Rabbi's Blog

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

What tribe are you from?

Often locals tell me they are surprised that they never knew of a Jewish custom and are thankful that I share it with them. 

Today (Tuesday 3/28/17) was  the first day of the Hebrew Month of Nissan, the anniversary of the inauguration of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, in the desert 3,329 years ago. There is a Jewish custom that from today until the 12th of Nissan we read the portion of the Torah (not from a scroll) that talks about the gifts and sacrifices that each tribal leader brought on behalf of their tribes.

Following the reading a prayer is said; "May it be Your will, L-rd my G-d,... that if I, Your servant, am of the tribe of _______, the Torah section of whose prince I have recited today, then may there shine upon me all the holy "sparks" and all the holy lights which are contained in the holiness of this tribe, ...."

Imagine, if someone would call you every day and say, "I am unsure about something, so if... then can you...." Normally, we do not do that. Yet, for 12 days straight we say a prayer asking G-d to shine upon us the sparks of the tribe "if I am from the tribe".  Additionally, those who know which tribe they are from (like a Kohen and a Levite) also say this prayer.

Can you see the beauty of unity and difference simultaneously?

On one hand, each person has their unique tribe that they belong to, to the exclusion of the other tribes, and their way of serving G-d. For example: Reuben through sight; their keen sight and insight allow them to see the depth hidden beneath the surface. Simeon through hearing; they listen, hear nuances and experience how these details fit into the whole.

On the flip side, we are all part of one people, one family. While my main connection to G-d may be through "sight", I am also able to tune in to "listen" and serve G-d that way as well.

What we are in essence saying with this prayer is: If I am from the tribe of ____, let my primary way of serving G-d shine through me. However, if this is not my tribe, being it is my family, let that path to G-d not remain completely hidden. There is beauty in diversity and beauty in unity. A beautiful picture is when you have diverse colors shining and complimenting each other on the same canvas.

If you want to say this prayer over the next 12 days: - a link to the 12 days in a pdf.

Have a great week,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

Oy what a Joy!

As many of you know, Fraida and I are now blessed with a handful of kids and our kids, let's just say, they are a handful. I am not going to write some long parenting advice email, something like how to stay sane with 5 kids or any other lengthy dissertation of what worked for me and how it can work for you. What I will share is a quote I heard from my Uncle Schwartzie, "Don't observe Judaism, celebrate it!"

One can look at the tasks required to raise healthy, independent children (cleaning, cooking, diaper changing and bed making etc.) as chores, as things I have to do. Alternatively, one can look at them as something to celebrate! If I choose to celebrate raising children than I am not cleaning, I am raising children who are responsible, I am not making beds, I am creating a generation that values being neat.

When we treat the tasks we need to do with an excitement and happiness, our children want to follow in this path. When we view it as a chore, we risk imparting to our children the feeling of "do as much of it as we absolutely have to to survive" and "get away with as little as you can".

The same thing is with Judaism. When we just observe Judaism, without celebrating it, we sometimes do as little as we can get away with. Think about the message our children are hearing?  In the modern world,  what do our children need to do to "observe Judaism", can they get away with less?

However, when we celebrate Judaism, while we may be doing the same mitzvah, it's a whole different experience. The celebrating of the mitzvah shows that Judaism isn't something imposed upon us, but an expression of ourselves, our inner core. We are teaching our children to celebrate Judaism as much as we  can, after all it's who you are and who doesn't want to celebrate themselves.

So when raising our handful of children, I will remind myself to focus on the JOY instead of the OY!

Have a great Shabbos!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 


Did you wash your face


I was recently reading a book which mentions micro expressions. Micro expressions - whether we live in China, Cuba, the USA or Canada, all of us express the same seven universal emotions: anger, fear, sadness, disgust, surprise, contempt, and happiness. Research has revealed that these emotions are expressed by the fleeting emergence of micro expressions (an expression in milliseconds) on the face. 

Subsequently, I was reading a talk about the requirement, according to Maimonides, to wash one's face daily, prior to davening/praying (in addition to washing their hands and feet like the Cohen in the Temple). The reason given is that on a daily basis our actions involve the use of our hands. Yet, sometimes, we can allow our mundane activities to trickle inside of us which will affect us in our internal emotions and our subsequent micro expressions on our face. Hence, we must wash away not only our hands and feet to separate us from the external daily grind but also our face to wash away our being engrossed internally in the material world. Only after washing this all away, are we ready for a G-d focused service.

I found it interesting that this ruling, to wash the face, is not accepted by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi. He holds that the daily preparation for prayer only includes the Modeh Ani prayer followed by the washing of the hands (details here). Why is that? Because the Modeh Ani prayer expresses a deep bond between G-d and His people, one that is not affected by our involvement in the mundane world and cannot become defiled. When a Jew says Modeh Ani, even if his face is ‘dirty’ from the mundane world, it does not affect his connection to G-d and he may pray without washing his face.

Let us celebrate this unique bond by recommitting to saying the daily Modeh Ani! Get your ready to print card here and put it by your bedside, to be seen first thing in the morning.

Have a Good Shabbos!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 


Reject evil - from your core!

 Purim is a wonderful Holiday, one that is known for its fun and celebratory atmosphere.

There are 4 Mitzvos of Purim:

1) Hear the megillah (2x - at night and by day)

2) Send two food gifts to one friend

3) Send two monetary gifts to two poor people (can be done via Harford Chabad here)

4) Have a Purim feast – and get to the point of joy that you are “Drunk” that you “don’t know” between cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordechai

This concept of getting so drunk that you can confuse who is “the good guy” and who is “the bad guy” is a confusing one.

There is a different Chassidic interpretation that I found fascinating.

One needs to get to a place where they recognize that their soul is not an added part of them yet it is their core identity. Being Jewish is not a theoretical idea, it is a reality and who you are. This is above logic. On Purim, one needs to get drunk off the thought that being a Jew makes me so proud of my unique identity until I “don’t know” - until I am not talking theory and logic; just that being a Jew is part of who I am! At that stage, I reject evil not because it is logical but because it negates my existence.

So let us join to do the mitzvot of Purim and get drunk off our unique identity and reject evil from our core!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

Happiness is an empty truck

Are you happy, lucky or joyous?

We just entered the Jewish month of Adar. Adar is a month of joy. The Talmud instructs us to increase in joy when the month of Adar begins. The reason I use the word joy as opposed to happy is because the word happy really means lucky, as in happenstance and happen; things that are out of our control which cannot be increased. In general, the Torah demands of us to increase in things that are in our control.

So how do we become joyous? To increase in joy, one needs to increase the acts that are congruent with our soul. When one implements actions that are an expression of our soul, then they are full of joy.

Mendel Duchman shared with me the words of a stage manager told to him after delivering a bunch of props for his granddaughter’s play: “happiness is an empty truck”. What that means to me is that true joy is when you DO something that demonstrates what you care about. In this case, his granddaughter and her having what she needs to express her creative side.

What will you do this week to ensure that your soul is expressed to increase your joy?

Have a good Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Ps please reply and share your resolution

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