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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

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Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Taking the Next Step

I assume it’s a pretty common scenario.

Somebody's walking life’s path, oblivious to his own benign neglect, when suddenly...boom! He hits his 'brick wall'.

Maybe it’s a family member or an accountant, perhaps a client or an employer; somebody perceives the truth and yells “Stop! This can't continue; something needs to change.”

It feels like an unpleasant, jarring disruption to life's rhythm.

It’s also an important wake-up call. And even though it’s painful, the stress can serve as productive energy, propelling us out of our rhythm’s gravitational pull.

In a way, it’s our personal Passover story.

We each have our own ‘Egypt’ - our own counter-productive habits which stifle our growth.

When we’re fortunate, our ‘Moses’ – our conscience, spouse or friend – helps us recognize our pattern, catalyzing us to urgently ‘leave [our] Egypt in haste.”

In this sense, the word ‘Pass-Over’ also refers to the liberating leap from a spiritually constricted life to a visionary, conscious one.

But what about the times when I’m not escaping an Egypt? When things seem just fine? When I feel no friction and face no brick walls?

Then, I face a different danger: Complacency. When I feel that I’m on a good path, I’m more likely to put my life on auto-pilot. I can relax; if I’m not being chased, why run?

Because when I’m on ‘auto-pilot’, I float along with life’s current, without the initiative to go quicker and further. Because when I’m on ‘auto-pilot’, I’m without the healthy anxiety, the butterflies in my stomach, that accompany a quantum leap forward.

My life deserves more.

We shouldn’t only grow to escape the pain, we should grow because we have great potential and a beautiful destiny.

So the Torah gives me an exercise called ‘The Second Passover’ (‘Pesach Sheini’ in Hebrew) and it’s about finding the strength to ‘Pass-Over’, to leap forward in my life even when I’m comfortable where I am. The day is about me taking the opportunity to consider where my life is going RIGHT, and finding the strength, vision and humility to make go even MORE RIGHT.

This coming Wednesday, May 10 (Iyar 14), is the Second Passover. Mark it on your calendar so you can have a piece of Matzah and think about your life’s potential.

Choose a growth-objective.

Pass-Over your own complacency.

Because finding Freedom isn’t only about leaving captivity; it’s about taking a leap forward.

The Crown Jewels

Look at a sparkling diamond, exuding its brilliance. Where does this stone come from and how did it get to this gorgeous state?
Before it got to your piece of jewelry, your diamond was deep in the earth, covered by dirt. Then someone mined, purified, cleansed and polished the gem, making it worthy of its glorious setting.
The Talmud teaches that when we pray sincerely, an Angel lifts our humanly-uttered prayers aloft and “weaves the letters into crowns for G-d.” In other words, our words are diamonds, mined from the depths of our psyche, so precious that they crown the Divine. Our prayers are more precious than we may think.
Chassidic thought looks at the struggle of finding focus and authenticity in prayer as an exhausting, yet purifying, exercise.
A. Focused, meditative thought, without any intrusion from the psyche’s ‘floating junk,’ isn’t easy to maintain. When we pray, trying to forge a bond with the Divine, and manage to find a connection which pulls us through the static to bond with the Divine, we come out stronger. Like a diamond coming through the soil, you’ve been ‘cleansed’ by your internal battle.
B.  Pouring your heart out to G-d, in a genuine - let it all flow – way, isn’t easy. It’s humbling to recognize that you don’t have all the answers, and that you need help from something higher than yourself. Yet, perhaps paradoxically, it’s also liberating. On the other side of that ‘prayer therapy,’ you will have grown.
So a few words of poetic Talmudic metaphor actually hold a powerful life lesson: The words of your genuine, committed prayer are actually precious gems. The morsels of your emotion and energy, breaking through the ‘dirt’ of your life, are deeply precious to G-d. In fact, they represent the very reason for which G-d created the world, the desire that we would reach out for Him. The words of your sincere prayer form the very essence of G-d’s Presence in Creation, the Divine Crown. When you reach out for Him, He couldn’t be happier.

