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Rabbi's Blog

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

On Feeling Abandoned by Gd

By Rabbi Gershon Schusterman 

Originally Printed in Our Tapestry
An organization that gives support and comfort to families that lost a child.

Dear Rabbi:

I, alongside my wife, have been working in Jewish outreach for twelve years with significant success and we have built up quite a following. We also have four children, B”H. Four months ago we had a child, a beautiful baby girl, who died quite suddenly and unexpectedly. Ever since then I have been quite miserable; my wife, I dare say, even more so. I’m mature enough to understand that this is to be expected and ‘this too shall pass.’ My question for you, dear Rabbi, is that my relationship with Hashem has been damaged. I feel totally cold towards Him. I feel that He let me down and I feel abandoned by Him. This is a time when I need Him the most but I can’t access Him. It affects my work as well. I used to be able to talk to those seeking Yiddishkeit with joyous enthusiasm, but today I can’t. If I were free to articulate what is really on my heart I would drive people away. Rabbi, what do I do?

Hurt and Perplexed Dad

Dear Hurt:

Let me ask you, quite personally, do you need an answer or a hug?

I want to tell you a story…

I recently visited with my grown son who, like me, is a rabbi. We went out one evening, just to talk, and he spoke to me passionately about his cousin, my nephew, who had been diagnosed with an incurable brain tumor. My son told me about how good his cousin is, how he has a young and growing family, how difficult this is for everyone and how unfair this is. I listened patiently as he poured his heart out.

As he was speaking, I began formulating my rabbinic response; after all, I’ve done this before. Then I realized, my son is a rabbi, too. He has been confronted with these very same issues and has much to offer as a response. So I said to myself, "What purpose is there in telling him that which he already knows?”

When I had an opportunity to respond, I looked into his eyes and said, “My dear son, do you want an answer or do you want a hug?” I caught him off guard and he took a few moments to respond.

His eyes filled with tears, and finally he said, “I want a hug."

When a person is in pain, what he really wants is for the pain to go away, and sometimes a hug accomplishes that much better than an explanation. Grown men may not know how to ask for a hug and they often camouflage their needs under the guise of wanting an answer.

Avos (3:18) says: “Do not comfort your friend while his deceased lies before him.” While this is stated quite graphically, it is also meant figuratively. This is why we have a custom not to visit the home of the bereaved to comfort them before the third day. Our sages understood that more time may be needed before the mourners are ready to hear the traditional phrase of consolation, “Hamakom y’nachem es’chem…”

But does one size fit all? Are three days, or even seven days, experienced the same way by everyone? Can one compare one loss to another? Hashem’s holy language, lashon hakodesh, has a different word for one who loses a parent (yasom[ah]), a spouse (alman[ah]) or a child (shachul[ah]) to indicate that each loss is distinct and different. Coming to terms with a tragic loss is highly individualized and may take three months for some, for others, perhaps three years… or longer.

Surely you know the Gemara (B”B 16b) that says ein adam nitfas b'shaas tzaaro; a person is not culpable for [even blasphemy] uttered in a time of pain [bereavement].” Such is Hashem’s understanding and empathy for one experiencing the pain of the loss of a loved one.

Whoever has raised children has experienced this scenario: A child, frustrated with his parent for having denied him the thing he wants and "needs" right now, has a crying fit and screams, “I hate you, Mommy!” Fast forward 60 seconds… the child is hugging the very same Mommy, his little head on her shoulder, finding comfort in her embrace.

We are Hashem’s children, He is our loving parent, even as we don’t understand His ways, and are pained beyond our capacity to bear pain.

Crying out from great pain and suffering, and having true faith in Hashem and His hashgachah pratis, are not incompatible. The tzaddik Harav Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson, known as the Frierdiker [Lubavitcher] Rebbe, recounted his thoughts in 1927 when he was arrested for promulgating Yiddishkeit in the Soviet Union. Imagining the feelings of his mother, wife, daughters, son-in-law and chassidim, he burst into tears.

Then the Rebbe states (in his diary), “Suddenly, as a lightning bolt, a thought hit me: Who did this? Who caused this to occur? It isn’t from anyone but Hashem! I did that which was my responsibility, and Hashem does as He sees fit. And at that moment I was elevated from my lowly situation and I ascended heavenward in thoughts higher than those who dwell in the physical world, with pure faith and complete confidence in the living G-d…”

When the Rebbe cried, it wasn’t for lack of faith, chas v’shalom. Even a tzaddik and a Rebbe can feel pain that is so real and intense that he can burst into tears. Then the painful challenge propels him to greater heights of emunah and bitachon. (“Suddenly… I was elevated...”)

