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Rabbi's Blog

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

Say goodbye to “Oy Vey”

 

The story is told that in 1974, shortly after the Yom Kippur War, Rabbi Yisrael Lau (later to be Chief Rabbi of Israel) came to Brooklyn to visit the Lubavitcher Rebbe OB”M. During their conversation the Rebbe asked him what the sentiment was in Israel. Rabbi Lau replied that Jews were asking “what will be?” The Rebbe grabbed him by his arm and said: “Jews don’t ask what will be, they ask what they are going to do.”

The message is no more “oy vey”, only what will I do today to make the world a better place.

I learnt this last night with hundreds of others who joined a Hakhel a gathering to pray, study and give charity and positive vibes for Henya bas Chaya Devora Leah’s immediate recovery.

Mrs. Henya Federman is the Chabad representative to St. Thomas. Her 4-month-old baby fell into the water. Henya jumped into the water to save her baby and got stuck. She is currently in critical condition, and we pray for her immediate recovery. You can say a prayer for her healing here. Tragically, the baby passed away. We are thankful that Henya is alive and optimistic for a full speedy recovery!

How do we get away from the “oy vey”/no hope perspective, and ask what can I do?

By recognizing that everything we have and everything that happens is from G-d’s grace.

Difficult at times? Yes! But that does not define us. This is not easy! However, it is the ideal perspective to have. When we have such a viewpoint, recognizing that Hashem is kind and beyond understanding, we are more humble and more thankful for everything in our lives.

When we hit a roadblock or a challenge, we don’t throw our hands in the air and say “oy vey” what will be? as if this world has no master plan, we can take action and ask “What can I do today to revealed more good and light in this world”.

Have a good Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

P.S. they created a mitzvah campaign page, please consider joining and add your mitzvah in honor of Henya’s speedy recovery.

Three tips for your Thanksgiving dinner

As we gather together on Thanksgiving there is always noise.

An important thing we should think about is the impact of what we say. There are always stories, gossip, politics etc. that can ruin a good experience. Our job is to be very careful not to share these types of stories even when they are true.

We see this in this week's Torah portion. It tells us "It came to pass when Isaac was old, and his eyes were too dim to see". Isaac at the time was only middle aged (for that time) and remained blind for the last third of his life. The commentaries say one of the reasons that G-d made Isaac blind was in order for Jacob to receive the blessings. G-d could have told Isaac the truth about Esau, that he serves idols and is inappropriate. But instead, G-d wanted us to remember that it is worth it for Isaac to be blind so long as we do not slander Esau, despite the fact that he was not a good person.

So, the first thing to discuss on Thanksgiving:

Talk - How we can talk nicely about others. Perhaps try this story "A pillow full of feathers"

Share - Tell a Torah thought - you can find one here

Thank - Don't forget to make blessings on the kosher food. There is always some kosher food at the meal. Make a blessing on those foods even if at the moment you aren't yet fully kosher here is a link to the blessing.

I am thankful for you!

Have a good Shabbos and join us for a baby naming and yummy dairy kiddush in shul

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Is G-d stuck in traffic?

In a fascinating change from the typical short form of the Torah, this week’s Torah portion spends 67 verses talking about Eliezer, the “servant” of Avraham, searching for a bride for Isaac.

It tells us the story in detail twice.

Why? 

Many people see G-d as part of their life in the synagogue. During a Torah class. Or, even when eating a Shabbat meal.

But traffic? Travels? The delay? Arriving early? Where is G-d there?

One of the reasons the Torah gives this extra-long story in detail, and repeats it, is to teach us that G-d derives a special pleasure from His partnership with us as we go about our daily lives, integrating and finding G-d in the most simple and mundane details of our daily narrative.

There are no services this week as I will be in NY for the International Chabad Conference. Tune in Sunday evening 5:00 PM at HarfordChabad.org/Live.

Have a good Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi

What's your strategy against apathy?

