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Rabbi's Blog

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

The other "2 day a year Jew"

It's been said that there are two day a year Jews, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Jews.  It's also been said that if you are only going to go twice a year make it Purim and Simchas Torah - the food is better and it's much more fun!

Simchas Torah is Monday night and Tuesday - October 21 and 22.  I hope you'll celebrate somewhere this Simchas Torah but it's also been said if you haven't seen Simchas Torah at Chabad, you ain't never seen Joy! So I hope to see you at our Simchas Torah Celebrations.

***

Simchas Torah is not one of the big 613 from the Torah, nor is it even a Rabbinic Mitzvah and yet it occupies such a significant role in our tradition that it is the holiday that is the bookend that closes out the High Holiday Season. 

What is it about Simchas Torah that is so significant?

***

In new relationships communication is critical.  You articulate your desires and your needs to your loved one.  As time goes on and familiarity sets in, all that's needed is a little hint.  A relationship that is seasoned doesn't even require a hint. The loved ones are so in tune with each other that they know without it being requested or even hinted to what is desired or needed.

In a similar fashion the commandments of the Torah represent Hashem articulating clearly what He needs from us; the relationship is real but not that deep yet.  The Rabbinic commandments represent a deeper dimension. Hashem doesn't need to tell us what He needs but He just hints to it and we pick up the cue.  

When our relationship is on the deepest level, we don't even need a hint, we just naturally do what Hashem wants.  

This is Simchas Torah. It represents the profound relationship we've achieved with Hashem after the intense bonding on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  We've achieved even a deeper connection sitting together with each other, Hashem's children, in the Sukkah.

Now on Simchas Torah we are at the deepest dimension of our relationship with Hashem and we break out with dancing and love just Hashem wants even without the need for Him to ask it of us.

So let's show some love together!

See you Monday night at 5:30 PM for Kiddush and Hakafos followed by all night dancing!
Come back Tuesday at 10:00 AM as we dance again and complete/restart the Torah!

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach!

Party Time?

We did it! Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, praying, fasting, apples in honey, new fruit, Tashlich, white kitel, round Challah, all the senses awakened by these holy days!

Time to relax and celebrate. Why indeed do we need to celebrate? Why does the Torah prescribe a holiday of celebration and rejoicing, "Zman Simchatainu - the time of our rejoicing" only four days after Yom Kippur

The answer is simple as it is profound. Spiritual feelings no matter how deep are fleeting. It feels good to feel close. It feels good to be plugged in. But what happens when the intensity of the moment passes? What happens after the wedding, the anniversary, the birthday, the milestone celebration, passes? Are we still committed? How do we know if we are committed?

Action is the answer. If you love someone you do what they want. If you are in awe of someone you don't violate their wishes.

If we love Hashem we fulfill HIs commandments. If we are in awe of Him we don't violate His instructions.

To transition into a year of action when the energy of the High Holidays are long gone, we have a bridge, a holiday of joy.

Joy and celebration integrate the intense experiences into every fiber of our being. The very essence of joy captures the entirety of our being.

Even more so when the Sukkah in its entirety embraces us, when the dancing of Simchat Torah literally lifts our entire body off the ground, that is integration. That energy carries us through the year.

How are you celebrating Sukkot?

Join us - Details at www.HarfordChabad.org/Sukkot 

Chag Sameach and Good Shabbos!
 

Rabbi Schusterman

Elevate Yourself

 

As a small child, Reb Zalman Aharon (the “Raza”), the older brother of Rebbe Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch (the “Rashab”), often complained that he was noticeably shorter than his younger brother.

One day, the Raza sneaked up behind his brother and put him into a small pit, pointing out that now he was the taller one.

As the Rashab started to cry, Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch, the father of the two boys, who had observed the entire episode, pulled out the child and then turned to his eldest son and told him:

“One is not higher (“taller”) than another by lowering him but by raising oneself higher.”