Try it today.

The Soul of Matzah

Passover - and Matzah ! - are just over two weeks away.

So let’s explore the Passover experience, and the Matzah, our famous brittle bread. 

Most of us know the narrative's basics:
The Jews were enslaved in Egypt, until G-d told Moses that it was time to liberate them, and started to afflict the Egyptians with plagues.

Then, two weeks in advance, G-d gave Moses the process of liberation:

A.  On the night of the Exodus, the Jews were to have a special meal, consisting of a Passover offering, Matzah and bitter herbs.

B. Later, at midnight, G-d would inflict a final plague on the Egyptians.

C. The Jews would leave in the early morning hours.

Ultimately, they needed to rush when they left and their bread didn’t have time to rise. So the dough was made into Matzah instead.

Those are the basics.

Note that the Jews actually had two Matzah experiences. There was Matzah on the planned-in-advance, Passover evening menu. And then they had a second Matzah experience, which seemed to be happenstance.

Now to the subtext:

In Chassidic thought, simple Matzah represents humility (as distinct from the puffed-up ego represented by bread).

Self-absorption desensitizes us to our need for spiritual growth, creating a daunting "personal Egypt". By contrast, Matzah represents humility and openness to self-improvement. It also represents faith, which is receptivity to something greater than us.

So, G-d told the Jews to find a Matzah mentality, and thereby leave their "personal Egypt." They met their objective, and opened the way for a second level of Matzah, a deeper dimension of surrender.

The first Matzah represents the Jews' self-generated submission to G-d. The second experience was Divinely-granted, generated by G-d’s revelation of Himself to the Jews at that time. With that experience, could any vestige of shallow self-interest possibly remain?

So Passover had two stages: Once the Jews had worked with themselves to find humility and faith, G-d granted the Divine coup de grace to their ego struggle.

That second Matzah wasn't planned, and it wasn't in our hands to create. It was a Divine gift. A gift that keeps on giving.

This year, at the Seder, we can experience both Matzah levels, because G-d grants the gift, again and again; if we’re ready for it.

The preparation begins now.

Bringing Ourselves into Line

Emotions are a funny thing.

When something triggers emotion in me, I know that it matters. Emotions also form a bridge – or a barrier – between people. So emotions are a critically important part of the personality.

But emotions can also get away from you. Like when you ‘fly off the handle.’ Emotions are your psyche’s fire. And, like fire, we need to treat them carefully and keep them under control.

Emotion even impacts our understanding. Unless I’m ‘emotionally-available’ to internalize and accept hear your words, I probably won’t be able to appreciate their logic (i.e. if I don’t like you, your opinion is probably wrong).

Sometimes, it can feel like our emotions control the joystick of our lives. But they don’t have to. Because we also have intellect.

Intellect is the more sedate and controlled side of the human psyche. Logic is cool, calm and somewhat detached. It’s soothing water to help you control your emotional fire.

I remember reading how a man sat on a subway in NYC, while a father with three young children sat next to him. The kids were unruly and really got under this fellow’s skin. As his anger-quotient rose, the father noticed his discomfort. Apologizing for his children’s behavior, he explained that they were on the way home from the hospital. The children’s mother had just passed away and they were a bit overwhelmed with the confusion in their lives.

This subway traveler was totally transformed. Ashamed of his snap to judgment, his anger was immediately replaced by empathy and concern.

Why do you think his anger disappeared?

It’s because his perspective changed. With new information, a new understanding, he revised his mental ‘framing’ of the situation, and his emotions immediately followed suit.

Too often we feel that our emotions ‘run away with us.’ They don’t have to. When we reframe how we see the world, our emotions can come into line with our reasonable selves.

Much of Torah life, the Mitzvot and their mindset, guides us toward this goal of corralling human nature and bringing it into line with a purposeful life. Each Mitzvah is its own exercise, bringing us closer to our better selves.

