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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

The Ox's Guide to a Happier Life

The Torah’s big on personal responsibility. If a person owns an animal, and
that animal does damage to a person or property, the animal’s owner may very
well be responsible for those damages (depending on the case’s variables).Let’s use an ox as an example (since the Torah does):
An ox’s owner needs to have reasonable expectations for his ox’s behavior and act accordingly. So, for example, if an ox doesn’t normally gore innocent bystanders, then an owner wouldn’t need to prepare for that eventuality. If the ox *does* start goring innocents, the owner will eventually (at a Halachically-defined threshold) need to recognize his ox’s
new norm, recalibrate his expectations, and take the  ecessary precautions to deal with his new reality.

Patterns are difficult to break, but not impossible. The ox’s behavior can theoretically change, and it can potentially revert to its peaceful norm. If - for example - the ox remains docile while children are playing with it, it can be considered to have shed its violent behavioral pattern.

Here’s an interesting twist found in Jewish Law. What happens if a goring ox is sold to another party? Jewish Law says that the animal’s new setting can have a positive effect on its negative behavioral cycle; upon transfer of ownership, its goring status is re-evaluated and reset.

The message: Environment counts. It’s not only about personal character.

Now let’s bring this home to our human lives and struggles.
In our personalities, we each have an ‘ox’ dimension. It shouldn’t be difficult to recognize; it’s the impulsive, self-gratifying tendency that pulls us toward behaviors that are against our better judgment and best interests. It’s the gravitational pull that keeps us in counter-productive
cycles.
Our oxen need re-training; they – we – need to ‘un-learn’ negative behavioral patterns.
It’s not an easy process.

So here’s something to consider when you’re wrestling with your ox: Give yourself over to new ownership. Take yourself, and your ‘ox’, to a new, holier place.
Upgrade your environment. Re-examine your social circle and pastimes. Spend more time in high-minded places, doing good things. Try a Torah class or prayer services. External change can lead to internal change.

So take your ‘ox’ to a different place; it may open a whole new world.

Feel the Love

To feel loved is to feel trust.

To feel loved is to know that you have a safe relationship, one which even your greatest weaknesses can’t destroy.

To feel loved is to feel that someone genuinely wants you to be your best self, because that’s the best for YOU.

To feel loved is to never be alone, even when there’s no one around for miles.

G-d’s profound gift to us is pure love.

Our very existence is an act of G-d’s love.

And our opportunities to develop an ever-greater connection with the Divine, our Mitzvot, are given to us as an act of love.

Years ago, I met with a young lady who professed disenchantment with her Judaism. She told me that she had completed Hebrew School, been “Bat-Mitzvah’d and confirmed”, and majored in Judaic Studies while at University. Yet, she still hadn’t found a single Jewish authority figure willing to tell her that G-d loves her.

How sad.

Our theology is built on our faith in a Divine Parent who creates us and guides us through life.

Judaism SHOUTS G-d’s love for us.

When G-d gave us the Torah at Mount Sinai, He began by giving us Ten Commandments (although there are 613 in total). Those Commandments began with an introduction:

”I am G-d who took you out of Egypt”.

It’s strange. After centuries of history, G-d is finally on the cusp of turning Abraham’s descendants into a people. G-d hasn’t directly communicated with these people (aside from Moses and Aaron), and this will be the first introduction.

Why not say “I am G-d Who created you?”

Isn’t that a greater, more inimitable feat than freeing slaves?

Our Sages explain that G-d was establishing the First Principle, the backbone to Torah and of our relationship with the Divine.

In other words, G-d introduced Himself by saying:

 “I am G-d Who CARES about you.

I took you out of Egypt, because I suffer when you suffer. I know that there will be individual “Egypts” in each of your lives and I will be there with you.

Because I love you. And I’m always with you.

Take this Torah, follow it, and keep yourselves open to a relationship with me.

You’ll feel the love”.

Feel the love.



