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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Dance!

As joyous Holidays go, Simchat Torah (literally: The Joy of Torah) is high voltage. Sunday evening through Tuesday, Jews throughout the world - all types and stripes - will be dancing, enthusiastically showing their delight for this gift we call the Torah.  

What’s interesting is that we won’t actually be studying the Torah. While the Torah is best known as a source of great wisdom, we’ll be rejoicing with a closed and wrapped Torah. Interestingly, the party doesn’t seem to be about the Torah’s ideas; if fact, history has shown that many who can’t actually read from the Torah are jubilantly celebrating.

So what are we celebrating? What’s the gift worth if not its academic richness?

Conceptually, not just semantically, it’s important to note that the Torah is much more than a ‘gift’ per se. Scripture actually refers to the Torah as our ‘inheritance’. This is relevant because a gift is something that one party gives to another. An inheritance is a different type of transfer from benefactor to recipient.  

According to Torah law, a deceased person’s assets automatically transfer to his/her heirs, even if there is no indication of the deceased’s wishes. The transfer just happens (unless the decedent acts to stop or shape this natural transfer). Naturally.

The Torah recognizes and respects an organic transition from generation to generation. Conceptually speaking, one generation immediately shifts to fill the shoes of the previous one. Just like that.

In fact, the Hebrew word for ‘inheritance’ (nachala) is the same as ‘river’ (nachal), indicating the natural flow from one generation to the next.

This is why the Torah is called an ‘inheritance’. It’s ours, irrespective of whether we’ve taken actions to claim or deserve it. It passes from generation to generation, some appreciating it more than others. But it belongs to us all. Equally.

And, if you think about it, this IS something to celebrate. No matter how close you feel to the Torah right now, it’s your inheritance. Yours to claim, yours to study, yours to appreciate. Even if you’ve neglected it, no one can ever deny your fundamental right to it. There’s no statute of limitations, no need to deal with probate.

Yours.

In a world that seems crazily volatile and unpredictable, our Jewish/Torah identity is stable and permanent. Your ancestors have bequeathed you a ‘piece of the Rock’.

See you on Monday for Simchat Torah: It’s time to dance!

Healthy Self-Improvement

Let’s face it, change is difficult!
We often speak about unshackling from the status quo and growing into a ‘new me,’ but inertia still seductively beckons.
There is a sense of vulnerability that comes with moving on to new behaviors and attitudes. The old way, as deficient as we may know it to be, has the comfort that comes with familiarity. When we’re in a tough spot, it may be uncomfortable, but at least it’s our spot; we feel like we have a grip on who we are, for better or worse.
Moving from point A to point B is a journey, and journeys are inherently disruptive. We’re neither here nor there. We’re not in a settled place.
If we want to maximize the likelihood that we will achieve our growth potential by by successfully navigating the journey from point A to point B, we need to chart a stable course that enables us to move away from the comforts of point A with the security and confidence that we will arrive intact at Point B.
That trajectory is found in the Holidays we now celebrate.
First, we spend an introspective ten days from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur. In that time, we painstakingly strip away the layers of self-image and ego, and the defense mechanisms, that have allowed us to ignore what we need to correct in ourselves and have served as barriers to self-improvement. On this side of Yom Kippur, we are more self-aware; but we are also a little unsteady.
We know the ‘old me’; but how will we relate to a ‘new me’? Will our self-betterment plan work? Will it affect how we are accepted and loved?

It’s a little scary at the beginning, so ‘training wheels’ are needed to steady the journey.
With perfect timing, G-d gives us the Holiday of Sukkot. During this Holiday we sit in a hut – the Sukkah - to eat, drink, study and celebrate with family and friends. Sitting in the Sukkah, we are nestling in G-d’s haven, a place of emotional and spiritual security where we are encircled by G-d and hugged by his embrace.
We’ve left Yom Kippur cleansed of the spiritual baggage that fosters inertia and with a budding optimism about self-improvement.  Yet there is also a trepidation about making the changes that will allow those buds of optimism to blossom.

In the safety of the Sukkah, we acclimate to our new perspective on life. We use the nurturing presence of G-d and our community to steady ourselves for the journey ahead.

