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Rabbi's Blog

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

Repairing the World

The Torah, in this week’s portion, tells us about a fugitive who relates to Avram that his kinsman, Lot, was captured.  Avram armed three hundred and eighteen men and pursued the captors until the area of Dan. 

The Torah leaves out many of the details about this fugitive, including his identity. Most commentaries identify him to be Og, the (future) king of Bashan.

A bit of what we know about Og:

  • He was a giant person 
  • His bed was made out of iron
  • The size of his bed was 18 ft by 8 feet (think large garage door)
  • He was circumcised
  • He lived till he was at least 450 years old 

Og gives the impression of being a upright person and one who agrees with the principles of tikun olam, repairing the world and making the world a better place. We see this in the above story, when Og enabled the mitzvah of Pidyon Shevuyim – redeeming of captives.

The unique value that the Jewish people bring in tikkun olam is 'l'taken olam b'malchut Shaddai” - we believe in repairing the world in order to bring recognition that the world is under the dominion of G-d. While Og did do good things, he did them when it agreed with his intellect. Og failed to recognize the integral motive for the mitzvot. We observe them because of our faith and trust in G-d; because G-d wants us to do them.

Doing good deeds based on rationale is problematic as it allows one to rationalize evil and reframe it as a good thing. We see this by the story of Og. The Midrash tells us that the reason that Og told Abram about Lot's capture was his hope that Abram would die trying to save Lot. Sarai would then be an eligible beautiful woman who he can marry. He did this again when making a huge iron bed showing that ‘might makes right’, the stronger you are the more you can bully people into your way of doing things.

In the end, Og died at the hands of Moshe during a normal battle, no major miracle. Moshe represents spirituality, Og represents corporeality. Naturally, G-d centered spirituality will win.

Hope to see you all soon,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

A Gentile Message

As we restart reading the Torah, we see that the Jewish people are introduced with the birth of Abraham. Yet this is only transcribed at the end of this week’s portion, Parshat Noah, the second portion of the Torah. What relevance do the details of Noah and the ark have to the Jewish People? Why not start with the life of Abraham, the first Jew?

Because I am part of humanity. The job of the Jew is to uplift mankind and the world at large to be sanctified. 

As much as Judaism wants Jews to follow the uniquely Jewish laws, it wants the gentile to follow the 7 universal laws that G-d commanded them.

See below article from our website. (full article here)

The dawn of human history, G-d gave man seven rules to follow in order that His world be sustained. So it is recounted in the Book of Genesis as interpreted by our tradition in the Talmud. There will come a time, our sages told us, that the children of Noah will be prepared to return to this path. That will be the beginning of a new world, a world of wisdom and peace.

At the heart of this universal moral code is the acknowledgement that morality - indeed, civilization itself - must be predicated on the belief in G-d. Unless we recognize a Higher Power to whom we are responsible and who observes and knows our actions, we will not transcend the selfishness of our character and the subjectivity of our intellect. If man himself is the final arbiter of right and wrong, then "right", for him or her, will be what they desire, regardless of its consequences to the other inhabitants of earth.

At Mount Sinai, G-d charged the Children of Israel to serve as His "Light unto the nations" by bringing all of humanity to a recognition of their Creator and adherence to His laws.

What is most beautiful about these laws, is the breathing room they provide. They resonate equally in a hut in Africa or a palace in India, in a school in Moscow or a suburban home in America. They are like the guidelines of a great master of music or art: firm, reliable and comprehensive -- but only a base, and upon this base each people and every person may build.

"The Seven Noahide Laws" are a sacred inheritance of all the children of Noah, one that every person on the face of the earth can use as the basis of his or her spiritual, moral and pragmatic life. If enough of us will begin to incorporate these laws into our lives, we will see a different world very soon. Sooner than we can imagine.

THE 7 LAWS

Acknowledge that there is only one G-d who is Infinite and Supreme above all things. Do not replace that Supreme Being with finite idols, be it yourself, or other beings. This command includes such acts as prayer, study and meditation.

Respect the Creator. As frustrated and angry as you may be, do not vent it by cursing your Maker.

Respect human life. Every human being is an entire world. To save a life is to save that entire world. To destroy a life is to destroy an entire world. To help others live is a corollary of this principle.

Respect the institution of marriage. Marriage is a most Divine act. The marriage of a man and a woman is a reflection of the oneness of G-d and His creation. Disloyalty in marriage is an assault on that oneness.

Respect the rights and property of others. Be honest in all your business dealings. By relying on G-d rather than on our own conniving, we express our trust in Him as the Provider of Life.

Respect G-d's creatures. At first, Man was forbidden to consume meat. After the Great Flood, he was permitted - but with a warning: Do not cause unnecessary suffering to any creature.

