Rabbi's Blog

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

The Soldier's Oath

When a person enlists in the United States Military, he takes the following oath:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
In this oath, that I will obey the orders of the President ...and the orders of the officers.... the soldier affirms that he will follow their commands. He won't question the command even if he doesn't understand it.
In this week's Torah portion, G-d tells Moses to speak to Pharaoh in Hebrew. Moses hesitated to do this because Pharaoh didn't understand Hebrew and he, Moses had a speech impediment. Nonetheless the Commander stated that Moses should speak and Aaron, Moses' brother would act as theinterpreter. Moses fulfilled his command and began the process that would redeem the Jews from exile.
The Torah is not a history book, but a book of lessons. One of the lessons that can be learned from this storyis that G-d sent us on a mission (the Torah calls us the army of G-d). The goal of the mission is to make this world a home for G-d, a place where He will be welcomeand comfortable.G-d, our commander-in-chief, says that the way to accomplish thisis to add in our learning of Torah and our fulfilling of mitzvot. Our duty is to fulfill the commander-in-chief's goal to the best of our ability.
As the year comes to an end, let us make a new year's resolution that this year we will add in our Torah learning and mitzvot and, G-d willing, we will be able to say, Mission accomplished! before 2012 is even on the horizon.
Have a great Shabbos.
Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

make a difference

This week's Torah portion begins with the passing of Jacob's twelve sons. Pharaoh resolved to find a solution to the "Israelite problem." He proposed to afflict theIsraelites by imposing slave labor upon them, thus trying to prevent them from multiplying. "But as much as they would afflict them, so did they multiply and so did they gain strength." Pharaoh then summoned the Hebrew midwives and instructed them to kill all the Hebrew sons that they delivered. Therighteous midwives feared Gā€‘d, however, and defied Pharaoh's order.

Was the Pharaoh who enslaved the Jews a new Pharaoh or was it the old one acting in a different way, ignoring their earlier connection? This question is an argument of the Sages in the Talmud.

The midwives in Egypt ignored Pharaoh's order to kill all the Jewish boys and to educate the girls in the Egyptian way. They had the courage to ignore what was politically correct. They did what they had to and their action made a huge difference. Moses was saved because of them and later he redeemed us.

This story teaches us a great lesson. Even though we may have an "in" withthe political leaders (on a national, state, community, or personal level,) nevertheless, when there is an "order" which is evil or immoral, we must stand up for what is right. If there is an edict that goes against the Torah, we should do what we can to choose the guidance of The Torah and its  Mitzvot. This will make a difference and make the world a more just and peaceful place.

Enjoy your long week-end and make a difference.

Good Shabbos

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Are Jews Post Racial?

Are Jews Post Racial?

By Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman

Post Racial America is all the rage these days, yet if you follow current events, it seems that that we are as racist as ever. My bills are too high, taxes are going up, going down it is the Presidents fault. Then the pundits explain what that "really" means: this is a good, smart educated president, but the latent racism in us forces us to disapprove of his decisions.

Are we post racial? As Jews should we never have been racial? Are we recipients of racism? Are we ourselves racist? And to myself personally, I ask, why are we pushing our "race" with public menorah's and ostentatious Temples and other very visible Jewish events and edifices? Are we not setting the stage for too much attention, which usually leads to negative attention, when we ourselves are a minority?

At a recent public menorah lighting that we held at a local mall, I was faced with this same question. A reporter for a local newsite, asked me this very question. Why the PDJ's (public displays of Judaism)? Shouldn't you guys be doing this at your homes? Why the need to put it in everyone's face?

This was particularly poignant since just days earlier there had been a great debate on the malls Facebook page allaying the fears of a shopper who was protesting the menorah display.

I gave the reporter the my usual answers, that public menorah's bring out the message of Chanukah perhaps even greater than a quiet lighting at home. About light over darkness, and pirsumei Nisa- publicizing the miracle of Chanukah being a part of the Mitzvah of Chanukah - and how the message of light over dark is universal. How it's important to dispel the myth that Judaism is best experienced in the confines of the home but that it is actually designed for the public etc. etc. However, for myself, I was forced me ask, are really post racial, post prejudice, are we actually truly an accepting environment, both how we Jews are perceived and how others perceive us?

There is a statement in Pirkei Avot, "don't judge your friend until you've reached their place," I.e. until you can truly be sympathetic to where they've been in life, what they've experienced, what challenges they've had to face, don't judge them.

Many Jews claim that we have the monopoly on having been the victims of bigotry, abused historically more than anyone and as such, we can claim superiority in our knowledge of non-judgementalism and acceptance. But have we? Do we not have something to learn from others?


As we were wrapping up the menorah lighting the mall manager came over to thank us and close out the event and he and I discussed that Facebook exchange about the menorah. He relayed a powerful story to me, which shed a powerful light on my aforementioned question, and challenged me and all Jews: Are we really "post - racial"?

When he worked at management at Macy's in NY years ago, one morning he arrived at work early during shopping season. As it happened, there was a huge crowd outside the soon to be opening store, a far larger crowd than should have been there on an early December morning. What's the excitement he asked someone?

