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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Just Move It


Ever hear of Yitro?

Yitro was Moses’ father in law, but he wasn’t originally part of the Hebrew people, nor a follower of Abraham’s ways. In fact, he was a priest to idolatrous cults.

Yet, Scripture tells us that when he heard “all that G-d had done” for the Jews in their exodus from Egypt, he picked himself up and went to join them in the desert.

Why? Because Yitro was a spiritual man.

Ancient idolatry didn’t mean mindless bowing to inanimate objects. There was a meaningful core. People recognized the forces which granted them success in life. They were grateful for, and respectful of, the forces of nature. They understood the profundity of love, ambition etc.

But they forgot that these forces are created and managed by the Divine. Of course we’re grateful for a sunny morning; but we should thank G-d - not the sun - since nature is only G-d’s tool. We don’t thank a surgeon’s scalpel for a successful surgery; we thank the surgeon. Similarly, we should acknowledging G-d, not G-d’s ‘implements’.

But Yitro decided to leave everything behind because he heard about the Exodus from Egypt, the splitting of the Sea, and the Hebrews’  battle with Amalek (a warring tribe who became the Jews’ nemesis in the desert).

There’s a profound lesson here.

What prevents someone from making a giant leap forward in their behavior? It could the paralysis of the status quo; it could be a lack of mental and emotional clarity; it could be debilitating doubts.

In spiritual terms, Egypt represents the straitjacket of our patterns. The exodus expressed the Jews’ ability to overcome their psycho-spiritual enslavement to the status quo.

Looking at the sea, we see a sheet of water, with no hint of the complex world which lies beneath. Splitting the sea represents piercing life’s façade, transcending the confusion to find genuine clarity as to what matters.   

In Kabbalistic writings, Amalek represents ‘doubt’. The battle with Amalek manifests our tussle with indecision and disbelief as we contemplate an important step forward, a move toward genuine freedom in life.

Yitro heard about how the Jews escaped their status quo, got deeper clarity about life, and jettisoned the nagging doubts that paralyzed them. He was so inspired that he made his move.

You in?

Freedom Walk

Right and left, heads and tails. Freedom and responsibility, capitalism and compassion.
A healthy life journey seems to need more than a singular focus. We need a broad perspective, juggling the values tugging at our attention, and the areas of our respective personalities that need conscious oversight.

Life isn’t one-dimensional.

In Judaism, we see this reflected in the Torah’s outline of two general categories of responsibility: Do and Don't. Mitzvahs come in two flavors: Behave this way, and Refrain from doing that.
We can find these two elements in any strong relationship. The foundation of a meaningful bond is basic respect. We restrain ourselves from doing anything that might intrude on this meaningful connection. First do no harm.
But that's not enough. We need to also pro-actively build the relationship, creating avenues for further depth and beauty.
Similarly, in our relationship with G-d: By respecting the 'Don'ts', I declare that my momentary impulses aren't as important as my connectedness to the Divine; it's like controlling your temper at home, because the family cohesiveness is so much more important.
In performing the 'Do's', I’m finding/seizing opportunities to fulfill the desire of a Loved One. It's like bringing home flowers to show how much you care.
When the Jews finally escaped Egypt's physical and spiritual enslavement, crossing the [miraculously-split] sea was a watershed (no pun intended!) event. That was where they finally disengaged, jettisoning the physical and spiritual Egypt that had trapped them for so long.
We were finally free.
In that miraculous event, when even the average person was able to see Truth and Meaning crystallized, where life finally made sense to the thinking person, "the water formed a wall for them, to their right and to their left (Exodus 14:29)”.

Our approach to freedom needs protective walls on either side. To our right, this wall is our immovable commitment to proper conduct, and to strengthening the relationship with our best selves and with the Divine. And to our left, this wall represents self-restraint from any behavior that would separate us from true freedom i.e. lives of Higher Meaning and Holiness.

Freedom from [your personal] Egypt is an ongoing process.

