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Rabbi's Blog

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

Don't take it for granted!

Have you ever donated to a non-profit and found that they took your support for granted? Did you feel that they no longer saw you as an impact creator, but as an ATM? Did they start to expect gifts without sharing with you how your support betters the world?

It seems like many non-profits do this ☹. I wish it were not true. In the past few days, I have heard that it is not uncommon. A blog, a podcast, and a course I was taking about communicating better all said the same thing.

Do not take the blessings you have; your donors, your family, your friendships, or your health, for granted!

Recognize that your supporters, relatives, friends, and G-d are partners in making the things you want to happen, happen. They are at least equal (many times it is more like 90/10%, with you being the 10%) partners.

It was interesting to me, that in this week’s Torah portion it says: “Beware that you do not forget the L-rd, your G-d, by not keeping His commandments, His ordinances, and His statutes, which I command you this day...And you will say to yourself: My strength and the might of my hand that has accumulated this wealth for me. But you must remember the L-rd your G-d, for it is He that gives you strength to make wealth, in order to establish His covenant which He swore to your forefathers, as it is this day…..as the L-rd spoke to you.” (Deuteronomy Chapter 8:11-9:3)

I hope I do not take for granted that…

...you read my weekly email
...you support the good work of Chabad
...you consider the Schusterman family one of your friends
...G-d has granted me the honor to do His G-dly work
...G-d has given me a wonderful family
...G-d has given me and my family good health!

What can you be more thankful for?
What do you perhaps take for granted that you might want to revisit?

Do something different

These past few months have been months of reflection. We've all learned a little bit more about ourselves. Our strengths, weaknesses, our limits and our unbelievable capacity to rise to the occasion.

We've also learned that certain things in life are much more important than other things. That things we used to value really ought to be much lower on the list than others.

I suspect that eventually "this too shall pass". We will either go back to an old world or the new world that is evolving will become our new reality. It is up to us to solidify it.

One of the most important lessons I've learned, is the value of time. I really do have the time for the things that are really important (e.g. exercise, spirituality, Torah study, my children, my spouse). I've always pushed other things in front because I convinced myself they were urgent and important.

I now know differently! How about you? 

Today is Tisha B'Av. The day we commemorate the destruction of both of the Temples (Bais Hamikdash) that stood in Jerusalem.

I would like to propose we all do something different.

As Jews, what has kept us as a people and preserved our uniqueness is the Torah. No explanation for that is needed. More than the Jews have kept the Torah, the Torah has kept the Jews.

So perhaps, do something different and increase in Torah study.

  1. Daily study of Chitas - Chumash (Torah portion), Tehillim (Psalms) and Tanya (foremost book of Chabad Chasidus). All this can be done with an online or print weekly publication that is chock full of other Torah learning as well.
  2. Daily study of Rambam - Maimonides. Also found in the above publication. Over a three year period one completes the entire magnum opus of Rambam covering every aspect of Jewish Law. - online or print 
  3. Embrace the study of the Rebbe's talks. Listen 20-30 minutes each week to synopsis of the teachings of the Rebbe, covering the major works of the Rebbe the 39 volumes of his edited talks. Over an 8 year period one will complete the entire works and get a glimpse into the Rebbe's revolutionary views of Torah teaching, history, philosophy, relationships and so on. Details and Podcasts here.

 The verse at the end of the Haftorah of this past Shabbos is "Zion will be redeemed with judgement and her captives through tzedakah". Our Sages understand the meaning of judgement here to be a reference to the study of the Torah, which is called judgement and tzedakah to be a reference to giving charity.

Today we commemorate not only the destruction but also that which has kept us; the Torah!

There is no time like the present to embrace Torah study.

Have a great Shabbos!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

 

How to Tell Someone Off

Someone did something wrong. You are upset, so you go over to them and say 'I can't believe you.  I was very clear, and you didn't listen to me!' They do not even hear you, and you get more frustrated!

Someone did something wrong. You are upset, so you go over to them and hint to what they did wrong. They get the hint and you see they are ready to be corrected. So, you give more details, and they learn from their mistake.

Someone did something wrong. You are upset, so you go over to them and hint to what they did wrong. They get the hint and you see they see their mistake as an opportunity for growth. The mistake is no longer a negative thing- it is positive. Had I not made that mistake, I would never have grown to be who I am today.

As one of the great masters (Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber Schneerson of Lubavitch, 1859-1920) taught: Cherish criticism, for that is what will raise you to true heights.

We read in this week's Parsha's opening verse: “These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel on that side of the Jordan in the desert, in the plain opposite the Red Sea, between Paran and Tofel and Lavan and Hazeroth and Di Zahav.”

