Friday, July 27, 2007

BACK IN THE NEWS...STEM CELLS AND JUDAISM

An abridged version of this essay appeared in July 2001 in the Atlanta Jewish Times.

It was the first published halakhic responsa to this burning national issue.

... all of life's questions and answers are to be found in the Torah- both oral and written, and Judaism has tremendously powerful insights for the human condition. While ethicists debate the relative pros and cons of the issue, the halachic determination is not based on relativity, but on principles and precedents in the Jewish legal tradition....

A JEWISH VOICE IN THE STEM CELL DEBATE

Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

All the while the headlines rage about the ethics and morality of stem cell research, and even as the scientists making the majority of the headlines touting revolutionary gains in terms of possible cures from such research turn out to be Israeli, many Jews still remain confused about what Judaism says about the issue. Cures for Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, diabetes, and other degenerative diseases all beckon over the horizon, brought ever nearer as a result of this very research. Certainly Judaism must have a plethora of insights, if not an exact response to one of the most pressing social issues of the day.

In Judaism, there is no central address for Jewish concerns, as much as we might desire or need one. Historically there was a Sanhedrin, but there is no one central authority today. Each group within Jewry recognizes its own self-selected leadership as its chosen authorities. At the most minute level, each synagogue selects its own mara d'atra, or local rabbinic authority for its rabbinic leadership.

On that basis, I share my thoughts and insights with the general reader, offering a modestly coherent glimpse into a halachic determination of the ethics of embryonic stem cell research. This endeavor is based on the grounding assumption that all of life's questions and answers are to be found in the Torah- both oral and written, and that Judaism has tremendously powerful insights for the human condition. While ethicists debate the relative pros and cons of the issue, the halachic determination is not based on relativity, but on principles and precedents in the Jewish legal tradition. The Torah, Judaism's main source and principle proof text, provides enormous halachic insights to those who might seek the Divine perspective on the topical concerns and moral dilemmas of every age. The search may or may not yield the results we most readily agree with, yet we are duty bound to take responsibility for the human condition and thus ally Torah with mankind's inexorable quest towards the spiritual perfection of the world.

Judaism has traditionally seen science and medicine to be fundamentally allied with G*d's desire for mankind to work in a Divine partnership to improve on the foundation of the Creation found in Genesis. "Be holy, for I am holy." To emulate G*d, is itself a Divine command. As G*d sent His angels to cure and alleviate Abraham's suffering from his Brit Milah, or Covenant of Circumcision, so too is it a mitzvah to heal the sick. Moreover, with three exceptions- the exceptions being idolatry, immorality and murder, one is mandated by Jewish law to set aside any other law in order to save a life.

The mandate to saving human lives is foundational. That being said, one can then rightly ask if the taking of embryonic stem cells, which destroys the embryo in the very process, is tantamount to murder, thus ending the debate right there.Thus we beg the question of when does human life begin. Instructive is the question of fetal prerogatives and at what point on the spectrum are those rights inviolable? Tractate Niddah (BT 30a -see Rashi on "eyno nichshevet livlad" there) is determinant for positing that embryos are not considered completed (let alone viable) before 40 days. They are considered as water- maya be'alma (see BT Yevamot 69b as well as Rashi on BT Bechorot 21b). And the embryos to be harvested for their stem cells are only days old, not weeks. The stem cell debate stands apart from the cloning debate as well as from the abortion debate. That being stated outright, nevertheless we can still make comparisons where applicable.

While abortion for its own sake is forbidden, authorities hold that up until birth the mother's life takes precedence where the pregnancy may pose a danger to the mother. The fetus has the status of a pursuer (rodef), and thus may be terminated (BT Sanhedrin 72b). The foundation text for the basic difference in status between a fetus and a live person is found in the Torah: Exodus 21:22-23. A mere monetary penalty follows the accidental loss of the fetus in contrast with manslaughter, where the killer is exiled and can be killed by a relative of the victim if found outside a designated refuge. So here instructively are the parameters of the issue.

Before birth, by Jewish law, the fetus once formed has the status of potential life, but is not considered fully a life. Before forty days, while to be cherished for its potentiality as a life, it has no judiciary status to even generate a monetary penalty in case of accidental miscarriage. That is not to say it lacks any sense of gravitas. Even onanism, the intentional wasting of seed, which is proscibed in Jewish law, is "likened" by some (keilu -similar but not identical) to committing murder (BT Niddah 13a - quoting Rav Yitzchak and Rav Ami). But that is not to say that the wasted seed has the status of human life with due legal protection. The emphasis is on the "wasting" of the seed, not the seed itself.

So now the prohibition against wanton destruction/wasting (bal tashchit) becomes relevant. Just as the commandment to "be fruitful and multiply" is facilitated in the course of fertility treatments, so too the discarding of the multiple embryos generated as a byproduct of such treatments should not be condoned as it would be a violation of bal tashchit. See Maimonides' Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim - the Laws of Kings, 6:10, for his treatment of Deuteronomy 20:19. As the Torah forbids pointless destruction when laying siege to a city in the wanton destruction of her fruit trees, Maimonides extends the prohibition to wanton destruction in general. So the concept of wasting perfectly good embryos, which were created for a good purpose, becomes now the focus of the discussion.

End of life halacha informs the debate on the beginning of life. As the Igrot Moshe (Rabbi Moshe Feinstein) finds that extraordinary measures are not required to save a life, but once life support is attached it is forbidden to detach it, so too the notion of womb implantation as a veritable "life-support" would act as the determinant for a "hands off" demarcation vis a vis interfering with the natural course of events. Thus there is no fear of a slippery slope. The halacha thus offers firm points of determination for human intervention.

Broad fears of the devaluation of human life fade when shown the promise of new life and new cures to be found. While an embryo not yet forty days old even while implanted in a womb is not viewed in the halachic literature as having the status of an independent life entity, how much more so ("al achat kama vekama") neither would be one not yet even implanted in a womb.

But indeed there need be parameters, for anything good may yet be abused. In the worthy quest we have outlined we must rightly affirm boundaries lest life itself be devalued. In the scenario where multiple embryos are created as a "byproduct" of fertilization treatments, a "bidi avad" situation presents itself. However worthy the experiment's outcome, it is one thing to find a way to ethically deal with a problem that presents itself before us ("bedi avad") in the pursuit of a mitzvah. It is quite another to put oneself purposely in that situation ("lechatchila") when other alternatives are clearly available.

Using specially created embryos on a large scale would cause the neglect, disposal and wanton destruction of countless pre-exiting embryos. This type of causal relationship is called "gramma." Those who engaged in it would be aiding others in violating "bal tashchit." Thus any medical breakthroughs would properly fall under the rubric of "mitzvah haba'ah ba'averah", or the problematic and unlawful fulfilling of one mitzvah through the transgression of another (the issur -prohibition, of using a stolen lulav or sukkah comes readily to mind).

The rabbinic distinctions between lechatchila and bidi avad ("what situation can we create" vs. "what situation lies before us") are very real and valid, informing vast areas of the halachic literature in determining what is allowable and what is forbidden. And now that we have these embryos in our hands as a byproduct of the mitzvah of "p'ru u'revu" (procreation), what course of action necessarily follows? If these embryos should not be discarded, then we may rightly ask what should be done with them? As it has been determined that they have the potential to either become life once attached to a womb, were they to be adopted, or to lead to cures as stated above, either life-affirming option should be followed.

In summary, the Torah's imperative to "choose life," so firmly entrenched in the Jewish psyche, clearly establishes both the desire for fertility treatments as well as a natural inclination to be predisposed to harness the byproducts of such treatments in the pursuit of worthy life-saving medical goals. But while the overall goals are valid, a disregard for the sanctity of life itself must be avoided at all costs. To stray outside of the parameters outlined above, to create even potential life for the sake of science, for a less cumbersome and cluttered route to otherwise worthy goals, is to allow man to let his hubris cloud his proper ethical judgment. As the Torah's dictum of "tzedek tzedek tirdof," is understood as the proper attainment of justice through just means, so too in our case we must use careful guidelines so as to attain worthy goals but only via worthy means. May the Kadosh Baruch Hu grant us the wisdom and humility to choose wisely as a new dawn of discovery rushes up around us.

