Rabbi's Blog

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

Bring down the fire!

By Rabbi Eliyahu Schusterman

The moment has arrived! Months of construction, the walls, the Ark, the Menorah, the garments of the Kohen have come and gone. The seven days of consecration have passed with Moses having served as High Priest. Aaron is waiting for the Divine Presence to descend on the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and nothing happens. He wonders whether the Divine Presence is not descending because of his part in sin of the Golden Calf .

So Moses joins Aaron in prayer; Vayehi Noam Hashem Elokeinu Alaynu – may it be pleasing before G-d Almighty the works of our hands… and the Divine Presence descends.

The story of our lives; we work hard towards a particular goal, building on momentum, week after week, month after month until the big day arrives. Sometimes it goes as planned. More often then not, it doesn’t go exactly as planned. There are curveballs, hiccups, potholes and other kinds of clichés in the way.

Often times what’s missing is the prayer to G-d and the recognition that our effort is only half of the equation. Remembering that we only make the vessel and that the largest vessel can only produce results if it has G-d’s blessing in it is sometimes the key to bringing the desired results from theory into reality.

Even the construction of a home for G-d can’t have the presence of G-d rest in it until we ask Him to do so. Our purpose on this earth is to make a home for G-d in all that we do. Saying that prayer and having that recognition is the key to making it happen.

Have a great Shabbos!


We are blessed

When the third Chabad Rebbe was three years old, he asked his grandfather, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, why the word Vayikra – ויקרא (the first word in this week’s Torah portion) is written in the Torah with a small alef.

Opening his holy eyes, after a long time being in a state of dveikus (deep meditation), the Rebbe answered: 

“The letters that G‑d gave at Sinai appear in three sizes – large, intermediate and small. The Torah is written in letters of intermediate size. This teaches us that humans need always act in accordance with Torah and G-d's will, and that they can attain this level via the Torah. By recognizing his own lofty stature, Adam stumbled with the Sin of the Tree of Knowledge. His name (אדם) is therefore written with a large alef in Chronicles 1:1. Moses, by contrast, via the spiritual G-dly service of realizing his own lowliness of spirit, attained the ultimate degree of humility. Therefore, when G‑d calls him, that verb (ויקרא) is written with a small alef.”

Adam was made by G-d hands and Moses Spoke to G-d 'face to face'. Now, like Adam, Moses was aware of his own stature. However, not only was he not over-impressed by that awareness, but in fact it left him with a humbled and bruised heart. In his own eyes, he was lowly because he thought: ‘If some other Jew, who was not a son of Amram and not a seventh-generation descendant of Avraham Avinu, had been endowed with such a lofty soul and had been boosted by such ancestral merits, he would certainly have outshone me.’ This is what the Holy One, blessed be He, writes in the Torah: ‘this man, Moshe, was very humble, more so than any man on the face of the earth.’ Moses compared himself with any person, no matter how ordinary and unintellectual, and felt that if such a person had been granted his unearned gifts of soul and ancestry, he would certainly have risen to greater heights than Moses himself had attained.

The message of 'no matter how great we are we should have intense humility’ is hinted in the word Vayikra, which means to call out. It's time to even the playing field; everyone should be able to connect their friend, neighbor or acquaintance with Hashem through a Torah true connection. We are all "in the business" of Vayikra - "calling out". If you were blessed with knowledge about Judaism, whether by nurture or nature, it is incumbent upon you to share it! 

We cannot have false humility saying, I am not a Rabbi or I am not a community leader so who am I to preach to my friends? We cannot escape this calling to teach others. It is a mission placed upon us by Hashem, G-d, the Aluf (Chieftain) of the world. At the same time, we need to have a small alef and not become haughty and self-aggrandizing because we were blessed to know more. Let's accept this mission and change the world!

Have a wonderful Shabbos - looking forward to seeing many of you over the next week Services, Tefillin Club, How Do I Jew It or Purim. 

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman
P.S. This story and others about the Third Rebbe can be found here

I Prefer You

Ideals. We all have them: to be x lbs lighter, to work x hours less or to look at my phone less often. Ideally. In reality, it is not that way.

Ideally, we all want to have a strong relationship with G-d; one that permeates our existence so that when it is challenged, we do not allow it to get between us. In reality, we struggle with day to day occurrences often affecting our trust and faith in G-d. A wise man once said: someone who does not struggle with their faith is not a believer.

That being said, the true ideal is to live in reality and bring G-dliness into our not-so-ideal daily lives. When we struggle and succeed, then and only then, is our relationship with G-d real and a testimony to His presence in our life. The idyllic relationship, where G-d feels most at home, is here on Earth and not in “seventh heaven”.

In this week’s Torah portion, we repeat the instructions of building the Mishkan – tabernacles. It begins with: These are the numbers of the Mishkan, the Mishkan of the Testimony. The Torah is teaching us a message. There are two Mishkans (tabernacles): the Mishkan of Parshat Terumah and Tetzaveh - the idyllic Mishkan and the Mishkan of Parshat Vayakhel and Pekudei - the Mishkan of real life.

G-d made the Mishkan that was built by man His primary residence, the one which He called home. The one that testifies that you are My people, you are not perfect but I prefer you with your issues over the "perfect" someone else.

We are in this relationship for the long term; let’s make it the best relationship we can by working through the struggles.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

the communal tapestry

Many a speech begins with "Today, we have gathered together, many people ...." The crux of such a message is that different people, with different ideologies, backgrounds and feelings have come together in one place to do, serve, support....

Congregate is another word used when referring to people gathering together. A group congregates and creates a congregation. A true and efficient congregation is when we each put our "self" aside and become one with the congregation and community.

Since our language actively shapes our reality, it is important to see the difference between these two words. One is distinct entities supporting a cause, whereas the other is putting our individuality on the side for the collective good.

There is a story told of a Chassid who complained to the Tzemach Tzedek (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, the third Lubavitcher Rebbe): “Everyone in shul is stepping on me”. The Tzemach Tzedek wisely told him: “If you would not spread yourself out over the entire shul, no one would step on you". Spreading yourself out is generally explained as being egotistical. The Tzemach Tzedek was saying that if you take a step down from your ego and are more self-effacing, you would not be stepped on. 

In this week’s Torah portion, we read about building a home for G-d, the Mishkan. The portion starts with the verse: Moses caused the people to congregate. The Torah is exact in its wording. The word Vayakhel, congregate, is used because the goal of the Mishkan was for Hashem to be able to express Himself, in His oneness, amongst the multiplicity of the world. The Mishkan was built through each individual’s unique contributions; creating a communal structure for G-d.

All congregations are built the same way: each individual contributes their uniqueness to the beautiful tapestry called community.

Have a great Shabbos and thank you for being part of our community and adding your color to the tapestry,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

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