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

Baggage

Fraida and I have been doing a bit of traveling with the kids over the summer. Travel is fun and exciting. For one child, the packing of her very own suitcase is thrilling, for another, it’s playing with cousins and for the third, visiting the beach is the highlight. Just visiting the west coast is an experience; add grandparents, aunts, uncles and some cousins and you just multiplied the enjoyment.

One of the challenges of traveling with a family is the baggage. The strollers, suitcases, food, etc. can be a lot to maneuver. And the two (if both are present) adults only have a limited amount of hands. In short, it can be a daunting task. 

When you arrive at the airport, you can pay a few dollars to rent a baggage cart that can hold your bags. Problem solved? Not entirely! The baggage cart can only hold so much. If you put too much baggage on the cart, the luggage will fall. 

In life, we all carry baggage; hurts, pains, old fights, resentment of things that happened many years ago, etc.

Over these trips, I have gained a new perspective regarding baggage. You can have baggage but you are limited in space. You can only carry a certain amount. If you want to carry some of your loved ones’ baggage, you can! If the load gets too heavy, you can get a luggage cart to help you manage it. Other people’s baggage? Please leave it on the baggage carousel; let them carry their own.

With High Holidays around the corner, it is prime time to think of some of the extra baggage you can remove from your life. Are you holding onto resentment that is causing harm to your relationships? Is something that you are carrying causing you to feel disconnected? Do you feel that the past is weighing heavily on your shoulders? Think of something you can do to relieve yourself of that burden. It is not baggage you should be carrying!

Have a ‘light’ Shabbos,

 Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

 

Do you know the answer?

Currently, I am reading (Thank you Marianne for the suggestion) "The Confidence Game" by Maria Konnikova which explores the mind of the con man. At the end of the book, she shares her knowledge to help people stay ahead of scams and potential pitfalls. She writes "The final mode of attack - one that is, in many ways, fundamental, is knowledge, pure and simple."

This brings me to a thought on this week's Torah portion. Children question their parents about their beliefs, lifestyles and choices. Many times we do not have an answer to our children's questions and we tell them "I don't know". However, when we are prepared for the question and have time to formulate a good answer, that is ideal.

Some common questions: How do I know Judaism is true? What are all these rules and laws that Judaism imposes on us? Is it worth it?

Have an answer ready! "Because our ancestors, with a traceable chain, passed down the traditions from when G-d took us out of Egypt, gave us the Torah and brought us to Eretz Yisroel."

"We were chosen by G-d to have a relationship with Him that includes limiting our relationship with others. We need to make sacrifices to keep that relationship alive! While, it is not necessarily easy, it is absolutely worth it! The relationship is deep, meaningful, good for us and keeps us alive and vibrant."

This is how I understood the verses below: 

If your son asks you in time to come, saying, "What are the testimonies, the statutes, and the ordinances, which the Lord our God has commanded you?" You shall say to your son, "We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord took us out of Egypt with a strong hand. And the Lord gave signs and wonders, great and terrible, upon Egypt, upon Pharaoh, and upon all his household, before our eyes. And he brought us out of there, in order that He might bring us and give us the land which He swore to our fathers. And the Lord commanded us to perform all these statutes, to fear the Lord, our God, for our good all the days, to keep us alive, as of this day. And it will be for our merit that we keep to observe all these commandments before the Lord, our God, as He has commanded us." Deuteronomy Ch. 6, v. 20-25

How did you comprehend them?

Reply and let me know or comment on the blog www.HarfordChabad.org/Blog

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

P.S. Here is a link to a recent article abot ongoing scams you can educate yourself aboue 

the day the lights go on

By Eliyahu Schusterman

It’s always a little humbling when the lights go on. Suddenly you see how you really appear. It’s humiliating, embarrassing and most of all humbling.

I’m talking about perspective, worldviews, paradigms, etc. We think a certain way based on our upbringing, other influences and our own choosing. Of course, we have only those tools to work from. So we engage with the world from that vantage point. Sometimes that vantage point and paradigm is helpful and sometimes it becomes a point of tension and contention between us and others.

