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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

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.

I Believe in Miracles

Miracles.

Have you ever experienced one? Think back on your day, to the moment when you first opened your eyes. Wasn’t that itself a miracle? How about your mobility, hearing, cognition? Are these things that ‘just happen,’ or are they Divine gifts that should make our hearts swell with gratitude?
How about the loved ones in your life? Are they anything less than a miracle?
It’s often just a matter of perspective. Every life takes twists and turns. Every day, some things will go right and some things won’t. The important question is: Which takes up more space in our eyes? The good or the not-so-good?

When I genuinely appreciate the good, it helps me see my journey – in its totality - as a blessing.
Once I see I see my life as a gift, the aggravating bumps take on a different, more manageable, context. They become lessons, exercises in self-betterment, tests of character.
(I don’t mean to diminish the pain of our individual problems; on the contrary, I pray that G-d give us all tranquility and revealed good. But – until then – we need to find a productive way to deal with our obstacles).
This is the powerful lesson of Purim, the Holiday which we’ll celebrate this coming Wednesday evening and Thursday.
We have Holidays like Passover, which celebrates the open miracles we experienced in the course of our Exodus from Egypt. In our lives, that corresponds to the ‘over the top’ moments of good fortune we may experience in the course of our days.

But those are the ‘Passover’ moments in life.

Purim is different.
There is no blockbuster miracle to celebrate. No supernatural event.

In the Purim narrative, life just seems to turn out right. We – one could say – simply had the right person (Queen Esther) in the right place (the palace) at the right time (when Haman’s evil plan was being fomented).

But that’s not how the Jews saw it. When things turned out right, they had the vision to see it as a miracle.

And Purim was born. 
In the scope of your life, the ‘Passover miracles’ will probably be few and far between. Most of your life will be like today, a ‘regular’ day with nothing ‘special’ to celebrate. Unless you choose to celebrate ‘natural miracles.’ Because, rest assured if you’re reading this, you’ve had some ‘miracles’ today. 
Purim teaches us that every day’s a Holiday.
Time to celebrate!

This May Be It

We know the basic Purim story (The Holiday begins on the evening of March 20th):
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. Queen Esther, Queen of the entire Empire, was a Jewess! What’s more, she was related to Mordechai, the prominent Jewish leader of his time. In response to the threat, the Jews rallied and spiritually rejuvenated themselves, while Esther worked to save the Jews.
The Purim story is replete with messages for life.
When Mordechai found out about this terrible plan, he sent a secret  message to Queen Esther about the impending danger, imploring her to beseech the King. Queen Esther sent back a sad but reasonable response, basically saying: "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 sorry"
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 for just such a need 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 just a burden or a responsibility. It may very well be an opportunity for me to actualize my entire purpose for existence, or at least the Divine objective for this specific area of my life.

None of us knows what G-d has in mind for our lives, but we know G-d has something in mind.

Your next choice may just be it.

A Half Makes You Whole

Money is an incredible tool. It gives you power and broadens your horizons.  

At some level, the money in your pocket can buy you pleasure and prestige; it can also give you peace of mind and security for the future. The dollar represents so much of what we want, so much of what we’d like.

Think about how much of your life, maybe even your self-image, is relying on that dollar.

Now let’s back it up a bit. How did you get that money? Imagine that you’ve worked very hard, taking risks, beating off threats, putting in long hours to earn the money you now possess. In this sense, the money also represents your hard work, the lifeblood you’ve invested in earning a living.

In our society, dollars are more than currency: They embody yesterday’s struggle and tomorrow’s pleasure.

With that in mind, we can appreciate the immense beauty of giving charity. When someone gives money - THEIR money - to a greater need, they are parting with something very essential, an embodiment of their personal toil and their pleasure. By gifting of themselves to something beyond themselves, they elevate those funds – and the personal attachment to them – to a level of selflessness. We call that Holiness.

Charitable people tend to recognize that they are part of a greater whole. When someone realizes “what I need is only half the picture, and the other half is what I’m needed FOR,” life’s equation changes. My assets don’t only represent my pursuits in life; they represent my responsibility to life.

That’s why we call charitable giving ‘Tzedakah’ (in Hebrew). ‘Tzedaka’ means justice, because generosity reflects a mindset of responsibility to the world.  

