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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Living Life To The Fullest

Why do we do what we do?
So often, we know that we shouldn't act a certain way; and then we go do it anyway.
Maybe it's eating french fries after the doctor warned against it; maybe it's disrespecting a valued relationship.
When we sit in quiet contemplation, I think most of us have sound moral compasses and a healthy sense of right and wrong. 
The problem is that we're not always sitting quietly in contemplation.
The problem lies in our lack of consciousness.
When I'm fully aware – truly aware - of my gifts and values, I'm much more likely to honor them. When I'm actively conscious of my tremendous blessings, my life, family and friends, my actions will reflect that awareness.
The trick is in remaining conscious; since the human psyche naturally gravitates toward a back-of-the-mind, taking for granted, automatic-pilot operating system.
This is a reason that Judaism has so many awareness-triggers. When I walk into a room and see the mezuzah, it should raise my consciousness. The mezuzah reminds me that the room – bedroom, kitchen, den etc. – isn't simply a place to pursue a narrow, de-contextualized exercise (eating, sleeping etc.); it's a venue for pursuing my overall objective of a meaningful life (through eating, sleeping etc.). 
My Tzitzit (the Biblically-required fringes that hang from the little 'Talit' I wear under my shirt) are a mnemonic, a consciousness-prod. When I see them, I need to remember I have a destiny and a reason for existence; and that my next actions should reflect that life-objective. 
So it's about consciousness.
If I check my 'consciousness meter' as often as I check for my wallet or keys, my 'internal traffic-controller' will perk up. I'll be able to consciously choose, and fully invest myself in, my next moves of the day.
Internally, I become more internally 'alive'. And in this journey of life, 'alive' is the way to go.

A Life of Pleasure and Beauty

 

When we think of the word 'pleasure,' we might think of an elegant banquet rather than delivering food to someone in need. We may see a more natural association of pleasure with self-gratification rather than with service.

That's why it’s curious for Chabad Chassidic thought to posit that 'oneg' – which translates into 'pleasure' – is at the core of our soul energies. Chassidic thought guides a person away from selfishness and toward other-centeredness. Self-absorption is one of the natural challenges that G-d has instilled within the human condition, a personality weakness to be tackled. So how can pleasure, the objective of self-indulgence, be at the core of our holy soul?

Pleasure is a soul-rhythm, a character-muscle. We can point it in the direction of self-service; and self-directed pleasure is indeed an important spice of life. But there's a special brand of pleasure that comes with selflessness.

I can enjoy an ice cream cone. But if I use the cone to ignite a smile to the face of a poor child, that beaming face would give me a soul rush beyond anything sugar can accomplish.

The easy path to pleasure is to just eat the ice cream myself. Meaningful pleasure doesn't usually come easy, but it's usually worth the effort.

So we should ask ourselves: What gives us pleasure? Do we find beauty in leaving our self-bubble and connecting with other? Do we appreciate the inner contentment that comes with making a difference in someone else's life?

Pleasure strikes deep within our core, so where we take pleasure, where our passions lie, is hugely important. If we can harness our pleasure taste buds to appreciate relationship building, if we can find excitement in selfless commitment to higher goals, we will have engaged a powerful personal engine to power a life of meaning.

My daughter Rivka is getting married this coming Sunday, G-d willing. My wife Malkie and I pray that she and [her fiancé] Ari, experience a life of true pleasure. A life in which they work hard to access life's true beauty, and a life in which that beauty permeates every waking moment.

Mazel Tov Rivka and Ari.

Good Insticts vs. Good Choices

I believe most people want to live their lives as ‘good people’.
I don't think an emotionally healthy person would want to actually harm another person.

Which makes it difficult to understand why G-d made ‘Commandments’ out of some seemingly simple ideas like "Don't Murder". 
Saturday night, we begin the Holiday of Shavuos, which commemorates our receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. Imagine several million, recently-liberated slaves gathered at the mountain. They’ve experienced incredible miracles during their Exodus from Egypt, and for seven weeks they’ve been refining themselves – under Moses’ tutelage – in order to receive the Gift of all Gifts: The Torah.
Now, the moment arrives. With incredible physical and spiritual ‘fireworks’, the Creator of the Universe finally speaks to humankind. 
What secrets will be revealed? Which mystical messages will resonate from here throughout the coming millennia?
Then G-d shares such blockbuster ideas like: “Do Not Murder!”
Can you imagine the people scratching their heads, saying “So THIS is the big deal?” 
It seems too simple.
Which is exactly the point.
The Torah is indeed an infinitely-deep reservoir of wondrous messages. But the Torah’s primary thrust is to make life, regular life – the day-to-day humdrum that we consider simple and mundane – Holy.
The Torah is about accepting G-d’s reason for our creation; it’s about living a life of responsibility.
In other words: It’s not about my pursuit OF life, but about my responsibility TO life, my responsibility to make my ‘ordinary’ life into an extra-ordinary – Holy – life.
When I’m living with G-d-consciousness, I live to better the world and to bring Holiness into reality. With that objective, my breakfast, job, etc. can all fit into a meaningful existence 
Which brings us to “Do Not Murder”. 
If I refrain from hurting my neighbor because I believe it’s wrong, then I am serving MY value system. 
When I recognize that (aside from my good instincts) G-D says it’s wrong, then I am submitting to a life of Divine direction.
So, G-d put ‘no-brainers’ into the Torah to teach us that there’s actually no such thing. 
A ‘no-brainer’ means there’s no need for conscious choice. But there always is. 
Because good instincts may be good, but without G-d/responsibility consciousness our actions are missing more than a brain; they’re missing a soul.

 

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