Rabbi's Blog

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

👋 Bye Bye Struggle 👋

I imagined I woke up one morning and the struggle was gone. I just naturally jumped out of bed with a positive attitude.  I went about my morning studies, prayer and exercise regime without hesitation and with a jump in my step. I was kind to my wife and children saying and doing all the right things with sensitivity and purpose.

I went to work and was empathetic to others and their struggles. I performed at work exactly as expected.  I had the right balance between G-d, work, play and family. 

It sounded fun for a while and I enjoyed the dream. And then I realized that it would get old quickly.  The joie de vivre would be lost as the tension in my world disappeared. 

But then I imagined again and hoped for a day here or there of no struggle, a break of sorts.

And then I realized in real time that I was in middle of my morning services and the words were swimming in front of my in the prayer book.

Last week after Jacob struggles with the Angel his name is changed to Yisroel/Israel – as to say; You have struggled and have prevailed/mastered (Sar) with Man and G-d (El – angels). But yet, we find in the Torah and in fact in this week Parsha that he is again called Jacob.

(When G-d changes Abraham and Sara’s name from Avram and Sarai to Avrohom and Sara, we no longer find the Torah referring to them in their old name.)

The reason for this is that we all possess a Jacob and Israel personality.  Jacob the struggler, Israel the master.  Jacob is the tension that we possess.  It is shaped by our genetics, upbringing and choices. We can never fully escape it and so our name remains Jacob.  But we have the power within ourselves to prevail and overcome, to have those moments of reprieve and mastery, to be Israel.

The knowledge of this empowers us to not become despondent when we find ourselves running ragged when we experience challenge after challenge and struggle after struggle (Jacob).  We can know that we can rise above it and prevail (Israel) even if it is only for a short while.

It’s good to dream and imagine a time of reprieve, it’s also good to realize that struggle is what gives life its depth and meaning.

I hope you have a restful, reprieve-ful Shabbos and Thanksgiving!

With blessing,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

P.S. My thanks to my brother Eliyahu of Chabad Intown Atlanta for letting me use his weekly blog article (with minor edits)

How to make space?

Standing outside the buildings as they were being demolished, I reflected on the need, at times, to do things that we’d rather not do! In this week’s Torah portion, Rachel is buried on the side of the road. The midrash explains that she chose to be there in order to be available to her descendants, as they were led into captivity. She chose to be there for them despite the fact that she would have preferred to be buried in a Jewish cemetery, together with her husband, in the cave of Machpela.

No one wants to take down a beautiful building with architecture design and with the old town feel. Yet, there are times that we need to leave from what exists in order to grow beyond that.

As we began the building process, we planned to keep the buildings and build around them. We’d be getting the best of both worlds; part new and part old. But the structures were not safe enough. The finished building would not be usable for a synagogue. When one would enter, the feeling would have been walking into an office in the hallway. Not the vibe we were aiming for.

When Moses was at the burning bush, he is told “Leave from here”. Rashi comments: you need to leave from here in order to go to there. Spiritually, what that means is that in order to grow to a higher level, you need to demolish the previous level. Sometimes you need to get rid of the old in order to make place for the new and to be able to get comfortable at this higher spiritual level.

Practically, this means that in order to grow, one needs to get rid of their previous perceptions of what Judaism and spirituality is about. A parent who did not have a good experience at Hebrew school, won’t send their child to Hebrew school. But if they recognize that the Hebrew school of their youth is not the school of today, they may reconsider. Today’s Hebrew school instills the same values but by focusing on the joy and positive effects of spirituality, of the Torah and mitzvahs.

An adult who has had non positive interactions with people who observe Torah and mitzvahs, may think that exploring Judaism and learning Torah are not up his alley. If he’d get rid of the preconceived notions, he can make way for a much better spiritual experience.

Below is a time lapse of taking down the old as well as a picture of what the new will look like. Yes, sometimes we have to get rid of our preconceived notions, but as time moves on, we will be very happy with the new.

