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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Good Instincts vs. Conscious Living

I believe most people want to live their lives as ‘good people’.
I don't think an emotionallly healthy person would want to harm another person; no one I know is fighting the impulse to murder somebody.
Which makes it difficult to understand why G-d made ‘Commandments’ out of some seemingly simple ideas like "Don't Murder".
Tonight, we begin the Holiday of Shavuot, which commemorates our receipt of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Imagine several million, recently-liberated slaves gathered at the mountain. They’ve experienced incredible miracles during their Exodus from Egypt, and for seven weeks they’ve been refining themselves – under Moses’ tutelage – in order to receive the Gift of all Gifts: The Torah.
Now, the moment arrives. With incredible physical and spiritual ‘fireworks’, the Creator of the Universe finally speaks to humankind.
What secrets will be revealed? Which mystical messages will resonate from here throughout the coming millennia?
[drumroll please……]
“Do Not Murder!”
Can you imagine the people scratching their heads, saying “So THIS is the big deal?”
It seems too simple.
Which is exactly the point.
The Torah is indeed an infinitely-deep reservoir of wondrous messages. But the Torah’s primary thrust is to make life, regular life – the day-to-day humdrum that we consider simple and mundane – Holy.
The Torah is about accepting G-d’s reason for our creation; it’s about living a life of responsibility.
In other words: It’s not about my pursuit OF life, but about my responsibility TO life, my responsibility to make my ‘ordinary’ life into an extra-ordinary – Holy – life.
When I’m living with G-d-consciousness, I live to better the world and to bring Holiness into reality. With that objective, my breakfast, job, etc. can all fit into a meaningful existence
Which brings us to “Do Not Murder”.
If I refrain from hurting my neighbor because I believe it’s wrong, then I am serving MY value system.
When I recognize that (aside from my good instincts) G-D says it’s wrong, then I am submitting to a life of Divine direction.
So, G-d put ‘no-brainers’ into the Torah to teach us that there’s no such thing.
A ‘no-brainer’ means there’s no need for conscious choice. But there always is.
Because good instincts may be good, but without G-d/responsibility consciousness our actions are missing more than a brain; they’re missing a soul.

The Power of Passivity

We all need to be active and productive. We feel better that way,
because that's the way G-d designed us.

But sometimes our growth actually comes through passivity, through silence.

For example: When you're about to enter an important appointment or
meeting, you need to pause. You need to make sure that you're attuned,
emotionally available and receptive.

As a guiding illustration, let's consider our historic, seven-week
journey from Egyptian slavery toward Mt. Sinai, toward receiving the
Torah. It was the prototypical odyssey from spiritual, emotional and
physical constriction to genuine freedom.

During those seven weeks, the Jews were very busy. As they travelled,
they were simultaneously implementing the 49-step, self-refinement
program known as Counting the Omer.

They weren't just marching in the sand; they were gaining ground in
self-improvement.

On the 45th day, a Sunday, the Jews arrived at Sinai. One can imagine
their excitement! The former slaves, freshly freed from centuries of
physical/emotional/spiritual bondage, could finally see the mountain
which represented their ultimate emancipation. They had arrived at
history's threshold  waiting to receive G-d's Manual for a meaningful
life. They would soon interface with the Divine, and, in the process,
they would become a nation.

So what did they do on that especially significant Sunday?

Nothing.

Even Moses, their passionate leader and guide didn't say a word.

Why not? The Talmud tells us that it was "because of the [people's]
travel-induced weakness".

Now?

At one of history's most powerful moments, they needed a lazy-day???

Chassidic thought explains that "weakness", in this context, means
psycho-spiritual surrender.

The Jews suddenly understood that the Torah wasn't only about
self-improvement, study and analysis. That was how they would
pro-actively take the Torah.

When they arrived at Sinai, they exhaled and recognized the majesty of
receiving the Torah.

They saw that they needed to stop reaching out for G-d, and allow
themselves to be reached by Him.

To make space for the Divine in their lives.

Once they put themselves aside, they were - in the words of the Torah
- "like one person with one heart."

That Sunday many years ago, a people recognized that life was about a
collective mission, a mission in which we each have an important part.

They were each individuals, but in essence - in destiny - they were one.

This Sunday, the 1st of Sivan, is the 3321st anniversary of that day.

Think about your place in the universe, your commitment to the Torah
and your Oneness with the world.

Make the day count.

Let's Make a Deal

To whom does this moment belong?