See something? Say something!
Don't be a bystander!

A woodsman was once asked, “What would you do if you had just five minutes to chop down a tree?” He answered, “I would spend the first two and a half minutes sharpening my axe.”

When we see a problem, the first thing we need to do is create a strategy. Often, we want to take immediate action. However, before we act, we need to ensure that we are moving things in the right direction.

If there is a fire burning, before we throw liquid on the fire, we need to ensure it isn't flammable.

Rashi comments that when Abraham was told by G-d that He wants to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, he "approached" G-d. This approach obviously cannot be physical as he was already standing before G-d. 

Abraham created a 3-pronged approach: To speak with passion where he may come off as harsh, to try and placate G-d and to pray.

Once he had his strategy organized, Abraham started throwing shade on G-d’s plans. "Will You even destroy the righteous with the wicked?"

We all know someone who is less connected to their Jewish roots. Their Jewish soul is not on fire, and we want to cure the crisis of apathy. 

We need to take a page out of Abraham's playbook. Be passionate about your Judaism. Give your friends Jewish gifts that may take their dormant spark and reignite the flame and lastly to pray.

Will you be successful? Maybe and maybe not (Abraham wasn't with Sodom and Gomorrah). But this is the Jewish strategy: Live passionate Judaism, gifts, and prayer.

What other strategies can you think of to engage your fellow Jew who isn't Jewishly engaged?

Have a good Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Can you pray that I win the lotter?

The lottery has ballooned to over 1 billion dollars (with a B)! Many people, even those who usually do not play the lottery, are buying tickets. How do they expect to win? Hasn’t our financial well-being already been decided on the High Holidays? 

Most people will not win. They are purchasing permission to dream. However, we can pray that even if G-d didn't ordain us to become millionaires, He can change his mind and confer that money to us. (Note: Many lottery winners go broke within 5 years.)

A blessing and a prayer are different. 

Generally, according to the mystics, a blessing simply reveals what is already ordained. A blessing transfers from potential to reality. I bless you that you reveal your hidden talents.

A prayer on the other hand, often starts with "May it be your will L-ord our G-d king of the universe". The reason they start like this is because we are asking G-d to create a reality that did not exist before. 

Are we limited by what we are destined for, based on what was decided on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur? Yes. Can we override that ruling? Yes. Through prayer. Prayer can create a new and better reality.

If you were ordained to become a millionaire or a billionaire on the High Holidays, I bless you to win so it's easy to reveal that. If not, I pray that if it will positively impact your life and the lives of those around you than you should win.

If that kind of wealth isn't something you want, don't waste the money buying a ticket. 

Have a good Shabbos.
Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Flooded? Overwhelmed? Trust, It's Ok!

Finally, a full week of work with no holidays! 

However, I am overwhelmed with so much to do and so little time.

The anti-dote is to recognize that financial success is not a result of our genius or lack thereof.  King David tells us in psalms "If you eat the toil of your hands, you are praiseworthy, and it is good for you." Our involvement in earning a living should be some manual labor, not investing our whole self into it. This doesn't mean we shouldn't work smarter not harder. But we need to recognize that what we do is less important than doing something to give G-d a way to fund our life. 

When seeing hundreds of emails in the inbox and simply feeling flooded with work, try asking: Will anything terrible happen if I archive all these emails (after skimming for urgent ones)? Honestly, anything important will probably make its way back to the inbox.

Just out of college (or out of a job) and thinking what job to take? Wondering which field to go into to cover the bills piling up, without working crazy hours, and have extra to donate to Chabad and to go on vacation (didn't the Rabbi write last week that vacation is vital)?

If you are a typical American today, you may have some financial worries. There is lots of talk of inflation, interest rates going up etc. You may be in a place of overwhelm, drowning in the "many waters" of life and finances.

