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ב"ה

Rabbi's Blog

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

Get uncomfortable, it's the way to grow

Sometimes I wake up on the wrong side of the bed.  It happens on occasion that without warning, in the middle of a day, I find myself off kilter, something is not feeling right.  I can’t seem to put my finger on it.  

As both neuroscience has evolved and as a deeper understanding of Chabad philosophy comes to light, I have found some relief.

Tu B’shvat, the celebration of the New Years for trees marked this coming Monday adds some depth to the relief.

When a seed gets planted in the earth, before it begins to grow, it decays.  It’s quite the paradox; in order to grow, I need to rot.  Not decompose, in a bad way like I become less than but rot in a good way, get perspective.  

As long as I’m feeling cocky, feeding my ego, thinking that I am G-d, any growth is going to be limited and fallible, very fallible.   But a little humility becomes a spring board for growth.

Those uncomfortable feelings I’m experiencing are my humanity.  It’s my animals’ reminder that it is an animal and that it needs tending, love and connection.  It doesn’t have to have an explanation any less than a little puppy or kitty cat that is crying needs love or when my little child is whiny and kvetchy.

When I accept that there is a part of me that is still a child, still a little puppy, and will always be that way, I experience humility.   That humility is the rotting that is needed before the tree sprouts forth. 

So I may be a big shot (or as my uncle Schwarzie used to say “a legend in my own mind”), but I am suddenly and without warning reminded that I’m still a child, I still have this little animal inside and that I have plenty more work to do.

The Torah says that “man is the tree of the field”.  As Chamisha Asar b'Shvat - better known as Tu B’shvat - approaches, this is a good reminder to remember that in order to produce happy and healthy fruit, I need to occasionally have some rot and embrace my limitations.

Have a good Shabbos and Happy Tu B’shvat

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

Land of the Free ...

Adapted from the writings of Rabbi YY Jacobson based on the Maharal's teachings

We are blessed to live in the United States where we can celebrate our Judaism. However, the Jewish people are still in exile. Jews have been celebrating Passover, their freedom, regardless of the lack of freedom around them.  They celebrated during the inquisition and during the holocaust. Obviously, the celebration of freedom is not simply commemorating the lack of oppression, the ability for frivolous self-indulgence, or getting rid of the yoke of responsibility.

In Egyptian society one was not allowed to dream of self-determination; everything was controlled by the Pharaohs. The freedom of Passover changed the way we think about ourselves. We have a choice to do the right thing, or the opposite. We can choose our future. We can celebrate our ability to be ourselves even when circumstances make it seem impossible. Why? Because we are free.

To quote Viktor Frankl: "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

One of the responsibilities of the Jewish people was, and is, to impart this discovery to all of humanity. We must preserve the freedom and dignity of every individual under the sovereignty of a free G‑d. A G-d who desired free human beings who choose to construct a world founded on

1)      freedom,
2)      the dignity of the individual and
3)      the moral calling to build a fragment of heaven on planet earth.

Our freedom from the Egyptian bondage, read about in this week’s Torah portion, forces us to see ourselves inherently as free. Our very being must cry out in protest against tyranny and cruelty and remain obsessed with the belief that the future must be different. Redemption is yet to come and that a society in which evil and corruption rules cannot endure.

Reading about the Jews leaving Egypt reminds us of the awareness and yearning of freedom, and the conviction that freedom is the innate right of every human being.

Man yearns to reflect G‑d. Man, created in G‑d’s image, yearns to be utterly divine, hence utterly free. It is this G‑dliness inherent in a human being that drives us to constantly challenge and transcend the limits imposed on us, including even the limits of our own nature.

Have a good Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Can we handle the unfiltered truth?

This past week on Tuesday, the 24th of Teves, December 28, we commemorated the 209th passing of the Alter Rebbe, the first Chabad Rebbe, while fleeing from the onslaught of Napoleon, whom he opposed bitterly. His ohel (resting place) is in the Russian town of Haditch.

Tuesday night I joined a chassidic gathering on zoom. The facilitator spoke about an adage “had the Alter Rebbe not required absolute truth, he would have had fifty thousand more Chassidim.  But, the Rebbe demands the trait of truth”. 

