Rabbi's Blog

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

Thank You or Thankful


There are those who say we should not celebrate Thanksgiving because “I thank G-d every day”. Others say that while it is true that we thank G-d every day for the good that we have, on Thanksgiving we express gratitude to be able to live in a free country to practice our religion.

There are two ways of expressing gratitude:

1) One takes the time and effort to do something for another amongst one’s responsibilities and obligations or 2) everything one does is for the other.

For example in the case of a marriage;

1)  A husband works and buys flowers for his wife or a wife works and buys a gadget for her husband or 2) he or she works in order to provide for the family; their whole existence is consumed with their love of their spouse.

Those who say we do not need thanksgiving are hopefully so fully consumed with their service of G-d that everything they do is an expression of that love and appreciation to G-d for the freedom that they have here in America. However, even in such a case, it is important to show that gratitude in a more expressed way. Those who work to provide for the family should also occasionally purchase the flowers or gadget for his/her spouse.

We find the same thing with the angels that Jacob sent to Esau. We question whether their motivation was to uplift Esau or was it to fulfill Jacob’s wishes which included uplifting Esau.

When we serve G-d, we need to ask ourselves the same question:

1.    Do we work and use what we have to serve G-d and make the world a better place?
2.    Is our entire existence consumed with serving G-d which includes adding light into the world?

How do you see your relationship with G-d?

Do you give G-d some of your time by learning, praying or doing mitzvot? Or, is G-d an active part of your life that includes learning, praying or doing mitzvot?

Have a good Shabbos and a gratitude stuffed thanksgiving that overflows into the whole year.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman


Sleep is overrated

Have you ever worked on a project that prevented you from sleeping? Not that you never actually closed your eyes for the month that you were working on it, but you were so involved that you never WENT to sleep.

This describes the life of Jacob from when he left his father’s house until he returned 34 years later. Except for once, in the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, the Torah tells us: ‘and he laid down there for the sun had set’.

What did Jacob say while he was not sleeping? The Midrash says he would say the 15 psalms that begin A Song of Ascents (Psalms 120-134).

Jacob was so busy he never WENT to sleep. Before he arrived in Charan, he was studying and building the fortitude to not only deal with a contrarian world -  one that is antithetical to G-dliness – but to transform it.

Lavan told Jacob: The daughters are my daughters, and the sons are my sons, and the animals are my animals, and all that you see is mine. Lavan was saying that you can be holy but the youngsters, the teens, the next generation, they are lost, there is no chance that you can engage them and encourage them to make G-d and Judaism a priority in their life. They fall into the category of all that you see is mine.

Yaakov responds: I never went to sleep, I was focusing on the Song of Ascents – G-d will help, they won’t only not be yours, but they are the future tribes of Israel.

For example; Psalm 121
A song of ascents. I lift my eyes to the mountains—from where will my help come?
How can I effect the next generation? They are so consumed by technology, there is a generation gap – is there any hope?

YES! by remembering that 
My help will come from the Lord, Maker of heaven and earth.
G-d is in charge (the maker) of this world (earth) and the next (heaven), both the spiritual (heaven) and the physical (earth)

He will not let your foot falter; your guardian does not slumber.
One needs to focus on the mission they were put here for; to reveal G-d’s presence even in a world that is seemingly run by the Lavans of the world - the “swindlers” of the world, and we will not slumber nor will we rest until we accomplish this mission.

Invite a friend over and help them experience the joy of Shabbos.

Have a restful Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

He Meant Well

Two kids, twins, with the same parents, living in the same city and going to the same schools. One grows up to be a community leader, establishes a large family and changes the trajectory of the world.  The other lives his life as a murderer and rapist*.

This is the story of Yitzchak and Rivka and their children Yaakov and Esau. Both grew up with righteous parents and shared goals to follow their parents and grandparents trajectory of enhancing the morals of the world.

Even as womb-mates, Yaakov and Esau fought due to their different views on how to accomplish this monumental task of changing the world. 

Yaakov wanted to engage in holiness, in Torah and Mitzvos. However, he knew that in order to do a mitzvah one needs physical items e.g. parchment and ink to put up a mezuzah. Yaakov happily engaged with the world on a need to use basis.

Esau, on the other hand, knew that to change the world you need to engage with it and get to know it well. then and only then can you maximize the use of it for holiness.

After they were born, Esau got stuck engaging with the world and he meant well however, it ended up changing him before he changed it. Yaakov, on the other hand, was a shepherd and was not able to change the world too much.

This week’s Torah portion begins: These are the children of Yitzchak. As Yaakov and Esau are both descendants of Yitzchak, we need to implement both styles: engage the world deeply like Esau and make the world a better place while imitating Jacob and using the Torah and its values as our foundation and platform for doing so.

Find something physical and elevate it by using it for a mitzvah.

Please reply letting me know the mitzvah you did this week,

Have a good Shabbos.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 
*This narrative is a play on the synopsis of the book The Other Wes Moore.

you will be successful

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

I just arrived at the International Conference of Chabad Shluchim, the largest annual Jewish gathering in North America culminating with a sit down banquet with over 5,200 Rabbis and lay leaders. Earlier in the week, I had the honor to visit a women in a local rehab and assist her on the road to recovery from alcoholism. Later that day, I was able to visit a young man in jail and show him that while he has made some mistakes, his is still cared for by his community.

What is the connection between the conference, the serenity prayer, these visits and this week’s  Parsha (Torah Portion).

In this week’s portion Avraham sends his servant Eliezer to find a wife for his son Yitzchok. When instructing Eliezer to travel to Aram Naharaim, Avraham says:  “He will send His angel before you”. When Eliezer tells over the story to Rivka’s family he says that Avraham said 'The Lord, before Whom I walked, will send His angel with you and make your way prosper’. 

In the serenity prayer we are told to have the courage to change the things that we can, to do what we can to affect people in a positive manner while knowing that we can not control others. As a Chabad Rabbi, I know that if I am dedicated to the mission of spreading the warmth and love of Judaism, with dedication similar to that of Avraham’s servant, then there is an angel with me and there is a guarantee of success. Although sometimes we do notsee the success and the person we are trying to affect maintains their free choice, that is beyond our control. 

So it is all connected; in this week’s Torah portion G-d guarantees those who remain true to their mission that they will be successful, Eliezer is guaranteed success. Those who are true to the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s mission of caring for the physical and spiritual welfare of every Jew, are  guaranteed success. Those whom I visited are guaranteed success if they follow their unique treatment plans. We must always keep in mind that we need the wisdom to know the difference between that which we can change and that which we ca not change - namely, others.

Have a great Shabbos – see you next week (there are no services at Harford Chabad this week)

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

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