People, especially when they are very agitated, sometimes need help to properly frame their feelings. This is often true even for adults.

My daughter and her family, including a bright and articulate three-year-old son, spent their winter vacation with us. Being quite upset about something one day, he proclaimed, “I’m angry,” and proceeded to throw things.

My wife, ever the educator, calmly told him that we don’t do that in our home. When he calmed down enough to listen, she asked him, “Are you sad that things didn’t go the way you wanted them to?” She paused. “So you feel you’re disappointed? Do you know what disappointed means? It means you’re not pleased that things are not going the way you would like them to go. So, instead of saying ‘I’m angry,’ you can say ‘I’m disappointed.’ Sometimes things don’t work out exactly the way you want them to. Later perhaps things will work out better.”

He learned more than a new word. He learned a new way of looking at and framing his life experiences as they were happening. In the next few days, when he felt upset, he said somewhat more calmly, “I’m very disappointed.” That is progress!

Inside each of us remains a child, and that child is tantrum-prone when he is hurt and disappointed, even as an adult. “We had such a beautiful dream for our life together as a couple, and now you died and I am left alone, bereft, and without a spouse.” Or, “My child was so good, so sweet and so special. She had a wonderful life ahead of her, and now all those possibilities are buried with her.” One can feel hurt. One can feel sad, very sad, and cry one’s heart out. Later on, one can be very disappointed, and have a need to talk things through.

Or, one can focus on feeling abandoned and having no one to turn to; one can become quite angry, often at the same ones who could have been a source of solace and a pillar to lean on. A person can roll up into a ball and lock everyone out and become more and more angry and despondent.

Yidden in pain pour their hearts out to Hashem out by saying Tehillim. It is not necessarily because the person expects to find a resolution to their problem in the words they are saying. In fact, many chapters of Tehillim are open-ended outpourings of the heart, channeling the words of the Psalmist, in which he finds consolation in simply expressing his pain and grief to Hashem and in feeling that He is listening and providing His embrace.

When driving a car, if one loses control and goes into a skid, instinctively one wants to direct the car in the direction away from the skid. Driving instructors will tell you that this will exacerbate the loss of control and therefore one should do the exact opposite. One should steer into the direction of the skid ever so gently and thus regain control.

Likewise with life, when things happen that are out of our control and we go into a skid, the best way to regain equilibrium is to recognize the source of the crisis, realize that the Master of the world is the one behind the scene, and to submit to Him.

In addition to your personal struggle you seem to be frustrated with how to continue your mission to educate and inspire others. You now feel inadequate to this task because:

...your relationship with Hashem has been damaged; you feel totally cold to Him; you cannot in good conscience talk about Yiddishkeit with joyous enthusiasm; in fact, if you were free to articulate what is really on my heart, you might drive people away.

Not to make light of something so serious, let me say that one should never let a good crisis go to waste (see Mishlei 14:23). Here is an opportunity to create a new, deeper, and more mature and meaningful relationship with Hashem. If you achieve this, you may be better equipped to continue your most vital mission.

Consider taking a sabbatical—brief or extended—as you work this through. You deserve it and need it.

Who can talk more sincerely about finding Hashem in the depths of despair, a young yeshivah bachur who became a suburban rabbi, or a Holocaust survivor who remained faithful to G-d as he started life again? Those forged by fire are stronger and their relationship with G-d deeper, having had their emunah tested and come through intact, sometimes with flying colors.

Think of the souls of those giants of spirit who went to the crematoria singing Ani Maamin.  Think of the bereaved and maimed in the terror attacks in Eretz Yisroel, who, while experiencing their agony, express sincere emunah, bitachon and ahavas Hashem even as they ask Hashem to bring a resolution to their travail. You have it in you to do the same, if you dig deeply enough.

Even sincere outreach workers can fall into a rut in their relationship with Hashem. When things are going well, we may take Hashem for granted and relegate Him to a passive, supervisory role. Paradoxically, we can teach Hashem’s Torah enthusiastically while neglecting our own personal relationship with Him; familiarity can breed content. Life is good, so we become complacent and even smug, thus blocking Hashem from having an active role in our lives.

