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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Summer Is An Opportunity

Are you getting away this summer?
Taking some weekends off? Maybe a week or two abroad?
These months are commonly a time to slow things down a bit, or at least carve out more time for 'self' and family.
Each season has its own unique beat. As we move through the days, months and years, we need to pause and identify each season's tempo, embrace its particular character and grow with it.
So, let’s think about summer: What is particularly striking about this season?
Obviously, summer is a time of increased light and warmth; we have longer daylight hours, and higher temperatures. In other words, summer is a time when the sun is in fuller glory and effect.
That’s summer in macro; but this also applies to each of us in micro.
In a way, we each have our own internal seasons. We each also have our own internal ‘sun, ’ the soul.
There are times when we go through an internal winter, when our moral vision and priorities don’t express their full light into our daily lives. There are times when conscience and values are in relative hibernation, when the spirit is cold, and moral growth seems a part of the distant past.
Then there’s summer. Summer is about letting my internal sun shine. Summer is about feeling my own internal capacity for spirituality and warmth, a capacity that might recede in the face of a hectic schedule.  
So if I’m able to relax a bit from the everyday stresses and get away, then I need to use that opportunity to synchronize myself with nature; I need to create my own internal summer by increasing the light and warmth in my life.
We each have valuable relationships - with loved ones, with our community and with our G-d – and relationships need nurturing. So if you’re running on fewer cylinders this summer, and have some extra space in your brain and heart, those relationships could probably use some extra warmth.
You have an internal sun. Let it shine. 

The Sad Path To Happy

Don’t worry. Be happy.

We like to be content and upbeat.

We prefer to stay away from sadness, with its dark overtones and unpleasantness.

Indeed, Torah thought guides us to seek and maintain a joyful attitude. Positive thinking and an optimistic demeanor are very important ingredients for a Torah life.

That makes this time of year especially challenging: Next week, we’ll enter Judaism’s annual ‘three week period of sadness.’ We’ll mourn many of the tragedies we’ve experienced throughout our history, with primary focus on the destruction of our two Holy Temples – and two Jewish Commonwealths  (490 years apart) - two millennia ago.

This coming Tuesday, July 11, the 17th of Tammuz on the Jewish calendar, Jews throughout the world will fast to remember the marauders’ breach of Jerusalem’s protective wall. On August 1st, Tisha B’av, we’ll fast again, to bewail the Temples’ actual destruction.

It’s a gloomy few weeks. At the same time, we can’t allow the mood to paralyze us.

While some forms of sadness are decidedly unproductive, some sadness is actually constructive. You can tell the difference by observing their respective manifestations.

When sadness brings despair and our desire to crawl under the covers, it’s not the productive brand of sadness.

At the same time, there is a form of sadness which – in controlled quantities – can facilitate self-honesty; it can be a call to action, prompting you to take control of your life.

With a quick Google search, I found a study from the Australian University of NSW which concludes that “sadness promotes information-processing strategies best suited to dealing with more-demanding situations.” That’s how an unpleasant internal atmosphere helps you grow.

When we’re flying high, we’re probably less inclined to recognize and address our weaknesses. Why should we go through the emotionally-demanding exercise? Things are great!

Self-improvement takes self-honesty, and the guts to tackle the rough edges you find inside. And we usually don’t go to that place unless we’re dragged there, kicking and screaming.

So once a year, Torah life presents us with an important opportunity.  

These three weeks will be a time to focus, a time to recognize, a time to correct.

They'll also give us something genuine to celebrate once it’s all over.

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