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The Rabbi's thoughts culled from the "word from the Rabbi" in his weekly email

Are you scared of me?

When Moses informed Pharaoh about the impending tenth plague, the death of the firstborn, he adds: “There shall be a great outcry in the entire land of Egypt, such as there has never been and such as there shall never be again. But against all the Children of Israel, no dog shall sharpen his tongue, against neither man nor beast, so that you shall know that G‑d will have distinguished between Egypt and Israel.”

Our Sages tell us that as a reward for their not barking and their display of respect for the Israelites, the Torah awarded the dogs with a specific type of non-kosher meat. The meat of an animal injured by a predator is called treifah (from which the Yiddish word treif evolved to mean any non-kosher substance). The Torah declares: “Do not eat flesh that is torn off in the field. Throw it to the dogs.”  Our Sages (Mechilta, cited by Rashi) state that this was the reward for not barking when the Jews left Egypt.

Every year when we read this, I remember one of my favorite articles by by Rabbi Aron Moss, Rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia where he explains why there are some people who are scared of rabbis and why many observant Jews do not have pets.

Question:

Why are religious Jews scared of dogs? Whenever I walk mine past an observant family, all the kids hide behind their mother's skirt in terror. Is there some curse on dogs?

Answer:

I know exactly how your dog feels. I often get a similar reaction from Jews. While many observant Jews are scared of dogs, many unobservant Jews are terrified of rabbis. There's something in common between dogs and rabbis that make us both objects of trepidation. And it's not the facial hair.

People fear the unfamiliar.

Most religious homes do not have pets. Perhaps because families with many kids are less likely to seek non-human companionship, perhaps because it can be tricky to care for animals on Shabbat, or perhaps it's just a cultural thing, but other than the odd goldfish, pets are rare in observant communities.

So those who are unaccustomed to canine company are often scared of dogs. People are scared of rabbis for the same reason. Both dogs and rabbis are loved by those who know them, and instill fear into those who don't.

But that's where the similarity ends. The underlying causes of these two fears are very different, almost opposite. The fear of dogs (cynophobia) comes from the fear of being bitten. Fear of rabbis (rabbinophobia) comes from the fear of being inspired.

What many Jews fear the most is that if they learn a little bit about Judaism they might like it. And if they like it they might want more. And if they want more they may have to live more Jewishly. This means change - and change, even for the better, is scary.

The cure for cynophobia is to play with a few dogs and see that there is no basis for your fear. But the cure for rabbinophobia is to look into Judaism and to actually let your greatest fear come true - you will like it, and you'll want more.

Have an amazing Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

 

a message from Kermit the Frog

Q: What is the difference between ignorance and apathy? A: I don't know and I don't care - source unknown

Animals can be broken down into three groups: those that benefit mankind, those that harm mankind and those that seem irrelevant to mankind.

The dog is man’s best friend. The mosquito is an annoyance. The frog seems irrelevant.

People can be broken down into three groups: those that recognize a Higher Power, those that deny a Higher Power and those that the whole discussion of a Higher Power is not relevant.

Person one and two are engaged (see stories below) in the Higher Power. The third type of person should learn from the frog.

The frog that seems irrelevant to man is used to teach Pharoah that there is a Higher Power. The frog, which is cold, sacrificed its life to enter the hot Egyptian ovens, to teach them an important message: G-d is relevant and meant to listen to even if it means going against one’s nature. Even when I feel cold, apathetic or ignorant, I can follow the message received from the Egyptian frogs, as eloquently stated by Kermit the Frog:

Take a look above you,
Discover the view,
If you haven't noticed,
Please do
Please do
Please do.

Have a great Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

P.S. The story I promised you:
Famed Talmudic scholar Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz invited a professor to his Talmud class at a Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He asked the professor: “Why don’t you join the class? All of your colleagues come. It’s in your building — right down the hall”. The professor responded: “I don’t belong in the class; we have nothing in common”. “What do you mean we have nothing in common?” asked the Rabbi. “You don’t understand!” said the professor. “I only eat pork! On Shabbat! Exclusively!” “Only on Shabbat?” asked Rabbi Steinsaltz. “Specifically! Spitefully! On Shabbat!” “Ahh, in that case,” said Rabbi Steinsaltz, “we do have something in common.” “What do you mean?” asked the professor. “I have my way of observing Shabbat and you have your way of observing Shabbat.” Both men are talking about celebrating Shabbat. Clearly, they both believe it is important or they would not bother to engage in the ritual and/or to object! So they actually agree on that point — Shabbat is important. They just do not agree on precisely what should be done about it!

