Let's keep in touch!
Want to keep in the loop on the latest happenings at Harford Chabad. Subscribe to our mailing list below. We'll send you information that is fresh, relevant, and important to you and our local community.
Printed from HarfordChabad.org

Rabbi's Blog

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

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 

Are you perfect?

Most of us will say that we have made some degree of a mistake at one point during our lifetime. 

It is ok to make mistakes. However, when we do, we need to recognize that we erred and not run away from it. We need to identify what is it that caused us to make a less than noble decision. Is it something internally that I need to get away from or something in my surroundings that I need to change? Do I need to find a completely new environment?

Besides for recognizing our mistakes and making the required changes, we need to remember to "not look back". Once we make the required changes, which we are in control of, we should not define ourselves by that which has happened in the past. 

This does not absolve you of being held accountable in any way. Yet, you do not need to live in your past identity. You can now live in your current better identity, understanding that the negative behavior made you who you are today.

Be accountable but you are no longer responsible. You are now a new person.

Perhaps this is what the verse means when saying that Lot's wife "She looked from behind, and she became a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:26).". She allowed her past negative behavior to define her entire self as salt instead of letting the past experiences to be like a pinch of salt, adding taste into her new experience.

Have a tasteful Shabbos (and feel free to join us and meet my parents),

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Mistaken Identity?

When 19-year-old Robert Shafran drove from his home in Scarsdale, NY to the Catskills for his first day at Sullivan Community College in 1980, he was shocked to find that everyone already knew and adored him.  Finally, a fellow student, Michael Domnitz, connected the dots after asking if Shafran was adopted: “You have a twin!” he said…. This is the beginning of an article about the documentary “3 Identical Strangers”.

Two kids named Wes Moore were born blocks apart within a year of each other. Both grew up fatherless in similar Baltimore neighborhoods and had difficult childhoods; both hung out on street corners with their crews; both ran into trouble with the police. How, then, did one grow up to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated veteran, White House Fellow, and business leader, while the other ended up a convicted murderer serving a life sentence?  - Description of the book “The Other Wes Moore”.

Rashi says that Lot looked like Avraham, they resembled each other in their facial features.

But Lot’s values and Avraham’s values were polar opposites! Avraham asked lot that they separate as he did not want people to confuse Lot’s actions as his own. He wanted it to be clear that what Lot does is his choice, and although they are relatives and similar, Avraham is a moral and upstanding person.

As people, we are created in the image of G-d and represent Him in how we act, whether we like it or not.

As Jews, we represent the entire Jewish people. When we act properly, we help the world see the Jewish people in a good light, and when G-d forbid, we act inappropriately…

Let us recognize and accept this responsibility that comes with who we are, ensuring the good reputation of our people.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Local Hurricane?



We are keeping in touch with Chabad of Pensacola to ensure they have everything they need to help the community through Hurricane Michael.

On some level we are all going through a Hurricane, as will be explained below. But our hurricane is not a season, it's daily life. 

Creation is told in a few verses, the flood of noah many more, Why? 

Perhaps the reason for this disparity is that creation represents arrival into this world which is an important event to be sure, but one that takes up a mere fraction of our lives. On the other hand, living in the world, dealing with the floods of life is where the purpose of creation comes into play.

To explain; King Solomon says “many waters cannot extinguish the love”. The love he speaks about is our souls yearning for purpose and connection. The underlying consciousness of wanting to live higher, to live for more than the mundane and self interest.

The many waters are the storms that brew around us. Firstly, the challenge of making a living, getting up each morning, putting in the time, the brain work, the sweat etc. in bringing home the bread to provide for ourselves and our families. It also refers to raising our children, nurturing important relationships, dealing with health matters and all the other storms that brew around us.

King Solomon assures us that the storms are there to bring out something profound inside of us – our love for G-d and our inner potential. Since they are there for that purpose they can’t on their own extinguish that yearning.

To be sure we can extinguish the consciousness of that love and purpose if we stop trying. On its own however, since the storms are there for the purpose of revealing, they can’t extinguish.

To put it in other terms; the challenges we face are designed to bring out the best of us and the best in us. If we face challenge it means that there is something good brewing beneath the surface.

How many of you dear readers can say that you are above experiencing these storms of life? How many of you are exempt from these storms


It is perhaps therefore, that the Torah dedicates almost an entire portion to addressing the storms of life and the tools with which to stay fortified.

What are those tools?

Ark in Hebrew is Tayvah. Tayvah means words. It is the words of prayer that fortify our bond with G-d and it is the words of Torah that give us the understanding of our journey through the storms.

If the storm is brewing, enter the Ark and be fortified.

Have an amazing Shabbos!


Taking Responsibility

Have you ever made a mistake? A big mistake that you were embarrassed about? One that you did not want to admit to yourself that you made?

