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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Write Your Story

It happens every time.

Whenever I read that G-d created the world, I can’t get past the big question: ‘Why?’

Why would an Infinite Being have created this finite reality? What’s the point in weak humans chasing happiness for the years of life that they’re granted?

Why do I keep asking myself the same question? Because I really enjoy the answer: G-d created this world out of love.

Prior to creation, G-d’s Oneness reigned Supreme. There was no other existence - only G-dliness. Then G-d decided to create an ‘other’.

We – you and I - are that ‘other’.

But G-d wasn’t simply fracturing existence, creating a world of disunity and ‘otherness’. G-d was creating an opportunity  for us. G-d was giving us the possibility to [re]create Oneness on a more profound level.

Because there are different types of ‘Oneness’.

For example, I am a single being with limbs and organs; so my arm, my leg, my spleen all come together to make me one whole human being. Then there’s a deeper type of oneness, like the oneness of marriage, when two spouses become one. Why is that deeper?

Because my arm has no choice but to be part of my body; that’s its natural state.

When two people get married, they’re each rising above their natural, self-involved state, choosing to create the Oneness they share. They’re actively deciding to set aside the ‘I‘ for the ‘we’.

That’s a profoundly beautiful Oneness, one we celebrate with the institution of marriage. Well, that’s how it works with us and G-d. G-d created us as separate from Him, so that we might choose to find Oneness with Him.

Each of our lives is actually its own ‘Love Story,’ part of a vibrant, growing relationship between G-d and humanity.

A Chassidic Rebbe was once asked: “Where can one find G-d?” The Rebbe answered: Wherever you let Him in”. ‘Letting the other in’ is the key to a relationship with G-d, just like it is in a relationship with a spouse.

G-d wants an intimate relationship with each of us. But intimate relationships don’t happen on their own. It takes two to want the relationship; two to choose it.

G-d has already made His choice. Now it’s up to me and you.

So are you writing your own Divine Love Story?

Dance!

As joyous Holidays go, Simchat Torah (literally: The Joy of Torah) is high voltage. Sunday evening through Tuesday, Jews throughout the world - all types and stripes - will be dancing, enthusiastically showing their delight for this gift we call the Torah.  

What’s interesting is that we won’t actually be studying the Torah. While the Torah is best known as a source of great wisdom, we’ll be rejoicing with a closed and wrapped Torah. Interestingly, the party doesn’t seem to be about the Torah’s ideas; if fact, history has shown that many who can’t actually read from the Torah are jubilantly celebrating.

So what are we celebrating? What’s the gift worth if not its academic richness?

Conceptually, not just semantically, it’s important to note that the Torah is much more than a ‘gift’ per se. Scripture actually refers to the Torah as our ‘inheritance’. This is relevant because a gift is something that one party gives to another. An inheritance is a different type of transfer from benefactor to recipient.  

According to Torah law, a deceased person’s assets automatically transfer to his/her heirs, even if there is no indication of the deceased’s wishes. The transfer just happens (unless the decedent acts to stop or shape this natural transfer). Naturally.

The Torah recognizes and respects an organic transition from generation to generation. Conceptually speaking, one generation immediately shifts to fill the shoes of the previous one. Just like that.

In fact, the Hebrew word for ‘inheritance’ (nachala) is the same as ‘river’ (nachal), indicating the natural flow from one generation to the next.

This is why the Torah is called an ‘inheritance’. It’s ours, irrespective of whether we’ve taken actions to claim or deserve it. It passes from generation to generation, some appreciating it more than others. But it belongs to us all. Equally.

And, if you think about it, this IS something to celebrate. No matter how close you feel to the Torah right now, it’s your inheritance. Yours to claim, yours to study, yours to appreciate. Even if you’ve neglected it, no one can ever deny your fundamental right to it. There’s no statute of limitations, no need to deal with probate.

Yours.

In a world that seems crazily volatile and unpredictable, our Jewish/Torah identity is stable and permanent. Your ancestors have bequeathed you a ‘piece of the Rock’.

See you on Monday for Simchat Torah: It’s time to dance!

