1999: Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were described as loners…
2007: At Virginia Tech, Cho Seung-Hui presented a chilling portrait of a 23-year-old loner
2010: The man accused of shooting two children at a Carlsbad elementary school was described by neighbors Saturday as a loner…
2011: Brazilian school shooter, Menezes de Oliveira, described as a loner…
2012: Adam Lanza was a quiet, withdrawn loner…
2012: The alleged shooter, TJ Lane, was described by Chardon High School classmates as a loner…
2018: Classmates, relatives and neighbors have described Cruz as a loner…
The above direct quotes from news coverage of different school shootings share only one feature—loner. I discussed my analysis of the Parkland school shooting on my podcast here. In this Thought Tool, I present to you something quite different.
God created a world dependent upon connection. Words, musical notes, and even the chemical elements of the periodic table all must connect before they are useful to humans. Most importantly, we God’s children were created to connect. Connectedness is necessary for our own sense of identity. Loneliness is painful partially because it alienates us from ourselves. Admittedly, killing other people is an extreme and thankfully rare response to excruciating loneliness. Nonetheless, while most of us do not react violently to the pain of disconnectedness, we still suffer.
Being without authentic human contact does to our souls exactly what oxygen deprivation or starvation does to our bodies. God created us with obvious physical needs but He also created us with spiritual needs. Connectedness with others is one of these needs and being deprived of this harms us just as surely, though perhaps not as quickly, as deprivation of oxygen or food.
You may well have experienced this very problem without diagnosing it. Perhaps you felt a subtle difficulty at summoning up feelings of happiness. Perhaps you felt a little depressed and could think of nothing about which you could be happy or for which you could feel grateful. Seek no further. The first and most likely explanation is insufficient authentic connection.
Ancient Jewish wisdom helps explain what authentic connection is. It was first achieved in that most perfect of all places, the Garden of Eden. After God said, “It is not good for man to be alone,” (Genesis 2:18) He solved the problem by creating Eve. Loneliness ended because Adam and Eve lived together in God’s garden, an environment of spiritual compatibility.
Unfortunately, life of spiritual compatibility in the Garden came to an end. Adam and Eve were evicted from paradise but they were still married and got to spend the rest of their lives trying to rebuild the spiritual umbrella of their relationship.
After driving Adam and Eve out of the garden, God placed at the east of the Garden of Eden two Cherubs “to guard the way of the Tree of Life”. Some mistakenly assume that their purpose was to prevent man from ever reaching the Tree of Life.
However, the true meaning of the words is that their purpose was to protect the pathway to paradise.
In only one other circumstance throughout the entire Five Books of Moses do we again encounter the two cherubs: they are found upon the gold lid of the Ark of the Covenant in Exodus 25:18 and Exodus 37:7.
If you are becoming more familiar with the ancient Jewish wisdom that my wife, Susan, and I teach, you will know that the reappearance of the cherubs is the vital clue. How can those two cherubs guide us back to Eden and help us banish loneliness?
The avenue back to Eden and the end of loneliness is through the Biblical blueprint contained within the box guarded by the cherubs. The same cherubs that protect the path to Eden also point the way to the Torah within their ark. That source of enlightenment details the shared core beliefs that will allow the children of Israel to truly connect. This is why the cherubs never appear in the Torah as individuals but always as a pair of them. They represent the ultimate metaphor of friendship and connection.
We might have thousands of ‘friends’ on social media and hundreds of friends we meet by our membership in various clubs, jobs, churches or synagogues. We might even be at a different social engagement every night. It is not the quantity of people we know, it is the quality of our connections with them.
Being connected with people of similar outlook is far more important than being connected with people of similar socio-economic level, skin color, or even with similar interests and hobbies. Religious beliefs are one type of shared outlook and this is why some people feel closer to friends in their faith families than they do to their real biological families.
Wise business owners understand the importance of a corporate culture. When money represents materialism it drives people apart as each individual is focused on his or her own acquisitions. When money represents proof of serving others, money corroborates a shared vision of societal interaction.
Instead of frantically seeking crowds of friends, seek out the few with whom your connection can be Edenic. Build spiritual compatibility into your relationships. Instead of spending most of your free time with your spouse at meaningless movies, spend it building your spiritual umbrella. Make sure that your connection with your family is not only biological. A corporate culture that instills core shared beliefs makes for meaningful work relationships. In all parts of your life, build spiritual bonds of shared ideas with those you care most about.
30 thoughts on “Only the Lonely”
As usual Rabbi, HaShem is using you to wade my mind into deeper waters. Thank you for the new word in my vocabulary list: Edenic, I need a lot of work with this not being connected. Been told I had a problem with connecting through a spiritual counselor. Train to be alone from birth and just got use to it. I don’t know anything else. I tried engaging in group activities especially spiritual ones, yet I end up very frustrated after a year or two. I don’t know what it means to be around those of similar outlook as you have put it. Would be nice to have the experience of an authentic connection in this lifetime. Thank you for the article. And by the way, is authentic connection the same as having a soulmate?
