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Rabbi's Blog

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

A touch of Holiness

"Whatever touches the Altar will become sanctified" (Exodus 29:37).

While the Torah is talking about during the time of the Mishkan and Beit Hamikdash, this principle applies to our spiritual lives as well. This idea suggests that even a mere "touch" of holiness can have a profound and lasting impact on our souls.

In the context of Jewish identity, this principle takes on a beautiful and inclusive meaning. Every Jew, regardless of their level of observance, practice, or self-perception, possesses an intrinsically holy soul. Including the Jew who doesn't engage in religious practices but still holds on to certain traditions or values and may not consider themselves connected or holy.

The holiness of every Jew is likened to the objects brought upon the Altar. While some may argue that only certain individuals are worthy of such a distinction, Judaism teaches that every Jew has an innate desire to fulfill G-d's commands. This inherent desire, often lying dormant and waiting to be uncovered, is the foundation of every Jew's holiness.

Engaging with Judaism can be challenging for those who feel disconnected or unaffiliated. However, every individual can help another uncover their unique and beautiful Jewish identity. By fostering a warm, welcoming, and inclusive environment, we can help every Jew reconnect with their roots and embrace their inherent holiness.

Once we have had a spiritual experience or "touch" of holiness, we are forever changed. Our contact with the Divine realm leaves an indelible mark on our souls. We may try to forget, ignore, or run away from it, but the encounter remains a part of us. Just as the objects brought upon the Altar become sanctified, so too do the souls of every Jew become holy through their intrinsic connection to Judaism and the Divine.

What can you do to touch another Jew and uncover their soul?

Have a good Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Leap for joy

In just 14 days, it will be February 29th - the extra day we get every few years. Someone asked me, "What are you doing with this extra day? Finding 29 new friends? Starting new projects? Or planning something special?"

Those are all good ideas, but for us as Jews, we celebrate the Jewish leap year, which means we get an extra month called Adar, known as the month of Joy.

Now, let me ask you something similar. What are you doing for the Jewish leap year? How will you make yourself happier? We have 30 extra days of Joy!

In the Torah, it says we should always "Serve Hashem with joy" (Devarim, 28:47). During the month of Adar, we don't just serve Hashem with happiness like usual, but with even more happiness - super happiness!

Our job in this world is to make Hashem feel at home. Just like a person feels at home with their whole heart, we need to make this world a comfy place for Hashem too.

Hashem likes to be where there's happiness. So, if we want to make this world a good home for Hashem, we need to always be happy.

Feeling down? The Talmud tells us, "I was only created to serve my Master," and since Hashem likes happy places, we should always be happy.

So, the secret of the Jewish leap year is to be super happy, even when things are tough.

How will you increase your joy?

Have a great Shabbat,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Love in Two Parts

A young man named David meets a young woman. They date for a few years and get to know each other. Suddenly, on a warm summer day as they stroll by the water, he gets down on one knee and says the words, "Will you marry me?"

During their engagement, his fiancé tells him; "Dave, I want you to know that in our house we won't have any beige curtains or rugs because I do not like them. and you must take out the garbage." They continue to plan the wedding.

Five years later, David sees beautiful beige curtains and having forgotten his wife's words, he brought them home. His wife was NOT happy about it and said to him, "David, my love for you is deeper than my "desires and rules" but in the future please don't bring home what I do not want".

Something similar happened with G-d and the Jewish people in relation to the giving of the Torah. The way the event is recounted brings out an interesting point. The Torah splits the narration of this event into two. The first part contains the rules (G-d's desired mitzvos/commandments), and then at the end of this week's portion it describes G-d’s proposal to the Jewish people, who then say yes.

This symbolizes two distinct relationships G-d has with His people: 1) I have desires and rules for staying ‘married’ in peace and harmony and 2) The essence of a lifelong, higher relationship which is beyond the do's and don'ts.

Nonetheless, this week's Torah portion, which discusses the second type of relationship is still called "Mishpatim" - laws. The reason for this is because although G-d’s love for us is deeper than anything, and His love is always present, still, when we desire what G-d desires, by following His “laws” and fulfilling His Mitzvos, the marriage becomes better and better.

May we all be blessed with what the Torah says: "And you shall worship the L-rd, your G-d, and He will bless your food and your drink, and He will remove illness from your midst."

Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

It comes with the whole package

 The last of the 10 Commandments  says not to want stuff that belongs to your neighbor and then gives a list, like their house, family, or pets "and anything."  

Why the detail?

Because while the work "Kol" means anything it also means everything.

Life is like a big story with good parts and tough parts, and you can't just take the good parts from someone else's story without taking all of it. 

It means you shouldn't wish you had anything they have, because it comes with everything that they have their whole package. 

You don't want to go through all the things they go/went through, so don't be jealous.

Have a good shabbos and join us with the Yeshiva Boys.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

Don't take it at face value - it's pain talking

When someone is helping you and things go awry, you might scream at them. Different versions of "What are you doing? Are you out of your mind?" come out of our mouths in those times of frustration. This is similar to what the Jews experienced when Moses led them out of Egypt. The Torah says: "The Egyptians chased after them and overtook them encamped by the sea; background-position: initial; background-repeat: initial;">This idea from Moses can be applied in our own lives. When people say offensive or attacking things, more often than not, it's just their pain or fear talking. 

When children say to me things like "I hate you," or adults say things like "I am not interested in G-d, Torah or organized religion," I try not to take it at face value. What most are saying is, "I am in pain; I have a fear." Faith and love are there, beneath the surface of that hurt or anxiety.

What people express when they are in pain shouldn't be taken at face value; try to see beyond the words.

Have a good Shabbos, and I hope you can join me in shul.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Come with Me

"And G-d said to Moses: Go to Pharaoh, because I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I might show My signs in the midst of them" (Exodus 10:1)

We all want to invite others to explore their Jewish heritage. Often we tell others - you should check out this class (Advice for Life? Weekly Torah Class? Women's class on trust?) or we tell them to explore a community Shabbat, sending them the link to reserve. People are scared to explore new experiences; they have preconceived notions, it's going to be too religious, not religious enough, etc. The solution is "come with me" and "join me" as we go to an unknown experience.

We see something similar in the negative, when G-d says to Moses, "Come to Pharaoh." It would seem to make more sense to say "Go to Pharaoh," but G-d was telling Moses, you are not going alone. I am right here beside you as you enter Pharaoh's palace, supporting you and strengthening you. Reassured by Hashem's constant presence and protection, all the Pharaohs of life become insignificant. Whatever you may be facing, know that G-d is always at your side, giving you the support and strength you need to prevail.

When life forces you into an unpleasant situation where it is uncomfortable to act in line with your Jewish values, remember that G-d is with you, and walk with your head held high. When you want to explore a new experience, bring a friend so they can explore with someone supporting them, and always, whatever life throws your way, know that G-d is coming along for the ride, holding your hand all the while.

Have a great Shabbos and come join me at Shul tomorrow at 10:00 am (If it is safe ❄️❄️❄️).

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Living Passionately

 Across various religions, there exist guidelines and rules that encourage people to hold back from indulgence in the physical world and to disengage from worldly pursuits. In Judaism, a similar principle is emphasized, encouraging individuals not to overly focus on material desires. While it is permissible to enjoy the pleasures of life, there is a call to be mindful of choices that contribute to overall well-being.

In this week's Torah portion, when it discusses the plagues that afflicted Egypt. The plagues begin with the plague of blood rather than the plague of frogs. What distinguishes blood from frogs, and why does this order matter?

In Hebrew, Egypt is referred to as "Mitzrayim," which literally means limitations. The plagues, beginning in the Nile, are not merely punitive measures against the Egyptians but serve a deeper purpose – to guide us in understanding how to navigate our own constraints and limitations.

Blood represents life. Frogs are cold-blooded creatures. The symbolism here is profound. Life, full of vitality, is essential in our connection with the divine. The call is that before detaching from the physical world, we must infuse our actions with spiritual meaning and passion, with Torah and Mitzvot. Not because we have to but because it makes us alive.

Our behavior and expressions of G-dliness must be vibrant, passionate, and full of zest. By ensuring that our connection to the spiritual realm is alive and dynamic, we can then navigate the physical world with a reduced attachment to its allure.

The Torah suggests that once our spirituality is alive and passionate, our connection to the physical world can naturally diminish. It is a dance between the two realms, where a robust spiritual connection becomes the prerequisite for disengaging from excessive material pursuits.

