Rabbi's Blog

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

Are you an addict?


We are all plagued by inner struggle; the desire to live a life of purpose and meaning versus fulfilling the self-interests and needs of our bodies.  

The addict turns to substances to resolve this tension and struggle. However, escape only lasts until the effect wears off. Over time the substance can be lethal.

In truth, we all engage in this journey. For the ‘non addicts’, our behaviors aren’t around lethal substances but rather behaviors of self-protection or self-interest. These behaviors can revolve around indulgence in food, unhealthy sexual behaviors, anger, and stinginess. Conversely, the behaviors may appear on the outside as positive behaviors (e.g. generosity, intense study, exercise, etc.) when in truth, they are also an escape from self.

So what’s the solution to these tensions?

When we come to realize that we are stuck in this intense inner struggle and that we’ve tried repeatedly, using our own free will, to overcome it, we come to realize that we are powerless (over the substance or behavior) and that our lives have become unmanageable.

Letting go of our own bravado, and the sense that we can control everything, is the first step. The act of letting go is the beginning of the healing.  Like a seed that rots in the earth before beginning to grow anew.

The next step is recognizing that our path forward can only come from a Higher Power.  What that power is, at this point, is less relevant than the recognition that there is help and that it comes from something greater than us.

Finally, we engage in internal action.  The action of willingness to turn our will and our lives over to this Higher Power/G-d as we understand Him.

This journey is our life’s journey.  From the self-interest of a child to a mature adult, we go from thinking the world revolves around us to recognizing that we are here to serve something greater than ourselves.

In this week’s Torah portion, we are introduced to the journey of the first Jew, Abraham.

His first act was a recognition that all the idols and G-ds that everyone around him worshipped were of no sustaining value.  It was his act of surrender, his admission of powerlessness.

In his next act, Abraham, who had not experienced revelation yet, came to a recognition that there was a Power greater than himself and all that was around him.  It was so complete that he was willing to be alone in the world in his faith, challenging the notion of worship of multiple G-ds.

In his next act, Abraham made a decision to turn his will and life over to the power of G-d as he understood Him (still before revelation).  The result of these steps was so complete that he made a choice to risk his very life to break away from the false worship around him which resulted in him being thrown into the fires of Ur Kasdim where a miracle occurred and his life was saved.

It was after this complete letting go that G-d appeared to him.

Hashem says to Avraham, (my paraphrasing) you think you have arrived?  You think this act of surrender means you are out of the woods?  Not so, my friend.  This is a lifelong journey.  Your act of sacrifice was based on your own conclusions of the nonsense of the world around you.  Are you really ready to connect with G-d? Are you ready to find the G-d in yourself?  Are you ready to “Lech Lecha” – to go to yourself, to your deepest self, the G-d part of yourself?

If so, then “go forth from your land, your birthplace and the house of your father”.  Leave your notions, world views and attitudes formed by your culture, your genetics and your upbringing.  Surrender yourself to the Will of G-d.  “Go the Land that I will show you”.

Just as Avraham did not, and could not, know just how good the leap of faith would be on the other side, upon leaving his land, so too the addict cannot imagine the life that is possible in sobriety. 

Let us go in the path of the person in recovery, and take additional steps on this road, on this G-d given life-long journey.

Have a Good Shabbos!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 



Mirror Mirror on the Wall

 When I look in the mirror I see a handsome, tall (maybe 6′ 2″), muscular, distinguished looking Husband/Father/Rabbi who does everything right, makes all the best decisions and eats healthy to boot!  Cover of GQ?

When you look in the mirror what/who do you see?

Do we see what we want to see or do we see what we need to see?  Or perhaps we see a real reflection of ourselves?

And what of looking at others? Do we see positivity in them? Do we see things that need fixing and correcting? Or do we see negativity and pass judgment?

In this week’s Torah portion we read of the great flood.  When the flood ends and everyone leaves the Ark, Noah turns to planting a vineyard and subsequently enjoying the harvest :-).  Noah surely was dealing with a lot of stress and he had a good drink.  He falls asleep drunk and naked. One of his sons Cham sees and goes to tell his brothers.  They (Yafes and Canaan) approach and “they walk backward and cover their father’s nakedness, their faces were backward and they didn’t see his nakedness”.