A crisis changes that. A crisis shatters our smugness; it challenges our relationship with Hashem and forces us to reacquaint ourselves with our real selves more honestly. We may find ourselves wanting. The process is a difficult one, for it forces us to soul-search as never before. But when this process is undertaken with commitment, we often find that our bond with Hashem is (or needs to be) much deeper than it was up to now, and we feel the need to renew the bond in a profoundly different manner.

The realizations achieved by this experience can catapult us to a deeper relationship, substituting the need for answers with the sense of certainty that one’s suffering is purposeful in Hashem’s plan, even as it may remain unfathomable to the person. A child who falls and hurts himself will run to his mother for comfort, and after being held for a few moments he becomes calmer. The bruise hasn’t gone away, but the child’s sense of security is reestablished in his mother’s embrace. So it is with us, in dealing with our lives’ bruises, and chas v’shalom worse. We need, at all times, to maintain a close relationship with Hashem so that when we need Him, we can sense His embrace.

Sincerely yours,

Rabbi Gershon Schusterman

Rabbi Gershon Schusterman is originally from Brooklyn and was a Chabad Shliach in Southern California for 20 years. He is now in private enterprise and continues to give shiurim and lectures, and writes on Jewish topics. He is married to Chana Rachel Schusterman, a teacher and lecturer in her own right, and is the father of eleven children.

Is it what you do or who you are?

 What is the big deal that we received the Torah? Midrash tells us that our forefathers kept the entire Torah. This means that many of the laws of the Torah already existed before we received the Torah and the Jewish people had already learned many of them. Was it just the big event revealing what everyone already knew?

One answer I find meaningful is that we are celebrating integration. Until the first Shavuot, approx 3330 years ago, your spirituality could have no real long-term effects upon your reality. It was something you did, it was not who you are.

On Shavuot, Hashem allowed the Torah and Mitzvot, Judaism and Jewish values, to define who we are and to change us for the better. On Shavuot, we celebrate the ability to integrate it into our lives. 

Until Shavuot, Judaism was something we did, after Shavuot Judaism became who we are.

Come celebrate with ice cream and cheesecake on Sunday 11:00 am prefaced at 10:00 am by TEDShavuot with a variety of speakers giving 5-minute speeches.

RSVP NOT REQUIRED - After all it's who you are :) The address if 15 North Bond Street in Bel Air. 

What is one thing you do to integrate a Jewish value or tradition part of who you are?

See you Sunday, I hope.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman
P.S. If you are out of town, see if there is a reading of the Big Ten with cheesecake nearby at www.HarfordChabad.org/Centers

Are you all in?

What’s on your mind? This is the question the Facebook status is supposed to answer.

Over the past week, we have been busy! Connected face to face with a Jewish person, who I met once, who lives in Bel Air. Looked further into a specific property to see if fit for Harford Chabad's permanent home. Discussed with a young couple the option of becoming youth directors at Chabad. Working on the "Harford Champions" Campaign, to take place next Tuesday and Wednesday, to stabilize the funding for the above work.

I am sharing this, although this email is not a Facebook status, because there are a few points in this week’s Torah portion that have made these multiple streams of action and impact easier to navigate. Perhaps, you can use these to help navigate the overwhelming parts in your life.

The first message I got was: if you champion something, are all in and committed to it, you will see success. After all, the verse says "If you follow My statutes and observe My commandments and perform them, I will give your rains in their time, the Land will yield its produce, and the tree of the field will give forth its fruit".  The Hebrew word used for statutes is Bechukosai, which can be translated as engraved. We can interpret the verse to say, "If you perform the commandments that they are part of you, you are all in and they are an engraved part of your existence, then I (G-d) will provide you with your needs".

And while the Parshah continues with some of the challenges that can befall the Jewish people if they do not follow the Torah and Mitzvos properly, it ends with: "I will not despise them nor will I reject them to annihilate them, thereby breaking My covenant that is with them, for I am the Lord their G-d." G-d is saying He is in this relationship despite the ups and downs.

Lastly, the Parsha ends with talking about people pledging to give to support the work of G-d: "Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: When a person expresses a vow, pledging the value of lives to the Lord..."