Make a choice

In life there are annoyances. We all have experienced times that did not go as expected. Sometimes, the situation is one that we chose to go into and other times, we are there seemingly for no other reason but by chance.

Think of a child who was raised in a religious home, did he choose to follow the religion of his parents accept the difficulty with observing or is he observing by rote and complaining about the difficulty? When doubting or questioning the religion (all people do), does he then choose that faith or abandons it?

When I was 16 years old, I went to a mentor and discussed some of my challenges with the Jewish faith. His response: “AMAZING! Now you can start to have faith because you chose it as opposed to being raised with it”. It will be a mature faith as opposed to a childish faith. 

We see this with Moshe. Moshe, who unlike the other Jews in Egypt, was raised in Pharaoh's palace. He had to choose to worry about his brethren. When he was older, he went out one day and saw an Egyptian who had raped a Hebrew woman and hit her husband under the pretense that he was not working enough. Moshe then slew the Egyptian. Word of his deed reached Pharaoh and Moshe was compelled to flee.

Did Moshe complain that he had to escape? No. Because it was a consequence of a choice that he had made, not something imposed upon him by another. 

How much of what we do are we doing by rote, because we always did it that way? What, in our daily routine, do we do that we choose to do? This week, take a moment to choose. Choose to spend time with a loved one. Choose to do a mitzvah. Choose to make a blessing before eating. Even if you already do this, doing it with intention, by choice, will enrich the experience! Because you ‘own’ the experience by choosing to be there, you will only look for ways to enhance and improve it.

Have a great Shabbos,

Kushi

The voice of silence

 

Prayer. It’s a funny thing. As many of you know, I struggle with meaningful prayer.

The Hebrew word for prayer is Tefilah. Tefilah has the same Hebrew letters as ptilah, which means string. I am learning that prayer is not asking for what you need, but it is like a child pulling at your pants to get your attention. When we pray, we are tugging at G-ds “Skirt”, trying to connect.

Another thing about prayer is that it is a time to work on our self, to refine our animalistic tendencies and become more G-dly. This is also known as spiritual growth.

Both of these prayer explanations are connected. The connection begins with noise/speech etc. but eventually reaches a level of oneness that is unifying and silent.  Refinement (think a log burning in a fireplace) begins with a noise like the crackle of the log burning and ends with a still quiet ember.

Traditional Jewish prayer begins with loud reading and praying and culminates with the Amida, which is the inaudible prayer that is private between you and your creator. As the verse says, “but the L‑rd was not in the fire. And after the fire – a still, small voice“. (I Kings 19:9-12)

While we will not be having minyan at Chabad this week, feel free to respond (so I can prepare) and join me, and some of the kids, for prayer at the house.

Have an amazing Shabbos.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

 

Optics

I spent the last few hours excited because Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin, my friend's father and a member of the worldwide Chabad community, who was sentenced to an excessive sentence of 27 years, had his jail sentence commuted by Donald Trump.

Is Sholom Mordechai a saint? No 
Did he make mistakes in business? Yes
Was he convicted of fraud? Yes
Should he have been convicted? The jury is out; he was the target of a massive raid on his meat plant which forced them into bankruptcy. In addition, the government intervened in the bankruptcy sale, causing them to get less than it was worth, not allowing him to pay back his line of credit.

Once the news of his commutation became public, there was an outpouring of love across the Jewish world! Impromptu dancing and farbrengens, chassidic gatherings, took place out of excitement and thanks to Hashem for allowing him to go home. I was invited to a gathering of Chabad Rabbis in which we were encouraged to 1) ensure we have the faith and trust in Hashem to free us from our personal "prisons" and 2) to be happy for the good fortune of our fellow Jews, regardless if he is part of our "network" or "group".

Sholom Mordechai believed he would be let out of jail. He expected his release to come and actually looked forward to being set free, not as a pipe dream but a reality that will happen, and it did!

