Rabbi's Blog

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

To be or not to be?

To be or not to be? That is the question! - Shakespeare

To be satisfied or not to be satisfied? That is the question!

In 1795, a young genius visited Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the “Alter Rebbe”, in Lyozna, who told him that the answer is that you should do both.

Our sages say: who is rich? he who is happy with their lot. When talking about physical needs and material matters one should be satisfied with what they have.

Do not be satisfied when it comes to your spirituality and connection with Hashem! Furthermore, being complacent in spirituality leads one to fall spiritually.

The nature of the human is to strive for more! Curiosity is a healthy trait. Try to learn how to do better and never be complacent. When we use this drive for our material matters, we will never be satisfied. There is always someone who has more than us.

We see this in this week’s Torah portion. Despite the Jews having had all their needs met; the manna from heaven, no need to work, no need to bake, premade food, they still complained:  “we have nothing at all, besides this manna” (11:6).

In the words of Rabbi Yonatan Eibeschutz:  “A person derives pleasure from material things only in comparing what he has to what his neighbors have. So although they could enjoy every taste in the world in the manna, they derived no pleasure from it, since everyone had it . . .”

So should you be satisfied? In material matters one should always look at he whose situation is lower than one's own, and thank the good G‑d for His kindness to him.

In spiritual matters one should always look at he who is higher than oneself, and plead with G‑d to grant him the intelligence to learn from the other and the ability and strength to rise higher.

Have an amazing Shabbos!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

On Feeling Abandoned by Gd

By Rabbi Gershon Schusterman 

Originally Printed in Our Tapestry
An organization that gives support and comfort to families that lost a child.

Dear Rabbi:

I, alongside my wife, have been working in Jewish outreach for twelve years with significant success and we have built up quite a following. We also have four children, B”H. Four months ago we had a child, a beautiful baby girl, who died quite suddenly and unexpectedly. Ever since then I have been quite miserable; my wife, I dare say, even more so. I’m mature enough to understand that this is to be expected and ‘this too shall pass.’ My question for you, dear Rabbi, is that my relationship with Hashem has been damaged. I feel totally cold towards Him. I feel that He let me down and I feel abandoned by Him. This is a time when I need Him the most but I can’t access Him. It affects my work as well. I used to be able to talk to those seeking Yiddishkeit with joyous enthusiasm, but today I can’t. If I were free to articulate what is really on my heart I would drive people away. Rabbi, what do I do?

Hurt and Perplexed Dad

Dear Hurt:

Let me ask you, quite personally, do you need an answer or a hug?

I want to tell you a story…

I recently visited with my grown son who, like me, is a rabbi. We went out one evening, just to talk, and he spoke to me passionately about his cousin, my nephew, who had been diagnosed with an incurable brain tumor. My son told me about how good his cousin is, how he has a young and growing family, how difficult this is for everyone and how unfair this is. I listened patiently as he poured his heart out.

As he was speaking, I began formulating my rabbinic response; after all, I’ve done this before. Then I realized, my son is a rabbi, too. He has been confronted with these very same issues and has much to offer as a response. So I said to myself, "What purpose is there in telling him that which he already knows?”

When I had an opportunity to respond, I looked into his eyes and said, “My dear son, do you want an answer or do you want a hug?” I caught him off guard and he took a few moments to respond.

His eyes filled with tears, and finally he said, “I want a hug."

When a person is in pain, what he really wants is for the pain to go away, and sometimes a hug accomplishes that much better than an explanation. Grown men may not know how to ask for a hug and they often camouflage their needs under the guise of wanting an answer.

Avos (3:18) says: “Do not comfort your friend while his deceased lies before him.” While this is stated quite graphically, it is also meant figuratively. This is why we have a custom not to visit the home of the bereaved to comfort them before the third day. Our sages understood that more time may be needed before the mourners are ready to hear the traditional phrase of consolation, “Hamakom y’nachem es’chem…”

But does one size fit all? Are three days, or even seven days, experienced the same way by everyone? Can one compare one loss to another? Hashem’s holy language, lashon hakodesh, has a different word for one who loses a parent (yasom[ah]), a spouse (alman[ah]) or a child (shachul[ah]) to indicate that each loss is distinct and different. Coming to terms with a tragic loss is highly individualized and may take three months for some, for others, perhaps three years… or longer.