As we continue the holiday season, with Yom Kippur and Sukkos, we get inspired and now have the opportunity to lift ourselves up to a new place. 

Many a time, I have seen people grow in their spirituality. However, their journey brought them to a place that they rejected their fellow, their family and old friends because now they are too religious to “fraternize with the heathens”. 

To this I remind you to grow this holiday season; get to a higher place. When we see someone else who is not on our spiritual level, we should remember “To be bigger than your friend, there is no need to pull him down. Simply elevate yourself!”

Uplift yourself!

Have a great Shabbos, and join us for services with my parents at 10 AM Shabbos Morning.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

 

Mirror Mirror

 Rosh Hashanah starts this Sunday evening.

So let’s summarize this year. What did you discover about yourself, about your life? What changes did you incorporate into your world? What relationships were enhanced? Which were damaged? How is next year going to be different?

These are the very uncomfortable questions a good friend asked. I thought first about telling him to jump into the lake at Bynum Run Park (by the way, join us on the first day of Rosh Hashanah 6 pm for Shofar in the Park) and mind his own business. But then I thought let me try to answer that question. And I did.

Mirror, mirror on the wall who is this fellow looking at you?

The mirror's response wasn’t necessarily that pleasant, but it was challenging.

It asked, why is next year going to be different from all other years?
It wanted to know how I dare show my face this Rosh Hashanah when I have fallen short on last year’s commitments.

No, it isn’t always the most pleasant experience to have yourself put on the table in front of you to look at, but the alternative is more of the same. Change is not easy, but our Tradition provides an entire season for it.

“You stand here today, all of you from the wood-chopper to the water carrier”. Today = the day of Rosh Hashanah. Today (on that first day of RH) all of us stand equally, before the Master of the Universe, wood-choppers, water carriers, lawyers, doctors, teachers, moms, dads, accountants, business people, and executives. All of us stand and are required to present ourselves.

A visual – a man with a tie parading down the street without any clothes on. This is the spiritual equivalent of looking good without anything to back it up. It’s like driving someone else’s Tesla and pretending that it’s yours.
Now is the season to get our act together!

Friends are a powerful source to get us in-line. Find a friend, find a mirror, take some time to meditate and pray, the great day of Rosh Hashanah is coming!

Shana Tova and Shabbat Shalom looking forward to seeing you over the holidays.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

Own It It's You!

What are you thinking about when you are on vacation?

Most people (employees) are not thinking about work while on vacation. The typical person isn't thinking about the sales or orders that are supposed to come in. The business owner is! The company is his. It is on his mind, always. The owner is thinking about his business daytime and evening, even while on vacation.

The employee, even when they work hard, the business is not theirs; it’s something they do. The business owner will go above and beyond their capacity. They make sacrifices that employees don’t need to make to ensure the business thrives.

The Torah tells us regarding raising children (both biological and those we mentor, “our spiritual students”) and studying Torah, that we must toil. 

These two are not things we do as an employee; it is part of the fabric of our existence. We think about our children and see what we can do to help them grow up spiritually and physically, in a healthy manner all the time. 

We study Torah, we toil in Torah, even when we are on vacation. It is not a job. It is part of who we are.

Is it easy? NO! The language used is toil. It’s hard work. Yet the dividends are enormous. So, think about your spiritual and/or biological children. Think about the Torah. Get to work, not as an employee but as an owner. Make a difference in the world around you! 

Have an amazing Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Returns Accepted

You shall not see your brother's ox or sheep straying and ignore them. You shall return them to your brother...You shall not ignore. (Deuteronomy 22)

Hashavas Aveida, returning a lost object. Teshuva, returning to our core identity. The word hashev is used in both instances as opposed to choosing a different term like chozer.

Warning: Please don't try to help someone return by badgering them or by telling them that "YOU" found G-d and that they should as well.

