LOSING THE RAT RACE, WINNING AT LIFE
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by Marc D. Angel
In the rush to meet the challenges and pressures of life, we don’t always allow ourselves the time to contemplate the meaning of our realities. Why are we here? What do we hope to accomplish with our lives? Where are we headed, and what is genuinely important?
We live in an exciting, fast-paced world that can provide us with many good things. On some level, however, we find ourselves feeling stuck in a rat race that lacks ultimate meaning. This book sheds light on the obstacles of the rat race, stimulates thought about the direction of our lives, and helps us draw on our strengths to get beyond the mundane.
About the Author:
Rabbi Marc D. Angel, Ph.D., rabbi of the historic Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue (Shearith Israel) of New York City, is the author or editor of 18 books and numerous articles on religion and faith. A community activist and recipient of awards from national chaplaincy, educational, and rabbinic federations, he lectures widely throughout the US.
Hardcover, 159 pages
Praise for Losing the Rat Race, Winning at Life:
“…takes readers on a soul searching journey to investigate the values that can bring peace of heart in this fast-paced, modern world. This book is a must read for all generations.”
-Susan Rudin, Chairman of the Board of the Lincoln Center Institute
“This book offers readers insight, direction, hope and encouragement to live life more responsibly.”
-The Rev. Dr. Walter Smith, President and CEO, the HealthCare Chaplaincy
“If this powerful volume does not help you to abandon the rat race and embrace life, no other book will.”
-Rabbi Dr. Reuven P. Bulka, Founder of the Journal of Psychology and Judaism
"This book is a call to action, and will make all readers stop and think about their lives and question how sure they are that they really know what makes them happy and fulfilled. Who better than Rabbi Angel can help us deal with the question of what makes us really happy within, and where to look to get out of the rat race."
-David Dangoor, President, American Sephardi Federation
Our favorite Seattle-born Sephardic rabbi and religious leader has written this prescription for life. In the rush to meet the challenges and pressures of life, we don't always allow ourselves the time to contemplate the meaning of our realities. Why are we here? What do we hope to accomplish with our lives? Where are we headed, and what is genuinely important? We live in an exciting, fast-paced world that can provide us with many good things. On some level, however, we find ourselves feeling stuck in a rat race that lacks ultimate meaning. This book sheds light on the obstacles of the rat race, stimulates thought about the direction of our lives, and helps us draw on our strengths to get beyond the mundane.
The self-help genre has been embraced by the rabbinate, but this contribution is considerably better than most. Given the title, it is a little ironic that it comes out of New York, home of the rat race, where Marc Angel is rabbi of the historic Spanish and Portuguese synagogue. Nothing in this book is particularly new. But Rabbi Angel writes appealingly and sensibly and will speak to those ready to hear.
-Australian Jewish News
“Winning the Spiritual Life” - A Book Review of Rabbi Marc D. Angel's Losing the Rat Race, Winning at Life
In this thin book , Rabbi Marc Angel offers a modern mussar tract on how to live a rich, reflective ethical life. R. Angel holds a MA in 19th Century American literature, a Yeshiva University Ph.D. in the scientific study of rabbinics, and he happens to serve the prestigious Orthodox Spanish Portuguese Synagogue of Manhattan, where general culture and modern Orthodoxy are elegantly synthesized.
R. Angel’s religiously informed intuition empowers him to find the image of God in the “other” without adopting religious relativism. While the book is a deceptively easy read, it ought not to be read rapidly.
R. Angel’s essential thesis is by running the “rat race” of amassing physical possessions and personal honor, we lose our humanity by misusing our faculties for unworthy ends. Every claim in this book is based upon an idiom or source in the Jewish religious canon. But R. Angel’s wise narrative is not parochial. He shows his humanity by being a very informed Jew, whose Judaism enhances rather than diminishes his humanity.
R. Angel’s narrative opens by describing people who “won the rat race” by abusing the lives of others, and were therefore moral failures. An authentic human being does not raise himself at the expense of another, following the Talmudic dictum that “one who glorifies oneself with the shame of the other forfeits one’s own portion in the world to come.”
Citing the Pesahim narrative of R. Joshua b. Levi’s son, who died, revived, and recalled his next world experience, we learn that the Divine perspective of good is an inversion of human expectations. We here recall Maimonides’ Guide, which distinguishes between truth and falsehood, and good and evil, which are relativist human perceptions. Moral authenticity requires upright living that recognizes the image of God in the other without willfully using others as objects.
Citing the Platonic Allegory of the Cave, R. Angel argues that the individual “who sees the light” must not be condemned to submit to the conventions of the conforming crowd. Moral right is determined by the personal conscience and not communal conventions. R. Angel cites the judge, Learned Hand, to condemn the “orthodoxy that chokes freedom of dissent.” The Orthodox rabbinic author challenges Orthodox Judaism to conform to its professed standards. The author’s training in reading the Talmudic canon empowers him to identify the disparity between what Orthodox Judaism demands and the claims of “accepted” Orthodox policy.
