Rabbi's Blog

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

Tis the season to be Jewish

The Florida evening outdoors were filled with glittering lights, as a lone man took in the scene from his office window.

So begins one of my favorite stories about Jerry Levine putting in a late night at work, and wondering what his place is…what the Jew’s place is…in a country that is predominantly Christian, with tall pine trees and red and green decorations to show for it.

He wished G-d…someone…would send him a sign to let him know where he belonged.

Let’s face it, Jerry thought, Judaism is quaint…even fun at times…but it’s not a glamorous religion.

In fact, if one in dire straits cut potatoes in half and scooped out the centers and used them as candle-holders, it would be rendered a kosher menorah.

Contrast that to the glittery scenes of the Season.

It’s true that one will see holiday décor everywhere…but that’s when we need to look at our own identity the most, and bask in what is ours.

Following are three components of the menorah to create our own meaningful, beautiful backdrop to this Festival of Lights.

1- The Oil

As Chanukah commemorates the Jews’ triumph over darkness, remembering the miracle of the Maccabees finding one pure cruise of oil to light the Temple menorah- oil that was only enough to keep the flames burning for one day that ultimately lasted for eight days- we do the same, by lighting a menorah, preferably with pure olive oil, for eight days.

The oil itself represents who we are as a people- it simultaneously permeates all it comes in contact with, permanently saturating, and at once will immediately separate and rise above when mixed with other liquids. One can say that the Jewish nation, with its sacred obligation to influence their surroundings with light and morality, have always historically impacted each and every land and culture they’ve intermingled with, from ancient Mesopotamia to the media’s fascination with Israel today. At the same time, while our contributions to the world are irreversible, and while Jews have gone to great lengths to express appreciation for others’ love and friendship and kindness, one can say that our place in society is also a separate one. We are still the moral conscience of the world- but while many embrace this fact, others abhor it. As individuals, we, too, have a responsibility to bring comfort and goodness and kindness to any environment or people we come in contact with. At the same time, we must never feel pressured to abandon the Torah values which make us who we are, even when it’s hard, even when it hurts.

We stay within, and rise above.

2- The Order

A menorah contains eight candle-holders. If one is lighting on Day Two, the empty holders are still there. The ultimate way to maximize growth and potential is to fully act on one moment at a time, while looking ahead to more growth and potential- as we celebrate each accomplishment, we can look to the future and know that there is more.

Judaism teaches us that we never arrive at perfection; that bettering ourselves is the work of a lifetime. My teacher and mentor the Lubavitcher Rebbe embodied this mindset. When a college student visited him in the 60’s and told him frankly that he admired him greatly and would love to be his Chassid but couldn’t wrap his head around the Chassidic garb, the Rebbe responded, “If all you do is wake up each morning and ask yourself, ‘How can I make today better than yesterday? How can I bring even more goodness to this world?’ I will be proud to call you my chassid.”

There’s always more light to ignite.

So how is it done on Chanukah?

-We make the blessing (on the first night one is lighting the menorah they also make the Shehechiyanu blessing)

-We add one additional candle each night, lighting the wicks from left to right, using the shamesh, a separate candle designated for lighting the menorah

-Even if we attend a public menorah lighting, every Jewish home should have its own menorah lighting.

3- The Flames

We watch the candles for 30 minutes after they are lit to complete this mitzvah, as the flames, in the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe‘s words, “tell us the story of Chanukah, of the Jewish people,” perhaps together with some crispy hot latkes and sour cream.

And finally, let’s think about how tomorrow evening when we light yet one more candle, we will have yet one more accomplishment- in how we related to the people around us, in how we related to G-d, in how we related to our soul. Judaism is big into taking stock of our lives.

Like our friend Jerry at the window.

But the story doesn’t end there, dear readers.

In middle of Jerry Levine’s musings, his world went dark; there was a power outage in his business district.

Realizing that it would take some time to rectify, he locked up his office and cautiously made his way through the darkness to the parking lot.

When he walked outside he was hit by a scene he would not soon forget: All the street lights were down, the decorations off, the holiday tree barely visible against the ink-black sky.

But there was one halo of light still going strong, defying electricity and all the other forces going against it, that told him he had already come home- a menorah with three flames proudly publicizing the third night of Chanukah, telling the story of millions of flames and millions of souls…still burning bright. We don’t have trees with tinsel. But our menorah- be it of potatoes in a concentration camp or of the finest silver in the White House- reminds the world, and reminds ourselves, that we are a magnificent, miraculous, everlasting flame.

Reposted from 

Don’t fake, communicate!


We all know people who we have disagreements with; whether it is different opinions theologically, religiously or politically. It is important to be honest about your views and how you think. You should not fake like you agree when you disagree.  At the same time, we need to keep the lines of communication open.

When we see people as “the other,” different than us, our communication breaks down and we can never resolve any conflict. If we refuse to have a civil conversation, we are unable to resolve differences. If we cannot extend social greetings, e.g. “good morning,” to one another, or be in a room together, we are doomed to make the same mistakes as our ancestors.

The verse in the Parsha tells us: “His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, so they hated him, and could not speak with him peaceably.”

The story is about Yosef’s brothers being jealous that Yosef was the favored son. Many of us see this in the simple view of sibling rivalry and petty jealousy. In truth, it was a real ideological debate about the future of the Jewish people, similar to the differences between opposing sides of a political or religious debate.

What does it mean “they could not speak with him peaceably” and what does this mean for us?

Rashi explains it simply as they were not duplicitous or two-faced; their “heart and mind” were in sync with each other. Another explanation given is that they could not even debate respectfully. A third commentator says that they could not speak to him at all, so there was no chance at peace.

