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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

We Are the Flames


Flames have a special place in Judaism.
Consider the Shabbat candles which we light every Friday evening: On Shabbat, we take a step back from the week's hectic pace, disengaging from our smartphones and task-lists, to focus on life itself. We elevate our spirits to soak in an aerial view of ourselves, rising above our splintered weekday-personas to consider our more wholesome potential.
Tonight, we'll kindle Shabbat lights which grant us illumination and perspective; allowing us to see where we've been stumbling and which paths we need to pursue.
So, as you watch the Shabbat flames, try to rise above your personal stress and struggles. Try to absorb the glow inward, and search for a part of yourself that isn't defined by the pain; a piece of you that is whole, an internal place of faith and confidence in the future.
That's the Shabbat experience.
But this evening we'll also be lighting a different type of flame: The Chanukah Flame.
Whereas the Shabbat candles foster personal/familial balance and peace, the Chanukah candles are outwardly focused.
The Talmud describes the Chanukah candles as tools to 'illuminate the outside.' The flames need to transform the external darkness, bringing warmth and illumination to an otherwise dark place.
Finding our personal sense of wholeness, faith and confidence, isn't enough. Chanukah instructs us to share it with others, to illuminate the 'night' outside our four walls and beyond our respective driveways.
Today, the world is experiencing upheaval in various ways. One might say, especially for the Jewish community, that there is a global sense of unease.The world needs a candle, a stabilizing beacon of light.
That candle is us.
If we can share hope for the future, we will have brightened lives. If we can lend mental clarity to help distinguish between rational and irrational concerns, we will have illuminated hearts. If we can inspire faith and trust in the Divine Parent who loves us all, we will have provided warmth to a cold spirit.
We will have extended the flame of our own souls to ignite another's wick.
We will have lived the Chanukah message.

My Oasis. Our Oasis.

Why is Monotheism such a big deal?

I can see why G-d, and responsibility to a Higher Authority, is a critical backbone to morality. But who really cares if it’s one, or two, or seventeen gods?

We do.

Or at least we should.

Accepting Monotheism isn’t just committing ourselves to one Deity. Monotheism, at least through a Jewish lens, means committing ourselves to a life of Oneness. When we recite the Shema, a thrice daily prayer which proclaims “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our G-d, the Lord is One,” we’re proclaiming that our complex lives, the disjointed and sometimes fractured reality we experience, are all part of the great Divine Oneness. My health, my kids’ soccer game, my boss’s attitude and my 401k are all part of my Divine journey. Scattered as my life may seem, everything can and should fit into my expedition toward a life of meaning.

In my mind’s eye, each of my life’s facets is a distinct pearl. When I consciously infuse these ‘pearls’ with vision and purpose, I am stringing them together with a strand of Holiness. My life is now a beautiful necklace.

This helps explain why we traditionally cover our eyes when reciting the Shema:

My physical eyes, my natural instinct, show me a world of pain and fracture. Where’s the Oneness? So I cover my eyes, because I need to the world see with my soul. I need to envision a world created by One G-d, with One purpose, with an inherent Oneness waiting to be discovered.

I need to see my world as a Shema world. That gives me a clear compass, a safe haven, and an energizing motivator that I really need in today’s world.

Which is a reason Chabad Chassidic thought is so central to my life. In a way, Chabad theology is one large ‘Shema,’ a drive to find unity and connectedness within all parts of the Torah and within life itself. Chabad thought allows my mind to hover above reality, so that my life’s details don’t seem like disjointed puzzle pieces. They come together as parts of a holistic, meaningful life.

Chassidic thought is an oasis in a rocky world.

So thank you, Chabad Rebbes.

Thank you so much.

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