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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

My Oasis. Our Oasis.

Why is Monotheism such a big deal?

I can see why G-d, and responsibility to a Higher Authority, is a critical backbone to morality. But who really cares if it’s one, or two, or seventeen gods?

We do.

Or at least we should.

Accepting Monotheism isn’t just committing ourselves to one Deity. Monotheism, at least through a Jewish lens, means committing ourselves to a life of Oneness. When we recite the Shema, a thrice daily prayer which proclaims “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our G-d, the Lord is One,” we’re proclaiming that our complex lives, the disjointed and sometimes fractured reality we experience, are all part of the great Divine Oneness. My health, my kids’ soccer game, my boss’s attitude and my 401k are all part of my Divine journey. Scattered as my life may seem, everything can and should fit into my expedition toward a life of meaning.

In my mind’s eye, each of my life’s facets is a distinct pearl. When I consciously infuse these ‘pearls’ with vision and purpose, I am stringing them together with a strand of Holiness. My life is now a beautiful necklace.

This helps explain why we traditionally cover our eyes when reciting the Shema:

My physical eyes, my natural instinct, show me a world of pain and fracture. Where’s the Oneness? So I cover my eyes, because I need to the world see with my soul. I need to envision a world created by One G-d, with One purpose, with an inherent Oneness waiting to be discovered.

I need to see my world as a Shema world. That gives me a clear compass, a safe haven, and an energizing motivator that I really need in today’s world.

Which is a reason Chabad Chassidic thought is so central to my life. In a way, Chabad theology is one large ‘Shema,’ a drive to find unity and connectedness within all parts of the Torah and within life itself. Chabad thought allows my mind to hover above reality, so that my life’s details don’t seem like disjointed puzzle pieces. They come together as parts of a holistic, meaningful life.

Chassidic thought is an oasis in a rocky world.

So thank you, Chabad Rebbes.

Thank you so much.

Why 5000 Rabbis Gathering in NY Is Good For You

Last night, I received a text from a Rabbi I hardly know. He sent me a photo of a dear local friend, who had been hospitalized while travelling. The Rabbi was there at my friend's bedside; visiting, laying Tefillin, providing words of support. The Rabbi was fulfilling a stranger’s request that he reach out for me, his local Rabbi and longtime friend.

All for a stranger.

This scene could have taken place in Kinshasa, Puerto Rico or Capetown. Or Basking Ridge. Every day, Chabad Rabbis step up and lean in to help strangers.

Because we don't believe in strangers. We believe in family.

Who is 'we?'

'We' is the Rebbe's army of G-dliness and goodness. 

Consider the reality that observant people generally gravitate to observant communities. It’s the natural way to support an observant lifestyle, and to perpetuate that observance within one’s family. Yet, beginning in 1950, the Rebbe inspired observant couples to reach beyond their own religious comfort to settle in communities which need their spiritual influence. The Rebbe was going against the grain, but – one couple at a time –Chassidic men and women committed their lives to bettering the world, by moving to places where they could make a difference.

In the early years, there was a trickle of  'lamplighters' (called Shluchim - literally 'emissaries') moving out to bring warmth and illumination to a world in need. But over time, that trickle became a stream, and then a steady flow of couples setting out across the globe to make this a better world.

Today, we have roughly 5000 Chabad Shluchim, spread throughout the world. Aside from being your local Jewish resource, they are the people embracing your child on campus, providing schnitzel to your niece backpacking in Cambodia, and providing you with a home away from home as you vacation in New Zealand.

In a world that seems more fractured every day, Chabad Shluchim provide love and spiritual sanity. Without reservation.

This weekend is the international convention of Chabad Rabbis (the women convene in February) in Brooklyn.

5000 purveyors of goodness, coming together to recharge their batteries and recommit to their mission of spreading light.

It’s good for the world.

And it’s good for you.

Rebel With A Cause

 

It feels to me like our election cycles have turned into a series of ‘revolutions.’

It’s becoming a familiar dance. The public rebels against the status quo, ushering in ‘fresh blood.’ The victorious rebels in turn become the next status quo, and the object of the next election’s revolution. And the beat goes on.

