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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Dancing with the Divine

Self-sufficient or Dependent?

We strive for the former.

Think of your most vulnerable moment. A time when your security nets were insufficient, and it seemed like there was no one to catch you. That pit-in-your- stomach despair is a feeling nobody wants to experience.

At the same time, it’s great to be cared for. Remember a time you were embraced by someone who had the power to handle your problems; someone who loved you and was wholly concerned with your welfare.  Like a parent caring for a baby. Safety at its best.

But that scenario can present its own challenges: Firstly, the recipient of this protective cover may often take it for granted. How do you feel the gratitude of the rescue if you haven’t had an opportunity to feel the threat? In addition, of the protection is truly effective, we may relax our own efforts while basking in the sheltering shade.

Watch small children. They usually have no idea what we’re doing to protect them, and they take their security for granted. And the more we coddle them, the more we potentially disempower their own efforts at achieving genuine security.

Think of American society pre 9/11. Most of us took our safety from terrorism for granted, and there seemed little need for personal efforts at self-protection. Then we woke up to the truth of our vulnerability.

Safety vs. Vulnerability.

Two poles in our delicate dance with G-d.

G-d is our Rock, our ultimate security. When you genuinely trust G-d, you sleep easier.

 Yet we can’t take G-d’s protection for granted. We need to recognize humanity’s intrinsic frailty, thank G-d for His protection, do what we can to help ourselves, and trust the Divine for the future.

G-d gave the Jews an important model for life during their years in the desert. They went to bed without any food for the next day (feeling vulnerable). Yet they firmly trusted that the manna would fall the next morning and satisfy their needs.

We’re out of the desert, thank G-d, but our framework is still there. We need to recognize our inherent vulnerability, even as trust in G-d’s protective care. The spiritually-connected person doesn’t get up in the morning feeling invincible because G-d will safeguard him/her. We take pause to recognize acknowledge our intrinsic vulnerability, then we thank G-d for our blessings, finding trust and confidence for the day ahead.  Because we know we’re not alone.

We’re expecting good things. With a sense of gratitude and humility.

A great attitudinal recipe for a meaningful day.

Enthusiastic Humility

How do you picture the humble person?

Ambitious and driven to success? Or lacking presence and self-confidence, an easily manipulated wallflower shyly averting his/her gaze?  
Let’s take a Torah look at the real-life application of humility.
G-d wants us to live energetically, to pro-actively tackle the world and bring it to a meaningful place. G-d also wants us to be humble. So, the two attitudes need to co-exist, and humility can’t mean shy passivity and submissiveness. 
Humility means being honest with yourself, and seeing yourself for who you really are.
Humility isn’t a self-effacing attitude, which denies – to yourself or others – your value, strengths and talents. That’s called self-doubt. And it usually involves self-deception. 
Humility is different. The humble person is fully aware of his/her talents; one is fully conscious of one’s blessings – genetic, familial/societal or financial. 
Humility is about the attitude with which you approach your gifts and talents, not denying them.
We all need to look at ourselves and take honest stock of our G-d-given ‘toolbox,’ the gifts with which we’ve been endowed. Then we need to recognize that each of those life-advantages comes with a responsibility.

G-d grants us gifts for a purpose. Each of your strengths is a call to action, beckoning you “develop me, utilize me, make into a conduit for meaningful living.” So you and I need to look at each one of our gifts and ask: Am I doing you justice? 
I need to honestly consider the possibility that others would have accomplished more with my tools. 
I also need to consider that people without my specific talents, my tools, have simply been dealt a different tool box. That’s G-d’s business, not mine.
To a humble person, the real measure of life isn’t which tools we’ve each been dealt; it’s what we’re doing with them.
So humility is a sense of responsibility: I need to be who G-d created me to be. I’m humbler when I’m not competing against others, but against my own potential. I’m humbler when I look for new opportunities to be the best I can be. 
Humility. Now there’s an ambition.

A Life of Sublime Pleasure

When we think of the word 'pleasure,' we might think of an elegant banquet or an exotic vacation. Something in the self-gratification mode.

