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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Bring It Forward

Did you know that Passover only ended about 40 hours ago?

Yep. When the second Seder’s table is cleared, you’re actually only a few hours into the second day of an eight-day Holiday; Pesach just ended this past Tuesday night.

Pesach is a significant celebration of personal and communal liberation. We have a week (in Israel) or more (eight days elsewhere) to marinate in – and genuinely absorb – the energy of real self-actualization.

And Pesach’s final day takes it to the ultimate in psycho-spiritual/physical liberation: the Biblical promise of Moshiach.

With the Torah weltanschauung, we trust that the world will one day show its inherent goodness. When Moshiach comes, we will each have our highest selves unlocked and expressed in full glory.

Imagine a world where people really listen to each other, truly care about each other’s feelings and actually feel that life can – and should - be a win/win. A world where there isn’t the economic stress that causes people to hurt each other; nor is there the slightest emotional desire to do so. A world where we can clearly see the correct path to follow as we journey through our days, where we’re emotionally inclined to follow our mind’s navigation, and where we have easy behavioral follow-through, concretizing our resolutions in actual practice.

That’s the world of Moshiach.

The eighth day of Pesach, this past Tuesday, was a day of Moshiach. The way Pesach is structures, its first seven days celebrate our historic liberation from Egypt – Moses’ liberation – while the eighth day celebrates our future liberation, the coming of Moshiach.

Pesach builds to a freedom crescendo.

And then it’s over.

Just like that.

We go back to work. The world is just as shallow as we left it. People are still sick (G-d please heal them), etc…

So, the second half of this week may feel anti-climactic, like we fell off a self-actualization cliff. But it shouldn’t.

Pesach gave us added strength to live life a Moshiach-esque life TODAY.

When we’re in a room and it’s dark, there can be two reasons:

A. The light is off

B. Our eyes are closed.

Irrespective of whether we saw/felt it, a Moshiach light came into the world on Tuesday.

Irrespective of whether we saw/felt it, that Moshiach light empowers us to live life to a higher, Moshiach standard.

Carry Pesach forward.

Live like you mean it.

Mutual Expressions of Love

 

I hope you're enjoying your 'Festival of Matzos' a.k.a 'Pesach' (translated as 'Passover'), which lasts through the 22nd (21st in Israel).
Did you know that the Scripture doesn't actually refer to this Holiday as 'Pesach'? In the Torah, it's called 'Chag Hamatzos', the Festival of Matzos.
The word Pesach does appear in the Torah. Pesach is the name of the lamb-offering which the Jews brought on the day BEFORE this Festival of Matzos; and to the offering’s meat, which they would eat at the Festival’s Seder.

The offering was called a 'Pesach' offering because - in the unfolding of the Jews' liberation from Egypt - G-d told the Jews to smear some blood from this offering on their doorposts, so that G-d could ensure to spare them from the plague afflicting the Egyptians on that final night of the Jews' stay in the country.
In Hebrew, the word 'Pesach' means to 'pass over', referring to the fact that the plague 'passed over' the Jews' homes.

That’s why Jews began to call the Holiday Pesach, and it’s indeed the Festival’s name as it appears in the Talmud and Jewish tradition over the millennia.

So now we have it straight. G-d – the Torah – calls it the Festival of Matzos. But we have chosen to call Pesach (Passover).

Why the difference?

The Rebbe once explained it this way: We and G-d have such a loving relationship, that we’re always trying to highlight the other’s affection, loyalty and commitment.

G-d, in the Torah, calls this a Holiday of Matzos, referring to the not-fully-baked breads that the Jews took out of Egypt. Matzos imply the Jews’ hasty departure, their blind foray into the wilderness with pretty much nothing but…faith. They didn’t have proper travel plans and they didn’t know where they were going. But they trusted G-d. So they left.

Out into the desert. In haste. With barely baked bread. They had very little in the way of normal emotional security, but it was enough for a people with faith in G-d.

The Torah wants to underscore our great loyalty, our deep faith in the Divine, so it calls this Holiday ‘Festival of Matzos’.

