meir: Yeah, totally. That’s another great piece of Torah and wisdom from our people, 100%. It’s been cool to see also how sometimes, like how the levels of friendship grow, like start off as like more of a transactional type of friendship, and then moved up into, oh, you love doing this too.
This is it , this is godliness. Eva says when two Jews come together, there is a two yetzer tovs against one yetzer harah, It’s two good inclination versus one evil inclination. Because evil incarnations in ourselves are very selfish, when the good incarnations are selfless, they’re all about love. So it’s a two-front battle. That’s why we’re able to go ahead and create a whole lot more possibility within ourselves. When we acquire a friend, we acquire a good friend or a mentor or someone who loves us and we love them, we’re able to have a lot more growth. That partnership is because it’s two versus one in those circumstances. Thankfully I do have those types of conversations and friendships and relationships in my life where I’m able to go ahead and really focus on that bigger plan, that bigger mission.
That’s one of my dating process now. People express this to me while dating, here’s a tip, young man, is to really find someone who you can able to like, build that mission with. Not necessarily does it have to be like you both have to be filmmakers and create the most ultimate film that brings God into this world, but to have that overall arch of ,okay, we both want to bring goodness into the world. We want to create a home where, X, Y, and Z values are accepted and loved and cherished.
And that I find to be a truth, when seeking and building a relationship with my partner right now. It’s like, what are you passionate about? What do you want to work towards? What’s your biggest project? Not just like, okay, for today, to pay the bills, but to create in this lifetime. And how could I help you with that? How could you help me become the best version of myself? So we could go ahead and create something beautiful in this world that didn’t exist when we’re not together, but when we’re together, this thing appears.
Noam: For me, Meir, when I think of these friendships, when I’m going through something tough, I feel bad burdening my friends. There have been times where I’ve gone through something difficult, whatever that thing is and my life. I don’t want to burden my friends. What I’ve learned with time actually is that the closest friends you have invite that burden upon you. They invite it, they want it, and it’s not a burden to them. It’s an expression of the friendship.
I view it in the same way, as for me be a good friend, and this is an idea I heard from David Brooks, to be a good friend means to invite my friends, to burden me. It’s a treasure. It really is a treasure to have someone share with me and to say, “Hey, listen, I’m leaning on you. I’m stuck and I need you.” And so for my closest friends, I appreciate their ability and their willingness to allow me so to speak, to burden them, and I invite that to them as well. I invite them to me as well, and I want to do better at that. I’m not saying I’m great at that, but it’s something that I’m conscious of and it matters to me.
Meir: True. Why limit their capacity to love and to hold by your own fear, what you’re going to share and own limitations. You know what I mean? Giving them the chance to show up for love, give them the chance to show up for friendship when I’m like vulnerable or open, and this is I say, applies to my parents for example, it allows them to level up and step up and to hold me in a different way. To ensure our relationship, and to have conversations other than like, did I eat enough today?, put it on a sweater, it’s cold outside. They’re able to challenge them in my belief system and how I’m growing and turning and I think that’s, I think that’s a beautiful opportunity for that friendship to grow, and to blossom.
Noam: I want to give you a few quotes and you have under 20 seconds to respond to each of these quotes. You ready? Here we go. Number one, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, love transforms us. It makes us beautiful in the eyes of those who love us. It makes us real.
Meir: Yes, love that. It’s incredible. The more I love someone, let’s say my friendship, my relationship with my girlfriend. I see new parts of her that I never experienced, I see new details in her. I think her beauty just keeps on growing and it’s real and it’s authentic and it comes to authentic place.
Noam: Okay. Rabbi Joseph Baer Soloveitchik says this, and it’s intense, but stick with me. Listener, stick with me. He speaks about Adam and Eve and he says they have a lot in common. Otherwise, Eve could not be a helper. However, they’re all so different. Their existential experiences are incommensurate. The I-awareness in Adam is totally incomprehensible to Eve, and vice versa. Each of them has a secret which neither will ever betray. They resemble each other, and at the same time do not understand each other. In the interpersonal existential tension, both man and woman bind redemption.
