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Rabbi's Blog

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

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday and Torah Thursday

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday and Torah Thursday!

Who has not been bombarded with emails for this deal or that, this opportunity for giving or that, during these past 7 days?! 

$7.2 Billion online on Black Friday, $9 Billion online on Cyber Monday, and who knows the total of Giving Tuesday.

The prophets of doom will tell us that profits, consumerism, materialism drive the day and that we are on a hopeless spiral downwards.

I believe the opposite is true. We are finally coming to a greater appreciation of what the material world is all about; a reflection of G-d's infinite ability manifest in the most radical expression of that infiniteness - the physical creation, creation ex nihilo or something from nothing!

I'm not saying that every indulgence is a G-dly event or even a spiritual one. I'm saying that the fact that we have been given so much in our times, can potentially be the greatest opportunity for uncovering the G-dliness in this world.

In this week's Torah Portion Jacob goes to Charan. There he marries and amassed great wealth.  The teachings of Chasidus tell us that Jacob was really on a journey to collect the Divine sparks and uncover the G-dliness found in Charan.  

The journey was not an easy one for no meaningful endeavor in life is. But Jacob was successful as the Torah tells us with seemingly great fanfare that Jacob returned having amassed great riches.

When you look at light it is evident that there must be a source to that light.  But when you look at a table, a dollar bill, a tree, or any other physical object there is no evidence that there is a Divine Source.  There is no indicator that what meets the eye requires an energy to sustain it.  So in fact the physical object is almost making the exact opposite statement; "I exist, I am self made".  

The Human Being is an even greater expression of this.  The person with his/her intellect have the ability to understand that there is a Primordial source to their existence, but instead we often go about our business as if we are in control of everything; panicking when things don't go right and celebrating ourselves when they do.

Combine this human condition with every physical object and every physical interaction or acquisition and we have a potential recipe for total denial of G-d.  And yet, when we take those very physical objects and use them out for good and for holiness, we are truly expressing Hashem's greatness on this earth.

This is true of every physical interaction but even more so when it comes to giving of Tzedakah, giving of our hard earned money which we can use to buy our own indulgences and give it away to worthwhile causes.

So don't be a prophet of profit, be a prophet of G-d and see the material opportunities in front of you as opportunities to bring the manifestation of Hashem into this world.

Think about this when you get email #613 this month of December requesting assistance for your favorite non-profit!

Have a great Shabbos!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

Are you celebrating Thanksgiving?

Many people asked me "Are you celebrating Thanksgiving?” 

They weren’t sure if it was a Jewish holiday. (It’s not.)

But it kind of is.

The name “Jew” comes from Judah.

Which means to thank.

We are a nation that constantly thanks.

Much of our prayers is about thanking

Truly “giving thanks” means that you realize that you don’t take the gift for granted.

If you earned the gift, then you’d be less thankful.

I want you to know that Fraida and I do not take your involvement for granted at all.

We don't take your reading this email for granted! 

We value you, your friendship, and your support of Chabad and your unique perspectives and talents.

We value your feedback and holding us to account, and you're willingness to reach out to someone else and ensure they too can connect with Chabad for spiritual and Jewish inspiration. 

So while the USA is celebrating Thanksgiving weekend, allow me to say this.

Thank You! We are thankful for you.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Kushi and Fraida Schusterman

This weeks Dvar is inspired by and adapted from
Rabbi Elazar  & Shira Green of Chabad of Lancaster, PA

We are all in this together

As I sit in NY for the annual conference of Chabad Rabbis. I think of my mission to Harford County.

My job is to represent, not some conglomerate of the Jewish establishment, but to create a grassroots organization where Jews and Non-Jews of all backgrounds and faiths, make this world a goodly place and a G-dly place.

Harford Chabad’s mission is not to make Chabad wonderful. Chabad’s goal is to make each individual fantastic!  Turn to a fellow Jew, who may not talk to someone who is “religious”, and encourage them to be more involved in their faith. Turn to a Non-Jew and connect them with Jewish
values while respecting the values they bring.

The only way to do this is to not try to make yourself great but to make others better. Similar to Eliezer, the “servant of Avraham”. When asked who he is, he responded: “I am a servant of Abraham” (Genesis 24:34). And indeed, throughout his journey, he is consistently referred to as “the servant”.

This was not about Eliezer the person. This was about the mission Eliezer was on and at no time did he allow his own self-interest to get in the way of fulfilling that mission. He was a mere servant, an extension of Abraham’s hand.

My official title, is The Rabbi. But it’s not about me. It’s about all of us coming together and recognizing we all play a role in making the world a more goodly and G-dly place. Each and every one of us. Without letting our ego get in the way.

Have a humble Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Keep Digging

Watching kids at play; they take their little shovels and dig. They make a small hole in the ground, not much bigger than a pothole on the street. And then, they are done digging.

Watching the people doing construction on houses/businesses/developments around town it looks a bit different; big tractors making deep holes in the ground.

Both experiences are watching people move dirt, rocks, and mud. 

We find the same in this week's Torah portion. Yitzchak/Isaac digs wells and throughout his life, he is digging wells to reveal the water underground. His wells get covered up and he keeps digging new ones! His well gets given to an enemy and still he keeps digging. 

Everything in Torah has a message. One of the messages of this story is Yitzchak's dedication to focus, staying the course and uncovering the water beneath the surface. Sometimes we meet those who have water, a life-giving substance, generally known as a soul, yet it is covered up by dirt, mud and rocks. At times these people do NOT want to engage in their Jewish heritage. We look at them and all we see is dirt. To the outsider, they look like a "lost cause". There is no point in even trying to engage them!