Once Sukkot is over and we are walking steadily, we are ready to leave the Sukkah – to shed the ‘training wheels’  – and to implement our New Year’s resolutions in everyday life.  

What a wonderful transition to the year ahead.
Looking forward! 

Come On In, The Water's Perfect

Water.

It's so simple. Unspectacular and unpretentious.

Yet it's so powerful.

It gives life – literally – to the earth and its inhabitants.

It's the amniotic fluid, our pre-birth state, and - as we go through life - it’s our cleansing friend.

So uniquely tranquil is water’s sound, that the tonality of raindrops falling ranks highest among preferred sleeping aids. Whether it's a flowing stream, or a majestic fountain, water creates a personal island of serenity.

Water is so fundamentally natural, yet simultaneously ethereal, feeling like it’s just beyond our concrete grasp.

The Torah concept of Mikvah harnesses – and expresses – the singular energy of water. This pool of ritual restoration and rebirth (which we are providing in our new Synagogue wing!), is a 'conductor' which facilitates an individual’s growth from one spiritual stage to the next. Every Yom Kippur, the High Priest in the Holy Temple would periodically immerse himself in a Mikvah, as he progressed from one phase of the service to the next.

Women immerse themselves as part of their journey through life's cycles. And men regularly use the Mikvah as part of a ‘spiritual regeneration’ process, shedding one behavioral modality as we aim for a more evolved one.

Perhaps conversion is the most obvious transition, when the Mikvah-waters summon the individual’s new identity into full blossom.

But why does water also serve as a metaphor for life's difficulties?

Why do we speak – even Scripturally – of the 'rushing waters' which threaten to extinguish my flickering flame of hope, or the ferocious tide which threatens to knock me off balance?

How do I reconcile the Mikvah’s serenity with the stuff of Noah's flood?

But maybe that's exactly the point.

The babbling brook’s tranquility is precious; but it's also easy. Life is about facing the raging tide; there’s no other way to access my life’s potential. I just need to brace myself, and use the energy to my advantage. When I am emotionally and spiritually cocooned, when I've found internal fortitude and focus, when I'm anchored to firm principles and vision, I have a protective boat which rises higher with every wave.

Chassidic thought describes contemplative prayer and study as our protective Ark. In prayer and study, we access a psycho-spiritual ‘ship’ which shelters us from life’s floodwaters, and helps us transform that tide into personal growth.  

This Yom Kippur, spend some quiet time in prayer and insulate your soul.

Welcome aboard.

Can G-d Forget?

We all forget things. It’s part of life.  As flesh and blood humans, we can't be constantly conscious of everything and everyone we encounter.
How about G-d? Can the Infinite, Omnipotent and Omniscient (all-knowing) Master of the universe have a memory lapse? I wouldn’t think so.

Yet, our Rosh Hashana prayers ask G-d – a good number of times, in a variety of ways – to ‘remember’ us. What can that possibly mean? Do we believe in a G-d who can forget?

Chassidic thought points out that – in the human experience - ‘remembering’ someone implies a connection between the two parties. ‘Forgetting’ implies a distance in the relationship but not a permanent loss of memory. 

Think of running into a friend that you haven’t seen, spoken with or perhaps even thought about in years.  If something reminds you of that friend and you reach out to reconnect, it is very different than making a new acquaintance.  The memories return and, if you take steps to rekindle the relationship, the friend will then occupy more space in your daily consciousness and you can grow closer once again.  Likewise, once you remember your friend by calling them to reconnect, they will feel closer to you, even though they had never really forgotten you.

When we get wrapped up in the struggles of the moment, when we’re only conscious of what’s directly in front of us screaming for attention, we can forget Higher Purpose. We can lose sight of the fact that G-d created us with an objective, and that every day we should take strides toward achieving a more meaningful life.

When we forget our higher purposeG-d does not forget us, but we create a distance between ourselves and our Creator; a ‘gulf of forgotten-ness’. On Rosh Hashana, or any other day when we wake up to the relationship with G-d, we undo that disconnect, like when we call our old friend and they welcome our outreach with open arms.   

Rosh Hashana calls to mind that we live in an interactive universe. When we forget the Divine, we create distance on both sides of the relationship. When we recall our Creator, re-experiencing our relationship with the Divine, committing ourselves to clearer consciousness,G‑d’s deep love for us bridges the gap and we’re re-united in an intimate bond with the Divine.

