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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Finding Light

“For You (G-d) light my flame; G-d illuminates my darkness” (Psalms, 18:29)
That’s a quote from King David, and he seems to be saying that our souls - while they are Divine - aren’t always ablaze, glowing and brilliant. Sometimes we need extra ignition or accelerant to get it aflame.
That’s interesting. When is my soul afire? And when does it need kindling?
When I’m finding comfort and beauty in life’s purpose, in my contribution to the world, in my committed relationships and my reason for being, then my soul is shining. My internal world has clarity; life makes sense and there is no darkness to battle.
But when my attention is distracted by life’s glitter, by the beckoning flicker of pleasurable self-indulgence then my soul isn’t flaring; it’s obscured and ignored.
That’s Darkness.
Because darkness doesn’t necessarily mean evil; it means the absence of light.
Darkness equals confusion. When life’s meaning seems inscrutable, when I’m running from task to task oblivious to the need for meaning, that’s called darkness.
I may even be having fun, and convincing myself that pleasure equals light, but my soul – my life’s purpose – is obscured from my mind’s eye.
And that’s darkness.
The soul needs to shine, to blaze forth and dispel the psycho-spiritual haze.
And that’s one of Chanukah’s messages. While we celebrate the Jews’ victorious military struggle against the Syrian-Greek Hellenists, we are celebrating their own inner struggle with themselves.
Hellenism equaled materialism and pleasure; those are things which can make a more disciplined life seem boring by comparison.
Each Jew needed to make a deeply personal choice: Would they struggle to find their internal lamps, to ignite their souls? Or would they acquiesce to the ‘beauty’ of self-indulgence, and label darkness as light?
In searching themselves, the Maccabees found their internal flames and personal victory. This led to public victory and the Miracle of the Lights.
Chanukah begins tomorrow. Friday evening.
So make a blessing and light that first candle.
Look at the flame and see yourself, your soul and its light.
Commit to your personal Chanukah victory.


What’s the difference between dust and dirt?
If you think about it, dirt isn’t just the stuff that defaces our clothing and muddies our carpets. Given the right conditions, dirt sprouts forth the agriculture that is the stuff of life. Much of our nutrition comes from….the dirt.
So what’s dust?
Dust seems like dirt’s spatter. Like soot. Useless.
Dirt just overlays the world around you; and too much in the air can obstruct your vision. Who can find any good in dust?
In life, we encounter lots of objects and situations. Some seem to have an immediately-appreciable positive purpose.
Some things are like dirt, where you have to consider how to extract positive usage from apparent muck.
But what’s with life’s dust?
How do I deal that part of life which seems to have no positive input and just sullies my life’s veneer?
How do I deal with the mental haze which disallows me from seeing/appreciating my life with its truest potential and beauty?
It’s a challenge of historic proportions.
So let’s look at a classic Biblical episode.
Jacob is walking alone, when he is accosted by a strange ‘man’, who is actually an angel. They wrestle each other, “kicking up dust”, until dawn.
Finally the angel tells Jacob that he will receive a new name, Israel, which linguistically means:  “You have wrestled with G-d, and with man, and have prevailed”.
Jacob is challenged and he responds. He grapples and he struggles; ultimately, by the grace of G-d and the power of his soul, he is able to persevere.
But what is the challenge? What does this wrestling match represent for me and you?
While there are many beautiful lessons learned, it’s interesting that Jewish thought puts a large focus on the “dust”, as a pivotal part of Jacob’s struggle.
From this perspective, Jacob was struggling to elevate – to “kick up” - the dust of life. Jacob struggled to handle life’s big challenges; but perhaps more insidious was the challenge of ‘dust’. Jacob struggled to elevate the static that doesn’t allow us to find peace right here and now, with ourselves and with G-d.
And he was successful.
So we can be too.
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