Show them how your connection with Judaism made you a better person. Invite them to join you to check it out and see for themselves how Judaism can connect them to their core identity thereby enhancing their life.

Have a good Shabbos!

Join us for Shabbos services at 10:00 AM

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

You are the witness

The court's atmosphere buzzed with tension as the Bailiff cleared her throat and called "Hall 7 of the Superior Court is now in session, Judge Greenwald is presiding. Please be seated.” 

"Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen," the judge boomed. "Calling the case of the..."

The defendant... He's charged with the armed robbery of...

The judge sighed. "The prosecution may call their first witness...

What is the purpose of a witness? 

Generally speaking, we think of a witness as a bystander; someone who is reporting what happened, not someone who is involved in the situation.

In Judaism, E.G. marriage, the witnesses make the marriage. If the ring is given in private (without 2 designated witnesses), according to Jewish law, the couple is not married. 

The Jewish people are G-d’s witnesses. "You are My witnesses," says the Lord, "and My servant whom I chose, in order that you know and believe Me, and understand that I am He; before Me no god was formed and after Me none shall be". Isaiah 43:10

One of the jobs of the Jewish people is to be a witness that creates a new reality around them. To create an experience in the world so that everyone knows and understands that G-d runs the world and that the world is a G-dly place. While at times it may feel like a jungle, in reality, it is G-d’s garden. We need to tend to that garden. 

If you are stuck in the weeds or tending to a garden - that is a choice you get to make. Be a witness and enjoy the garden.

Have a good Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

Jerusalem in Harford County

 

 

Judaism has some very obvious unique core beliefs. Among them is the role that Israel in general and Jerusalem in particular play.

Jerusalem's holiness starts with the creation of Adam and continues with the two Holy Temples that stood there. It begs the question, although we find references to Jerusalem in the Five Books of Moses (eg. Malkizedek the king of Shalem), we don't find the word Jerusalem/Yerushalayim explicitly mentioned as Jerusalem?

In this week's Torah portion we find the following reference to Jerusalem, "and it will be the place that Hashem your G-d will choose to rest His name there..."

In the teachings of our Sages and in Kabbalah in particular, our prayers ascend through Jerusalem. Our prayers travel from wherever they are offered and then ascend to heaven from the place of the Temple and the place of the Holy of Holies.  

Accordingly, wherever a person might be they have a direct line to Hashem. As such Jerusalem is not exclusively about the physical place in the land of Israel but Jerusalem is in your synagogue, your home, your mountain climb or wherever else you take the time to pray to Hashem.

It is a powerful message for us as we enter the month of Elul, the last month on the Jewish calendar and the month of prayer and preparation for the New Year. Your prayers are so valuable that wherever you offer them is considered like the holy space of Holy of Holies.

Shana Tova and Shabbat Shalom!

 

 

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

The King is in the Field unabridged version

by Rabbi Sholom Avtzon

How should one look at his/her relationship in this month of Elul. In general it is known as the month of preparation for the Yomim Noraim, (High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur). Therefore it is a cause of serious reflection and yes trepidation, Hashem is going to judge us and we all are to well aware of our flaws and shortcomings.

However, through this parable, the Alter Rebbe is enlightening us that one ne should look at this experience from an entire different perspective.  During this month Hashem is closer to His nation, more so than any other time. It is a time of happiness, not one of bitterness.

But in truth, it is much more than this. It is not just an expression of a master who is happy with the work and conduct of his servant or a king who is pleased with his nation. It is a totally different relationship. It is one of two dear friends.

The Alter Rebbe bases his revolutionary approach to Chodesh Elul on the verse in song of songs that alludes to the month of Elul. The first letters of the four words in the verse of  לי ודודי לדודי אני spell out אלול  = Elul. The meaning of these words is; “I am to my beloved friend and my beloved friend is to me.

So we see the verse itself indicates that at this time Hashem’s relationship to us is not as a master, a king, etc. to his worker or subject, but one of a wonderful, dear and indeed best friend.

