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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Set Yourself Free

Do you want to meet your personal potential?

Psychologists have long recognized self-actualization - or self- fulfillment - as a deeply rooted human drive. We want to be all we can be, to spread our wings and soar.

At one level, the path to this goal takes a lot of introspection and mental/emotional toil. I need to know myself –my own weaknesses and habits - if I want to grow into who I can be. I need to be pro-actively self-aware, consistently observing how I react to various stimuli in my day, and watching my sub-consciously ingrained patterns.

At the same time, hyper-focus on self can actually get in the way of personal growth. When you can’t sleep, and focus on falling asleep, the self-focus obstructs your goal of relaxation. Paradoxically, trying to sleep itself prevents your sleep.

Psychologists have identified something called ‘hyper-reflection,' or ‘thinking too hard.’ When we focus excessively on our potential pitfalls they can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So, true self-actualization needs more than self-awareness; it needs self-transcendence, or self-negation. G-d created me for a purpose, something larger than myself. So leading a meaningful life isn't achieved solely by focusing on who we want to be. We also need focus on who we’re needed to be.

It’s not a mindset “what do I want out of life?”, but rather “what does life wants out of me?”

When we adopt an other-centered attitude, we free ourselves of the limitations that come with self-focus. We're swept up in our responsibility to life, to the world around us, to our Creator.

This freedom is part of the Passover mindset. The enslaved Jews weren’t a self-aware, spiritually-evolved group. But they did believe in a Creator and a destiny. They were focused on who they needed to be. So they were open to redemption.

So Passover is about humility. About faith in something Higher. About rebirth.

Please join us at our Community Seder (guess who will be wearing a Moses costume!:)) on March 30th, as we taste the freedom experienced by our ancestors.

Let's make this Passover count.

Relationship With A Capital 'R'

 

Relationships are the stuff of life.

They are the attachments we share.

Think of a relationship as a rope that joins two people. Each show of love, each demonstration of respect, adds another strand to this cable of connectedness, increasing its overall strength. Though individually miniscule, hundreds of threads woven together can create a rope that becomes more and more unbreakable.

Similarly, relationships reflect what we invest in them. Some are so weak that they are derailed by relatively minor incidents, and some so strong they can withstand a storm. It all depends on the strands.

But a parent’s love for a child would seem to be different; it seems to transcend the ‘relationship rope’ metaphor. Certainly, threads of positive interactions are critical to a healthy parent/child relationship, and a damaged ‘rope’ will make for a great challenge. At the same time, a parent/child relationship isn’t only about the threads. It’s elemental; and it’s not something we can break.

No matter how frayed the ‘rope’, a healthy parent can never really divorce a child. A child is – biologically and spiritually – an extension of his/her parents.

The creator is fundamentally invested in the created.

This is important to remember when we think of our relationship with G-d. The Torah tells us that “G-d’s portion is His people; Jacob is the rope of His inheritance”. The Torah compares our relationship with G-d to a ‘rope’. Every time we honor our relationship with G-d, we express our soul identity and add a strand to the rope of connectedness.

But there’s something else in that verse: It says that we are G-d’s “portion”, we are each a piece of the Divine. Just like a parent never divorces a child, we can never be truly disconnected from our Divine Parent. We may go through some tumultuous times, and the rope may become quite compromised, G-d forbid. But the elemental relationship transcends it all.

Today – the 10th of Shevat - celebrates 68 years since the Rebbe assumed leadership of Chabad. A genuine Jewish leader never gets distracted by the extraneous ‘disconnect’ that may arise between his people and the Divine. He focuses on identifying, and bringing to the surface, our unbreakable bond with G-d; and then inspiring us to rebuild the rope, one strand at a time.

This was the Rebbe’s life.

Thank you, Rebbe.

 

The Pit Or The Well?

 Ever feel like you're 'running on empty'?

Some days, we feel like we have what it takes. We're in the right mental place. We've got the enthusiasm and wisdom to deal with life’s challenges and opportunities. We’re in the right ‘zone.’

Other days it feels like we're at a dead end, mentally and emotionally exhausted. We don't have the inner strength or insight to get over the hump that seems to block our way.

What to do?

The Torah describes each person as a metaphoric 'well.’ Before a well is discovered, it can appear as nothing more than a large pit; a ground cavity, yielding nothing but emptiness. But beneath that apparently desolate bottom lays a reservoir of water, the stuff of life and growth.

A pit is a lifeless abyss, with no hope for growth and vitality. Conversely, a well may  look like a pit, but it actually has a hidden treasure waiting to burst forth. One just needs to keep digging.

When the Torah tells us that we are each a ‘well,’ it is declaring that we each carry a rejuvenating natural resource deep inside. We just need to tap it.

It’s normal to feel like you’re 'running on empty,' that the day feels like ‘the pits.’ It's human. But we need to envision the water that lies just beneath that lifeless bottom. If only we keep digging.

Chassidic thought tells us that struggle is what yields the greatest reward. When I face an obstacle, that problem is actually beckoning, calling out and saying "conquer me." And when I face that challenge, I need to know that engaging my difficulties is my soul’s greatest exercise. My destiny.

So, the Torah, by calling me a well, gives me important encouragement. When we’re feeling empty, alienated and disconnected, when we feel like we’re at bottom, our 'well' self-image can give us the strength to dig just a little deeper. And when we do, we'll hopefully access that special geyser of hope, strength, inspiration and wisdom that we carry within us.

We need to visualize the life affirming water lies just on the other side of that lifeless bottom.

And keep digging.