As we reflect on these insights from the Torah portion, the message is clear: the intertwining of our spiritual and physical lives is a delicate balance. Rather than outright avoidance of the physical, the emphasis is on transforming our actions to be infused with spiritual vitality. This not only enriches our spiritual connection but also allows us to navigate the constraints of the physical world more judiciously. So, as we embark on the coming week, let us strive to have an alive and passionate connection with our spirituality, making our Shabbat and daily lives truly meaningful.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Choose Presence

Throughout life, we encounter various challenges and unexpected situations. Some of these arise from choices we consciously make, while others seem to happen by mere chance.

Consider a child brought up in a very observant household. Did they willingly embrace their parents' faith, navigating its challenges with genuine commitment, or did they simply follow rituals without true understanding? When doubts about the religion inevitably surface, individuals must decide whether to reaffirm their faith or abandon it altogether.

At the age of 16, I sought guidance from a mentor about my struggles with the Jewish faith. His response was profound: "AMAZING! Now you can start to have faith because you chose it as opposed to being raised with it." This choice, he explained, would lead to a mature faith rather than a mere adherence based on upbringing.

The story of Moshe illustrates this concept. Unlike his fellow Jews in Egypt, he was raised in Pharaoh's palace and had to actively choose to concern himself with the welfare of his brethren. When he witnessed an Egyptian mistreating a Hebrew, Moshe made the conscious choice to intervene, ultimately leading to his fleeing after Pharaoh learned of the incident.

Moshe didn't lament his need to escape because it was a consequence of his own choices, not an imposition from others.

Reflect on your daily actions—how much do you do out of habit, merely because it's always been done that way? This week, take a moment to make intentional choices. Choose to spend quality time with a loved one, perform a mitzvah, or say a blessing before eating. Even if these actions are already part of your routine, doing them with conscious intent will deepen the experience. By choosing to be present, you take ownership of the moment, actively seeking ways to enhance and improve it.

Wishing you a meaningful Shabbos,

Kushi

 

Truth, the daily grind or the pits?

In my day-to-day life, I strive to maintain a clear plan and a set of goals focused on enhancing Judaism in our community through studying, teaching, and connecting.

Our forefather Yaakov spent the beginning of his life in the Holy Land, concentrating on spiritual pursuits and sheltering himself from the complexities of material life.

Upon his arrival in Charan and his connection with the con-artist Laban, Yaakov's life became filled with challenges and struggles.

Later, in Egypt, he found himself not in control, subjected to an environment of idol worship and lewdness. Surprisingly, the years in Egypt are considered the best of Yaakov's life.

“Everything that happened to the Patriarchs,” writes Nachmanides in his commentary on the Book of Genesis, “is a signpost for their children.

Similarly, in each of our lives, we experience three modes: 1) moments of truth when fully engaged in our soul identity, our true selves; 2) the daily grind, with challenges and struggles that affirm our resilience; and 3) the pits, when everything seems to collapse, and the environment around us feels foreign and uncontrollable.

How could it be that the best years of Yaakov's life were those he lived in Egypt, the epitome of decadence?

My experience this week, with one of the kids being unwell and forcing me to stay home and get less "work" done while Fraida generously took the kids to school in Baltimore, is one answer.

Sometimes, the most productive things we can do involve staying "above it" in a situation where we have no control. When I resigned myself to doing less, I chose to be super focused and strategic during the times when the child was napping. Similarly, Yaakov in Egypt knew he would be in a place of depravity, so he set up a system to ensure he and his children remained connected to their transcendent selves.

Namely, he established a school of Torah learning because Torah study connects us to Hashem Himself, who is beyond the limitations and evils of Egypt. When we study the Torah, we become immune to the detrimental effects that Egypt can otherwise have on us. We may not be in control of the situation, but we can remain above it by ensuring we take our medicine, namely Torah study, to inoculate us.

The best years were in Egypt, where Yaakov proved that Godliness can penetrate the lowest levels of society. We can uplift even immoral Egypt by remaining in it and above it.

As we approach the "new year" and make "new year resolutions," consider adding daily Torah study to your life. There is even an app for it: link. This will allow you to stay in the world with an anchor connecting you to Hashem.

Have a good Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Nothing "happens to you"

We all want to be blessed. Thank G-d many of us are blessed with revealed good.

How does one get blessings? How do you get good things in life?

For this, we can look at this week’s Torah portion.

The Torah repeatedly tells us that Joseph is successful. What made Joseph successful? His success is expressed because he viewed everything as an extension of G-d’s master plan.

