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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Thinking Zion

Did you ever have a moment of mental and emotional clarity, when you understood your very reason for being?

Have you ever sat and contemplated: “Why am I here?” and actually had an answer?

A sense of purpose, a reason for being, is crucial – actually indispensable – for living a life of meaning. When we have a raison d’etre, life’s details fall into place and sanity begins to reign. Because life is no longer about you and your desires; it’s about your objective and purpose.

When we consciously accept a reason for our existence, it relieves us of a great – if sub-conscious – burden. There’s no need to struggle to make sense of our lives; we can relax our need to find direction, and allow destiny to express itself through our daily choices.

We are accepting that we – you and I individually - are each expressions of a higher purpose. And that’s a liberating and inspiring place to be.

That’s why we’re called ‘Zion’, which Scripturally refers to Jerusalem, Israel or us as a people. In spiritual writings, Zion refers to the soul’s fundamental identity.

In Hebrew, ‘Zion’ means a ‘sign’ or a ‘symbol’.

The dictionary defines a ‘sign’ as “any object, action, etc., that conveys a meaning.”

So, at our deepest identity, we are Zion - a ‘sign’. We are each a functionary in the world, whom G-d created to ‘convey meaning”.

How do I identify the meaning which G-d created me to convey?

I look at G-d’s ‘Manufacturer’s Manual’, G-d’s Torah.

The Torah describes humanity’s highest potential. Through understanding that, I can find what ‘message’ and meaning I need to bring to the world.

I can clarify my ‘signage’.

Next Thursday, we’ll observe the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, Tisha b’Av. In preparation, synagogues around the world will read “Isaiah’s Vision” on this coming Shabbat (as the Haftorah), vision which predicts the tragedies we bring upon ourselves through unfocused, selfish living.

But at the end of the reading, Isaiah gives us an antidote: “Zion will be redeemed through the Law (Torah) and its captives through Righteousness” – we will ‘redeem’ ourselves, bringing our best selves into the open, when we recognize our own ‘Zion’ identity, our existence as a Divine sign in the world.

How? Through our embrace of G-d’s Program for Life and a subsequent life of Justice.

The journey of life isn’t about creating meaning; it’s about finding what’s already there.

It’s in your soul, even if it’s sometimes muffled beneath life’s chaos.

Time for Redemption.

Anger Management

Do you ever get angry?

Anger is a broad word used to describe a basic – often healthy - human response.

But I’m referring to the unhealthy brand. We all know it: The irrational, aggressive – ‘losing it’ – anger.

So, do you get angry?

Are you sometimes consumed by fury?

For a moment, go back to that mental state. How do you feel? Are you in control of your life?

Or have you lost control? Instead of guiding your emotional response, does the anger actually control you?

And, if you’ve lost control, to whom have you lost it? Who’s in the driver’s seat of your life?

It’s not you.

‘You’ are your ‘best you’, and this isn’t it.

In the words of Judaic spirituality, when you succumb to anger you unleash your inner hell. It’s your worst self. It’s toxic.

Oddly enough, it can also be seductive. This force, which destroys the quality of your life, can become an emotional drug; it poses as your friend, righteously presenting itself as ‘standing up for yourself’.

Think again. In the words of Job (5:2): Anger kills the fool.

We need to be self- aware. We need to sense when this enemy has entered our psyche. When we feel anger, we need to see a red flag in our mind’s eye; and then we need to immediately set to work figuring out how to control ourselves, how to prevent the downward spiral of resentment and anger.

But to create an adequate internal response system, we need to cultivate a sensitivity to the danger. We need a genuine recognition that anger is a poison to the human system, and an impediment to living a meaningful life.

If you see anger that way, you’re more likely get control of your psyche, reframing your perspective to channel your emotions in a more productive way.

For millennia, Jewish tradition has taught that anger also reflects a lack of faith.

The equation is pretty simple: We become angry when we feel vulnerable to a threat or problem. When I believe in G-d, I can’t feel vulnerable. When I feel my faith in G-d, my worldview focuses on my Divinely-granted journey, my destiny, not my perception of vulnerability.

Anger competes with my sense of destiny. I can’t allow it to win.

Between a potentially anger-causing stimulus and my response there is a gap; that’s where my choice comes in. Some problems may be solved, and some can only be managed, but I need to choose a response that’s suitable for my life’s journey.

So pay attention to your anger-quotient.