Surely you know the Gemara (B”B 16b) that says ein adam nitfas b'shaas tzaaro; a person is not culpable for [even blasphemy] uttered in a time of pain [bereavement].” Such is Hashem’s understanding and empathy for one experiencing the pain of the loss of a loved one.

Whoever has raised children has experienced this scenario: A child, frustrated with his parent for having denied him the thing he wants and "needs" right now, has a crying fit and screams, “I hate you, Mommy!” Fast forward 60 seconds… the child is hugging the very same Mommy, his little head on her shoulder, finding comfort in her embrace.

We are Hashem’s children, He is our loving parent, even as we don’t understand His ways, and are pained beyond our capacity to bear pain.

Crying out from great pain and suffering, and having true faith in Hashem and His hashgachah pratis, are not incompatible. The tzaddik Harav Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson, known as the Frierdiker [Lubavitcher] Rebbe, recounted his thoughts in 1927 when he was arrested for promulgating Yiddishkeit in the Soviet Union. Imagining the feelings of his mother, wife, daughters, son-in-law and chassidim, he burst into tears.

Then the Rebbe states (in his diary), “Suddenly, as a lightning bolt, a thought hit me: Who did this? Who caused this to occur? It isn’t from anyone but Hashem! I did that which was my responsibility, and Hashem does as He sees fit. And at that moment I was elevated from my lowly situation and I ascended heavenward in thoughts higher than those who dwell in the physical world, with pure faith and complete confidence in the living G-d…”

When the Rebbe cried, it wasn’t for lack of faith, chas v’shalom. Even a tzaddik and a Rebbe can feel pain that is so real and intense that he can burst into tears. Then the painful challenge propels him to greater heights of emunah and bitachon. (“Suddenly… I was elevated...”)

People, especially when they are very agitated, sometimes need help to properly frame their feelings. This is often true even for adults.

My daughter and her family, including a bright and articulate three-year-old son, spent their winter vacation with us. Being quite upset about something one day, he proclaimed, “I’m angry,” and proceeded to throw things.

My wife, ever the educator, calmly told him that we don’t do that in our home. When he calmed down enough to listen, she asked him, “Are you sad that things didn’t go the way you wanted them to?” She paused. “So you feel you’re disappointed? Do you know what disappointed means? It means you’re not pleased that things are not going the way you would like them to go. So, instead of saying ‘I’m angry,’ you can say ‘I’m disappointed.’ Sometimes things don’t work out exactly the way you want them to. Later perhaps things will work out better.”

He learned more than a new word. He learned a new way of looking at and framing his life experiences as they were happening. In the next few days, when he felt upset, he said somewhat more calmly, “I’m very disappointed.” That is progress!

Inside each of us remains a child, and that child is tantrum-prone when he is hurt and disappointed, even as an adult. “We had such a beautiful dream for our life together as a couple, and now you died and I am left alone, bereft, and without a spouse.” Or, “My child was so good, so sweet and so special. She had a wonderful life ahead of her, and now all those possibilities are buried with her.” One can feel hurt. One can feel sad, very sad, and cry one’s heart out. Later on, one can be very disappointed, and have a need to talk things through.

Or, one can focus on feeling abandoned and having no one to turn to; one can become quite angry, often at the same ones who could have been a source of solace and a pillar to lean on. A person can roll up into a ball and lock everyone out and become more and more angry and despondent.

Yidden in pain pour their hearts out to Hashem out by saying Tehillim. It is not necessarily because the person expects to find a resolution to their problem in the words they are saying. In fact, many chapters of Tehillim are open-ended outpourings of the heart, channeling the words of the Psalmist, in which he finds consolation in simply expressing his pain and grief to Hashem and in feeling that He is listening and providing His embrace.