That may sound like some abstract philosophical question, but I mean it rather practically. I'm referring to me and you, and to this moment which we're each presently living. To whom does our time – and our very lives - belong?

I’m responsible for my own life, but does that mean my life belongs to me? On the other hand: Can it possibly belong to someone else?

Let's consider this angle. When you devote time to a loved one (and I mean DEVOTE - no Blackberry!), you're allowing someone else into your space; you've given a piece of yourself to an ‘other’. So those moments aren't strictly your own; they're shared.

It can usually go one of two ways:

  1. I can interact with someone else and still see the interaction as totally me-centered; I can see the other as a mere supporting actor in the play of MY life.
  2. I can get away from a me-centered perspective, and see the other person on his/her own terms; I recognize that the other is the star of his/her OWN play.

It all depends on my attitude.

In more practical terms:

It’s possible that your life pursuits (career, etc.) are totally self-directed and self-absorbed.

But what if you approach your pursuits with a conscious objective of self-improvement, of supporting your family, of bettering your community etc? What if your focus includes other(s)?

Are your moments, then, all about you?

No.

You’ve given up space; the moment goes beyond you to include a larger objective.

Torah teaches me to broaden – and elevate - my perspective in life, so that it goes beyond myself. My purpose needs to include others – my family, my community, my Creator.

When I look at the world and ask  “What does G-d have in mind for me today?”, and “What is the Torah response to this challenging situation?” - instead of “What do I want and where do my impulses lead me?”  -  I’m giving up space in my life for Divine consciousness.

In a sense, there’s been a transaction. I’ve made a deal with the Divine.

I give G-d ‘occupancy’ in my life. And G-d grants me Divine ‘currency’, a sense of connectedness and balance that comes with living for a Higher purpose.

We’ve each got the rest of the day to consider.

So let’s make a deal.

Kicking It Up A Notch

I assume it’s a pretty common scenario.

Somebody's walking life’s path, oblivious to his own benign neglect, when suddenly...boom! He hits his 'brick wall'.

Maybe it’s a family member or an accountant, perhaps a client or an employer; somebody perceives the truth and yells “Stop! This can't continue; something needs to change.”

It’s an unpleasant, jarring disruption to life's rhythm.

It’s also an important wake-up call. And even though it’s painful, the stress can serve as productive energy, propelling us out of our rhythm’s gravitational pull.

In a way, that’s the Passover story.

Simply put: The Jews were slaves in Egypt, Moses dislodged them from their captivity and our ancestors escaped “in haste”.

It’s also a personal story: We each have our own ‘Egypt’ - our own counter-productive cycles.

When we’re fortunate, our ‘Moses’ – our soul-conscience, or perhaps a spouse or business associate – points out our negative patterns. The recognition hurts, but we can channel the pain so that it chases us – catapults us - to a better place.

In Passover language: We are impelled to urgently ‘leave Egypt in haste”.

Actually, the word ‘Pass-Over’ [also] refers to the liberating leap from a spiritually constricted life to a visionary, conscious one.

But what about the times when I’m not escaping an Egypt? When things are just ‘normal’? When I feel no friction and face no brick walls?

Then, we face a different danger: Complacency.

When I feel that I’m on a good path, I’m more likely to put my life on auto-pilot.

I can relax; after all, if I’m not being chased, why run?

Because.

Because when I’m on ‘auto-pilot’, I float along life’s current, without the initiative to go quicker than the stream.

Because when I’m on ‘auto-pilot’, I’m without the quickened pulse, without the butterflies in my stomach, that accompany a quantum leap forward.

G-d expects more, and my life deserves more.

We shouldn’t only grow to escape the pain, we should grow because we have great potential and a beautiful destiny.

So the Torah gives me a new exercise: It’s called ‘The Second Passover’ (‘Pesach Sheini’ in Hebrew) and it’s about finding the strength to ‘Pass-Over’, to leap forward in my life even when I’m comfortable where I am.

It’s about me taking the opportunity to consider where my life is going RIGHT, and finding the strength, vision and humility to make go even MORE RIGHT.

This Friday, Iyar 14/May 8, is Pesach Sheini.

Have a piece of Matzah (Matzah is a primary Liberation tool, in that it embodies the humility that we need for authentic growth).

Then focus on a growth-objective. Pass-Over your own inertia, and meet your potential.

Because finding Freedom isn’t only about leaving captivity; it’s about taking a leap forward.

 

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