Rabbi's Blog

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

Is yoga repressive?

Laws for healthy living


By Rabbi Eliyahu Schusterman

Dieting, exercising, meditation, yoga and other forms of care for the body are all the rage these days. Imagine if you were independently wealthy and spent your entire life every waking moment engaged in these activities. Is that a life?

Of course not!

These activities while very important for the health of ones body are good when they create a healthy environment within which one can live a life of purpose. A life of purpose is being a good spouse, parenting and raising wonderful children and engaging each day in making the world a better place.

Until this week’s Torah portion we have read of the story of the founding of our People, our forefathers and mothers and the exile and redemption of our people. Although we have read of individual mitzvos, in this week’s Torah portion we begin in earnest the Torah’s elaboration of laws.

For many people these laws seem repressive, limiting and dogmatic. In fact so can dieting, exercising, meditation and yoga. It’s only when we see these laws as creating a healthy framework for living life that the repressiveness, limitation and dogmatic dimension of the mitzvos become liberating and creating the environment for a life of purpose and meaning.

Mitzvah means connection; connection between Jew and G-d. When we see the Mitzvos in that light we suddenly see how the laws create a healthy environment for living.

So, embrace the Mitzvos, embrace the teachings of the Torah and see how you can become liberated in the process.

Have a great Shabbos!



Are you doing something only you can do?

What are you good at? What is the best use of your talents? If your occupation involves the use of your talents and you are passionate about it, you will be more satisfied and more successful.  If you do not say no, then your "yes" is not a yes. To be successful, you need to be able to say no/yes when it is appropriate as well as delegate as necessary.

To do this, one needs to know what their mission and goal are and focus on them with laser-like focus!

This was the advice Yisro gave to his son in law Moshe: There are things that only you as a leader can do! As a leader, you need to focus on the things that are uniquely yours to do. YOUR sole job is to be the leader and inspire others.

WhatsApp Image 2017-02-15 at 10.02.25 AM.jpegLast week, my uncle Shlomo Schwartz (originally from Baltimore) passed away at the age of 71.

The message in this email is inspired by the way my uncle lived his life. Schwartzie was always focused on things that only he was able to do, he focused on his mission and used his talents to the utmost to inspire all, in his unique way, to serve G-d and do practical Torah and mitzvot.

P.S. Here is a little about my uncle that I wrote up. You can google his name to see all the excellent work he has done in establishing the Chai Center in Los Angeles.

My uncle Shlomo Schwartz, best known as Schwartzie, was a Rabbi, the most unconventional Rabbi you can meet. He loved others like no one else yet was not one who minced words, he said what needed to be said in a clear voice. He would tell the young and young at heart Jews that they needed to marry Jewish, even though it is not politically correctHe would cross the aisle learning Tanya with Rabbis of prominent Reform synagogues. He would carry spiritual conversations on Venice Beach while sporting tie-dye t-shirts and looney toons ties. Simultaneously, Schwartzie was a Torah observant Jew, a true Chassid and Shliach and learned Chassidus (Chassidic Philosophy) on a regular basis

Schwartzie focused on loving his fellow and inspiring them to grow in their practical application of Judaism.

While he lived in Los Angeles, Safed, Israel (the city of mystics) was the place where he felt at home. He would spend his summers, on the porch at the Ascent Institute, studying and teaching as a scholar in residence. Although most of his life Schwartzie lived in LA, hanging out with the big stars on the Hollywood scene, he felt like he was in exile. Still, he continued to do what he needed to do; inspiring people to turn Hollywood into Holy wood.

Schwartzie was buried in Safed and leaves behind his wife Olivia and 12 beautiful children who carry on his legacy!

Don't Pray

Those of you who know me know that I struggle with prayer. I want prayer to be a meaningful, deep, connecting moment with G-d; an experience which alters my day. Alas, it does not always work out. I might even say that most people find prayer to be little more than ‘saying words’ as opposed to a G-dly experience.

