Wednesday, August 29, 2007


by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

It is often said that we are a "chosen nation," based on the term in this week's parsha, that we are an "am segula." And sometimes "am segula" is translated not as "chosen," but as "treasured." But it also has a deeper meaning, a meaning which speaks very deeply to our special destiny vis a vis our special relationship with humanity and the nations of the world.

Ignorance of the true meaning of the term has resulted in tragedy in both directions: misplaced haughtiness and arrogance on the part of some Jews who in righteous tribal anger circle the proverbial wagons to shut out the outside modern world, and has tragically provided ammunition to antisemites who claim that our so-called claim to choseness implies a claim of superiority which somehow justifies a negative response.

When we want something good for someone we often say, "do this as a segula." Or sometimes it is said, "say this prayer at the kotel for forty days to find your soul mate as a segula," or "recite this psalm on behalf of sick person as a segula," or "wear this amulet as a segula." So clearly, at least in the folk mind, a segula has the sense of being a catalyst, of bringing about positive change on some level.

B'nai Yisrael, the Children of Israel, in our parsha, Ki Tavo, and also in other parshayoth, is called an AM SEGULA. This is often translated as "treasured nation." Sometimes even as "chosen nation." To be a treasured nation is admittedly very nice, as is also the status of being a chosen nation, although that carries some heavy baggage when it is interpreted by some as evidence of haughtiness and superiority.

Using these terms on some level does violence to the sense of Israel being a nation that interfaces between the particular and the general, between the national and the universal. We are also said to be a MAMLECHET KOHANIM, or a nation of priests. Indeed, just as the kohein in the Temple traditionally served as the intermediary between Israel and G*d, so too, as a mamlechet kohanim, or a "nation of priests," does the nation of Israel then serve as the intermediary between G*d and the nations of the world.

This status does not inhere automatically to Israel. Rather it applies only insofar as Israel is cognizant of its role via its consciousness of fealty to the idea of mitzvah, that Hashem's blessings pour down over an Israel that is consciously connected to its relationship with Hashem, and that we have the kavannah, or intention, that the performance of a mitzvah reverberates with positive energy not only for ourselves but for the benefit of humaity at large.

Note that in Deut. 26:19, the verse reads,


to give you height over all the other nations.."

This does not mean supremacy! Rather, the Torah is teaching us that in order for Hashem's blessings for Israel to also reach and bring blessing to all the other nations of the world, Israel must position herself high through her allegiance to Torah. Through her becoming spiritually elevated and raised up through living by the ways of the Torah, subsequently the"spillage" from this pouring down of the heavenly blessings will affect everyone.

However, a self-debased Israel would be a proverbial pit, soaking up the blessing all to herself and hoarding it and thereby choking on it. Being in her self-created pit caused by her own sins, the blessings could not then spread out. Israel would then suffocate on her surfeit of blessing, turning the blessing into a curse via her own behavior. Israel's mission is to bring blessing upon all the earth through her lofty role of service to the One G*d.

Why is the Dead Sea dead? Because it only receives. It never gives out life sustaining waters. Thus the salts accumulate to toxic levels. Sea salt gives life, but only in very small quantities.
The Golan, by contrast, is bursting with life and vibrancy year round. Its fresh, living waters sustain and replenish Yam Kineret, the Sea of Galilee, whose waters sustain all Israel. And the Torah emanating from Yerushalayim and Tzfat, and indeed from all the heights of Torah, water and give spiritual nourishment to all Israel and to the world at large.

Rabbeinu (the Rashban) always taught that "the world so much NEEDS the Jews to be good yidden." In other words, there is NO dichotomy between being a good Jew and being a good human being. Just the opposite! We are better human beings, doing our part for all humanity, by becoming the best Jews possible! So now the folk and the cosmologic senses of the word "segula" align themselves in a neat symmetry.

Israel now has the opportunity, our parsha is telling us, of being a catalyst for blessing for all the nations of the world. Indeed, this is a fulfillment of the Abrahamic blessing that "all the nations will be blessed throughyou." Israel, in a sense, now becomes the yeast for the whole world. As yeast is the catalyst in baking, so too is Israel that transforming agent of change which has the awesome capability of uplifting all of humanity. Just as yeast is among the least of the ingredients, so too is Israel the least populous of the nations. Just as yeast is less than tasty when eaten as a meal in itself, so too does Israel shine less when consumed solely in a self-absorbed disinterest with the fate of humanity. Conversely, as role models for tzedaka, culture, agriculture, education, science, the arts and humanities, leadership roles in progressive movements for social justice, equality and better working conditions for all, Israel's light shines brightly. We are not perfect, but we are trying.