Healthy Self-Improvement

Let’s face it, change is difficult!
We often speak about unshackling from the status quo and growing into a ‘new me,’ but inertia still seductively beckons.
There is a sense of vulnerability that comes with moving on to new behaviors and attitudes. The old way, as deficient as we may know it to be, has the comfort that comes with familiarity. When we’re in a tough spot, it may be uncomfortable, but at least it’s our spot; we feel like we have a grip on who we are, for better or worse.
Moving from point A to point B is a journey, and journeys are inherently disruptive. We’re neither here nor there. We’re not in a settled place.
If we want to maximize the likelihood that we will achieve our growth potential by by successfully navigating the journey from point A to point B, we need to chart a stable course that enables us to move away from the comforts of point A with the security and confidence that we will arrive intact at Point B.
That trajectory is found in the Holidays we now celebrate.
First, we spend an introspective ten days from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur. In that time, we painstakingly strip away the layers of self-image and ego, and the defense mechanisms, that have allowed us to ignore what we need to correct in ourselves and have served as barriers to self-improvement. On this side of Yom Kippur, we are more self-aware; but we are also a little unsteady.
We know the ‘old me’; but how will we relate to a ‘new me’? Will our self-betterment plan work? Will it affect how we are accepted and loved?

It’s a little scary at the beginning, so ‘training wheels’ are needed to steady the journey.
With perfect timing, G-d gives us the Holiday of Sukkot. During this Holiday we sit in a hut – the Sukkah - to eat, drink, study and celebrate with family and friends. Sitting in the Sukkah, we are nestling in G-d’s haven, a place of emotional and spiritual security where we are encircled by G-d and hugged by his embrace.
We’ve left Yom Kippur cleansed of the spiritual baggage that fosters inertia and with a budding optimism about self-improvement.  Yet there is also a trepidation about making the changes that will allow those buds of optimism to blossom.

In the safety of the Sukkah, we acclimate to our new perspective on life. We use the nurturing presence of G-d and our community to steady ourselves for the journey ahead.

Once Sukkot is over and we are walking steadily, we are ready to leave the Sukkah – to shed the ‘training wheels’  – and to implement our New Year’s resolutions in everyday life.  

What a wonderful transition to the year ahead.
Looking forward! 

Come On In, The Water's Perfect

Water.

It's so simple. Unspectacular and unpretentious.

Yet it's so powerful.

It gives life – literally – to the earth and its inhabitants.

It's the amniotic fluid, our pre-birth state, and - as we go through life - it’s our cleansing friend.

So uniquely tranquil is water’s sound, that the tonality of raindrops falling ranks highest among preferred sleeping aids. Whether it's a flowing stream, or a majestic fountain, water creates a personal island of serenity.

Water is so fundamentally natural, yet simultaneously ethereal, feeling like it’s just beyond our concrete grasp.

The Torah concept of Mikvah harnesses – and expresses – the singular energy of water. This pool of ritual restoration and rebirth (which we are providing in our new Synagogue wing!), is a 'conductor' which facilitates an individual’s growth from one spiritual stage to the next. Every Yom Kippur, the High Priest in the Holy Temple would periodically immerse himself in a Mikvah, as he progressed from one phase of the service to the next.

Women immerse themselves as part of their journey through life's cycles. And men regularly use the Mikvah as part of a ‘spiritual regeneration’ process, shedding one behavioral modality as we aim for a more evolved one.

Perhaps conversion is the most obvious transition, when the Mikvah-waters summon the individual’s new identity into full blossom.

But why does water also serve as a metaphor for life's difficulties?

Why do we speak – even Scripturally – of the 'rushing waters' which threaten to extinguish my flickering flame of hope, or the ferocious tide which threatens to knock me off balance?

How do I reconcile the Mikvah’s serenity with the stuff of Noah's flood?

But maybe that's exactly the point.

The babbling brook’s tranquility is precious; but it's also easy. Life is about facing the raging tide; there’s no other way to access my life’s potential. I just need to brace myself, and use the energy to my advantage. When I am emotionally and spiritually cocooned, when I've found internal fortitude and focus, when I'm anchored to firm principles and vision, I have a protective boat which rises higher with every wave.

Chassidic thought describes contemplative prayer and study as our protective Ark. In prayer and study, we access a psycho-spiritual ‘ship’ which shelters us from life’s floodwaters, and helps us transform that tide into personal growth.  

This Yom Kippur, spend some quiet time in prayer and insulate your soul.

Welcome aboard.

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