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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

How's Your Vision?

What does it mean to be visionary? 

In a basic sense, this means having a vision for one's life and pursuits; conceptualizing goals and objectives, considering future potential and focusing on a target for growth.

It means recognizing that “now” isn’t all there is.

Experiencing 'now'  as disconnected from the future and its possibilities can be stale and aimless.

Experiencing 'now' as an important component of our life's mission – our vision - can breathe commitment, animation and hope into that reality.

Vision can bring optimism and direction; it can be the pro-active inspiration energizes us enough to bring our dreams to life.

At the same time, with the passage of time it can become more difficult for the realistic person to continue dreaming. Disappointments eventually take their toll on the human psyche. Which raises the question: When should one adjust one’s expectations and recognize that that dreams are……just dreams?


While we should always be acutely aware of reality, warts and all, we can never stop believing in – and working toward – a brighter future.

This weekend, we'll be commemorating Tisha B'av (the 9th day of the Jewish month of Av), the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. We fast on Tisha B'av, because it's the day that our Holy Temple, along with our entire Jewish Commonwealth, was destroyed thousands of years ago. It's a day when we pause to genuinely feel our localized and historic pan.

This year, the 9th day of Av falls on Shabbos. We don't fast on Shabbos, so the fast actually runs from Saturday night to Sunday Night.

Every year, the Shabbos prior to the fast is observed as a “Shabbat of Vision.”

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, an eighteenth century legendary Chassidic master, explained that on the Shabbat before our collective day of mourning, G-d shows us a Vision of the Future. We are shown a vision of a rebuilt Temple, a reconstituted Society and better world. 

G-d equips us for the mourning by ensuring that hope – the Vision – never dies; this Shabbat exercise ensures that our sobering recognition of “now” doesn’t smother our hope for the future.

I can’t see this Divinely-granted vision with my physical eyes; but if G-d’s showing it to me, it must be resonating somewhere in my soul.

So this Shabbat, I’ll prepare for the ensuing fast by first searching myself to find G-d’s vision of a beautiful future.

Will you join me?

Now What, Mr. Cohen?

For months, I have been very suspicious of any deal with Iran. The way I see it, me, their leaders don’t even pretend to be trustworthy.  

Then I saw last week's NY Times column by Roger Cohen, calling out "Iran's Unserious Critics" for their negativism about the impending deal. I liked the column and read it carefully, trying to honestly introspect as to whether I am in fact "unserious" about the realities of the situation. I was encouraged by Mr. Cohen’s clear position that "…unfettered access for IAEA inspectors to all Iranian sites, including military sites... [is the deal's] most intractable condition. Obama cannot settle for less than unambiguous Iranian acquiescence to full site access."

I mentally accepted the possibility that my fears were inaccurate, and that the Administration was actually brokering a deal better than we suspected.

The agreement is now available online, so the truth is clear: There is no unfettered access. Political spin aside, supervising agencies will need to wait twenty-four days to inspect suspected military sites.

Mr. Cohen?

In April, Dr. Ernest Moniz, our US Energy Secretary who negotiated the technical details of this deal, said that “we expect to have anywhere, anytime access,” because an acceptable deal needed to allow for full access to Iranian sites.

Dr. Moniz?

There are more problems with the deal, but this deficiency itself tells me that our suspicions were well-founded. The deal is unacceptable as is.

In this week's Torah reading, the Jews prepare to cross the Jordan and conquer the land of Israel. Two of the twelve Israelite tribes (Reuben and Gad) felt that they could find more suitable land for their needs on the non-Israel side of the Jordan. So they asked Moses permission to settle there, instead of Israel.

In and of itself, the idea would caused their brethren to suspect that the two tribes were just deserting the war effort. So Moses encouraged them to first actively pursue the war, and then return to settle their land.  Behave properly, Moses says, and "you will be clean [of any suspicion] before G-d and Israel."

Suspicions aren’t always silly paranoia. They’re often a challenge to the suspected: “What are you doing that makes people suspect you?”

The world – especially Israel - has ample reason to suspect Iran’s leadership and intentions. When the world sees behavior-modification, to the point that they are "clean [of any suspicion] before G-d and Israel," the globe will be a safer place and we'll have a deal that genuinely brings peace in our time.

Greece, Iran, You and Me

Greece and Iran dominate the headlines.

Greece's six years of financial implosion, and the ensuing humanitarian crisis, has both pained and intrigued me. Without delving into the complexities of the saga, the fact is that a lot of people face a lot of anguish now and for the foreseeable future.‎ 

And it's hardly an emergent problem. Google the press reports and you'll read that many people were predicting - for years - that we'd up exactly where we are‎.  

So I confess my astonishment at the specter of Europe's leading financial experts, with billions of Euros at their disposal, being unable to do better for their people.

Meanwhile, in Vienna, world powers (P5+1) and Iran, negotiate Iranian nuclear aspirations. We have to assume that the negotiators are dealing with many complexities, and varying

I believe both international crises showcase an important psychological syndrome. For years, world leaders have been applying short-term band-aids to these problems, instead of confronting them and applying actual solutions. It's about the momentary 'victory', and kicking the can down the road. And here we are.

Tonight, our Shabbat liturgy tells us that G-d "has the final action in the initial consideration", which means contemplating now how you'd like to something at the end, and act accordingly now.

Approach life with the end-goal in mind.

Tonight, as Shabbat sets in, think about your dreams for your marriage and your family, for your relationship with G-d and your people. Envision how they could be, and then overlay how they actually are.

Notice the rough edges. And get to work. Today.

Live The Dream

My 20-year-old daughter is in Paris for a few days. When I mentioned that to a local friend, he immediately asked whether I was worried. Frankly, I'm not worried, but I understand his question.

Last year, the news was filled with reports of anti-Semitic incidents across the globe, from the broadly publicizedParis attacks, to lower-profile ones that were reported by the Jewish media. According to the ADL, 2014 was a “particularly violent year for Jews,” right here in the USA. Add to the mix that 55% of Muslim Western-Europeans are expressing anti-Semitic views.

Anti-Semitism is a plague that has followed us for millennia. This week, we read in the Torah about Jew haters who lived 3300 years ago,.

At the same time, we are lucky to have the USA, which gave Jews haven from European persecution, and has been a tremendously positive force for post-war Jewish growth across the globe. 

Notwithstanding individual incidents perpetrated by individual people, theUSA has been a blessing to the Jewish people. In fact, the Rebbe would call this country a 'kingdom of kindness.'

Here in the US, we can proudly display our Jewish identity, and the global specter of anti-Semitism should make us stand even taller.  

True, the Muslim world seems to be going through an anti-Semitic awakening, and areas where Muslim influence is strong (some universities and communities), are areas of specific concern. We can't be naive and must call on – and work with – local Muslim leaders to address the problem.

At the same time, we must continue to live the American Jewish Dream: Never retreating from a proud declaration of our Jewish identity, continuing to live freely and Jewishly, praying to G-d for His protection and thanking Him for this great country.

G-d bless America.

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