And it is this feeling of closeness and friendship that every Jew senses, which propels them to do teshuva.

THE PARABLE

During the entire year, the king is in his palace. Most of his subjects in the capital city, know there is no possibility of them gaining an audience to see and speak to the king. Even from those who hope and apply for an audience, only a select few are actually allowed in. And there is no guarantee that the King would grant their request.

However, there is the time when the king is not in the capital city. He left it to go out in the field. When he is there, every one of his subjects (from the city as well as those who now live in the fields (or desert)) decide to go out to greet the king in the field.

The king, on his part, graciously receives everyone who comes to greet him, and shows a happy and radiant face to them and grants their request.

They then follow and escort him to the city and he enters his palace. But the moment the king enters the palace, once again only a select few could meet him. However, being that you went out to the field and demonstrated your loyal and total allegiance to Him, you are part of that select group.

UNDERSTANDING THE PARABLE

During the entire year, Hashem is reachable through our fulfillment of His mitzvos and learning His Torah. However, if one distanced himself from Hashem, by not learning, or doing His mitzvos, and especially, if one went against His will and did a sin, this person could feel how can I come close to Hashem?

His situation can be compared to the person who left the capital city and went into the fields or even further, into the woods or desert. When the person senses how far away he is, he might feel it is useless, he can no longer come to the king. He says we are totally disconnected.

So Hashem, in his great love to us goes out into the fields where these people are. He is stating emphatically; we are connected, no one is far! This show of His outpouring love to His subjects uplifts and encourages every one of them. Even those who through their actions felt they are distanced from Him, [and even those who intentionally rebelled against Him are inspired to come to Him and declare their acceptance of Him as their king.

The king graciously receives them, smiles to them and grants their request, When the subjects see this, they resolve to once again conduct themselves in a manner befitting a loyal subject to the king. They escort him back to the capital and settle there once again. This turn around is so precious to the king, that he considers them amongst his most loyal and dedicated subjects, that they are granted an audience with the king in his throne room.

So too, in the month of Elul we correct our actions and commit ourselves to adhere to the Torah and its mitzvos. This causes that in the month of Tishrei, when Hashem is in the palace judging us; He shows His love to us and blesses the entire Jewish nation with all of their needs.

The author can be contacted at avtzonbooks@gmail.com The above is an excerpt of a booklet he wrote in Elul of 5768 (2008). If you want to receive the entire booklet feel free to contact him.

Can you play with me?

It was 6:30 in the morning. Too early for a board game. Not for one of my beautiful children who asked if I can play a game with them. 

What to answer?
No, I have important things to do?
Yes, I want to play with you, however, first I need to pray?
Sure! (while thinking of the other things I need/want to accomplish)

Tough parenting decisions. Regardless of the answer, this moment is giving the child a message. Either I have important things to do, and playing with you is not one of them. Or, prayer needs to come first in the morning (this doesn't work if you aren't consistent in praying first daily). Or the message may be: I love you and I will prioritize playing with you (but be careful not to give negative energy off that you would prefer to be working).

This enigma applies not only to physical children but to spiritual children, students, and mentees as well.

What message are you giving them?
The Torah tells us, "And you shall teach them to your children, to speak with them".

Teach your children to speak using words of Torah (see the 12 passages here harfordchabad.org/323498).

Teach them to talk in a way that represents Torah. Speak respectful to their sibling and others, say please, thank you...

Teach them that you are thoughtful of the message you are conveying when answering their questions.

What message are we giving our children? When we speak? How we act? When we prioritize or don't prioritize our spiritual/religious life?

These are some of my recent musings on the Parsha! Do you agree? Disagree?

Have a great Shabbos!

 Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

Mirror mirror on the wall

Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the greatest of them all

At times we think we are the greatest. One tends to think that because I am more knowledgeable in a specific subject, an "expert", it makes me most qualified to speak on the subject. For example, in prayer, the one who understands the meaning of the words, knows the Kabbalistic insights, his or her prayer would seem to be the ideal prayer. 

