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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Pure Passion

 “Follow your passion.”

“Pursue your passion.”

“Be true to your passions.”

Motivational quotes often focus on the power, the beauty and the strength of passion.

But is passion always pure? Is it always positive and constructive?

Hardly.

In the public arena, we’ve seen promising figures implode before our very eyes. The detonator? Often, it’s undisciplined, selfish passion.

Passion can also be a problem in quiet, private lives.

A simple example: Passion for one’s career is a recipe for success in business. But if passion equals total devotion – to the exclusion and detriment of other priorities – it can be a counter-productive element in one’s life.

Passion is a double-edged sword: it can be the energy that catapults us to freedom from sleepwalking through life; or it can be the powerful force, the gravitational pull, which keeps us in a self-destructive cycle.

In Chassidic terms, we can call the latter form of passion a conceptual “Egypt.”

The Hebrew word for Egypt (Mitzrayim) is closely related to – and contains the exact same letters as – the word for “constraints” (meitzarim). So the Torah’s narrative of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt isn’t just a historical account. The Exodus is also an ongoing personal saga, the story of our individual struggles to rise above the constraints in our lives.

If we want to be free, we need to define what dimensions in life are keeping us down. And the first place we should examine is our passions.

We each need to ask ourselves:

What animates me? What perks me up and gets my blood pumping? What thoughts come to mind when nothing else is taking up my brain space?

In other words: Where do I find passion? And what do I do on auto-pilot?

This self-analysis can be very revealing.

I think we’ll find that, instinctively, self-gratification is what grabs our passion. And, unchecked, that’s where our passion will inevitably lead.

“Leaving Egypt” means proactively taking the reins of our passions, and guiding them to a productive, meaning-centered place.

So if we want to weaken our personal Pharaoh’s grip, if we really want to leave our Egypt, we need to watch our passions.

 We can document them for ourselves.

And then measure them against what’s truly important in life.

Our inner Moses awaits.

 

 

 

The Wise Fool

 “The fool believes everything (Proverbs 14:15)”.

“To whom does this verse refer? To Moses. (Midrash)”

Whoa.

Let’s get this straight:

King Solomon, author of Proverbs, speaks of the gullible fool.

Then our venerable Sages, in their compilation known as the Midrash, interpret that verse as referring to…..MOSES?

How could that be?

Moses is intellect personified! An emblem of Divine wisdom!

Moses saw the Jews’ pain during their slavery in Egypt, and how it was getting worse through his own [Divinely-ordered] involvement.

Understandably, he found it difficult to reconcile his reality with his deep-seated perception of a loving, Omnipotent G-d.

He lashes out: “G-d! Why have You mistreated this people? And why have You sent me? Since I went to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has made things worse for the people, and You still have not liberated them!” (Exodus).

G-d’s answer: You can do better than that. Have faith in Me, just like your ancestors did.

Moses’ struggle stemmed from his reasoned and well-constructed appreciation of G-d, an appreciation that was now challenged by his experiences.

So G-d says: Let’s use this appreciation differently.

You - because you have an outstanding capacity to comprehend Me - need to have faith. You’ve used your reason to become comfortable with Me; now trust me and surrender your intellectual tools. It will be difficult, but you need to be the ‘believing fool’ for this one.

My two year old is very attached to me; I assume that he knows I love him. Yet, when I need to discipline his behavior – which makes him cry – I’m not sure he has the capacity to recognize that I’m acting out of love. Does he have the maturity to have faith in me?

I expect more of my older children. I hope that my oldest can accept my decisions, even the ones he doesn’t understand; I hope I’ve earned his faith over time.

Similarly, Moses’ deep perception of G-d’s goodness was a reason for him to have faith in G-d’s Wisdom and Will.

The more I struggle to understand G-d and life, the more equipped I am to make sense out of all this. And the more secure I am in ‘playing the fool’ when the need arises.

With Moses, I’ll be in good company.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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