Rabbi's Blog

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

5 Tips to make your Seder meaningful

The seder is a week away,

Many people are doing their own Seder so i wanted to share a few tips to make it more meaningful.

  1. Tell the story of the Exodus like you are a storyteller telling your child a bedtime story
  2. Prepare and discuss - find something (here) that is meaningful and relevant to you in the haggadah and discuss it  
  3. Invite someone who otherwise wouldn't be at a seder- sponsor them - or let us know by replying to this email and we'll invite them
  4. Get handbaked Shmurah Matzah for the seder night 
  5. Start kiddush after nightfall 8:04 pm in Bel Air - th memories of Staying up late for the seder are never forgotten - don't forget to have the kids nap in the afternoon

I willl share a thought I learnt about the 4 sons that I found meaningful:  

The four sons in the Haggadah are asking the four questions everyone asks on their journey of faith

  • The wise son - Judaism is insane, what are these illogical rules about?
  • The rebellious son - I am worthless - Why do you think what i do makes a difference
  • The simple son - Who needs G-d? if you work hard you will succeed
  • The one who doesn't know how to ask - I just don’t care - i'm apathetic to this whole religion thing what would you answer each child?

listen to this insight in detail a 90 minute class by Rabbi YY Jacobson dean Here

Are you Free?

Can you be free and observant of Torah and Mitzvot? 

Moses told Pharaoh that the G-d of the Jews said: "Let My people go, and they will worship Me." While the Torah narrative is often portrayed that we left the bondage of Egypt and went free to do whatever we want, the truth is that the Torah asserts that My people were to be let go so that they will worship Me. We see this mentioned again in Leviticus 25:55: “For the children of Israel are servants to Me; they are My servants, whom I took out of the land of Egypt. I am the Lord, your G-d.”

The Jewish people did not become free to do what they want but to a new type of servitude, namely the service of one G-d and the founding of the first monotheistic religion. Judaism does not consider it a value that people can do whatever they want. Jewish values advance the belief that every person has a mission to add G-dliness into the world. The Jew I charged with the mission to be “a light unto the nations” (Isaiah 49:6) by observing Torah and Mitzvot, and the Gentile I charged to create a just world by observing the seven Noahide laws given to all mankind by G-d.  Every person should live a life of service, one that is purposeful and mission oriented.

It is when your life revolves around a G-d-focused purpose that you are free to be you and true to your core self. In the words of the Mishna (Avot 6:2): “It says (Exodus 32:16): ‘And the tablets are the work of G-d, and the writing is G-d's writing, engraved on the tablets’; read not "engraved" (charut) but "liberty" (chairut) — for there is no free individual, except for he who occupies himself with Torah.”

We are accustomed to freedom meaning something similar to being free from an outside power over us, be that a Pharaoh or a G-d, free to give in to our instincts and free to do whatever we want, without judgment.  However, if that is how freedom is defined, America is no longer the Land of the free once law and order are implemented. Anyone who follows the laws of the land in which they live is not truly free to do what they want as some of what they want to do may  not be legal.

Even the “free spirits” are limited. For example, an artist is limited by the size of the canvas, colors of the paints, brush sizes, paint texture and the need to practice.

If freedom is not free from an outside power, then it must be something else. Freedom means the ability to make a choice, to weigh the options and based on the pros and cons decide which way to go. In America, I am free to choose whether or not to steal. If I choose to steal, I may suffer the consequences of the law, however, that is my decision. In the deepest sense, it is the ability to choose without being affected by our own self-destructive or negative instincts. Freedom is the ability to say yes and to say no to ourselves. To quote Herman Wouk: to use hard thinking to find the right way to live and then to live that way.

Some may ask where individuality is if we all practice the same laws.

The Torah and Mitzvot are like the artists’ paints and canvas. The same colors of paint and the same size canvas can produce very different pictures. The same practicing of Torah and Mitzvoth can paint very different pictures, depending whether the person is more academic, expressive or action focused. We will have similarities while maintaining our uniqueness.

As Herman Wouk writes in his book, This is my G-d, when talking about an encounter where a young girl was expressing her opinion that religion was all about conformity. “The burden of her tale was that Judaism meant ritualism and ritualism meant conformity, which was a great evil. The interesting thing was that my charming enlightener was dressed in garb as ceremonious as a bishop’s, from the correct wrinkles in her sweater sleeves to the prescribed smudge on her saddle shoes, and spoke her piece for autonomy in a vocabulary of the teens as rigid, as circumscribed and marked in intonation as any litany.  Her gestures, her haircut, her paint were wholly stylized.….

