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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Everything is New Under the Sun

 Nature has its cycles. The sun rises and sets. The moon waxes and wanes. G-d gifted us with a world that is fundamentally foreseeable, and that predictability breeds security. 

At the same time, predictability often breeds inattentive complacency. When we’re subconsciously expecting to exhale after we inhale, only to inhale once again, do we even notice?

“There’s nothing new under the sun” means that all of our natural blessings are old news, which often means we take them for granted. Without pro-active mindfulness, we tend to settle into mindless expectation of our recurrent gifts.

So the Torah guides us to mindfulness.

When the Jews left Egypt, they spent forty years in the desert living on supernatural miracles: Manna from heaven, protective Clouds of Glory, etc. But life isn’t about living on open miracles. G-d’s end game was for us to settle in Israel and lead normallives: To work hard, and reap the gifts those efforts.  

However, along with this comes a built-in challenge: to maintain conscious gratitude for the Divine gifts in our natural lives.

The Torah tells us that 3289 years ago, as Joshua finally led the Jews to settle Israel, he made the sun stop in its tracks (Joshua10:12), bringing nature's fundamental cycle to an unexpected halt. 

What was his purpose?

Settling Israel wasn’t only about finding this new nation a place to live, it was about helping them find the way to live. Joshua was teaching us to recognize that G-d’s Hand is always in Nature’s glove. That the sun’s cycles are only recurring because G-d gives us that blessing.

Indeed, G-d is giving us the gift of nature right now, so – in a sense – everything is new under the sun. It’s our challenge, and our privilege, to draw that Divine mindfulness into our daily lives.

This coming Tuesday, the 3rd of Tammuz, the day that the Rebbe passed away (23 years ago) also marks 3289 years since that fateful day when Joshua “stopped the sun.”

The Rebbe’s life was a successful campaign to breathe Divine consciousness into our lives, shepherding people across the globe toward a life of meaningful connectedness, of Torah study and Mitzvah observance. The Rebbe consistently called our attention to the G-dliness that pulsates just beneath life’s surface, ‘stopping our sun’ to jog us into awareness.

Rebbe, we love you and miss your physical presence. Your inspiration is our engine to continue bringing the world to a better place.

Humility=Ambition

Do you think anybody really wants to be arrogant? 
Is there somebody out there who actually aspires to obnoxiousness? 
I doubt it.
On the other hand, do you really want to be ‘humble’? 
Do you think the average person pictures ‘humility’ as equating to ambition and a drive for success?
Or does the word ‘humble’ conjure an image of someone lacking presence and self-confidence, an easily manipulated wallflower shyly averting his gaze? 

Let’s rethink this.

Torah wants us to live proactively and energetically. We are encouraged to vigorously engage the world and usher it to a meaningful place. 
That same Torah guides us to be humble. How can these two attitudes co-exist in one person? 
Humility doesn’t mean being a doormat. It means being honest with yourself, and seeing yourself for who you really are.
Authentic humility doesn’t deny – to yourself or others – your value, strengths and talents. That’s not called humility, it’s called [self-] deception. 
Humility means being fully aware of your talents; it means total consciousness of your advantages in life – genetic, familial/societal or financial. 
Humility is the attitude which you approach your gifts and talents.
We all need to look at ourselves and take honest stock of our G-d-given ‘toolbox,’ the skills and opportunities with which we’ve been endowed. We should recognize that each of these life-advantages comes with a responsibility. G-d grants us gifts for a purpose: we need to develop and utilize our ‘tools’, making them into accessories for meaningful living. 
So we need to look at each of our gifts and recognize that gifts are just that: Something we’ve been given. Gifts aren’t accomplishments. They’re opportunities.
We should consider each of our gifts and ask: Am I doing this opportunity justice? Could I not be doing more to actualize it?

We should also recognize that people without our specific talents, our tools, have simply been dealt a different tool box. The gifted toolbox doesn’t make one a qualitatively better person, it’s what we’ve accomplished with our tools.

To a humble person, the real measure of life isn’t the hand we’ve each been dealt; it’s what we’re doing with it.
So humility is a sense of responsibility: I need to be who G-d created me to be. Humility is when I’m not competing against others, but against my own potential. Humility is a sense of always being conscious for new opportunities.

Now let’s get out there and be the best we can be. Humility demands no less. 

Share Some Light

So you’re out with friends, and you’re passionately debating a hot social issue. You’re having a good time; but then you notice that one friend is kind of quiet. His body language tells you that he isn’t familiar with the subject and is psychologically standing to the side.

Your easiest course of action is to do nothing. In other words, bury your mental note and jump back into the fray.

After all, what CAN you do? No one knows everything, and you friend happens to lack proficiency in this area.  There’s nothing for him to be ashamed of; it happens to everyone at one time or another. At the same time, you personally dislike being trapped in a conversation that’s beyond your scope, so you know how he feels.

So here’s an option: Create a respectful portal through which your friend can enter the discussion. Without condescension, find an accessible way for him – based on his personal knowledge and experiences – to enter the world you and your friends are experiencing.

It may take some thought, and some pro-active guidance of the conversation, but it can often be done.

I’m describing inter-personal sensitivity, and it goes far beyond group conversations.

One needs to be actively conscious and self-aware to notice other people’s needs and act upon them. It’s much easier to stay in my ‘world’ and relate to people at that level.

But if I really care about people, if I really want to connect with them, I need to consider THEIR perspectives and needs. Without compromising my values, I can usually find common ground, a user-friendly point of contact.

But first we need to care.

This Shabbat, we read that G-d instructed Aharon the High Priest (Moses’ brother) to light the Menorah in the Tabernacle. Chassidic thought tells us that the Menorah, with its seven branches, symbolizes the people and their various personality types. Aharon saw them all as ONE Menorah and embraced them all, with love. With that love, he ignited their hearts and souls.

Today, remember that we’re all part of one Menorah, even when we appear to represent different branches. We’re one, so care – genuinely - about the next person you meet.

You may actually bring light to someone’s life.

 

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