Now take a moment and imagine if they were communicating and followed the formula of don’t fake, communicate. Maybe the brothers would have been able to share with Yosef how the extra love their father is showering upon him causes them pain. Perhaps Yosef would have been able to share how he feels all alone.

When you see someone you disagree with, try sitting down with them, share with them your thoughts and feelings, use “I” statements and slowly but surely the differences will dissipate, and love will fill that space.

Have a great Shabbos and a fabulous Chanukah.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

P.S. Let us know if you need a menorah or candles we have a few :)


Do you believe in Miracles?

With Chanukah around the corner the thought of miracle is in the air.  For me the first thought that comes to mind is an article written last year that mocked the childish belief of educated adults in the possibility of miracles.  It challenged that our faith shouldn’t be based on childish fantasy stories of candles burning miraculously for eight days.  Rather, the celebration of Chanukah should be about religious freedom.

Miracles happen around us every day.  The rising of the sun, the changing of the seasons, the smile in my child’s eyes, or the breath we take every morning.  Tell me please why is a small flame surviving eight days on one one-days worth of oil any greater a miracle  then a ball of gasses many times the size of our earth giving light, warming our planer, growing our plants for thousands of years without changing course???

Another point: “Religious Freedom”? What does that mean? Freedom for what? To eat Challah? To go to shul? Do you think the Greeks really cared about Matzah balls or a bunch of Jews fasting on Yom Kippur?  The Greeks persecuted our religion, the religion that says there is a G-d that transcends our day to day reality and a G-d who permeates it at the same time.  The persecuted our right to believe in miracles and our right to live a life that is founded on those beliefs.

Why do we have a difficulty believing in Miracles? Because it shatters our perception of reality and it confuses our comfort zone.  That is why we have no problem with the sun rising and setting each day, because it has become our perception of reality and it is our comfort zone.  But isn’t that what makes us as a people and as a religion unique? That we are forever breaking out of our comfort zone to believe in something transcendent.  To believe in the stories that have allowed us to outlive the Greeks, the Romans, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Nazis and has given rise to advances in Torah study, the establishment of the state of Israel, the rise of a people yet again from ashes that have time and time again wished to see the Jew in their smolders. 

But most importantly the Miracles give us the ability to break out of our comfort zone and be a better example for the world around us.  To allow us to do those things that the society around us might see as strange, eating kosher, keeping Shabbat, sending our children to Jewish schools, and to believe in Miracles!

Happy Chanukah (Chanukah Wonderland is this Sunday) and Good Shabbos.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

let it go

 Imagine you were running away from someone, or something, and G-d appeared to you to tell you that all would be good. Wouldn't the rest of your day go better?The Torah tells us that G‑d appeared to Jacob while he was running away from his brother Esau's wrath. G-d informed him that He would bequeath the entire land to his descendants and that He would safeguard him until he returned to Canaan.

Following this, the Torah tells us “Jacob lifted his feet and continued on his journey…” It uses the language "he lifted his feet" instead of "he went on his way" in order to show that Jacob felt lighter after hearing G-d’s assurance. 

In life, there are many times that we feel dark; things are weighing us down like family, work, finances, children, friends, relationships, etc. When that happens, we need to take a moment to reflect back on the past and remember that G-d promised that he would take care of us. G-d promised our forefathers that he would take care of their children and history has proven that G-d did not abandon his flock.

Take a moment and reflect on this and then continue your day with a lighter heart and a smaller burden and skip off to the next thing you will do.

Love is the feeling you get when a load is lifted just by seeing a friend. G-d is our friend; connect with Him, let go of the burdens and feel the love.

Have a good Shabbos!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

Spousal Manipulation?

Spousal Manipulation? Sounds like a bad idea if you want to have a happy marriage.  Yet we see in this week's Parsha that Rivka seems to be doing just that in dressing Jacob up in Esau’s clothing, preparing animals from the back yard and pretending that they were hunted and teaching her son Jacob to deceive his father.

It opens up an uncomfortable question of, do the ends justify the means? Often times in Judaism and in the Torah, the answer is yes.  But then it begs the question here, what is the end that required such a deception or manipulation?

We must remember that we are dealing with the founders of our People, holy people, fathers and mothers that were the nucleus of a unique and chosen nation.  The way we are to look at these stories is from their eyes.

Rivka had two sons, both critical people in the future of world history and the purpose of creation.  But she also knew the differences between them.

Esau was a powerhouse, strong, mighty, ability to push through big things. You might say corporate.

Jacob on the other hand was a “tent sitter”, man of the book, calm, not the kind who makes a lot of noise or who makes a lot of big changes.

Issac believed the way to change the world was to push it through.  Push your agenda, push the change you believe in, force it.

Rivka believed the way to change the world was slowly over time, with a plan, engage with your customer. Yiddle by Yiddle.

The Jewish mother knows best as G-d told Abraham, “all that Sara says listen to her voice”.  Had Esau received these powerful blessings, they would have been wasted on an unfruitful endeavor of transformation. Perhaps lost forever!

Rivka, manipulates the situation to ensure that the Masterplan is carried forth.  Jacob is empowered to make the big changes through his quiet gentle way.

Here we are 3700 years later and we are continuing Jacob’s work, empowered by Isaac’s blessing, facilitated by Rivka.

With G-d’s help we will complete our work and experience the purpose of creation with Moshiach now!

Until that happens, our job needs to be to change the world calmly, patiently, focused and forward.

Good Shabbos!

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