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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

This May Be It!

Most of us know the basic Purim story:
2500 years ago, the Jews were in trouble. Haman, a wicked advisor to the Persian King Ahaseurus, had engineered an evil decree to exterminate the entire Jewish population.
Unbeknownst to almost everyone, including the King, the Jews had an ‘inside woman’ at the palace: Esther, Queen of the entire Empire, was a Jewess! What’s more, she was related to Mordechai, a prominent Jewish leader at the time.
The Jews rallied and spiritually rejuvenated themselves, while Esther worked her magic to save the Jews.

The end.

Or not. Since the story is replete with messages for life today.
Let's look at one:
When Mordechai finds out about Haman's terrible plan, he sends a secret message to Queen Esther about the impending danger, imploring her to beseech the King. Queen Esther sent back a chagrined response that basically says: "This is terrible; but there's very little I can do. I haven't been summoned to the King's quarters for a month now. We all know that no one - under penalty of death - can come to the King's quarters unbidden. Really wish I could help."
Mordechai responds with a theological statement that re-frames her world: "If you choose to keep silent, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from elsewhere. Who knows whether it was just for this purpose that you were able to attain a royal position?!?”

In other words, Mordechai is saying: You are in a unique position to help people. That’s not an accident. It may very well be that this opportunity is the entire reason G-d enabled you to achieve what you have achieved.

It’s an inspiring, yet weighty, thought. When I find myself in a position to make a difference, I need to take a moment to recognize that what has presented itself isn’t a burden. It's an opportunity. It may very well be a chance  for me to actualize G-d's intent in my existence, or at least the Divine objective for a specific area of my life.

None of us knows exactly what G-d has in mind for our lives, but we know it's something.  Your next choice may just be it.

Happy Purim!

Living Purim Today

Jewish holidays tend to commemorate historic Jewish events. But it’s not just about looking at an ancient narrative, discussing people and events of yesteryear. We need to relate the holiday to our present lives.  When we see it as a current event, a relevant energy for today, we begin to find its soul, its ability to elevate our lives.

How would that work with the Purim holiday?

On Purim (which we begin celebrating the evening of March 9), we celebrate the Jews’ miraculous rescue 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 to kill anyone who maintained it.

The Jews didn’t back down. They prayed, they fasted and I’m sure they stressed. But their commitment was strong, and they were ultimately saved.

Beautiful narrative.

Now how is that my story, when I’ve lived my entire life in the land of the free, practicing my Judaism without interference?

I’ve got to drill down and identify an underlying, personal connection with the Purim challenges, even if they manifest themselves very differently in my life.

In the Purim events, the Jews had a big reason to repudiate their relationship with the Divine; it literally would have saved their lives. Yet they decided to honor their relationship with G-d, come what may. Even today, our commitments to G-d are often threatened, even if it’s not with the danger of physical harm (G-d forbid). Let’s take a simple example: if you are committed to “respectful discourse,” does your internal pledge collapse in the face of a co-worker’s offensive comment?

Taking it to a more ritual place, let’s say you are 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?”

When a relationship matters, we find a way to honor and protect it, even in the face of challenge.

On Purim we rejoice. We take an opportunity to bask in the beauty of our relationship with the Divine and we uncover our own deep commitment to staying the course, even in the face of challenge.

L’chaim.          

When Half is Whole

Yogi Berra once said “no matter where you go, there you are”. Joking aside, this idea - being present where you are actually isn’t as simple as it sounds. Especially to someone (like myself) who struggles with “Smartphone on the Brain.”

How does one manage to actually be ‘present’ on a regular basis?

In the Torah, G-d commands the Jews to contribute half a shekel to a fund for the Tabernacle’s needs. The Torah then defines a shekel as being 20 gerah (a weight) of silver. Do the math, and a half shekel is obviously ten gerah. So why doesn’t the Torah just say that? Why does the Torah – in a way that feels circuitous - tell us that a Shekel is twenty gerahs and the donation should be half of that?

The Torah seems to be underscoring the significance of ‘halfness’.

