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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

The Stimulus Plan [on your Dollar] Bill

I’m looking at a ten-dollar bill, reading our national credo: “In G-d we Trust”. I very much support the sentiment; but isn’t it interesting that we’ve chosen our money as the place for it to be enshrined?

Actually, I think it was a perfect choice, as it sends us a critical message for these historic times.

Watching the world over the past nine months, I’ve learned that ‘Trust’ is the lifeblood of our financial system because it supports consumer/investor confidence, credit etc. The inverse is that a ‘trust deficit’ pushes us into a dangerous swoon.

Our economy is a labyrinthian system of relationships, and relationships tend to deflate when there’s no trust coursing through their ‘veins’.

We’re suffering from a ‘Trust Deficit’. We’ve been disappointed, misled and betrayed; our trust – the elixir of a healthy society - is severely diluted.

Here’s a ‘Trust Stimulus Plan’, in several phases:

  1. Close your eyes and contemplate the definition of ‘Trust’: A sense of confident reliance on the integrity of a specific person or object. For something to be trustworthy, it has to be sturdy, steadfast, ‘immovable’. Which of your Principles or Values are beyond negotiation, even when they prove inconvenient? Think about it.
  2. In that light: Do you trust yourself? We all have instincts, and we ingeniously rationalize our impulses so that we can categorize them as ‘the right thing to do’. Do you have the principled courage to hold your ‘gut instinct’ up to the light of objective morality? Do you have confidence that you’ll always persevere with loyalty to your values? (were you ever disappointed with yourself?).
  3. Recognize that in order to inspire Trust, we first have to trust ourselves. Build up your internal ‘trust account’. Study. Read. Think about your principles and values, and observe your own conduct. Does your reality match your principles? With mini-exercises, build your own sense of trust.
  4. Man-made principles are as easy to change as they are to create; we can always find reasons for an exception. Recognize that you have a Creator and a Destiny. Your loyalty to integrity isn’t a high-minded choice; it’s your responsibility to life. If you believe in a G-d Who cares, your principles are no less negotiable than is your very existence.
  5. When you build trust in yourself, you’ll be that much more trustworthy to others. In your microcosmic world, you will have started to oil the system.
  6. Never forget the dollar’s message: In G-d[,] We [can find] Trust.
We can re-introduce 'Trust' in the world. But it starts with you and me.

Do you know, or do you KNOW?

Do you know - or do you KNOW

Do you think Bernie Madoff knew that his scheme would eventually collapse under the weight of its own immorality?

What about Charles Ponzi (whose life is immortalized by the phrase ‘Ponzi scheme’)?

Even if they understood failure as a likely eventuality, there had to be some disconnect with that idea. Can you imagine someone knowingly living a life that would earn them disgrace for generations? I find it inconceivable.

Except that we do it all the time, on a much smaller scale.

How many times we do knowingly eat things that are ‘unhelpful’ to our health? How often do we pursue a pleasure, even though we ‘know’ we’ll regret it later?

It’s common.

Why?

Because there’s a difference between knowingand knowing.

I can cognitively understand something, and still not feel its relevance; like when I know that hot dogs are made of junk, yet…..

Knowing a concept happens when the idea hits home, when I feel the idea and connect with it.

Imagine you were told that a Nepalese person – with an unfamiliar, indigenous name – won a $100,000,000 lottery.

How do you react? You’d probably digest the information and move on with your day.

But what if it was someone you knew? Would it be dry information or exciting news?

Cognitively, you understood the facts in the first case. You ‘knew’ what happened; it just wasn’t that relevant.

In the second case, the personal relevance is what grabbed you.

In Torah language, ‘knowledge’ (‘Daat’ in Hebrew) is more than comprehension; it’s connecting. The Torah uses the unlikely term Daat/Knew to describe Adam and Eve’s conjugal relationship (Adam knew Eve – Genesis 4:1) because knowledge implies deep connection.

My point is that the words you’ve just read shouldn’t just be another academic (read: interesting, but not personally relevant) concept. When we recognize a point of principle, or learn a new lesson in how to lead our daily lives, recognition is only the beginning. The next step is where character transformation begins, with strenuous internal work of knowing and internalizing the idea.

Theoretical ‘good intentions’ pave a famous road.

Internalized knowledge slowly takes you down the path of a meaningful life.

The first path is living life on the surface. The second is living life - period.

