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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Looney Tunes Lessons

A Talmudic parable:
One Friday, a fox tricked a wolf into entering a Jewish courtyard, looking for a bit of the aromatic Shabbos food.
Chased away, he then went to a well, where the fox showed him the moon's reflection in the water. There was a two-bucket pulley system, so the fox went down in one and called up "come down, I’ve found cheese!” The wolf clambered into the empty bucket, and lowered himself into the well. The weight of his descent lifted the fox’s bucket up. The wolf was left stranded at the bottom.
Sounds like Roadrunner and Wile.E.Coyote. But this is Talmudic, so we should look for some its profundity.
Two primary questions:
1.    The wolf is the hapless bad guy. Cartoons aside, why just discard him? Why not rehab?
2.    The fox is the cunning good guy. Can a guy be ‘good’ if he uses Machiavellian tactics?
G-d didn’t give us a perfect world; He gave us a world to perfect. We need to pierce its shallow façade to find its meaning.
Reality is like an orange. On the surface, there is an inedible peel - our world of shallowness and suffering – which yields no genuine beauty. Our job is to find the fruit – the goodness and meaning – behind the peel.
All week, we wrestle with the ‘peel’ because that it’s our functional reality. On Shabbos, and during transcendent ‘Shabbos moments’ of the week, we connect with the ‘fruit’, life’s deeper meaning.
In a perfect – Messianic – reality, we’d be able to elevate the ‘peel’ in its entirety. But, for now, that’s beyond our ken. Once the ‘peel’ has served its purpose, we need to jettison the shallow and focus on the ‘fruit’.
The wolf represents the peel. Shabbos food was beyond his reach, because Shabbos is all about the ‘fruit’; self-centeredness has no place at the table. The wolf’peel represents attitudes and behaviors (not people!) that need to be rejected; they end up at the bottom of a well.
So that addresses one element of the parable.
But why the cunning? Can there be holiness in deceptiveness?
1.    ‘Deceptive’, means that appearance differs from reality. Well, what if an act appears selfish, when it’s actually other-centered? To an onlooker, most of our daily activities will appear self-serving. But what if you are actually focused on achieving your Divine destiny and making a positive mark on the world (through your business)? That’s deceptively Holy.
2.    Our Patriarch Jacob spent much of his life protecting his family, and his life’s mission, from unscrupulous people (Esau and Laban). He needed to stay focused on his values, at the same time that he was outwitting them. In a perfect world, that wouldn’t be necessary; but we don’t yet live in a perfect world.
As the Psalm (18) says: “With the pure You (G-d) act purely, and with the crooked You act crookedly.”

The bottom line message for me and you: We need to cunningly plan our engagement with the world, by piercing it surface banality and finding its beauty. It takes lowering ourselves into the pit of life, but eventually we can ascend and leave the trivialities behind.
Go Road Runner!


Hitting a High Note

What is it about music? Why does a string of random sounds uplift,
transfix and psychologically transport people to a different place.
What is a melody’s power?
In life’s flow, we’re either investing ourselves in an endeavor, or
transcending the grasp of our ‘normative’ lives. As an example:
Imagine that you’re a dentist. During your workday, you’re expending
energy to understand/help your patients and your business. You’re
reaching out of your internal safety zone to invest energy in life.
In the evening, you choose to go jogging. Why? You want to ‘clear your
head’, disengaging from your day’s nitty-gritty so that you can find
your ‘self’ that transcends dentistry. It’s not that your day was
negative; it’s just that you need transcendence for an aerial view of
life; you need mental and emotional clarity, so that you’re not
swallowed up by life and can re-engage in a constructive way.
So we have two rhythms: The ‘downward’ investiture in life, and the
‘soaring’ transcendence of life’s shallower side.
In the week’s flow, these two rhythms  are found in the workdays vs
Shabbos. Six days a week, we’re throwing ourselves into externally
productive lives. On Shabbos, we turn our focus ‘inward’ and ‘upward’.
We disengage from the weekday rhythm (Jewish Law asks us to refrain
from even THINKING about our business pursuits on Shabbos!) so that we
can reach higher. On Shabbos, we re-discover ourselves as we exist
deep inside, beyond the reach of the week’s mental/emotional noise.
Song has that Shabbos rhythm. Indeed, the Kabbalistic Masters taught
that Shabbos is a specifically appropriate time for song. Why? Because
with song, we reach a higher place. With song, we can perceive
ourselves and the world in a way that hours of explanation would not
accomplish. It’s beyond essays because it’s pure experience.
This helps explain why Chassidic melodies, known as ‘Niggunim’, are
overwhelmingly designed to be sung without words. Words – even Holy
words, even Scriptural verses - are a specific canister. They are a
body, a distinct message and form. As such, they interfere with the
form-less experience of one’s internal world.
That’s the experience of Shabbos. And the experience of Prayer, which
is a ‘Shabbos-island’ during the work-week.
So work hard.
But Pray. Shabbos. Sing.

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