So while it is somewhat overwhelming to work on many projects at the same time, knowing that when you do good work, you have backing of the One who runs the world, knowing that G-d will stay by you even if you make mistakes, knowing that there is a community of supporters who ensure that the work will continue, is inspiring and helps overpower the overwhelm. 

Have a good Shabbos!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

Uplift and Inspire

Speech has a very powerful and influential effect. For the good and G-d forbid the opposite. When we see a negative trait in another person, we have a choice: we can speak about it to him or others, or alternatively, we can focus on speaking about and strengthening a positive trait; becoming a champion of positivity. Overwhelming the negative with positive.
So why does this really work?
It works because speech reveals that which is hidden. 
This is the theme of this week’s parsha, Emor. Rashi explains the word Emor, literally translated as speak, to mean: "Speak - "lhazhir - to encourage"  those who are bigger to have an influence over those who are smaller”. We have the power to influence the "katan - smaller", a person who is smaller, either in years, education, abilities or any challenge in life, only via "Emor", through using positive communication. This is the tool that the person trying to help, the "bigger", uses "lhazhir - to illuminate", the "smaller"; namely; his friend, student or child.
Yankel Hecht once wrote to the Lubavitcher Rebbe about him not being in a good mood. A short while later he turned to the Rebbe and said: “The Rebbe pulled me out (of my situation)!” The Rebbe replied while lifting his hands: “I pulled you out? I lifted you up!”
While the Rebbe could use the focus on the negative, “shlepping someone out of a situation", he doesn't! What a true leader does is focus on the positive, which overpowers the negative, like light pushes away the darkness. 
Be a champion of goodness. Be a leader. A big person. Focus on other people’s positive traits. Be a beacon of light and all the darkness around you will disappear. Those who are smaller then you (either in years, education, abilities or any challenge in life) will be illuminated and uplifted, invigorated and inspired, all due to you exuding positive energy! 
Have an amazing uplifting and positive Shabbos!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 


You are Holy!

I was sitting down for coffee with a dear friend; we were speaking about respecting others and not judging them. We spoke about those who are observant and those who are less observant and how each one has their story and it is not our place to judge them. We need to love our fellow. We need to respect and understand that we are here to help them grow in a positive manner, not to judge them or drag them down.

He asked: "how does one become non-judgmental?"

While I did not answer him at the moment, we can find an answer here: How do you judge someone who is holy? 


Allow me to explain, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, also known as Rashi, shares that the fundamental teachings of the Torah are dependent on all of us knowing that “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy”.

We need to know that we are holy (yes, we can be holy!) and our fellow is holy because G-d is holy!

When you see your fellow Jew who seems to observe less Torah and Mitzvot then you do, you may say to yourself (in your mind) "I am holy, this guy is a heretic". Eradicate that thought from your mind! As the entire congregation is Holy.

The Torah tells us that Moshe was commanded: "speak to the entire congregation of the children of Israel" to tell them that they are Holy. The entire congregation, the men women and children are holy. The fundamental teachings of the Torah are dependent on this! If we are not holy, if we are just people, then why even try to do the impossible, connecting with the divine? However, if we are holy (albeit, perhaps with a little grime covering) then we can reach the divine! The Torah gives us the method to achieve this; increase in Mitzvot and Torah study. 

Have a Holy Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

What are you passionate about?

I sent my family a link to a blog listing things one should do daily for a happier life: cut out sugar, white flour and caffeine, journal, do something scary, eat 20g of protein, make up with your parents... And the list goes on and on, OMG.

One of my brothers said that the pressure and the demands of this blog, the things that one would need to do to live this content life, can make you unhappy just from the thought if it! Shortly afterward, he said: you know, it is not an all or nothing game, but rather it is about investment.

Whatever you are invested in is what will occupy your heart, mind, words, and actions.

If you are a sports fan, then you wake up in the morning and want to know the latest scores. You break for lunch and find out which game is coming up. You look for opportunities to go to the stadium and watch your favorite team. You get together with likewise passionate people and watch games together.

If you are a passionate real estate investor you explore the latest deals. You read the blogs and the newspapers. You’ll explore the next big opportunity and research interest rates. You’ll hang out with people who are likewise invested so you can learn new techniques and ideas to maximize your dollars.

In other words, what you are passionate about feeds what you do and what you do feeds your passion.

