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Rabbi's Blog

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

Jerusalem in Harford County

 

 

Judaism has some very obvious unique core beliefs. Among them is the role that Israel in general and Jerusalem in particular play.

Jerusalem's holiness starts with the creation of Adam and continues with the two Holy Temples that stood there. It begs the question, although we find references to Jerusalem in the Five Books of Moses (eg. Malkizedek the king of Shalem), we don't find the word Jerusalem/Yerushalayim explicitly mentioned as Jerusalem?

In this week's Torah portion we find the following reference to Jerusalem, "and it will be the place that Hashem your G-d will choose to rest His name there..."

In the teachings of our Sages and in Kabbalah in particular, our prayers ascend through Jerusalem. Our prayers travel from wherever they are offered and then ascend to heaven from the place of the Temple and the place of the Holy of Holies.  

Accordingly, wherever a person might be they have a direct line to Hashem. As such Jerusalem is not exclusively about the physical place in the land of Israel but Jerusalem is in your synagogue, your home, your mountain climb or wherever else you take the time to pray to Hashem.

It is a powerful message for us as we enter the month of Elul, the last month on the Jewish calendar and the month of prayer and preparation for the New Year. Your prayers are so valuable that wherever you offer them is considered like the holy space of Holy of Holies.

Shana Tova and Shabbat Shalom!

 

 

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

The King is in the Field unabridged version

by Rabbi Sholom Avtzon

How should one look at his/her relationship in this month of Elul. In general it is known as the month of preparation for the Yomim Noraim, (High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur). Therefore it is a cause of serious reflection and yes trepidation, Hashem is going to judge us and we all are to well aware of our flaws and shortcomings.

However, through this parable, the Alter Rebbe is enlightening us that one ne should look at this experience from an entire different perspective.  During this month Hashem is closer to His nation, more so than any other time. It is a time of happiness, not one of bitterness.

But in truth, it is much more than this. It is not just an expression of a master who is happy with the work and conduct of his servant or a king who is pleased with his nation. It is a totally different relationship. It is one of two dear friends.

The Alter Rebbe bases his revolutionary approach to Chodesh Elul on the verse in song of songs that alludes to the month of Elul. The first letters of the four words in the verse of  לי ודודי לדודי אני spell out אלול  = Elul. The meaning of these words is; “I am to my beloved friend and my beloved friend is to me.

So we see the verse itself indicates that at this time Hashem’s relationship to us is not as a master, a king, etc. to his worker or subject, but one of a wonderful, dear and indeed best friend.

And it is this feeling of closeness and friendship that every Jew senses, which propels them to do teshuva.

THE PARABLE

During the entire year, the king is in his palace. Most of his subjects in the capital city, know there is no possibility of them gaining an audience to see and speak to the king. Even from those who hope and apply for an audience, only a select few are actually allowed in. And there is no guarantee that the King would grant their request.

However, there is the time when the king is not in the capital city. He left it to go out in the field. When he is there, every one of his subjects (from the city as well as those who now live in the fields (or desert)) decide to go out to greet the king in the field.

The king, on his part, graciously receives everyone who comes to greet him, and shows a happy and radiant face to them and grants their request.

They then follow and escort him to the city and he enters his palace. But the moment the king enters the palace, once again only a select few could meet him. However, being that you went out to the field and demonstrated your loyal and total allegiance to Him, you are part of that select group.

UNDERSTANDING THE PARABLE

During the entire year, Hashem is reachable through our fulfillment of His mitzvos and learning His Torah. However, if one distanced himself from Hashem, by not learning, or doing His mitzvos, and especially, if one went against His will and did a sin, this person could feel how can I come close to Hashem?

His situation can be compared to the person who left the capital city and went into the fields or even further, into the woods or desert. When the person senses how far away he is, he might feel it is useless, he can no longer come to the king. He says we are totally disconnected.

So Hashem, in his great love to us goes out into the fields where these people are. He is stating emphatically; we are connected, no one is far! This show of His outpouring love to His subjects uplifts and encourages every one of them. Even those who through their actions felt they are distanced from Him, [and even those who intentionally rebelled against Him are inspired to come to Him and declare their acceptance of Him as their king.

The king graciously receives them, smiles to them and grants their request, When the subjects see this, they resolve to once again conduct themselves in a manner befitting a loyal subject to the king. They escort him back to the capital and settle there once again. This turn around is so precious to the king, that he considers them amongst his most loyal and dedicated subjects, that they are granted an audience with the king in his throne room.

So too, in the month of Elul we correct our actions and commit ourselves to adhere to the Torah and its mitzvos. This causes that in the month of Tishrei, when Hashem is in the palace judging us; He shows His love to us and blesses the entire Jewish nation with all of their needs.

