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Rabbi's Blog

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

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

Precisely.

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

It is in your hands

Regards from California, where we have gone to visit my parents. Over the past few days, seeing how I interact with my father and how my children interact with me, I notice the truth about a verse in this week’s Torah portion.

‘And now, O Israel, what does the Lord, your God, demand of you? Only to be in awe/fear of the Lord.’ (Deut. Ch. 10 v. 12) The sages comment on this verse: Everything is in the hands of heaven, excluding fear of heaven.

G-d cannot make us be in awe of Him. Nor respect Him or fear Him. Parents cannot force a child to respect them or treat them with awe. Respect/awe is something that is earned.

If we earn the respect of our children, the natural result is that they will be in awe and respect us. 

We can provide the external factors to facilitate that relationship, just as G-d provides us with health and sustenance, but ultimately the child will make his own choice.

What choice do you make in your relationship with Hashem? Are you in awe? Do you have respect for Him? Is it a relationship of fear? Other? It's in your hands. 

Have a great Shabbos!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman
P.S. there are no Shabbos services this week at Chabad.

Secret of a good marriage

Last night we celebrated the wedding of my brother in law in NY. Yeshiva boys are in town to run Chabad events while we are away, let me know if you want them to visit.

The Shema is one of the most important prayers in Judaism. Hear O Israel the Lord is our G-d the Lord is One. We proclaim 1) the Lord is our G-d and 2) the Lord is one. When one gets married they do the same thing. You proclaim: YOU are my spouse and we are one. Prior to marriage, we are two separate people. After marriage, we maintain our separate identities but become a new unit called a family.

As Jewish people we recognize that we are unique individuals yet simultaneously say that the Lord is one; our identity can be a revelation of G-d’s oneness and G-d’s unity.

In a good marriage, the two individuals become better and greater and as a couple, they complement each other to be a better separate individual while making the new singular unit even better.

In a good relationship with G-d, we say: together we are better; G-d is better when we serve Him and serving Him makes us better as well. Additionally, it makes this new unity of oneness even greater.

Have a great Shabbos, 

Enjoy the Yeshiva Boys run service 10:00 am at Chabad

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

A war of Ideas

 Question of the Week:

I know that we pray for Moshiach to come and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. But isn't there a slight technical problem with that? Currently there is a building which stands on the Temple Mount that belongs to another religion. I somehow can't imagine that they would be willing to give up the real estate and knock down their house of worship to make way for ours... So what's the plan with this

Answer:

The rebuilding of the Temple is not just about renovating and landscaping. It's a complete renovation of the world's spiritual landscape.

The Messianic era, which we have been waiting for ever since the Temple was destroyed 2000 years ago, will usher in an unprecedented reign of peace. All nations will unite under one G-d with a singular moral purpose. There will be no more war, no famine, and no slow internet. While religious and national identities will remain, the hatred between them will be gone. 

No blood need be shed to achieve this. The force of ideas, not the force of weapons, will bring about the redemption. This means some ideologies will need to be adjusted and certain beliefs rejected. But this can be done through introspection from within rather than attacks from without. When truth shines, falsehood falls away. 

Sounds impossible? Look at history. Cultures do change. Even religions can reform. Within living memory Germany was a murderous terrorist state, and Japan was a mortal enemy of the west. Those two nations are nothing like that today. Okay, it took losing a World War to get there. But go back a bit further in history. Christianity once condoned the slaughter of non-believers, and that changed without a war. Had you lived in pre-war Germany or medieval Christendom you would have never believed that such change is possible. But it happened. 

The Jewish people have always known that the impossible just takes a bit longer. After 2000 years, the time is ripe. We are living in an age of surprises. So don't be surprised if Moshiach comes and renovates the landscape. Those who were previously classified as enemies will become allies. They will willingly and joyously watch the rebuilding of the Temple on its ancient site. 

Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Moss

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Change or stay the same

Change or stay the same (or both)! 

IMG-20180710-WA0016.jpgTwo and a half days with 42 Rabbis at a conference in Lancaster PA; learning tools to be a better community leader, get better at maintaining relationships and being a better rabbi. This is how my week started.

We learned about many new ideas and tools to reach our goal. Statistics and stories were shared to support the theories. And then it hit me.

We did not learn anything new. Of course we learnt about new techniques and concepts, but nothing REALLY new.  As much as things change, they stay the same. But if you want to stay the same, you must change. 

We read about this idea in this week’s Torah portion: Moses wrote their departures according to their journeys… and these were their journeys according to their departures.

Your innovative ideas, your "departures", need to be anchored in the past, in the traditions. It is ok to be innovative in Judaism, as long as it remains within the confines of the Torah. Simultaneously, Judaism is not static; the tradition in Judaism is to depart, to innovate.

To be a better leader, one needs to have anchors and then innovate how to inspire.

To be a better relationship builder, recognize your own self-worth and then share it with others (you are greater than you think you are!) in meaningful new ways.

To be a better Jew, recognize that the Torah is the foundation and build, innovate and inspire with your foundation as the catalyst.

What would you do to inspire others in Torah traditions?

Have a great Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

IMG-20180710-WA0019.jpg 

It's Yours

Baby boomers are set to pass on some $30 trillion in assets to heirs. Many firms find that roundtable discussions foster intergenerational communication about inheritance.

This week the Torah talks about inheritance and how to transfer land and money after someone passes on. 

Is this relevant? Excluding people planning their estate, like the person I was speaking with yesterday about Harford Chabad's planned giving initiative, who cares about inheritance and its laws? How does it affect my daily life? 

To this, the Torah tells us: It is YOURS. "The Torah that Moses commanded us is an inheritance for the congregation of Jacob." Devarim 32:4. 

The Torah is your inheritance; the $30 trillion in spiritual assets are being transferred to you! Now explore with your spiritual advisor how to best invest those assets. 

Explore your inheritance investment opportunities 
Torah and Mitzvahs
Prayer services 
Torah classes
Youth program

Make your inheritance grow and share it with the next generation, after all, it is their inheritance as well.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

Do not hate!

The primary elections were held this week. While I try to stay out of politics, I strongly believe our country needs to learn at least one thing from this week’s Torah portion:

Do not hate!

Hate makes respectable people do undignified things. When you post something to a friend or on a social media channel ask one question: What is my motivation for this post? If the answer is hate, you are not thinking straight!

We see that Balaam, a leader in the communities of his time, saddled his own donkey, something not befitting someone of his stature. Why? Rashi comments: "From here we learn that hate causes a disregard for the standard of dignified conduct, for he saddled it himself".

Without venom, without hate, have a healthy productive discussion regarding the issues facing our world, our country, our state, our community and our town.

Have a wonderful Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

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