Rabbi's Blog

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

Yes we can!

I can't, I don't want too. There’s no way I am able to do this. We all tell ourselves these types of self-defeating mantras. Many times, we justify the self-fulfilling prophecy with logic. We reason that we don't want to do something and create logic to back it up. For example; one may want to make an impact on their local community, to influence it to be better yet tells himself: 

1) "You can't fight City Hall". The culture is too powerful, the world around me, the community I'm in, they all won't allow the change that I'm looking to create to happen.

2) Who am I to try to have an effect on the world around me? I am personally deficient and not fitting to change the world. I should focus on myself first.

3) Too many technical parts of the puzzle need to fall into place. Will they help the process or distract me? Is doing the bookkeeping really making an impact?

As always, we look to the Torah for the solution. In this week's Torah portion, the spies are scouting the land of Israel in order to prepare to overcome any challenge they may face when conquering and settling the land. Upon their return, the spies began to enumerate the reasons why we will not succeed in conquering the land. Caleb interrupted them and said "YES WE CAN!" He addressed the three types of claims above:

1) Despite there being a stronger army behind us and the sea in front of us, and it seemed impossible to reach our goal of entering the Land of Israel, Moses split the sea.

2) When we were not personally worthy and not trusting that G-d can give us meat in the desert, Moses reached out to G-d and we were provided for.

3) When we lacked food in the desert, Moses arranged the whole manna experience as part of the process to reach the Promised Land.

Caleb taught us that we can win any battle if we 1) trust in the general (Moses) who is 2) basing his actions and instructions on the commander in chief (G-d). 

We must look to the Torah, or those that carry the Torah as their life, as our spiritual general. It is in this fashion that one can ensure that the battle being fought is a proper one and one which they will come out victorious, regardless of any obstacles along the way.

In less than two weeks we will commemorate 3 Tammuz, the 22nd anniversary of the passing of the Rebbe. The Rebbe guided the Jewish world, as a spiritual general, since the horrors of World War II how to pick itself up from the ashes and rebuild.

May we all merit to enter the Holyland with the coming of Moshiach now!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman


The story is told that the Baal Shem Tov, and some of his followers, once went to visit a very poor and simple farmer. For two days they emptied the house of all food. From using the last bit of flour for bread to slaughtering the cow, that provided them with milk, for it’s meat. The students were appalled, the wife didn’t know why they agreed to host these guests and the kids were begging for some food for themselves. 

As the Baal Shem Tov was getting into his carriage he said: “I bless you to ask for whatever you need." The carriage door closed and the chasidim drove away into the forest.

While, this man was content with very little, he could not figure out how he would survive on nothing. With no other choice, he stopped and he prayed: "Creator of the Universe, I have never asked you for anything before, so please listen. My wife and children have no food. I need money to feed them. I need money to buy back our farm. And my wife, she would be so happy if there was money for dowries for our daughters and to pay for the weddings. Four weddings! And, Creator of the Universe, one more thing, since I'm asking: please make a small miracle. Let my house and my purse be large enough to provide for others who need."

Then he began to sob. He fell to the ground, weeping and praying. He lay there for a long time. Finally, Ivan the town drunkard came wandering by. "Oh! Oh! Please don't cry. Whatever it is, don't worry. Maybe I can help. You have always been kind to me. Everyone else in the village makes fun of me and treats me miserably, especially my own children. And I don't feel so well. If I die, I want you to have my fortune. Come, I'll show you where I hid it." Ivan led him to a big stone nearby and showed him a box hidden under it. That same day, Ivan the drunkard died. The farmer went into the forest and pulled out the hidden box. It was full of gold coins; enough to buy a big house in town.

The Baal Shem Tov came back a year later and told him: "A year ago it was decreed in heaven that you were to become a rich man. Yet, you were so humble and would never ask for anything. I had to come and bring you to rock bottom so that you would ask for the blessings that were waiting for you. Mazel Tov my friend! The very best of years!”

I spent two days this week as part of an advisory group for a large nonprofit, discussing social enterprise, marketing and fundraising. It became apparent that the main issue a lot of non-profits face, and most people in general, is not asking for or communicating their needs.

The reason I share with you this story is to bring out a message that is connected with this week's Torah portion. The Jews were in the desert in the wilderness for 40 years and they only observed the Passover holiday for the first year. The holiday of Passover only became a mitzvah "after you entered the land". The Jews who were not able to observe that first Passover, as they were ritually impure, complained to Moshe: “Why should we lose out? We also want to observe Passover". Moshe turned to G-d who responded: “They asked? We will institute the second Passover for them to observe Passover 30 days later. It will also be for future generations, for anyone who is ritually impure during Passover, to celebrate “the second Passover.” 

In life, from our family and from G-d, we need to learn to ask. Ask for what we need, pray for the healing of a friend, ask G-d that we feel more of a connection with Him as well as demand the redemption of the world from struggle and fighting with the coming of Moshiach now. 

Have a great shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Show the love

2 Jewish rules about serving G-d:

1) It should be a service of love; the service of a generous heart not just backbreaking labor and

2) In Judaism, there is no such thing as a free lunch, the human needs to do his part and then G-d will do the rest. One cannot rely on miracles. As the saying goes, it took 10 years of hard work to become an overnight success.

These rules come from the Torah.

