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Rabbi's Blog

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

Uniquely United

Unity and difference are two contrasting, or even conflicting, themes.

For one there is a quest for unity, linking together, forgetting our differences and being one.

For the other there is a sense of distinctiveness, of unique identity, of an individual pathway and destiny.

Rosh Hashana represents unity where our differences are forgotten as we stand together in front of the King of Kings on the day of judgement. On Rosh Hashanah our relationship with Hashem is one of an unbreakable bond, where you can do no wrong! On Rosh Hashanah we are united, yet our individuality is not present.

Where is my individuality? What about my unique contribution to society, my flair, my style?

For this we have the parsha of Vayakhel and Yom Kippur. The parsha tells us “Gather the nation, the men, the women, the children, and the converts within your gates." This event was known as Hakhel.

As they entered the Holy Temple for the great event, they entered in an orderly fashion, each group was distinct. However, the party couldn't start until everyone arrived.

On Yom Kippur we implement this type of unity. Where the rubber meets the road. Where the unbreakable bond meets the real world. Where people are different and have differences.

We even begin Yom Kippur with "we hereby grant permission to pray with transgressors". We recognize that we aren't perfect. We realize that true unity is not when you are the same as me, but when we each contribute our uniqueness to the canvas of the world.

Each of us may have a different brush and a different color paint but together our unique brushstrokes create a colorful and beautiful community. A beautiful kaleidoscope or colorful canvas.

This year 5783 is a Hakhel year. This year, let us all unite in multiple different ways.

1) We are better together. Think Sukkot Community Programs :)

2) We are living in deeply divided times. We need to be here for each other in a far deeper and more powerful way. Even for those who we disagree with.

3) We are all internally fragmented. Let’s be present and reveal the hidden dimensions of ourselves. Our hidden beauty needs expression.

As an overarching rule, we need to recognize and share that although you and I may be different, when we are united we create a beautiful community. Not despite of our uniqueness and individuality but because of it.

Have a good Shabbos and may we all together be blessed with being sealed for a good year as a community and each one with what they need.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

P.S.To quote the great Kotzker Rebbe “If I am I, because you are you, and you are you, because I am I, then I am not I, and you are not you. But if I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am I and you are you, and we can talk.”

 

You are not perfect, and that's the way we like it!!

 Yesterday was the birthday of the world. But we did not throw a birthday party.

Monday is the birthday of humanity, and we will throw a party.

Why?

Everything created prior to the Human was created perfect. It was created by G-d in all its perfection.

But perfection is not the goal. Nor the purpose or the meaning. When we are in a relationship, not a fakebook relationship, not a superficial relationship, but a real deep and meaningful relationship, there is no perfection. There is drama and intrigue. In those relationships there are real raw emotions. Real pain and real love.

Yesterday we would have celebrated that the physical world exists. On Monday, Rosh Hashana, we will celebrate that our existence is the purpose for everything else existing.

On Rosh Hashana we celebrate that perfection is imperfect and the most complete thing is a broken heart.

On Rosh Hashana we celebrate the ability to have a real relationship with Hashem, not despite our imperfection but because of it.

So go right ahead and try to do everything right, and when you make a mistake, you are perfect.

Jewish Confession - I Matter

 

I matter. I acknowledge and am aware of the beauty of my soul, the depth of my character, the holiness of my existence, and the potential that exists within me.

Because of this, I am pained by those parts of my life that I feel aren't the real me. I feel ashamed by the mistakes that I made because I can be more. I can do better.

We all make mistakes. In the days of the Holy Temple, we lived in an agrarian society and during a 7-year cycle, a person would give tithes from his or her produce. The Torah tells us that twice during these 7 years one had to come to the Temple and make a confession. To confess that you gave your tithes to the Kohen, to the Levite, and to the poor.

Following is the text of this confession.

“I removed all the sacred portions of crop from my home, I gave it to the Levite, to the orphan, to the stranger, to the widow, I did not eat it, nor did I use it in inappropriate ways, I obeyed every commandment you gave me, now get up, look down from heaven and bless me.”

Where is there a confession here?! Why is this text referred to as the tithe confession??

Imagine my entire suit is stained. I’m eating a chocolate mousse cake, and everything is getting all over me. Then, someone comes and puts a little bit of chocolate on my shirt. I won’t even notice it!

