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Rabbi's Blog

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

My teacher, the son of a terrorist!

Zak Ebrahim tells a story about his father El-Sayyid Nosair:

On November 5th, 1990, a man named El-Sayyid Nosair walked into a hotel in Manhattan and assassinated Rabbi Meir Kahane, the leader of the Jewish Defense League. Nosair was initially found not guilty of the murder, but while serving time on lesser charges, he and other men began planning attacks on a dozen New York City landmarks, including tunnels, synagogues and the United Nations headquarters.

If you knew nothing more other than the above statement, you may conclude that Zak Ebrahim is a bad person. After all, he is a son of a terrorist and a murderer!

Many times we tell ourselves that we are the result of our circumstances. “I am a product of my upbringing and there is nothing I can do to change that”.

Zak Ebrahim continues his story: "Thankfully, those plans were foiled by an FBI informant. Sadly, the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center was not. Nosair would eventually be convicted for his involvement in the plot. El-Sayyid Nosair is my father."

You see, Zak broke from his self-perception; one that he was indoctrinated in, one that said I am great and others who are not like me are vermin.

Zak also realized that while he cannot change his father, he is his own person! Zak’s freedom comes from realizing that we can change how we view ourselves. We can see ourselves as a soul and a body and recognize that our mission is to make the world a better place!

By changing our view of ourselves as stuck in a place based on our past to one that is empowered to change our future, we leave Egypt. We free ourselves from the shackles of anger, hate, and depression.

By changing our view of ourselves we are liberated from the negative energy also known as our personal Egypt.

Have a liberating Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterm

I almost dropped observant Judaism

Family. There are so many things that we pick up from our families. Some more positive than others. However, there is always an impact from our family; whether from nature or from nurture. 

One of the Jewish values is faith in G-d; that G-d exists and that we believe in Him. However, when the going gets tough, when going through challenging times, it is sometimes hard to understand “where is G-d?” How can He allow this to happen? In the words of Moses: "Why have you wronged these people?"

And to that G-d answers: I showed myself! 

When I was approx. 16 years old, I was not sure if I believed in G-d. I had worked out a plan to drop out of "observant Judaism". 

At that time, I went to an older student in the Yeshiva and asked him what he thought of my plan, expecting some pushback. Alas, he said: "that is the best thing I have ever heard".

I was shocked. He explained to me: now you can move from a childish relationship with G-d, because "it is in the family", to a real, deep and meaningful relationship with Him.

In this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Vaeira, G-d is telling Moses: start to see Me and build a relationship with Me that is beyond faith. A relationship where you "see" G-d in the world around you and not an inherited relationship because it is the family tradition.  "Seeing is believing!" Then, when events that we define as negative happen, we can turn to G-d and say, although I cannot understand it intellectually, I see you exist, and I KNOW this is good because YOU are good! 

Have a revealed good Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Be careful don't slip and change is possible

 

Did you know that at one time, G-d wanted to kill Moses?

G-d had commanded Moses to go to Egypt to deliver G-d’s words to Pharaoh and the Jews and simultaneously, obligated Moses in the circumcision of his newborn son. Moses, thinking this would place his son in danger, thus prohibiting him from travel, opted to put off this command, favoring G-d’s other command to travel to Egypt. Moses started out on his trip to Egypt, the Torah reads as follows:

Now he was on the way, in an inn, that the Lord met him and sought to put him to death. So Zipporah took a sharp stone and severed her son's foreskin and cast it to his feet, and she said, "For you are a bridegroom of blood to me." So He released him. Then she said, "A bridegroom of blood concerning the circumcision."

The Torah limits its stories to ones that have a relevant message for all people. 

One of the messages in this story is a word of caution, to borrow from the AA.org: If there is no first one, there cannot be the tenth one. - Be careful, even a small misdeed, - not doing something wrong, just delaying a positive action - is a slippery slope, delaying the good deed (circumcision) can lead to "that the L-rd ... sought to put him to death". 

