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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Just In Time For A Weary World

Hurricane Harvey’s rain threat is over, but the devastation is enormous.

And it’s not like our world as too stable before this disaster. Polarization, terrorism, the resurgence of neo-Nazism. Syria and ISIS. These aren’t just problems “over there.’ They hover above our ‘real’ lives. In one way or another, they filter down to me and you, and add to our 'normal' stresses and challenges.

The world can certainly use a fresh, optimistic new page.

That’s why I feel like Rosh Hashana isn't coming a second too soon.

The High Holidays about a lot more than ushering in a new calendar year; they go way beyond donning our finest and attending services. All of that is [important] window dressing for Rosh Hashanah’s primary theme: G-d’s Infusion of New, Divine Energy Into a Tired World.

Just as a sleepy person gets rejuvenated by a jolt of caffeine (or some good sleep!), an exhausted world receives a Divine ‘shot-in-the-arm’ every Rosh Hashana.

How does this work?

Kabbalistically speaking, the world is totally dependent on Divine energy, which G-d grants in energy-increments. Every Rosh Hashana, G-d breathes new life into the world; and that keeps us juiced until the following Rosh Hashana.

But it’s not a purely automatic process. It’s actually very inter-active, and very much user-generated.

It’s up to us. In other words: Rosh Hashana isn’t a spectator sport. It’s a drama, and you have a leading role.

Every year, as the High Holidays set in, it’s our individual job to take a moment – a genuine moment - to re-connect with ourselves, our purpose in life, and with our Creator.

When we renew our commitment to meaningful living, re-affirming our relationship with the Divine, G-d is overjoyed to reciprocate and grant us life – vigorous, sparkling, energized life – for a New Year.

A world re-energized. Lives infused with new hope and vigor.

G-d knows we can use it.

Elul Power

This week, the Jewish calendar guides us into Elul, the month immediately preceding the High Holiday season. It’s traditionally a time for focus on our personal self-improvement.

The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, was a diarist, and he wrote a vivid description of Elul in the town of Lubavitch (in White Russia of the time) where he grew up. There was a soul-searching ‘smell in the air’ throughout the town, he writes, with a ‘wind of self-betterment’ blowing through the trees, and rustling the leaves. 

Powerful prose.

Now what does this mean in practical terms?

 I think of it this way. If we observe ourselves, we can see that our personal emotional posture influences our logic and judgments. That’s human nature. Consider the Torah’s warning against judges taking bribes: “for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise.” How does the Torah call an amoral bribe-taker ‘wise?’

The Torah is telling us that a person can be moral and cognitively sound, ‘wise,’ and yet be blinded by his subconscious emotional posture. The Torah isn’t talking about a greedy villain who knowingly perverts justice for a few dollars. The Torah is talking about someone who wants to be just, who THINKS he’s being just, but is incapable of truly wise thinking because of a personal, subjective connection.

When a person is emotionally available, unencumbered, he is then open to true to intellectual progress. When a person is emotionally unavailable, when he is tied to a position by an extraneous force, he cannot be objective; his cognition is impaired.

The Torah is illustrating the power of emotional availability.

This is a central concept of Elul. We can all say we want to be better. We can even mean it. But are we ready? Is our emotional posture open to it? Are we emotionally available for real change?

It’s difficult to know, and it’s difficult to achieve. That’s why G-d gave us Elul.

Life’s backdrop, the very rustling of the wind, is different these days. Ambience affects us, and the Elul ‘wind’ grants us rare emotional availability, which positions us for real change.

When we’re properly poised; real change can happen. This is the time.

If Werewolves Knew

 On the night of August 7th, look outside and you’ll see a full moon. Although common folklore has associated lunacy - even vampires - with lunar fullness, Judaism sees spiritual beauty and meaning in the full moon.

The sun is the universe’s luminary, and the moon its reflector, and (as we observe it on earth) every month they go through a cosmic dance. The New Moon cycle begins with darkness, a moonless night. The moon then begins to wax, showing us more and more of the sun’s brilliance.

Ultimately, we get to see the moon in total symmetry with the sun’s rays: The full moon.

This dynamic represents our own dance with the Divine. G-d is the source of all light, the true ‘Sun’ of our universe. Our job is to reflect Divine meaning; we need to be a ‘moon’ to G-d’s ‘Sun.’

When we’re off our game, we go dark. Our world is a moonless night, lonely and vulnerable.

When we’re aligned, the world is bright. Life makes sense. We can see where we’re coming from and where we need to go. Life still has pitfalls, but we’re safe and secure. We’re connected.

In other words: WE need to be the full moon.

On the [lunar-based] Jewish calendar, the 15th day of the month is when there’s a full moon. That gives us some insight into why Passover is on the 15th of Jewish month, as is Sukkot.

Interestingly, the Talmud tells us that the 15th of the month of Av – sometimes referred to as Tu B’Av - is greater than them both.

Why?

Because there’s no deeper security than the safety which comes after vulnerability and instability.

Think of a couple experiencing their honeymoon, an unchallenged oneness. Then real life hits, so the union faces instability and challenge. The couple’s in a vulnerable place, because they haven’t each yet evolved into a healthy, interdependent unit.

By using their imbalance as an opportunity to strengthen themselves, the couple comes out stronger. They’re more secure because they have conquered the instability.

Tisha B’av (this past Tuesday) was a time for mourning the havoc that comes from being disconnected from self, from each other and from the Divine. Moving on, we’ve resolved to reconnect, and our new alignment has the safety – that special glow – that comes with personal transformation.

This Monday, our personal moons will shine especially bright. Catch the glow.

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