If I believe that I am a terrible and lowly person, then I can’t really take responsibility for my mistakes. I feel so badly about myself that these sins and mistakes are natural, inevitable. Dare I say that they are not even noticeable?

The prerequisite for confession is acknowledging your goodness, sacredness, and your beauty. I am so beautiful, I am capable of so much more! I don’t want to live with this mistake. I confess!

What is more, only when you are a free person, and you acknowledge that you are in control over your life, can you confess and make amends for the future, saying this will not happen again, I will change it.

Have a good Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

 

Listen, you are a GEM

We ask others; Did you hear the shofar?

Interestingly, the mitzvah is actually not to blow the Shofar, rather it is to listen to the sounds that it produces. With the Shofar, the skill is not with the one who blows it. The real effort and talent are with those that listen, absorb and internalize its message. The notes that we produce don't even have to be beautiful or musical. What is critical to the experience is to listen intently to those sounds, absorbing their power and intense holiness.

Each sound has a story and a message. Every note wakes us up, reminding us of our pure and pristine soul that is the essence of our identity. By listening and absorbing the sounds we are able to peel away our exterior and discover our true self.

I was studying a Chassidic discourse with the message that not only do you have the tools and material to build yourself into a better person, you also have the better person inside of you. 

At your essence you are a gem! You simply need to uncover the layers that are blocking you from shining and discover your greatness.

May we all be written and sealed for an amazing shining year.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Authenticity First

Once during the Neilah prayer, the Baal Shem Tov cried and entreated more than usual. The disciples understood that there was a great prosecution Above and the situation was grave, and they also intensified their prayers and crying. When the rest of the congregation saw this, their hearts were shattered and they also joined the impassioned supplication.

There was a young man there from a village, who had come for the Days of Awe to the Baal Shem Tov’s synagogue. He was completely uneducated, and he stood the whole time looking at the face of the cantor without saying anything.

As a village dweller, the boy knew the sounds made by all the different farm animals, and he especially esteemed the rooster’s crowing. When he heard the weeping and the outcries, his heart was also shattered and he cried out loudly, “Cock-a-doodle-do! G‑d, have mercy!”

The worshippers in the synagogue were confused to hear a voice crowing like a rooster, and a few of them scolded him to quiet him down, and would have thrown him out if he had not protested, “I am also a Jew.”

The confusion was pierced by the voice of the Baal Shem Tov, followed by the disciples as they hurried to finish the Neilah prayer. The face of the Baal Shem Tov shone, and with a special melody the repetition of the Amidah commenced for the Neilah prayer.

As Yom Kippur ended, the Baal Shem Tov related to his disciples that there had been an accusation leveled in heaven, with the prosecution seeking to have a particular community sentenced to destruction.

However, suddenly the sound of the call of the village dweller was heard in heaven, and its sincerity brought great pleasure above, nullifying all the prosecutions.

I had always heard this story growing up, but recently I read the “rest of the story” and here it is.

As the Baal Shem Tov aroused divine mercy on the community, a great prosecution was aroused against him for encouraging Jews to settle in villages and out-of-the-way places, where they were likely to be influenced by the village dwellers who were less observant. When he began to examine the behavior of the village dwellers, he saw that the situation was very grave. However, when the sound of the call of the village dweller was heard in heaven, and its sincerity brought great pleasure above, it nullified all the prosecutions.

This detail affected me personally. Often people ask me, what is an observant Jew doing living in Bel Air? Are there even Jews in Harford County? How do you expect to raise an observant family in Bel Air? Aren’t your children going to learn from others?

This story taught me that while this was a real concern even in the times of the Bal Shem Tov, the villager’s simple cry of “Cock-a-doodle-do! G‑d, have mercy!” mitigated this worry.

When one of us is out there, spending time with someone who is “less religious”, “less observant” or just a “village boy”, we must know:

1)    When spreading goodness, we won’t be negatively influenced
2)    Very possibly those who seem to be less observant than us, are connected with their Judaism in a real and authentic way
3)    Just because someone has less knowledge, in no way decreases that they are Jewish. “Your G-d is My G-d Too”
4)    Simplicity and authenticity may be able to accomplish more than all of our holy prayers together

May we all be blessed with to be written and sealed for a good year ahead!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Story translation excerpted from Days Of Awe, Days Of Joy. Published and Copyright by Kehot Publication Society, Brooklyn NY 11213 and can be found at https://www.Harfordchabad.org/4473/

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