Rabbi's Blog

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

Discovered - longing for the lowest home

Columbus discovered America. Franklin discovered electricity. Fleming discovered penicillin.

And, with a great distinction between the scientific and the sacred, the Lubavitcher Rebbe discovered a phrase in Midrash Tanchuma, Naso, 16.

Like all historic discoveries, that which was discovered had been there all along. The discoverer does not create the find; he finds it. Until that moment, it has been covered and out of sight; and then it is dis-covered. It is found. And nothing is ever the same after that moment of discovery.

Here is what it says in that Midrash:

“When the Holy One, blessed be He, created the world, He longed to have a home in the lowest realm."

That's it. That's the discovery. And again, like all great discoveries, the discoverer does not simply discover the thing; just as importantly, he realizes the significance - the meaning - of the thing. That's what makes it historic.

The Rebbe noticed three themes in this phrase: Longing, home, lowest.

"Longing" meant that this was not some passing interest or negotiable preference. This was a Divine longing, something dear and important to G-d in the deepest and most urgent sense.

"Home" meant that this was a longing to be at home on earth. Not for earth to be His second home, or vacation home, or summer home, but primary residence. And if nothing else, the definition of a home is a private space where you can be yourself. At home, one is at ease, completely and utterly comfortable in the presence of loved ones.

"Lowest" made it unmistakably clear that the intent was for G-d to be at home not with in the company of angels, miracles and celestial brilliance but rather with humans, challenges and materialistic realities.

And this is all stated as a Divine feeling at Creation. It was a mission statement, a statement of the purpose of existence.

In other words: the purpose of the universe and our existence is to fulfill an urgent need for G-d, namely, that He be at home with us here on earth in our daily lives.

And how did this discovery change the Jewish world? In three ways:

"Longing" meant that no one is dispensable. G-d's need for each of us to exist and carry out our part of the plan is absolute. We need to be here. And to be that urgently needed by the Eternal G-d Whose need is eternal means that we are eternally and unconditionally important. Not self-important - being needed by G-d causes self-importance to fall away like darkness at sunrise -  but truly, seriously important. The kind of importance that gives every moment of every day meaning and depth. 

"Home" meant that do's and don't's of Judaism are not a religion as much as they are a relationship, the kind that requires a home. G-d does not desire our worship as much as He desires our closeness. The Mitzvot we do for G-d - such as observing and celebrating Passover, for instance - are not religious rituals as much as they are selfless acts of love and humility, the kind of meaningful and heartfelt gestures that lie at the heart of a healthy relationship. And they change the world from a jungle into a home. Suddenly, Jewish observance became meaningful in the most tender way, doing Mitzvot became a pleasure, and we were no longer strangers with a common religion but brothers and sisters, building a beautiful home for us and G-d.

"Lowest" meant that it all mattered right here. Heaven is nice, but here, on this pale blue dot, is where the purpose of all existence is found. Life is not merely a way to get into Heaven. Life, lived correctly, outranks Heaven. And within life, it is not the spiritual moments that count but the physical good deeds that those moments inspire. What matters to G-d is not only how long a man can meditate for, but more importantly, how many acts of goodness, kindness and holiness he can get done. This meant that nothing in our lives was commentary. Work, money, love, leisure, fitness - everything, no matter how mundane, is a potential comfort zone for G-d, when done right. This served as a powerful unifying force, for though our mental capacities are diverse, a good deed is a good deed, no matter who does it. Some of us may have a deeper appreciation of the Mitzvah to eat Matzah, but no one eats Matzah better. Eating is eating. In that, we are all one.

And finally, this magnificent mission statement meant that life has a destination and it ain't Heaven. It is the ultimate perfection of our own earth. It is the coming of Moshiach. And that became the central, all-consuming obsession of the Jewish People. G-d needs us to do Mitzvot. G-d needs each one of us. We need each other. We need to do more. G-d wants Moshiach to come now. So naturally, we want Moshiach now!

And all that from one discovery of one phrase in the Midrash.

Yesterday was the Rebbe OBM's 119th birthday. So in case we were wondering what we could give him as a birthday present, this answers it: bring Moshiach now.

Happy birthday Rebbe, and happy Passover to one and all!


