Rabbi's Blog

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


By Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman - Chabad of Peabody

Ok. I admit to you. I am an idealist. It would be hard not to be, in the line of work that I am. Are you? Is it so bad? Honestly now, how many of you wake up in the morning feeling strongly about something going on, in the family, the world of politics, religious matters, international issues etc.? How can we not? One would have to be apathetic to not care at all!

I am not suggesting that we go to Washington to lobby for our cause, or become a mercenary to fight the particular battle we feel ought to be fought, just raising the question, as a means of tickling your awareness about how much goes on around us, and then what we do, or perhaps more importantly, don't do about it.

In this week's torah portion we find an odd story that transpired last portion, and the benefit to the hero is highlighted in the beginning of this week's portion. Here is the story in brief. King Balak, after aborting the "curse the Jews" campaign, goes for the final option, at the advice of Balaam, to seduce the Jewish males into illicit relationships with the Midianite women, presuming (correctly), that causing Israel to sin, would upset G-d, as it were, and Israel's winning streak, militarily, and spiritually, would come to an end. 

In a public display of insolence (and spiritual failure), a leading member of one tribe and a Midianite princess sin publicly, and cause a plague to break out amongst the People.

The "hero", Pinchas, in an act of zealousness, literally puts a spear into the two sinners, and brings the plague to a halt, and earns himself the rite of Jewish priesthood.

Now, the interesting thing here is, that had Pinchas gone and asked Moses or any other Jewish legal expert what should he do? The law would have been, that killing is prohibited. Yet, he doesn't ask, he literally takes the law into his own hands, and is not only not rebuked or punished, but is actually rewarded for his efforts! Why is this?

The answer given by the sages, is that that there is a unique category within Jewish law (rarely applied so be careful when learning lessons from this story), that essentially says, kanoyim pogim bo, loosely translated, zealots can prosecute. I.E., there is a minor area in the Law, that says, if asked what to do, the Law leans one way, if however, no question is posed, and the person is so enflamed and engulfed in their passion for G-d and the sanctification of His name, the Law can go the other way, and they can take the law into their own hands, and they will not be punished. Furthermore, in a case such as this, where G-d was being shamed in a public setting, the zealot, was actually rewarded. 

To use modern lingo, there are rare cases, where one's idealism, as the source of their behavior, is more than just a good idea, but the idealism CREATES A NEW LAW & AND A NEW REALITY. Such as in this case, prior to the zealous idealism, it would have been prohibited to kill the sinners, and after the zealous idealism, it became a rewarded deed, to punish the offenders.

As it pertains to us and our lives, I cannot speak for when one should be SO idealistic about something, pull out all stops, and conquer or accomplish their goal, or forgo the inspiration, and just let things be; What I could say is, that we need to learn from Pinchas the "original zealot" to not be shy and passive, but rather, be emotional and involved. One must never let laziness, or apathy get in the way of their thought, speech and behavior process, one must always be cognizant of what is going on around them and do their best to heal that which need healing, and repair that which need repairing, and so on.

Have a wonderful week!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Do I need to help?


Dear Rabbi Kushi,

How far do I need to go to help other people? There is someone I know who needs help! She needs advice and other assistance. I try to help but sometimes I think I am going too far. To what extreme do I need to go to prevent her from doing the wrong thing?

Looking forward to a quick response, 



Dear Debby,

Your family is your primary responsibility, then your community, then everyone else. However, if you are able to, you should do whatever you can to help another person. As a Rabbi, I am continually asked to help people. Sometimes I have to say no but – if I am able to help – I do.

Interestingly enough, in this week’s Torah portion, Balaam, a gentile prophet, was hired to curse the Jews. G-d saw that he was going on a destructive path and took three actions to prevent his downfall. G-d's three pronged approach may be  applicable in your situation.

G-d began by sending an angel to block Balaam's path, but only the donkey that he rode saw it. – It didn’t work. Balaam kept hitting the donkey in an effort to move him forward.

G-d continued by having the donkey speak to Balaam. That too didn’t work.

Finally G-d allowed Balaam to see the angel himself. The message was that he could go, but he would only be allowed to speak the words that G-d would tell him to say.  The result was that G-d allowed  only blessings to emit from his mouth.  