One must have authentic connection with a soulmate but one can have authentic connection with friends. Never mind what a spiritual counselor told you–it might have been true once but with humans, capable as we are of growth, that isn’t a life sentence. You can start connecting now.
Another interesting similarity among many of these shooters is discussed by Derek Gilbert on his 5 in 10 news analysis. Being the fatherless(ness) of them. I’m sure that ties into Jewish wisdom.
If you glance at my response to Lenore above, you’ll see that I addressed the fatherlessness issue. The reason I didn’t mention it in this Thought Tool is that fatherlessness correlates perfectly with all violent crime committed by young males. However, when we talk of these school shootings, the main correlation is loners. For instance the two Columbine killers in Colorado both had fathers and mothers who were married to one another.
Teacher in the event you see this- its off topic….
when Billy Graham’s daughter Anne spoke at his funeral she mentioned that the date upon which her father died is a special date for Jewish people, that its a specific date that the Jewish people study Moses….so maybe this is an “Ask the Rabbi”….the question being, what is it that she is referring to?….
could you maybe email to me the answer?
I also read about one other common factor between all but one of the latest shooters …… no Father in the home.
is a common feature for virtually all violent criminals. The big unspoken secret in social science that universities won’t touch is that the cradle to crime track correlates almost perfectly with mother never married to father.
Cherubs always in pairs! Interesting! Protecting the pathway to paradise. This is the Chinese Year of the dog, but I just learned that Foo dogs is a misnomer: they are lions, always in pairs, protecting pathways. The built-in need for companionship can be challenging for introverts (I am one). How can we balance the need for solitude with the need for companionship and to share our talents? There’s a book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”, that includes recent research showing how to reconcile the two; you may have some additional ideas and suggestions.
I readily understand being an introvert but I don’t understand being complacent about being an introvert. We all need time alone to recharge; and introverts tend to recharge better alone than with people. But even introverts desperately and urgently need connection with others even if they don’t realize it. If someone has an ulcer but has no idea of its existence; they just know that they often get stomach aches. The doctor tests and informs, “Hey, you have an ulcer”. We don’t walk around telling folks “Oh, I’m an ulcerite”. We don’t accept it. We find out how to get rid of it. Similarly, excessive introversion is like an ulcer. It explains some pain you’re feeling. Now fix it.
This doesn’t mean no alone time of course–it just means better life balance. You wisely indicate that one problem for introverts is sharing their talents. You’re quite right. The answer is not finding out how introverts share talent. The answer is stop identifying as an introvert, start doing some of the things that extroverts do, as hard as that will feel, and then go ahead and share your talents. It will flow perfectly naturally and perfectly normally.
As an “outgoing, introvert”…I find I need only (deep) connection to a few folks. I have always had only 1 or 2 (close) friends. The intimacy of those friendships (with my family connections) , helps me greatly when in my business life I have to ‘deal’ with many people and personalities daily. Those interactions are very draining. Having those core relationships are key (to me)
As a Christian, I am always reminded of the hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”
For my Jewish Brethren….”What a Friend We have in Jehovah” 🙂
Your point that loneliness and isolation is common among these mass murderers is well taken. Far more murders occur from gang violence. Superficially this seems to refute your point, but actually doesn’t. Youth join gangs for the connection you point out as necessary – just the wrong connections.
Great point, Norman,
I appreciate it. Needless to say, sex is also ultimately that yearning for connection and it too can be sought in less effective and often harmful ways.
There has been a fair amount of discussion and support to run mental health background checks before someone is able to buy a gun. Since connectedness is also seen to be an important part of mental health, maybe we should do something similar to referrals for a job interview; you’re required to have 5 people, who have known you for longer than 5 years, who would consider you a mentally sound and safe gun-owner.
During a field investigation for a government security clearance, the one seeking the clearance has to give the names of three references. Of course, the likelihood is to choose people whom they know will speak well of the candidate. So while interviewing these references, the investigator always asks, “Can you give me the names of 3 people who also know this candidate?” This is done down to 3 levels. The problem of course, is this can take several months, but if you can’t come up with a good handful of people who has interacted with the person regularly over the course of time, that should be a bright, red flag. Maybe it is time to consider this in the discussion.
Seriously; I entirely agree with your point that a way to quantify an individual’s connectedness as well as the soundness of those connections would work wonders. We try to do it with hiring but nowadays, a recommendation or testimonial means very little unless you are adept at reading between the lines.
Rabb,i that you for your timeless wisdom and insight. I can always count on you to help provide the necessary wisdom and perspective in difficult times and situations. You are Susan are truly a blessing in my life and I’m eternally grateful.
Thank you Michael–
We appreciate you too!
