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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

In Search Of....The Better Me - Part 5

Are you devoted to principle? Or just stubborn?
Where does tenacity end and self-absorption begin?
In last week's Omer exploration, we analyzed our internal dynamic of Netzach – conviction and tenacity. When we're ambitious and determined, we can be a thin line away from self-centeredness. That's why we need the balance of 'Hod', the next dimension of our Omer journey.
Hod has several literal translations, but I think the word 'acknowledgement' to be the best English word to capture Hod's spiritual and psychological character.
What does it mean to ‘acknowledge’? It means to ‘recognize’, but with an important flavor: To acknowledge is to humbly recognize (admit, concede etc.).
What's the difference between recognition and humble recognition?
Let’s say I know you, and appreciate your intelligence, humor and character; it will take no humility for me to respect you. I don't have to concede space to you; it's yours.
But what if I've just met you? What if I find your appearance to be odd and your behavior unusual? Why should I respect you? Why should I concede space in my world?
Hod is my internal capacity to respect and acknowledge what I don't [yet] know. Hod is the ability to recognize that there is value beyond my [immediate] ability to appreciate.
Recognizing Einstein's superiority is not humility. Humility is recognizing that we’re each special in our own way.
When it comes to my internal dynamics, ego is the poison which turns conviction into stubbornness and tenacity into inflexibility. Ego is my psychological smoke and mirrors, skewing my sense of right and wrong, and blurring the lines between principle and personal agenda.
With Hod's humility, I can surrender to something beyond me; I begin to suspend 'self'. With Hod, I open an internal passageway to identifying and appreciating my moral compass and true convictions.
Hod is letting go of my desperate attachment to my false sense of self.
It’s the sense of true gratitude. It’s the sense of true apology. It’s the sense of true respect. It’s the art of surrendering to the beauty of a genuine relationship, even when you have reason to doubt it. It's all Hod, and it’s all about humility.
Interestingly, Hod literally means 'Glory'. Because surrendering to the Divine is the greatest Glory we can achieve.

In Search Of....The Better Me - Part 4

Remember when you felt inspired, and resolved to improve your life?
Did you fulfill your resolution?
I saw a study claiming that only 12% of resolutions come to fruition.
I believe it.
We sincerely want to do more for ourselves, our families and the world. We really mean it.
Then life happens.
Our internal commitments don't seem to have enough 'oomph' to make the transition from our minds/hearts into real life. And even when they do, they often collapse in face of the inevitable obstacles.
Enter the fourth step in our Omer journey, the psychological/spiritual soul-dynamic called 'Netzach'.
Linguistically, Netzach means 'victory'. But in life (and in the cosmos) we can describe 'Netzach' as a continuum: It begins with a deeply held goal, rooted in the core of our soul, and ultimately manifests itself as perseverance in fulfilling that objective.
A simple scenario: In a reflective moment, I resolve to spend more time connecting with my faith and values.
Step 1: I need to look at the resolution's source: Me.
Do I trust myself? Do I have faith in my own judgment? If I have an opinion, am I willing to stick with it? Do I believe that I have the guts to deliver on my decisions?
In order for this resolution to have any substance, I first need to find secure faith in myself - The Resolver.
Step 2: I need to deeply consider the idea's merits. How will it impact other areas of my life etc.? If I really believe it's a good objective, then I need to commit myself to the goal with internal strength and conviction.
Step 3: I recognize that this idea needs to progress beyond my thoughts and into my practical life; it needs 'legs' to make it into my future.
When I'm in the midst of an introspective epiphany, I may promise myself the moon. What about tomorrow, when I’m busy with life's relay-race, and its difficult to re-discover the inspiration and strength? The answer I can still bear down and do what I need to do.
Even if I’m not buoyed by inspiration, I can find the perseverance to act; because I have genuine conviction today.
That's Netzach - a personal victory; because life is a string of opportunities for personal victory.
Good luck!