Questioning culture traditions which are accidents of history is not a denial but is indeed an affirmation of Torah canon. In the oral Torah canon, Tractate Horayot demands the dissent of the learned scholar when the majority of the Supreme Court of the Jewish people is in error, and R. David HaLevi, a previous Sefardic Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv whom R. Angel elsewhere views as a spiritual mentor, forbids his students to submit to authority figures blindly. For R. Angel, authentic Jewish Orthodoxy may be found in the sacred recorded word and not the infallible Torah person. R. Angel also challenges radicals who reject Tradition. He instead opts for an acceptance of the present without rejecting the past. The believing individual balances between a blind loyalty to everything inherited from the past and a mindless and uncritical adoption of current fads.
R. Angel’s sensibility is reflected in the biography of the major Ashkenazi rabbinic thinker who impacted R. Angel’s thought, Joseph B. Soloveitchik. Known as the “a man of law” who never wavered from his sense of what the Tradition demanded of him, R. Soloveitchik broke with his culture of Tradition to earn a Ph.D. from the University of Berlin. He also married Dr. Tonya Levitt, a secularly well-educated eastern European, as a soul-mate, indicating that he also rejected culture convention Tradition.
R. Angel advises his general reader to be honest when making life’s choices. It is the internalized sense of right that ought to inform one’s opinion, not the approval of others.
Uniformity of thought and dress are not required by Judaism, but Judaism’s ethical parameters remain religiously binding. The real ties to the past are in the memories of loved ones who live in our present. R. Angel challenges us to strike a balance between allowing the past to inform the present and living blindly and uncritically in either the past or the present. This balance is the essence of the human condition.
R. Angel demands that in order for us to be fully human, we appreciate others not as objects, but like ourselves, as subjects. This doctrine appears in the Biblical command to “love one’s fellow as oneself,” according to which we must sense the image of God in the other in order to find that moral potential in ourselves. For example, childhood bullies and those who refuse to respond to bullying undermine their own humanity.
R. Angel alludes to the rule regarding of “standing on the blood of one’s fellow.” For the morally authentic Jew, avoiding wrong is insufficient; wrongdoing must be opposed unconditionally.
R. Angel’s Losing the Rat Race is an exemplar of contemporary Orthodox Judaism at its best. It is a triumph because it avoids triumphalism. R. Angel writes as a believing, practicing Jew and as a probing, sensitive citizen of the world. He affirms both his humanity and his ethnic, religious Jewish self. Unlike R. Harold Kushner’s Why Bad Things Happen to Good People, who addressed the problem of suffering by presenting a God Who is less than all-powerful, R. Angel, like, R. Soloveitchik, affirms both the suffering person and the commanding reality of God. He lives with the tension in the human condition. Like the Talmudic passage that concedes that it might have been “better” for humankind not to have been created, we were in fact created and must make the right moral choices. For R Angel the mental effort to make the moral choice defines our humanity. Modesty is defined not by how much of one’s body is covered, but what we reveal about our character. A morally authentic human being chooses to do right; the Orthodox Jew obeys God and, when necessary, must reject the social consensus that claims to speak on God’s behalf. Citing Chancellor R. Norman Lamm of Yeshiva University, those who suffer from “neophobia,” or fear of the new, reflect their culture, but not their Judaism.
Losing the Rat Race challenges the reader to re-orient oneself in order to Win at Life. We cannot be honest to God if we are dishonest to ourselves. In this modern morality tract, the learned, humane, gentle Rabbi Marc Angel is brutally frank and generously gentle. In this volume, the poles of justice and mercy are fused in beauty, the beauty of holiness.
-Rabbi Alan J. Yuter
National Jewish Post and Opinion
Rabbi Marc Angel proposes a bold new approach to life in his Losing the Rat Race, Winning at Life: he recommends that we turn away from the madness and confusion of the status quo, and seek new direction in a soul-searching and meaningful existence.
It is Rabbi Angel’s observation that many people today get caught up in what he describes as a “rat race,” a mad, fast-paced drive to get ahead, with little thought given to why we are working so hard. As he explains, “We are so busy trying to succeed that we lose sight of what real success is.” The problem, as he sees it, is that in our contemporary society, where people are no longer preoccupied with the problem of subsistence, it is necessary to find other justification or meaning to make our lives worthwhile.
Unfortunately, people seem to invest more of their energy in the struggle than they do in seeking the purpose for the struggle. The bad news, we learn, is that people strive for recognition, but it is all for naught. Their struggle yields paradoxical results, as Rabbi Angel demonstrates: People clamber to stand out, or to prove themselves better than others, but in so doing, they are actually employing methods that make them not so very different from everyone around them. People are so busy trying to see who can get the best tattoos or who can wear the skimpiest outfits that they fail to realize that the people around them are doing much the same thing. Without meaning in their lives, people spend their time focusing on a lifelong competition.