© 2001 by Rabbi Baruch Melman.

VA'ETCHANAN - THE HEART OF HEAVEN; SHABBAT NACHAMU

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

"...the mountain was burning with a fire reaching the heart of heaven..."(Deut. 4:11)"

....VEHAHAR BOER BA'AISH AD LEV HASHAMAYIM...

"When you give your heart to someone, you've touched heaven."

I call heaven and earth as witnesses for you today...." (Deut.4:26)

"HA'IDOTI VACHEM HAYOM ET HASHAMAYIM V'ET HA'ARETZ..."

Aretz and Shamayim, the earth and the heavens, are the witnesses at Sinai, brought together to give testimony to the theophany- the Divine Revelation. G*d's Revelation of the Divine Light was seen through the fire at the covenantal meeting point between Hashem and Israel. TheAlef and The Shin, the first letters of each word, aretz and shamayim, (earth and heavens), together spell AISH, meaning fire.

Aretz is the material world, while Shamayim represents the spiritual world. Fire is the middle mix, the connecting medium between the physical and spiritual worlds. The yahrzeit candle speaks to this idea, uniting in consciousness the souls of the departed and the living. Just as a flame represents the soul of man, fire represents the coming together of heaven and earth.What is the soul's mission on earth but to be the contact point between G*d and the material world, transforming the dross of mundanity to unfold the image of the Divine Creator through acts of kindness and love. When a Jew is called "a varmer yid," it means that his soul is on fire, a fire whose flames reach up to the heart of heaven to bring down on this ladder of fire an aspect of the Divine Light with which to illuminate the world. G*d blessed our holy fathers that their descendants should be like the stars of the heavens and like the sands of the sea. What this means is not that we would be a numerous nation, because in this week's parsha it says (Deut.7:7):

"...you are among the smallest of nations....KIATEM HAM'AT MIKALL HA'AMIM."

Rather our destiny is to unite the upper worlds with the lower strata. We live on two planes of existence at once, with our feet a little bit in heaven and a little bit on earth. How do we reenact this Sinai event in our lives? How do we restore this consciousness of holy fire in our lives?

Shabbos. We bring in the Shabbos with holy fire and we take leave of Shabbos with holy fire. And in between these fires burns the essence of the Divine light, which, like the NerTamid, we keep lit constantly all through the week. Now Israel is compared to the bush which was not consumed. Just as G*d spoke to Moses from out of the burning bush, so too He spoke to Israel from out of the fire:

" Then G*d spoke to you from out of the fire....VAYIDABER HASHEM ALEICHEM MITOCH HA'AISH....(Deut. 4:12)."

We must understand that G*d's fire is burning everyday, His Divine light is constantly renewing itself in creation. The sun's light is always shining-even on a rainy day, if you go above the clouds. We only hear the still small voice above the licking of the flames when we stop to listen.

The ketubah of Israel, the holy marriage contract between G*d and Israel at Sinai, was written in fire which went up to the heart of heaven. So too a husband and wife must see kindled within themselves a holy fire, G*d's Divine essence. And if each sees in the other a heart of heaven, then they together will be bathed in Divine light without being burned by the fire. It is a terrifying fire. It is a terrible fire, a fire which destroyed the Holy Temples of Yerushalayim. The holy cherubs above the Holy Ark locked in holy embrace even as the flames licked all around them.

And when allIsrael sees in his fellow Jew a heart of heaven, then the flames which once offered sweet incense in G*d's Holy Abode will be rekindled once again and bathe the world in THE LIGHT THAT IS ALWAYS SHINING.

Shabbat Shalom. Good Shabbos.
© 2000 - 2007 by Rabbi Baruch Melman

This Torah thought is written in honor of the memory
of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman. ob"m,
Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Yaakov Hakohen Melman, z"l.

Chabibi is short for Chidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua
(CHaBiBbYY)

See my blog for a more comprehensive collection of my
writing journal. Go to http://www.seferchabibi.blogspot.com/

Dedications are available.
Contact me privately.

My band, NIGGUN, is available for all occasions.
Only simchas please.
I played violin with Rabbi Carlebach for nine years,
in over 300 concerts and learnings.
Contact me at niggun@aol.com

Thursday, July 19, 2007

DEVARIM - HOW DO YOU SAY ELEVEN?

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman:



How do you say "eleven?"

Usually in Hebrew we say either echad asar or achat esreh. In parshat Devarim we say yet another variation:

"(Deut 1:3) VAYEHI BE-ARBAIM SHANA BE-ASHTEI ASAR CHODESH"

"...AND IT CAME TO PASS IN THE FORTIETH YEAR IN THE ELEVENTH MONTH..."

"ASHTEI ASAR CHODESH" - the eleventh month.

This is a unique usage. Why doesn't the Torah use standard Hebrew for the word eleven? Because it may likely be a clue for our generation, the generation which saw (and possibly squandered) the miracle of the redemption in our day. The number "eleven" is intended to stand out, as it was to be related in perpetuity to the challenge confronting our civilization in the Age of Redemption.

The generation of the Exodus parallels our own generation in its saga of deliverance, its hesitant acknowledgement of same bordering on repudiation, and finally, forty years later- the denouement of its redemption as the people boldly cross over the Jordan to occupy their Land.

The modern day scourge of terror debuted most strikingly with the murder of the eleven Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich. And it reached its most recent crescendo with the terror attacks of September the eleventh.The number eleven is thus forever linked to the challenge facing redemption. Even Yosef, harbinger of the Salvation of Israel and their future redemption from Egypt (and Mashiach Ben Yosef of the ultimate future redemption) found himself challenged by the number eleven in his dreams. He found himself stuffed in a pit and sold into slavery over the number eleven!

But not only is the number eleven telling. Most striking is its special spelling: Ayin, Shin, Taf and Yud- AShTeY. This alludes to the territorial challenge which Israel faces today. Mirroring the lexicon of modern Israel's alphabet politics, Ayin stands for Aza (Gaza). Shin stands for Shomron (Samaria). Yud stands for Yehudah (Judaea). But what does the Taf stand for? The Taf stands for Tel-Aviv!

But why Tel Aviv? Why would the holy Torah in its compulsive eternal relevance deem it worthy to foreshadow seemingly UNholy Tel Aviv? Fun city. The antiJerusalem. It didn't even yet exist until the 20th century!

Because our enemies tell us that locale makes no difference in their goal to eradicate the Jewish presence from all of the Land of Israel, that there is no difference whether a Jew is living in Gaza or Tel Aviv or Judaea or Samaria. To our enemies it is all the same. It's all or nothing! No matter how much or how often we offer land for peace, their answer is always the same. All or nothing.

But our enemies are only telling us that because we refuse to listen to the Torah which tells us that the Land of Israel is meant for the People of Israel. If we, the Jewish people do not proclaim to the world that the Land of Israel belongs in perpetuity to the People of Israel, then others will arise who will challenge our right to be in Israel. And they are doing it now. But in this era of post Zionist malaise we don't proclaim our eternal connection to Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, because we are full of safek, of doubt. Amalek, whose name in gematria numerologically equals doubt, has scored again. We are unsure and afraid. Afraid of taking responsibility for our unique destiny.

The parsha then recapitulates the episode of the spies, how the Land was wide open before them but the people became afraid when they sent spies who made them fearful when they reported that others were also inhabiting it.

"(Deut 1:21) RE'EH NATAN HASHEM ELOKECHA ET HA'ARETZ ALEH RESH.. "

"SEE! G*D GAVE YOU THE LAND! GO UP AND OCCUPY IT!"

But they became fearful and wanted to go back to Egypt. It thus took forty years of wandering to finally allow the miracle of the Exodus to come to its fruition. But even once they had crossed over, the Torah even emphasizes that the realization of Israel's settlement on the Land would come in stages- not all at once. This was stated in parshat Mishpatim,

"(Ex 23:30): MI'AT MI'AT AGARASHENU MIPANECHA AD ASHER TIFREH V'NACHALTA ET HA'ARETZ."