After the Mishkan, Tabernacles, was completed, the Jews brought the tent and all its furnishings, its clasps, its planks, its bars, etc. to Moses. Why did they bring it before him? Rashi explains, from the Midrash, for they could not erect it. No human being could erect the Mishkan because of the heaviness of the planks; and no human was strong enough to put them up, but Moses was able to put it up. Moses said before the Holy One, blessed is He, “How is it possible for a human being to erect the Mishkan?”  G-d replied, “You work with your hand”. Moses appeared to be erecting it, and it arose by itself. This is the meaning of what it says: “the Mishkan was set up” (Exod. 40:17); it was set up by itself.

The Jews could have found a way to set up the Mishkan. They had experience in backbreaking labor when building pyramids in Egypt. Yet, this did not qualify as “the service of a generous heart”. G-d was schooling Moses to the second rule; do your part and I will do the rest. 

For their part, the leaders of the tribes wanted to contribute towards the Mishkan. After the Mishkan was built, the leaders desired to bring a gift of wagons to make it easier for the Levites to transport the Mishkan.  They brought their offering before the Lord: six covered wagons and twelve oxen. They presented them in front of the Mishkan, for Moses did not accept them from their hands until he was instructed to do so by the Omnipresent.

Why did Moses refuse to accept the gift without G-dly approval? For he was concerned that the wagons would not allow the Levites to fulfill their physical obligation; thus not allowing G-d to do His share.  Moses was instructed by G-d: Take [it] from them, and let them be used in the service of the Tent of Meeting. You shall give them to the Levites, in accordance with each man's work.

Do your part to show and share the love, and Hashem will take care of the rest.

Have a great Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

E Pluribus Unum

Family is an amazing phenomenon; all so different yet all the same. Everyone has a crazy uncle. Creating a family is the process of uniting females and males. For them to unite as one is taking two opposites and creating something beautiful called family.

Judaism values family as the foundation of a people; many families form the Jewish people. This is expressed regularly with the word Mishpocha which is used in shuls worldwide. This is also a motto of the United States, as seen on its seal: "E Pluribus Unum", Latin for out of many, one.

In this week’s Torah portion, when doing the census, the Jews were counted in the following manner: first by family, then by tribe and only then did they get the total Jewish population.  This was an expression of ‘out of many one’; out of the many families one nation was created. 

By the founding of the Jewish people, the Talmud says based on Genesis 12;5, that it took Abraham and Sarah together, two different individuals, to create a nation.

When the world was created, G-d did not refer to mankind until Adam and Eve were created (Genesis 5;2).

As we prepare to accept the Torah for the 3328th time, we must remember E Pluribus Unum.

It is only with the joint effort of the  women and men, each doing their unique mission as defined by the Torah, that keeps the Jewish nation an unbreakable people, like a united family.

The Torah’s narrative of the giving of the Torah is prefaced with “So shall you say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel” (Exodus 19;2). The Talmud explains that “the house of Jacob” refers to the women, the mainstay of the Jewish home, and “sons of Israel” refers to the men. Since the central location of Jewish practice is at home, first and foremost we need the buy in of the Aishet Chayil – the women of valor who perpetuates the Joie de yiddishkeit, the joy of Judaism. Only afterwards do the men get taught about Jewish practice.

Maybe this is why the Jewish people were counted based on family first, because this is the key to Jewish continuity.

So E Pluribus Tribus Unum Natio “out of many families, one people”

See you Sunday for the 10 commandments, details here.

Labor of love

AdobeStock_110268222.jpegLabor of love n (la′bor of love′) work done for interest in the work itself rather than for payment.

Imagine if someone would tell a parent that he/she would be paid for his/her commitment to raising his/her child. Furthermore, for changing a diaper they would get .25¢, putting the child for a nap is worth .50¢, etc. While the parent may be thankful to have more "cash in the account", it diminishes the value of parenting, making it a job that is all about money.

What is the purpose for what we do? Is it all about the financial benefit or is there a superior gain? Mr. Joe Apfelbaum, a friend of mine, runs a podcast called CEOMojo. One of the questions he asks of the CEOs that he interviews is: "How important is purpose and meaning in business? Why is your business different? Other CEOs say just do it for the money!" All interviewees, while each having their own ‘greater purpose’, agreed that the motivator should be purpose over finances.

G-d tells us in the beginning of this week’s Torah portion (paraphrased with some commentaries): If you make your passion Torah learning and you fulfill Mizvot as an important part of the man/ G-d relationship, meaning if our relationship is truly an unbreakable bond and a labor of love, then I have a financial compensation package that will be enviable.  G-d assures that "I will give your rains in their time, the Land will yield its produce, and the tree of the field will give forth its fruit. Your threshing will last until the vintage, and the vintage will last until the sowing; you will eat your food to satiety, and you will live in security in your land”.

Does this not minimize the relationship to a financial agreement? Do spouses give each other an allowance? Do I pay my wife $25 a head for making dinner?

One answer is that this is not a give and take arrangement; it is not to be translated as ‘if you do A I’ll give you B’. The Torah is saying that true passion must encompass the entire human being down to their physical needs. G-d desires for a relationship that involves our entire existence, one that spills over into every aspect of our life. Parents, even when they are on vacation or at work, their child is on their mind. Entrepreneurs, who are successful, have their passion even when they are not in the office.

The way to read the verse is: Make your passion Torah learning and fulfill Mizvot as an important part of the man/G-d relationship, one that will include everything, from the rain to the produce to the tree of the field. Our relationship with G-d is one where Torah and Mitzvot affect everything. It is an unbreakable bond and a labor of love. 

Maybe this is the etymology of the word affection: true love affects everything.

How is your affection with G-d?

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

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