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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Wrestling With Life

Life is beautiful. Life also has a way of presenting us with struggles, both from within and from without.

For example, human beings are born with a tendency toward selfishness, and we need a lot of effort to rise above it. When a strong appetite or impulse grabs hold of one’s psyche, it’s difficult to control, even when our mind, and our heart, knows that it’s wrong.  Or maybe we’re facing an existential funk that threatens to paralyze our day, or a more destructive drive that can bring negative consequences in its wake.

Think for a moment and you can fill in the blanks for your own life: each person has their own unique set of appetites and opportunities. But rest assured, we all face hand-to-hand combat for self-control.

Torah wisdom teaches us that mental clarity is the key to victory. Life throws up a lot of haze in the form of unhelpful triggers and attractions, and this opens the door to the less-than-high-minded behaviors that get us into trouble.

So we really need to pierce the moral fog, and carefully examine our decisions in a thoughtful light.

This week’s Torah portion tells that our Patriarch Jacob was once accosted by an angel, a threatening spiritual energy, with whom he wrestled all night.  At daybreak, when the angel recognized that Jacob was tenaciously persevering, the angel gave Jacob a second name: Israel. Israel is a contraction of words that means “you have wrestled with the Divine (angel), and with humanity, and have overcome.”

Israel means wrestling with life’s challenges. Our very name reflects the attempt to conquer life’s shallowness, the hedonistic veneer with which G-d papered this beautiful world.

While describing this epic scuffle, the Scripture throws in a seemingly trivial detail, saying that they “kicked up dust.” The Talmud focuses in on that phrase and adds that the wrestling pair kicked up dust that rose so high it “reached the [anthropomorphic] Heavenly Throne.”

Why this focus on dust?

Because that’s a central part of the lesson. Dust in the air obscures vision; it distorts perception. That’s what Jacob’s struggle was about: cutting through life’s haze to find clarity and healthy direction. We become ‘Israel’, rising to the meaning of our collective name, when we recognize – and actualize - the Divine beauty that lies within and behind the confusing smog.

The dust isn’t a detail of the story, it’s the challenge. How effective we are at seeing through the dust speaks directly to our connection with the Heavenly Throne. Finding clarity in a confusing world is what life’s all about.

Resistance!

 Resistance. It is the act of repudiating the status quo.

The term conjures up great struggles against oppressive power.  The American Revolution, the underground resistance movements during World War II.  That is external resistance.

I want to discuss a different kind of resistance – internal resistance. Resistance in the inner recesses of our hearts and minds. 

Do we have the courage to resist ourselves? Do we have the fortitude to forcefully confront our own habits and norms?

An internal revolution is vital for human growth, but it takes courage and strength.

We raise our children to respect rules of decency, protocol and religious observance – and healthy habits and traditions can make for a good status quo. But simply following the beaten path isn’t good enough; we need to disrupt ourselves. Rebellion WITHIN the discipline is vital.

When we’re in a proper functional rhythm, our souls can still be asleep. One can go through the motions of being a loyal spouse or parent, while one’s brain is at the office, the gym or the mall. We can perform good deeds without any fire in the belly or pro-active consciousness.

If we’re living a life of complacency and self-satisfaction, a life without the passion to rise up against ourselves, have we not become ‘spiritual bourgeoisie’? That would call for revolution.

And we want a Divine uprising too.

G-d’s [meta]physical system has been our established order since time began. But it’s time for a radical change. It’s time for G-d to buck His own system, and bring out the meaning and beauty - the Harmonious Oneness - that’s inherent in our world.

We call that a world of Moshiach – a Messianic era. A world actualized.

And it’s G-d’s promise to humanity: When we rise up against our limitations, G-d will also rise up.

Journey Of A Lifetime

 

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, your soul got the green light for the ultimate challenge, the ‘Iron Man Competition’ of the ages.

Your soul got a body and embarked on the journey of Human Existence.

Why was your soul so excited?

Why did it long for the pain, the suffering, and the inevitable 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 is counting on it.

