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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Life on the Installment Plan

 Years ago, a wise Rabbi told me:

“Your character flaws are like your car’s High Beam: They can be quite irritating and will hit the other person squarely in the eye. Conversely, you might very well continue exactly what you’re doing, blissfully ignorant to your condition, until someone flicks his headlights to alert you to your problem”.

As we travel our path to self-betterment, we need an occasional wake-up call. The startling flash of recognition can obliterate our mental fog, the mindless living which provides perfect cover for a negative pattern.

But the mental clarity itself isn’t change. It’s just the beginning.

The key to change lies in pro-actively tackling life’s details, making better choices in our minutes, hours and days.

In other words, we change behaviors by changing their incremental expressions.

Take an example: You’ve come to a sudden awareness: Your family feels that you’re distracted and distant when you’re at home. They’re disappointed.

Wow. You had no idea! But – once it’s been mentioned - you can see what they’re saying.

So you resolve to do better.

If that’s as far as it goes, you haven’t much change of real change.

How about asking yourself: How am I going to reframe my mindset when I leave work, BEFORE I come home? How will I disengage from my mind static and be emotionally available for my family? By what method will I observe/ evaluate myself?

Polishing my life’s details, inch by inch, action by action, day by day, adds up to a brilliant existence.

Taking a step back, we can see this in the rhythm of our history. G-d gave the Jews a cosmic wake-up call when he took them out of Egypt. He showed them that they needed to rise above their slave mentality, their spiritual paralysis.

Once liberated, they began a seven week journey toward Sinai.

Torah thought presents an analysis of life ‘tools’ and sees them as falling into seven different categories. The Jews used each week of their journey to refine a different [primary] dimension of life.

But counting the weeks wasn’t enough. They needed to count each individual day.

The path to self-improvement took forty-nine incremental steps.

We all need to transcend our personal ”Egypts”, the counter-productive patterns in our lives.

That’s an important realization; but it’s not enough.

We need the resolve to tackle our issues; but it’s not enough.

It’s the grunt work, the day-by-day attention to life’s details, which will get us where we need to go.

Day by day, bit by bit, we can make change happen.

 

Proof of Life

I’ve heard it said that that pain is actually a person’s friend:

  1. It lets you know there’s a problem.
  2. It lets you know that you’re not dead.

The idea struck me as a bit offbeat, but true.

How would this apply to spiritual turmoil and pain?

Rabbi Menachem Mendel, the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, was approached by a disciple who was bothered by agnostic thoughts.

“Why does this trouble you?” the Rebbe asked him.

“Because I’m a Jew!” the man exclaimed.

“In that case, you’re doing fine,” the Rebbe replied.

To my mind, the Rebbe’s response teaches two powerful lessons.

Firstly, as long as you’re bothered by your disconnect with the Divine, you’re in (relatively) good shape; at least you know your soul is alive.

Apathy is the real danger.

No pain can mean that one has lost sensation in the spiritual “tendons” that connect a person to G-d.

Secondly, your faith may be stronger than you think.

The weakening of one’s faith can feed on itself; it can create its own – self-serving – “gravitational pull” to further one’s distance.

When a person’s faith perseveres in the face of doubt, it speaks to the powerful caliber of that faith.

We’ve seen this before: When the Jews left Egypt, they were at a dismal spiritual level and were involved with idolatry.

At the same time, our Sages tell us that the Jews were tenaciously faithful. In fact, the Torah uses the term “legion” or “battalion” to describe that generation of Jews, to indicate that – despite their theological weaknesses – they “soldiered on” as Jews.

So which was it?

On the precipice of disaffiliation? Or tenaciously connected?

Both.

The Jews were experiencing spiritual turbulence, but they never lost their anchor to the Divine. That tenacity kept them going until they got to Sinai, where they experienced Divine Revelation and spiritual clarity.

Spiritual tenacity is the backbone of inspired and full-bodied faith. It’s also there to keep us going when we’re feeling empty; maintaining us until the spiritual upswing which may be just around the corner.

So if you feel the pain of disconnect, celebrate the fact that you care, and that you can still feel something.

But, by all means, soldier on.

They did it.

So can you.

 

 

Making Our Days Count

How quickly can you recall – with some specificity - what you did yesterday? Sure, you can probably do it, but how long will it take you?
How about last Wednesday?
If you're like me, you spend a lot of energy responding to responsibilities of the moment, while stressing (at least a bit) about things yet to come. This makes most of life in the rear-view mirror meld into a blur, one hour virtually indistinguishable from another, one day running into the next.
Yes, we're managing; but life should be more than staying afloat.
What to do?
Chassidic thought encourages us to pro-actively take charge of our time and imbue each hour with meaning, making sure that our days really count.
Humdrum, un-spectacular, hours just fade into the past.

So let’s make our time remarkable.

Chassidic though suggests an attitude called 'counting hours'.
Think of your next hour as a vessel waiting to be filled. It’s morally neutral, and you get to choose how it will be used.
If you make this hour’s character special, the hour will become significant; it’ll live on.
It’s possible for a day or hour’s special events to make it an outstanding slice of time, a time too distinct to just blend in to life’s blur.
But it’s about more than memory.

After all, what if you learned an important life-lesson years ago, yet can’t remember the hour and day during which you learned the lesson? Does that really matter? Doesn’t that day live on with you, since its content echoes into your present life?
If my days are meaningfully spent, I’ll know it. Life will feel full, and it won't matter whether I can remember exactly what I did at noon last Tuesday.
If you consciously recognize this next hour as an hour during which you are fulfilling G-d's intent in your creation - whether you spend it working to provide for your family or reading something inspiring on Chabad.org - you have done something remarkable. You have pro-actively chosen to make this hour a vehicle for purposeful living; you will have aligned your life with G-d’s intent in creating you.

While it may not be apparent to the onlooker, you’ve filled your hour with Eternal Meaning.

Can time be any better spent?

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