Rabbi's Blog

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

Go collect those sins

Tashlich - ancient Jewish custom to go, on Rosh Hashanah, to a body of water and “cast away our sins”.

Simchat Beit Hashoeivah, the Celebration of the Water-Drawing. During the times of the Holy Temple, on Sukkot, besides for the wine that was poured on the altar, water was also poured in a special ceremony. The water was collected from the Shiloach stream every morning of Sukkot at daybreak. A group of Levites and priests drew three log (a Talmudic liquid measurement) of fresh water to be poured on the altar after the daily morning sacrifice.

Reish Lakish said: "Great is the power of returning to G‑d [teshuva], for a person's intentional sins become like unintentional sins…" Reish Lakish also said: "Great is the power of returning to G‑d, for a person's intentional sins become like merits…" There is no contradiction. The first case speaks about returning to G‑d out of fear [of punishment] whereas the second speaks about returning to G‑d out of love [of G‑d] (Talmud Tractate Sukkah).

I learnt an insight this week that on Rosh Hashanah when we cast away our sins, it is because we are returning from a place of awe and we don’t want our sins with us. However, as we enter Sukkot, which is known as Zman Simchaseinu - the time of our rejoicing, we are continuing the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur experience and are returning from a place of joy and a place of love.  Now that we are returning from love, those same sins that we cast away on Rosh Hashanah are going to become merits. So on Sukkot we go to draw water so we can collect those sins and use those experiences as a catalyst for good.

We see this type of change from people like Csanád Szegedi , who we mentioned on the High Holidays, that his past as an anti-Semite is what allows him to fight anti-Semitism. His Sins are becoming part of his merits.

Please join us for some soup or salad on Sukkos, the holiday of joy, this Monday September 28 from 5:30-7:30 pm.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman


Are you Sorry?

I am sorry that that I hurt you. I am sorry that I hurt you.

During this season we focus on our relationship with G-d. We focus on contemplating how great G-d is, how small we are and how unbelievable fortuante we are that G-d chose to put us on this earth and give us an opportunity to serve Him. How unbelievably humbling!

With this thought in mind we can turn our attention to our shortcomings. If G-d is so great, and He chose to put us on this earth anyway and we are humbled by that then how could we have sinned this past year? How could we have not lived up to His expectations?

Yom Kippur will be at hand shortly and we’ll spend a day in fasting and prayer regretting our shortcomings and resolving to make the year ahead a more complete one.

But where will our focus be will it be on us or on Him? When saying sorry, are we preoccupied with our shortcoming or with how we hurt the one we love? Are we focused on the “I” or on the “you”? If you are focused on the relationship then the focus will be on the “you”. If you are focused on the shortcomings then the focus will be on the “I”.

And here is my prediction; if you focus on the you, odds are you won’t mess up again or at least not as bad. If you focus on the I, you’ll be back there pretty quick.

My best wishes for a Gmar Chasima Tova – may you be sealed in the book of life for good for you and your loved ones!

Just Jew It

 shofar just do it

You’ve seen the ad everywhere.  Just Do It! But what is the “it” that you are supposed to “Just Do!”?

This was one of those existential questions that troubled me until I saw this ad and I knew the answer.

Too often we see the High Holidays as a big drag.  When we are “doing” the High Holidays that way  it is so unpleasant, it’s something we have to do either because we live with Jewish guilt or some fear of punishment or some other phobia that we may possess.

This year Just Do It! When you Just Do It! You do it with life, joy and energy.  Mah Nishtana? Why should this year be any different than any other one, you may ask?  Take the time to ponder the following and see if it motivates some inner life, joy and energy.

Our relationship with Gd is a complex one.  Like a marriage it has moments of profound intimacy and moments of tension.  It’s really a roller coaster.  Sometimes things are good and we feel close to Gd and at other times we feel distant.

The causes for this closeness are circumstantial, emotional or otherwise.  But in the final analysis would you rather the relationship with its profound intimate moments and its tense moments, with its ups and downs or no relationship at all?

I thought so.

During the coming month we have an increasing closeness and intimateness with the Divine that manifests itself in the different experiences and manifestations of the season.

Elul (the last month of the Jewish calendar year and only a few days left) Gd is like a King who goes out to the peasant worker out in the field, far from the elite palace goers, to show his kind benevolent and smiling face to his subjects.  He awaits personal requests and accepts them directly from his subjects.

Rosh Hashanah, Gd is like a judge who sits on his throne of judgment to judge all of Creation.  Gd sits in the seat of judgment but judges with mercy like only Gd who knows our complexities and the circumstances surrounding our lives.  Gd who knows each of us and is the one who walks in our shoes like no one else can, He is the one who judges us.

Yom Kippur the day of At-One-Ment.  Atonement that is achieved because we stand in moment of pure intimacy with the Divine when all shortcomings are wiped away and the purpose of our existence is once again renewed.

