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

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.  

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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

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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 

When it rains - eat in the sukkah

 By Rabbi Aron Moss

 

Question of the Week:

If it rains during Sukkos, we don't have to sit in the Sukkah, correct? So why have I seen people who continue to sit in the Sukkah, even when it is pouring?

Answer:

Sitting in the Sukkah is the only mitzvah that if you're bothered by it, you're exempt from it. Usually, even if a mitzvah is hard, you have to do it. Like fasting on Yom Kippur. Some people are bothered by not eating or drinking for 25 hours. But you still have to do it. And yet if sitting in the Sukkah bothers you, like in wet weather, you can leave the Sukkah and eat inside the house. 

But many will never eat out of the Sukkah, no matter what the weather is. For them, eating inside in a dry home would bother them more than eating outside in a leaking Sukkah. When you understand what the Sukkah is, you'll see why.

The Sukkah is a holy space. You are sitting in a divine abode, under the heavens, with the stars shining down on you, surrounded by angels and the souls of our forefathers. Our sages teach that we are only worthy enough to enter the Sukkah straight after Yom Kippur, when our souls have been cleansed and we are at our spiritual peak. And the mystics say that the Sukkah may look like a hut made out of wood and branches, but in truth it is a made of holy names of G-d.

The weather may be a little unpleasant, it may be a little squashy in there, and your palm allergy may be flaring up. But the inner serenity, the love and feeling of connection with those around you, the sense of being embraced by G-d, all that should override any physical discomfort. If you're still not enjoying the Sukkah, then you're not really in the Sukkah in the first place, and you can go inside. But if you know what your missing, you won't want to leave.

There are moments when we are called upon to transcend the material world. Sitting in the Sukkah is one of those moments. A little rain, or even a lot, can't stop that.

Good Yomtov,

Rabbi Moss

NOTE: On the first night of Sukkos, even if it is pouring with rain, we make Kiddush and eat a piece of Challah in the Sukkah according to all customs.

To subscribe to the weekly Rabbi Moss email CLICK HERE or email rabbimoss@nefesh.com.au 

 

 

the world is pregnant

 

As we stand on the threshold of a New Year, we would like to capitalize on the powerful energy afforded us to offer our blessings and wishes to you and yours.

We say “Hayom Haras Olam”, today the world trembles, during Rosh Hashanah prayers. The word Haras also can mean pregnant and thus the passage translates as “today the world is pregnant”, pregnant with possibilities!

Our blessing to you and yours is that the possibilities G-d has afforded you, and continues to afford you, be capitalized to its fullest. May you see the inherent G-dly potential in yourself and take advantage of it to its fullest. May the potential you see in others empower you to uncover their inherent good. May your inner reservoir of good health, and of those you love, be released for continued sustained health and into healing where it is needed. May you make the most of the opportunities to amass material blessing.  May you use your blessings to do even more good and increase G-dliness in the world around you. May the inner oneness of our People be released to manifest true unity. And may the inner purpose of creation be actualized with the coming of Moshiach now!

K’siva V’Chasima Tova, Leshana Tova Umesukah – May you be inscribed and sealed for a good and sweet year! 

Best wishes,

Rabbi Kushi and Fraida Schusterman 

 

Speak nicely

 

Before Rosh Hashanah we take stock of our year. We take account of what we need to improve in and make resolutions to make amends.

One of the things that frustrates me is hearing people speak negatively about others. It can be about the friend they got into a fight with, an organization that is too liberal or not liberal enough or the community member that is being spoken about as a covert mouthpiece for a specific political party.

We need to recognize that we are one people! We do not speak badly about those who are close to us. Just as we do not speak negatively about our children, we cannot speak negatively about our fellow Jew.

In 1990, an Orthodox Rabbi spoke publicly and not positively about his fellow Jews. That Shabbos, the Rebbe responded (this is an excerpt from the endnotes of the book “Rebbe” written by Joseph Telushkin):

‘We must remember that all Jewish people are one single unified entity... We must appreciate the importance of speaking positively and the detrimental effects of speaking negatively.... Criticizing or speaking unfavorably about any portion of the Jewish people is like making such statements against G-d Himself…

… Those who were spoken negatively of should know that these words will have no effect on them. On the contrary G-d will bless them both in material and spiritual matters with good health and long life.’