Revolution should be a mindset, not an action. When someone successfully overcomes the status quo, he has won the opportunity to make positive change.

But the rebellion has just begun. Because this fresh vista only translates into actual, meaningful change, when the victor takes the fight to his own natural tendency of complacency, self-protection, etc. The victor becomes the new problem, unless the victor wages inner rebellion.

The spirit of rebellion is a life-long attitude. It takes courage and determination, because effective and lasting rebellion is against one’s own weaker tendencies.

Sure, we need an ‘establishment’ in our lives. Discipline. Norms. We raise children to respect manners, decency and protocol. And, in matters of faith, rules have a Divine importance.

At the same time, rebellion keeps that ‘establishment’ crisp and viable. In order to maintain fresh relationships and attitudes, you need to constantly outrun yourself.

Even when you’re – functionally – in a good place, your soul can be asleep. You can go through the motions of being a loyal spouse or parent, while your brain is still engaged at the office – or the smartphone. We can do wonderful things for others and G-d, but there’s no fire in the belly because our primal passion is still self-focused.

If we’re living a life of complacency and self-satisfaction, a life without the fervor to rise up against ourselves, have we not become ‘spiritual bourgeoisie?’

 It’s time for revolution.

And we want the same for G-d.

G-d’s [meta]physical system has been our established order since time began. But it’s time for a radical change. It’s time for G-d to buck His own system, and bring out the meaning and beauty - the Harmonious Oneness - that’s inherent in our world.

We call that a world of Moshiach – a Messianic era. A world actualized.

And it’s G-d’s promise to humanity: When we rise up against our limitations, G-d will rise up against His.

So look at your life and rise above your limitations.

And let the revolution spread.

What's Yours Is Yours

Cultural appropriation.

The hurt feelings that can arise from blurring boundaries.

 Not too long ago, we were focused on dismantling boundaries, and now it’s a pain point.

And the so the pendulum swings…. But where is the healthy median?

In Torah wisdom, Sodom and Gomorrah are the epitome of selfishness and cruelty. Selfish societies that didn’t have healthy, protective boundaries. In a functional society, people recognize that “what’s mine is and what’s yours is yours”.

One would think.

Interestingly, the Talmud – when analyzing variant approaches to boundaries - considers the attitude of “what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours,” and says it belies a ‘Sodomite’ attitude. Don’t good fences make good neighbors? What can be wrong with a solid demarcation line between mine and yours?

The Torah teaches that Sodom and Gomorroh were an evil distortion of a good thing. Despite its Biblically-excoriated  manifestation, ‘Sodom,’ at its core, is a positive force. Sodom symbolizes a strong sense of self. Healthy Sodom means having self-sustaining confidence. It means feeling that my life is between me and G-d, period. It means that I’m not intimidated by others’ opinions.

My life. My struggle, My mistakes, My growth.

That’s holy Sodom. But then there’s unholy Sodom.

There’s a healthy sense of self, and an unhealthy brand. When independence means one is no longer dependent, that is a good thing. On the other hand, when independence is synonymous with self-centeredness, an attitude of “I’m looking out only for myself,” it’s not.  Healthy independence is one that grows into inter-dependence. Once I'm secure in my own identity, I need to take go the next step: I need to consider my responsibility to others. "What's mine is mine and what's yours is yours" is only a negative attitude if there's a period at the end of that sentence. If we see each other as mutually exclusive – non interdependent - islands.

The Torah wants us to have a comma after that phrase: "What's mine is mine and what's yours is yours, AND,  since we share a responsibility to each other let’s healthily share our world.”

As Hillel taught "If I am not for my myself who will be for me (independent sense of self)?
But if I am only for myself what am I (interdependent sense of responsibility to others)?"

Independence then interdependence.

That’s a healthy society.

Sodom redeemed.

Harvey, Meet Abraham

Our society’s ‘top echelons’ seem to have a large closet, because the dirty laundry just keeps coming.

Whichever sector takes its turn in today’s headlines (will it be Arts and Entertainment? Politics? Education? Religion?), the lesson seems to be clear:

Power can be very self-corruptive.

A physical assault is obviously illegal, and we have laws to address such gross violations. But let’s not lose sight of a much more insidious issue, one which is therefore so much more difficult to prove:

People regularly use power to subtly coerce others to meet their needs.