In this week's Torah Portion, Adam, Eve and Cain each made their own mistakes; big mistakes that altered the future of humanity. Despite the gravity of their error, each one does not take responsibility for it.

Hashem asks Cain: where is Hevel your brother? Rashi comments: to enter with him into mild words, perhaps he would repent and say, “I killed him, and I sinned against You”. 

I have made mistakes. Sometimes I prefer to shirk responsibility and say, like Cain, "I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?"

However, I endeavor to be better. I try to remember one of the lessons of this week’s Torah portion; the one that helps me say: I am sorry, I did not intend to hurt you. I did XYZ and I sinned against G-d and my fellow.

With our children, when they apologize, we help them use similar words to Rashi's; to acknowledge what they did and to apologize. “I took away your toy and I am sorry for hurting you”.

Do you struggle with taking responsibility? Always? Sometimes? Never?

A forgiving Shabbos

Some people are passive, others are aggressive. Yet others are passive aggressive.

Some people are hard on themselves, easy on others. Hard on others, easy on themselves.

The "hard on themselves" people are pushing themselves constantly and are very unforgiving for their shortcomings. The easy people seem to float through life. They don’t seem to internalize any of it.

In just a few days the holy day of Atonement, the day of Yom Kippur will be upon us. Each year between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we have a Shabbos. Shabbos possess a unique harmonizing power. It helps us harmonize the past week with the new week. It helps bring together the mundane and the spiritual. It helps us find harmony within our inherent conflict of body and soul.

This Shabbos being between the days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur brings together a unique harmony of the two holidays.

Rosh Hashanah is about our inherent connection with G-d. Yom Kippur is about atonement for our shortcomings.

A person who is engaged in serving G-d, engaged in Avodah (character development in G-dly pursuit) may find themselves during these days despondent. The person may find themselves realizing that they’ve fallen short of their inner potential. The reaction can be an intense one, renewed resolution, rebound, strong commitment. Or it can be the opposite; depressed, bitter, negative, hopeless, helpless.

Neither of these approaches are harmonious and neither is productive. Most importantly, neither is an authentic expression of our relationship with Hashem.

If we think of our relationship with G-d like a relationship with a parent, contemplate what a good parent would expect of us. Would a parent want us to beat ourselves each time we fall short? Or would a good parent want us to pressure ourselves to take on unreasonable goals?

I think a good loving parent would want us to make good resolutions, reasonable resolutions, attainable resolutions. The good parent would want us to recognize honestly about ourselves that we are finite beings with a limited ability to accomplish everything we wish we were. So the good parent would want to see us growing each day, each year, but in a reasonable manner.

This Shabbos, the harmony between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is about finding the balance between our awareness that Hashem loves and at the same time recognize that reasonable commitment to change in our lives is important. With the knowledge that we are safe in Hashem’s love and that what is expected of us is normal human accomplishments, not supernatural angelic victories, we can be at peace this Shabbos and enter into Yom Kippur feeling the Divine Embrace and being assured that the New Year will be a blessed one.

Good Shabbos and Gmar Chasima Tova!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 




Apple vs Leek

They say that there are those who have the custom to eat raisins and celery on the night of Rosh Hashanah and to say may it be your will that I should have a raise in my salary.

This is an ancedote based on what it says in the code of Jewish law: 

On [the eve of] Rosh HaShanah, one should observe the custom of eating leek, beets, dates, squash, fenugreek, and any other foods whose name implies increase, in the language spoken locally. The people of each country should eat the foods whose name [leads to such associations] in their language.

Before one eats fenugreek (Rubia) or the like, he should say, “May it be Your will that our merits (Yirbu) increase.” Before he eats leek (Karti), he should say: “May it be Your will that those who hate us be (Kores) cut off.” Before he eats beets (Silka), he should say: “May it be Your will that our foes be (Yistalek) removed.” Before he eats dates (Tamari), he should say: “May it be Your will that those who hate us (Yitamu) perish.” And before he eats squash (Kara), he should say: “May it be Your will that the verdict rendered against us be (Yikra) torn, and our merits be read in Your presence.”

Some people are accustomed to partake of a sweet apple dipped in honey, and to say: “May the renewed year be sweet for us.” A blessing should be recited over the apple, and not over the honey, since the honey is ancillary to the apple.

There are people who follow the custom of eating fish [thereby expressing the hope that] they will be fruitful and multiply like fish. [The fish] should not be cooked in vinegar. - Shulchan Aruch Chapter 583

Most Jews around the world eat the apple dipped in honey and say "May the renewed year be sweet for us". Very few (that I know) eat leek, beets, dates and say the other ones about those who "hate us" or "our foes" etc. 

Perhaps the omission is part of the message for the New Year: 

May this year be a sweet year, one that we do not even need to negate those who hate us.