This upcoming year, I invite you to consider leaving all the negativity behind.  Try to lay aside the fights and disagreements. At the minimum, do not let them leave your lips. And then, we will be blessed as a people with success, both in material and spiritual matters, with good health and long life.

Have an amazing Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Get in, now!

Last week, I visited an old friend and ended up having a chassidic farbrengen discussing a famous chassidic parable. Questioning the parable, my friend shared a powerful thought: where is the field that we need to go to see the king?

The parable goes like this: During the entire year, when the king is in his palace, there is no possibility for an audience with the king for most of the common folk. Of those who hope and apply for an audience, only a select few are actually granted one.

There comes a time, however, when the king is not in the capital city but out in the field. While there, every one of his subjects can go to greet him. The king graciously receives each one of them and shows a happy and radiant face, granting them their requests.

The king is then escorted back to the city by those who have come to meet him. Upon entering his palace, once again, only a select few are granted an audience. However, those dedicated subjects who greeted the king are now part of that exclusive group, and are permitted entrance into the throne room.

This parable parallels our relationship with G‑d during the High Holiday season.

Throughout the entire year, G‑d is reachable through following the Divine will: His precepts - the mitzvot, and immersing in His wisdom, the Torah.

An individual may feel, however, that he is not following the correct path; his passions are not holy and therefore he is not living according to G‑d’s blueprint. This individual is akin to the citizen who left the populated capital city and goes off to the unpopulated fields, or even further, into the woods or desert. He has wandered away from the King’s capital. Sensing how distant he is, he might feel totally estranged with no connection to the King.

In His great love for us, during the month of Elul, G‑d goes out to the fields making Himself available to all. This outpouring of love uplifts and encourages, even those of us who may feel very distanced due to our actions. When we see how G‑d graciously receives us in the field, smiling and granting our requests, we resolve to once again reconnect and conduct ourselves in a manner befitting a loyal subject of the King.

So my friend says to me: where is the field?? We need to go out into the field to greet the King! 

Then, answering his own question, he points to the table and says: here! Right here!

Throughout the year, we view the physical world as a barrier to G-dliness. We need to convert that barrier into a tool to infuse spirituality into the world. However, during the month of Elul, the physical world represents spirituality the way it is infused into the physical; it is no longer food but a tool to serve G-d, it is no longer a tree, it is G-d’s creation.

Will you view the world from this perspective? Do it now and you get to keep that perspective when G-d goes back into the palace.

The analog continues: come the High Holidays and we escort the King back to the capital to settle there once again. Furthermore, we can actually join Him in His inner chamber.

Have a good Shabbos!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

Blow up the wall

In relationships, we often build walls between us and the ones we love. Those walls are made from single bricks, each brick related to a hurtful moment, a time when my spouse/friend/partner turned away from me. The walls can grow so big that you cannot look past it or get around it. The wall is built and you think the relationship is over!

While the wall is built gradually, the only way to get rid of the wall is to blow it up! Yes there will be a mess, there will be bricks and mortar that need to be picked up one at a time, but the explosion is instant.

We are now in Elul, a month of introspection. In Elul, we reach out to G-d to bring down the wall we have built throughout the past year. We’ve exhibited signs of ignorance, carelessness, at times we’ve neglected the relationship, approached Judaism with the wrong attitude, and our ego has helped us with self-justification every time we messed up.

So now, in the month of Elul, we tell G-d that we will blow up this wall that we built; today, I am a new man! Today I begin to pick up the pieces and rebuild my relationship with you!

How do we do this? 

1) By being more conscious and less careless 
2) By telling you daily that I want to have a relationship with you, by saying the Shema 
3) By adding oil to the lamp of our relationship 

The Zohar says: The body of man is a wick, and the light (soul) is kindled above it......"The light on a man's head must have oil, that is, good deeds".

So I will increase in the good deeds that I do to ensure there are light and heat in our joint home without a wall ;).