It happens all the time, between ‘consenting’ adults and without physical assault. So it may often be legal, but is it always moral? On the other hand, how can society legislate morality without squelching our fundamental freedoms?

The ultimate answer is that we need to SELF-regulate, because personal morality comes from within.

So how does a person find the strength to control his/her cravings, when the road to satisfaction seems wide open because one’s ‘power’ seems stronger than any downside? When you’ve successfully closed the door and drawn the shades, and believe you have an open opportunity for self-gratification, how do you find the strength to pull back your reins?

We need to recognize that we can never actually draw the shades. Because G-d, and His extension in your personal conscience, is always there.

Now THAT was predictable. A Rabbi saying that G-d is the answer to society’s problem. Who would’ve thunk??:)

I get that. But please bypass the messenger and consider the message.

As long as a person believes that HE/SHE is the center of the universe, it’s likely that person will conveniently shape morality’s definition. We’re subjective creatures, ingenious at manipulating the world to satisfy our personal conscience.

Reading the past weeks’ headlines in this key, they shout the need for objective moral standards.

Belief in a higher Authority, acceptance that there is an objective right and wrong, and a deep sense of responsibility, are the backbone of genuine morality.

Yes, I know that many people are suspicious of organized religion.

If that’s you, don’t give up.

Try disorganized religion.

Just find a relationship with G-d.

Our forefather Abraham spent decades searching for G-d, and ultimately found what he was looking for.

So search. And please don’t give up.

Our society depends on you.  

 

 

The Pleasure Principle

Would you like some pleasure today?

Of course you would.

Pleasure is a core goal of the human psyche. Some would say that psychological hedonism is a principle driving force of human behavior. At the same time, we’re told, the Pleasure Principle needs to be balanced by the Reality Principle. Sometimes the pleasure you want just doesn’t conform to reality. Maybe it costs too much, involves an unwilling participant or is self-destructive.

In a healthy human being, one’s mental bookkeeping usually strikes a balance between pleasure-seeking and delayed gratification. We’re not disturbed by the self-indulgent impulse, we just have the maturity to recognize that we can’t realistically achieve our fantasy.

Most of us then move on to realistic pleasure goals.

But what if you’re not ‘most of us?’ What if reality seems to bend at your will?

Think about it: What would you do if there was no opposition, no ‘reality balance,’ to your pleasure ambitions? Would you self-regulate? Or would you morph turn into a self-indulgent, pleasure-seeking machine?

I think it’s a good idea to redefine pleasure-seeking. Pleasure is indeed a deep part of the soul. Pleasure, by definition, means that you’re experiencing a good feeling, which adds a great dimension to life. But living a good life, not pleasure-seeking, should be life’s central goal.

Pleasure should be a wonderful by-product of a life well lived, not its central objective.

When you’ve successfully planted your backyard garden, finally wall-papered that room in your house, or just delivered food to a home-bound neighbor, do you feel pleasure? I hope so.

At the same time: Was the process of planting or building or delivering pleasurable? Not necessarily. But pleasure wasn’t your focus. You were focused on something bigger than your immediate comfort, and larger than the moment at hand. You were being constructive, and reaching beyond yourself. That brings [healthy] pleasure in its train.

The Torah describes Shabbos as a time of ‘Pleasure’ for G-d and humanity alike.

Why? Shabbos is the bottom line of your week and its achievements. When we light Shabbos candles, we join G-d in reflecting on a week of strengthened relationships, of clients’ lives bettered, of Mitzvos performed. And G-d rejoices with you, saying “I like this world, where people rise above their self-centered needs to create real value. It is very good.”

Shabbos is about the cosmic pleasure generated by a meaningful life. It doesn’t get better. 

 

Welcome Home

 

The “three day a year Jew”.

This widespread phenomenon of Jews who attend synagogue only on Rosh Hashana (two days) and Yom Kippur (one day)  is the subject of many a sermon and the punch line of many a joke.

Sermonizing and laughter aside, let’s try to understand this concept of the “three day a year Jew”: First of all, there’s really no such thing. Jews are Jews, 365 days a year. A specific Jew’s conduct may just not tell that story on a given day.