Sukkot, sitting in the Sukkah all of Gd’s children sit in harmony together.  Like a parent who loves when their children get along and all the doors are open to them when peace reigns, Gd too manifests his profound love and opens his treasure houses of blessing to His united family.

The Chasidic Masters tell us that there are precious energies to be collected throughout the season that we can then unpack throughout the year.

So as we enter into the final stretch of the month of Elul, the month of preparation for the New Year, why don’t you consider “Just Do(ing) It”! this year!  Bring your empty suitcase and let’s fill it up together.


My brother's childhood memory!           By: Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman 

Going back nearly 30 years ago, am I even old enough for that?

I am around 10 years old.

It is the middle of the night, and my father is shaking me awake. I am tired, I want to roll over and just go back to bed. It feels cold outside of my blankets and I don't want to move. I hear my siblings that are my roommates stirring too. Apparently everyone is getting up now. But is it still dark outside?

My mind wonders to the day prior to try to make some sense of what is going on? It was Shabbos before I went to bed. I can't recall anything out of the ordinary about that shabbos. We had gone to Shul, ate our meal, played, read, acted wild, and after havdalah we were sent to bed.

Ah, there it was. That was when we were told something is different. We were told, to get to sleep, since tonight after midnight we would again go back to Shul. We would meet up again to say Slichos.

My relationship with Slichos, seemed to sum up my relationship with Hashem altogether. One of awe respect and reverence, at the same time, one of fear, work and more work.

Normally Shul was one of my favorite places. My siblings and I had many friends at Shul. We could run free, until called back to daven. We talked and played and prayed. We ate Shabbos meals at each others houses and returned at the afternoon Mincha service to be handed back to our bio-families. Our Shul was a place of fun, of life of vigor of connection to community, friends and Hashem.

Very differently was the Slichos experience. For starters, the utter exhaustion. At that age, getting up before 12 after having slept a few hour, to go to Shul and Daven, was downright cruel and tiring.

We dress ourselves as best as we can in the dim light. No one talking, as we are all too tired to say anything. I wonder each year, did my father sleep and wake us up, or did he not even bother to go to sleep. That question still unanswered 30 years later.

Once downstairs, my father hands me the brand new fresh crisp book. Apparently this year it is my turn. I've become of age. (Of age were it is expected that I somehow fight the darkness and sleepiness, and where I can say some if not most/all of the words.) I still have that copy and I still use it. Though there are many printings since then with sharper text, that one connects me to my first experiences with Slichos.

Again, the silent ride to Shul in some beat up donated vehicle. All I remember is thinking, why is the air conditioning on. It is soooo cold.

As we get to Shul, the lights are bright, and the crowd has filled in. With pride, I note, this year my father is the chazan. I think he was most years, but with other able and worthy rabbi's in the Shul, it could easily have been a rotation system.

For a few minutes, we crack some smiles as we see the faces of other of our younger friends, who also have been rudely pulled from their blissful dreams to be part of this monumental event. We mumble greetings to one another as the service readies to begin. The page is announced.

Slichos for the first night, Motzei Shabbos, can be found on page Twelve. A moment later, the booming voice of the chazzan, in 10 year old ears begins, ASHREI YOSHVEI VESECHO.... OID YEHALUCHA SELAH...

Alas, it has begun, the imminent countdown to Rosh Hashanah is here. At this point there is no denying it. The great holiday is upon us. Time to get a little more serious. What does a ten year old have to worry about? I don't recall, but even I was moved to the reality and awesomeness of the moment.

Within in a few minutes, the haunting melodies, melodies I later learned were the ones sung just a few hours earlier by the Rebbe, begin to work their way into my system. They are at once melodious and sleep provoking, an frightening and put your heart at a slight state of unease.

Vacillating between trying my best to be in the moment and saying the words, and being lulled back into my Stage Two REM of sleep, I am battling my 10 year old battle, of sleep versus experience, the easy route or the rewarding route. The story and the battle of life.

What feels like an hour or more later, as I have surreptitiously counted the pages till the end of the service many times at this point, it finally comes to an end. I've later learned as I've taken my own 10 year old, and his brother and sister, and with Gd's help the other children after them, the whole service is merely 25-30 minutes.

The rest is blur, and the Sunday that follows is always one filled with cranky exhaustion, somehow we've gotten home and back to bed and now it is morning.

However, if you asked me would I trade those experiences and memories, the answer would be never in a million years. And as I have now had the joy to take my older two boys and daughter to Slichos, and the younger ones too when they become of age, I look forward to keeping this chain and tradition alive.

Folks, this is Slichos. This is the connector piece from the past to the future. This is how Jews begin to Rosh Hashanah (if I may turn it into an adjective). Hard work, haunting melodies, transporting ourselves to a higher self, to a deeper connection with Hashem. To a reality that eludes us all year round. This is Slichos.

If you would like to join me for Slichot at Chabad of Owings Mills  This Saturday Night 11:00pm (leaving Bel Air 10:00 pm) reply to this email or call me at 443.353.9718 

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