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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Breathing Life Into Life

From a Torah perspective, we all have an innate sense of right and wrong. When we sit quietly, contemplating our priorities and values, most of us are moral and upstanding.
The problem is that we're not always sitting quietly in contemplation. So we go off the rails. Even though we KNOW we shouldn't act a certain way, we often go ahead and do it anyway.
Maybe it's eating french fries after the doctor warned against it. Maybe it's disrespecting a valued relationship. We know we shouldn't, but…….
Our fundamental moral compass isn’t askew; it’s our lack of consciousness.
When I'm fully aware – truly aware – of my gifts and values, I'm much more likely to honor them. When I'm actively conscious of my tremendous blessings, my life, family and friends, my actions will reflect that awareness.
The trick lies in maintaining an internal vigilance. And that’s easier said than done, since the human psyche naturally gravitates toward a back-of-the-mind, taking for granted, automatic-pilot operating system.
No wonder Judaism has so many awareness-triggers. When I walk into a room and see the mezuzah, it should raise my consciousness. The mezuzah reminds me that the room – bedroom, kitchen, den etc. – isn't simply a place to pursue a narrow, de-contextualized exercise (eating, sleeping etc.); it's a venue for pursuing my overall objective of a meaningful life (through eating, sleeping etc.).
My Tzitzit (the Biblically-required fringes that hang from the little 'Talit' I wear under my shirt) are a mnemonic, a consciousness-prod. When I see them, I need to remember I have a destiny and a reason for existence, and that my next actions should reflect that life objective.
So it's about consciousness.
If I check my 'consciousness meter' as often as I check for my wallet or keys, my 'internal traffic-controller' will perk up. I'll be able to consciously choose, and fully invest myself in, my next moves of the day.
When I’m actively focused on, and attentive to, how I’m living, I become more internally 'alive.' And in this journey of life, 'alive' is the way to go.

Indestructible

The Western Wall.

It’s World famous. A focal point of Jewish and global spiritual consciousness.

But what is it?

For eight hundred and thirty years, a Holy Temple (BeitHamikdash 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, having been viciously 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.

The Babylonians and Romans destroyed buildings, but they had no way to subdue the spirit which permeated the sacred structure. And it indeed persists. The Temple’s ‘body’ was destroyed but its ‘soul’ remains whole. So 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 ‘structure’ is in disrepair. Impacted by the world’s negativity, selfishness and cynicism, our walls are worn down, and don’t protect our inner holiness. In a sense, 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.

This Shabbos (17 Tammuz on the Jewish calendar) 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, in which case 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.

Wholeness resides in you. Bring it to the fore.

The Covenant

It was a poignant father-son moment, a powerful gift from leader to future leader.
That historic summer day in 1895, [Rabbi] Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, who would eventually be the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, was commemorating his fifteenth birthday. His father, the fifth Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Dovber, took the teenager to visit the gravesites of their holy ancestors, the prior Chabad Rebbes.
Stepping into the cemetery’s small synagogue, the Rebbe approached the Holy Ark and opened its sacred doors. Borrowing imagery from the Biblical ‘binding of Isaac’, the Rebbe solemnly addressed his forebears: “I am bringing my son today for his 'Binding'…Abraham bound Isaac tightly…I, too, want my son's Binding to be appropriate and effective."
I understand the Rebbe to be saying: Just as Abraham secured Isaac in the family’s Monotheistic tradition, and in a relationship with the Divine, I am securing my son – your descendant - in a profound bond with his family heritage and their legacy of community leadership.
The Rebbe then went on to speak about commitment to doing the right thing, irrespective of how one feels at a given moment, by pointing to the Scripture’s language of “girding [one’s] hips with strength”.
Our bodies have some high-functioning organs, the Rebbe explained, like the brain and the heart. We also have some body parts with less complex character, like the hips and legs. Reasoning and feeling (brain and heart) are higher-order functions, while getting from place to place is more functional and comparatively simpler.
The Rebbe went on to explain that, at the same time, your legs are your body’s foundation. The brain and heart are sophisticated, but they stand on the firm support of legs. In that sense, the legs symbolize our concrete behavior. Understanding and appreciating the beauty of our spiritual world is a critical spice to life; but life’s foundation is our actions. Commitment to principled behavior is the foundation of a meaningful life.
Naturally, we prefer to fully appreciate the reason for a given action before we undertake it. We want to feel inspired and emotionally connected, and not act mechanically. At the same time, we shouldn’t simply postpone positive behavior and wait for our inspiration to kick in. We need to act.
So, how does one find the internal fortitude to persevere with proper conduct, if one isn’t feeling inspiration?
By "girding our hips with strength," i.e. by finding our deep core of commitment to following the guidance of our powerful history. The commitment – in and of itself – can be the trigger that activates our inspiration.
That is how a Rebbe framed with his son the covenant that Abraham forged for us all.