The Mission Can't Wait

 

In 1951, the Lubavitcher Rebbe spoke at a public gathering.
The occasion would serve as the Rebbe’s official – albeit reluctant – acceptance of Chabad's leadership, one year after the passing of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, the Rebbe’s predecessor and father-in-law.
The relatively small Chabad community, most of whom had narrowly escaped  the Holocaust’s carnage, had gathered in Brooklyn to hear their new, forty-eight year old Rebbe lay out a vision for the future.
Here's a snapshot of what the Rebbe told them:


We yearn and strive for connection with an Infinite G-d, an unfathomable Divine Reality. At the same time, we live in a world that seems shallow, unreasonable and replete with moral challenges.

And that’s exactly the point.

G-d’s deepest core-desire is fulfilled when we, in our simple human lives, make cosmic choices; G-d's most profound presence is drawn into our reality when  we rise above our own egocentric impulses, and transcend the bombardment of external distractions, to do the right thing.
But it’s not just about ‘doing’ the right thing; it’s about committing oneself to a purposeful life.
Deep-seated commitment.
To me, that's what shows when a toddler takes sick in middle of the night and we immediately - without a thought - jump out of bed; there’s no cost/benefit analysis (“he’ll probably be the one to choose my nursing home, so….”).
We just act – super-rationally – to honor the deep relationship we share.
Taking it a wider angle, we’re speaking of a super-rational commitment to Higher Living, which is also the antidote to irrational behavior, i.e. our counter-productive habits.
Finding a deep-seated commitment to our relationship with the Divine, overriding the irrational with the super-rational, brings G-d’s Essence into our lives.
And that’s the end-game of all creation.
All of spirituality, the angels and metaphysical cosmos, are simply means to an end: Our daily struggle to live a purposeful life in this otherwise-shallow world.

That’s been the challenge of history, to bring Divine Essence into a seamless presence in our world. Now we’re finally at the peak; we need to bring Moshiach.
It can sound grandiose to think that we’ll accomplish a goal that has eluded previous generations. But we’re standing giants’ shoulders. Our strength lies in completing what they’ve begun, and what they have granted us the opportunity to achieve.

 

This Shabbos will mark sixty years from this foundational talk. The Rebbe passed away in 1994, yet his voice still speaks to us.

The mission can’t wait.

Oneness

 

Years ago, someone said to me: “this whole idea of Abraham being the father of Monotheism is a farce. I can prove to you that a certain Mesopotamian tribe worshipped a SINGLE tree, well before Abraham was born.”

I have to admit that his statement threw me for a minute. 

Then I got it. If monotheism is the belief in ONE deity, as opposed to multiple ones, then we were beaten to the bunch by some tribe that whittled its pantheon of gods down to a single idol.

That’s if the polytheism vs monotheism question is a numbers game.

But it’s not.

Monotheism is a revolutionary perspective on the nature of reality.

What is this ‘Monotheism” of which we speak?

When one looks at life, one sees a magnificently multi-faceted reality.

There’s family and work, my home and the great outdoors. My boat, my lunch, my computer and my loves.

And then there’s also G-d.

Kicking that up a notch, to a deeply believing person all of reality DEPENDS on G-d.

Then there’s the Monotheist, to whom the only reality IS G-d.

The Monotheist doesn’t [simply] believe in one G-d.

The Monotheist believes in one REALITY, and that reality is G-d.

How does that belief square with our perception of the world around us, which has trillions and trillions of components?

The Judaic belief is that everything in the world is created by the Divine, and has a Divine purpose, its ‘spark’. Thus, everything in the world fits into one plan, G-d’s objective for the world.

So, my car, my lunch, my bedroom and the river, all share one unifying theme: They all have a Divine Purpose. They are One with the One.

Even more, every creation is totally dependent on the Divine for its existence, similar to the way a ray of the sun depends on the sun for its existence.

In that sense, creation isn’t a thing of the past. It’s happening now.

So bring a monotheist means leading a purpose-driven perspective on life, and recognizing that one can’t separate G-d from reality.

Thanks, Abraham.

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