The question is obvious, if they are walking backward and their faces are backward, isn’t it clear that they don’t see his nakedness?  The Torah is teaching us something powerful.  When we see another’s shortcomings we can see them as something that needs fixing, that calls on us to action, but it doesn’t need to come with judgment and negativity.  While Cham saw and immediately went to tell his brothers, the brothers took action and didn’t see their father’s nakedness – his shortcomings.

A Jewish fellow was passing through town last week.  He was clearly an emotionally troubled fellow.  He asked to wrap Tefillin which of course we accommodated.  Then he said he was hungry.  So Dena (my sister in law - Kushi) invited him in and fed him.  Besides natural compassion, it is clear when these situations come the way that Hashem is telling us that we have something to fix in the world.

The Baal Shem Tov teaches that when we see negativity in another it is a mirror of ourselves.  That is, if we only saw something that needed fixing without judgment, it would be G-d’s way of telling us that we have an opportunity to make the world a better place – to feed a hungry person, to correct an injustice.

However, when we start judging we are stepping beyond what G-d set forth for us.  And as such it must mean that we are looking in a mirror and seeing something about ourselves that needs fixing.

This is what the Torah is teaching us with this story.  See in the mirror what you see in yourself.  When you see otherwise it means we have more self-work to do.

Have a great Shabbos!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Blinding Light

In life we have moments that inspire us. Flickers of light. An epiphany, lightbulb idea, relationship, job, etc. that is a shining light that blinds us and triggers us to do more. It becomes our north star, our passion, and it consumes us.

When this happens, the realist may tell us that we need to be practical, there is no such thing as a perfect... just get real and live a normal life. Stop getting so excited.

Some may push off the realist and continue to live in their ‘la la land’. Often, everything comes crashing down. 

Others, dare I say most, hide the light. They get back to real life and every now and then look back at those passionate moments. Remember when you thought you could change the world? Was such a nice idea... Remember when we were madly in love? Remember when I started at this company and thought that it would be my dream job?

Can I live with the blinding light and still see? If not, do I need to live in darkness? Is my life limited to either passion or realism?

The Torah says that on the first day of creation G-d created light. The following verse tells us that G-d saw that the light was good and G-d separated between the light and the darkness.

G-d is saying that the light is good however, you can't have the blinding light at the same time as seeing. If you are willing to manage the paradox, and handle the tension, they can both shine, just not simultaneously. If we separate the two and name them, we can begin to manage them. Start with the light then add a dose of realism. As soon as we are so pragmatic that the passion disappears, it is time to go back to the light and fill up with passion. If we are too blinded that we cannot do any action, add a dose of realism, breaking down that blinding light/passion into a dose of practical action.

Add light this Shabbos with candles,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 


Quarantined Torahs - it's the secret!

Crazy times! 

Although at Harford Chabad we are celebrating Simchas Torah with social distanced, safe and masked celebrations, we are encouraging people to stay home and not celebrate with us if it will put them at risk!

Even at Chabad, the Torahs won’t be passed around to keep to the ‘social distancing’ guidelines. 

Israel is in complete lockdown. How are they celebrating Simchat Torah? By keeping the Torah locked in the ark!

Is this the way to celebrate? Is the Torah being celebrated when we can’t dance with it? 

The answer is a resounding yes! We see this clearly from the last words in the Torah:

“Moses, the servant of G-d, died there in the land of Moab... And there arose not since a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom G-d knew face to face; all the signs and wonders which G-d sent to do in the land of Egypt... that mighty hand, those great fearsome deeds, which Moses did before the eyes of all Israel.”

What did Moses do “before the eyes of all Israel?” Rashi, in his commentary on Torah, explains “That his heart emboldened him to break the tablets before their eyes, as it is written, ‘and I broke them before your eyes.’ G-d's opinion then concurred with his opinion, as it is written, ‘which you broke—I affirm your strength for having broken them.”

Why does the Torah choose this tragic and devastating episode to capture the zenith of Moses’ life and as the theme with which to conclude the entire Torah, all five books of Moses?!

