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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Not By Matzah Alone

Okay, so I editorialized a little. The verse actually says “it is not by BREAD alone that the human lives, but by the word of G-d…” (Deut.8:3). 

But what does the verse mean? The word of G-d is holy and spiritual, but our essential nutrients need to come from the ‘bread’ (which obviously represents food in general) we eat.

The Torah is actually telling us that when we eat, the ‘word of G-d’ is IN the food we’re ingesting, and THAT is the true battery-pack which gives us life.

Whoa. The ‘word of G-d’ is floating in my coffee?

G-d created everything with a purpose, a spark of potential meaning. And any article’s raison d’ etre is its very ‘soul.’ So when you purposefully engage something in life - whether it’s your pen, a tuna sandwich, or a heated moment- you actualize its soul. We can each activate the Divinity that’s lying just beneath life’s veneer, waiting to be touched.  

So, from a Jewish spiritual perspective, life is like a big treasure hunt. Every day, and every hour, we search for the nuggets of meaning that are just waiting to be found. 
Which brings us to food. When we eat in a conscious and meaningful way (e.g. to gain strength to live a life as our Creator intended), we access two levels of nutrition: A. The physical, which discharges material nutrients into our bloodstream B. The spiritual, a current of G-dliness to nourish our souls.
Matzah is a food with a unique spiritual ingredient. The Zohar, Kabbalah’s pre-eminent textbook, calls Matzah ‘the food of Faith.’ Eating the Matzah as a Mitzvah, and with spiritual consciousness, injects the nutrient of faith into our soul’s ‘bloodstream.’
When the Jews left Egypt, they were aware of G-d (after all, they’d just witnessed their own supernatural liberation), but the top-of-the-head-to-the-bottom-
of-the-toes recognition, the super-rational, spiritually intimate connectedness, didn’t kick in until they ate Matzah.
Matzah is the gift of faith, in food form.

Three weeks from tonight, we’ll be sitting down to the first Seder. When you pick up that Matzah, please remember that it’s much more than a brittle cracker. There’s a special Divine gift there, the power of faith.

So let Matzah nourish your soul. It may be hungry.

Do You Krechtz?

 The year was 1862. In the Russian town of Lubavitch, two young brothers - sons of the fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe - played. Little Sholom Dovber was just over five years old, his brother Zalman Aaron was eighteen months older. 
Cops and robbers? Cowboys and indians? 
Given the home in which they were raised, these boys decided to play Rebbe and Chassid (spiritual mentor and disciple). Being the older brother, Zalman Aaron donned an adult hat and positioned himself as the ‘Rebbe’. Meanwhile, Sholom Dovber presented himself as a 'Chassid', saying “Rebbe, I’m very troubled. Last Shabbos I did something I later learned to be inadvisable, albeit permissible (the boy actually spelled out an aspect of Shabbos observance). What can I do to atone for this inadvertant slip? How can I bring my life and behavior into a better place?” 
The 'Rebbe' was ready with a response: "Be careful to look into your prayerbook, actually reading the words, when you pray; don’t recite the liturgy by heart”. 
Little Sholom Dovber (who was destined to become the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe) quickly responded “Your advice won’t help, and you’re not a Rebbe!” 
"Why do you say that?” protested the older boy. 
“When a Rebbe hears a person’s plight, and senses his/her pain, he emits a ‘krechtz’ (Yiddish for sigh or groan) before he says offers any guidance (i.e he empathizes and feels their pain before offering any advice)." 
"Your advice – in and of itself - might have actually helped, but since you didn’t ‘krechtz’ you’re obviously not a Rebbe and your advice won't work!” 
What was this little boy - a Rebbe-in-waiting - actually saying? 
When someone share his/her pain or struggle with you, and are positioned to give advice, remember that there's an important pre-requisite: Genuine empathy. You need to truly understand any problem if you're to be of use in solving it. The first step in solving a human problem is empathy. 
If you feel the 'krechtz', if you can experience a bit of the other's pain, you are in a position to give good guidance. And feeling the 'krechtz' isn't enough. Show it. Don't be afraid to express your pain. 
Sometimes the 'krechtz' itself, the hurting person's knowledge that someone else cares, may be more helpful than any advice. 
So give a 'krechtz'. Care. 
It may mean more than you can imagine.

