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Rabbi's Blog

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

Light - new year musings

The young Menachem Mendel came home from Cheder perturbed by the teaching his Melamed taught him that day.  He approaches his grandfather and says; "Zaide, how is it possible that the 17 best years of Father Jacob's life were lived in Egypt - the lowest and most immoral of lands at the time." 

The young Menachem Mendel grew to be the Tzemach Tzedek, the third Rebbe of Chabad and a great Torah scholar who penned hundreds of thousands of pages of Torah teachings.  It thus behooves us to recognize that the question was a profound one and so was the answer his grandfather, the great and saintly Rabbi Schnuer Zalman of Liadi gave him.

The young boy understood that Jacob was living his best life in Egypt.  After all he had struggled much of his life and was now finally reunited with his beloved son.  His question was how could this be taking place in Egypt? That he lived a good life is one thing, but that the best life would be in Egypt? Wouldn't he, Jacob, who was a spiritual giant, feel happier and closer to G-d and his purpose by being in Canaan, the Land of Israel?  A good life in Egypt, yes, but his best years?!

The grandfather, the Alter Rebbe answered him as follows.  The Torah teaches that Jacob sent Judah to set up a yeshiva, a house of study in Egypt in advance of his arrival.  It is on account of the toil that his children put into the Torah study in Egypt that made those years the best for Jacob.

You see, light is great and powerful. In fact when you can contrast light against darkness it is even more appreciated!

However, when the darkness itself is converted into light, that is something greater.  The light now has a new very powerful element to it, the converted darkness.  

This can only take place in Egypt.  Jacob's best years were being in a place where utter darkness, through the Torah study of his sons, was converted into something greater. That could never happen in Canaan.

There are many ways to look back at the (little bit of?) light in 2020. 

Light contrasted against darkness, or the light of transformation, taking the actual darkness and converting it into something that will illuminate my life and the world around me for many years to come.

These are some of my reflections as we end 2020, what are yours?

Have a great shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman
P.S. My thanks to my brother Eliyahu for allowing me to use his email (with minor modifications)  

P.S.S. Please stay safe!!  


I want to be closer!


I want to be closer!

Every now and then I get a call from someone looking to move to Harford County. They want to know what Jewish life is like in the area. They heard about the beautiful community and want to ensure that there is enough Judaism for them and their families to remain connected.

There is a similar story that happens with our forefather Yaakov. Yaakov prepares his family to move to Egypt, to be closer to his son Yosef who was viceroy in Egypt. Prior to his move, he sends his son Yehuda to establish "a house of study, from which teaching would emanate." Only after would he move to Goshen.

Goshen is the name of the area in Egypt that Yaakov and his family moved to. It also can be translated as "please come close" (גשו נא). People ask: how can I come close to G-d? I know G-d wants to be close, but how do I, a simple person, create a close relationship with G-d who is infinite? The answer, says Yaakov, is to ensure you have created a special space where you can study Torah and pray. This way you can connect with G-d in a meaningful way. 

We learn about the first Jewish institution, the Yeshiva of Goshen. The Yeshiva’s mission statement: create closeness with G-d. 


Teaching, Studying and Praying.

Do you want to be closer to G-d?

Have a good Shabbos!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Blame Gd

When things go bad, we blame G-d. At least most of us do. Many times, all of our insecurities come out and we blame G-d and ourselves.

Rabbis who claim they know why a calamity befell a certain person or population need to get a grip on reality, IMHO. They rarely have the qualifications to know WHY something bad happened to SOMEONE ELSE.

If we find a reason for our own challenge, that is not based on insecurity but is a wake-up call to rectify a past mistake or to become a better person. That is good. If it is just letting our fears get to us... then we need to do it differently.

When good things happen, we often take credit for ourselves. But truly it is G-d who gave us the skill, the talent, the family, the opportunity, etc. to be able to make a change in the world.

