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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson


I've lost a few close friends this year.
Well, I haven't really lost them. We buried their bodies, but I know that their souls still exist in full glory; and I know that the time we spent together, the inspiration we shared, and the relationships we built stand strong despite by their passing. Souls, and relationships, transcend the horrible ravages of disease.
But I've still had a loss. I’m now missing the opportunity to see a smile, share a good word or shake a caring hand. I still have my friends, but I no longer have the same interface; which is why we mourn.
Technically, these were congregants, whom I served in my Rabbinic capacity. But that sounds much too stiff and ‘vertical’ for me; and it’s woefully inadequate to describe a friendship, a relationship which is eminently safe, and in which each gives and each receives.
I’ve lost friends who happened to be congregants.
So now what?
The Torah instructs us: "the living shall take to [his/her] heart" (Ecclesiastes 7:2). We, who are still engaged in this human journey, need to learn lessons and grow from our relationships, even from an emotionally painful passing. When we grow from our relationships, when they propel us to a more refined phase in our human experience, we are honoring them in the greatest way possible.
So where’s my lesson?
In retrospect, this year has taught me that I need to a let a friend know how much I value their friendship. Today. No waiting for tomorrow.
I’ve also felt the profound value in being a friend to someone. A real friend. It takes effort and it may feel vulnerable at times, but it’s one of life’s greatest gifts.
Try it. Be there for someone. Care about them, share with them and become important to them.
True, more people will feel pain and loss when you’re gone; but it’s still to their benefit. Eventually, they’ll appreciate that the sense of loss is a price they’re paying for the gift they’ve had.
And it’s worth it.

Where The Soul Is Always Whole

The Western Wall.

It’s a focal point of our prayers and a touchstone of Jewish and world consciousness.

But what is it?

For eight hundred and thirty years, a Holy Temple (Beit Hamikdash in Hebrew) stood as the center of the Jewish world. The Temple was more than a building; it was the supreme point of contact – the nexus - between the human and the Divine.

But what was, no longer is.

The Temple no longer stands; it was destroyed by the Babylonians and later by the Romans.

We haven’t had a Temple for more than two thousand years.

All we have is the ‘Western Wall’, a remnant of a retaining wall.

That’s it.

But, again, what is ‘it’?

Is the Western Wall a place of national nostalgia, a focal point for our collective pining over a lost glory?

Is it the symbol of our hopes for the future?

Yes. And Yes.

But that’s not all.

The Western Wall is more than a psychological trigger.

It’s a symbol of what STILL exists.

From a Judaic perspective, the Temple’s ‘body’ was destroyed but its ‘soul’ remains whole. The Babylonians and Romans – outside forces – destroyed the buildings, but had/have no control over the spirit.

The Divine Presence still resonates in that spot.

So the Western Wall remains a CURRENT place of contact, a fresh reservoir of Holiness.

The Temple’s soul is whole.

The Rebbe applies this principle to each of us, because we are each a ‘Holy Temple’, each of us a ‘Sanctuary for the Divine’.

When we look at ourselves honestly, we can sometimes see that our spiritual/moral/emotional construct is in disrepair. We can see that we have been impacted by the world’s negativity, selfishness and cynicism.

Our personal Temple is ‘in ruins’.

But we need to keep a mental picture of our internal Western Wall. We need to remember that our soul is whole; our basic goodness, our intrinsic Holiness – the soul - remains beyond any external contamination.

That ‘wholeness’ is there.

We just may need to connect more often.

And work toward a better day.

American Fanatic

A few months ago, I sat with a local gentleman whom I didn’t know very well. Aware that my Chassidic appearance sometimes startles people, I began discussing Chabad’s seamless embrace of the ‘non-Chassidic’ community. I guess my subconscious message was: “I may look a little strange, but I’ve got lots of friends who look just like you; I’m normal too!”
The gentleman shook his head and responded: “You know why I like you guys? Because you walk around looking as though you’re from a different century. You follow your beliefs, even when it’s inconvenient; that sets a standard for the rest of us.” 
It was an important reality check for me.
I’m very committed to my Judaism, and I’ll stick to my traditions no matter what people think. I don’t enjoy sticking out in a crowd, but I’ll never forego my values to fit in.
I simply can’t. My religion means too much to me.
To some, that may qualify me as a fundamentalist or extremist.
How about you?
Are you deeply enthusiastic about anything?
Do you have a core belief that is fundamentally embedded into your psyche, so that you can’t imagine violating it?
Is there anything (racism, anti-Semitism, child abuse) that touches such a raw nerve that you want to yell in protest?
I certainly hope so. If fanaticism means having an unusually passionate interest in something, then please be a CONSTRUCTIVE fanatic.
I mean, if someone has his family in the back of his mind all day, measures all of his actions against how they’ll impact his loved ones and will go to the ends to protect them? Is he a fanatic? Or a devoted family man?
What if I care deeply about G-d’s guidelines for humanity (the Torah), consistently measure my behavior against G-d’s expectations and stand up passionately for the good and the G-dly? If that’s fanaticism, I pray to be such a fanatic.
Fanaticism is a problem when it means mindless devotion to a self-indulgent goal or a harmful credo. That’s not good for anyone.
And it gives us fanatics a bad name.


Mister Ed

Rabbi Mendy Herson.jpgRemember that beloved talking horse?
Well, I think I may have found his creators’ inspiration….in this
week’s Torah portion.
In the narrative, an anti-Semitic prophet, Bilaam, is bent on cursing
the Jewish people. Mounted on his donkey, Bilaam travels to meet his
co-conspirators in order to move ahead with his dastardly plan.
An angel of G-d appears in his way, blocking the path. Bilaam can’t see the angel but his donkey can; it
swerves to the side, while Bilaam furiously tries to stay the course.
Frustrated at his inability to control his donkey, Bilaam begins to beat the animal.
In response, the donkey begins to speak “why are you
beating me? Have I not served you loyally all these years?”
Bilaam ultimately attempts (three different times) to curse the Jewish
people, and discovers that every time he opens his mouth
to utter curses, words of blessing came out instead.
It’s a beautiful story of Divine intervention and Divine mastery of
the universe.
But who needs the talking donkey? The narrative would run smoothly without that detail. It would be simple:
Bilaam wants to curse the Jews. An angel of G-d warns him and his plan
is ultimately foiled.
The talking-donkey seems to add nothing substantive.
Jewish thought teaches that G-d doesn’t work miracles without an
objective. So what purpose did this talking donkey achieve?
Perhaps G-d wants wanted to teach Bilaam – and us – an important lesson:
The Torah teaches (Parables 18:21): Death and life are in the power of
the tongue”.
Speech is a powerful tool in the human arsenal. A kind and encouraging word, a simple expression of prayer and sincerity, can better ourselves, build relationships and brighten the world.
Words can also hurt. A lot.
So the story of Bilaam, who tried to use words in a destructive way, calls attention to the uniqueness and power of human speech.
It's more than the ability to
communicate. Animals can do that too.
Bilaam's donkey spoke - in a human way - so that he should understand how the gift of speech lets us convey thoughts in a way that considers the recipient’s context and feelings.
Human speech is APPROPRIATE communication. It's communicating with consciousness and sensitivity.
Because Mister Ed is a fantasy.
But you're not.

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