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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

The Marriage Mindset

Everybody loves a wedding. The love, the excitement, the heartfelt anticipation of a deep and lasting bond.
When we speak about the beauty of marriage, we speak of deep commitment and selfless, unconditional love.
But what does that really mean?
Commitment to children aside (because children are an extension of ourselves), are we ever really selfless?
And 'unconditional commitment' to a marriage? Why? What if someone feels betrayed? Is a spouse expected to be above ‘conditions’ like respect and loyalty?
Poetry aside, I believe marriage does have a special quality which lifts it beyond any other committed relationship. That quality is: [here I go again…] G-d.

1. Believe in soul mates? The Torah describes husband and wife as two halves of one organic whole. That’s not poetry; it’s a description of reality. Looking through a Torah lens, I see my marriage as a spousal unit with a specific destiny; I am but half of that unit and I’m responsible for my part in life’s work. This creates a very important attitude to dealing with marital friction. Instead of feeling the tension of being pitted against one’s spouse, it becomes the feeling of ‘how do we make it through this fog?’ The ‘we’ is a given; the work is keeping ‘we’ in sync.

2. My internal commitments can shift. For example: If I’m a vegetarian today, I can change my mind in the future. But when I surrender to a force outside of me - Higher than me - as my guiding compass, it brings an inherent stability. My moods can’t affect the compass; it’s beyond my reach. Marriage has the capacity for a deep mutual commitment to something Higher. Seventeen years ago, when I stood under a chupah (marriage canopy) with my wife, that chupah represented the Divine. It still does; I never want to walk from under that chupah, because it shelters my relationship until this day.
People sometimes ask why they should get married, if they’re already living in a committed relationship. Does it really make a difference?
To me, it makes all the difference in the world. It’s the difference between two people creating a relationship, and two halves uncovering the Oneness that’s already there.
Can we really compare?

In Search of....the Better Me - Part 6

The world and I need to experience each other.

The more we analyze our internal dynamics, our psychological and spiritual 'tools', the more it becomes apparent that G-d equipped us to create meaningful connections with others.

But my communication with the world isn't only about ideas and sentiments; it's also about chemistry. An effective exchange isn't just about expressing thoughts; it's about a relationship.

When I want to convey an idea, I can't be satisfied with the fact that I have my intellectual and emotional ‘ducks in order’. I need to consider the vibes between myself and the recipient.

In simple terms: If a person is cognitively or emotionally 'unavailable', he can’t effectively convey or absorb a message – no matter how brilliant the thought. Shared focus and availability are an important gateway for any message. In building effective communication, they are the foundation.  

Think about the importance of maintaining eye contact when you're speaking. If a person is speaking with you and looking elsewhere, or if your eyes are wandering and you’re yawning, communication suffers.

Authentic communication rests on a relationship, a bond.

This bond - we can call it mutual availability - is the foundation of genuine interaction.

In the language of our soul/psyche dynamics, we call this ‘Yesod’, the sixth dimension of our Omer Journey. Yesod literally means 'Foundation', but psycho-spiritually it translates as 'Bonding'. It is the element we’ve just discussed; it’s the sense of connection, the platform for effective communication.

So when I speak with my children (for example), I need to crystallize my message (jumble in the brain is distracting and they deserve better), lock in to the relationship and speak with them (as distinct from ‘at them’).

When I’m listening, I should have the humility to clear my head of all ‘the important stuff’ and listen with an open mind. That means I have to clear all the preconceptions of their motives and habits, and function like an empty vessel, just taking it in.

That’s communication.

And communication is the stuff of life.

What is Spirituality?

In a simple sense, the spiritual is something that is beyond the physical (the meta-physical, which literally means ‘after the physical’); it's 'of the spirit'.

But that definition is obviously insufficient. Jealousy is a sensation; it's not physical. Is jealousy spiritual? How about satanism?

Here are a few thoughts about spirituality:

1. G-d created spirituality as a bridge between Himself and our reality. So spirituality is actually a means through which G-d makes G-dliness felt in our world. Think of the way electricity is best conducted through certain materials. Perhaps we can think of Spirituality as a Conductor for Divinity.

2.  Spirituality makes me feel good. But if that's my goal, it's just another [high-minded] stop on my road to self-absorption; it's more ‘me’. Genuine Spirituality is a search for less ‘me’. It’s necessarily a bond with G-d, something Beyond (yet Deeper within) me. Spirituality is a path to losing 'me' in something Transcendent.

3. There are generally two reasons I may not be able to see what’s around me. It may be dark and/or I have my eyes closed.

By creating Spirituality, G-d 'turned on the lights' (to some extent) in the world; but I still need to 'open my eyes'. Self-indulgence, anger, ego all have a dulling, darkening effect on my sensitivity receptors. They shade my soul's eyes to a world illuminated by Divine light.

3. A spiritual perspective gives me depth of vision. When I'm in a spiritual mindset, I can see – in my mind's eye - beyond the shallow façade; I can view everyone as a Divine creation with some valuable potential for the world. With a spiritual attitude, I start to see the world from the inside out, and I can envision the world as it's supposed to be.

