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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Does G-d Care About Me

 

An infinite G-d. Billions of small humans.

Does G-d really care about me and you? In the scope of the planet’s population, and especially in the scope of history, do our little dramas really matter to the Creator?

It’s a question which has always dogged humanity.

Even when the Jews first left Egypt, with all the miracles and supernatural fireworks described in Scripture, many had the same question: “Does G-d really care about me personally? Yes, G-d intervened to save a nation from cruel torture and slavery; but that seems to be a macro issue. What about the micro? Does G-d care about me individually?”

G-d addressed their doubts head on:

Seven weeks after leaving Egypt, millions of Jews gathered at Mount Sinai to get marching orders for the road ahead into history. It was a momentous occasion. G-d was finally going to speak with humanity, as distinct from an individual prophet. G-d was going to give us all guidance for leading a meaningful life.

G-d’s first words were “I am G-d, your G-d, who took you out of Egypt”.

Let’s look at two critical nuances in that phrase:

1.       Hebrew has complex grammar, and there are slight changes in the word “you[r]”, depending on whether one is using it in the plural or singular forms. If you heard me say “I want to welcome you” in Hebrew, you’d know whether I was talking to one person or several.

2.       Logically, it would have been more impressive for G-d to introduce Himself as “G-d who created you”. Being created is more mind-blowing than being liberated.

The statement’s Hebrew phrasing makes it clear that G-d was speaking to an individual. G-d was communicating directly with each person in that crowd, as if no one else was part of the experience.

And what did G-d tell that individual? I am G-d who cared enough about You, to take YOU out of Egypt. The Exodus wasn’t only about a macro need. I swooped in to save YOU because I care about YOUR individual needs.

These were the first words at Mt. Sinai, because this is the backbone of our religious experience. We believe in G-d who cares about our individual struggles, and our individual choices. Who cares about our individual struggles and ‘Egypts’. G-d who is here for us.

Once we get that straight, Sinai’s instruction for life can begin…..

Seas Can Split

Ever feel like there's nowhere to turn? Like you’re boxed in, with no way out?

‎Imagine how the Jews felt as they came upon the impassable Sea of Reeds, while the murderous Egyptians closed in on them from the rear. 

This week's Torah reading describes the Jews' liberation from cruel Egyptian slavery, and how their former captors then set after them in hot pursuit.

When the Jews came to the sea they were trapped.

Some Jews advocated surrender, some resistance, some felt they should cast themselves into the sea rather than return to their cruel slave-masters. Some Jews just began to pray.

G-d’s directive was to do none of the above. The instruction was “Keep moving!”

The Jews were heading toward Mount Sinai, a very worthwhile destination. If they believed in their goal, and trusted in G-d, there was no need for other strategies; it wasn't even a time for prayer. They needed to forge ahead.

True, the obstacles seemed insurmountable. They had reason for despair. 

So G-d taught them a critical lesson: When they put their heads down and soldiered on, armed with trust in G-d, a miracle happened.

The sea split.


And they were now finally, truly, free of the Egyptians. Leaving Egypt’s geographical boundaries had been only the beginning of their liberation. Crossing the sea meant finally escaping their captors for good.

The Torah’s narratives are more than historical accounts; they are also our personal story. You and I need to read the Torah in our individual keys, and find direction for our respective, contemporary lives.

The Exodus is our story. 

And here"s how: The Hebrew word for Egypt (mitzrayim) can also mean limitations and strictures (meitzarim in Hebrew). So, aside from its profound historical significance, the Exodus is a model for our own extrication from the mindsets, fears and attitudes that keep us trapped.

You and I need to leave ‘Egypt’, i.e. transcend our personal hurdles, every day.

But the narrative teaches that even leaving Egypt isn’t necessarily the ultimate freedom; Egypt can chase us. Even when we think we’ve gotten past a specific personal challenge, it may catch up with us again. We may feel trapped, and begin to accept that there really is no escaping this personal hang-up.

