Printed from

Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Israel Diary #3: Smile and Say...

.....Color Red‎???

Today, several of us took a picture with some children in Kibbutz Alumim's library building. I was a bit taken aback when the photographer prompted precious smiles with: "123 - say Color Red!" My puzzlement eventually turned into inspiration and awe...

Kibbutz Alumim is a community six kilometers from the Gaza border. When we entered the Kibbutz, our questions were obvious if unspoken: Why would people live in an area the area that's been peppered with Kassam rockets for sixteen years? ‎Can their lives have any normalcy? What about the kids, and young teens, who have this reality as their personal 'normal'?

Sitting with another 450 American Jews, enjoying a beautifully ‎arranged banquet under the sun, as we're serenaded by a local Jewish band, it was hard to imagine the rockets and the destruction. It felt more like paradise. 

But we knew where we were. And we knew there was a lot of emotion, pain and inspiration sitting just beneath the surface of this gorgeous setting.

At one point, a local mother and social worker stood up to speak about their lives, and explained the significance of "Color Red." You see, this kibbutz is so close to Gaza that the residents have all of 15 seconds to find a safe spot once a missile is fired. 

The normal Israeli alarm system is insufficient and the Iron Dome can't help; they're simply too close to missile launch pads and there's too little time for the conventional response protocol.  

Out of necessity, the Army instituted a special system for that part of the country. When a missile is (G-d forbid) launched "COLOR RED!" (TZEVA ADOM in Hebrew) blares on public loudspeakers, alerting people to immediately seek safety.  

Given that background, this kibbbutz mom explained how the community's children had developed fearful associations with the color red. Some children had begun to clearly exhibit negative responses ‎to mere mention of the color. In response, this woman had developed a way to help the children appreciate that the color red is their friend; it helps to protect their lives. 

She (Esther Marcus) wrote a children's book depicting a meeting between the colors of the rainbow. The various colors spent time focusing on each respective hue's value. But the sad color red cried of her misfortune in being associated with terrorist attacks. Poor color red. So, in the narrative, all the colors come together to support and celebrate color Red's contribution to society's safety. 

We even saw a play based on the book, put on by children in the Kibbutz library building.

We saw kids expressing their recognition of the danger in which they live, and their gratitude for the system which keeps them safe. 

In their words:

They don't have the benefit of Iron Dome; but they have a Divine Dome.

They don't ‎have the benefit of the conventional alarm system; they have Color Red. 

In the story of Color Red we heard much more than an alternate plan for safety. We were able to feel how much a community cares about keeping their children emotionally healthy. We were able to feel ‎their commitment to teaching their children love and understanding, and protecting these precious souls from the abyss of hatred and bitterness. 

We were able to feel how faith, love and commitment can transform a trigger for fear into a prompt for precious smiles. 

The people of Israel in the Land of Israel. 

A light to the world.

Israel Diary #2: For G-d and For Gideon

Remember when Israel dispatched a team of agents to hunt down the terrorists who planned the 1972 Olympics massacre? Golda Meir is reputed to have called the mission "Gideon's Sword‎." In that vein, our outstanding tour guide, Josh, tells us that the famed IDF Golani Brigade's battle cry is "for G-d and for Gideon.‎" And a quick Google search tells me that late last year, when the IDF unveiled a five-year efficiency plan, they called it  the "Gideon Plan."

Who was Gideon, and why does he keep coming up in a military context?

The simple answer is that he was a Biblical figure (Book of Judges 6-8) who did battle to conquer Israel. But there were many such military leaders in our ancient history. What makes Gideon a modern point of reference for a modern-day army so many years later?  

Yesterday, standing above the Jezreel Valley, Josh brought it all together for us. 

Josh pointed to the east, helping us to envision thousands of invading Midianites as they swarmed in - 3200 years ago - to attack  the Jews. As the massive Midianite force camped in the valley, G-d told Gideon to take just 300 men as the Jewish military force. He split them into three platoons, placing each respective group in a different location surrounding the valley. 

Each soldier brought a Shofar, a jug and a torch, and waited for darkness to fall. Then, on cue, they simultaneously shouted ‎"for G-d and for Gideon," blew their respective Shofars, smashed their clay pitchers and lifted their torches. 

The surround-sound tumult frightened the Midianites into such a panic that they were easily routed by the Jews' small-scale fighting force. 

‎Gideon represents two critical elements of a Torah perspective on armed force (when it's unfortunately necessary):

1. Faith in G-d/legitimacy of the mission.

2. Fighting smart.

And that is the tenor, perhaps sub-conscious at times, of the IDF. A fighting force rooted in our sacred faith, with eyes sharply ‎looking for the most innovative way forward.

Josh also shared with us that the Mossad's motto is a verse in Proverbs (24:6) "for with ingenuity you will pursue war." Where else but Israel do you have a verse from our holy Scripture, catalyzing our soldiers to ever-greater innovation and effectiveness? 

The IDF - G-d bless and protect each and every one of them - embodies Gideon in the military sense.

But the lesson goes beyond the IDF. The Torah teaches us Gideon's story as a lesson for our daily lives. Each of us needs to be his/her own Gideon. 

Trust in G-d. Absolutely. 

And with G-d's wind at your back, dig deep to find the ingenuity you've been granted‎ by G-d. 

The Valley of Jezreel is proof that miracles happen.

Israel Diary #1

Hello, Israel, hello inspiration!

Is there a country in the world with more opportunities - at every turn - for encouragement and reflection? 

Our first day's packed itinerary ended with a fabulous feast in Tel Aviv. 450 of us, celebrating our heritage and Jewish identity, in our sacred and historic land. An inspiring sight in its own right. 