The Rebbe

This Shabbos, the 3rd day of the Jewish month Tammuz, we mark the Rebbe's 28th yahrtzeit. People often ask me to encapsulate the Rebbe's greatness, and I don't have an easy answer.

How to encapsulate the Rebbe’s myriad outstanding, let alone spiritual and academic depth I cannot even grasp?

Personally, when I think of the Rebbe’s presence, I’m immediately overcome by a palpable sense that the Rebbe deeply respected and valued every person, every living being, and every situation.

To the Rebbe, I truly mattered. And so did you. The fact that we existed, that G-d intentionally created each of us, gave every person de facto importance in the Rebbe’s mind. If G-d considered you important enough to create, there was absolutely no question as to your importance in the cosmos. With this as a point of departure, the Rebbe taught us that we faced a consistent existential challenge: Am I living up to my life's purpose?

G-d was cheering us on to meet our potential, but we needed to recognize the daily journey.

The Rebbe saw importance in every event and every interaction. There was no such thing as happenstance. 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, I and the world needed to be better for it. In the Rebbe’s eyes, every situation beckoned: “engage me; embrace me as an opportunity for learning, moral growth and a better world”.

If life was intrinsically valuable, then every facet was necessarily important.

There were no throwaways in the Rebbe’s world. No irrelevant people. No shallow, meaningless exchanges. No 'flings'. No ‘vegging’ (rest, vacation and sleep were about recharging the batteries so as to more energetically re-engage life).

In our shaky world of impermanence, from disposable technology to empty relationships, the Rebbe was a Rock of Meaning.

Our world, your world and mine, NEEDS his energy. Take an opportunity – try theRebbe.org – to soak in his perspective.

Your life will be richer for it.


P.S. 

For more insight into the Rebbe, join our luncheon/farbrengen - dedicated to the Rebbe's legacy - at noon this Shabbos 

Humble Ambitions

Do you think anybody wants to be arrogant? Is there somebody out there who actually aspires to haughtiness?
I doubt it. At the same time, do you really want to be ‘humble’? Does the very word conjure up an image of someone lacking presence and self-confidence, an easily manipulated wallflower shyly averting his gaze? 
The Torah wants us to live energetically, actively engaging the world and bringing it to a meaningful place. How do we reconcile that with humility, if that means passivity and submissiveness?
Humility means being honest with yourself, and seeing yourself for who you really are.
Humility isn’t merely a self-effacing attitude, one that denies – to yourself or others – your value, strengths and talents. That’s not humility, it’s [self-] deception.
No, humility means being fully aware of your talents; it means total consciousness of your advantages in life – genetic, societal, financial etc.
Humility is the attitude with which you approach your gifts and talents.
We all need to look at ourselves and take honest stock of our G-d-given ‘toolbox’, the 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. We need to develop and utilize our gifts as ‘tools’, making them into accessories for accomplishing meaningful living.
We need to look at each of our strengths and ask: Am I doing it justice?
We also need to consider that people without our specific talents 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. We need to be who G-d created us to be. Humility means competing against our own potential, not against anyone else. Humility is a sense of always being conscious of new opportunities to be the best we can be.
Humility means authentic ambition for a life well lived. 

The Power Of Passivity

Humans need to be active and productive. We feel better that way, because that's the way G-d designed us. But sometimes our growth actually comes through passivity, through silence.

For example: When I’m about to enter an important appointment or meeting, I may pause to calibrate myself. I want to make sure that I’m attuned, emotionally available and receptive.