The problem is that the Jews were never in some of these places. 

The regular commentators say Moses was hinting. Di Zahav, for example, was a reminder of the Sin of the Golden Calf (zahav meaning ‘gold').

Later, in the Parsha, he gets more explicit because he saw they were listening.

The Chassidic interpretation is that he was not rebuking them, but he saw that they no longer viewed their sins as bad, but as a catalyst for improvement.

Have you ever reframed a 'bad action' and made it good?

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

 
P.S. Join us Tuesday to hear a story of triumph From Rabbi Avermi Zippel who overcame abuse to become the man he is today register here https://www.harfordchabad.org/templates/articlecco_cdo/aid/4818522/jewish/From-Surviving-to-Thriving.htm

 

Distance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Social Distancing, Distance Learning etc.

We keep reading and hearing about the need to distance, to stay separate. As we slowly reopen, while simultaneously maintaining distance and using PPE, there is palpable happiness in the air. 

People are excited to see each other. To be back together. To see family and friends. What causes happiness of this sort? It is the distance that makes the heart grow fonder. 

The Baal Shem Tov taught "Every single thing that a person sees or hears, is an instruction to him in his conduct in the service of G‑d."

One lesson that I took is that although we all are, at times, distant from Hashem and feel disconnected, we choose to make an active effort to connect and reconnect. When we remove the barriers that we created between ourselves and G-d, it generates a similar joy. 

Do I need to remove all the barriers to feel the joy? NO. 

Are we encouraged to be distant from Hashem? NO.

Although we need to continue to maintain social distance and PPE, this should not stop the process of connecting with G-d.

We may not be as close as we want to be with Hashem or with our fellow, but, G-d willing, this COVID will pass and our evil inclination will be subdued and we will be able to fully reunite with each other and with Hashem! 

What lesson do you take from something that you saw or heard this week?

Kushi

Fan Your Flame – Instructions Enclosed

Many people live good lives but barely scratch the surface of the infinitude of their soul. Another person may struggle with purpose and then, in a moment of self-discovery, fan their divine spark into a roaring flame.

In this weeks Parsha, when G-d tells Moshe to take a census. G-d’s love of His people is strong and He counts what is precious to Him. The Hebrew expression for taking a census is “raising their heads.”

When a census is taken, each person, no matter what they are like, counts as one. There is no differentiation to analyze what type of person they are. Each one counts individually as a human being.

How do we view the essence of humanity? If man is considered a zero, you are nothing until you make something out of yourself. We are united by the fact that we all are worthless, G-d forbid. G-d, however, has a different perspective. As G-d sees it, the human’s soul is a spark of G-d’s own fire. Each spark has the potential to reflect the infinite goodness and perfection of its source.

 Human life is the endeavor to realize what is hidden in this spark.

When G-d tells Moshe to “raise the heads” of the people, it is to awaken our highest common denominator, our inherent value, our essential souls. We transcend our differences to reveal this simple fact of being, which expresses what is best in us. From this deep place our good is activated.

 G-d knows us essentially and intimately. He knows each and every one of us through and through. So why is there a census? G-d counts us to awaken our deep inner souls, to give expression to its essence. This, being seen and counted, makes our core more accessible to us in our daily lives in this world.

 The idiom “raise the heads” is an understanding of the purpose of the census. When G-d counts us, He is stimulating the highest part of our being, the spark of divinity which is at the depth of our soul. Each one of us is equally precious and needed in the world.

See what you can do to fan your spark into a roaring flame.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

 

Beyond the High

Life is a constant circular experience. 

Our marriages wax and wane. Our relationship with G-d does the same.
Our friendships are sometimes on the brink. Other times, distance shrinks.

In Chassidic thought, this experience is called Ratzui and Shuv. It is the passion vs reality dichotomy. I want to change the world, but I only have 24 hours. I want to be home with my family, but I need a job to pay the bills. I want to grow my business, but we were forced to close for COVID, etc. Ratzui - the going up, Shuv - coming back to reality.

Every mitzvah, every interaction with Judaism, is the high, the passion to connect with Hashem. Many times, it makes us feel good. We end a prayer service or a mitzvah on a high. We feel amazing and then, Shuv, our self-existence and self-awareness, brings us back to reality. We tell ourselves that we are not perfect, and we need to continue to work on our relationship with Hashem. We may think that perhaps the motivation for the mitzvah was selfish. We repeatedly go through this cycle. We are normal! 

This week we read in the Torah about the red heifer that represents the purification process of the one who has been in contact with death. How do they get purified? They do the Red Heifer Experience, the ash and water mix.

