Rabbi's Blog

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



In Hebrew there is no word that is a single letter; there are words consisting of two letters but a letter alone is not a word. The Torah has thousands of letters - 304,805 to be exact. Each letter is carefully formed in order to complete the Torah scroll. If even one letter is cracked or missing, the scroll needs to be fixed. This is true even if the missing letter does not change the meaning of the word.

Each letter represents a person. In a community, we need to ensure that there is never a letter that is alone; no person should be alone.  Even if you are the only person who reaches out to them or they do not feel like they are part of it, you can ensure that they feel like part of a word, you can give them meaning and community.

You may "have everything you need" or may "already be part of a community" yet you must reach out to others nonetheless, show them the love and care.

In this week’s Torah portion, Moses tells Edom: If you let us pass through your land, we will not drink of the water of the well (20:17). The Midrash explains that the verse should have said “water of the wells”. Why does it say “the well”? Because Moses was saying: “Although we have with us manna to eat and the well of Miriam to provide us with water, we shall not drink from it. Instead, we will purchase food and water from you, to benefit you.”

Here the Torah teaches a rule of good conduct: If a man travels to a foreign country, though he may possess all his needs, he should not eat of what he has brought with him but should buy from the local shopkeepers, so as to benefit them.

This is what the Torah celebration taught me. We might think we are just visitors in a community for a limited period of time (how many locals do you know who say they are not here permanently, 30 years later). However, wherever we reside we should enhance it by making it a more G-dly place. The Jewish pride of carrying the Torah down Main St. elevated Harford County into a more G-dly place.

As we continue to endeavor to raise our G-dly consciousness for ourselves, we will benefit our community, our fellow Jew and our fellow man. We must remember to benefit all those who are around us by exhibiting Jewish pride and reaching out to those who may feel distant and encouraging them to become part of the community.

I choose

I recently attended a funeral of a dear friend and young man. A real tragedy and sad day. One of the speakers, a good friend of the deceased shared his memories but he presented his comments in a unique fashion.

He framed all of his memories by saying “I choose to remember”. I choose to remember the deceased for this particular quality and proceeded to share an anecdote. He did this over and over again and it suddenly it hit me. He was not only saying these words but actually engaging in the act of choosing how he was going to remember.

Life deals us all kinds of external and internal challenges and it is always a choice how we respond. It is always a choice how we react.

In this week’s Torah portion, Korach sees an event and his jealousy is aroused. Instead of choosing to deal with his jealousy through engaging and trying to understand what he is witnessing, he chooses to rally the troops and rebel against Moses and in turn G-d.

Unfortunately, we become a victim to our own choosing. Our choosing becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. You want to see things negatively, then you’ll be negative. You choose to see things positively, you’ll be positive. As we see from Korach, his choice ultimately landed him swallowed by the ground.

Sometimes the choices aren’t a choice between right and wrong, but simply how you want to live your life. Always remember that the outcome is in your hand.

Granted, the challenges from within and from without can sometimes make the choosing very difficult. But we are assured from our Jewish teachings, that the potential is inside each of us to choose. Nothing can take that ability away from us.

I bless all of us, never to face difficult gut wrenching choices, but when the smaller choices come along or G-d forbid the difficult ones, I pray that we call on that inner reservoir to choose the right and good choice.

Have a good shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman
P.S. You can meet my brother who wrote this article and others on Sunday at the Torah Completion Ceremony

It's A Numbers Game

It's A Numbers Game

On a recent shopping trip , the following exchange took place between myself and one of my children. It went like this:

Can I have that pack of gum?




Pretty, pretty please.


C'mon, you never let me get anything.

Sorry, but the answer is still no.

It's not fair xxx (name of sibling) ALWAYS gets what he wants!

No, No, No! Now you've heard it ten times, the answer is still no!

Please, please, please... I'll behave, I'll do good in school, I'll help out at home, I'll do anything you ask!

Fine (me exasperated), but just this time and just one piece.

Thank you, you are the best!

He won, I lost. Most importantly, it's not personal. He knows it and I know it. He loves me and I love him, regardless how this particular story played out.


"It's a numbers game." I am sure you've heard this expression before when dealing with business or sales. One premise in sales, is that you have to hear "no" a lot in order to pick up your game. In fundraising, it's commonly said that if you haven't heard "no" lately, then you're not asking enough!

In nearly every arena of life, we are either too lazy or intimidated to go for the gold, since it generally means a lot of failure along the way. This is true, if you are trying to sell something, lose weight or run a marathon. The obstacles in our way are often so daunting that we just don't try.

We need to learn from our children. They don't take failure personally. They simply see it as a call to action, to try harder. They focus on the prize and don't lose sight of the goal. 

In order to say NO you need a reason, In order to become better you need to measure. I have been using CloudHQ's Gmail time tracker to track how much time I am reading and writing emails, so that I am more conscious of the email time i am using.

Now I can say NO I am not going to focus on email. I will focus on the important things, I also can schedule email time into my calendar with an accurate estimate of how much time it will take.

