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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Anger Management

Anger is a broad word used to describe a basic – sometimes appropriate - human response.
But I’m referring to the unhealthy brand. We know it when we see it: That irrational, aggressive – ‘losing it’ – anger.
So, do you get angry?
Are you sometimes consumed by fury?
For a moment, go back to that mental state. How do you feel? Are you in control of your life?
Or have you lost control? Instead of guiding your emotional response, does the anger actually control you?
And, if you’ve lost control, to whom have you lost it? Who’s in the driver’s seat of your life?
It’s not you.
‘You’ are your ‘best you’, and this isn’t it.
In the words of Judaic spirituality, when you succumb to anger you unleash your inner hell. It’s your worst self. It’s toxic.
Oddly enough, it can also be seductive. This force, which destroys the quality of your life, can become an emotional drug; it poses as your friend, righteously presenting itself as ‘standing up for yourself’.
Think again. In the words of Job (5:2): Anger kills the fool.
We need to be self- aware. We need to sense when this enemy has entered our psyche. When we feel anger, we need to see a red flag in our mind’s eye; and then we need to immediately set to work figuring out how to control ourselves, how to prevent the downward spiral of resentment and anger.
But to create an adequate internal response system, we need to cultivate a sensitivity to the danger. We need a genuine recognition that anger is a poison to the human system, and an impediment to living a meaningful life.
If you see anger that way, you’re more likely get control of your psyche, reframing your perspective to channel your emotions in a more productive way.
For millennia, Jewish tradition has taught that anger also reflects a lack of faith.
The equation is pretty simple: We become angry when we feel vulnerable to a threat or problem. When I believe in G-d, I can’t feel vulnerable. When I feel my faith in G-d, my worldview focuses on my Divinely-granted journey, my destiny, not my perception of vulnerability.
Anger competes with my sense of destiny. I can’t allow it to win.
Between a potentially anger-causing stimulus and my response there is a gap; that’s where my choice comes in. Some problems may be solved, and some can only be managed, but I need to choose a response that’s suitable for my life’s journey.
So pay attention to your anger-quotient.
Reduce it, and increase your [quality of] life

Living the Rhythms

Years ago, I was standing with a friend, a seasoned businessman, as his 38 year-old son walked by. Nodding toward his son, he muttered to me: “My son needs to understand that the stock market doesn’t always go up”.

It was an interesting insight for me.

You don’t understand life until you grasp the human journey’s comprehensive rhythm; until you appreciate that living is about ups and downs.

Ups and Downs. If anyone thinks they’ve experienced only one, they’re either mistaken or need to wait just a wee-bit longer; the other will come soon enough.

We all have both.

But ‘down’ is where we feel the pain. Stress isn’t pleasant, and problems are….problems.

But that is life; and, until Moshiach arrives, problems will continue to disrupt our lives.

And so much of life depends on how we deal with problems.

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the 6th Lubavitcher Rebbe, was brutally imprisoned - for spreading Judaism and helping Jews - by Stalin’s regime.

Yet, years after reaching freedom, he would occasionally try to recapture the horrible experience, mentally transporting himself back to the gulag and its pain.

Why? Not because he enjoyed the pain and suffering. But because he valued the character, the strength of Principle, he encountered within himself. The Rebbe never looked for pain, but when it came his way he didn’t waste effort on blame and self-pity; he faced it with dignity, and it became a growth experience.

Today, Thursday, 12 Tammuz (June 20) is eighty-six years since the Previous Rebbe was finally given the wonderful news of his freedom from Soviet prison.

It’s a day when we celebrate freedom. It’s also a day when we remember the pain. And it’s a day when we search ourselves to find our own inner strength to help us survive, and grow through, life’s pain.

Because that is – in the final analysis – true freedom of character and soul.


The Rebbe's Continuing Guidance

It was the summer of 1974.

Rabbi M.Y.H., a Jewish community leader in Connecticut, was facing serious challenges in his community work; the obstacles seemed overwhelming, and there appeared to be no end in sight.
So, he turned to the man who'd sent him to Connecticut in the first place: the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Pouring out his heart in a desperate letter, he described his sense of loneliness and helplessness.

“ Rebbe, please help…”

I think it’s important for me to present some important context:

Watching the Rebbe, one could always sense deep empathy. A genuine leader, the Rebbe cried public tears over people’s individual and collective struggles.
At the same, the Rebbe never let us resign ourselves to despair. The Rebbe believed in us, and in our powerful, G-d given potential; the Rebbe never stopped encouraging us to reach ever-deeper inside ourselves to find the answers to life's questions, our personal solutions which G-d has buried within our souls.
In a heartfelt synthesis of empathy and empowerment, the Rebbe met you in your low moments, stood by your side and then lifted you up by guiding you to discover your own ladder.
And, so, the Rebbe responded to Rabbi M.Y.H. during that difficult summer: "....I [actually] anticipated your need before you communicated it. As a solution, I have sent Rabbi M.Y.H. (the Rabbi himself) to your community. It's clear from your most recent letters that you still haven't acquainted yourself with this Rabbi and his [G-d-] given talents. Please get to know him, and [you will see that] things will change immediately (emphasis is the Rebbe's): your mood, your trust in the Almighty, your daily sense of inner peace and happiness etc. etc...".