Look at the Jews’ historic seven-week journey from Egyptian slavery toward Mt. Sinai, where they would receive the Torah. During those seven weeks, the Jews were busily implementing a 49-step, self-refinement program known – through this day - as ‘Counting the Omer’. They weren't just marching in the sand; they were gaining ground on their own self-improvement.

Finally, they arrived at Sinai. One can only imagine their excitement! The former slaves, freshly freed from centuries of physical, emotional and spiritual bondage, could finally see the mountain that represented their ultimate emancipation. This formerly beaten people had arrived at history's threshold, waiting to receive G-d's Manual for a meaningful life, and transition into becoming a nation.

So what did they do on that especially significant day?

Nothing. Even Moses, their passionate leader and guide didn't say a word. Why not? The Talmud tells us that it was because of the people's “travel-induced weakness."

All of a sudden? At one of history's most powerful moments, they needed a lazy-day???

Chassidic masters explain that "weakness," in this context, means the Jews’ psycho-spiritual surrender to G-d. They let go of their attempts at control.

The Jews suddenly understood that the Torah wasn’t only going to be a brilliant document for their study and analysis. They recognized the majesty of receiving the Torah. They realized that they needed to stop reaching out for G-d, and allow themselves to be reached by Him. They needed to make space for the Divine in their lives.

Once they put their egos aside, allowing themselves to be molded by G-d, they were - in the words of the Torah - "like one person with one heart."

This Sunday and Monday, we will celebrate Shavuos, when we received the Torah.

It is a great time to think about your place in the universe, your commitment to the Torah and to your Oneness with the world. Join Holiday services and make space for the Divine in your life.

Let’s make the day count.

Gaining Through Giving

Higher and lower.

More knowledgeable and less knowledgeable.

Richer and poorer.

There seems to be a vertical scale in so much of life. In most cases, those at the lower end of the scale would like to reach the higher pole, while those ‘on top’ seem fine right where they are.

But life isn’t actually so linear.

‘Higher’ isn’t absolute. Even when you’re ‘on top’ in an area of life, if you want your strengths and advantages to truly ‘shine’, you need to share them with those ‘lower’ on the scale. Perhaps counter-intuitively, those ‘higher’ on society’s imaginary totem pole can do themselves lots of good by constructively interfacing with those ‘lower’ on the scale.

The Talmud quotes Rabbi Chanina, one of our Talmudic greats, as saying, “I have learned much from my teachers, more from my peers and from my students most of all.” He wasn’t spouting poetic flattery of some youngsters. He meant it.

How can Rabbi Chanina, lucky enough to have studied with some of history’s greatest minds, say that he has learned more from his students who are [presumably] significantly ‘lower’ on the knowledge continuum? One answer is that Rabbi Chanina’s knowledge – his facts and data - became more lucid to him through his teaching. He learned a lot from his teachers, and UNDERSTOOD them more through his students.

This aligns with another Talmudic quote: “When a student approaches a teacher and says ‘teach me Torah’, and the teacher accedes, ‘G-d illuminates the eyes of both.’”

When a teacher conveys knowledge, he/she receives added insight into the subject.

How?

When we want to share knowledge with someone who has less of it, we need to first crystallize our own understanding. I can be convinced that I understand something, but I may get a reality wake-up call when I need to teach it. You can’t properly teach what you don’t really understand. The teaching process, from the preparation to the delivery, brings insight – illumination – to the teacher’s own intellectual grasp. Nothing brings more insight to an idea than successfully teaching it.

And, it’s not only about refining our knowledge. The Talmud tells us that “the pauper bestows upon the benefactor more than the benefactor bestows upon the pauper.” The wealthy person needs something beyond money: meaning and inner satisfaction. And they aren’t available for easy purchase.   

Happiness comes with the meaningful SHARING of wealth. When we use wealth – or any other of our gifts – to actually improve others’ lives, our individual worlds can literally light up.

Appreciate your gifts. Share them.

And feel the glow.