Now we undertand on the deepest level why we totally eradicate any presence of chametz on Passover, the holiday marking our new status finally as a nation among the other nations of the world. The special zero-tolerance status for yeast on Passover now makes sense. The very energy expended in our total obsession with its eradication is only meant to underline and call attention to the "yeast" status of the Jewish people vis a vis its relationship to humanity. By calling attention to yeast/leaven so explicitly, the Torah wants us to understand on our national birthday our special "yeast role" in the universe.

In all other areas of kashruth a miniscule amount of a forbidden substance is"tolerated" if it exists in a certain miniscule percentage in relation to the permitted ingredients (usually a 1/60 ratio). Not so with yeast on Passover. It has the status of "assur bemashehoo," i.e., it is forbidden "in any amount" (shulchan aruch: siman taf mem zayin, se'eef dalet). Israel, in its status as exemplar of liberation from Egyptian oppression, bondage and servitude, becomes on a symbolic level at least, the inspiration for all humanity to aspire to freedom from every type of oppression. Our Exodus is the model for all future exodi. Our salvation is the model for all future salvations, as is likewise our redemption in the land of Israel a precursor and model for ultimate world redemption- if only we and our leaders believe it ourselves and if only the world were to lift its veil of hatred and open its eyes.

By the special status and attention which the Torah pays to actual, real, live yeast in the Exodus narrative and to its accompanying rites of memory and reenactment, so too should we therefore be cognizant of the people of Israel's symbolic and yet very real status as yeast/catalysts in the rising pungent ferment that is humanity. The more we consciously incorporate Judaism into our lives, the sooner we help elevate all humanity, including ourselves, to achieve the end stage of glorious redemption and peace, and thereby fulfill our true destiny as an "am segula," as a Catalyst Nation.

Shabbat Shalom. Good Shabbos.

© 2000 - 2007 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

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

Dedications are available.
My band, Niggun, is available for all simchas.
Contact me privately at

Sefer Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


note: We are ONE PEOPLE but our passion for labeling is the cause of
too much divisiveness in the Jewish community today.

"What has been collectively forgotten is that even the term "Orthodox" was coined by none other than Reform Jews in the 1800's, as a derogatory reference to Jews who clung too closely to tradition. Although the term has since been accepted and widely used, perhaps we would do well to ponder the fact that before the Reformers there were just Jews. Some were more observant, some were less observant, and some weren't observant at all. Somehow we were able to tell the difference, and we didn't need silly labels to do it."

Tearing Off Labels

By: Chananya Weissman

It seems more of us are willing to express the view that labels do not portray Jewish individuals with accuracy and often lead to false assumptions. Instead of defending labeling as an ideal system of classification, people are now rationalizing it as an imperfect system still worth using.

This is definitely progress, but perhaps we can now take the next step and demonstrate once and for all that any trifling conveniences of labeling are dwarfed by the detriments; that labeling is a destructive force in the community; that the perceived benefits of labeling are in fact illusory; and that we would be far better off as individuals and as a nation if we eliminated labels from our collective vocabulary cold turkey.

Let us give thought to some of the more popular labels. The term "Modern Orthodox" is either a badge of honor or among the worst of insults, depending on whom you survey. Referring to someone as "more modern" is often a euphemism for "less serious about halacha." This is a way of looking down on people while feigning respect for them.

(Actually, there is nothing modern about not following halacha – Jews have been disregarding halacha for thousands of years.)

On the other hand, those who proudly refer to themselves as "Modern Orthodox" interpret the label to mean complete allegiance to Torah while incorporating the best the modern world has to offer. Lost in the shuffle is the concept that tradition itself has always supported this idea. Integrating the advances in the world around us without compromising halacha is part and parcel of Judaism, not something that needs to be noted with an additional adjective such as "modern."

As a result of the obvious potential for misunderstanding, derivative labels have been introduced. Some people go with MODERN Orthodox or Modern ORTHODOX, intending to emphasize halachic laxness or a minimalist approach to modernity, respectively.