In this week’s Torah portion, G-d tells each person to give a ‘half-Shekel’ to the communal fund. The Shekel was a silver coin, which the Torah specifically describes as weighing 20 ‘gerahs’ (a Biblical weight measurement) of silver. So why not just say “donate 10 ‘gerahs?’” Why phrase it as ‘half a shekel’?

The Torah is driving home our point.

When we recognize our own ‘half-ness,’ we’ll be ready to give ourselves whole-heartedly to our neighbors’ needs.

The half-Shekel makes the giver whole, because recognizing that we’re half of the picture allows to appreciate the fuller perspective.

Tzedaka. What a concept.

Does Time Need to Fly?

Our youngest daughter, Faigie, just got engaged, thank G-d.

So many e-mails and voice messages seem to echo my gut reaction: Where did the years go?

Why does time seem to fly, and melt into a blur? Is it only as we grow older?

Perhaps.

Let’s look at how children operate.

Watch a child’s wonder at observing an ant, the moon or a river. My grandchildren’s lives seem to be a string of exciting adventures, capturing their full curiosity and engagement.

Adults tend to live differently.

We aspire to stable relationships, jobs etc., which means we live with a lot of repetition. The stream of new curiosities is largely replaced with a to-do list of things which we've done countless times before.

Repeating an exercise will often generate less emotional engagement, since one’s “auto-pilot” often kick in.  

For example: I've noticed that when I am finding my way – especially sans GPS - to a new location, my trip home seems quicker than my original journey. I think it’s because I am thoroughly engaged – all synapses firing - during my initial trip into unknown territory, engrossed in my directions, every street sign, traffic patterns.

On the way back, more familiar with the way, I can drive on semi auto-pilot - listening to music, conversing (hands-free of course) with others or lost in my own thoughts.

When a day is filled with discovery, every moment is an experience; so a day is truly a FULL (experience-filled) day. It thus takes up more space in my life.
Conversely, a day that's basically a 'repeat' tends to quickly fade into the background. It’s more likely to fade into the blur of my past.

But even we adults can pro-actively bring our days to fuller life.

The Torah describes the aged Abraham as being “elderly, coming into his days.” The Rebbe explained the second (unusual) adjective as meaning that Abraham internally experienced every single day. Every day was a meaningful adventure, in that every day was a gift from the Divine, full of opportunities for strengthening his moral character, his relationships, his soul.

Abraham experienced no time-blur. There was full appreciation for – and wholesome engagement with - the now. So, his hours and days remained in full color. We can safely assume that Abraham never asked Sarah: “Where have the years gone?” 

Some days are especially memorable for me, like when my youngest daughter gets engaged. I’m sure you’ve had special days that resonate in your memory.

Today, with whatever it brings, is a whole new day. A day with entirely new opportunities. For all of us.
 Make this hour an Abraham hour. Then make it an Abraham day.

Happiness

Happiness. Joy. Contentment.

We want all of these. And, at the end of the day, this very pursuit is what guides so many of our efforts and behaviors.

When you think about it, ‘happiness’ (to use a catch-all word) isn’t something you can purchase, and it’s not synonymous with pleasure; it’s a balanced state of inner wellbeing.

It’s also a tricky thing to achieve.

Yet, every year, we have the Hebrew month of Adar (this year, we have two of these months, Adar-a and Adar-b, since it’s a Jewish leap year), when we’re instructed to “increase Happiness.” How does that work? Where would I purchase it? How can I pro-actively get myself into a happy state?

Adar-a begins this coming Monday evening, so we’re fortunate that the Shabbos Torah reading actually provides us with insight into a formula:

1. We’re told to lend money, interest-free, to a person in need. This Mitzvah is about genuine empathy. Maimonides lists eight levels of charity and considers a loan to be the premium. Why? Because it preserves the recipient’s dignity and self-worth, since the person need not see himself as a ‘charity case.’ So while giving charity is a great Mitzvah the Torah is teaching us to go even further, by taking the effort to step outside our own [good] feelings and consider the recipient’s broader emotional needs. It’s not only about doing good, it’s about feeling the other’s pain.

2. If you see your enemy’s animal “suffering under its load,” the Torah tells you to assist the animal repeatedly. Imagine that: Someone has done you wrong, and is now in need. The Torah wants you to transcend your own [legitimate] hurt to acknowledge his - and his animal’s – pain. And lend a hand. Not easy, unless you can transcend your own resentments.