The Rebbe once noted that the Torah also instructs the donation itself to be made in one gift, not in installments. Practically, one needed to give the entire contribution at one time.

So, the Torah seems to be combining two opposite concepts: give HALF a shekel, as a WHOLE (undivided) contribution.

The Rebbe explained it this way:

If I want to give WHOLLY of myself to a person or situation, to be totally – WHOLLY - present in any situation, I need to rise above my preoccupation with what happened this morning or my next appointment.  I need to unplug from my concerns for where else I need to be and when and recognize that the person before me deserves my total and undivided attention.

Because, it’s not about me and my broader day, me and my e-mails, or me and my to-do list. It’s about me and the person or situation before me.

When I can really respect that I’m only HALF of the present equation, I’m ready to be there in WHOLE.

So ‘going somewhere’ doesn’t necessarily mean I’m actually there. Going somewhere with a sense of respect for WHY I went there, with humility and respect for the exercise, makes me actually arrive at my journey.

It’s the half-Shekel method to respecting our relationships.

The Mission Beckons

When the Lubavitcher Rebbe assumed leadership of the Chabad community, most of its members were refugees from the infernos of Hitler and Stalin. This relatively small group gathered in Brooklyn to hear their new, forty-eight year old Rebbe lay out a vision for the future. And hear a vision they did.

Here's my takeaway of what the Rebbe told them:

We all yearn and strive for connection with an Infinite G-d, an unfathomable Divine Reality. At the same time, we live in a world that seems shallow, unreasonable and replete with moral challenges.

And that’s exactly the point.

G-d’s deepest core-desire is fulfilled when we, in our simple human lives, make cosmic choices; G-d's most profound presence is drawn into our reality when we rise above our own egocentric impulses, and transcend the bombardment of external distractions, to do the right thing.
But it’s not just about doing the right thing, it’s about making a commitment to a purposeful life.
A Genuine, deep-seated commitment.
In my mind, it’s the type of total engagement that shows itself when a loved one is in dire need. There’s no space for a cost-benefit analysis, because we need to respond unconditionally and emphatically. We spring into action – sometimes super-rationally – to honor the deep relationship we share.
In the case of a commitment to a purposeful life, we’re making a super-rational commitment to Higher Living through our relationship with the Divine, and, in so doing, acquiring an antidote for our irrational and counter-productive behaviors. We are overriding the irrational with the super-rational by bringing G-d’s Essence into our lives.
And that’s the end-game of all creation. All of spirituality, the angels and the metaphysical cosmos, are simply means to an end: Our daily struggle to live a purposeful life in this otherwise-seemingly shallow and chaotic world.

That’s been the challenge of history, to bring Divine Essence into a seamless presence in our world and merit the coming of Moshiach.
It can sound grandiose to think that we’ll accomplish a goal that has eluded previous generations. But we’re standing on the shoulders of giants. Our strength lies in the foundation they have established and our challenge lies in taking advantage of the opportunity they have granted us and completing what they’ve begun. It’s our mission, to actualize the objective of the generations before us.

This week marks 70 years of the Rebbe’s leadership, and the Rebbe’s voice still speaks to us. 

He’s telling us that the mission can’t wait. 


The Revolution Continues

Seventy years. 

This coming Wednesday, the 10 of Shevat on the Jewish calendar (corresponding to February 5), will mark seven decades since the Rebbe began to lead the global revolution known as Chabad. 

To be sure, the Rebbe never saw it as his revolution.  This was a campaign to actualize G-d’s timeless vision for the world, the Torah’s Divine blueprint for society. Even more, the Rebbe was – in his own words – simply perpetuating the efforts of six Lubavitcher Rebbes who preceded him (beginning in the 18th century). 

But the Rebbe was nothing less than an extraordinary revolutionary, leader of his generation and luminary of the generations. And it began that fateful day in 1950, when the Rebbe accepted leadership of the small, Holocaust-battered community known as Chabad. 