Then again, this little scheme implies that placing importance on modernity reflects a deviation from tradition. In addition, MODERN Orthodox uses the word "modern" to mean "compromiser of halacha to suit modern society" while Modern ORTHODOX uses "modern" to mean "up with the times." As this sub-group of labels is both cumbersome and confusing, it never really caught on.

A more trendy approach is to refer to the "religious" class as "Modern Orthodox Machmir" and the compromisers as "Modern Orthodox Liberal." "Machmir" presumably implies "strict adherence to halacha" – but isn't that what "Orthodox" is supposed to mean? Is "Machmir" merely balancing out "Modern," or is it there to demonstrate that "Modern" should be interpreted as "up with the times" and not "compromiser of halacha" (in other words, the good kind of "modern")?

Further, "Machmir" has traditionally meant not that one is strict about halacha, but either that one is stricter than other legitimate opinions or beyond the letter of the law. Was Beis Shammai machmir? Did the individuals who comprised Beis Shammai consider themselves machmir? Did they consider Beis Hillel "modern"? What about the various times Beis Shammai took the more lenient approach?

Do those who refer to themselves as "Machmir" mean to say that they always follow the strictest halachic opinion? That would be odd indeed, as no one universally follows the strictest halachic opinion, nor is such an approach necessary or even desirable. Perhaps that is the true meaning of "Modern Orthodox Machmir" – an overly strict approach to halacha that is uniquely modern.

As for "Modern Orthodox Liberal" how could any self-respecting Jew admit to preferring a strictly liberal approach, a strictly strict approach, or anything other than an intellectually honest approach that strives for objective truth, however subjectively "lenient" or "strict" it may seem? How could Orthodoxy, which implies strict fidelity to halacha, be at the same time liberal?

It would seem that the only thing all these labels imply is that one is intellectually and religiously confused.

* * *

Another popular label is "Yeshivish," which is used as a direct contrast to "Modern Orthodox" and is meant to imply a higher level of Torah knowledge and observance (than even the "Machmir" variety, if this can be possible). Strangely enough, not all people who spend a great deal of time in yeshivas earn the label "Yeshivish"; there are distinctly "Yeshivish" yeshivas and "Modern" yeshivas. (The former are sometimes referred to as "real" yeshivas.)

The distinction between the two seems to coincide with whether or not all the rebbeim have beards and have never set foot in a college, but even this can't always be taken for granted.
"Yeshivish" is usually meant in a positive way, but sometimes it is used derogatorily, as in "too Yeshivish." Hence we have the derivative labels "Modern Yeshivish" and "Black Hat Yeshivish." The former would seem to be a contradiction in terms, while the latter implies authentic "Yeshivishness" due to the ever-meaningful black hat. The black hat is a true symbol of real Yeshivishness, often irrespective of a carefully formulated philosophy or even halachic behavior.

Since some people wish to be included in the good type of "Yeshivish" without wearing a black hat, the label "Black Hat Type" has evolved (despite the fact that black hats are a relatively "modern" accessory.)

We also have "YU Yeshivish" and "Lakewood Yeshivish." The former seems to refer to someone who attends college but doesn't take it too seriously (quite a line to have to toe), while the latter implies "real" Yeshivish. These labels say nothing of whether the individual has inculcated substantial knowledge or character development through his time in yeshiva – but these seem to be relatively unimportant details in the world of labels.

There is plain old "YU Type," which doesn't take into account the fact that you can find Jews of nearly any type and stripe at Yeshiva University. This label is, nevertheless, presumed to be very meaningful.

Then there is "Haredi" or "Ultra-Orthodox." Haredim presume themselves to be the authentic standard bearers of observant Jewry, and often look at everyone else with disdain. Haredim are also presumed to be against secular studies and in some cases even working for a living. Then again, there are many self-proclaimed haredim who have secular knowledge and serious jobs. What distinguishes them from Modern Orthodox Machmir types? Maybe the black hat, if even that. As difficult as it can be to tell between them, though, everyone will agree that they are miles apart.

"Ultra-Orthodox" is a label of choice, particularly in the non-Jewish media, to refer to people who are unmistakably Jewish by virtue of the fact that by secular lights no one in his right mind would dress like that if not for some deep religious reason. Because they appear "more Jewish" to the naked eye, they are presumed to be the most authentic religious Jews, to the extent that their actual knowledge and behavior are often afterthoughts. Hence the newspaper headlines about "Ultra-Orthodox" Jews involved in behavior that even a plain Orthodox Jew would find revolting.

