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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

The Big Game

I just heard an interesting interview.

The interviewer, Nachum Segal (‘JM in the AM’ on WFMU) was speaking with Alan Veingrad, a former NFL Offensive Lineman (AlanVeingrad.com). After retiring from professional football, Mr. Veingrad became observant, which makes for an interesting story.

Mr. Veingrad related that he had recently visited San Diego, and gone to lunch with an old NFL buddy named Rich Moran, who isn't Jewish. After two hours at lunch, Alan realized that it was getting late, and that he'd need to break for the daily afternoon service (known as Mincha).

Somewhat apologetically, he began to explain his need to interrupt their get-together in order to recite a post-meal prayer, and then for his prayer service.

Rich Moran understandingly looked him the eye and said "That's your program" - referring to the fact that NFL players have a disciplined program, which they must follow 'to a T' in order to be in shape for their 'big games'. And, as Alan Veingrad related to the interviewer, Mr. Moran was absolutely correct.

Simply speaking: Alan found a new ‘program’: Jewish observance.

NFL players have a ‘program’; shouldn’t we all?

We all have lives, so we should all have goals. We’re all created for a purpose, a destiny; so, in a sense, we’re all preparing for a ‘big game’: The actualization of our potential.

And like any ‘big game’, life requires a ‘program’.

But we need to choose, to voluntarily accept, a program. Alan Veingrad had a coach cracking the whip; I need to find internal discipline. If I can accept the goal, and accept the need for a program, then I’m poised to actually follow my program.

For example:

The High Holidays are just thirty days away. That’s a ‘big game’.

If we are to mine the High Holidays for their real potential, if we are to make them into transformative days, we need some preliminary work.

And what’s most important is our inner posture. Do I want to be who I can be? Do I  accept the need for a program (at whatever level)? It’s a serious question, and it may take thirty days to answer.

But it’s a ‘big game’ and any ‘big game’ is worth the training.

Heaven on Earth

Ever had a ‘Heavenly’ experience? How about Hell?

Most of the time, these are just terms we throw around. I don’t think anyone ever believes they’re actually in Heaven, or the opposite. We’re just trying to describe an extreme condition.

But let’s think about this is a little differently.

What is Heaven?

Heaven, at its core, is a condition of closeness; it’s the state of a soul being enveloped in the Oneness of the Divine.

Purgatory would be the opposite, a condition of distance and disconnect.

The first is beautiful, tranquil and comforting to the ‘nth degree. The second is exactly the opposite.

Well, what happens when you do a Mitzvah?

What if you got up this morning and prayed? What if you saw someone - co-worker, friend, etc – in need, and then offered help because that is what G-d wants of you?

You will have done a Mitzvah. You will have embraced your life’s purpose; and, in doing so, you will have embraced the Divine

A Mitzvah is more than a good deed. A Mitzvah is a connection with G-d. An awesome connection. A connectedness that goes beyond what any soul in [the condition we call] Heaven can experience.

So when you do a Mitzvah, you’re actually experiencing Heaven. And then some.

The problem is that you can’t feel it.

And that’s a bummer.

But our inability to feel something doesn’t mean it’s not there. Sometimes you need to see things in your mind’s eye; sometimes you need to close your eyes and see things with your soul.

No, you won’t experience the Heaven sensation to its fullest; that’s reserved for a disembodied state. But it’s not ‘all or nothing’.

In Chassidic thought, Heaven and Hell are, aside from their conventional meanings, a daily experience. I can experience Heaven now; I just have to correctly align my life and allow myself to appreciate what I’ve done.

When I’m living a purposeful life, fulfilling G-d’s desire in my existence, I’m in Heaven.

The day is looking up already.

The Manna Method to Appreciating Life

Are you able to enjoy what you have?

Or do you look past what you have ‘in the hand’, to see what else might be ‘in the bush’? Do you find it hard to appreciate the beauty of what you DO have, because of the pleasures that you DON’T have?

It’s a common attitudinal struggle.

Think about the Jews in the desert, who were lucky enough to eat Manna from Heaven daily.

The Manna looked pretty bland, but it tasted great; in fact, one was miraculously able to savor whatever taste one desired.

And the Manna was so easy to procure. The Torah tells us that the Manna fell – every morning - right by the Jews’ tents.

Yet, the manna was also a source of stress for some Jews.

Why?

  1. The Manna couldn’t be stored. Whatever fell in the morning would spoil by the next day.

If you have ‘fresh’ Manna delivered every morning, why do you need some in the pantry?

Because we like to feel secure.

No matter what you have today, you want to feel secure about tomorrow; you don’t want to feel vulnerable.

The Jews needed to trust - REALLY trust - G-d and His Manna-delivery. Without the trust in tomorrow, they couldn’t enjoy what they had today.

  1. The Manna didn’t look as delicious as it tasted. A quick Google search reveals a study of how much a specific food’s appearance impacts its taste.

The food can taste great, but we want it to look great, too. Satisfying one sense (taste) isn’t enough; we want more (sight).

The Jews suffered from this need for multi-sensory pleasure in the desert. They had Divinely-tasty food, but they couldn’t ‘eat with their eyes’.

So here’s a lesson. Do you have Manna on your plate today? Do you have a blessing that G-d has granted you in your life? Of course you do.

So enjoy it.

Don’t let what you don’t have, or your inability to control the future, get in your way.

When we can rise about our self-generated impediments, we can come out of the desert and appreciate life.
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