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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

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.

Dancing with the Divine

Self-sufficient or Dependent?

We strive for the former.

Think of your most vulnerable moment. A time when your security nets were insufficient, and it seemed like there was no one to catch you. That pit-in-your- stomach despair is a feeling nobody wants to experience.

At the same time, it’s great to be cared for. Remember a time you were embraced by someone who had the power to handle your problems; someone who loved you and was wholly concerned with your welfare.  Like a parent caring for a baby. Safety at its best.

But that scenario can present its own challenges: Firstly, the recipient of this protective cover may often take it for granted. How do you feel the gratitude of the rescue if you haven’t had an opportunity to feel the threat? In addition, of the protection is truly effective, we may relax our own efforts while basking in the sheltering shade.

Watch small children. They usually have no idea what we’re doing to protect them, and they take their security for granted. And the more we coddle them, the more we potentially disempower their own efforts at achieving genuine security.

Think of American society pre 9/11. Most of us took our safety from terrorism for granted, and there seemed little need for personal efforts at self-protection. Then we woke up to the truth of our vulnerability.

Safety vs. Vulnerability.

Two poles in our delicate dance with G-d.

G-d is our Rock, our ultimate security. When you genuinely trust G-d, you sleep easier.

 Yet we can’t take G-d’s protection for granted. We need to recognize humanity’s intrinsic frailty, thank G-d for His protection, do what we can to help ourselves, and trust the Divine for the future.

G-d gave the Jews an important model for life during their years in the desert. They went to bed without any food for the next day (feeling vulnerable). Yet they firmly trusted that the manna would fall the next morning and satisfy their needs.

We’re out of the desert, thank G-d, but our framework is still there. We need to recognize our inherent vulnerability, even as trust in G-d’s protective care. The spiritually-connected person doesn’t get up in the morning feeling invincible because G-d will safeguard him/her. We take pause to recognize acknowledge our intrinsic vulnerability, then we thank G-d for our blessings, finding trust and confidence for the day ahead.  Because we know we’re not alone.

We’re expecting good things. With a sense of gratitude and humility.

A great attitudinal recipe for a meaningful day.

Enthusiastic Humility

How do you picture the humble person?

Ambitious and driven to success? Or lacking presence and self-confidence, an easily manipulated wallflower shyly averting his/her gaze?  
Let’s take a Torah look at the real-life application of humility.
G-d wants us to live energetically, to pro-actively tackle the world and bring it to a meaningful place. G-d also wants us to be humble. So, the two attitudes need to co-exist, and humility can’t mean shy passivity and submissiveness. 
Humility means being honest with yourself, and seeing yourself for who you really are.
Humility isn’t a self-effacing attitude, which denies – to yourself or others – your value, strengths and talents. That’s called self-doubt. And it usually involves self-deception. 
Humility is different. The humble person is fully aware of his/her talents; one is fully conscious of one’s blessings – genetic, familial/societal or financial. 
Humility is about the attitude with which you approach your gifts and talents, not denying them.
We all need to look at ourselves and take honest stock of our G-d-given ‘toolbox,’ the gifts with which we’ve been endowed. Then we need to recognize that each of those life-advantages comes with a responsibility.

G-d grants us gifts for a purpose. Each of your strengths is a call to action, beckoning you “develop me, utilize me, make into a conduit for meaningful living.” So you and I need to look at each one of our gifts and ask: Am I doing you justice? 
I need to honestly consider the possibility that others would have accomplished more with my tools. 
I also need to consider that people without my specific talents, my tools, have simply been dealt a different tool box. That’s G-d’s business, not mine.
To a humble person, the real measure of life isn’t which tools we’ve each been dealt; it’s what we’re doing with them.
So humility is a sense of responsibility: I need to be who G-d created me to be. I’m humbler when I’m not competing against others, but against my own potential. I’m humbler when I look for new opportunities to be the best I can be. 
Humility. Now there’s an ambition.

