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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

The Joy of Stress

Yesterday, someone told me “a person must be crazy to have kids; they’re just pain and aggravation!”

I guess that makes me, a father of eight (thank G-d), certifiably insane. At the same time, can anyone deny that children bring pressures, stress, worry and aggravation to our lives?

Whether it’s a newborn waking up in middle of the night, a youngster’s baby-sitting needs intruding on your night out, or the expenses and emotional drain that can come with the teenage (and older) years, kids take a lot out of you.

Parenting requires sacrifice. And sacrifice always means that you’re paying a price.

In truth, parents or not, sacrifice is probably part of our daily lives, or at least it should be. If sacrifice means ‘the surrender of something you desire for the sake of something higher,’ that’s a necessary ingredient of every healthy relationship.

My discussions with our Bar and Bat Mitzvah kids show me that they can already appreciate this concept. Young as they are, they can usually see the need to occasionally set aside a personal desire for the sake of a friendship. They understand the value of loyalty, and can appreciate that sacrifice is usually its litmus test.

So when we speak of sacrifice for a friendship. I don’t usually sense any heaviness or sadness at the ‘loss.’ I sense pride at the richness of a genuine friendship, of commitment to something higher.

Whether we’re talking about family, friendships or communal pursuits, self-sacrifice shouldn’t just be a burden to bear. It should be a cause for joy, because it indicates that we have something higher in our lives, something which we value so much that it eclipses our personal comfort.

Parental stress should make me happy, not certifiable.

The Rebbe once wrote that this week, when the Torah portion guides us through Abraham’s struggles in spreading the light of G-dliness, is a distinctly happy week, because it’s a week spent with Abraham in his journey of self-sacrifice.

I would usually associate ‘self-sacrifice’ with the feeling of ‘inspiration’, but the Rebbe associates it with ‘happy’.

And maybe this is why. Because self-sacrifice means we have something higher in our lives, and that’s a joyous thing.

So take a moment to commit yourself to what’s important in your life, despite the discomforts.

Then take another moment to bask in your good fortune.



Imagine how the earth looked just prior Noah’s Great Flood.
Darkened by heavy clouds, the gathering storm threatened to engulf and overwhelm its victims.

These phrases can describe severe weather, but they’re also metaphoric terms to describe difficult periods of our human journey.

Sometimes life's gloom feels overwhelming. Whether one feels gripped by concerns about ISIS and Ebola on the world stage, or paralyzed by the anxiety of personal struggles at home or office, life's sky isn't always bright and sunny. At one time or another, storm clouds gather on everyone’s individual horizon. And when your skies are dark, it's difficult to find optimism for tomorrow.

So look for the rainbow.

The birth of every rainbow begins with millions of tiny rain droplets, each of which can serve as a reflector and refractor of light. The same myriad of droplets that threaten to engulf your world can form a glorious rainbow to brighten that world.

Why is one collection of water globules an ominous gray mass and the other a glorious expression of life's color?

It's all a matter of whether the light shines through, and whether we catch our perspective from the right angle.

The Torah’s Great Flood saw the world being destroyed through human soul-darkness triggering dark clouds relentlessly dropping their heavy loads. Noah escaped those physical and spiritual storm clouds by taking refuge in the Ark.

When it was all over, and he walked out on dry land, G-d showed him the majesty of the rainbow to teach him why such global destruction would never again hit the earth. The rainbow showed humanity they can do better, even amidst overwhelming darkness.

In life, we can always access Divine light by choosing meaningful responses to our stresses. We can always position ourselves for a proper perspective, if we can only find the strength.

We can find our own rainbows.

When darkness hits, remember that you’re not alone; G-d is with you. Remember that each struggle – moral, emotional or physical – may feel like a flood, but is ultimately a single droplet in the cloud of your life.

Trust in G-d, open yourself to the light, and let it shine on our droplet.

Look up at those clouds and find the rainbow.

Rabbi Mendy Herson

Let's Celebrate!

At this time of year, if you were to hear someone say “…after the Holidays…”, do you think that it means after Yom Kippur?

Think again. 'After the holidays', would actually mean a almost two weeks after Yom Kippur. 

The Jewish calendar actually has a train of Jewish celebrations that begin on Rosh Hashana and continue on for most of the month of Tishrei. 

Let’s start at the beginning. Rosh Hashana is the launch of a ten day exercise, reconnecting with our best selves and with the Divine. These days, culminating in Yom Kippur, are filled with the serious and introspective happiness that comes with self-awareness and self-improvement. They’re happy, but emotionally muted.

From there, we move to Sukkot, when the High Holidays’ quiet satisfaction morphs into full-blown joy at the beauty of our lives. For seven days, we eat, drink, study and hang out in a hut with an imperfect (temporary) roof. The Sukkah’s roof represents the ‘Clouds of Glory’ which miraculously protected the Jews in the desert after they left Egypt. Those Clouds represent G-d’s loving care for us, then and now. The Sukkah roof represents that connectedness, that spiritual intimacy, especially as it was felt – even if momentarily – on the High Holidays. Those holy moments are deeply meaningful, even as they’re so elusive and difficult to concretize.

