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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Notice. Think. Care.

So you’re out with friends, and you’re passionately debating a specific issue. You’re having a good time; but then you notice that one friend is kind of quiet. This fellow lacks experience in the subject and obviously feels like a bystander.

Now what?

The easiest course of action is: Do nothing

In other words, bury your mental note and jump back into the fray.

After all, what CAN you do? Your friend lacks proficiency in this area. There’s nothing for him to be ashamed of; after all, no one knows everything. It happens to everyone. True, you personally dislike being trapped in a conversation that’s beyond your scope, so you know how he feels. But that’s life.

Actually, if you really care, here’s an option: Create a respectful portal through which your friend can enter the discussion.

Without condescension, find an accessible way for him – based on his personal knowledge and experiences – to enter your world.

It may take a moment’s thought, but it can often be done.

This goes far beyond conversations with friends.

It’s about life.

It takes real consciousness and self-awareness to notice people’s needs and act upon them. It takes mental effort and focus. But genuine caring was never meant to come easily.

It’s easy to stay in my ‘world’ and relate to people at that level; it doesn’t take much effort.

But if I really care abut humanity, if I really want to connect with people, I need to consider THEIR perspectives and attitudes. Without compromising my values, I can usually find common ground, a user-friendly point of contact.

This Shabbat - the 1st of Av on the Jewish calendar - we commemorate the yahrtzeit (date of passing) of Aharon the High Priest (Moses’ brother Aaron, who passed away 3281 years ago).

Aharon was a loving ‘man of the people’. And when he passed away, we’re told that all Israel mourned his passing. Not only the scholars, the intelligentsia and people of stature; ALL people - men, women and children.

Aharon felt connected to the people and cared about them; so the people felt connected to, and cared about, him.

It’s funny how life works that way.

Where the soul is always whole

The Western Wall.

It’s in the news this morning (Barack Obama is in Jerusalem), and is frequently a focal point of Jewish and world consciousness.

But what is it?

For eight hundred and thirty years, a Holy Temple (Beit Hamikdash in Hebrew) stood as the center of the Jewish world. The Temple was more than a building; it was the supreme point of contact – the nexus - between the human and the Divine.

But what was, no longer is.

The Temple no longer stands; it was destroyed by the Babylonians and later by the Romans.

We haven’t had a Temple for more than two thousand years.

All we have is the ‘Western Wall’, a remnant of a retaining wall.

That’s it.

But, again, what is ‘it’?

Is the Western Wall a place of national nostalgia, a focal point for our collective pining over a lost glory?

Is it the symbol of our hopes for the future?

Yes. And Yes. But that’s not all.

The Western Wall is more than a psychological trigger.

It’s a symbol of what STILL exists.

From a Judaic perspective, the Temple’s ‘body’ was destroyed but its ‘soul’ remains whole. The Babylonians and Romans – outside forces – destroyed the buildings, but had/have no control over the spirit.

The Divine Presence still resonates in that spot.

So the Western Wall remains a CURRENT place of contact, a fresh reservoir of Holiness.

The Temple’s soul is whole.

The Rebbe applies this principle to each of us, because we are each a ‘Holy Temple’, each of us a ‘Sanctuary for the Divine’.

When we look at ourselves honestly, we can sometimes see that our spiritual/moral/emotional construct is in disrepair. We can see that we have been impacted by the world’s negativity, selfishness and cynicism.

Our personal Temple is ‘in ruins’.

But we need to keep a mental picture of our internal Western Wall. We need to remember that our soul is whole; our basic goodness, our intrinsic Holiness – the soul - remains beyond any external contamination.

That ‘wholeness’ is there.

We just may need to connect more often.

And work toward a better day.