A Life of Sublime Pleasure

When we think of the word 'pleasure,' we might think of an elegant banquet or an exotic vacation. Something in the self-gratification mode.

So it feels counter-intuitive that Chabad Chassidic thought identifies ‘pleasure’ – ‘Taanug’ in Hebrew – as the core of our soul energies. Does it make sense that when we dig deep into our psyches, peeling away our personality layers and getting to our Essence, we find pleasure?? Our moral teachings generally steer us away from selfishness and self-absorption, guiding us toward a life of other-centeredness. So how can pleasure, our own enjoyment, be at the core of our holy soul?

It’s important to realize that pleasure isn’t inherently a selfish thing. It’s a morally neutral soul-rhythm, a character-muscle. We can certainly point it in the direction of self-satisfaction. But it has other, loftier applications. There's actually a special brand of pleasure that comes with selflessness.

I can enjoy an ice cream cone. But if I use the treat to ignite a smile to the face of a poor child, that beaming face would give me a soul rush beyond anything sugar can accomplish.

The easy path to pleasure is to just eat the ice cream myself. Reaching out to that child takes some effort.

Meaningful pleasure doesn't come easy. But it’s pleasure at its highest form. And that pleasure should be life’s driving force.

So we should ask ourselves: What gives us pleasure? Do we find beauty in leaving our self-bubble and connecting with others? Do we appreciate the inner contentment that comes with making a difference in someone else's life?

Pleasure strikes deep within our core, so where we find pleasure, where our passions lie, is hugely important. If we can harness our pleasure taste buds to appreciate relationship building, if we can find excitement in selfless commitment to a special relationship, we will have engaged a powerful personal engine to power a life of meaning.

My daughter Faigie is getting married this coming Tuesday, G-d willing. My wife Malkie and I pray that she and [her fiancé] Mendy, experience a life of true pleasure, the pleasure that comes with selfless commitment to each other, and to a meaningful life. May they have a life in which they strive to access higher pleasure, a life in which that beauty permeates every waking moment.

Mazel Tov Faigie and Mendy.

It's Not So Simple

Imagine the scene of several million, recently-liberated slaves gathering at Mount Sinai. They’ve experienced incredible miracles during their Exodus from Egypt, and for seven weeks they’ve been refining themselves – under Moses’ tutelage – in order to receive the Gift of all Gifts: The Torah.
Now, the moment arrives. The world goes quiet. Even the animals seem to be holding their breaths. Finally, the Creator of the Universe speaks to humankind. 
“Do Not Murder!” “Do not bear false witness!” Ten Commandments which are all pretty simple concepts. 
Can you imagine the people scratching their heads, saying “So THIS is the big deal?” 
It must have all seemed too elementary. Which is actually the point.
The Torah is an infinitely-deep reservoir of wondrous messages. Many of them mystical and sublime. But the Torah’s primary message is about making life, regular day-to-day life: Holy.
We instinctively focus on what we want out of life. Torah guides us to consider what life wants out of us, which is to make it meaningful. We do that by living with G-d-consciousness, searching for meaning in the things we do, and for opportunities to better the world.

Which brings us to “Do Not Murder,” etc.
G-d put ‘no-brainers’ into the Torah to teach us that there’s no such thing as a ‘no-brainer’. A ‘no-brainer’ means there’s no need for conscious choice. But we should always be consciously choosing a moral direction, and not just following our instincts.

Life is about serving Higher Purpose, not ourselves. If I refrain from hurting my neighbor because I believe it’s wrong, then I am serving MY value system. When I submit to the fact that G-D says it’s wrong (aside from my good instincts), then I am submitting to a life of Divine direction.
Good instincts are a great thing to have, but without G-d/responsibility consciousness our actions are missing more than a brain; they’re missing a soul.

That’s what G-d taught us at Sinai: Do good, because it fulfills your purpose in creation, not just because it feels right.

Saturday night, we begin the Holiday of Shavuot, and commemorate receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. We relive the lessons of Sinai. At services, we actually read the narrative, and the Ten Commandments themselves, from the Torah.

