Rabbi's Blog

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

Living on borrowed time

Are you thankful that you woke up this morning?

The expression ‘living on borrowed time’, is used when a person lives past their expected lifespan. The truth is that we are all on borrowed time. G-d lends us our soul each morning and tells us to please treat the day as you would treat anything that you borrow. 

Just as we would return a book to the library in good or better condition, we must respect our day. Make the most of your time, using it properly and not ruining it. Our time is borrowed, and we are the borrower.

The Torah tells us “If a man borrows from his neighbor and it is damaged or dies, as long as the owner is not with him at the time, he must surely make restitution” (Exodus 22:13). If we do not respect the soul which is on loan, we must make restitution.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Kotzk (1787-1859) used to say "Where is G‑d? Wherever He is allowed in."

The good news is, that as long as we do our best and recognize that G-d, the "owner", is with us, even if G-d forbid we damage our souls, the owner is with us so we have a way out.  

One way to remember that our days are borrowed is to start the day with the Modeh Ani (Click Here to Download)  and say the Shema (Click Here to Learn More) before we go to bed. Book-ending our day with G-d.

Have a good Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

Living Intentionally

 Living Intentionally – Now I Know What My Wife Does For A Living

Are you the kind of person the fills up their gas tank the night before in anticipation of a road trip? Or do you only fill up when the warning sign pops up on your dashboard? Do you take the good things in life for granted are do you make a point to stop and get conscientious about these things as they occur?

Case in point; this weekend is the Annual Chabad Shluchos convention where Chabad Rebitzens have a chance to catch up with friends, learn best practices on a variety of topics with carefully chosen workshops led by experienced instructors and spiritually and socially fill up their emotional gas tanks so that they can return refreshed mentally and spiritually for another year of service to their families and respective communities.

On Fraida's way to NY she called and thanked me for filling up the gas tank etc. making sure that the car was road-ready. Meanwhile, she has been giving me gentle reminders of some of the things I’ll need to take care of while she is gone. Make sure these lights are on, take that out for supper and various other things so that I can “manage” while she is gone. Mind you, all these things that she is preparing to make this “manageable” for me are things that she does without thinking the other 362 days of the year.

Of course, I appreciate it, and of course it highlights - ok it shines a floodlight - on the work a mom often does that dads often don’t do and even more often don’t even realize that mom is doing it. 

Humbling as it is, it teaches us a powerful lesson beyond the all-important message of gratitude. It teaches us to stop and slow down and realize that things are happening for you constantly and just because you don’t stop to notice them doesn’t mean they are not happening. The point is, “living absently” means that while so many good things are happening, we are not cognizant of them and miss out on the opportunity to celebrate them and savor the kindness. 

“Living intentionally,” by contrast is a state of being where we are actively stopping and focusing on our blessings that Gd and His agents are providing us.

Sometimes, it is only in the absence of the goodness that we even notice how much goodness has been coming our way. Living intentionally means you don’t have to wait for it to be missing to notice the goodness.

The Rebbe, a visionary of the highest order realized that a previous prevailing mindset of relegating women to the background was not the way to advance Yiddishkeit. He realized that to ignore their central role to family life and communal life is to squander the greatest asset that our people have. To that end, he not only empowered them, encouraging them to take on huge projects and leadership roles in every arena, he celebrated them by taking a weekend a year to dedicate exclusively to them, insisting that everything be done at the highest quality and he’d dedicate private lectures just for them and more, so that they know they are wanted and more importantly needed.

One of the unintended consequence of this weekend was a wakeup call to those sleeping husbands that they ought to live more intentionally and be grateful for their spouse’s contribution everything good in their lives.

Have a good Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

Get uncomfortable, it's the way to grow

Sometimes I wake up on the wrong side of the bed.  It happens on occasion that without warning, in the middle of a day, I find myself off kilter, something is not feeling right.  I can’t seem to put my finger on it.  

As both neuroscience has evolved and as a deeper understanding of Chabad philosophy comes to light, I have found some relief.

Tu B’shvat, the celebration of the New Years for trees marked this coming Monday adds some depth to the relief.

When a seed gets planted in the earth, before it begins to grow, it decays.  It’s quite the paradox; in order to grow, I need to rot.  Not decompose, in a bad way like I become less than but rot in a good way, get perspective.  

As long as I’m feeling cocky, feeding my ego, thinking that I am G-d, any growth is going to be limited and fallible, very fallible.   But a little humility becomes a spring board for growth.

Those uncomfortable feelings I’m experiencing are my humanity.  It’s my animals’ reminder that it is an animal and that it needs tending, love and connection.  It doesn’t have to have an explanation any less than a little puppy or kitty cat that is crying needs love or when my little child is whiny and kvetchy.

When I accept that there is a part of me that is still a child, still a little puppy, and will always be that way, I experience humility.   That humility is the rotting that is needed before the tree sprouts forth. 

So I may be a big shot (or as my uncle Schwarzie used to say “a legend in my own mind”), but I am suddenly and without warning reminded that I’m still a child, I still have this little animal inside and that I have plenty more work to do.

The Torah says that “man is the tree of the field”.  As Chamisha Asar b'Shvat - better known as Tu B’shvat - approaches, this is a good reminder to remember that in order to produce happy and healthy fruit, I need to occasionally have some rot and embrace my limitations.

Have a good Shabbos and Happy Tu B’shvat

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

Land of the Free ...

Adapted from the writings of Rabbi YY Jacobson based on the Maharal's teachings

We are blessed to live in the United States where we can celebrate our Judaism. However, the Jewish people are still in exile. Jews have been celebrating Passover, their freedom, regardless of the lack of freedom around them.  They celebrated during the inquisition and during the holocaust. Obviously, the celebration of freedom is not simply commemorating the lack of oppression, the ability for frivolous self-indulgence, or getting rid of the yoke of responsibility.

In Egyptian society one was not allowed to dream of self-determination; everything was controlled by the Pharaohs. The freedom of Passover changed the way we think about ourselves. We have a choice to do the right thing, or the opposite. We can choose our future. We can celebrate our ability to be ourselves even when circumstances make it seem impossible. Why? Because we are free.

To quote Viktor Frankl: "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

One of the responsibilities of the Jewish people was, and is, to impart this discovery to all of humanity. We must preserve the freedom and dignity of every individual under the sovereignty of a free G‑d. A G-d who desired free human beings who choose to construct a world founded on

1)      freedom,
2)      the dignity of the individual and
3)      the moral calling to build a fragment of heaven on planet earth.

Our freedom from the Egyptian bondage, read about in this week’s Torah portion, forces us to see ourselves inherently as free. Our very being must cry out in protest against tyranny and cruelty and remain obsessed with the belief that the future must be different. Redemption is yet to come and that a society in which evil and corruption rules cannot endure.

Reading about the Jews leaving Egypt reminds us of the awareness and yearning of freedom, and the conviction that freedom is the innate right of every human being.

Man yearns to reflect G‑d. Man, created in G‑d’s image, yearns to be utterly divine, hence utterly free. It is this G‑dliness inherent in a human being that drives us to constantly challenge and transcend the limits imposed on us, including even the limits of our own nature.

Have a good Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

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