I Believe in Miracles


Have you ever experienced one? Think back on your day, to the moment when you first opened your eyes. Wasn’t that itself a miracle? How about your mobility, hearing, cognition? Are these things that ‘just happen,’ or are they Divine gifts that should make our hearts swell with gratitude?
How about the loved ones in your life? Are they anything less than a miracle?
It’s often just a matter of perspective. Every life takes twists and turns. Every day, some things will go right and some things won’t. The important question is: Which takes up more space in our eyes? The good or the not-so-good?

When I genuinely appreciate the good, it helps me see my journey – in its totality - as a blessing.
Once I see I see my life as a gift, the aggravating bumps take on a different, more manageable, context. They become lessons, exercises in self-betterment, tests of character.
(I don’t mean to diminish the pain of our individual problems; on the contrary, I pray that G-d give us all tranquility and revealed good. But – until then – we need to find a productive way to deal with our obstacles).
This is the powerful lesson of Purim, the Holiday which we’ll celebrate this coming Wednesday evening and Thursday.
We have Holidays like Passover, which celebrates the open miracles we experienced in the course of our Exodus from Egypt. In our lives, that corresponds to the ‘over the top’ moments of good fortune we may experience in the course of our days.

But those are the ‘Passover’ moments in life.

Purim is different.
There is no blockbuster miracle to celebrate. No supernatural event.

In the Purim narrative, life just seems to turn out right. We – one could say – simply had the right person (Queen Esther) in the right place (the palace) at the right time (when Haman’s evil plan was being fomented).

But that’s not how the Jews saw it. When things turned out right, they had the vision to see it as a miracle.

And Purim was born. 
In the scope of your life, the ‘Passover miracles’ will probably be few and far between. Most of your life will be like today, a ‘regular’ day with nothing ‘special’ to celebrate. Unless you choose to celebrate ‘natural miracles.’ Because, rest assured if you’re reading this, you’ve had some ‘miracles’ today. 
Purim teaches us that every day’s a Holiday.
Time to celebrate!

This May Be It

We know the basic Purim story (The Holiday begins on the evening of March 20th):
2500 years ago, the Jews were in trouble. Haman, a wicked advisor to the Persian King Ahaseurus, had engineered an evil decree to exterminate the entire Jewish population.
Unbeknownst to almost everyone, including the King, the Jews had an ‘inside woman’ at the palace. Queen Esther, Queen of the entire Empire, was a Jewess! What’s more, she was related to Mordechai, the prominent Jewish leader of his time. In response to the threat, the Jews rallied and spiritually rejuvenated themselves, while Esther worked to save the Jews.
The Purim story is replete with messages for life.
When Mordechai found out about this terrible plan, he sent a secret  message to Queen Esther about the impending danger, imploring her to beseech the King. Queen Esther sent back a sad but reasonable response, basically saying: "This is terrible; but there's very little I can do. I haven't been summoned to the King's quarters for a month now. We all know that no one - under penalty of death - can come to the King's quarters unbidden. Really sorry"
Mordechai responds with a theological statement that re-frames her world: "If you choose to keep silent, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from elsewhere...Who knows whether it was for just such a need that you were able to attain a royal position?!?”

In other words, Mordechai is saying: “You are in a unique position to help people. That’s not an accident. It may very well be that this opportunity is the entire reason G-d enabled you to achieve what you have achieved.”

It’s an inspiring, yet weighty, thought. When I find myself in a position to make a difference, I need to take a moment to recognize that what has presented itself isn’t just a burden or a responsibility. It may very well be an opportunity for me to actualize my entire purpose for existence, or at least the Divine objective for this specific area of my life.

None of us knows what G-d has in mind for our lives, but we know G-d has something in mind.

Your next choice may just be it.

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