Parshat Behaalotcha 5779

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

You are in business and you are actively working on a project and you have a breakthrough. You relish in the moment and then what? Do you rest or take on a bigger project?

You are at a dark moment of your life, where everything seems to be gloomy. Do you sit and mope? Or do you plant flowers?

In this week’s Torah portion, we read how the Jewish people are in the desert. They just finished the Sinai experience and the building of the Mishkan (tabernacles), approximately a one-year process. The Jews then start on the next phase: heading to the Holy Land!

What is the Torah telling us? Historical information? Of course not. That is for history books. The Torah is a guide to us to enhance our daily lives.

The Torah is telling us that there is no time to rest. You finished building a Mishkan? Amazing! Celebrate and then continue toward the Holy Land! You reached a high spiritual experience that you see G-d in your midst? Wonderful! Now start to bring that G-dliness to the “real world”. Make G-dliness tangible; head to the holy land where you need to till the earth to get wheat, to make into flour and eventually bread.

Simultaneously, the Torah is telling us another powerful message: our surroundings do not define us. We can be in a desert; a desolate place empty of spirituality and we can plant flowers. We can make the barren earth grow by recognizing that we get to define our experience. As the Chassidic adage goes: “a Chossid makes his surroundings.” It’s not that the “Chossid” is any different, but he decides to make the wilderness around him flourish, because of who he is. Who you are is internal; what is around you is external. Therefore, you can choose the experience around you based on who you are.

When my wife and I moved to open Harford Chabad, we visited Andy Klein OB”M, who was a pillar of the Jewish community, both in Harford County and beyond. He told us that if we were looking for the promised land, this is the wilderness.

He would say: be like those who settled the land of Israel, which at the time was physically a barren land, changing it to be the blossoming country it is today! Andy lived his life accordingly, encouraging and helping the process of transforming Harford County into a spiritually thriving oasis of Jewish life.

Our responsibility to the world around us is to transform the darkness in all its forms to light. For each breakthrough, we need to set our sights higher and deeper to have an even greater positive effect on the environment, both spiritually and physically.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman is spiritual leader of Harford Chabad in Bel Air.

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