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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Know Thyself

The Chassidic master, living in extreme poverty, had a student volunteer to help him manage his home finances.

One morning, a grateful visitor gave the Rabbi an unusually generous gift of 300 rubles. The student was overjoyed; he’d finally pay off some of the Rabbi’s crushing debt.

But that night the gift was gone.

Confused, he asked the Rabbi for the money’s whereabouts.

The Rabbi answered that a deeply-pained man had visited him that afternoon, pouring out his family’s tale of woes. Meeting the fellow’s immediate needs would add up to a sum of 300 rubles.

The Rabbi was immediately struck by his Divinely-fortuitous ability to bring salvation to this poor man. Then, on second thought, he considered his own situation. Maybe it would be best if he took care of his own problems and gave a bit to the community’s needs?

Facing with an internal conflict, the Rabbi told his student, he took private time for honest introspection. He needed to figure out where these different ‘voices’ were coming from.

Was his first instinct rash impulsivity, and his second thought sane responsibility?

Or was his initial reaction the pure flow of human-goodness, and the second voice a self-serving damper?

The Rabbi searched his psyche. Was there any tinge of self-interest in his giving impulse? Was he looking to be a hero with his self-sacrifice?

He concluded that his first instinct came from his Higher Self; there was no shallow ego. So that was the voice he decided to follow.

He searched. And he found.

Passover is a time to take an honest look at our lives, and to define our personal “Egypts” - the psycho-spiritual obstacles which impede our growth.

The Holiday’s spiritual energy can help us “Pass Over” our limitations, finding our way to Soul Freedom.

One common “Egypt” is the lack of self-awareness.

By self—awareness I mean:

Do you see yourself as separate from your thoughts and feelings, which you can take the time to analyze; or do you think your stream of thoughts IS the real you?

Do you ever explore your psyche, searching for the REAL motives for your behaviors? Or do you just “go with the flow”?

We’re not Chassidic Masters, but we all face moral dilemmas, and internal argumentation.

If we at least question our motives, and actually take the effort to find our truest instinct, I guess we’re already out of Egypt.

Matzah Therapy

If we want to maximize our Passover experience, we need to connect with the soul of Matzah, our well-known brittle bread.
For that, we need to first establish the narrative's basics:
The Jews were enduring slavery in Egypt. G-d told Moses that it was time to liberate the Jews and then presented the Exodus Plan:
A. In two weeks, the Jews would have a special meal, consisting of a Passover offering, Matzah and bitter herbs.

B. Later, at midnight, G-d would inflict a final plague on the Egyptians.

C. The Jews would then leave in the early morning hours
As things turned out, they needed to rush when they left and their daily bread didn’t have time to rise. So they made them into Matzah instead.

Those are the basics.

Note that the Jews actually had two Matzah experiences. There was Matzah on the planned-in-advance Passover evening menu. And then they had a second Matzah experience, which seemed to be happenstance (because they needed to rush).

Now to the subtext:

In Chassidic thought Matzah represents humility: it's an antidote to the shallow Ego, the greatest threat to our internal freedom.
Self-absorption and self-indulgence breed deafness to one's need for spiritual growth, creating a daunting "personal Egypt".
This puffed-up sense of self is represented by the bloated, risen dough, the loaf of bread.

By contrast, the Matzah’s dough hasn’t been allowed to rise. The Matzah is simple, representing humility and openness to self-improvement.

Matzah represents faith, because faith takes a recognition that one can't control everything. It's okay to let go.
So, G-d told the Jews to find a Matzah mentality, in order to leave their "personal "Egypt".

It wasn’t easy.

But they did it, and had a spiritually successful Passover meal.

This opened the way for a second level of Matzah, a deeper dimension of surrender.

The first level was the Jews' internally-generated submission to the Divine.

The second experience was Divinely-generated.

What would happen if G-d revealed Himself to you? Could any vestige of shallow self-interest possibly remain?

The intensity would sweep away your ego.

And that’s what happened when the Jews left Egypt.

Once they had worked within themselves to find humility and faith, G-d granted the Divine coup de grace to their ego struggle.

In the words of the Haggadah: “the dough of our ancestors didn’t have time to rise...[as] the King of kings, the Holy one…revealed Himself to them”.

The second Matzah wasn't planned, and it wasn't in our hands to create.

It was a Divine gift.

This year, at the Seder, we can experience both Matzah levels.

But the preparation begins now.

A Mitzvah we do today – with consciousness - primes us for the Gift of Faith.

The gift of Matzah.

The Shining Soul of Failure

G-d is my cheerleader.

As I go through my day, I believe that G-d is counting on me, urging me to make good choices, because – more than anyone – G-d knows I have the strength to do the right thing.

Sure, G-d presents me with moral struggles, but He never sets me up for failure.

But it has happened.

Yes. G-d once presented us with a test which He knew we would fail.

And, strange as it may sound, it was actually done out of Divine love... But let me start at the beginning.

The Jews were liberated from Egypt, and then spent seven weeks of introspective self-betterment to prepare themselves for receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai.

When they finally gathered at Sinai, they were in an elevated frame of mind, spiritually evolved, and prepared for the most incredible event in all of history: G-d’s giving of the Torah.

It was an incredibly real experience. The Jews perceived the world’s Divine purpose with unparalleled clarity, and genuinely embraced the Divine.

But that’s what makes it so difficult to understand what happened next. A mere forty days after the Great Experience, the Jews collaborated to fashion a Golden Calf, saying “This is your god, O Israel…who brought you up from Egypt.”

Sounds insane.

After such an interface with the Divine, how could they have transferred their loyalty to an idol?

It’s an age-old question, and the Talmud responds by telling us that the Jews were, in fact, above this unseemliness. They shouldn’t have made that mistake.

So what happened?

G-d set them up. G-d gave them the “Perfect Storm,” bringing a precise collusion of human weakness and incredibly alluring self-interest so that they would make the wrong choice.

It was a set-up.

But the critical question is: Why?

Because they needed to taste failure, and they needed to experience the beauty that comes from turning failure into growth. It was the only way to complete the Sinai experience.

When G-d gave us the Torah, He was giving us a picture of reality as it is meant to be. To me, the Torah is like the top of a jigsaw puzzle box. It gives you a vision that helps you put life’s objects and experiences – the “puzzle pieces” – in their respective places.

We got that at Sinai. But we needed a crucial element to bring real meaning to the picture.

The experience of failure. And the experience of choosing to grow from our mistakes.

Because Torah is life.

And that’s life.




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