There are those who say the optics of people dancing that a convict was set free is not good. However, I see it as a testament to Jewish unity and a testament to the faith that Hashem has a plan.

We see something similar in this week’s Parsha. Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers. The reality of the situation was that this man, who was a ruler of Egypt, was steeped into the materialism of the time. The optics were such that the brothers could not fathom that Joseph the Righteous, who they knew as a kid, would become steeped in the material world. They could not believe that he can still be righteous while being involved in the global affairs.

But they were wrong! It was Joseph the righteous and Joseph the ruler; they were one and the same. He used the physical world as a tool to effect positive change on the world around him.

With Sholom Mordechai, I hope that his freedom will not only be a personal freedom for him, but a freedom for all; a freedom that forces our justice system to pursue true justice and impose fair sentences. I hope that the unity of his cause brings people from all backgrounds together to effect positive change in the world around us.

My greatest hope is that we are all freed from our self-imposed "prisons", the ones that do not allow us to express our true selves, where we express our unity of One People with One Torah while maintaining our own personalities, like Joseph did.

A beautiful painting is made up of different colors expressing themselves harmoniously. So too, we should all express our  unique identity while remaining harmonious, and together we will make this world a beautiful place.

Have a great Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Share the Lights

 "Hanukah Is... The Festival of Lights... Instead of one day of presents, we get eight crazy nights..gin and tonica... harmonica... marijuanaka" - Adam Sandler, Hannukah Song 1996

Needless to say, while my holy Jewish brother, Reb Adam, put it cutely, I don't know if he quite captured the essence of the holiday.

We've all heard the story a hundred time about the victory of the Jews over the Assyrian Greeks, and the miracle of the oil, that lasted eight days instead of one. The Holiday is celebrated by reciting special prayers, public menorah lightings, sharing the light and the message of the holiday. And, of course, the lighting the menorah in our homes, adding a candle each night.

This is all fine and nice, BUT THERE IS MORE!
(Everyone has seen those late night commercials, selling some item that you likely don't need, but they try to lure you in by "BUT THERE'S MORE, IF YOU ORDER IN THE NEXT 10 MINUTES, WE WILL DOUBLE YOUR ORDER FOR FREE!" I'd like to try that here as well, with one critical exception. Unlike those late night products, where their utility is debatable, this theme, that I am offering, "BUT THERE IS MORE" to the story of Chanukah, is useful and needed by all!)

Typically, light is used for what you are doing. You flip switch in your bedroom, you are doing so because YOU need light. You put a floodlight in your backyard, so YOU can play basketball after dark. You put on your flashlight, to brighten dark spaces, that the larger light isn't shining on, so that YOU can tighten that elusive screw. 
Imagine a word, where the reason you created light, was for everyone else but you?

Remember the old JFK line, "ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country?" I propose, that a deeper message of Chanukah is, ask not what your lights will do for you, but what your lights will do for others.

There is a curious feature about the menorah that was lit in the temple and that the light that it produced. In the days of old, before double pane glass windows existed, windows worked a bit differently. You had very thick walls of your house, and you had the narrow side exposed to the outside, and the wider side on the inside of the house. (Like a funnel, or an inverted bull horn.)
Thus, you limited your exposure to intruders, but maximized on the amount of light you took into your home. The windows of the holy Temple were made opposite. Narrow side on the inside, and wider side on the outside.

Our sages teach us that this was to convey, that the Temple was lighting up the world, not vice versa. The light, spirituality and holiness of the Temple was for brightening up the dark world outside.

This Chanukah, perhaps, in addition to doing our personal menorah lightings and mandatory latke eating at home, as well as our publicizing of the miracle by attending public menorah lightings, lets attempt to emulate the lights of the Temple, whoselights we are celebrating anyway, and try to not selfishly light our own lives, but try to brighten the lights of overs.

There is a curious law regarding the Menorah, it says, Ein lanureshus lehishtamesh behein, Ela li'rosam bilvad... it is forbidden to use the lights of the menorah, only to gaze upon them.

Now, if I can't use them, then what good does gazing upon them do? If I could read a book by its radiance then fine. But to simply look at it? What is that worth?

Given the above, it now makes sense. Just looking at the light is uplifting. There is something magical about flames that draws us to simply stare at them. If it does that for us, it can do that for others as well. We simply need to #sharethelights.

