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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Get Out There and Lead

Do you matter?
In the scope of this massive universe, does your life have any real import?
The answer is yes.
Absolutely. No matter who you are.
If G-d created you, and perpetuates your existence, He obviously has a purpose for you. If you're alive, then you certainly have something – a contribution G-d deems important - to give to this world.

So you matter.
We each need to look at our circumstances at any given moment, and influence our respective lives in a meaningful direction. Influencing the world means you don’t get sucked into the world’s maelstrom, and embroiled in its pettiness, so that the world is controlling and influencing you. 

We lead.

I lead my life. You lead yours.

We’re all leaders. 
To achieve your mission you need to stay true to your vision, staying above the fray and choosing your actions with deliberate wisdom. 
For the past six weeks, the Jewish calendar has been taking us through an exercise which we call the Omer, where we’ve been grappling with our internal dynamics. We’ve been growing and developing our psychological and spiritual personas in preparation to receive the Torah on the Holiday of Shavuot (which begins on the night of June 8th).

Thus far, we’ve been concentrating on:
1. How we emotionally connect with people 
2. How we manage our 'habit-traps' 
3. How we maintain internal focus on 'the vision' 
4. How we anchor our feelings in convictions and principles 
5. Our ability for flexibility and reconciliation 
6. Our internal focus 
We conclude week number 6 tonight. Tomorrow evening, Saturday night, we begin the home stretch, our final Omer week. We’ll focus on our ability to lead.

In mysticism, this is known as the art of ‘Malchut’ –Leadership and Influence.
Malchut/Leadership isn’t an internal rhythm like the other soul dimensions, it’s the delivery mechanism. Malchut/Leadership is exerting influence and making a difference in my little corner of the world.
Malchut/Leadership takes courage. 
Malchut/Leadership takes consideration and selflessness, because true leadership expresses a vision, not a personality. 
After six weeks, the Omer has (re)aligned our internal dynamics with our deeper Vision. Now it’s time to go out there and lead.

Because that’s what leaders do.

The Business of Life

When I reflect on my life and my role in the world, the word 'merchant' doesn't come to mind.

I guess I need to think again.

Trade is an exchange of goods and commodities. When I buy something it comes into my possession, and when I sell something else is taking title. That's basic business.

It's also a framework for life.

Consciously or not, we tend to divide our lives into two conceptual domains or orbits: The important and the less-than-important. Then we assign tasks, relationships and experiences to one orbit or the other.

That categorization is hugely important. When someone special is calling your cell about something we consider less-than-important, we need to consider: The topic may be trivial, but the relationship is not. If the relationship is an important one, each interaction – even this 'mundane moment' – is actually an opportunity for 'relationship-building'. Once we recognize that, we may still choose to defer the specific conversation until later, but that will be from a healthy and respectful position.

And rest assured: If you that way, the other person will too.

So, in 'commercial' language, I need to ‘secure’ slices of life from the trivial domain, and lift them into a meaningful orbit.

This also applies to my relationship with the Divine.

If I eat a bowl of vegetable soup for lunch today, that’s relatively trivial.

But does it need to be?

What if I approach my ‘mundane’ lunch with a Torah paradigm? What i+f I first thank my Creator for this incredible life and the food I'm about to eat? What if I'm conscious of my need to make a difference in the world, and my need for nutrition as fuel?

If I'm mindful and focused, I can transfer my simple meal from the mundane to the meaningful; the bowl of soup becomes a tool in my life’s mission.

To use the terms of Chassidic thought: When I take a situation and infuse it with meaning, I'm ‘acquiring’ it for the Divine. That's spiritual commerce.

Interestingly, our prayer liturgy, refers to G-d as (if we translate the words literally) "the Purchaser of all things” (‘Koneh Hakol’ in Hebrew).

G-d gave us a world that seems disconnected from meaning, out of the Holy 'domain'. Our job is to 'buy it back'.

We have a business opportunity with profits that are out of this world.

Making Our Hours Count

How quickly can you recall – with some specificity - what you did yesterday at 1pm? How about last Wednesday?

If you're like me, you spend a lot of energy responding to responsibilities of the moment, while stressing (at least a bit) about things yet to come. This makes most of life in the rear-view mirror meld into a blur, one hour virtually indistinguishable from another, one day running into the next.
Can we do better than that?
Chassidic thought encourages us to pro-actively take charge of our time and imbue each hour with meaning, making sure that our days really count.
Humdrum, un-spectacular, hours just fade into the past. At the same time, if something significant happened two Mondays ago, you’ll remember it pretty quickly. So let’s make our time remarkable.

Chassidic thought suggests an attitude called 'counting hours, ' which means: 
Think of your next hour as a vessel waiting to be filled. It’s morally neutral, and you get to choose how it will be used. If you make this next hour special, these minutes hour will become significant; they’ll live on. 

But it’s about more than memory.