Any credible attempt to describe the Rebbe’s vision, brilliance and impact would need a set of books, not a brief article. So I want to focus on a single attitudinal element of the Rebbe’s leadership, which presents itself as a clear thread through the decades of his talks and writings.

You – whomever you are - matter. Your next decision has the potential for cosmic impact. Not just in a rhetorical, let’s get-you-motivated sense. The objective truth is that G-d, and the cosmos, really care about what you do.

On the 10th anniversary of the Rebbe’s leadership, 10 Shevat 1960 (February 8th of that year) the Rebbe related and analyzed the following Chassidic teaching (loosely translating in my own words):

Sometimes, one’s excessive ‘humility’ prevents closeness to G-d. When we don’t believe that we matter, we close ourselves to the truth that G-d absolutely delights in our personal prayer, study and Mitzvot. We disable our ability to accept that our positive choices trigger Divine flow into the world and that the very angels are nourished by the Holiness we generate. If we believed in our own potential for cosmic impact, our lives and would be filled energy and enthusiasm. 

Each of us should take the time for introspection to contemplate that our actions genuinely matter to G-d. G-d is waiting to kiss our lips when they express our desire for Divine closeness…..

The Rebbe believed in me and you. In each member of humanity. He saw our potential for personal greatness way beyond what most of us can see ourselves. And he tirelessly continued – and continues -to encourage us to make a difference, one step at a time. 

Think about the next moment, your next decision, and do the right thing.

The universe is waiting

My Exodus, Your Exodus

So how are your New Year’s resolutions doing?

Researchers claim that 80% of those personal commitments never materialize. Why would that be?

Of course, we really mean it when we commit; but we’re ingenious at outsmarting ourselves. 
Counterintuitive as it may sound, it can feel good to acknowledge our weaknesses, feel internal dissatisfaction at a personal status quo, and then move on, just as were.

After that kind of introspective honesty, we can pat ourselves on the back, congratulating ourselves on the grueling step of self-honesty, and consider our work complete.

Because, we often don't REALLY want to change.
Chassidic thought calls this a ‘Pharaoh syndrome.' Our nation's story of the Exodus from Egyptian oppression is also a personal narrative. It depicts our continuous struggle for freedom from our personal 'Egypts' (impediments to self-actualization). Our internal Pharaoh stands in the way of our personal freedom.

Pharaoh’s primary problem was a ‘hardened heart'. That means Pharaoh understood that his actions were self-destructive and bringing ruin upon his country, but he couldn’t get over the hump of behavior modification. He even fleetingly agreed to stop the madness. He resolved to change, but his heart wouldn't allow him to translate his awareness into action.
That is the challenge of our personal, internal 'Pharaoh', which stubbornly disregards our own logic so it can cling to “comfortable” self-destructive behavior.
How does one defeat a Pharaoh? Find a Moses, the Moses within you.
Moses -- your personal ‘Moses’ -- is the image of absolute commitment, pushing past Pharaoh’s constraints. Your inner 'Moses' disregards the voices in your head telling you change is impossible, and selflessly propels you toward that beckoning image of your 'Highest Self’.

The ‘Moses’ level of commitment flows from such a deep place, it has so much momentum, that it can't be obstructed by the 'Pharaoh Syndrome'. Your ‘Moses’ is energized by commitment to a higher calling, which is on a totally different wavelength than Pharaoh’s self-indulgent persona.

Your ‘Moses’ sees your resolution as part of your commitment to G-d, as an exercise in your relationship with your Destiny, as an expression of your very reason for existence.

With commitment like Moses, failure isn’t an option and excuses can’t obstruct your way.

Just ask Pharaoh.

Unscrambling Life's Messages

A special person in your life leaves you four pieces of paper.  The first one you look at contains the letter V, the next the letter E, the third the letter O and the last the letter L.

Hmmm..….

You now have four papers with letters that seem random and without meaning. Then it hits you ‑‑ the letters spell the word LOVE, and you feel the rush that comes with an endearing gesture.

Once you adjusted your perspective, and put the jumbled letters into proper context, you saw an affectionate communication that streamed a glow of warmth and light into your life.

