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Rabbi's Blog

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

Honey = transformation

A bee is not kosher. Bees sting. Yet, on Rosh Hashanah we eat honey which comes from a bee.

At times, we do things that are not "kosher". At times, we have an experience that feels like a sting but in the end, we transform it into honey.

On Rosh Hashana we transform ourselves back to the original. We go back to our soul entity, our truest spiritual source. On Rosh Hashanah, we tell G-d: any of the things I did that were "not kosher", not representative of my truest G-dly self, transform them into honey. In return, we tell G-d, any of the stings You gave me, I will transform them, to the best of my ability, into honey.

A woman in the community recently lost her job. It hit hard. A few days later, embracing the situation and recognizing that losing her job may have been to her benefit, life took a turn. She noticed how much calmer she was. Those around her noticed how much more present and relaxed she was. She now focuses on things that make her happy; her family, volunteering, hobbies long forgotten, etc. Appreciating that G-d has brought her to this place, she makes the time to focus more on Him. Whether it is praying or listening to a class on faith/trust in G-d. Speaking with her, the change is apparent.

May we not know anything ‘not kosher’ nor receive any stings. May we be successful in transforming anything that needs to be transformed into soul honey, a sweet connection with G-d.

Sending blessings for a Happy and Healthy Sweet New Year.


First Steps

Have you ever watched a child learn to walk?

The child begins to crawl then slowly learns to stand holding on. Once standing, often, the parent will stand in front of the child, and as the child takes a step towards him/her, the parent takes a step back.

I heard that the Baal Shem Tov said that this is what G-d does with us. He stands very close to us and as we take a step closer, sometimes, He moves back. Throughout this month of Elul, we have steadily been moving closer to G-d in our spiritual quest for closeness to The Divine. As we got closer, it sometimes felt like G-d has been taking a step back. G-d is smiling. He is helping us take our next step to get comfortable with moving forward in our relationship. 

As we take our steps in building this relationship, we need to remind ourselves that even if we fall from time to time; if we miss a mitzvah e.g. shabbat candles, or aren't able to do our mitzvah 100% yet, we are like children starting to walk. We fall, yet we get up and continue to move closer. 

If it feels like G-d is taking a step back, it is really just Him helping us along in our learning how to walk properly. Soon enough we will be able to walk, and even run and grab onto Him and not let go. 

As Rosh Hashanah comes upon us, let’s continue to take our steps; walking, running, falling, and getting up. Let us keep on connecting and getting ready to dance with Hashem as we are blessed with an amazing year!

Have an amazing last Shabbos of 5780!

With blessings for an amazing Shana Tova; a happy, healthy and sweet 5781,

Rabbi Kushi  

 

Fire at Chabad of UD

Fire at Chabad of UD

On Tuesday Aug 25th, close to midnight, a fire was started at the University of Delaware Chabad. The fire was set at the back of the house, but the damages spread throughout the entire property. This was not an accident. This was arson. This is bigger than just one house. This is about students losing their Jewish home away from home.

This is bigger than Chabad and UD. This is hatred and anti-Semitism. 

Let's explore the source of hate! 

According to the Chassidic masters, evil comes from untamed emotions.  Those untamed emotions can cloud our thinking and we do things that are wrong. 

Community members reached out and asked how do we fight evil? Why don't we go out to the streets and protest? 

I think protests, many times, lead to further untamed emotions. This causes people to do similar things that they are protesting against! If we get together and protest, perhaps we will end up burning down another house or two. We may feel justified and we may even be justified. However, it perpetuates the cycle of violence.

What can we do?  

1) We can make a contribution to help them rebuild a bigger and better "little blue house" at Chabad of UD at www.UDFireRelief.com.

2) We can work on being intentional. Are we eating because we are bored or to be able to serve G-d?

3) Be proud that your Jewish and show it with pride. Post on FB/IG a picture of your unlit shabbat candles with a link to harfordchabad.org/candles to show others how to light. Wear a kippa out in public or show it in other public ways. 

Most importantly do good, intentionally. Get your emotions worked up, but channel them to increase mitzvahs and good in the world.

Ultimately, darkness disappears when there is even a small light! Let’s add in light!

Rabbi Kushi

P.S. If you want to receive a weekly shabbat times text, let me know.

Are you in a monogamous relationship?