The Next Level

It’s a common scenario:
Somebody's walking life’s path, oblivious to their own benign neglect, when suddenly...boom! They hit the proverbial 'brick wall'.
Maybe it’s a family member or an accountant, perhaps a client or an employer; somebody perceives the truth and yells “Stop! This can't continue; something needs to change.” An unpleasant, jarring disruption to life's rhythm. And an important wake-up call.
Even though it’s painful, the stress from a shocking paradigm shift can serve as productive energy, propelling us out of our rhythm’s gravitational pull.
In a way, that’s the Passover story. Simply put: The Jews were slaves in Egypt, Moses dislodged them from their captivity and our ancestors escaped “in haste”.
It’s also a personal story: We each have our own ‘Egypt’ - our own counter-productive cycles.
When we’re fortunate, our ‘Moses’ – our soul-conscience, or perhaps a spouse or business associate – chases after us and points out our negative patterns. The recognition hurts, but we can channel the pain so that it catapults us to a better place.
In Passover language: We are impelled to urgently act, ‘leaving Egypt in haste,” In that sense, the word ‘Pass-Over’ [also] refers to the liberating leap from a spiritually constricted life to a visionary, conscious one.
But what about the times when we’re not escaping an Egypt? When things are just ‘normal’? When we feel no friction and face no brick walls?
Then, we face a different danger: Complacency.
When we feel that we’re on a good path, we’re more likely to live our lives on auto-pilot. We can relax.  After all, if we’re not being chased, why run?
Because.
Because when we’re on ‘auto-pilot’, we float along with life’s current, without the initiative to go faster than the stream. Because when we’re on ‘auto-pilot’, we’re without the quickened pulse, without the butterflies in our stomachs, that accompany a quantum leap forward.
G-d expects more, and we deserve more. We shouldn’t only grow to escape pain. We should grow because we have great potential and a beautiful destiny.
So the Torah gives us an exercise: It’s called ‘The Second Passover’ (‘Pesach Sheini’ in Hebrew) and it’s about finding the strength to ‘Pass-Over’, to leap forward in life, even when we’re comfortable where we are.
It’s about taking the opportunity to consider where life is going RIGHT, and finding the strength, vision and humility to make life go even MORE RIGHT.
This Sunday, Iyar 14/May 15, is Pesach Sheini.
Have a piece of Matzah (matzah is a primary Liberation tool, in that it embodies the humility that we need for authentic growth). Then focus on a growth-objective. Pass-Over your own inertia, and meet your potential.
Because finding Freedom isn’t only about leaving captivity; it’s about taking a leap forward.

Keep On Dreaming

Do you dream? About a loving relationship? About your family’s future? About financial success?
If you’ve entered adult life, pounded the pavement and inevitably encountered your share of disappointments, please ask yourself: Do you still dream? 
Yes, we need to embrace life’s [sometimes] hard and cold reality. At the same time, we can never stop dreaming. 
The Torah recognizes a world fraught with difficulties and pain. The Torah also depicts an eventual perfected existence, the world of Moshiach (the Messiah); a world of peace, harmony and goodness is our vision, our goal, our dream. And – through the millennia - it hasn’t been easy to maintain this dream. 
Here’s a story I heard as a child: 
Poor Yankel was the village failure. He couldn’t earn a living and his family suffered terribly. Finally, some friends chipped in to create a job for him: He would be paid two rubles a week to sit in a hut at the edge of town and await the Moshiach
Offered the job, Yankel was grateful, but he knew that two rubles a week was barely minimum wage. 
"The pay is lousy," he said. 
"Yes", was the reply, "but the job security is excellent." 
That little story reflects two realities in much of the Jewish world:

A. Judaism maintains a belief in the advent of Moshiach. We’ll even pay someone to do be his greeter!

B. Our long and painful road has sometimes sucked that dream of its substance and vitality. Deep inside, we suspect that Yankel will keep waiting and waiting…. 

