A 12-Step Guide to Getting out of Egypt and over to Sinai

Pesach is behind us, and Shavuot is right in front of us. Now, we find ourselves in the intermediate period that we call Sefirat Ha’Omer—counting the Omer. It is a 49-day cleansing period in which we prepare ourselves by refining different elements of our character, with a specific focus on one trait a day. This system ensures that by the time of Shavuot, we are no longer enslaved people (with a slave mentality) but are fully-freed people, who resemble nothing of our previous identities and are ready to receive the Torah at Sinai.

Dr. Bob, one of the cofounders of Alcoholics Anonymous, is said to have claimed that the 12 Steps of recovery can be summed up in three simple steps:

1. Trust God —Steps 1–3

2. Clean House—Steps 4–11

3. Help Others—Step 12

There is a lot of wisdom in this program of experience, strength, and hope, and it synchronizes very nicely with the Jewish calendar.

Let’s start with Steps 1–3: the “trust God” steps.

1. We admitted we were powerless over “my challenge” (Ed. note: I changed the word “alcohol” to “my challenge,” to make this applicable for everyone)—that our lives had become unmanageable.

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

These three steps are represented in the story of Passover. To leave our personal Egypts, it wasn’t simply enough to say, “I’ve had enough.” It wasn’t even enough to have hit rock bottom and realize that we need outside help. In order to become free, we had to literally turn over all our power to God. How does one reach an understanding of what it means to turn over all their will and life to God? 

Think of it as a Chinese finger trap, or quicksand. The more you fight it, the more entrenched you become in it. It is only when you let go altogether that you can experience emancipation from whatever is holding you back. This was the story of the Jewish people when they left Egypt. They were down to nothing, and there was nothing of their earlier identity left. They were completely unrecognizable from their earlier selves. There is a recovery slogan, “When you are down to nothing, God is up to something.” 

Then, and only then, can you start the journey to freedom. This is expressed perfectly in the flat flavorlessness of the matzah: total deflation of self, with zero ability for ego (“Edging God Out”) to let the bread of affliction rise. When you have totally let go of feeling personally powerful and fully realized the unmanageability of your life (Step 1), but (per Step 2) have come to believe in God’s potential to restore sanity, you are in a position to then turn your whole self over to God (Step 3). And then you can begin to recover. When you have become a matzah, then you can leave Egypt.

Now, we move on to the “Clean House” steps.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

If you look at these steps, you see one common thread: they are all steps about self-improvement. It is a slow and steady process of cleansing ourselves from the inside out, taking a deep look at our personal character flaws, exploring how we got to where we are, and intentionally healing and making right all that we did wrong. We take inventory and continue taking inventory of our insides until we get to the point where we have fixed that which is bad or unresolved inside.

The period that begins on the second evening of Passover is called Sefirat Ha’Omer. Literally, that means the counting of the Omer. Etymologically, that same word, sefirah, counting, can also mean to shine or polish. 

In fact, is that not what we are doing in steps 4–11 and during Sefirat Ha’Omer? Are we not exploring, analyzing, and correcting any character flaws that we may have? This process is essential. It is a critical part of the program of healing. Only when we have worked through these issues are we capable of exponential or incomparable growth, rather than merely comparable growth.

Think of a seed that is planted in the ground. It actually has to decompose and lose its former identity to develop into a sapling that will spawn brand new fruits of its own. The old expression goes, “Anyone can count the seeds in an apple. Only God can count the apples in a seed.”

Ordinary personal repair, reflection, and cleansing/polishing leads to ordinary and commensurate healing and progress. Extraordinary inventory, reflection, and repair leads to extraordinary growth. In fact, it leads to an altogether new you.

There is a great story told in the recovery rooms. A man who has simply had it with his addiction turns to God and says, “God, I am done! I want to be sober.”

A voice booms out from heaven, “Lucky you, my son, sobriety is on sale today. How much do you have in your pocket?”

The fellow looks in his pocket and says, “I have $20.”

God responds, “OK: sobriety costs $20 today.”

“But God, if I give you my $20, how will I fill up my car with gas?” the man counters.

“Oh, you have a car? OK: sobriety costs $20 and a car today,” answers God.