We need to remind ourselves that G-d is the provider of our sustenance. We need to create a vessel to allow G-d to fund us. He will fund us exactly the amount that he decided on the High Holidays, irrelevant to the number of hours invested and our stress level.

King Solomon tells us: Many waters cannot quench the love, nor can rivers flood it.

Remember: Nothing can detract from the love that we have innately for Hashem and His love for us. He will take care of us!

We need to learn to have true trust in G-d. Simple? Yes. Easy? No. The more we trust along with making a vessel to receive, the closer we are to having the great waters of the flood simply be a catalyst for a closer relationship with G-d and a better relationship with our job and money etc.

Have a good Shabbos!

Hope you aren’t too busy or overwhelmed to join us for minyan Shabbos morning at 10.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

I am ready for a vacation! or am I?

I am naturally a doer. I feel that I constantly need to get things done. To accomplish, build, fix, break, or learn.  

I am not good at vacationing. Even on vacation I pray, study Torah etc. To completely disconnect from others; not answering the phone, connecting, or reaching out to people? I just can't seem to do it.

In this week’s Torah portion, Bereshis, the Torah tells us about G-d creating the world. It tells us He was doing, building, creating, and completing His to do list.

There was one piece missing. Rest! Self-Care, the ability to do nothing. To rest.

Rashi comments on the verse "And G-d completed on the seventh day":

"...What was the world lacking? Rest. The Sabbath came, and so came rest. The work was completed and finished."

Learning this, I realized that vacation, taking time off to (seemingly) do nothing, is also part of the work. For the work to be complete one needs to learn how to rest.

I am not there yet, but I am working on it.

What is your relationship to rest?

Kushi

Cancel your plans Monday evening to join us!

Why should I cancel my plans to dance on Monday night?

I have so many other things going on. I just spent time in the synagogue on the High Holidays. I came to a Sukkot program. I think I did my part in celebrating the holidays.

The midrash tells us a story about a king who had a party with a bunch of his friends. On the last day of the party, he reached out to one of his closest friends and requested that he stay an extra day to hang out. Just the king and his friend to enjoy each other’s company. 

This is the joy of Simchas Torah! This is why I suggest you cancel whatever other plans you had and join us Monday night at 6:30 at Chabad.

We will get together and embrace the Torah after spending close to a month praying and eating together. It’s time for us to spend a moment in the ecstasy of the oneness of G-d, and dance with abandon. Celebrating the unity of community. We are all united as one as we celebrate together, regardless of our knowledge of the Torah.

We dance with a closed Torah to show that it’s not about what we know. It’s about our inherent connection to Torah. We eat together, enjoy each other’s company, and dance together celebrating our heritage. Celebrating who we are and that we are a unique bunch.

It’s the closeness of the Neilah prayer at the end of Yom Kippur mixed with the implementation in the physical world. Plus, there is great food and drink😉

Just reply to this email so we prepare for you.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

Singing through your troubles.

Everything will be okay in the end. If it's not okay, it's not the end. - John Lennon

Have you ever struggled with a situation and afterwards saw that it was good? Lost a job which was a catalyst to a job you love? Lost a relationship which helped you get to closer, higher quality relationships?

This week's Torah portion is referred to as the song of Haazinu. A song whose lyrics start like a beautiful poem, moves into an ominous depiction of the future, talking about all the troubles that will befall the Jewish people, and concludes with that Hashem will take care of His people and take revenge on their enemies. His children should follow the Torah and Hashem will bring them back home to the Holy Land.

Moses is talking about the circle of life; each step leads to the next step, until complete redemption. We (will) see how every difficulty and every suffering was just a nudge to get us back on track and continue to move towards redemption.

We never want to have pain and pray that no one else ever must experience any pain, challenges, addiction, or troubles. Yet, I have heard from many people about their challenges:

• After years of being clean, I can appreciate how my substance abuse led me to the good life I have today.
• After losing my job, I can appreciate how my job loss led me to the good job I have today.
• After losing my health, I can appreciate how that led me to the healthy life I have today.