"LITTLE BY LITTLE I WILL DRIVE THEM OUT, GIVING YOU TIME TO INCREASE AND SETTLE THE LAND. "

Again and again we see how this ancient text parallels Israel's modern day narrative -in spite of itself. At every juncture where Israel sued for peace and was willing to accept permanent borders no matter how miniscule, the Arabs pressed for continued warfare and ended up each time with diminished territory. As the late statesman, Abba Eban, opined, "the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity." Perhaps it was preordained that their obstinancy should contribute to and proceed apace with Israel's aggrandizement.

But how could we by any stretch of the imagination link the current Arab residents of the territories with the Canaanites of yore, one might ask incredulously?

The Torah explicitly condemns Canaanite society for their Moloch worship, for an immorality which was defined by a culture that was steeped in the worship of fillicide and child sacrifice. There is no greater parallel to this in the annals of humanity than what we see taking place today in Palestinian Arab society. It is a society that worships child immolation. Call it martyrdom or murder, any society whose people and leadership celebrate the death of children and pregnant women who are sent forth to intentionally massacre innocent civilians (dark shades of cursed Amalek)- be they the elderly, pregnant women, or even other children, is immoral and loses any and all legitimacy. And they who espouse it are voted democratically into power!

Posters, playing cards, children's television and polls all point to validating the same societal death worship. And according to the Torah, what price will Israel pay for not driving out the inhabitants? Terrorism! In last week's parsha- Massei, it says:

(Num: 33:55): "If you do not drive out the land's inhabitants (generic) from before you, those who remain shall be BARBS IN YOUR EYES AND THORNS IN YOUR SIDES, causing you troubles in the land that you reside." If that isn't terrorism, what is? See the hospital x-rays of embedded nails and screws in the skulls and stomachs of the hapless passersby of yesterday's last intifada (soaked in rat poison) and today's ball-bearing filled kassams.

In other words, as the Palestinian Arab society continues its descent into the craven worship of barbarism, terror and anarchy, it courts tragedy upon itself as it invites its imminent dissolution, in spite of Israel's persistent overtures and offers of land for peace.

The 1967 Six Day War revealed once and for all the magnificence of Israel's Divine Providence and destiny. Her secular leadership has scorned and mocked the miraculous aspect of her survival. To think that such a stunning victory was by man's hand alone is equally stunning in its manifest hubris and arrogance. And then to revive the land for peace initiatives with those who vow to destroy you and who persist in indoctrinating their children with hatred, smacks of the definition of insanity - i.e., doing the same thing repeatedly yet expecting different results.

One day eleven will be a good number again. As Yosef's eleven brother's eventually came to accept his leadership once his dreams were fulfilled and revealed to all, so too will the world eventually come to see the reborn nation of Israel as the holy nation that it is meant to be - but only once we ourselves have the eyes to see ourselves as holy and meritorious. We cannot see our destiny for we are besotted by crass secularism, materialism and guilt. Only when the mask falls off will our eyes be opened so we can see our true selves. When we take pride in our heritage and unapologetically embrace the Torah which preserved us for millenia will the nations that now mock and scorn us come to appreciate our unique destiny and celebrate our survival.

Our parsha is teaching us that the Land is as holy as the Sabbath and the Torah and the People of Israel are holy:

"(Deut 1:8) Come, RESHU ET HA'ARETZ - "occupy" the land (in the eyes of the Torah it's ALL occupied territory!) that G*d swore he would give to your fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - and to their descendants after them."

That we feel we may be lacking in holiness is not a defect in our potential but in our present awareness. So too we must become aware of the sanctity of the Land of Israel and of our legitimate Divine right to lay claim to it as an inheritance for all generations. In fear of the criticism of the nations who only wish us dead, we spurned the gift with which our Creator has blessed us. Our Oslo nightmare began only once we formalized our intent to relinquish the gift. In spite of our stiff-necked relentless efforts for peace at any price, our enemies say that it's all or nothing. It makes no difference whether the Jews are in Tel Aviv or in Jerusalem. "They ALL must go," say their poets and leaders (in Arabic), "and take their dead with them." Not a trace should remain. All or nothing. What is compromise but a decadent western import, a sign of weakness, shame and humiliation. Ashtey Asar. Even Tel Aviv.

All or nothing. Us or them, apparently. For one day, at the dawn of the eschaton, all the nations of the world will come up to the Land of Israel and ascend His holy mountain, holy Mount Zion, and sing His praises. But that will not happen until the other meaning of Ashtei becomes manifest in reality. Not merely that the Arab world's goal is the entire patrimony of Israel, but rather that only the unity of Israel is the trigger for our final redemption. For only when all our hearts will beat as one and we see each other as true brothers of the same father in heaven will we be really worthy of redemption.

Shabbat Shalom

Sefer Chabibi. Copyright 1999-2007 by Rabbi Baruch Melman.

This Torah was written in honor of the memory of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, obm,
Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Yaakov Hakohen Melman, z"l.

Dedications of these writings are available. Please contact me privately.

My band, Niggun, is available for simchas and performances.
I may be reached at niggun@aol.com

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

ROSH CHODESH AV - a fixing for the 9 days

Friends, as the sin of the generation of the Bayit Sheni (Second Temple) was Sinat Chinam, Causeless Hatred, which the sages teach led to the Destruction and exile, here is a story that points the way to our redemption...

as related by Ilan Meister...

"This is my own Holy Hunchback story. It may have been a simple coincidence, but I like to think it was my encounter with Eliyahu Hanavi (the Prophet Elijah). I was at a vulnerable time in my life when this story happened. Driving home one day in Toronto, I was listening to Reb Shlomo's story "The HolyHunchback" on the tape deck in my car. Here's what happened. As only Reb Shlomo could tell, I listened with a smile on my face to his beautiful words as follows:

In the Warsaw ghetto there was a Rebbe, the heiliger Reb Kalonimus Kalman (Schapiro). He wrote a book, Aish Kodesh, and knowing prophetically that he would not survive, he put the manuscript under one of the stones in the ghetto where it was found after the war. He had a yeshiva not of young people but of children. He was accustomed to say, "My followers eat on Yom Kippur. You know why-they are not bar mitzvah yet." A great Rabbi would come to him, or an old man and a little girl of four or five. He would say to the older man, "You'll make it without me. This child needs me." With older people he would spend five minutes; with children all night. He had thousands of kids. He was their father, their mother, their best friend. After the war, there was nobody left. My whole life I was hoping and dreaming to see one of these people. A few years ago I was walking on the Yarkon in Tel Aviv and I saw a hunchback - a street cleaner.

Do you know that sometimes we are all little prophets? Our heart tells us something. I had a feeling this person was special. He was a real hunchback. His face was very handsome, but every part of his body was disfigured. And I said to him. "Hey, shalom aleichem my friend."And he answered me in a very heavy Polish-Yiddish Hebrew, "Aleichem shoolum." I said to him in Yiddish, "Mein zeisse yid, my sweet yiddele, where are you from?" He said, "I'm from Peshineschte." I said "Peshineschte. Gevalt! Did you ever see Reb Klonimus Kalman?" "What do you mean, did I ever see him? I was a student in his yeshiva from the age of five to eleven. I was in Auschwitz for five years. I was eleven when I got there. They thought I was seventeen; I was so strong. They beat me up so much I never healed. That's why I look this way. I have nobody in the whole world, really nobody," I said to him, "You know something- my whole life I have been waiting to meet one of the students of Reb KIonimus Kalman. Would you be so kind as to give me over one of his teachings?" He kept on sweeping the street, "You really think that after five years in Auschwitz, I remember the teachings?" I said, "Yes-the words of the heileger Rebbe penetrate you forever." He stopped sweeping. He looked at me and said, "Do you really want to know?" He touched me so deeply and although you shouldn't swear, I said to him "I swear to you, and I mean it with all my heart, that whatever you tell me I shall tell all over the world." You know he was a real chasidisher Yid, so he put the broom against a wall and went to wash his hands.