“But if I give you my car, how will I go to work?”

“Oh, you have a job? OK: sobriety costs $20, a car, and your job.”

“But God, if I don’t go to my job, I won’t be able to feed my family!?”

“Oh, you have a family. OK: sobriety costs $20, a car, your job, and your family.”

At this point, the man wises up and shuts his mouth.

“Do you have anything else?” God asks. The man mumbles inaudibly but indicates that he has nothing.

“OK,” says God, “now that you have nothing left, I am giving you back everything that you previously had. Here is your $20, your car, your job, and your family. Except now it is my $20, car, job, and family. I am giving it to you to use as I see fit. Use the God-given gifts I have given you, but use them now in a way that I would approve of.”

The man gets the message. In order to have incomparable growth, to become something new, you have to first give up everything you had and were. Then, and only then, can you have a new God-version of you.

This is Sefirat Ha’Omer.

Step 12 is the final step of the 12-step program: the “help others” part. 

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs

The promise of serenity and a spiritual awakening is a gift that one receives after doing the work. It is not meant to be kept selfishly; but rather, shared with others in the spirit of “experience, strength, and hope.”

This concept of sharing one’s spiritual awakening with others brings us to the celebration of Shavuot. Is there any greater spiritual awakening than the absolute and complete revelation of God Himself, as experienced by every single Jew at Sinai? From the greatest scholars to the lowliest of maidservants, everyone beheld the greatest revelation of the King of all kings.

The Giving of the Torah at Sinai can represent the promise of serenity and sobriety, but only if it is preceded by a deep introspection of our greatest character defects. We must search our souls and cleanse ourselves of these defects to fully experience the awakening promised by the Torah.

Once we have done this work, we must then share our experiences with others and practice these principles in all areas of our lives. By doing so, we can help others achieve their own spiritual awakening and continue to grow in our own journey toward serenity and sobriety.


This article is based on the teachings of Rabbi Shais Taub—as I understood them.


Dear Shaya,

Today (Thursday morning) we davened together in the Rebbe’s room where you got your first aliya to the Torah. That room is the Rebbe’s office, a place I never went to during the Rebbe’s zy”a’s lifetime, and your Zeidyies only went inside a handful of times in their lives.

You mentioned to mommy that this was a special moment for you. This was your moment with the Rebbe.

You know Shaya, you are a special guy. We have seven special and amazing children and you are special and amazing in your own way.

I want to share about my Bar Mitzvah letter that is going to be read in just a few moments… and what I can only imagine it was for me – and what I hope your moment with the Rebbe today, will be for you and let this be your moment of connection.

Sadly, I don’t really remember much about the arrival and reading of my bar mitzva letter. There was a lot going on for me at that time in my life and my memories of that time are fuzzy. Yet, when I was talking with mommy yesterday about her bas mitzvah letter that she received and how much it meant for her and how Zeidy so carefully read it for her, I can share what I imagine it could’ve and should’ve looked like.


Yesterday, I went to my special place where I store my handful of possession from the Rebbe. There are a few dollars, a few likutim/pamphlets, a minted coin and a Tanya. My bris letter is there and my bar mitzvah letter and not too much else.

I can only imagine how the great unboxing or letter opening happened…

I close my eyes and imagine what it was like …

It is the lead up to my bar mitzva and the Rebbe’s office was informed of my upcoming bar mitzva by my father. Some time later a letter arrives in the mail to 4572 Linden Ave. Long Beach California, 90807. I imagine my father quickly runs to the Mikveh so he is in a pure spiritual state before opening this holy communication.

I can imagine him gathering the family together, preparing them for this special moment when the Rebbe’s letter will be read. It doesn’t matter that 1000’s of other bar mitzvah boys have received this letter before me. The verbiage matching word for word, but this is MY moment. My minute where the Rebbe took a few seconds to think about me, and wish the best for my spiritual and material wellbeing.

I can imagine the envelope slowly being opened as anticipation builds. The letter is carefully opened with the consideration of someone who excitedly prepares to add a new priceless stamp to an invaluable collection.

The brittle paper is removed from the envelope as loving hands open it and read clearly in both Hebrew and then English so that I can understand its contents.