Life is like a puzzle, with all the pieces scattered about. A Torah/Spiritual perspective gives us a peek at the box top. We get a holistic perspective as to how this can all fit together symmetrically; how it can make sense.

In studying Jewish spirituality, we taste a world where G-dliness and meaning are fully ablaze, and where our eyes are wide open. A world of Moshiach.

In Search of....the Better Me - Part 5

How do you distinguish between devotion to principle and stubbornness?

Where does tenacity end and self-absorption begin?

In last week's Omer exploration, we analyzed our internal dynamic of Netzach – conviction and tenacity. When we're ambitious and determined, we can take up a lot of space; we're just a thin line away from self-centeredness. That's why we need the balance of 'Hod', the next dimension of our Omer journey.

Hod has several literal translations, but I think the word 'acknowledgement' to be the best English word to capture Hod's spiritual and psychological character.

What does it mean to ‘acknowledge’? It means to ‘recognize’, but with an important flavor. To acknowledge is to humbly recognize (admit, concede etc.). 

What's the difference between recognition and humble recognition?

Let’s say I know you, and appreciate your intelligence, humor and character; it will take no humility for me to respect you. I don't have to concede space to you; it's yours.

But what if I've just met you? What if I find your appearance to be odd and your behavior unusual? Why should I respect you? Why should I concede space in my world?

Hod is my internal capacity to respect and acknowledge what I don't [yet] know. Hod is the ability to recognize that there is value beyond my [immediate] ability to appreciate.

Recognizing Einstein's superiority is not humility. Humility is recognizing that we’re each special in our own way.

When it comes to my internal dynamics, ego is the poison which turns conviction into stubbornness and tenacity into inflexibility. Ego is my psychological smoke and mirrors, skewing my sense of right and wrong, and blurring the lines between principle and personal agenda.

With Hod's humility, I can surrender to something beyond me; I begin to suspend 'self'. With Hod, I open an internal passageway to identifying and appreciating my moral compass and true convictions.

Hod is letting go of my desperate attachment to my false sense of self.

It’s the sense of true gratitude. It’s the sense of true apology. It’s the sense of true respect. It’s the art of surrendering to the beauty of a genuine relationship, even when you have reason to doubt it. It's all Hod, and it’s all about humility.

Interestingly, Hod literally means 'Glory'. Because surrendering to the Divine is the greatest Glory we can give to our loving Creator.

The Business of Life

When I reflect on myself and my role in the world, the word 'merchant' doesn't come to mind. But I guess I need to think again.

In a way, life itself is about 'Divine Commerce'.

Trade is an interchange of goods and commodities. When I buy something it comes into my possession, and when I sell something I'm transferring the object from my domain to someone else's. That's basic business.

It's also a framework for life.

At a simplistic level, I tend to divide my life into two conceptual domains or orbits: The important and the less-than-important (meaningful and less-than-meaningful).

My experiences seem to automatically find a place in one orbit or the other.

But sometimes I need to stand back and reframe: When my children are calling my cell phone about something I consider less-than-important, I need to take pause.

The topic may be trivial, but our relationship is not. So, if I'm thinking, I should recognize every interaction as ‘important’. I should see this 'mundane moment' as an opportunity for 'relationship-building'.

Once I recognize that, I may still choose to defer the specific conversation until later. But I’ll be doing so from a healthy and respectful position.

And rest assured: If I feel it, they will too.

So, in 'commercial' language, I need to ‘secure’ slices of life from the trivial domain, and lift them into a meaningful orbit.

This also applies to my relationship with the Divine.

If I eat a bowl of vegetable soup for lunch today, that’s relatively trivial.

But does it need to be?

What if I'm eating with a Torah paradigm? If I first thank my Creator for this incredible life and the food I'm about to eat? What if I'm conscious of my need to make a difference in the world, and my need for nutrition as fuel?

If I'm mindful and focused, I can transfer my lunch from the mundane to the meaningful; the bowl of soup becomes a tool in my life’s mission.

When I take a situation and infuse it with meaning, I'm ‘acquiring’ it for the Divine. That's spiritual commerce.

In the Torah, and in our Amidah liturgy, G-d is referred to as (if we translate the words literally) "the Purchaser of all things” (‘Koneh Hakol’).

G-d gave us a world that seems disconnected from meaning, out of His 'domain'. Our job is to 'buy it back'.

And the assets pay immediate dividends: The inner peace that comes with living a Purposeful Life.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Mendy

In Search of.....A Better Me

Remember when you felt inspired, and resolved to improve your life?

Did you fulfill your resolution?

A study claims that only 12% of resolutions come to fruition. I believe it.

We sincerely want to do more for ourselves, our families and the world.

Then life happens.

Our internal commitments don't seem to have enough 'oomph' to make it from our minds/hearts into real life. And even when they do, they often collapse in face of the inevitable obstacles.

Enter the fourth step in our Omer journey, the psychological/spiritual soul-dynamic called 'Netzach'.