Moses spent his life with two allegiances:

  • The Torah teacher - Moses was the purveyor of Torah, he gave the Torah to the Jewish people.
  • The Shepherd of the Jewish people - Moses is referred to as a faithful shepherd. 

When he came down from the mountain, Moses needed to make a decision. Who/what is more important? If I allow the tablets to remain whole, showing that the Torah is of utmost importance, then the Jews are violating the Torah by serving the golden calf and will likely be punished for their idol worship. Or I can demonstrate that the Jews are more important by smashing the tablets containing the Torah to smithereens. In this case, when G-d claims the Jews violated the commandment not to serve idols, Moses can say the Torah doesn’t yet apply to them.

Moses did not hesitate. The People come before the Bible. And that was his biggest life accomplishment. And G-d agreed with him: “I affirm your strength for having broken them”.

For those celebrating Simchat Torah at home to protect your health, we don’t want you to join us!  You too need to make the distinction. Is celebrating the Torah more important or is my health more important? 

And the answer is clear.  

Make sure you celebrate Simchas Torah, by choosing Torah which says to take care of your health first and if it is safe, join us!

A great story 

Mrs. Ashkenazi returned home exhausted from the birth of her third child, shortly after having two sons! She worried about everything that awaited her at home, the kids, the toys, the mess etc.

Suddenly the phone rang and a woman's voice was on the line: she asked where they lived and how many people lived in the house. 

The next morning, there was a knock on the door and in the doorway a perfect breakfast was waiting. At noon, cooked dishes arrived for the whole family. In the afternoon, 2 girls arrived to take the toddlers to the playground.

The family thought maybe it was a one-time miracle. Yet the miracle lasted more days then Hanukkah, a month from birth. 

How? Why? What motivates women to dedicate themselves so much to benefit other women they do not know at all? 

The answer is that forty years earlier, on Yom Kippur 1976, 770 Eastern Parkway was full to capacity. On one of the benches sat Rabbi Shlomo Maidentsik, thinking to himself and engaged in personal soul-searching. Throughout the year he worked tirelessly. In the early hours of the morning he would go to work as a driver for Israel Railways. Throughout the day he would lead passengers from one end of the country to the other. When he had finished the work towards evening, he would begin the campaign of advocacy for the benefit of the village in Kfar Chabad. 

He would run from one government office to another to advance Kfar Chabad matters. And now, midday on Yom Kippur, thousands of kilometers from home, he just wanted some quiet, to be able to do his personal spiritual service on the holiest day of the year. 

Suddenly he felt a touch on his shoulder: You are being called upstairs, to the secretariat of the Lubavitcher Rebbe! Now? At noon on Yom Kippur? What could be so important? Rabbi Chaim Mordechai Hodakov received him with a serious face and said that the Rebbe was disturbed by the situation of the women giving birth in the village. They return home tired and exhausted from childbirth and do not find the strength to take care of the house. The Rebbe proposed setting up an organization called Shifra and Puah, named after the heroic midwives in Egypt, who would give the mothers all the support. The Rebbe said: they should take care from the birth until the child gets into a stroller. Of course Shlomo agreed. Later, after the evening services of Yom Kippur, when people run to break their fast, Rabbi Maidentsik was called again to the secretariat. Rabbi Hodakov handed him a thousand dollars and said it was the initial participation from the Rebbe in the establishment of the institution.

Think Yom Kippur at noon, the Lubavitcher Rebbe was busy with the sublime matters of the world.  Rabbi Maidenzik is thousands of kilometers away from Kfar Chabad and cannot currently take any action to establish a new institution. And yet, what troubled the Rebbe was the health and experience of the new mothers. 

This is a leader, someone who teaches us that the Torah itself agrees that the mother arriving home exhausted are the priority even midday Yom Kippur.

This is what Simchas Torah is really about! Celebrating the Torah Whether at home, or socially distanced.  If your health will not be negatively affected join us. Saturday Night 7:00 PM at Chabad or Sunday 9 AM services followed by 10:30 at Shamrock Park

Looking forward to celebrating with you, in person or at home :).

Looking for older posts? See the sidebar for the Archive.