The Jew who says to themselves: Judaism has nothing to offer me. A relationship with G-d? Meh! 
The observant Jew that perhaps does mitzvahs regularly, but beyond "doing it", the relationship with G-d is ... Eh! 

How do they get out of their rut? 

They need to experience complete surrender! I do not exist. I leave behind my own experiences, excuses, and history. All I want is to be one with G-d (Ash, I don’t exist) while remaining in this world (water, life).

This is often triggered when one realizes how distant they are.

For most of us, the high and low cycle is fine. However, this week's portion tells us, that it is also good to know that there is a beyond self-experience.

Perhaps we will get there, perhaps we will not. In the meantime, let us all have an amazing July 4th Shabbos :).

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Don't miss the gold!

Have you ever seen someone about to do something that you knew would not end well for them?
Did you tell them not to do it?
Did they respond with some variation of "YOU think it's not good for me, but I know it is good"?

We call this "alive in the grave". When we are not really alive, yet we think we are alive. When we do something stupid and think we are being smart.

The verse tells us in this week's Torah portion: "They went down to the grave alive". Can you imagine? They were in the grave and they thought they were still alive.

Sometimes we do not recognize the folly of our actions and mistake garbage for gold.

Today was the Rebbe's 26th yahrtzeit. The Rebbe encouraged us to get a mentor. To have someone, outside of us, who can mentor us and guide us. Someone who can advise us to slow down and think through that thing/action/move we think is amazing. Someone who can warn us that what we perceive as gold is in reality really garbage. The mentor helps us catch ourselves, so we don't stay in the "grave".

At the same time, the Rebbe encouraged us to see that there is "gold" everywhere. Each person you meet is a part of G-d. Each interaction you have (even negative ones) are part of G-d’s master plan. Each challenge is an exercise in growth.

So when I am hanging out in the spiritual "grave", my mentor is there to guide me on how to become "alive again". When I see something that is life, my mentor is there to ensure that I don't mistake it for a grave.

Do you have a mentor to guide you? If not, perhaps it is an opportune time to find one.

Qualifications to be a mentor. 

1) Can't be yourself
2) Needs to have your best interests in mind
3) Can't have ulterior motives
4) Needs to encourage you to grow spiritually 

Need Oxygen

Last week we discussed created a flame, a passion and a fire.

For a fire to survive, it needs oxygen. How do we provide fire with oxygen? We remove the cover, opening the container that the fire is contained in. We need to move our egos out of the way, so our internal flame can be a roaring fire of passion and connection with G-d.

We need to create a crack in our personal armor to allow otherness and G-dliness in.

To quote the love story from Song of Songs: “My beloved resembles a gazelle or a fawn of the hinds; behold, he is standing behind our wall, looking from the windows, peering through the crack

G-d, our beloved, wants to see our fire. G-d wants to have a personal relationship with each and every one of us. But we need to let him peer in, by creating a crack. 

“Where is G-d? G-d is only where you let Him in.” - The Kotzker Rebbe

Have a great Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

 

Where is your fire? Your passion? Your flame?

Where is your fire?
Your passion?
Your flame?

We all understand the need to make changes in our lives. To change, we need a why, a reason.

Now take a moment to think of a time that you knew intellectually you should change something, but you didn't do anything about it. Why not?

You wanted to get more involved in your Jewish heritage, yet actually making changes didn't happen. Why not?

Perhaps the reason why no change was made was because the desire was an intellectual one. The ‘why change?’ didn't permeate your heart. It didn’t cause you to jump with joy at the thought of connection or anger at the lack thereof. Or perhaps some other reason. Ultimately, the desire remained in your head.

When we look at the protests going on, they are an expression of a cerebral understanding - that existed for too long -, that there is inequality and racism amongst us. The protests were started because this understanding moved from our heads to our hearts making us boil with anger at injustice.

It's very different when you "know" something bad happens then when you feel it in your bones.

So, if you want to change yourself, or change society, you need to ask yourself, am I feeling it? Or do I think I want to change, but there is no fire in me yet to make it happen.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

P.S. Local women, if you don’t light shabbat candles (and want to change that) or if you do and want to  join our Shabbat candles "Candle lighting time text list" reply to this email (or text me) your cell phone numbers. (times are only for Bel Air, MD) Great Poem When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. But, I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my country. When I found I couldn’t change my country, I began to focus on my town.  However, I discovered I couldn’t change the town and as I grew older, I tried to change my family.  Now, as an older man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if I change myself, I could make an impact on my family.   My family and I could make an impact on our town.  Our  impact could change the country and I could indeed change the world. - Reb Yisroel Salanter

Exercise Equipment

I can’t do exercise as I don’t have the exercise equipment!

