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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Feel The Love

To feel loved is to feel trust.

To feel loved is to know that you have a safe relationship, one which even your greatest weaknesses can’t destroy.

To feel loved is to feel that someone genuinely wants you to be your best self, because that’s the best for YOU.

To feel loved is to never be alone, even when there’s no one around for miles.

G-d’s profound gift to us is pure love.

Our very existence is an act of G-d’s love.

And our opportunities to develop an ever-greater connection with the Divine, our Mitzvot, are given to us as an act of love.

Years ago, I met with a young lady who professed disenchantment with her Judaism. She told me that she had completed Hebrew School, been “Bat-Mitzvah’d and confirmed”, and majored in Judaic Studies while at University. Yet, she still hadn’t found a single Jewish authority figure willing to tell her that G-d loves her.

Broke my heart.

Our theology is built on the faith that we all have a Divine Parent Who creates us and guides us through life.

Judaism shouts G-d’s love for us.

When G-d gave us the Torah at Mount Sinai, G-d began with:

”I am G-d who took you out of Egypt”.

It’s strange. After centuries of history, G-d is finally communicating directly with humanity (as distinct from a specific prophet). It’s the big introduction.

Why not say “I am G-d Who created you”? Isn’t that a greater, more inimitable feat than freeing slaves?

Our Sages explain that G-d was establishing the First Principle, the backbone to Torah and of our relationship with the Divine:  “I am G-d Who CARES about you. I took you out of Egypt, because I suffer when you suffer. I know that there will be individual “Egypts” in each of your lives and I will be there with you. Because I love you, and I’m always with you. Treasure this Torah and keep yourselves open to a relationship with me. Then you’ll feel the love”.

In G-d's world, to live is to be loved.

Just a Tiny Dot

A tiny stroke of ink.

A suspended dot.

That’s what the Yud, the tenth letter of the Hebrew Alphabet, looks like.

It’s a tiny speck of a letter. In and of itself, it doesn’t tell you much. At the same time, letters form words, and words express ideas. Our words can be powerful media to convey concepts deep within our minds and hearts, and each of those words is comprised of building blocks we call letters.

Each letter, each fundamental building block, has its own character, its particular contribution to a respective word. Each letter’s shape and sound are distinctive, representing a unique place in the desired expression.  Even the tiny Yud.

When Rabbi Sholom Dovber, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, taught his son [Rabbi] Yosef Yitzchak (who eventually grew into the sixth Rebbe) the meanings of each Hebrew letter, he pointed out that every letter begins with a Yud. Every letter is launched with its first drop of ink, an initial flourish, a Yud.

Conceptually, the Rebbe taught his son, we create many letters and words through the course of our lives. And the Yud needs to form the heart of every letter, every expression.  The Yud’s tiny stroke  represents our essential existence, our purpose in life and our core connectedness to our Creator. Deep within the human psyche, perhaps far beyond our conscious layers, we all have a Yud, a core recognition: We exist for a purpose.

Meaningful life begins with a primal recognition of our place in the world. But that’s only the beginning. We need to expand that dot of recognition, and broadening it into letters and words.  That is our collective mission in life.

Practically speaking, our days are filled with choices, behaviors and interactions. Those are all expressions of our personalities; they form our letters and words, so to speak. At the same time, our ‘letters’ all need to flow from a core, an essential recognition that we’re here to serve, that G-d created us to bring meaning to the world.

The tiny dot in your soul is where meaningful life begins.

The Other Side of Victimhood

Sometimes, people do bad things, and sometimes you and I suffer from others’ bad choices.

So how do we respond to the pain? Sometimes there are no legal or defensive steps to take; the deed has been done and we’re left holding the proverbial bag. Revenge may feel appealing, but it doesn’t really help. Is helpless resentment the only option?

Let’s look at Joseph: He was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. That’s pretty bad.

Then Joseph has an opportunity for revenge. Through a Biblically-described chain of events, Joseph rises to the top of Egyptian society, becoming vice-Pharaoh, if you will. Meanwhile, his brothers come to Egypt looking for food, because a famine has swept across the Middle East. They don’t recognize him, but he knows exactly who they are. And he hasn’t forgotten.

He has them in the palm of his hand. He can do whatever he wants, and they are totally vulnerable.

What would you do? Sell them into slavery? Kick them out of the country without any food? Worse?

Joseph actually doesn’t focus on revenge at all. He only wants to determine whether they regret what they did to him. Once he perceives that they have genuinely repented, he embraces them.

Then he says something odd: “G-d sent me ahead of you to provide [food] for the family…You aren’t the ones who sent me here, it was actually G-d [who sent me down to Egypt].”

What is Joseph saying? Of course his brothers sold him into slavery! Is he in denial? Revising history to make them feel better?

Joseph understood that people make bad choices and that we need to protect ourselves. He also understood that his life was not totally in his abusers’ hands. Beyond an aggressor’s bad choices, there’s a victim’s soul journey, which only G-d determines. Joseph felt the pain of his brothers’ misdeed and then dug deeper, and found that G-d was giving him a mission. He could proactively extract meaning from his pain.

Whether it was his own character development, his deepened ability to empathize with other victims, or something as dramatic as rising to the top of Egyptian society, Joseph knew one thing: On the other side of his victimization, he needed to find a better Joseph.

He became the leader of his own life, transforming himself from sitting duck to soaring eagle.

A lesson for the ages. 

 

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