G-d wants us to become optimally-functioning human beings, so G-d gave us a user’s manual for life – the Torah – to help us achieve that goal.

Check out the program.

It works.

Torah's Tips for Happiness

Happiness.

The search for that ‘pot of gold at the end of the rainbow’ is what guides so many of our efforts and behaviors. We all want it.

As we mature, we begin to recognize that ‘happiness’ is not something you can purchase and it’s not synonymous with pleasure; it’s a state of being. We also begin to realize that it isn’t an easy thing to achieve.

So how do we approach the Hebrew month of Adar (beginning this Sunday), when “increasing Happiness” is the theme? I can’t just command myself into Happiness; I need to get there in an authentic way. How?

One might say that the Torah gives us a formula in this week’s Torah reading, in which we have some clear directives:

1.      Lend money, interest-free, to people in need. Torah finds great value in giving to the disadvantaged. But, in a way, lending money is even greater. With a loan, as distinct from a gift, the recipient’s dignity and self-worth is more easily preserved; the person need not feel like a ‘charity case.’ The Torah’s teaching kindness with empathy. Even if you’re giving to someone, which is a beautiful Mitzvah, take the opportunity to step outside your own [good] feelings and consider recipient’s feelings beyond his needs.

2.      If you see your enemy’s animal “suffering under its load,” the Torah tells us to repeatedly help the animal. Interestingly, the Torah calls it your ENEMY’S animal. So someone has done you wrong, yet G-d still wants you to recognize his problem (and the animal’s pain). G-d wants us to transcend our world of self-interest to help, even if it’s people we have good reason not to like.

3.      There’s a special additional reading on this Shabbat, which tells of the Mitzvah for each Jew to donate half a Shekel to the communal offering fund. For this ‘fundraising’ drive, no one gave more and no one gave less than that amount. It wasn’t just about amassing the funds, it was about participating as part of the larger community.

The message seems clear: There’s no greater avenue to happiness than stepping out of your own self-interest. Devote effort to something outside of, or larger than, yourself, and you’ll be refreshed by the beauty of your encounter.

It’s Adar. Give yourself a reason to be happy!

 

Feel The Love

To feel loved is to feel trust.

To feel loved is to know that you have a safe relationship, one which even your greatest weaknesses can’t destroy.

To feel loved is to feel that someone genuinely wants you to be your best self, because that’s the best for YOU.

To feel loved is to never be alone, even when there’s no one around for miles.

G-d’s profound gift to us is pure love.

Our very existence is an act of G-d’s love.

And our opportunities to develop an ever-greater connection with the Divine, our Mitzvot, are given to us as an act of love.

Years ago, I met with a young lady who professed disenchantment with her Judaism. She told me that she had completed Hebrew School, been “Bat-Mitzvah’d and confirmed”, and majored in Judaic Studies while at University. Yet, she still hadn’t found a single Jewish authority figure willing to tell her that G-d loves her.

Broke my heart.

Our theology is built on the faith that we all have a Divine Parent Who creates us and guides us through life.

Judaism shouts G-d’s love for us.

When G-d gave us the Torah at Mount Sinai, G-d began with:

”I am G-d who took you out of Egypt”.

It’s strange. After centuries of history, G-d is finally communicating directly with humanity (as distinct from a specific prophet). It’s the big introduction.

Why not say “I am G-d Who created you”? Isn’t that a greater, more inimitable feat than freeing slaves?

Our Sages explain that G-d was establishing the First Principle, the backbone to Torah and of our relationship with the Divine:  “I am G-d Who CARES about you. I took you out of Egypt, because I suffer when you suffer. I know that there will be individual “Egypts” in each of your lives and I will be there with you. Because I love you, and I’m always with you. Treasure this Torah and keep yourselves open to a relationship with me. Then you’ll feel the love”.

In G-d's world, to live is to be loved.

Just a Tiny Dot

A tiny stroke of ink.

A suspended dot.

That’s what the Yud, the tenth letter of the Hebrew Alphabet, looks like.