Have a Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 



Mission Accecpted

Have you ever wondered about those who have made a major impact on the world?

Did you ever think “if only I can be one of those people”?

You can! It is a 3 step process:

1)      Leave your comfort zone
2)      Pray that you withstand the tests
3)      Take additional actions to perpetuate your mission of making the world around you a place where G-d, Torah and Mitzvahs and spirituality are more welcome.

Abraham and Isaac were spiritual leaders. They were righteous and giants of holiness. Living in Abimelech’s territory, they made a pact that he would allow them to explore their spirituality. The name of the city was called Be’er Sheva – because there they made a pact.

Ultimately the agreement was one of live and let live. I will not mix into what you are doing, and you will not mix into what I am doing.

Jacob was also a spiritual giant. However, he wanted to change the world. He left calm, comfortable Be’er Sheva to go to Charan, the target of G‑d’s fury in the world (Rashi on Bereishis 11:32: playing on the Hebrew name of the place Charan, charon-af shel [Makom ba]-olam).

Jacob went into the spiritual war zone of the world. He went to a place where most people like you and I live. He went to a place of struggle; a place where we sometimes are successful in doing the correct thing and at times struggle to do the right thing.

On his way to the war zone, Jacob prayed.

Why pray? What is prayer anyway?

I used to struggle with prayer; a bunch of words, saying the same thing every day... Does G-d really need our praises? Eventually, I learned (and am still learning) that prayer is something else entirely. Prayer is a connection with Something Greater. It is recognizing that I am not a small insignificant person, I matter. I can make a difference. I can change the world. And not only can I, I must! The Creator of the world is relying on me to make an impact. How can I renege on this mission?

Prayer, in a nutshell, is saying: G-d, You are great and thank you for choosing me to do this mission that You gave me. I am ready for the mission. If you give me financial success, I will use it for charity. If you give me wisdom, I will use it to teach Torah values, etc.

And then Jacob went to Charan and created a Jewish family. It did not happen overnight. It took many years to see positive results. Laban was still not the good kind of person that Jacob hoped for him to become. However, Laban's children were part of those who the Torah calls a light unto the nations.

Good Shabbos and go change the world!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

Can't we all just get along?

Some people are just not like us! Some are more rigid while others are too free flowing. There are people who we just don't like, often for no good reason.
This past week, at the International Conference of Chabad Rabbis, the Dvar Torah was about Abraham and Isaac. How they were so different yet the same. The verse says: Yitzchak is the son of Abraham and Abraham gives birth to Isaac. This shows us that despite their differences, they were intrinsically connected.
The Jewish people are descendants of Abraham and Isaac. Religion is sometimes rigid; these are the rules how you do it. Wine celebrating Shabbat on Friday night is a mitzvah (Soup and Scotch? this week 5:30 PM) whereas on Tuesday, a cup of wine is just a cup of wine.
Simultaneously, Judaism is a loving and embracing religion. If you are Jewish, your level of observance doesn't change any level of how Jewish you are.
When you come across someone with a different viewpoint, embrace the opposites. Recognize that you meeting them is part of your collective journey. We tend to label them negatively. Be it in politics, religion or in financial matters, etc. Instead, try engaging them with an open mind. Hear each other out respectfully. Even if you can’t see eye to eye. Agree to disagree.
Abraham is outreach, Isaac is the strength and fortitude to overcome challenges. How do we overcome the challenge of rejection when reaching out to a fellow Jew with love? By recognizing that we have the ability to balance two opposing feelings. Loving them and recognizing their need for space. They aren’t rejecting us. They are making space to accept us. As time moves on, reach out again, and see if they are ready, perhaps the time wasn’t right.
If you want to watch the whole conference, this Dvar Torah begins at an hour and 50 minutes into the program.
Have a good Shabbos and I hope to see you soon even if we have issues we disagree on :)
Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

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