At the same time, there is clearly a disconnect between many Jews and ‘organized Judaism’. For thousands of years, most Jews prayed thrice daily and joined public Judaic gatherings whenever they occurred. In more recent times, there’s been much less involvement at a synagogue and religious communal level.

Except for the High Holidays.

Why?

I’ve been asking myself that question for more two decades, since our first local High Holiday service in 1994. Even back then, in a ramshackle house and with a far smaller group of friends, the High Holiday bump in attendance was evident. I didn’t fully understand it then, and my question has fleshed itself out over time. What gravitational-pull do people feel? Are people feeling an emotional attraction? Is attendance a nod to their [deceased] parents and grandparents? Are attendees afraid of getting zapped by G-d if they don’t show up?

Maybe some feel drawn to join the Jewish Community at this annual get-together, for the very sake of joining the Jewish Community, irrespective of why we’re gathering. Maybe some just go to services because “that’s what we do.”

My experience tells me that there’s no pat answer.  

My experience also tells me that the question, although interesting, misses an important point.

Two weeks from today Jews will gather as a community. They will celebrate a day of Oneness with each other and with G-d. Jews who don’t frequent synagogues or Torah classes on an average Saturday, let alone a Thursday, will be come together to fulfill a Mitzvah and hear the call of the Shofar, as their ancestors have done for over 3300 years.

Across the globe, Jews will pull themselves away from their usual distractions and gather in synagogues.

Does it really matter why?

I’m just really glad you guys are coming

Just In Time For A Weary World

Hurricane Harvey’s rain threat is over, but the devastation is enormous.

And it’s not like our world as too stable before this disaster. Polarization, terrorism, the resurgence of neo-Nazism. Syria and ISIS. These aren’t just problems “over there.’ They hover above our ‘real’ lives. In one way or another, they filter down to me and you, and add to our 'normal' stresses and challenges.

The world can certainly use a fresh, optimistic new page.

That’s why I feel like Rosh Hashana isn't coming a second too soon.

The High Holidays about a lot more than ushering in a new calendar year; they go way beyond donning our finest and attending services. All of that is [important] window dressing for Rosh Hashanah’s primary theme: G-d’s Infusion of New, Divine Energy Into a Tired World.

Just as a sleepy person gets rejuvenated by a jolt of caffeine (or some good sleep!), an exhausted world receives a Divine ‘shot-in-the-arm’ every Rosh Hashana.

How does this work?

Kabbalistically speaking, the world is totally dependent on Divine energy, which G-d grants in energy-increments. Every Rosh Hashana, G-d breathes new life into the world; and that keeps us juiced until the following Rosh Hashana.

But it’s not a purely automatic process. It’s actually very inter-active, and very much user-generated.

It’s up to us. In other words: Rosh Hashana isn’t a spectator sport. It’s a drama, and you have a leading role.

Every year, as the High Holidays set in, it’s our individual job to take a moment – a genuine moment - to re-connect with ourselves, our purpose in life, and with our Creator.

When we renew our commitment to meaningful living, re-affirming our relationship with the Divine, G-d is overjoyed to reciprocate and grant us life – vigorous, sparkling, energized life – for a New Year.

A world re-energized. Lives infused with new hope and vigor.

G-d knows we can use it.

Elul Power

This week, the Jewish calendar guides us into Elul, the month immediately preceding the High Holiday season. It’s traditionally a time for focus on our personal self-improvement.

The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, was a diarist, and he wrote a vivid description of Elul in the town of Lubavitch (in White Russia of the time) where he grew up. There was a soul-searching ‘smell in the air’ throughout the town, he writes, with a ‘wind of self-betterment’ blowing through the trees, and rustling the leaves. 

Powerful prose.

Now what does this mean in practical terms?

 I think of it this way. If we observe ourselves, we can see that our personal emotional posture influences our logic and judgments. That’s human nature. Consider the Torah’s warning against judges taking bribes: “for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise.” How does the Torah call an amoral bribe-taker ‘wise?’