That was the price and reward for living out on Shlichus. You savored every bit of connection to the Rebbe whose mission you were on. You didn’t get to have daily or weekly communication, but the few communications you had were most cherished and relished.

My dear Shaya, you too are a shliach – willing or not as the kids are sometime careful to point out to me – you, like me, were given the gift of living far away from friends and family to help us in our work to spread Yiddishkeit to people who don’t even know that they are missing anything.

The hard part is that it can be lonely at times, and sometimes there is no kosher restaurants, family or family around. So, courtesy of Covid, we tried to give you both. You get to have a celebration here in NY with your friends from camp, cousins and uncles and aunts and our extended family, and next Shabbos we will have a big kiddush in shul for our local Chabad community.

Most importantly, cherish that special moment from this morning and appreciate it, hold onto it, let it buoy you during tough times and be your crown in my better times.

Love Mommy & Tatty

12 Steps and the Omer – Is the time of the Omer good or bad?

During this season every year – in between Passover and Shavuot – I find it a bit confusing. Is it a good time or a bad time? Is it a happy time or a sad time? On one hand we don’t do weddings and other restrictions. On the other hand, it is time of great internal cleansing as we count the Omer each night, to prepare for the giving of the Torah at Sinai. By contrast it is a time just after leaving Egypt, easily the lowest the Jewish people ever found themselves spiritually, and now we are on a 49 day journey to our complete spiritual awakening at Sinai. This journey, it would seem, would certainly be a positive one?

So which one is it?

Hillel the Elder said, as it related to loving your fellow person, “that which is hateful to you, don’t do to another. This is the entire Torah, the rest is commentary.”

In a similar style of simplifying the otherwise lengthy and complex, in 1937, Dr. Bob (Smith), founder of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), said the 12 steps of AA could be summarized in these three, two word sentences.

Trust God. Clean house. Help others. The rest is commentary.

Here is the full length version:

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.

Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

You could see why his “summarization” is very helpful.

Not to simplify a lengthy – lifetime – journey from addiction to sustained sobriety, but there is a deep wisdom in this summary. The first three steps focus on our helplessness, our recognizing that we were powerless over a power stronger than ourselves (our drug of choice) and we had to humbly admit our inability to manage our lives. We had to turn to a Higher Power to help us, drag us out of our desperate state. That is “Trust God.”

The next eight steps are the inner work that we need to do. Making an honest and fearless moral inventory about who we are, what we are, what is not right and what needs fixing and starting the process of facing these painful truths and finally doing something about it. This is “Cleaning house.”

Finally, the outcome of all this is that when we work the program, we will have a “spiritual awakening” and we are to share this with others. This is “Helping Others.”

Incredibly, this is the exact journey the Jews had leaving Egypt to Sinai and we find ourselves in right now during the counting of the Omer.

Egypt, is that state of being where we were so helpless, we were so powerless over our lives that if it were not for the “Grace of God” we would have indeed become unredeemable. We didn’t free ourselves, God took us out and saved us. It was not on the merit of something we did, it is simply because He chose to do so. This is the humility and brokenness represented by matzah and specifically the broken matza and the holiday of Passover. One might say that Passover is steps 1-3 of the 12 steps. “Trust God.”

The next 49 days we work on our character defects and cleansing them. This is exactly the work of the counting of the Omer. (Each day corresponds to one the seven emotional attributes and their inter-correlation with another one of the 7. So kindness within kindness, Kindness within severity etc..) This is essentially a fearless moral inventory of every facet of our character, working and praying to God to remove them, making amends and turning a new leaf. This is essentially steps 4-11 of the 12 steps. “Clean House”

Finally, if we’ve done our work, we are assured that we will have our spiritual awakening. A Divine revelation that is far beyond the effort we put in, a gift from God if you will, and that is the revelation at Sinai and the giving of the Ten commandments and the Torah. Our job is to receive it and work on it and share it with ourselves and others. This is step 12. “Help Others”

So, is counting the Omer a good period of time or bad? Is it happy or sad? The answer is that it is neither and both at the same time. It is a time we cease being what we were – helpless and out of control – and work on becoming brand new, what we will ultimately become, a true and humble servant of God. That is both extremely sobering (pun intended) and very inspiring.