One day the lights go on! Suddenly you see a different world, a different perspective, a different paradigm. And in that new light you see how the way you related to the world brought frustration to you and others. You see in that new light that the way you related to the world prevented you from being your true You!

This Shabbos is known as Shabbos Chazon. This is on account of the Haftorah which begins with the words Chazon Yishayahu – a vision of Isaiah. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev says that this Shabbos each of us are given a vision of the Third Beis Hamikdash – the future Temple to be built in Jerusalem. We experience this in preparation for Tisha B’Av which we’ll commemorate Monday night and Tuesday of next week, when we observe a day of mourning over the destruction of two Temples in Jerusalem.

The vision of the Beis Hamikdash is actually a vision of a future time, a time when light will shine. The truth will be known to all, struggle will cease and peace will reign.

For us, this light going on is the opportunity to tap into a new paradigm. For this Shabbos only, the lights go on! If we choose to open our eyes we can see a new paradigm. This new paradigm can shlep us from the negative spaces we may find ourselves in and bring is to a new vantage point.

To do so one must enter into this Shabbos. Enter with joy and with focus and you’ll be able to tap into this powerful new world view.

Have a great and illuminating Shabbos!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman
P.S. Let me know if you can make it to Shul! 

 

Thank you G-d for afflicting me, please hit me again!

By Chabad Intown

Said no one ever! Or maybe they did. There is a sentiment among certain religious groups to preach the idea that suffering is good, should be welcomed and thanked for. To be fair these are fundamental Jewish values as well and can all be sourced to the Midrash, Talmud and other good sources. But to say thank you?

Let me put the subtle distinction in context.

We all face challenges in life. When we experience challenge in life the growing person looks at the challenge and finds lessons to learn, ways to grown from the experience. Sometimes, the challenges give birth to revealed blessings in our lives that are transformative. When looking back at the challenge we may be grateful that we went through it, because the positive that we arrived at outweighed the negative.

What we are really saying is thank you G-d for the good that we have come to experience, not, thank you G-d for the bad/negative/challenge itself. Therefore, if we could get to the blessing without the pain, wouldn’t we rather that? Wouldn’t we want to arrive at the good without the bad?

The reality is that life doesn’t work that way. Life is filled with challenge and challenge brings blessing. Darkness comes before light – “and it was evening and it was day…”.

Imagine however, if we could actually see the blessing in the darkness itself? Imagine if we could truly see the world from G-d’s vantage point to understand how the blessing is not only in the positive outcome but in the challenge and suffering itself? That would truly be Messianic!

In fact the Prophet when prophesying about the Messianic era, says as much; “Odcho Hashem Ki Unafta Bi – Thank you G-d for afflicting me”. The Prophet is telling us that when Moshiach comes, we will have the ability to see the world (to some extent) as it is from G-d’s vantage point. We will then be able to see the suffering for what it is. 

These are important Jewish values to contemplate during this three week period when we mourn the destruction of Jerusalem, the representation of collective and individual Jewish suffering.

Notwithstanding the aforementioned, because we remain Human Beings in the pre-Messianic era, we don’t yet have those eyes. As such, we can never become callous to the suffering of others or to wish suffering upon ourselves.

In fact, I recall hearing the Rebbe quoting the verse above and as he was reciting the verse, he emitted a deep cry. I believe representing the perspective we ought to have now until Moshiach’s coming.

May that be speedily in our days, amen!

Have a great Shabbos,

Rabbi Schusterman 

 

He needs your prayers

In this week's Torah Portion we have a discussion between Moses and G-d (not direct quotes):

Moses: G-d, it is time to prepare a succession plan. After all, if I am not going to enter the Holy Land, there still needs to be a shepherd to tend to the flock.

G-d: True, you should appoint Joshua as the new leader. However, before we talk about the needs of the people, I want to tell you about my needs.

Moses: And what are those needs?

G-d: I would like there to be a daily sacrifice, every day of the entire year. The sacrifice should be the same whether it is a weekday, Shabbat, Holiday or workday. This consistency will show me that our relationship is strong, regardless of the vicissitudes and fluctuations of life. 

