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Rabbi's Blog

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

Your Competitive Advantage

Question:

Rabbi, It's enough. My non Jewish neighbor has an easier life. Judaism takes up my time and money. I have fewer hours in the day to dedicate to my business and less money to reinvest. My daily schedule is full of interruptions; morning prayers, online Torah study and afternoon and evening prayers. The Torah requires that I contribute to tzedakah; to support helping people, Jewish outreach, Torah Study and Children's education. My neighbor isn't required to do any of this. And Shabbos? A whole day off of work plus the costly Shabbos meal, hosting guests, Shul pledge, etc. all this while my neighbor is busy making even more money. Why does Judaism put me at a disadvantage?

Answer:

You are correct; you spend less time working and more time connecting with Hashem. You recognize that your money is not only for you and that G-d wants you to share it with others and support good causes. That being said, you can compete and you can be even more successful because you have a secret. 

Your secret lies in the laws of Shmitta; leaving the land to rest once in seven years, to which Hashem says "And if you should say, “What will we eat in the seventh year? … I will command My blessing for you in the sixth year, and it will yield produce for three years." (Leviticus 25: 20-21). That same year, all indentured servants go free. The Torah says: “Then, he (the servant) shall leave you. He, and his children with him, and he shall return to his family”. The Talmud asks: why are his children leaving? they were not sold as indentured servants. To which Rabbi Shimon (the star of Lag B'Omer) answers: Yes, but the master is required to provide for the children while the father is employed by him. 

Hashem is considered the master and the people are considered His servants. Hashem follows the laws of the Torah and is therefore required to provide for His servants. So while you may work fewer hours in order to do Hashem’s bidding, you get paid more per hour!

So have no fear, you have a competitive advantage! You are working smarter not harder. 

BTW, knowing that you are into music, here is a link to a song that is sung after Shabbos is over. The words are from the Havdalah prayer, mixed with a traditional verse sung after Shabbos: Fear not, Jacob My servant (Jeremiah 46:27). One of the reasons this verse is sung, is to help deal with the natural fear expressed in your question. We are saying to have no fear, for we are Hashem's servants and He is required to provide for us. The same reason why we hold the Havdalah candle; we may be heading into a seemingly bleak week, yet with G-d’s help we will light it up. 

Keep at it and the blessings will come in a revealed way!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

Education is a Jewish value

AdobeStock_65467327.jpegEducation is a Jewish value. The Talmud says that the only free person is the one who toils in Torah.

With that in mind, education does not always come easily. Many a time, children, teens and adults reject the encouragement of others to study or to hold a value close to their heart. As parents, we need to teach by example; recognize that our children are looking for truth, not to be pandered to. If we do not invest time, energy and passion, it can come across as not prioritizing that value.

Several other reasons why people would reject a value are:

  1. They are not spiritual. Talk to them about a juicy steak and they understand, talk about a relationship with G-d and they think you lost your mind. Can you instill in someone the ability to be more spiritual?
  2. It would go against his or her nature to be more extroverted or introverted, to be more thinking or feelings-oriented or to be more structured or open-ended. Can you train someone to act against their nature?
  3. Can you logically explain to them the why? If it cannot be explained you cannot expect me to follow that doctrine. Can you educate someone to follow traditions that are supra-rational?

The Torah is aware that these challenges exist and therefore the Torah says: I, G-d, believe that you can 

  1. Influence the “less refined individual”,
  2. Train individuals to go against their nature and
  3. Educate others to follow the supra-rational

The Torah does this by telling us that the elders must educate the youth in three laws:

  1. “Do not eat insects” – even someone who is unrefined and eating insects – they too have spiritual values instilled in them
  2. “Do not consume blood” – it was natural to eat food with blood at that time in history – even if someone is “used to it” we can train them to change
  3. “Do not become ritually impure” – although it may be supra-rational, it is possible to educate them to follow these traditions.

When the educator awakens the G-dly soul of the pupil then even someone who is unrefined and “not used to it” can follow the supra-rational to have a relationship with G-d.

Have a G-dly Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Love your fellow as yourself

My children, from time to time, tell me: “my teacher is my sister, because the Jewish people are all brothers and sisters. So my teacher is my sister.” While it seems somewhat childish, they are correct.

