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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Mistakes

Once I’ve made a mistake, can it ever be retroactively un-done?

Sure, we can make amends and learn for the future; but can I ever un-speak hurtful words?

Not in the concrete sense. But there’s more to life than the concrete.

Regret is a multi-level experience.

Sometimes, we rue our behavior because we don’t like the fallout. When you’ve hurt someone important, and the relationship has become uncomfortable, you say you're sorry. Why? Because you want the pain to go away.

That's regret; but it's not transformative remorse.

It's ‘relationship management’.

Why? Because you haven’t looked internally to see why things went wrong, and work toward genuine character change. You’re uncomfortable with the REACTION, not the action itself; you’re modifying your behavior based on someone else's response, not your own principles.

Genuine behavior modification doesn't happen that way.

Even when it's inspired by something external, real transformation needs to spring from within.

I believe that G-d created me with the capacity to be a true mentsch, with character and integrity. I have to envision that potential as my gold standard, and I need to consistently measure my behavior against that potential.

Because I want to do better.

Not because of you.

Because of me.

Because of my destiny.

I care about others’ hurt feelings. And I need to deal with them. But my rehabilitation starts with me.

The other’s displeasure is actually helpful; it alerts us to possible character-misalignment.

When those signals are taken seriously, we can search and recalibrate ourselves in a serious way. And the other will know.

Because you’ll express it. In a genuine way.

In the scope of my life, I can transform a mistake into a shining moment of growth and self-improvement.

No, we can’t control people’s memories; we may never be able to undo the past in their minds.

But in my life, between me and G-d, if I’m using my mistakes as powerful springboards for positive change, then I’ve done the impossible.

I’ve reached back in time and transformed a negative event into a positive force for growth.

G-d sees it that way.

So that’s the way I see it.

Do you?

Warm Breeze

Air is a funny thing. It’s the stuff of life; yet it’s invisible and easy to miss.

Then there’s the breeze. That’s air tickling you and making itself known, if ever so subtly. You can’t see it, and its touch may be barely noticeable, but you know it’s there. It’s nature’s little hug and it can help create a special moment.

We have spiritual breezes in life.

My day’s minute-to-minute decisions play out in an oft-shifting context: my mood, the environmental stimuli, even the subtle breezes, can change many times throughout the day. And they can all have a real impact.

A flutter of inspiration, or a whiff of confidence, are psycho-spiritual breezes. They may be ‘little things’, but they can play a very helpful role in important moments.

So here’s an important heads up: We’re entering spiritual ‘breezy season’.

Within a few days, we’re going to hit the High Holiday home stretch. The Jewish calendar month of Elul, the month of preparation for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, begins this coming weekend.

Years ago, the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe (Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, 1880-1950) wrote a wonderfully vivid description of how this season felt in the town of Lubavitch, where he was raised. The Previous Rebbe writes that “a breeze of Teshuva (re-balancing/re-prioritization/return) could be felt in the town”.

We can make changes in our lives every day of the year, if we so choose. But Elul is a time when the spiritual atmosphere itself is a pro-actively helpful force, beckoning me to upgrade my life. G-d is that much more palpably present, subtly encouraging us in our self-improvement, smilingly and lovingly cheering us on.

When you hit the pause button on life’s distractions, and unclog your spiritual pores, that Elul breeze you’ll feel is G-d’s hug.

A breeze is just a breeze, and – ultimately - the most important thing in life is your ‘rubber hits the road’ choices. At the same time, the breezes can put you in a better place, setting the stage for your life’s upgrade.

For the next month, the wind of change is at our backs. It’s a time of inspiration. Sometimes it may be subtle as a faint breeze, but it’s always perceptible to the spiritually awake.

Feel it. Use the opportunity.

The weather’s right.

The Soul of Satisfaction

It’s been almost twenty years.

When I was in my mid-twenties, I presented medical symptoms which baffled my doctors. They  hospitalized me at Cornell Medical Center for a full week; poking, prodding and analyzing what was going on inside my body.