In order to grow spiritually, the first ingredient is unfiltered truth, self reflection, where you can recognize your strengths and deficiencies.

It's easy to claim to be supportive of a cause, but do you do something about it? 

Think about it in politics, if you "support a candidate" but don't actually go out and vote, your support is just lip service.

The Alter Rebbe wasn't looking for pseudo chassidim, those claiming to want a relationship with Hashem.

He wanted people who were willing to do the hard work, to build a relationship, including the true self introspection. 

Can we handle the truth?

Are we willing to join the Chassidim?

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Change. It's scary.

I had a meeting this morning with a community member. We spoke about some changes that need to be made to really cater to each individual; to deliver the correct Jewish experience for each person. If we can successfully deliver on this plan, we will encounter divinity revealed.

The Torah experience was never intended to be reserved for a select few. It is an opportunity that each and every one of us has the ability to engage in, if we only allow ourselves to.

When Moses first encountered the burning bush, his initial reaction was to flee. He recognized that it was a revelation of the Divine in this world and he was not sure it was meant for a human being to experience.

G-d’s first words to Moses were, “Remove your shoes for you stand on holy ground.” He did not tell him to avoid the revelation of spirituality in this world. G-d was implying that with the proper approach, anyone can experience and benefit from G-dliness.

With the correct attitude and preparation, we too can be privy to Divine revelation within the physical world that we inhabit. We just need to remember to ‘remove our shoes’ and not run away.

Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

How do I reprimand someone?

Parents at times need to redirect their child. Sometimes in telling them they did something wrong, at other times, to give them guidance to not do the wrong thing.

Jacob is on his deathbed and calls for all his children. He starts to give them guidance for how they should live and reprimands them for mistakes they made.

How did Jacob’s children react? Rashi comments that "Because he rebuked the first three tribes in harsh terms Judah began to move away... Jacob therefore recalled him with words that would soothe him…”

Every story in the Torah has a relevant lesson for us. What is the message for us from this story? How do we guide our children on the correct path?

When you look at the conversation Jacob had with his children, it wasn’t one on one but all of them together. Judah heard the rebuke given to his older brothers, and they in turn heard the blessings of the younger children. Even though he calls out each one, the messages were to all of them. Most of the conversation is blessings and positive reinforcement while giving clarity of the standards and expectations of what it means to be ‘the children of Israel’.

When we need to rebuke someone, do we ask ourselves first if our standards and expectations are clear?

When we need to reprimand someone, do we ask ourselves if we are willing to have a 3-1 ratio, with more praise?

I am still in this process of "Rabbi"ing and parenting. I am still learning and far from perfect. But I think this is a good start.

What do you think?

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

When you thought you were burying me, I was being planted!

Have you ever been hurt by someone else? 

Did something that someone else did seem to change the trajectory of your life in a big way or a small way? 

How do we deal with the anger, the disappointment, the frustration that someone else's actions caused to my life?

For this we turn to Joseph in this week’s Torah portion. 

The story in short is that his brothers hated him and sold him to the slave trade market, thinking that would be the end of him. The track of his life after that took him to jail, a dream interpreter and eventually after many years of anguish and languishing, he eventually makes his way to the top and becomes viceroy of Egypt.

A famine brought to him these brothers who changed his life seemingly in a negative way. He then had his chance to get the long-deserved revenge on his brothers. To right the wrong that had been plaguing him for decades. Instead, in a most unexpected plot twist, he tells his brothers, “You didn't send me here, G-d sent me so that I can provide life sustenance to you and the world."

Joseph was telling his brothers: you may have thought you were burying me, however, I was being planted. G-d tended to me so I would grow! You may have been the tool to seemingly ruin my life. I can see the bigger picture and realize that even your violations against me were part of G-d's master plan.

Maybe we could find a way to dig so deep in ourselves and forgive those who have wronged us.

How does one celebrate the wrong? Can we realize that in the Master Plan, this too was part of G-d’s blueprint to give me the life I need, not just the life I thought I wanted?

