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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

New Year's in November?

What is Chabad? To many, it’s a movement which sends enthusiastic young people throughout the planet to spread love and Jewish values. That’s true.

But the word ‘Chabad’ itself is actually an acronym for three Hebrew words (Chochmah, Binah and Daas) which represent a program for achieving the Chassidic goal of a meaningful life.

Chassidism (through its founder Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, known as the ‘Besht’) brought the Jewish world a picture of how life should be lived. Then, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (the Besht’s disciple’s disciple), created Chabad to present a path, a program, for achieving the Chassidic life-objective.

The Previous Rebbe (our Rebbe’s father in law) described Chabad’s contribution to Jewish life with a metaphor: “Pearls can be found in the seabed. Coal, which sheds light and warmth, is found deep within the earth……. The prevalent system is that the miner beneath the earth’s surface needs someone aboveground giving directions; at the same time, everyone needs their own conduit aboveground for their oxygen to breathe….”.

The Rebbe once offered a thorough analysis of this metaphor, and I’d like to highlight a few points:

1.       To discover and actualize our best self (Chabad’s goal), we need to explore deep beneath the surface of our psyches, attitudes and very lives.

2.       Over time, we’ve grown less connected to our souls and operate at a surface level. Chabad’s ‘program’ helps us find warmth and ‘light’, i.e. enthusiasm and joy, in our Judaism and daily lives.

3.    When you introduce light and warmth to a furnished room, you’re not actually adding anything tangible to the room. You’re simply infusing the existing room with a glow. Chabad didn’t add a new ‘section’ of Torah scholarship; it brought enthusiasm and vibrancy to the Torah we’ve had for thousands of years.

3.       Through immersion in Chassidism, we go beyond our basic religious profile and ‘adorn’ our souls with Divine ‘pearls’.

4.       We need guidance from a selfless spiritual master, someone who has an ‘aerial view’ of our lives.

5.       At the same time, we’re each responsible for ourselves, and can’t live a wholesome life based on someone else’s inspiration. We need to dig deep to find personal meaning in life.

Tonight is the 19th of Kislev, known as the Rosh Hashana for Chabad Chassidism (click here for explanation). Take a moment to contemplate this gift – our gift - and have a wonderful New Year!

 

Living Life to the Fullest

 

You’re driving your daughter to soccer, as you discuss this afternoon’s meeting on your [hands-free!] cell phone.  

Your spouse is sharing the day’s anxieties. You work hard to listen, to disengage from that unpleasant clash at work, and simultaneously resist your impulse to lose yourself in your IPad.

 You’re in synagogue, looking for connection and meaning, but your mind keeps wandering to yesterday’s disappointments and tomorrow’s possibilities.

You’re skimming life’s surface.

In life, there’s intellectual engagement and emotional investment. Then there’s basic functionality, your actions. The question, the hugely important challenge to a quality life, is: Will you pour your intellect and emotion into your functionality? Will you be engaged and present? Will your actions be genuine? Or will they be a shell?

Consider three possible scenarios:

You really adore a friend, and you know he’s fallen on hard times, so you treat him to a nice suit that he can wear for job interviews.

You have an acquaintance – not a particularly close one – and you hear he’s fallen on hard times. This saddens you; your heart tugs you to help this fellow in need. So you treat him to a nice suit that he can wear for job interviews.

You hear of a neighbor who’s fallen on hard times. You’re not particularly moved, but you can hear your grandparents’ words “never neglect someone in need”. You resolve to do the right thing. So – politely, but with no particular enthusiasm - you treat him to a nice suit that he can wear for job interviews.

In Chassidic, psycho-spiritual language, the first scenario represents total engagement. The brain is in gear and you’re into the experience. The second represents your own good nature, not a particular affection for this individual. Your heart is engaged.

The third represents a lower level of engagement. Your determination to DO the right thing. Your physical body – represented by the legs in Chassidic thought - is doing a Mitzvah; your mind and heart are elsewhere.  

Jacob wrestled with an angel, fighting a battle – for the ages - with our weaker side.

While he won, his hip socket, where the thigh meets the body’s trunk, was injured; the sinew binding the thigh to the trunk was dislocated. That’s where we’re vulnerable: our weaker nature tends to separate our ‘leg’ – physical function –from our higher faculties. That’s where we get hurt. And where we hurt others.

It’s a battle of the ages. A daily struggle.

The measure of a life isn’t so much how many days we live, but how we live the days we have.

Engage. Live real.

Peace Dividend

 

What is peace? Is it just the absence of conflict? Or is it the result of active rapprochement between two otherwise incompatible parties, bringing them to a sense of unity and synthesis?

In other words, does a couple find peace when they’ve stopped quibbling, or when they’ve learned to work together toward a joint goal?

From a Torah perspective, it’s the latter.

And from that same perspective, our entire lives are about creating peace. An isolationist existence isn’t a genuinely peaceful existence. True peace is living an engaged existence, one in which I’m interacting with others – many of whom have personalities/approaches that don’t easily sync with mine – and creating quality, productive associations.

And it’s not just about human interactions; it’s about engagement with the world at large. Every day, we encounter situations and objects which need to be reconciled with our Higher Purpose. Our mission is to create peace.

Imagine the box top of a huge jigsaw puzzle. The picture gives you a projection of how the finished product should look, and that helps you discern how to properly place of the seemingly – and sometimes annoyingly - random piece in your hand.

The Torah is our box top; it gives us an image of how life should look. We’re dealt little puzzle pieces all day – good news and sad news, pleasant conversations and irritating ones, food that’s suitable for your intake and that which you should avoid, etc - and your job is to pause and consider the box top’s guidance. Consider where this object or opportunity fits into life, put it into its proper place, and keep building that puzzle.

This process is the way we bring peace to our world. We bring oneness and synchronicity to a seemingly random, disconnected universe. We find wholeness. We find peace.

Every Friday night, we reflect on our week’s puzzle-building. And every Friday night, G-d takes pleasure in our progress.

Before we recite the Kiddush, sanctifying this Holy day of Divine Satisfaction, we turn to the angels and sing Shalom Aleichem’,  ‘Welcome Angels of Peace’ .

Angels are Divine functionaries which G-d creates to interface with humanity. Friday night’s angels represent the peace we’ve created all week. They, in turn, convey G-d’s blessing for the strength to create peace in the week ahead.

Tomorrow night, put your life on pause. Attend Shabbat services; take the opportunity to welcome YOUR angels.

Welcome peace.

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