 

Victory, Values and Vision

Do you think the average person (if such a thing exists!) has an over-arching 'goal' for his/her day? Aside from going to the office, stopping at the cleaners and having dinner, is there a broader life-objective?

Is survival - with a sprinkling of pleasure – life's bottom line? Or are we working to achieve something important with our day-to-day lives?

Living life with a purpose is critically important.

Consider the Torah's description of the Jews as they left Egypt; they are called 'legions'. Why the military term for this bunch of freshly-freed slaves?

One reason is that the entire 'Exodus' episode serves as a model for achieving personal freedom. We each face our own 'Egypts' in life, and only through 'liberation' can our lives' potential beauty begin to unfold.

How to we achieve this freedom? One element is the legion/soldier idea.

We are all 'soldiers' who - by virtue of being alive – have been thrown into the battle for a 'Purposeful Life'.

A soldier in battle is courageously – and wholly - committed to victory.

A soldier in battle is fully 'alive', antennae sharpened, and poised for necessary action.

A soldier in battle has victory as THE objective; all his moments and moves are devoted to the goal.

A soldier's effectiveness, determination and drive are best served by a broad vision and objective. Imagine that you're a soldier on the battlefield, and your Commanding Officer tells you to secure a specific quadrant, which you faithfully do. Now imagine that you're also given an appreciation of the battle's noble purpose, and an understanding as to where your specific job fits in; in your mind and heart, your task now reflects the significance of the larger goal.

So we're all part of G-d's legion; we're battling with the meaninglessness that perches at life's door, waiting to invade.

Like effective soldiers, we need to have a vision and a battle-plan.

How?

BY taking time in life to define our values, asking ourselves: What do we REALLY stand for?

What are my objectives in life? What deeper values inform that objective? Do I have any firm principles that guide my life?

What's really important to me? Is there anything I'm willing to truly sacrifice for?

It's our battle, surrender is not an option

Understanding that G-d put me on earth with a mission (the Torah is my 'battle-plan'), so that I might refine myself and the world around me, automatically puts my life and its journey in a meaningful context.

And I find peace in my trust that our Commander in Chief is wholly committed to, and fueling, our success.

If we remain committed to the vision and the values, He can be trusted to bring the victory.

Irrationality, You've Met your Match

I recently attended a fund-raising Banquet for a local organization.

At the event, the evening's Chairman rose to acknowledge his newly-deflated net worth, and then went on to bemoan the economy's devastating impact on charities. The charity’s needs – he announced – compelled him to override his personal concerns and offer a generous donation.

Can you imagine? Someone feels the impact of a weak economy and responds by giving away more money? Does that make any sense?

Some might call his behavior irrational.

I call it super-rational.

What's the difference?

Rational behavior is sound, reasoned conduct.

Irrational behavior is an unreasonable departure from this logical path.

A common example lies in the way we follow our self-gratifying impulses, even as we recognize that they're self-ruinous. Objectively speaking: It's irrational behavior.

‘Super-rationality’ is also a 'departure from the reasoned path', but there’s a world of difference.

Suppose you're busily working at the office on an important project, and it's time for your child's soccer game: Do you leave? What if your project’s success would seem to demand your work on Yom Kippur? What if there's a community need and your stock portfolio is down?

Reason might point in the direction of the choosing the smart career move, but relationships – including the relationship with G-d – aren’t always about reason.

So you sometimes have a choice between the ‘rational and ‘super-rational’.

One might say that irrational conduct usually expresses our devotion to self, while super-rational conduct usually illustrates our devotion to other.

I’m not contending that we always need to act ‘super-rationally’; I’m pointing out that when you go beyond your rational 'best interest' for the sake of a loved one, when you devote yourself ‘super-rationally’, you make a profoundly beautiful statement about your commitment to the relationship.

It's what turns an important relationship into an invaluable one.

In Chassidic thought, the super-rational is a primary antidote to the irrational and it’s what gives even keel to the rational.

It’s about selflessness, commitment and love.

In Chassidic terms, it's what makes the world go round.

Try it.

 

 

[Rabbi's note: We posted the message today because it is the 10th of Shevat on the Hebrew calendar, which is the day that Previous Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson, passed away; today is his 'yahrtzeit'. The thoughts expressed in the message are extraced from a Chassidic Discourse that he issued for study on the very day (it was a Shabbat) in 1950 that he passed away.
Today is also the day that his son-in-lawn, our Rebbe of righteous memory, assumed leadership of Chabad.
May their lives inspire us further in the search for Holiness and meaning.]
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