Archive for the ‘General’ Category


When We Have More Again, Will We Remember When We Had Less?

Posted on: September 15th, 2009 by Hayim Herring

This has been a tough financial year for many people. And a change in financial status has other potential serious consequences: loss of self-esteem, anxiety and physical ailments, to name a few. It’s as if we’ve walked into a hotel, and the guest representative checking us in said, “If there is anything that you need, please let us know and we’ll teach you how to live without it.”

But a passage from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel z’l can help us recapture a perspective on what really matters in life: “Every human being is a cluster of needs, yet these needs are not the same in all men nor are unalterable in any one man.  There is a fixed minimum of needs for all men, but no fixed maximum for any man.  Unlike animals, man is the playground for the unpredictable emergence and multiplication of needs and interests, some of which are indigenous to his nature, while others are induced by advertising, fashion, envy, or come about as miscarriages of authentic needs.” (Between God and Man, ed., Fritz Rothschild, p.130).

With the economic realities of the past 18 months, many of us have come to appreciate Heschel’s truth anew. We see that the “playground” for “the multiplication of our interests,” is now littered with objects which are the illusions of authentic needs. Without minimizing the pain of the past 18 months, perhaps some good has happened during this time, too. We remembered what it means to have people who really care about us in our lives and what a blessing it is to be a part of a community. We struggled but came to embrace the distinction between self-worth and financial wealth. We recalled that we are not our jobs, that there is a self that’s differentiated from whatever roles we play. And perhaps we found a resilience that we didn’t know we possessed.

I hope that the economy dramatically improves soon! Too many people have suffered far too long. But as people of faith, when we have more again, will we remember what it was like to have less? Will we take Heschel’s words to heart and remain true to real ultimate concerns and not be lured back to artificial needs?

The Ethics of the Sages (2:8) offers an alternative to the fallacy of artificial needs– “…the more Torah the more life, the more schooling the more wisdom; the more counsel the more understanding; the more righteousness the more peace.” With words of Torah well-spoken, we have a unique opportunity to be a conduit for gently reorienting people toward matters of ultimate importance. May God bless us all in the New Year with life and health, prosperity and peace—and a long memory for ultimate, enduring values.

L’shanah Tovah,

Rabbi Hayim Herring

What’s the most important sermon for rabbis to give this new year? Add your opinion!

Posted on: August 20th, 2009 by Hayim Herring

Today is Rosh Chodesh Elul, the beginning of a month-long, intensive period of spiritual preparation for Rosh ha-Shanah. If you’re a rabbi, you probably have some good ideas by now about what your sermon ideas will be on Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur. But, speaking from experience, there’s still time for one or two more to make it into your sermon. If you’re a congregant, in a few weeks, you might be asking, “What is the rabbi going to speak about this year?”

The sanctuary or chapel may not be so full during weekly Shabbat services, but it’s packed on these holidays. Rabbis have an annual opportunity to reach large numbers of their congregants during these days. One message may not change a life, but it can draw people into greater Jewish involvement—or, it can move them further from it. So, rabbis especially feel the weight of the responsibility and opportunity to reach for deep impact with their sermons at this time, and congregants who primarily come to services infrequently hope for words that are meaningful and relevant for them.

So, here are two timely questions for readers of Tools for Shuls:

  1. What issues are most important for rabbis to address this year in their Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur sermons?
  2. What topics should they avoid?

Whether you’re a rabbi or a congregant, please contribute your ideas. I’ll share the responses in the next post, which will appear this coming Monday.


Rabbi Herring

Welcome to the Tools for Shuls Blog!

Posted on: December 4th, 2008 by Hayim Herring
You’re invited to contribute to a book about synagogues, churches and other non-profit organizations. The working title is Tools for Shuls: A Guide to Makeover Your Synagogue. (Shul is Yiddish for “synagogue”). The Alban Institute is the publisher, and the book should be in print about a year from this spring or even sooner. While the title of the book has the word “synagogue” in it, anyone who cares about improving the impact of nonprofit organizations potentially has something to offer. By posting on this blog, you will expand the knowledge of how religious organizations can elevate their performance and still maintain their spirit. And, if I use your idea, you will be credited in the book.

I’m looking forward to a rich conversation on the blog. I plan to post an entry every week. Some of the issues that I hope to explore include:

  • introducing innovation in a setting which is geared for preservation and adaptation
  • appreciating the value of assessment as a tool for synagogue learning and growth
  • increasing the number of synagogue volunteers and improving their experience
  • digital dreaming, that is, using technology to extend the reach of synagogues.
  • These are just a sample of some of the topics that I hope we can explore together. Please share your wisdom by commenting on these posts and help to make synagogues and other faith-based organizations even more vital today.

    Throughout the almost 25 years that I have been a rabbi I’ve worked in and around synagogues, and have been inspired by many synagogue clergy and volunteers. I also know how incredibly complex synagogues are and how clergy are often insufficiently prepared for executive leadership and management roles. Volunteer leaders would enjoy a more satisfying experience if they also had some additional tools and knowledge to help them fulfill their synagogue roles. This book is an effort to fill in some of those fundamental gaps. So please share your wisdom and help bring your aspirations of your synagogue or church in this areas to life!

    If you haven’t already read my first post, Pick the Low Hanging Fruit or Reach for the Stars?, please scroll back up to read it and then share your thoughts.

    Thank you,

    Rabbi Hayim Herring