3. We shouldn’t bully anyone. But G-d singles out those who may feel specifically vulnerable and tells us “Don’t taunt a stranger…don’t cause pain to the widow or orphan…if you cause them pain I will heed their cry…”. Some people are in situations which make them more sensitive than others. Pay attention, because people’s feelings matter.

This brings us back to the joy of Adar: There’s no greater recipe for happiness than stepping out of your own self-interest. Devote effort to something outside of, or larger than, yourself, and you’ll be refreshed by the beauty of the experience.

It’s Adar. Give yourself a reason to be happy!

Creating a Home

“Home is where the heart is”. It’s a great quote; but what does it really mean?
Well, what is a home? Obviously, it’s not just a structure for
habitation. A ‘home’ is not just a house. A home is a special place. A place that’s truly yours, and truly you.
Home is where I belong, without any whys or wherefores. No particular reasons, responsibilities or needs bring me there. It’s simply my place. I never feel like a guest, or like I don’t belong, because I’m at home.
At home, I am who I am, with no need to hide behind my protective psychological shields. I feel safe acknowledging and facing my flaws, because my home genuinely supports me.
At home, it’s not what I do, but who I am. I am perceived – by myself and others – in my entirety.
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” means that my home isn’t merely my physical abode. Home is wherever I feel - or I’m made to feel - genuinely secure. I’m at home where people truly feel that I belong; it’s where the heart is.
Following that line of thinking: When I make someone else feel entirely welcome and wholly embraced, I am creating a home for them. A home for their heart, within my own.
That’s the bottom line of creating a home.
And that’s also the bottom line of Torah’s objective for us all.

Just as I make total space for someone special, making them at home in my life and heart, I need to create similar space for my own Divinely-ordained destiny, space for Torah and Mitzvos, space - a Home, so to speak - for G-d.
How do I create a Home for G-d? When I do something meaningful, when I consider my purpose before acting, when I spend a few moments in prayer and contemplation, I am welcoming G-d into my life. Slowly, through practice and growth, that mindset can become a standard operating mode, and G-d is at home within me.
G-d’s home is where my heart – your heart, our hearts - can be.

Feel the Wonder

 

As you read this, take a minute to imagine your next interaction with your spouse, child, parent or close friend. How will it feel? Will it be functional, as you faithfully discharge your responsibilities to those you cherish? Or will it be enthusiastic and alive, reflecting the deep gratitude, love and appreciation you've felt - and can still feel - for these very same people?
In practical terms: When I pick up my children from school today, will I be in middle of a phone call, focused on where I’m going after I drop them at home? Or will I be the parent who once stood in awe of a new life, and is appreciative of a fresh opportunity to honor the relationship? 
Whatever’s going on in my head at the time, we’ll both know the truth. When a person has a spring in his step, a quickened pulse, a sense of wonder and enthusiasm...it shows. When you're happy to do something, your demeanor and actions come ALIVE. You can’t hide it. And you really can’t fake it. 

This also applies to my Jewish practice: When I perform a Mitzvah, am I merely discharging responsibilities? Or am I joyfully laying another strand in the cable which binds me to my G-d, my people, my destiny? 
What message does my observance send to my family? When they see me practicing my Judaism, helping my parents, etc., do they see me carrying a burden or delighting in a relationship? By sensing where my excitement lies (and where it doesn’t…), what am I broadcasting to them about my deepest sense of priorities? 
Of course, it’s human nature to lose our sense of wonder as we become accustomed to someone or something. No matter how outstanding a relationship is, the excitement eventually settles. By nature, we eventually take our greatest blessings for granted.

But we can rise above human nature. 
If I believe in the deep value of a relationship, I need to be pro-active to make sure that it doesn’t dull. I need to consistently re-awaken my initial sense of awe and attraction. 
When I next see my loved one, I should bring myself back to the wonder of our relationship. I should let that awe take me over for a moment. And if I feel it, my demeanor will show it. 
The same applies to my Judaism. G-d cares about our lives. G-d cares about our daily struggles and achievements. What we do is important. So my - and your - next action can be cosmic. 