And this is what he said: "There will never be a Shabbos as by my holy master, my heiliger Rebbe. Can you imagine -hundreds, sometimes thousands of young people dancing with the holy rebbe in the middle. What a sightl Not until Meshiach is coming. Can you imagine the Rebbe making kiddush sitting with hundreds of children with so much holiness! He gave over teachings between the fish and the soup, between the soup and the meat, between the meat and the dessert and after every teaching, he would always say, "Kinderlach, taire kindertach, my most precious children, gedenkst shon, remember, die greste sach in die velt ist, tun emetzin a tova."

~Now, as Shlomo is telling over this beautiful story, as I'm listening intently to it, driving down a street in Toronto that was as familiar to me as the back of my hand, I noticed out of the corner of my eye none otherthan a hunchback! I'm not talking about an old man with bad posture. I'm talking about an old man so bent over that he is crossing the street and his back is so arched that he can't lift his head up enough to see in front of him. He is completely looking at the ground and he is crossing a street. He is on the other side of the road, walking the other way. So, without thinking I pull into the first street, turn around and follow him into a small plaza and I park the car. In my mind, I'm thinking that this is not something I would normally do, but this is too strange to be a coincidence.There must be some kind of message. G-d is sending me a messenger of some sort and I need to find out what its all about. Again, I'm not the type that would normally jump at something like this. Maybe it was Shlomo's influence. Maybe it was just one of those things. I believe that G-d sends us messages all the time. He is looking out for us. The question is: Are our eyes open? Are our ears open? Are our hearts open? Are we ready to see, hear and feel what G-d is trying to tell us?

Now at this point, I had no plan. I figured that it would all become clear if I just go and talk to this old man. So, I park the car, just as Reb Shlomo quotes the hunchback, who quotes Reb Klonimus: "Kinderlach, taire kindertach, my most precious children, gedenkst shon, remember, die greste sach in die velt ist, tun emetzin a tova."I don't speak or understand Yiddish, so I have no clue what is being said at this point. Anyways, I get out of the car and approach the man who is standing now in front of a Dry Cleaners. It's Sunday, so the store is closed. I said Hello to the man and asked him if there is anything I can help him with."Is this store open," he asks, in a thick Jewish accent."No, I'm sorry, it's not. It says here that they are closed on Sunday. They open tomorrow at 7:00." "Thank you young man," he says. "I'll come back then." And he begins to walk away."Can I offer you a ride home? It's cold out." I call after him, thinking that there must be more to this." No," he says. "Thank G-d, I still have the use of my legs. I'd prefer to walk while I still can." And he continues on his way. I am getting discouraged that this could be the end of our encounter. But, as I'm thinking of what else I can say to keep the conversation going, the old man turns around and asks me if I know where he can find a restroom. I point out that the only place open is a small deli in the plaza and I offer to walk him in. I bring him in to the restaurant and ask the waitress if there is a bathroom that this elderly man could use. She looks at him and tells me that there is a customers' restroom but that it is down a very steep and narrow staircase and that it might be dangerous for him. I told her that its okay - I will help him down the stairs and wait for him to help him back up again and that is what I did. Afterwards, as the man is thanking me, I'm still thinking that I have to keep this going as I have yet to understand why I saw a hunchback at this particular time and why I stopped to find him. He refuses my ride home again, continuing to thank me for my time and my help. Unfulfilled, I say "Shalom Aeichem" and, as G-d is my witness, he replies "Aleichem Shulom" in his thick Yiddish accent. That puts a smile on my face as I head back to my car, trying to figure out what to make of this whole encounter.

As I'm thinking that maybe it was just a coincidence, I start the car and the tape continues where I left off, with Reb Shlomo about to translate the words of the Warsaw Rebbe from Yiddish:~ "Children, precious children," he sings. "Just remember the greatest thing in the world is to do somebody else a favor."And with that, the message was clear as day! I had just helped this man by doing a favor for him. A small favor, but a favor none-the-less. Something I would not have been able to do had I not stopped the car and followed him. Yes, it was simple, so simple yet so important.

As the Holy Hunchback continues to explain...

~ When I came to Auschwitz, I knew my whole family had been killed and I wanted to kill myself. Each time I was about to, I suddenly heard the Rebbe's voice saying to me, "Gedenkst shon, the greatest thing in the worldis to do somebody else a favor." Do you know how many favors you do inAuschwitz late at night? People dying, people crying; nobody had the strength even to listen to their stories anymore. I would be up all night. A few weeks later I wanted to kill myself again but always at the last moment I'd hear my Rebbe's voice. Now I'm here in Tel Aviv, but believe me, I'm all alone. There are moments when I decide to commit suicide. I go into the sea until the water reaches my nose. Then suddenly I hear my Rebbe's voice again and I just can't permit myself to do it and I run back to the streets. Do you know how many favors you can do on the street?" My friends, this was before Rosh Hashana. After Succos I came back to Israel and the first morning I went to the Yarkon and I asked the people on that street corner where the hunchback was. They said he died on the second day of Succos. Listen to me, my beautiful friends, when the Meshiach comes, when all the holy people will come back to the world and the holy hunchback, the holy street cleaner will come back. He will clean the streets of the world. Do you know how he will clean the world? He will go from one corner of theworld to the other and he will say, "Yiddelach, gedenkst shon, the greatest thing in the world is to do somebody else a favor."

~And the story ends. I stopped the tape, and thought about it the rest of the way home. Then I parked in my driveway, rewound the tape and listened to the story again. I realized a few things:

1. Reb Shlomo said "Do you know that sometimes we are all little prophets? Our heart tells us something. I had a feeling this person was special." How true this was in my short encounter with My Holy Hunchback.

2. Reb Shlomo swore to the Holy Hunchback in his story that if he would just tell him something from the teachings of Reb Klonimus Kalman, "thatwhatever you tell me I shall tell all over the world." And this he did in his concerts and to everyone he met and in his tapes and CDs that are distributed all across the globe.

3. Well, the simple message got to me and straightened my whole life up. Ipromised myself that this would become my mantra. To do favors for others,without expecting anything in return. We're all in this crazy world together, with the sole purpose of serving G-d. Although that purpose isn't clear to most of us most of the time, a small act of kindness that could mean just a few minutes of your time could mean the world to a friend or a stranger and certainly means the world to G-d.

** Believe it or not, there's more! A couple of years after my meeting with My Holy Hunchback, My Personal Eliyahu Hanavi, a terrible thing happened inIsrael, that I never would have connected to my story, were it not for myfriendship with Reb Shlomo's daughter, Neshama. My wife and I were planning a trip to be in New York and Neshama invited usfor Friday night dinner. A few days before our trip, Neshama called us to cancel. She was very distraught and in no mood to entertain guests. The reason for her mood was the horrible murder of Aish Kodesh Gilmore, a childhood acquaintance of hers from Moshav Modiin in Israel. We gave her our condolences and asked her if anyone would be with her for Shabbos. She said she would be alone. I told her that it was not time to be alone and that we want to be her shoulders to cry on. I took the liberty of inviting her to join us at a friend's place nearby instead and she agreed. After dinner, we had some time to talk and she told us a little about Aish Kodesh. She explained how he got his name...

Aish Kodesh is the name of a sefer, a book written by none other than Rav Klonimus Kalman of Piasezna. It was then that I remembered from the beginning of the Holy Hunchback Story, that Reb Shlomo recommended that very book. Reb Shlomo studied the book together with a chavrusa (a learning partner). When that man had a son, he named him Aish Kodesh and this was the young man who was killed by an Arab terrorist in Israel. Neshama also told us how he was killed. It turns out that he was posted as a guard at a certain government building in Jerusalem. When another guard from the main entrance needed to go to the bathroom, he asked Aish Kodesh to man his post. Aish Kodesh left his spot upstairs to take his friend's spot at the main entrance, and it was while this soldier was in the bathroom that the terrorist walked in and shot Aish Kodesh and another guard in the head.It was a grievous loss for all of Israel, and a shock that this could happen.

