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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Can We Change The Past?


Once I’ve made a mistake, can it ever be retroactively un-done?

Sure, we can make amends and learn for the future.

But can I ever un-speak hurtful words?

Not in the concrete sense.

But there’s more to life than the concrete.

Regret is a multi-level experience.

Sometimes, we rue our behavior because we don’t like the fallout. When you’ve hurt someone important, and the relationship has become uncomfortable, you say you're sorry.

Why? Because you want the pain to go away.

That's regret; but it's not transformative remorse.

It's ‘relationship management’.

Why? Because you haven’t experienced genuine character change.

You’re uncomfortable with the REACTION, not the action itself; you’re modifying your behavior based on someone else's response, not your own principles.

Real change doesn't happen that way.

Even when it's inspired by something external, real transformation needs to spring from within.

Transformative regret needs to be holistic.

I believe that G-d created me with the capacity to be a true mentsch, with character and integrity.

I have to envision that potential as my gold standard.

Every day, I need to measure my behavior against that potential.

Because I want to do better.

Not because of you.

Because of me.

Because of my destiny.

I care about others’ hurt feelings. And I need to deal with them. But my rehabilitation starts with me.

Your displeasure is helpful; it alerts me to a possible character-misalignment. When I’ve searched and recalibrated myself in a serious way, you’ll know.

Because I’ll express it.

In a genuine way.

Because it flows from me.

In the scope of my life, I can transform this mistake into a shining moment of growth and self-improvement.

No, I can’t control people’s memories; I may never be able to undo the past in their minds.

But in my life, between me and G-d, if I’m using my mistakes as powerful springboards for positive change, then I’ve done the impossible.

I’ve reached back in time and transformed a negative event into a positive force for growth.

That’s the way I see it.

I can only pray that you’ll see it this way too.

High Holiday Tools for Personal Growth - Part 2

Last week, we explored two of the five elemental tools which facilitate the High Holiday exercise we call Teshuva (which we translated as 'Re-Alignment with our Higher Selves). We addressed 1. Sincere Commitment and 2. Recognition of the Responsibility Inherent in our Very Existence

  3. A Caring Heart

Can I cloister myself in a cave and truly evolve as a human being?

Just think: Peace and quiet, contemplative introspection and unfettered attention to character refinement.

It would be a lofty exercise, but I wouldn’t be engaging life’s real frontier.

Genuine character is reflected in my daily interactions with other people:

Do I approach them with an open heart?

Do we take pain in their suffering?

Do we take joy in their triumphs (even when it’s something we feel it was something we ‘rightfully deserved’)?

Interpersonal relationships aren’t just an important facet of spiritual growth; they’re the key to everything.

Chassidic thought teaches that opening one’s heart to humanity is a key to finding intimacy with the Divine. How you feel about/towards people is an important test of how much you’ve risen above your own self-absorption. And once your heart is open to people, your ready for a meaningful relationship with G-d.

 4. Maintaining a Higher Perspective

How often do you think about G-d?

When you open your eyes and experience the gift of sight? When you hear birds chirping, because you've been blessed with an auditory capacity?

How about when a problem hits you out of the blue?

When you're experiencing a beautiful moment?

When it's just a dreary day at the office?

'G-d consciousness' sees the world as an interactive universe. G-d is always guiding me, challenging me, cheering me on to fulfill my life's purpose.

I am given gifts, because they are my tools for life. I am given challenges, because they test my character and faith.

But I can see G-d everywhere in my life.

So this is a critical RH re-alignment question to ask ourselves:

How do I see the world: Is it mine, into which I invite G-d? Or is the world Divine at its core and my life's mission is to recognize that fact?

  5. Staying Below the Radar

I think we all recognize the need to bring goodness to the world.

But there’s the action, and then there’s the motive.

What is the difference between a positive act in public view and one which is done in - and remains - private?

Obviously, a public Mitzvah is likely to earn others' gratitude, recognition, admiration etc.

Conversely, a 'below the radar' Mitzvah is between me and G-d.

But what’s the character difference? What can it tell me about own ‘alignment’ with the Divine?

The latter Mitzvah affords me a more honest awareness of why I do a Mitzvah; an ‘out-of-the-spotlight Mitzvah is more likely to be a genuine expression of my connection to G-d (meaning) and Divine values.

RH is a time for re-aligning ourselves, even with regard to the good we do. Would we be just as enthusiastic if it was sans recognition?

Think about it!






High Holiday Tools for Personal Growth

The High Holidays are a contemplative time. They’re a time for ‘internal review’, and of empowerment for a year of growth.

The Hebrew word for the exercise is “Teshuva”, which we can interpret as ‘re-aligning our conduct with our soul-compass’.

So we think, and we resolve to live more focused, more purposeful lives in the year ahead.

But we all know that resolutions sometimes have no ‘legs’; they’re often good feelings that don’t make it out the synagogue door.

So how do we make the High Holidays transformative?

In Chabad thought, we speak of five critical tools to effect re-alignment and transformation (please see blog for a more scholarly analysis of the Torah roots to this concept).

 1. Sincere Commitment. Many people go through life feeling that their lives are based on a value system. They have principles which they deem important, which they teach to their children and espouse to their friends.

But what happens when we're presented with situations that test our commitment to those values? When our values seem inconvenient and ‘temporarily’ expendable?

What do we do then?

Do we stick to our values or 'make this exception’?

The real question is: How sincere, how deep, is your commitment to the values you respect?

Going into Rosh Hashana, when we are poised for introspection and important resolutions, we need to analyze our own 'Commitment Factor'.

Strengthening our inner loyalty to Principle can make the High Holidays echo throughout the year.

 2. Recognition of the responsibility inherent in our very existence.

I believe in G-d. Being conscious of my faith can play a huge role in my self-refinement.

What is ’my faith’? G-d created me for a purpose: To live my life in a meaningful way, as defined by the Torah.

Now what is ‘my creation’? Chassidic thought doesn’t see it as a one time event that happened at my birth.

My creation, and yours, It’s a constant phenomenon.

Every moment of the day, just as my lungs are pumping oxygen into blood and my blood is bringing life to my limbs, G-d’s spiritual energy is pumping away, bringing me life and existence.

Creation is a constant. And it’s always for a purpose. So every moment of the day, my purpose needs to be front and center. It’s the reason G-d has given me this moment.

It’s a challenge to see the world this way; there are so many distractions. But imagine living your life where you use ‘purpose’ as the guiding light through which you make your choices? Imagine the next challenging stimulus that comes your way, and you recognize - in your mind’s eye – that G-d has given you this moment, this challenge, for a purpose; and it’s up to you to actualize that purpose.

It would be a different world.


To be continued…


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