America’s Rabbi

It’s the end of the day, and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is running late. Very late. “I’m not very good at planning, at all,” he says breathlessly, the wind beating against his Bluetooth headpiece. “I’m more of a spontaneous, impatient person.”

This whole notion of spontaneity is very easy to grasp, especially since every time we see the frenetic rabbi with the bushy beard and tough advice he seems to be doing a rather convincing impression of the Energizer Bunny—minus the actual battery compartment.

But inside that brain of his, oh the stuff that comes out. Heady stuff. Weird stuff. Personal stuff. (Remember, this is the guy who talked with Oprah about kosher sex.) Stuff about success and life balance and principles and ambition.

Boteach just exudes advice you can use both at home and at the office. Like this little nugget, which he came up with off the top of his head, at the end of a long day while driving on the freeway to an evening event: “Gaining the wisdom that leads to delayed gratification has been an experience of gratification to me. It does not come naturally to me.”

Think about that one for 60 seconds, and it will start to make some sense.

That’s the thing about the controversial rabbi. Whether you’re a CEO or a stay-home dad, a struggling entrepreneur or a well-established businessperson, his basic message strikes a nerve in all of us, often even taking us down a notch or two.

Yes, he had a rough childhood. (He was a child deeply affected by divorce.) Sure, he suffered from low self-esteem. (What adolescent doesn’t?) He’s hard on himself. Too hard. But Boteach is not going to talk about all that. Been there, done that—mostly in the 25 books that he’s written, more than a few of them blockbuster best-sellers.

Today, Boteach is going to talk about resiliency.

SUCCESS: As a nation, we’re going through such tough times. Is there anything you can talk about that will help our readers stay strong and bounce back from the adversities we face today?

And with that one, tiny push, he’s off. (And he actually stays focused for about two seconds.)

“We live in an imperfect world, so resiliency is very important,” he says. “You’re going to come up against roadblocks and challenges, and you have to never be defeated by them. I am a true believer in tenacity.”

And by tenacity, he means seeing the world in its Big Picture. You can’t have resiliency against hardship (read “unhappiness”) unless you recognize the unhappiness. You can’t get rid of the unhappiness unless you effect change. And you can’t effect change without sacrifice.

Put away society’s values he says—especially if you’re a guy—and create some better ones of your own.

“The twin pillars of money and fame are making it very difficult for the American male to feel good about himself,” he says. “I think that the competition that we have brought to the American male has undermined his self-esteem. The definition of success is too narrow.”

Success, says the man often referred to as “America’s rabbi,” extends way beyond the corner office. Way beyond. Or at least it should.

The Man

You can’t tell a story about what makes Rabbi Shmuley Rabbi Shmuley without mentioning some of the key sound bites. He believes in the traditional family, but also believes divorce and porn are way more threatening than gay marriage. He is openly unimpressed with Donald Trump, calling him “the quintessential broken American male.”

And sex. Well, his book Kosher Sex: A Recipe for Passion and Intimacy hit such a nerve that it sold 1 million copies in 27 languages. But, sorry, we’re not going there today.

Here are Boteach’s five ingredients of success. And profession is only one-fifth of the formula.

⇒ Attain professional achievement.

⇒ Make one’s wife happy.

⇒ Inspire one’s children.

⇒ Serve others.

⇒ Nurture your relationship with God.

“You cannot be happy without a sense of purpose and a sense of real meaning,” he tells me. “When I have a sense of purpose and a sense of real meaning, then I am happy.” Boteach says he’s happy about “60 percent of the time.”

Through the years, Boteach has amassed quite a professional résumé. He writes several print and online columns, appearing regularly on The Huffington Post home page, The Jerusalem Post and others. He has the 25 books. His talk radio career is on hiatus, but he’s always entertaining on the air.

And still, two minutes into a conversation with him, all he wants to talk about is his family. That’s because, to Boteach, success “has to incorporate the personal as well as the professional.”

To him, it’s all bound together, like nerves and tendons and muscles in an arm. You can’t be a successful businessman without a successful home life. You can’t be successful at home without giving to the community. You can’t support the community without loving your family. When you have these components in your life, you will be more resilient to all those external forces that can batter you about even during the best of times.

Practice What You Preach

But Boteach says this notion of a healthy home-and-work circuit is so foreign to most mainstream American men that in 2008 he wrote a book, The Broken American Male. And How to Fix Him, that deals almost exclusively with how to pull off this “whole-life approach.” Sure, it’s a tad preachy. But he’s a rabbi.