Belief in Moshiach’s coming is one of Judaism’s Thirteen Principles of Faith. Our anticipation is built into the prayers, thrice daily. But is the dream really alive? 
The Rebbe taught us that we need to keep dreaming. 
Yes, the Rebbe challenged our painful existence, and cried with humanity’s suffering. But the Rebbe so obviously believed in the dream of Moshiach
To the Rebbe, the faith and trust in a perfected world, a Moshiach existence, was more than a dream; it was a vision that animated his life, guided his plans and served as his ‘North Star’. 
Because the Rebbe knew that G-d can deliver. The world will change for [the] good. And if it takes a while, we need to keep dreaming, because the dream breathes soul into our lives, keeping it fresh, hopeful and cynicism-free. 
We live in a world fraught with difficulties and fracture. Look around and there’s a lot that can disappoint you.

Face it, because it’s reality.
But never stop dreaming.

The Search For Freedom

What makes us ‘tick’?

The question is about what goal we are chasing. What are we REALLY searching for?

Let's consider [fictional] ‘Jim’:

He is pounding the pavement looking for a job. The search is consuming him, so that's what drives him at the moment. Or is it?

After all, is ‘work’ his deepest desire? 

Actually, it's not a job he's after, but…..a paycheck.

Jim needs a job in order to generate money. His primary need is funding; not a job, per se.

So Jim needs money. But why? Does he want money for money's sake?

No. Jim actually wants comfort, security etc.

And for that, Jim needs money.

And for that, Jim needs a job.

Jim might have honestly answered our original question with "a job ". But it's obviously much deeper. His deepest need may actually be self-preservation, self-respect, familial-validation, etc.

But he’ll only find that when he pierces through his ‘layers’.

In many ways, we are Jim, as we struggle for inner freedom, and ‘Jim’s process’ is actually an important step in our Passover ‘journey to freedom’.

Step one is to identify our personal Egypts - the external distractions, pleasures, fears etc. that trap and control us. Freedom comes through transcending our ‘Egypts’ to freely live our lives according to our soul’s deeper vision. But leaving Egypt isn't really possible until we know where we want to go. I can’t freely live as Myself until I’ve identified Myself.

So I need to ask myself: What is my ‘Deeper Vision'?

Historically, the Jews’ ultimate disengagement from Egypt came through crossing the Sea.

G-d’s ‘splitting the sea’ symbolizes exposing our inner ‘dry land’ by pushing aside the layers of personality that obscure our deepest selves as the waters cover the sea.

By identifying our deepest selves, through our own efforts and through the power of Pesach, we can find – and perhaps reconfigure – our own deepest principles.

Crossing our personal sea puts us on the path to true freedom: A meaningful life.

Pesach is just over a week away.

It’s a time to remember how G-d loved and supported our ancestors 3300+ years ago. It’s a time to recognize that G-d loves and supports us today.

Let’s embrace the power of Pesach, work to identify our personal Egypts and allow G-d to help us find freedom.

Spring

When you woke up this morning, what was your frame of mind? Was today simply the day after yesterday and a prelude to tomorrow? Or was this morning the beginning of a new chapter, the first page in a book called “the Rest of Your Life”?

It is common to feel trapped in the flow of time, chained to our past and unable to change our future. We feel imprisoned by our circumstances. That’s why it’s refreshing to have a chance at a fresh start: a new job, a new community, etc. It’s exhilarating to feel unencumbered by history, and to have a clean slate. One can feel energized and alive, with a broad field of opportunities to explore.

Think of it in seasonal terms. The winter months seem to have nature in a frozen holding pattern. Nothing blooms or blossoms. Some creatures even enter into hibernation. Winter is the sound of silence.

Think of the Covid ‘winter’ from which we seem finally to be emerging (please G-d). It’s been a two-year winter. Some of us have barely left our homes, rarely showing our face, or seeing the faces of others’, in person.

This Spring is especially welcome. Annually, Spring is a time when the world shakes off its lethargy, regains its pulse and begins to show vitality. With the birds chirping, the bees buzzing and an upbeat scent in the air, there’s a can-do sense of rejuvenation. This year, more than ever, we can appreciate the idea of rebirth and renewal.

This idea of rebirth and renewal can apply to our daily lives in any season. Psycho-spiritual ‘winter’ means being frozen in the status quo, enslaved to habits and personal history. Sometimes it seems that a new ‘me’ will never blossom.

But we actually hold our internal calendar in our hands. Any day – how much more so in Spring – one can change the steps of one’s habitual ‘dance’, and pursue endless possibilities for true growth.

