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Rabbi's Blog

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

Be a pane

Last week I attended a virtual thank you for our heroes. The first responders, the doctors, and the unsung heroes who have tended to the community over the past year.

A psychologist spoke and told people to feel; feel the pain! He went on to explain how on Passover one may not swallow the marror, bitter herb, whole to avoid feeling the heat and the pain, one must chew it and feel the pain! Experiencing the pain in its fullness will bring growth. In psychology, this is known as post-traumatic growth.

When we successfully experience post-traumatic growth, it means we become a pane, a transparent conduit for divinity. We stop obscuring the divine energy that is flowing through us. In Chassidic terminology it is called bittul.

This is how on Purim we can get to the level of "besumi" (usually translated as inebriation but probably better translated as transcendence), where we are just a conduit representing G-d without obscuring the light.

Purim is tonight.  Purim conjures up images of masks as we dress up.  This year Purim also conjures up another type of mask, as we mark the one-year anniversary of the start of Covid.  

The Baal Shem Tov taught us to learn a lesson in the service of Hashem from everything we see.  How much more so when the connection is so obvious: Masks=Masks!

While Covid has been a challenge and has required us to put on our masks, this has also been an opportunity to remove our masks.  We've been able to see beneath the surface as we've spent more time than ever before with loved ones.  More time alone with ourselves. More time out of the normal output and to revisit what is really underneath our surface and the surface of our lives. Yes, Covid reminds us to be a pane.

The masks of Purim are designed to do the same.  Being a pane means that we experience the world and our uniqueness while not obscuring the divine. The story of Purim is a mask that allows us to experience G-d in our world through our human senses.  It's not a sea-splitting miracle or manna from Heaven.  It's designed to be a challenge for us to navigate who we are as human beings on the surface and our internal inherent relationship to Hashem and the purpose for which we were created.

So feel your pain and be a pane. Choose the mask to be a pane and not a pain. A pane into our inner self and G-d's inner workings.

What does the mask say to you?  What lies underneath your mask?

Happy Purim and Good Shabbos!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

A place to shine

When Menachem Mendel Morgensztern of Kotzk was five years old he asked his father "Where is God?" to which his father answered: "God is everywhere!" The young Menachem Mendel then responded, "I think God is only where you let Him in". This young boy grew up to become the Kotzker Rebbe, a Hasidic leader, well known for his incisive and down-to-earth philosophies and sharp-witted sayings.

In this week’s Torah portion, G-d commands: Make for me a temple.

Have you ever considered the relevance of this command to a person in the modern world?

Hashem asks each one of us to create a temple for him. He is clear that he wants a space created where He can feel at home. But then, there is a promise. In the command to build the sanctuary, G‑d tells Moses "They shall make for Me a Sanctuary, and I will dwell in them".  G‑d does not say "I will dwell in it," in the sanctuary, but "in them". The Sages explain that this means that G‑d dwells in the heart of each man and woman who builds this temple.

If we build a temple for G-d, if we make a space in ourselves where G-d will feel comfortable, He will dwell in that space.

If we want our soul to shine, we need to make space for G-d in our lives. We need to make ourselves a temple where G-d will feel comfortable so that He can dwell within us.

 

Essential relationship, essential joy

“Weeping is lodged in one side of my heart, and joy is lodged in the other” (Zohar).

Mazel Tov we are engaged! Rabbi, can we meet to discuss wedding plans?
Rabbi our son passed away, we need guidance.
My wife is on her deathbed, Rabbi, can you help?
These are all conversations that I had over the past week.

Tomorrow is Rosh Chodesh Adar, it is known as a month of joy.

Purim is the only Jewish holiday that its impact affects the entire month! The Talmud tells us "When the month of Adar enters, we increase in joy ". In the Megillah it is written: “It is the month that was reversed from grief to joy". Not the day or week, but the month!

The Jews were at their most vulnerable and painful state. They were in exile, kicked out of their homeland. Their temple was destroyed, and many people disconnected from, or were not strongly connected to, their faith.

Why wasn't Haman successful in getting rid of the Jews? What is the secret to Jewish survival?

One of the answers is that while a Jew may not always practice 100%, the Jew is always Jewish at their core. Even when it looks like they are Jew "ish".

