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Rabbi's Blog

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

You are partial!

You are partial! I am partial! We are all partial!  Why? No one is impartial. People are different and come from their own viewpoints  Everyone favors one side in a dispute above the other. People often make judgments about me and my family because we try to be observant Jews in Harford County.  They may have opinions, of one kind or another, about Jews or about observant Jews and put us in some category without even having met us.

Anyone who has studied Talmud has heard of Rav and Shmuel, two Talmudic sages.  Rav was the Rabbi in Sura and was the author (or editor) of the Aleinu prayer.  Shmuel was the Rabbi in Nehardea and was known to be quick to honor anyone he had learned from or to immediately admit fault when he was wrong.

In the many debates between these two Sages, we rule (conclude) that the law agrees with Rav in laws relating to what may or may not be done.  However, we rule like Shmuel in monetary matters and laws about interpersonal relationships.

The reason for this is that both Rav and Shmuel were partial, having their own perspectives in how to interpret the Torah.  Of course, both of them followed the "Torah's rules of derivation." But each had a different approach.  Rav's passion was in religious law and his partiality led him to interpret the law from that prism.  Shmuel, on the other hand, had his own focus, which made him particularly suitable to rule on interpersonal relationships.

When they learned the verse in this week's Torah portion: "Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who knew not Joseph," (Exodus 1:8) - both Rav and Shmuel could not understand the words "who knew not Joseph."  Joseph was the viceroy of Egypt, and he was known far and wide.  They also knew that this king was no friend of the Jews, as the Torah continues to relate how he enslaved them with backbreaking labor.

Shmuel, whose worldview is from the perspective of interpersonal relationships, says that the new king was the same Pharaoh who Jacob had blessed.  Yet he was new only in his decrees and style of governance.  Pharaoh was lacking in basic gratitude to the family of Joseph who had saved him and his country, and he was not a mensch.

Rav, on the other hand, says that the Pharaoh was literally a new king and his egregious sin was against G-d.  How could someone enslave people who had never accepted him as their ruler? Rav saw Pharaoh as a tyrant - that kind of injustice.

Each one interpreted this verse in Torah based on their own particular and partial view.  Feel free to join us Wednesdays at 7:30pm for our open parsha discussion and you will see how others like you interpret, debate and discuss the Torah portion.

Have a good Shabbos,

    Rabbi Kushi Schusterman


How's life?

Sometimes the answer we give is "Thank G-d, it's ok but ... " and we give a litany of issues that plague us; from no job to underpaid and from health to family. Different people have different issues and as the saying goes "if you know someone with a perfect life, you don't know them very well”.

At other times we may answer: Life is great! Thank G-d, the family is well, I am doing well spiritually, physically emotionally or in the vernacular "life’s good". 

Jacob in Egypt lived the good life; he had his whole family united, including Joseph, living in Goshen - known as "the luxury section of Egypt" and all his children remained involved in the family and faithful to the Jewish G-d. Despite the good life, he asked Joseph and made him promise that as soon as Jacob dies, Joseph would bring him up to the Holy Land and bury him there.

Joseph's remains stayed in Egypt with the Jews while Jacob didn't want his remains to remain in exile for even a moment.  

There are many reasons given for this contrast but one of them is a message for us. Even if life is good and we are doing well physically, financially and emotionally, we need to always keep in mind the fervent wish to leave this exile, as good as it may seem, and to ask G-d to keep his promise to bring the Moshiach and rebuild the Holy Temple where all Jews will be reunited and where we can serve G-d in a truly wholesome way. 

While life may be good, living in a world that is exile and there isn't unity and oneness is not good. 

So how's life? Thank G-d great, but the Moshiach hasn't arrived and we await his coming every day.

Have a wonderful Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

P.S. for more on Moshiach see here

Digital Detox

I was reading about a company called digital detox. They provide individuals, families and companies the opportunity to put aside their digital arm, gain perspective, and reemerge with new found inspiration, balance and connection. 

