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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

The Revolution Continues

Seventy years. 

This coming Wednesday, the 10 of Shevat on the Jewish calendar (corresponding to February 5), will mark seven decades since the Rebbe began to lead the global revolution known as Chabad. 

To be sure, the Rebbe never saw it as his revolution.  This was a campaign to actualize G-d’s timeless vision for the world, the Torah’s Divine blueprint for society. Even more, the Rebbe was – in his own words – simply perpetuating the efforts of six Lubavitcher Rebbes who preceded him (beginning in the 18th century). 

But the Rebbe was nothing less than an extraordinary revolutionary, leader of his generation and luminary of the generations. And it began that fateful day in 1950, when the Rebbe accepted leadership of the small, Holocaust-battered community known as Chabad. 

Any credible attempt to describe the Rebbe’s vision, brilliance and impact would need a set of books, not a brief article. So I want to focus on a single attitudinal element of the Rebbe’s leadership, which presents itself as a clear thread through the decades of his talks and writings.

You – whomever you are - matter. Your next decision has the potential for cosmic impact. Not just in a rhetorical, let’s get-you-motivated sense. The objective truth is that G-d, and the cosmos, really care about what you do.

On the 10th anniversary of the Rebbe’s leadership, 10 Shevat 1960 (February 8th of that year) the Rebbe related and analyzed the following Chassidic teaching (loosely translating in my own words):

Sometimes, one’s excessive ‘humility’ prevents closeness to G-d. When we don’t believe that we matter, we close ourselves to the truth that G-d absolutely delights in our personal prayer, study and Mitzvot. We disable our ability to accept that our positive choices trigger Divine flow into the world and that the very angels are nourished by the Holiness we generate. If we believed in our own potential for cosmic impact, our lives and would be filled energy and enthusiasm. 

Each of us should take the time for introspection to contemplate that our actions genuinely matter to G-d. G-d is waiting to kiss our lips when they express our desire for Divine closeness…..

The Rebbe believed in me and you. In each member of humanity. He saw our potential for personal greatness way beyond what most of us can see ourselves. And he tirelessly continued – and continues -to encourage us to make a difference, one step at a time. 

Think about the next moment, your next decision, and do the right thing.

The universe is waiting

My Exodus, Your Exodus

So how are your New Year’s resolutions doing?

Researchers claim that 80% of those personal commitments never materialize. Why would that be?

Of course, we really mean it when we commit; but we’re ingenious at outsmarting ourselves. 
Counterintuitive as it may sound, it can feel good to acknowledge our weaknesses, feel internal dissatisfaction at a personal status quo, and then move on, just as were.

After that kind of introspective honesty, we can pat ourselves on the back, congratulating ourselves on the grueling step of self-honesty, and consider our work complete.

Because, we often don't REALLY want to change.
Chassidic thought calls this a ‘Pharaoh syndrome.' Our nation's story of the Exodus from Egyptian oppression is also a personal narrative. It depicts our continuous struggle for freedom from our personal 'Egypts' (impediments to self-actualization). Our internal Pharaoh stands in the way of our personal freedom.

Pharaoh’s primary problem was a ‘hardened heart'. That means Pharaoh understood that his actions were self-destructive and bringing ruin upon his country, but he couldn’t get over the hump of behavior modification. He even fleetingly agreed to stop the madness. He resolved to change, but his heart wouldn't allow him to translate his awareness into action.
That is the challenge of our personal, internal 'Pharaoh', which stubbornly disregards our own logic so it can cling to “comfortable” self-destructive behavior.
How does one defeat a Pharaoh? Find a Moses, the Moses within you.
Moses -- your personal ‘Moses’ -- is the image of absolute commitment, pushing past Pharaoh’s constraints. Your inner 'Moses' disregards the voices in your head telling you change is impossible, and selflessly propels you toward that beckoning image of your 'Highest Self’.

The ‘Moses’ level of commitment flows from such a deep place, it has so much momentum, that it can't be obstructed by the 'Pharaoh Syndrome'. Your ‘Moses’ is energized by commitment to a higher calling, which is on a totally different wavelength than Pharaoh’s self-indulgent persona.

Your ‘Moses’ sees your resolution as part of your commitment to G-d, as an exercise in your relationship with your Destiny, as an expression of your very reason for existence.

With commitment like Moses, failure isn’t an option and excuses can’t obstruct your way.

Just ask Pharaoh.

Unscrambling Life's Messages

A special person in your life leaves you four pieces of paper.  The first one you look at contains the letter V, the next the letter E, the third the letter O and the last the letter L.

Hmmm..….

You now have four papers with letters that seem random and without meaning. Then it hits you ‑‑ the letters spell the word LOVE, and you feel the rush that comes with an endearing gesture.

Once you adjusted your perspective, and put the jumbled letters into proper context, you saw an affectionate communication that streamed a glow of warmth and light into your life.

Now think about the day before you.

Kabbalistically speaking, letters are a metaphor for the events and objects of our lives. In a world where meaning is hidden, we often see life as a de-contextualized jumble that doesn’t make much sense.

Do we just shrug our shoulders and assume that there’s no meaning to be found? Or do we keep searching for the message?

Say you'll soon be spending an hour with a client, or running family errands. In and of themselves, such hours come and go and are pretty unremarkable in the scope of your life.

They’re just a jumble of meaningless random letters in the book of your life.
But now put them into context. G-d created each of us for an objective that is unique to us, which is why G-d found it necessary to create each of us. G-d wants you and me to lead purpose-driven lives, focused on our responsibilities to our Creator and to the world around us. To G-d, that’s really important.

When we adopt a mindset consistent with G-d‘s objective for us and we appreciate how our tasks – like a client meeting or laundry – are not random tasks, but rather, parts of the fabric of a potentially meaningful life, we have taken a positive step toward fulfilling our purpose.

Our daily prayer is an exercise to help us achieve this mindset. Prayer helps us to focus on our purpose and re‑arrange life’s details ‑‑ the seemingly random letters ‑‑ into a meaningful quilt.

Prayer helps to free us from the trap of meaninglessness and elevate the ‘mundane details’ so that they’re re-experienced as part of a cosmically meaningful journey through life.  That’s a reason our Sages call Prayer ‘redemptive’.

It’s up to you. Free yourself

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