Your name may be a functionary tool so others can contact you. However according to the Kabbalah, your name is the pipeline through which your spiritual essence and energy flows. You are your essence, your identity.

Regardless of the ups and downs of life, we are still the same at our core. Whether dealing with grief or joy, we are the same individual.

The same is true with the Jewish people. Regardless of the ups and downs, both spiritually and materially, our very core identity is never affected.

We see this more when we are down than when we are on the up. When G-d fights for us to have goodness, during challenging times, it shows His love and care. G-d saved the Jewish people during their exile, yet they remained in exile. G-d showed that the darkness can turn into light. G-d showed the strength of the relationship, the depth of his caring.

Purim affects the entire month to be a MONTH of JOY because it doesn't celebrate the euphoria of the "ups" but the strength of the relationship on the down! The essence, the energy, the love for the YOU, not what you provide for me!

The month of Adar, which Haman understood to be the most inauspicious month for the Jews, is the happiest month of the year. The month when we bear in mind that being "disconnected" has absolutely no bearing on our core connection with G‑d.

Of course we need to work on remaining connected by doing more mitzvot, but at the core we are connected in a deeper way, where our behavior has no bearing on our relationship.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman


P.S. An amazing story that I heard reveals this essential relationship

“We’re sorry, comrades . . .” crackled the voice being broadcast from military headquarters, “there’s nothing we can do at this point . . . Prepare for the worst.”
The Egyptian army was advancing quickly on their isolated brigade. The backup they so desperately needed would not be coming.
Within the hour they would all die. How to spend their last moments?
One soldier asked for permission to speak.
“Have faith in G‑d,” he cried with his entire being, as only one who stares death in the eye can.
“Even if a sharp sword presses on your neck, don’t despair of G‑d’s mercy!”
His words penetrated their hearts. “There are no atheists in a foxhole,” goes the saying. And they were deep in a foxhole.
One of the soldiers, experiencing faith for the first time in his life, made a silent vow to G‑d.
“Master of the world, if we make it out of this hellhole alive, I promise to lay tefillin each day!”
All too soon it was over. By a miracle, the Egyptians were rebuffed. After they had fled, the damage was assessed, and it was found that all but one soldier had escaped injury: the soldier who had made a vow to G‑d.

He had lost an arm. His left arm. The arm upon which tefillin are wrapped.
He was broken. This was too much to bear. Could G‑d be mocking him?
The faith he had recently discovered threatened to disappear.
He visited many rabbis with his question. How could G‑d take the very arm with which he had hoped to bind himself to Him?
The answers he was given didn’t satisfy him, and he sank into despair.
All of that changed at a late-night meeting with the Rebbe.
The soldier told the Rebbe his story. Together, they cried.
The Rebbe then gently said, “Perhaps this was G‑d’s way of telling you that His relationship with you is unconditional. He loves you not for what you may or may not do, but as you are. Like a parent loves his child…”

It was then that his wound began to heal. (
https://www.harfordchabad.org/parshah/article_cdo/aid/1154728/jewish/A-Constant-Lover.htm)

be jealous but do it right

The jealousy of scribes increases wisdom – Talmud

Thou shall not covet - The Ten Commandments

The Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisrael Mayer Kagan, points out that there are two types of jealousies. One can be jealous and wanting of the good another person has. On the other hand, jealousy can come with a negative outlook towards others. This second type of jealousy does not want others to be blessed with good things even (or especially) if he himself will never have them.

When jealousy brings on a competitiveness that forces you to do better without taking away from ‘your rival’, that is OK. My brothers and I banter about the different successes that each one has in his work. Sometimes, seeing someone else be successful encourages you to see if you can do better than them.

When one is jealous of another’s positive achievements, it motivates him or her to emulate and exceed the other.  This will lead to increased knowledge and goodness.In the mystical tradition “kosher” envy is more than just permissible; it is seen as a totally positive experience. 

Seeing someone else’s connection with G-d impacting their life and trying to figure out their secret sauce so I too can get this close connection. is a totally positive experience.

Watching the one who constantly gives to others happily and learning their secret so I too can make giving a priority and give willingly is not an expression of “Thou shall not covet” but exactly what the Talmud is suggesting when it says “The jealousy of scribes increases wisdom”.

In short: “be jealous but do it right.”

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman


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