When driving a car, if one loses control and goes into a skid, instinctively one wants to direct the car in the direction away from the skid. Driving instructors will tell you that this will exacerbate the loss of control and therefore one should do the exact opposite. One should steer into the direction of the skid ever so gently and thus regain control.

Likewise with life, when things happen that are out of our control and we go into a skid, the best way to regain equilibrium is to recognize the source of the crisis, realize that the Master of the world is the one behind the scene, and to submit to Him.

In addition to your personal struggle you seem to be frustrated with how to continue your mission to educate and inspire others. You now feel inadequate to this task because:

...your relationship with Hashem has been damaged; you feel totally cold to Him; you cannot in good conscience talk about Yiddishkeit with joyous enthusiasm; in fact, if you were free to articulate what is really on my heart, you might drive people away.

Not to make light of something so serious, let me say that one should never let a good crisis go to waste (see Mishlei 14:23). Here is an opportunity to create a new, deeper, and more mature and meaningful relationship with Hashem. If you achieve this, you may be better equipped to continue your most vital mission.

Consider taking a sabbatical—brief or extended—as you work this through. You deserve it and need it.

Who can talk more sincerely about finding Hashem in the depths of despair, a young yeshivah bachur who became a suburban rabbi, or a Holocaust survivor who remained faithful to G-d as he started life again? Those forged by fire are stronger and their relationship with G-d deeper, having had their emunah tested and come through intact, sometimes with flying colors.

Think of the souls of those giants of spirit who went to the crematoria singing Ani Maamin.  Think of the bereaved and maimed in the terror attacks in Eretz Yisroel, who, while experiencing their agony, express sincere emunah, bitachon and ahavas Hashem even as they ask Hashem to bring a resolution to their travail. You have it in you to do the same, if you dig deeply enough.

Even sincere outreach workers can fall into a rut in their relationship with Hashem. When things are going well, we may take Hashem for granted and relegate Him to a passive, supervisory role. Paradoxically, we can teach Hashem’s Torah enthusiastically while neglecting our own personal relationship with Him; familiarity can breed content. Life is good, so we become complacent and even smug, thus blocking Hashem from having an active role in our lives.

A crisis changes that. A crisis shatters our smugness; it challenges our relationship with Hashem and forces us to reacquaint ourselves with our real selves more honestly. We may find ourselves wanting. The process is a difficult one, for it forces us to soul-search as never before. But when this process is undertaken with commitment, we often find that our bond with Hashem is (or needs to be) much deeper than it was up to now, and we feel the need to renew the bond in a profoundly different manner.

The realizations achieved by this experience can catapult us to a deeper relationship, substituting the need for answers with the sense of certainty that one’s suffering is purposeful in Hashem’s plan, even as it may remain unfathomable to the person. A child who falls and hurts himself will run to his mother for comfort, and after being held for a few moments he becomes calmer. The bruise hasn’t gone away, but the child’s sense of security is reestablished in his mother’s embrace. So it is with us, in dealing with our lives’ bruises, and chas v’shalom worse. We need, at all times, to maintain a close relationship with Hashem so that when we need Him, we can sense His embrace.

Sincerely yours,

Rabbi Gershon Schusterman

Rabbi Gershon Schusterman is originally from Brooklyn and was a Chabad Shliach in Southern California for 20 years. He is now in private enterprise and continues to give shiurim and lectures, and writes on Jewish topics. He is married to Chana Rachel Schusterman, a teacher and lecturer in her own right, and is the father of eleven children.

Is it what you do or who you are?

 What is the big deal that we received the Torah? Midrash tells us that our forefathers kept the entire Torah. This means that many of the laws of the Torah already existed before we received the Torah and the Jewish people had already learned many of them. Was it just the big event revealing what everyone already knew?

One answer I find meaningful is that we are celebrating integration. Until the first Shavuot, approx 3330 years ago, your spirituality could have no real long-term effects upon your reality. It was something you did, it was not who you are.

On Shavuot, Hashem allowed the Torah and Mitzvot, Judaism and Jewish values, to define who we are and to change us for the better. On Shavuot, we celebrate the ability to integrate it into our lives. 