Similarly, what you invest in spiritually will impact the kind of things you do and in turn, your passion will be fired up spiritually by what you do.

If you wake up in the morning and learn a Chassidic discourse, you will pray with more spiritual passion. In turn, you will look at the world in a more refined manner. Then you will eat breakfast in a more purposeful and spiritually conscious manner. Your interactions at work will be more patient, calmer and you will rise above the pettiness of the things that otherwise may get under your skin.

During your lunch break, you may want to read an essay or listen to a class of a spiritual nature. You will incorporate those ideas into the afternoon as the day wears on and you become more worn out and you will be energized again to make the most of the hours left.

When you come home from work you will be happy to see your loved ones. You will be more present. When you sit together to eat dinner, the conversation will revolve around how everyone made meaning of their day. You will shift the conversation to talking about ideas instead of people and things.

As the evening sets in you will spend your time in intellectual and spiritual pursuits; studying, reading, doing things of long-lasting value.

Before you go to sleep, you will reflect on how grateful you are for your blessings and how much you benefited from having a G-d and spiritually focused day. You will resolve to do the same the next day only better, deeper, and more connected.

With that, you will recite the bedtime Shema and you will drift off into a meaningful sleep which will give birth to a new day of purpose and spirituality.

In this light, it is not about what you need to do as much as what is it your invested in. When you are invested and passionate in and about leading a fulfilled life you do not feel pressure from the things you need to do to achieve this goal. It is your passion after all.

Have a great Shabbos!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

P.S.During the period between Pesach and Shavuot we count the Omer. In Hebrew the word to count is Sefira. The root word also means sapphire – to shine and sipur – to tell or story.

When your days are filled with passion for leading a spiritual and G-dly life, when you count your days to make meaning out of each one, then your days shine and then tell a story. It is a story of purpose, meaning, happiness, light, joy, family, love and all the other things we yearn for.

Connect with respect

The mission of Facebook is to connect everyone and bring the world closer together. This is according to the testimony given in congress this week by Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook.

There are many people who will tell you that technology does not bring people together. Others may say, that while technology may bring people together, it is not worth the cost to their privacy. Personally, I enjoy reading technology news and see both sides of this debate having merit.

Additionally, I read up on the "news" of Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony, wondering what will change - if anything - in protecting people’s privacy; both from the consumers’ actions to protect their own information and from Facebook and other tech companies to safeguard personal information.

Currently, we are in middle of a period called Sefirat Haomer. It is a time when Jewish people worldwide refine themselves and prepare for Shavuot, to be spiritually prepared to re-accept the Torah for the 3330th time. Seeing this debate about connections and privacy, about sharing and at times not oversharing, I could not help but think how apropos.

One of the things that we focus on during this time period is Jewish unity. The big celebration takes place on Lag BaOmer with a communal event - at Harford Chabad with a community cookout.

When looking to connect with others one needs to be cognizant of 1) they, like myself, would like to be part of a community, 2) they may serve G-d in a way different then I do and 3) they may, in good faith, have different ideas as to how to solve issues and may disagree with me politically. We need to both connect as well as respect their privacy.

We must be careful not to cross the boundaries; respect the space they are in and recognize that they have their personal information that may not be ours to share. 

By doing this, we create not only connections and community, but we do what Mark Zuckerberg hopes to accomplish, and I quote: It is not enough that we just connect people. We have to make sure those connections are positive.

Have a connecting Shabbos and feel free to connect with G-d at Services 10 am at Chabad :)

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

My path is always blocked, please help

By Rabbi Aron Moss - Nefesh Shul • Sydney, Australia 

Question of the Week:

My spiritual life has come to a standstill. Every time I try to take a step up, I get a hit. I have committed to keeping Shabbos, and now I am having trouble at work. I have started keeping kosher but my family is resisting big time. It seems my path is always blocked. Will this ever end? 


You need a Red Sea moment. You are like the Israelites being chased by the Egyptians from behind, blocked by the sea in front. Their past is haunting them, and their future is eluding them. You know what happened next? Well it can happen to you too.

In what seems to be a strange addition to the story of the splitting of the sea, the Talmud states that not only did the water of the Red Sea split, but in fact every body of water in the entire world split. This would include the Yangtze River in China, Copacabana Beach, a cup of coffee in Swaziland, and a swimming pool in Malibu. Every single body of water in the entire world split into two.

