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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Where Did the Years Go?

My life seems to flow like sand granules in an hourglass; time went slowly at first, but the pace has really picked up.

Why does time seem to fly by as we grow older?
As a child, summer camp felt like an eternity of fun. Now, the beginning of camp signals that Rosh Hashana is around the corner.

Our context of time changes as we mature.
But why?

Is it purely a function of biological age?

A shift in perspective?

Probably both.

Children are regularly experiencing new phenomena.

Watch a child’s wonder at observing an ant, the moon or a river.

 A child’s life is a string of exciting adventures, and they naturally capture his/her full curiosity and engagement.

Contrast that with the “normal” adult experience.

We aspire to stable relationships, jobs etc. The inevitable result is a lot of repetition. We’re no longer experiencing the stream of new curiosities; we’re usually doing things which we've done countless times before.

And repetition generates less engagement; we don’t need to lead life on all cylinders, so the “auto-pilot effect” can kick in.  

For example: I've noticed that when I am finding my way - sans GPS - to a new location, my trip home seems quicker than the my original journey.

I think it’s because I am thoroughly engaged – all synapses firing - during my initial trip into unknown territory, engrossed in my directions, every street sign, traffic patterns.

On the way back, or on a return trip, I can drive on semi auto-pilot - listening to music, conversing (hands-free of course) with others or lost in my own thoughts.

 When a day is filled with discovery, every moment is an experience; so a day is truly a FULL (experience-filled) day. It thus takes up more space in my life.
Conversely, a day that's basically a 'repeat' tends to quickly fade into the background; it’s more likely fade into the blur of my past.

Interestingly, the Torah describes the aged Abraham as being “elderly, coming into his days”.

The Rebbe explained the second (unusual) adjective as meaning that Abraham internally experienced every single day.

Abraham experienced no blur. Every day was a gift from the Divine, full of opportunities for strengthening his moral character, his relationships, his soul.

There was full appreciation for – and wholesome engagement with - the now, so his hours and days remained in full color.

Abraham never had to ask Sarah: “Where have the years gone?”

Make this hour an Abraham hour.

The Covenant

It was a poignant moment between father and son, between leader and leader-to-be.
It was a summer day in 1895, and [Rabbi] Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, who would eventually be the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, was commemorating his fifteenth birthday.
His father, the Rebbe, took him to visit the gravesites of his [grand] father and [great]grandfather.
Stepping into the site’s small synagogue, the Rebbe approached the Holy Ark, opened its doors, and spoke (borrowing imagery of the famous Biblical episode (Genesis ch. 22) which depicts Abraham’s binding of Isaac):"I am bringing my son [Yosef Yitzchak] today for his 'Binding'……Abraham bound Isaac tightly so that there might be no imperfection [in the process]; I, too, want this (my son's) Binding to be appropriate and effective."
[Author’s explanation: Abraham secured Isaac in his Monotheistic tradition and in a relationship with the Divine. The Rebbe was securing his teenage son in a relationship with his family heritage and Divine destiny]
The Rebbe then went on to speak about commitment to doing the right thing, irrespective of how one feels at a given moment.
The Rebbe pointed to Scripture’s expression of “girding [one’s] hips with strength”.
Our bodies have some higher-functioning organs, like the brain and the heart, and then some organs with a less complex character, like the hips/legs. Reasoning and feeling (brain and heart) are higher-order functions, while getting from place to place is more pedestrian.
Yet the legs are the body’s foundation. The brain and heart are fundamental to our function, but they stand on the firm support of legs.
The legs symbolize our concrete behavior. Understanding and appreciating the beauty of our actions is a critical spice to life; but life’s foundation is our actions.
Commitment to principled behavior is the foundation of a meaningful life.
Naturally, we prefer to fully appreciate the reason for an action before we undertake it; we want to feel inspired and emotionally connected.
But we can’t postpone positive behavior while we wait for our higher faculties to kick in. We need to act.
How can we persevere with proper conduct, if we haven't yet found the inspiration?
By "girding our hips with strength," i.e. by finding the internal strength for total commitment to the heritage of our ancestors.
The commitment/action itself will serve as the trigger that activates our ability to appreciate.
That’s how a Rebbe framed his covenant with his son:  Faith and unwavering devotion to values are the base, the legs, of the healthy human being.
It’s a covenant the Torah forges with us all.

[This episode took place on Thursday, the 12th day of Tammuz, in 1895. Today is Thursday, the 12th of Tammuz, exactly 105 years later.
Even timeless words can find special resonance through the lens of time. Today is a day with a special gift of commitment; the energy is there, the rest is up to us]

Living with the Rebbe

It was the summer of 1974.
Rabbi M.Y.H., a Jewish community leader in Connecticut, was facing serious challenges in his community work; the obstacles seemed overwhelming, and there appeared to be no end in sight.
So, he turned to the man who'd sent him to Connecticut in the first place: the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Pouring out his heart in a desperate letter, he described his sense of loneliness and helplessness.
“ Rebbe, please help…”
I think it’s important for me to present some important context:
Watching the Rebbe, one could always sense deep empathy. A genuine leader, the Rebbe cried public tears over people’s individual and collective struggles.
At the same, the Rebbe never let us resign ourselves to despair. The Rebbe believed in us, and in our powerful, G-d given potential; the Rebbe never stopped encouraging us to reach ever-deeper inside ourselves to find the answers to life's questions, our personal solutions which G-d has buried within our souls.
In a heartfelt synthesis of empathy and empowerment, the Rebbe met you in your low moments, stood by your side and then lifted you up by guiding you to discover your own ladder.
And, so, the Rebbe responded to Rabbi M.Y.H. during that difficult summer: "....I [actually] anticipated your need before you communicated it. As a solution, I have sent Rabbi M.Y.H. (the Rabbi himself) to your community. It's clear from your most recent letters that you still haven't acquainted yourself with this Rabbi and his [G-d-] given talents. Please get to know him, and [you will see that] things will change immediately (emphasis is the Rebbe's): your mood, your trust in the Almighty, your daily sense of inner peace and happiness etc. etc...".
The Rebbe was always guiding us to unlock our own immense power.
The Rebbe passed away sixteen years ago (we’ll observe the anniversary of the Rebbe’s passing on the 3rd of Tammuz/June 15th);humanity’s struggles haven’t ceased and the Rebbe’s empowering guidance is more important than ever.
I know it’s still there. Resonating. Guiding. Encouraging.
The Previous Rebbe wrote: “A Rebbe is never lonely and Chassidim are never lonely”.  As we approach the Rebbe’s Yahrtzeit, I know that I’m not alone.
If you’re reading this, neither are you.
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