The Shofar calls us to remember, and to embrace.

It’s an intimate experience.

Be there.

Life Without a GPS

I use a GPS. It’s been a looong time since I consulted a map.

Years ago, if I was travelling to Baltimore (for example) I might order a AAA Triptik, or I'd take maps of NJ, Delaware and Maryland and chart my journey. Once I was on my way, I would still need to actively consult my maps to ensure that I was on course, especially if I hit a surprise detour.

Today, I can simply turn off my brain. The GPS is my navigator; I’m just the driver executing its instructions. I don't have to envision a destination, chart a path to get there or check in with my map along the way. I just drive and obey that annoying voice.

It’s so easy.

It also presents a risk to a basic life skill. Consider this: It takes a good leader to navigate toward a suitable destination. It only takes a follower to implement someone else’s instructions.

When I use the GPS, I’m the follower, not the leader.

Not a big deal if we’re talking about a simple car trip, but I think it’s a metaphor for something larger.

Several years ago, I was sitting with my wife Malkie, meeting a prospective Hebrew School family. Malkie asked the parents: “What is your Jewish dream, your Jewish vision, for your child?”

The question blew them away.

They said they’d never considered the question. Enrolling their child in Hebrew School was stating: “We need a Bat-Mitzvah that will make Grandma and Grandpa happy. Just tell us where to show up and when.”

They were grateful for this unexpected opportunity to consider what they wanted – Judaically – for their child.

This goes way beyond Hebrew School.

Judaism is about life; it’s not just about the commitment to follow directions. Torah isn’t my GPS, it’s my map.

I consciously choose my destination on the path of leading a meaningful life, using the map gifted to us by the Almighty Cartographer. I pro-actively and consistently consult that map, working toward my life-destination, despite the many detours and distractions.

We need to be leaders in our Jewish lives.

Rosh Hashana is around the corner, so think: What’s YOUR destination for the new year? Learning how to read Hebrew? Connecting with the Jewish community on a more regular basis?

Let’s make this a transformative Rosh Hashana.

Let the call of the Shofar be a call to leadership in our lives.

Three Days a Year

The “three day a year Jew”.

This widespread phenomenon is the subject of many a sermon and the punch line of many a joke.

Sermonizing and laughter aside, the “three day a year Jew” is an interesting topic. First of all, there’s really no such thing. Jews are Jews, 365 days a year. It’s just not always easily discernible.

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.

Hence the concept of the “three day a year Jew”.

So why do people indeed come on the High Holidays? I’ve been asking myself that question for 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 is the gravitational-pull? Are people feeling any emotional attraction at all? Is attendance a nod to their [deceased] parents and grandparents? Are my friends afraid of getting zapped by G-d if they don’t show up? Do people 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? Are people just going to services because “that’s what we do”?

My experience tells me that if there is an answer, it’s not a neat and pat one.  

So let’s celebrate a really special time of year. It’s awesome that we’ll all be getting together on Sept 30th and Oct.1st, congregating in a Jewish House of Worship to celebrate a day of Oneness with each other and with G-d. It’s downright fantastic that Jews who don’t generally frequent synagogues will be gathering to respect their heritage, join their brethren in prayer, and hear the call of the Shofar as their ancestors did.

So why is everyone coming? Who cares?

Jewish identity, and Jewish continuity, is in our hands, so I’m just really glad to see you guys, and would love to see your kids too.

See you on Rosh Hashana!

 

Rabbi Mendy

(click here for Holiday times)

Hide and Seek

The great Rabbi's meditation was interrupted by his grandson's sobbing. 
"Why are you crying?” he asks.
"My friends and I had started to play hide and seek, so I was hiding. But then they just drifted away and no one came looking for me!"
We don't live in a world that shouts Holiness and morality. When one wakes up in the morning, one doesn’t instinctively shout "Wow! G-d constantly gives me life and has given me another day. I matter; I have a purpose in this world, and I need to use the gift of another day to live my destiny!"
Nope. 