Is it truly so?

Maybe until the “expert” begins to consider themselves an expert. As soon as you think about yourself in this way, you no longer pray with the simplicity and deep connection of a person who comes to shul to just connect.

Speaking to a congregant, I asked: Why do you come to daven/pray? You don't read Hebrew (we can change that! See details in next week's email)? You don't understand the meaning of the words. What motivates you to pray with the congregation?

To which he responded; It’s an opportunity to connect with G-d, with the community, with my soul!

Whose prayer is "better", the more knowledgeable one or the connected congregant?

Chassidic thought says that it is the prayer of the connected congregant. Because the expert, as knowledgeable as he is, is self-focused, whereas the connected congregant is G-d focused.

What do you think?

Join us for services this Shabbos at 10:00 AM!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

Would you give it all up?

 

Where do you draw the line? Logic says that we are to sacrifice for the things that are important to us in life. To provide a living for our families we work hard, giving up on potentially enjoyable vacations. We study late into the night to achieve our intellectual goals. We put aside our personal needs for our children. In the sacrifice we uncover potentials we never knew we had. However, how much sacrifice is enough?

In this week's portion, G-d tells Moshe to avenge Him through battling the Midianites. (The Midianites seduced the Jews into Idol Worship, thereby turning them from G-d.) G-d says to him matter-of-factly "avenge the vengeance of G-d against the Midianites and afterward, you will be gathered unto your people."  G-d was saying that after this battle your mission on this earth will be concluded and it will be time to return home (you will pass away). The Jewish people knew that this was Moshe's last "hurrah" and thus hesitated to go to war. Moshe, on the other hand, immediately began the battle preparations.

The Torah is telling us that sacrifice is total. There is no limit. To reach the greatest of heights you need to be willing to give up everything for that goal. As long as there is a self-imposed boundary that we won't cross, we are still driven by our ego. To reach the very essence of our potential, we need to transcend our self. 

At his very core, Moshe was a leader of his people. By going to war, Moshe knew that he would be giving up his leadership. However, that too, Moshe was willing to do because G-d had instructed him to do so. Moshe could have argued that he would be giving up his leadership by doing so. However, to reach the essence is to transcend, to walk across the line of total sacrifice. It was by doing this that Moshe became the most exceptional leader. His leadership lives on more so after his death, then even in his lifetime. Why? Because he gave everything up for G-d.

In life, we can calculate the return on investment of our sacrifices, "if I sacrifice this much, then I will get the following in return". Sometimes we are put to the test to sacrifice everything, counter to anything that makes sense. Moreover, that is where our essence comes out.

Are you willing to give it all up (whatever your "it" is)? If the ROI is your G-dly essence being revealed, then is it worth it?

Have an amazing Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

 

 

Is change possible?

Is change possible?  

There were a few people, the instigators of a mutiny. The group grew, and ultimately, they were defeated — a group of people who attacked Moshe's leadership and his credibility.

Amongst those who started this revolt were Korach's sons. During the uprising, they had second thoughts which lead to internal regret and remorse. This type of contrition, in the language of the Talmud, is called  a Hirhur Teshuva - "contemplating repentance".

In the merit of these feelings of remorse "an elevated area was set apart for them in Gehinnom, and they stayed there"! Additionally, Samuel the prophet was a descendant of one of Korach's sons.

So is change possible? Do we see any source that they did anything other than feel bad? During the dispute they contemplated repentance yet they still carried on the fight! 

We aren't perfect. We all make mistakes. Sometimes we do things that we know are wrong and we feel a pang of regret even before we do it. This is the key to change! It starts with that small piddling feeling of regret which creates the possibility for change!

We need to applaud and encourage that feeling and of course, try to fan those flames into action. Eventually, the imperfect person who only contemplated repentance can be the progenitor of a great prophet like Samuel.