It is a major ask, but it is also a game changer. If only we could get to this holy space.

It's not easy, but we must try.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Written by Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman
Inspired by Rabbi YY Jacobson
Besser Gemacht by Rabbi Kushi 

 

surviving? time to revive...

On Chanukah we celebrate the survival of the Jewish people when the Sadducees (Syrian Greeks) tried to destroy their soul. They outlawed many mitzvot that seemed to not make any sense; mitzvot like shabbat and bris milah (circumcision).

The word survive comes from sur – additional and - vive - living. On Chanukah, despite the challenges the Jewish people faced, we survived and continue to live. On Chanukah, the temple was rededicated and thank G-d, Judaism has an extra life.

There is another word that is similar, revive. re- back and vive – living; alive again.

This Chanukah, I prefer to focus on the revival of Judaism, not just the survival. On Chanukah, we celebrate not additional life, but going back to the life we once lived. The life that is soul focused. The life that mitzvot aren't done (only) because they make sense, but because they are the expression of who we are.

Yes, we need to survive. However, we also need to revive and refresh our souls. We need to focus on going back to our core.

According to certain kabbalistic sources, Chanukah is the very end of the High Holiday season. On Chanukah we go back to our core identity, not through fasting but as a result of reviving the soul that may have been dormant. On Chanukah we do teshuva (return to our core process) in a very joyous and light filled way that doesn't only affect us but also shines and puts a glow on the people around us.

So, revive yourself and shine!

Happy Chanukah

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

 

👋 Bye Bye Struggle 👋

I imagined I woke up one morning and the struggle was gone. I just naturally jumped out of bed with a positive attitude.  I went about my morning studies, prayer and exercise regime without hesitation and with a jump in my step. I was kind to my wife and children saying and doing all the right things with sensitivity and purpose.

I went to work and was empathetic to others and their struggles. I performed at work exactly as expected.  I had the right balance between G-d, work, play and family. 

It sounded fun for a while and I enjoyed the dream. And then I realized that it would get old quickly.  The joie de vivre would be lost as the tension in my world disappeared. 

But then I imagined again and hoped for a day here or there of no struggle, a break of sorts.

And then I realized in real time that I was in middle of my morning services and the words were swimming in front of my in the prayer book.

Last week after Jacob struggles with the Angel his name is changed to Yisroel/Israel – as to say; You have struggled and have prevailed/mastered (Sar) with Man and G-d (El – angels). But yet, we find in the Torah and in fact in this week Parsha that he is again called Jacob.

(When G-d changes Abraham and Sara’s name from Avram and Sarai to Avrohom and Sara, we no longer find the Torah referring to them in their old name.)

The reason for this is that we all possess a Jacob and Israel personality.  Jacob the struggler, Israel the master.  Jacob is the tension that we possess.  It is shaped by our genetics, upbringing and choices. We can never fully escape it and so our name remains Jacob.  But we have the power within ourselves to prevail and overcome, to have those moments of reprieve and mastery, to be Israel.

The knowledge of this empowers us to not become despondent when we find ourselves running ragged when we experience challenge after challenge and struggle after struggle (Jacob).  We can know that we can rise above it and prevail (Israel) even if it is only for a short while.

It’s good to dream and imagine a time of reprieve, it’s also good to realize that struggle is what gives life its depth and meaning.

I hope you have a restful, reprieve-ful Shabbos and Thanksgiving!

With blessing,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

P.S. My thanks to my brother Eliyahu of Chabad Intown Atlanta for letting me use his weekly blog article (with minor edits)

How to make space?

Standing outside the buildings as they were being demolished, I reflected on the need, at times, to do things that we’d rather not do! In this week’s Torah portion, Rachel is buried on the side of the road. The midrash explains that she chose to be there in order to be available to her descendants, as they were led into captivity. She chose to be there for them despite the fact that she would have preferred to be buried in a Jewish cemetery, together with her husband, in the cave of Machpela.

No one wants to take down a beautiful building with architecture design and with the old town feel. Yet, there are times that we need to leave from what exists in order to grow beyond that.

