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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Self-Image

How do others perceive you? How much do you care?
Do you spend as much time thinking about ‘how you are’ [as a person], as you do about how you seem [to others]?
I think we need to be sensitive to public perceptions. We don’t live as islands, and the feedback can be helpful (even when it’s a bit painful).
But others’ impressions shouldn’t be a prime mover of our life-decisions.
Because it doesn’t help; in fact, it has the opposite effect.
The Talmud teaches us that “one who pursues honor will have honor flee from him”. This can be understood very simply: Let’s say you and I are friends, and I act in a specific way because I want you to perceive me in a certain light i.e. I ‘pursue honor’ from you. You will inevitably pick up on my concern about your opinion. At that point, you will realize that I have put you on a pedestal; you will sense my concern for your opinion, and recognize that I have given you the superior position of judging my worth.
Is it any wonder, then, that ‘honor flees’ from a person in such a case? Once one knows that another is vying for his approval, is there any chance for real respect?
Another point:
We find in this week’s Torah portion that, as the Jews travelled in the desert, they sent spies to reconnoiter the Land of Israel. When they came back, they told of the fearsome people they had encountered there. But their language was a bit strange: we were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and so we were like in their eyes!" (Numbers 13:33) .
The spies are saying that the natives were so large that they (the spies) were like ‘grasshoppers in their (the natives’) eyes’.
But what about the first part of the sentence – ‘we were like grasshoppers in our eyes”? What does that mean?
The Torah is teaching a basic lesson of human interactivity. We project our own self-image. The Jews felt like grasshoppers, so others perceived them that way. Their own self-perception influenced and created the others’ view of them.
So get to know yourself. Get comfortable with who you are. It will help others get comfortable with you too.
And value feedback from people, but never give them the keys to your self-esteem.

Humble Aspirations

Humble Aspirations
 
Do you think anybody really wants to be arrogant?
Is there somebody out there who actually aspires to obnoxiousness?
I doubt it.
But, on the other hand, do you really want to be ‘humble’?
Or does the word ‘humble’ conjure up an image of someone lacking presence and self-confidence, an easily manipulated wallflower shyly averting his gaze? 
Think about it. Do you picture the ‘humble person’ as ambitious and driven to success?
But think again.
The Torah wants us to live energetically; engaging the world and bringing it to a meaningful place.
But Torah thought also wants us each to be humble, so that can’t mean simple passivity and submissiveness.
So what is humility?
Humility means being honest with yourself, and seeing yourself for who you really are.
Humility isn’t merely a self-effacing attitude, one which denies – to yourself or others – your value, strengths and talents. That’s not humility, it’s [self-] deception.
No, humility means being fully aware of your talents; it means total consciousness of your advantages in life – genetic, familial/societal or financial.
Humility is the attitude which you approach your gifts and talents.
We all need to look at ourselves and take honest stock of our G-d-given ‘toolbox’, the gifts with which we’ve been endowed. Then we need to recognize that each of those life-advantages comes with a responsibility. G-d grants us gifts for a purpose: we need to develop and utilize our ‘tools’, making them into accessories for accomplishing meaningful living.
So I need to look at each of my gifts and ask: Am I doing it justice?
I need to honestly consider the high probability – make that certainty – that others would have accomplished more with my tools.
I also need to consider that people without my specific talents, my tools, have simply been dealt a different tool box. That’s G-d’s business, not mine.
To a humble person, the real measure of life isn’t which tools we’ve each been dealt; it’s what we’re doing with them.
So humility is a sense of responsibility: I need to be who G-d created me to be. Humility is when I’m not competing against others, but against my potential. Humility is a sense of always being conscious for new opportunities to be the best I can be.
Humility. Now there’s an ambition.