Essentially, what they do is take you on a technology free retreat for a digital detox!

When you do a digital detox with your family, it brings people closer and the feeling of unity becomes really strong. 

There are 3 types of unity:

1) If someone or something is missing we are incomplete
2) Each person is a contributor to the greater whole
3) You don't even see the individual - we are all one 

For example:

1) If David didn't make it home for dinner we would be incomplete
2) When David is here he makes things so much fun
3) We are all one family

We see in this week’s Torah portion that Yehuda tells Yosef to not even think of enslaving Benjamin. Why? "For your servant has guaranteed the lad." Meaning, I do not see him as just a contributor, he is part of my family and enslaving him is enslaving me.

We read this portion right before the fast this upcoming Tuesday, the fast of the 10th of Tevet. This fast commemorates the day that Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem, the commencement of the war that led to the destruction of the holy Temple. 

The spiritual goal of the siege was to create a "digital detox", a time for people to connect and enhance their unity. Sadly, it did not work and the Holy Temple was destroyed.

The main reason for the Holy Temple being destroyed was a lack of Jewish unity. One of the messages that we can take from the Divine Providence arranging that we read this portion before this fast day, is to see what we can do to enhance Jewish unity. Seeing our fellow Jew as part of the family is the highest level of unity.

Sometimes I think I need a digital detox to connect with others a self-imposed siege, what do you think? 

What is one thing you can do to work on creating this type of unity this week?  

Please reply with your thoughts

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

P.S. The 10th of Tevet (this year, December 22, 2015) is observed as a day of fasting, mourning and repentance. We refrain from food and drink from daybreak to nightfall, and add selichot and other special supplements to our prayers. The fast ends at nightfall or as soon as you see three medium sized stars in the sky. Details can be found here.

Joe the Genius?

Pharaoh had a dream: seven fat cows arose from the Nile followed by seven emaciated cows. The gaunt cows then stood next to the robust ones and subsequently consumed the robust ones. He then had a second dream, wherein seven healthy ears of grain were eaten by seven thin and parched ears. In the morning, none of Pharaoh's wise men were capable of interpreting the dreams to Pharaoh's satisfaction. Pharaoh's butler approached and related his past jailhouse experience, when a Hebrew boy, Joseph, successfully interpreted dreams. Pharaoh ordered Joseph's release and he appeared before the king. Pharaoh recounted his dreams to Joseph. Joseph told Pharaoh that both dreams contained a singular message: seven years of plenty were destined to come upon Egypt followed by seven years of severe famine. Joseph proposed a plan to store the excess grain of the years of plenty to serve as a reserve for the famine years to follow. Pharaoh was greatly impressed by Joseph's wisdom.

Was Joseph so smart and wise? Aren't cows the source of meat and isn't wheat the source of bread? What was the genius that impressed Pharaoh and what is the message for us?

The issue was that the gaunt cows stood next to the robust ones and only subsequently consumed them. How do you have the years of famine together with the years of plenty? If it is a famine it is not years of plenty. Joseph proposed a plan to store the excess grain of the years of plenty to serve as a reserve for the famine years to follow. In this way, the years of plenty will “remain” during the famine. 

We too have times of spiritual plenty and of famine in our own lives. A Jew is told to start their day with prayer and connecting with G-d - spiritual plenty, and then we enter into the world and need to deal with mundane. 

The question we need to ask ourselves is; how do we ensure that the years of plenty are stored in a way that we can tap into them when we are in a spiritual famine? How do we get ourselves to see our lives in a way that we are always connected and satiated spiritually, even when we are not in the shul or learning Torah? 

Comment on the blog post here with how YOU do it so others can follow your lead.

So was Joseph a genius? Yes

How do we tap into our genius? See the comments on the blogpost :)

Have a wonderful Shabbos and I hope you can join us for minyan and or Saturday evening for game-night.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 


Will Jacob Bow Down To You

I hope my children grow up to be better than me. I hope that they blaze their own path and that when they do, I hope they remember the lessons they learnt and their parents. I hope they will include us in the world they live in and while they may be on the top of the “new world” they remember that this “new world” is built on the foundations of the old world.