Then, at the end of our banquet, we were honored by a visit from Israel's former Chief Rabbi, the legendary Rabbi Israel Meir Lau. A child-survivor of Buchenwald, Rabbi Lau is a towering figure on the international Jewish stage. ‎He also very close with Chabad, having enjoyed a meaningful relationship with the Rebbe. As Tel Aviv's present Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Lau had come to visit the large Chabad delegation visiting his town. 

The Rabbi related a story which I'd like to share:

In 1973, the first year of his Rabbinate, Rabbi Lau received a call from the aged David Ben-Gurion, Israel's historic, first Prime Minister. Mr. Ben-Gurion asked if the young Rabbi would mind stopping by his local residence, as he was looking for insight on some Scriptural verses. 

Honored to oblige, Rabbi Lau went the next morning and they enjoyed an hours-long conversation.

Rabbi Lau then asked Mr. Ben-Gurion to confirm the historicity of the following anecdote:

‎In 1937, the British Peel Commission was questioning Mr. Ben-Gurion as to the basis for a Jewish claim to the land. After all, he himself came from Poland and most of his cohorts came from assorted places in Eastern Europe. Contrasting that with the claims of locally-born Arabs, did this band of Jews have a deed of some sort? Mr. Ben-Gurion stood up and said that the Jews absolutely have a deed ‎the Land, and dramatically raised a book of the Torah "This is is our historic deed!". 

Was this anecdote fact or fable, asked the young Rabbi?

Ben-Gurion emphatically responded "emet v'yatziv!" - "absolute truth!"

Rabbi Lau then asked the Prime Minster a follow-up question: "Since we so devoutly believe that the Torah‎ establishes our ownership of the Land, could it make sense for us to disregard other guidance offered by the Torah"?

Rabbi Lau, with deep respect for Ben-Gurion's character and wisdom, related that Ben-Gurion didn't respond. 

But we need to.

The Power of Pause

I try to keep these messages light and user-friendly.

Translation: I assume many people will be reading this in middle of a busy day, and often on a mobile device. If I start traveling down deep theological paths, and insert a bunch of footnotes, many of you won’t read to the end. You’ll move on to the next e-mail or just get back to work.

So I try to offer some on-the-go inspiration – and not wrinkle brows - with these notes. Because I think that’s what people want. Life is fast paced, and we appreciate getting a sprinkle of inspiration that we can absorb without breaking our stride.

If I still have your attention, let’s take a few seconds to re-think that attitude. We can do better than on-the-fly inspiration. I imagine you’ve never grasped a deep concept, or understood a complicated deal, by skimming through a four-hundred word article. Real depth requires a pause. If I want to truly tap life’s richness, I need to periodically halt my personal runaway train, gather my consciousness, and soak in what’s at hand.

There’s simply no other way. Call it mindfulness. Call it the Power of Now. To me, it’s all the same. We need take a deep breath, and apply ourselves to whatever’s in front of us with full consciousness. And I don’t think you get to full consciousness unless you tee-up with a conscious pause.

On-the-go inspiration is good for refocusing. But it’s only the beginning.

This week, I noticed an interesting nuance in a well-known Biblical verse. Isaiah, in chapter 64, (I know I threw in a footnote, but please stay with meJ) describes our ability to connect with G-d at a level so sublime that it transcends Paradise, “no eye has ever seen it.” To whom does G-d grant this deeply intimate connection?

 “G-d grants this to those who PAUSE for Him (Isaiah 64:3).”

Status-quo-rattling events ‘give us pause.’ Attention-grabbing scenarios are external stimuli which create a result that we can – and should – generate of our own volition. We can choose to pause for important things.

G-d is important. And G-d says that you are important. Today, and this hour, are important.

So pause whatever you’re doing and apply yourself to appreciating the value of living in G-d’s world and doing the work of making this a brighter world.

Pause and appreciate the cosmic beauty of now.

You’ll open yourself to other-worldy possibilities.


Stealth Super-Powers

Hello, Superman and Wonder Woman.

Fear and crisis can bring us an important recognition: We have potential that reaches beyond our normal limitations. Tapping it is only a question of motivation. And a loved one being threatened by a bear, or trapped by a car, can really motivate. But beyond these spontaneous spurts of our deeper potential, can we possibly tap this inner core on an averageThursday?

For example: You’re exhausted after a day’s work, and all you want is a couch. You recognize that your family can use some quality time, but you simply have no strength. Or do you? Do you perhaps have a deeper reservoir of strength to tap? Is it possible to get past your ‘natural limitations’ to accomplish things you know are important, but don’t seem to have the internal wherewithal?

It may feel totally counter-intuitive, but the answer is usually ‘Yes.’

Jewish spirituality tells us that we each have a potential for something called ‘Mesiras Nefesh’, which translates into ‘core (soul) commitment.’ When we truly recognize and feel a need, we can rise above our logical and physical limitations and rise to the occasion.

Queen Esther, of the Purim saga, is our timeless model. As Queen, she wasn’t in personal danger. Nor was she witnessing a sudden calamity that made her spring into action. She understood, especially with the advice of her elder uncle Mordechai, that the Jews were facing a mortal enemy. Given her circumstances, there was little she could do without endangering her own life. She had every rational reason to wring her hands and say “I wish I could help.”

But she dug deeper. She could not rest until she did everything in her power, and beyond her normal range of power, to save them.

She succeeded then, and she’s been helping us succeed ever since.

Would you like to do something G-dly but honestly ‘can’t find the time and energy’? Take a second to think of Queen Esther. And dig a little deeper.



Looking for older posts? See the sidebar for the Archive.