Life, Minute By Minute

 How effectively do we use our time?
While I can’t remember all the details of life’s journey, I can, in a general sense, remember when my time was spent wisely and when it wasn’t. So, when reflecting on our past, it is healthy to learn some lessons and pivot to the future.
The years ahead (G-d willing) are each comprised of months. The months are a string of weeks, weeks a collection of days, days an aggregate of hours, hours a succession of minutes and minutes a sequence of seconds. So, the broad structure of our lives is actually constructed through individual ‘time-bricks’, individual moments that coalesce to create a lifetime.
While it is important to consider life’s 'big picture', if we want to maximize our effectiveness, we need to tackle life in bite-sized pieces. Each second, minute and hour is an opportunity for substantive living, and they can each meaningfully contribute to a purposeful life.
A teacher of mine once told me that he'd changed his life 'in ten minutes'. When I appeared incredulous, he explained that he was always alert to productive use of time. So, when he had ten minutes with 'nothing to do', he would search for a positive way to use that slice of time. When we have relationships we'd like to strengthen, topics we'd like to research, etc., even ten minutes can be used productively.
It’s about our attitude toward time. We need a conscious, pro-active approach in order to use time purposefully and meaningfully. If I take time to call a friend, it shouldn't be a 'time-filler'; it should be a thoughtful decision to deepen a relationship. If I take time for prayer and reflection, it should be a considered decision to connect my life with something Higher.
The Rebbe once noted the curious fact that G-d created a world in which we are forced to spend time sleeping. Torah is productivity-oriented, so why the unavoidable need for ‘down time’?
The Rebbe explained that rest (or vacation) should not be viewed as an escape from productive life; it’s an opportunity to recharge one’s batteries for re-engagement. It’s all part of the creative journey.
Life is about making a difference. Your next moments are a slice of that life. Use them for your own growth and for the benefit of others.

Off The Island

 I can understand why someone would want to be a rock. Or, for that matter, an island. After all, a rock feels no pain and an island never cries. 
Maintaining thick psychological walls, hearing without listening and speaking without communicating, can seem like an effective way to cope. After all, why should you allow yourself to feel someone's pain when you’re not feeling too great yourself? Why should you share your personal struggles, fears, aspirations or ambitions, laying bare your vulnerabilities and raw nerves? It just doesn't seem safe or prudent.
At the same time, insolation from the world's heartache inevitably means self-imposed exile; it means closing the door to one of life's treasures, the beauty of human relationships. It means cheating ourselves.
In the Torah's portrait of a meaningful life, one should certainly protect one’s self and property. But that’s just the beginning. The primary richness of life is when we brighten our existence with deep and substantive connections. We create meaningful bonds, with the Divine and with each other. We forge relationships that allow us to share our lives.
It's not easy to share what's beneath the surface.
It's difficult enough to be honest with G-d. It's even more difficult to open up to other humans.
I'm never afraid that I'm boring G-d with the story of my life, never afraid that He doesn't understand, that He'll think less of me or that He'll use my revealing information against me.
But with people, it sometimes seems safer to be a rock or an island.
The Torah wants us to take the risk of sharing our lives with others. Because sharing our lives, at whatever level, enriches our lives.
If I have a friendly acquaintance, I'm not going to expose my deepest self. But I can get beyond meaningless chatter to share something of myself, and I can care enough to listen authentically.
Two people - not even the closest of friends – can each invite the other into his/her life. And they're no longer islands. We can even go one step further and invite people into our lives by inviting them into our homes. In the Covid era, this may need to be curtailed for the time being, but we need to keep the Torah value, dating back to Abraham, alive in our hearts and minds.
Having guests doesn't mean calling friends to show off your new entertainment center. It means inviting others into your life by inviting them into your home as your sanctuary.
When we open our hearts, and open our homes, we are islands no more.

Self Care

 

Does taking care of myself make me selfish? Hillel (our famous 1st century Sage) taught us the immortal lesson: “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?” I need to watch out for me.

At the same time, we need to consider the rest of Hillel’s statement: “…And if I am only for myself, then what am I?”
So, taking Hillel’s entire statement into consideration, he’s telling us that we need the correct framing as to why we are taking care of ourselves. If we are tending to our own needs so that we might be properly functioning human beings – which includes fulfilling our responsibilities to the world – that’s fine. But when we’re looking out for ourselves because we feel like we’re the center of the universe, then we have a self-centeredness issue.