Monogamy means there is only one person who you connect with on that deep intimate level. It doesn’t happen overnight that you get married and then you are only focused on your spouse. You get there through constant effort and regularly connecting and reconnecting.

In Judaism, a marriage union means exclusively being there for each other and no one else. It doesn’t mean you can’t be in other relationships. Marriage means being exclusively intimate with your spouse and no other.

We find this exclusiveness in a different union. One that is compared to a marriage. The union between G-d and his bride, the Jewish people. Just as in marriage, we need to work on making it an intimate relationship. One where G-d isn’t some heavenly being that is not involved in our lives. Nor one that hangs out in the synagogue. G-d is an existence that cares about us. He is connected with us like a good spouse.

As we continue the month of Elul, let’s ensure our union with G-d is truly intimate, focused and monogamous. Lets get rid of our relationships with other so called “gods” that we worship, like money, fame, our bodies etc.

Throughout this month we need to ask ourselves: Are we monogamous in our relationship with G-d? Are we continuously ensuring that we are connecting and reconnecting?

Ready to fight?

Sometimes, people get under your skin! Some things they do make your blood boil. You just want them to go away. You may want to fight with them to leave you alone.

Now, imagine if we can take that emotion, that fury, that anger and turn it on ourselves! No, I am not saying to get angry at yourself. I am referring to those times when your own negative impulses come up. Do not let your evil inclination get under your skin and wear you down! 

Get angry! Grab a stick! Get ready to fight! 

How do we fight our negative impulses? Ask ourselves if this is what we want to be said at our eulogy. Remembering our mortality is hard. It is hitting ourselves with a stick! However, it is very important; it is what is needed to stop us (at times) from doing the wrong thing.

Tell your evil inclination: Do you know who I AM?! I am a ________ (i.e. loyal person, Jew, lover of Israel, chossid, child, parent, friend), and at my eulogy they will describe me in that way and I won’t let you pester me into doing anything contrary to the person who I want to be. 

As we begin the month of Elul, we work on doing more good and less negative. Let’s beat up the evil inclination and be blessed to win the internal battles and have an amazing year. 

Kushi

P.S. On the topic of mortality, on Sept 3rd we will be having a zoom meeting about estate planning. 

Good Day? Gd Day?

A Mentch Tracht un Gut Lacht - Man Plans and G-d Laughs 

This past week, Fraida went with the kids to visit family. I stayed home and had made plans of what I will get done. After all, they say, "if you fail to plan, you plan to fail"!  Each day was busy filled with important work, from planning High Holidays to Hebrew School. However, some of the specific things I had hoped to accomplish did not get done (yet).

One evening, as I was discussing this with Fraida, I said it wasn't the day I planned but overall it was a good day. Fraida responded, the day G-d had planned for you. Good point! When things don't go according to your plan, recognize they are according to G-d’s plan.

This Shabbos, we will bless the month of Elul, the final month of the year. The month of inventory and stock taking.

Rosh Hashanah is on the horizon.  Time to get prepared. We could deny the day is coming for only so long. 

In the great Chasidic tradition, it is told that the wind of Teshuva (return) began to blow already on the Shabbos after Tisha B’Av.

Traditionally, this is a time of reflection on the past year. Did your plans work out? etc. For many, plans did not go as planned, with Coronavirus etc. 

One reflection that I am going to work on is to be conscious that it is always a G-d’s day, whether things go according to my plan or not.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

Don't take it for granted!

Have you ever donated to a non-profit and found that they took your support for granted? Did you feel that they no longer saw you as an impact creator, but as an ATM? Did they start to expect gifts without sharing with you how your support betters the world?

It seems like many non-profits do this ☹. I wish it were not true. In the past few days, I have heard that it is not uncommon. A blog, a podcast, and a course I was taking about communicating better all said the same thing.

Do not take the blessings you have; your donors, your family, your friendships, or your health, for granted!

Recognize that your supporters, relatives, friends, and G-d are partners in making the things you want to happen, happen. They are at least equal (many times it is more like 90/10%, with you being the 10%) partners.

