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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

To be Honest....

I've heard it said that small children do most of the truth-telling in the world; and they're often immediately – and embarrassedly – silenced.

Children don't have the 'sophistication' to couch or swallow their feelings, so they blurt their genuine impressions.

What does that say about us 'sophisticated' adults?

Maturity teaches us honesty's downside. For example: Indiscreet honesty can make us [unhealthily] vulnerable. After all, should we be open ('honest') to all about our internal self-doubt, our fears and our inadequacies?

Straight-up frankness can be impolite, or even cruel. Think of questions like: "Does this make me look fat?", "How do you like my new car?" or [the dreaded] "Do you think I'll be okay?"

Yes, honesty can come at the price of kindness.

Lying is never a value, but telling the unvarnished truth without thoughtful deliberation may be counter-productive. We need to balance courage (to tell the truth) with consideration.

The Midrash (the classical collection of Rabbinic, homiletic teachings) teaches:

When G-d wanted to create humans, a debate ensued between spiritual forces:

'Kindness' said "Let them be created, for they will be generous".

'Truth' said: "Do not create them, for they will be full of lies".

'Peace' said "Do not create then for they will be full of conflict".

So G-d threw 'Truth' to the ground, and proceeded to create Adam and Eve.

The Chassidic Master, Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk, asked an obvious question: If both 'Peace' and 'Truth' protested, why was only 'Truth' thrown to the ground? Rabbi Mendel answered that once Truth is out of the picture, it's much easier to make Peace.

The Rabbi was calling attention to the [sad] reality that full-blown truth can cause conflict and hurt; we often feel as though we need to choose between Peace and Truth.

That Midrash continues, and points out that Scripture (Psalm 85:11) states "…and Truth will sprout from the Earth".

We can think of Truth as a kernel, a seed, which we must cultivate into the flower of our peaceful, productive interactions. We need to cultivate the Earth, creating a healthy atmosphere of truth-telling and truth-hearing, so we can reap the fruit of a genuine, connected society.

But when we look ahead to a Messianic era, a perfected world without ego, defense-mechanisms and self-delusion, we look to a world where we all value, and feel safe with, pure Truth.

Until then, speakers of the unvarnished truth need to hone their diplomacy skills; but let's remember:

They're ahead of their time.

My Exodus, Your Exodus

So you're in the office, on the highway - or maybe in contemplative prayer – and it hits you: Some area of your life isn't working. 
So you resolve to do better. 
That sounds good, except that the 'resolution' doesn't materialize in actual behavior modification. 
But why not? Why is change so difficult?
Maybe it's because we're ingenious at outsmarting ourselves. 
When you feel dissatisfaction with your personal status quo, and can even sense an inclination toward self-betterment, then it's easy to feel good about your introspective honesty.
Now you can pat yourself on the back and continue on, sans change.
Why? Because, often, we don't REALLY want to change.
Ancient Jewish texts describe this problem as a "Pharaoh syndrome'. 
The Exodus saga – with the Jews seeking liberty from the enslaving Egyptians - is also a personal narrative. It depicts my/your continuous struggle for freedom from our personal 'Egypts' (impediments to actualization): Our fears/character flaws/inaccurate perceptions etc.
And, of course, the primary blockage to liberation is: Pharaoh, he of the [Scripturally-described] 'hardened heart'. 
What does it mean to have a 'hard heart'? 
Pharaoh understood that his actions were self-destructive and bringing ruin upon his country. He even fleetingly agreed to stop the madness. But he couldn't finalize change. Why? Because his heart wouldn't allow his recognition to translate into behavior modification.
He knew what needed to be done, but he couldn't 'close the deal'.
This is the internal 'Pharaoh', stubbornly disregarding logical recognitions as it clings to self-destructive behavior.
Recognize him?
So, whence the salvation? 
Moshe (Moses), of course.
Moshe is described in our Scripture and tradition as a man of total commitment. Brilliant as he was, he didn't guide his life by intellect alone. He deeply felt a profound, super-rational relationship with the Divine, and that's what guided his behavior.
The most elemental relationships are super-rational. After all, is a parent's commitment to a child purely rational? Should a child's commitment to parents be purely logic-based?
Mobilizing our inner 'Moshe' means selflessly committing ourselves to our 'Highest Image', the vision of who G-d created us each to be. The 'Moshe method' is a matter of selfless commitment, not logical calculation. This can't be challenged by the 'Pharaoh Syndrome', which prevents the expression of our logical resolutions. 
Simply put: The Moshe method is a much deeper expression of self, and it's 'working a different wavelength'. 
Here's the bottom line: Sometimes, life's richness is reached when we can step beyond the limitations of the mind, following the soul's lead and expression.
So the next time you resolve to change your behavior, see it as a part of your commitment to G-d, see it as an exercise of your relationship with your Destiny, see it as an expression of your very reason for existence.
Then see if excuses can block your way.
Pharaoh couldn't.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendy Herson

Whom can we trust?