Now think about the day before you.

Kabbalistically speaking, letters are a metaphor for the events and objects of our lives. In a world where meaning is hidden, we often see life as a de-contextualized jumble that doesn’t make much sense.

Do we just shrug our shoulders and assume that there’s no meaning to be found? Or do we keep searching for the message?

Say you'll soon be spending an hour with a client, or running family errands. In and of themselves, such hours come and go and are pretty unremarkable in the scope of your life.

They’re just a jumble of meaningless random letters in the book of your life.
But now put them into context. G-d created each of us for an objective that is unique to us, which is why G-d found it necessary to create each of us. G-d wants you and me to lead purpose-driven lives, focused on our responsibilities to our Creator and to the world around us. To G-d, that’s really important.

When we adopt a mindset consistent with G-d‘s objective for us and we appreciate how our tasks – like a client meeting or laundry – are not random tasks, but rather, parts of the fabric of a potentially meaningful life, we have taken a positive step toward fulfilling our purpose.

Our daily prayer is an exercise to help us achieve this mindset. Prayer helps us to focus on our purpose and re‑arrange life’s details ‑‑ the seemingly random letters ‑‑ into a meaningful quilt.

Prayer helps to free us from the trap of meaninglessness and elevate the ‘mundane details’ so that they’re re-experienced as part of a cosmically meaningful journey through life.  That’s a reason our Sages call Prayer ‘redemptive’.

It’s up to you. Free yourself

Soweto Inspiration for Shabbat

Malkie and I are in South Africa, visiting our 16 year old son, Levik, who is studying in Johannesburg this year. 

This morning, we went for a tour of Soweto. I first heard about the Soweto uprisings as a child in the 70's, and I never imagined myself walking its streets. Yet there we were. 

We were deeply touched by what we experienced there, and i'd like to share one snippet:

Our first stop was in a section called Kliptown, where the locals live in dire poverty. However, a dearth of material possessions is no indication of soul-wealth, which we palpably felt in the warm embrace of the people despite how different we looked. 

The area is rich in street art, and we stopped to soak in some pro-Israel graffiti (which amazed us given the public posture of South Africa's government). Just then, we were introduced to a middle-aged man named Bob Nemang. This dreadlock-adorned man told us how his parents had died when he was young, leaving him to live in poverty on the streets.  Yet he'd resolved to never lose his faith in G-d and to always turn his pain into growth. 

Putting his arm around our Levik's shoulder, Bob told him "live your fullest and leave your mark on the world. Go through pain and don't be scared of it. Let the pain lead your growth".

Bob then told us that he was able to visit Israel in 2003, and was taken by the spirit of the Holy Land. On his first Saturday, he went out with a friend to do some shopping, and was surprised to find all the stores closed. 

When he asked a local what holiday he'd stumbled upon, he was told that this was the Shabbat, a day when Jews put life on pause to consider our Creator, our souls and our purpose on this Earth. He was stunned by the idea. 

He has since tried to capture the Shabbat idea in his own life and remarked "I tell all the Jews I meet that I can see how the Shabbat sustained them through all their tribulations, and how I hope they access their national treasure." 


I've been observing Shabbos my entire life, and I always welcome more Shabbos inspiration, especially from unlikely places - such as a Bob Marley look-alike in Soweto. 

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Life on the Road

The Jewish traveler was aghast.

The man had traveled to visit Rabbi Dovber of Mezeritch, who would later become an 18th century leader of the Chassidic movement known throughout the world as a premier spiritual master.  When he arrived at Rabbi Dovber’s house, the man was dismayed by the Rabbi’s poor living conditions.
The holy Rabbi was sitting on a board -- no chairs in sight -- teaching young children Torah. The scene seemed so incongruous; rich spirituality framed by raw poverty. The man, an innkeeper by trade, couldn’t imagine living in what he perceived to be such a sorry state.
Unable to contain himself, he queried the Rabbi as to how he could live without the basic amenities of a normal house. Why was his home so bare?
Answering the question with a question, the Rabbi queried, “well, where is your furniture?”
Perplexed, the man replied “Rabbi, I’m on the road. I don’t take my furniture with me when I travel. At home I’m set up fine. That‘s where I'm really invested and that's where it matters.”
Rabbi Dovber replied “I, too, am in the midst of a journey. G-d sent my soul to this world for a purpose, just as he sent yours. I'm travelling through life and will eventually move on to a higher plane.
Materialism is part of life's impermanence, and I treat it as such. Because I, too, don't care that much about furniture when I'm travelling.