The message from G-d to Moses is that having a good leader is important, yet, the daily, consistent acts of love are more important.  In the modern day, due to the lack of the Holy Temple (which we are mourning these 3 weeks), the daily prayers are the "daily sacrifice". When one prays today on a regular Tuesday, they may have thoughts of self-doubt; how important is the prayer today? To which the answer is: to G-d, it is more important than appointing a new leader.

So take a moment and pray to G-d, do it for His sake, He needs it! 

Check out the commentary filled online siddur here - I am linking it to a commentary on the Shema however, feel free to browse around.

Have a wonderful Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

not all honey is sweet

Mr. Houston was known for raising money for good causes, nudging the Greater Houston Partnership toward modernity and for forging compromises between local feuding fiefdoms. Seems like just the person you would want as part of your social circle, no? It turned out that this Mr. Houston was a fraud; all his good work was just a way to further his greed. The real name of this "Mr. Houston" was Ken Lay, the CEO who led Enron to its downfall in a massive corruption scandal in 2001.

Ken Lay was a taker, he was one of those people who will bless you, shower you with praise, donate and volunteer, all in order to further his nefarious schemes!

I recently read a book called Give and Take by Adam Grant,  http://adamgrant.net/.Adam describes different types of people; givers, takers, and matchers. Ken Lay was a taker.

In this week’s Torah portion, the Torah warns us about takers. Balaam desires to curse the Jews and G-d says: Don’t go!  Don’t curse the people because they are blessed. Rashi explains that G-d was saying: The Jews do not need your blessing for they are blessed. As we say to the bee; ‘neither your honey nor your sting’.

Honey is a delicacy and a sought-after commodity that sweetens our lives. Most of us have honey in our pantry right now. As well, there are beekeepers who are more than willing to sustain bee stings as a way to procure this food. So can we say that we really do not want the honey because we are afraid of the sting?

Upon deeper reflection, it becomes apparent that the blessing of Balaam is not really honey; it is just another façade to obscure the sting. When an evil person blesses us, beware! It might be a subterfuge that, in the end, will prove to be a curse. Hence, the emphasis: “I don’t want your sting or your honey”. Honey, and even an occasional rebuking sting, from a well-intentioned person, is desirous. However, neither is welcome when it comes from a villain like Balaam. 

Be like the giving bee; nice and giving and people will welcome your honey. Furthermore, the necessary well-intended sting will be sweet.

Have a great Shabbos!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

#JewishPride

 

In Hebrew there is no word that is a single letter; there are words consisting of two letters but a letter alone is not a word. The Torah has thousands of letters - 304,805 to be exact. Each letter is carefully formed in order to complete the Torah scroll. If even one letter is cracked or missing, the scroll needs to be fixed. This is true even if the missing letter does not change the meaning of the word.

Each letter represents a person. In a community, we need to ensure that there is never a letter that is alone; no person should be alone.  Even if you are the only person who reaches out to them or they do not feel like they are part of it, you can ensure that they feel like part of a word, you can give them meaning and community.

You may "have everything you need" or may "already be part of a community" yet you must reach out to others nonetheless, show them the love and care.

In this week’s Torah portion, Moses tells Edom: If you let us pass through your land, we will not drink of the water of the well (20:17). The Midrash explains that the verse should have said “water of the wells”. Why does it say “the well”? Because Moses was saying: “Although we have with us manna to eat and the well of Miriam to provide us with water, we shall not drink from it. Instead, we will purchase food and water from you, to benefit you.”

Here the Torah teaches a rule of good conduct: If a man travels to a foreign country, though he may possess all his needs, he should not eat of what he has brought with him but should buy from the local shopkeepers, so as to benefit them.

This is what the Torah celebration taught me. We might think we are just visitors in a community for a limited period of time (how many locals do you know who say they are not here permanently, 30 years later). However, wherever we reside we should enhance it by making it a more G-dly place. The Jewish pride of carrying the Torah down Main St. elevated Harford County into a more G-dly place.