Many times, when we go on our spiritual path, we want to change yet feel we don’t have all the prerequisites required. So, change goes on the back burner.

We read in this week’s Torah portion that the Jews were in the wilderness where nothing grows. To go to the promised land, you need to have humility. One needs to be like a desert where your ego can’t grow.

Despite that being the ideal, we need to try to get to the promised land even before we are perfectly humble.

I was meeting with a personal trainer and he told me: “We will use whatever you have in the house, no need to get new equipment. However, you will still need to do the work required to help your health”.

Similarly, we need to use our strengths, even before we are perfect, and connect to Hashem with those strengths.

The story is told about Rabbi Laibel Kaplan OBM. As a young yeshiva student, he went into the Lubavitcher Rebbe for a private audience and asked: “how should I deal with my ego?” (He probably expected a full pathway in divine service.) The Rebbe simply answered: “zolst hoben mit vos”. Be the type of person who has what to be proud about. Use your pride as a motivator.

Use what you have and enhance your spirituality.

Do you need to be humble?
YES

Should you wait till your humble to grow spiritually?
NO

Pascals Law and Be the Best You!

Last week we spoke about the Red, Yellow and Green Jew. 

Some of the responses I got were: I am a goyish grey (from a Non-Jew), if that is how you define the colors, I will never be a Green Jew etc. 

The truth is that we all can be in the green category if we define green properly. 

The Tanna Devei Eliyahu says "A person must ask: When will my deeds reach the level of the deeds of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? "  

Can any of us have our deeds reach the spiritual stature of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Let’s be practical, ___(fill this line with all the reasons you think you can't be like our forefathers)____.

To this we turn to science. Pascal's law, as I understand it (engineers please correct me), is that the pressure applied to any part of an enclosed liquid will be transmitted equally in all directions through the liquid. If the container is full, you notice this more. It is irrelevant how much water is in the container. The pressure is transmitted throughout the fluid equally. This law is the source of how hydraulic lifts work.

The Torah is compared to liquid. What were the deeds of Abraham Isaac and Jacob? That they did their absolute best, they filled up their potential.  What we learn is when will I do the best to be the best me, the most connected to Hashem me, the most mitzvah observant me that I can be?

We need to know that the pressure we apply to ourselves causes an equal effect throughout the whole world. My Mitzvah changes the world. 

You may say, Rabbi Kushi, this sounds great BUT I am not religious! I am not Moses!

"I'm afraid!" replies Zusha. "Because when I get to heaven, I know G-d's not going to ask me 'Why weren't you more like Moses?' or 'Why weren't you more like King David?' I am afraid that G-d will ask 'Zusha, why weren't you more like Zusha?' And then what will I say?!"

Don't judge yourself as to why you aren't Moses or Queen Esther, but if you are the best you!

Red Yellow Green

These days we sit and wait week after week thinking, when are we going to move from red to yellow and eventually from yellow to green? We know that these transitions are not dependent on us, but on factors that are out of our control. Yet, we hope that the situation will improve so that our lives can return to some normalcy.

This got me thinking—If I had to grade myself, what color would I give myself? Not in regards to corona, but in regards to Judaism. Am I a red, yellow, or green Jew?  

The Red Jew: You stop in your tracks. You are a Jew because you are a member of the tribe. You are the “chosen nation.” You might not be too sure what that really means but you know that if someone refers to a Jew, you know that they are referring to you. 

The Yellow Jew: You stop and take pause. You think about it once in a while. You might light the Shabbat candles, make Kiddush Friday night, or lay the Tefillin. You have a charity box in your home and pay synagogue dues. You have a mezuzah on your front door. You proudly identify yourself as a Jew wherever you go! 

The Green Jew: You are a Jew-on-the-go. You are always looking for a mitzvah to do. On an ongoing, daily basis you are thinking, planning, talking, and acting like a Jew. Perhaps you are even an activist on behalf of the Jewish people or some other Jewish cause. One thing is for sure, when it comes to Judaism, you are always on the go! 

Not Jewish? You can apply this to your spiritual Journey are you in the Red, Yellow or Green zone in your relationship with the creator of the world? 

As we prepare for the Shavuot holiday, let’s all be in the Green Zone, even if only spiritually. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

no bad comes from above!

This is the first time in modern history (and perhaps ever) that in most synagogues the entire book of Vayikra (Leviticus) was not read from the Torah.  We went into quarantine as the book was beginning and this week, we conclude the third book of the Torah!  That itself is worthy of reflection.