Maintain justice. Justice is G-d's business, but we are given the charge to lay down necessary laws and enforce them whenever we can. When we right the wrongs of society, we are acting as partners in the act of sustaining the creation.

feel free to share this email with a friend,

Have a wonderful Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

 

You Are Important

Guest Author: Mrs. Chana Rachel Schusterman

Parsha B’reishit tells of G-d’s creating the world ex nihilo, out of nothing. He brings each unique creation into the world. The most special and unique, however, is the ultimate of the created beings, man and woman; Adam and Eve were created “in the Divine image.”

Mankind, personified in Adam, was created alone, as one person, not as a couple. The Talmud says, this is to teach us the importance of each individual person. In the beginning Eve was within Adam, until they were divided, able to marry and to bring the future generations of humanity into the world. Thus the Talmud teaches us that each person is an entire world. A main teaching of Judaism is the sacredness of human life. 

Human uniqueness lies in the power of free will. Everything else is part of nature, acting in its instinctive way. But the human being was given the ability to transform his or her inherent nature. G-d, who makes us, guides us. Through the Divine commands, the mitzvos, we have the ability to utilize our free choice to bring out our inner essential self, our way of expressing the Divine image within us.

The basis of civilization is the sacredness of life, the respect for each individual's potential to bring goodness into the world. The first descriptive creation in B’reishit is, “let there be light.” Our Torah, with its many mitzvos, gives the Jewish people the ability to transform our situation and environment, even as it appears dismal, to light. Each act of goodness and kindness brings more light into the world, affecting others whose light must also shine.

We wake up each morning in a world that is created new each day, for nothing is rote. G-d is involved in His world, making it and each of us new each day and each moment. Every human being can make a difference in the world through his action. 

B’reishit is the first parsha, inaugurating a new cycle of learning G-d's Torah. It is up to us to use our free choice to discriminate between darkness and light, thereby revealing G-d’s light. We need to distinguish between what to avoid because it brings more darkness, and what to embrace, because which brings us to the fulfillment of G-d’s purpose for the world. When we exercise our free will to choose light and life, we transcend our own nature and reveal the Creator in His world. 

A Hug

On the holiday of Sukkot, as we sit in a Sukkah, G-d is giving us a hug, holding us in His grasp as He surrounds us in the sukkah walls.

Join other community members for soup and salad on Thursday anytime between 5:30-7:30. Stay for two minutes or two hours, we would love to see you.

If your schedule won't allow that time frame, stop by anytime on Thursday or Friday, for a G-dly sukkah hug, refreshments and a lulav and etrog shake.

Shabbat services will be 9:30 am followed by a Kiddush in the Sukkah.

Hope to see you,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

True Love

This Shabbat is Yom Kippur.

On Yom Kippur, in the afternoon (5:00 pm), we pray the afternoon service and read about the story of Jonah in the Haftorah.

The story in short is that G‑d ordered the prophet Jonah to travel to Nineveh and present its wicked inhabitants with an ultimatum: repent or be destroyed. Jonah refused to comply with this directive and fled on a boat. Strong winds threatened to destroy the ship. Lots were cast among the crew and passengers and the lottery indicated that Jonah was the cause of the turbulent storm. He admitted his guilt and requested to be cast into the sea. Jonah was thrown into the raging sea and the storm abated. Jonah was swallowed by a big fish, and while in its belly, was moved to repent. The fish regurgitated Jonah who then proceeded to Nineveh and broadcasted G‑d's word that Nineveh would be overturned in forty days. The people fasted and returned to G-d by repenting and the divine decree was annulled.

Most people say that the reason this story is read on Yom Kippur is to convey the power of repentance; how it can annul divine decrees.

I would like to share another perspective. The importance of this story may be in its beginning, about Jonah running away from G-d. For what reason did Jonah run away from his divine mission?  Jonah, being an advocate for the Jewish people, feared that if the people of Nineveh would return to serving G-d, there may be a claim against the Jewish people, in the heavenly court, for being unfaithful to G-d, and not doing teshuvah.

  • Jonah knew that it is impossible to run from G-d
  • Jonah knew that he may be punished
  • Jonah knew that G-d knows the future and can allow the use of the "Ninveh claim" anyway
  • Jonah knew that G-d can send someone else to get the message to the people of Ninveh

Despite the above, the main thing that Jonah knew was that I will have no part in anything that may negatively affect my people. If it will be detrimental to them, I will sacrifice myself physically and spiritually to ensure that I am not an accomplice or even an accessory to that crime.

Reading about Jonah and his willingness to sacrifice for the sake of his nation, teaches us that true love causes one to go the furthest extremes just to prevent a negative outcome to their fellow man.

I hope you can join us for the reading of the book of Jonah on Shabbat, October 4 at 5:00pm at the Ramada Conference Center 1700 Van Bibber Rd, Edgewood, MD 21040.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

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