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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

A Shot in the Arm for a Tired World

This recession that just won't stop. Our political polarization that divides us in the name of liberty.

The Euro-zone meltdown. The Middle East on fire.

These aren’t just geo-political problems that hover above our ‘real’ lives. These are situations that filter down to you and me, and add to our 'normal' stresses and challenges.

All in all, the world has had a difficult, tiring year.

We need to open a fresh new page.

That’s why I feel like Rosh Hashana isn't coming a second too soon.

The High Holidays aren’t just about turning a page on the calendar, and looking ahead to the coming year. It's more than donning our finest and attending services.

All of that is [important] window dressing for Rosh Hashanah’s soul, it's primary theme: G-d’s Infusion of New, Divine Energy Into a Tired World.

Just as a sleepy person gets rejuvenated by a jolt of caffeine (or some good sleep!), an exhausted world receives a Divine ‘shot-in-the-arm’ every Rosh Hashana.

How does this work?

Kabbalistically speaking, the world is totally dependent on Divine energy, which G-d grants in energy-increments. Every Rosh Hashana, G-d breathes life into the world; and that keeps us juiced until the following Rosh Hashana.

But it’s not a purely automatic process. It’s actually very inter-active, and very much user-generated.

It’s up to us.

Rosh Hashana isn’t a spectator sport. It’s a drama, and you have a leading role.

Every year, as the High Holidays set in, it’s our individual job to take a moment – a genuine moment - to re-connect with ourselves, our purpose in life, and with our Creator.

When we renew our commitment to meaningful living, re-affirming our relationship with the Divine, G-d is overjoyed to reciprocate and grant us life – vigorous, sparkling, energized life – for a New Year.

The world re-energized. Our lives infused with new hope and vigor.

G-d knows we can use it.

They Changed Our World

Tomorrow – the 18th of Elul on the Jewish calendar - is a very special day.
It's a day when two luminaries, two spiritual masters who revolutionized the world, were born.
In 1698, [Rabbi] Israel Baal Shem Tov was born on this day; known as the Baal Shem Tov, he became the founder of Chassidism.
Exactly forty-seven years later, in 1745, [Rabbi] Schneur Zalman was born on the same exact day. A 'spiritual grandson' to the Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Schneur Zalman - eventually known as 'the Alter Rebbe' - conceptualized the Chabad philosophy and launched the Chabad movement.

What does this all mean to me and you?

Everything.
These giants taught us how to see ourselves and the world.
There's only so much I can express in a deliberately brief e-mail.

Suffice it to say:

Seeing myself through their lens, I am never disconnected from my Creator, I am never disengaged from my Divine life-flow; so I am never without a call to meaningful living.
We are each a result of G-d's consistent desire that we exist. Since it follows that G-d brings us into existence for a purpose, we get a counter-intuitive perspective on life: It's dynamic, empowering, challenging; there’s always with an opportunity to realize our raison d' etre, and thereby touch the Divine.
No such thing as a hum-drum day, or an intrinsically meaningless life.
When we see someone else, even a stranger, we see someone whom G-d has created for a reason, and who - ergo - has a lifetime of goodness to bestow upon the world. A person who is a bundle of Divine potential, who is his/her own 'world of meaning'. A person who deserves respect for his/her Divine potential, and the recognition that helping him/her is more than a single act; it's support for an entire world of goodness.
If beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, I can't imagine a more beautiful way to see the world than through the lens of [Chabad] Chassidism.
So tomorrow's a really special day to celebrate.

A perfect time to think about these gifts to the world.

Happy birthday.

 

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Mendy 


 

Lessons from the Old Country

 

For the second year in a row, a dear friend has taken me on a whirlwind trip to the former Soviet Union.
We have been visiting the burial sites of great Rebbes, spiritual masters, who are beacons of light to this day. We've also had occasion to visit several cities, and witness the resurrection of Jewish communities which Stalin and his heirs had pledged to obliterate.
I write this from Odessa, where the local Chabad Rabbi tells me of the KGB files he has been able to salvage for posterity. The government's records testify as to the brutality and murder that the Communist regime inflicted upon countless Jews - some from families whom I personally know.
Their crime? Practicing and teaching their religion.
I've been to this part of the world many times over the past twenty-two years; the stories aren't new to me. But they seem to push different internal buttons each time I hear them.
Sometimes I'm struck with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for USA, the country of freedom in which I live.
Today, I'm feeling awed by the commitment and self-sacrifice of the generations who came before me.
In the Soviet Union, millions of people lived their lives under intense scrutiny. They were warned not to keep their faith; and they were severely punished when they did.
But these heroes stuck to their values. They redoubled their commitment to their heritage. They never wavered.
They stood for something.
Many of these people have since passed on. Their bodies have been buried; but their spirits live on.
Decades later, they are stilll honored by people who never knew them or experienced their travails.
The principled life has a resounding echo. 

Rabbi Mendy Herson

 

 

 

 

Indestructible

Judaism has a daily rhythm that emphasizes joy and gratitude.

So Tisha b'Av (this coming Tuesday, August 9th), when we mourn the destruction of two Holy Temples, two Jewish commonwealths and the many individual tragedies that punctuate our world, feels a bit anomalous.

Here’s a story that can help frame a healthy approach to this day:

A Holocaust survivor, a man whose family had been gassed, whose entire community had been wiped out, whose world was decimated, visited his spiritual master after the war.

After they shared, mourned and sobbed the Rabbi spoke:

In the Torah, Moses describes his descent from Mount Sinai carrying the Ten Commandments:

"I descended from the mountain;" Moses recalls, "and the two tablets of the Covenant were in my hands. I saw that you had sinned ….making a [golden] calf…... I grasped the two tablets, and threw them down….and I smashed them before your eyes."

Now, considering Scripture’s well known precision, Moses' words "I smashed them before your eyes" seem curious. Why was it important to note that it occurred "before your eyes"? What difference does that make?

What Moses was saying, explained the Rabbi, was that "I smashed the tablets ONLY before your eyes. The shattering of the tablets certainly happened; at the same time, there exists a dimension of reality where the tablets have never been broken. Before our eyes, we have witnessed the Holocaust’s destruction and devastation. Yet, as difficult as it is for us to believe, our people still exist - intact - beyond the evil’s harmful reach.”

"The day will come," said the Rabbi, "when that world will be exposed. G-d will expand our perceptions and mend our hearts; then, we’ll discover how the tablets were never broken and the Jewish people were always complete."

This Shabbos, the Shabbos before Tisha b”av, is known as the ‘Shabbos of Vision’ (because Isaiah’s vision is read after the Torah reading). The Rebbe would often quote the Chassidic idea that G-d takes the opportunity on this Shabbos to show us - at a soul level - the Temple in its full glory.

As we prepare to immerse ourselves in the sadness of destruction, we need to recognize that there’s more to reality than what meets the eye. We need to know that wholeness still exists in our souls, in our relationships and in our world.

We can get there.

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