It is not a time of frivolity nor is it a time of sadness. It is a special time of deep introspection and growth as we become reborn as brand new people as we work to become the new version of ourselves.

That is something worth celebrating, and we do it as we have the promised “spiritual awakening” on Shavuot, the holiday of the giving of the Torah.

(Based on a series of lectures given by Rabbi Shais Taub)

Being Vulnerable Is Being Strong

At a 12 Step Recovery meeting I attended a while back one of the people shared the following quote that resonated with me. “Being vulnerable is being strong.” Often in life we are afraid to simply ask for help or guidance thinking that it makes us weak or incompetent.

I recently finished an incredible book entitled, The Only Life I Could Save, by Katherine Ketcham on addiction and recovery.

She shared the most powerful story:

During family week at the wilderness recovery center her son was attending in Montana, they did numerous group activities to build connections, and help each one understand the another. One of the activities was blindfold everyone, and walk them to a rope maze, which they were to exit using only their hands and following the ropes.

Occasionally, the staff would step in and ensure that participants didn’t bump into each other or offer guidance. At some point as Katherine was working the maze and getting more and more frustrated and determined, she heared in the distance how another participant announced that they are out of the maze.

This only heightened her need to figure out the maze and she worked harder and faster to try to find out the way out. As she keept working harder, she heared more and more participants announcing that they were out. Feeling her anger and annoyance reaching a peak, she finally turned to one of the counselors and asks for help.

As soon as she asked for help, he came over to her and lifted off her blindfold and she suddenly saw that the maze actually doesn’t have a way out. The way to get through the maze successfully is when your resistance is broken down enough that you are humbled to the point where you finally ask for help.

Instantly it all became clear. The purpose of the exercise was to help the families understand their addict and the need to ask for help. Sometimes that is the only way out of the maze.

We are entering a new book of the Torah, the book of Bamidbar, which translates as “in the desert.” It is thus titled since the entire book is the story of our ancestors’ journey in the desert prior to entering the Holy land.

The reason they wandered the desert for 40 years was the sin of the spies, who didn’t have faith in God’s ability to bring them into the land. They were subsequently forced to wander for 40 years and all those above a certain age would not actually make it into the land.

Why did G-d want them to wander? What is the value in that? Let those who will be allowed to enter, enter now, and those who cannot hang out in one location or some other solution?

The answer may have been given by the Baal Shem Tov in relation to Rosh Hashanah. ”G-d hides” he said, ”so that we should seek Him.” G-d wants us to spend time finding Him and to do so he has to make Himself appear as if He is absent. The purpose of the exercise is to teach us to seek. Phrased differently, He wants us to need him, to reach out for him to ask him for help. To do so he has to appear absent and then we feel lost, wandering and broken.

One might suggest that G-d had them wander because needed us all to have needs or desires that were unmet so that we realize that at some point we all feel broken or helpless. There is no shame in that. That is how He masterfully designed this world. The problem is when we try to put up an endless facade of how smart or strong we are and don’t have the courage to be vulnerable and ask for help.

Sometimes all God wants from us is to say three simple words: “Please help me.” Sometimes the only way out of the actual desert or our personal desert is by realizing that being vulnerable IS being strong and asking for some guidance.

Katherine learned this with regards to her son and his disease. The addict learns this the hard way when they have become crushed and they have nothing left but to ask for help.

Our job is to learn from the experiences of others and not wait for total self-annihilation before asking for help.

Remember, when you ask for help, you are being strong.


Not long ago, Raizel and I returned from a 72 hour reprieve at an undisclosed location.. The life of a large family with many responsibilities and 7 beautiful children doesn’t allow for too many “exotic” getaways. I have no resentment about that, that is the life I signed up for and the life of purpose and meaning that I happily live.

That said, humans are machines and like anything else they need maintenance and care if they are to endure and last. If you don’t fill up your car with gas, it will stop running eventually.

If you don’t do an oil change, the engine will eventually conk out.. If you don’t change your timing belt (no, didn’t learn that in Yeshiva) your engine will seize and it will be time to buy a new car.

