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Rabbi's Blog

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

My light

 

Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I am generally busy preparing for Yom Kippur and Sukkos. Which sermon to say when? How many people can we fit in the sukkah for dinner? Should we do another program?

Over the past year I heard many times, Kushi I don't know how you do it all. I’ll admit, it feels good to be appreciated. It feeds the ego to know you are doing more than many others. It's great for fundraising to be able to say your dollar goes further with Chabad. It also feels great to actually do more and be active.

This year, it's relatively quiet now. I am wondering why Hashem gave me Covid now? What does Hashem want from me? What is Yom Kippur supposed to look like at home? Away from our community, from shul?

I do not know what He wants from me. I think I might need to find meaning in the quiet, in the need for a break, in the ability to say I can't. To surrender. To focus more on prayer and my connection to Hashem.

• I can't do it all. I am not even supposed to.
• Fraida and I don't need to always do another program, just because it's a good idea.
• I need to learn to trust you, our community, more. That you will observe what you can, and you'll reach out if we can help.
• I must learn to focus inward, on praying when I pray, not doing other things “simultaneously”.

It is written in the Hayom Yom:
We are "day workers." Talmud Eruvin 65a. 
What does this mean? Day means light. 
Our work is to illuminate and enlighten the world with the light of the Torah. 
Besides the necessity of being what we ought to be, our whole service of G-d is to be privileged to develop students. Students who are devoted with heart and mind to the inner intention or purpose of our existence. 
Our disciples must know that it is not sufficient to study the Revealed Torah and to cherish the Sacred by observing mitzvot; there must also be avoda sheb'leiv, the service of the heart, namely prayer.

For this year,
• I hope that I could surrender and be more of a conduit, more of a light.
• I hope to be a light that shines because my inner light is glowing.
• I hope my light will be radiant during prayer as my relationship with Hashem deepens.
• I hope to be a light that knows when to say no. Sometimes a no now is a yes to something greater.
• I hope that this year the world sees no more covid and next year on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we can max out the capacity of the Haven for Harford, the new "Harford Chabad Center for Jewish Life".

 

Wishing you to be signed and sealed for a blesses year

 Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

P.S. See the Yom Kippur Schedule Below 

usurping power

Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the new year. This Shabbos, the Shabbos between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, is known as Shabbos Shuva. The Torah portion that we read this week, begins with the word vayelech - and he went. Moses went to speak to the Jewish people.

The commentaries question why does it tell us that Moses went to speak and not just that he spoke to the Jewish people?

Joshua was already appointed as the next leader. Moses felt that he shouldn't usurp Joshua's power. Vayelech - and he went, shows that this was an active behavior and not business as usual, like the other times that Moses spoke to the Jewish people.

Perhaps that's one of the messages we can take from Rosh Hashanah. We've taken on good resolutions, things that we should do better. We need to make sure that our becoming better does not come at the expense of those around us.

Several years ago, I was encouraging a community member to continue coming to Shabbos day services, seeing that he enjoyed it yet was considering stopping to attend. When he mentioned that his wife did not appreciate him going to services, I told him that when he is able to come, he needs to ensure that his going to services inspires him to be a better husband, a better father, and more involved with the family the rest of that day.

Why do services need to directly connect with being a better husband?

The concern was that services seemed to be usurping the power of family. This way, coming to services will enhance the family energy.

When you review your new year resolutions, make sure they are also enhancing the experience of the people around you. Ensure that your good deeds enhance the power of others. In doing so, they will also become more invigorated.

Have a great Shabbos and may you be sealed for a good year!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

better judgment

Many of us wait until the last minute to file our taxes, give our charitable gifts for the year, as well as many other things.

We all know when Tax Day is and that donations postmarked by December 31st go toward that tax year, but alas we wait till the last minute.

To paraphrase a NY times article 

Etymologically, “procrastination” comes from two words:

"procrastinare" (Latin) - to put off until tomorrow and
"akrasia" (Greek) - doing something against our better judgment.