What would be the point of that? The Israelites needed of the Red Sea to split because it was blocking their way to Mount Sinai. But why would all of the water in the world also need to split?

The miracle that happened at the Red Sea was not just a one-off event. Not only did the sea split, but along with it, every blockage to every spiritual path for every person in every place for all times split wide open. 

Anyone who sets out on a true spiritual journey should know that sooner or later you will come to an impasse. The world will not give you free passage to reach your soul's destination. Obstacles will be thrown at you, roadblocks will put in your way. You are being tested. If your desire for truth is real, then you will keep on going. Walk into the water. Don't run away. Face the roadblock head on. 

It is going to get tough. Nothing will change at first. It is then that you must remember, when the Red Sea split, all seas split. Every blockage in the world is only there for you to overcome it. Keep on marching into the water. Even if it comes up to your neck, just march on. The waters will split and you'll get through. The miracle has already happened, the path was opened for you thousands of years ago. There is nothing in the world, not an ocean or a river or a cup of coffee, that can stand in the way of you reaching your mountain. 

Good Yomtov and Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Moss

Shmos Rabba 21:6
R' Sholom of Belz

the 49 day challenge

Q: How does growth happen?
A: Slowly

The saying goes that it takes ten years to become an overnight success. In Jewish tradition, there are 49 days between the first Pesach Seder and the Shavuot Holiday. During these 49 days, Jews worldwide count up to 49, and on day 50 they celebrate that the Jewish people received the Torah 3330 years ago.

This counting is called sefirat Ha'omer; the counting that begins the same day that the Omer sacrifice was brought.

On a more spiritual level, it is the growth process from Egyptian bondage to receiving the Torah; the first detox in Jewish history. It is getting rid of our internal slave mentality to be able to be genuinely free and able to serve Hashem!

Each week of these seven weeks represents one of the seven emotions: 
Chesed - Giving/loving-kindness
Gevurah - Restrictive-power/strength
Tifferet - Beauty/Compassion and harmonious blending
Netzach - overpowering external limitations

Hod - overpowering external limitations 
Yesod - Connection
Malchus - Royalty  

So here is the 49-day challenge: 

1) Download the sefirah reminder app here 
2) Each night count the Sefirat Haomer - starting after nightfall Saturday night
3) Do an exercise each day of each week, e.g. working on becoming a healthy giver in week one and setting healthy boundaries in week two, etc.
4) Post daily (excluding Shabbat and holidays) on your social media channel and tag Harford Chabad and one friend. Challenge your friend to meditate on something you found meaningful and to challenge another friend. Let the growth begin!

Good luck and let us know how it goes!

With blessing for a Kosher and happy liberating Pesach!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 


Who do you know?

We’re all very familiar with the four sons or four children of the Seder (you can read a deeper insight into the Seder and the four sons by my sister in law Dena Schusterman from Atlanta here).

Did you know there’s a fifth son or fifth child? And I have news for you! You actually know that person.

You see the fifth child is the child who is not present at the Seder.

It’s not that they are not wise and have rationally concluded that there is no need to go to a Seder. Because they are wise.

It’s not that they are wicked and are intentionally not coming to the Seder. Because they are good people.

It’s not that they are simple and are not ‘with it’ enough to know where to find out about the Seder. Because they are plugged into the culture around us.

It’s not that they are spiritually immature and don’t know how to ask. Because they are quite developed spiritually.

The reason they are not at the Seder is simply because no one invited them.

You see, the fifth child knows they are Jewish but that’s all they know. No one told them that wisdom and spirituality, connection and profound meaning is found right in the very tradition that is their birthright. Deep down each of these souls are hungry for the Jewish connection and community you already know.

Now how many such Jews do you know? They are your neighbor, your co-worker, doctor, accountant, hair stylist and shelf stocker. They’re someone who is connected to your soul by virtue of your birthright.

This Passover, you will sit with your family at your Seder as will Jews all over Harford County. Let’s make sure that those fifth children are sitting at our tables too.

I heard that after World War II there was a thought to establish a new tradition to set a chair at the Seder but to leave it open. This would be a memorial for the 6 Million who will no longer sit at the Seder.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe was asked his opinion on this idea. The Rebbe answered that if we want to memorialize those that perished in the holocaust, and more importantly to perpetuate their memory, the way to do this was to fill that empty chair with someone who otherwise would not be at a Seder.