As we continue to endeavor to raise our G-dly consciousness for ourselves, we will benefit our community, our fellow Jew and our fellow man. We must remember to benefit all those who are around us by exhibiting Jewish pride and reaching out to those who may feel distant and encouraging them to become part of the community.

I choose

I recently attended a funeral of a dear friend and young man. A real tragedy and sad day. One of the speakers, a good friend of the deceased shared his memories but he presented his comments in a unique fashion.

He framed all of his memories by saying “I choose to remember”. I choose to remember the deceased for this particular quality and proceeded to share an anecdote. He did this over and over again and it suddenly it hit me. He was not only saying these words but actually engaging in the act of choosing how he was going to remember.

Life deals us all kinds of external and internal challenges and it is always a choice how we respond. It is always a choice how we react.

In this week’s Torah portion, Korach sees an event and his jealousy is aroused. Instead of choosing to deal with his jealousy through engaging and trying to understand what he is witnessing, he chooses to rally the troops and rebel against Moses and in turn G-d.

Unfortunately, we become a victim to our own choosing. Our choosing becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. You want to see things negatively, then you’ll be negative. You choose to see things positively, you’ll be positive. As we see from Korach, his choice ultimately landed him swallowed by the ground.

Sometimes the choices aren’t a choice between right and wrong, but simply how you want to live your life. Always remember that the outcome is in your hand.

Granted, the challenges from within and from without can sometimes make the choosing very difficult. But we are assured from our Jewish teachings, that the potential is inside each of us to choose. Nothing can take that ability away from us.

I bless all of us, never to face difficult gut wrenching choices, but when the smaller choices come along or G-d forbid the difficult ones, I pray that we call on that inner reservoir to choose the right and good choice.

Have a good shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman
P.S. You can meet my brother who wrote this article and others on Sunday at the Torah Completion Ceremony

It's A Numbers Game

It's A Numbers Game

On a recent shopping trip , the following exchange took place between myself and one of my children. It went like this:

Can I have that pack of gum?

No.

Please?

No.

Pretty, pretty please.

No.

C'mon, you never let me get anything.

Sorry, but the answer is still no.

It's not fair xxx (name of sibling) ALWAYS gets what he wants!

No, No, No! Now you've heard it ten times, the answer is still no!

Please, please, please... I'll behave, I'll do good in school, I'll help out at home, I'll do anything you ask!

Fine (me exasperated), but just this time and just one piece.

Thank you, you are the best!

He won, I lost. Most importantly, it's not personal. He knows it and I know it. He loves me and I love him, regardless how this particular story played out.

***

"It's a numbers game." I am sure you've heard this expression before when dealing with business or sales. One premise in sales, is that you have to hear "no" a lot in order to pick up your game. In fundraising, it's commonly said that if you haven't heard "no" lately, then you're not asking enough!

In nearly every arena of life, we are either too lazy or intimidated to go for the gold, since it generally means a lot of failure along the way. This is true, if you are trying to sell something, lose weight or run a marathon. The obstacles in our way are often so daunting that we just don't try.

We need to learn from our children. They don't take failure personally. They simply see it as a call to action, to try harder. They focus on the prize and don't lose sight of the goal. 

In order to say NO you need a reason, In order to become better you need to measure. I have been using CloudHQ's Gmail time tracker to track how much time I am reading and writing emails, so that I am more conscious of the email time i am using.

Now I can say NO I am not going to focus on email. I will focus on the important things, I also can schedule email time into my calendar with an accurate estimate of how much time it will take.

So now say yes and no and close the deal!

Shabbat Shalom

Your enemy is your friend

When we think of a spy we may think hero or villain – depending if your team is the one spying or being spied on. In this week’s Torah portion we read of the 12 spies going to spy on behalf of the Jewish People in and on the Land of Israel.

These spies (10 of them at least) who left as hero’s (Heads of the Children of Israel the Torah calls them) became villains, meeting their death in the desert.

A spy integrates him or herself into the environment that they are spying on. They live and act as if they belong in that environment all the while collecting valuable information to be used against the very people they are living amongst.