From time to time, I hear "it's so amazing what you do..." The truth is, I am lucky. I have the honor and merit to be a Rabbi who lives in such a welcoming community. I grew up in an amazing family that trained me to be a community leader. I have teachers and friends that held my feet to the fire to force me to grow. I have G-d guiding me throughout! 

We can think about all ">Being aware of all that G‑d does for us and thanking Him for it, helps us also be thankful for the people in our life. From the one who asks about your welfare to those who clear the snow to the heroes at the hospitals. Acknowledge them for it.

So blame G-d for the challenges in life, but don't forget to thank Him for the good in your life.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic have found that feelings of thankfulness can help improve sleep, diminish fatigue, increase confidence and even lessen depression.

Do you feel grateful for the good things in your life?

Oh Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel…

Oh Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel…
Yup, Chanukah is here! Tonight, Jewish people all around the world light the 1st candle on the menorah. Growing up, I was taught about the menorah and the triumph of light over darkness; the war of Chanukah and the victory of “the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure”. The triumph of good over evil. The dreidel, on the other hand, was just another game, a small part of the story, yet fun for the kids.
What does the dreidel symbolize? One of the things it symbolizes is unity. The unity that exists when we work together while maintaining our individuality. To paraphrase Steve Jobs in the think different apple commercial: The round pegs in the square holes. The different colors that blend into one when they move fast on a color wheel (try the experiment here https://www.stevespanglerscience.com/lab/experiments/disappearing-color-wheel/ ). The dreidel symbolizes making the square sides of the dreidel into a round circle yet maintaining the square identity. While the dreidel spins we are all one, when it stops we can see that each one is unique. While the dreidel spins the square sides look round, when it stops it looks like -|_>, round on the bottom and square in the middle.
In the Torah portion of these weeks, we see this type of unity. Each of Joseph’s brothers had their own way of dealing with him, his dreams, and his rulership in Egypt. However, they all wanted him back and would do whatever it takes to make it happen. Every unique individual united for a common cause.
When we see another who seems different than us on the theological or political aisle, even a competitor in the same business, we can find unity by reaching out and seeing how we can revolve around each other, making a revolution of good in the world.
Happy Chanukah!
Rabbi Kushi Schusterman
P.S. when posting Chanukah pictures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram use the hashtag #sharethelights.

If I were a rich man

The Jewish tradition for Chanukah is to give Chanukah gelt. Real money, cash. 

But why? Why can't I give the child, or fellow adult a gift? I want to show them that I thought about what they want, I didn't just get them a tie? How is gelt (not person specific) more valuable than a gift which is super thoughtful?

It's because you are rich! 

On Chanukah we celebrate education (Chinuch in Hebrew) and rededication (Chanuka).

Money is useless on its own! It’s what you do with it that makes it valuable.

Each person is given powers and abilities by G-d. Each person is rich with potential. Each person then gets the choice to use their abilities to make the world a better place.

On Chanukah the education we want to give our children, and the child in each of us, is "here is potential, goodness, a potential gift, what will you do with it?"

I think of Zero Mostel, a Hollywood star who famously played Tevye in Fidler on the Roof. 

What kind of name is Zero? 

He grew up in New York with eight siblings in a Hasidic family. His real name? Shmuel Yoel. Family members used to tell him he is a gornisht, a nothing. Because they saw his worth through a narrow lens. Value was based on how observant and how studious he was. They spoke to him in a way that no child should ever be spoken to. 

These family members missed the message of Chanukah gelt! They were focused on what he was doing as opposed to who he was and could potentially be! 

When he first came to Hollywood and the agent asked him for his name, he immediately responded “Zero.” Mostel recalled: “I needed to choose a name. I decided to choose the name Zero in honor of those family members.” 

That is a tragedy that we are trying to avoid with Chanukah gelt!

We need to see ourselves through the vision of how G-d sees us. Hashem, in His love, wants us to take the potential (like gelt) He has given us and transform it! You are rich, you have everything you need to reach your potential.

Happy Chanukah (starts next week Thursday Dec 10, 2020) 


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