Rabbi's Blog

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

The Struggle, The War!

By Rabbi Ezzy Schusterman - Los Altos Chabad

Thank goodness we feel relatively safe here in our wonderful cocoon of Maryland. When we talk of war & enemies we think of another century or another country. Yet, every word of Torah is relevant and meaningful to each and every one of us.

What is the message in this week’s Torah portion when it says “When you go out to war on your enemies, the L‑rd your G‑d shall deliver them into your hands and you shall capture from them captives.” (Deut 21:10) While thankfully we don't literally go and fight enemies each day, we do fight many a war throughout the day!

Did you fight fatigue in order to pry your eyes open this morning? Did you fight the mad traffic jam to navigate to work? At the office, did you fight laziness to climb the stairs instead of riding the elevator? Did you fight lethargy to focus on the tasks at hand? Did you fight the clock to meet your deadline? Did you fight your cravings to avoid unhealthy snacks and choose nourishing food?

Every day, every hour, every minute, we wage countless battles.

The Torah doesn’t write, if you go out to war, but rather when. Turbulence and struggle is inevitable.

We fight real wars just as we fight moral one. We fight character traits just as we struggle to use our time wisely and develop our talents fully. We battle to protect loved ones from the harsh realities of our world and to create a better reality.

Here are 3 important things to know about your wars.

1. Your battles don’t define you.

The Hebrew phrase al ovecha, "on your enemies," literally means "on top of your enemies." Just because we are constantly engaged in struggle doesn’t mean that we are defined by them. We win and inevitably we lose. Don’t focus on your losses; you are far  more than your conflicts. You have a divine soul that is perfect and untarnished in spite of your struggles. So just get back up, re-energized and begin anew.

2. You are not fighting alone.

When your battles become oppressive, when your enemy gains the upper hand, you may need to take a step back and reevaluate. Affirm that there is no true existence other than G‑d. This means that nothing contrary to G‑d’s goodness and truth has any real power over you. Go to war with the optimistic confidence that "G‑d shall deliver them into your hands,” in order to succeed.

3. You can grow from your experience.

“You shall capture from them captives.” Anything negative in man or in the world can be exploited for the good. You were exposed to your circumstances for a reason. “Capture captives” and find a lesson in every situation.

Wishing us all strength and victory in fighting our many battles!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

You've Been Drafted

When something needs to get done and we are not excited to do it, we often need to fight with ourselves to get it done, knowing that that is the right thing to do.

However there are two types of battles that one faces; one is an inherent battle for safety and the other is a battle for issues like a better lifestyle, a raise etc.

The Torah excludes certain people from being drafted for war. Someone who just built a house, planted a vineyard or just got married is exempt from going to a war of conquest in order to "expand the borders" of the Holy Land. However during a “mitzvah” war; one that guards the safety of the Jewish people or the Jewish traditions, no one is exempt, even a groom on his wedding day may be drafted.

While some people are exempt to first "settle down" before fighting those internal battles that are about general growth, when it is about a mitzvah - no one is exempt and we are all "drafted" to win this war.

Welcome to G-d’s Army - the Tzivos Hashem :)

Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

Stream of Consciousness on the High Holiday Season

By Rabbi Eliyahu Schusterman

This Shabbos and Sunday the High Holiday season begins. Rosh Hashanah will be in one month and that means we begin to blow the Shofar this Sunday. Tis the season!

So let’s summarize this year. What did you discover about yourself, about your life? What changes did you incorporate into your world? What relationships were enhanced? Which were damaged? How is next year going to be different?

These are the very uncomfortable questions a good friend asked me yesterday. I thought first about telling him to jump into the lake at Piedmont Park (by the way join us on the first day of Rosh Hashanah at the Gazebo for Tashlich) and mind his own business. But then I thought let me try to answer that question. And I did.

Mirror, mirror on the wall who is this fellow looking at you this Elul?

The mirrors response wasn’t necessary that pleasant but it was challenging. It said, why is next year going to be any different? It wanted to know how I dare show my face this Rosh Hashanah when I have fallen short on last year’s commitments.

No, it isn’t always the most pleasant experience to have yourself put on the table in front of you to look at, but the alternative is more of the same. Change is not easy, but our Tradition provides an entire season to jump start it.

“You stand here today, all of you from the wood-chopper to the water carrier”. Today = the day of Rosh Hashanah. Today (on that first day of RH) all of us stand equally, before the Master of the Universe, wood-choppers, water carriers, lawyers, doctors, teachers, moms, dads, accountants, business people, and executives. All of us stand and are required to present ourselves.

A visual – a naked man with a tie parading down the street. This is the spiritual equivalent of looking good without anything to back it up. It’s like driving someone else’s Tesla and pretending that it’s yours.

Elul is the season to get our act together!

Friends are a powerful source to get us in-line. Find a friend, find a mirror, take some time to meditate and pray, the great day of Rosh Hashanah is coming!

Shana Tova and Shabbat Shalom!


Why did you kill your grandmother?

Why did you kill your grandmother? This was the question that Rabbi Dov Greenberg asked a student who asked him "Why does Israel act like an apartheid state?". The young man responded and said "I didn't kill my grandmother" to which the Rabbi responded - she has passed on correct? Yes said the student! So "Why did you kill her?"

Everyone in the room understood that Rabbi Greenberg was making a point, you cannot engage in the conversation about a ridiculous claim because even if you win the argument, you have become tainted by even engaging the issue.

As proud Jews, we should see the world as one of the tools we can use with which to serve G-d. We can eat kosher food (the object) with a blessing (the recognition) in order to keep our bodies healthy (the intent) and we have then, made the world and the act of eating holy.

On the other hand, by engaging the world in an unG-dly way, instead of us uplifting the world, the world can drag us down. This can happen by (1) first considering Jewish value as one voice amongst the many, to the extent that it (2) may be considered the inferior voice. We may then (3) become passionate about causes that oppose Jewish values, or even worse,(4) apathetic and uninterested in any value based conversation and then,(5) when we are inspired and searching for something we may not realize that what we are searching for is to reconnect to Jewish values.

This is what Moshe is telling the Jews as they prepare to go into the land of Israel, where they would be engaging with the world post their wilderness experience. He is guiding them, and us, as to the spiritual battles we need to fight. As it is written in this week’s Torah portion: ‘Be careful that you do not forget the Lord, your God, by not keeping His commandments, His ordinances, and His statutes, which I command you this day ... Who led you through that (1)great and (2) awesome desert, [in which were] (3)snakes,(4)vipers and scorpions, and (5) drought, where there was no water; Who brought water for you out of solid rock’. ᐧ

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