So G-d tells us “keep moving” toward you Mount Sinai. Keep your eye on the prize and have faith in your loving G-d.

Seas can split.

Donald, Hillary, You and Me...

Maybe it’s our modern surround-sound news cycle. Maybe I’m just getting older. For whatever reason, the election season is ringing hollow. Many people seem to be craving an ‘outsider’; I think it’s because we’re looking for genuine leadership, not just for people who aspire to the leadership mantle.  

Whether it’s difficult-to-trust bureaucrats, or power-hungry opportunists, something about our leadership culture isn’t floating our boats.

So let’s take a Kabbalistic look at leadership. Exploring the world at its spiritual core, Jewish spirituality shines light on the energy of authority and command – ‘Royalty’ in Kabbalistic language – as experienced within each of us, within society and within the Divine. The skill of leadership, we’re told, “has nothing of her own”. Leadership is likened to the moon, which only reflects the rays it receives from the sun. It has “nothing of her own” light.

At first blush, the runs counter to our thought of leadership. Leaders are the sun. They take up a lot of space. We, the people, would seem to be the moon.

In fact, leadership means making real space for others’ feelings and opinions. It means giving authentic, whole-hearted attention to people’s capabilities, needs and feedback. We’re told that “there is no King without a nation”. The leader ascends in response to people’s needs, not in search on people to lead.

While a leader doesn’t follow the crowd, leadership means genuinely hearing the people. And if the leader sees the need to take an alternate path, the leader speaks their language to explain the decision. We can call this the ‘outside-in’ dimension to leadership, where the leadership is in response to external stimuli.

The same dynamic applies within the leader’s psyche. Called to lead, the genuine leader searches inside to find the tools to help people, or a situation. One’s leadership muscle isn’t about holding a position of authority, or having license to direct others. Leadership is a skill that allows the leader to funnel internal talents to help others.

The true leader understands that G-d gives us talents and strengths for a purpose. We’re born to make the world a better place, to help others. It’s about empathy, not ego. The authentic leader has “nothing of her own.”

Whether we’re influencing our family, friends or the body politic, we’re all born to be leaders.

It’s a humbling responsibility. But it’s the way to lead a purposeful life.

 

More Power Than You Think

What if Moses agreed to pray for you?

Yes, that Moses. The man who spoke face to face with G-d, who received the Torah at Mount Sinai and whom Scripture crowns as the greatest prophet who ever lived

Imagine if he agreed to offer to say a prayer for you, to beseech the Divine for that one thing you really, really want.

Can prayer get more effective than that?

In Jewish spiritual thinking, prayer is about connecting with something higher, something beyond our normal selves.  Prayer is about touching something special within ourselves (our souls) and within G-d. It's about plugging into the power of spirituality.

When we plug in through prayer, we create a conduit of Divine current. We create a stream of G-dly presence in our lives, which ultimately translates into our blessings.

Moses' abundant spirituality, his spiritual 'wealth', made his interface with G-d the gold standard of human capacity for Divine connection. Moses was truly plugged in.

King David, in the Psalms, refers to 'Moses' prayer,' because Moses' prayer was outstanding. He had unusual spiritual potency.

Top of the heap.

Or not?

Our Sages tell us that there's one brand of prayer which outdoes even Moses' entreaties. It's what the Psalms call "the Pauper's prayer'.

By definition, a Pauper is someone who is destitute, totally lacking. The Psalms aren't just referring to a person's bankbook; the term is indicating a person who has spiritual deficiencies.

Why would the Pauper's prayer be even more potent than Moses'?

Because the Pauper is better positioned for authenticity, for a self-image that is free of ego-layers. The Pauper is who he is, warts and all, so there's little to nothing obstructing between the pray-er and the prayer, between the person and G-d. When we  recognize our own 'spiritual poverty', we become more real, which makes us positioned for genuine connection.

There's no more powerful a prayer.

 

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