The future is bright when we allow ourselves to see the rising sun.

We’re now approaching Passover, our Spring Holiday, which celebrates our Freedom. Not only freedom from human subjugation, but an internal freedom – genuine personal freedom.

Passover teaches us that we do not have to wait for the vernal equinox for rebirth and renewal – that every morning can be our individual Spring. Every morning – even in a frigid January – we can find our personal Exodus from a weaker self. How much more so when we are surrounded by Spring and, this year, as we emerge from our long Covid hibernation.

This year, let’s make Passover even more special and appreciate our freedom even more.

If we live with a consciousness of Passover’s freedom message, it can resonate all year round.

A Reason To Rejoice

Jewish holidays tend to commemorate miraculous historic events in which G-d saved the Jewish people with open miracles.

Yet, if we want to truly celebrate a holiday, if we want to access its soul and find its ability to elevate our lives, we need to personalize the ancient narrative.

On Purim, we celebrate the Jews miraculous rescue of the Jews from annihilation more than 2,000 years ago in ancient Persia. Haman, wicked advisor to King Ahasuerus, despised the idea of Jewish identity. So he convinced the King that Jews deserved to die, and the palace issued an utterly evil decree. The Jews were worried. They prayed, they fasted, and they didn’t back down; their commitment was strong. And they were ultimately saved.

Beautiful narrative. But how is that my story? I have, thank G-d, never been threatened with annihilation. I’ve had, and continue to have, my share of stresses, problems and close calls, but nothing in the realm of mortal danger. So I can’t honestly see myself in the shoes of the Jews of ancient Persia.

Unless….

Unless I focus on their moral challenge. The Jews were asked to repudiate their relationship with the Divine, and they decided to honor that relationship, even at the expense of their own lives.

We, too, face moral challenges (although the consequences are totally different – thank G-d – than those faced by the Jews of ancient Persia). We each have a relationship with our Creator, and have the ability – and hopefully the commitment – to honor that relationship through our actions.

But that commitment is often threatened. For example, if one is committed to lighting Shabbat Candles on Friday before sundown, what happens when life seems to get in the way, especially if it’s “just this once.” Or if one is committed to “respectful discourse,” does that internal pledge collapse in the face of a friend or co-worker’s unwelcomed comment?  

When a relationship matters, we find a way to honor and protect it, even in the face of challenge. If we’re committed to G-d’s guidance, to our Jewish identity, then we stick with it, even in the face of challenge. Just like our ancestors who lived through the Purim saga.

On Purim we rejoice. We take an opportunity to bask in the beauty of our relationship with the Divine, we uncover our own deep commitment to staying the course, even when it’s difficult, and we thank G-d for the opportunity.

L’chaim and happy Purim!

Happiness Formula

Don’t worry; be happy. A beautiful slogan in charmingly simple words.

But is it realistic? What if I have stresses that I can’t ignore? Should I stick my head in the sand and just smile? Happiness isn’t that simple. Happiness is a frame of mind that is deceptively difficult to achieve and maintain.

To me, happiness doesn’t mean buoyant frivolity. That is shallow and fleeting. It means a genuine inner peace and balance that I achieve when my world makes sense.

I’m not talking about artificially-inspired or externally-stimulated joy from things like alcohol or a great party. We sometimes numb our unhappiness with external forces and call that happiness. Those things might make me feel good, but they don’t qualify as genuine, internal happiness.

So how do I achieve a happy frame of mind?

 When I feel that my life has purpose, and that the things I do are GENUINELY in the service of that purpose, I’m on the road to happiness. I may still be working hard, and dealing with difficult situations, but if I’m living for a purpose I truly value, that resonates within me as a deep-seated objective, and that is substantive and enduring, then I can feel internally balanced and happy.
I don’t believe I can be happy building metaphoric ‘sand castles’. I need a worthy goal -- a genuine anchor.

Raising a psychologically and spiritually healthy family is one good example of a worthy goal. Setting my family’s healthy growth as my goal, and building my world around that goal, can bring me inner peace. If I go to work with the goal of providing for my family and they are not just happenstance beneficiaries of my income, I can maintain inner peace in the face of challenges. I can endure significant stress because I’m working for a higher purpose. For my family.