You would probably agree with me that Moses, the Jewish leader, who took the Jews out of the Egyptian bondage and spoke to G-d on a regular basis, would not fall into this category. Moses’s prayers were meaningful.

When the Jewish people left Egypt and Pharaoh got nervous and started to chase after them, Moses stood praying to G‑d to save the Jewish people.  Strangely, G-d’s response to Moses’s prayer is don’t pray, now is not the time for prayer, ‘tell my children to travel’.

This message to Moses resonates with me.  There are times to pray and times to act. When praying, it is ideal to make it an experience through which we build our connection with G-d. However, if you have a challenge and you can do something to overcome it, then put your faith in G-d and don’t pray. G‑d says the time for action is not the time for prayer. Have faith in Him, but G-d helps those that help themselves. G-d has faith in you that you will DO SOMETHING.

G-d was telling Moses, tell my people to travel, to move forward towards the receiving of the Torah! Prayer is important, yet leadership is not just about praying, it is about taking action.

See you on shabbos so we can pray together 

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

 P.S. A bit of wit on this topic

A very religious man was once caught in rising floodwaters. He climbed onto the roof of his house and trusted G-d to rescue him. A neighbor came by in a canoe and said, “The waters will soon be above your house. Hop in and we’ll paddle to safety.”

“No thanks” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to G-d and I’m sure he will save me”

A short time later the police came by in a boat. “The waters will soon be above your house. Hop in and we’ll take you to safety.”

“No thanks” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to G-d and I’m sure he will save me”

A little time later a rescue services helicopter hovered overhead, let down a rope ladder and said. “The waters will soon be above your house. Climb the ladder and we’ll fly you to safety.”

“No thanks” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to G-d and I’m sure he will save me”

All this time the floodwaters continued to rise, until soon they reached above the roof and the religious man drowned. When he arrived at heaven he demanded an audience with G-d. Ushered into G-d’s throne room he said, “G-d, why am I here in heaven? I prayed for you to save me, I trusted you to save me from that flood.”

“Yes you did my child” replied the G-d. “And I sent you a canoe, a boat and a helicopter. But you didn’t do anything, you were too busy praying” (Source: unknown)

turn the light on

A wealthy man, uncertain as to which of his sons should be entrusted with the management of his business, devised a test. He took his three sons to a room which was completely empty and said to each of them: "Fill this room as best as you are able".

The first son got to work immediately. He called in bulldozers, earthmoving equipment, workers with shovels and wheelbarrows and they got mightily busy. By the end of the day the room was filled, floor to ceiling, wall to wall, with earth.

The room was cleared and the second son was given his chance. He was more of an accountant type, so he had no shortage of paper; boxes, files, archives and records that had been standing and accumulating dust for years and years suddenly found a new purpose. It did not take long for the room to be filled from floor to ceiling, wall to wall, with paper.

Once again the room was cleared and the third son was given his turn. He seemed very relaxed and did not appear to be gathering or collecting anything at all with which to fill the room. He waited until nightfall and then invited his father and family to join him in front of the room. Slowly, he opened the door. The room was absolutely pitch black, engulfed in darkness. He took something out of his pocket. It was a candle. He lit the candle, and suddenly the room was filled with light.

He got the job. 

In Egypt, G-d performed ten plagues to show that He is in charge! The 9th plague was the plague of darkness. For several days all of Egypt was enveloped in a thick and impenetrable veil of darkness, as we see in the words of the Torah: "They did not see each other, and no one rose from his place for three days, but for all the children of Israel there was light in their dwellings". 

Many times we see people around us enveloped in darkness; negativity, anger, partisan politics, etc. When that happens, no one rises from their place. The Jewish way is that when there is darkness all around we act like the third son, there is light in our homes. This means that our Jewish values, our Torah study and our mitzvah observance do not only take place in the dark world around us, outside the home, yet it occurs also in the home, bringing light to the home.

In this way, we can teach our personal Pharaoh that G-d is in charge and runs the world. That G-d can and will take us out of our personal and global exiles.

Have a good Shabbos - there will not be services at Chabad this week.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

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