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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Waiting for the Stress to Stop?

Is there such a thing as a life without stress?

Actually, it seems that G-d has built stress into our lives.

If we’re self-aware, there will always be a tension – a healthy stress - between our dreams and our reality, between the ideal and the real.
On the one hand, we need to dream, to set far-reaching objectives.

On the other hand, we need to recognize our present reality and plant our feet firmly on the ground.

In Jewish life, we pray three times a day, focusing on who we can be, and setting an over-arching goal for the rest of the day.
We have a day-long introspection-exercise in Shabbat, which crystallizes a vision for the week ahead.
And then there's Yom Kippur.

On Yom Kippur, we get into a different reality. 
Dressed in white, abstaining from normal human pleasures, and focused inward, we're disengaged from our usual distractions. We’re free to soar.

Yom Kippur is all about vision. We set our sights on our own destiny and potential; we envision a life of meaning, balance and connectedness. 
That’s vision. But how do we reconcile that with our reality?

How does it dovetail with a hectic life of family, business and life's bumps?

Consider the following story:

A peasant once did a special favor for his beloved King. Wanting to repay the peasant, the king decided to give him a unique gift: a nightingale who sang the sweetest songs a human could hear.

A short while later, the king summoned the peasant and asked how he was enjoying the gift. 
The peasant answered “In truth, your Majesty, the meat was a little tough, but it tasted okay in a stew with potatoes.”
Life’s obstacles and responsibilities are like that bird. The question is: Do I see the challenge as a nightingale….or lunch?

As I look inward on Yom Kippur, I need to recognize that the introspection is a necessary guide to life; but life itself, with all its curveballs, is what is meaningful.

Yom Kippur is only one day a year. Shabbat is only one day a week. And we pray for a limited time every day.

That’s the dream.

The rest is life.

Dealing with life is where my Torah values come into play. I need to recognize my nightingales.

And let them sing.


We’re human. We forget things because they drop off our mental radar. We can't be constantly conscious of everything and everyone passing through our lives. 
G-d, on the other hand, is Infinite, Omnipotent and Omniscient (all-knowing). G-d certainly has no memory lapses.

Yet, on Rosh Hashana - this coming Sunday evening through Tuesday night - we’ll read liturgy in which we ask G-d – a good number of times in a variety of ways – to ‘remember’ us. Seriously? Do we believe in a G-d Who can forget us (G-d forbid)?

Chassidic thought points out that forgetting something implies a distance, a lack of conscious connection between the ‘rememberer’ and ‘rememberee’.

That distance can occur in our relationship with the Divine, but only because WE forget.

When we get wrapped up in the struggles of the moment, when we’re only conscious of what’s directly in front of our [mind’s] eyes and screams for attention, we often forget about Higher Purpose. We can lose consciousness of the fact that we’re created with an objective, and every day needs to be another stride toward achieving that objective.

We can forget G-d.

And when we do, we create a distance between us and our Creator. The ‘gulf of forgetfulness’. And, as in any relationship, that’s a divisive chasm and needs to be bridged.

The good news is that this is quite acheivable.

When you remember something, you’re not learning something new. The forgotten person/factoid is something you’ve been mentally carrying with you; it just dropped below your line of mental vision. It’s there, waiting to be accessed.

So you need to raise it back up, and make it part of your life, part of your mindset.

You only need to sharpen your mental vision…..and remember. And once you recall your Creator, once you re-experience your relationship with the Divine, and commit yourself to maintaining clearer consciousness for the road ahead, the gap has been repaired.

Rosh Hashana addresses our reality: G-d gave us an interactive universe. When we forget the Divine, the distance is mirrored.

The Shofar’s calls jars us from our self-absorbed reverie to remember our Higher Calling. And when that happens, G‑d’s deep love for us bridges the gap and we’re re-united in an intimate bond with the Divine.

Be there

Rosh Hashanah Feelings

Why can’t we just focus on the positive?

If we’re sitting at a business meeting, and we’ve had a pretty good quarter, why can’t we just soak that in and celebrate? Why do we also have to go to the downside and consider how much better we could have done? Why spend precious energy considering what we didn’t accomplish? Let’s celebrate what we did accomplish instead of bemoaning what wedidn't!

Closer to home: I’m a better-than-decent parent and spouse; I do a lot for my family. Can't I just celebrate that, and not pine over how I could be better? 

While it’s important to be satisfied with our accomplishments, and to be content with our respective lot, there’s a possible downside to that attitude: Complacency. In and of itself, self-satisfaction won’t get us to move off our own dime. If we’re fine where we are, why complicate things?

When I genuinely process how much more I can accomplish, I may feel temporarily bummed (since I’m not where I could be in life), but I should also be encouraged. Recognizing that I can do better means I have more ability than I originally thought. It means I have more success in my tank, waiting to be tapped.

That’s the heart of the Rosh Hashana attitude.

Rosh Hashana is a happy day. It’s a holiday when we celebrate our loving relationship with our Creator and the profoundly meaningful purpose in our creation. We each matter to G-d, because we each have something very special to bring to the world. That’s something to soak in and celebrate.

At the same time, Rosh Hashana is a time for thoughtful introspection; a time to consider the gap between the potential beauty in our lives and the actual. It’s a time to think about how much closer we can feel to our Creator - all year round - and how much more we can do to find the purpose in our existence.

That may be sobering, but it should also be empowering.  

Rosh Hashana is around the corner. Stop in to services. Take some time to close your eyes and think, and to contemplate some of the liturgy. Grab life by the horns and seriously consider who you’re not [yet]. It’s a time for growth, and G-d is cheering you on.  


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