Rabbi's Blog

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

The Mishkan and the Superbowl

I got a text message which said, “This Sunday will be the holiest day of the year according to the Religion of Sports, which is by far the most fervently adhered to religion in the United States. As relates to all religions, there are those who barely fulfill their obligations and others who are careful to follow even the most obscure customs. #Superbowl”

The laws of Judaism include three levels:  A) Law, B) Intent, and C) Custom. The law is the actual command of G-d as expounded by the Sages of old. The intent refers to my inner motive for why I am doing this act. The custom refers to the minute details of how something is done.

For example:  A) We are required to hear the Megillah on Purim.  B) When one reads the Megillah to assist others in their obligation, the reader must have the intention to include the others in his mitzvah.  C) There is a custom to fold the Megillah so it looks like a folded letter (the Megillah is referred to as a letter in Esther 9:26).

In the times of the construction of the Mishkan (the Tabernacle which was the mini temple the Jews used in the desert), tradition says that there was a beautiful animal (now extinct). What made this creature unique is that it was naturally multi-colored. Because of this, this animal’s skin was chosen to be used for the Mishkan as its primary roof cover.

The mishkan was made to be the home of G-d in this world. When we do a mitzvah we recreate a home for G-d. We want this home to be beautiful not just functional. Jewish customs are the colors of the mitzvahs. By paying attention to the Jewish customs, we ensure that this mitzvah home we are building will be multi-colored.

If you want your children to watch the Superbowl, don’t just suffice with the game itself; make sure you participate in the pre-game (like the intent of a mitzvah) and be sure to watch the commercials (that’s the custom).

If you want your children to celebrate Purim, don’t just stop with the meggilah reading, You should dress them up as well. Make sure that they see Purim as the colorful holiday it is.

 Have a great Shabbos and a great upcoming week

What I learned from my wife's convention.

The Jewish People are called the "People of the Book".  That is because in this weeks Torah portion, the Torah's story of our forefathers comes to a halt and during the next 3 ½ books we will cover a mere 40 years of history while until this point we covered close to 2500.  The rest of the Torah although sharing numerous stories of our ancestors in the desert, primarily tells us the laws that make up our observance. In this weeks Portion we begin that journey with Misphatim -Laws.

Many people see the laws of the Torah as restricting and demanding and perhaps even sexist.  But in reality the Torah is compassionate and sensitive.  The Torah gives us a structure of behavior that creates a true sense of freedom and meaning in life. 

I have always believed this and preached this but this comes to life for me each year on this weekend.

The weekend coincides with the 22 of the Hebrew month of Shevat the anniversary of the passing of the Rebbe's wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushkah Schneerson.  Each year over 3000 Chabad Shluchos (Emissaries) unite in Brooklyn for their annual convention.  Every year in November the men have their convention and in January the women have theirs. The convention is a time for inspiration and sharing ideas.  But for the men we get to practice being mothers as well as fathers for this loooooong weekend.

Changing diapers, preparing dinner, taking the kids to and from school, entertaining them all Shabbos afternoon is a unique experience for a single father.  (Not that I don't participate on a regular basis in these duties, but being the one primarily responsible for this is a different story entirely.)

The Torah absolves mothers who are raising children from obligations that are time bound, in order to provide them space and peace of mind to focus on their family.  Just one example is the obligation of prayer.  A mother who is preoccupied with giving love and nurture to her children is absolved of her obligation to pray.  This is in order to allow her to focus on her family and not be "distracted" by an obligation to pray.  To many this is a sign that the Torah is chauvinistic.  Each year I learn the compassion contained within this Mitzvah.  You see, just because my wife is out of town the Torah doesn't absolve me of praying.  So I actually have to do both, be my children's mother and do my duties as a Jewish man.  Difficult? No that is too nice a word.  IMPOSSIBLE!  Besides having a total new respect for the challenges every mother raising children has, I have a new appreciation for the Torah's compassion for women.

May G-d grant me the wisdom to allow this sense of appreciation to linger on until next year's convention when a deeper appreciation will be nurtured inside me.

With blessing,

Rabbi Eliyahu Schusterman

Do You Need Money?