In Judaism, Holiness is the purpose that can bring balance to all of life. So if I believe that I, and my actions, truly matter to G-d; if I believe that my every action can change me and my world for good; that every action is cosmic and enduring in a true sense, then I can have a genuine inner peace.

The stresses are there. But I believe that embracing those stresses and accepting them wholeheartedly is itself a part of my soul’s growth and maturation. Each moment can become an eternally shining nugget of meaning.

We can all find meaningful pursuits (family is just one example), and meaning in our existing pursuits. And that is critical to happiness.

We are presently in the month of Adar, which our Rabbis describe as a month of amplified joy. How do we get there? One tried and true formula: pursuing a life of meaning. 

Home Is Where The Heart Is

“Home is where the heart is.” It’s a great quote, often credited to the Roman naval commander known as Pliny the Elder; but what does it really mean?
Well, what is a home? It’s not just a structure for habitation. Home is a special place.
My home is where I belong, without any conditions, whys or wherefores. It’s simply my place. I never feel like a guest, or like I don’t belong.
At home, I am who I am, with no need to hide behind protective psychological shields. I feel safe acknowledging and facing my flaws.
At home, I am perceived – by myself and others – in my entirety. It’s not about what I do, but who I am. Home is a place of emotional and psychological security, a place where I operate with my fullest sense of being.
“Home is where the Heart is” suggests that, wherever one may physically be, their strongest sense of belonging and security exists where they are embraced by an unwavering and unconditional sense of belonging.
When we make someone else feel entirely welcome and wholly embraced, we create a home for them within our relationship – a place where they can dwell securely.
We can extend that thought to our relationship with G-d.
Throughout our history, Torah has been our treasured guide toward a purposeful life. When we live by Torah values – do something meaningful, consider our destiny before acting, spend a few moments in prayer and contemplation – we embrace our purpose and destiny and create a home within us for G-d.

How do I create a Home for G-d? When I do something meaningful, when I consider my destiny before acting, when I spend a few moments in prayer and contemplation, I am welcoming G-d into my life. Eventually, that mindset becomes my standard operating mode, and G-d is at home within me.
Bottom line: G-d’s home depends on where my heart is.

Mistakes

Mistake. Failure. When I was younger, those words made me shudder.

Why? Because I strive for success and achievement, so failure is not an option.

Except when it happens.

And what then? How do I deal with my mistakes and failures? I could try to divert my attention, because inadequacy is painful to embrace. On the other hand, I shouldn’t live in denial. Should I just bite my lip and move on, hoping that tomorrow will bring back-to-back successes?

In Torah thought, mistakes and failures are an important part of life. We don’t look for them, but they have a way of finding us. They also, paradoxically, have a dividend for us; it’s called the gift of growth.

When I err - in a relationship, in comprehension, in my finances, etc. – and I face my blunder, it hurts. I’m hit squarely between the eyes, and the pain can easily become an energy-sapping, paralyzing force.

But that would be a shame, and it would miss the whole point of missteps and mistakes. It’s not about wallowing in self-pity. It’s about growth. I need to embrace my internal angst and disappointment, and convert that energy into a catalyst for positive action. With my mistake, I’ve learned a lesson for the future.

Facing my blunder, and analyzing it without fear, also bring me new insights about myself and my attitudes. It helps me break new ground in self-awareness. How did I get here, and how could this happen?

My slip-up gives me a better connection with the concept at hand. Until I’ve made a mistake in my handling/understanding of a given concept, the concept and I are ‘mere acquaintances’. When I goof, and consequently take a more mature and committed attitude to the subject matter, we’ve just become more intimate. When a rope is torn it takes a double knot to repair it; similarly, my renewed relationship has a psychological ‘double-knot’.

So there are three levels to my 'growth by mistake':

I learn a lesson for my future conduct, when I recognize HOW I went wrong.

I learn more about myself, when I analyze WHY I went wrong.

I become closer to the subject matter, since I’ve revisited and renewed my commitment.

Making mistakes is inevitable.  Failing to grow from our mistakes – that would indeed be a mistake.

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