I invest energy into my ‘home’ -- my soul and spiritual needs. That‘s where it matters.”
We’re all on the road of life. We’re each put here for a purpose, and what matters most is achieving our objective: A meaningful life.

The journey’s material trimmings, the proverbial ‘mints on the pillow’, are nice, but not the priority.
So we should ask ourselves:  Where do I really live?  Which areas of my life genuinely matter and which elements of my life are just parts of the journey -- the means to a greater end?
How much attention do I pay to each?
Placing undue attention on material things and fleeting pleasures is kind of like carrying your sofa with you as you travel.
Travel light. Live well. 

Golden Years

Aging.
The word has a musty feel to it. And, at least in our society, I think it’s a word that strikes unease – if not fear – into many a heart.
After all: Who wants to grow old?
So let’s do some re-framing:
When we’re young, feeling like masters of the universe, we enthusiastically anticipate future decades of supersized potential. At the same time, an appealing, but as-yet actualized, future is just potential, bountiful as it may be.
The years in our rear-view mirror are different. They’re ‘in the bank,’ so to speak.

Any good that we’ve done is ours to keep; no one can take it from us. Yes, things can – G-d forbid – go awry, to the extent that we can no longer appreciate our prior good days; but that doesn’t mean they didn’t happen. Life’s ups and downs are hugely valuable, gifting us with insight that no textbooks or teachers could ever teach. The past is a critical prologue, and every day we live adds to our store of experience.
It’s exciting to have a future. It’s truly wonderful to have a meaningful past.

When I lay down to sleep, there’s nothing more peaceful than knowing I spent my day well.

It’s good to be young. It’s great to be accomplished.

In this week’s Torah portion, Abraham is described as having “grown old,” and – if we read the words literally - as “coming along with his days.” What does “with his days” mean?

As Abraham grew older, he brought his past with him. His youth wasn’t a distant memory, and he hadn’t been just passing time.

Every day he lived was another slice of achievement, learning and growth.
So when Abraham was wizened and of weakened body, he possessed the spiritual strength of a life well‑lived. He wasn’t only looking hopefully ahead to the further actualization of potential; he was looking gratefully back on meaningful days.
Aging should be a process that brings satisfaction with, and gratitude for, the past, as well as hope for the future.
Make today a day that enhances your satisfaction.

 

What Are You Waiting For?

Your soul was waiting, hankering, chomping at the bit.

The length of the wait was of no import -- there aren’t any calendars in “Eternity.”  It was all about the depth of the anticipation. Finally, FINALLY, you got the green light for the ultimate challenge, the ‘Iron Man Competition’ of the ages.

G-d invested your soul in a body and you embarked on the journey of Human Existence. And you are so excited. Why does your soul long for this human life, and the inevitable pain, suffering and tears?

Because there’s so much to be gained.

Your soul knew you’d be afflicted with a wide assortment of struggles, internal and external. But it also knew full well that every time you rose to the occasion, every time you transcended a self-indulgent bad mood, every time you consciously guided your life in a meaningful direction, every time you crossed the boundary from self-centeredness to responsibility, every time you saw an otherwise mundane moment as a beautiful opportunity waiting to be capitalized upon – you would be creating Cosmic Harmony.

Your soul’s deepest desire was to melt into the Infinite Oneness of the Great Divine, and – FINALLY - your soul’s ticket was punched. The moment arrived.

You were born

Your soul knew that the payoff for your personal victories would be greater intimacy with G‑d and greater Oneness between G-d and the world. That’s why it waited so longingly.