If we do that, well then, it is really isn't eight crazy nights, but eight amazing nights...

Have a Wonderful Shabbos
Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman

My Father's 70th, How to be blessed!

That was amazing! My father celebrated his 70th birthday with all 11 children, kinahora, for 24 hours. We laughed and cried together. We hiked and bonded.  

TaBday (2).jpg 

While there is so much that can be said of the experience, it clarified to me that my father is a blessed individual!  He has 11 joyful children, runs a successful business and is able to learn and study Torah.

How does one get these kinds of blessings? 

For this, we can look at this week’s Torah portion.

The Torah repeatedly tells us that Joseph is successful. What made Joseph successful? His success is expressed because he viewed everything as an extension of G-d’s master plan.

When Joseph was sold into slavery, he viewed it as “G-d sent me here”. When put into jail on trumped up charges, he viewed it as an opportunity to help the downtrodden prisoners. When appointed as viceroy of the world superpower, it was a way to help save the country from hunger. 

My father, may he live and be well, has received blessings beyond what he could imagine. I think my father took a cue from Joseph, seeing everything that “happens to him”, both his successes and his challenges, as extensions of G-d’s master plan.

I hope to emulate my father in this way and recognize that Hashem wants us to do our best in everything we do. May it help me to be humble and grateful for the many blessings G-d has bestowed upon me and thankful for the plan that G-d has put in place for me.

Looking forward to his 80th birthday party.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

TaBday (1).jpg 

Women don't belong in a Box

By Mrs. Dena Schusterman - Chabad Intown Atlanta GA

In case you did not read the Torah portion, yet---- it is about the abduction and rape of DENA. What a legacy.... right?

Well, what does Chassidic thought reveal about the inner dimension of DENA?

Dena represents the Jewish woman who does not belong barefoot in the kitchen, in the background and most definitely not locked in a box--- where her father put her when he went to greet his brother Esav, out of fear of his brothers ill intentions toward her. Jacob, her father is criticized for this move.

The sages say that had he allowed Dena to shine in all her feminine outgoing-glory she would have been the catalyst for change for the sinner Uncle Esav. While I completely understand where Jacob was coming from, living in the times that he did live in.

I also appreciate the lesson about a woman's charm, wit and intelligence to move and shake things up, that is different from a masculine approach. 
The deeper dimension to Dena's personality is that women have their own unique way about them, and our sparkle should not be locked up or shunned or mitigated. But celebrated.

Women are in their essence different from men. We come to the table with our own unique set of feminine talents, we don't need to be like men to matter or have a place at the table.

We make a difference just as we are.
Dina Dena Deena Dinah no matter how you spell it, this is your week .

It's my birthday and ....

Today, Thursday 5 Kislev, is my Hebrew Birthday. The Jerusalem Talmud tells us that on a birthday one’s Mazel, particular spiritual source of your soul, shines powerfully. For this reason, I want to take a moment to bless you with revealed good; physically, spiritually and emotionally. You should be blessed with the ability to express your true self. I also want to thank you for being a part of my life and the life of the Harford county Jewish community!

There is a custom on one's birthday to make a reckoning, a soul analysis, asking what did I do well and where can there be improvement. 

As humans, we are creatures of habit. According to a 2011 study, approx 40% of our daily activities are based on our habits. One of the things I plan on working on this year is to be more conscious about the how and why I am doing what I need to do.

Perhaps the shepherds of Charan were able to move the rock. However, as their routine and habit told them that they can't, they did not even try! The story is read in this week's Torah Portion: the shepherds would gather at the well and wait until all the flocks would be there. Then, all the shepherds together, would remove the rock covering the well. Jacob moved the rock himself! (see the full verses it in the PostScript)

Was it a miracle? Was Jacob able to do that which took the strength of many people? Possibly. But perhaps he was simply doing something that others were telling him that he could not do. Maybe he believed in himself and therefore did "the impossible".

If we try to do something we always told ourselves we could not do, whether due to a thoughtless habit or psychologically we said to ourselves that we would "never do that", perhaps we can do it! Jacob shows us that despite what “others” say, we should try to do it anyway, and there is a big chance that we will be successful! 

We can make a difference! Touch one soul, one person, and make a difference in one life. Prove that it is possible and then we can do it again and again!

