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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Harvey, Meet Abraham

Our society’s ‘top echelons’ seem to have a large closet, because the dirty laundry just keeps coming.

Whichever sector takes its turn in today’s headlines (will it be Arts and Entertainment? Politics? Education? Religion?), the lesson seems to be clear:

Power can be very self-corruptive.

A physical assault is obviously illegal, and we have laws to address such gross violations. But let’s not lose sight of a much more insidious issue, one which is therefore so much more difficult to prove:

People regularly use power to subtly coerce others to meet their needs.

It happens all the time, between ‘consenting’ adults and without physical assault. So it may often be legal, but is it always moral? On the other hand, how can society legislate morality without squelching our fundamental freedoms?

The ultimate answer is that we need to SELF-regulate, because personal morality comes from within.

So how does a person find the strength to control his/her cravings, when the road to satisfaction seems wide open because one’s ‘power’ seems stronger than any downside? When you’ve successfully closed the door and drawn the shades, and believe you have an open opportunity for self-gratification, how do you find the strength to pull back your reins?

We need to recognize that we can never actually draw the shades. Because G-d, and His extension in your personal conscience, is always there.

Now THAT was predictable. A Rabbi saying that G-d is the answer to society’s problem. Who would’ve thunk??:)

I get that. But please bypass the messenger and consider the message.

As long as a person believes that HE/SHE is the center of the universe, it’s likely that person will conveniently shape morality’s definition. We’re subjective creatures, ingenious at manipulating the world to satisfy our personal conscience.

Reading the past weeks’ headlines in this key, they shout the need for objective moral standards.

Belief in a higher Authority, acceptance that there is an objective right and wrong, and a deep sense of responsibility, are the backbone of genuine morality.

Yes, I know that many people are suspicious of organized religion.

If that’s you, don’t give up.

Try disorganized religion.

Just find a relationship with G-d.

Our forefather Abraham spent decades searching for G-d, and ultimately found what he was looking for.

So search. And please don’t give up.

Our society depends on you.  

 

 

The Pleasure Principle

Would you like some pleasure today?

Of course you would.

Pleasure is a core goal of the human psyche. Some would say that psychological hedonism is a principle driving force of human behavior. At the same time, we’re told, the Pleasure Principle needs to be balanced by the Reality Principle. Sometimes the pleasure you want just doesn’t conform to reality. Maybe it costs too much, involves an unwilling participant or is self-destructive.

In a healthy human being, one’s mental bookkeeping usually strikes a balance between pleasure-seeking and delayed gratification. We’re not disturbed by the self-indulgent impulse, we just have the maturity to recognize that we can’t realistically achieve our fantasy.

Most of us then move on to realistic pleasure goals.

But what if you’re not ‘most of us?’ What if reality seems to bend at your will?

Think about it: What would you do if there was no opposition, no ‘reality balance,’ to your pleasure ambitions? Would you self-regulate? Or would you morph turn into a self-indulgent, pleasure-seeking machine?

I think it’s a good idea to redefine pleasure-seeking. Pleasure is indeed a deep part of the soul. Pleasure, by definition, means that you’re experiencing a good feeling, which adds a great dimension to life. But living a good life, not pleasure-seeking, should be life’s central goal.

Pleasure should be a wonderful by-product of a life well lived, not its central objective.

When you’ve successfully planted your backyard garden, finally wall-papered that room in your house, or just delivered food to a home-bound neighbor, do you feel pleasure? I hope so.

At the same time: Was the process of planting or building or delivering pleasurable? Not necessarily. But pleasure wasn’t your focus. You were focused on something bigger than your immediate comfort, and larger than the moment at hand. You were being constructive, and reaching beyond yourself. That brings [healthy] pleasure in its train.

The Torah describes Shabbos as a time of ‘Pleasure’ for G-d and humanity alike.

Why? Shabbos is the bottom line of your week and its achievements. When we light Shabbos candles, we join G-d in reflecting on a week of strengthened relationships, of clients’ lives bettered, of Mitzvos performed. And G-d rejoices with you, saying “I like this world, where people rise above their self-centered needs to create real value. It is very good.”

Shabbos is about the cosmic pleasure generated by a meaningful life. It doesn’t get better. 

 

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