In Search Of....The Better Me - Part 3

The Jewish calendar presently has us on a Journey called ‘the counting of the Omer’.
Each night, we take the time to enumerate which day we’re entering, and to take an introspective look at ourselves from that day’s specific angle.
The seven weeks break down into seven general soul rhythms, and each rhythm is further subdivided into seven.
This week, we focus on an element of our personalities called Tiferet in Hebrew.
In Hebrew, Tiferet means 'beauty', but 'Authenticity' best expresses its character.
Tiferet is the portal through which one’s core values flow into the normal 'operating system'.
For example: If my child misbehaves, my instinct may be to react negatively. But when I pause to recognize my deep desire for his/her healthy growth, and that my reaction will send him/her an important message about patient behavior, my response will reflect my larger vision.
Tiferet conducts the light of deeper values into one’s consciousness, so that we can re-calibrate our feelings and actions.
In this way. it brings symmetry to internal struggles.
For example:
A homeless person asks me for a quarter. In kindness, I reach into my pocket. Then I pause. Considering how the money may actually be spent, I break out of my giving mode to evaluate the situation.
I now have conflicting instincts: Give? Withhold?
Here, Tiferet expresses my deeper drive - beyond these instincts - to consider what truly concerns me:
Do I genuinely want to pursue my good will?
Do I genuinely want to be/feel responsible?
Or do I genuinely want to help this person?
If I truly want to help, perhaps we should walk to a store where I can buy him something to eat. That would satisfy my desire for fraternity and my desire to temper my giving impulse.
By plugging into my deeply-held objective, I am able to act authentically, and to actually synthesize my shallower instincts.
Thus, Tiferet is truth. When my actions and feelings don't originate from my core values, they're less than authentic. They’re not in sync with the real me.
And finally, Tiferet is empathy.
Empathy takes kindness the extra mile, by genuinely identifying with another's struggle.
Kindness is my response to your pain. Empathy is my response to our pain.
When we have a soul tool that anchors behavior to core values, bringing authenticity and symmetry to our behaviors and relationships, is it any wonder we call it (Tiferet) 'Beauty'?

In Search Of....The Better Me - Part 2

The Calendar is presently taking us though a journey known as the ‘Omer’. As we disengage from [our personal] Egypt, and make our way toward receiving the Torah in a personal and authentic way (which we celebrate on the forthcoming Holiday of Shavuot), go through a process of self-analysis (click here to count the Omer tonight).
This week, we explore the psycho-spiritual energy: 'Gevurah'.
'Gevurah' translates as 'strength', the strength of bursting through the restraints of inertia, habit, distraction etc. Gevurah is breaking free.
A simple example. Last week’s exercises were about finding closeness with others. But even the beauty of closeness needs conscious calibration. Sometimes you need to ‘break free’ of the closeness rhythm to allow for the other person’s space.
Do we leave space for our loved ones to be themselves? Do we make space in our conversations, to really hear them when they speak?
Sometimes you need to break free of your closeness tendency to discipline and guide the other, because that’s what the other truly needs at this time.
Apart from love, the human psyche has other powerful forces: Pride, ambition, jealousy, appetite etc. Whenever we break free of those strong internal patterns, we're exercising Gevurah.
When a social setting is 'compelling you’ to say something disagreeable (or to betray a confidence etc), do you 'break free' by restraining yourself? When we actively – and courageously - choose a proper response (which may mean silence), to a [perceived] provocation, that's Gevurah.
In the words of the Talmud: “Who is valiant (a ‘Gibor’, one who has ‘Gevurah’)? One who conquers one’s impulses.”
Gevurah is avoiding confrontation out of strength, not fear. It's taking your life back from the situation’s grip.
A slightly different side of the same internal flow: When we pray or meditate, we need to break free of life's tumultuous tide to find inner quiet. That's Gevurah.
But Gevurah isn't only an inward motion (self-restraint etc), it also flows outward.
The human psyche is prone to inertia; the status quo is comfortable and movement takes effort.
'Breaking free' means passion (where our ‘internal traffic-controller’) deems appropriate). When our blood begins pumping, when we feel excited and emotionally engaged, that's Gevurah.
Disciplined or passionate, it’s a time for authentic strength, which means choosing the direction of your soul.

Have a meaningful Omer week.

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