It’s a tiny speck of a letter. In and of itself, it doesn’t tell you much. At the same time, letters form words, and words express ideas. Our words can be powerful media to convey concepts deep within our minds and hearts, and each of those words is comprised of building blocks we call letters.

Each letter, each fundamental building block, has its own character, its particular contribution to a respective word. Each letter’s shape and sound are distinctive, representing a unique place in the desired expression.  Even the tiny Yud.

When Rabbi Sholom Dovber, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, taught his son [Rabbi] Yosef Yitzchak (who eventually grew into the sixth Rebbe) the meanings of each Hebrew letter, he pointed out that every letter begins with a Yud. Every letter is launched with its first drop of ink, an initial flourish, a Yud.

Conceptually, the Rebbe taught his son, we create many letters and words through the course of our lives. And the Yud needs to form the heart of every letter, every expression.  The Yud’s tiny stroke  represents our essential existence, our purpose in life and our core connectedness to our Creator. Deep within the human psyche, perhaps far beyond our conscious layers, we all have a Yud, a core recognition: We exist for a purpose.

Meaningful life begins with a primal recognition of our place in the world. But that’s only the beginning. We need to expand that dot of recognition, and broadening it into letters and words.  That is our collective mission in life.

Practically speaking, our days are filled with choices, behaviors and interactions. Those are all expressions of our personalities; they form our letters and words, so to speak. At the same time, our ‘letters’ all need to flow from a core, an essential recognition that we’re here to serve, that G-d created us to bring meaning to the world.

The tiny dot in your soul is where meaningful life begins.

The Other Side of Victimhood

Sometimes, people do bad things, and sometimes you and I suffer from others’ bad choices.

So how do we respond to the pain? Sometimes there are no legal or defensive steps to take; the deed has been done and we’re left holding the proverbial bag. Revenge may feel appealing, but it doesn’t really help. Is helpless resentment the only option?

Let’s look at Joseph: He was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. That’s pretty bad.

Then Joseph has an opportunity for revenge. Through a Biblically-described chain of events, Joseph rises to the top of Egyptian society, becoming vice-Pharaoh, if you will. Meanwhile, his brothers come to Egypt looking for food, because a famine has swept across the Middle East. They don’t recognize him, but he knows exactly who they are. And he hasn’t forgotten.

He has them in the palm of his hand. He can do whatever he wants, and they are totally vulnerable.

What would you do? Sell them into slavery? Kick them out of the country without any food? Worse?

Joseph actually doesn’t focus on revenge at all. He only wants to determine whether they regret what they did to him. Once he perceives that they have genuinely repented, he embraces them.

Then he says something odd: “G-d sent me ahead of you to provide [food] for the family…You aren’t the ones who sent me here, it was actually G-d [who sent me down to Egypt].”

What is Joseph saying? Of course his brothers sold him into slavery! Is he in denial? Revising history to make them feel better?

Joseph understood that people make bad choices and that we need to protect ourselves. He also understood that his life was not totally in his abusers’ hands. Beyond an aggressor’s bad choices, there’s a victim’s soul journey, which only G-d determines. Joseph felt the pain of his brothers’ misdeed and then dug deeper, and found that G-d was giving him a mission. He could proactively extract meaning from his pain.

Whether it was his own character development, his deepened ability to empathize with other victims, or something as dramatic as rising to the top of Egyptian society, Joseph knew one thing: On the other side of his victimization, he needed to find a better Joseph.

He became the leader of his own life, transforming himself from sitting duck to soaring eagle.

A lesson for the ages. 

 

Self vs. Selfish

 Nationalism? Globalism?

Get my house in order and take care of my own life and its needs? Open the door to others and share my blessings?

It’s possible to satisfy both. The quandary often lies in deciding which element we should emphasize at which point in the ubiquitous struggle of self vs other.