Thank G-d, I’ve made it to the other side with excellent health. I’m medically fine and barely see a doctor unless I’m bringing one of my children for a checkup.

It was a difficult experience; yet it has actually helped me in my life’s work.

As a Rabbi, I visit people in hospitals to offer them support and comfort. What do I do as I stand near that bed? How can I relate to his/her confusion and fear?

When I approach a patient, I flash back to my Cornell experience. I relive the uncertainty, the fear, and the defenselessness. Using my own trauma as a springboard, I begin to imagine the person’s inner turmoil; my own life becomes a portal through which I can relate to another’s.

It’s called empathy, and it’s an important bridge we each have with the world. So how do we build it?

An important foundation is finding a personal ‘pain point’, something in your life which helps you relate to the other’s struggle.

Then comes self-reflection, introspection as to whether our own comfort isn’t obstructing our ‘empathy pores’.  

For example: When I’m hungry, I’m better able to relate to a poor person’s hunger. After a large meal, that becomes a more difficult exercise. When I’m personally satisfied, a pauper’s hunger is more likely to stay a detached concept, as distinct from a personally touching reality.

This is part of the reasoning behind a beautiful Jewish practice, known as ‘Mayim Acharonim’ – the post-meal washing of our fingertips.

Scripture tells us that “when you eat and are satisfied, you should bless G-d”; we thank the Divine for our comfort and satiety. But as we prepare to praise the Divine for our contentment, we need to consider a second element: Does our self-satisfaction disallow sensitivity to someone else’s hunger? Does your stomach’s sufficiency block your heart’s capacity to empathize with someone who has less?

So we wash our fingertips, rinsing our emotional selves of any smugness that might come with self-satisfaction.

Because it’s wonderful to be satisfied. And it’s even more wonderful to remain sensitive to others’ needs.

So go ahead: Eat. Drink. And stay Merciful.

If Werewolves Only Knew....

Look outside tonight and you’ll see a full moon. It’s a pretty sight, yet common folklore has associated lunacy - even vampires - with lunar fullness.

Well, Judaism sees spiritual beauty and meaning in the full moon.

The sun is the universe’s luminary, and the moon its reflector, and (as we observe it on earth) every month they go through a cosmic dance. The New Moon cycle begins with darkness, a moonless night. The moon then begins to wax, showing us more and more of the sun’s brilliance.

Ultimately, we get to see the moon in total symmetry with the sun’s rays: The full moon.

This dynamic represents our own dance with the Divine. G-d is the source of all light, the true ‘Sun’ of our universe. Our job is to reflect Divine meaning; we need to be a ‘moon’ to G-d’s ‘Sun’.

When we’re off our game, we go dark. Our world is a moonless night, lonely and vulnerable.

When we’re aligned, the world is bright. Life makes sense. We can see where we’re coming from and where we need to go. Life still has pitfalls, but we’re safe and secure. We’re connected.

We ARE the full moon.

On the [lunar-based] Jewish calendar, the 15th  day  of the month is always the full moon.

In the Spring, Passover is on the 15th. So is Sukkot in the Fall. Yet, the Talmud tells us that the 15th of the month of Av – tonight - is greater than them both.

Why?

There’s no deeper security than the safety which comes after vulnerability and instability.

Think of a couple experiencing their honeymoon, an unchallenged oneness. Then real life hits, so the union faces instability and challenge. The couple’s in a vulnerable place, [partially] because they haven’t each yet evolved into a healthy, interdependent unit.

By using their imbalance as an opportunity to strengthen personal weakness, the couple comes out stronger on the other side. They’re more secure because they have faced instability and grown from it.

Tisha B’av (last weekend) was a time for mourning the havoc that results from being disconnected, detached from self, each other and the Divine.

Having resolved to regain balance and reconnect, our new alignment has the safety – that special glow – that comes with personal transformation.

So our moon is especially bright.

Tonight.


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