The world of goodness is made up of 1000s of singular acts of kindness.

Have a great Shabbos!

There WILL BE Shabbat services at 10:00 am. There WILL NOT be kabbalah and coffee this week.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

P.S. And he looked, and behold! A well in the field, and behold! Three flocks of sheep lying beside it, because from that well they would water the flocks, and a huge rock was upon the mouth of the well. And all the flocks would gather there, and they would roll the rock off the mouth of the well and water the sheep, and [then] they would return the rock onto the mouth of the well, to its place.   .... And he said, "The day is yet long; it is not the time to take in the livestock. Water the sheep and go pasture." And they said, "We cannot [do that], until all the flocks are gathered together, and they will roll the rock off the mouth of the well, and we shall [then] water the sheep." While he was still talking with them, Rachel came with her father's sheep, for she was a shepherdess. And it came to pass when Jacob saw Rachel, the daughter of Laban, his mother's brother and the sheep of Laban, his mother's brother, that Jacob drew near and rolled the rock off the mouth of the well, and he watered the sheep of Laban, his mother's brother. (Genisis Chapter 29) 

NY Musings, Will you accept the mission?

Here I am, in NY, amongst thousands of Rabbis known as Shluchim, emissaries. We are the Chabad Lubavitch Shluchim running Jewish centers worldwide where we focus on giving peoples’ souls the opportunities to express themselves and giving Jews the inspiration to do many of the 613 mitzvahs and gentiles the knowledge to observe the 7 Noahide mitzvahs.

Over the next 100 hours, we will explore, debate, study and encourage each other with best practices and methods to inspire our fellow man. We will discuss fundraising and friendship, we will pray and study together and also have a good ol' fashioned good time with friends.

The title that "Chabad Rabbis" and their better half's were given is Shluchim, emissaries. It seems to be a bizarre title. After all, were we "sent" or did we choose to go? Even in the 1950s, when the Lubavitcher Rebbe OB”M, was actually inviting couples to his office and encouraging them to move, it always had to be consensual; both spouses needed to want to go as well as many times it required parental consent!

One possible answer can be found in this week’s Torah portion. This is the first time an independent person was sent on a mission.  The Torah tells us: “And Isaac called Jacob and blessed him... And Isaac sent Jacob, and he went to Padan Aram”. 

In order to be an emissary, to properly represent the sender and act as if you are them (in Talmudic language: that the emissary is like the sender), you first need to be an independent and separate existence; you need to be able to choose, by your own volition, to dedicate yourself to the mission at hand.

Even before you accept the mission, you are guaranteed blessings! The verses state and 1) he blessed him 2) he sent him and 3) he accepted and went to Padan Aram. 

Each unique individual has the choice to accept the mission that was given to them by G-d. G-d blesses us and asks us to do more mitzvot and to study more Torah. The blessings are there! The question remains: will you accept the mission?

Have an amazing Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Serve!

Servitude is the Greatest Liberation

 

By Rabbi Eliyahu Schusterman Chabad Intown

Do you ever want to take a break from yourself? A break from thinking? A break from feeling? The more sensitive and in touch you are, the smarter you are, the greater the desire to take a break, to greater the need to just still the mind.

Yoga, mindfulness meditation and regular meditation are all helpful to this end. But imagine living the paradox, where you feel and think and still experience peace of mind and heart?!

Meditate on that for a bit :-)!

There is help and it comes from an unlikely Biblical figure – Eliezer the servant of Abraham. In Chabad philosophy, Eliezer represents the ideal messenger, messenger of Abraham. When identifying himself to Isaac’s future wife Rebecca’s family he says “eved Avrohom anochi – I am a servant of Abraham”. That’s his identity. It’s uncomplicated. It’s pure and it epitomizes the ideal of service.

When we are caught up with our own feelings and thoughts because they are our thoughts and feelings, we will eventually be worn down (unless one is a true clinical narcissist, then we have bigger problems). Our ego is never satisfied as long as we are feeding it.

Eliezer identifies as a servant of Abraham. His whole identity is service. The Torah tells us in great detail TWICE! how Eliezer strategized how to identify the right wife for Isaac. The Torah tells us at great length TWICE what Eliezer felt during this episode. His thoughts and feelings were not about him, they were about the mission. When we harness the ego in the service of something bigger than it, it becomes a powerful source to help us achieve that goal. When we focus our ego to service, then thoughts and feelings are liberating not exhausting.