Meir: Yooo, tremendous.
Noam: This is, this is why this is why he’s known as the Rav.
Meir: The Ravvvv, wow. Yes. That is what keeps life interesting and adventurous, yes there’s so much relatability to my other. And at the same time like Mars and Venus, like two different planets, how we look at things and it just keeps these spicy and interesting. It keeps things in a place of discovery. So yes, a whole lot of reliability, but a whole lot of discovery and mystery as well.
Noam: Okay. I’m going to end with this one. This is actually my favorite quote and my father’s, but this is my favorite quote. Any love that depends on a specific cause when that cause is gone, the love is gone. But if love does not depend on something specific, it will never cease.
Meir: Totally. Right. Rabbi Matis Friedman talks about that as well. When love is like, it has something, it belongs on something then, if that something is gone, then obviously it’s gone. That’s why he brings down the example and I’m quoting Rabbi Matis Friedman here, he says, “when you ask your grandparents, what are you guys doing in the bedroom, they’ll say nothing.” And what they’re going to mean is like, they’re not trying to hide from the fact that they’re having intimate relations, physical relationships, but rather that there is nothing between them. Once there’s something there, then once that something is gone, then the relationship is gone. Is it money? Is it beauty? But rather there’s nothing there. That’s where the depression could take place.
Noam: I love that. I love Meir. You have taught me a lot about love, a lot about how to show love a lot about how to receive love from all different perspectives and all different types of love. There are lots of different types of love out there, lots of different relationships out there. So Meir, I really appreciate having you on The Power Of, it’s been incredible having you. Thank you brother.
Meir: Thank you. Thank you to the team. It’s really a pleasure. I really loved doing this podcast with you, creating this podcast with you and I really appreciate it. And I would just say anybody who’s listening, A. Thanks for listening but also B. I applaud you to take the time and the encouragement to go ahead and venture out on the journey of love. Love to self, love to other, love to partner, love to God. And it’s all really intertwined and connected. And I do hope to meet you out in the real world so I can give you a big old hug when that time comes.
Noam: Amen. Thanks, Meir.
Can you tell by my voice how much I loved this conversation? I loved speaking with Meir – it almost felt like we were long lost siblings.
But one thing that really struck me is this. On episode 4, I spoke to Dovid Bashevkin about happiness, and he made it clear that happiness is not the most natural state to him. It’s a struggle. And in speaking to Meir, I felt the same thing – he purposely built his career, and his life, around spreading love – because it was something he felt like he needed, and maybe lacked. That was pretty amazing to me, and a good reminder. The things that mean most to us in life – we can, and we must, seek them out. Incorporate them. Change our lives from within. That’s what I take from this episode, and from this series, and from all of these conversations.
And now, if you’ll allow me, one more reflection on this series. Because I’m both exhausted, and invigorated. Ten episodes down. With epic guests: Moshe Halbertal, Chloe Valdary, Judah Mischel, Kylie Unell, Dovid Bashevkin, Nachi Gordon and Yaakov Langer, Mem Bernstein, Mike Sweetney, Chavie Lieber and now Meir Kay. [deep breath] It’s been quite the ride.
I hope you’ve seen how there is so much to explore in western and Jewish thought on all the topics we all think about regularly.
From the outset, this series was going to be a daunting task. It required a little bit of awkwardness on my part to get out of my public persona, which has been totally focused on Israel for the last 5 years, and re-enter the space of Jewish thought, and also take a deep dive into my own personal relationship with Judaism.
So, I want to end with the power of words. And, I want to say thank you. Thank you to all of you for listening, for thinking about these questions, for exploring your own Jewish journey.
And most of all, thank you to my producer Rivky Stern, who made this all possible, who dreamt this dream with me and coached, encouraged and ensured we would have the most thoughtful and insightful Jewish educational product on the market. Rivky, you’re the best!