Pharaoh Syndrome

 

 

 

It’s probably a common human experience. 
You’re at a crossroads in life, and need to choose a direction. Considering the facts as you see them, you choose a course of action, believing that it’s the correct one. 
Now what happens when you come across new 'evidence' which undermines your original decision? Oops!

You’re already invested in your decision. You’re headed in a direction. Your family and friends all know about it too.

Now what? 
That's where character comes in. People with moral strength have the guts to stop short and admit a mistake. They have the courage to do the right thing, even though it may be seen as a public acknowledgment of their own inadequacy. 
People with weak values keep boring ahead, irrespective of the facts. 
It's what we call a Pharaoh personality. 
Pharaoh devised his evil slavery program because he didn’t like the Jewish people’s presence in his land. But maybe he also had some grandiose vision of a Divine destiny to be visited upon the Jewish people.

After all, G-d had told Abraham his descendants would be enslaved for four hundred years (Genesis 15:13-14), and we can assume that Abraham didn’t keep it a secret.

Maybe Pharaoh thought he was fulfilling a historic mission.

Maybe. But that could have only taken him to a certain point. 
Pharaoh was eventually confronted by Moses, a man who showed his G-dly credentials and gave clear instructions: "Let these people go. You’re doing something wrong. You and your people will suffer if you continue." 
Yet Pharaoh continued. Pharaoh suffered terribly, yet he refused to change course. It took ten devastating plagues to loosen his grip. What kind of a person looks facts and self-destruction in the face, and continues on his wrong-headed path? 
A person who can’t admit he made a mistake. A person who can’t find the courage to change direction. 
The Torah is the story of our individual lives.

We each have an inner Moses, an inner Pharaoh, and personal Egypts that trap us in our daily lives.

When we rise above our egos to hand our inner Moses the reins of our lives, we can find the strength to push past our personal Pharaoh, escape our individual Egypt and find the way to our Promised Land. 
It happened then. It should happen today.


 

 

Apology With A Soul

We all make mistakes. And sometimes there’s collateral damage. Others can get hurt.
So what does the moral person do?

Apologize.

And then move on with life. 
It happens all the time. We discomfit or embarrass someone, defuse the situation by expressing regret, and then continue unscathed down life's path. 

But the critical question is: Did we grow from the episode? Did I take the time to analyze why I was so careless as to step on someone else's proverbial toe? Did you process and internalize the situational dynamics so that you’re more sensitive to my surroundings next time?

If an apology is blurted out to navigate an awkward moment, or because one was caught doing something wrong, then the apology is unlikely to be a self-transformative one. 

It’s an escape tool, not a step in personal evolution.
When the Jews were in Egypt, Moses kept begging Pharaoh to "Let my people go." When he didn’t listen, G-d directed calamities to afflict Egypt, to help ‘convince’ Pharaoh to let the Jews leave. 

Makes sense so far. The powerful oppressor is afflicting the vulnerable victims and G-d wants him to stop.

But, the Torah tells us that G-d "hardened Pharaoh's heart" so that he obstinately refused to let the Jews out of slavery.

Why? Wasn’t G-d working against His own interests? If G-d was indeed trying to free the Jews, why get in the way by hardening Pharaoh’s heart?
Our Rabbis teach that G-d never prevented Pharaoh from feeling and expressing genuine remorse. At the same time, G-d didn't want a shallow, forced apology. G-d didn't want Pharaoh to recant his ways in order to stop the pain; that would be an easy - in fact, deceptive - way out. 

G-d strengthened Pharaoh’s psyche against issuing a shallow ‘I’m sorry.’ The stakes were too high; G-d wanted authentic self-reflection, genuine internal change. 

Absent real remorse, G-d preferred nothing. 
The same applies to our own, personal 'Egypt’, our individual life-ruts. Superficial apologies are good for getting-by; but they stand in the way of doing-better.
'Getting-by' or ‘Doing-better.' 

It's our choice.

We Are the Flames

 

Flames have a special place in Judaism.
Consider the Shabbat candles which we light every Friday evening: On Shabbat, we take a step back from the week's hectic pace, disengaging from our smartphones and task-lists, to focus on life itself. We elevate our spirits to soak in an aerial view of ourselves, rising above our splintered weekday-personas to consider our more wholesome potential.
Tonight, we'll kindle Shabbat lights which grant us illumination and perspective; allowing us to see where we've been stumbling and which paths we need to pursue.
So, as you watch the Shabbat flames, try to rise above your personal stress and struggles. Try to absorb the glow inward, and search for a part of yourself that isn't defined by the pain; a piece of you that is whole, an internal place of faith and confidence in the future.
That's the Shabbat experience.
But this evening we'll also be lighting a different type of flame: The Chanukah Flame.
Whereas the Shabbat candles foster personal/familial balance and peace, the Chanukah candles are outwardly focused.
The Talmud describes the Chanukah candles as tools to 'illuminate the outside.' The flames need to transform the external darkness, bringing warmth and illumination to an otherwise dark place.
Finding our personal sense of wholeness, faith and confidence, isn't enough. Chanukah instructs us to share it with others, to illuminate the 'night' outside our four walls and beyond our respective driveways.
Today, the world is experiencing upheaval in various ways. One might say, especially for the Jewish community, that there is a global sense of unease.The world needs a candle, a stabilizing beacon of light.
That candle is us.
If we can share hope for the future, we will have brightened lives. If we can lend mental clarity to help distinguish between rational and irrational concerns, we will have illuminated hearts. If we can inspire faith and trust in the Divine Parent who loves us all, we will have provided warmth to a cold spirit.
We will have extended the flame of our own souls to ignite another's wick.
We will have lived the Chanukah message.

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.

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