G-d begins by using natural and conventional methods. He sent a messenger (the angel). When that didn’t work, G-d strengthened the message by doing  a miracle (the donkey who could speak). When that did not change Balaam's direction, G-d went even beyond what he had done until then (allowed a human to see an angel).

When helping our fellow man we can’t give up. We can't stand by and watch them do what is destructive to themselves or to others. We need to try to help by whatever means we that can. We need to make every effort. We need to do what it takes to accomplish the mission.

Hope this helps, 

See you on Shabbat.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

P.S. Help Us Help Others - Buy a Ticket in the Mega Raffle Here 

Clouds, Food & Water - Thats It!

“Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.” Chinese Proverb 


Dear Rabbi Kushi,

I appreciate your offer to learn together as part of the "Moses makes house calls" program. I am not an intellectual and I don’t have any Jewish education in my background.

Maybe we can do some Jewish stuff together, but learning is just not my thing.




Dear Sharon,

I appreciate your comments and would love to do some “Jewish stuff” together. What are you talking about specifically?

Regarding learning, consider this when the Jewish people were a budding nation in the desert, they were given the tools to establish the Jewish people and sustain them for the future. In the desert they were physically kept alive and protected by three items. The Clouds of Glory, the Manna and the Rock turned well.

The "clouds of glory" protected everyone equally from snakes, scorpions and the other dangers of traveling in the desert.

The manna served as their food and nourishment. Tradition has it that it tasted like you want it to. Think I want ice cream and that’s what it tastes like.

The rock turned well, was their source of water which helped move the "manna" around the body, in order that every limb can receive sustenance.

These are three things that we need to include Judaism in our lives and sustain our nation going forward. I want you to learn because learning includes all three.

Learning Torah is more than an intellectual pursuit, it protects us from being affected by the negativity in the world, it gives us a perspective that helps us live in a dangerous world and thrive. Everyone is equal in the need to learn. This part of Torah learning was symbolized by the clouds. 

Learning Torah is also personalized - For some people they need to come to every class and not allow a day to go by without learning. Those who have the time and can learn about  Practice,Values and Community or they go to be inspired, a personalized learning experience. (The bold words are links) This part is symbolized by the Manna.

Learning Torah is a game changer. Water travels downhill, regardless of a person’s Jewish educational background - they too can learn. Torah affects you positively regardless how "far" you consider yourself. This part is symbolized by the well.

The 3 miracles were in the merit of Moses Aaron and Miriam. So consider a Moses house call or an Aaron house call or a Miriam house call.

Join the weekly class (you don't have to come every week) Season Three is wrapping up - try it out.Season 4 starting in July More info here .

or Email me for a private learning session Here.

Email Fraida to set up a time to learn with her privately Here.

Have a wonderful Shabbos

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Do you have a mentor?

Who do you look to for spiritual guidance? I don't mean 'who do you go to, to listen to a sermon on a Shabbat every now and then'.  I mean someone who knows your number, someone who you have confided in. 

Not to deal with complex relationships from the past or present (your therapist) but someone who you go to, to get in touch with your essence. 

In last week's Torah portion, we saw Joshua and Caleb who were very much in touch with their mentor Moses. Accordingly, when the other spies fell down from their spiritual standing Joshua and Caleb stayed true to their core. 

In this week's Torah portion, we read of Korach and his disconnect from Moses to the point that he challenges the very authority and leadership of Moses.  His end is not pleasant. 

The relationship demonstrated by Joshua and Caleb and the opposite demonstrated by Korach are relationships of the highest order between a Chasid and his/her Rebbe.  But this relationship although particularly unique has many overtones of the relationship between mentor and mentee (is there such a word?). 

Once the concept of a mentor was a highly regarded and valuable relationship.  Today, it seems strange to be writing or even mentioning it.   

Perhaps it's time we brought it back. On Tuesday June 11th, 2013 we will commemorate the 19th anniversary of the passing of the Rebbe, my mentor.  In 1988 after the passing of his wife the Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, the Rebbe encouraged the Chasidim to alleviate his workload by finding the answers to many of their spiritual guidance questions from local mentors. 

Who knows your number? Who do you respect? Find that special person and take your relationship to a much deeper level.  Let's keep ourselves aligned with our truest core. 

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman


P.S. Reply with your name and your mothers name and I will mention them Monday evening by the Rebbe's resting place. More Info about the Ohel here

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