Happiness

We all want to be happy.
But what is happiness?
Society often confuses happiness and pleasure, but they’re really not synonymous. Pleasure is something you can pro-actively pursue and create; you can literally buy it off a shelf. For example: A steak, a baseball game and a new car are all pleasure-producing items; it’s just a question of money.
And you can feel pleasure – although it may be at a comparatively low level - even if you’re not happy.
So what is Happiness?
To me, happiness is the glorious feeling of contentment that comes from an awareness that your world ‘makes sense’.
Happiness is a feeling of ‘all’s well with the world’…even when that doesn’t appear to be the case. You can be internally ‘happy’ even when you’re hard at work, or even when you’re dealing with a stressful situation.
Why isn’t the work/stress a contradiction to ‘Happiness’? Because it’s work/stress within a meaningful context; it’s an understandable disquiet that you can accept as part of your journey toward a desired goal.
So you don’t actually pursue happiness; you can’t buy anything to give you ‘Happiness’. You can pursue an attitude and life that ‘makes sense’, and the Happiness will settle in.
Happiness is the side effect of a life that 'makes sense'.
What does ‘making sense’ mean in real terms?
Generally, I define that as living a life with Purpose. But, if you think about it, what good is a purposeful life, if I’m living in a Purpose-less world?
So I need to broaden my definition, to comprise three basic ingredients:
 
I believe in a Loving Creator/Parent
I believe that I, my life (in all its details), and the world (in all its detail) matter to the Creator/Parent.
I have committed myself to a life of Meaning – as defined by my Creator/Parent.
 
I don’t believe in the above because they position me for a Happy life; that would be self-deceptive and counter-productive.
I believe in these ideas. Period. As a consequence they provide me with a disposition for a happy life.
Now the big, lurking question: How does this attitude hold up in the face of tragedy, G-d forbid?
Certainly a valid question. A raw, emotional question. A question that Moses himself asked. A question that we will one day ask of the Divine.
But as powerful as it is, it’s a question borne of painful emotion, and I hope that my faith can rise above the pain.
So I will live. I will certainly suffer. And – if I’m properly focused – I’ll be happy. 
We all want to be happy.
But what is happiness?
Society often confuses happiness and pleasure, but they’re really not synonymous. Pleasure is something you can pro-actively pursue and create; you can literally buy it off a shelf. For example: A steak, a baseball game and a new car are all pleasure-producing items; it’s just a question of money.
And you can feel pleasure – although it may be at a comparatively low level - even if you’re not happy.
So what is Happiness?
To me, happiness is the glorious feeling of contentment that comes from an awareness that your world ‘makes sense’.
Happiness is a feeling of ‘all’s well with the world’…even when that doesn’t appear to be the case. You can be internally ‘happy’ even when you’re hard at work, or even when you’re dealing with a stressful situation.
Why isn’t the work/stress a contradiction to ‘Happiness’? Because it’s work/stress within a meaningful context; it’s an understandable disquiet that you can accept as part of your journey toward a desired goal.
So you don’t actually pursue happiness; you can’t buy anything to give you ‘Happiness’. You can pursue an attitude and life that ‘makes sense’, and the Happiness will settle in.
What does ‘making sense’ mean in real terms?
Generally, I define that as living a life with Purpose. But, if you think about it, what good is a purposeful life, if I’m living in a Purpose-less world?
So I need to broaden my definition, to comprise three basic ingredients:
 
I believe in a Loving Creator/Parent
I believe that I, my life (in all its details), and the world (in all its detail) matter to the Creator/Parent.
I have committed myself to a life of Meaning – as defined by my Creator/Parent.
 
I don’t believe in the above because they position me for a Happy life; that would be self-deceptive and counter-productive.
I believe in these ideas. Period. As a consequence they provide me with a disposition for a happy life.
Now the big, lurking question: How does this attitude hold up in the face of tragedy, G-d forbid?
Certainly a valid question. A raw, emotional question. A question that Moses himself asked. A question that we will one day ask of the Divine.
But as powerful as it is, it’s a question borne of painful emotion, and I hope that my faith can rise above the pain.
So I will live. I will certainly suffer. And – if I’m properly focused – I’ll be happy.
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