Procrastination is that I would prefer to feel good now rather than risk a negative feeling. For example: I will not make the donation now as I am afraid to lose the money. I know that giving the donation is the correct thing to do and I will be happy and feel good, in the long run, about helping others. However, pushing it off makes it easier to deal with the short-term feeling of loss.

As it says in the article "The particular nature of our aversion depends on the given task or situation. It may be due to something inherently unpleasant about the task itself — having to clean a dirty bathroom or organizing a long, boring spreadsheet for your boss. But it might also result from deeper feelings related to the task, such as self-doubt, low self-esteem, anxiety or insecurity. "

Rosh Hashanah begins Monday night. The king only has a few more days before He (G-d) goes back to His palace. Let us no longer procrastinate!  What we do to connect in preparation for the big day will help us remain connected long term.

During these last few days before Rosh Hashana, think about one or two things you can do to connect yourself to Hashem in a stronger way. Do what is in your better judgment and choose a path of connection with Hashem, connection with spirituality, connection with other people. Let us all be blessed with a year of revealed goodness, health and the ability to procrastinate less and do more good for ourselves, our families and for the community around us.

Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Make amends

Today is Chai Elul, the 18th day of the month of Elul. It is the birthday of the founder of Chassidism, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, born in 1698. It is also the day on which his "spiritual grandson," the founder of Chabad, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, was born, in 1745.

Chai means life. It is also the number 18 in Hebrew. 

Chassidim are known to say, “Chai Elul gives life to the month of Elul” and “that each of the 12 days from Chai Elul until Rosh Hashana represents fixing another month of the past year”. 

Each day we get to think back to last year and try to rectify any mistakes from that month. Doing so breaths a new life into the month Elul, the month of closeness to G-d and introspection to foster a healthy relationship with G-d.

The work of the month of Elul is not just lip service, it's about making amends.

Perhaps, borrowing from the 12 step programs, at the beginning of the month we work on step 4, make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Then, from Chai Elul onward, we work on steps 8 and 9, make a list of all the people (and G-d) we had harmed and take steps to make amends with them wherever possible (except when to do so would injure them or others).

What do you think? 

Kushi

P.s. for reference 

18 Elul Today = Tishrei
19 Elul Friday = Cheshvan
20 Elul Shabbat = Kislev
21 Elul Sunday = Tevet
22 Elul Monday = Shevat
23 Elul Tuesday = Adar
24 Elul Wednesday = Nissan
25 Elul Thursday = Iyar
26 Elul Friday = Sivan
27 Elul Shabbat = Tammuz
28 Elul Sunday = Av
29 Elul Monday = Elul

Time to pay up!

Someone gave me a lot of good this past year. I have been blessed with another child and blessed with health during a pandemic. I am blessed with a wonderful community that has embraced us and blessed with a new Chabad house/capital campaign that is moving along. The community is blessed with our largest Hebrew school year in the history of Harford Chabad.

All of this was given on credit. I just got a text from The Creditor saying, "Kushi, your loan is due. It's time to pay up for all the goodness I bestowed upon you and the community.”

I wrote back: "Dear G-d, I am here! I am ready to return the goodness that you have bestowed upon me, my family, and my community. I plan on paying it back by returning to who I am at my core! I am going to recommit to following the mitzvot you have asked of me! I know I slipped at least a few times over the past year, and for that I apologize and will work on improving. They say that for the next few weeks, you are allowing meetings with everyone, I look forward to hanging with you. - Kushi"

Not a minute later and I got a text back, "Kushi, we are good. You work on getting to your core, and on Rosh Hashana I will wipe out the loan and give you more good things on credit. Try to stay true to your soul identity. - G-d"

Count your blessings and pay back The Creditor. He will forgive part of the loan plus give you more goodness on credit.

Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman
Based on a Chassidic Discourse Ani L’dodi 5734

 

you can't wait until life isn't hard anymore before you decide to be happy!

Jane Marczewski, who goes by the stage name Nightbirde won the hearts of the judges of Americas Got Talent. She sang a song which describes her battle with cancer. She wasn't able to make it to the finals because of the cancer. Please say a prayer for her.

When she won the "golden buzzer", she said "You can't wait until life isn't hard anymore before you decide to be happy!" Nightbirde - Jun 8, 2021.

In the Declaration of Independence we are told "they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness;". However, as Nightbirdie said, happiness is a choice.

Jane says she has a chance at living. Jane has beaten cancer before!

All day, all night, now I can't hide
Said I knew myself but I guess I lied
It's okay, it's okay, it's okay, it's okay
If you're lost, we're all a little lost and it's alright

We do not have a TV at home and I rarely hear news from AGT. The Baal Shem Tov teaches that "Every single thing that a person sees or hears, is an instruction to him in his conduct in the service of G‑d." Reading about Nightbirdie and her story as we began the month of Elul, the month of introspection and preparation for the High Holidays, it made me think:

Said I knew myself but I guess I lied. Do I know myself?

The pursuit of happiness is a misnomer. You have a right to be happy. If you choose to be, you can be! 

Are we all a little lost? Is it alright? Should we be trying to find our way back?

When she says it's alright because we are all a little lost? Is it alright?

What do you think?

Have a good Shabbos,

May you be inscribed and sealed for good,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Not more and not less

I have a Rabbi with whom I consult with when there is a halachic matter that is 'above my paygrade'. I don't recall the issue that had come up, but let's say it was that I mixed the chicken soup with a dairy spoon. Doubting the kosher status of the soup, I asked my Rabbi if it was allowed to be eaten. He told me it was kosher. I was uncomfortable with the diagnosis; that something clearly having some non-kosher status was being permitted. I mentioned my hesitation to the rabbi, and he said (I am paraphrasing): It's kosher and not eating it is wasting it. Don't be holier than G-d. 

As we grow in our spiritual journey, we often decide to be holier than G-d. For example, not being comfortable with a specific permitted, or even required, spiritual practice which seems benign. Jewish law requires you to act like a mensch. This may, at times, come at the expense of other important spiritual pursuits. Do I attend the Torah class or help with bedtime? Both are important. Which one is the one that G-d wants from me now?

When I read the verses 'Everything I command you that you shall be careful to do it. You shall neither add to it nor subtract from it.' (Deut 13;1), I recognize that this is an important piece of the journey.

We need to be careful to do what G-d wants. Just as it is important not to subtract from what G-d wants, it is just as important not to add. Don't make a mitzvah out of being holier than G-d. If the soup is kosher, it is your responsibility to elevate it. If it's not kosher, you cannot eat it. 

So now - go do what G-d wants!  Not more and not less :)

Have a good shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

Psst, I have a bribe for you.

You are grateful and appreciative when someone helps you out, allowing the relationship to grow.

The Torah tells us that G-d can't be bribed. The Midrash says that if we return to our essence (also known as repentance) and give up on our foolish non-G-dly pursuits, then Hashem forgives us. The midrash calls this a bribe.

If G-d forbid someone steals then pays back what they stole, that is a fair exchange. However, if you accept a penny on the dollar, it can be called a bribe.

On one’s ultimate day of judgement, G-d doesn’t accept bribes. No deals. One is paid in full for their good deeds, and makes full amends for their mistakes. However, when a person is alive and on the road to recovery/repentance, Hashem is willing to cut a deal, a penny on the dollar, an unfair exchange. We just need to start on our journey toward a better life, and He accepts our change despite our minimal but sincere effort. G-d allows himself to be bribed by our sincere efforts to make amends, no different than the thief who’s able to cut a deal with his debtor.

