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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson


Do you resist?

I'm speaking about life here, not politics.

The question is: Do you rebel against your own norms? We all have temptations, habits, and norms we should discipline, if we only have the strength. So the question is: do we have the guts to resist our instincts?

Sometimes we need healthy rebellion in society at large, pushing back against an unhealthy status quo. We need a stirring of the collective spirit to bring consciousness and moral direction to our communities.

But I’m speaking about something more personal. I’m speaking about the person we each see in the mirror. If we consciously want to live a meaningful life, we can push past our norms and so many of our 'limits,' and evolve into more actualized people. But do we want to? Is that fire of rebellion burning inside?

Let’s face it: Even when we’re in a proper functional rhythm, our souls can be asleep. You can go through the motions of being a loyal spouse or parent, while your brain is still in the office – or at the stadium. We can perform good deeds without any excitement or enthusiasm, on auto-pilot. It’s being alive, without really living.

Doesn’t that call for resistance? If we’re living a life of complacency and self-satisfaction, a life without the passion to rise up against ourselves, have we not become ‘spiritual bourgeoisie’?

Time for revolution.

And we want a Divine uprising too.

G-d’s [meta]physical system has been our established order since time began. But it’s time for a radical change. It’s time for G-d to buck His own system, and bring out the meaning and beauty - the Harmonious Oneness - that’s inherent in our world.

We call that a world of Moshiach – a Messianic era. A world actualized.

And it’s G-d’s promise to humanity: When we rise up against our limitations, G-d will rise up against His.

So look at your life and rise above your limitations.

And let the revolution spread.

Ready for Inspiration

Have you ever experienced sudden inspiration? A 'Holy moment'? A sense of clarity about the world, your life and who you can be?

We, the Jewish people had such an experience, infinitely magnified, when we stood at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah.

Those standing at the base of that mountain felt their world change: Life made sense, the purpose of existence was clear.

No more nagging questions.

No more internal confusion.

The Torah isn't only about what was, it's very much about what is. The Torah is the story of our lives, in the present day and moments. The Sinai experience, with its clarity and connection, is a personal goal for each of us.

But how do we get there? How do we bring ourselves to an enlightened experience?

Inspiration usually seeks fertile ground, and comes to those who are genuinely receptive to an inner glow. So we need to position ourselves for inspiration, and then pray that the experience sets in.

It's very much about preparation; we need to be primed for the experience.

Look at the Torah's description of the Sinai experience. The Torah doesn't go straight to this pivotal event. The Torah first spends a lot of ink on the trials, tribulations and triumphs of our pre-Sinai ancestors. The Torah’s entire first Book (out of the Five Books), is devoted to the lives of Abraham, Sarah and their descendants.

The pre-Sinai generations grappled with their egos, working to steer their lives toward a meaningful purpose beyond self-gratification. They guided their lives by vision, not impulse. They identified their natural challenges and transcended them, transforming themselves into selfless, principled people. They didn’t postpone their self-refinement efforts because they were waiting for a gift from above.

At the same time, they searched for connectedness with the Divine, and they didn’t take no for an answer.

Abraham and Sara, and their subsequent generations, went through a spiritual evolution which brought their family to a Sinai-ready state. Those who would later receive the Torah at Sinai were standing on their shoulders. That’s why they were ready for Sinai.

Back then, Sinai happened because we were ready.

Today, inspiration happens when we're ready.


Hit the Road

Does it feel like Rosh Hashana was ages ago?

Think again.

In a sense, Rosh Hashana is only just ending. You see, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur aren’t just independent holidays; they are part of a spiritual continuum.

During the High Holidays, we reach deeply into our psyches to explore our principles and values. What do I stand for? Am I mindful of my responsibilities to the world around me? Do I properly appreciate my relationship with G-d, my loving Creator?

At the close of Yom Kippur, we lock in (Neilah, the name of the closing prayer, actually means “to lock”) a deeper, more profound sense of connectedness with G-d and with life itself.

So we spend much of the High Holidays in a spiritual cocoon – in our minds and in the synagogue – focused on contemplation and internal growth.

But the High Holidays’ internal dynamics must then find their way into our “external” behavior. We need to express our internal commitment in 'real life' lived meaningfully.

So, after Yom Kippur, we venture back into the outside world of eating, drinking, socializing, etc. But, because we’ve had our High Holiday experience, things are a bit different. Our lives are now in the context of the  Sukkah (the temporary hut in which we celebrate over the Sukkot Holiday), which Chassidism describes as “G-d’s hug.”

Think of it this way: Life in the Sukkah is an external expression of the Divine intimacy we felt during Neilah. We’re able to live “normal life” – eating, drinking, etc.  – within “G-d’s embrace”.  

So Rosh Hashana’s peak is on Yom Kippur, and they’re both manifested in the Sukkot experience.

Sukkot’s zenith is its last day, which is a holiday unto itself, called “Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah.” Shemini Atzeret is an opportunity to retain the season’s energy (Azteret means “retention”). Simchat Torah is a day to recognize that our commitment to a life lived meaningfully “brings joy to the Torah.” So it’s a day when we rejoice with the Torah. And vice versa.

Simchat Torah ended Tuesday evening. We’ve had a month of preparation for a meaningful journey through the year.

Now let’s hit the road.

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