When Joseph was sold into slavery, he viewed it as “G-d sent me here”. When put into jail on trumped up charges, he viewed it as an opportunity to help the downtrodden prisoners. When appointed as viceroy of the world superpower, it was a way to help save the country from hunger.

The Rebbe told Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks OB”M: "Nobody finds themselves in a situation; you put yourself in a situation. And if you put yourself in that situation, you can put yourself in another situation." Nothing "happens to you"; your successes and your challenges are an extension of G-d’s master plan.

I try to recognize that Hashem wants us to do our best in everything we do. I try to recognize that the definition of success is recognizing Hashem in everything. This also helps me to be humble and grateful for the many blessings G-d has bestowed upon me and thankful for the plan that G-d has put in place for me.

Have a good Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

P.S. Here is the full story from Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks talking about his meeting with the Rebbe.

I came to 770, and eventually the moment came when I was ushered into the Rebbe’s study. I asked him all my intellectual, philosophical questions; he gave intellectual, philosophical answers, and then he did what no one else had done. He did a role reversal, he started asking me questions. How many Jewish students ....Read More

Pushing religion on other people

Debating religion is not healthy. Only one who is very proficient in his religion should ever get into a heated discussion about another’s religion. Hence, when asked if a friendship should continue when it consisted of many conversations about each one’s religious beliefs, I was hesitant to say yes. It seemed that one was trying to convert the other.

I believe in authentic relationships. If the goal of the connection is to force your religion on another or to impose on someone to be more religious than they are ready to be, it’s not genuine and probably won’t last too long.

I was once asked if the reason I am friendly with the local Jews is in order to “make them orthodox”. I replied no; I want to show people how to be true to who they are and have their souls shine. This would lead to a happier, peaceful life. Who wouldn’t want happy friends??

In this week’s Torah portion, Joseph meets and eats with his brothers. Even though Joseph kept a high level of Kosher, he didn’t think his brothers did and therefore, he doesn’t make it clear that he’s serving fully kosher meat. 

How powerful of a lesson Joseph is teaching us! When hosting someone, we should ensure they have what they need. There is no need to force them to keep to your (higher) standards. One may have religious practices that they enjoy and are willing to share with others, yet it should not be imposed on them, let them ask!

Do you find us encouraging you to grow religiously or are we too pushy?

Let me know,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

this is not an invitation; it's a responsibility - shining our light outward

Throughout the year, we diligently cultivate our inner landscapes, tending to the gardens of our souls. We strive to nurture the light of our essence, ensuring its steady glow. Yet, Chanukah beckons us to do more than simply illuminate our internal selves. It calls upon us to become beacons, radiating outward, illuminating the world around us.

The menorah, positioned proudly by the door, is a potent symbol of this outward-facing light. Its flames aren't meant to be hidden in the recesses of our homes or of our souls, but rather to cast their warmth and radiance onto the streets, cities, states, and ultimately, the entire world.

Chanukah isn't just an invitation; it's a responsibility. It compels us to ask ourselves, "How am I taking the message of Chanukah beyond myself? How am I making sure that my inner light spills out, illuminating the path for others?"

 

This doesn't require grand gestures or extraordinary feats. The simple acts of a mitzvah, or an act of kindness, compassion, and understanding can become powerful sparks, igniting hope and positivity in those around us. A smile offered to a stranger, a helping hand extended to a neighbor, a word of encouragement spoken when someone is down – these seemingly small gestures are the flames that light the way towards a brighter tomorrow.

 

Let us not underestimate the transformative power of our individual lights. Just as the small cruse of oil miraculously sustained the flames of the Temple menorah, so too can our seemingly insignificant acts of goodness ignite a chain reaction of positivity, dispelling darkness and ushering in an era of hope and understanding.

 

This Chanukah, let us not be content with illuminating our own souls. Let us step through the threshold, carrying the light within us, and set the world ablaze with kindness, compassion, and the unwavering spirit of the holiday.

 

May the Chanukah lights inspire us to become beacons of hope and light, illuminating the world around us with the radiant glow of our inner strength and compassion.

 

Have a good Shabbos and a happy Chanukah,

 

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

 

Gaza and Sirloin Steak

Have you heard the biblical story about our forefather Jacob who had a big fight with an angel? During the battle, the angel dislocated Jacob's hip and therefore Jewish people don't eat a specific part of the cow called the sirloin steak.