There is also a more positive message; even if one is in a low spiritual state, to the extent that "that the Lord ... sought to put him to death", do not wallow in self-pity, guilt or shame. It is never too late to make a change! You may need assistance (like Moses needed from Zipporah), however, you can change, it takes doing something!

Happy changing and enjoy the new year’s resolutions - may they last longer than the end of January :).

You choose your experience

I was listening to a podcast "anewconvo.com" by Peretz and Chanie Chein, Chabad emissaries at Brandeis Univeristy. They were talking about the need to allow students to choose to have a deep and meaningful Jewish experience, as opposed to just a Shabbat dinner and "fun in a Jewish environment". They challenge students who say "I don't have time to study Torah" with questions like “do you not have time, or is it that you do not prioritize your time properly?” Similar ways of probing cause the students to explore deeper to see what Jewish experiences they want to have.

Even after college we get to choose our Jewish experience! We get to decide if we want to be engaged Jewishly or not, if we want to be involved with our community or not, etc.

In this week’s Torah portion, Yaakov blesses his sons telling them: Judaism, the Torah way of life, is your mission, your role, your heritage. However it is up to you to engage in it! 

It made me wonder:

  • Am I settling for a very basic, or dare I say superficial, involvement in my own spirituality? 
  • Am I engaging my spiritual self deeply? 
  • Am I even exploring a deeper and more meaningful relationship with G-d? 
  • Have I even asked myself if I want to engage more deeply with our heritage?

Ask yourself these questions; let me know what you think.

Have a great Shabbos,

Kushi

How did I end up here?

How did I end up here?

Do you ever have a moment that you wondered how you got to where you are?

Personally, I know the technical steps that brought me to Harford County. However, how did I become a Rabbi of a blossoming community here, raising close to a quarter of a million dollar annual budget, making a positive impact on the local community?

Growing up, the question came in different forms as well: How did I end up in the principal’s office? In the emergency room? (details purposely left out (; )

An answer I heard that I found fascinating is that G-d decides where we will be. G-d wants you in THIS LOCATION, at that moment, to make an impact there. If we are meritorious, we go there in a respectful way, if not, we G-d forbid can be dragged there "in chains". 

When I am in the Harford County detention center, I could be there because G-d wants me there to visit an inmate, or G-d forbid, He can arrange to have me there on the "inside".

Our forefather Yaakov needed to end up in Egypt, so that the Jewish people can be enslaved and simultaneously uplift the spiritual sparks in Egypt. But he was meritorious that he received a hero’s welcome as his son was the Viceroy!

When we "end up" somewhere, instead of asking "how did I get here?" we should ask; in what merit did I get here in this way, as opposed to in a less respectful way? 

Are you happy where G-d has put you? Are you happy with the way he sent you here? What positive impact can you have as a result of being there?

I am blessed to be where I am and to have you in my life and hope to continue making a positive difference to Harford County.

Have an awesome Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

Listen to the Flames

 

On Chanukah, the Previous Rebbe would tell his chas­sidim: “We must listen carefully to what the candles are saying”.

While candles can't talk, they share a message. The most basic message is that the best way to get rid of darkness is to shine light on it. 

This year, as I listen to the candles, I hear a message of sharing. In order for one to share their light, one needs to make certain that their own light is strong. We need to work on building our own spiritual fortitude, to ensure that we are shining and sharing good energy and kindness. We need to make sure the light of Torah and Mitzvos is shining in our home, ie mezuzah, kosher, shabbat, charity box… and have that light shine on our daily experience.

The nature of light is that it spreads. The Chanukah lights are lit "by the door of the house, on the outside". The light that we have shines on the world around us, as long as we ensure that the flames are lit.

Get fired up and shine on the world.

This is what I heard when I listened to the flames. What did you hear?

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

 

Your choices decide the future

Wondering How You Got Here?

Do you ever scratch your head and wonder “how did I get here?” How did I end up in this situation?! Or perhaps your question is a faith-based one “why did things get orchestrated the way they did for me to be in this situation?”

When things are going good, we tend not to pause to ask those questions. It is usually in frustration or exacerbation that these questions are expressed or contemplated.