So it feels counter-intuitive that Chabad Chassidic thought identifies ‘pleasure’ – ‘Taanug’ in Hebrew – as the core of our soul energies. Does it make sense that when we dig deep into our psyches, peeling away our personality layers and getting to our Essence, we find pleasure?? Our moral teachings generally steer us away from selfishness and self-absorption, guiding us toward a life of other-centeredness. So how can pleasure, our own enjoyment, be at the core of our holy soul?

It’s important to realize that pleasure isn’t inherently a selfish thing. It’s a morally neutral soul-rhythm, a character-muscle. We can certainly point it in the direction of self-satisfaction. But it has other, loftier applications. There's actually a special brand of pleasure that comes with selflessness.

I can enjoy an ice cream cone. But if I use the treat to ignite a smile to the face of a poor child, that beaming face would give me a soul rush beyond anything sugar can accomplish.

The easy path to pleasure is to just eat the ice cream myself. Reaching out to that child takes some effort.

Meaningful pleasure doesn't come easy. But it’s pleasure at its highest form. And that pleasure should be life’s driving force.

So we should ask ourselves: What gives us pleasure? Do we find beauty in leaving our self-bubble and connecting with others? Do we appreciate the inner contentment that comes with making a difference in someone else's life?

Pleasure strikes deep within our core, so where we find pleasure, where our passions lie, is hugely important. If we can harness our pleasure taste buds to appreciate relationship building, if we can find excitement in selfless commitment to a special relationship, we will have engaged a powerful personal engine to power a life of meaning.

My daughter Faigie is getting married this coming Tuesday, G-d willing. My wife Malkie and I pray that she and [her fiancé] Mendy, experience a life of true pleasure, the pleasure that comes with selfless commitment to each other, and to a meaningful life. May they have a life in which they strive to access higher pleasure, a life in which that beauty permeates every waking moment.

Mazel Tov Faigie and Mendy.

It's Not So Simple

Imagine the scene of several million, recently-liberated slaves gathering at Mount Sinai. They’ve experienced incredible miracles during their Exodus from Egypt, and for seven weeks they’ve been refining themselves – under Moses’ tutelage – in order to receive the Gift of all Gifts: The Torah.
Now, the moment arrives. The world goes quiet. Even the animals seem to be holding their breaths. Finally, the Creator of the Universe speaks to humankind. 
“Do Not Murder!” “Do not bear false witness!” Ten Commandments which are all pretty simple concepts. 
Can you imagine the people scratching their heads, saying “So THIS is the big deal?” 
It must have all seemed too elementary. Which is actually the point.
The Torah is an infinitely-deep reservoir of wondrous messages. Many of them mystical and sublime. But the Torah’s primary message is about making life, regular day-to-day life: Holy.
We instinctively focus on what we want out of life. Torah guides us to consider what life wants out of us, which is to make it meaningful. We do that by living with G-d-consciousness, searching for meaning in the things we do, and for opportunities to better the world.

Which brings us to “Do Not Murder,” etc.
G-d put ‘no-brainers’ into the Torah to teach us that there’s no such thing as a ‘no-brainer’. A ‘no-brainer’ means there’s no need for conscious choice. But we should always be consciously choosing a moral direction, and not just following our instincts.

Life is about serving Higher Purpose, not ourselves. If I refrain from hurting my neighbor because I believe it’s wrong, then I am serving MY value system. When I submit to the fact that G-D says it’s wrong (aside from my good instincts), then I am submitting to a life of Divine direction.
Good instincts are a great thing to have, but without G-d/responsibility consciousness our actions are missing more than a brain; they’re missing a soul.

That’s what G-d taught us at Sinai: Do good, because it fulfills your purpose in creation, not just because it feels right.

Saturday night, we begin the Holiday of Shavuot, and commemorate receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. We relive the lessons of Sinai. At services, we actually read the narrative, and the Ten Commandments themselves, from the Torah.

We’ll have services on Sunday morning at 9:30am (Torah reading around 10:30am), and a second reading at 5pm, followed by a dairy dinner and ice cream party.

Please come by. Bring the kids, bring your friends.

It’s time to appreciate – and celebrate - the significance to be found in the simple.

See you there!

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