Rabbi's Blog

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

The voice of silence


Prayer. It’s a funny thing. As many of you know, I struggle with meaningful prayer.

The Hebrew word for prayer is Tefilah. Tefilah has the same Hebrew letters as ptilah, which means string. I am learning that prayer is not asking for what you need, but it is like a child pulling at your pants to get your attention. When we pray, we are tugging at G-ds “Skirt”, trying to connect.

Another thing about prayer is that it is a time to work on our self, to refine our animalistic tendencies and become more G-dly. This is also known as spiritual growth.

Both of these prayer explanations are connected. The connection begins with noise/speech etc. but eventually reaches a level of oneness that is unifying and silent.  Refinement (think a log burning in a fireplace) begins with a noise like the crackle of the log burning and ends with a still quiet ember.

Traditional Jewish prayer begins with loud reading and praying and culminates with the Amida, which is the inaudible prayer that is private between you and your creator. As the verse says, “but the L‑rd was not in the fire. And after the fire – a still, small voice“. (I Kings 19:9-12)

While we will not be having minyan at Chabad this week, feel free to respond (so I can prepare) and join me, and some of the kids, for prayer at the house.

Have an amazing Shabbos.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman



I spent the last few hours excited because Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin, my friend's father and a member of the worldwide Chabad community, who was sentenced to an excessive sentence of 27 years, had his jail sentence commuted by Donald Trump.

Is Sholom Mordechai a saint? No 
Did he make mistakes in business? Yes
Was he convicted of fraud? Yes
Should he have been convicted? The jury is out; he was the target of a massive raid on his meat plant which forced them into bankruptcy. In addition, the government intervened in the bankruptcy sale, causing them to get less than it was worth, not allowing him to pay back his line of credit.

Once the news of his commutation became public, there was an outpouring of love across the Jewish world! Impromptu dancing and farbrengens, chassidic gatherings, took place out of excitement and thanks to Hashem for allowing him to go home. I was invited to a gathering of Chabad Rabbis in which we were encouraged to 1) ensure we have the faith and trust in Hashem to free us from our personal "prisons" and 2) to be happy for the good fortune of our fellow Jews, regardless if he is part of our "network" or "group".

Sholom Mordechai believed he would be let out of jail. He expected his release to come and actually looked forward to being set free, not as a pipe dream but a reality that will happen, and it did!

There are those who say the optics of people dancing that a convict was set free is not good. However, I see it as a testament to Jewish unity and a testament to the faith that Hashem has a plan.

We see something similar in this week’s Parsha. Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers. The reality of the situation was that this man, who was a ruler of Egypt, was steeped into the materialism of the time. The optics were such that the brothers could not fathom that Joseph the Righteous, who they knew as a kid, would become steeped in the material world. They could not believe that he can still be righteous while being involved in the global affairs.

But they were wrong! It was Joseph the righteous and Joseph the ruler; they were one and the same. He used the physical world as a tool to effect positive change on the world around him.

With Sholom Mordechai, I hope that his freedom will not only be a personal freedom for him, but a freedom for all; a freedom that forces our justice system to pursue true justice and impose fair sentences. I hope that the unity of his cause brings people from all backgrounds together to effect positive change in the world around us.

My greatest hope is that we are all freed from our self-imposed "prisons", the ones that do not allow us to express our true selves, where we express our unity of One People with One Torah while maintaining our own personalities, like Joseph did.

A beautiful painting is made up of different colors expressing themselves harmoniously. So too, we should all express our  unique identity while remaining harmonious, and together we will make this world a beautiful place.

Have a great Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Share the Lights

 "Hanukah Is... The Festival of Lights... Instead of one day of presents, we get eight crazy nights..gin and tonica... harmonica... marijuanaka" - Adam Sandler, Hannukah Song 1996

Needless to say, while my holy Jewish brother, Reb Adam, put it cutely, I don't know if he quite captured the essence of the holiday.