After all, what if you learned an important life-lesson years ago, yet can’t remember the hour and day during which you learned the lesson? Does that really matter? Doesn’t that day live on with you, since its content echoes into your present life? 

If my days are meaningfully spent, I’ll know it. Life will feel full, and it won't matter whether I can remember exactly what I did at noon last Tuesday, because the echo of those minutes will still ring in my life.
So, this next slice of time is a huge opportunity. What if you consciously recognize it as a slot for fulfilling G-d's intent in your creation - whether you spend it working to provide for your family or reading something inspiring on You’ll have done something remarkable. You’ll have pro-actively chosen to make this hour a vehicle for purposeful living. You will have aligned your life with G-d’s intent in creating you.

While it may not be apparent to the onlooker, you’ve filled your hour with Eternal Meaning.

Can time be any better spent?

It's Worth the Climb

Feel like every day is a challenge? Like you’re clambering up a mountain, only to start from the base tomorrow?

That’s not unusual, because it’s the way we were created.

Every day, we have a mountain, a spiritual Mount Everest, to climb.

Every day, we’re faced with the challenge of scaling our inner selves, reaching to the top of our psycho-spiritual range, lifting ourselves from the base of life’s mountain to reach its peak.

When King David, the Psalmist, asks: “Who will ascend the mountain of G-d?” he is referring to this daily workout. So let’s a take a practical look at this mountain-climbing metaphor, by considering three basic elements we’d need to scale a physical mountain:

1. A clearly defined destination; we’ll need a charted path to know which trail we’re going to follow.

2. We need to be in good shape. It a takes a lot strength to haul oneself up an incline, straining against gravity’s natural pull.

3. We need to be wearing appropriate clothing.

Prayer is a daily exercise in considering life’s journey, so let’s look at our spiritual climb through the lens of Prayer:

1. Everyone needs a vision, a Purpose, in life. Prayer is a time for me to crystallize my purpose and commit myself to a path that will achieve it.

2. We need internal stamina to persevere and overcome self-absorption’s gravitational pull. Self-indulgence is the flip side of a meaningful life. A self-centered day begins with the question “what do I want out of life” A meaning-centered day begins with the question “what does life want out of me?” It takes a lot of guts to scale the barrier of self-interest, and prayer is your workout.

3. Jewish spiritual thought describes the soul as having three "garments:"

A. Thought

B. Speech

C. Action

so we need to clothe our souls appropriately. The way we think, speak and act are the way we interface with the world. And prayer is a time for focus on that interface.

In other words: Prayer is a time for me to ask myself: Does my "clothing" get in the way of my daily climb?

Where does my mind wander? How do I think about my fellow? Do I communicate transparently and sensitively?

These are questions for our daily prayer; accessorizing ourselves for the day's ascent.

Every day, some prayer and introspection will help you make your way – inch by well-earned inch - toward your peak.

And that’s how life becomes meaningful.

G-d Bless America

Last Shabbat, my fellow American attacked a synagogue in Poway, shooting people in anti-Semitic fury.

It’s so sad for me to acknowledge that John Earnest is indeed ‘my fellow American’. So terribly sad.

I am proud to be an American Jew. I was born and raised in NJ and I love this country. In fact, my Jewish identity makes me especially proud of this country. The USA was a critical haven for Jews after the Holocaust, and has been a consistent beacon of religious freedom.

I love the USA.

Yet, when Earnest shot up that synagogue, he didn’t care that he and his targets shared citizenship. He was aiming for Jews. He was shooting at me. And you.

I don’t think I’ll ever understand why he – and others like him - hate us so much. So, I ask myself, have I been wrong all along? Is America not the ‘land of the free’? Have we gone off the deep end?

Despite the pain, I still believe the answers are no, no and no.

I have spent a lot of time this week consulting with Law Enforcement authorities – including NJ’s highest Officials - about security. I know they’re taking this issue VERY seriously. And they are acting.

That matters a lot to me. As a Jew who is acutely aware of Jewish history over the millennia, I know I live in a blessed land when there’s so much genuine Governmental concern for my – our - security.

We are not alone. We have active partners, who can really help.

America is still America.

 There have always been anti-Semites, and they will continue to exist. And if – as it appears - these creeps are starting to come out of their holes, we need to be very vigilant.

But America is still America. And we can’t let that change.

One of the things that makes America great is that I can walk down the street as a Jew, and I can practice my religion freely and proudly. That’s the American way.

So I’m not going to stop doing what I’m doing. I’m not going to duck. Or try to be less visible.

To the contrary. I’m going to shout ‘G-d bless America!” by living proudly as a Jew. I’m going to repeatedly salute the stars and stripes, by vigorously exercising the religious freedom it represents.

That’s why Jews all over the country will be walking – especially proudly - into Shabbat services tomorrow morning. It’s the American way.

it’s how we salute the flag. Especially today.

See you in Shul.

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