Rabbi's Blog

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

Be brutally honest

Be brutally honest with me!
Honesty is a must, but it does not need to be brutal.
I once met a local couple and they asked me for the Jewish view on a subject that was personally sensitive for them. My gut was telling me that they wanted a specific view which is not the Jewish view. Trained to answer the person and not the question, I gave them a vague answer. They pushed back saying they wanted the truth, for me to be direct and honest with them. I responded that I was afraid they’d get angry with me and never talk to me again.
They insisted on hearing the truth.
And they have not spoken to me since (yet).
Truth is a funny thing. We know we need it, yet it makes us uncomfortable. In order to grow, we need to be willing to be uncomfortable. If we are honest, we sometimes prefer comfort to growth.
We find healthy truth later in the Torah portion, when Pinchas stands up to and eventually kills Zimri. It is Pinchas who does this as Moshe and Elazar the High Priest couldn’t as they were married to Midianite relatives and were bias. Pinchas, on the other hand, was able to stand up for the truth. Moses and Elazar needed to be honest about their biases and allow Pinchas, the junior guy, to be the hero of the day.
I know at times I choose comfort over truth, but I hope that more often than not, I choose growth and truth over comfortability. What do you choose? Be honest but not brutal.
Have a great Shabbos,
Rabbi Kushi Schusterman


Last week Fraida and I were blessed with a son. Thank G-d everyone is well and healthy. The plan was to have a Friday morning bris. One of the halachic requirements for a proper bris is that it is done on the eighth day. However, the bris can only be performed if the baby is healthy enough.

The Mohel will often ask about the baby’s bilirubin level. Whilst our son had a normal level while in the hospital, it kept climbing, and therefore needed to be monitored daily.

At the moment of this writing, I do not know if he will have his bris on time (tomorrow), leaving us little time to prepare!

Which brings me to a thought on the parsha and on life. This week’s Torah portion is called Chukas - which translates as decree. 

There are mitzvot that make sense for society, i.e., don't kill, don't steal. There are mitzvot that commemorate which also makes sense, i.e., Passover and Chanukah. Then there are mitzvot that are beyond logic, i.e., not mixing wool and linen, kosher etc.

One of the purposes of the mitzvot that are beyond comprehension is to follow them in an act of commitment and subservience to G-d. To accept that G-d is greater than us. 

The most self-serving act we can do is one of being selfless. To stop worshiping at the altar of "I" and start worshiping something greater than ourselves. 

It's not easy to plan a bris when you don't know the plan. However, Parshas Chukas tells us (and the bris saga is teaching me) that G-d is the One who is really in charge. The more I serve him the way He wants, the more I become a vessel to express G-dliness in the world.

I am not holding there yet, but I am going to work on getting out of G-d’s way to allow G-d in. As they say in the recovery community: to let go and let G-d.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

P.S. Bris is not tomorrow, info will be emailed when it is available...

Special thanks to the Mohel Rabbi YC Sufrin for his assistance 

How do you respond to the person who challenges you?

What does the Rebbe want from me? This Sunday commemorates 27 years since the Rebbe’s passing. Considering that the Rebbe’s vision is being realized more and more each year, it is pushing me to reflect on what the Rebbe wants from me? What is it that the Rebbe saw in me that I’m not seeing in myself? What is it that the Rebbe saw in our world that I may be missing?

Korach the villain of our Torah portion is epitomized as the classic rabble rouser. “And do not be like Korach and his congregation”.

The Rebbe in his eternal love for everyone and positive view of the world challenges the notion that Korach was all bad. After all, a Torah portion is named for him.

The commentators as well as the Rebbe elaborate at length as to what Korach really wanted. What was his inner desire and for that matter the rest of his congregation? It was to experience Divine closeness just like Aaron the High Priest. While prohibited in practice, it is emulatable in concept. We should all strive to seek a higher spiritual station than we currently have attained.

I want to zoom out and focus on the messaging for us.

Here was an individual that regardless of his intentions challenged Moses. He couldn’t wrap his head around Moses. But instead of finding fault with his inability to see the world as it was seen by Moses he challenged it in a distrusting way. He didn’t seek to know the truth, he sought to push his agenda.

How do you respond to the person who challenges you? 

Learn from Moshe.

When Moshe heard Hashem’s instruction to move away from Korach, so He could consume him and his congregation, the Torah tells us that Moshe fell on his face. 

Let’s put it in plain english; Moshe falls on the floor in exasperation, “I’ve been leading you for many years, I’ve shown you Hashem’s miracles, what is it going to take for you to realize how powerful you are?!”

I never doubted the Rebbe’s overall vision. But, to see the results challenges me to think about if I have believed enough and if I’ve done enough.
I hear the Rebbe with love saying to me, “I’ve led you, I’ve taught you, are you paying attention? It’s on you Schusterman (and your community) to get the job done! Make sure you are bringing the awareness of Hashem into your own life. Make sure you are integrating the true existence of Hashem in your environment to be more visible. Make sure you are being the best example for those around you.”

Today we are all leaders. Today we are all called upon to lead like never before. The world is asking for it. Am I giving it?

With blessings,

Rabbi Schusterman

What's your story?


I am in middle of reading a book about storytelling. One of the stories in the book is about Joel Olsten, a pastor at a mega church. He was the cameraman at his father church, recording his father’s sermons. He saw himself as an introvert and told himself that he could not give a public speech. At some point, after he took over the position of pastor (his father passed away), he started to change his self-talk. Instead of I can't, he’d say I can. Instead of saying it’s impossible, he’d tell himself that I'm possible.

We each tell ourselves stories. We say I can't keep kosher and then back it up with evidence, e.g. I didn't grow up religious, how can I keep kosher? I can't observe Shabbat, I need to keep myself informed about what is going on in the world, check my email, text my friends and go for a drive.

One of the stories I tell myself is that I cannot get into prayer properly. Real prayer is taking the time to focus and connect with Hashem. There is the text of the prayerbook, and I don't see how it reflects my connection with Hashem.  Do I really need to tell Hashem that He is great, glorious, magnificent, omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient?

In this week’s Torah portion, the 12 scouts go to explore the land of Israel. Their job was to see what the land is and to devise a plan how to conquer it using the natural methods of war.

When they came back to the Jewish people, they (10 of them) decided it would be impossible to conquer the land and proceeded to list several reasons why.

The Jewish people sadly accepted their negative self-talk, and as a result they spent the next 39 years wandering in the Sinai Desert.

Imagine for a moment if you said I can. I can buy out my competitor. I can do the exercise I need to do to be healthy. I can keep kosher and Shabbat. I can...

I might not do it perfectly at first and may mess up a few times, but I can get there.

Imagine how the trajectory of the Jewish people would have been different if they decided that they can conquer the land.

I am not sure who said it, but the saying goes "if you say you can or you can't, you are correct".

Have a good Shabbos, you can celebrate it :),

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

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