Have you ever been involved in an event or activity in the service of others that required a lot of work on your part? Do you remember how when the mission was accomplished or the event completed and you were physically exhausted, at the same time you were exhilarated?! This is the idea of service being liberating.

This is what we as Jews are called upon to do since the time of Abraham and Eliezer. Live our lives, live good lives materially and spiritually, but all of it should be in the service of G-d and Humankind. It’s a sure way to live a liberating life!

Have a good Shabbos!

 

You can make a difference!

Sometimes, people think: I am just one person and the world is conspiring against me. Can I be the one to change the world? Who am I?

The answer is YOU can make a difference!

A few thousand years ago, there was this boy born to his parents when they were already quite old. His parents were very well respected in the community yet the local bully made fun of him at his own bar mitzvah! The bully claimed to be able to crush the boy with his fingers. The bully attempted to prove that the young kid would never fulfill his parents dream for him to be a force that can change the world. The bully would say: “Me, I am already grown, I am strong and I will change the world to fit my view of what humanity should look like!”

What happened? Little Isaac grew up, and his descendants were the most influential group in history, namely, the Jewish people! As a people, the Jews have been changing the world by doing Torah and Mitzvot, one mitzvah at a time. The bully, Og the giant, was eventually killed by Moses, a descendant of the Bar Mitzvah boy, and Og’s mark on the world has been long forgotten.

So remember, your actions can make a difference regardless of how small or young you may be. And of course, do not let the bullies or the nay-sayers get you down!

Have an amazing Shabbos!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

Did you do it?

Have you ever wanted to do something and then pushed off getting it done and then forgot to actually do it? It can be something like signing up for the Mega Challah bake, Shabbat100 or The TFG Comedy Night or it can be calling up a friend to see how they are doing.

What would you need to do to get that thing done? Simple , just do it! Simple, yet not necessarily easy.

When the Torah introduces us to Abraham, it tells us that he was born to Terach and then proceeds to recount events that happened to him at the age of 75. The Midrash fills in many of the details of his early life, some of it transcribed here http://www.harfordchabad.org/112063/. However, the written Torah only begins at 75, with G-d commanding Abraham "go out from your land.... and I will bless you."

Why does the Torah begin to tell us about Abraham with this commandment and skip his early life story?

To teach us that while Abraham may have accomplished great feats and had religious fervor in his earlier years, that is not what makes him the first Jew and the father of monotheism. What made him so unique? Was simply doing it. Simply following the will of G-d. If G-d commands us to put on Tefillin, put up a Mezuzah, or light Shabbos candles before sundown, we do not only meditate on it, discuss it's benefits and learn about it, we actually follow G-d's will and do the physical act. The main reason why a Jew observes an actual Mitzvah is that they are like Abraham, they are merely fulfilling the action that G-d desired.

So, if you consider yourself a very religious Jew, remember that it is not about how holy you feel, it is about what you do.
If you consider yourself a very irreligious Jew, remember it is not about how you feel about it, it is about what you do.

In the words of Nike: Just do it!

In the words of Stephen Covey: The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

In the words of the Torah: Go out of your land (your comfort zone) and go to where I will show you… and then I will bless you and you will be blessed! Says G-d.

Have a good Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

If you like the Rabbi... Read This

 Noach - By Rabbi Gershon Schusterman [Rabbi Kushi's Father]

This week’s Sidrah, (Parshah/Torah portion), Noach, tells of a mass holocaust that befell the world almost 5,000 years ago. A flood brought about by forty days of rain, followed by months of turbulent storms, destroyed the entire population and living creatures from the world. The only survivors were Noach and his family, and the living beings that were in the Ark with him.

Noach was saved because he was unique amongst the people of his generation. While the populace lived a corrupt, immoral life, Noach was righteous. The Torah uses words like Tzadik (pious, righteous) and Tamim (complete) in describing him'. In fact his very name, Noach, from the Hebrew root word for consolation, implied his role and mission to bring consolation to the Almighty and the world after the corruption brought about the inevitable holocaust.