The Torah is telling us that a person can be moral and cognitively sound, ‘wise,’ and yet be blinded by his subconscious emotional posture. The Torah isn’t talking about a greedy villain who knowingly perverts justice for a few dollars. The Torah is talking about someone who wants to be just, who THINKS he’s being just, but is incapable of truly wise thinking because of a personal, subjective connection.

When a person is emotionally available, unencumbered, he is then open to true to intellectual progress. When a person is emotionally unavailable, when he is tied to a position by an extraneous force, he cannot be objective; his cognition is impaired.

The Torah is illustrating the power of emotional availability.

This is a central concept of Elul. We can all say we want to be better. We can even mean it. But are we ready? Is our emotional posture open to it? Are we emotionally available for real change?

It’s difficult to know, and it’s difficult to achieve. That’s why G-d gave us Elul.

Life’s backdrop, the very rustling of the wind, is different these days. Ambience affects us, and the Elul ‘wind’ grants us rare emotional availability, which positions us for real change.

When we’re properly poised; real change can happen. This is the time.

If Werewolves Knew

 On the night of August 7th, look outside and you’ll see a full moon. Although common folklore has associated lunacy - even vampires - with lunar fullness, Judaism sees spiritual beauty and meaning in the full moon.

The sun is the universe’s luminary, and the moon its reflector, and (as we observe it on earth) every month they go through a cosmic dance. The New Moon cycle begins with darkness, a moonless night. The moon then begins to wax, showing us more and more of the sun’s brilliance.

Ultimately, we get to see the moon in total symmetry with the sun’s rays: The full moon.

This dynamic represents our own dance with the Divine. G-d is the source of all light, the true ‘Sun’ of our universe. Our job is to reflect Divine meaning; we need to be a ‘moon’ to G-d’s ‘Sun.’

When we’re off our game, we go dark. Our world is a moonless night, lonely and vulnerable.

When we’re aligned, the world is bright. Life makes sense. We can see where we’re coming from and where we need to go. Life still has pitfalls, but we’re safe and secure. We’re connected.

In other words: WE need to be the full moon.

On the [lunar-based] Jewish calendar, the 15th day of the month is when there’s a full moon. That gives us some insight into why Passover is on the 15th of Jewish month, as is Sukkot.

Interestingly, the Talmud tells us that the 15th of the month of Av – sometimes referred to as Tu B’Av - is greater than them both.

Why?

Because there’s no deeper security than the safety which comes after vulnerability and instability.

Think of a couple experiencing their honeymoon, an unchallenged oneness. Then real life hits, so the union faces instability and challenge. The couple’s in a vulnerable place, because they haven’t each yet evolved into a healthy, interdependent unit.

By using their imbalance as an opportunity to strengthen themselves, the couple comes out stronger. They’re more secure because they have conquered the instability.

Tisha B’av (this past Tuesday) was a time for mourning the havoc that comes from being disconnected from self, from each other and from the Divine. Moving on, we’ve resolved to reconnect, and our new alignment has the safety – that special glow – that comes with personal transformation.

This Monday, our personal moons will shine especially bright. Catch the glow.

Summer Is An Opportunity

Are you getting away this summer?
Taking some weekends off? Maybe a week or two abroad?
These months are commonly a time to slow things down a bit, or at least carve out more time for 'self' and family.
Each season has its own unique beat. As we move through the days, months and years, we need to pause and identify each season's tempo, embrace its particular character and grow with it.
So, let’s think about summer: What is particularly striking about this season?
Obviously, summer is a time of increased light and warmth; we have longer daylight hours, and higher temperatures. In other words, summer is a time when the sun is in fuller glory and effect.
That’s summer in macro; but this also applies to each of us in micro.
In a way, we each have our own internal seasons. We each also have our own internal ‘sun, ’ the soul.
There are times when we go through an internal winter, when our moral vision and priorities don’t express their full light into our daily lives. There are times when conscience and values are in relative hibernation, when the spirit is cold, and moral growth seems a part of the distant past.
Then there’s summer. Summer is about letting my internal sun shine. Summer is about feeling my own internal capacity for spirituality and warmth, a capacity that might recede in the face of a hectic schedule.  
So if I’m able to relax a bit from the everyday stresses and get away, then I need to use that opportunity to synchronize myself with nature; I need to create my own internal summer by increasing the light and warmth in my life.
We each have valuable relationships - with loved ones, with our community and with our G-d – and relationships need nurturing. So if you’re running on fewer cylinders this summer, and have some extra space in your brain and heart, those relationships could probably use some extra warmth.
You have an internal sun. Let it shine. 