We’ll have services on Sunday morning at 9:30am (Torah reading around 10:30am), and a second reading at 5pm, followed by a dairy dinner and ice cream party.

Please come by. Bring the kids, bring your friends.

It’s time to appreciate – and celebrate - the significance to be found in the simple.

See you there!

Get Out There and Lead

Do you matter?
In the scope of this massive universe, does your life have any real import?
The answer is yes.
Absolutely. No matter who you are.
If G-d created you, and perpetuates your existence, He obviously has a purpose for you. If you're alive, then you certainly have something – a contribution G-d deems important - to give to this world.

So you matter.
We each need to look at our circumstances at any given moment, and influence our respective lives in a meaningful direction. Influencing the world means you don’t get sucked into the world’s maelstrom, and embroiled in its pettiness, so that the world is controlling and influencing you. 

We lead.

I lead my life. You lead yours.

We’re all leaders. 
To achieve your mission you need to stay true to your vision, staying above the fray and choosing your actions with deliberate wisdom. 
For the past six weeks, the Jewish calendar has been taking us through an exercise which we call the Omer, where we’ve been grappling with our internal dynamics. We’ve been growing and developing our psychological and spiritual personas in preparation to receive the Torah on the Holiday of Shavuot (which begins on the night of June 8th).

Thus far, we’ve been concentrating on:
1. How we emotionally connect with people 
2. How we manage our 'habit-traps' 
3. How we maintain internal focus on 'the vision' 
4. How we anchor our feelings in convictions and principles 
5. Our ability for flexibility and reconciliation 
6. Our internal focus 
 
We conclude week number 6 tonight. Tomorrow evening, Saturday night, we begin the home stretch, our final Omer week. We’ll focus on our ability to lead.

In mysticism, this is known as the art of ‘Malchut’ –Leadership and Influence.
Malchut/Leadership isn’t an internal rhythm like the other soul dimensions, it’s the delivery mechanism. Malchut/Leadership is exerting influence and making a difference in my little corner of the world.
Malchut/Leadership takes courage. 
Malchut/Leadership takes consideration and selflessness, because true leadership expresses a vision, not a personality. 
After six weeks, the Omer has (re)aligned our internal dynamics with our deeper Vision. Now it’s time to go out there and lead.

Because that’s what leaders do.

The Business of Life

When I reflect on my life and my role in the world, the word 'merchant' doesn't come to mind.

I guess I need to think again.

Trade is an exchange of goods and commodities. When I buy something it comes into my possession, and when I sell something else is taking title. That's basic business.

It's also a framework for life.

Consciously or not, we tend to divide our lives into two conceptual domains or orbits: The important and the less-than-important. Then we assign tasks, relationships and experiences to one orbit or the other.

That categorization is hugely important. When someone special is calling your cell about something we consider less-than-important, we need to consider: The topic may be trivial, but the relationship is not. If the relationship is an important one, each interaction – even this 'mundane moment' – is actually an opportunity for 'relationship-building'. Once we recognize that, we may still choose to defer the specific conversation until later, but that will be from a healthy and respectful position.

And rest assured: If you that way, the other person will too.

So, in 'commercial' language, I need to ‘secure’ slices of life from the trivial domain, and lift them into a meaningful orbit.

This also applies to my relationship with the Divine.

If I eat a bowl of vegetable soup for lunch today, that’s relatively trivial.

But does it need to be?

What if I approach my ‘mundane’ lunch with a Torah paradigm? What i+f I first thank my Creator for this incredible life and the food I'm about to eat? What if I'm conscious of my need to make a difference in the world, and my need for nutrition as fuel?

If I'm mindful and focused, I can transfer my simple meal from the mundane to the meaningful; the bowl of soup becomes a tool in my life’s mission.

To use the terms of Chassidic thought: When I take a situation and infuse it with meaning, I'm ‘acquiring’ it for the Divine. That's spiritual commerce.