As we began the building process, we planned to keep the buildings and build around them. We’d be getting the best of both worlds; part new and part old. But the structures were not safe enough. The finished building would not be usable for a synagogue. When one would enter, the feeling would have been walking into an office in the hallway. Not the vibe we were aiming for.

When Moses was at the burning bush, he is told “Leave from here”. Rashi comments: you need to leave from here in order to go to there. Spiritually, what that means is that in order to grow to a higher level, you need to demolish the previous level. Sometimes you need to get rid of the old in order to make place for the new and to be able to get comfortable at this higher spiritual level.

Practically, this means that in order to grow, one needs to get rid of their previous perceptions of what Judaism and spirituality is about. A parent who did not have a good experience at Hebrew school, won’t send their child to Hebrew school. But if they recognize that the Hebrew school of their youth is not the school of today, they may reconsider. Today’s Hebrew school instills the same values but by focusing on the joy and positive effects of spirituality, of the Torah and mitzvahs.

An adult who has had non positive interactions with people who observe Torah and mitzvahs, may think that exploring Judaism and learning Torah are not up his alley. If he’d get rid of the preconceived notions, he can make way for a much better spiritual experience.

Below is a time lapse of taking down the old as well as a picture of what the new will look like. Yes, sometimes we have to get rid of our preconceived notions, but as time moves on, we will be very happy with the new.

Have a Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

TimeLapse.png 



New.PNG

Mission Accecpted

Have you ever wondered about those who have made a major impact on the world?

Did you ever think “if only I can be one of those people”?

You can! It is a 3 step process:

1)      Leave your comfort zone
2)      Pray that you withstand the tests
3)      Take additional actions to perpetuate your mission of making the world around you a place where G-d, Torah and Mitzvahs and spirituality are more welcome.

Abraham and Isaac were spiritual leaders. They were righteous and giants of holiness. Living in Abimelech’s territory, they made a pact that he would allow them to explore their spirituality. The name of the city was called Be’er Sheva – because there they made a pact.

Ultimately the agreement was one of live and let live. I will not mix into what you are doing, and you will not mix into what I am doing.

Jacob was also a spiritual giant. However, he wanted to change the world. He left calm, comfortable Be’er Sheva to go to Charan, the target of G‑d’s fury in the world (Rashi on Bereishis 11:32: playing on the Hebrew name of the place Charan, charon-af shel [Makom ba]-olam).

Jacob went into the spiritual war zone of the world. He went to a place where most people like you and I live. He went to a place of struggle; a place where we sometimes are successful in doing the correct thing and at times struggle to do the right thing.

On his way to the war zone, Jacob prayed.

Why pray? What is prayer anyway?

I used to struggle with prayer; a bunch of words, saying the same thing every day... Does G-d really need our praises? Eventually, I learned (and am still learning) that prayer is something else entirely. Prayer is a connection with Something Greater. It is recognizing that I am not a small insignificant person, I matter. I can make a difference. I can change the world. And not only can I, I must! The Creator of the world is relying on me to make an impact. How can I renege on this mission?

Prayer, in a nutshell, is saying: G-d, You are great and thank you for choosing me to do this mission that You gave me. I am ready for the mission. If you give me financial success, I will use it for charity. If you give me wisdom, I will use it to teach Torah values, etc.

And then Jacob went to Charan and created a Jewish family. It did not happen overnight. It took many years to see positive results. Laban was still not the good kind of person that Jacob hoped for him to become. However, Laban's children were part of those who the Torah calls a light unto the nations.

Good Shabbos and go change the world!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

Can't we all just get along?