Elie Wiesel was once giving a class. Someone asked, “Mr. Wiesel, why did G-d allow the Holocaust?” He responded, “Are you a Nazi?” The man responded, “No, I am the son of a Holocaust survivor, I’m just asking and a question”.
Mr. Wiesel responded (not verbatim) that by answering that question, it will allow you to tie up the Holocaust with a bow, put it on a shelf, and file it away saying now I know why G-d did it. I don’t want the answer. I don’t want to know the answer. Because giving the answer allows you to be complacent and comfortable with the questions that should never be answered.
Earlier this week I had a meeting with a family who lost their child. One of the things they wanted to know was why? Why did it happen?! A few weeks ago, on his Hebrew yahrtzeit, I went to visit the grave of Andy Klein. I too asked why. This wasn’t supposed to happen! Additionally, I ask about the Coronavirus, “Why did this happen?!” Thirty-five years ago, yesterday, my mother passed away. As I reflected on the 35th anniversary of her passing, her yahrtzeit, I thought to myself, “Why did she have to pass away at such a young age?”
Reflecting on all these questions brings to mind the answer Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks responded to the question: Why does G-d let bad things happen to good people?
"G-d does not want us to understand," Sacks said. "Because if we ever understood, we would be forced to accept that bad things happen to good people, and G-d does not want us to accept those bad things. He wants us not to understand, so that we will fight against the bad and the injustices of this world, and that is why there is no answer to that question. G-d has arranged that we shall never have an answer to it."
Keeping this in the forefront of my consciousness will help me to get comfortable with not knowing. Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.
No simple feat. It takes conscious effort and time.
What do you think? Is it worth getting the answer to Why?
Have a good Shabbos,
Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Reveal your talents

Things that excite you are not random. They are connected to your purpose, follow them. (Author Unknown)
Jewish tradition tells us that if we have a talent, it is a sign that our purpose includes that talent. We find an interesting talent in this week’s Torah portion. The Jewish women were able to spin the wool of the goats while the wool was still on the goats (obviously being careful not to hurt the goats).
This wool, spun by the women, was used as a tapestry to cover the mishkan, the tabernacle, and the curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the Holy. Some of these curtains had beautiful, embroidered designs. The language the Torah uses is that the women spun the goats. While it is a unique talent (I don’t know what its specific purpose is), the Torah is telling us that whatever talent or gift we were blessed with, we should use it to make this world a place where G-d will feel comfortable.
What talent do you have? Are you making sure to use it?
Open the box, embrace your strength/talent and let it out! When G-d gifted it to us, it was to make the world a better place. So use it to influence one person or many people.
Have a great Shabbos,
Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Are you willing to risk everything?

One question we often ask of ourselves is "do I take a stand"?
Moses, in this week's Torah portion, tells G-d: If you destroy the Jewish people, I am out! I am not willing to be a leader who lives for the people if they are going to be destroyed.
Moses took a risk. His life was dedicated to the Jewish people. He was the leader. G-d was willing to make him the leader of the future Jewish people who would be His children and grandchildren. But Moses refused! Being a leader has nothing to do with me, it has to do with what I am dedicated to.
There is a similar study in the talmud about a man named Rabbi Shimon Ha’amsuni. His magnum opus was based on every time the Torah includes the seemingly extra word 'es' it is to tell us that it wants to include something else. [For example: Honor (es) your father and mother, includes your older brother.] However, when he reached the verse, “Es HaShem Elokecha Tirah,” which translates “(es) the L-rd your G-d shall you revere,” he retracted, saying there was nothing that could be considered adjunct to G-d and included in the command to revere Him.
It remained this way until R’ Akiva came along and said it came to include Torah scholars. He felt that Shimon Ha’amsuni’s willingness to give up his life mission proved that all he did and said was not for his own glory, but to fulfill the will of G-d. By not forcing an explanation into the formula, he showed he was willing to abandon "his hypothesis" if it was not G-d’s truth. By retracting, he expressed his conviction that the purpose of man in life is to do what G-d wants of him.
In doing so, Shimon Ha’amsuni answered the question of what could be adjunct to G-d. It is the Talmid Chacham, literally the ‘wise student’, who makes himself or herself completely subordinate to G-d’s will.
If you are willing to give up everything to do what G-d wants, you are no longer merely a mortal, but “of G-d”.
Are you willing to risk everything to stand up for your beliefs?
Have a good Shabbos!
Rabbi Kushi Schusterman
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