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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

The Good Life



What is the ideal setting for a high-minded, spiritual person? What kind of life does a holy person aspire to?

A life without spiritual challenges.

A soul-focused person isn’t spending too much energy wishing he had a flashier car; he just wants a clear field – without obstacles – so that he’s able to lead a good life. One simply hopes for less distraction, less stress, less psycho-spiritual confusion. In the words of our morning prayers “Do not lead me….into trials and ordeals”.

Our Patriarch Jacob was a spiritualist par excellence. The Torah describes a person wholly committed to higher living, as the Scripture testifies “…Jacob was a fully committed man, residing in the tents [of Divine study]”.

So one can only imagine what it was like for him to spend his 'golden years', the last seventeen years of his life, in Egypt, the most depraved nation of its time. A moral paragon stuck in the bowels of societal immorality. It must have been very difficult to keep his virtuous focus, to stay prioritized.
Yet, the Torah tells us that those last years were his best, spiritually as well as physically. What was the secret of his success?

The Rebbe points out that Jacob, in preparation for his trip to Egypt, “sent Judah ahead to make advance preparations”, which the Talmud interprets to mean that Judah prepared houses of spiritual study in Egypt.

In other words, Jacob knew where he and his family were going, and he wanted to establish a healthy dynamic. He knew that If they maintained a reservoir of spiritual strength, they would be able to thrive in the spiritually-desolate Egypt.

There’s a profound lesson here.

G-d wants us live spiritually-conscious lives right where we are, not in isolation on a mountain-top. G-d gave us lives where we’re thrown daily curveballs, distractions and assorted fears. Yet we’re given the power to persevere, survive and thrive - even here ‘in Egypt’.

The key is maintaining our spiritual anchor, our bond with the Divine, who transcends life’s jungle.

If we take some moments for prayer in the morning, and a brief opportunity to engage our minds in Torah wisdom, we can insulate ourselves from the day’s scrapes and bruises.

We can grow from healthy engagement of a rough world, and we thereby actualize the purpose of our creation.

It’s the life we’re given. Use it well.

Finding Forgiveness


How do you forgive someone who has hurt you?

It helps to reframe the incident. If you believe there was no malice intended that will soften the hurt.

But what if the other person actually meant to harm you? Can you get past it? Should you? Anger is a toxin that is corrosive to your personality; it’s self-destructive. At the same time, how can you let it go?

The Biblical narrative of Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery has profound lessons for us.

After a stint as a slave, Joseph ends up in an Egyptian prison. Through Divine providence, his skills catapult him to the top of Egyptian society; he is given control of the Egyptian economy, and is second only to Pharaoh.

Then famine hits the region and his brothers come to Egypt looking for food. He recognizes them, but they don’t recognize him (it’s been more than two decades).

One can only imagine the resentful thoughts that might have obsessed someone in his situation; after all, he’d suffered so many years as a direct result of his brothers’ malice. This was the perfect opportunity for revenge. He held all the power, and could have them summarily imprisoned, or even executed.

But he doesn’t go there. Instead, he orchestrates aggravating circumstances to ascertain whether they regret their treatment of him, whether they’ve learned from the episode and whether they’d make different choices today.

Once he’s convinced that this is indeed the case, he reveals his identity to them. They’re shocked. And frightened. They have no idea what he’ll do to them.

Yet, he says: “don’t be upset or reproach yourselves…G-d sent me ahead of you to provide for the family in this time of famine…you didn’t send me here. G-d did”.

But they DID send him there; they SOLD him into slavery! They all knew that. So what was Joseph saying?

He was saying: “I see you fellows recognize your mistake and have grown from it; now I can let it go. As to what happened, we can’t change the actual events. So now what? I’m comfortable focusing on the self-development and lessons that G-d has buried beneath the surface of my life’s twists and turns.”

A terrible choice. An abused victim. Yet, after two decades, the perpetrators have grown, the victim isn’t carrying anger, and everyone is able to find positive growth.

Torah guidance for the lives we lead.

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