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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Digging for Fuel

Have you ever been inspired?

Maybe something struck a chord as you listened to a speech or witnessed a special moment; perhaps you were hit ‘out of the blue’ by a high-minded thought.

The experience can be exhilarating.

But inspiration, in and of itself, doesn’t effect change.

Inspiration, even when granted by G-d, is basically a flash-in-the-pan experience, until it prompts the critical step of actually making something outof that special sentiment. Unless my world actually changes, an uplifting thought is just that; it’s a fleeting high, not a substantive re-alignment of my life, attitude, etc.

I think we instinctively feel this.

G-d designed us to truly appreciate, to own, something when we accomplish it with our internally-generated efforts. It’s when we see our actions bear fruit that life’s real beauty kicks in.

Gifts are nice, but they’re not where genuine meaning is found.

When we’re pro-active and change the status quo; that’s a true accomplishment. When we take what G-d has given us, when we take life’s gifts and expand their natural boundaries through our own sweat, then, in the Talmud’s words, we have become “Partners with G-d in the work of Creation.”

To use imagery from this week’s Torah portion:

Scripture tells us that “the soul of man is G-d’s flame”; we are each an individual flame, kindled by G-d to illuminate our lives.

When the Holy Temple’s Menorah was kindled, the wicks needed to be lit so that each flame would [in the Torah’s words] “blaze upward of its own accord”.

In other words: Sometimes you light a flame and it doesn’t seem to have its own “legs”; it needs to be nurtured, maybe you need to tilt the candle a bit, etc. That kind of flame didn’t suffice for the Menorah. It needed to have its own strength.

For a flame to be worthy of the Menorah, for a flame to be capable of truly illuminating the world, it needed to have some character of its own.

In a similar sense: We are thankful to G-d for touching the “match to our wick” and giving us the flame of life. But now it’s time for our inner fire to rise, to blaze forth, on its own energy.

We can’t just be satisfied with what G-d has given us, we need to dig within ourselves to find our inner fuel, to make our flame glow bright and strong.

That takes effort.

But it makes life a much brighter experience.

 

 

Do You Know How To Get To The Ballpark?

 

 When I was young, I heard a witticism about a child who asks a professional athlete for directions:

“How do I get to the ballpark?” the kid asks.

The sports star responds: “Practice!”

 

 

Mount Sinai.

It’s where G-d gave us the Torah.

But it’s more than a spot in the wilderness.

It’s a concept.

Mount Sinai represents our interface with the Divine, and our embrace of humanity’s challenge to live truly meaningful lives.

Mount Sinai is a big deal.

That makes tomorrow, Friday, a big day.

It will be the 3322nd anniversary of the Jews’ arrival at Sinai, just over six weeks after they left their slavery in Egypt.

They’d made it.

But it wasn’t easy “getting to the ballpark”.

In anticipation of Sinai, the Jews had spent weeks searching themselves and their behaviors, finding their best selves and reshaping their perspectives on life.

But, as they approached that sacred ground, they needed the strength for a step beyond the intellectual, emotional and spiritual exercises they’d undergone.

They needed to ACT, delivering – in real life - on their commitments.

Introspection is strenuous, and it’s not easy to acknowledge one’s weaknesses. But the real challenge lies in making concrete changes.

Contemplation is great, but we find life’s greatest meaning in action.

The Torah tells us that the Jews left Egypt, and then travelled from place to place in the desert. Ultimately they came to ‘Refidim” and, upon leaving there, they arrived at Sinai.

Jewish tradition tells us that the word “Refidim” is a linguistic hint at the fact that the Jews’ “hands were weak in Torah matters”.

In other words: they had a “weak hands” syndrome. Once they got past it, they were ready for the Sinai Experience.

The Rebbe once observed the oddity of describing a spiritual deficiency as having “weak hands”.

The Rebbe explained that the Torah is pointing to the fact that the Jews’ spiritual commitment stalled in the world of theory. Their spiritual attitude wasn’t being expressed in their “hands”.

So, after six weeks of internal search and refinement, the Jews had to cross that great chasm that lies between theory and action.

That passage – leaving Refidim – made them ready for the Experience that awaited them.

Every year, we relive Sinai with the Holiday of Shavuot.

 But in order to properly celebrate Shavuot, one first needs to arrive at Sinai.

And in order to get to Sinai, we need to practice.

 

Heading for the Peak

Feel like every day is a challenge? Like you’re clambering a mountain all day, only to start again tomorrow?

That’s not unusual, because it’s the way we were created.

Every day, we have a mountain, a spiritual Mount Everest, to climb.

Every day, I’m faced with the challenge of scaling my inner self, reaching to the top of my psycho-spiritual range, lifting myself from the base of life’s peak.

So, to properly guide my life, it’s actually helpful to get a better understanding of mountain climbing.

According to what I read, I’d need three important elements for my adventure:

1. I need to know where I’m going; I’d need a charted path to know which trail(s) I’m going to follow.

2. I need to be in good shape. It a takes a lot strength to haul myself up an incline, straining against gravity’s natural pull.

3. I need to have the right clothing.

 The Psalmist asks: “Who will ascend the mountain of G-d? (Psalms 24:3)” Our daily prayer helps us to answer that call by training and equipping us in three fundamental areas:

1. We need to have a vision, a Purpose, in life. Prayer is a time for me to crystallize that purpose and commit myself to a path that will achieve it.

2. I need to find the stamina in order to overcome self-absorption’s gravitational pull. Self-indulgence is the flip side of a meaningful life. A self-centered day begins with the question “what do I want out of life” A meaning-centered day begins with the question “what does life want out of me?” It takes a lot of internal stamina to work against the gravity of self-interest. It takes spiritual strength, and prayer is your workout.

3. "Clothe" your soul appropriately.

Jewish spiritual thought describes the soul as having three "garments".

A. Thought

B. Speech

C. Action

The way we think, speak and act are the way we interface with the world.

And prayer is a time for focus on that interface.

In other words: It’s a time to ask myself: Does my "clothing" gets in the way of my daily climb?

Where does my mind wander? How do I think about my fellow? Do I communicate transparently and sensitively?

These are questions for our daily prayer; accessorizing ourselves for the day's ascent.

It’s a daily climb.

And, every day, some prayer and introspection will help you toward your peak.

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