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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

My Rebbe the Rescuer

The word conjures images of firefighters scaling a ladder to reach a burning building or commandos rappelling into the camp of hostile hostage-takers.
In a profoundly meangful way, it also describes the Rebbe’s arrival to our shores, seventy years ago today. Having escaped the Nazis in Europe, the Rebbe – on this day in 1941 – reached the protective embrace of the USA, the great Land of Liberty. The Rebbe had been rescued.
So, on this special anniversary, I’m thankful to G-d and the USA. Because I’m deeply grateful for my time with the Rebbe.
The Rebbe showed us how to engage life, and not be swamped by its turbulence. The Rebbe showed us how one can live by a moral and religious compass, and choose a response - to any situation - based on Principle, not [just] impulse.
The Rebbe showed us how to see every situation as a call to action. In the Rebbe’s world, every problem beckoned with a challenge: "Will you rise to my occasion?"
In that sense, the Rebbe was a rescuer to the world.
The Rebbe saw a society trapped in the soul-numbing pain of
meaninglessness, where emotional dysfunction and spiritual
vacuity were creating a deep existential crisis.
And the Rebbe taught us that we can do better.
The Rebbe wanted us all to be leaders in our own lives. We needed to take the reins of life and pro-actively lead ourselves toward purpose and spiritual health.
But that wasn’t enough. We also needed to change the world.
The Rebbe championed the Jewish belief that the world around us has a G-dly core.
While we can’t easily perceive the world’s beauty, because of it shallow façade, we can access it through proper living. We needed to perform the ultimate rescue by liberating the world’s ‘soul’ and revealing its Divine glow.
We needed to usher in the world of Moshiach.
Tirelessly, the Rebbe encouraged us and cheered us on, in effect
telling each of us: Rescue your soul from the trap of meaninglessness, and rescue the world from its shell of superficiality.
To this day, every morning, the Rebbe’s words rescue me – at least for a few moments - from life’s stifling status quo of life, to remind me that I can do better.
Thank you G-d. Thank you USA.
Thank you Rebbe.

Life in Sequence

All for one and one for all.

What a beautiful idea.

Can we hope for anything loftier than a sense of community and brotherhood?

On the other hand, I appreciate my privacy and solitude too; we occasionally need some ‘sacred space’ to get to know ourselves, to retreat from the crowd and find peace of mind for some serious introspection. We all need opportunities to sharpen our internal bearings and calibrate our consciences. For that, we need [relative] silence and solitude.

There’s a time for solitude. And a time for fellowship.

Both are necessary.

And in a Torah trajectory, solitude usually comes first because it enables and empowers the latter.

If my goal is maintain an atmosphere of friendship and goodwill throughout the day, then my primary focus won't be on the ‘easy’ relationships; after all, they’re not the real hurdle.

If we want to maintain a feeling of connectedness – and that means rising above resentments, grudges and even the 'friendly' veneer - we need to focus on the people who try our patience.

If we can find fellowship with them, then we've scaled our personal mountain of disconnect and conquered a piece of ourselves.

But that doesn’t come easy. It takes contemplative thought.

The human default position is selfishness/ego, which is the primary disruption to true unity. So the mindset which will trigger a feeling of real connectedness is actually counter-intuitive

We need to pro-actively generate ‘unity thought patterns’, because they won’t happen by themselves.

We need to spend time in our own minds, disengaging from the counter-productive rhythms of social negativity.

We can contemplate the pragmatic value of unity (less stress).

We can take the time to realize that, spiritually, we're all one organic body; just as the same blood courses through each limb so does the same 'soul-blood' – Divine vitality – course through us all.

There’s a lot to think about. And after thinking, we’re ready to engage.

But the sequence is critical.

Introspection. Engagement.

Plunging into life’s marketplace without sharpening of the vision can create undesirable consequences and disconnect.

Internal grounding before interaction.

Independence before interdependence.

It doesn’t come naturally, and that’s why prayer is a profoundly important way to start the day.

Give it a shot.


Just Because

Think before you act.
I think that’s a good principle for life; it’s one I teach to my kids.
But it doesn’t always apply.
When I awake at night to the sound of my baby crying in feverish pain,
do I pause for calculations? Do I weigh my options, balancing the
inconvenient awakening with the distinct possibility that I may need
this kid when I’m a geriatric?
Nah. I just jump out of bed. Why? Just because.
Because I share a special relationship with my baby, a deep connection that defies description. When he calls, that extraordinary bond beckons, and I need to respond. So I jump out of bed, sans intellectual analysis. Just because.
Is it rational? Not really. But it's not irrational either. Let's call
it super-rational.
I rationally understand that this relationship has tremendous depth.
My intellectual analysis confirms that this is a safe and intimate
connection. When I genuinely feel safe in a relationship, when I can truly let my guard down, I can confidently move upward into the transcendent world of super-rationality, love etc.
The same applies to my marriage, and – perhaps in differing degrees - to any other deep, safe relationship.
I feel that way with G-d, too.
When I contemplate a Jewish practice, I want to understand its
contribution to my life and my destiny; I want to appreciate how it elevates my consciousness and/or improves my day.
But that understanding and appreciation isn’t an absolute
prerequisite. I feel safe enough with G d, confident enough in the
rock-solid stability of our relationship, to do a Mitzvah ‘just
because’. Actually, doing something for a loved one ‘just because’ (super-rationally as distinct from irrationally) adds a special flavor to the recipe of our relationship. It says ‘I trust you’. It says ‘I love you’.
Doing something for G-d ‘just because’ lays an extraordinary element to the bond we share. It says ‘I’m yours’ and ‘I surrender’.
So even when I can find personal benefit in my interaction with a
loved one, I should always try to find a shining ‘just because’ at its core. Because commitment without a ‘just because’ is commitment of my mind and actions, but not commitment of my soul. For some relationships that’s enough, and for some relationships it isn’t.
Why did G-d create the world that way?
 Just because.

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