So now say yes and no and close the deal!

Shabbat Shalom

Your enemy is your friend

When we think of a spy we may think hero or villain – depending if your team is the one spying or being spied on. In this week’s Torah portion we read of the 12 spies going to spy on behalf of the Jewish People in and on the Land of Israel.

These spies (10 of them at least) who left as hero’s (Heads of the Children of Israel the Torah calls them) became villains, meeting their death in the desert.

A spy integrates him or herself into the environment that they are spying on. They live and act as if they belong in that environment all the while collecting valuable information to be used against the very people they are living amongst.

Our soul comes down to this earth and lives among us (actually in us) almost as if it belongs here. After all our first consciousness is of the body and the physical world around us. All the while the soul is collecting information to be used against and for us.

The soul learns about the passions of the animal soul within and tries to outsmart it. Ultimately the soul wants us to use our physical reality in the service of G-d.

The spies who went into the Land of Israel failed in their mission for this very reason. They saw the physical world as the enemy instead of understanding their spying mission.

Their spying mission and ours is not to eliminate the supposed enemy but rather to recruit the enemy onto our team. The spy agencies call it “turning” or in Hebrew – Teshuva.

The spies failed in their mission, let’s learn from their mistake. The physical world is not to be shunned nor embraced. The physical world is to be “turned” into our partner in the service of G-d. We have the soul as our own spy to help us achieve that.

Good Shabbos.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 


Is it within your reach?


The story is told ( that in 1907, Reb Yosef Yuzik, a Chassid of the 5th Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch asked of the Rebbe:

“Rebbe, what is a Chassid?”

Replied the Rebbe: “A Chassid is a lamplighter. The lamplighter walks the streets carrying a flame at the end of a pole. He knows that the flame is not his. And he goes from lamp to lamp to set them alight.”


Why do I tell you this story?

As we are all lamplighters!

In this week’s Torah portion we read about the lighting of the menorah by the Kohen in the Beis Hamikdash - the Holy Temple.

According to Halacha – Jewish law – a non-Kohen, e.g. a Levite or an Israelite, may light the menorah, even though only a Kohen has permission to enter the room where the Menorah was kept.

If it is “out of my reach” how can I, a non-Kohen, light the menorah? One may do so with the use of a long pole. 

This is a message for each one of us. We may say: ME? Affecting someone else positively? ME? Encouraging others to grow in their Jewish observance? ME? To be a LIGHT for others? That level is out of my reach! 

The Torah teaches us that NO – You can do it; that you are not on that level or that it is out of your personal reach is no excuse! Use a long pole to reach and illuminate there.


Asked Reb Yosef Yuzik: “What if the lamp is in a desert?”

“Then one must go and light it” said the Rebbe. “And when one lights a lamp in a desert, the desolation of the desert becomes visible. The barren wilderness will then be ashamed before the burning lamp.”

Continued the Chassid: “What if the lamp is at sea?”

“Then one must undress, dive into the sea, and go light the lamp.”

“And this is a Chassid?” Reb Yosef Yuzik asked.

For a long while the Rebbe thought and then said: “Yes, this is a Chassid.”

“But Rebbe, I do not see the lamps!” Cried out Reb Yosef Yuzik.

Answered the Rebbe: “That is because you are not a lamplighter.”

“How does one become a lamplighter?”

“First, you must reject the evil within yourself. Start with yourself: cleanse yourself, refine yourself, and you will see the lamp within your fellow. When a person is himself coarse, G d forbid, he sees coarseness; when a person is himself refined, he sees the refinement in others.”

Reb Yosef Yuzik then asked: “Is one to grab the other by the throat?”

Replied the Rebbe: “By the throat, no; by the lapels, yes.”


Have a light filled Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman



take the high road

“I’m a Jew and I’m proud and I’ll sing it out loud ‘cuz forever that’s what I’ll be” goes the song taught and sung at many a Chabad Hebrew School

As adults as well we are asked to be a proud Jew. Even the Nazerite, an individual who chooses to dedicate himself to G-d, by vowing to abstain (usually for a limited period of time) from wine or any grape products, from cutting his hair, and from defiling himself with the ritual impurity.

This separation is more than abstinence it’s a pledge of holiness.  It’s a pledge of I am Holy, therefore I will act in a more refined manner.

In general, the Torah demands that we conduct ourselves in a manner that far exceeds society’s ethical and moral standards. Additionally, we are encouraged to distance ourselves from even a faint brush with the Torah’s prohibitions.  The ideal approach, is to approach these mitzvot not as a precaution because of human weakness but as one of pride.

Like the nazir who is “holy, therefore abstains,” a Jew’s approach to the Torah’s high standards and expectations is one of “I have been set apart by G-d to be distinguished and sanctified; would it be fitting me to behave otherwise? Considering my illustrious lineage—I am descendant of Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Sarah, Rivkah, Rochel and Leah—how can I act like the rest of society? G-d selected me to receive the Torah. It therefore behooves me to be different, and take the high road in all areas of sanctity and morality.”

Have a good Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

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