To this Yitzchak teaches us that it is our responsibility to dig wells, to find a way to engage your fellow. They are not interested in joining you for a program at Chabad? Remove the thing covering over the soul and have them over for a Shabbat dinner. Invite them to join you for latkes and menorah lighting. Dig and remove some dirt. Remove some of the things that are covering their pure soul and reveal it. It will be like refreshing water, reviving for them to reconnect. 

You tried and there was still dirt? The well got covered up again? Learn from Yitzchak and keep digging.

Have a digging week, 

Kushi

Shabbat is driving me crazy

Have you ever been sold something and then had buyer’s remorse? Did you think to yourself - that salesman sold me a bill of goods!

As a Rabbi, I "sell" a relationship with G-d, Israel, and our fellow Jews. When trying to encourage you to do a mitzvah, often I will talk about the benefits of the mitzvah, a Friday night meal together with family, Shabbat - a break from technology, etc.

Then, when you implement these changes, at times, you may say: yes, a break from technology is great, but this long Shabbat in the summer with no driving, TV, Netflix, Facebook, etc. is driving me crazy.

Hashem knows that some mitzvahs can be more challenging than others. Hashem knows that change is difficult. Hashem knows that at times, doing certain mitzvahs can cause physical changes and therefore He sets the groundwork with the first mitzvah.

The first mitzvah given to any Jew was the mitzvah of circumcision given to Avraham. A mitzvah that causes physical pain, showing us that although a mitzvah can sometimes be painful or challenging, we still strive to fulfill the mitzvah. Not only fulfill it, but to do so with joy just like Avraham!

Circumcision does have health benefits (like the tech Shabbat) but we do so because Hashem commanded us to, for spiritual reasons. Simultaneously, everything that has spiritual benefits also has physical benefits - some, more noticeable than others.

So next time you are working on doing a mitzvah, and a challenge comes your way, try to be like Abraham. Smile. Know you are building your relationship with Hashem. Be aware of the physical benefits that you will get from this experience.

Have an amazing Shabbos, 

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Get out of the ark!

The Jewish world is moving closer to embracing the reality that what will ensure a Jewish future is performing distinctly Jewish acts on your own and in the company of other Jews and doing it Joyously.

It is the Torah and Mitzvot (these distinctly Jewish acts) that provide resilience in times of challenge and provide meaning in times of celebration and joy.

It is to that end that when the flood waters begin to fall in this week's Parsha, G-d instructs Noach to enter into the Ark - the Tayvah in Hebrew. The words Tayvah in Hebrew also means words. So G-d is saying in effect, when there are flood waters raging outside, when you feel like you are drowning, enter into the words of Torah and Prayer and you will be preserved.

If indeed that is the case than what is the meaning behind the words later in the Parsha to leave the Tayvah? Is there an appropriate time and place to leave the words of Torah and prayer?

Indeed, the answer is yes! It's a cycle, we go into the words of Torah and prayer to gather resilience and once strengthened we then are fortified to go back into the world. It is there in the world where our purpose is truly fulfilled when we integrate Torah and Mitzvot back into the mundane world around us.   

Performing distinctly Jewish acts on your own and in the company of other Jews and doing it joyously both fortifies us and provides the sauce within which we fulfill our purpose on this earth.

So, go into the Tayvah, through prayer each morning, acts of Mitzvot each day and then with that empowerment go out into the world and make the world a G-dly and goodly place!

Good Shabbos!

What's Your Vision?

You are inspired. You had an amazing week/month/year. You are ready to take on the world. You have an idea of a business that you want to launch, a career change you want to make, a family or relationship change you are hoping to orchestrate.

What is your first step?

The Torah is a book of teaching, a book of law, a book of connection with Hashem and a book of relevant life lessons.

Traditionally, we are taught that when the world was created the first thing that was created was light: on the first day G-d said, “let there be light, and there was light”. However, in the prior verse, it tells us of “the spirit of G-d that was hovering over the water”.  Perhaps, the first thing that was created was this “spirit”.

This spirit is known as the spirit of Moshiach, the vision G-d has for a completed world. A world where G-d feels comfortable and humans are in sync with their deepest identities and are connected with G-d.

This may be the first step in creating the world around you that you want! First create a vision of how that world looks, then create the spirit and let it hover over you. Following that, build the miniature building of what your finished product looks like, and voila you are on the path of creating the atmosphere that will create the world for you that you envision.

Have an amazing Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

The other "2 day a year Jew"

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

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

***

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

What is it about Simchas Torah that is so significant?

***

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

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

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

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

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

So let's show some love together!

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

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach!

Party Time?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How are you celebrating Sukkot?

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

Chag Sameach and Good Shabbos!
 

Rabbi Schusterman

Elevate Yourself

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uplift yourself!

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

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

 

Mirror Mirror

 Rosh Hashanah starts this Sunday evening.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

Own It It's You!

What are you thinking about when you are on vacation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have an amazing Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Returns Accepted

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

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

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

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

Have a good Shabbos!

Join us for Shabbos services at 10:00 AM

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

You are the witness

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

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

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

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

What is the purpose of a witness? 

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

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

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

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

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

Have a good Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

Jerusalem in Harford County

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shana Tova and Shabbat Shalom!

 

 

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

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