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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Why 5000 Rabbis Gathering in NY Is Good For You

Last night, I received a text from a Rabbi I hardly know. He sent me a photo of a dear local friend, who had been hospitalized while travelling. The Rabbi was there at my friend's bedside; visiting, laying Tefillin, providing words of support. The Rabbi was fulfilling a stranger’s request that he reach out for me, his local Rabbi and longtime friend.

All for a stranger.

This scene could have taken place in Kinshasa, Puerto Rico or Capetown. Or Basking Ridge. Every day, Chabad Rabbis step up and lean in to help strangers.

Because we don't believe in strangers. We believe in family.

Who is 'we?'

'We' is the Rebbe's army of G-dliness and goodness. 

Consider the reality that observant people generally gravitate to observant communities. It’s the natural way to support an observant lifestyle, and to perpetuate that observance within one’s family. Yet, beginning in 1950, the Rebbe inspired observant couples to reach beyond their own religious comfort to settle in communities which need their spiritual influence. The Rebbe was going against the grain, but – one couple at a time –Chassidic men and women committed their lives to bettering the world, by moving to places where they could make a difference.

In the early years, there was a trickle of  'lamplighters' (called Shluchim - literally 'emissaries') moving out to bring warmth and illumination to a world in need. But over time, that trickle became a stream, and then a steady flow of couples setting out across the globe to make this a better world.

Today, we have roughly 5000 Chabad Shluchim, spread throughout the world. Aside from being your local Jewish resource, they are the people embracing your child on campus, providing schnitzel to your niece backpacking in Cambodia, and providing you with a home away from home as you vacation in New Zealand.

In a world that seems more fractured every day, Chabad Shluchim provide love and spiritual sanity. Without reservation.

This weekend is the international convention of Chabad Rabbis (the women convene in February) in Brooklyn.

5000 purveyors of goodness, coming together to recharge their batteries and recommit to their mission of spreading light.

It’s good for the world.

And it’s good for you.

Rebel With A Cause


It feels to me like our election cycles have turned into a series of ‘revolutions.’

It’s becoming a familiar dance. The public rebels against the status quo, ushering in ‘fresh blood.’ The victorious rebels in turn become the next status quo, and the object of the next election’s revolution. And the beat goes on.

Revolution should be a mindset, not an action. When someone successfully overcomes the status quo, he has won the opportunity to make positive change.

But the rebellion has just begun. Because this fresh vista only translates into actual, meaningful change, when the victor takes the fight to his own natural tendency of complacency, self-protection, etc. The victor becomes the new problem, unless the victor wages inner rebellion.

The spirit of rebellion is a life-long attitude. It takes courage and determination, because effective and lasting rebellion is against one’s own weaker tendencies.

Sure, we need an ‘establishment’ in our lives. Discipline. Norms. We raise children to respect manners, decency and protocol. And, in matters of faith, rules have a Divine importance.

At the same time, rebellion keeps that ‘establishment’ crisp and viable. In order to maintain fresh relationships and attitudes, you need to constantly outrun yourself.

Even when you’re – functionally – in a good place, your soul can be asleep. You can go through the motions of being a loyal spouse or parent, while your brain is still engaged at the office – or the smartphone. We can do wonderful things for others and G-d, but there’s no fire in the belly because our primal passion is still self-focused.

If we’re living a life of complacency and self-satisfaction, a life without the fervor to rise up against ourselves, have we not become ‘spiritual bourgeoisie?’

 It’s time for revolution.

And we want the same for G-d.

G-d’s [meta]physical system has been our established order since time began. But it’s time for a radical change. It’s time for G-d to buck His own system, and bring out the meaning and beauty - the Harmonious Oneness - that’s inherent in our world.

We call that a world of Moshiach – a Messianic era. A world actualized.

And it’s G-d’s promise to humanity: When we rise up against our limitations, G-d will rise up against His.

So look at your life and rise above your limitations.

And let the revolution spread.

What's Yours Is Yours

Cultural appropriation.

The hurt feelings that can arise from blurring boundaries.

 Not too long ago, we were focused on dismantling boundaries, and now it’s a pain point.

And the so the pendulum swings…. But where is the healthy median?

In Torah wisdom, Sodom and Gomorrah are the epitome of selfishness and cruelty. Selfish societies that didn’t have healthy, protective boundaries. In a functional society, people recognize that “what’s mine is and what’s yours is yours”.

One would think.

Interestingly, the Talmud – when analyzing variant approaches to boundaries - considers the attitude of “what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours,” and says it belies a ‘Sodomite’ attitude. Don’t good fences make good neighbors? What can be wrong with a solid demarcation line between mine and yours?

The Torah teaches that Sodom and Gomorroh were an evil distortion of a good thing. Despite its Biblically-excoriated  manifestation, ‘Sodom,’ at its core, is a positive force. Sodom symbolizes a strong sense of self. Healthy Sodom means having self-sustaining confidence. It means feeling that my life is between me and G-d, period. It means that I’m not intimidated by others’ opinions.

My life. My struggle, My mistakes, My growth.

That’s holy Sodom. But then there’s unholy Sodom.

There’s a healthy sense of self, and an unhealthy brand. When independence means one is no longer dependent, that is a good thing. On the other hand, when independence is synonymous with self-centeredness, an attitude of “I’m looking out only for myself,” it’s not.  Healthy independence is one that grows into inter-dependence. Once I'm secure in my own identity, I need to take go the next step: I need to consider my responsibility to others. "What's mine is mine and what's yours is yours" is only a negative attitude if there's a period at the end of that sentence. If we see each other as mutually exclusive – non interdependent - islands.

The Torah wants us to have a comma after that phrase: "What's mine is mine and what's yours is yours, AND,  since we share a responsibility to each other let’s healthily share our world.”

As Hillel taught "If I am not for my myself who will be for me (independent sense of self)?
But if I am only for myself what am I (interdependent sense of responsibility to others)?"

Independence then interdependence.

That’s a healthy society.

Sodom redeemed.

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