… But this is all inevitable – there is nothing whatever wrong with it – human life cannot be formless. The only true non-conformists are the ones in the asylums; the only radically free spirits are the death house waiting the chair. We live by patterns, we move in comradeships, the sensible thing to do is to use hard thinking to find the right way to live and then to live that way, whether many other people do or few do. If a Jew concludes to enter upon his heritage and make it part of his life, he does an obviously reasonable thing. The chances are that—at least today—he will seem a mighty freakish non-conformist in some neighborhoods; but that is changing too, and anyway, what does it matter? What matters is living with dignity, with decency, and without fear, in the way that best honors one’s intelligence and one’s birth.”

My Friend Nadiv age 30

Nadiv.jpgMy friend Nadiv Kehaty,  a 30 year old father passed, away on Monday morning. The most noticeable quality Nadiv had was his genuine love for his fellow man; his constant smile is something that endeared him to thousands. Literally thousands of people donated close to a million dollars toward a campaign to support his children

We regularly ask after someone passes - how do I move on? How do I return to normal life after a tragedy? In the words of the Midrash: “Master of the universe, if a person becomes contaminated through a human corpse, how shall he become pure?” Moses asked G-d. G-d remained silent. "At that moment, Moses' face darkened."

Much later the Midrash says, "When G-d reached the section of the red cow, He said to Moses: 'you once asked Me how can this person become pure, but I did not respond. Now I will give you the answer.’ And G-d proceeded to present the entire mitzvah of the Red Heifer.” In short; the unblemished, no black haired Red Heifer was ritually slaughtered and then burned to ashes.  Its ashes were mixed with water from a natural source.  This water was sprinkled on someone who came in contact with death, thus returning him to a state of purity.

In this special process, the two main elements of fire and water were mixed together.  Fire represents expression, yearning and passion while water represents cool, calm and normalcy.  This in reality is the yearning of the soul for purpose, control of self and living higher whereas the body is self-indulgent, ego driven and interested in the self.  

How does this ritual answer ‘how do I move on?’ I am not sure. One thing I know is that Nadiv managed this balance. He was normal, fun loving, hardworking like a regular guy, yet at the same time, he loved everyone and made a point to express it and let us all know how much he loved and appreciated us. True Ahavat Yisrael!

Ask yourself, are you expressing your appreciation to those who you appreciate? Do people see your fire? 

  • Don't be crazy about yourself; be crazy about your soul.
  • Be normal and exceptional at the same time. 
  • Express your soul without neglecting your body. 
  • Let the fire burn and water it.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Kol Nidrei begins tonight!

I know you are thinking: ‘He lost his mind! Kol Nidrei happens on Yom Kippur not in March! Tonight is a holiday called Purim, not Yom Kippur!’

Please let me explain. Yom Kippur and Purim are two holidays that are mirror images, two sides of the same coin

  • On the day before Yom Kippur we feast on the day before Purim we fast
  • On the day of Yom Kippur we fast on the day of Purim we feast
  • Yom Kippur is a one day holiday Purim is a one day holiday
  • On Yom Kippur the Jews accepted the Torah on Purim the Jews re-accepted the Torah (details on that as a p.p.s.)

The biblical name for Yom Kippur is Yom HaKippurim which can be translated as the day that is like Purim. So join us for a joyous Kol Nidrei at tonight's Purimtini or a joyous Neilah at tomorrow’s Purim at the Stadium.

Have an easy Feast

p.s. Everything you need to know to celebrate Purim (at home or at Chabad) can be found on our Purim minisite here

p.p.s. the Chida writes "When G-d gave the Jewish people the Torah, he lifted the mountain over them and forced them to accept it. Nevertheless, they accepted it again willfully in the days of Achashverosh, as it is written ‘The Jews established and accepted’ (Esther 9:26). They established in the days of Achashverosh that which they had already accepted in the days of Moshe’.” [Out of their love for Hashem engendered by the miracle of Purim the Jews reaccepted the Torah — Rashi.]

Torah is compared to food and drink, as King Shlomo says, “Come and partake of my bread, and drink the wine that I have mixed” (Proverbs 9:5). Consequently, on Purim, which marks our reacceptance of the Torah, we celebrate with festive meals and drinking."

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