So here is the secret: you can bribe G-d. It takes at least a little work but it is a good investment. Your ’little effort’ reaps boundless rewards, and the "new you" will be more fulfilled as well.

Have a good Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Community First

True leadership requires self-sacrifice.

When a leader makes a decision, often we suspect that they are doing so for personal gain. Every person finds himself in a leadership role in some capacity or another. When we are in "leadership mode", we need to ask ourselves, “Am I acting like a proper leader?”

Often, when studying this week’s Torah portion about Moses begging G d to allow him to enter the Land of Israel, we understand it as a leader made a mistake and now he is paying the price and hoping to change the outcome. Simple as that. 

However, the Malbim gives a deeper explanation: Had Moses led the people into the Land of Israel, he would have ushered in the Final Redemption, the culmination of human history. All of humankind would have been impacted by the enlightenment of the Messianic Age that would have ensued, but there was a cost.

Moses had to make a choice.

If he enters the land, the messianic era arrives but the generation that he led out of Egypt would not join him in the land, ever. 

If he does not enter the land, he will only see the fulfillment of his lifelong dream thousands of years later when Moshiach arrives, may it be soon.

Moses took a leadership role. He sacrificed his own wellbeing, so the Jews of the desert can enter the land.

We all need to learn from Moses when making decisions. Are we asking ourselves, what’s in it for me?  What’s in it for MY company or for MY community? Or, are we asking the correct question: What is good for the people, the community at large? Am I willing to make sacrifices, real personal sacrifices, "for the people"?

I want to share a powerful Chassidic story that reiterates this point.

One of the Alter Rebbe’s wealthy chassidim’s business affairs took a sharp turn for the worse. Instead of being affluent, he found himself in debt and unable to meet his commitments. Before his financial situation became public knowledge, he hurried to receive advice and blessings from the Alter Rebbe.

At a private audience, he poured out his heart to the Rebbe. The Alter Rebbe responded: “You are speaking about what you need. But you have not given a thought to what you are needed for.”  The chassid fainted. When he came to, he began to devote himself to prayer and study, without thinking of his business concerns.

After the chassid had conducted himself in this fashion for some time, the Alter Rebbe sent for him. Standing before the Rebbe, the Alter Rebbe spoke to him gently: “Now you appreciate G‑d’s truth.... You can return home...; may G‑d grant you success.”

The man made his way home and discovered that the gloomy financial straits in which he found himself could be turned around. Shortly afterwards, his business took off again and he was back to helping others as a wealthy man. 

When one is a true leader with a sense of mission, is helps them see what they are needed for. This awareness helps them think about themselves less. Their commitment to a purpose beyond self, empowers them to make “Moses like decisions” where the benefit of the community is the priority.

Have a good Shabbos! 

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

are our leaders presumptuous?

A young yeshiva student who has never played piano walks into a hotel and sits down near the beautiful grand piano. Someone turns to him and asks: do you know how to play? He replies ‘mistame’, which translates as most probably.
Similarly, many times, we are asked for information, and we think most probably I can come up with an answer. But is it the right answer?
In rabbinical school, they taught us that our expertise is Rabbinics. Not psychology or something else. When people ask us questions, if it is a rabbinical question, we need to be able to answer correctly. Sometimes we must say the truth; “I don't know” or “I will look it up” as well as referring to a professional in that field.
When studying this week, it made me wonder; did our greatest Jewish leaders struggle with their inability to recognize their own lack of ability (aka the Dunning-Kruger effect)?
Rashi seems to comment that yes, they didn't realize.
Moses said to the judges if the case that is too difficult for you, bring to me, and I will hear it."
Because of this statement, Moses forgot the law regarding the daughters of Zelophchad [in Num. 27:1-5](San. 8a).
Similarly, Samuel answered Saul and said, “I am the seer.”
Whereupon, the Holy One, blessed is He, said to him, “By your life, I will let you know that you do not [always] see [with the holy spirit].” And when did He let him know [this]? When he came to anoint David, “And he saw Eliab [and] he said, ‘Surely, before the Lord is His anointed’ ”. The Holy One, blessed is He, said to him: “Did you not say, ‘I am the seer?’ Look not upon his appearance.” (Sifrei)
Moses was the most humble person alive. Samuel is referred to as the small one. How were they presumptuous to think that they know that they are the seer?
Since studying this, this has been on my mind. What do you think, how were they presumptuous?
I came up with an answer, but I am not sure it's correct. Perhaps the message here is to remind us that when we are overconfident, it's ok. Even Moses and Samuel had their moments. However, like Hashem reminded them to be humble, we need to remind ourselves before Hashem "lets us know".
There are no services this week
Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