So if you ever feel bad, know that you are amazing! It's the first step to change!

Is change possible? If you recognize that it's needed, yes!

Have an amazing Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman


Recharging the Spiritual Batteries During Summer

Written for https://www.jmoreliving.com

The good old nursery rhyme that goes “No more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks” marks the beginning of summer.

As the rhyme evokes a sense of freedom and independence, many of us look at summer as downtime — vacations, “staycations,” weekends away. It’s a time to indulge a bit in what may be called self-care or, dare I say, self-indulgence.

Meanwhile, others are “stuck at work,” trying to make a living to pay the bills or earn some “extra money” to be able to take a nice vacation at the end of the summer.

Summertime has a whole different vibe than the rest of the year, one of a more laid-back time and atmosphere. However, the goal and feeling of summer relaxation should not be one that is self-indulgent. 

A lesson in this matter is offered to us by Mark Douglas, the CEO of the Los Angeles-based digital marketing and advertising company SteelHouse. He requires his employees to go on two weeks of vacation every year. They get reimbursed for up to $2,000 of expenses for their vacations.

As always, there is a catch. They cannot take the money instead of going on vacation! They must take the time off and do whatever they want, just as long as it is not illegal. The result is that the company has found that people who come back to work tend to be recharged and more productive. 

Hence, the goal of summer vacation is to recharge one’s batteries to be ready for the fall and winter. As we return to what’s known as “regular life,” we want to be invigorated and renewed, ready for the next chapter in our journey. 

But if you do not take care of yourself throughout the summer and don’t eat well, sleep well, get exercise, etc., instead of coming back invigorated, you come back worn out “like a shmatte.” As we have all heard or said at some point, “I need a vacation to recover from my vacation.”
Similarly, Torah study and commitment to our Jewish values are not work, G-d forbid. As we say in the daily prayers, כי הם חיינו — for they are our life.

When we relax over the summer, we need to ensure that we breathe, take care of our physical health and take care of our spiritual health as well.
There are many ways to study remotely these days. Go to your shul’s website and see if they have any recorded classes. Or you can visit Chabad.orgJewish.tv and many other sites as well.

Our Wednesday evening class at our shul is livestreamed at Facebook.com/HarfordChabad.

Take a vacation from work, but do not forget to live life! Happy vacationing! And make it, as they say across the water, a holiday “a HOLY day.”

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman is spiritual leader of Harford Chabad in Bel Air.

Count your blessings!

As you know we were blessed this week with another wonderful child, Chaya Mushka Schusterman!

As our family grows, we get questions like “how many children do you plan on having?” or “Are you going to stop now?” etc.

I can reply with “It's none of your business”, “I'll stop after 6 million” etc. 

2019-07-10 08.37.15.jpgHowever, what I truthfully want to respond is that we welcome each child as a blessing from Hashem. Just as He provides for the children of the raven (Psalms 147), He is quite capable of providing for humans. Ask someone who couldn't have children and you'll learn about the blessings of children. 

Of course, if the parents are overwhelmed and/or struggling with mental health, they should seek guidance on delaying or not having more children. But that doesn't mean that each child is not a blessing.

We all have blessings in our life that people question. You have a job with long hours, recognize it's a blessing even if it means you don't have as much time to spend with family and friends. You have family and friends, that is a blessing even if you don't have the best job.

We have Torah and Mitzvahs, are they easy to observe? No! Are they a blessing? ABSOLUTELY! Ask someone who recently learnt the spiritual and calming nature of a relationship with G-d.

In all these fields, there are people who will cool your enthusiasm in your blessings. Don't let it affect you negatively! Count your blessings!

Have an amazing Shabbos.

See you at Shabbos services at 10 am.

Rabbi Kushi

PS Open house Sunday July 14, 11am- 2pm to meet baby Chaya Mushka at 445 Choice St.
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