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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

A Time to Celebrate

This is a wonderful time of year.

While many tend to think of ‘the Holidays” as referring to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, those Holidays are just the beginning. The Jewish calendar actually has a continuum of Jewish celebrations that begin on Rosh Hashana and continue on for twenty-four days! 

Let’s start at the beginning: Rosh Hashana is the launch of a ten day exercise - culminating with Yom Kippur - when we reconnect with our best selves and with the Divine. These ten days are filled with the serious and introspective happiness that comes with self-awareness and self-improvement. They’re happy, even as they’re focused and introspective.

We then progress to Sukkos, when the High Holidays’ quiet satisfaction morphs into full-blown joy. The High Holidays’ holy moments can be elusive and difficult to concretize. The Sukkah brings our High Holiday inspiration into real life.

For seven days, we eat, drink, study and hang out in a hut (a Sukkah) with an imperfect (temporary) roof. That ‘roof’ represents the Miraculous Clouds which protected the Jews as they travelled in the desert after leaving Egypt. That ‘roof’ symbolizes G-d’s loving protection, then and now.

So the Sukkah is a tangible manifestation of the spiritual intimacy – the connectedness – we felt on the High Holidays.  When we sit in the Sukkah, we’re sitting in G-d’s embrace, because the Sukkah makes G-d’s love tangible in our daily lives.

We then reach the Holiday season’s peak when we celebrate the Torah on Simchas Torah (this coming Sunday evening through Tuesday evening). Simchas Torah drives home the message that we can always embrace, and be embraced by, G-d through studying Torah.

The Torah is your portable Sukkah, one you can access even after the Holiday wraps up.

In the Scripture, G-d tells us: “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. G-d is telling us that we can experience 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.

So come and celebrate!

Hug A Tree

Mobility can be a double-edged sword.

‘Growth’ sounds great.

‘Unsettled’ not so much.

As human beings, we find basic peace when we’re at rest. That’s how we fall asleep and that’s how you catch your breath. But inertia and paralysis are unhealthy. Where do we find the balance?

When it comes to material objectives, we can never ‘spike the ball,’ because physical fulfilment is a moving target. When we’re bombarded by a hodgepodge of desires and fears, we end up chasing illusions from one end of life’s field to the other.

The pursuit of spiritual fulfilment is different. Our souls have a core desire to touch the Divine, always yearning for something higher, pushing to rise above life’s mundanity. We’re figuratively standing on our spiritual tiptoes, trying to touch something meaningful, which often feels just beyond our reach.

But it’s not.

Scripture quotes G-d as saying (Hosea 14:9): “I am like a supple Cedar…” The Cedar is a tall tree; the ‘supple Cedar’ imagery is that of a tree we can bend all the way down to our level, so that we can hang on, and be catapulted aloft, as it returns to its natural position.

G-d is that Cedar. G-d ‘bends down,’ making Divine meaning accessible to us at our human level, by giving us tangible, physical Mitzvos. Once we grab on, we are propelled to a higher state, coming closer to the Divine, closer to ourselves.

G-d being described as the 'supple Cedar' tells us that meaningful human life is within our grasp. Hang on to the Cedar, and the soul flies higher, the bond grows deeper, the embrace intensifies. 

This Yom Kippur, disengage –at least for a day - from the material-focused frenzy. Commit yourself to a deep relationship with G-d.

Hug the supple Cedar.

The King and I

It’s that time of year again.

It’s time for me to engage the ‘King.’

You see, Rosh Hashana is coming, and we’ll have an overflow crowd at services.

For me, that’s a precious opportunity to unveil and articulate the Judaic tradition which I hold so dear.

I can express our belief in G-d as a Parent, Who devotedly cares for each of us. This helps us envision how we each matter to G-d.

I can depict our embrace of G-d as a spouse, with whom we share a loving – if sometimes challenging –relationship. That opens a vital window into our deep bond with the Divine.

Loyal and Loving. That’s my G-d.

But here’s the problem. This fundamentally-Judaic image of G-d doesn’t easily dovetail with the Rosh Hashana liturgy. When we open the prayer book, we find a consistent theme of G-d - not as Parent or Spouse but - as ‘King.’

Our Rosh Hashana services are one big Coronation.

That metaphor isn’t a natural for Americans. We’re very happy to have ejected King George III from our lives, and we’re generally not big on respect for the monarchy.

In my experience, Parent and Spouse imagery work. King? That’s a tough one for many people.

So, let us – you and I - [re]frame and [re]define the King concept.

Building on the image of G-d as wholly committed to our welfare (like a parent) and deeply loving (like a spouse), we also see G-d as our [devoted and loving] King.

Why? Because it introduces a wonderful new element: Surrender.

No human – even family - can say to me: “I know you, because I created and designed you. Relax and stop clinging to your self-image and shallow perceptions. I will guide you toward becoming the person I created you to be.”

Only G-d can say that. And I can handle it when it’s coming from G-d. Because G-d DID create me; G-d knows my strengths and genuinely perceives my weaknesses. So I’m comfortable surrendering to my loving and devoted King. Because I’m actually surrendering to my own destiny, my best self.

Yes. ‘G-d as King’ works for my prayer imagery.

How about you?

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