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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Golden Years

Aging.
The word has a musty feel to it. And, at least in our society, I think it’s a word that strikes unease – if not fear – into many a heart.
After all: Who wants to grow old?
So let’s do some re-framing:
When we’re young, feeling like masters of the universe, we enthusiastically anticipate future decades of supersized potential. At the same time, an appealing, but as-yet actualized, future is just potential, bountiful as it may be.
The years in our rear-view mirror are different. They’re ‘in the bank,’ so to speak.

Any good that we’ve done is ours to keep; no one can take it from us. Yes, things can – G-d forbid – go awry, to the extent that we can no longer appreciate our prior good days; but that doesn’t mean they didn’t happen. Life’s ups and downs are hugely valuable, gifting us with insight that no textbooks or teachers could ever teach. The past is a critical prologue, and every day we live adds to our store of experience.
It’s exciting to have a future. It’s truly wonderful to have a meaningful past.

When I lay down to sleep, there’s nothing more peaceful than knowing I spent my day well.

It’s good to be young. It’s great to be accomplished.

In this week’s Torah portion, Abraham is described as having “grown old,” and – if we read the words literally - as “coming along with his days.” What does “with his days” mean?

As Abraham grew older, he brought his past with him. His youth wasn’t a distant memory, and he hadn’t been just passing time.

Every day he lived was another slice of achievement, learning and growth.
So when Abraham was wizened and of weakened body, he possessed the spiritual strength of a life well‑lived. He wasn’t only looking hopefully ahead to the further actualization of potential; he was looking gratefully back on meaningful days.
Aging should be a process that brings satisfaction with, and gratitude for, the past, as well as hope for the future.
Make today a day that enhances your satisfaction.

 

What Are You Waiting For?

Your soul was waiting, hankering, chomping at the bit.

The length of the wait was of no import -- there aren’t any calendars in “Eternity.”  It was all about the depth of the anticipation. Finally, FINALLY, you got the green light for the ultimate challenge, the ‘Iron Man Competition’ of the ages.

G-d invested your soul in a body and you embarked on the journey of Human Existence. And you are so excited. Why does your soul long for this human life, and the inevitable pain, suffering and tears?

Because there’s so much to be gained.

Your soul knew you’d be afflicted with a wide assortment of struggles, internal and external. But it also knew full well that every time you rose to the occasion, every time you transcended a self-indulgent bad mood, every time you consciously guided your life in a meaningful direction, every time you crossed the boundary from self-centeredness to responsibility, every time you saw an otherwise mundane moment as a beautiful opportunity waiting to be capitalized upon – you would be creating Cosmic Harmony.

Your soul’s deepest desire was to melt into the Infinite Oneness of the Great Divine, and – FINALLY - your soul’s ticket was punched. The moment arrived.

You were born

Your soul knew that the payoff for your personal victories would be greater intimacy with G‑d and greater Oneness between G-d and the world. That’s why it waited so longingly.

So here you are -- in the game -- in a life of blessing and bother, purity and pain, success and struggle.

All in all, a life of opportunities.

Compete like your soul depends on it.

Sometimes Less is More

Are you selfish? Doesn’t sound good.

At the same time, we each need to focus on self, to care for our own needs.

So where do we draw the line?

Hillel, our famous 1st century Sage, put it this way: “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?” In other words: I need to look after myself, because who else should?

But then he added: “…And if I am only for myself, then what am I?”
Hillel proposed a worldview that sees me – and you – as being created to make this a better world. So we need to take care of ourselves, in order to fulfill our mission.  That is why the flight attendant instructs us, in the case of a loss of cabin pressure, to put on our own oxygen mask before tending to those that need our assistance. But, that’s very different from looking out for ourselves because we view ourselves as the center of the universe.

Because, if everything is about “me,” then – in the final analysis - “what am I?”
As an antidote to self-centeredness, the Torah tells us to [metaphorically] ‘circumcise the foreskin’ of our hearts. The ‘foreskin’ refers to the emotional numbness – the psychological tone-deafness - that comes from self-indulgence. When we are overly self-focused, we unwittingly create a psycho-spiritual ‘overlay’ that interferes with our ability to connect genuinely with others. In other words, when self-care crosses into self-absorption, ‘self’ becomes the only thing that truly matters. Self-absorption opens the door to ‘ME-centeredness’, which automatically leaves less room for ‘WE’.

So, the Torah tells us to cut through this stifling attitude; to liberate our hearts and souls, by freeing ourselves from the emotional prison of a self-serving life.  This attitude is sometimes referred to as temperance. Practically, it means taming the ‘self-indulgence’ muscle by training ourselves not to partake in every available pleasure. Sometimes there’s addition through subtraction. Take away a little ‘me’ focus and there is room to create some more ‘we’ focus.

That’s what emotional circumcision means. We peel away the unhealthy layers of self-centeredness in the way we act, speak and feel. And in so doing, we break down the unhealthy walls of self, making us emotionally available to those who matter most -- free to breathe the fresh air of meaningful relationships.

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