I say morning prayers which guide my mindset to see the world for its purpose and beauty.  
In other words: I begin to seek G-d's presence in the world.
We start every day with a psycho-spiritual workout that we call prayer. An adventure of discovering G-d in our world. Like any good workout, we begin with a warm-up. We still the mind, disengaging from the 'outer world' and its distracting static.
Then, the liturgy guides me – through 'prayer therapy' - to feel an appreciation, a deep need, for Oneness (symmetry, purpose, wholeness) in my life. And I call out 'Shema Yisrael (Judaism's ancient proclamation of G-d as the Oneness of life)!' There is Oneness. We are One.
In my little world, I've found Him. And myself. So we – G-d and I - are both elated. Because I have sought, and G-d has been found. 
 In Jewish spirituality, we call the Shema the daily call of the Shofar, because the piercing blasts evoke and articulate our deep-seated need for meaning. 
It’s a special time of year. As we approach Rosh Hashana, try to say the Shema and hear the Shofar every day. We need it.
 And we don't want G-d to feel forgotten.

We're At War

There’s a war going on.

No, I don’t mean Afghanistan or Syria.

Or even Congress.

I mean you and me. But it isn’t between us, it’s within us.

Or at least it should be.

We each have two opposing forces within our respective psyches. There’s the responsible, selfless, visionary dimension (the ‘G-dly soul’ in Kabbalistic language). And then there’s the shallower, self-centered, creature-comfort-seeking dimension (the ‘animal soul’ in Kabbalistic terms).

These two internal forces are always pulling my attention in opposite directions.

They’re at war, fighting for control of my choices, and I need to be on constant alert.

I’m not speaking about the major moral dilemmas, the challenges to our basic integrity, which we sometimes face. It’s more common, and more insidious, than that.

I’m referring to our struggle to pay proper attention to relationships, to be fully engaged in a five year old’s story, to be fully present in our actions, etc.

It’s about struggling with my weaker self.

It may be common, but we shouldn’t understate the reality: It’s a real battle.

And it never stops. Unless I’ve totally caved in to my weaker side.

Interestingly, Kabbalistic writings refer to Prayer as a ‘time of combat.’ At first blush, that strikes me as odd. Doesn’t Prayer seems more synonymous with peace than with war?

Prayer is about getting a firmer grip on ourselves. It’s about cutting through layers of self-image and defense mechanisms; it’s about recognizing counter-productive patterns so that we can break their paralyzing hold on our lives.

When I pray, I need to seriously focus on who I need to be, as compared to who I am. That’s easier said than done, since there’s a strong instinct to look the other way, avoiding the unpleasantness that comes with facing one’s weaker self.

Framing Prayer as a battle also helps me to appreciate the value of communal prayer. I don’t want to stand alone in battle; there’s strength in numbers. When I pray, I’m supported by my comrades’ effort to overcome the impediments that stand between us and our potential.

It’s a team effort, with each of us strengthening the other by our very presence and commitment to self-actualization.

Yes, it’s war, and a warrior needs to have all internal pistons firing with awareness and focus. It’s an individual battle, but we’re in this together.

See you at services?

Beyond Howling Wolves

Look outside tonight and you’ll see a full moon.

Common folklore has associated lunacy - even vampires - with lunar fullness, but Judaism sees spiritual beauty in the full moon.

The sun is the universe’s luminary, and the moon its reflector, and 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, and our role is to reflect G-dliness - Divine meaning – to the world.

In other words: G-d created each of us to serve as a ‘moon’ to his ‘Sun’.

When we’re off our game, our world goes dark; it feels like a lonely and vulnerable – moonless – night.

When we’re aligned, life makes more sense. We can see where we’re coming from and where we need to go. There are pitfalls, but we feel safe and secure. We’re connected.

The goal is to be a full moon.

On the [lunar-based] Jewish calendar, the 15th day of the month is always the full moon. Which helps us understand why Passover and Sukkot are each on the 15th of their respective Jewish month.

Well, today is the 15th of the month of Av, and the Talmud tells us that it’s even more powerful than those Bibilical Holidays.

Tisha B’av (last weekend) was a time for collective mourning. We each focused on our disconnect from self, from each other and from the Divine.

But we’re past that now. And our new alignment has the special glow that comes with achieving security after our Tisha B’Av grapple with vulnerability and instability.

