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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

The King and I

It’s that time of year again.

It’s time for me to wrestle with the King.

You see, Rosh Hashana is coming, and we’ll have an overflow crowd at services.

For me, that’s a precious opportunity to unveil and articulate the Judaic tradition which I hold so dear.

I can express our belief in G-d as a Parent, Who devotedly cares for each of us.

This is very important, because it helps us envision how we each matter to G-d.

I can depict our embrace of G-d as a spouse, with whom we share a loving – if sometimes challenging –relationship.

That’s opens a vital window into our deep bond with the Divine.

Loyal and Loving. That’s my G-d.

But here’s the problem. This fundamentally-Judaic image of G-d doesn’t easily dovetail with the Rosh Hashana liturgy.

When you open the prayer book, you find a consistent theme of G-d - not as Parent or Spouse but - as ‘King’.

It's one big Coronation.

That’s not an easily-digested image; especially for the American-Jewish public. We’re very happy to have ejected King George III from our lives, and we’re generally not big on respect for the monarchy.

So the Parent and Spouse imagery work.

But G-d as ‘King’ is a tough one for many people.

Ergo, if we want our Rosh Hashana prayers to resonate within, we need to [re]frame and [re]define the King concept.

Building on the image of G-d as wholly committed to our welfare (like a parent) and deeply loving (like a spouse), we see G-d as our [devoted and loving] King.

Why? Because it introduces new depth to our ‘G-d concept’.

It adds the element of surrender.

No human – even family - can say to me: “I know you, because I created and designed you. Relax and stop clinging to your self-image and shallow perceptions. I will guide you toward becoming the person I created you to be”

Only G-d can say that.

And when it comes from G-d I can handle it.

I, as a loyal and trusting subject, surrender to my loving and devoted King.

Totally.

Welcome to Rosh Hashana.

 

Can we change the past?

Once I’ve made a mistake, can it ever be retroactively un-done?

Sure, we can make amends and learn for the future.

But can I ever un-speak hurtful words?

Not in the concrete sense.

But there’s more to life than the concrete.

Regret is a multi-level experience.

Sometimes, we rue our behavior because we don’t like the fallout. When you’ve hurt someone important, and the relationship has become uncomfortable, you say you're sorry.

Why? Because you want the pain to go away.

That's regret; but it's not transformative remorse.

It's ‘relationship management’.

Why? Because you haven’t experienced genuine character change.

You’re uncomfortable with the REACTION, not the action itself; you’re modifying your behavior based on someone else's response, not your own principles.

Real change doesn't happen that way.

Even when it's inspired by something external, real transformation needs to spring from within.

Transformative regret needs to be holistic.

I believe that G-d created me with the capacity to be a true mentsch, with character and integrity.

I have to envision that potential as my gold standard.

Every day, I need to measure my behavior against that potential.

Because I want to do better.

Not because of you.

Because of me.

Because of my destiny.

I care about others’ hurt feelings. And I need to deal with them. But my rehabilitation starts with me.

Your displeasure is helpful; it alerts me to a possible character-misalignment. When I’ve searched and recalibrated myself in a serious way, you’ll know.

Because I’ll express it.

In a genuine way.

Because it flows from me.

In the scope of my life, I can transform this mistake into a shining moment of growth and self-improvement.

No, I can’t control people’s memories; I may never be able to undo the past in their minds.

But in my life, between me and G-d, if I’m using my mistakes as powerful springboards for positive change, then I’ve done the impossible.

I’ve reached back in time and transformed a negative event into a positive force for growth.

That’s the way I see it.

I can only pray that you’ll see it this way too.

 

The Search

The great Rabbi's meditation was interrupted by his grandson's mournful cry.
"What happened?' he asked the child.
"My friends and I had started to play hide and seek; so I was well in hiding. But then they just ended up playing something else and no one came looking for me!"
As the Rabbi calmed his humiliated grandson, he murmured "Now we know how G-d feels".
G-d is hidden; Divinity is concealed. And we are born to search.
We don't live in a world that shouts Holiness and morality.
When I wake up in the morning, my instinct isn't "Wow! G-d constantly gives me life and has given me another day. I matter; I have a purpose in this world, and I need to use the gift of another day to live my destiny!"
Nope.
As I open my eyes, my day's responsibilities strike me first.
Then I begin to work on my consciousness.
I start to train my mind and frame my day. I pro-actively guide my mindset toward seeing the world for its meaning. I want to see the world for its purpose and beauty; to see the light in my surroundings.
In other words: I begin to seek G-d's presence in the world.
So I work on my mind and heart; it's my morning psycho-spiritual workout.
We call it prayer; and it's a process of discovery.
First, I need to still my mind. I need to disengage from my 'outer world', and its distracting static, before I enter my inner dimension.
It isn't easy.
Then, the liturgy guides me – through 'prayer therapy' - to important point; I can feel an appreciation, a deep need, for Oneness (symmetry, purpose, wholeness) in my life.
And I call out 'Shema Yisrael (Judaism's ancient proclamation of G-d as the Oneness of life)!'
In my little world, I've found Him. And myself.
So we're both elated.
 In Jewish spirituality, we call the Shema the daily call of the Shofar, because the piercing blasts evoke and articulate our deep-seated need for meaning.
As we approach Rosh Hashana, try to say the Shema and hear the Shofar every day.
We need it.
 And we don't want G-d to cry.

Live Your Imagination

Memory is a double-edged sword.

Memories can be warm and empowering.

That's good.

But memory is more than nostalgia.

Technically, a memory is a retained mental impression. It's something I carry – often subconsciously – deep inside my mind and heart.

My memories aren't only those images that come to mind as I try to recall my kindergarten years. Memories are my experiences. They are the highs and lows of my life, and form the web through which I view the world.

They are my history, and history is a guide to the future.

But it’s not always a good thing.

Memories create patterns in my mind (self-image, expectations etc), and patterns can be stifling.

My past sometimes hands me a script for my future, and that behavioral rhythm often limits my choices for self-expression and self-betterment.

In the words of an old friend: "if you keep doing what you're doing, you'll keep getting what you're getting".

So I'd like to choose my behaviors based on a vision of the future, not in obedience to my past.

I don't want to live my memories.

I want to live my imagination.

I want to imagine who I can be and live that way, irrespective of the mistakes I've made.

But there's one memory I'd like to live: G-d's

Now, what is that? Does G-d have a memory?

When we pray to G-d, asking the Divine to remember us and our ancestors, are we really trying to jog G-d's memory? Do we believe in a G-d who forgets?

No.

Here's the idea:

G-d has a deep 'mental impression' of me and you. It's a profound, beautiful image; a sublime projection of our potential - as individuals and as part of history's march toward a better world.

It's G-d’s ‘mental picture’ of our goal, and our destiny.

So we ask G-d to 'remember', to call that 'deep mental impression' to the fore, for us to embrace.

Embracing that image is at once intimidating (we have a long road toward realizing our potential) and empowering (think who we can be!).

It’s an image that resonates deep inside your soul, since the day you were born.

So accept your Higher Image.

And start living.

 

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