As the saying goes "If you want to know how bad it is, read the newspapers. If you want to know how good it is, study history.” In the end it's always good and if it's not good it's not the end.

This is one of the messages that Moses is telling us. There is a designer to this world with a plan, a mission, and a purpose. There are challenges, perceived and real. Each challenge is another step toward redemption. If we can recognize that (not easy!) we would be able to sing through our troubles.

We pray that we are all blessed with an amazing year of revealed good where what we see is not challenges but the good at the end.

Have a good Shabbos and an amazing joyous Sukkos.

Kushi

P.S. My father recently wrote a book called Why God Why - How to believe in heaven when it hurts like hell about life's challenges. You can learn more and purchase your copy by clicking here.

Uniquely United

Unity and difference are two contrasting, or even conflicting, themes.

For one there is a quest for unity, linking together, forgetting our differences and being one.

For the other there is a sense of distinctiveness, of unique identity, of an individual pathway and destiny.

Rosh Hashana represents unity where our differences are forgotten as we stand together in front of the King of Kings on the day of judgement. On Rosh Hashanah our relationship with Hashem is one of an unbreakable bond, where you can do no wrong! On Rosh Hashanah we are united, yet our individuality is not present.

Where is my individuality? What about my unique contribution to society, my flair, my style?

For this we have the parsha of Vayakhel and Yom Kippur. The parsha tells us “Gather the nation, the men, the women, the children, and the converts within your gates." This event was known as Hakhel.

As they entered the Holy Temple for the great event, they entered in an orderly fashion, each group was distinct. However, the party couldn't start until everyone arrived.

On Yom Kippur we implement this type of unity. Where the rubber meets the road. Where the unbreakable bond meets the real world. Where people are different and have differences.

We even begin Yom Kippur with "we hereby grant permission to pray with transgressors". We recognize that we aren't perfect. We realize that true unity is not when you are the same as me, but when we each contribute our uniqueness to the canvas of the world.

Each of us may have a different brush and a different color paint but together our unique brushstrokes create a colorful and beautiful community. A beautiful kaleidoscope or colorful canvas.

This year 5783 is a Hakhel year. This year, let us all unite in multiple different ways.

1) We are better together. Think Sukkot Community Programs :)

2) We are living in deeply divided times. We need to be here for each other in a far deeper and more powerful way. Even for those who we disagree with.

3) We are all internally fragmented. Let’s be present and reveal the hidden dimensions of ourselves. Our hidden beauty needs expression.

As an overarching rule, we need to recognize and share that although you and I may be different, when we are united we create a beautiful community. Not despite of our uniqueness and individuality but because of it.

Have a good Shabbos and may we all together be blessed with being sealed for a good year as a community and each one with what they need.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

P.S.To quote the great Kotzker Rebbe “If I am I, because you are you, and you are you, because I am I, then I am not I, and you are not you. But if I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am I and you are you, and we can talk.”

 

You are not perfect, and that's the way we like it!!

 Yesterday was the birthday of the world. But we did not throw a birthday party.

Monday is the birthday of humanity, and we will throw a party.

Why?

Everything created prior to the Human was created perfect. It was created by G-d in all its perfection.

But perfection is not the goal. Nor the purpose or the meaning. When we are in a relationship, not a fakebook relationship, not a superficial relationship, but a real deep and meaningful relationship, there is no perfection. There is drama and intrigue. In those relationships there are real raw emotions. Real pain and real love.

Yesterday we would have celebrated that the physical world exists. On Monday, Rosh Hashana, we will celebrate that our existence is the purpose for everything else existing.

On Rosh Hashana we celebrate that perfection is imperfect and the most complete thing is a broken heart.

On Rosh Hashana we celebrate the ability to have a real relationship with Hashem, not despite our imperfection but because of it.

So go right ahead and try to do everything right, and when you make a mistake, you are perfect.