On this point, the Talmud tells us that “one who says ‘what’s mine is yours, and what’s yours is mine’ shows ignorance.” In other words: It’s healthy to recognize that we have boundaries and borders. What’s mine isn’t intrinsically yours. And what’s yours isn’t actually mine.

A society declaring that everything belongs to everybody is creating a world of anarchy. Such a worldview, teaches the Talmud, demonstrates a fundamental ignorance of human nature and its needs.  

A sense of self, of our personal boundaries, is healthy. Recognizing someone else’s boundaries is critical to a sense of respect. The Talmud is telling us that it’s good to know where we each begin and end.

But the Talmud goes further with a curious statement: “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours…this is the attitude of Sodom”. Sodom is the Scriptural epitome of a selfish and cruel society, of man’s inhumanity to man. Why should a simple recognition of our respective borders be labeled with such a horrible moniker?

The Talmud’s point is that a secure sense of self, recognizing one’s own independent and valuable place in the world, is extremely important. Independence is a good thing. We want it for our children as they grow out of their dependency stage.

At the same time, independence is not the ideal end-game. If one grows into independence, but hasn’t recognized the need to genuinely share one’s life with others, that’s called stunted development.

We want independence to mature into interdependence. Once I’m truly standing on my own two feet, I’m in a position to go beyond my personal borders to share life with someone else. And that’s where I’ll find life’s richness. In other words: The Talmud tells us that one’s proclamation of independence needs to be followed by a comma, not a period. It’s healthy to achieve an understanding that “what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours.” But you can’t stop there; we know where that got the Sodomites.

Find independence. Then keep growing and share yourself with others.

That’s what life is all about.

A Legacy of Love

What is love?

Love is closeness.

Even more, it’s whole-hearted, committed closeness.

The heart’s warm flutter can be fleeting infatuation, here today and gone tomorrow. Love is different. It’s substantive. Real. Love is a bond that stands strong in the face of day-to-day volatility, an emotional anchor that’s unshaken by life’s waves.

Love is other-centered devotion. There’s a Chassidic story about a child who watches an adult catch and prepare a fish. Before his first bite, the adult exclaims “I love fish.” The child responds: “Sir, you apparently don’t love fish; if you did, you would have let this one stay in the water. You actually love yourself, and this fish is just another avenue for feeding your self-love!”

Genuine love isn’t about us gratifying ourselves (although that may be a nice by-product). Love is about making space for the other’s needs. Love is when the other’s sensitivities become our personal concern.

Sometimes, looking after our personal needs is a part of other-centeredness. If I take a day to care for myself, so that I am better fit to discharge my responsibilities to G-d, to life and the world, I’m still living a day of other-consciousness. Meeting my own needs can be a necessary preparation for fulfilling my responsibility to others.

In Torah language, this deeply committed, loving relationship is called a Covenant (Bris in Hebrew); it’s when two parties reach a profound, integral Oneness.

That’s what Abraham had going with G-d.

Abraham made genuine space in his life for G-d. Abraham’s definition of a ‘meaningful life’ was to be the person who G-d had created him to be. So his material endeavors, including his ‘self-gratifying pursuits,’ were all opportunities for deepening – and expressing - his devotion to living a meaningful life.

That’s why G-d commanded him to express their Covenant by marking an area of the physical body which symbolizes the pursuit of pleasurable physical engagement. To Abraham, all of life – even the pleasurable part - was all about reaching his/our Divinely-granted goal of finding deep connectedness with others and making this a better world. Life was all about the Covenant, all about mindfulness of higher Purpose.

Abraham showed us how to live life as it’s meant to be lived.

Creating Rainbows

Clouds.

We know how they’re formed.

A. Water fills the earth’s streams, lakes, rivers and oceans.

B. The sun’s rays evaporate some of the water,

C. Droplets rise to form clouds (which eventually yield rain back to the earth).

Now, let’s phrase it differently: Clouds represent the Earth’s ‘feedback’ to the skies, bringing welcome precipitation to our environment, creating overcast days, and sometimes bringing storms to shake our world.