Next week, on Tuesday, March 27 we’ll celebrate the Rebbe’s 116th Birthday. Consider giving the Rebbe a gift this year. The gift of perpetuating Judaism by filling that seat at your Seder.

As you make your plans this week and next for your Seder, please set an extra seat and make sure that it is filled with someone who may not be at a Seder otherwise.

With blessing for a Happy and Kosher Pesach!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

Ps. If you know someone who needs a Seder, please send them to us HarfordChabad.org/Passover You can also sell your Chometz order kosher meat and more at that URL, additionally there are links to other pertinent Pesach info.



Be a Hero

A good story is made up of a villain, the person being negatively affected by that villain and the hero who saves the day.

In this week’s Torah portion we read about the sacrifices. The portion discusses the laws of what animal/bird to bring up, if/when/how to sprinkle some blood on the altar, whether a meal offering accompanies the sacrifice, etc. While it is nice as a law book, there is neither villain nor hero and essentially there is no story line. What we read can seem uninteresting or irrelevant to many of us.

This week we add a special portion in honor of the month of Nissan, called Parshat Hachodesh. We read about the first mitzvah the Jews received - to sanctify the new month via seeing the new moon. Once again, it seems very legalistic and not relevant in today’s day and age as we use a predetermined calendar due to the lack of a High Court.

Perhaps the answer to both of these is that the Torah wants to teach us that you are the hero!

G-d does not need our sacrifices. However, one of the ways to build a connection with G-d is to bring a sacrifice. We think of the receiver’s needs and wants when we give a gift. Similarly, a sacrifice is giving something of ourselves over to G-d, to thank him for the good we have, to apologize for a mistake or just because we are in a relationship with G-d as that is what He wants.

Now the story of the sacrifices becomes interesting; what to do when?

What is there to do with when once committed a sin? What to do when there is a lack of gratitude to G-d? How to repair our relationship with G-d? This is the suspense in the story.

The Torah resolves the suspense by telling us how we can resolve and repair the relationship with G-d. Whether it means bringing “roses and chocolate” (in Torah terms - a sacrifice) or  “tulips and chocolate” (in Torah terms - a different type sacrifice). When we bring the sacrifice we are the hero saving the relationship.

If we put ourselves in a situation where we have a gap in the relationship, we can think about what sacrifices we need to make to enhance the relationship.

The "new moon" is a similar story. When we want rebirth, we need to wait until the past is gone. The only way the "new moon" comes about is after the moment of it being completely hidden from our sight. One can only read the next chapter after the close of the previous one, it takes a hero to let the past go!

Take a moment and take this message to be heroic; apologize, rebuild a relationship, show gratitude, celebrate the rebirth and let the past be a chapter that you can choose to reread if it was good and leave behind if it was not.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Got Power?

It is Friday afternoon; Shabbos preparation is at its peak. The wind is howling, the lights are flickering and suddenly the power is out!

And then, the calls begin. 2.5 hours before the onset of Shabbos, we are manning the phones, directing about 20 frantic individuals, with varying amounts of passengers with them. The story is the same; the bridges into MD are closed due to the high winds and they do not think they will make it to their destination (Baltimore, DC, Silver Spring, Germantown) in time for Shabbos. Being Shabbos observant, can they spend Shabbos with us?

Our response: SURE! Get over the bridge and head over, we look forward to hosting you. Alas, many of them spent Shabbos together at the Days Inn, some made a U turn and spent Shabbos with Chabad in Wilmington. We were honored to host 8 guests; 4 students from Yeshiva University and a family of 4.

The power on the other hand, was not restored. Not until Tuesday at 7:02 PM.

We did have power at Chabad, so most of the food was salvageable. Thank G-d we made it through and can look back and laugh.

There is a teaching of the Baal Shem Tov that one should learn something from everything he sees and hears.

A few lessons I learned from this experience:
1) Everything can change in an instant
2) You need to ensure you have access to the backup power inside of you
3) The physical luxuries that one has are external
4) Many of the things we take for granted; health, sustenance, nachas from our children and electric power are blessings and should be appreciated at all times

Now you "heard" the story - what would you learn from it?

Have a restful (hopefully warm and with power) Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman


How do we get out of the way and let G-d into our lives.  It begins with humility. Humility is not an easy accomplishment, after all our first reality is ourselves.  This was so when we were born and continues to be in adulthood.  We wake up every morning first conscious of ourselves and then of the world around us.

