Rabbi's Blog

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

Liberty, Liberté, Libertad

When we read the constitution, we read about Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness. 

A Chabad Rebbetzin asked her teen group: ”If a teenager skips school, plays video games and does whatever he wants, is he free?” The response was a unanimous no with the teens saying they’d feel like a loser wasting their time without purpose. 

We conclude then that liberty is not doing whatever you want.

The Jewish people during the time of Stalin’s Russia and the Spanish inquisition, and in similar other situations where they were oppressed, celebrated Pesach and asked the four questions saying then we were slaves and now we are free. 

Liberty is also not when you are physically free and not oppressed. 

So, what is liberty?

What do we celebrate when we celebrate the liberation from Egypt which we read about in this week’s Torah portion?

Are we liberated today?

Liberty is the dignity to be able to choose and the desire of each individual to create a world where the human being can take a piece of the physical world and infuse it with G-dliness or spirituality. 

Liberty is the ability to desire and hope for a better world. 

The person who is not free is the one who can’t even imagine a world where they won’t be oppressed. The free person can be in the same challenging situation, yet is hopeful and can see an oppression free future.

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.”

As we read about the Jews leaving Egypt, in this week’s Torah portion, and as we celebrate this upcoming week the Chassidic holiday of Yud Shevat (the anniversary of 7th Chabad Rebbe’s becoming the leader of Chabad) here is a message: You are free despite your challenges! You don’t find yourself in a situation, G-d put you in that specific situation to make a difference in the world around you. You can choose to take the opportunity to convert the piece of earth that was given to you to be a piece of heaven as well.”

Now go change the world as only a free person can.

Have an amazing Shabbos!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

A message from Kermit the Frog

Q: What is the difference between ignorance and apathy? A: I don't know and I don't care - source unknown

Animals can be broken down into three groups: those that benefit mankind, those that harm mankind and those that seem irrelevant to mankind.

The dog is man’s best friend. The mosquito is an annoyance. The frog seems irrelevant.

People can be broken down into three groups: those that recognize a Higher Power, those that deny a Higher Power and those that the whole discussion of a Higher Power is not relevant.

Person one and two are engaged (see stories below) in the Higher Power. The third type of person should learn from the frog.

The frog that seems irrelevant to man is used to teach Pharoah that there is a Higher Power. The frog, which is cold, sacrificed its life to enter the hot Egyptian ovens, to teach them an important message: G-d is relevant and meant to listen to even if it means going against one’s nature. Even when I feel cold, apathetic or ignorant, I can follow the message received from the Egyptian frogs, as eloquently stated by Kermit the Frog:

Take a look above you,
Discover the view,
If you haven't noticed,
Please do
Please do
Please do.

Have a great Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 


P.S. The story I promised you:

Famed Talmudic scholar Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz invited a professor to his Talmud class at a Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He asked the professor: “Why don’t you join the class? All of your colleagues come. It’s in your building — right down the hall”. The professor responded: “I don’t belong in the class; we have nothing in common”. “What do you mean we have nothing in common?” asked the Rabbi. “You don’t understand!” said the professor. “I only eat pork! On Shabbat! Exclusively!” “Only on Shabbat?” asked Rabbi Steinsaltz. “Specifically! Spitefully! On Shabbat!” “Ahh, in that case,” said Rabbi Steinsaltz, “we do have something in common.” “What do you mean?” asked the professor. “I have my way of observing Shabbat and you have your way of observing Shabbat.” Both men are talking about celebrating Shabbat. Clearly, they both believe it is important or they would not bother to engage in the ritual and/or to object! So they actually agree on that point — Shabbat is important. They just do not agree on precisely what should be done about it!

You are one of a kind!

Have you ever had a job that you loved and gave you meaning and purpose

How about a career that used your talents and was so exciting it gave you a thrill to get out of bed?

When the jobs you do are a daily grind; they don't use your talents or give you value and purpose, even if it's an "easy job", the Torah refers to them in this weeks torah portion as backbreaking labor.

The same is true about our G-d given powers, unique to our soul to fulfill our mission in this world. Using these powers simply for mundane purposes or to gain popularity, can lead to us feeling upset and, dare I say, miserable. It feels like backbreaking labor with no importance or intent.

We need to have our healthy physical needs fulfilled. However, infusing these mundane aspects of our life with spirituality and meaning, elevates them and adds value to them. Doing mitzvot and learning Torah accomplishes this on a regular basis, provides us with a focus, meaning and purpose to our lives.

By experiencing the physical within a G-dly spiritual framework, permeates it with meaning and purpose.

By connecting to G-d using our unique talents, makes them even more meaningful.

Have a meaningful Shabbos!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Uniquely united together as one

 In this week’s Torah portion we read how Jacob called for his sons and said, “Gather, and I will tell you what will happen to you at the end of days….”

By divine providence, I am going to be in California this Shabbos with all my siblings, celebrating my father’s 75th birthday. It’s amazing to be blessed with such a diverse group of siblings. We don’t always agree on everything:) but together we are make a wonderful family, thank G-d.

One of the best messages that I have heard about Jacob gathering all his kids, before his passing, and then giving each one a unique blessing (sometimes cloaked as rebuke) is that at times we need to seek out G-d as a community and at other times as an individual.

Jacob gathered all his children as a community and then gave each one their own tailor-made blessing. At the end of the blessings, all of them together said “Shema Yisroel HaShem Elo-Keinu HaShem Echad”.

Jacob was teaching his children that each one is needed with their unique talent and personality to create a beautiful community. Despite their individuality, they still need to work together, taking each one’s colors and creating an artist’s masterpiece. Living harmoniously together, and taking advantage of each one’s talents to build up this world as a place for G-d to live in.

Let’s try to create that fusion; to connect to G-d together with each one bringing their uniqueness and let's create a warm, inviting and inspiring community here in Harford County.

Have an amazing Shabbos,

Reminder: there will not be prayer services at Chabad this week.

There is regular Hebrew school on Sunday.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman


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