Why is this story so important to remember? We aren't just remembering the that the angel touched Jacob’s hip joint, we are remembering the entire story of Jacob’s battle and his survival from the angel. By saving Jacob, Hashem was telling the Jewish people that despite all the persecutions they would suffer from of the nations and the descendants of Esau, they would never be destroyed.

It's a reminder that even when bad things happen to the Jewish People, G-d will step in to make sure we survive and thrive. Although they always try to annihilate us in every generation, including now, Hashem will always ensure that we will succeed and never be destroyed.

Jews don't eat the back part of a cow because we are not sure how to take out the sciatic nerve.

So, when ordering food (even if you aren't yet fully Kosher), maybe think twice about getting a sirloin steak. It's not just about the taste — it's a way of saying thanks to Hashem for keeping us safe and caring for us.

And hey, if you're curious about following the kosher rules more closely, there's a cool book called "Going Kosher in 30 Days." It even has an app to help you out!

Have a good shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

 

Son, we need to talk!

You know that feeling you get when a parent uses your Full Name followed by, we need to talk? The angst of what did I do??

It happened to me. My father had called me over and said, “I'd like to learn a piece of the code of Jewish law with you”. Opening to a very short halacha/law, he read with me “כל האומר דבר לחבירו הוא בבל יאמר עד שיאמר לו לך אמור” (Shulchan Arukh HaRav, Orach Chayim 156). This means “Whatever someone says to their friend is under the rule of “don’t repeat”, unless they are told explicitly that it is ok to repeat it.

Having overheard me sharing another’s private information, my father was teaching me that as Jewish people we need to be modest; by default, everything is private. Living modestly is living an internal private principled world.

Learning this week’s Torah portion, we learn how Rochel, seeing her sister Leah being led to the Chuppah to marry Yaakov, her intended husband, shared with her that which Yaakov had privately taught her.

I wondered how it could be that our matriarch Rochel would not follow a seemingly simple law. Rochel, who of our matriarchs, was the most in tune with her internal identity. She did what she needed to do without fanfare, and often at a high personal cost. She lived a life true to herself. How can we say that she went against her values here?

Yaakov, aware of who Lavan was and the possibility of being tricked, made a sign with Rochel. He taught her about the 3 mitzvos Jewish women are careful about. To confirm that it was indeed Rochel under the chuppah, she would have to name them to him: Shabbat Candles, Family Purity, and Challah.

Rochel realized that if Leah doesn’t know the answer when Yaakov asks her ‘the secret question’ then “My sister will be put to shame. So, she readily transmitted those signs to her.”

She did this because she was modest and true to her values of not allowing another person to be degraded.

My prayer for all of us is that we too should be modest and true to ourselves and our soul identity. We should be able to be true to our Jewish values and merit to the coming of Moshiach when the world will see true and complete peace.

Have a good Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

 

Your Way to Brighten up the world!!

Tuesday morning, a few of us representing the Jewish community of Harford County, went down to the rally in Washington D.C. in show of support to the Jewish people in the Holy Land. In addition, to take a stand that we want our brothers and sisters, who are being held hostage, to be freed. And finally, to remind everyone that we are proud Jews and will stand proud!

Personally, I was hesitant to go. Why shlep and spend a day running to a rally, what impact will it really have? was my question. Consulting with others, we concluded that while we are uncertain of our impact in going, we have a responsibility to do the spiritual service that is represented by our unique soul characteristics. Sure enough, we went. One member of our local community stopped a few hundred people to offer them candles, to encourage them to light them for Shabbos. Inspired, she herself recommitted to lighting Shabbos candles. I was offering people to wrap tefillin and merited to have many people come over on their own, asking if they can wrap.

There were many people who did not come to the rally. Their soul characteristics required something else. In this week's Torah portion, we read and learn how each person has their divine mission and path in life. Issac, wanting to do as his father, considered going down to Egypt. However, G-d told him to stay in Israel. Some people elevate the world by being full time Torah scholars. Others do so by squeezing a bit of Torah learning into their work day. Whether a class before work or after dinner or even a podcast during their commute to work.

There is no one way to bring G-dliness into our lives.

Torah scholars need, at times, to deviate from their "main mission" and encourage others to study or to learn with others. Businesspeople need to ensure that they are including Torah study in their day to day.

What is your mission from Hashem today? Now go do your part to brighten up the world!

Have an amazing Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

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