Joseph has a dream that one day he will be a leader and his brothers will bow to him. Joseph has a second dream that one day he will be a leader and his brothers and his parents will bow to him. His father tells him: “your mother has already passed away, how is it possible for her to bow to you? The dreams are foolish”. The Torah then tells us that his (Joseph’s) father guarded the words, meaning he anticipated the dreams coming true.

If Jacob thought the dreams were foolish why did he anticipate them coming true?

Jacob saw the dreams as a global dispute; is it better to live an insular spiritual life or to engage the world around us with all the risks involved and hope to transform it?

The brothers and Jacob were shepherds. Joseph was a viceroy of Egypt. Jacob looked forward to the day that those who live in the world, whose lives are filled with challenges and temptations (think Potifar’s wife and Joseph), will overcome those challenges, transforming the world into a G-dly place.

We are all people who engage the world. We all deal with the world around us. We all have challenges and temptations. Jacob sees us overcoming our challenges as greater than his service of G-d. Jacob sees our service of G-d as something to bow down to.

Do we see it that way? What can you do this week to act in a way that will make Jacob bow to you?

Have a great Shabbos and a wonderful Chanukah.

I look forward to greeting you at any or all of the Chanukah events below! 

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

The truth about tihing


The Buzz in Maine: Roxanne Quimby of Burt’s Bees Dedicates Chabad House in Memory of Burt Shavitz


The Buzz in Maine: Roxanne Quimby of Burt�s Bees Dedicates Chabad House in Memory of Burt Shavitz

by Dvora Lakein - Portland, Maine

DECEMBER 3, 2015


Burt Shavitz, the iconic face and co-founder of Burt’s Bees, made his home in a former turkey coop in the woods of Northern Maine. Now, after his recent passing, his name will be emblazoned on the brand-new Chabad House in Portland, Maine: Burt’s Campus.

How it comes to be there is a story worth the buzz, details of which were shared at Chabad’s recent gala by co-founder Roxanne Quimby, who donated the funds for the Chabad House in Burt’s memory.


But photojournalism and urban life weren’t cutting it for Shavitz, so in 1970, he loaded up his mattress and headed north. He learned the art of beekeeping and with a newly-acquired set of hive, mask, and smoker, Shavitz began the trek to Dexter, Maine. On the way, he ran into a swarm of bees: “My L-rd, this is an act of G-d! I can't turn this down,” he later recalled thinking of his find. The bees quickly started producing honey which he sold out of the back of his yellow pickup.

More than a decade of small-time honey sales later, Shavitz met Quimby and the two became business partners. The extra wax from years of honey production were turned into candles, personal care products, and their most popular item: the lip balm in your purse.The business’ name was derived from the title he had scratched onto his hives, Burt’s Bees, to ward off would-be thieves.

It was slow-going at first, remembers Quimby. Their original factory, a deserted bowling alley, was waterlogged and rife with frogs. Their recipes dated back to the days of Cleopatra, Shavitz would muse, but their commitment to natural products preceded the public’s interest. For many years, they peddled their handmade products at craft fairs and roadside stands, seeing little return on their investment.

At Chabad’s dinner mid-November, Quimby, now a successful businesswoman and environmentalist, shared the “best business advice [she] ever got.” It was from an unlikely source, Rabbi Moshe Wilansky, Chabad representative to Portland, who would drive 115 miles to visit the pair. At the time there were “absolutely no signs of future prosperity whatsoever,” remembers Quimby. “The rabbi felt very sorry for us.” To help them, or to share some inspiration, he taught them about a biblical law that they could play to their advantage.

“There’s only one law that G-d gave us that you’re allowed to test to see if it’s really true,” Wilansky told them about tithing. “You can give away ten percent of your income and you will be rewarded ten times over.” Deciding she would try it, “I’m an experimental person,” Quimby wrote out a check to the Chabad House for $400. “It was a very big, scary thing to do,” she admits.