Humans are no different. My Yeshiva mentors often paraphrased the Rebbe saying that “vacations are not vacations from yiddishkeit, but to yiddishkeit.” As I age (😃) I understand this to mean the same thing. You both cannot run from your yiddishkeit responsibilities while away on vacation, you must daven and learn and in fact without some of the usual disturbances, you can potentially learn more, deeper or new things in Torah that you might otherwise not study. Simultaneously, I understand it to mean that you need to give your body and soul a reprieve from the usual grind if you are to be able to take the car to 300,000 miles.

This little getaway (facilitated in part by some good friends who “hooked-us-up”, you know who you are, and THANK YOU) threatened to be undone nearly from the get-go. Our carefully laid plans, (spreadsheet and all) who will drop off, who will pick up, different children, different times, different days etc.. etc.. food, baby sitters, bedtime rituals etc.. unravelled almost immediately.

One child got a cough that kept them home from school. (Around the clock sitter now needed.) Another was dealing with an out-of-school crisis that suddenly needed our parental involvement. Another had an issue at their school that required our immediate attention (or else). There was a not-so-small business matter that required our attention or threatened to be lost.

The enmeshed codependent me wondered if we had only turned off our phones and let nature do its thing, would things have resolved themselves without creating a secondary crisis? I don’t have a good answer to that, I only know what the correct answer was for me.

It became a mantra that I repeated multiple times over our short getaway, this is from Hashem and this is exactly what Hashem wants for me/us at this time. I can sweat it, resent it, wallow in self-pity or submit to it and enjoy myself in-between the constant interruptions. It was a conscious decision not to let circumstances not in my control derail very carefully laid plans.

I feel that this is, in a lot of ways, truly the story of life. If we are in fact believers, and I think we are, then letting go and letting Gd has to be at the center of our universe. It’s not only a survival technique, or a way to salvage a vacation that threatens not to be, it is truly THE key to happiness.

I ask not to be tested, but I know this truth to be absolute.

This truth saved my vacation, but more importantly, challenged me to put into practice what I know fundamentally to be true.

It really helped be a vacation TO yiddishkeit, not FROM it.


A couple weeks ago we hosted a community Shabbat dinner in the tent at our Chabad in Peabody. While there was great enthusiasm, the crowd was fairly thin as many are still worried about Covid. Of the sign-ups was a former Hebrew School mom, Alana Plotkin Catalfamo who we hadn’t seen for quite some time decided to join us.

She was a welcomed addition to the meal and because she sat up close to us we were able to schmooze more than we might otherwise have been able to. She asked where our family had been or what we were doing for the summer? We shared that we were going to spend a bit of time up in the Catskills, in the borscht belt. Where specifically? Which city she wanted to know?

Surprised at her curiosity for the details, she shared that she was originally from Monticello, NY. Well that is exciting, since the place in the Catskills where we were to be was in Monticello. After asking if she still has family out there, she said, yes, my dad has a liquor store right there in Monticello. After exchanging identifying landmarks we promised to visit.

Well, today that visit happened.

As soon as we walked through the door he said, “you must be the Schustermans. My daughter said you’d be by.” After some short introductions, I said to him that I want to do a “trifecta” on our first meeting.

Tefillin, Mezuzah and Shofar. He inquired about the Shofar, saying it wasn’t quite Rosh Hashanah yet. I explained that it is a custom to blow the shofar during the entire month of Elul leading up to the High Holidays. Regarding the tefillin, he demurred at first. He was excited about the mezuzah for his store, announcing that he already had two at home.

We put up the mezuzah, and then my chabad charm kicked in, promising that I could get the tefillin on and off in just 60 seconds. (He didn’t know that I meant Jewish time, closer to 3-4 minutes Shhhh.) As I was putting on Tefillin, my wife asked him when the last time he put them on was.

He answered that he had never done it in his life. He was bar mitzvah’d but no one ever offered to put on the Tefillin. In that case, I explained it was sort-of-bar-mitzvah since kabbalistially, a head that has worn tefillin even once is in an altogether different category as one who has never laid the tefillin in their life.

He said the blessing like a pro, and we saw hints of his Hebrew School days in his recalling of the Shema prayer.

We closed out with a shofar blast, kissed the mezuzah and promised to be back for another visit to take advantage of his fine array of kosher wines right there in the store.

