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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

With Eyes That See

Words have a way of carrying subconscious messages.
Some words signal “Listen up, this may be good!”
Others urge “just lower your eyes and keep moving; eye-glazing material ahead!”.
For some, the Torah’s description of laws related to ritual purity and impurity (Tahara and Tumah in Hebrew) ranks way up there in the second category. Even the motivated listener may struggle to find personal relevance in the exposition of these details.
So let’s try to dig deeper, to can see how they apply to our contemporary lives, here and today.
Have your mind or heart ever been closed to an idea, irrespective of content?
How do you relate to Scotch, Cigars, assorted forms of Art and Music? Is there any area of life where you can’t begin to appreciate what other people are seeing?
Bringing this a bit closer, is it possible that you’re closed to guidance and constructive criticism from certain quarters? Is it possible that you’re so focused on who a person is that you can’t really hear what he’s saying?
Are you open to being happy? Do you have reason to be happy in life, yet find it difficult to feel that happiness? Is it possible that you aren’t open - mentally and emotionally aligned - for happiness? Is it possible that happiness is staring you in the face, and your eyes are closed?
How about G-d and spirituality? My experience tells me that faith in G-d won’t penetrate a person’s psyche until the person is open to it. Even if we’re pointed in the right direction, we need to open our eyes.
The Hebrew word used for ‘impurity’ is related to the word for ‘clogged’, ‘plugged’ or ‘obstructed’.
The word for ‘purity’ is Scripturally-used to mean ‘clear’ and ‘open’, like a cloudless sky.
So Torah is telling us how to become better, holier people. Step one is to check our obstructions: Self-centeredness and self-indulgence are – conceptually speaking – at the top of the impurity/clogging pyramid; they shut us off to spiritual sensitivity and empathy. The Torah laws that address this purity/impurity are all giving guidance on how to avoid ‘spiritual plugging’.
We get up every day, looking to be in a pure state. 
Eyes wide open; ready to see, ready to hear, ready to live.



With whom will you dine today? Have plans for lunch?

Will you be sharing a meal with co-workers? A client? Friends? Loved ones?

A meal can be a very positive social/emotional experience. It has the potential to go beyond stilling our hunger and nutrifying ourselves, and provide a great setting for reflection, communication and relationship-building.  

So let’s compare and contrast two meals with identical culinary menus, but vastly different psycho-spiritual ones: One meal simply attends to our digestive/culinary needs, the other is a stage to support the drama of relationship-building.

Menu aside, there is a striking difference. Our second model takes the meal to a much loftier place. The exercise becomes a special experience.


In Hebrew, the word for “Holy” actually means “different” or “special”. When we sanctify something, we take an otherwise-run-of-the-mill object and infuse it with special meaning; we’re experiencing life at a Higher Level.  

And that can even be with a meal.

For example, our Friday night Shabbat meal celebrates a sacred opportunity for reconnecting with G-d, self and family. It’s not just a meal, it’s a Holy meal.

And this goes beyond Shabbat and Holidays.

In two separate places, the Torah enjoins us to eat Kosher. Both times, the Torah’s description of which animals/fish we should eat is tagged with a call to “Holiness”. The Torah is telling us that when we eat Kosher we’re taking an otherwise mundane meal to a special place. The meal becomes an expression of our commitment to Higher Living, of seeing a purpose beyond our simple bodily needs.

So today’s lunch can be holy too.

When you’re looking at the menu, that tuna fish isn’t just a culinary choice (to pick an example of a kosher food), it’s a pro-active decision to transform this meal into a Divinely uplifting experience.  It’s saying to G-d “this meal’s about us”.

Lunch with G-d.

That’s no run-of-the-mill meal.

Sometimes Opportunities Come in Disguise

Most of us know the basic Purim story:
2500 years ago, the Jews were in trouble. Haman, a wicked advisor to the Persian King Ahaseurus, had engineered an evil decree to exterminate the entire Jewish population.
Unbeknownst to almost everyone, including the King, the Jews had an ‘inside woman’ at the palace: Queen Esther, Queen of the entire Empire, was a Jewess! What’s more, she was a relative/adopted daughter to Mordechai, a prominent Jewish leader at the time.
The Jews rallied and spiritually rejuvenated themselves, while Esther worked her magic to save the Jews.
Beyond the happy ending, this story is replete with messages for life.
Let's look at one:
When Mordechai finds out about this terrible plan, he sends a secret  message to Queen Esther about the impending danger, imploring her to beseech the King. Queen Esther sent back a sad but reasonable response: "This is terrible; but there's very little I can do. I haven't been summoned to the King's quarters for a month now. We all know that no one - under penalty of death - can come to the King's quarters unbidden. There’s nothing I can do"
Mordechai responds with a theological statement that re-frames her world: "If you choose to keep silent, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from elsewhere...Who knows whether it was for just such a time that you were able to attain a royal position?!?”

In other words, Mordechai is saying: “You are in a unique position to help people. That’s not an accident. It may very well be that this opportunity is the entire reason G-d enabled you to achieve what you have achieved.”

It’s an inspiring, yet weighty, thought. When I find myself in a position to make a difference, I need to take a moment to recognize that what has presented itself isn’t just a burden or a responsibility. It may very well be an opportunity for me to actualize my entire purpose for existence, or at least the Divine objective for a specific area of my life.

None of us knows what G-d has in mind for our lives; but we know G-d has something in mind.

Your next choice may just be it.


Happy Purim!

Woodchopper's Ball

What are you doing today?
Celebrating your child’s Bar-Mitzvah? Bringing relief to a cancer patient? How about campaigning for Israel’s security? Delving into the wisdom of the Talmud?
These are all cosmic opportunities for meaning, and they can bring deep joy to our days.
But what if your day is....regular? What if you aren’t – at least today - on the ‘front lines’ of life’s special moments? What if you feel like a cog in life’s wheel, instead of the one driving the bus?  How are YOU supposed to feel today?
When we’re engaged in life’s beautiful experiences, it’s natural for us to feel warm inside. But when we’re in a support role, that spark doesn’t come as naturally.
At a time like that, it’s important to recognize that life’s most important objective is our collective goal to brings Goodness to the world. And for that, even a support role is cosmically important.
It’s about the goal, not personal gain.
For example: I’m committed to helping my children grow, spiritually and physically. I admit that I’d also like some appreciation and credit from them; I’d like to bask in the fruits of my labor.
But that’s not the objective; my kids’ benefit is. And if I can have even a supporting role in that, I’m happy.
The same applies to life in general.
In the Torah, G-d gave the Jews activities known as ‘Korbanot’, or (as the Hebrew etymology indicates) ‘exercises in drawing close [to G-d]’.
Each offering represented – and effected - a particular aspect of bringing life closer to its destiny.
But there was one common denominator: They were all burned on the Temple’s altar; each needed wood kindling.
Jewish tradition attaches special significance to the Mitzvah of donating the wood, even though it was for OTHER PEOPLE’S offerings.
Talmud also speaks with high praise about chopping the wood.
Hmmm. Someone chopped the wood. Simple, unexciting wood, which would eventually be brought to the Temple and consecrated for someone else’s use on the altar.
If you were the woodchopper, would you find that moving?
Real commitment to an objective (in this case a Holier world) means recognizing the beauty of every step toward that objective, even the seemingly unexciting steps, like wood-chopping. It also recognizes the beauty of facilitating other people’s holy moments, because they bring meaning to the world.
For Woodchoppers with vision, life is a ball.

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