Reduce it, and increase your [quality of] life

Rhythms

Years ago, I was standing with a friend, a seasoned businessman, as his 38 year-old son walked by. Nodding toward his son, he muttered to me: “My son needs to understand that the stock market doesn’t always go up”.

It was an interesting insight for me.

You don’t understand life until you grasp the human journey’s comprehensive rhythm; until you appreciate that living is about ups and downs.

Ups and Downs. If anyone thinks they’ve experienced only one, they’re either mistaken or need to wait just a wee-bit longer; the other will come soon enough.

We all have both.

But ‘down’ is where we feel the pain. Stress isn’t pleasant, and problems are….problems.

But that is life; and, until Moshiach arrives, problems will continue to disrupt our lives.

Yet problems are part of life. And so much of life depends on how we deal with problems.

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the 6th Lubavitcher Rebbe, was brutally imprisoned  - for spreading Judaism and helping Jews - by Stalin’s regime.

Yet, years after reaching freedom, he would occasionally try to recapture the horrible experience, mentally transporting himself back to the gulag and its pain.

Why? Not because he enjoyed the pain and suffering. But because he valued the character, the strength of Principle, he encountered within himself. The Rebbe never looked for pain, but when it came his way he didn’t waste effort on blame and self-pity; he faced it with dignity, and it became a growth experience.

Gulag aside, thank G-d,  do we face our own problems with dignity? Do we learn lessons for growth, turning our stress into exercises for the soul?

It’s an important ingredient for a meaningful life.

And now is the time.

Because the world has a Divine rhythm, a flow of energy, of ups and downs.

The Jewish calendar reflects that rhythm. While time - from a Jewish perspective - generally exudes a spirit of positivity and joy, there’s also a stretch of time – three weeks to be exact – when the calendar turns more somber, guiding us to focus on the ‘downs’.

Today, Thursday, 17 Tammuz (July 9) is a fast day, commemorating the invasion of Jerusalem. In three weeks, we’ll fast again; it’ll be 9 Av – known as Tisha B’Av – when we’ll remember the destruction of the Temple.

It’s a time to look at our lives, our families, our communities and our world, and notice the destruction. It’s a time to soak in what’s NOT going right.

But it’s not about marinating in the negative; it’s about growing from the destruction..

When we acknowledge the bitterness, and strengthen our vision for the road ahead, we’ve engaged life and turned it into a meaningful journey.  

 

Find Healing, Find Freedom

I recently met with a young woman who was undergoing post-trauma counseling. We spoke about our respective backgrounds – she had very minimal Jewish upbringing - and eventually segued into a discussion of Jewish spirituality.

Given her personal struggle, the woman asked me to encapsulate a Jewish view on ‘healing’.

I should have been prepared for the question; I should have had a handy sound-bite to deliver. But, frankly, I wasn’t and I didn’t.

I took a deep breath and thought to myself: “How would the Rebbe (Rabbi Schneersohn, of blessed memory) view this precious, suffering soul? How would the Rebbe bring comfort to her troubled spirit?”

Then, I exhaled and replied:

When someone needs healing, it implies some dysfunction. Something is fractured or misfiring.

So the first step is to recognize that you aren’t a walking disorder; you’re a person with a disorder.  

Tragic as someone’s affliction may be, one should be careful not to over-identify with the problem.  .

So, the first step in spiritual/emotional healing is to put the dysfunction in its proper place. It’s a problem you have; but it’s not you per se.

In fact, at a soul level, you actually transcend your disability.

When I say ‘soul level’, I mean: We are each, in essence, ‘a piece of G-d’, an extension of the Divine, brought into the human condition to fulfill a purpose. And we’re equipped with what we need to fulfill that purpose.

So, one’s Divine raison d’ etre, and one’s inner toolbox, is the soul - one’s true identity.

No matter what you’ve experienced, your soul – deep within - is still whole. So, you have reason for hope; it’s the hope that you can ‘unpack’ – albeit incrementally – that whole and healthy you, and make it part of your functional personality.

And that is the beginning of healing. When we recognize that there is a part of us which no one can touch, let alone damage, and that we are destined to lead a life of significance, notwithstanding the problems we have. Then, we have begun to heal.

But first you need to recognize your inner, healthy, you.

On a weekend when we celebrate liberty and freedom, let’s take the opportunity to liberate our healthier selves, and live free.

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