The Sukkah brings this feeling into real life. When we sit in the Sukkah, we’re sitting in G-d’s embrace, because the Sukkah makes G-d’s love tangible and palpable.

But then what?

After the High Holidays’ quiet inspiration, and Sukkot’s exuberant embrace, where do we go? Do the Holidays lead us up a breathtaking mountain and leave us stranded at the peak?

Of course not.

Isaiah quotes G-d saying, “I have put My words (the Torah) into your mouth and I have covered you with the shadow of My hand."

The “shadow of My hand” refers to the Sukkah’s interior shadow, its embrace. Isaiah tells us we can always experience that spiritual intimacy, when we immerse ourselves in the Torah’s words and ideas – when we have the “words of Torah in our mouths.”

And that’s a real - lasting - reason to celebrate. We’re never alone. We can always re-discover the Holidays’ spiritual connectedness, through the study of Torah.

We’re soon exiting the Holiday season, but we’re not leaving it behind.

With the Torah. We can always re-experience the beauty.

On-call spiritual intimacy. What a reason to celebrate!


Rabbi Mendy Herson


A Friend [Even] in Fair Weather

You’ve probably heard the one about our Jewish Holidays’ shared theme: “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!!!’

Sure, the joke is inaccurate and shallow. But it brings out a valid point.

There’s something about crisis that awakens [many] people to Higher Values, to Priorities, to G-d. So, throughout our history, a communal crisis often brought a spiritual awakening; and our joy in triumph was expressed in a Holy-day, a day of gratitude to G-d.

On Chanukah, Purim and Passover we were threatened by various peoples, and Sukkot celebrates G-d’s protection in the deserts’ untamed wilderness.

Yes, crises seem to be at the center of our Holiday experiences.

Even in our personal lives, we may notice how emergencies give us a jarring wake-up call, prompting us to ask G-d for assistance and to re-evaluate our priorities. And when there’s an appreciable victory, we feel the gratitude.

But what about the other days?

What about a day when things seem to be going right? What about the day when I landed the promotion, my relationships are fluid, my bills are paid? What drives me to G-d then?

What if it’s just a ‘normal’ day? What of a day with assorted stresses and pressures, but – thank G-d – no monumental crises?

Do I appreciate G-d then, amidst the success and the ‘normal’?

Hence Sukkot. Our calendar has a spine of Festivals – Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot – which are [also] framed in agricultural terms: Passover is the beginning of Spring and the beginning of the barley harvest, Shavuot is the general Harvest Festival and Sukkot is the Gathering [of the harvest from the fields]”.

Sukkot  was the opportunity to soak in the rewards of your year’s work. It was when you got your ‘bonus check’; a time when you were feeling good about yourself.

So at that time – specifically that time – the Torah guides us to appreciate G-d’s consistent presence and protection. Not amidst crisis, but amidst plenty. When there may be less of an instinctive push.

May this be a year of Sukkot, when we rise to the challenge of appreciating G-d amidst the gifts which are certainly headed our way.


Happy Yom Kippur?

Several years ago, a local friend decided to join us at High Holidays services. This wasn’t an easy move for him, since he suffered from what he called ‘organized-Judaism-PTSD’. Childhood memories of his parents’ synagogue, especially on Yom Kippur, had Judaically-paralyzed him for decades.

Feeling that he’d found a more user-friendly Judaism in his Chabad experience, he decided to give it another shot. He chose the day he’d dreaded as a child: Yom Kippur.

I kept protective watch over him during services, making sure that he was comfortable and understood there was no guilt attached to walking out for a while. Thank G-d, we made it through the day without any discernible trauma and as he left I asked him with a hopeful “so how was it?” He responded with an sheepish grin, “Am I allowed to say I enjoyed Yom Kippur?”

Yom Kippur. It’s called the Holiest day of the Jewish year. It certainly seems to be the most observed. Is it also the most dreaded? I assume no one likes fasting. I also assume many people aren’t thrilled by the idea of sitting (and standing, and sitting, and standing, etc.) for hours in a synagogue.

Is this just the price of being Jewish? Something we just need to grin and bear?

As a kid, I can’t say that Yom Kippur was the highlight of my year. But then I grew up.

In my adult life, I’ve come to understand that Yom Kippur isn’t a day of physical affliction as much as it’s one of spiritual transcendence. Yom Kippur’s not a day of sadness but a day filled with the introspective pleasure that comes with self-knowledge and psycho-spiritual rebirth.

It’s a day when come face-to-face with myself, and soul-to-soul with my G-d.

No, we don’t eat. Bummer.

At the same time, have you ever gotten very involved in an exciting project, one that quickened your pulse and excited your deepest senses, so much so that you totally forgot to eat? Yom Kippur is designed as a day when we put our normal needs aside, to focus on the essence of our existence; a time to contemplate the core of our relationship with G-d and with life itself.

True, most of us aren’t so excited that we forget to eat, but maybe the Torah’s telling us that we should be. There’s nothing more exhilarating than coming soul-to-soul with a loved one.

Happy Yom Kippur.


Rabbi Mendy Herson


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