Until Shavuot, Judaism was something we did, after Shavuot Judaism became who we are.

Come celebrate with ice cream and cheesecake on Sunday 11:00 am prefaced at 10:00 am by TEDShavuot with a variety of speakers giving 5-minute speeches.

RSVP NOT REQUIRED - After all it's who you are :) The address if 15 North Bond Street in Bel Air. 

What is one thing you do to integrate a Jewish value or tradition part of who you are?

See you Sunday, I hope.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman
P.S. If you are out of town, see if there is a reading of the Big Ten with cheesecake nearby at

Are you all in?

What’s on your mind? This is the question the Facebook status is supposed to answer.

Over the past week, we have been busy! Connected face to face with a Jewish person, who I met once, who lives in Bel Air. Looked further into a specific property to see if fit for Harford Chabad's permanent home. Discussed with a young couple the option of becoming youth directors at Chabad. Working on the "Harford Champions" Campaign, to take place next Tuesday and Wednesday, to stabilize the funding for the above work.

I am sharing this, although this email is not a Facebook status, because there are a few points in this week’s Torah portion that have made these multiple streams of action and impact easier to navigate. Perhaps, you can use these to help navigate the overwhelming parts in your life.

The first message I got was: if you champion something, are all in and committed to it, you will see success. After all, the verse says "If you follow My statutes and observe My commandments and perform them, 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".  The Hebrew word used for statutes is Bechukosai, which can be translated as engraved. We can interpret the verse to say, "If you perform the commandments that they are part of you, you are all in and they are an engraved part of your existence, then I (G-d) will provide you with your needs".

And while the Parshah continues with some of the challenges that can befall the Jewish people if they do not follow the Torah and Mitzvos properly, it ends with: "I will not despise them nor will I reject them to annihilate them, thereby breaking My covenant that is with them, for I am the Lord their G-d." G-d is saying He is in this relationship despite the ups and downs.

Lastly, the Parsha ends with talking about people pledging to give to support the work of G-d: "Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: When a person expresses a vow, pledging the value of lives to the Lord..."

So while it is somewhat overwhelming to work on many projects at the same time, knowing that when you do good work, you have backing of the One who runs the world, knowing that G-d will stay by you even if you make mistakes, knowing that there is a community of supporters who ensure that the work will continue, is inspiring and helps overpower the overwhelm. 

Have a good Shabbos!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

Uplift and Inspire

Speech has a very powerful and influential effect. For the good and G-d forbid the opposite. When we see a negative trait in another person, we have a choice: we can speak about it to him or others, or alternatively, we can focus on speaking about and strengthening a positive trait; becoming a champion of positivity. Overwhelming the negative with positive.
So why does this really work?
It works because speech reveals that which is hidden. 
This is the theme of this week’s parsha, Emor. Rashi explains the word Emor, literally translated as speak, to mean: "Speak - "lhazhir - to encourage"  those who are bigger to have an influence over those who are smaller”. We have the power to influence the "katan - smaller", a person who is smaller, either in years, education, abilities or any challenge in life, only via "Emor", through using positive communication. This is the tool that the person trying to help, the "bigger", uses "lhazhir - to illuminate", the "smaller"; namely; his friend, student or child.
Yankel Hecht once wrote to the Lubavitcher Rebbe about him not being in a good mood. A short while later he turned to the Rebbe and said: “The Rebbe pulled me out (of my situation)!” The Rebbe replied while lifting his hands: “I pulled you out? I lifted you up!”
While the Rebbe could use the focus on the negative, “shlepping someone out of a situation", he doesn't! What a true leader does is focus on the positive, which overpowers the negative, like light pushes away the darkness. 
Be a champion of goodness. Be a leader. A big person. Focus on other people’s positive traits. Be a beacon of light and all the darkness around you will disappear. Those who are smaller then you (either in years, education, abilities or any challenge in life) will be illuminated and uplifted, invigorated and inspired, all due to you exuding positive energy! 
Have an amazing uplifting and positive Shabbos!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 


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