A little deeper:

The ‘heavens’ - the sky for the purpose of this conversation - represents G-d, while the Earth represents Humanity. And the clouds, hovering between Heaven and Earth, represent our behavior; our behavior is our feedback to G-d, our response to His gift of life.

G-d created us for a purpose: To make this a better [Holy] world. We can either acknowledge – and try to live by - that mission, or we can ignore it and live in misalignment with our core selves. Either way, we’re sending up clouds.

So what do we do when we feel that life is overcast?

We look for a rainbow, and they only occur when the clouds aren’t too thick and opaque. When our lives are heavily centered on self-focus, we leave no space for the rainbows. Living a good life means thinking about purpose. When we stop asking ourselves “what do I want out of life?” and begin asking “what does life want out of me?” we allow a bright ray of G-dliness to shine through.

When you stand at the right attitudinal angle, looking at your day with the right perspective, you can catch the majesty of the Rainbow. And it has a message from G-d: “Let Me shine through; I’ll show you the beauty that can be found in the diverse challenges I give you. Just let your life’s droplets refract My light.”

Position yourself wisely. And look for that rainbow.

Carry It Forward

 

 

 

This past month was a Holiday whirlwind: On Rosh Hashana, we revisit individual responsibility.  On Yom Kippur, we dig deep into ourselves, resolving to align our behaviors with our priorities and personal potential. On Sukkot, we experience community, and on Simchas Torah we recognize the genuine joy of living a meaningful life.

Four consecutive Holidays.

Solemn moments. Festive meals. Meaningful rituals. A stream of inspiration.

All coming to a close this week.

Now what?

Every morning, we say a prayer which begins: “My G-d, the soul which You gave me is pure. You have created it, You have formed it, You have breathed it into me. And You preserve it within me….”

Chassidic thought tells us that this prayer traces our souls’ journey into the human condition. The various expressions chart how our existence  begins with G-d’s ‘choice’ of a specific soul to inhabit a particular baby, and continues with the soul’s descent through a succession of spiritual levels, ultimately finding expression in our bodily lives.

But then the prayer presents a final leg of the journey: “You preserve it within me.” What does that mean? To put the question in context: We wake up every morning and recognize that G-d has gifted us with a pristinely Divine soul, paring down its spiritual intensity – level by level – so that it can animate our physical human lives.  The consciousness we feel in the morning is the human tip of a Divine iceberg. But once we have our human lives, what does G-d need to preserve?

Our spiritual sensitivity.

Every morning, we thank G-d for giving us human lives capable of embracing mundanity, yet equally capable of genuine spiritual feeling. Every morning, we recognize natural, physical impulses, and simultaneously acknowledge our profoundly spiritual roots. We take note that our hearts, deep inside, are playing a sublimely Divine chord.

If we only pause to hear it.

A spirituality-filled Holiday season has guided us to the threshold of a wonderful new year. We need to take the inspiration with us.

In fact, G-d helps us to preserve its echo for the year ahead. It’s resonating within you.

Every morning, take a moment and listen. 

 

 

Going the Next Step

Does it feel like Rosh Hashana was ages ago?

Think again. Rosh Hashana – in a sense - continues. And the “Rosh Hashana Journey” is so central to our spiritual health, that we need a smooth transition forward, allowing us to feel its power in the year ahead.

You see, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur aren’t just independent holidays; they are part of a spiritual continuum:

During the High Holidays, we reach deeply into our psyches to explore our principles and values. What do I stand for? Am I mindful of my responsibilities to the world around me? Do I properly appreciate my relationship with G-d, my loving Creator?

At the close of Yom Kippur, we lock in (Neilah, the name of the closing prayer, actually means “to lock”) a deeper, more profound sense of connectedness with G-d and with life itself.

So we spend much of the High Holidays in a spiritual cocoon – in our minds and in the synagogue – focused on contemplation and internal growth.

But the High Holidays’ internal dynamics must then find their way into our “external” behavior; our internal commitment to values should show itself in a life lived meaningfully.

