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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Something to Celebrate

Several years ago, I spoke with a local friend as we were walking out of Yom Kippur services. Knowing that he had expressed reluctance to attend the services, I asked him how the day had gone.
He looked at me tentatively and asked "Am I allowed to say I enjoyed it?"
I can see why some people think of the High Holidays as rather glum.
Spending hours in synagogue is only the beginning.
The days' theme focuses on acknowledging our responsibility to G-d and each other; there’s also an impossible-to-miss emphasis on "atonement", which entails a process of identifying and facing our mistakes.

How uplifting can all that be?
Interestingly, Chabad tradition describes a joyous enthusiasm that needs to permeate this time of year, up to and including these self-reflective, internally-scrutinous, High Holiday experiences.

Why and how?

The central answer to this question lies in another question: Does it really matter? Does it truly matter whether I’m respecting and strengthening my relationships with my G-d, my community, my family and myself? In fact, do I and my life – in relation to the cosmos - matter at all?

With that attitude, my High Holidays are likely to be a drag.

But it’s not my attitude.

Judaism tells us that our actions, each and every behavioral choice throughout the day, are very precious to G-d.

They matter.

Because WE matter.

Our daily thoughts, words and action matter deeply to G-d; they rank so high on His “priority scale” that they are, to use the Rebbe’s expression: “Higher, Higher, and even Higher, to the extent that nothing else is Higher.”

Think about it in terms of a parent’s connection to a child. When something is happening that strikes at the heart of the relationship, there is nothing more important.


Nothing is more important to G-d than you and your life.

Every move, every moment, is critically important; because every move and every moment speaks to the core of our special relationship.

So this time of year presents an exciting opportunity. It’s a time to re-visit and strengthen our unbreakable, intimate connection with the Divine.

And if it hurts to see that the relationship is in need of some repair, so what?

Isn’t fixing a cherished relationship something to celebrate?

Waking up to a Wonderful New Year

High-minded thinking doesn’t come easy.

As human beings, our psychological default position is self-interest. From the moment we awake in the morning, we see the world through the lens of "I"; my desires, fears, and challenges.

That's point A.

Consider point B to be a place of other-centeredness, transcendence of the instinctive "I" and connectedness with the Divine.

Hence life's central question: How do we move from point A to point B? How do we elevate our lives?

Jewish thought tells us that G-d gives us a ladder – prayer – through which we can transition to a better place.

And the climb begins from the day’s first flicker of consciousness. When we first open our eyes in the morning, as we begin to adjust our senses to the world around us, we take a moment to offer a brief prayer: “I offer thanks to You, living and eternal King, for You have mercifully restored my soul within me; great is Your trustworthiness.”

So, even before we sit up in bed, we bring to mind a sense of gratitude for the blessing of a new day, irrespective of what lies ahead.

But beyond thanks, this prayer is about acknowledgment.

When one recites this prayer, one recognizes that life is a gift from G-d, and that the day ahead needs to be aligned with G-d’s intent in granting us this day.

When I recite the prayer, I am acknowledging that my day needs to be guided by a consistent barometer: How does G-d want me to act/respond/choose?

Now, when I first wake up in the morning, I’m not in an intellectual place; I don’t say this prayer with theological gravitas.

I say it because I believe it. And faith isn’t a matter of intellectual complexity, it’s a matter of spiritual purity; it comes from “the child within.”

So every morning, this acknowledgment of G-d’s presence in my life is an initial mini-step on the ladder of transcendence.

We have just entered the month of Elul, when we search for connectedness in advance of the High Holidays.

Step one lies in the recognition, the acknowledgement, that the world doesn’t revolve around me, but around my Divine Purpose. Recognizing that I’m here for a reason, that I need Something Higher in my life, and that my soul yearns for It.

In Scriptural words: “I am to my Beloved….”

And so the climb begins…..

And So Our Eyes Met

Life is about relationships.

Meaningful heart/soul connections (with self, family, community, etc) are the skeleton upon which we lay the healthy flesh of a meaningful life
And our relationships - unique as they each may be - have some shared characteristics. For example, all healthy relationships have an element of safety. I don't mean physical safety; I'm speaking about psychological and emotional security, the sense that you know where you stand, and that you can (figuratively) exhale.

That “sense of safety” can turn on subtle factors. When you walk into a room and meet someone's eyes, the initial flicker of recognition – or its absence - can tell you whether it’s a good time for conversation. If you’re sensitive, you can usually sense where "it's safe to tread.”

A relationship with G-d follows the same model.  Safety is key.
And for some people it isn't easy. Sometimes it's difficult to feel close and secure. It may not be easy to feel a confidence that if we raise our eyes to meet G-d's, we’ll be met with a welcoming glance.

Which is why we need Elul.

What’s Elul?

Elul is the month which leads us into the High Holidays. The Holidays are a time of emotional intensity, an opportunity to deepen our relationships with ourselves and the Divine.

But for that we need preparation; we need the Elul warm-up.

Chassidic thought describes Elul with the depiction of a loving king who leaves his chambers’ glamour, entering the field so that he might meet his subjects on their own turf.

Why would he do that?

Because he wants his subject to feel safe forming a real relationship; so they need to feel his desire for a connection with them, even as they are. They need to feel that he’s ready for their eyes to meet his.  

Because when they do meet his eyes, they’ll get the message they need: We – you and I - have a relationship. In order to strengthen that relationship, we – you and I - need to acknowledge its weaknesses; and that’s okay, because we’re in a safe relationship.

This coming Monday evening (8/9), we enter the month of Elul. It’s a special month.

Please take this opportunity to pull your gaze from life’s distractions, so that you can meet G-d’s eyes; I know He’s looking your way.




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