The Sad Path To Happy

Don’t worry. Be happy.

We like to be content and upbeat.

We prefer to stay away from sadness, with its dark overtones and unpleasantness.

Indeed, Torah thought guides us to seek and maintain a joyful attitude. Positive thinking and an optimistic demeanor are very important ingredients for a Torah life.

That makes this time of year especially challenging: Next week, we’ll enter Judaism’s annual ‘three week period of sadness.’ We’ll mourn many of the tragedies we’ve experienced throughout our history, with primary focus on the destruction of our two Holy Temples – and two Jewish Commonwealths  (490 years apart) - two millennia ago.

This coming Tuesday, July 11, the 17th of Tammuz on the Jewish calendar, Jews throughout the world will fast to remember the marauders’ breach of Jerusalem’s protective wall. On August 1st, Tisha B’av, we’ll fast again, to bewail the Temples’ actual destruction.

It’s a gloomy few weeks. At the same time, we can’t allow the mood to paralyze us.

While some forms of sadness are decidedly unproductive, some sadness is actually constructive. You can tell the difference by observing their respective manifestations.

When sadness brings despair and our desire to crawl under the covers, it’s not the productive brand of sadness.

At the same time, there is a form of sadness which – in controlled quantities – can facilitate self-honesty; it can be a call to action, prompting you to take control of your life.

With a quick Google search, I found a study from the Australian University of NSW which concludes that “sadness promotes information-processing strategies best suited to dealing with more-demanding situations.” That’s how an unpleasant internal atmosphere helps you grow.

When we’re flying high, we’re probably less inclined to recognize and address our weaknesses. Why should we go through the emotionally-demanding exercise? Things are great!

Self-improvement takes self-honesty, and the guts to tackle the rough edges you find inside. And we usually don’t go to that place unless we’re dragged there, kicking and screaming.

So once a year, Torah life presents us with an important opportunity.  

These three weeks will be a time to focus, a time to recognize, a time to correct.

They'll also give us something genuine to celebrate once it’s all over.

Everything is New Under the Sun

 Nature has its cycles. The sun rises and sets. The moon waxes and wanes. G-d gifted us with a world that is fundamentally foreseeable, and that predictability breeds security. 

At the same time, predictability often breeds inattentive complacency. When we’re subconsciously expecting to exhale after we inhale, only to inhale once again, do we even notice?

“There’s nothing new under the sun” means that all of our natural blessings are old news, which often means we take them for granted. Without pro-active mindfulness, we tend to settle into mindless expectation of our recurrent gifts.

So the Torah guides us to mindfulness.

When the Jews left Egypt, they spent forty years in the desert living on supernatural miracles: Manna from heaven, protective Clouds of Glory, etc. But life isn’t about living on open miracles. G-d’s end game was for us to settle in Israel and lead normallives: To work hard, and reap the gifts those efforts.  

However, along with this comes a built-in challenge: to maintain conscious gratitude for the Divine gifts in our natural lives.

The Torah tells us that 3289 years ago, as Joshua finally led the Jews to settle Israel, he made the sun stop in its tracks (Joshua10:12), bringing nature's fundamental cycle to an unexpected halt. 

What was his purpose?

Settling Israel wasn’t only about finding this new nation a place to live, it was about helping them find the way to live. Joshua was teaching us to recognize that G-d’s Hand is always in Nature’s glove. That the sun’s cycles are only recurring because G-d gives us that blessing.

Indeed, G-d is giving us the gift of nature right now, so – in a sense – everything is new under the sun. It’s our challenge, and our privilege, to draw that Divine mindfulness into our daily lives.

This coming Tuesday, the 3rd of Tammuz, the day that the Rebbe passed away (23 years ago) also marks 3289 years since that fateful day when Joshua “stopped the sun.”