If everything is about me, then, in the final analysis, “what am I?”
The problem doesn’t lie in me looking after myself; it lies in the fact that I’m not targeting an objective beyond myself.
As a way of addressing this problem, the Torah calls on us to ‘circumcise the foreskin of our hearts’. This obviously doesn’t refer to a physiological cardiac layer.  Our Sages tell us that the Torah is referring to the self-indulgent ‘overlay’ that prevents us from truly connecting with others. The Torah is pointing out a psycho-spiritual ‘membrane’ of self-centeredness that turns self-reliance into self-absorption. We need to cut through this stifling approach to life in order to liberate our hearts and souls.
How?
From the outside in.
We start with our behavior. ‘Circumcising’ our conduct means cutting through our layers of self-indulgence. For example, even though we do not hurt anyone when we gorge ourselves on a scrumptious meal or engage in material excesses, we exercise our ‘self-absorption muscle’ and open the door to a chain of ‘me-centered’ conduct that then crowds out 'we-centered' behavior.
The 'circumcision' process peels away the unhealthy layers so that there’s less self-absorption in the way we act and in the way speak. We can then take the step of peeling back the overlays - the divisive blockages - from our hearts and from our minds.
The disappointments, hurts and setbacks that are a natural part of life can lead one to build up pretty strong emotional barriers that can lock them into a lonely world.
By healthily penetrating our obstructive layers, we can begin to truly take care of ourselves and find our interdependent place in a meaningful world.

It gives a whole new meaning to self-care.

Turning the Tide

 

Water.

It's simple and unpretentious. Yet, paradoxically, it is powerful – the elixir of life. Water is the base of our amniotic fluid, our pre-birth surrounding. And – as we go through life – it’s our cleansing friend.

Water creates an aura of tranquility.  The sound of rain is a favorite sleeping aid. Whether it's a rustling brook, or a majestic fountain, water creates a personal island of serenity. And, of course, water is the foundational sustenance of all life.

In Torah thought, immersion in a pool of water – known as the Mikvah – is a 'conduit' that helps guide us from one spiritual stage to the next.

Women immerse themselves as part of their journey through life's cycles. And men regularly use the Mikvah as part of a 'rebirthing' process, shedding one level of personality in the aim for a higher one.

In the Jewish conversion process, the candidate actualizes his/her journey through immersion in Mikvah-waters, which brings his/her new identity into full blossom.

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

Why do we speak – even Scripturally – of the 'rushing waters' that threaten to extinguish one’s flickering flame of hope, or the ferocious tide that threatens to knock you off balance?

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

Then again, maybe that's the point.

The babbling brook’s tranquility is calming, relaxing, stress reducing.

So much of life is actually about facing the raging tide, because that’s the way to access our inner potential.

I shouldn’t be afraid of the rushing water, I just need to be prepared.

I need my ark. When I’m emotionally and spiritually cocooned, when I've found internal fortitude and focus, when I'm anchored to firm principles and vision….I can face the rushing waters, and have them lift me higher.

Contemplative prayer and study is our protective boat, our personal Ark, protecting us from life’s deluge. And helping us use the challenges, life’s waves, to rise higher and higher.

Welcome aboard.

Just In Time

We’re living in turbulent times. Global uncertainty. Covid….and its mutations. The political polarization that divides us in the name of high-minded ideals.

All in all, the world has had another difficult, tiring year.

We need to open a fresh new page, which is why Rosh Hashana is coming not a second too soon.

Rosh Hashana isn’t just about turning a page on the calendar and looking ahead to the coming year or donning our finest and attending services. All of that is window dressing for Rosh Hashanah’s soul, it's primary theme: G-d’s Infusion of new Divine Energy into a tired world.

Just as a sleepy person gets rejuvenated by a jolt of caffeine (or some good sleep!), an exhausted world receives a Divine ‘shot-in-the-arm’ every Rosh Hashana.

Kabbalistically speaking, the world is totally dependent on Divine energy, which G-d grants in energy-increments. Every Rosh Hashana, G‑d breathes new life into the world, which keeps us fueled until the following Rosh Hashana.

But Rosh Hashana isn’t a spectator event. The calendar turns a new page without us doing anything, but drawing Rosh Hashana energy into our lives isn’t an automatic process. The Rosh Hashana drama is actually very interactive, and very much user-generated. In this drama, we all have a leading role.

Rosh Hashana is up to us.

Every year, as the High Holidays set in, it’s our individual job to take a moment – a genuine moment - to reconnect with ourselves, our purpose in life, and our Creator.