He was told that that LAST shipment of Cabbage Patch Dolls for the season had arrived and after this, there'd be no more. Now this was in the height of the cabbage patch craze.

So, my mall manager went inside his special worker entrance and went up to the Cabbage Patch store to see it for himself. The store owner was smiling broadly, "this is going to be a really great day" he said. "Sure said my mall manager, you are going to clean house!". " No, replied the store owner, go over and look at the dolls."

My mall manager went over to the 800 boxes of Dolls and noticed that EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM WERE BLACK KIDS! And then he too got it.

Every one of those excited shoppers would have to face the question that African American's have had face for years and white people never ever even considered. Are you, Mr./Mrs. White person comfortable buying a black Cabbage Patch Doll? African American's have been buying white Barbie Dolls for years.

Do you buy the toy in a color that may make you uncomfortable because it's the only option? (We all know that the kids sure don't care.) And, more importantly, why does it make you uncomfortable?

Needless to say, or perhaps, needful to say, the Black dolls did sell out that day.

I think that in this holiday season, of Chanukah, the Calendar New Year, when we are interacting with the "outside" of the Jewish world more than usual, we need to ask ourselves:

Are we REALLY post racial? And I posit, only when we are truly post racial will we Jews be treated as post racial.

Have a Good Shabbos!

When Crisis Stricks

You ever had a rough day? Who hasn't? What do you do about it? Roll up in a ball and cry? (I've been guilty of that on more than one occasion). Imagine you could see into the future and see all your successes and failures? All your friend's future successes and failures?

Well, we find something akin to this in this week's Torah portion. We find Joseph reunited with his brothers and his full biological brother Benjamin. The verse describes how each cried on each others shoulders over the future loss that would take place in their respective territories. (Joseph's loss of the Mishkan/Tabernacle of Shiloh in his future territory and Benjamin's loss of the Temple on his future territory).

It says each cried for the others loss but not thier own, How strange is that? The Lubavitcher Rebbe of righteous memory explains that there is a deep message embedded within this story.

When a crisis strikes, when there is destruction in one's life, there is no time to cry, rather one must act. Of course, crying may be a natural reaction, but ultimately after the initial shock wears off, we really must act, because tears never rebuilt a building, got someone rehired, healed the sick, etc., action, prayers, good deeds did.

That said, when it comes to someone else 's crises or tragedy, and we are faced with limited options as to what to do to help them out, then we must cry. We must not be insensitive and uncaring, we must weep bitter tears on their behalf and beg G-D Almighty to be merciful to them and help them out of their straights.

Not an easy task, but the truth rarely is easy.

Have a Wonderful Shabbos!

Rabbi Schusterman

Happy Chanukah

A small army defeats a world superpower. How did that happen? Because G-d was on their side. I am talking about the story of Chanukah! (click here for the story)  Chanukah is still relevant today.  The Greeks did not mind if the Jews followed the ways of “cultural” Judaism. The connection with G-d and the faith that there is one G-d who runs the world, was unacceptable to them. They worshipped the mind and the body. The Greek kingdom forbade Jews to keep many of the commandments, in their effort to destroy the Jews’ connection to G-dly Judaisim. They wanted the Jews to forget that the Torah that they learn is G-d’s Torah and the mitzvot that they follow  are G-d’s mitzvot (commandments.)  

For the first time in recent history, the vast majority of Jews live in countries where they can practice their Judaism freely and without oppression. Still, many accept Jews among those in the melting pot but don’t accept Jews who are proud of our Jewish heritage. There are still those that don’t want us to enter G-d’s House, the Temple in Jerusalem (of the Chaukah story). They still don’t want us to live in the way that G-d wants us to live.  For thousands of years we have lived in the ways G-d showed us to live.  The Greeks’ lost the war and we purified “G-d’s Sanctuary.”

This is one of the messages of Chanukah, Our responsibility is to express the right printed in the Constitution that there should be no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion! Say it loud and say it proud! I am a Jew! We may be few in Harford County, nonetheless, we are proud of our religion! We are proud to be in America, where we are free to practice the religion of our choice! We are free to practice “Your Torah” because it is Yours and You, our G-d, shared it with us!

Happy Chanukah and Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

P.S. You can say the prayer below throughout Chanukah to remember the miracle.

We thank You also for the miraculous deeds and for the redemption and for the mighty deeds and the saving acts wrought by You, as well as for the wars which You waged for our ancestors in ancient days at this season.

In the days of the Hasmonean Mattathias, son of Johanan the high priest, and his sons, when the iniquitous Greco-Syrian kingdom rose up against Your people Israel, to make them forget Your Torah and to turn them away from the ordinances of Your will, then You in your abundant mercy rose up for them in the time of their trouble, pled their cause, executed judgment, avenged their wrong, and delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and insolent ones into the hands of those occupied with Your Torah. Both unto Yourself did you make a great and holy name in Thy world, and unto Your people did You achieve a great deliverance and redemption. Whereupon your children entered the sanctuary of Your house, cleansed Your temple, purified Your sanctuary, kindled lights in Your holy courts, and appointed these eight days of Hanukkah in order to give thanks and praises unto Your holy name.

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