The next day, we went to The Carlebach Shul in Manhattan. There was a sense of simcha of joy there as on every Shabbos, but something was missing as the whole Carlebach community especially mourned this horrible loss. When the Rabbi got up to speak, he did something unusual. He pulled from his pocket a letter of gratitude from the family of Aish Kodesh for all the wishes of condolences and kindness that they received from New York. The family set an incredible example with this letter, mourning their loss but at the same time putting life into perspective with their strength in their belief in Hashem and that Aish Kodesh died "Al Kidush Hashem" sanctifying G-d's (name). I realized then that it all came together. Aish Kodesh not only died protecting his country as so many soldiers have done for our G-d given land. He also died doing what his name sake called "the greatest thing in the world" - doing somebody else a favor. Good Shabbos!" Ilan Meister

Thursday, July 12, 2007

YAHRZEIT OF MY FATHER 27 TAMMUZ

Melman, Israel J., 82, on July 7, 2002 .

He will be remembered for his good deeds. He was a giant among men. Of Tamarac, Florida, previously of Lexington, Ma. and New York. A pioneer in the many electronic developments of the 20th century. During WW2 he was a radar instructor at Yale and at Scott Field, Illinois, where he taught the new radar technology to officers and pilots. Following the war, he helped develop color television and was on the Federal Color Television Standards Commission. He was a senior member ofthe IEEE. In the fifties he worked with infrared technologies, crucial to the nascent space program and its satellite navigation systems. In the sixties he was instrumental in developing facsimile transmission technology. In the seventies and eighties he was a pioneer in information technologies and computer infomatics, later becoming the internet. He helped many technology entrepreneurs as their mentor and advisor. He was a man of few wasted words, placing a premium on strict ethics, rigorous thought, generosity and kindness. He was reared in the discipline of musar by his father, Rabbi Jacob Melman, z"l, a musmach of the Mir Yeshiva in Mir and a leader in the "pre-war" NY Jewish community, and who was also a personal friend of the Chafetz Chaim. He valued and loved his family.

MATOT - MASEI - THE SPOKEN WORD, THE VALIANT NAME

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

The spoken word is sacred.

The parsha opens with an admonition to the tribal heads to tell the people that they must keep their oaths and not break their word. Immediately thereafter it deals with vows made by a woman, and their possible annulment by her husband or father. How do these ideas connect?

The linkage is the concept of shalom bayit- peace in the home. Peace on the macro level and peace on the micro level. Both the national home and the domestic home. Peace in the individual home between husband and wife, and peace in the House of Israel between the tribes.

This concept of peace and tranquility begins to break down when people don't keep the promises that they made- whether under the chuppah of their own wedding or Israel's National Chuppah (between Israel and the Shechinah, G*d's Divine Presence) at Sinai. When either spouse puts his or her personal interests above that of the union, then the harmony and peace within the family begins to unravel. The covenant of the holy bond must be stronger than the private interests of either party.

Peace within the nation ofIsrael similarly begins to break down when various factions- the "tribes ofIsrael," appear to put their own personal interests above that of the national well-being. In Numbers 30: 3, in the context of the laws of vows, it says: K'CHAWL HAYOTZEI MIPIV YA'ASEH- "he must do as he says," in the singular. And then a bit further it uses similar phraseology in the context of the desires of the tribes, Reuben and Gad, to settle the TransJordan (East Bank), away from the other tribes who were to be settled in CisJordan (West Bank). In Numbers 32:24 it says: VEHAYOTZAI MIPICHEM TA'ASU - "and as you say so shall you do," in the plural. Same verb (Y-TZ-A). Whether plural or singular, whether for individuals or for larger corporate entities (eg. tribes), the law is the same. No exceptions. It is seen as a great sin not to keep one's word.

Interestingly, we contrast two petitioners in this double parsha, one a family and one a tribal consortium: the daughters of Tzelaphchad, and the Reubenites and Gaddites and "half" of the Mannasites respectively. Both petition regarding land inheritance. Both ask for emendations to the original terms of allotment. But what's the difference between them? The request of the daughters was accepted "as is." The request of the tribes was not.

They tribes had phrased their request one way, but G*d acceeded to it with a switch. They said that they would build GIDROT TZON (enclosures for their sheep) and ARIM LETAPEINU (cities for our children). G*d allows their request but reverses the order: (Numbers 32:24) B'NU LACHEM ARIM LETAPCHEM U'GDEROT L'TZONA'ACHEM V'HAYOTZAI MIPICHEM TA'ASU : " Build for yourselves cities for your children and enclosures for your sheep- but keep your word." That is, HONOR THE VOW you made to your brethren to fight with them, and put your children's welfare above that of your financial/economic interests. First come your children. And only then come the sheep. Honor the vow you made by agreeing to the words of the shema and ve'ahavta , VESHINANTAM LEVANECHA, that you will teach your children Torah. If you're too busy with the sheep, who's going to teach them Torah? Don't outsource morality!

Why no addendums to the daughters' request? Because it was rooted in loyalty to all the generations. It was borne of a desire to honor their father's memory and therefore their children's welfare was implicitly assured. Where the tribes' request was rooted in economics, no familial fealty was inherently assured.

And so we come full circle linking the themes of this double parsha.. We see a connection between the daughters of Tzelaphchad in the last words of Massai, and the laws of vow annulment in the first words of Mattot. The specific merits of the daughters of Tzelaphchad are writ large in general for all the holy daughters of Israel. And that is why the tribes must be told to "keep their word," but not the"daughters." It is beyond imagination to suspect a daughter not to "keep her word" to honor her father or not to "keep her word" to care for her child above all else. The holy daughters of Israel inherently keep their word. No one need tell them they must.

And how fitting to conclude all of Sefer Bamidbar with the daughters. And now they are named!

Were the daughters of Noah named? Were the daughters of Lot named? It's as if only when the women assert their rightful power and press their rightful claims does the Torah validate them by recognizing them by name. Sefer Bamidbar (The Book of Numbers) starts with a census of mere numbers but ends with a recognition of righteous and holy names!

Finally, when the two and a half tribes ask permission to settle on the east bank, they impose upon themselves a special condition: (Numbers 32:17): VA'ANACHNU NE-CHALETZ CHUSHIM LIFNAY B'NAI YISRAEL... " and we shall place ourselves at the VANGUARD (CH-L-TZ -chalutz) of the children of Israel." In other words, as a special act of obligation and commitment to their brethren, they vow to place themselves FIRST, ahead of their brethren, in the tribes' quest to acquire their inheritance. It's about inheritance. Whether the Daughters of Tzelaphchad's inheritance, or the tribal inheritance of the land of Israel.

Interestingly, when a brother refuses to honor his brother's memory by not marrying his brother's childless wife to name the first born (VANGUARD) of her womb in memory of the deceased brother, the ceremony where he is shamed for not doing his familial levirite duty is called the CHALITZAH ceremony. Because it's all about inheritance. That his deceased brother shall have a NAME in the LAND. For fraternal disloyalty he is disgraced. The name of the ceremony itself carries the weight of the burdens of an ancient pledge, the faint reverberating echoes of an ancient vow.

Shabbat Shalom.

copyright 1999-2007 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman.

This Torah thought was written to honor the memory of my beloved father whose yahrzeit is this week, Tammuz 27, Israel J. Melman, obm, Yisrael Yehoshua ben HaRav Yaakov Hakohen Melman. His name was great in the land, and he always kept his word. May his neshama have the greatest aliyah.

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Dedications of these writings are available. Please contact me privately at niggun@aol.com.

Friday, July 6, 2007

PINCHAS - BLESSINGS OF PEACE

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman


At the end of last week's Parshat Balak, we see Pinchas rising to the occasion, firmly and directly putting an end to the plague by his bold and forthright action. In contrast, Israel's tribal elders were seemingly beset by tears, self-doubt and paralysis. Pinchas followed Zimri and Kozbi into the inner chamber, spear in hand, where he dispatched them through the groin. The Hebrew reveals the deeper meanings. Balak says to Bilaam (Num 23:24): "if you can't curse them, at least don't bless them." In Hebrew this is expressed as "gam KoV lo tiKaVenu gam barech lo tivarchenu." Also the word for groin and inner chamber both share the same Hebrew letters as curse-KuBah (inner chamber) and KuBah (groin). This is hinting to us that Israel's inner chamber - the home, must remain pure from immorality for Hashem's deepest blessings to adhere.

