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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

The Believer

The believer accepts that G-d loves us like a quintessential Parent loves like a child. The believer also accepts that G-d is fully
involved in the details of our human lives.
So how does the believer respond the specter of human suffering? G-d obviously knows about it, and is - for some unfathomable reason - allowing it. Should we just resign ourselves to G-d’s judgment? Might it even be blasphemous to ask G-d to intervene and change His own judgment?
In this week’s Torah reading, we read how the Jews made a tragic
mistake after they received the Torah at Mount Sinai. As they waited
for Moses to come down the mountain, the Jews fashioned a Golden Calf and began to worship it. They effectively repudiated the entire Torah they’d just received.
In response, G-d tells Moses that He will wipe out “this stiff-necked
nation” and make Moses’ family into “a great nation” instead.
What should Moses have responded? What can one possibly respond, especially to G-d??
After all, G-d loved the Jews and had brought them out of Egypt. But
they had made a terrible mistake and this was the consequence.
So Moses was silent.
Curiously, the Scripture continues and tells us that G-d then told
Moses “Now leave Me alone…” and I will pursue the path I have chosen.
The Talmud asks an obvious question: Why was G-d waving off a protest, when none seems to have existed? Who was bothering G-d?
No one. And that was precisely the problem.
By saying “leave me alone”, G-d was giving Moses a cue: Don’t just
stand there obediently, accepting what I say. How can you abide
people’s suffering without protest? Argue with Me!
G-d was teaching Moses a lesson. When the believer sees suffering in the world, he/she may not stay silent. It’s not holy to simply shrug
and say “whatever G-d allows is for the best”.
No. We turn to G-d and say: Please G-d. I know You are loving and I
know You are able to help. I also know that You want me to feel my
fellow’s pain, and You want me to storm the heavens for relief of that pain. You want me to care.
It's not blasphemous. On the contrary; it's who G-d wants us to be.
Believers never give up trusting G-d. They also never give up fighting
for His creatures.

Home

In many ways, the Torah is a love story.
From beginning to end, we find a description of G-d creating an
'other' - me and you - so that we might find the beauty of oneness
with Him.
The Torah is the story of our journey through history, and it needs to
be read in a personal key. We are Abraham. We are Sarah. We travel the road of spiritual maturity, and eventually receive the Torah at Mount Sinai.
The Sinai experience is foundational and transformative. It’s a cosmic wedding, the intimate unity of two parties: the Creator and the created.
The Torah goes on to describe how this profound Oneness can be – needs to be - actualized in daily life.
In the Scriptural Song of Songs, we find Divinely romantic phrases
like "the voice of my Beloved knocks: Open for me, my love" (5:2),
which illustrate G-d's desire to enter our lives and be One. In the
Torah, we see G-d knocking at our door, calling to us:  "for how long
must I be without a home? Make Me a Sanctuary so that I need not
remain outside".
G-d’s ‘home’ refers to the Holy Temple, and today's housed of worship.
It’s also referring to our individual lives; we are each, potentially,
G-d’s ‘home’. What does this mean in real terms?
When you have a safe and loving relationship with someone, you're 'at home' with him/her.
You're never a guest and you don't need to be guarded at any level;
you can let your hair down. And the relationship is eminently
valuable; you instinctively steer clear of relationship-weakening
behavior, and you look for opportunities to strengthen the bond.
You are two entities, but one unit.
That's what G-d wants from us.
Right now, G-d is knocking at the door of your life, saying "Please
open up for Me. I love you. I want you to recognize and feel that I'm
One with you; and I want you to be One with me. It's not that
difficult. Just open up your heart and invite me in, I'll make Myself
at home and guide you from there."
Try it.

A Time for Joy

 

Happiness.

We all want it. In truth, the search for ‘happiness’ is what ultimately guides so many of our efforts and behaviors.

As we mature, we begin to recognize that ‘happiness’ is not something you can purchase and it’s not synonymous with pleasure; it’s a state of being. We also begin to realize that it isn’t an easy thing to achieve.

So how do we approach the Hebrew month of Adar (beginning this Sunday), when “increasing Happiness” is the theme? I can’t command myself into Happiness. How do I get there in an authentic way?

One might say that the Torah prepares us by providing a formula in this week’s Torah reading, which we’ll read on Shabbos, just prior to Adar’s ‘Happiness launch’.

The Torah reading has some clear directives. Among them:

1.      Lend money, interest-free, to a person in need. In Torah thought, charity to the disadvantaged is a great value. But, in a way, lending him/her money is even greater. Maimonides lists eight levels of charity (Tzedaka in Hebrew) and considers a loan to be at the top. Why? Because it preserves the recipient’s dignity and self-worth. The person need not see himself as a ‘charity case’. It’s not just kindness, it’s kindness with genuine empathy. Even if you’re giving a gift, which is a beautiful Mitzvah, take the opportunity to step outside your own [good] feelings and consider how the recipient feels.

2.      If you see your enemy’s animal “suffering under its load”, the Torah tells us to assist the animal repeatedly. In other words: Someone has done you wrong. Yet the Torah wants you to recognize his pain, and the animal’s, and go beyond your world of self-interest to help.

3.      There’s a special additional reading on this Shabbat, which tells of the Mitzvah for each Jew to donate half a Shekel to the communal offering fund. For this ‘fundraising’ drive, no one gave more and no one gave less than that amount. It wasn’t just about amassing the funds, it was about participating as part of the larger community.

The message seems clear: There’s no greater avenue to happiness than stepping out of your own self-interest. Devote effort to something outside of, or larger than, yourself, and you’ll be refreshed by the beauty of your encounter.

It’s Adar. Give yourself a reason to be happy!

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