The author can be contacted at avtzonbooks@gmail.com The above is an excerpt of a booklet he wrote in Elul of 5768 (2008). If you want to receive the entire booklet feel free to contact him.

Can you play with me?

It was 6:30 in the morning. Too early for a board game. Not for one of my beautiful children who asked if I can play a game with them. 

What to answer?
No, I have important things to do?
Yes, I want to play with you, however, first I need to pray?
Sure! (while thinking of the other things I need/want to accomplish)

Tough parenting decisions. Regardless of the answer, this moment is giving the child a message. Either I have important things to do, and playing with you is not one of them. Or, prayer needs to come first in the morning (this doesn't work if you aren't consistent in praying first daily). Or the message may be: I love you and I will prioritize playing with you (but be careful not to give negative energy off that you would prefer to be working).

This enigma applies not only to physical children but to spiritual children, students, and mentees as well.

What message are you giving them?
The Torah tells us, "And you shall teach them to your children, to speak with them".

Teach your children to speak using words of Torah (see the 12 passages here harfordchabad.org/323498).

Teach them to talk in a way that represents Torah. Speak respectful to their sibling and others, say please, thank you...

Teach them that you are thoughtful of the message you are conveying when answering their questions.

What message are we giving our children? When we speak? How we act? When we prioritize or don't prioritize our spiritual/religious life?

These are some of my recent musings on the Parsha! Do you agree? Disagree?

Have a great Shabbos!

 Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

Mirror mirror on the wall

Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the greatest of them all

At times we think we are the greatest. One tends to think that because I am more knowledgeable in a specific subject, an "expert", it makes me most qualified to speak on the subject. For example, in prayer, the one who understands the meaning of the words, knows the Kabbalistic insights, his or her prayer would seem to be the ideal prayer. 

Is it truly so?

Maybe until the “expert” begins to consider themselves an expert. As soon as you think about yourself in this way, you no longer pray with the simplicity and deep connection of a person who comes to shul to just connect.

Speaking to a congregant, I asked: Why do you come to daven/pray? You don't read Hebrew (we can change that! See details in next week's email)? You don't understand the meaning of the words. What motivates you to pray with the congregation?

To which he responded; It’s an opportunity to connect with G-d, with the community, with my soul!

Whose prayer is "better", the more knowledgeable one or the connected congregant?

Chassidic thought says that it is the prayer of the connected congregant. Because the expert, as knowledgeable as he is, is self-focused, whereas the connected congregant is G-d focused.

What do you think?

Join us for services this Shabbos at 10:00 AM!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

Would you give it all up?

 

Where do you draw the line? Logic says that we are to sacrifice for the things that are important to us in life. To provide a living for our families we work hard, giving up on potentially enjoyable vacations. We study late into the night to achieve our intellectual goals. We put aside our personal needs for our children. In the sacrifice we uncover potentials we never knew we had. However, how much sacrifice is enough?

In this week's portion, G-d tells Moshe to avenge Him through battling the Midianites. (The Midianites seduced the Jews into Idol Worship, thereby turning them from G-d.) G-d says to him matter-of-factly "avenge the vengeance of G-d against the Midianites and afterward, you will be gathered unto your people."  G-d was saying that after this battle your mission on this earth will be concluded and it will be time to return home (you will pass away). The Jewish people knew that this was Moshe's last "hurrah" and thus hesitated to go to war. Moshe, on the other hand, immediately began the battle preparations.

The Torah is telling us that sacrifice is total. There is no limit. To reach the greatest of heights you need to be willing to give up everything for that goal. As long as there is a self-imposed boundary that we won't cross, we are still driven by our ego. To reach the very essence of our potential, we need to transcend our self. 

At his very core, Moshe was a leader of his people. By going to war, Moshe knew that he would be giving up his leadership. However, that too, Moshe was willing to do because G-d had instructed him to do so. Moshe could have argued that he would be giving up his leadership by doing so. However, to reach the essence is to transcend, to walk across the line of total sacrifice. It was by doing this that Moshe became the most exceptional leader. His leadership lives on more so after his death, then even in his lifetime. Why? Because he gave everything up for G-d.

In life, we can calculate the return on investment of our sacrifices, "if I sacrifice this much, then I will get the following in return". Sometimes we are put to the test to sacrifice everything, counter to anything that makes sense. Moreover, that is where our essence comes out.

Are you willing to give it all up (whatever your "it" is)? If the ROI is your G-dly essence being revealed, then is it worth it?

Have an amazing Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

 

 

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