In this week’s Torah portion, Jacob sets into motion a series of events that are to determine the destiny of the Jewish People. It all starts with a simple request that Jacob makes of Joseph: “go seek out the welfare of your brothers (who are shepherding the flock) in Shechem”.

Joseph arrives as the brothers put into motion their plan to have him killed. Fortunately, they do not kill him but rather sell him into slavery which lands him in Egypt. After a series of events, over many years, Joseph becomes the Viceroy of Egypt, saving the country from famine. Eventually, the brothers come down to Egypt looking for food and this brings to reconciliation between them and ultimately the descent of Jacob into Egypt. The Jewish slavery commences after the passing of the brothers and years later, guided by Moses, the Jewish People are liberated and brought to Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah.

I encourage you to read the weekly Torah portion. It is a good read and does not get old even though you may have read it last year or the one before that.)

This entire journey of the Jewish People started with the simple request that Jacob makes of Joseph.

Joseph accepts his father’s request and then the Torah says, and Jacob sent Joseph from the “depths of Chevron (Hebron)”.

Our Sages say that the depths of Chevron is a reference to the counsel of the wise one buried there. This is a reference to Abraham, to whom G-d promised that his children would be strangers in a strange land and then they will be redeemed and given the Torah and the Land of Israel.

What seems to be a simple request is actually quite a cosmic event and is transformative to all of Jewish history, and indeed all of world history.
Indeed, Jacob and Joseph, and the stories of the Torah, are fundamental and cosmic. But, in reality, each of our little choices is cosmic. Each of our choices sets into motion a series of reactions and results that have long-term impacts and consequences.

Our job is to use our best moral and ethical judgment in making the decisions we make and then we can sit back and relax knowing that all of the other things happening around us are the workings of G-d above.

Have a great Shabbos!

Thank You!

2018-10-21 15.33.20 (1).jpgWe love Muriel. She just celebrated her 99th birthday and lives in an assisted living facility. She grew up in Boston and is used to a much larger Jewish population. She once remarked, "I feel like the only Jew in

Harford County."
 
Well now, the girls visit her every Sunday and she loves watching the kids play and discussing life's lessons with Fraida. You create community. You help Muriel feel less lonely and a lot more connected to the Jewish people.
 
Thank you!
 

Go Change the World

Have you ever wondered about those people 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 me 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 

 

one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind

I couldn't speak and I couldn't stay silent after Shabbos. I therefore wrote something short as a Facebook post.

‘This afternoon, a community member came to our home to tell us about the tragedy in Pittsburgh.
Shabbos ends, and I have a text to discuss shul security.
I got a call from a local clergy letting us know if we need any support they will be there for us and the community.
I was raised to respond to darkness with light, to respond to evil with good.
Find a random act of goodness and kindness that you can do,
Heck, find 11 acts of goodness and kindness that you can do. Help someone, reach out to someone who may be lonely, make a contribution to a worthy cause.
Every act of kindness makes the world a place of light a place of love and a better place for all of us to live!
Post your act(s) of kindness in the comments’

Responding to calls from community members and leaders of all faiths showing their care and concern, we guided them to do acts of kindness as opposed to bringing flowers.

We met with locals who are security experts, and have been in touch with law enforcement, to ensure additional safety at Chabad.

On the spiritual front, Rabbis in Pittsburgh started a mezuzah campaign to check your mezuzah or to put one up if you do not have one. Their goal: to reach at least 1,100 doorways – corresponding to our 11 brothers and sisters who were massacred in cold blood in Pittsburgh. Let me know how you can be counted to join the campaign.

In this week's Parsha, we read how Abraham describes G-d not only as the G-d of the heavens, but also as the G-d of the earth. How did He suddenly become also the G-d of the earth? Because of the many small steps Abraham took to change the perception of the world to include monotheistic teaching.

How does a piece of parchment and a bunch of disparate letters become a mezuzah? Through a scribe writing the letters properly and in the right order so that they create the correct words, ultimately completing the message of the Shema that hangs rolled up on your doorpost.