By nature, I'm an optimist.

So, twenty years ago, I knew about the horrors of terrorism, but conventional wisdom said that it couldn’t happen in America.

So I trusted; and I slept peacefully.

I try to pay some attention to the financial markets. And, over the years, my financially-astute friends would assure me that slumps were “just part of the normal market cycle”, and that “our economic system is solid and reliable”. In fact, “some companies are TBTF – ‘Too Big To Fail’; they’re here for the long run, no matter what happens in the short term”.

So I trusted; and I slept peacefully.

What now?

In 2009, we find ourselves (like synagogues and JCC's all over the world) inviting the Department of Homeland Security to our Chabad Center for ‘target hardening’.

In 2009, I find that the economy has actually been masking a fundamental weakness, that there’s really no such thing as ‘TBTF’, and that nobody really knows when we’ll pull out of this.

So where do I find a sense of stability? Whom can we trust? Is anything in the world truly secure and TBTF?

Sure, I believe in G-d, and I believe that G-d loves, guides and helps me.

But belief is one thing; trusting G-d is different.

What is ‘trust’?

When I genuinely trust someone at work, I’m fully expecting them to carry a load. I totally expect good results from this person, because I trust him/her.

In Jewish theology, that’s what ‘Trust in G-d’ should mean.

It means relying on a G-d Who cares and is able; and Who loves us so much that He’ll even help the ‘undeserving’.

It means EXPECTING good results, appreciable in the here and now. Why? Because G-d is carrying the burden.

That’s not easy, because it’s somewhat counter-intuitive.

In life, we need to expend human efforts to achieve results; so it’s natural for us to attribute the results to our own efforts.

The Torah is telling me to continue my efforts, because G-d wants His blessings to find a human conduit. But the Torah’s telling me to trust that the final results will be G-d’s; and to trust that - because they flow from the Divine - those results will be appreciably good.

The third Chabad Rebbe had the following advice: “Think positively and it will be positive”.

He wasn’t only giving psychological advice; it was innately Judaic guidance.

My trust in G-d, my absolute reliance on a loving G-d to deliver positive results for my efforts, is a critical spiritual trigger for good things to happen.

And the results will reflect the amount of my trust.

It isn’t easy.

But I guess it’s not meant to be.

Of Straw and Stubble - A Gaza Ethic

As a Jew, I feel personally invested in the Gaza bloodshed. Those are my people in that fight. 

But does that mean they're making the right choices? 

If Israel was to make mistakes, I’d hope to acknowledge them; if not publicly, then at least in my heart.

Yet, I really believe that they're taking the correct action.

Yes, there's terrible human suffering.

But the suffering has a context.

There are theological, political and historical angles that give necessary depth to the present scene, but I’m going to focus on a simple equation: Israel is a country with a large Jewish population, and many of their neighbors want them all dead.

It’s simple. Undeniable.

The Hamas charter is chillingly explicit on that front (

A personal anecdote: Ten years ago, I had lunch in Jerusalem with a British-born Israeli journalist, a self-described proponent of the left-wing, ‘Peace Now’ movement.

He had a novel idea: How about Israel ‘giving itself back’ back to Jordan?(!)

Regaining my breath after this jaw-dropping suggestion from a Jewish journalist, I asked him what he thought about the ongoing land-for-peace negotiations with Yasir Arafat.

The journalist answered that he speaks Arabic and knows the PLO well. His opinion was firm: If Israel gave more power to Arafat, he’d move back to England.

Taken aback, I asked why he was so trusting of Hussein and so distrusting of the PLO. He replied that the Palestinian leadership clearly wants very Jew dead.


He spoke from his experience, and I believe he was correct.

With that in mind, let’s consider an interesting piece of Jewish Law:

"When enemies aggressively enter a Jewish city, even if they’re only coming to take straw and stubble, the populace should take up arms – even in desecration of the Sabbath - to defend itself (Code of Jewish Law – Orach Chaim 329:6)."


Because when you’re threatened by a sworn enemy, you need to keep your borders absolutely secure. The slightest weakness/concession can be disastrous.

Prof. Kenneth Aumann is a Nobel Prize winning Economist, specializing in ‘game theory’.

Here’s what he said in a 2007 speech, where he addressed the “'game' of life and death, and of existence and annihilation.”

“Our [Israel’s] panicked lunging for peace is working against us....Roadmaps, capitulation, disengagements…do not bring peace. On the contrary, they bring war. These things send a clear message to our ‘cousins’ that we are tired, that we no longer have spiritual strength…that we are calling for a time-out…It only encourages them to pressure us more, to demand more, and not to give up on anything…Capitulations bring about war; determination and readiness bring about peace…we must not simply say it to our cousins but feel it within ourselves…This and only this will bring peace”.

I pray for peace, and for an end to the human suffering on all sides.

So I pray for Israel to be strong and defend itself without apology.

It’s the only way.


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