Thus with curse and cult we see a linkage. Israel's curse is activated by an abuse of the sexual in the service of the Moabite Baal Peor cult. Moab's aetiology as based in the incestuous immorality of its origins vis a vis Lot and his daughters, now serves to fuel and justify its cultic immorality. Thus only spearing through the KuBaH (groin) could stanch the plague/curse. In fact the word for spear itself, in Hebrew, is RoMaCH, an anagram of the very word for mercy(RaCheM). Perhaps this is to teach us that true mercy at times requires harsh measures.

More pointedly, the text alludes to a seeming vacillation of the elders as they stood crying (Ramban, Sanhedrin 82a). Or as Ibn Ezra states, they cried out in prayer. Bachya says they cried because the plague had begun, whereas Chizkuni holds that they cried because they had been commanded to take lives. Whatever the reasons, Pinchas perhaps interprets their crying as indecision and takes firm action, as G*d demands. For his action he is rewarded with the B'rithi Shalom, the "My Covenant of Peace." This covenantal reward highlights the distinction in the narrative between Pinchas' action and the elders' inaction. This comes to teach us that true peace doesn't happen without active participation. True peace is not merely the absence of war. Rather, it is a reflection of the fullness of the active consent and participation of all the parties involved to fashion a covenantal embrace of the twin ideals of freedom and justice.

The other aspect of the blessing bestowed on Pinchas was the B'rith Kehunath Olam, the Covenant of Eternal Priesthood. The first kohein mentioned in the Torah was Malki-Tzedek, King of Salem/Shalem/Shalom (Jerusalem), Kohein El Elyon, Servant of the Most High G*d (Gen 14:18).In fact he blesses Avram with bread and wine upon Avram's direct military action in dealing with the four kings who had kidnapped his nephew Lot. Like Pinchas, the blessing is bestowed upon the one who takes direct physical action to rectify a wrong. Bread and wine are identified with Shabbat. Shabbat is the Divine expression of True Peace, linking heaven and earth. You have to actively "make Shabbos" to fully experience it's depth and beauty.

The second kohein mentioned in the Torah is Yitro, identified as Kohein Midyan (Priest of Midian). In fact Yitro himself is also tied to the word Shalom, as his sage advice to Moshe will enable the nation of Israel to "attain its goal of peace (Ex 18:23)." In both cases, of Malki-Tzedek and Yitro, we see a linkage between Kehunah (priesthood) and Shalom (peace). Moreover, the priestly blessing - Birkat Kohanim, of Israel emphasizes the blessing of peace, "shalom" being the final utterance of the three-fold benediction.

The third kohein mentioned in the Torah is the Nation of Israel itself. In Parshat Yitro (Ex19:6) G*d calls Israel a "Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation (Mamlechet Kohanim ve Goy Kadosh)." Israel is thus adjured to actively seek peace and promote holiness throughout the nations of the world. Israel is to be the paradigmatic model of peace and holiness within, from which the nations of the world will learn. We must learn to argue respectfully l'shem Shamayim, for heaven's sake, and not for the pettiness of ego. Tellingly, the number who died in the plague which was stopped by Pinchas was 24,000, the exact number of Rabbi Akiva's students who died in a plague which tradition teaches was a result of disrespectful argumentation.

The mission of the Jewish people is unchanging, as valid today as it was in yesteryear. To wit, its role is to promote peace and holiness throughout Israel and the world by her example. As the nation is the collective of the individuals which apprise it, it behooves each of us to ask ourselves what we as individuals could be doing to more actively promote the ideals of peace and holiness in our lives, in our families and in our communities. May we all merit to earn Pinchas' Covenant of Peace and eternal priesthood through righting the wrongs we see around us, and to be like Aaron, Israel's first High Priest, known as an Ohev Shalom and Rodeph Shalom - a lover of peace and a pursuer of peace.

Shabbat Shalom!

copyright 1999-2007 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

This Torah was written in honor of the memory of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, z"l, Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Yaakov Hakohen Melman.

Chabibi (Chabbibii) stands for Chidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua.

BALAK - THE EYES HAVE IT

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman


Emet means truth. Three letters that encompass three perspectives- beginning middle and end. Thus Bilaam gazed down upon the Tents of Israel from three perspectives, in order to peer into their essence and see the truth of their existence.

The Divine blessing confirmed by his own observations, instead of cursing Israel he blessed Israel. Despite the plenitude of internal fractiousness and division within the camp over the years of sojourn, there was yet much concerning Israel to be praised. Perhaps an outsider can best see the forest for the trees, glimpsing the overarching holiness in spite of the failings which loom larger when seen from within.

He pronounced the famous Mah Tovu- How goodly are thy tents Oh Jacob, thy dwelling places Oh Israel. Ohalecha and Mishkenotecha- tents and dwelling places respectively, are references to human habitation as well as Divine; the two merge as one in terms of the sanctity of the home as a fitting abode for the shechina- G*d's Indwelling Presence.

The Mah Tovu serves a double function. As Tefillah, prayer, in the infinitive, is expressed as hitpalel, it implies a necessarily self critical reflective process. So as not to become so overwhelmed by one's own high standards, the Mah Tovu serves as a built-in corrective to remind us of our positive qualities. This mirrors Israel's own sojourn as a forty year tefillah.

Bilaam glimpsed the Divine Presence in Israel's camp. But he also saw that the self- same Divine Presence in its midst was contingent on Israel's fealty to its own holiness code- the private nature of the sexual. Bilaam should be lauded by our tradition for his recognition of Israel's foundational moral principle. And yet he is considered wicked for the implication that he revealed Israel's Achille's heel to her enemies.

The end of the parsha pointedly includes the narrative of the Moabite seduction and idolatry. As the Sirens beckon, distract and bring doom to those who fall prey, so too the very public seduction and display weakens the foundational principle and threatens to collapse the moral superstrucure and the unique Divine worship. This is hinted at by Balak's original entreaty of Bilaam to curse Israel. He refers to Israel as a "nation that covers the earth's surface. (NUM 22:5)." But this is poetically expressed in Hebrew as "khisa et EYN ha'aretz." The word EYN (eye) is later used in the Moabite seduction narrative when it is displayed publicly- "le'EYNEI Moshe u'le'EYNEY kawl adat B'nei Yisrael (NUM 25:6)." "Before the EYES of Moshe and before the EYES of the entire congregation of B'nai Yisrael."

Ahh- "a nation that covers the earth's surface." Hyperbolic statement? Not really. "The Earth's surface" - figuratively today filling the world's headlines as if Israel's physical size actually did indeed cover the Earth's surface! Israel could effectively be undermined by the very crumbling of her inner moral fiber- first private and then public. Her Achilles heel is her EYE! The very description of Israel contains the recipe for her success and/or downfall. The eyes beheld Sinai.
The eyes witnessed Hashem's majestic glory. The eyes beheld emeth - truth. Yet these same eyes could witness sheker- falsehood, and lead the people astray. "Ve lo taturu acharei levavchem veacharei eyneychem asher atem zonim achareihem."

And so while the angel did in fact remind Bilaam not to curse Israel, Bilaam in fact passed on the secret of her blessing and strength to her enemies. While we await the Outer Temple's rebuilding, let us remember that we shall only merit the outer rebuilding only once we rebuild our INNER Temple- the foundation of the home. G*d's Ohel and Mishkan is contingent on OUR Tent and Sanctuary. For in truth they are but one and the same.

Shabbat Shalom

This Torah is written in honor of the memory of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, Yisrael Yehoshua ben HaRav Yaakov HaKohen Melman.

copyright 1999-2007 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

CHUKAT- ON THE PARADOX OF FIGHTING FOR PEACE

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman



The Red Heifer (parah adumah) is perplexing. It is considered the ultimate "chok," or statute, because no rational explanation seems forthcoming. Those who became ritually impure, or tameh (conTAMinated), could only reverse their condition via contact with the ashes.

Perhaps that is the origin of the English word "pure," a connection to the idea of the ashes of the PaRah (PU-reh) that had the power to render one spiritually cleansed. But I digress. The ultimate paradox of it all is that everyone who is involved in the process of the making of the ashes of the purifying red heifer became IMpure in that very same process! That is the ultimate quandary, the great PARAdox.