So, after Yom Kippur, we venture back into “real life” – eating, drinking, socializing, etc. But, because we’ve had our High Holiday experience, things are a bit different. Beginning Sunday evening, we will transition into the  Sukkah (the temporary hut in which we celebrate over the Sukkot Holiday), which Chassidism describes as “G-d’s hug.”

Think of it this way: Life in the Sukkah is an external expression of the Divine intimacy we felt during Neilah. We’re able to live “real life” – eating, drinking, etc.  – within “G-d’s embrace”.  

So Rosh Hashana’s peak is on Yom Kippur, and the power of both is manifested in the Sukkot experience.

So, stop into a Sukkah next week (ours is open), and bring your High Holidays to life. 

 

Something to Celebrate

Several years ago, I spoke with a local friend as we were walking out of Yom Kippur services. Since he had expressed reluctance about attending services, I asked him how the day had gone.
He looked at me tentatively and asked "Am I allowed to say I enjoyed it?"
I can see why some people think of the High Holidays as tedious or even glum.
Spending hours in synagogue is only the beginning.
The days' theme focuses on acknowledging our responsibility to G-d and each other; there’s also an impossible-to-miss emphasis on "atonement", which entails a process of identifying and facing our mistakes.

How uplifting can all that be?

It’s interesting that Chabad tradition describes a joyous enthusiasm that needs to permeate this time of year, up to and including these self-reflective, internally-scrutinous, High Holiday experiences.

Because we matter to G-d. And our relationships, our personal relationships with G-d and the relationships between us human beings, are all important.

Judaism tells us that our actions, each and every behavioral choice throughout the day, are very precious to G-d.

They matter. Because WE matter.

Our daily thoughts, words and actions rank so high on G-d’s “priority scale” that they are, to use the Rebbe’s expression, “Higher, Higher, and even Higher, to the extent that nothing else is Higher.”

Think about it in terms of a parent’s connection to a child. When something is striking at the heart of their relationship, nothing is more important. Nothing.

That helps us appreciate how nothing is more important to G-d than you and your life.

Every move, every moment, is critically important; because every move and every moment speaks to the core of our special relationship.

So this time of year presents an exciting opportunity. It’s a time to re-visit and strengthen our unbreakable, intimate connection with the Divine.

And if it hurts to see that the relationship is in need of some repair, so what?

Isn’t fixing and strengthening a cherished relationship something to celebrate?

What a Smile...

Do you smile?

There are different types of smiles.

There's the raised-corners-of-the-mouth social smile, which is basically the deliberate flexing of facial muscles to telegraph polite positivity.

But there’s also the genuine, full-faced smile; the one that’s clearly proclaiming “welcome, I’m making room for you in my life.” That smile is larger than the simple movement of facial muscles and cordial interactions. That smile is a gesture that transcends simple facial expressions; it’s about offering yourself to another. A real smile means you’ve removed some of the walls between you and the world, that some ‘inner you’ is connecting with an ‘other.’

When you're on the phone, can you sometimes tell that the other person is smiling, even though you can’t see their face? When someone is genuinely smiling, his voice has a lilt of giving and openness, a flow of bonding, an embracing spirit that goes way beyond facial expressions.

Polite smiles don’t express that kind of depth, because they aren’t that deep. They don't come across the phone.

The Torah describes G-d as blessing us by '"shining His face" upon us, as though G-d is giving us a glowing, full-faced smile.  

There’s a friendly face, and then there’s a glowing face. There’s a smile, and then there’s a full-bodied smile. The difference may be difficult to describe, even intangible, but it's huge.

You know it when it happens.

This Jewish month of Elul, the lead-up to Rosh Hashana, is a time when we’re told that G-d is giving us a full-faced smile, an open welcome into a caring relationship.

How do you respond to an open smile?

Smile back.

Care enough to give someone a genuine smile today. Find the faith and connection to give G-d a genuine smile today.

Get into the Rosh Hashana rhythm. 

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