So, if you find yourself near 9 Forestburg Rd. in Monticello, stop by Route 42 South Liquor Store. Kiss the new Mezuzah on the way in, and say hello to our new friend and Alana’s dad.

Oh, and his name is Shloimeh!


I think Tevya said it best? “Do you love me?”

Do I love you?

For twenty-five years I’ve washed your clothes

Cooked your meals, cleaned your house

Given you children, milked the cow

After twenty-five years, why talk about love right now?

Do I love him?

For twenty-five years I’ve lived with him

Fought him, starved with him


Then you love me?


I suppose I do


And I suppose I love you too

Tu B’av which begins tonight is the Jewish Holiday of Love or The Jewish Valentine’s Day (not really accurate.)

For more on the holiday check chabad.org

The short version is that back in the day the single guys and gals would meet in the fields and find their basherts. Looking at the essence of the prospective suitor, not the lineage, wealth or exterior beauty.

Today the prayer of repentance is skipped due to this specialness of the date and singles parties are held across the globe.

For those of us who’ve already been blessed to to find our bashert, perhaps the holiday for us is to ask ourselves what tevya asked all those years ago.

Do you love me? Do I love you? No, not the Hollywood shallow version of that question but the deepest iteration of the question?

We’ve fought, cleaned up, milked the cow, starved and had kids together, is this love? If going through the journey of life with its incredible vicissitudes (that was a real word in my bar Mitzva speech 😂 – I think that is when my writing career began) of life is not love ❤️? Then what is?

We must ask ourselves again and again? Do I love you? Do you love me?

If the answer is Tevya’s “I suppose?”

Then you are doing darn well!

Hacking Yom Kippur

Today was truly a special day. Beyond the crisp blue sky and perfect weather, and beyond the delicious buffet of delectable brunch food, even beyond the welcoming of a brand new Torah into our midst, and the celebration surrounding the completion of this Torah and dedicating the Chabad building, today was special because today we “hacked Yom Kippur.”

I bet you never heard about hacking Yom Kippur, so let me share with you the secret. These are original thoughts I shared at the Torah dedication, and my writing some teachings of Rabbi Shais Taub of Soulwords.org who clairvoyantly gave a Torah class on last week’s Torah portion that captured the essence of what I have been feeling and providing the sourcing for this thought.

The fact of the matter is that as we near Yom Kippur, there is a sense of dread and awe that overtakes us. I personally don’t particularly like that feeling but I understand that it is a required step that brings us to the festive part of the month, like Sukkot and Simchat Torah.

However, there is a “hack” for that. (My kids call me a boomer (as in baby boomer), even though I am too young to be a baby boomer. It is their way of telling me that I am too old to understand certain things or terms. So for the boomers out there, a “hack” is when you can find a shortcut or a work-around in a program of technology or other things that can help you circumvent that longer process and get the same thing done in a shorter amount of time.) The hack is to get to the core of what Yom Kippur is really about and then your can get to Simchas Torah without the dread of Yom Kippur. You still have to fast and do the prayer etc. but when you know the why of what you are doing and the destination that it leads to it helps lessen the intensity when you are doing it anyway.

The core of Yom Kippur, to steal the analogy from Rabbi Taub, is the serious part of the wedding, the Chuppa, when you are pensive and thoughtful and introspective, which is prelude to the exciting and celebratory part of the wedding, where the dancing and festive part happen.

One is not a contradiction to the other. In fact, the first part is necessary to get us to the second part. 

However, if you can shortcut the beginning (not cut it out, but reach Simchas Torah early, well, then while we still must observe Yom Kippur but we can feel celebratory in our hearts.

Today we did just that. We celebrated the Torah as if it was Simchas Torah, because, well, it was Simchas Torah. We took a parchment, and turned it into living breathing, healthy and kosher and functioning Torah. (For those who were there on the holiday, we talked about the leap from 0 to 1 being infinitely greater than the leap from 1 to 2.) 

For this reason, we didn’t say the tachanun (supplication) prayer today and we read the verses of Ata Horeisa as we do on Simchas Torah, and for this reason we danced with the Torah under a chupa to the sound of live music and had a full festive meal, complete with rainbow colored bagels. We invested that effort and energy because it is the only fitting way to honor the brand new Torah that joined our ranks today.

