June 15, 2010
Shmuley Boteach’s 18-Hour Day
(Page 3 - Previous Page)
Boteach arrives slightly flustered, 15 minutes late and nervous about pitching her on co-chairing a conference in October.
“I have an idea for the church that would end all their problems in an instant,” Boteach answers.
“Celibacy! Simple,” Gregorisch-Dempsey cuts in. “Is this why we’re meeting? You’ve got 15…”
“Two reasons, Lisa,” he says sweetly, his tone ever so delicate. “I’d like you to be the chair of something.”
“Oooooh,” she whines. “But I’m a recluse! I’m a people hater. I’m a bad Jew.”
“Listen, listen. It’s for a single day,” he explains. “There’s a guy here in L.A. — one of the biggest financiers in the country, look him up; he’s the No. 1 money manager in all of Los Angeles ...”
“He’s not like Bernie Madoff?” she quips.
“I’ve wanted to do a conference for the longest time on the media and values, a half-day devoted to discussion ...”
“I want to talk about menopause!” she screams. “It’s HOT!” She opens a desk drawer and removes a mini fan, which she turns on and holds up to her face.
“If you tell me you’re having a hot flash right now, I get it, I get it,” he says.
“Why do you want me to be on this?” she asks.
“Because you’re one of the most respected TV executives in the industry, the most connected, by far, you’re my dear friend who I really respect and look up to, you’re warm and loving, and I think that you represent something in the media.”
One of Boteach’s gifts is that he’s a good sweet-talker. He manages to stroke egos and convey genuine admiration at the same time, and he does this because he knows that big-name celebrities will draw attention to his cause. Fame, for Boteach, is about being relevant. But, for the most part, he’s entirely oblivious to the fact that a woman having a hot flash is impervious to even the most exquisite toadying.
Back in the car, he relaxes. A full morning of pandering to egos from Wall Street to Hollywood does wear on him. And he wonders aloud why the thrill of playing rabbi to the stars means so much to him. “As a rabbi, I’m forever torn between two realities,” he says, entering a bout of self-reflection. “I’m a representative of the world of the spirit, but trying to make an impact here in terra firma. You have to try to synthesize these contradictory impulses — the ascension to heaven and the progression to earth — I feel that struggle within me at all times.”
In both his writing and speaking, Boteach counsels on the vacuity of materialism and fame. He speaks of detachment from God, of satisfying spiritual emptiness with ephemera that have no lasting value. In this, he is also reminding himself of what matters, of spiritual guides, like the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa, who had no need for the glamours of the material world.
“When you’re filled with the spirit, do you really need to be filled with the stuff of the body?” he wonders aloud. “I love doing good things for people, I really do, but there’s ego mixed into it. He recalls a quote from President Harry Truman: “ ‘You can accomplish anything in life, provided that you do not mind who gets the credit.’ A saying like that haunts me. I love doing good, but I like being recognized for it; I only write books that I think will improve the quality of people’s lives, but don’t think for one minute that my name on the front isn’t important to me.”
For Jews, he says, righteousness equals struggle. “Judaism has no perfect people — the Bible is filled with flawed individuals,” he says. “We don’t trust the person who doesn’t have to fight to do what’s right. I’m being honest about this Jewish value of struggle, as I struggle, myself, between altruism and self-absorption, between selfishness and selflessness, between doing what’s right and what’s popular - that, itself, is a Godly act, engaging in that struggle.”
Even though he’s a teacher — and supremely media savvy — Boteach admits he doesn’t have the big answers, even when it comes to his own family. He credits his wife of 22 years, Debbie — whom he dated for just one month before they got engaged — as the most wholesome and virtuous force in his life. They have nine children together, six girls and three boys, ages 2 to 21.
“The reason I’m married — Thank God — is because I have a long-suffering wife,” he jokes, still ebbing his way through traffic. “My wife is a woman of extraordinary grace. She’s emotionally whole; she grew up amidst great stability. She doesn’t need attention. When you marry a man who is emotionally scarred — and I’m very open about the scarring — it’s difficult. My wife is married to a man whose life is a lifelong process of healing.”
Boteach says he feels whole only when he is purposeful.
“I never stop questioning if what I’m doing is really valuable, but I always come back to my belief that Judaism has extraordinary things to teach the world.”