Skip To Content

What the rabbi learned from the lobster

The death of the Chasidic rabbi and famed psychiatrist, Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, on Jan. 31 prompted much coverage in the U.S. and Israel, where he lived in his later years. But the press missed a major element of his important legacy.

Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski was the author of a more than a dozen books.

Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski was the author of a more than 80 books. Courtesy of YouTube Screenshot

The obituaries covered his religious and universal appeal through the more than 80 books he wrote, his breakthrough work on drug and alcohol addiction through the Gateway Rehabilitation Center he founded in Pittsburgh, and his friendship with “Peanuts” creator Charles Schulz, whose comic strip the rabbi used as a tool with his patients, attributing great psychological insights to Charlie Brown.

Left unreported, though, was Rabbi Twerski’s remarkable success on the Internet, with a series of 90-second video insights that have generated more than 150 million views online.

How did a soft-spoken, bearded Chasidic rabbi become a viral sensation with his plain-spoken messages on universal themes like love, self-confidence, handling stress — and learning a lesson from lobsters?

I had the honor of knowing Rabbi Twerski and producing those videos. As a media executive, having worked at CBS and Fox, I tried to create an ‘American Idol’ search of the top rabbis and best Jewish educators around the world. That quest brought me to Rabbi Twerski, who was a natural in front of the camera. He did not need a script and he delivered his messages in one flawless take.

In the video on handling stress (his most popular, with 80 million views), Rabbi Twerski explains that we can all learn a life lesson from lobsters.

He said that while waiting in his dentist’s office, he read an article about the marine crustaceans and learned that they are made of soft tissue while confined within a hard shell. As the lobster grows, it experiences pressure and discomfort, confined by its shell, the rabbi tells us. “So it goes under a rock, casts off its shell, and produces a new one.”

“The stimulus for the lobster to be able to grow is to feel uncomfortable,” the rabbi points out, adding that “if lobsters were able to go to a doctor, they would be given a Valium or Percocet and never grow.”

After a beat comes the takeaway: “Times of stress are times that are signals for growth, and if we use adversity properly, we can grow through adversity.” The message is vivid, relevant, memorable.

By example, we come to understand the key elements of the rabbi’s success in his videos and in his life. He was an accessible presence with a credible, thoughtful and comforting manner.

His topics were of concern to us all in our daily lives, though he approached them with fresh perspectives. He spoke with a quiet dynamism that elicited emotional and personal appeal.

American-born and educated in public schools and universities, Rabbi Twerski appears to his audience as inviting, but not ordinary; smart, but not academic; original, but not abstract; almost casual, but still meaningful. Above all, as only fitting for the scion of a proud Chasidic dynasty, he was a natural storyteller, continuing a centuries-old tradition of teaching deep wisdom through simple narratives.

A modest man, Rabbi Twerski attributed the success of his videos to mazal — luck. “There is no logic to mazal,” he would say with a twinkle in his eye.

But to understand the remarkable ability he had to connect with his audience, go straight to the source, his videos, to see for yourself how this Chasidic psychiatrist shared these methods for success to life.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.