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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Relationship With A Capital 'R'


Relationships are the stuff of life.

They are the attachments we share.

Think of a relationship as a rope that joins two people. Each show of love, each demonstration of respect, adds another strand to this cable of connectedness, increasing its overall strength. Though individually miniscule, hundreds of threads woven together can create a rope that becomes more and more unbreakable.

Similarly, relationships reflect what we invest in them. Some are so weak that they are derailed by relatively minor incidents, and some so strong they can withstand a storm. It all depends on the strands.

But a parent’s love for a child would seem to be different; it seems to transcend the ‘relationship rope’ metaphor. Certainly, threads of positive interactions are critical to a healthy parent/child relationship, and a damaged ‘rope’ will make for a great challenge. At the same time, a parent/child relationship isn’t only about the threads. It’s elemental; and it’s not something we can break.

No matter how frayed the ‘rope’, a healthy parent can never really divorce a child. A child is – biologically and spiritually – an extension of his/her parents.

The creator is fundamentally invested in the created.

This is important to remember when we think of our relationship with G-d. The Torah tells us that “G-d’s portion is His people; Jacob is the rope of His inheritance”. The Torah compares our relationship with G-d to a ‘rope’. Every time we honor our relationship with G-d, we express our soul identity and add a strand to the rope of connectedness.

But there’s something else in that verse: It says that we are G-d’s “portion”, we are each a piece of the Divine. Just like a parent never divorces a child, we can never be truly disconnected from our Divine Parent. We may go through some tumultuous times, and the rope may become quite compromised, G-d forbid. But the elemental relationship transcends it all.

Today – the 10th of Shevat - celebrates 68 years since the Rebbe assumed leadership of Chabad. A genuine Jewish leader never gets distracted by the extraneous ‘disconnect’ that may arise between his people and the Divine. He focuses on identifying, and bringing to the surface, our unbreakable bond with G-d; and then inspiring us to rebuild the rope, one strand at a time.

This was the Rebbe’s life.

Thank you, Rebbe.


The Pit Or The Well?

 Ever feel like you're 'running on empty'?

Some days, we feel like we have what it takes. We're in the right mental place. We've got the enthusiasm and wisdom to deal with life’s challenges and opportunities. We’re in the right ‘zone.’

Other days it feels like we're at a dead end, mentally and emotionally exhausted. We don't have the inner strength or insight to get over the hump that seems to block our way.

What to do?

The Torah describes each person as a metaphoric 'well.’ Before a well is discovered, it can appear as nothing more than a large pit; a ground cavity, yielding nothing but emptiness. But beneath that apparently desolate bottom lays a reservoir of water, the stuff of life and growth.

A pit is a lifeless abyss, with no hope for growth and vitality. Conversely, a well may  look like a pit, but it actually has a hidden treasure waiting to burst forth. One just needs to keep digging.

When the Torah tells us that we are each a ‘well,’ it is declaring that we each carry a rejuvenating natural resource deep inside. We just need to tap it.

It’s normal to feel like you’re 'running on empty,' that the day feels like ‘the pits.’ It's human. But we need to envision the water that lies just beneath that lifeless bottom. If only we keep digging.

Chassidic thought tells us that struggle is what yields the greatest reward. When I face an obstacle, that problem is actually beckoning, calling out and saying "conquer me." And when I face that challenge, I need to know that engaging my difficulties is my soul’s greatest exercise. My destiny.

So, the Torah, by calling me a well, gives me important encouragement. When we’re feeling empty, alienated and disconnected, when we feel like we’re at bottom, our 'well' self-image can give us the strength to dig just a little deeper. And when we do, we'll hopefully access that special geyser of hope, strength, inspiration and wisdom that we carry within us.

We need to visualize the life affirming water lies just on the other side of that lifeless bottom.

And keep digging.

Pharaoh Syndrome




It’s probably a common human experience. 
You’re at a crossroads in life, and need to choose a direction. Considering the facts as you see them, you choose a course of action, believing that it’s the correct one. 
Now what happens when you come across new 'evidence' which undermines your original decision? Oops!

You’re already invested in your decision. You’re headed in a direction. Your family and friends all know about it too.

Now what? 
That's where character comes in. People with moral strength have the guts to stop short and admit a mistake. They have the courage to do the right thing, even though it may be seen as a public acknowledgment of their own inadequacy. 
People with weak values keep boring ahead, irrespective of the facts. 
It's what we call a Pharaoh personality. 
Pharaoh devised his evil slavery program because he didn’t like the Jewish people’s presence in his land. But maybe he also had some grandiose vision of a Divine destiny to be visited upon the Jewish people.

After all, G-d had told Abraham his descendants would be enslaved for four hundred years (Genesis 15:13-14), and we can assume that Abraham didn’t keep it a secret.

Maybe Pharaoh thought he was fulfilling a historic mission.

Maybe. But that could have only taken him to a certain point. 
Pharaoh was eventually confronted by Moses, a man who showed his G-dly credentials and gave clear instructions: "Let these people go. You’re doing something wrong. You and your people will suffer if you continue." 
Yet Pharaoh continued. Pharaoh suffered terribly, yet he refused to change course. It took ten devastating plagues to loosen his grip. What kind of a person looks facts and self-destruction in the face, and continues on his wrong-headed path? 
A person who can’t admit he made a mistake. A person who can’t find the courage to change direction. 
The Torah is the story of our individual lives.

We each have an inner Moses, an inner Pharaoh, and personal Egypts that trap us in our daily lives.

When we rise above our egos to hand our inner Moses the reins of our lives, we can find the strength to push past our personal Pharaoh, escape our individual Egypt and find the way to our Promised Land. 
It happened then. It should happen today.



Apology With A Soul

We all make mistakes. And sometimes there’s collateral damage. Others can get hurt.
So what does the moral person do?


And then move on with life. 
It happens all the time. We discomfit or embarrass someone, defuse the situation by expressing regret, and then continue unscathed down life's path. 

But the critical question is: Did we grow from the episode? Did I take the time to analyze why I was so careless as to step on someone else's proverbial toe? Did you process and internalize the situational dynamics so that you’re more sensitive to my surroundings next time?

If an apology is blurted out to navigate an awkward moment, or because one was caught doing something wrong, then the apology is unlikely to be a self-transformative one. 

It’s an escape tool, not a step in personal evolution.
When the Jews were in Egypt, Moses kept begging Pharaoh to "Let my people go." When he didn’t listen, G-d directed calamities to afflict Egypt, to help ‘convince’ Pharaoh to let the Jews leave. 

Makes sense so far. The powerful oppressor is afflicting the vulnerable victims and G-d wants him to stop.

But, the Torah tells us that G-d "hardened Pharaoh's heart" so that he obstinately refused to let the Jews out of slavery.

Why? Wasn’t G-d working against His own interests? If G-d was indeed trying to free the Jews, why get in the way by hardening Pharaoh’s heart?
Our Rabbis teach that G-d never prevented Pharaoh from feeling and expressing genuine remorse. At the same time, G-d didn't want a shallow, forced apology. G-d didn't want Pharaoh to recant his ways in order to stop the pain; that would be an easy - in fact, deceptive - way out. 

G-d strengthened Pharaoh’s psyche against issuing a shallow ‘I’m sorry.’ The stakes were too high; G-d wanted authentic self-reflection, genuine internal change. 

Absent real remorse, G-d preferred nothing. 
The same applies to our own, personal 'Egypt’, our individual life-ruts. Superficial apologies are good for getting-by; but they stand in the way of doing-better.
'Getting-by' or ‘Doing-better.' 

It's our choice.

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