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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

There's More to Life Than the Fur Coat

No, this isn’t a PETA essay or an Occupy Wall Street manifesto.

It’s a commentary on life, on what living should look like, and on what attitudes bring us the most inner peace.

Many of us work hard to upgrade our personalities, attitudes and habits. At the same time, we need to remember that none of us lives in a vacuum.

One can pursue self-betterment in a self-absorbed way, oblivious to the moral state of one’s surroundings. Or, one can approach personal development in a more broad-hearted way, seeking to better one’s self and one’s environment; a rising tide should lift all boats.

There’s an old Chassidic metaphor in this vein: When one is feeling cold in an un-heated house, there are two possible remedies: One can don a fur coat. Or one can kindle the fireplace and heat the house.

Similarly, one can take care to warm one’s own soul, or one can [also] try to brighten one’s environment. In Chassidic jargon, the former type of behavior is referred to as the ‘Tzaddik in peltz’ (Yiddish for: a righteous person in a fur coat) syndrome. That's when someone’s doing just fine……for himself.

Noah, who was certainly a G-dly person, is seen in this light. He remained spiritually unscathed by the immorality of his time; yet he didn’t impact his society. The moral people were saved on his famous ark; but it was just him and his family. That’s it.

The man apparently didn’t manage to convince anyone on the block, anyone at work, anybody else, to rise above the world’s immorality. He was spiritually warm, because he’d totally absorbed himself in his conceptual fur coat. But the world was none the better for it.

Torah thinking goes in a different direction. It has us being pro-active, engaging the world and improving it. That’s what we’re created to do; each of us in our own way.

From what I can tell, this is also the best way to find happiness. I think that people find their purest contentment when they’re doing something to help others, without self-serving motives, and without hope of a quid pro quo. Just unadulterated goodness.

So share the warmth. If a thought inspires you, if a Mitzvah moves you, share it with a friend.

You’ll feel lighter.

A Piece of the Rock

This Thursday and Friday are a time to dance.

It’s the Holiday of Simchat Torah, when Jews throughout the world dance with the Torah.

The question is: Why?

We can understand Torah scholars, who reap the Torah’s intellectual rewards and feel a deep gratitude for this gift, dancing; it’s a natural expression of their appreciation.

But most people aren’t Torah scholars, and don’t necessarily appreciate the depth of Torah’s wisdom. Why should they be dancing? Practically speaking, what gift have they received?  What appreciation can they express?

The fact is that the Torah is much more than a gift. Scripture (in a verse we’ll be reading this coming Friday) refers to the Torah as our ‘inheritance’, and that is fundamentally different than a gift.

A gift is something that one person gives to another, as an expression of the benefactor’s positive feeling.

An inheritance is also a transfer from benefactor to recipient, but on a very different wavelength.  

According to Torah law, a deceased person’s assets automatically transfer to his heirs; even if there is no expression of will, even if we have no indication of the deceased’s wishes. It just happens (unless the decedent acts to stop or shape this natural transfer).

The Torah respects the natural flow from generation to generation. Conceptually speaking, one generation immediately moves in to fill the shoes of the departed one. Just like that.

In fact, the Hebrew word for ‘inheritance’ (nachala) is the same as ‘river’ (nachal), indicating the natural transition from one generation to the next.

This is why the Torah is called an ‘inheritance’. It’s ours, irrespective of whether we’ve taken actions to claim or deserve it. It passes from generation to generation, some appreciating it more than others. But it belongs to us all. Equally.

And, if you think about it, this IS something to celebrate. No matter how close you feel to the Torah right now, it’s your inheritance, so it’s yours.

Yours to claim, yours to study, yours to appreciate.

And no one can ever deny your fundamental right to it.

In a world of shifting sands and uncertainty, in a world where we’re looking for stability and permanence, you – believe it or  not - have a ‘piece of the Rock’.

Enough said. It’s time to dance!

 

De=Stressing Through Yom Kippur

Is there such a thing as a life without stress?
Actually, it seems that G-d has built stress into our lives.
If we’re self-aware, there will always be a tension – a healthy stress - between our dreams and our reality, between the ideal and the real.
On the one hand, we need to dream, to set far-reaching objectives.
On the other hand, we need to recognize our present reality and plant our feet firmly on the ground.
In Jewish life, we pray three times a day, focusing on who we can be, and setting an over-arching goal for the rest of the day.
We have a day-long introspection-exercise in Shabbat, which crystallizes a vision for the week ahead.
And then there's Yom Kippur.
On Yom Kippur, we get into a different reality.
Dressed in white, abstaining from normal human pleasures, and focused inward, we're disengaged from our usual distractions. We’re free to soar.
Yom Kippur is all about vision. We set our sights on our own destiny and potential; we envision a life of meaning, balance and connectedness.
That’s vision. But how do we reconcile that with our reality?
How does it dovetail with a hectic life of family, business and life's bumps?
Consider the following story:
A peasant once did a special favor for his beloved King. Wanting to repay the peasant, the king decided to give him a unique gift: a nightingale who sang the sweetest songs a human could hear.
A short while later, the king summoned the peasant and asked how he was enjoying the gift.
The peasant answered “In truth, your Majesty, the meat was a little tough, but it tasted okay in a stew with potatoes.”
Life’s obstacles and responsibilities are like that bird. The question is: Do I see the challenge as a nightingale….or lunch?
As I look inward on Yom Kippur, I need to recognize that the introspection is a necessary guide to life; but life itself, with all its curveballs, is what is meaningful.
Yom Kippur is only one day a year. Shabbat is only one day a week. And we pray for a limited time every day.
That’s the dream.
The rest is life.
Dealing with life is where my Torah values come into play. I need to recognize my nightingales.
And let them sing.

Is there such a thing as a life without stress?
Actually, it seems that G-d has built stress into our lives.
If we’re self-aware, there will always be a tension – a healthy stress -between our dreams and our reality, between the ideal and the real.
On the one hand, we need to dream, to set far-reaching objectives.
On the other hand, we need to recognize our present reality and plant our feet firmly on the ground.

In Jewish life, we pray three times a day, focusing on who we can be, and setting an over-arching goal for the rest of the day.
We have a day-long introspection-exercise in Shabbat, which crystallizes a vision for the week ahead. And then there's Yom Kippur.

On Yom Kippur, we get into a different reality.
Dressed in white, abstaining from normal human pleasures, and focused inward, we're disengaged from our usual distractions. We’re free to soar.

Yom Kippur is all about vision. We set our sights on our own destiny and potential; we envision a life of meaning, balance and connectedness.
That’s vision. But how do we reconcile that with our reality?

How does it dovetail with a hectic life of family, business and life's bumps?

Consider the following story:

A peasant once did a special favor for his beloved King. Wanting to repay the peasant, the king decided to give him a unique gift: a nightingale who sang the sweetest songs a human could hear.

A short while later, the king summoned the peasant and asked how he was enjoying the gift.
The peasant answered “In truth, your Majesty, the meat was a little tough, but it tasted okay in a stew with potatoes.”
Life’s obstacles and responsibilities are like that bird. The question is:
Do I see the challenge as a nightingale….or lunch?

As I look inward on Yom Kippur, I need to recognize that the introspection is a necessary guide to life; but life itself, with all its curveballs, is what is meaningful.

Yom Kippur is only one day a year. Shabbat is only one day a week. And we pray for a limited time every day.

That’s the dream.

The rest is life.

Dealing with life is where my Torah values come into play. I need to recognize my nightingales.

And let them sing.

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