Jewish Confession - I Matter

 

I matter. I acknowledge and am aware of the beauty of my soul, the depth of my character, the holiness of my existence, and the potential that exists within me.

Because of this, I am pained by those parts of my life that I feel aren't the real me. I feel ashamed by the mistakes that I made because I can be more. I can do better.

We all make mistakes. In the days of the Holy Temple, we lived in an agrarian society and during a 7-year cycle, a person would give tithes from his or her produce. The Torah tells us that twice during these 7 years one had to come to the Temple and make a confession. To confess that you gave your tithes to the Kohen, to the Levite, and to the poor.

Following is the text of this confession.

“I removed all the sacred portions of crop from my home, I gave it to the Levite, to the orphan, to the stranger, to the widow, I did not eat it, nor did I use it in inappropriate ways, I obeyed every commandment you gave me, now get up, look down from heaven and bless me.”

Where is there a confession here?! Why is this text referred to as the tithe confession??

Imagine my entire suit is stained. I’m eating a chocolate mousse cake, and everything is getting all over me. Then, someone comes and puts a little bit of chocolate on my shirt. I won’t even notice it!

If I believe that I am a terrible and lowly person, then I can’t really take responsibility for my mistakes. I feel so badly about myself that these sins and mistakes are natural, inevitable. Dare I say that they are not even noticeable?

The prerequisite for confession is acknowledging your goodness, sacredness, and your beauty. I am so beautiful, I am capable of so much more! I don’t want to live with this mistake. I confess!

What is more, only when you are a free person, and you acknowledge that you are in control over your life, can you confess and make amends for the future, saying this will not happen again, I will change it.

Have a good Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

 

Listen, you are a GEM

We ask others; Did you hear the shofar?

Interestingly, the mitzvah is actually not to blow the Shofar, rather it is to listen to the sounds that it produces. With the Shofar, the skill is not with the one who blows it. The real effort and talent are with those that listen, absorb and internalize its message. The notes that we produce don't even have to be beautiful or musical. What is critical to the experience is to listen intently to those sounds, absorbing their power and intense holiness.

Each sound has a story and a message. Every note wakes us up, reminding us of our pure and pristine soul that is the essence of our identity. By listening and absorbing the sounds we are able to peel away our exterior and discover our true self.

I was studying a Chassidic discourse with the message that not only do you have the tools and material to build yourself into a better person, you also have the better person inside of you. 

At your essence you are a gem! You simply need to uncover the layers that are blocking you from shining and discover your greatness.

May we all be written and sealed for an amazing shining year.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Authenticity First

Once during the Neilah prayer, the Baal Shem Tov cried and entreated more than usual. The disciples understood that there was a great prosecution Above and the situation was grave, and they also intensified their prayers and crying. When the rest of the congregation saw this, their hearts were shattered and they also joined the impassioned supplication.

There was a young man there from a village, who had come for the Days of Awe to the Baal Shem Tov’s synagogue. He was completely uneducated, and he stood the whole time looking at the face of the cantor without saying anything.

As a village dweller, the boy knew the sounds made by all the different farm animals, and he especially esteemed the rooster’s crowing. When he heard the weeping and the outcries, his heart was also shattered and he cried out loudly, “Cock-a-doodle-do! G‑d, have mercy!”

The worshippers in the synagogue were confused to hear a voice crowing like a rooster, and a few of them scolded him to quiet him down, and would have thrown him out if he had not protested, “I am also a Jew.”

The confusion was pierced by the voice of the Baal Shem Tov, followed by the disciples as they hurried to finish the Neilah prayer. The face of the Baal Shem Tov shone, and with a special melody the repetition of the Amidah commenced for the Neilah prayer.

As Yom Kippur ended, the Baal Shem Tov related to his disciples that there had been an accusation leveled in heaven, with the prosecution seeking to have a particular community sentenced to destruction.