Interestingly, our prayer liturgy, refers to G-d as (if we translate the words literally) "the Purchaser of all things” (‘Koneh Hakol’ in Hebrew).

G-d gave us a world that seems disconnected from meaning, out of the Holy 'domain'. Our job is to 'buy it back'.

We have a business opportunity with profits that are out of this world.

Making Our Hours Count

How quickly can you recall – with some specificity - what you did yesterday at 1pm? How about last Wednesday?

If you're like me, you spend a lot of energy responding to responsibilities of the moment, while stressing (at least a bit) about things yet to come. This makes most of life in the rear-view mirror meld into a blur, one hour virtually indistinguishable from another, one day running into the next.
Can we do better than that?
Chassidic thought encourages us to pro-actively take charge of our time and imbue each hour with meaning, making sure that our days really count.
Humdrum, un-spectacular, hours just fade into the past. At the same time, if something significant happened two Mondays ago, you’ll remember it pretty quickly. So let’s make our time remarkable.

Chassidic thought suggests an attitude called 'counting hours, ' which means: 
Think of your next hour as a vessel waiting to be filled. It’s morally neutral, and you get to choose how it will be used. If you make this next hour special, these minutes hour will become significant; they’ll live on. 

But it’s about more than memory.

After all, what if you learned an important life-lesson years ago, yet can’t remember the hour and day during which you learned the lesson? Does that really matter? Doesn’t that day live on with you, since its content echoes into your present life? 

If my days are meaningfully spent, I’ll know it. Life will feel full, and it won't matter whether I can remember exactly what I did at noon last Tuesday, because the echo of those minutes will still ring in my life.
So, this next slice of time is a huge opportunity. What if you consciously recognize it as a slot for fulfilling G-d's intent in your creation - whether you spend it working to provide for your family or reading something inspiring on Chabad.org? You’ll have done something remarkable. You’ll have pro-actively chosen to make this hour a vehicle for purposeful living. You will have aligned your life with G-d’s intent in creating you.

While it may not be apparent to the onlooker, you’ve filled your hour with Eternal Meaning.

Can time be any better spent?

It's Worth the Climb

Feel like every day is a challenge? Like you’re clambering up a mountain, only to start from the base tomorrow?

That’s not unusual, because it’s the way we were created.

Every day, we have a mountain, a spiritual Mount Everest, to climb.

Every day, we’re faced with the challenge of scaling our inner selves, reaching to the top of our psycho-spiritual range, lifting ourselves from the base of life’s mountain to reach its peak.

When King David, the Psalmist, asks: “Who will ascend the mountain of G-d?” he is referring to this daily workout. So let’s a take a practical look at this mountain-climbing metaphor, by considering three basic elements we’d need to scale a physical mountain:

1. A clearly defined destination; we’ll need a charted path to know which trail we’re going to follow.

2. We need to be in good shape. It a takes a lot strength to haul oneself up an incline, straining against gravity’s natural pull.

3. We need to be wearing appropriate clothing.

Prayer is a daily exercise in considering life’s journey, so let’s look at our spiritual climb through the lens of Prayer:

1. Everyone needs a vision, a Purpose, in life. Prayer is a time for me to crystallize my purpose and commit myself to a path that will achieve it.

2. We need internal stamina to persevere and overcome self-absorption’s gravitational pull. Self-indulgence is the flip side of a meaningful life. A self-centered day begins with the question “what do I want out of life” A meaning-centered day begins with the question “what does life want out of me?” It takes a lot of guts to scale the barrier of self-interest, and prayer is your workout.

3. Jewish spiritual thought describes the soul as having three "garments:"

A. Thought

B. Speech

C. Action

so we need to clothe our souls appropriately. The way we think, speak and act are the way we interface with the world. And prayer is a time for focus on that interface.

In other words: Prayer is a time for me to ask myself: Does my "clothing" get in the way of my daily climb?

Where does my mind wander? How do I think about my fellow? Do I communicate transparently and sensitively?

These are questions for our daily prayer; accessorizing ourselves for the day's ascent.