Conversely, we have always wanted to emphasize G-d’s care and protection, so we point to the fact G-d had the plague ‘pass over’ over our homes. We chose to call it ‘Pesach’ (Passover’).

G-d believes in you. Pesach is our turn.

Eyes on the Prize

 

Life is rich and complex. Which also means it’s full of potential distractions.

For example: You want to have a job. Why? Because you want to work.

Then again, do you really want the labor? Or is that you want to earn money and work is your way to earn cash?

If it’s the latter: do you really want the money itself? Or do you just want the ability to buy things?

Assuming it’s the latter: Why do you want to buy things? It’s likely that all you really want is comfort for yourself and your family.

This brings us to an interesting awareness: If the real reason we work is in order to provide a comfortable life for our families, wouldn’t it be bizarre if we neglected our families for the sake of a job, which we only really want for their sakes to begin with?

When you think about it, we all have deep-seated, primal objectives; and we need to use life’s rich array of tools to achieve that objective. The sad thing is that we often get so wrapped up in the tools that we forget what we’re really trying to achieve.

The Midrash depicts this parable: A King once entered a city, together with a retinue of officers and ministers. Each of these functionaries had the power to afford favors of various types; so many of the inhabitants chose to welcome and entertain respective officials, according to their needs.

The wisest among them said “I will welcome the King himself. The officials are temporary; the King isn’t transient”.

The Midrash uses this parable to describe our primal need to connect with the Divine. We have an objective in life: Meaning, which ultimately means Oneness with the Divine. While we have many avenues to reaching our goal, sometimes the avenues eclipse the goal.

In the midst of deep meditation, Rabbi Schneur Zalman (Chabad’s 18th century founder) was heard saying [to G-d]: “I want nothing. I don’t want Your Paradise. I don’t want Your World to Come, I just want You Yourself”.

Sometimes we need to free ourselves of life’s distractions, even the holy distractions, to focus on the real goal. With proper focus, we see that life’s paths are but a valuable means to a meaningful end.

This Passover, try to free yourself of life’s traps. Commit yourself. Follow the path; but keep your eye on the ball.

Is the Wise Son a Wise Guy?

In a well-known section of the Passover Haggadah, Four Sons pose - or are prompted to pose - questions.

The ‘Wise Son’ asks: "What are the testimonies, the statutes and the laws which the L-rd, our G-d, has commanded you?" Huh? If he doesn't get the idea of Mitzvot, which form the heart of Torah and Judaism, what makes him wise?

Through the ages, Judaism has seen the liberation from Egypt as much more than the emancipation of slaves; it was – and is - a global liberation, a cosmic unshackling of reality’s constraints.

We live in a world where the spirit is often confined, where the soul can’t easily find expression, and where we have internal, external and societal pressures constantly stifling our inner voice. Even without human taskmasters, freedom is hard to come by.

Enter Passover. When the Jews were liberated, it was an emancipation of the body and the soul; freedom rang across the continuum of existence. That is what we celebrate, and try to experience, every year.

So here’s the Wise Son’s question: Right after the Jews left Egypt they received a Torah, a program with detailed guidance for daily life. What's the deal with all the rules? Why can’t we just allow our souls and sensibilities to soar? How do we reconcile religious discipline with the idea of spiritual freedom?

To this the Haggadah responds:  “Our ancestors were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt….” The Jews were enslaved in an amoral society which suffocated body and soul.  They struggled in Earth’s deepest pit of limitations. Yet, they persevered. And their struggle triggered history’s greatest expression of Divine intervention (the Exodus and Sinai experiences).

Passover is a model for our daily human experience. Life isn’t about escaping the limitations, responsibilities and rules; it’s about soaring through the engagement of limitations.

Being spiritually ‘free’ doesn’t mean we’re without physical tether. That can mean anarchy, or – at the very minimum – a spirituality that doesn’t impact the world because it’s so flighty and transcendent. Judaism takes us a critical step further and teaches that Divine beauty is to be found specifically through the meaningful engagement of the material.

The struggle to find Divine meaning in our [otherwise] narrow daily lives is what ultimately yields the greatest spiritual fruit.

It’s not as relaxing as meditation, but it’s where the true Freedom is.

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