Have a good Shabbos!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Why I Think Billy Joel Missed The Point

By Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman - Chabad of Peabody

Like many of you, my facebook feed was filled with people who shared that Billy Joel wore a yellow star at a recent concert, the kind worn by Jews during the Holocaust. He did this in solidarity with Jews, and against hate.

To be clear, I think the sentiment, that he stands with fellow Jews (it appears his parents are Jewish, making him Jewish) and against hate, and standing up in such a bold manner is incredibly powerful and brave. He is to be lauded to for standing against hate, in a hostile world that has anti-Semitism simmering just below the surface.

Having said that, I think he missed a really great teaching moment. Let me explain.

His point, was obviously to make a bold statement, that I am against hate, and I am supportive of Jews. However, as we’ve heard in politics so many times, you need to be the party that is for something, not the party that against things.

The Holocaust, is a critical part of our past, and a part of history, that is etched into our souls, that has spawned that "NEVER AGAIN" is the mantra that we live and repeat always. However, the core of our religion cannot be only that of "never again." You know why? Because, sadly, just 70 years after the horrific destruction wrought by the Holocaust, people, particularly, children, teenagers, yes, millennials too, have forgotten or don’t want to hear about it anymore. If they do, it is just the basics, they don’t want to hear all the gory details of what happened that lead to NEVER AGAIN.

At our Hebrew School, one parent chided me for frightening the children when I tried to very delicately discuss the generalities of what happened and why it is important to remember.

If our whole identity is wrapped in the that horror of the past, then we are guaranteed that it will not be NEVER AGAIN FOREVER.

Try this on for size, imagine Billy Joel had put in a Kippa instead? (Pun intended). Rather than telling the world what happened, he’d be explaining what we are for, and why NEVER AGAIN, should indeed never happen again. Not just because such despicable and wanton murder and plunder ought not be allowed to happen again, but more importantly, because, we the Jews stand for something.

We stand for Gd. We stand for values. We stand for living for a higher ideal. We are “light unto the nations” with a message for all humanity. We are here. We are here to stay. We have a message for all of you. We will speak loudly, clearly, boldly, unwavering an without a stutter, “We have a mission to heal this world and make a dwelling place for Gd above.”

It is not, Gd forbid that the yellow star did not make a good and salient point. Of course it did. It is just that the Yamukah would have made a much better and stronger point. It would have said what we are for, rather than what we are against.

This concept exists in every arena of life. Politics, family and business, and even Jewish life. We are not only Jews for the things that are the tragedies of life (what I will call the things we are against). Including when Holocausts (personal or public) Gd forbid arrive, or when there is marching in Charlottesville, or when someone passes away, or a serious holiday arrives (think Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur that are upcoming). 

We are Jews even when things are quiet, and no one is chasing us, and it is an ordinary Tuesday in middle of February. We are Jews then too. We tend to show up on the scary days-think Yom Kippur, but skip out on the fun ones! We are Jews on Simchas Torah and Purim too.

So, Mr. Billy Joel, you are to be commended for standing up in the face of bigotry and hate. For that I an many others, including Gd I believe, bless you.

However, to those of us hearing the message, see him in a bright yellow Kipah and not only the star, and then we will have really heard the message he was sending.

There is s story told of a prominent Jewish leader who suggested that the Rebbe tell all his Chabad followers to add an extra chair, that would remain empty, at the Passover Seder to commemorate those missing because of the Holocaust. The Rebbe wisely replied, that he would encourage an extra chair at every Seder, but to be certain to fill it with another person who'd otherwise not have been at the seder. Doing something commemorates those who perished, not an empty chair.

The point; Judaism must be about what we are for, not what we are against, that will ensure its continuity.

Good Shabbos, and Happy Chodesh Elul!

Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman

P.S. My good friend @Dovid Weinbacum posted this on Facebook 

Ethan Ertel you are one amazing kid... You are proud of who you are and what you stand for. As I was sitting at the US Open and watching you ball boy with your Kipah on your head I thought to myself there are so many adults who can learn from you of what it means to be a proud Jew. Thank you for teaching me. Jacques Ertel" 

Kippah at US Open.png
 

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