And yet, Noach had his detractors too. Rashi, in his commentary on "(Noach was righteous| in his generation," brings a critical view, saying: "Compared to his generation he was righteous; however, had he been in Avrohom's generation he would have been insignificant." A very strong statement regarding one upon whom the Torah showers such superlatives!

In fact, this attitude is alluded to by the Prophet Yeshaya. The terrible flood is referred to as  "Noach's flood water," almost as if he were somehow responsible for the flood itself!

How so?

The Midrash tells us that during the 120 years that Noach was building the ark, he was regularly questioned by his fellow men "What are you building?" He would simply reply, "I'm building an ark to be saved in, when G-d destroys the world." While the message was clear to those who chose to hear it, it was passive and weak to those who weren't interested.

By contrast, Avrohom Ovinu, of kind nature, aggressively taught the principles of Judaism (monotheism and other principles of morality as incumbent upon "the children of Noach ) to his generation. Indeed, he oftentimes employed strong pressure tactics to evoke an acknowledgement of the Almighty's sovereignity on the world.

Perhaps this point is inherent in the same phrase “[Noach was righteous| in his generation." There is a positive inference, that he was amongst his people, and yet there is an indication of weakness too. As the Talmud says, quite factually: "A rabbi who is beloved upon the people of his city, it is not an indication of his good qualities, but rather of his failure to discharge his responsibility to rebuke his community."

Jewish leadership is not a popularity contest. A leader must create the tension, in his or her community, between idealism and pragmatism; between where the people are at, and where they should be. Anything less is an abdication of the leadership role.

The Talmud tells us that "A generation in which the Bais Hamikdash is not rebuilt should view itself as if it was destroyed in it." Similarly, Noach's responsibility, or lack thereof, in his times, came to the point that the flood bears his name to eternity-"Noach's Floodwaters."

Our generation today, too, has many similarities to Noach's times. The verses "For the world was filled with corruption and immorality" most aptly applies to our world. We, the descendants of Noach and Avrohom must learn from our grandfathers, from their accomplishments and their failings. We must follow in the footsteps of Avrohom, showing leadership even when it is unpopular and may not be received well. In doing so, not only will we be discharging our responsibility properly, but, more importantly, we will bring about the solutions to the problems facing our communities and bring blessing to, and avert disaster, from our environs.

A jolly border fiasco

On our way to Montreal for Simchat Torah, we had the wonderful opportunity to spend a day together as a family, in the van. Usually the trip takes about 9 hours of driving and 1 hour of stops. Good friends were visiting family who live ‘on the way’ and, being that it is Sukkot and we are careful to eat and drink only in a sukkah, we made an extra stop to see them for lunch and break up the trip.

Those who say l’Chaim on alcoholic beverages in Canada know that the taxes are exorbitant. Therefore, we stopped at duty free to grab a bottle and then headed to an alternate, less travelled border to save ourselves the “2 hour” delay at the main border.

Arriving at the border, there was a backup with over 100 cars and only one booth open. The two hour wait we had wanted to save ourselves got us a 4 hour delay before we finally crossed into Canada. Frustrating? Maybe. Tired children? Yes. Tired adults? Of course. But it was good and joyous. You see, while waiting we got to walk around on the shoulder and count the cars, we got to have some fresh air, we met people listening to the cubs games and some fellow Jews going to Montreal. We had the opportunity to dance; celebrating the Joy of sukkot - the festival of rejoicing.

I may never know why Gd’s plan was for us to hang out for 4 hours on a 1 mile stretch of highway but I realized something about Joy.

Joy is not crossing the border after a 4 hour delay,  joy is realizing that you are where you are supposed to be. Joy isn’t resigning yourself to your fate, joy is celebrating the situation. Joy isn’t kvetching, joy is kvelling – even in a less then optimal situation.

As my family and I celebrate in Montreal, join the Harford County Jewish community on  Thursday evening at 6:30 PM, in celebrating the holiday of Simchat Torah.

Join the crowd and dance the night away! My hope is to get back and hear “Rabbi, you thought it would be a short service? It turned into hours of dancing and celebrating”. I hope to hear “you missed the party, next year you got to stay!” That is my hope! Regardless of what happens, I will be full of joy, recognizing I am where I should be, celebrating the situation and kvelling.

A gut Yontif, and a gut Shabbos!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

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