May this year be super sweet with revealed good for all!

Shana Tova,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

Yes! You can!

One time, a wagon got stuck in the mud, and the non-Jewish driver poked his head into the Baal Shem Tov’s synagogue, asking his disciples for help to pull the wagon out. The disciples replied: “We’re sorry, but we aren’t strong enough to lift it.” The man replied: “You can, but you don’t want to.” 

Why did they say they cannot be of assistance? because they assume that it was based on their calculations that ‘I am weak and frail, it’s just not possible for me to push out the wagon’.

Many times, when we hit a pitfall or challenge, it is our own self that is holding us back from success. Therefore, the Torah tells us (I am going to translate it in our context): To win against your challenges, go out of the YOU that is holding you back and the Lord, your G-d, will deliver success into your hands.

The Baal Shem Tov later explained the man’s words as a fundamental lesson: Don’t convince yourself that you aren’t strong enough. G-d grants the strength to achieve all good things – and if you truly want it, you will succeed.

Too often, we feel mired down, unable to generate positive energy, stuck where we are without the strength to go forward. The truth is that we always have the potential for growth and advancement. Every person has a soul which is an actual part of G-d.  Just like there is nothing that can hold G-d back, there is nothing that can hold us back. We just have to have the want (and give an effort) and with G-d’s blessings we will achieve success.

Have a good Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

P.S. Watch the Rebbe say this story by clicking here

Did you measure yet?

The month of Elul being the month that precedes the High Holydays is known as the accounting month, the month of calculating what happened this past year to properly prepare for the upcoming year.

A friend explained to me that even though this accounting is very important, it is not something that needs to be daunting, nor does one need to be afraid of it. While he did not use Peter Drucker's quote “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it”, I think that sums up what my friend meant. One needs to measure where he is spiritually in order to make an honest calculation. Who am I?  Who do I want to be? What is the reality of my spiritual standing?

It is only once we make this honest assessment, that we can decide whether  where I am is where I want to be or if there is a better place I want to go.

If after the final analysis we are where we want to be, great! At a minimum, we come to the holidays knowing where we stand.

However, if we are like most people, and we want to be on a higher spiritual plane, then the easy part is to generate this honest spiritual accounting. In the words of Alcoholics Anonymous, “made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves”. Only then can we take the next step, the harder work, of creating a plan of action to improve.

Good luck, less then 3 weeks left.

Have a Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

On a Mission

Be Wholehearted with the L-rd, your G-d. 

In his book, Nine and a Half Mystics, reform Rabbi Herbert Weiner recalls a private audience he had with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, in the mid-1950s. In an effort to understand the Chabad movement, he asked a few questions.

He writes: I pressed my question from another angle and told him that I sensed a desire in Chabad to oversimplify, to strip ideas of their complexity merely for the sake of a superficial clarity. As a matter of fact, I blurted out, all his Hasidim seemed to have one thing in common: a sort of open and naive look in their eyes that a sympathetic observer might call t'mimut (purity) but that might less kindly be interpreted as emptiness or simple-mindedness, the absence of inner struggle

I found myself taken aback by my own boldness, but the Rebbe showed no resentment. He leaned forward. "What you see missing from their eyes is a kera!"

"A what?" I asked.

"Yes, a kera," he repeated quietly, "a split." The Rebbe hesitated for a moment. "I hope you will not take offense, but something tells me you don't sleep well at night, and this is not good for 'length of days.' Perhaps if you had been raised wholly in one world or in another, it might be different. But this split is what comes from trying to live in two worlds."


One meaning of "Be wholehearted with the L-rd, your G-d" is that when you live with a mission, with a clear objective, a clear purpose, you do not need to fight your evil inclination. 

To be wholehearted can mean to be focused, purposeful and mindful.d then it will be easier to be with the L-rd, your G-d.

What is your G-dly mission? What world do you choose to live in? What do you do to sleep well at night? 

Have a great shabbos.


Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

P.S. Services are back on :) see you Shabbos Morning at 10:00 am.

The Great Expanse

IMG-20180808-WA0018.jpgAs we drove from Los Angeles to Sierra Vista, AZ to visit Fraida's sister, we noticed the expanse. The drive is long and the view is open. Lots of sand and much open space.

The Baal Shem Tov taught that one should learn something from everything they see and hear.

Driving through the desert, the open expanse reminded me of the fact that Hashem makes Himself more available in the month of Elul, when we prepare to meet Him in His "royal chambers" on Rosh Hashana. 

This Shabbos is "Rosh Chodesh", the beginning of the month of Elul (1 month to High Holidays). Hashem is making Himself available, all we need to do is reach out to Him. 

What do your High Holiday preparations look like?

Have a great Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Looking for older posts? See the sidebar for the Archive.