Every day, some prayer and introspection will help you make your way – inch by well-earned inch - toward your peak.

And that’s how life becomes meaningful.

G-d Bless America

Last Shabbat, my fellow American attacked a synagogue in Poway, shooting people in anti-Semitic fury.

It’s so sad for me to acknowledge that John Earnest is indeed ‘my fellow American’. So terribly sad.

I am proud to be an American Jew. I was born and raised in NJ and I love this country. In fact, my Jewish identity makes me especially proud of this country. The USA was a critical haven for Jews after the Holocaust, and has been a consistent beacon of religious freedom.

I love the USA.

Yet, when Earnest shot up that synagogue, he didn’t care that he and his targets shared citizenship. He was aiming for Jews. He was shooting at me. And you.

I don’t think I’ll ever understand why he – and others like him - hate us so much. So, I ask myself, have I been wrong all along? Is America not the ‘land of the free’? Have we gone off the deep end?

Despite the pain, I still believe the answers are no, no and no.

I have spent a lot of time this week consulting with Law Enforcement authorities – including NJ’s highest Officials - about security. I know they’re taking this issue VERY seriously. And they are acting.

That matters a lot to me. As a Jew who is acutely aware of Jewish history over the millennia, I know I live in a blessed land when there’s so much genuine Governmental concern for my – our - security.

We are not alone. We have active partners, who can really help.

America is still America.

 There have always been anti-Semites, and they will continue to exist. And if – as it appears - these creeps are starting to come out of their holes, we need to be very vigilant.

But America is still America. And we can’t let that change.

One of the things that makes America great is that I can walk down the street as a Jew, and I can practice my religion freely and proudly. That’s the American way.

So I’m not going to stop doing what I’m doing. I’m not going to duck. Or try to be less visible.

To the contrary. I’m going to shout ‘G-d bless America!” by living proudly as a Jew. I’m going to repeatedly salute the stars and stripes, by vigorously exercising the religious freedom it represents.

That’s why Jews all over the country will be walking – especially proudly - into Shabbat services tomorrow morning. It’s the American way.

it’s how we salute the flag. Especially today.

See you in Shul.

Self-Actualization Revisited

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, this takes a lot of introspection and mental/emotional toil. One needs to probe deeply, getting to know oneself –and clearly acknowledge one’s weaknesses and habits – in order to self-actualize. We need real self-awareness, observing how we react to various stimuli in the course of a day, and watching our sub-consciously ingrained patterns. It’s exhausting to even think about it; but growth takes work.

But focus on self – in and of itself – can actually get in the way of personal growth. Some people call it ‘hyper-intention.’ A simple example: When you can’t sleep, and focus on falling asleep, the self-focus obstructs your goal of relaxation. Trying to sleep itself prevents your sleep.

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

Too much focus on one’s self, even for a good purpose, can actually get in the way.

So paradoxically, true self-actualization needs more than self-awareness, it needs self-transcendence, or self-negation. Once I recognize that G-d created me for a purpose, something larger than myself, I can accept - surrender to - that idea.  We can stop focusing on who we want to be, and start recognizing 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?”

Some people get bogged down by the [subconscious?] fear of “what will people think?” That’s only a problem when we’re focused on ourselves and our respective images. The problem recedes when I’m swept up in my responsibility to life, to the world around me, to my Creator.

In Judaism, this might be called a Passover mindset. The enslaved Jews weren’t a self-aware, spiritually-evolved group. But they believed in a Creator and a destiny. Like children, they were open to something Higher. So G-d reached out and lifted them up.

Passover is about humility. It’s about faith. It’s about rebirth.

Ultimately, it’s about being all you can be.

Not By Matzah Alone

Okay, so I editorialized a little. The verse actually says “it is not by BREAD alone that the human lives, but by the word of G-d…” (Deut.8:3). 

But what does the verse mean? The word of G-d is holy and spiritual, but our essential nutrients need to come from the ‘bread’ (which obviously represents food in general) we eat.