The Big Campaign

I've often wondered: What's it like to run for President?
I imagine that a Presidential campaign absolutely consumes the participants' total lives and brain space.
I'd bet that Senators McCain and Obama brush their respective teeth with the election in mind.
It's that deep.
Beyond politics and power, I believe there's a lot to learn from that profile in commitment.
On the one hand, 'total commitment' is sometimes an obsession or 'unhealthy attachment'.
For example: When a person's business objectives, strategies and worries fill his thoughts and mind 24/7, can he really make brain-space for a loved one? I don't think so.
But there are healthy 'total commitments'. Like the commitment to 'Meaning'.
When I'm committed to the idea that I was created for a purpose, and that my family, occupation etc. are part and parcel of that Divine destiny, it imbues my life with a soul. Life becomes a consistent string of opportunities to embrace the Divine.
My commitment isn't a distraction from life; it's a stimulus that inspires me toward work, family, self-rejuvenation, etc, in a meaningful way.
So, in metaphoric terms, I'm running for a meaningful life. G-d is my campaign manager, and His Torah guides my steps through the day.
Looking at my computer screen as I write these words, my son asks: "But you're just writing about it as a statement of fact. How does one ACHIEVE that sense of commitment?"
Good point.
In response, let's consider this: All healthy-minded people have a drive for self-preservation. How do you create that drive?
You don't.
 I think it's instinctive; our job in life is to bring this basic instinct into practical consciousness. When I pro-actively think about my health, my thoughts will likely guide my habits in a healthful direction.
The same applies to meaning. I think we're hard-wired with a need for a meaningful life and a sense of destiny. You don't create it; you find it.
When I get up in the morning, my prayers pro-actively bring that mindset into consciousness, and that's an extremely pivotal exercise for the day: It's about setting the Goal.
The rest of the day is all about the campaign.
So let's run.

Summer Thoughts

Are you getting away this summer?
Taking some weekends off? Maybe a week or two abroad?
These months are commonly a time to slow things down a bit, or at least carve out more time for 'self' and family.
After all it's summer, and summer has a special rhythm.
Obviously, all seasons have their own unique beat. As we move through the days, months and years, we need to pause and identify each season's tempo, embrace its particular character and grow with it.
So, let’s think about summer: What is particularly striking about this season?
Obviously, summer is a time of increased light and warmth; we have longer daylight hours, and higher temperatures. In other words, summer is a time when the sun is in fuller glory and effect.
That’s summer in ‘macro’; but this also applies to each of us in ‘micro’.
In a way, we each have our own internal seasons. We each also have our own internal ‘sun’: The soul.
There are times when we go through an internal winter, when our moral vision and priorities don’t express their full light into our daily lives. There are times when conscience and values are in relative hibernation, when the spirit is cold, and moral growth seems a part of the distant past.
Then there’s summer. Summer is about letting my internal sun shine. Summer is about feeling my own internal capacity for spirituality and warmth, a capacity that might recede in the face of a hectic schedule.  
So if I’m able to relax a bit from the everyday stresses and ‘get away’, then I need to use that to synchronize myself with nature; I need to create my own internal summer by increasing the light and warmth in my life.
We each have valuable relationships - with loved ones, with our community and with our G-d – and relationships need nurturing. So if you’re running on fewer cylinders this summer, and have some extra space in your brain and heart, those relationships could probably use some extra warmth.
You have an internal sun. Let it shine.

The Rebbe

 As we approach the Rebbe's yahrtzeit, (the 14th anniversary of the Rebbe’s passing will be observed on Saturday evening and Sunday), the familiar "what made the Rebbe so special?" questions seem to come at a faster clip.

The answer is not as easy as you may think.

How to encapsulate spiritual and academic depth I cannot grasp, let alone the multi-faceted characteristics that I can?

One thing is for certain: I can't do it justice in a brief conversation.

So I settle for a verbal snapshot of this great man, which will hopefully trigger more exploration and further study.

Personally, I focus on the fact that the Rebbe deeply respected and valued every person, every living being, and every situation.

To the Rebbe, I truly mattered. And so did you.

The fact that we exist, that G-d intentionally creates each of us, gave every person de facto importance in the Rebbe’s mind.

If G-d considered you important enough to create, there was absolutely no question as to your importance in the cosmos. The only question we needed to ask ourselves was: Am I living up to my life's mission?

The Rebbe saw importance in every event and every interaction. There was no such thing as happenstance. If I bumped into you on a street in Manhattan, found myself with an extra hour on a layover in Frankfurt, or was faced with a sudden challenge in my life, I and the world needed to be better for it.

Every situation beckoned: “engage me; embrace me as an opportunity for learning, moral growth and a better world”.

If life was intrinsically valuable, then every step of the journey was necessarily important.

There was no throwaway in the Rebbe’s lexicon. No irrelevant people. No thoughtless comments. No 'flings'. No 'down' time (sleep - and this would apply to vacation too - was about recharging the batteries to re-engage the journey).

In our shaky world of impermanence, from disposable cameras to empty relationships, the Rebbe was a Rock of Meaning.

I miss him very much.

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