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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Leading Life Without A GPS

As I've confessed in the past, I'm a Blackberry addict. Much as I see tremendous benefits in this technology, I also recognize the inherent dangers it poses, in that it allows less room for stillness of the mind and for uninhibited old-fashioned - meaning actually speaking face-to-face - conversation.
In that vein, I think texting is a very helpful tool, although we already have studies reflecting the negative effect it has on a child's development of healthy communication skills.
Today, I want to pick a bone with the GPS. Not with the GPS per se, but with the GPS attitude to life and the societal waning of another life skill: Following a map.
AAA triptiks aside, if I needed to go to Baltimore years ago, I'd take maps of NJ, Delaware and Maryland and sit down at my desk. I’d pinpoint my present position in the world, where was I starting from? Once I had a grip on my present location, I’d choose my destination. Once I had a firm visualization of where I was and where I was going, I’d chart a path to get from point A to point B.
But that wouldn’t be end of my need for maps.

Even after I’d departed along my journey, I’d need to periodically refer back to my maps, in order to ensure that I was staying on the chosen path. And if there was a detour, I'd have to pull to the side to recalculate how I was going to make it point B, or whether getting there still made sense in the scope of my life.

When the facts on the ground changed, sometimes I had to change my destination/objective.


Personally, I don’t have a GPS, although I confess to using Mapquest.

But I’ve driven cars equipped with the GPS.

It’s a pleasure. Because I get to turn off my brain with regard to getting from point A to point B.

The GPS relieves me of being a visionary. I get to be the technician.

“Go 0.6 miles and make a right. Turn left at the next exit. “

It’s so easy.

I don't have to think. I don't have to imagine. I don't have to envision a destination, chart a path to get there or check in with my map along the way.
Just drive and obey that annoying voice.
Now let me tell you why I care.
Years ago, I learned the difference between a manager and a leader.
A manager does things right. A leader does the right things.
A good manager get me where I'm going, suitably and without a hitch. A good leader envisions a suitable destination.
In that sense, the GPS has deprived us of an area to exercise leadership skills – vision - and tuned us into managers, if not clerks, in that area of life.

I’m not really worried about exercising leadership in driving, because the real important things in life aren’t usually about getting to Baltimore.

But I am worried about our exercising leadership in our broader lives.

In all areas of life - relationships, business, religion - exercising leadership means temporarily disengaging from life’s TASKS - the management function - so that you can envision where it is you'd actually like to end up.
Once you have an intelligent target destination, your management persona can start working on the trajectory to get you there.
But first you need an intelligent assessment of where you are, where you’d like to go, and how you’re going to get there.

That’s called taking charge of life.

Several years ago, I was sitting with my wife Malkie, meeting with a prospective Hebrew School family which I don’t usually do. Malkie asked the parents: “What is your Jewish dream, your Jewish vision, for your child?”

The question blew me, and apparently them, away.

They said they’d never thought of it. They were grateful for the question and eventually formulated what they wanted – Judaically – for their child.

I believe that the American Bar-Mitzvah culture is often a ‘GPS culture’

In enrolling a child in Hebrew School, parents are often – without consciously saying so – punching in a destination:

“We need a Bar/Bat-Mitzvah that will make our family from Boca proud.”

“Now,” they were saying, “just tell us where you want us and when. “

They wanted the school to be that GPS voice and they’re simply agreeing to follow directions.

But, here, without saying the words, Malkie was asking: “Have you guys considered the map of your life? Have you thought about where you and your child are - Judaically speaking – at the present time? Have you taken a step back to envision what kind of Jewish adult you’d like him to be?

Let’s choose a path, she was saying, and we’ll manage the Hebrew School end of things.

But you need to be the leader - truly engaged and with an objective - in your own life.  

This isn’t just about kids. It’s about life. For all of us sitting here today.

Because we all need to take the reins of our lives. Me included.

People occasionally tell me “I’d LOVE to have faith like you. It would make life so easy! I wouldn’t have to make so many choices, because I’d just have to follow the program.”

These people think that my Judaism is a GPS and I’m just obeying directions.

No, Judaism and Torah are my map.

I have made  - and must continue to make - a conscious decision of who I want to be – which is a person connected to G-d, something Higher than myself - and I need to consistently consult my map, the Torah, to see how I can get there despite life’s many detours.

Leading life on GPS is leading a life without consciousness.

A meaningful life takes ENGAGEMENT and LEADERSHIP.

Now, Rosh Hashana, is specifically a time for leadership. We take time out of an otherwise-normal Thursday to reflect on where we’re going in life.

Today, sitting here, we need to come up with a Jewish vision – a Jewish dream – for ourselves. Where do we want to be – Judaically – on Rosh Hashana 2011?

Do I want to be able to read Hebrew? Do I want to feel like I’m a person connected with Jewish community all year –round, instead of several days a year? Do I want to recognize the people in this room? Do I want to feel like a person connected to G-d? My Heritage? Do I want to sit here next year knowing that I’ve made strides in Jewish observance in my home? That I finally made it to Israel?

We’ve created Facebook Group called “Taking Charge of My Jewish Life”. It will be operational right after Shabbos.

I understand people may want to retain anonymity in these things, and this can be done in that way.

After Shabbos I ask you each to log on and pick, and write your own, Jewish vision for the 5771. You be the leader.

We’ll help with management. We’ll help in any way we can in making your vision a reality.

Today is the beginning of the month of Tishrei. At the beginning of every coming month – called ROSH Chodesh, which the beginning of the month, similar to ROSH Hashana as the beginning of the year- we will realign ourselves with your map, taking stock of how far we’ve travelled or whether we need to sharpen our driving.

Let’s not allow this Rosh Hashana to slide by in the stream of life.

Let’s take charge of our lives. Let’s make today transformative, with an authentic impact on the future. Let’s remember today, vividly, when we sit here next year.

Let this Shofar be a call to action.

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