Think of a couple experiencing the oneness of their honeymoon. Then real life hits, and they face challenges, instability. When they work through the challenges, they’re in a stronger place than they began. They now know their relationship has the strength to weather turbulence.

By using their imbalance as an opportunity to strengthen personal weakness, the couple comes out stronger on the other side. They’re more secure because they have faced instability and grown from it.

The post Tisha B’av full moon represents our alignment with G-d, post-challenge. It represents the reality that we have that connection readily available, even when it’s feeling dark.

Today is the 15th of Av.

Take a moment to feel your alignment with G-d.

Your moon is full, so why not bask in the light?

Finding Zion

Have you ever had a moment of mental and emotional clarity, when you understood your very reason for being?

Have you ever sat and contemplated: “Why am I here?” and actually come up with an answer?

A sense of purpose is crucial – actually indispensable – for living a life of meaning. When we have a raison d’etre, life’s details fall into place and sanity begins to reign. We no longer struggle to make sense of our lives. To the contrary, we can now allow destiny to express itself through our daily choices. Life is no longer about us and our desires, it’s all about the mission. The objective.

It’s a liberating and inspiring place to be.

Spiritually speaking, the word, ‘Zion,’ refers to that place.

Let’s unpack the word: Scripturally, Zion usually refers to Jerusalem/Israel, or the Jews as a people.

Linguistically, ‘Zion’ means a ‘sign’ or a ‘symbol’.

What is the core function of a sign? The dictionary defines a ‘sign’ as “any object, action, etc., that conveys a meaning.”

So Zion means a mechanism to convey a direction, a meaning.

So you and I are G-d’s signposts, to each other and the world.

Our deepest identity is to be a Zion - a ‘sign’. We are each a functionary whom G-d created to ‘convey direction and meaning’. We are each designed to live lives which announce that G-d creates everyone for a purpose, to proclaim that Higher Purpose should be our central focus, eclipsing our short-term desires.

That’s the Zion identity, and now is a specific time for ‘Zion’ focus.  

Tomorrow, Shabbat, is the 9th day of Av, known as Tisha B’Av (we usually fast on this day, but in deference to Shabbos, we postpone the fasting until Saturday night and Sunday). Tomorrow, we’ll read “Isaiah’s Vision,” predicting the tragedies we bring upon ourselves through unfocused, selfish living.

Yet Isaiah gives us an antidote: “Zion will be redeemed through the Law (Torah) and its captives through Righteousness” – we ‘redeem’ ourselves when we acknowledge our own ‘Zion’ identity, when we embrace our purpose as a Divine sign in the world.

Zion is your soul’s essence, and it’s waiting to be expressed.

In advance of Tisha B’Av, Isaiah reminds us that life’s journey isn’t about creating meaning; it’s about finding what’s already there.

Find your essence and let it breathe.

It’s time for Redemption.

Rhythms

Years ago, I was standing with a friend, a seasoned businessman, as his adult son walked by. Nodding toward his son, he muttered to me: “My son needs to understand that the stock market doesn’t always go up”.

You don’t understand life until you grasp the totality of its rhythm; real life has ups, and not-such-ups. And that’s life.

Until Moshiach comes, and the world’s absolute G-dliness shows itself, problems will continue to disrupt our lives. And so much of life depends on how we deal with its ‘down side’.

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the 6th Lubavitcher Rebbe, was brutally oppressed by Stalin’s regime, for spreading Judaism and helping Jews. After gaining his freedom, he would occasionally try to recapture the horrible experience, mentally transporting himself back to the gulag and its pain.

Why? Not because he enjoyed the pain and suffering. But because he valued the character, the inner strength, the experience had actualized. The Rebbe never looked for pain, but when it came his way he didn’t focus all his energy on his suffering; he looked for strength to grow from the experience. We’ve all got our sufferings, and now is an especially appropriate time to contemplate how we respond to them.

The world has a Divine rhythm, a flow of energy, of ups and downs. And now is a time to focus on the not-very-happy dimension of life. While the Jewish calendar generally guides us toward a a spirit of positivity and joy, there’s also a stretch of time – three weeks to be exact – when the calendar turns more somber, guiding us to focus on the ‘downs’.