When we renew our commitment to meaningful living, re-affirming our relationship with the Divine, G-d is overjoyed to reciprocate and grant us life – vigorous, sparkling, energized life – for a New Year.

The world re-energized. Our lives infused with new hope and vigor.

G-d knows we can use it.

The Search

The great Rabbi's meditation was interrupted by his grandson's mournful cry.
"What happened?' he asked the child.
"My friends and I started to play hide and seek, and I hid myself very well and waited for them to begin the search. But they just decided to play something else, and I sat there neglected because no one even tried to find me!"
As the Rabbi calmed his humiliated grandson, he murmured "Now we know how G-d feels".
G-d deliberately hides the Divine presence in our world, and we are born to search for it.
G-d is camouflaged in a world that conceals meaning and shouts shallowness. When we wake up in the morning, our knee-jerk instinct isn't "Wow! G-d constantly gives me life and has given me another day. I matter. I have a purpose in this world, and I need to use the gift of another day to live my destiny!"
That’s why Jewish practice, for thousands of years, has been to start our day by proactively guiding our minds to see the world for its purpose and higher beauty; to see the light in our surroundings. To seek and find G-d's presence in the world.
From the minute we wake up, we begin a psycho-spiritual workout, by thanking G-d for restoring our consciousness and gifting us with another day.

Once we’ve gotten ourselves spiritually warmed-up, we take some time for prayer, which is a process of rediscovering our relationship with G-d, and G-d’s presence in our daily lives. The liturgy guides us – through 'prayer therapy' - to feel an appreciation, a deep need, for Oneness (symmetry, purpose, wholeness) in our lives. As we reach the zenith of our search, we call out 'Shema Yisrael…' (Judaism's ancient proclamation of G-d as the Oneness of life). We’ve found G-d, and ourselves.
Chabad Chassidic thought calls the Shema a daily call of the Shofar, because, like the piercing blasts of the Shofar, the Shema evokes our deep-seated need for meaning.
As we approach Rosh Hashana, let’s try to say the Shema (and even hear the actual Shofar, if you can) every day.
Our search for the Divine will elevate our lives and lessen G-d’s tears.

Can We Change The Past?

 

Can we really undo mistakes? We can make amends and learn for the future; but – for example - can we ever un-speak hurtful words or undo harmful deeds?

We can recognize, regret and try to repair, which can be profoundly transformative, but we can’t literally undo the past.

Sometimes, we rue our behavior because we don’t like the fallout. We’ve hurt someone important in our life, and the relationship has become uncomfortable, so we say we're sorry because we want the pain to go away.

That's regret; but regret alone is not transformative remorse. It's relationship management’

If we are more uncomfortable with the other person’s reaction than with our original action, we’re modifying our behavior based on someone else's response, not our own principles. We haven’t experienced genuine character development.

So, let’s take a peek at genuine self-improvement, which may be prompted by someone else’s feedback but must be powered by our own conscience. Real transformation needs to spring from within.

G-d created each of us with the potential to be a true mensch, living with character and integrity. So let’s envision that potential as our gold standard. Once we have that as our north star, we can measure our behavior against that shining potential.

Because we want to do better.

Not because of someone else.

Because we want to make the most of our life and fulfill our own potential.

In the scope of our life, we can learn from our mistakes, our behavioral missteps. We can use them as springboards for change so that each mistake is transformed into a shining moment of growth and self-improvement.

We can’t erase our mistakes, but if we use our mistakes as springboards for positive change, then we are doing ‘the impossible’ -- reaching back in time and using a negative event as a positive force for growth.

That’s the way G-d sees it.

As for others’ perspectives, they are beyond our control. All we can do is express genuine regret, change our behavior and pray that we can move forward together toward a healthier future.

 

 

 

 

Then Their Eyes Met

Relationships are the essence of life, and meaningful connections – soul bonds – are the essence of important relationships. Relationships come in various shapes and sizes, but the genuinely substantive ones all share a core element: Safety. You feel a sense of security – the deep psychological and emotional peace in knowing that you can share your hidden warts and pimples – because the person accepts you with all your flaws.

You can relax, let down your guard and be vulnerable.

Even in a loving, safe relationship, it can be difficult to share one’s deepest turmoil. But, when the other person’s words, body language and eyes telegraph: “I’m here for you and I want to hear WHATEVER is in your heart,” you know it’s safe to open up.

