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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Finding Comfort


Think of a comfortable scenario in your life. Is it a state of ease and quiet enjoyment? A time when you have no worries, just relaxation? A great escape?

Sounds wonderful. Enjoy.

But then engage real life.

Finding authentic comfort isn’t about escape. It’s about finding inner peace and equilibrium. True comfort sets in when we satisfy our existential emptiness and find a balm for the psyche.

Not a job for a Pina Colada.

Genuine comfort comes from meaningful living.

A lot of our internal unease – the “quiet desperation” that is the stuff of poetic angst - comes from living in a world which doesn’t seem to make sense; it looks shallow, random and meaningless.

And, deep inside, we know we can do better. We can find symmetry, integrity and meaning. Watching the world's madness violates our sensibilities, because we know something’s not right.

It bothers us, as it should. And our – yours mine - responses should be to act, working within our own spheres of influence to make this a brighter world.

Do a Mitzvah. Touch someone’s life. Upgrade your own. Just do something positive.

Our soul-irritations are G-d’s way of prodding us to jettison inertia and status quo. The internal disquiet is designed to provoke pro-active responses, propelling us to act and bring sanity to the chaos.

This goes to the very core of our existence, life’s purpose:

To elevate the world.

And elevate ourselves.

And, in that process, to find genuine peace and comfort.

Because, perhaps counter-intuitively, real soul comfort doesn’t come lounging around. It comes from meaningful struggle and productivity.

Finding meaning is what brings us comfort. genuine comfort.

In the Torah, G-d says that He will yet ‘comfort us’ in future days. G-d’s not promising Pina Coladas, nor am I awaiting them.

I’m looking for an embrace. I want to experience the true beauty and meaning in what I do. I want to see the richness of the human journey and its accomplishments.

I can handle the work. But I could use the comfort.

It’s G-d’s promise. And the future starts now.

The Heart of Sadness

I don't like feeling sad. 
Melancholy has a sneaky way of draining energy and paralyzing life. 

But here's the problem: Life isn't a string of happy occasions.  I make mistakes, causing discomfort to myself and others. Others make mistakes, causing discomfort to themselves and to me.
We all have problems. To ignore them is naïve. To face them is depressing.
So what can we do? 
First, let’s keep our expectations reasonable, since frustrations are a function of expectations. Everybody on the planet has stress, so we can't honestly be surprised by our own. Expect it.
Second, I need to carve out time to face my personal weaknesses and warts. That's the 
only way to an honest life. 
While I don't want to harp on my failings, I need to face them. And deep inside, as disquieting as this introspection may be, I'm glad that I'm going through the exercise. I'm happy that I have the maturity to face myself, and glad that I'm self-aware enough to be somber about my mistakes. a
Then there's a third element: 
I recognize that my full plate of relationships and responsibilities come with a price tag: Some stress is inevitably attached. I pray to G-d for more manageable stress. At the same time, if that's the price of my life and its blessings, I'll deal with it. 
Watching the Rebbe as I was growing up, I was always awed by the genuine pain he expressed when speaking of humanity's misery. I was watching a Rabbi crying real tears about people across the world whom he'd never met. 
As a teen, it was striking. I didn't have that genuine empathy for a stranger's problems, but I envied the depth of the Rebbe's.  I would've taken the pain of sadness for the power of real connectedness. 
A day like Tisha B'av (a fast day, when we commemorate the destruction of the Holy Temples) is set aside for this type of painful introspection. Aside from mourning our painful history, we take an honest look at our own self-destructive behaviors. 
It isn't pretty, but it's necessary. 
And, deep inside the sadness, there's gladness to be found.

And that’s key to the exercise.

When Tisha B’av falls on Shabbos, the fasting is pushed off until Sunday. This gives us an opportunity for the gladness, the sense of deep connection with our loved ones and the world, but without the attendant sadness.

It's a special Shabbos of joyous introspection. Let's make it productive.

Today's Potential

Ten brilliant scholars stood outside the Rebbe’s study. They were waiting for Rabbi Schneur Zalman, Chabad’s first Rebbe (1745-1813), to share a mystical discourse. When the door opened, they all entered the room. Except for Rabbi Isaac. He was much younger than the others and held back.

The Rebbe asked, “Who remains outside?” Someone responded, “A young man.”

“A young man can become an older man,” the Rebbe replied, and Rabbi Isaac rejoined the group.

Later on, Rabbi Isaac related that the Rebbe’s comment energized him with a profound psycho-spiritual boost. In the Rebbe’s words, he had heard "Don’t be limited by your present capacity. You have an older, wiser man inside of you. Unlock him. Live the future now."

From that day, Rabbi Isaac’s deeper potential began to unfold. His firm self-awareness, and his profound confidence in the Rebbe’s guidance, triggered an internal transformation. He walked away from the Rebbe’s room able to see past today’s limitations and live tomorrow’s potential.

Half a century ago, my father (Rabbi Moshe Herson, the Rebbe’s chief representative in the State of NJ, and Dean of the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown) stood in a private audience with the Rebbe (the 7th Rebbe in the Chabad dynasty). Still in his thirties, my father was Dean of a fledgling College in Newark, and tasked with growing both the College and the [then virtually non-existent] presence of Chabad throughout the State.

The Rebbe blessed him and said, “G-d will grant you the ability to evolve today into the person others will become tomorrow.”  

Perhaps the Rebbe was giving my father a similar jolt of confidence as Rabbi Isaac received. Perhaps the Rebbe was gifting my father with an awareness of his own potential by giving him a frame of reference as to who he could be. The Rebbe may have been saying: “Identify someone who you feel is successful, experienced, accomplished. And remember, that is who YOU could be. Today. You don’t need to postpone maximizing your potential until you’re older. Be that person now.”

Look around. See what’s possible. Visualize a greater tomorrow. 

Live it today.

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