It was interesting to me, that in this week’s Torah portion it says: “Beware that you do not forget the L-rd, your G-d, by not keeping His commandments, His ordinances, and His statutes, which I command you this day...And you will say to yourself: My strength and the might of my hand that has accumulated this wealth for me. But you must remember the L-rd your G-d, for it is He that gives you strength to make wealth, in order to establish His covenant which He swore to your forefathers, as it is this day…..as the L-rd spoke to you.” (Deuteronomy Chapter 8:11-9:3)

I hope I do not take for granted that…

...you read my weekly email
...you support the good work of Chabad
...you consider the Schusterman family one of your friends
...G-d has granted me the honor to do His G-dly work
...G-d has given me a wonderful family
...G-d has given me and my family good health!

What can you be more thankful for?
What do you perhaps take for granted that you might want to revisit?

Do something different

These past few months have been months of reflection. We've all learned a little bit more about ourselves. Our strengths, weaknesses, our limits and our unbelievable capacity to rise to the occasion.

We've also learned that certain things in life are much more important than other things. That things we used to value really ought to be much lower on the list than others.

I suspect that eventually "this too shall pass". We will either go back to an old world or the new world that is evolving will become our new reality. It is up to us to solidify it.

One of the most important lessons I've learned, is the value of time. I really do have the time for the things that are really important (e.g. exercise, spirituality, Torah study, my children, my spouse). I've always pushed other things in front because I convinced myself they were urgent and important.

I now know differently! How about you? 

Today is Tisha B'Av. The day we commemorate the destruction of both of the Temples (Bais Hamikdash) that stood in Jerusalem.

I would like to propose we all do something different.

As Jews, what has kept us as a people and preserved our uniqueness is the Torah. No explanation for that is needed. More than the Jews have kept the Torah, the Torah has kept the Jews.

So perhaps, do something different and increase in Torah study.

  1. Daily study of Chitas - Chumash (Torah portion), Tehillim (Psalms) and Tanya (foremost book of Chabad Chasidus). All this can be done with an online or print weekly publication that is chock full of other Torah learning as well.
  2. Daily study of Rambam - Maimonides. Also found in the above publication. Over a three year period one completes the entire magnum opus of Rambam covering every aspect of Jewish Law. - online or print 
  3. Embrace the study of the Rebbe's talks. Listen 20-30 minutes each week to synopsis of the teachings of the Rebbe, covering the major works of the Rebbe the 39 volumes of his edited talks. Over an 8 year period one will complete the entire works and get a glimpse into the Rebbe's revolutionary views of Torah teaching, history, philosophy, relationships and so on. Details and Podcasts here.

 The verse at the end of the Haftorah of this past Shabbos is "Zion will be redeemed with judgement and her captives through tzedakah". Our Sages understand the meaning of judgement here to be a reference to the study of the Torah, which is called judgement and tzedakah to be a reference to giving charity.

Today we commemorate not only the destruction but also that which has kept us; the Torah!

There is no time like the present to embrace Torah study.

Have a great Shabbos!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

 

How to Tell Someone Off

Someone did something wrong. You are upset, so you go over to them and say 'I can't believe you.  I was very clear, and you didn't listen to me!' They do not even hear you, and you get more frustrated!

Someone did something wrong. You are upset, so you go over to them and hint to what they did wrong. They get the hint and you see they are ready to be corrected. So, you give more details, and they learn from their mistake.

Someone did something wrong. You are upset, so you go over to them and hint to what they did wrong. They get the hint and you see they see their mistake as an opportunity for growth. The mistake is no longer a negative thing- it is positive. Had I not made that mistake, I would never have grown to be who I am today.

As one of the great masters (Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber Schneerson of Lubavitch, 1859-1920) taught: Cherish criticism, for that is what will raise you to true heights.

We read in this week's Parsha's opening verse: “These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel on that side of the Jordan in the desert, in the plain opposite the Red Sea, between Paran and Tofel and Lavan and Hazeroth and Di Zahav.”

The problem is that the Jews were never in some of these places. 

The regular commentators say Moses was hinting. Di Zahav, for example, was a reminder of the Sin of the Golden Calf (zahav meaning ‘gold').

Later, in the Parsha, he gets more explicit because he saw they were listening.

The Chassidic interpretation is that he was not rebuking them, but he saw that they no longer viewed their sins as bad, but as a catalyst for improvement.

Have you ever reframed a 'bad action' and made it good?