Walk your sea.

The Ultimate Struggle

We're curious creatures, you and I.
What other being knowingly acts against it's own interests?
For example:
His marriage is the orbital center of his life, yet he acts on impulse - reacting to the prospect of a fleeting pleasure - and creates damage that far, far outweighs any gain.
Her kids are incredibly important to her, she'd sacrifice anything for them; yet she yells at them because she was stressed by a client, or because someone moved her IPad.
You are committed to your spiritual identity. Your actions don't always show it, but your Judaism means a lot to you. There are some lines you would never cross; but you're too preoccupied with life to stand back and consider what lines G-d would never have you cross.
This isn't rational behavior. But it's a regular part of the human experience.
How does it happen?
News Flash: The Talmud teaches that bad behavior is inevitably the result of clouded thinking (a "spirit of folly").
When we have clarity of priorities and objectives, we make the right choices. When we lose mental clarity, we're in imminent danger of going off the rails.
This - the struggle to stay on track - is the human condition's primary test.
One important strategy is to temper our indulgence of our appetites and impulses.
The more we chase our desires, the more those desires control our minds. The more we take comfort in self-indulgence, the less room we leave for the beauty of higher-minded pursuits.
Kabbalistic thought teaches that one's excessive engagement in self-serving, sensual pleasure deadens one's capacity to appreciate spirituality and inspiration.
This struggle, the struggle to gain control of our inner selves, is Torah's goal - its ultimate wish - for us.
Scripture tells us to create a Sanctuary for the Divine. In macro, this means that we need to build a Tabernacle and Holy Temple.
But in micro, it's a much more personal directive: We each need to make ourselves, our individual lives, into Divine Sanctuaries. We begin by making room for the Divine. Getting control of our self-absorption and creating space for a life of Purpose.
It's worth the struggle.

Mission: Possible


Imagine how Moses felt.

The world's lone superpower had enslaved a friendless people; no political or military entity could even consider presenting a challenge to the Egyptian colossus.

Faced with a death sentence for having stood up to Pharaoh, Moses flees the kingdom. So G-d tells him to go back into the lion's den, CONFRONT Pharaoh and DEMAND that the Jews be freed.

It’s suicidal by any rational measure.

But Moses accepts his mission. He has faith in the Divine, and believes that a truly meaningful objective is always possible; it’s not subject to life’s normal curveballs.

If something needs to be done. It’s possible. Even more; it’s necessary.

So he confronts Pharaoh, who’s reaction is basically "Are you kidding? Watch what I can do. I'm going to make the Jews’ lives even MORE miserable".

You can just imagine the hecklers: “Hey Moses! How's that faith thing workin' out for ya??”

Imagine how he felt. Devastated by his people’s pain; crushed by the apparent failure of his mission.

He’s hurt by the ‘failure’.  G-d is ‘hurt’ by his doubts.

So G-d teaches Moses a lesson.  G-d shows him that we and the Divine have a relationship, a sacred bond, a covenant. It’s indestructible and ultimately inviolable. G-d will never forsake us.

The good resolution is more than possible. It’s necessary. Just let things play out.

With renewed faith and energy, Moses begins to warn Pharaoh of various plagues that will begin to afflict his people. He knows that it’s a process; the redemption doesn’t happen in an instant.

He knows freedom is on the way; he just needs to keep the faith and follow the steps.

None of us is Moses. And most of us have never been slaves in Egypt.

But there’s a bit of Moses in each of us, and each of our struggles is a personal Egypt.

Even with faith, we sometimes see setbacks. A meaningful mission can seem to fail.

So we have Moses’ lesson: Trust G-d. If there’s a setback, don’t question the relationship; stay the course. Moses got there and so will you.

It’s more than possible. It’s necessary.

If your objective is a good one, and it truly contributes to your world and to the world at large, don’t buckle. Stay the course, and you’ll, G-d willing, find your freedom.

It’s Possible. More than Possible.


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