It may feel ho-hum, but it doesn’t need to be.
As I sit by my computer, I believe that my writing this little essay, my small attempt to brighten the world in my own way, is part of my destiny. That’s cosmic. And I’d believe the same if I were a dentist bent over a patient or a lawyer representing my client. If my actions are contributing to making this a better world, if they're consistent with a Torah attitude to life, if I’m living the destiny G-d set out for me, then I'm doing something monumental.

Your next interaction at home or in the office can be cosmic. And when you feel it, it’ll show. 

The Moses Method

So you’re thinking about 2019 and your mind opens to the reality that something in your life isn't working. You resolve to do better, and that feels good.

Except that you know change is difficult, because we're notoriously ingenious at outsmarting ourselves. 
Resolving makes us feel good, but effecting actual change usually hits some inner roadblocks. 
One common problem is described by ancient Jewish texts as ‘Pharaoh syndrome.' 
The Exodus saga – with the Jews gaining liberty from the enslaving Egyptians - is also a personal narrative. It depicts my/your continuous struggle for freedom from our personal 'Egypts' (behavioral traps and limitations). We each face our personal ‘enslavement,’ and our inner Pharaoh stands in the way of freedom.

So who is [our inner] Pharaoh? Scripture describes him as having a 'hard heart.' 
What does that mean in practical terms? 
Pharaoh understood that his actions were self-destructive and bringing ruin upon his country. He even fleetingly agreed to stop the madness. But he couldn't finalize change. Why? Because his heart just wouldn’t follow his mind’s vision. He knew what needed to be done, but he couldn't close the deal.
This is the internal 'Pharaoh,' stubbornly disregarding the healthy way forward and clinging to self-destructive behavior.
So, whence the salvation? 
Moses, of course.
Moses is described in our Scripture and tradition as a man of total, super-rational commitment. Brilliant as he was, he didn't guide his life by intellect alone. He felt a profound relationship with the Divine, and that's what guided his behavior.
Deep relationships – like the parent-child connection – have a deep, super-rational core, so we know what that feels like. Well, Moses directed that level of commitment to the vision of who G-d created him to be.

We can too.

The 'Moses method' is feeling a transcendent responsibility to G-d and personal destiny, not just logical calculation. And as effective as the 'Pharaoh Syndrome' is against logic, it’ no match for selfless commitment.

The ‘Moses method’ is a much deeper expression of your inner self, so it’s working a different wavelength. 
Here's the bottom line: Sometimes, life's richness is reached when we can step beyond the limitations of the mind, following the soul's lead and expression.
So when you resolve to change your behavior, see it as a part of your commitment to G-d, see it as an exercise of your relationship with your Destiny, see it as an expression of your very reason for existence.
Then see if excuses can block your way.
Pharaoh couldn't.

Traveling Light

The Jewish traveler was aghast. He had come to visit Rabbi Dovber, who would eventually be known throughout the world as a premier spiritual master (Rabbi Dovber of Mezeritch, 18th century leader of the Chassidic movement), and was dismayed by the Rabbi's poor living conditions. 

When the man entered, Rabbi Dovber was sitting on a wooden (no chairs in sight), and teaching young children Torah. The scene seemed out of kilter; rich spirituality framed by such raw poverty. The man couldn’t imagine living under such conditions. 

Unable to contain himself, he asked the Rabbi how he could live without the basic amenities of a normal house. Why was his home so bare? 

Answering his question with a question, the Rabbi queried “well, where is your furniture?” 

Perplexed, the man replied “Rabbi, I’m obviously in the midst of a journey, and 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 traveling through life and will eventually move on to a higher plane. 

The material is all part of life's impermanence, and I treat it as such. I, too, don't care that much about furniture when I'm 'traveling'. 

I invest my attention and energy in to my ‘home’, my soul condition. That‘s where it matters.” 

Rabbi Dovber was teaching that we’re all on the road of life. We’re each put here for a purpose, and what matters most is the objective. The rest is the trimmings. 

When you're traveling, the mint on the pillow is nice, but it’s not a priority. 

We should focus our attention on life's fundamentals, that's where 'home' is. And at home, everything matters. After all, it’s your home. 

A daily question to ponder is: Where do I really live? 

Which areas of life are genuinely important to me? Which areas of life are just parts of the journey, a means to a greater end? Does my investment of time and effort reflect my priorities?

Putting significant attention into fleeting, self-serving pleasures is kind of like carrying your sofa with you as you travel. It’s putting too much focus on a brief jaunt. 

Travel light.

Live well.

 

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