However, suddenly the sound of the call of the village dweller was heard in heaven, and its sincerity brought great pleasure above, nullifying all the prosecutions.

I had always heard this story growing up, but recently I read the “rest of the story” and here it is.

As the Baal Shem Tov aroused divine mercy on the community, a great prosecution was aroused against him for encouraging Jews to settle in villages and out-of-the-way places, where they were likely to be influenced by the village dwellers who were less observant. When he began to examine the behavior of the village dwellers, he saw that the situation was very grave. However, when the sound of the call of the village dweller was heard in heaven, and its sincerity brought great pleasure above, it nullified all the prosecutions.

This detail affected me personally. Often people ask me, what is an observant Jew doing living in Bel Air? Are there even Jews in Harford County? How do you expect to raise an observant family in Bel Air? Aren’t your children going to learn from others?

This story taught me that while this was a real concern even in the times of the Bal Shem Tov, the villager’s simple cry of “Cock-a-doodle-do! G‑d, have mercy!” mitigated this worry.

When one of us is out there, spending time with someone who is “less religious”, “less observant” or just a “village boy”, we must know:

1)    When spreading goodness, we won’t be negatively influenced
2)    Very possibly those who seem to be less observant than us, are connected with their Judaism in a real and authentic way
3)    Just because someone has less knowledge, in no way decreases that they are Jewish. “Your G-d is My G-d Too”
4)    Simplicity and authenticity may be able to accomplish more than all of our holy prayers together

May we all be blessed with to be written and sealed for a good year ahead!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Story translation excerpted from Days Of Awe, Days Of Joy. Published and Copyright by Kehot Publication Society, Brooklyn NY 11213 and can be found at https://www.Harfordchabad.org/4473/

Ego!

Often times we are faced with a challenge that we can't seem to overcome and then out of left field a solution rises to the surface that resolves the whole thing.

The solution to a problem is often something totally unrelated to the problem itself.

The month of Elul, the month of preparation for the Days of Awe is arriving! Our focus has shifted to analyzing our character and working on bettering ourselves. All the character "deficiencies" that we work on cleaning up all have the same origin. If we could correct that origin all would be well.
In a word, EGO!

Now ego is not a bad thing. Without it some of the greatest accomplishments in life would not have developed. Without ego we wouldn't accomplish anything. We would always see ourselves as "nothings". Ego is an important part of who we are. But the flip side is that ego is also the root of everything negative. Anger, jealousy, selfishness, impatience, etc. all stem from ego.

  • Anger- How dare you do that to ME? Jealousy - Why shouldn't I have that?
  • Selfishness - Why should I share with you?
  • Impatience - Why aren't you hurrying up, I am waiting?

And the list goes on! Let alone the really bad evil stuff that stems from a really rotten ego. Evil - The way I see the world is the only way and anybody who doesn't do it my way has got to go!

So what is the solution? The Torah says that if one has a roof (which is on the high places of one’s house) and a individual is likely to fall of it, we are instructed by Biblical injunction to place a fence around that roof.

The roof is an analogy for our ego. The ego can be found on high places and we are likely on account of it to fall. Therefore the Torah tells us to put a fence around it. We are instructed to set for ourselves identifiers that will help us realize whether we are responding to our negative ego or if our behavior is coming from somewhere holy inside of us.

Try this at home:

  • Pick a behavior that you struggle with.
  • Identify its negative source in the ego.
  • Now set for yourself a sign for the next time this behavior appears, to stop and take 20 seconds to identify the source.

For example if the behavior is anger, the sign could be that your heart starts beating faster or that your face gets flushed. At that moment stop and ask yourself one question. "Is this coming from a holy place inside of me or from negative ego?" Then follow it up with this question, "Am I falling off the roof?"

Let's take some time during this time of spiritual stock taking to build some fences around our ego roof.

Have a great week!

May you be inscribed and sealed in the book of life.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

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