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

 
P.S. Join us Tuesday to hear a story of triumph From Rabbi Avermi Zippel who overcame abuse to become the man he is today register here https://www.harfordchabad.org/templates/articlecco_cdo/aid/4818522/jewish/From-Surviving-to-Thriving.htm

 

Distance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Social Distancing, Distance Learning etc.

We keep reading and hearing about the need to distance, to stay separate. As we slowly reopen, while simultaneously maintaining distance and using PPE, there is palpable happiness in the air. 

People are excited to see each other. To be back together. To see family and friends. What causes happiness of this sort? It is the distance that makes the heart grow fonder. 

The Baal Shem Tov taught "Every single thing that a person sees or hears, is an instruction to him in his conduct in the service of G‑d."

One lesson that I took is that although we all are, at times, distant from Hashem and feel disconnected, we choose to make an active effort to connect and reconnect. When we remove the barriers that we created between ourselves and G-d, it generates a similar joy. 

Do I need to remove all the barriers to feel the joy? NO. 

Are we encouraged to be distant from Hashem? NO.

Although we need to continue to maintain social distance and PPE, this should not stop the process of connecting with G-d.

We may not be as close as we want to be with Hashem or with our fellow, but, G-d willing, this COVID will pass and our evil inclination will be subdued and we will be able to fully reunite with each other and with Hashem! 

What lesson do you take from something that you saw or heard this week?

Kushi

Fan Your Flame – Instructions Enclosed

Many people live good lives but barely scratch the surface of the infinitude of their soul. Another person may struggle with purpose and then, in a moment of self-discovery, fan their divine spark into a roaring flame.

In this weeks Parsha, when G-d tells Moshe to take a census. G-d’s love of His people is strong and He counts what is precious to Him. The Hebrew expression for taking a census is “raising their heads.”

When a census is taken, each person, no matter what they are like, counts as one. There is no differentiation to analyze what type of person they are. Each one counts individually as a human being.

How do we view the essence of humanity? If man is considered a zero, you are nothing until you make something out of yourself. We are united by the fact that we all are worthless, G-d forbid. G-d, however, has a different perspective. As G-d sees it, the human’s soul is a spark of G-d’s own fire. Each spark has the potential to reflect the infinite goodness and perfection of its source.

 Human life is the endeavor to realize what is hidden in this spark.

When G-d tells Moshe to “raise the heads” of the people, it is to awaken our highest common denominator, our inherent value, our essential souls. We transcend our differences to reveal this simple fact of being, which expresses what is best in us. From this deep place our good is activated.

 G-d knows us essentially and intimately. He knows each and every one of us through and through. So why is there a census? G-d counts us to awaken our deep inner souls, to give expression to its essence. This, being seen and counted, makes our core more accessible to us in our daily lives in this world.

 The idiom “raise the heads” is an understanding of the purpose of the census. When G-d counts us, He is stimulating the highest part of our being, the spark of divinity which is at the depth of our soul. Each one of us is equally precious and needed in the world.

See what you can do to fan your spark into a roaring flame.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

 

Beyond the High

Life is a constant circular experience. 

Our marriages wax and wane. Our relationship with G-d does the same.
Our friendships are sometimes on the brink. Other times, distance shrinks.

In Chassidic thought, this experience is called Ratzui and Shuv. It is the passion vs reality dichotomy. I want to change the world, but I only have 24 hours. I want to be home with my family, but I need a job to pay the bills. I want to grow my business, but we were forced to close for COVID, etc. Ratzui - the going up, Shuv - coming back to reality.

Every mitzvah, every interaction with Judaism, is the high, the passion to connect with Hashem. Many times, it makes us feel good. We end a prayer service or a mitzvah on a high. We feel amazing and then, Shuv, our self-existence and self-awareness, brings us back to reality. We tell ourselves that we are not perfect, and we need to continue to work on our relationship with Hashem. We may think that perhaps the motivation for the mitzvah was selfish. We repeatedly go through this cycle. We are normal! 

This week we read in the Torah about the red heifer that represents the purification process of the one who has been in contact with death. How do they get purified? They do the Red Heifer Experience, the ash and water mix.

The Jew who says to themselves: Judaism has nothing to offer me. A relationship with G-d? Meh! 
The observant Jew that perhaps does mitzvahs regularly, but beyond "doing it", the relationship with G-d is ... Eh! 

How do they get out of their rut? 