 A relationship with G-d follows the same model.  It isn’t always easy to unburden oneself. Sometimes it's difficult to feel close and secure. Maybe we’re self-conscious about our moral standing, and not feeling confident that if we raise our eyes to meet G-d's, we’ll be met with an understanding and loving gaze.

That’s why this Jewish calendar month, the month of Elul, is so crucial.

Elul prepares us for the High Holidays, a period of emotional intensity and an opportunity to deepen our relationships with ourselves, each other and the Divine, by providing us with a period of preparation so that we can experience that intensity with a sense of safety.

Chassidic thought describes Elul with the depiction of a period when a loving king leaves his chamber’s glamour, entering the field so that he might meet his subjects on their own turf.

Why would he do that? Because he wants his subjects to feel safe in their relationship with him. He wants them to feel his desire for a connection with them, as they are – in dirty overalls, working the fields. He wants them to know that he’s ready for their eyes to meet his.  

Because when they do meet the King’s eyes, they’ll get the message they need: We – you and I - have a relationship. In order to strengthen that relationship, we – you and I - need to acknowledge its weaknesses; and that’s okay, because we’re in a safe relationship.

Elul is a G-d-given opportunity to pull your gaze from life’s distractions, so that you can meet G-d’s eyes. He’s definitely looking your way.

Winds of Change

I've heard of inspiring, motivational speakers who “change people's lives.”
I wonder: Can anybody really change your life? From what I can tell, the door to character transformation opens from the inside, and only YOU can change your own life.
When someone changes, it's because they have made a conscious choice to break from their individual status quo.
So who needs a motivational speaker? We all do.
Because we're not always ready for strenuous character building.
We often struggle to find the door, let alone open it.
Yet, when someone paints a convincing picture of your need to grow, and shows you how it's possible to reach your potential, you may find yourself inspired to pursue the work of change.
External factors can help guide us in a productive direction. For me, a sunny, beautiful day creates more emotional availability than a rainy one. When you are welcomed warmly into a synagogue, when you feel like you belong, you may find yourself more open to a transformative spiritual experience.
This weekend, we open a season – a setting – of internal change. The Hebrew month of Elul begins on Saturday evening, and Elul is a month devoted to character improvement. It's a daunting task, but G-d, our loving 'motivational cheerleader', encourages and prompts us toward self-betterment.
We blow the shofar every day of this month; and when we hear the call of that ram's horn, we hear the inspiring echo of the Divine, urging us to align ourselves with our wonderful potential.
And if we pay attention, there's something in the air.
The breeze you feel is urging the rustling of your soul. The sun's blaze is beckoning your inner potential to shine forth.
In Elul, the stage for self-improvement will be set. G-d will be the wind at our backs, subtly helping us to move forward. But the rest is up to us.
In the movie of my life, I can have lots of support from the ensemble, but the main acting is up to me.

Focused Combat

Our society seems to have become more fractious and adversarial over the past few years. 

How sad. The USA is a great country; an effective, worldwide proponent for the spirit of freedom, human dignity, and concern for the vulnerable. I believe we’re also a country committed to continued evolution toward perfecting that model. We also need to be a country of citizens who respect each other, even those with whom we disagree.

Heading into the High Holidays (just over five weeks away!!), let’s focus on tolerating each other – even political adversaries - a bit more. That isn’t always easy, and it may take a battle…with yourself.

Chassidic thought teaches that our psyches contain two opposing rhythms:  There’s the responsible, visionary dimension (the ‘G-dly soul’ in Kabbalistic lingo), that deeper consciousness that knows that a person with an opinion we find objectionable isn’t necessarily an objectionable person. And then there’s the shallower, self-centered dimension (the ‘animal soul’ in Kabbalistic terms), the “I hate that guy for what he believes” part of the human psyche.

These two internal forces are at war within us, at a level that is much more fundamental than the political realm. It’s about the struggle to pay proper attention to relationships, to be fully engaged in a five-year old’s story, to be fully present in our actions, etc. It’s about us struggling with ourselves to be our best selves.

In fact, Kabbalistic writings refer to Prayer as a ‘time of combat’. Prayer is designed to be an exercise in contemplative self-examination. It’s about cutting through layers of self-image and defense mechanisms, about recognizing self-defeating patterns, and resolving to break their paralyzing hold on our lives.