Love your fellow as yourself is the overarching rule of the Torah taught to us by Rabbi Akiva. Simply explained; one may think, if you love your fellow like yourself, we do not need all the man to man rules like don’t steal, don’t look for revenge etc. However, just like the Torah tells us to build a mishkan and then gives us the details, so too here, the Torah tells us to love your fellow and follows with the particulars on how to do so.

With that in mind one may ask “how can you command me to love?” Commanding me to do something is possible, but how can I be forced to feel?

In Bava Batra, the Talmud tells about a conversation between Tarnusruphus and Rabbi Akiva.

Tarnusruphus: If your G-d likes the poor, why does He not feed them?

Rabbi Akiva: For the purpose of saving us from the punishment of Gehenna

Tarnusruphus: It is, on the contrary, for this you should be punished with Gehenna; and I will give you a parable from which you will understand why: A king became angry at his slave and put him in prison, with the command that nobody should feed him; in spite of this, a person fed him and gave him drink. Would the king not be angry at and punish such a man? And yet Israelites are called servants, as it is written [Lev. xxv. 55]: "For unto me are the children of Israel servants . . . ."

Rabbi Akiva: I will give you another parable, to which my previous answer is to be compared: A king became angry with his son, put him in prison, and commanded that nobody should give him food or drink; in spite of which command, one fed him and gave him drink. When the king became aware of it, would he not be grateful to this person and send him a present? And we Israelites are called children, as it is written [Deut. xiv. 1]: "You are the children of the Lord," etc.

Rabbi Akiva viewed (and expected us to view) everyone as children of G-d. If you are G-d’s child and I am as well, we are siblings and it is normal for siblings to love each other (although not always easy).

Happy Loving,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Spirituality is one of those funny things

"You are Jewish; your husband, a lapsed Catholic. Neither of you believes, much, in G-d, although occasionally you like to meditate and you both would go hiking more if you could. You’ve had those moments — who hasn’t? — on mountaintops or in art museums or even in prayer when you’ve felt that overwhelming sense of bigness and smallness all at once, the awesomeness of existence, the miracle and fragility of being human. But it’s easy to switch the channel. Life — work, TV, an alluring new bar — intervenes and all that reverence dissipates." This is the 1st paragraph in the article by Lisa Miller titled "Why Kids Need Spirituality" in the New York Magazine.

Spirituality is one of those funny things; it is hard to define and is stereotyped as on a mountaintop or in private meditative prayer. Spirituality is made out to be the opposite of engaging with the world. True spirituality is making the mundane holy. Think of eating food, slowly, enjoying every bite, savoring the taste, paying attention to every spice and thanking the person who cooked it for putting it all together.  That is somewhat spiritual. Now, add the final ingredient and make a blessing before that first morsel touches your palate. You have thanked the Creator for creating all the spices and ingredients in this food to be able to give energy and keep us healthy.

Such an experience with food, mindfulness, recognizing the energy the food will bring and thanking G-d for the wonderful world he created, is true spirituality. It is the physical and spiritual synergy; it is transcendence while uplifting the rest of the world with you.

This week's parsha tells us this in a few verses:

Verse 2 “And the Lord said to Moses: Speak to your brother Aaron, that he should not come at all times into the Holy within the dividing curtain, in front of the cover that is upon the ark, so that he should not die, for I appear over the ark cover in a cloud....”

Verse 12 “And he shall take a pan full of burning coals from upon the altar, from before the Lord, and both hands, full of fine incense, and bring [it] within the dividing curtain. And he shall place the incense upon the fire, before the Lord, so that the cloud of the incense shall envelope the ark cover that is over the [tablets of] Testimony.”

The service of the incense (the Ketoret) represents the uplifting of the physical world. The incense included a foul smelling spice as well as a spice from a non-kosher animal, teaching us that you can take the mundane and uplift it.

The Torah teaches us that our job is not to always be "in the holy" but  to engage with the world, lead "normal" lives and when being "spiritual", bring the mundane (the incense) with us to be uplifted.

Take the time to be mindful and enjoy the moment of physical spirituality.

Have a great shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

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