Rabbi Angel asserts however, that there is some potential good news. He suggests that if we can break free from the rat race that consumes so much of our time, then we can win at life. To do this requires that one find meaning in one’s own life and in the home one creates. One must seek answers to such questions as “Why are we here?” and “What do we hope to accomplish in our lives?” True success does not involve keeping up with those around us. Such strategies are counter-productive, since they continue to involve the individual in the competition which is so damaging to our personalities. Rather, as Rabbi Angel explains, one must have the courage to stand alone, and develop the ability to make one’s own life decisions. Only in this way can one strengthen one’s inner life and moral courage, and pursue a thinking and independent existence.
We may not be able to resolve our questions today, or even tomorrow. Yet, Rabbi Angel asserts that in asking the questions, in seeking direction, and in striving after meaning, we can actually win in living our lives.
-Sephardic Jewish Voice
Rabbi Dr. Marc D. Angel has made an invaluable contribution with the publication of his Losing the Rat Race – Winning at life, a self-help book on how to better our lives in a world where a dog eat dog philosophy prevails. He takes readers on a step-by-step journey on how to improve the quality of life and enjoy healthier relationships with family, friends and community.
We live in a world where we are taught to beat the other guy before he beats us and swallows us up, and Angel insists that by getting out of the rat race, it is possible to win at finding a more fulfilling way of life. This is a reachable goal, which can be accomplished with sheer will power, as he demonstrates in chapter 5: Starting to Win: Self-Discovery.
Angel provides some sound advice, "know thyself." "When we listen to the verse phrases that have made the hard journey through time, space and language"; we are exhilarated by what we hear. Solon (c.639-c.559 BC), the Athenian lawgiver and poet impressed upon the minds of men, "know thyself," and in Hamlet, William Shakespeare had Polonius advise his son, Laertes, with words now immortal, '"This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man."
There have been a plethora of books and declarations on how to improve our lives and live the life emblazoned in the Declaration of Independence that each of us deserves: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Angel writes in the tradition of Joshua Loth liebman's Piece of Mind, which over a half a century ago was an international best seller and which met the needs of that generation; but this is now a far different world, a far cry from that time and clime. Today, more than ever, we are living in a rat race.
As Terry Golway put it, "what they [the early labor union organizers] who fought for a shorter work week and the right to enjoy a life outside the work place might not have understood is how casually so many of us have allowed work to intrude on life."
Marc Angel reaches out to us and pleads like a father to a child, for the sake of our mental health, to avoid the pitfalls of our society. In a way, he echoes the words of the Ethics of the Fathers, "Who is rich? He who is happy with his portion." The message is simple: Get out of the rat race - win at living; enhance your life and enjoy your family.
We are slowly killing ourselves - mentally, physically, emotionally, clawing our way to reach the top of the economic ladder-but at what cost to our emotion and body? Marc Angel shows us a better way.
lf you want to live a more fulfilling life, then read Losing the Rat Race - Winning at life. It is the road map to a new and enhanced life of mental health, better physical appearance and thanking God for the gifts bestowed upon us.
-Rabbi Bernard M. Zlotowitz
New York Board of Rabbis Newsletter
Most of us live on a treadmill of sorts, rushing from home to work to kids' soccer practices and dance recitals to PTA meetings and somehow wedging in shopping, cooking, cleaning, walking the dog, working out, and when there's any time left over, pursuing hobbies. Whew. Amid our goals, or perhaps central to them, is getting ahead, financially and socially. A better job, a bigger raise, the latest fashions, a larger house in a better neighborhood. Not that there's anything wrong with all that except for the fact that we can easily lose our true selves in the rat race and forget the things that make our lives genuinely rich: being a more loving and sympathetic partner, promoting our values, pursuing inner serenity, striving for greater humility. In a somewhat rambling fashion, Rabbi Angel reminds us that we are placed on Earth to attain the transcendent treasures of wisdom, love, spiritual insight, and moral courage. By directing our lives according to these ideals, he says, it's easy to leave the self-centeredness and consumerism of the rat race in the dust. Angel is the author of 18 books on religion and faith.
-Robin Levinson, Jewish Book World
Rabbi Marc Angel, the spiritual leader of the nation’s oldest Jewish congregation, reminds us that most, if not all of us, at some point find ourselves in the rat race that lacks any ultimate meaning. We are so caught up with trying to succeed, that we forget what our objective really is. Many people have little or no alternative but to stay in the rat race, since they have no direction or ability to find a way out.
The book will help you understand the obstacles needed to get out of the race, stimulate you to think about alternative directions and assist you in using your inner strength to find meaning and purpose in your life.
-Alex Grobman, Lifestyles Magazine