I want to thank you for teaching about subjects that a lot won’t, of which money is one. So much insight into the biblical financial realm. 🙌🏼🔥🙌🏼
Thank you Jean–
Not everyone can learn particularly when the timeless truths conflict with positions to which the person is emotionally committed. The idea that money is evil is deeply ingrained in our now sadly socialistic society. That money is part of God’s plan for human interaction and connectedness is so important to know and understand-teaching it is one of the pillars of our ministry. We are grateful you get it.
Dear Rabbi, you and Susan touched on an important point in our alienated era: the phony nature of ‘social media.’ The decisive acid test for me was when our band was approached by another band on Myspace to connect. Joyfully we connected in cyberspace. Yet one year later, when we shared the stage, they merely stayed on the sidelines, listened and nodded. Did they approach us to say ‘Well done, good show! We are your friends on Myspace! How do you do?’ NO. They slunk away and kept away without saying a word to us in person. To the youngest member of our band, but 23 years old, I was able to articulate this point, to which she dejectedly assented. The moral of the story is: throw away your electronic boxes and have a conversation face-to-face. Otherwise you have not connected at all, at all. The incipient generation is very well connected in cyberspace, but ofttimes sadly deficient in face-to-face. Two elections ago, my aunt asked me whom I wanted as President. When I told her, she nodded sadly in approval and pointed out how the pervasive pop culture intercedes to block rational choice, saying: ‘The new generation will be far too absorbed into their little electronic media-boxes even to care who is elected.’
Your aunt was sadly prescient wasn’t she? I don’t know that social media is ‘phony’ any more than a movie is phony. If you think that a NatGeo special is actually a trip to Africa then you’re misusing it. If you think social media is actually social interaction, you’re misusing it. Neither the NatGeo movie nor social media are phony. They are just what they are. If a man thinks that a wrench is a chisel, it doesn’t indict the wrench. The mistake is the man’s not the tool’s. Now why are so many people making this mistake today? I have a theory about that but it is not yet ready for prime time.
We are singing from the same hymnal. No, I quite agree that the tool is never to blame, any more than it is the fault of the GUN that seventeen innocent people died. My point is that social media in the absence of genuine social interaction is incomplete; and this tool is being rampantly substituted today for real social interaction. And I really look forward to hearing your theory when it is ripe for prime time!
Very well put.
Those of us who are Christians, know the strength of walking with Jesus. With the security and friendship, one can never be lonely.
Government and its services try to help people. They say they want to be your friend, but can not take the place of religion. For instance, food stamps and welfare do not give the needed personal caring that is given through a friend.
Several years ago, I looked at the state of the world and country. Many people take the survivalist route, guns and supplies. Some take the financial route. I decided the friends route is the way to go.
Big Brother is neither a “brother” nor a friend.
Thank you Michael–
Maybe the best and surest route is faith + guns + supplies + finances, and friends?
Agree. All are important. Emphasis is now more on having and helping friends and reaching out to others. There is such a crying need out there. Thank you for reminding me the importance of faith.
Rabbi Lapin’s teaching that the principle of connectedness is universal was an epiphany for me. Thank you, Rabbi.
Thank you so much,
I can’t tell you how much encouragement we derive from hearing that our teachings helped someone.
Thank you Rabbi, for giving me hope, and clarifying why I never feel connected – totally connected to anyone or group of persons. I’ve felt like I’ve been on the outside looking in my entire life. I’ve recently recommitted myself to focus on biblical teaching, memorization of the Bible and fellowship. But this Thought Tool is particularly helpful. Thankfully loneliness did not take me down the same road of the persons mentioned in the text, but I can relate to all of them at some level. My heart is always sad for persons that die untimely as the victims, but also for the one that committed these acts. Blessings to you and Susan today and always.
A person whose love for the Bible causes them to spend so much time reading and studying the Bible that they don’t connect with others, is a bit like a doctor whose enthusiasm for medicine has him spending most of his time with his stethoscope in the medical library rather than curing sick patients. Bible is meant to equip us for interaction with God, people, and the world in which He placed us.
Thank you for your encouraging words about this Thought Tool.
How on point for me.
Since 12/20 I have been with people only 1 day, on 1/5. As my life has narrowed down it was really hard to adjust to and I tried several things which didn’t work out [volunteering etc wanted time commitments before training that were not possible due to family member’s ill health].
The largest part of the reason for losing contact with all my friends in town was due to one friend who has gone off the rails mentally and causing stress and being scared to go out. As I closed off his ways to get to me I felt badly and lonely. However, when a friend back east asked me today how I am doing, I realized that the break from all the stress had a positive outcome. I am smiling when I wake, I break out laughing and I dance around all by myself. The break in the stress has left me feeling much better and happier. Now, before I become a hermit in truth…. time to plan a move closer to family over in Redmond and then pick myself up and find things to do on my own! Looking forward to this, and making again the connections of which you spoke. Wish me luck!
Thanks for making me think it through yet again today. 😉
I am so happy that this Thought Tool helped you rethink how important it was to be building new connections and maintaining old connections. Sometimes things that we think are terribly important keep us from things that really are important. Looks like you are free again! Good times.
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