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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Investing in Our Days

What will today be like?

Will it be an outstanding day?

When all is said and done, will today simply be the day after yesterday and the one before tomorrow? Is it likely to join the blur of time, fading into life’s rear-view mirror?

Or will the day actually be special, one which you’ll hold close to your heart as you drift off to sleep tonight?

It’s up to you.

Most of us don’t have the opportunity for today to be a headline-grabbing day; and it’s probably not your wedding day either.

It’s just a day.

Except that – in Torah thought – there’s no such thing as “just a day”.

Every day is a unique journey, with its own challenges and opportunities. What should matter most to me at the moment isn’t what happened yesterday, or even what will happen tomorrow (although responsible planning for the future may very well be one of today’s challenges).

I need to invest myself in today’s hurdles and choices. And make the day count.

Life has a lot of repetition, and repetition can be mind-numbing. So, all too often, we go through our days flying our consciousness at half-mast.

Our challenge is to wake up every day with a recognition of the unique gift which G-d has bestowed upon us: The Gift of Today

Our challenge is to wake up every day and recognize that G-d has given us a new obstacle course, and equipped us with the capacity to victoriously navigate it: The Challenge of Today.

Life is a big journey, the race of life; today we can successfully complete a lap of that race.

That attitude should energize us. It should capture our attention. It should inspire us to invest ourselves – wholly and totally – in the day ahead, making the most of it.

If we do, then it really can’t be a humdrum day. It’s a day in which we did our energetic best to accomplish the day’s goals. It’s a day when we’re feeling - and living - our commitment to a life lived meaningfully.

What a great day.

Inspiration Happens

Have you ever experienced sudden inspiration? A holy moment? A sense of clarity about the world, your life and who you can be?

The Jewish people had such an experience, infinitely magnified, when they stood at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah.

For those standing at the base of that mountain, the world changed: Reality made sense, and the purpose of existence was clear.

No more nagging questions.

No more internal confusion.

But what about before the inspiration hits? Is there anything we can do to trigger a mental/spiritual lightning bolt?

Not really.

That’s why they’re rare.

At the same time, inspiration usually seeks fertile ground, and comes to those who are genuinely receptive to an inner glow.

We can see this in the Torah’s relatively lengthy description of the trials, tribulations and triumphs of our ancestors - Abraham, Sarah and their descendants – whose lives form the prelude to Sinai.

The Torah’s entire first Book (Genesis) is devoted to this account. And a fair question arises: Why spend so much ink on [what appears to be] historical background?

The Torah isn’t a history book; it’s a Book of Direction in Life. So, the Torah’s text should be focused on directives, beginning with those we received at Mount Sinai (which doesn’t happen until the second Book).

Why does the Torah painstakingly describes the unfolding of the Jewish people, PRE-SINAI.

The Torah is telling us that we need to lay appropriate groundwork before we can have our [individual] “Sinai Experience.”

Abraham and Sara, and their subsequent generations, went through a spiritual evolution which brought their family to a Sinai-ready state; those standing at Sinai to receive the Torah were standing on their shoulders.

The pre-Sinai generations grappled with their egos, working to steer their lives toward a meaningful purpose beyond self-gratification.

They guided their lives by vision, not impulse.

They identified their natural challenges and transcended them, transforming themselves into selfless, principled people.

They didn’t postpone their self-refinement efforts because they were waiting for a gift from above.

At the same time, they searched for connectedness with the Divine, and they didn’t take no for an answer.

That’s why they were ready for Sinai.

Inspiration happens.

Are we ready?

Hit the Road

 

 

Does it feel like Rosh Hashana was ages ago?

Think again. Rosh Hashana – in a sense - is only just ending. And the “Rosh Hashana Journey” is so central to our spiritual health, that we need a smooth transition forward, allowing us to feel its power in the year ahead.

You see, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur aren’t just independent holidays; they are part of a spiritual continuum:

During the High Holidays, we reach deeply into our psyches to explore our principles and values. What do I stand for? Am I mindful of my responsibilities to the world around me? Do I properly appreciate my relationship with G-d, my loving Creator?

At the close of Yom Kippur, we lock in (Neilah, the name of the closing prayer, actually means “to lock”) a deeper, more profound sense of connectedness with G-d and with life itself.

So we spend much of the High Holidays in a spiritual cocoon – in our minds and in the synagogue – focused on contemplation and internal growth.

But the High Holidays’ internal dynamics must then find their way into our “external” behavior; our internal commitment to values should show itself in a life lived meaningfully.

So, after Yom Kippur, we venture back into “real life” – eating, drinking, socializing, etc. But, because we’ve had our High Holiday experience, things are a bit different. Our lives are now in the context of the  Sukkah (the temporary hut in which we celebrate over the Sukkot Holiday), which Chassidism describes as “G-d’s hug.”

Think of it this way: Life in the Sukkah is an external expression of the Divine intimacy we felt during Neilah. We’re able to live “real life” – eating, drinking, etc.  – within “G-d’s embrace”.  

So Rosh Hashana’s peak is on Yom Kippur, and they’re both manifested in the Sukkot experience.

Sukkot’s zenith is its last day, which is a holiday unto itself, called “Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah.” Shemini Atzeret is an opportunity to retain the season’s energy (Azteret means “retention”). Simchat Torah is a day to recognize that our commitment to a life lived meaningfully “brings joy to the Torah.” So it’s a day when we rejoice with the Torah. And vice versa.

Simchat Torah has ended. We’ve been prepped for a meaningful journey through the year.

Now let’s hit the road.

 

 

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