When we pray, we need to seriously focus on our potential, in contrast to our behavior on the ground. We need to transcend our instinct to look the other way, and commit ourselves to more progress in our personal evolution. 

Framing Prayer as a battle also helps us to appreciate the value of communal prayer. There’s strength in numbers, and our comrades, even those with whom we disagree, are part of our team.

Together, we are working toward a personal and collective self-actualization. It’s a OUR effort, each of us strengthening the other by our very presence and commitment.

So, yes, it’s War.

But it starts within. 

 

 

The Gift of Comfort

The word ‘comfort’ conjures up images of ease and quiet enjoyment. No worries. Relaxation.

Picture lounging on a recliner in perfect weather with a Pina Colada.

That may describe an ideal vacation, but it’s not the experience of everyday life. Nor does it describe genuine soul-comfort or core-tranquility.

Deep and genuine comfort comes from finding inner peace and equilibrium. True comfort sets in when we satisfy our existential void and soothe our inner psyche.

Not a job for a Pina Colada.

Authentic inner comfort comes from leading a meaningful life, not just from playing with life’s toys.

A lot of our internal unease – the “quiet desperation” that is the stuff of poetic verse - comes from the fact that we live in a world that doesn’t seem to make sense; it looks shallow, random and meaningless. But, deep inside we know better. We yearn for symmetry, justice and meaning. Watching the world's madness violates our sensibilities, because we know something’s not right.

It bothers us. And it should.

G-d wants our soul-irritants to get our attention, to provoke a response, to propel us each to act to bring sanity to our chaos.

That is why we were created. To elevate ourselves.  To elevate our world. And, through that process, to find soul peace and comfort.

This past Sunday, the Jewish world observed Tisha B’av, a fast day dedicated to focus on the tragedy of our world’s fracture and distortion. This week, we a read Isaiah’s prophetic promise that G-d will ‘comfort’ us.

G-d’s not promising us Pina Coladas. G-d’s promising us an embrace; the experience of true beauty and meaning in what we do. G-d’s promising us that we’ll have the opportunity, and Divine assistance, to see the true richness of the human journey.

Focus your life, and open your heart.

When G-d promises, G-d delivers. 

The Heart of Sadness

I don't like feeling sad.
Melancholy has a sneaky way of draining our energy and paralyzing our lives. I much prefer a happy mindset.
But here's the problem: Life isn't a string of happy occasions. Things happen.
I make mistakes, causing discomfort to myself and others.
Others make mistakes, causing discomfort to themselves and to me.
I have stresses and disappointments that seem part and parcel of my relationships and
obligations. To ignore them is naïve. But, to face them can be depressing.  So how do I approach my struggles constructively?
First, I need to keep my expectations reasonable, since frustrations are a function of a misalignment between expectations and outcomes. Every life on the planet has stress, so I can't honestly be surprised by my own stress.
Second, I need to carve out time to face, and work on correcting, my weaknesses. That's a necessity for an honest life.
Somewhat counter-intuitively, when I’m going through the uncomfortable process of no-holds-barred introspection, I’m glad. I'm happy that I have the maturity to face myself and that I'm self-aware enough to recognize my own flaws.
Then, I should consider not only my personal situation, but also the pain in the world around me. The sense of loss, the physical and emotional pain, the troubled relationships.

In looking at my personal world, and the world around me, I should turn to G-d to ask for Divine help in bringing peace and happiness to humanity.
When I was growing up, I was awed by the Rebbe's genuine pain when he would speak of the world's
misery. He sat in Brooklyn, crying real tears about people across the world, people he'd never met.
I didn't have the Rebbe's level of empathy, so I didn't feel the same sadness; but I remember watching him with marvel and envying the depth of his feeling for humanity. His pain for the suffering and sadness of others was a visible reflection of his ability for genuine connection with people.

This weekend, we enter the Jewish month of Av and begin Nine Days of Sadness, culminating in the fast of ‘Tisha B’av’  – the ninth day of Av.

It’s a slice of time we set aside for an honest look at our own self-destructive behaviors, for meaningful reflection on our painful history, and for absorbing the suffering of an aching world.

It isn't pretty at first blush. But it's necessary. And deep inside, there’s authenticity – a satisfying connection with reality – to be found.

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