Rabbi's Blog

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

The Other Synagogue

There is a joke that goes like this: A man is rescued from a desert island after 20 years. The news media, amazed at this feat of survival, ask him to show them his home. 

"How did you survive? How did you keep sane?" they ask him, as he shows them around the small island.

"I had my faith. My faith as a Jew kept me strong. Come." He leads them to a small glen, where stands an opulent temple, made entirely from palm fronds, coconut shells and woven grass. The news cameras take pictures of everything — even a Chumash made from banana leaves and written in octopus ink. "This took me five years to complete."

"Amazing! And what did you do for the next fifteen years?"

"Come with me." He leads them around to the far side of the island. There, in a shady grove, is an even more beautiful temple. "This one took me twelve years to complete!"

"But sir" asks the reporter, "Why did you build two temples?"

"This is the temple I attend. That other place? Hah! I would not set foot in that other temple if you PAID me!"

This joke focuses on the stereotype that synagogues and their members are always at odds with the other synagogue in town.

The truth is that we are all one people. Whether a person attends services on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur or they attend every Shabbat, we are all strands in the rope of Jacob.  We all need to realize that we are bound together. The more we are together the stronger the rope. 

However, saying things like “That other place? Hah! I would not set foot in that other temple if you PAID me!" is not the essence of Judaism, it is not even part of Judaism. The rope that binds us is the mitzvot, the traditions of our forefathers for thousands of years. G-d wants us to be connected. If you know someone who doesn’t have a place to go for High Holidays invite them to join you.

Don’t hesitate join men of all affiliations and backgrounds for the Men’s Teffilin Club on Sunday Sept, 28 at 8:00 am (details here).

Don’t hesitate join women of all affiliations and backgrounds for the Women’s Torah and Tea on Monday Oct. 6th, at 10 am,  to learn and discuss some Torah (details here).

Don’t hesitate to visit your synagogue's website to learn more about your Jewish heritage or check out Harford Chabad’s here.

We have more that unites us then divides us. As the new year begins, let go of the past that is holding you back and enter a new year of spiritual growth; a year of unity, a year of wholesomeness, a year of mindfulness. 

With blessings for a Shana Tova,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman
P.S. Send your friends a Shana Tova e-card here

How do you define yourself?

Yesterday was a very busy day. In a counseling session, I was helping the attendee recognize that the way others may perceive him is not who he really is. Shortly after that consultation, I went to meet with another individual about a completely different matter. During this meeting, it was mentioned how Harford Chabad is perceived by some locals. They may have never come to Chabad for a service or program and/or have never met me in person. 

What was said hurt. It stung! Dumbfounded as I was, I questioned if it was the truth. Then I was thinking that perhaps since that is the perception, then it must mean that, that is who we really are. Over the next few hours, between phone calls and meetings, every free moment was spent contemplating if there is anything I could do, or should do, to try and change other’s perception of myself or of Harford Chabad.

Then it hit!

The message I gave over to the individual in the counseling session applies here too! I don’t need to and may not have the ability to change how people perceive me and/or who I represent. Who one is deep down is what really matters!

With Rosh Hashanah coming up this Wednesday night through Friday (details at, we need to remember that Adam, the first human being, was the only one of the species that was created alone. All other species were created two at a time. Humanity is defined not by how others perceive them but by how they define themselves.

How do you define yourself? Do you work on your relationship with Hashem?  Are you a good person? Do you do your best?  

That’s all that matters.

I hope you can join us for the High Holydays.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

P.S. First day sermon is called  the impossible is possible!

I would be happy, if only…

In this week’s parsha, Ki Tavo, there is a description of the curses that would affect G-d’s people if they did not serve Him in a proper way after entering the Land. These include famine, war, illness and exile. In warning against negative behavior which would cause of these consequences, there is one cause that is very surprising. “Because you did not serve the Eternal, your G-d with joy and a happy heart when you had plenty of everything (Deuteronomy 28:47).”
Why would G-d consider unhappiness a transgression deserving of such consequences? What is the basis of this ignoble unhappiness?
People generally have a superficial understanding of happiness. They feel that they would be happy, if only… People often think that they are affected by outside situations that happen to them. If the situation is good, they’re happy; if not, they’re unhappy. When tempted by this superficial view, they can forget G-d. They are capable of giving up their principles and values and do almost anything in order to be happy. They look for some panacea coming from outside of themselves. This false way of thinking often results in a perpetual state of unhappiness as they look for the elusive “something” that will “make” them happy. All their blessings are deemed as not enough if the seemingly missing piece is not there.
G-d guides us with His Torah and mitzvos that shape our values and principles. Each of us has a purpose. Every situation is an opportunity to live with Torah values and principles, enabling us to make the world a better place. When we do something G-dly and good with all of our being, we have an opportunity to experience tremendous joy. We’ve enabled the Divine Presence to enter our environment and change a small part of the world. Joy results from the understanding that G-d is with us and we are His partners in creation. 
Happiness is a choice. It’s up to us to make a decision to be happy. Happiness is not the result of something outside of ourselves. Our happiness is based on our attitude. We can choose to look at Divine Providence, recognizing G-d’s involvement in our personal lives. Gratitude is part of a happy attitude. When we choose to do kind deeds and mitzvos, we have joy in bringing good and blessing into the world. G-d blesses every one of us with so many blessings. We can use them to serve G-d with joy and a happy heart. Then our lives are filled with blessings and we can happily bring more blessing into the world.

Chana Rachel Schusterman
Spiritual Teacher, Counselor and Public Speaker

I Can't? Get Out!

There is a story told of Reb Zusia of Anipoli. Once while trudging down a road, he passed a wagon with its wheels mired in the mud. "Help me push the wagon out", the wagon driver called to Reb Zusia. "I would like to help you", he told the wagon driver, "but I can't"! "You can" replied the wagon driver, "but you don't want to."

Why did Reb Zusia say he cannot be of assistance? I am going to assume that it was based on his calculations that ‘I, Zusia 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.

Reb Zusia understood what he heard from the wagon driver and he took it to heart. 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

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