The Rebbe was always guiding us to unlock our own immense power.

The Rebbe passed away nineteen years ago (we observed the anniversary of the Rebbe’s passing this past Tuesday on the 3rd of Tammuz/June 11th); humanity’s struggles haven’t ceased and the Rebbe’s empowering guidance is more important than ever.

I know it’s still there. Resonating. Guiding. Encouraging.

The Previous Rebbe wrote: “A Rebbe is never lonely and Chassidim are never lonely”. As we approach the Rebbe’s Yahrtzeit, I know that I’m not alone.

If you’re reading this, neither are you.

Get Out There And Lead!

Do you matter?
In the scope of this massive universe, are you actually significant?
That’s a simple answer. For a profound reason.
If G-d created you, and perpetuates your existence, He obviously has a purpose for you. It’s not a complicated equation: If you're alive, then you certainly have something to contribute to this world.
Yes, you - as an individual – can positively influence the world.
That’s important to G-d; so you matter.
But you need to be a leader. Influencing the world means engaging the world on your terms (as you see the world through a meaningful lens - the Torah). If you get sucked into the world’s maelstrom, and embroiled in its pettiness, then the tables have been reversed; the world is controlling and influencing you.
To achieve your mission you need to stay true to your vision, staying above the fray and choosing your actions with deliberate wisdom.
You are born to be a leader, if only in leading the way of your own life.
For the past six weeks (in the Omer exercise) we’ve explored our internal dynamics, growing and developing in our psychological and spiritual personas.
We’ve been concentrating on:
1. How we emotionally connect with people
2. How we manage our 'habit-traps'
3. How we maintain internal focus on 'the vision'
4. How we anchor our feelings in convictions and principles
5. Our ability for flexibility and reconciliation
6. Our internal focus

But internal refinement isn’t good enough. Life is about influencing the ‘outside’ world and changing it for the good, by living your Principles. Meaningful living, purposeful behavior, will make a mark on one's surroundings.
In mysticism, this is known as the art of ‘Malchut’ – Leadership and Influence.
Malchut/Leadership isn’t an internal rhythm like the other soul dimensions, it’s the delivery mechanism. Malchut/Leadership is exerting influence and making a difference in my little corner of the world.
Malchut/Leadership takes courage.
Malchut/Leadership takes consideration and selflessness, because true leadership expresses a vision, not a personality.
After six weeks, the Omer has (re)aligned our internal dynamics with our deeper Vision. Now it’s time to go out there and lead. Because that’s what leaders do.

Separate But Not Apart

All for one and one for all.
What a beautiful idea.
Can we hope for anything loftier than connectedness, community and brotherhood?
On the other hand, I appreciate my privacy and solitude too.
I occasionally need some ‘sacred space’ to get to know myself; I need to retreat from the crowd and find peace of mind for some serious introspection.
We all need opportunities to sharpen our internal bearings and calibrate our consciences. For that, we need [relative] silence and solitude.
A time for solitude. A time for fellowship.
Both are necessary.
And in a Torah trajectory, solitude usually comes first.
If my goal is maintain an atmosphere of friendship and goodwill throughout the day, then my primary focus won't be on the ‘easy’ relationships; after all, they’re not the real hurdle.
If we want to maintain a feeling of connectedness – and that means rising above resentments, grudges and even the 'friendly' veneer - we need to focus on the people who try our patience.
If we can find fellowship with them, then we've scaled our personal mountain of disconnect and conquered a piece of ourselves.
But that doesn’t come easy. It takes contemplative thought.
The human default position is selfishness/ego, which is the primary disruption to true unity. So the mindset which will trigger a feeling of real connectedness is actually counter-intuitive
We need to pro-actively generate ‘unity thought patterns’, because they won’t happen by themselves.
We need to spend time in our own minds, disengaging from the counter-productive rhythms of social negativity.
We can contemplate the pragmatic value of unity (less stress).
We can take the time to realize that, spiritually, we're all one organic body; just as the same blood courses through each limb so does the same 'soul-blood' – Divine vitality – course through us all.
There’s a lot to think about. And after thinking, we’re ready to engage.
But the sequence is critical.
Solitude. Fellowship.
Engaging people without thought may lead to social disruption and involuntary disconnect.
Fellowship. Solitude. It works better when the solitude comes first.
Introspection before interaction.
Independence before interdependence.
That’s why prayer is a way to start the day.
A day of genuine connectedness.

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