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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

A Lifetime of Opportunities

How effectively do we use our time?

It's a serious question.

Looking back at forty-one years of my life, I can see where my time was spent wisely.

I can also see where it wasn’t.

Bearing in mind the lessons of our respective pasts, we now need to consider our future. The years ahead (G-d willing) are each comprised of months. The months are a string of weeks; weeks of days; days of hours; hours of minutes, minutes of seconds.

So the broad structure of my life is actually a combination of small bricks; nuggets of time that coalesce to create a lifetime.

And that’s the way I need to chart my journey toward a meaningful life. While I should certainly consider my life’s 'big picture', I really need to tackle life in bite-sized pieces. 

Each second, minute and hour is an opportunity for substantive living, and they can all add up to a meaningful 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; when he had ten minutes with 'nothing to do', he would consciously find a positive way to use that slice of time.

If I have relationships I'd like to strengthen, topics I'd like to know more about etc., then even ten minutes can be productively leveraged.

But it takes pro-active thought. If I take time to call a friend, it shouldn't be a 'time-filler'; it should be a pro-active decision to deepen a relationship.

If I take time for prayer and reflection, it should be a pro-active decision to connect my life with something Higher.

Even ‘down time’ isn’t necessarily non-productive.

The Rebbe once noted - with curiosity - 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 simply an opprtunity to recharge one’s batteries for re-engagement. It’s all part of the creative journey.

Bottom line: Life is about making a difference. The next ten minutes are a slice of that life. Use them for your own growth, or for others'; but use them consciously.

Bridges

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. 
The thick psychological walls, the hearing-without-listening and speaking-without-communicating, seem to be helpful coping skills.
After all, why should I allow myself to feel someone's pain when I'm not feeling too great myself? 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.
But insulation 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, we certainly protect our selves and our property. But we also brighten our existence with deep and substantive connections. We create meaningful bonds, with the Divine and with each other; we create relationships which 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. But 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.
But the Torah wants us to take the risk.
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, plastic 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. That's a Torah value, dating back to Abraham.
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 sanctuary, your home.
Open your heart.
Open your home.
An island no more.

Relationships with a capital R

 

We all have relationships at various levels.

There are shallow ones. And there are deeper ones.

Then there are ‘Covenantal’ ones.

What's a 'Covenantal' relationship? It's an attitude that takes relationships to a whole new level.

When two parties forge a covenant, it means that their relationship is beyond the spectrum.

It’s deep. And real.

Imagine if your spouse said “I really love you. But when I go to work, it’s all about me. I never think about you; you’re not even in the back of my mind.

I work for my self-interest, not to build a better life for us. In short: You’re totally off my radar screen from 9 to 5.

But I genuinely love you from 5 to 9.”

Is that possible?

I don’t think so.

A genuine – covenantal - relationship doesn’t mean that we spend 24-7 gazing at into each other’s eyes. But it means that each is – at some level –always part of the other’s life. One partner may be totally engrossed elsewhere, but the other is never truly out of the equation.

The same applies to our relationship with the Divine.

The core of a relationship with G-d isn’t about Yom Kippur; it’s not even about praying three times a day, although those are special opportunities for ‘gazing into each other’s eyes’.

Maintaining a ‘covenantal’ relationship means that G-d – Meaning, Responsibility, Destiny – is never out of the equation.

And it’s specifically when I’m ‘out of the house’ that I can express this level of commitment. If I’m mindful, our covenant shines.

When I’m at work, eating lunch or facing a stressful situation – that’s when I need to remain conscious - at some level - of my Divine covenant.

Our Covenant is an agreement to bring Meaning and Responsibility into all areas of life, not just the spiritual ones.

And that’s what the Bris (Bris means ‘Covenant’ because it represents our deep relationship with the Divine) expresses.

The Bris engages a physical – potentially self-indulgent - part of the body, and says ‘this too can be Holy”.

It teaches us that the physical does not innately contradict the Holy; it depends on our focus and consciousness.

Because in a deep relationship, the other is always part of the equation.

 

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