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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Traveling Light

The Jewish traveler was aghast. He had come to visit Rabbi Dovber, who would eventually be known throughout the world as a premier spiritual master (Rabbi Dovber of Mezeritch, 18th century leader of the Chassidic movement), and was dismayed by the Rabbi's poor living conditions. 

When the man entered, Rabbi Dovber was sitting on a wooden (no chairs in sight), and teaching young children Torah. The scene seemed out of kilter; rich spirituality framed by such raw poverty. The man couldn’t imagine living under such conditions. 

Unable to contain himself, he asked the Rabbi how he could live without the basic amenities of a normal house. Why was his home so bare? 

Answering his question with a question, the Rabbi queried “well, where is your furniture?” 

Perplexed, the man replied “Rabbi, I’m obviously in the midst of a journey, and I don’t take my furniture with me when I travel. At home I’m set up fine. That‘s where I'm really invested and that's where it matters.” 

Rabbi Dovber replied “I, too, am in the midst of a journey. G-d sent my soul to this world for a purpose, just as he sent yours. I'm traveling through life and will eventually move on to a higher plane. 

The material is all part of life's impermanence, and I treat it as such. I, too, don't care that much about furniture when I'm 'traveling'. 

I invest my attention and energy in to my ‘home’, my soul condition. That‘s where it matters.” 

Rabbi Dovber was teaching that we’re all on the road of life. We’re each put here for a purpose, and what matters most is the objective. The rest is the trimmings. 

When you're traveling, the mint on the pillow is nice, but it’s not a priority. 

We should focus our attention on life's fundamentals, that's where 'home' is. And at home, everything matters. After all, it’s your home. 

A daily question to ponder is: Where do I really live? 

Which areas of life are genuinely important to me? Which areas of life are just parts of the journey, a means to a greater end? Does my investment of time and effort reflect my priorities?

Putting significant attention into fleeting, self-serving pleasures is kind of like carrying your sofa with you as you travel. It’s putting too much focus on a brief jaunt. 

Travel light.

Live well.

 

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

When I was a kid, I begged my father to take me to a baseball game. I nagged and badgered like only a little boy can. He had absolutely no interest in baseball, and he probably dreaded the idea of spending four boring hours at Shea stadium, but he took me anyway.

People sitting near us may have thought this bearded Rabbi was an interested fan. But I knew that was the furthest thing from the truth. He was sitting at Shea for one – and only one - reason: To make me happy. Tom Seaver was but a piece of my father’s end game: Making his son happy.

His presence at the ballgame wasn’t what it appeared to be. Appearances can be deceiving, and sometimes that’s a good thing.

‘Deceptive’ is a negative word; ‘misleading’ doesn’t sound kosher either. But how do you describe an exercise which appears to be self-indulgent, but is actually being pursued for a higher purpose?

Deceptively meaningful? Meaningfully deceptive?

Here’s a more common example: You see someone eating a tantalizing meal, and assume it’s in the pursuit of self-gratification. What if she simply wants to be healthy, so that she can actualize her Higher purpose by leading a meaningful life? The food happens to be great, but that wasn’t the primary point.

What about someone avidly pursuing his business, who actually places a high priority on bringing quality to his customers’ lives? And wants to earn money to support his community through his take-home revenue?

These individuals may look like they’re serving themselves, but their intent reflects a strong other-centered and G-d-centered ingredient.

Life is full of these opportunities to pursue exercises which have a meaningful essence, even though they look shallow on the outside.

We’re not created to be angels, and we’re not supposed to be sitting in prayer all day. Our purpose includes engaging the material world, whether it’s on Main Street or Wall Street. We need to pursue human endeavors, but the key lies in the intent of our pursuit. Are we conscious of our Higher Purpose? Do we guide ourselves by a Higher Code? If the answer is yes, then the pursuit– notwithstanding its appearance – is very much Divine.

As a people, we are known by the name of our Patriarch ‘Yaakov’ (Jacob). Linguistically, the word Yaakov connotes ‘deceptiveness’. Not a pretty thought. At least on its face.

But Yaakov is actually a name that shouts our mission and calls us to action:

Engage the world, the Torah tells us. You may appear to be pursuing self, but keep your priorities at a high level, and you’ll actually be pursuing G-dliness.

Sometimes it’s about the relationship not the ballgame. And that’s up to us.

Light Your Candle

Have you ever thought that someone looked absolutely radiant? Have you ever been awed by by a teacher’s brilliance? How about the warmth you felt when you saw a joyful child’s beaming face?

Look at that paragraph and think about the verbiage we so commonly use. We use ‘light’ metaphors to describe the often-intangible beauty of the human experience.

And this isn’t a new linguistic phenomenon. The Torah describes Moses’ face, pursuant to his other-worldly experience on Mount Sinai, as “radiant”. Scripture tells us that “one’s wisdom illumines one’s face,” and offers a blessing that “G-d shine His countenance” upon us.

So 'light' is a Torah symbol for full spiritual, physical, mental and emotional expression. With light, we see ourselves and the world in full glory. When we see the world in an ‘illuminated’ way, that means life is making sense to us.

The Torah is telling us that we are all Divine candles, trusted by G-d to shine light in a world that is often ‘dark.’ As we journey through life, we pray for G-d’s help in dispelling the darkness of our confusion, self-absorption and lack of moral focus. We pray for our souls to shine.

We ask for G-d’s help in lighting the wick of our own Divine candle.

When the Temple stood, its majestic Menorah – the seven branched candelabra – represented our multi-faceted nation. When the Kohen (Priest) kindled its flames, he was drawing light to our souls, illuminating our psyches. Lighting our ‘wicks’.

In the days of the Chanaukah events, the Hellenists took control of Israel. They wanted to extinguish our spiritual candelabra. They fed us hedonism, trying to cloud our souls with a self-indulgent veil. The Hellenists presented their lifestyle as the brilliance of societal evolution, but it was actually moral darkness. They weren’t so much trying to annihilate our bodies as they were seeking to extinguish our spiritual light.

They wanted our Holy Menorah - in all its dimensions - to go dark.

The Maccabees heroically fought back and they miraculously won. They preserved Divine light for posterity.

For us.

This Chanukah, dig deep inside yourself to find your own Holy oil. And kindle your inner flame.

Connect with Chanukah’s energy by lighting a Menorah for eight nights (not just the night of the family Chanukah party:)).

Add your candle to the brilliant blaze of our history.

Light up your life.

 

Best wishes for a happy and meaningful Chanukah,

Rabbi Mendy

 

P.S. This coming week, we’ll be launching our end of year campaign, in which our dear friend Mel Feldman will be matching donations up to $60,000. Watch out for our e-mails, and please add your match to the blaze of goodness. Together, we’ll light up the world.

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