Rabbi's Blog

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

Do something different

These past few months have been months of reflection. We've all learned a little bit more about ourselves. Our strengths, weaknesses, our limits and our unbelievable capacity to rise to the occasion.

We've also learned that certain things in life are much more important than other things. That things we used to value really ought to be much lower on the list than others.

I suspect that eventually "this too shall pass". We will either go back to an old world or the new world that is evolving will become our new reality. It is up to us to solidify it.

One of the most important lessons I've learned, is the value of time. I really do have the time for the things that are really important (e.g. exercise, spirituality, Torah study, my children, my spouse). I've always pushed other things in front because I convinced myself they were urgent and important.

I now know differently! How about you? 

Today is Tisha B'Av. The day we commemorate the destruction of both of the Temples (Bais Hamikdash) that stood in Jerusalem.

I would like to propose we all do something different.

As Jews, what has kept us as a people and preserved our uniqueness is the Torah. No explanation for that is needed. More than the Jews have kept the Torah, the Torah has kept the Jews.

So perhaps, do something different and increase in Torah study.

  1. Daily study of Chitas - Chumash (Torah portion), Tehillim (Psalms) and Tanya (foremost book of Chabad Chasidus). All this can be done with an online or print weekly publication that is chock full of other Torah learning as well.
  2. Daily study of Rambam - Maimonides. Also found in the above publication. Over a three year period one completes the entire magnum opus of Rambam covering every aspect of Jewish Law. - online or print 
  3. Embrace the study of the Rebbe's talks. Listen 20-30 minutes each week to synopsis of the teachings of the Rebbe, covering the major works of the Rebbe the 39 volumes of his edited talks. Over an 8 year period one will complete the entire works and get a glimpse into the Rebbe's revolutionary views of Torah teaching, history, philosophy, relationships and so on. Details and Podcasts here.

 The verse at the end of the Haftorah of this past Shabbos is "Zion will be redeemed with judgement and her captives through tzedakah". Our Sages understand the meaning of judgement here to be a reference to the study of the Torah, which is called judgement and tzedakah to be a reference to giving charity.

Today we commemorate not only the destruction but also that which has kept us; the Torah!

There is no time like the present to embrace Torah study.

Have a great Shabbos!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 


How to Tell Someone Off

Someone did something wrong. You are upset, so you go over to them and say 'I can't believe you.  I was very clear, and you didn't listen to me!' They do not even hear you, and you get more frustrated!

Someone did something wrong. You are upset, so you go over to them and hint to what they did wrong. They get the hint and you see they are ready to be corrected. So, you give more details, and they learn from their mistake.

Someone did something wrong. You are upset, so you go over to them and hint to what they did wrong. They get the hint and you see they see their mistake as an opportunity for growth. The mistake is no longer a negative thing- it is positive. Had I not made that mistake, I would never have grown to be who I am today.

As one of the great masters (Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber Schneerson of Lubavitch, 1859-1920) taught: Cherish criticism, for that is what will raise you to true heights.

We read in this week's Parsha's opening verse: “These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel on that side of the Jordan in the desert, in the plain opposite the Red Sea, between Paran and Tofel and Lavan and Hazeroth and Di Zahav.”

The problem is that the Jews were never in some of these places. 

The regular commentators say Moses was hinting. Di Zahav, for example, was a reminder of the Sin of the Golden Calf (zahav meaning ‘gold').

Later, in the Parsha, he gets more explicit because he saw they were listening.

The Chassidic interpretation is that he was not rebuking them, but he saw that they no longer viewed their sins as bad, but as a catalyst for improvement.

Have you ever reframed a 'bad action' and made it good?

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

P.S. Join us Tuesday to hear a story of triumph From Rabbi Avermi Zippel who overcame abuse to become the man he is today register here


Distance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Social Distancing, Distance Learning etc.

We keep reading and hearing about the need to distance, to stay separate. As we slowly reopen, while simultaneously maintaining distance and using PPE, there is palpable happiness in the air. 

People are excited to see each other. To be back together. To see family and friends. What causes happiness of this sort? It is the distance that makes the heart grow fonder. 