Some people are just not like us! Some are more rigid while others are too free flowing. There are people who we just don't like, often for no good reason.
This past week, at the International Conference of Chabad Rabbis, the Dvar Torah was about Abraham and Isaac. How they were so different yet the same. The verse says: Yitzchak is the son of Abraham and Abraham gives birth to Isaac. This shows us that despite their differences, they were intrinsically connected.
The Jewish people are descendants of Abraham and Isaac. Religion is sometimes rigid; these are the rules how you do it. Wine celebrating Shabbat on Friday night is a mitzvah (Soup and Scotch? this week 5:30 PM) whereas on Tuesday, a cup of wine is just a cup of wine.
Simultaneously, Judaism is a loving and embracing religion. If you are Jewish, your level of observance doesn't change any level of how Jewish you are.
When you come across someone with a different viewpoint, embrace the opposites. Recognize that you meeting them is part of your collective journey. We tend to label them negatively. Be it in politics, religion or in financial matters, etc. Instead, try engaging them with an open mind. Hear each other out respectfully. Even if you can’t see eye to eye. Agree to disagree.
Abraham is outreach, Isaac is the strength and fortitude to overcome challenges. How do we overcome the challenge of rejection when reaching out to a fellow Jew with love? By recognizing that we have the ability to balance two opposing feelings. Loving them and recognizing their need for space. They aren’t rejecting us. They are making space to accept us. As time moves on, reach out again, and see if they are ready, perhaps the time wasn’t right.
If you want to watch the whole conference, https://www.harfordchabad.org/221818 this Dvar Torah begins at an hour and 50 minutes into the program.
Have a good Shabbos and I hope to see you soon even if we have issues we disagree on :)
Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Spirit + Ritual = Spiritual

“Imagine the sun above you, picture it radiating from within itself, shining its light out through space, through the layers of our atmosphere, through the clouds, through a skylight, through a thin curtain stretched across the skylight, through the space between the curtain and you and all the way into your skin and deep into you. Think of the light as a single reality in all of the above mentioned phases at the same time…”

I got this in an email from a friend, describing the innovation to Judaism of the fifth Chabad Rebbe, the Rebbe Rashab, who passed away in 1920. He was reminding me that it was the Rebbe Rashab’s birthday, born in 1860. For some reason, I couldn’t get the email out of my head.

Judaism has two parts; the ritual, the mitzvos, the set of practices that empower you to reveal the infinite light within your soul and to reveal the soul in everything around us. At the same time, the Rebbe Rashab revealed, not only are we revealing a light, but we are also creating a new energy when we put these rituals into practice. When we do another mitzvah, we actually create a new spark, a new warmth and a new energy in the world around us.

Spirit + Ritual = Spiritual 

Many people view Judaism as a culture. Others view it as a set of rules and laws. In reality, it is the fusion of ritual and the creation of spirit that unites the physical and the intangible. This combination gives us the ability to literally transform the world and create things out of thin air, to create an energy that makes the world around us a place where G-d will feel at home and where we express our truest identity.

As I spend some time this weekend with fellow Chabad rabbis from around the world, it’s an opportunity for each of us, as rabbis, to ensure that the light of our souls has not dimmed and that our communities are continuing to benefit from this light. We are consistently reminded that the ultimate goal is to make the world the place where G-d feels comfortable, and His essence can be revealed in a tangible way. The only way to do this is by each and every one of us creating this light, by doing another mitzvah.

Have a good Shabbos,

There will not be services at Chabad this week.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Listen to Sarah - Disconnect to connect

Nate Burleson is a TV host who recently interviewed his daughter about social media use. A community member mentioned the interview to me and how apropos that it’s connected to this week’s Torah portion.

As a parent, the main question asked when making rules and boundaries etc. with your child is, what is best for this child?

Sarah and Avraham had a child named Yitzchak. His older half-brother Yishmael seemed to be a potentially negative influence on him. Sarah demanded of Avraham to expel Yishmael, along with his mother Hagar, from the household. Avraham had initial misgivings. However, G-d told him: "Whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her voice!"

As an adult, I too have negative influences in my life and my time. I give myself reasons and misgivings as to why I should continue to use them.

Avraham had holy reasons as to why Yishmael should remain at home. However, in this situation, G-d told him to listen to Sarah.

When we have a negative influence in our lives, or in our children’s lives, we need to listen to the Sarahs in our lives.

According to the Kabbalah, Sarah embodied the divine attribute of Malchus (royalty). In a nutshell, Malchus is the ability to take the original intention and transform it into the final manifestation. To take the huge idea and narrow it down to a meme fit for social media, while including the entire idea. When Malchus says get rid of it, that is the voice you should listen to.