They need to experience complete surrender! I do not exist. I leave behind my own experiences, excuses, and history. All I want is to be one with G-d (Ash, I don’t exist) while remaining in this world (water, life).

This is often triggered when one realizes how distant they are.

For most of us, the high and low cycle is fine. However, this week's portion tells us, that it is also good to know that there is a beyond self-experience.

Perhaps we will get there, perhaps we will not. In the meantime, let us all have an amazing July 4th Shabbos :).

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Don't miss the gold!

Have you ever seen someone about to do something that you knew would not end well for them?
Did you tell them not to do it?
Did they respond with some variation of "YOU think it's not good for me, but I know it is good"?

We call this "alive in the grave". When we are not really alive, yet we think we are alive. When we do something stupid and think we are being smart.

The verse tells us in this week's Torah portion: "They went down to the grave alive". Can you imagine? They were in the grave and they thought they were still alive.

Sometimes we do not recognize the folly of our actions and mistake garbage for gold.

Today was the Rebbe's 26th yahrtzeit. The Rebbe encouraged us to get a mentor. To have someone, outside of us, who can mentor us and guide us. Someone who can advise us to slow down and think through that thing/action/move we think is amazing. Someone who can warn us that what we perceive as gold is in reality really garbage. The mentor helps us catch ourselves, so we don't stay in the "grave".

At the same time, the Rebbe encouraged us to see that there is "gold" everywhere. Each person you meet is a part of G-d. Each interaction you have (even negative ones) are part of G-d’s master plan. Each challenge is an exercise in growth.

So when I am hanging out in the spiritual "grave", my mentor is there to guide me on how to become "alive again". When I see something that is life, my mentor is there to ensure that I don't mistake it for a grave.

Do you have a mentor to guide you? If not, perhaps it is an opportune time to find one.

Qualifications to be a mentor. 

1) Can't be yourself
2) Needs to have your best interests in mind
3) Can't have ulterior motives
4) Needs to encourage you to grow spiritually 

Need Oxygen

Last week we discussed created a flame, a passion and a fire.

For a fire to survive, it needs oxygen. How do we provide fire with oxygen? We remove the cover, opening the container that the fire is contained in. We need to move our egos out of the way, so our internal flame can be a roaring fire of passion and connection with G-d.

We need to create a crack in our personal armor to allow otherness and G-dliness in.

To quote the love story from Song of Songs: “My beloved resembles a gazelle or a fawn of the hinds; behold, he is standing behind our wall, looking from the windows, peering through the crack

G-d, our beloved, wants to see our fire. G-d wants to have a personal relationship with each and every one of us. But we need to let him peer in, by creating a crack. 

“Where is G-d? G-d is only where you let Him in.” - The Kotzker Rebbe

Have a great Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

 

Where is your fire? Your passion? Your flame?

Where is your fire?
Your passion?
Your flame?

We all understand the need to make changes in our lives. To change, we need a why, a reason.

Now take a moment to think of a time that you knew intellectually you should change something, but you didn't do anything about it. Why not?

You wanted to get more involved in your Jewish heritage, yet actually making changes didn't happen. Why not?

Perhaps the reason why no change was made was because the desire was an intellectual one. The ‘why change?’ didn't permeate your heart. It didn’t cause you to jump with joy at the thought of connection or anger at the lack thereof. Or perhaps some other reason. Ultimately, the desire remained in your head.

When we look at the protests going on, they are an expression of a cerebral understanding - that existed for too long -, that there is inequality and racism amongst us. The protests were started because this understanding moved from our heads to our hearts making us boil with anger at injustice.

It's very different when you "know" something bad happens then when you feel it in your bones.

So, if you want to change yourself, or change society, you need to ask yourself, am I feeling it? Or do I think I want to change, but there is no fire in me yet to make it happen.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

P.S. Local women, if you don’t light shabbat candles (and want to change that) or if you do and want to  join our Shabbat candles "Candle lighting time text list" reply to this email (or text me) your cell phone numbers. (times are only for Bel Air, MD) Great Poem When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. But, I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my country. When I found I couldn’t change my country, I began to focus on my town.  However, I discovered I couldn’t change the town and as I grew older, I tried to change my family.  Now, as an older man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if I change myself, I could make an impact on my family.   My family and I could make an impact on our town.  Our  impact could change the country and I could indeed change the world. - Reb Yisroel Salanter

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