 Image courtesy of Gualberto107 /


Reb Shmuel Munkes, a Chassid of the Alter Rebbe, first Chabad Rebbe, once questioned an acquaintance regarding his downcast expression. The friend replied that he was experiencing financial difficulties. The Alter Rebbe’s son, Reb Dovber, then a child of about six years old, approached Reb Shmuel after hearing this exchange.

“Why ask the reason for his sadness? There is a verse (Psalms 115) which states the reason explicitly: ‘atzabeihem kesef v'zahav’.”

The child was making a clever pun. The literal translation of atzabeihem is "their idols", yet it can also be understood as "their sadness". Thus, the phrase would mean "their sadness is (caused by) silver and gold". 

Reb Dovber continued: "This leads to the continuation of the verse ‘they have eyes, but cannot see'; they do not appreciate how Divine Providence is manifest in their lives. 

We all have times that we serve money, making it into an idol. When we don't have it, we get depressed and when we have a lot of it, it makes us haughty. One needs money as it is essentially a means to an end. Yet it should primarily be used in a G-dly manner. This can be done via supporting your family and community, writing a Torah, building a Shul or giving to community causes. 

The Torah tells us that we must work; ‘six days a week you shall work’ (exodus 20:9). We work in order to have the money we need and to be able to serve our Creator. Following our work we are blessed by G-d, as the verse states, ‘it is the blessings of G-d that will bring riches’ (Proverbs10:22).

Hope to see you over Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Brrr… its cold outside.

We have not seen such an extreme cold in many years! The only thing we want to do is sit inside where it is warm and drink hot tea. Schools were closed “due to the cold”, people were posting on Facebook how glad they are to be in the warm confines of their homes and calls went out to help the homeless find shelter. 

There is a Chassidic teaching that from every entity and event we can learn a lesson in the service of man to his Creator.  

Just like we do our utmost to keep the cold out and make sure our homes are warm and those outside have warm shelter, we find the same in our service of G-d.

The cold is the indifference and cynicism to anything holy. It's the cooling down of the fervor that people have when they see something inspiring. For example, the effects of the cynical comments received when friends see that your Judaism is not only an ancient religion but relevant and integral to your daily life.   
Keeping our ‘homes’ warm is recognizing the G-d within us; living a life that fires us up and warms our souls. We need to be more enthusiastic about our heritage and who we truly are.

One of the definitions for cold  (k is exhibiting or feeling no enthusiasm. 

When I was 14, I was kicked out of a Talmud class. I crossed the hall and sat in on an etymology class. They were discussing the word enthusiasm and defined it, based on its etymology, as being inspired or possessed by the G-d within you.

So what is cold? Not feeling the G-d within you.

What can you do TODAY to be warmer - in every sense of the word?

Have a wonderful Shabbos - hope to see you in shul.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Facing your Demons

I was recently encouraged to heed the Rebbe's call to "do all you can to bring Moshiach". I started to think about Moshiach; the concept and the reality. Do I think that Moshiach is a real place in time? Will there ever be a time of world peace, no wars and revealed G-dliness? Will there be a time when people will be begging to come to a Torah class and to see how Torah can make their lives more meaningful, invigorated and inspired?

(I am not going to focus on the answers to those questions yet would love if you reply with your thoughts).

I want to focus on dealing with our deepest essential questions. One of the most important steps in spiritual growth is the ability to confront our ‘demons’. To ask the questions you have never wanted to ask. Questions like "Do I care that I am a Jew? Am I proud of my Judaism?" or "Am I an addict? Should I enter a recovery program"?

The reason we do not want to ask these questions is because we are afraid we will not leave unscathed as these questions touch our core. If we ask "Do I care that I am a Jew?" we are afraid the answer might be a NO.

Moses was afraid to go to Pharaoh and confront him where Pharaoh was. He was afraid to confront Pharaoh in his deepest narcissistic place. G-d does not say go to Pharaoh – He tells Moses come to Pharaoh. G-d was telling Moses: come with Me to Pharaoh, I will be there with you. When we confront our personal Pharaoh in the depths of the evil; when we meet him where he is, then and only then, can we break free from his "grip". Confront the question "Do I care that I am a Jew"? if the answer is no, you have taken the first step to start caring. Now do something about it. Come to a Torah class or a community meal and begin the journey of caring.

Have a wonderful Shabbos - hope to see you in shul.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

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