The Torah is actually telling us that when we eat, the ‘word of G-d’ is IN the food we’re ingesting, and THAT is the true battery-pack which gives us life.

Whoa. The ‘word of G-d’ is floating in my coffee?

G-d created everything with a purpose, a spark of potential meaning. And any article’s raison d’ etre is its very ‘soul.’ So when you purposefully engage something in life - whether it’s your pen, a tuna sandwich, or a heated moment- you actualize its soul. We can each activate the Divinity that’s lying just beneath life’s veneer, waiting to be touched.  

So, from a Jewish spiritual perspective, life is like a big treasure hunt. Every day, and every hour, we search for the nuggets of meaning that are just waiting to be found. 
Which brings us to food. When we eat in a conscious and meaningful way (e.g. to gain strength to live a life as our Creator intended), we access two levels of nutrition: A. The physical, which discharges material nutrients into our bloodstream B. The spiritual, a current of G-dliness to nourish our souls.
Matzah is a food with a unique spiritual ingredient. The Zohar, Kabbalah’s pre-eminent textbook, calls Matzah ‘the food of Faith.’ Eating the Matzah as a Mitzvah, and with spiritual consciousness, injects the nutrient of faith into our soul’s ‘bloodstream.’
When the Jews left Egypt, they were aware of G-d (after all, they’d just witnessed their own supernatural liberation), but the top-of-the-head-to-the-bottom-
of-the-toes recognition, the super-rational, spiritually intimate connectedness, didn’t kick in until they ate Matzah.
Matzah is the gift of faith, in food form.

Three weeks from tonight, we’ll be sitting down to the first Seder. When you pick up that Matzah, please remember that it’s much more than a brittle cracker. There’s a special Divine gift there, the power of faith.

So let Matzah nourish your soul. It may be hungry.

Do You Krechtz?

 The year was 1862. In the Russian town of Lubavitch, two young brothers - sons of the fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe - played. Little Sholom Dovber was just over five years old, his brother Zalman Aaron was eighteen months older. 
Cops and robbers? Cowboys and indians? 
Given the home in which they were raised, these boys decided to play Rebbe and Chassid (spiritual mentor and disciple). Being the older brother, Zalman Aaron donned an adult hat and positioned himself as the ‘Rebbe’. Meanwhile, Sholom Dovber presented himself as a 'Chassid', saying “Rebbe, I’m very troubled. Last Shabbos I did something I later learned to be inadvisable, albeit permissible (the boy actually spelled out an aspect of Shabbos observance). What can I do to atone for this inadvertant slip? How can I bring my life and behavior into a better place?” 
The 'Rebbe' was ready with a response: "Be careful to look into your prayerbook, actually reading the words, when you pray; don’t recite the liturgy by heart”. 
Little Sholom Dovber (who was destined to become the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe) quickly responded “Your advice won’t help, and you’re not a Rebbe!” 
"Why do you say that?” protested the older boy. 
“When a Rebbe hears a person’s plight, and senses his/her pain, he emits a ‘krechtz’ (Yiddish for sigh or groan) before he says offers any guidance (i.e he empathizes and feels their pain before offering any advice)." 
"Your advice – in and of itself - might have actually helped, but since you didn’t ‘krechtz’ you’re obviously not a Rebbe and your advice won't work!” 
What was this little boy - a Rebbe-in-waiting - actually saying? 
When someone share his/her pain or struggle with you, and are positioned to give advice, remember that there's an important pre-requisite: Genuine empathy. You need to truly understand any problem if you're to be of use in solving it. The first step in solving a human problem is empathy. 
If you feel the 'krechtz', if you can experience a bit of the other's pain, you are in a position to give good guidance. And feeling the 'krechtz' isn't enough. Show it. Don't be afraid to express your pain. 
Sometimes the 'krechtz' itself, the hurting person's knowledge that someone else cares, may be more helpful than any advice. 
So give a 'krechtz'. Care. 
It may mean more than you can imagine.

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