Beyond the Male Ego
(Rabbi Friedman)

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When G-d created Adam, the minute he opened his eyes, what was his psychological profile. What was his psyche? I mean, he had no Oedipus complex - he had no mother - right - he didn’t have a birth trauma, because he wasn’t born. What was this man like? He had no siblings, no sibling rivalry, what was the makeup of this man’s psyche? By the way, he didn’t have a survival instinct either. And that’s why when G-d said, the day you eat from this tree, you’ll die, he wasn’t impressed. Oh, so I’ll die. Easy come, easy go! He had no survival instinct. So how did his mind work?

He had a death wish, that was his psyche. He had a death wish because life felt so unnatural. So in a sense, when G-d says, from dust you are, and to dust you shall return, that’s the psyche! I came from dust, I want to go back. Back to what? To dust. To nothing.

Men, to this very day, have this complex. Men have this complex that if you strip away the external, the trappings - if you take away his car, and his money, and his blue suede shoes - there’s nothing, there’s dust. Every man is terrified that in the end, he will have amounted to nothing. No matter how much he has accomplished. He can be the richest man, the most powerful man, the most successful person, the most talented, the most admired; deep down inside he is afraid that it is all going to go away and he is going to remain a nothing, a non-entity, a zero.

Women don’t have this. A woman does not have a fear or a suspicion of her own nothingness. It doesn’t exist.  Chava was created from Adam, not from dust. Where a man is afraid if you take away all the trappings, all the accomplishments, there will be a nothing, but a woman, if you take away everything, all her accomplishments and her achievements, what’s going to remain? She doesn’t become a nothing, she becomes him. She loses herself in him. When you take away a man’s being, he doesn’t lose himself in her, he becomes nothing. Zero.

That’s why a man needs to accomplish. He must accomplish, because he has to deny this nothingness. Whereas a woman doesn’t need to accomplish in order to exist, she needs to accomplish in order to be appreciated. Because if you’re a nothing and you have to become a something, then accomplishment is everything, and respect is what you need more than anything else.

A woman who is a something and doesn’t need to become a something and is not afraid of being nothing, doesn’t understand and can’t tolerate when her something-ness is not appreciated. So what a woman needs more than anything else is appreciation, not respect.

So the Gemorrah says, that a man should be very careful with his wife’s feelings, and his wife’s honour, because a woman is sensitive to injustice. This is not an idle observation about women. At the core, at the essence of a woman’s being, it’s the injustice that bothers her, because she is being treated as if she were nothing, and that’s not true, she is something. So the injustice hurts.

When a man is being treated like nothing, it’s not the injustice that hurts him; it’s the truth, which hurts him. Because he is nothing. And he hates being reminded of it. But he’s not reacting to injustice, it’s not a moral indignation, it’s a personal hurt. Whereas with a woman, no matter how badly she is abused or devastated, it’s a moral injustice in her. That’s why, for example, a woman can be abused for years in a relationship, and she walks around saying she deserves it. A man can’t do that. He can’t walk around saying I deserve it, because that’s not the issue. The issue is not deserved or undeserved, the issue is “ Am I or am I not,” and if you abuse me, then I’m not, - I can’t take that. I can’t be diminished to nothing and go on. Can’t go on, if you’re nothing.

A woman’s plight is that being something, you expect to be recognized, you expect to be appreciated, you expect to be treated appropriately to the something that you are. A man on the other hand, is desperate to be recognized for a something, and so he needs to prove himself, he needs to achieve, he needs to acquire. And that’s why men are aggressive. Men are aggressive because the need to acquire is an aggression. Whereas the determination to retain what is yours, to remain yourself, no matter how intensely you pursue that, it’s not called aggression, because you’re not out to acquire, you’re just trying to preserve.

When the lion goes hunting, he’s aggressive. When the lioness goes hunting, she’s just trying to keep her family going, it’s not aggression, it’s maintenance. If you threaten a bear cub when its mother is around, you’re in big trouble. You say, “Oh, this mother is aggressive.” She’s not aggressive, she’s totally passive. Leave her kid alone, and she’s fine; she’s not out to get you. She doesn’t want anything you have. She just wants to maintain what she has. And she’ll do that ferociously. But it’s maintaining, not aggressive.

On the other hand, men are very fragile and women are not. Why are men so fragile? Because at the core of a man’s psyche there is a vast emptiness - outer space, nothing, blank. In a woman’s psyche, there is no blackness, there is no emptiness, there is no space. That’s what we mean when a man says [in his morning prayer], “Thank You for not making me a woman.” Whereas the woman says, “Thank You for making me as You want me to be.” Cause a woman can make a positive statement about herself, because she is. She is grateful for what she is. A man is grateful for what he’s not. Because he can’t make a positive statement, he can’t say, Thank You for what I am. He’s never sure he is anything. So the male psyche is very fragile. You say boo, it falls apart.

