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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Soweto Inspiration for Shabbat

Malkie and I are in South Africa, visiting our 16 year old son, Levik, who is studying in Johannesburg this year. 

This morning, we went for a tour of Soweto. I first heard about the Soweto uprisings as a child in the 70's, and I never imagined myself walking its streets. Yet there we were. 

We were deeply touched by what we experienced there, and i'd like to share one snippet:

Our first stop was in a section called Kliptown, where the locals live in dire poverty. However, a dearth of material possessions is no indication of soul-wealth, which we palpably felt in the warm embrace of the people despite how different we looked. 

The area is rich in street art, and we stopped to soak in some pro-Israel graffiti (which amazed us given the public posture of South Africa's government). Just then, we were introduced to a middle-aged man named Bob Nemang. This dreadlock-adorned man told us how his parents had died when he was young, leaving him to live in poverty on the streets.  Yet he'd resolved to never lose his faith in G-d and to always turn his pain into growth. 

Putting his arm around our Levik's shoulder, Bob told him "live your fullest and leave your mark on the world. Go through pain and don't be scared of it. Let the pain lead your growth".

Bob then told us that he was able to visit Israel in 2003, and was taken by the spirit of the Holy Land. On his first Saturday, he went out with a friend to do some shopping, and was surprised to find all the stores closed. 

When he asked a local what holiday he'd stumbled upon, he was told that this was the Shabbat, a day when Jews put life on pause to consider our Creator, our souls and our purpose on this Earth. He was stunned by the idea. 

He has since tried to capture the Shabbat idea in his own life and remarked "I tell all the Jews I meet that I can see how the Shabbat sustained them through all their tribulations, and how I hope they access their national treasure." 


I've been observing Shabbos my entire life, and I always welcome more Shabbos inspiration, especially from unlikely places - such as a Bob Marley look-alike in Soweto. 

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Life on the Road

The Jewish traveler was aghast.

The man had traveled to visit Rabbi Dovber of Mezeritch, who would later become an 18th century leader of the Chassidic movement known throughout the world as a premier spiritual master.  When he arrived at Rabbi Dovber’s house, the man was dismayed by the Rabbi’s poor living conditions.
The holy Rabbi was sitting on a board -- no chairs in sight -- teaching young children Torah. The scene seemed so incongruous; rich spirituality framed by raw poverty. The man, an innkeeper by trade, couldn’t imagine living in what he perceived to be such a sorry state.
Unable to contain himself, he queried the Rabbi as to how he could live without the basic amenities of a normal house. Why was his home so bare?
Answering the question with a question, the Rabbi queried, “well, where is your furniture?”
Perplexed, the man replied “Rabbi, I’m on the road. I don’t take my furniture with me when I travel. At home I’m set up fine. That‘s where I'm really invested and that's where it matters.”
Rabbi Dovber replied “I, too, am in the midst of a journey. G-d sent my soul to this world for a purpose, just as he sent yours. I'm travelling through life and will eventually move on to a higher plane.
Materialism is part of life's impermanence, and I treat it as such. Because I, too, don't care that much about furniture when I'm travelling.

I invest energy into my ‘home’ -- my soul and spiritual needs. That‘s where it matters.”
We’re all on the road of life. We’re each put here for a purpose, and what matters most is achieving our objective: A meaningful life.

The journey’s material trimmings, the proverbial ‘mints on the pillow’, are nice, but not the priority.
So we should ask ourselves:  Where do I really live?  Which areas of my life genuinely matter and which elements of my life are just parts of the journey -- the means to a greater end?
How much attention do I pay to each?
Placing undue attention on material things and fleeting pleasures is kind of like carrying your sofa with you as you travel.
Travel light. Live well. 

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