To make the world a more holy place, it will take more than a one-time act. However, many small acts are what will make the difference.  

  • Consider checking your mezuzah or adding a new one to your home.
  • Consider coming to a Torah class.
  • Consider adding a pushka, charity box, to your home and giving a coin, or a few, every day (excl. shabbat and holidays).
  • Consider coming to services more often.

Avraham changed the world one mitzvah at a time; we can add light into the world one mitzvah at a time.

Have a great shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

Are you perfect?

Most of us will say that we have made some degree of a mistake at one point during our lifetime. 

It is ok to make mistakes. However, when we do, we need to recognize that we erred and not run away from it. We need to identify what is it that caused us to make a less than noble decision. Is it something internally that I need to get away from or something in my surroundings that I need to change? Do I need to find a completely new environment?

Besides for recognizing our mistakes and making the required changes, we need to remember to "not look back". Once we make the required changes, which we are in control of, we should not define ourselves by that which has happened in the past. 

This does not absolve you of being held accountable in any way. Yet, you do not need to live in your past identity. You can now live in your current better identity, understanding that the negative behavior made you who you are today.

Be accountable but you are no longer responsible. You are now a new person.

Perhaps this is what the verse means when saying that Lot's wife "She looked from behind, and she became a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:26).". She allowed her past negative behavior to define her entire self as salt instead of letting the past experiences to be like a pinch of salt, adding taste into her new experience.

Have a tasteful Shabbos (and feel free to join us and meet my parents),

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Mistaken Identity?

When 19-year-old Robert Shafran drove from his home in Scarsdale, NY to the Catskills for his first day at Sullivan Community College in 1980, he was shocked to find that everyone already knew and adored him.  Finally, a fellow student, Michael Domnitz, connected the dots after asking if Shafran was adopted: “You have a twin!” he said…. This is the beginning of an article about the documentary “3 Identical Strangers”.

Two kids named Wes Moore were born blocks apart within a year of each other. Both grew up fatherless in similar Baltimore neighborhoods and had difficult childhoods; both hung out on street corners with their crews; both ran into trouble with the police. How, then, did one grow up to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated veteran, White House Fellow, and business leader, while the other ended up a convicted murderer serving a life sentence?  - Description of the book “The Other Wes Moore”.

Rashi says that Lot looked like Avraham, they resembled each other in their facial features.

But Lot’s values and Avraham’s values were polar opposites! Avraham asked lot that they separate as he did not want people to confuse Lot’s actions as his own. He wanted it to be clear that what Lot does is his choice, and although they are relatives and similar, Avraham is a moral and upstanding person.

As people, we are created in the image of G-d and represent Him in how we act, whether we like it or not.

As Jews, we represent the entire Jewish people. When we act properly, we help the world see the Jewish people in a good light, and when G-d forbid, we act inappropriately…

Let us recognize and accept this responsibility that comes with who we are, ensuring the good reputation of our people.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Local Hurricane?

 

 

We are keeping in touch with Chabad of Pensacola to ensure they have everything they need to help the community through Hurricane Michael.

On some level we are all going through a Hurricane, as will be explained below. But our hurricane is not a season, it's daily life. 

Creation is told in a few verses, the flood of noah many more, Why? 

Perhaps the reason for this disparity is that creation represents arrival into this world which is an important event to be sure, but one that takes up a mere fraction of our lives. On the other hand, living in the world, dealing with the floods of life is where the purpose of creation comes into play.

To explain; King Solomon says “many waters cannot extinguish the love”. The love he speaks about is our souls yearning for purpose and connection. The underlying consciousness of wanting to live higher, to live for more than the mundane and self interest.

The many waters are the storms that brew around us. Firstly, the challenge of making a living, getting up each morning, putting in the time, the brain work, the sweat etc. in bringing home the bread to provide for ourselves and our families. It also refers to raising our children, nurturing important relationships, dealing with health matters and all the other storms that brew around us.

King Solomon assures us that the storms are there to bring out something profound inside of us – our love for G-d and our inner potential. Since they are there for that purpose they can’t on their own extinguish that yearning.