PARAH is also connected to PURim, the great holiday of cleansing all the blockages that keep the Jewish people from their unity with themselves and Hashem, their source of strength. Although Purim comes from the Persian word for lottery, as lots were used to choose the date for the annihilation of world Jewry, G*d forbid, in a deeper sense it is connected to the idea of PaRah Adumah. They each share the same root letters- the Pey and the Reysh, thus forging a cosmic connection- for in the language of Edenic lore, all words are ultimately connected to their Hebraic root source.

Confusing to many readers of the Purim story is the actual placement of the ora ve'simcha.
The Light and Happiness (Orah veSimcha) given to the Jews in the story of Purim was not connected to the RESULTING victory and redemption at the end of the story, but rather to the initial IDEA of self-defense, that we must necessarily play a role in our own redemption. Precisely when the king decrees that the Jews may defend themselves is when the Jews had "light and happiness, (unexpected) joy and respect..orah vesimcha, sasson veyikar." To reiterate, the light, representing arousal or awakening, appeared FIRST at the initial germinating IDEA of self defense, not as its victorious celebratory consequence.

In the PURim story Esther needed to gird herself for spiritual battle (fasting and prayer) and risk her life to go "sans appointment" before the king. To face the king at the non-appointed time might possibly result in death. But avoiding the problem and wishing for peace only postpones an inevitable but now certain demise. Peace is a noble ideal, a truly noble end. But the Torah is teaching us that we have to be ready to fight for peace, if need be. Prayers for peace must be wed to action for war. Laying down arms and making concessions in the face of evil for the sake of peace only emboldens evil in the world. It is not true peace that is achieved by such means, only the ostrich-like surrender to fear.

The rabbis struggled with the military aspects of Chanukah, placing the Book of the Maccabees outside of the canon, albeit out of a sense of disgust with the morally corrupt Hasmoneans, who, being of priestly lineage, should have returned the throne to Judah.
Similarly, many people have a problem with any military association with Purim, of recounting the battles and the victories. Many even have problems with the idea of an army altogether, that somehow armies in and of themselves foster war. Surely, G*d would not permit the annihilation of the entire Jewish people in the Holocaust. Allied forces saw to that. Similary, G*d would not permit the destruction of Israel in 1948 or 1967 or 5767. Acting through the vessel of the man-made IDF, peace and security would come about through the necessary precondition of armed might. To ensure world peace in WW2, good people needed to rise up to do battle against evil dictators. And *then* G*d would help. The "arousal from below" arouses Divine aid from above (letata itaer le'eila). And why the emphasis on the Book of Esther as any kind of proof text at all? Because it is said that in the Messianic Age the only holidays we will still celebrate will be Purim and Chanukah- each reflecting the salvific messianic idea of letata itaer le'eila, representing both exilic and non-exilic loci respectively.

In this parsha we see the death of Israel's beloved assistant leadership- Miriam and Aaron.
Knowing that Moses' passing is not far off, and now beset by wars before they even enter the Land of Israel as the forty years are up, they rightly ask themselves, is this how it will always be? What price freedom? We had no wars in Egypt! The parah adumah provides the answer. The dumb cow's ashes speak to the people in mute silent testimony. You worry about wars? Trust in Hashem and you will taste true freedom.You will have earned the blessing of being an Ohel Met, of dying in your own tent in the fullness of your years.

This is the meaning, then, of the paradox of the Parah Adumah, the Red Heifer. Just as the notion of "fighting for peace" seems contradictory and paradoxical, so too does the notion of "impurifying through purity," embodied in the ash making process of the red heifer, seem improbable. But that is the cosmic law of the universe. It is to teach us that while logic would dictate that one cannot fight for peace, and thus logically we should embrace pacifism, the Torah is giving us a higher logic. It is a logic of learning to be responsible for our own fate. Peace doesn't just happen. You have to work for it. And sometimes that even means fighting for it.

Shabbat Shalom © 1999-2007 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman This Torah is dedicated to the soul ascent in the merit of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, Yisrael Yehoshua ben HaRav Yaaqov Hakohen Melman, z"l., whose yahrzeit is in Tammuz (27).

KORACH - RETURNING THE LOST BROTHER

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

Num:16:33 "Vayerdu hem vechal asher lahem chayyim sheolah vatekas aleihem haaretz vayovdu mitoch haKahal..." "And they and all their possessions went down alive to Sheol and the earth covered them over and they were lost from the midst of the congregation." Korach was lost to the community of Israel. A centrally important mitzvah in the Torah is Hashavat Aveidah, returning a lost object, as elucidated in Nezikin of the Mishna.

Teshuvah, repentance/returning, is open to everyone, even to Korach. One day even he shall be returned to his people! As KoRaCH and KeRaCH, the word for "ice," share the same Hebrew root, perhaps this connection is to inform us that he was the first, perhaps unwillingly, to undergo a form of cryogenics, the freezing of the diseased body prior to death so as to be be revived in the future once the cure is ultimately found. His noble ideals of equality and democracy were passionately expressed, but they were really fronts for his enlarged ego and craven desire for power. He brought machloket (divisiveness) into the camp of Israel, and this was antithetical to the ideal spirit of unity and oneness.

As he went down alive (chayyim) into the pit, theoretically he remained frozen but yet alive, and so his neshama could still do teshuvah. One day the lofty calls for the goals of democracy and equality will be disengaged from ego, and that aspect of a bifurcated humanity will have achieved a healing. So many social engineering projects of the 20th century, while expressing lofty ideals of brotherhood, equality and democracy, were really movements that degraded humanity, serving as fronts for the totalitarian ambitions of their leaders. But humanity inexorably moves forward, and ultimately we must be ready to return the lost, but healed, souls of the misguided to the human collective.

The main problem, of course, with cryogenics, is that when the patient is healed, he will be abjectly and totally alone, completely unmoored from the familiar! Hashem anticipated this problem, and so Korach and his followers descended into the pit "with all their possessions!" When thawed, they shall be comforted by the familiarity of their surroundings.

Now all this cryogenic talk related to Korach is indeed fanciful, but the dire lesson we must learn is the importance of realizing the mandate to return all who are lost to us, even those souls seemingly most removed from the community of Israel. We expend our energies on delving ever deeper into discovering more rigorous application of halacha, all the while assimilation and intermarriage rates have climbed to the highest levels ever in the history of the Jewish people with the consequent attendant alienation and disaffiliation.. One fifth of American Jewry has embraced Christianity, two fifths have embraced other persuasions, and the remaining two fifths fight over the shrinking pie for righteous dominance. Living in Oregon and upstate New York I witnessed the 90% intermarriage rate that is consuming our people outside the comfortable urban reach of pollsters who maintain the 52%fiction. Every day I visited the Jewish elderly in hospitals whose non-Jewish grandchildren lovingly would come to visit.

And I haven't even mentioned the roughly 20 million or so Israelite exiles living as the Pathan tribesmen in Afghanistan and northern Pakistan. They call themselves B'nai Israel, they wear fringed garments, have bris milah on the eighth day and light candles on Friday night. Their tribes are called Rabbani (Reuven), Efreedi (Ephraim), Levani (Levi), Gadun (Gad), etc. Swallowed up by the Islamic juggernaut of yore, they are yet preserved whole, the staff of Ephraim waiting to reunite with the staff of Judah.

We have the capability to yet marshall our forces and resources to return our lost brethren to their rightful place as living heirs of our glorious legacy. But do we have the will?

Shabbat Shalom

copyright 1999-2007 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin HaKohen Melman

This Torah is dedicated to the memory of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, z"l, Yisrael Yehoshua ben HaRav Yaakov HaKohen Melman.

The above was transcribed from the devar Torah given at The Carlebach Minyan of Teaneck.

MISHPATIM - LOVE SLAVE

by Rabbi baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman


This week's parsha Mishpatim follows on the heels of the Decalogue and immediately we read about the Eved Ivri (Hebrew slave/servant). The plain meaning, of course, is that it refers to the Hebrew slave who refuses manumission in the seventh year. That's very sweet but it's not at all clear why it davka follows the Aseret HaDibrot, the Ten Commandments. A seemingly pedestrian legal ruling appears in the Torah immediately after the most awesome, literally earth shaking event in human history!