3 steps to the holyland

Don't compare your chapter 1 to someone else's chapter 20 - Author Unknown.

We all are on a journey. Each step is another growth moment. Each growth moment is moving out of a previous comfort zone, a previous restriction, either self-imposed or imposed by others/society.

3 steps to get to your destination: 

Plan
To go on a journey, we need to plan. Where is our holyland and how do we reach it? 

Humility
We also need to find ways to stay happy and humble. We can't get depressed that there is more to accomplish or more journeys to take to reach our destination. We also shouldn't feel haughty at how far we’ve come. 

Uniqueness

Each of us has our unique journey. Someone said to me this week "you don't need that support system". What do they know about my journey? I know I need the specific support system I have in place. I was jealous of a friend’s success in a specific area until I recognized that I am at a different stage in my journey then he is. We all have a destination. We are all heading toward our "holyland".

We each need to remember not to take on the whole journey at once. Go one step, one stage at a time. Set your goals on the next stop and eventually you will arrive at your holy land. 

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

 

 

Consistency

I enjoy looking at data and figuring things out. The most important thing with any grouped information is consistency. Make sure that when you’re writing a number you are using the same format, whether it’s 1, one or I, keep them all the same.

There’s an argument in the midrash about which verse in the Torah is the most important. From the very first verse in Bereishis where it speaks about G-d creating the heaven and earth to the Shema, where it talks about the oneness of G-d.

The winning verse is about the daily sacrifice; bring a cow in the morning and a cow in the evening. This verse supersedes the others because the most important thing in a healthy relationship with G-d is consistency. Ensure that you do the things to build your relationship when things look good, in the morning, and when all you see is darkness on the horizon, in the evening. Surrounding events should not interfere with your connection to G-d.  

If you don’t yet, light Shabbos candles and then make it a consistent behavior. Details at www.harfordchabad.org/candles

Wishing you a wonderful Shabbos.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Be brutally honest

Be brutally honest with me!
Honesty is a must, but it does not need to be brutal.
I once met a local couple and they asked me for the Jewish view on a subject that was personally sensitive for them. My gut was telling me that they wanted a specific view which is not the Jewish view. Trained to answer the person and not the question, I gave them a vague answer. They pushed back saying they wanted the truth, for me to be direct and honest with them. I responded that I was afraid they’d get angry with me and never talk to me again.
They insisted on hearing the truth.
And they have not spoken to me since (yet).
Truth is a funny thing. We know we need it, yet it makes us uncomfortable. In order to grow, we need to be willing to be uncomfortable. If we are honest, we sometimes prefer comfort to growth.
We find healthy truth later in the Torah portion, when Pinchas stands up to and eventually kills Zimri. It is Pinchas who does this as Moshe and Elazar the High Priest couldn’t as they were married to Midianite relatives and were bias. Pinchas, on the other hand, was able to stand up for the truth. Moses and Elazar needed to be honest about their biases and allow Pinchas, the junior guy, to be the hero of the day.
I know at times I choose comfort over truth, but I hope that more often than not, I choose growth and truth over comfortability. What do you choose? Be honest but not brutal.
Have a great Shabbos,
Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Acceptance

Last week Fraida and I were blessed with a son. Thank G-d everyone is well and healthy. The plan was to have a Friday morning bris. One of the halachic requirements for a proper bris is that it is done on the eighth day. However, the bris can only be performed if the baby is healthy enough.