“Let us create a new generation of American men, secure in themselves, comfortable in their own skin, who do not measure their importance in relation to their peers’ bank accounts,” he writes. “Let us create an American male who does not live to impress others but to do the right thing. Let us create an American male who works to live rather than lives to work.”

Giving back, says Boteach, is a big piece of this puzzle and for several years now the rabbi has been involved with NextGen: Charity—an annual conference on nonprofit innovation that relies on organizations ranging from UNICEF to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

Community, says the rabbi, is everything. That’s the “giving back” part of his five keys to success. “Do not separate yourself from community,” he writes. “Soulless capitalism not only pulls a man away from a community, it obliterates the entire idea of community since it pits one man against another in a never-ending competition of acquisition.”

How does the rabbi practice his preach in so many aspects of life—professionally, spiritually, at home, in the community?

“God has blessed me with a lot of energy,” he says.

And it’s a good thing. Boteach, 44, has been married for 23 years, and he and his wife have nine children. They’re raising their family in New Jersey, but Boteach spends a considerable amount of time a half-hour or so away, in New York City.

Besides the writing, he’s a prolific public speaker and getting better, he says, at the marketing aspect of big business. Besides offering up his self-help books online, he also sells a Rabbi Shmuley Bobblehead Doll for $14.95. And it’s pretty darn adorable.

Still, he says, there is constant struggle for balance. “I have to work hard to overcome a natural pessimism,” he says. “I am not a natural optimist and I envy those who are.”

That built-in negativity which he fights every day probably helps in his writing. On paper, he’s The Man, writing with great confidence about success and healthy ambition. In reality, he says he’s often The Boy, still searching for answers.

The Broken American Male

Boteach spends a lot of time talking about the American male, and how he’s out of balance. He’s a rabbi who’s studied Judaism for most of his life, so, of course, his views are faith-based. But he also believes that popular culture makes it increasingly difficult for a man—or a woman, although he almost always writes and speaks in the masculine pronoun—to find balance.

Here are some more of his core beliefs, culled from both his books and our conversation:

⇒ We must put limits on the ego while retaining our ambition, and upward mobility is a prerequisite to a successful and satisfying life. The arrogant man is always an ingrate.

⇒ We must raise our sons differently, which means we must set aside the stereo-typecasting—“boys must be good at sports”—and stop the “reprimanding, reproving, censuring, reproaching, admonishing, chiding and hauling over the coals.”

⇒ Ambition is necessary and good because it leads to self-awareness and improvement.

⇒ Professional achievement is necessary, just as personal achievement is necessary. Working hard, earning money and climbing the professional ladder are important. But the key to remember  is balance.

⇒ “Healthy ambition” buoys us and propels us forward. “Broken ambition” is based on the idea that we are unworthy and puts us in a place where we feel no success is ever enough. Ambition and principle can and should co-exist.

Going back to the resiliency question, where we started off, he says, “As we go through life, I think people get more and more discouraged. I think life begins to close in on us. You get older, you allow people to wound you.”

Staying happy and positive, centered and balanced, takes constant care and awareness of the world around us, he says.

“I think it is certainly possible to learn how to deal with adversity without experiencing it,” says Boteach, who then admits he’s “faced a mountain of criticism” in his life.

 “You don’t have to be raised in an impoverished home to understand the plight of the poor,” he says. “You don’t have to be raised in Bosnia to understand the tragedy of war. And you don’t have to have had a life of great adversity to develop tenacity.” 

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

Wrote the book Kosher Sex: A Recipe for Passion and Intimacy in 1999, which kicked off a firestorm for its open, honest approach and subsequently sold 1 million copies in 27 languages.

Goes simply by "Rabbi Shmuley."

Once served as Oprah's marriage, parenting, and relationships expert on her Oprah & Friends national radio network, hosting the daily Rabbi Shmuley Show.

Loves a good debate! At Oxford University, where Rabbi Shmuley served as rabbi to the students for 11 years, he played host to and debated, some of the world's leading thinkers, statesmen and entertainers, including Mikhail Gorbachev, Professor Stephen W. Hawking, Shimon Peres, Deepak Chopra, Benjamin Netanyahu and Elie Wiesel.

Hear him match up with Darren Hardy in this web-exclusive excerpt from the SUCCESS CD.

 

 

Wrote the book Kosher Sex: A Recipe for Passion and Intimacy in 1999, which kicked off a firestorm for its open, honest approach and subsequently sold 1 million copies in 27 languages.

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