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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Safe Harbor


It's so simple.

Un-spectacular and unpretentious.

Yet it's so powerful.

It gives life – literally – to the earth and its inhabitants.

And it's the amniotic fluid, our pre-birth state.

As we go through life, it’s our cleansing friend.

It’s also uniquely tranquil.

The sound of rain is the tonality which people most prefer  as a sleeping aid (according to a Google search):

Whether it's a rustling brook, or a majestic fountain, water creates a personal island of serenity.

Water is so basic.

So pure.

It’s so natural. Yet somehow beyond nature.

In Torah thought, immersion in a pool of water – known as the Mikvah – is the 'conductor' which guides us from one spiritual stage to the next.

The High Priest in the Holy Temple would immerse himself in a Mikvah between one stage of the Yom Kippur service and the next [successively higher] one.

Women immerse themselves as part of their journey through life's cycles.

And men regularly use the Mikvah as part of a 'rebirthing' process; shedding one level of personality as we aim for a higher one.

Perhaps conversion is the most obvious transition, when the Mikvah-waters usher an individual and his/her new identity into full blossom.

But why does water also serve as a metaphor for life's difficulties?

Why do we speak – even Scripturally – of the 'rushing waters' which threaten to extinguish my flickering flame of hope, or the ferocious tide which threatens to knock me off balance?

How do I reconcile the Mikvah’s serenity with the stuff of Noah's flood?

But maybe that's just it.

The babbling brook tranquility is precious; but it's also easy.

Life is about facing the raging tide; there’s no other way to access my life’s potential.

I just need to prepare myself.

When I am emotionally and spiritually cocooned, when I've found internal fortitude and focus, when I'm anchored to firm principles and vision….I can face the rushing waters.

So my contemplative prayer and study is my protective boat, my personal Ark.

I need that Ark every day; when I’m protected, the 'waters' can't drown me; they'll only lift me higher.

Welcome aboard.


Dear Friend,
On Yom Kippur, I suggested a coordinated effort to build a sense of community in the area. We passed out 'pledge cards' with eight different suggestions for Community-Building Activities, and received 106 anonymous (since we couldn't write out of respect for the Holiday) pledges.
(click here to see the pledge card)
Since Yom Kippur, the feedback (verbal and written) made it clear that we'd struck a nerve in many of you. We live in an area which isn't conducive to community, and community doesn't happen without our effort; so we need to make that effort.
We're all busy with our own lives, but we can't let this wither on the vine.
One suggestion was to have 'Friday Night with Friends' - schedule a Shabbat meal and invite acquaintances you ordinarily wouldn't have over to your home. We offered to bake Challahs here at Chabad (and help with getting other Kosher food, Shabbat materials, etc.), and the first Challah baking will take place on Thursday evening, November 6th.
Let's use this blog to discuss what you'll be doing at your 'FNWF'. The discussion itself is its own reward.
To Community!
Rabbi Mendy

In the Beginning........

First there was G-d.

And nothing else.

All of reality was filled with the Divine Presence.

Purely and Wholly.

Then, with a burst of Creative Energy, everything changed.

In the beginning…….the simple Oneness, the unbroken Serenity, was eclipsed by complexity, diversity and multiplicity.

Welcome to our world.

G-d is no longer the only Face of reality.

The world is a jumble of competing and seemingly disconnected forces. So many distractions, so much static.

On its face, our world shouts that global Oneness can't really exist; the implied message: "Just look out for 'Number One', and the world will take care of itself".

Reality was turned upside down; from Oneness to Multiplicity, from Wholeness to Fracture.

But beneath the façade, the Oneness reality has never changed; it has simply receded, waiting to return to prominence.

We, conscious human beings, can re-activate the Oneness reality. That is our destiny. Our privilege. And our duty.

When we look to the Torah and lead meaningful lives, we bring a clear and palpable Oneness to the world; we show harmony within the multiplicity.

In a way, the world and its many objects are like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The Torah is like the box top, showing us a picture of how a harmonious, connected world should look.

Every object I engage is another puzzle-piece. When I pick up that piece, I need to find its proper place in my life and in my world; I need to ascertain the meaning to be found in its existence, and give it the correct context.

That’s how the world becomes one meaningful whole. Again.

‘Wholeness’ is a clear Torah objective; in Maimonides’ words: The entire Torah was given to bring peace (wholeness) to the world.