Our soul comes down to this earth and lives among us (actually in us) almost as if it belongs here. After all our first consciousness is of the body and the physical world around us. All the while the soul is collecting information to be used against and for us.

The soul learns about the passions of the animal soul within and tries to outsmart it. Ultimately the soul wants us to use our physical reality in the service of G-d.

The spies who went into the Land of Israel failed in their mission for this very reason. They saw the physical world as the enemy instead of understanding their spying mission.

Their spying mission and ours is not to eliminate the supposed enemy but rather to recruit the enemy onto our team. The spy agencies call it “turning” or in Hebrew – Teshuva.

The spies failed in their mission, let’s learn from their mistake. The physical world is not to be shunned nor embraced. The physical world is to be “turned” into our partner in the service of G-d. We have the soul as our own spy to help us achieve that.

Good Shabbos.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

 

Is it within your reach?

 

The story is told (Harfordchabad.org/137289) that in 1907, Reb Yosef Yuzik, a Chassid of the 5th Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch asked of the Rebbe:

“Rebbe, what is a Chassid?”

Replied the Rebbe: “A Chassid is a lamplighter. The lamplighter walks the streets carrying a flame at the end of a pole. He knows that the flame is not his. And he goes from lamp to lamp to set them alight.”

----

Why do I tell you this story?

As we are all lamplighters!

In this week’s Torah portion we read about the lighting of the menorah by the Kohen in the Beis Hamikdash - the Holy Temple.

According to Halacha – Jewish law – a non-Kohen, e.g. a Levite or an Israelite, may light the menorah, even though only a Kohen has permission to enter the room where the Menorah was kept.

If it is “out of my reach” how can I, a non-Kohen, light the menorah? One may do so with the use of a long pole. 

This is a message for each one of us. We may say: ME? Affecting someone else positively? ME? Encouraging others to grow in their Jewish observance? ME? To be a LIGHT for others? That level is out of my reach! 

The Torah teaches us that NO – You can do it; that you are not on that level or that it is out of your personal reach is no excuse! Use a long pole to reach and illuminate there.

--- 

Asked Reb Yosef Yuzik: “What if the lamp is in a desert?”

“Then one must go and light it” said the Rebbe. “And when one lights a lamp in a desert, the desolation of the desert becomes visible. The barren wilderness will then be ashamed before the burning lamp.”

Continued the Chassid: “What if the lamp is at sea?”

“Then one must undress, dive into the sea, and go light the lamp.”

“And this is a Chassid?” Reb Yosef Yuzik asked.

For a long while the Rebbe thought and then said: “Yes, this is a Chassid.”

“But Rebbe, I do not see the lamps!” Cried out Reb Yosef Yuzik.

Answered the Rebbe: “That is because you are not a lamplighter.”

“How does one become a lamplighter?”

“First, you must reject the evil within yourself. Start with yourself: cleanse yourself, refine yourself, and you will see the lamp within your fellow. When a person is himself coarse, G d forbid, he sees coarseness; when a person is himself refined, he sees the refinement in others.”

Reb Yosef Yuzik then asked: “Is one to grab the other by the throat?”

Replied the Rebbe: “By the throat, no; by the lapels, yes.”

 

Have a light filled Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

 

 

take the high road

“I’m a Jew and I’m proud and I’ll sing it out loud ‘cuz forever that’s what I’ll be” goes the song taught and sung at many a Chabad Hebrew School

As adults as well we are asked to be a proud Jew. Even the Nazerite, an individual who chooses to dedicate himself to G-d, by vowing to abstain (usually for a limited period of time) from wine or any grape products, from cutting his hair, and from defiling himself with the ritual impurity.

This separation is more than abstinence it’s a pledge of holiness.  It’s a pledge of I am Holy, therefore I will act in a more refined manner.

In general, the Torah demands that we conduct ourselves in a manner that far exceeds society’s ethical and moral standards. Additionally, we are encouraged to distance ourselves from even a faint brush with the Torah’s prohibitions.  The ideal approach, is to approach these mitzvot not as a precaution because of human weakness but as one of pride.