How do you tap into your Malchus? Humility and listening. G-d tells Avraham to listen to her voice. Don’t just “hear her out”, listen and pay attention. Sometimes we need to expel the negative, sometimes we need to disconnect to connect, sometimes we need to accept constructive criticism so we can grow.

I use social media less than I used to and I am blessed with people who are honest with me and tell me where I need to get better.

What can you do to disconnect to connect to expel the negative influences from your life?

Have a great Shabbos (another time we disconnect to connect),

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

P.S.
Nate Burleson - Social media and its effects on youth development and mental health https://youtu.be/xvmeizvQILc

Video about connection and disconnection - https://youtu.be/-XiSIGPIi7s


Decentralize and find your promised land.

Avraham is told in this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Lech Lecha, to go out. To leave the centralized structures that he has built around himself. “From your land, from your birthplace and from your father’s house.”

So many things that we do is because that is the way culture taught us. Some are from the environment in which we were born, and some are from how we were nurtured.

During the 1960s, young people were becoming increasingly distrustful of parents and teachers. This led them to turn from the values and traditions with which they had been raised.

It seems they were following the instruction to Avraham to leave the constraints, the central structures that are around them.

The Rebbe viewed this as decentralizing the negative parts of Judaism. What one may call a shallow or watered-down Jewish experience.

The youth were searching for something deeper.

The Rebbe even wrote this in a letter

"We are seeing this awakening primarily among the youth, who experience everything with a greater depth and a greater intensity. Young people also have no fear of changing their lifestyle, as long as they are convinced that they are being given the truth, without compromise and equivocation...

..... if only they are given the truth in its purity. We have witnessed in actuality that those who are not intimidated and present the truth without equivocation have been met with a true response among the youth."

"History repeats itself" or as Ecclesiastes says, “There’s nothing new under the sun”.

Now is another time we need to ask ourselves: is it time for me to leave my view on religion, spirituality and G-d behind? The one I solidified 10 years ago or maybe 20, 30, of 40 years ago. The one that I bought into and codified as the official view.

Perhaps, if I am willing, when I leave MY land, MY birthplace, MY father’s house I will find more then I ever imagined. The journey may be arduous but, in the end, I will find MY promised land. The one that Hashem chose for me, based on Torah and Mitzvos.

Avraham was 75 when he started his journey. We can also take this journey. We need to be willing to make that leap of faith.

Have a Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

There is no such thing as a free lunch!

There is an expression "there is no such thing as a free lunch".

Everything comes at a cost. Sometimes, this means that saying “yes, I will help you" means saying “no, I can't help the other person".

If I attend something at 7:00 PM, I cannot help with bedtime. If I do bedtime, I can't be out at that time.

Unity in general is a very powerful tool. When we are unified, peace reigns and blessings flow.

Humanity tried to tap into this unity without sacrificing their ego. They got together to build a great monument that would help wandering shepherds find their way back to the city, while creating a sense of national pride. This was to be known as "The tower of Bavel".

There was only one issue, the group had no humility. They wanted the freedom to live their lives however they pleased, with no responsibility. This doesn't work. Unity only brings blessing when it is for the greater good. When you are humble enough to fight for the cause more than for your position. If I can do whatever I (the ego, royal I") want in the name of unity, it brings destruction.

In simple English: if you can't admit that you made a mistake and will try to rectify it because YOUR view is more important than the mission, then the unity is destructive.

There is no such thing as a free lunch. Unity comes at the cost of your ego. But the result is blessings. Is it worth the price? 

A meditation: G-d gives unlimited positive untapped energy. I can tap into that energy and convert that energy to anything in this diverse world. In order to tap into it and transform the energy, I need to ensure that my friendships and relationships (my personal unity) are not based solely on mutual benefit but on shared values and purpose. These values must reign supreme with me keeping my ego in check.

When I study Torah and pray or do good deeds, I will do them with humility, knowing that others can do the same.

Have a good shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

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