The first Torah portion - which we read tomorrow - launches the Torah with lessons about the union of Adam and Eve, the need for sibling loyalty and critical nature of community cooperation.


Since Yom Kippur, we’ve been pursuing greater community-connectedness. Please let us know about your choice of a community-related Mitzvah.

We also welcome you to our new Facebook community. Please join us.

The private, verbal feedback has been great. Let's bring it to the larger community. We can do it.


Yom Kippur's Echo

Two hundred years ago, there was a Chassidic Master known as Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov.
His synagogue's elders were disturbed by conversations in the pews during services.
After a great deal of discussion, they established a new rule for the synagogue: "From now on, no more trivial talk in this holy place. You come to worship, to study or to celebrate – and you go home. This is not a chicken market!"

But a few weeks later, Rabbi Moshe Leib got up and declared: "I am hereby revoking the new rule."

The elders were stunned. "Why, Rebbe?" "The shul is so much quieter, so it seems to be working!"

Reb Moshe Leib answered: "Before this rule, people would come to shul and they would hear who needs a job, who is sick, and who has a cause for celebration. They would open their hearts to others people's lives, and they would end helping each other. Now people come to synagogue, do their spiritual thing, and leave. They come as individuals and they leave as individuals; we've lost the communal connection.

The talking ban is lifted! Talk amongst yourselves -- and motivate each other to be of help those who need it!"

The saintly Reb Moshe Leib didn't mean that people should, G-d forbid, disrupt the sanctity of prayer.

He meant that a Jewish community is a place where people always think and care about each other. That's the way it's always been.
I told this story yesterday at Yom Kippur services, because it illustrates a critical point. We all have individual journeys in life, and each journey is uniquely important. But part of that journey is creating connections with others.
That's community.
Having friends is one thing. I’m talking about making new friends (every stranger may be a friend in the making); I’m talking about caring for community-members even if they aren't [yet] our friends is what I'm talking about.

That's the way it used to be. That's the way it can be.
We can each be part of creating this community, one relationship at a time.That's why we distributed the attached 'Community-building Mitzvah pledge card’ at services.

Over 100 pledges were made yesterday (they're all anonymous at this point since we don't write on Yom Kippur), and they're presently sitting in our Holy Ark.

Because they're that important.

Please click the link below to be part of this community campaign.

Let us know how wee can help; we're a community center, so we're here to facilitate community.

For starters, we'll be baking Challahs at Chabad on Thursday evening, Nov. 6th, for those who have invited friends for a Friday night/Shabbat meal.

We – you and I can do more to build community.

But relationships take effort.

Let’s start today.

Waiting for the Stress to Stop?

Is there such a thing as a life without stress?

Actually, it seems that G-d has built stress into our lives.

If we’re self-aware, there will always be a tension – a healthy stress - between our dreams and our reality, between the ideal and the real.
On the one hand, we need to dream, to set far-reaching objectives.

On the other hand, we need to recognize our present reality and plant our feet firmly on the ground.

In Jewish life, we pray three times a day, focusing on who we can be, and setting an over-arching goal for the rest of the day.
We have a day-long introspection-exercise in Shabbat, which crystallizes a vision for the week ahead.
And then there's Yom Kippur.

On Yom Kippur, we get into a different reality.
Dressed in white, abstaining from normal human pleasures, and focused inward, we're disengaged from our usual distractions. We’re free to soar.

Yom Kippur is all about vision. We set our sights on our own destiny and potential; we envision a life of meaning, balance and connectedness.
That’s vision. But how do we reconcile that with our reality?

How does it dovetail with a hectic life of family, business and life's bumps?

Consider the following story:

A peasant once did a special favor for his beloved King. Wanting to repay the peasant, the king decided to give him a unique gift: a nightingale who sang the sweetest songs a human could hear.

A short while later, the king summoned the peasant and asked how he was enjoying the gift.
The peasant answered “In truth, your Majesty, the meat was a little tough, but it tasted okay in a stew with potatoes.”
Life’s obstacles and responsibilities are like that bird. The question is: Do I see the challenge as a nightingale….or lunch?

As I look inward on Yom Kippur, I need to recognize that the introspection is a necessary guide to life; but life itself, with all its curveballs, is what is meaningful.

Yom Kippur is only one day a year. Shabbat is only one day a week. And we pray for a limited time every day.

That’s the dream.

The rest is life.

Dealing with life is where my Torah values come into play. I need to recognize my nightingales.

And let them sing.


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