The Mohel will often ask about the baby’s bilirubin level. Whilst our son had a normal level while in the hospital, it kept climbing, and therefore needed to be monitored daily.

At the moment of this writing, I do not know if he will have his bris on time (tomorrow), leaving us little time to prepare!

Which brings me to a thought on the parsha and on life. This week’s Torah portion is called Chukas - which translates as decree. 

There are mitzvot that make sense for society, i.e., don't kill, don't steal. There are mitzvot that commemorate which also makes sense, i.e., Passover and Chanukah. Then there are mitzvot that are beyond logic, i.e., not mixing wool and linen, kosher etc.

One of the purposes of the mitzvot that are beyond comprehension is to follow them in an act of commitment and subservience to G-d. To accept that G-d is greater than us. 

The most self-serving act we can do is one of being selfless. To stop worshiping at the altar of "I" and start worshiping something greater than ourselves. 

It's not easy to plan a bris when you don't know the plan. However, Parshas Chukas tells us (and the bris saga is teaching me) that G-d is the One who is really in charge. The more I serve him the way He wants, the more I become a vessel to express G-dliness in the world.

I am not holding there yet, but I am going to work on getting out of G-d’s way to allow G-d in. As they say in the recovery community: to let go and let G-d.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

P.S. Bris is not tomorrow, info will be emailed when it is available...

Special thanks to the Mohel Rabbi YC Sufrin for his assistance https://www.traditionalbris.com/ 

How do you respond to the person who challenges you?

What does the Rebbe want from me? This Sunday commemorates 27 years since the Rebbe’s passing. Considering that the Rebbe’s vision is being realized more and more each year, it is pushing me to reflect on what the Rebbe wants from me? What is it that the Rebbe saw in me that I’m not seeing in myself? What is it that the Rebbe saw in our world that I may be missing?

Korach the villain of our Torah portion is epitomized as the classic rabble rouser. “And do not be like Korach and his congregation”.

The Rebbe in his eternal love for everyone and positive view of the world challenges the notion that Korach was all bad. After all, a Torah portion is named for him.

The commentators as well as the Rebbe elaborate at length as to what Korach really wanted. What was his inner desire and for that matter the rest of his congregation? It was to experience Divine closeness just like Aaron the High Priest. While prohibited in practice, it is emulatable in concept. We should all strive to seek a higher spiritual station than we currently have attained.

I want to zoom out and focus on the messaging for us.

Here was an individual that regardless of his intentions challenged Moses. He couldn’t wrap his head around Moses. But instead of finding fault with his inability to see the world as it was seen by Moses he challenged it in a distrusting way. He didn’t seek to know the truth, he sought to push his agenda.

How do you respond to the person who challenges you? 

Learn from Moshe.

When Moshe heard Hashem’s instruction to move away from Korach, so He could consume him and his congregation, the Torah tells us that Moshe fell on his face. 

Let’s put it in plain english; Moshe falls on the floor in exasperation, “I’ve been leading you for many years, I’ve shown you Hashem’s miracles, what is it going to take for you to realize how powerful you are?!”

I never doubted the Rebbe’s overall vision. But, to see the results challenges me to think about if I have believed enough and if I’ve done enough.
I hear the Rebbe with love saying to me, “I’ve led you, I’ve taught you, are you paying attention? It’s on you Schusterman (and your community) to get the job done! Make sure you are bringing the awareness of Hashem into your own life. Make sure you are integrating the true existence of Hashem in your environment to be more visible. Make sure you are being the best example for those around you.”

Today we are all leaders. Today we are all called upon to lead like never before. The world is asking for it. Am I giving it?

With blessings,

Rabbi Schusterman

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