Linguistically, Netzach means 'victory'. But in life (and in the cosmos) we can describe 'Netzach' as: A continuum which begins deep within our soul/psyche as firm conviction toward a goal, which ultimately manifests itself as perseverance in fulfilling that objective.

A simple scenario: In a reflective moment (prayer?), I resolve to spend more time connecting with my faith and values.

Step 1: I need to look at the resolution's source: Me.

Do I trust myself? Do I have faith in my own judgment? If I have an opinion, am I willing to stick with it? Do I believe that I have the guts to deliver on my decisions?

In order for this resolution to have any substance, I first need to find secure faith in myself - The Resolver.

Step 2: I need to deeply consider the idea's merits. How will it impact other areas of my life etc.? If I really believe it's a good objective, then I need to commit myself to the goal with internal strength and conviction.

Step 3: I recognize that this idea needs to progress beyond my thoughts and into my practical life; it needs 'legs' to make it into my future.

Right now, I'm in the midst of an introspective epiphany. Tomorrow, I'll be busy with life's relay-race, and it will be difficult to re-discover the inspiration and strength.

Yet, tomorrow - even when I'm not inspired - I can find the perseverance to act; because I have genuine conviction today.

That's Netzach - a personal victory; because life is a string of opportunities for personal victory.

Good luck!

In Search of.......a Better Me - Part 3

What does it mean to live 'authentically'? To be authentic with myself? Authentic with others?
In the third step of our Omer Journey, we will focus on the dynamic: Tiferet. In Hebrew, Tiferet means 'beauty', but I believe the word 'Authenticity' best expresses its character.

1. Tiferet is the portal through which my core values flow into my normal 'operating system'.
For example: If my child misbehaves, my instinct may be to react negatively. But when I pause to recognize my deep desire for his/her healthy growth, and that my reaction will inevitably send him/her an important message about patient behavior, my response will [hopefully!] reflect my larger vision.
That's Tiferet kicking into action.
Tiferet shines the light of my deeper values into my consciousness, so that I can re-calibrate my feelings and actions.
2. Tiferet brings symmetry to my internal struggles.
For example: 
A homeless person asks me for a quarter. In kindness, I reach into my pocket. Then I pause. Considering how the money may actually be spent, I break out of my giving mode to evaluate the situation.
I now have conflicting instincts: Give? Withhold?
Here, Tiferet expresses my deeper drive - beyond these instincts - to consider what truly concerns me:
Do I genuinely want to pursue my good will?
Do I genuinely want to be/feel responsible?
Or do I genuinely want to help this person?
If I truly want to help, perhaps we should walk to a store where I can buy him something to eat. That would satisfy my desire for fraternity and my desire to temper my giving impulse.
By plugging into my deeply-held objective, I am able to act authentically, and to actually synthesize my shallower instincts.

3. Tiferet is truth.
A document is authenticated when it has clear and verifiable origins. When my actions and feelings don't originate from my core values, they're less than authentic.
Conversely, when my behavior flows from my values, my actions will have strength, authenticity, and durability.

4. Tiferet is empathy
Empathy flows from deep within the soul; it's taking kindness the extra mile, by identifying with another's struggle from his/her perspective.
Kindness is my caring response to your pain. Empathy is my response to our pain. 
So, When we have a tool that anchors our behavior to core values, and brings authenticity and symmetry to our personality and relationships, is it any wonder we call it (Tiferet) 'Beauty'?

Living Life on Purpose

Look at the clock.

What did you do yesterday at this time? How about last week?

This isn't an exercise to test your memory. It's about exploring the ‘significance quotient’ of our lives.

So, if you could recall a specific hour from your past, how memorable an hour would it be?

Whether we feel time as a fast-forwarding tape, or as a monotonous drag, it tends to become a blur (with the exception of unusual events).

We can do better.

How? In Chabad Chassidic tradition we call it "living counted hours".

A 'counted hour' is an hour lived on purpose.

So take a moment to think: What is special about this next hour?

If you're at work, take a moment to consider why you do this every day. Consider that your job – irrespective of what it specifically is – contributes to a humming society. The money you earn, the interactions you have, all enable you to make this world better, friendlier, and Holier.

If you’re devoting the next hour to introspection, spending time with loved ones, reading or exercise, just consider your broader goal in life, and make this sliver of time count in that direction.

In a way, you'll be ‘slowing the clock’. By lifting this hour above the fray, you keep it away from life's blur. It will be a significant hour, because it was specifically and consciously devoted to a special cause.

At the end of your significant hour, have the discipline to pause again. Take 30 seconds to consider how it went. And another 30 seconds to frame the next hour.

Living "counted hours" will add up to living "counted days".

This is reflected in our counting of the Omer. Tonight, we said [in the liturgy]: "Today is eighteen days to the Omer". Not the eighteenth day. Eighteen days.

The liturgy doesn't consign the previous seventeen days of self-betterment to my past; if they’re significant days of growth, they're coming with me into my future.

With the passing of each day, when I take a page off my conceptual wall calendar, I don't want it thrown into the dustbin of my history. I want to take it with me.

“Counted days” translates into “days that count”.

And that equals a life lived on purpose.


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