And that’s where we are right now. Tomorrow will be two weeks since we began our Three Weeks, and a week from Sunday, we’ll be fasting for Tisha B’Av – the 9th day of Av - when we’ll remember the destruction of the Temple.

It’s a time to look at our lives, our families, our communities and our world, and notice the destruction. It’s a time to soak in what’s NOT going right. But it’s not about marinating in the negative; it’s about growing, finding strength and faith.

When we acknowledge the bitterness, and strengthen our vision for the road ahead.

This is life.  Now let’s focus on making it a meaningful journey. 

The Soul of Sadness

I don't like feeling sad. 
Melancholy has a sneaky way of draining our energy and paralyzing our lives. I much prefer a happy mindset. 
But here's the problem: Life isn't a string of happy occasions. Things happen. 
Sometimes, I make mistakes, causing discomfort to myself and others. 

Sometimes, challenges just come our way, without any apparent human causality. 
Stresses and disappointments seem part and parcel of our lives. To ignore them is naïve. To face them is sad.
So we need keep our expectations reasonable, since frustrations are a function of expectations. Every life on the planet has stress, so I can't honestly be surprised by my own. 
I don't want to harp on my failings, but I need to face them. And deep inside, as disquieting as this introspection may be, we should be glad that we’re going through the exercise. I should feel inner satisfaction that I have the maturity to face myself, even when it’s uncomfortable. 
There's another important ingredient to a healthy approach to life’s less-pleasant side: ">The gift of living on this planet is what brings me my 'troublesome' burden. I certainly pray to G-d for more manageable stress, but if that's the price of my life and its blessings, I'll choose life. 
When it comes to feeling others’ misery, I was lucky to have the Rebbe as a role model. I was awed by the depth of the Rebbe’s pain when he would speak of humanity’s distress, when he was so often referring to people whom he'd never met. I envied the depth of his connection to others. 
We are now in the midst of an annual calendar period we call ‘the Three Weeks,’ a zone dedicated to feeling the world’s pain and facing our own contributions to it. This past Sunday was a fast day – the 17th of Tammuz – and two weeks from this coming Sunday (on August 11) we’ll observe the fast of 9 Av (Tisha B'av). Jewish tradition sets aside this time to consider our painful history, acknowledge the problems of our present and take an honest look at our own unhelpful behaviors. All with an eye toward healing. 


The Soul is Always Whole

The Western Wall.

World famous and a focal point of Jewish and global spiritual consciousness.

But what is it?

For eight hundred and thirty years, a Holy Temple (Beit Hamikdash in Hebrew) stood as the center of the Jewish world. The Temple was more than a building; it was the supreme point of contact – the nexus - between the human and the Divine.

But what was, no longer is. We haven’t had a Temple for more than two thousand years. The Temple no longer stands; it was destroyed by the Babylonians and later by the Romans.

All we have is the ‘Western Wall’, a remnant of a retaining wall.

That’s all.

So, is the Western Wall a place of national nostalgia, ground zero for our collective pining over a lost glory? Is it the symbol of our hopes for the future?

Yes. And Yes. But that’s not all.

The Western Wall is more than a psychological touchpoint.

It’s a symbol of what STILL exists.

From a Judaic perspective, the Temple’s ‘body’ was destroyed but its ‘soul’ remains whole. The Babylonians and Romans – outside forces – destroyed the buildings, but had no control over the spirit.

The Divine Presence still resonates in that very spot. The Western Wall remains a CURRENT place of contact, an eternally fresh reservoir of Holiness.

The Temple’s soul is forever whole.

The Rebbe applies this principle to each of us, because we are each a ‘Holy Temple’, each of us a ‘Sanctuary for the Divine’.

When we look at ourselves honestly, we can sometimes see that our personal ‘construct’ is in disrepair. We can see that we have been impacted by the world’s negativity, selfishness and cynicism. Our personal ‘Temple’s’ have been damaged.

But we each have an internal Western Wall. Despite it all, our soul is whole; our basic goodness, our intrinsic Holiness remains beyond any external contamination. Life’s ‘Babylonians’ and ‘Romans’ can do a lot of damage, G-d forbid, but they can’t touch your soul.

Your soul ‘wholeness’ is always there.