That was our “hack.” We bypassed, even if it was just for a short time the 10 days of repentance and even Yom Kippur and went straight to Simchas Torah. Sure, we will have to double back and get back in the zone and fast and do all the Yom Kippur requirements, but our souls had an actual taste of the end game, and that is Simchas Torah.

So, here is a link to a famous story where a great Jew actually bypassed Yom Kippur and went right to Simchas Torah https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/3090/jewish/The-Yom-Kippur-Drunk.htm , and in our way, we did the same today, so MAZAL TOV TO US, To our local Jewish community and hacking Yom Kippur and may it truly be a year of health, happiness, and much blessing, dancing and joy for all of us.

Thanks for those who came out today and here is a linkhttps://www.facebook.com/rabbinechemia/videos/4414665961923992/  for those that missed it.


Rabbi Nechemia & Raizel Schusterman

We Blew It – Mirroring Energy

WE BLEW IT! Mirroring Energy

WOW! What a Rosh Hashanah that was. It actually felt (a bit) like the “good ol days.” Thanks to you, WE BLEW IT! The Shofar that is… in a most exciting manner.

With an overflow attendance at Rosh Hashanah services in the Chabad Tent, many more than expected (and RSVP’ed) showed up to pray, in person, in an open and spaced out safe way.

It just goes to show that people really do want to be together and that there is room in our tent for everyone. The crowd was into it and the energy was good. There was an energy that I drew from the crowd that I haven’t felt quite so intensely for many years.

Was it the fact that people felt pent up and they were finally burstin out? Was it the fact that people just wanted to be with one another? Was it the energy that they were sharing with me and I was mirroring back at them?

I can’t tell you for sure but it certainly reminded me of a great chassidic story (one of my favorites) that I heard from Rabbi Kesselman, the Mashpia (spiritual mentor) of the Yeshiva in South Africa where I spent two years as a student shliach, helping the community and studying to be a rabbi along with 9 other colleagues.

He related the following to us (repeating in my own words as I recall them. I heard this story over 25 years ago.):

The Rebbe Rashab – Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneerson – the 5th Chabad Rebbe 1860-1920 once was in Vienna and was staying in an upscale hotel. The Rebbe would travel often at times for communal matters and at other times for medical treatments that couldn’t be found in the more suburban areas where he had set up his Chassidic court. This time, while in Vienna, his son, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson, later to succeed him as Rebbe, came into his fathers hotel room to find his father sitting on his chair with his eyes closed in a what appeared to be a state of dveykus (a trance like state of deep thought and reflection).

Not wanting to disturb his father, he stood silently by his side awaiting him to come out of his dveykus. While standing there he heard soft sounds of music coming up from the main ballroom where the orchestra was practicing for an evening concert. Surprisingly, as soon as the band finished that set, the Rebbe (RaSha”b) opened his eyes and was no longer in that trance. When the Rebbe saw his son Yosef Yitzchok, he told him to go down to the conductor and tell him that his father was upstairs in the hotel and was listening to the music and really enjoyed it, and that he noticed that at a specific point during the music, the orchestra missed a note and did not hit the crescendo.

The young Yosef Yitzchok went immediately as instructed and reported this information to the conductor. The conductor was very impressed at his fathers very sensitive ear to be able to hear this subtlety and he told Yosef Yitzchok two things. 1) “Here are tickets for the concert, I’d like to invite your father as my guest. “and 2) “tell him that there are certain notes that are in the music sheets and can be read and played by the orchestra if they follow the notes. However, beyond that, there is a note that is not on the music sheets, it is an energy that the orchestra feels from the crowd that is reflecting the music back to them. When the musicians feel that energy they play with even more enthusiasm and they are able to hit a deeper note that can only be reached in a live concert with a live audience and only when the crowd is feeling that energy. It is not a note on the music sheet, it is a note in the soul.

Not to compare myself to the holy Rebbe in any way, but that was the energy I felt on Rosh Hashanah. It wasn’t me or anything I had done differently, it was the mirroring energy that was coming to me from the crowd.

So, thank you for lifting me up this holiday, and hopefully, you were lifted up as well.