So here you are -- in the game -- in a life of blessing and bother, purity and pain, success and struggle.

All in all, a life of opportunities.

Compete like your soul depends on it.

Sometimes Less is More

Are you selfish? Doesn’t sound good.

At the same time, we each need to focus on self, to care for our own needs.

So where do we draw the line?

Hillel, our famous 1st century Sage, put it this way: “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?” In other words: I need to look after myself, because who else should?

But then he added: “…And if I am only for myself, then what am I?”
Hillel proposed a worldview that sees me – and you – as being created to make this a better world. So we need to take care of ourselves, in order to fulfill our mission.  That is why the flight attendant instructs us, in the case of a loss of cabin pressure, to put on our own oxygen mask before tending to those that need our assistance. But, that’s very different from looking out for ourselves because we view ourselves as the center of the universe.

Because, if everything is about “me,” then – in the final analysis - “what am I?”
As an antidote to self-centeredness, the Torah tells us to [metaphorically] ‘circumcise the foreskin’ of our hearts. The ‘foreskin’ refers to the emotional numbness – the psychological tone-deafness - that comes from self-indulgence. When we are overly self-focused, we unwittingly create a psycho-spiritual ‘overlay’ that interferes with our ability to connect genuinely with others. In other words, when self-care crosses into self-absorption, ‘self’ becomes the only thing that truly matters. Self-absorption opens the door to ‘ME-centeredness’, which automatically leaves less room for ‘WE’.

So, the Torah tells us to cut through this stifling attitude; to liberate our hearts and souls, by freeing ourselves from the emotional prison of a self-serving life.  This attitude is sometimes referred to as temperance. Practically, it means taming the ‘self-indulgence’ muscle by training ourselves not to partake in every available pleasure. Sometimes there’s addition through subtraction. Take away a little ‘me’ focus and there is room to create some more ‘we’ focus.

That’s what emotional circumcision means. We peel away the unhealthy layers of self-centeredness in the way we act, speak and feel. And in so doing, we break down the unhealthy walls of self, making us emotionally available to those who matter most -- free to breathe the fresh air of meaningful relationships.

Write Your Story

It happens every time.

Whenever I read that G-d created the world, I can’t get past the big question: ‘Why?’

Why would an Infinite Being have created this finite reality? What’s the point in weak humans chasing happiness for the years of life that they’re granted?

Why do I keep asking myself the same question? Because I really enjoy the answer: G-d created this world out of love.

Prior to creation, G-d’s Oneness reigned Supreme. There was no other existence - only G-dliness. Then G-d decided to create an ‘other’.

We – you and I - are that ‘other’.

But G-d wasn’t simply fracturing existence, creating a world of disunity and ‘otherness’. G-d was creating an opportunity  for us. G-d was giving us the possibility to [re]create Oneness on a more profound level.

Because there are different types of ‘Oneness’.

For example, I am a single being with limbs and organs; so my arm, my leg, my spleen all come together to make me one whole human being. Then there’s a deeper type of oneness, like the oneness of marriage, when two spouses become one. Why is that deeper?

Because my arm has no choice but to be part of my body; that’s its natural state.

When two people get married, they’re each rising above their natural, self-involved state, choosing to create the Oneness they share. They’re actively deciding to set aside the ‘I‘ for the ‘we’.

That’s a profoundly beautiful Oneness, one we celebrate with the institution of marriage. Well, that’s how it works with us and G-d. G-d created us as separate from Him, so that we might choose to find Oneness with Him.

Each of our lives is actually its own ‘Love Story,’ part of a vibrant, growing relationship between G-d and humanity.

A Chassidic Rebbe was once asked: “Where can one find G-d?” The Rebbe answered: Wherever you let Him in”. ‘Letting the other in’ is the key to a relationship with G-d, just like it is in a relationship with a spouse.

G-d wants an intimate relationship with each of us. But intimate relationships don’t happen on their own. It takes two to want the relationship; two to choose it.

G-d has already made His choice. Now it’s up to me and you.

So are you writing your own Divine Love Story?

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! 

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