To be sure we can extinguish the consciousness of that love and purpose if we stop trying. On its own however, since the storms are there for the purpose of revealing, they can’t extinguish.

To put it in other terms; the challenges we face are designed to bring out the best of us and the best in us. If we face challenge it means that there is something good brewing beneath the surface.

How many of you dear readers can say that you are above experiencing these storms of life? How many of you are exempt from these storms

Precisely.

It is perhaps therefore, that the Torah dedicates almost an entire portion to addressing the storms of life and the tools with which to stay fortified.

What are those tools?

Ark in Hebrew is Tayvah. Tayvah means words. It is the words of prayer that fortify our bond with G-d and it is the words of Torah that give us the understanding of our journey through the storms.

If the storm is brewing, enter the Ark and be fortified.

Have an amazing Shabbos!

 

Taking Responsibility

Have you ever made a mistake? A big mistake that you were embarrassed about? One that you did not want to admit to yourself that you made?

In this week's Torah Portion, Adam, Eve and Cain each made their own mistakes; big mistakes that altered the future of humanity. Despite the gravity of their error, each one does not take responsibility for it.

Hashem asks Cain: where is Hevel your brother? Rashi comments: to enter with him into mild words, perhaps he would repent and say, “I killed him, and I sinned against You”. 

I have made mistakes. Sometimes I prefer to shirk responsibility and say, like Cain, "I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?"

However, I endeavor to be better. I try to remember one of the lessons of this week’s Torah portion; the one that helps me say: I am sorry, I did not intend to hurt you. I did XYZ and I sinned against G-d and my fellow.

With our children, when they apologize, we help them use similar words to Rashi's; to acknowledge what they did and to apologize. “I took away your toy and I am sorry for hurting you”.

Do you struggle with taking responsibility? Always? Sometimes? Never?

A forgiving Shabbos

Some people are passive, others are aggressive. Yet others are passive aggressive.

Some people are hard on themselves, easy on others. Hard on others, easy on themselves.

The "hard on themselves" people are pushing themselves constantly and are very unforgiving for their shortcomings. The easy people seem to float through life. They don’t seem to internalize any of it.

In just a few days the holy day of Atonement, the day of Yom Kippur will be upon us. Each year between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we have a Shabbos. Shabbos possess a unique harmonizing power. It helps us harmonize the past week with the new week. It helps bring together the mundane and the spiritual. It helps us find harmony within our inherent conflict of body and soul.

This Shabbos being between the days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur brings together a unique harmony of the two holidays.

Rosh Hashanah is about our inherent connection with G-d. Yom Kippur is about atonement for our shortcomings.

A person who is engaged in serving G-d, engaged in Avodah (character development in G-dly pursuit) may find themselves during these days despondent. The person may find themselves realizing that they’ve fallen short of their inner potential. The reaction can be an intense one, renewed resolution, rebound, strong commitment. Or it can be the opposite; depressed, bitter, negative, hopeless, helpless.

Neither of these approaches are harmonious and neither is productive. Most importantly, neither is an authentic expression of our relationship with Hashem.

If we think of our relationship with G-d like a relationship with a parent, contemplate what a good parent would expect of us. Would a parent want us to beat ourselves each time we fall short? Or would a good parent want us to pressure ourselves to take on unreasonable goals?

I think a good loving parent would want us to make good resolutions, reasonable resolutions, attainable resolutions. The good parent would want us to recognize honestly about ourselves that we are finite beings with a limited ability to accomplish everything we wish we were. So the good parent would want to see us growing each day, each year, but in a reasonable manner.

This Shabbos, the harmony between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is about finding the balance between our awareness that Hashem loves and at the same time recognize that reasonable commitment to change in our lives is important. With the knowledge that we are safe in Hashem’s love and that what is expected of us is normal human accomplishments, not supernatural angelic victories, we can be at peace this Shabbos and enter into Yom Kippur feeling the Divine Embrace and being assured that the New Year will be a blessed one.

Good Shabbos and Gmar Chasima Tova!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

 

 

 

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