In the final Torah portion, we read the Divine rebuke, that which will befall us if we do not follow Hashem’s instructions.  It is hard to read and even harder to swallow.
 
Our Sages say, “no bad comes from Above”.  What we experience that seems to be harsh is our inability to see the real good that is in it.  Like a child who is rebuked or punished by a loving parent to put them on the straight and narrow.  Or a parent who takes a child who does not yet understand, to the doctor for their vaccinations.

The child feels the pain and hurt but deep down feels that the parent is doing what is best and it is ultimately coming from a place of love.

This is a “hard Torah portion” because it is truly difficult to find the good in our challenging circumstances.   If we lean into Hashem’s embrace, we are more empowered to find the good in our circumstances and when we do, we know what we need to do to move forward.

Perhaps that is why this Parsha is read at the end of a  Book and we proclaim Chazak Chazak Vinischazek – be strong, be strong and be strengthened!
Because, we need Hashem’s help to navigate the circumstances and to find the strength to make the most of it.

So I say to you Chazak Chazak Vinischazek – be strong, be strong and be strengthened!

Good Shabbos!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

P.S. I feel for those that are struggling, the above is meant to empower you with another set of glasses to look at your circumstances.

I feel fortunate and I believe that my outlook compels me to recognize Hashem first and then ask myself what am I to do with this good fortune.

Do you feel fortunate?

 

Oops - Broken Link

Earlier this week was a day of global giving called "Giving Tuesday Now".

As I continue to try to make it easier for people to support our organization and make a strong impact on the local Jewish community, I arranged for the donate link to prepopulated with the donor information. It looked great! People wanted to make an impact! They put in the amount they wanted to donate, entered their credit card information and when they clicked submit… 

Yup, the air left the balloon. 
Instead of the great feeling of “Wow I made a difference” like this,
 unnamed (7).jpg

it said page not found. People felt like this:unnamed (8).jpg

The Baal Shem Tov has a teaching that one should learn something from everything he sees and hears.

The problem with the link was that it was missing the / at the end. To paraphrase Rabbi Aron Moss - Would anyone be so nitpicky as to differentiate between "yahoocom" and "yahoo.com"? Isn't it a bit ridiculous that you didn't get my email just because of a little dot?

The missing / seemed to be ridiculous.

But it’s not! Because the / is not just a /. It represents something. That dot has meaning far beyond the pixels on the screen that form it. To me it may seem insignificant, but that is simply due to my ignorance of the ways of the internet. All I know is that with the /, the donation arrives and people feel good and without it, the message is lost to oblivion, the page is not found.

In this week’s Torah portion we talk about the holidays and about Shabbos.

Does it make a difference if I light shabbat candles at 7:49 PM (this week) in Bel Air or at 8:30?

Who cares if I do the seder on the correct night, it’s generally the correct season.

Jewish practices have infinite depth. Each nuance and detail contains a world of symbolism. And every / counts. When they are performed with precision, a spiritual vibration is emailed throughout the universe, all the way to G‑d's inbox and change happens.

If you want to understand the symbolism of the /, study I.T.

If you want to understand the symbolism of Judaism, study it.

Thank you to those who made a contribution and figured out how to get around I.T. to get it done.  To join them visit www.HarfordChabad.org/donate.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Write your story!

From the second day of Pesach until the holiday of Shavuot, the Jewish people count the Omer. In Hebrew Sefirat Ha'Omer - counting of the Omer (notice the root word here - Sefirah). This is a personal journey from Passover to Shavuot, a journey of counting and rewriting our story. 

In Hebrew, the word to count is Lisph(f)or.   Notice the root of the word sphor or sapphire. In Hebrew, the two words (to count and sapphire) share almost all the same letters.   They are also related to the word shining just as a sapphire shines.

It is very evident that if you make each day count and meaningful then your days will shine. How does one do this?

For that we have yet another word in Hebrew with the same root - Sipur. This word means a story or to tell a story.

During this pandemic, it is even more important to picture yourself at the end of the day and take a few moments to recount your story - the events of the day; the things you wish you had done and the things you wish you didn't [you are not alone, most people didn't get alot of "work" done].

Now picture yourself telling tomorrow’s story, how do you want it to be? What are the things you want to be proud of in tomorrow's accomplishments? What are the things you hope to avoid tomorrow? What are the personal struggles you hope to be victorious over tomorrow?

Each evening, take a moment and write your story for tomorrow, before it happens.

See what a difference it will make in your life.

Read more about the Omer by clicking here.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

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