The Baal Shem Tov taught "Every single thing that a person sees or hears, is an instruction to him in his conduct in the service of G‑d."

One lesson that I took is that although we all are, at times, distant from Hashem and feel disconnected, we choose to make an active effort to connect and reconnect. When we remove the barriers that we created between ourselves and G-d, it generates a similar joy. 

Do I need to remove all the barriers to feel the joy? NO. 

Are we encouraged to be distant from Hashem? NO.

Although we need to continue to maintain social distance and PPE, this should not stop the process of connecting with G-d.

We may not be as close as we want to be with Hashem or with our fellow, but, G-d willing, this COVID will pass and our evil inclination will be subdued and we will be able to fully reunite with each other and with Hashem! 

What lesson do you take from something that you saw or heard this week?


Fan Your Flame – Instructions Enclosed

Many people live good lives but barely scratch the surface of the infinitude of their soul. Another person may struggle with purpose and then, in a moment of self-discovery, fan their divine spark into a roaring flame.

In this weeks Parsha, when G-d tells Moshe to take a census. G-d’s love of His people is strong and He counts what is precious to Him. The Hebrew expression for taking a census is “raising their heads.”

When a census is taken, each person, no matter what they are like, counts as one. There is no differentiation to analyze what type of person they are. Each one counts individually as a human being.

How do we view the essence of humanity? If man is considered a zero, you are nothing until you make something out of yourself. We are united by the fact that we all are worthless, G-d forbid. G-d, however, has a different perspective. As G-d sees it, the human’s soul is a spark of G-d’s own fire. Each spark has the potential to reflect the infinite goodness and perfection of its source.

 Human life is the endeavor to realize what is hidden in this spark.

When G-d tells Moshe to “raise the heads” of the people, it is to awaken our highest common denominator, our inherent value, our essential souls. We transcend our differences to reveal this simple fact of being, which expresses what is best in us. From this deep place our good is activated.

 G-d knows us essentially and intimately. He knows each and every one of us through and through. So why is there a census? G-d counts us to awaken our deep inner souls, to give expression to its essence. This, being seen and counted, makes our core more accessible to us in our daily lives in this world.

 The idiom “raise the heads” is an understanding of the purpose of the census. When G-d counts us, He is stimulating the highest part of our being, the spark of divinity which is at the depth of our soul. Each one of us is equally precious and needed in the world.

See what you can do to fan your spark into a roaring flame.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 


Beyond the High

Life is a constant circular experience. 

Our marriages wax and wane. Our relationship with G-d does the same.
Our friendships are sometimes on the brink. Other times, distance shrinks.

In Chassidic thought, this experience is called Ratzui and Shuv. It is the passion vs reality dichotomy. I want to change the world, but I only have 24 hours. I want to be home with my family, but I need a job to pay the bills. I want to grow my business, but we were forced to close for COVID, etc. Ratzui - the going up, Shuv - coming back to reality.

Every mitzvah, every interaction with Judaism, is the high, the passion to connect with Hashem. Many times, it makes us feel good. We end a prayer service or a mitzvah on a high. We feel amazing and then, Shuv, our self-existence and self-awareness, brings us back to reality. We tell ourselves that we are not perfect, and we need to continue to work on our relationship with Hashem. We may think that perhaps the motivation for the mitzvah was selfish. We repeatedly go through this cycle. We are normal! 

This week we read in the Torah about the red heifer that represents the purification process of the one who has been in contact with death. How do they get purified? They do the Red Heifer Experience, the ash and water mix.

The Jew who says to themselves: Judaism has nothing to offer me. A relationship with G-d? Meh! 
The observant Jew that perhaps does mitzvahs regularly, but beyond "doing it", the relationship with G-d is ... Eh! 

How do they get out of their rut? 

They need to experience complete surrender! I do not exist. I leave behind my own experiences, excuses, and history. All I want is to be one with G-d (Ash, I don’t exist) while remaining in this world (water, life).

This is often triggered when one realizes how distant they are.

For most of us, the high and low cycle is fine. However, this week's portion tells us, that it is also good to know that there is a beyond self-experience.

Perhaps we will get there, perhaps we will not. In the meantime, let us all have an amazing July 4th Shabbos :).

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

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