Like the nazir who is “holy, therefore abstains,” a Jew’s approach to the Torah’s high standards and expectations is one of “I have been set apart by G-d to be distinguished and sanctified; would it be fitting me to behave otherwise? Considering my illustrious lineage—I am descendant of Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Sarah, Rivkah, Rochel and Leah—how can I act like the rest of society? G-d selected me to receive the Torah. It therefore behooves me to be different, and take the high road in all areas of sanctity and morality.”

Have a good Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Will you marry me? - A Story

 

After a long courtship, He proposed and they said yes; we are in this for the long haul, not even death can do us part.

While they have had a long and rocky relationship, with ups and downs, they have remained steadfast together. They have a family tradition that each year on their anniversary they get together with all their children and grandchildren. Those who cannot make it, join a family party nearby to read or hear their "Ketubah", their marriage contract.

At the reunion, everyone recommits to the family values and their desire to care for each other.

This is the story of the Jewish people and their relationship with G-d. Every year, on Shavuot, we celebrate that unity, our family, and the love of the Jewish people to G-d and His love for us.

If you are nearby, join the "anniversary party" taking place at Chabad on Wednesday 5/31/17 at 5:30 pm. Can't make that one? Reply to this email with the zip code you will be at then and I will let you know the address of a shul nearby.

Join the family party! After all, G-d is asking: will you marry me? I hope you will say yes! RSVP here

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

 

Apologize

Being blessed with a few children, the dynamics at home are fun. Amid the happy, peaceful and loving times, there will be the occasional, or not so occasional, squabble. Following a quarrel, we require all involved to apologize to one another, even if they do not mean it!

Why? Why apologize if the tone of your apology says the opposite; I am not really sorry! 

Speech, verbalizing something, helps one express their thoughts. Additionally, it adds power and fervor to the thought (or emotion). This is why one should remain silent when angry as it will make them angrier.

However, here is the clincher: when we say something that is inconsistent with our internal feelings and thoughts, we have a moment of pain and embarrassment. After all, we are people who are supposed to say what we mean. 

When we make a mistake, or owe someone an apology - even if we do not mean it – we should still say I'm sorry. This is the first step toward reconciliation; it gives you a twinge of the pain that they may be feeling.

Have a good Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

Ask!

Do you want to make a sale? Ask for it.

Do you want some quiet time? Ask for it (from whoever is stopping you).

Do you want to go on a date night with your spouse yet wonder who will watch the kids? Ask your spouse and ask someone to watch the kids.

Do you want a relationship with a specific person? Ask them for a date/coffee/lunch meeting.

Do you want a relationship with G-d? Ask what you can do!

Do you want to go to shul on shabbos? Ask when and where.

Do you want someone to support a non-profit you love? Ask them.

I think you get the gist: If you do not ask, the answer is already “no”.  If you do ask, you have a 50/50 chance you will get a yes.

Many people fear asking. Many think a negative response is intended to be personal. In truth, it is what you can do to get to a yes! Stop a sale’s pitch once you hear no, when the "customer" says no. Otherwise, you do not know that they are done buying! By asking, you are giving the person the opportunity to consider your request.

Yesterday was Pesach Sheni, "the second Passover". It was a day that in the times of the Holy Temple those who could not bring the pascal lamb on Passover - due to distance or ritual impurity - were able to make up and bring it on that day (more on that here).

But more important is the genesis of this mitzvah. Pesach Sheni was not given as most of the mitzvahs, as a directive from on high. Pesach Sheni was created because of a group of Jews in the wilderness who were feeling left out that they were not able to bring the pascal sacrifice.

What did they do? They ASKED!

These Jews approached Moshe asking: "why should we lose out"?  How can we get the pascal sacrifice when we are impure? Moshe responded: "Wait, and I will hear what the L-rd instructs concerning you." G-d’s responded with adding the mitzvah of Pesach Sheni.

They asked and got a new mitzvah. What do you want that you are not asking for?

Ask today!

Have a great Shabbos!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

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