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Rabbi's Blog

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

Be a Mentch, regardless of how you're dressed

There is an old expression, “the clothing makes the man (person).” Google attributes this to Mark Twain, regardless, I beg to differ.

Oh yes, on a very basic level, if you dressed like a slob you will be perceived as being a slob, and if you are dressed in a nice suit and tie, clean, neat and perfect, you are associated with success, being organized etc.

That said, I think the person makes the person more than their clothes.

As parents on the relentless journey of raising a family we spend enormous amounts of time and money getting clothing for our children. Clothes that fit properly (and are then outgrown in what seems like minutes) and look good on our children, but still, it is not the clothing that make the man/kid.

When I hear from the teachers at school, that my kid left his lunch at home and his siblings all gladly ponied up something from their lunch box to make him whole, that to me is what a mentch looks like, regardless of what they are wearing. 

When I hear a story about a child of a family that I know that was “sneaking” extra snacks in her lunch to hand to a child from a less affluent family in her class, that to me is a what a mentch looks like, regardless of what they are wearing.

When I hear stories of one of my older kids, reading to their younger sibling, whispering, lets be quiet so mommy can sleep a little longer , that is what a mentch looks like. That’s what cool looks like. So if the shirt is a bit too big or too small, and the pants a bit rumpled, so be it. I will take the former over the latter, any day of the week. 

Of course there are times when being a dressed like mentch is out of place, like when you are shoveling snow, and there are times when being dressed down in the shmates is also out of place like when you are at a business meeting.

Indeed in this week’s Torah portion, where much of the discussion is about the clothing worn by the priests and high priests in the Temple, it is very specific. So much so, it would make a fashion magazine editor blush by its nuance. Now of course, like the “Royals” in England, our Priests are our representatives to Gd so we can’t let them go into the service looking plain and ordinary, so we have strict guidelines how they must dress.

That said, I suspect that while the Torah put rules and regulations on how the priests and high priests were to dress, it put just as large a premium on how they acted and if they were a mentch.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

You are a Sanctuary

Video - You are a sanctuary 

On Youtube - https://youtu.be/exVYLdPuHHE

on Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/HarfordChabad/videos/2034733879968142/ 


What do you see?

Girl or Lady?Remember this picture? Do you see the beautiful woman or the old lady? Through which lens do you see the world?

Here is Torah version of this (perhaps).

When you you think of Mt. Sinai, do you think of the Ten Commandments or do you think of the Revelation of G-d, thunder, lightning and booming Divine voice?

Is your experience of the Torah, a stringent set of rules that must be obeyed, or are you engaged in a loving relationship with G-d and the Torah is the framework for that relationship?

We may perceive the Ten Commandments as relationship tools but many other Mitzvos as rules. For example, In this week’s portion of Mishpatim, the Torah shifts from the narrative as it has since the beginning of the Torah in Bereishis, and focuses on a significant number of tort laws. It’s hard to experience these laws as anything but a series of rules that must be obeyed.
Yes, the Torah opens this week’s Torah portion with letter Vov = And; “and these are the laws you should place before them”. And is a connecting word, connecting last Torah portion, the revelation at Sinai, with this weeks Tort Laws. That is to say, “just as those (the Ten Commandments) are from Sinai so to these are”.

If the Ten Commandments are about Revelation and Relationship, then the Tort Laws are about Revelation and Relationship. If the Ten Commandments are about laws and obedience then so is Tort Law. How do you experience it?

Have a great Shabbos!

The Jewish Woman


Moses speaks first to the women and then to the men. He affirms a truth evident today more than ever; the Jewish woman is the mainstay of the home.

He speaks in terms of conversation, engagement with the women. With the men he speaks in terms of instruction, command.

It's quite obvious without our women, men would not be here. But, in truth if not for our women we would not only not physically be here but man would have long ago consumed each other.

King Solomon in his famous Aishes Chayil offers the praises of the woman. In it he recognizes the many facets of life, from the most basic needs of life to the most sophisticated all anchored and provided for by the woman, the mainstay of the home. Hipster'ized version at the end of the article.

I share this because the source for Moses speaking first to the women and then the men is from this week's Torah portion.

Additionally, this weekend is the annual conference of the Shluchos, Chabad Rebitzen emissaries in NY. The Rebbe highlighted this truth of the Torah and changed the role of Jewish women in the Chabad community and by extension in the Jewish world.

Sidebar: That means I will be alone this weekend, so there will not be services at Chabad, you are welcome to visit the house. The "foundation of the home" the Ikeret Habayit, Fraida is out of town.

This Shabbos blesses the anniversary of the passing of the Rebbe's wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushkah. The Rebbetzin made the sacrifice of agreeing to give her husband to the Chasidim, to the Jewish People. She exemplified the very meaning of living a life of sacrifice.

Read more about The Rebbetzin Chaya Mushkah here.

Read articles about the Jewish Women here, I find articles here as well :).

With blessings for a great Shabbos!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

P.S. Hipster Version of Aishes Chayil click here

What is Love?


What is Love?

Is love a feeling?

If I say I love you, but do not show it in how I behave, is it still love?

If I act like and show you that I love you, but do not say it, is it not love?

The deepest expressions of self are most revealed in the mundane actions. True love is expressed when doing a service for another, to fulfill their needs and wants. For example, when I take out the garbage, shovel the walkway, do the dishes or deal with a dirty diaper, none of which are my preferred way of spending time, yet I am happy to do it for my loved ones.

I think this is the message the Rebbe gave in his inaugural address, 68 years ago. The practical action of a Mitzvah, with and within the mundane world, is where G-d’s essence is revealed.  Being that the love of G-d, love of the Torah and love of the Jewish People are inseparable, when a Jew does a Mitzvah, which is written in the Torah, this expresses his love for G-d. The Mitzvahs are G-d’s needs and wants, by fulfilling them to make Him happy, this is the highest form of connection.

Have a lovely Shabbos!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

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,


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 

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