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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Can G-d Forget?

We all forget things. It’s part of life.  As flesh and blood humans, we can't be constantly conscious of everything and everyone we encounter.
How about G-d? Can the Infinite, Omnipotent and Omniscient (all-knowing) Master of the universe have a memory lapse? I wouldn’t think so.

Yet, our Rosh Hashana prayers ask G-d – a good number of times, in a variety of ways – to ‘remember’ us. What can that possibly mean? Do we believe in a G-d who can forget?

Chassidic thought points out that – in the human experience - ‘remembering’ someone implies a connection between the two parties. ‘Forgetting’ implies a distance in the relationship but not a permanent loss of memory. 

Think of running into a friend that you haven’t seen, spoken with or perhaps even thought about in years.  If something reminds you of that friend and you reach out to reconnect, it is very different than making a new acquaintance.  The memories return and, if you take steps to rekindle the relationship, the friend will then occupy more space in your daily consciousness and you can grow closer once again.  Likewise, once you remember your friend by calling them to reconnect, they will feel closer to you, even though they had never really forgotten you.

When we get wrapped up in the struggles of the moment, when we’re only conscious of what’s directly in front of us screaming for attention, we can forget Higher Purpose. We can lose sight of the fact that G-d created us with an objective, and that every day we should take strides toward achieving a more meaningful life.

When we forget our higher purposeG-d does not forget us, but we create a distance between ourselves and our Creator; a ‘gulf of forgotten-ness’. On Rosh Hashana, or any other day when we wake up to the relationship with G-d, we undo that disconnect, like when we call our old friend and they welcome our outreach with open arms.   

Rosh Hashana calls to mind that we live in an interactive universe. When we forget the Divine, we create distance on both sides of the relationship. When we recall our Creator, re-experiencing our relationship with the Divine, committing ourselves to clearer consciousness,G‑d’s deep love for us bridges the gap and we’re re-united in an intimate bond with the Divine.

The Shofar calls us to remember, and to embrace.

It’s an intimate experience.

Be there.

Life Without a GPS

I use a GPS. It’s been a looong time since I consulted a map.

Years ago, if I was travelling to Baltimore (for example) I might order a AAA Triptik, or I'd take maps of NJ, Delaware and Maryland and chart my journey. Once I was on my way, I would still need to actively consult my maps to ensure that I was on course, especially if I hit a surprise detour.

Today, I can simply turn off my brain. The GPS is my navigator; I’m just the driver executing its instructions. I don't have to envision a destination, chart a path to get there or check in with my map along the way. I just drive and obey that annoying voice.

It’s so easy.

It also presents a risk to a basic life skill. Consider this: It takes a good leader to navigate toward a suitable destination. It only takes a follower to implement someone else’s instructions.

When I use the GPS, I’m the follower, not the leader.

Not a big deal if we’re talking about a simple car trip, but I think it’s a metaphor for something larger.

Several years ago, I was sitting with my wife Malkie, meeting a prospective Hebrew School family. Malkie asked the parents: “What is your Jewish dream, your Jewish vision, for your child?”

The question blew them away.

They said they’d never considered the question. Enrolling their child in Hebrew School was stating: “We need a Bat-Mitzvah that will make Grandma and Grandpa happy. Just tell us where to show up and when.”

They were grateful for this unexpected opportunity to consider what they wanted – Judaically – for their child.

This goes way beyond Hebrew School.

Judaism is about life; it’s not just about the commitment to follow directions. Torah isn’t my GPS, it’s my map.

I consciously choose my destination on the path of leading a meaningful life, using the map gifted to us by the Almighty Cartographer. I pro-actively and consistently consult that map, working toward my life-destination, despite the many detours and distractions.

We need to be leaders in our Jewish lives.

Rosh Hashana is around the corner, so think: What’s YOUR destination for the new year? Learning how to read Hebrew? Connecting with the Jewish community on a more regular basis?

Let’s make this a transformative Rosh Hashana.

Let the call of the Shofar be a call to leadership in our lives.

Three Days a Year

The “three day a year Jew”.

This widespread phenomenon is the subject of many a sermon and the punch line of many a joke.

Sermonizing and laughter aside, the “three day a year Jew” is an interesting topic. First of all, there’s really no such thing. Jews are Jews, 365 days a year. It’s just not always easily discernible.

At the same time, there is clearly a disconnect between many Jews and ‘organized Judaism’. For thousands of years, most Jews prayed thrice daily and joined public Judaic gatherings whenever they occurred. In more recent times, there’s been much less involvement at a synagogue and religious communal level.

Except for the High Holidays.

Hence the concept of the “three day a year Jew”.

So why do people indeed come on the High Holidays? I’ve been asking myself that question for two decades, since our first local High Holiday service in 1994. Even back then, in a ramshackle house and with a far smaller group of friends, the High Holiday bump in attendance was evident. I didn’t fully understand it then, and my question has fleshed itself out over time. What is the gravitational-pull? Are people feeling any emotional attraction at all? Is attendance a nod to their [deceased] parents and grandparents? Are my friends afraid of getting zapped by G-d if they don’t show up? Do people feel drawn to join the Jewish Community at this annual get-together, for the very sake of joining the Jewish Community, irrespective of why we’re gathering? Are people just going to services because “that’s what we do”?

My experience tells me that if there is an answer, it’s not a neat and pat one.  

So let’s celebrate a really special time of year. It’s awesome that we’ll all be getting together on Sept 30th and Oct.1st, congregating in a Jewish House of Worship to celebrate a day of Oneness with each other and with G-d. It’s downright fantastic that Jews who don’t generally frequent synagogues will be gathering to respect their heritage, join their brethren in prayer, and hear the call of the Shofar as their ancestors did.

So why is everyone coming? Who cares?

Jewish identity, and Jewish continuity, is in our hands, so I’m just really glad to see you guys, and would love to see your kids too.

See you on Rosh Hashana!

 

Rabbi Mendy

(click here for Holiday times)

Hide and Seek

The great Rabbi's meditation was interrupted by his grandson's sobbing. 
"Why are you crying?” he asks.
"My friends and I had started to play hide and seek, so I was hiding. But then they just drifted away and no one came looking for me!"
We don't live in a world that shouts Holiness and morality. When one wakes up in the morning, one doesn’t instinctively shout "Wow! G-d constantly gives me life and has given me another day. I matter; I have a purpose in this world, and I need to use the gift of another day to live my destiny!"
Nope. 

I say morning prayers which guide my mindset to see the world for its purpose and beauty.  
In other words: I begin to seek G-d's presence in the world.
We start every day with a psycho-spiritual workout that we call prayer. An adventure of discovering G-d in our world. Like any good workout, we begin with a warm-up. We still the mind, disengaging from the 'outer world' and its distracting static.
Then, the liturgy guides me – through 'prayer therapy' - to feel an appreciation, a deep need, for Oneness (symmetry, purpose, wholeness) in my life. And I call out 'Shema Yisrael (Judaism's ancient proclamation of G-d as the Oneness of life)!' There is Oneness. We are One.
In my little world, I've found Him. And myself. So we – G-d and I - are both elated. Because I have sought, and G-d has been found. 
 In Jewish spirituality, we call the Shema the daily call of the Shofar, because the piercing blasts evoke and articulate our deep-seated need for meaning. 
It’s a special time of year. As we approach Rosh Hashana, try to say the Shema and hear the Shofar every day. We need it.
 And we don't want G-d to feel forgotten.

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