Humility is not about eliminating ourselves from the picture, humility is understanding exactly how we fit into the picture.  Understanding that the entire world was created for me (as the Talmud states) is only a problem if you stop there.  But, it begs the question, if indeed the world was created for me, then why? Why indeed was it created for me? What am I supposed to do with it?

Or in other words, if you wake up in the morning and are caught up in yourself, at some point a thinking person needs to stop and ask why do I do this day in and day out? 

The answer to that question will either birth humility or feed ones ego.  If the answer to that question is that I am here to serve a higher purpose, then I become very relevant and very important insofar as I have been chosen and have a role to play.  As long as I am playing that role I am fulfilling my purpose and that itself breeds humility.

You won't wake up one morning and be focused on your purpose. There is no short cut to achieve humility other than meditating and praying with a focus on G-d and His relevance and presence in our lives.  The more one focuses on G-d the more He becomes relevant and present in ones life.

Put in other words humility is not about thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.  This is only achievable if one replaces the empty space inside that gets filled with self, and filling it with something higher and eternal.

Have an amazing Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

P.S. no services this week as Fraida will be in NY with the teens at the International cTeen Shabbaton, join them virtually Saturday Night at 8:45 PM at http://www.harfordchabad.org/3943888


Should you take things to heart?

Should you take things to heart?

I was having a discussion about increasing observance of a specific mitzvah; the whys and hows, plus the spiritual benefits. At the end, the other person said: I am an intellectual and an academic so while I understand it intellectually, I do not feel it.

When we do mitzvahs, one of the qualities that we need is joy and passion. Why? For when someone is passionate, they feel it in their kishkes, in their bones, in their insides. We cannot just allow a mitzvah to live in our head; we need to feel the mitzvah, and then we will do the mitzvah and be careful to do it properly. To make mitzvah observance meaningful, one needs to feel it and make it personal, relevant to him.

Today is Rosh Chodesh Adar, the beginning of the Hebrew month of Adar. The Talmud tells us: Mishenichnas Adar Marbin B'Simcha - when one enters into Adar, we increase our joy (Taanis 29A). In Hebrew, there are many words for joy: Gila, Sasson and Simcha to name a few.

Gila - peak moments of joy 
Sasson - happiness tinged with sadness
Simcha - enduring happiness

Why do we increase in Simcha style joy? I think it is because we are taking what we know in our head and making it personal, creating a special type of joy and passion.

The Zohar tells us that the word Simcha is a cognate of the words sham [there] and moach [head]. We understand it as joy based on where your head is at.

So take that Torah thought and get it out of your head and into your heart - take it to heart and make it personal and you will feel Simcha - enduring happiness! 

After all Mishenichnas Adar Marbin B'Simcha - when one enters into Adar, we increase our Simcha!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

Sorry, It wasn't me, really

When we make a mistake, we need to fix it. Sometimes we say “I am sorry for hurting you”. Many times, these words are said as “I am sorry if you were hurt by my actions”.

I always wondered if that is a disingenuous apology. If you were really sorry, say you are sorry for hurting the person, not sorry that they were hurt.

An answer can be found in this week’s Torah portion, when it discusses someone who inadvertently kills another. The Torah says: “And he who did not ambush, but G-d caused it to happen to him, I shall provide you a place to which he shall flee. (Exodus 21:13)

It seems like he is being let off the hook; he did not kill the person, G-d caused it to happen to him. He still needs to make amends, so G-d provides a place to flee to (the city of refuge).

The message here is that a person, while they are in touch with their true soul identity, cannot do a sin, something that is against the will of G-d, even inadvertently. Hence, if he sinned, it must be something external to his true self that caused him to do it (and it was caused by G-d). However, since YOU did it, YOU need to atone.

Additionally, the two souls, the G-dly soul and the animalistic selfish soul, are affected by the sin. Therefore, G-d says: I will give YOU, the G-dly soul, a place where HE, the animal soul, can flee and rectify the damage caused.

Sorry if you were hurt by MY actions, can mean: I take full responsibility for what I did, but know that it was the external part of me - my core soul is still deeply connected. I never would cause you any pain if I was in touch with my truest self!

Have a great shabbos.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

P.S. No minyan this week

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