This is where humility comes into play. Humility means stop trying to cover up your nothingness. Stop trying to compensate for that emptiness, for that fear that you’re nothing, that you’re a zero. Accept it. It’s true. And work from there.

The woman’s plight is this: on the one hand, the weakness, the danger is that if she doesn’t maintain herself, she basically dissolves into him, and she becomes an appendage of him, which happens very, very often. On the other hand, there’s no greater talent, and no greater virtue that a woman has than to become completely him, in a healthy, positive, virtuous way.

A woman’s greatest strength is when she maintains herself, what is hers. If she is completely, insanely devoted to her husband - perfect, it’s hers. And when she’s devoted to what is hers, that’s perfect. The man who finally comes to term with his nothingness, is now free from this desperate need to defend himself, to protect himself from this nothingness, is now ready to serve. That’s why men have a very hard time with free time. They can’t stand facing themselves.

When soldiers go to war and they come back - they’re changed. They are not going to need to prove that they are something because they got comfortable with being nothing. They were ready to die. When a man can face his own obliteration, then he is ready to be of service to others. He is ready to be feminine. But as long as he has to compensate for this fear and suspicion that he is basically nothing, he is married to it. He’s occupied full-time. He’s not available to anyone or anything. Because he’s got this ghost. That haunts him. Obsesses him. And every conversation …you know you think you’re talking to him, he’s not talking to you, he’s talking to his ghost.

So in order for a man to become a mentsch, he has to go through some very dramatic changes, which a woman doesn’t have to go through.

A little girl is born to her mother, which is perfectly okay. She grows up emulating her mother, wearing her mother’s high heels, perfectly okay, she grows up wanting to be Mummy, or a mummy, if not her Mummy - so she grows up wanting to be Mummy - perfectly okay. As she gets older, she becomes more and more of a girl - perfectly okay - her life is set, from the first moment, she is on her track, and all she has to do is keep going.

Not the case with a little boy. First of all, the foetus starts off female. And only the introduction of some shocking, cataclysmic molecule changes him into boy. Now we have no idea how painful that is. How would you like someone messing with your DNA molecules! Already there’s this wrenching change. Then he is born to a mother, a woman. And he starts to think, “I want to be a mummy,” and you slap him and say, “don’t you ever say that! You can’t be a mummy.” Well, there’s the next wrench. So he has to separate from his Mummy, physically and psychologically - she is not his path in life.

So he starts off being a female foetus, then he has to change that, he starts off his mother’s darling and then he’s got to change that, he has to unbond from his mother and bond to his father, because he has to want to be a daddy. And it’s still not finished. But in order for him to become a man, he has to go through another wrenching change. He has to unbond from his father. Messy life!

This is not a very straight road. This is a very torturous road. And you could get stuck at any one stage and you’re finished. So what happens? After he is a boy, because he is bonded to his father, and he is getting along with his father - he has gained his father’s approval - which means he’s not a girl anymore - now he has to gain the approval of the male adult world, of men, and it can’t be his father, it has to be a stranger. That’s why a man has to go out and find a mentor, a king, someone to serve. And if he does that properly and wins the approval of this mentor - now he’s a man!

And you think that’s it, now he’s okay? No, once he becomes a man, now he can be feminine. This is so confusing! Sadly, in our society, we know nothing about any of this.  Ah, primitive societies knew. They understood this perfectly. The boy had to be thrown out of the lodge, out of the cave, out of the tribe, and force to go off on his own, to whatever and if he survived and came back, he became a man.

Girls do not have to do that because it’s not in the female psyche, it’s not in the nature of a woman to have to go out and face her ghost. Because she doesn’t have one.

So how does a man get confirmation of his manliness?

In order to be a man, you have to get that approval from a man who has made it. Then you know that their approval means something. But if you’re getting approval from other men who have not yet made it, like from the gang members - it doesn’t work! Doesn’t work. If you’re getting it from your peers, you’re just lying to each other. You’re propping each other up. But this is not effective approval. And trying to get it from a woman is certainly not going to work.

There is still this need for a mentor, and the only way you can get to have a mentor, is you are ready to die - psychologically; if you are ready to give it all up. So when a chassid goes to the Rebbe, it’s not to get something, you don’t go to the Rebbe to get something, you go to the Rebbe to give it up. Everything. That’s how a man goes to the Rebbe. You go to the Rebbe to surrender completely: to die. And when you do that, then when the Rebbe tells you what you need to do, you are now completely devoted to whatever your mission is, to whatever your purpose in life is, because you’re not fighting your ghost anymore.

That’s called extreme humility. But it’s healthy because it’s simply an acceptance of reality.

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In their many different idioms the classical spiritual writers have attempted to throw light on the eternal question of union with God. 
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