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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Crown Jewels

Look at a sparkling gem; soak in its brilliance. Where does this stone come from and how did it get to this glorious state?
Gems usually start off in the earth, covered by earth and soil. But then we mine, purify, cleanse and polish a gem, making it worthy of
its glorious setting.
In the Torah program, we go through this process every day, preparing gems for ‘G-d’s Crown’.
Now, what kind of ‘Crown’ could G-d possibly wear, and how can we be the ones ‘crowning’ Him?
Scripture refers to “the Crown which His mother made for Him on the day of His wedding” (Song of Songs 3:11). The Midrash interprets this as referring to Israel (the mother) standing with G-d (the Groom) as we received the Torah at Sinai (the day of His wedding to us).
A similar ‘Crown’ quote appears in Jewish spiritual texts, which inform us that an Angel lifts our sincere prayers aloft and “weaves the letters into crowns for G-d”.
Chassidic thought looks at the struggle of prayer as an exhausting yet purifying exercise.
A. Focused, meditative thought, without any intrusion from the psyche’s ‘floating junk’, isn’t easy to maintain. When we pray, trying to forge a bond with the Divine, and we manage to find a commitment which enables us to pull through the static and connect with Higher, we come out stronger. Your bond has been strengthened and ‘cleansed’ by your internal battle.
B.  Pouring your heart out to G-d, in a genuine - let it all flow – way, isn’t easy. It’s humbling to recognize that you don’t have all the answers, and that you need help from something higher than
yourself. Yet, perhaps paradoxically, it’s also liberating. On the other side of prayer of that caliber, you will have grown from all the
challenges and stress.
So words of genuine, committed prayer are seen as precious gems. They are morsels of your emotion and energy, taken from the ‘dirt’ of your
life. You’ve cleansed them, found their innate beauty and presented them to the Divine.
He couldn’t be prouder.

The D...[ivine] Is In The Details

Do you have a spiritual bent? Spirituality is good for you; a
spiritual attitude to life, can smooth the day’s sharp edges. With a
transcendent perspective, you may find it easier to go with the flow,
without getting snagged by life’s thorns.

Spirituality, after all, is incorporeal; it’s detached from
materiality. So if my world-view is abstract, focusing beyond concrete realities and details, those earthly concerns can’t really keep me down. If the ‘thorns’ don’t really matter, how much can they hurt?

But we need to recognize that, from this perspective, spirituality
seems to transcend the limitations of fixed exercises, expectations or equations. Indeed, many spiritual people feel constricted by prescribed protocol and codes of conduct. It’s liberating to let the spirit soar above life’s ‘petty’ details.

By Torah standards, that attitude may be spiritual but it isn’t Holy. The Torah aims for Holiness, and it’s extremely detail-oriented. So I don’t want to only be spiritual; I want to be Holy.

In Torah thought, it’s imperative that our soul-yearning, our
transcendental moments, be anchored and manifested in correct conduct. If my spiritual surge is simply that, but not anchored in anything concrete, then it’s just a beautiful flash in the pan. When it finds expression on the ground, in my life’s details, then it is Holiness.

If you truly love someone, you may feel compelled toward artistic expression of that feeling; you may feel the urge to transcend your natural constrictions and shout to the world. That’s beautiful. Butthe love also needs to find expression in the down-to-earth details of your relationship. If I write poetry for a loved one but carelessly forget to pick up the dry-cleaning, is the love anchored in reality?
How true is it? How Holy?

Spirituality feels good. So, in a funny way, spirituality can be a
selfish pursuit. But Holiness and selfishness don’t go together. If
I’m feeling a transcendental feeling, that’s a wonderful beginning.
But until I anchor that feeling in my responsibilities to an ‘other’
(and that ‘other’ might be G-d, my own weaker self, or you), it
can’t be Holy.

So the next time you feel a surge of love for someone, think about how to express it – in [Holy] detail.

For Not By Matzah Alone....

Okay, so I editorialized a little. The verse actually says “it is not by BREAD alone that the human lives, but by the word of G-d…” (Deut.8:3)
But bread, matzah or potato chips, what does this verse actually mean?
Chassidic thought teaches that there is holiness embedded in all of the world’s objects. G-d created everything with a purpose, a spark of potential meaning; and a specific article’s objective is its very ‘soul’. When you purposefully engage an object or respond to a situation – whether it’s your pen, a tuna sandwich, or a heated moment - you fan that spark of meaning into a blaze.
So life is like a big treasure hunt, as we search for the nuggets of
meaning to be found in our daily lives.
In this sense, foods have their own spark of meaning; their own Divine ‘word’ i.e. holy purpose, which creates the ‘soul’ of its very
existence. As such, Kabbalistic writings teach that ingesting food in a conscious and meaningful way (e.g. to gain strength to live a life as our Creator intended), helps us access two levels of the food’s nutrition: A. The physical, which discharges material nutrients into our bloodstream B. The spiritual, because our intent unleashes the food’s Divinity to nourish our souls.
While all foods have spiritual nutrients, but there’s something
special about Matzah. The Zohar, Kabbalah’s pre-eminent textbook, calls Matzah ‘the food of Faith’. Eating the Matzah as a Mitzvah, and with spiritual consciousness, injects the nutrient of faith into oursoul’s ‘bloodstream’.
That’s the way it was 3300 years ago. When the Jews left Egypt, they were aware of G-d (after all, they’d just witnessed ten plagues), but the top-of-the-head-to-the-bottom-of-the-toes recognition, the super-rational, spiritually intimate connectedness, didn’t kick in until they ate Matzah.
And that’s the way it still is. Matzah is the gift of faith, in food
form. When we sit down to the Seder next Friday night, let’s remember that Matzah is much more than the brittle cracker you’re holding in your hand. Understand that it’s “Not by Matzah alone…”
There’s A Divine energy there. So connect with Matzah’s spiritual
gift, and nourish your soul.
I bet it’s hungry.

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