The Rebbe’s life was a successful campaign to breathe Divine consciousness into our lives, shepherding people across the globe toward a life of meaningful connectedness, of Torah study and Mitzvah observance. The Rebbe consistently called our attention to the G-dliness that pulsates just beneath life’s surface, ‘stopping our sun’ to jog us into awareness.

Rebbe, we love you and miss your physical presence. Your inspiration is our engine to continue bringing the world to a better place.

Humility=Ambition

Do you think anybody really wants to be arrogant? 
Is there somebody out there who actually aspires to obnoxiousness? 
I doubt it.
On the other hand, do you really want to be ‘humble’? 
Do you think the average person pictures ‘humility’ as equating to ambition and a drive for success?
Or does the word ‘humble’ conjure an image of someone lacking presence and self-confidence, an easily manipulated wallflower shyly averting his gaze? 

Let’s rethink this.

Torah wants us to live proactively and energetically. We are encouraged to vigorously engage the world and usher it to a meaningful place. 
That same Torah guides us to be humble. How can these two attitudes co-exist in one person? 
Humility doesn’t mean being a doormat. It means being honest with yourself, and seeing yourself for who you really are.
Authentic humility doesn’t deny – to yourself or others – your value, strengths and talents. That’s not called humility, it’s called [self-] deception. 
Humility means being fully aware of your talents; it means total consciousness of your advantages in life – genetic, familial/societal or financial. 
Humility is the attitude which you approach your gifts and talents.
We all need to look at ourselves and take honest stock of our G-d-given ‘toolbox,’ the skills and opportunities with which we’ve been endowed. We should recognize that each of these life-advantages comes with a responsibility. G-d grants us gifts for a purpose: we need to develop and utilize our ‘tools’, making them into accessories for meaningful living. 
So we need to look at each of our gifts and recognize that gifts are just that: Something we’ve been given. Gifts aren’t accomplishments. They’re opportunities.
We should consider each of our gifts and ask: Am I doing this opportunity justice? Could I not be doing more to actualize it?

We should also recognize that people without our specific talents, our tools, have simply been dealt a different tool box. The gifted toolbox doesn’t make one a qualitatively better person, it’s what we’ve accomplished with our tools.

To a humble person, the real measure of life isn’t the hand we’ve each been dealt; it’s what we’re doing with it.
So humility is a sense of responsibility: I need to be who G-d created me to be. Humility is when I’m not competing against others, but against my own potential. Humility is a sense of always being conscious for new opportunities.

Now let’s get out there and be the best we can be. Humility demands no less. 

Share Some Light

So you’re out with friends, and you’re passionately debating a hot social issue. You’re having a good time; but then you notice that one friend is kind of quiet. His body language tells you that he isn’t familiar with the subject and is psychologically standing to the side.

Your easiest course of action is to do nothing. In other words, bury your mental note and jump back into the fray.

After all, what CAN you do? No one knows everything, and you friend happens to lack proficiency in this area.  There’s nothing for him to be ashamed of; it happens to everyone at one time or another. At the same time, you personally dislike being trapped in a conversation that’s beyond your scope, so you know how he feels.

So here’s an option: Create a respectful portal through which your friend can enter the discussion. Without condescension, find an accessible way for him – based on his personal knowledge and experiences – to enter the world you and your friends are experiencing.

It may take some thought, and some pro-active guidance of the conversation, but it can often be done.

I’m describing inter-personal sensitivity, and it goes far beyond group conversations.

One needs to be actively conscious and self-aware to notice other people’s needs and act upon them. It’s much easier to stay in my ‘world’ and relate to people at that level.

But if I really care about people, if I really want to connect with them, I need to consider THEIR perspectives and needs. Without compromising my values, I can usually find common ground, a user-friendly point of contact.

But first we need to care.

This Shabbat, we read that G-d instructed Aharon the High Priest (Moses’ brother) to light the Menorah in the Tabernacle. Chassidic thought tells us that the Menorah, with its seven branches, symbolizes the people and their various personality types. Aharon saw them all as ONE Menorah and embraced them all, with love. With that love, he ignited their hearts and souls.

Today, remember that we’re all part of one Menorah, even when we appear to represent different branches. We’re one, so care – genuinely - about the next person you meet.

You may actually bring light to someone’s life.

 

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