We've all heard the story a hundred time about the victory of the Jews over the Assyrian Greeks, and the miracle of the oil, that lasted eight days instead of one. The Holiday is celebrated by reciting special prayers, public menorah lightings, sharing the light and the message of the holiday. And, of course, the lighting the menorah in our homes, adding a candle each night.

This is all fine and nice, BUT THERE IS MORE!
(Everyone has seen those late night commercials, selling some item that you likely don't need, but they try to lure you in by "BUT THERE'S MORE, IF YOU ORDER IN THE NEXT 10 MINUTES, WE WILL DOUBLE YOUR ORDER FOR FREE!" I'd like to try that here as well, with one critical exception. Unlike those late night products, where their utility is debatable, this theme, that I am offering, "BUT THERE IS MORE" to the story of Chanukah, is useful and needed by all!)

Typically, light is used for what you are doing. You flip switch in your bedroom, you are doing so because YOU need light. You put a floodlight in your backyard, so YOU can play basketball after dark. You put on your flashlight, to brighten dark spaces, that the larger light isn't shining on, so that YOU can tighten that elusive screw. 
Imagine a word, where the reason you created light, was for everyone else but you?

Remember the old JFK line, "ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country?" I propose, that a deeper message of Chanukah is, ask not what your lights will do for you, but what your lights will do for others.

There is a curious feature about the menorah that was lit in the temple and that the light that it produced. In the days of old, before double pane glass windows existed, windows worked a bit differently. You had very thick walls of your house, and you had the narrow side exposed to the outside, and the wider side on the inside of the house. (Like a funnel, or an inverted bull horn.)
Thus, you limited your exposure to intruders, but maximized on the amount of light you took into your home. The windows of the holy Temple were made opposite. Narrow side on the inside, and wider side on the outside.

Our sages teach us that this was to convey, that the Temple was lighting up the world, not vice versa. The light, spirituality and holiness of the Temple was for brightening up the dark world outside.

This Chanukah, perhaps, in addition to doing our personal menorah lightings and mandatory latke eating at home, as well as our publicizing of the miracle by attending public menorah lightings, lets attempt to emulate the lights of the Temple, whoselights we are celebrating anyway, and try to not selfishly light our own lives, but try to brighten the lights of overs.

There is a curious law regarding the Menorah, it says, Ein lanureshus lehishtamesh behein, Ela li'rosam bilvad... it is forbidden to use the lights of the menorah, only to gaze upon them.

Now, if I can't use them, then what good does gazing upon them do? If I could read a book by its radiance then fine. But to simply look at it? What is that worth?

Given the above, it now makes sense. Just looking at the light is uplifting. There is something magical about flames that draws us to simply stare at them. If it does that for us, it can do that for others as well. We simply need to #sharethelights.

If we do that, well then, it is really isn't eight crazy nights, but eight amazing nights...

Have a Wonderful Shabbos
Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman

My Father's 70th, How to be blessed!

That was amazing! My father celebrated his 70th birthday with all 11 children, kinahora, for 24 hours. We laughed and cried together. We hiked and bonded.  

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While there is so much that can be said of the experience, it clarified to me that my father is a blessed individual!  He has 11 joyful children, runs a successful business and is able to learn and study Torah.

How does one get these kinds of blessings? 

For this, we can look at this week’s Torah portion.

The Torah repeatedly tells us that Joseph is successful. What made Joseph successful? His success is expressed because he viewed everything as an extension of G-d’s master plan.

When Joseph was sold into slavery, he viewed it as “G-d sent me here”. When put into jail on trumped up charges, he viewed it as an opportunity to help the downtrodden prisoners. When appointed as viceroy of the world superpower, it was a way to help save the country from hunger. 

My father, may he live and be well, has received blessings beyond what he could imagine. I think my father took a cue from Joseph, seeing everything that “happens to him”, both his successes and his challenges, as extensions of G-d’s master plan.

I hope to emulate my father in this way and recognize that Hashem wants us to do our best in everything we do. May it help me to be humble and grateful for the many blessings G-d has bestowed upon me and thankful for the plan that G-d has put in place for me.

Looking forward to his 80th birthday party.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

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