But the deepest understanding of the Hebrew Slave (eved ivri), is that he really is each and every one of us who chooses to remain with his ultimate Master, Hashem, and more poignantly, that Hashem reciprocates by choosing to remain with us. We are each one of us an eved (servant) of Hashem, and Hashem therefore will never abandon us as we vow not to abandon Him.

Sinai was the pledging of eternal love. Now we see that love being tested! Upon insisting he remain with his Master, the eved (servant/slave) makes a declaration saying, AHAVTI ET ADONI VE'ET ISHTI VE'ET BANAI LO ETZEI CHOFSHI. (Ex 21:5) This is usually translated as "I LOVE my master and my wife and My children - I will not go out free." But it is not "I love" in the present. It reads "I loveD"- PAST TENSE! "In the PAST I loved ..." This is not to say that he doesn't love them in the present. Of course he does.

What's important to understand is that the Torah recognizes that the intensity of romantic love necessarily fades over time. The heady impact of standing at Sinai fades over time. The certainty of keeping the Torah that was so clear at the smoking mountain becomes less clear down the long road of time's journeys. Hashem is saying, "You can go free if you really want to. You can be free of your obligations to me, and vice versa." But the eved says "NO." "And although the intensity of the romantic love may have faded, I still want to stay with you forever." He says, "my wife and children are connected to me so deeply. How could I dare live apart from them?"

Hashem was Israel's spouse under the Sinai Chuppah as the mountain was held over their heads, not to crush them if they didn't accept the Torah, but to be the biggest chuppah the world had ever seen!

Hashem, You say, You shall LOVE the L*rd your G*D..." And what if, CV"S, I have lost that loving feeling? Maybe the outer shell has faded, but the inner love core is still there. The Pintele Yid remains forever. Because the root of love in Hebrew Is HAV, which means to give, know that all we have given to each other counts for something.

The six years of servitude represent the six days of Creation. And the six days of the week count for a lot because they lead up to Shabbos. Even if we didn't FEEL the love of Shabbos every day of the week, we wouldn't HAVE Shabbos without those six days leading up to Shabbos! At least in this world.

So Hashem, even as you are my master, you are also my partner, my spouse. I will be loyal to you and to your Torah even after a thousand generations have passed. Even if my/our love for you may have faded over time, know that I pledge to you my eternal fidelity for the sake of all the good we have given each other over the years. Sinai was so long ago, but all through time, all the generations that preceded us felt that special connection, even gave their lives when necessary, no matter how much time had passed.

And so the Master takes his eved's OZEN, his ear, and marks it with a RETZUAH, a strip. when we don our Tefillin's RETZUOT/straps, we are to remember this eternal fidelity. No matter how onerous and burdensome it seems to get up early to phylacterate, we are to be reminded of Hashem's eternal love for us when we don the straps. Because we refused to leave Hashem, Hashem refuses to leave us. And why the ear? Because it says OZNO, which really means "I will give him my sustenance" -MAZON.

The soil and the seed is from Hashem, while the planting itself is from man. This is the eternal partnership of the Covenant of Noah- that seedtime and Harvest shall never cease...(Gen 8:22). Noah's first act was to plant. But he corrupted himself with its fruit, revealing his nakedness publicly, as it were.

But with the new COVENANT with Israel at Sinai, would Hashem be disappointed again? Hence the accent on the sexual morality of the priests, that the altar would be sloped for the sake of modesty. "Do not climb up to my altar with steps, so that your nakedness not be revealed on it (Ex 20:23)." And this verse is sandwiched in between the Ten Commandments and the Hebrew Slave narrative!

Wow. It's as if Hashem is saying, "Don't pull a Noah on me! Can I trust you to stay with me this time? Because Israel did not abandon me in the sixth year when he could have, even as the door was left open, I will be there for Israel for all eternity - and beyond."

Good Shabbos!

Copyright 1999-2007

The learnings of Sefer Chabibi are the Chidushim of (Rabbi) Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua (Hakohen Melman).

BESHALACH - LEAVING JOSEPHIED

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman


The Torah says..vaChamushim alu vnei Yisrael me-eretz Mitzrayim (Ex 13:18). Various translations of CHAMUSHIM abound, from "carrying weapons"To "well provisioned" to "in groups of five" to "one out of five." This also alludes to Yosef HaTzadik, in view of the following verse which specifically mentions that the Bnei Yisrael took his bones with them upon leaving Mitzrayim. "Atzmoth" means both "bones" as well as "essence." They took his consciousness/essence with them as well as his bones.

What is the relationship between Yosef Hatzadik and FIVE (CHaMuSH/CHaMeSH)? In Parshat Vayigash (Ex 47:26) we learn "...Yosef set down a decree that one fifth of whatever grows on the land of Egypt belongs to Pharaoh (leParo leChoMeSH)." And in Parshat Miketz (Ex 41:34) we read how Yosef advised a rationing system (CHiMeSH) during the seven years of plenty.

Hence in the weekday daily Tehillim for the FIFTH day we recite Psalm81 where Yosef's name is written with an extra letter- Hay- meaning 5, in numerology (gematria), spelled as YHoSeF. So we learn how Yosef is associated with rationing one's resources and with giving a fifth of one's earnings to Pharaoh. Giving a fifth means showing tangible appreciation for the Ruler while things are good (Vayigash), while rationing means planning for the day when things will be more difficult (Miketz).

Also, one fifth reflects the essence of the 80-20 rule, known in business circles as the Paredo Principle. This rule posits that in business, 80% of all business comes from the top 20% of all customers, and 80% of all sales derive from the efforts of the top 20% of the sales force. This rule actually holds true across the board- for all categories, for all time. This is really properly called then, the Joseph Principle.

When B'nei Yisrael left Egypt they took Yosef's essence and consciousness with them. The Jewish People's savvy business acumen essentially derives from this intelligence. Moreover, success is achieved as well by APPRECIATING what one has and by PLANNING ahead for more difficult times. And this principle also holds true demographically. One fifth of Jewry earns in the top tier economically, while one fifth lives at or below the poverty line. The rest are in between.

May we learn from Yosef's example to show APPRECIATION for what we have, and to GIVE generously of our resources to the Compassionate One and thus take care of His children with generosity. This is a crucial concept in Judaism. We are not to equate wealth with wickedness. Rather, in Judaism, wealth is equated with opportunity- to thank Hashem and to utilize our resources in HisService. Understand this. Be like Yosef. Use your blessings for Good.

Shabbat Shalom

Copyright 1999-2007 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman.

Dedicated to the memory of my father of blessed memory, Israel J. Melman, YisraelYehoshua ben HaRav Yaakov HaKohen Melman.

NEVER GIVE UP!

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When I was young I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.- Abraham Joshua Heschel
The whole world is a very narrow bridge. And the most important thing is to not be afraid.
-Rebbe Nachman of Breslov
"The greatest thing in the world is to do somebody else a favor." - Aish Kodesh
"As you want G*d to give you a chance, give everyone else a chance to also begin again." - Shlomo Carlebach

About Me

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I played violin with Reb Shlomo and studied under him for over nine years at hundreds of concerts and learnings. Shlomo wanted to give me smicha before he passed. Deepest influences: My father,obm, who was a great scientist and human being, and my grandfather, obm, who was a great Torah scholar who was a musmach of the Mir Yeshiva and taught in Slobodka in Russia before WW1, and was also personal friends with the Chafetz Chaim and came to America in 1914. He knew the Talmud by heart! You could stick a pin in a word and he could tell you what word was on the other side! And my mother, Esther bat Baruch, z"l, who was a scholar of classical Hebrew and Tanach and who gave me a love for the language. And her mother, Anna (Sucher) Deutsch, who was born in Horodenka, spoke six languages, and shared her aged wisdom and eternal sweetness with me. I studied at Brandeis, Hebrew College, Pardes as well as seven years at The Metivta/ITJ earning my Advanced Semicha (yoreh yoreh)under Rav Halivni. What's truly amazing is that Shlomo and Rav Halivni each received semicha from Rav Hutner! But my deepest influences of them all are my sweetest sweetest girls who have taught me the most!