Tomorrow (17 Tammuz) commemorates the day that our enemies breached Jerusalem’s walls, on their way to destroying the Temple three weeks later (on Tisha B’av, the 9th of Av).

We usually fast on this date, but not when it falls on Shabbos. So we postpone the fast until Sunday.

It’s a time of year to reflect on the world’s pain, and on G-d’s gift of an untouchable soul.

It’s in you. Bring it to the fore.

The Big Campaign

Another campaign season.

With lots and lots of people running for the office.

Imagine your day, if you were among the group trying to be elected President. I’d bet that a Presidential campaign absolutely consumes the participants' total lives and brain space. They probably eat their breakfast and go to bed with the election in mind. 

With a goal like that, you’ve got to be all in. Total engagement.
Beyond politics, I believe there's a lot to learn from that image of commitment. 
True, head-to-toe commitment isn’t always inspiriting. Sometimes, it can describe an obsession or unhealthy attachment. For example: When a person's business objectives, strategies and worries fill his/her thoughts and mind 24/7, leaving no space for life’s other – higher? – priorities, that ‘commitment’ is getting in the way of a meaningful life. 
But there are healthy 'total commitments'. Like the commitment to 'Meaning' itself. 
When I'm committed to the idea that I was created for a purpose, and that my family, occupation etc. are part and parcel of that Divine destiny, that commitment imbues my life with spiritual oxygen, with a soul. Life becomes a consistent string of opportunities to embrace the Divine.
My commitment isn't a distraction from life; it's a stimulus that inspires me toward work, family, self-rejuvenation, etc, in a meaningful way. 
So, in metaphoric terms, we’re all running our own personal campaign, trying to achieve the ‘office’ of a meaningful life. G-d is my campaign manager, and His Torah guides my steps through the day. 
What if you don’t feel that drive? Find it. It’s in your psyche. It may be buried beneath that desire for a hot dog, but it’s there. Waiting for you to bring it into your daily consciousness.

When we get up in the morning, our prayers pro-actively call that attitude into our minds. It’s a pivotal exercise for the day: Setting the Goal.
The rest of the day is all about the campaign.
May we all win

The Rebbe

This Shabbos – tonight and tomorrow – are the Rebbe’s 25th yahrtzeit. For the past week, my phone has been alive with tweets of articles trying to unpack that bottomless question: "What made the Rebbe so special?"

And the articles, written by personalities across the world, have been fantastic (check out TheRebbe.org. for some inspiring material).

The Rebbe and his perspectives have been a huge part of my life, for my entire life, even before I can remember (e.g. when the Rebbe guided my mother not to induce my birth, even though the doctor preferred to). In my childhood home, my father, Dean of the Rabbinical College in Morristown and the Rebbe’s personal representative to the State of NJ, was consistently referring to guidance he was getting from the Rebbe. When the Rebbe launched a new campaign to bring holiness and goodness to the world, which was frequent, that objective would permeate our lives.

So I have many, many memories. Yet, my mind always seems to gravitate to the Rebbe’s deep respect for every person, every living being, and every situation.

To the Rebbe, I truly mattered. And so did you. No matter what your particular background, or weltanschauung may be. The fact that we exist, that G-d intentionally creates each of us, gave every person de facto importance in the Rebbe’s mind.

That’s why the Rebbe constantly urged us to ask ourselves: Am I living up to my life's mission?

The Rebbe saw importance in every event and every interaction. If I bumped into you on a street in Manhattan, found myself with an extra hour on a layover in Frankfurt, or was faced with a sudden challenge in my life, the Rebbe saw that as a challenge. The situation beckoned: “embrace me as an opportunity for learning, moral growth and a better world”.

To the Rebbe, every life was intrinsically valuable, so every step of the journey was necessarily important.

There was no throwaway in the Rebbe’s lexicon. No irrelevant people. No thoughtless comments. No 'flings'. In our shaky world of impermanence, from disposable cellphones to empty relationships, the Rebbe was a consistent and persistent Rock of Meaning.

When you were with the Rebbe, life was an opportunity and we needed to grab the moments and make them meaningful. He encouraged us, inspired us, motivated us to be better Jews and more actualized human beings.

I think about him multiple times a day, and he continues to inspire my life.

Thank you Rebbe.

We love you.

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