But they didn’t have to wait long to harvest the blessing. “Within a few days, we got a $4000 order on our fax machine.

“Oh my goodness, this really does work, I’ve gotta test this one over and over,” she thought at the time. “And sure enough,” she declared, “it’s an absolute in my life, tithing.”

It’s the gift that keeps on giving. “As a matter of fact, just a day or two after our dedication dinner I received a full price offer on a home I had for sale which has lingered on the market for two years!,” Roxanne shared with Lubavitch.com. “How's that for affirming the value of tithing?”

Wilansky didn’t only travel north to share his business acumen. The rabbi originally met the two when Quimby was contemplating a bar mitzvah for her twin children. “Burt, my partner, mentor, and muse suggested that it was time for them to learn Hebrew and be acquainted with the faith that meant so much to our family,” Quimby offered during her address. “I thought that would be rather impossible up there in the middle of the woods. He told me about this traveling rabbi who made house calls. I was hesitant. I thought I would be judged that I was not observant. But it was absolutely amazing, the rabbi accepted us for who we were.”

The “traveling rabbi” visited frequently over the years, bringing with him tefillin, a lulav branch for Sukkot, and kosher food. He affixed a mezuzah to Shavitz’s small home and taught him how to blow the shofar. “He loved blowing the shofar,” Wilansky recalls. “He wasn’t really a shul-goer, but he believed in yiddishkeit and he was always proud that he had taken pictures of the Rebbe.”

In a reflective moment following the dinner, Quimby commended Rabbi Wilansky “for reaching out to us during our years in rural Maine. He was always in touch, traveled long distances to visit, and even officiated at my children's bar mitzvah in a location 150 miles north of Portland. Quite a drive!”

Larraine Brown, Executive Director of the Restorative Justice Project of the Midcoast, was a guest at the dinner. Afterwards, she commented, that “it suddenly dawned on me that the Jews are really one big family and what the Wilanskys did for almost 30 years was to be the best hosts in Maine for their long-lost family members.”

Richard Podolsky, a founding staff member of The National Audubon Society’s Project Puffin, was one of the few Jewish environmentalists at the dinner. He later wrote that Quimby’s speech “was especially meaningful to me since it’s not often that I’m able to combine my Judaism with my commitment to environmental conservation. Listening to Roxanne talk about her deepest value system in a Chabad setting made me feel very proud to be a Jew.”

Chabad donor and Wilansky family friend Steve Shaw saw the event as an eye-opener for “people from the most important environmental organizations in Maine who came out of their gratefulness for Roxanne’s support as a major philanthropist and conservationist, but didn’t know anything about Chabad. This introduced them to Chabad, and it was an uplifting and beautiful event.”

Chabad's Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, who addressed the dinner, recalled first meeting Burt back in 1957, when he came to his office at Lubavitch Headquarters seeking permission to photograph the Rebbe and the community. "Burt was a very sensitive soul, a creative photographer and a purist. This was reflected in the pictures he took of the Rebbe at a farbrengen with his Chasidim." 

Shavitz, “in his own way, was very religious,” Quimby asserts. “The Chabad House seemed like a natural fit to me to create a memory in Burt’s name for this wonderful new home, for this wonderful group of people who have served our community in such a non-judgmental and compassionate way.”

The new Chabad House serving Greater Portland, an area that includes approximately 1200 Jewish families, opened for the High Holidays this year. The center sits on two acres of land and includes a synagogue and family and guest quarters. “The new Chabad House gives us life, physically and spiritually,” Wilansky shares. “We appreciate Roxanne’s long-time friendship and her support in making this dream a reality.”

To Donate to Harford Chabad visit www.HarfordChabad.org/Donate 

Reprinted from Lubavitch.com The official website of Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters and  © 2009-2015 Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch Inc. All rights reserved




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