(The conundrum of how one can be more Orthodox than Orthodox – assuming that Orthodox means strict adherence to Jewish tradition – has never been explained.)

And then there's "Heimish" – a label vague and flexible enough to encompass a wide range of individuals, though I'm afraid that in all too many cases it's best applied to those who pretend well.

Jews who don't fall into any of the above categories are in serious trouble. After all, there's not much left aside from lepers and Moabite converts. A "Traditional Jew" is one who has abandoned tradition, a "Torah Jew" is using a noun as an adjective, and a "Shomer Mitzvos" Jew needs to explain which mitzvos he is observing and why we would assume he isn't observing them in the first place. (Maybe he needs to learn about black hats.)

Of course, anyone who is a little offbeat but not off the derech can call himself "Carlebachian" and hope for the best.

* * *

What has been collectively forgotten is that even the term "Orthodox" was coined by none other than Reform Jews in the 1800's, as a derogatory reference to Jews who clung too closely to tradition. Although the term has since been accepted and widely used, perhaps we would do well to ponder the fact that before the Reformers there were just Jews. Some were more observant, some were less observant, and some weren't observant at all. Somehow we were able to tell the difference, and we didn't need silly labels to do it.

(Even terms like Reform and Conservative don't mean as much as they used to, as the ideologies of these "movements" are no longer clear to those who identify with them.)

What should be obvious by now is that labels do a poor job of defining individuals or communities. The creation of derivative labels both highlights this problem and perpetuates it. But like an addict whose source of comfort is also the source of his troubles, we continue to produce new and better labels to try to solve the ineffectiveness of labels.

Fine, you might say, labels are imperfect, but they are a necessary evil. Personally, I don't believe any evil is necessary, nor does this concept spring from the Torah. Ah, but labels are still "helpful" in at least giving a partial description, or narrowing things down a bit, aren't they? For example, we wouldn't expect a Modern Orthodox Liberal to study at a kollel in Bnei Brak, nor would we expect a Black Hat Yeshivish type to teach a course in college.

Well, bravo. Do we really need labels to exclude the absurd for us? Is there no better way to achieve the same transfer of information without relying on stereotypes and hopelessly ambiguous phrases, without categorizing Jews in ways that highlight superficialities and ultimately drive people apart for dubious reasons? Are these labels really describing anything about a person's values, beliefs, or behavior, or providing a mere illusion of doing so for the convenience of the label-user?

The bottom line is that labels are subject to so many interpretations that using them only exacerbates the need for detailed explanation. If the detailed explanation is not forthcoming, and the labels are merely a shortcut or a crutch, then misconceptions and misinformation are inevitable. If, however, the detailed explanation is forthcoming, then why bother with the label? Who needs it?

There is no way to avoid the fact that labels will mean too many things to too many people to really mean much of anything. Throughout Jewish history we were labeled only by virtue of halachic fidelity in a wide sense or a serious break from tradition. Communication was unenhanced by labels – and unencumbered by them.

Are we better off today? Has this modern invention brought the Jewish people closer together, facilitated communication, deepened understanding of ourselves and others, and brought us closer to authentic observance of the Torah?

Or have labels drawn artificial lines in the sand, complicated communication, exaggerated the importance of superficialities, and camouflaged deviations from authentic observance of the Torah?

Most important, does anyone – should anyone – neatly fit into any label? Or should every individual be a world unto himself within the acceptable bounds of halacha and Jewish tradition? Shouldn't we live in a world where everyone fashions his own unique label that fits him and only him, where the number of permutations of "Jew" equals the number of Jews in the world?

At the end of his life, Moshe beseeched Hashem to appoint a leader for the Jews who would be conducive to the divergent spirits and personalities of each individual. The Midrash elaborates that just as no two people look exactly alike, no two people think exactly alike. The lesson for our generation is that no single label can fit any two people, and we do no one a service by trying to circumvent this deep truth.

If one uses a label to describe others, he does not really know them, and if one uses a label to describe himself, he does not really know himself. The ramifications in terms of assessing people for shidduch purposes or their standing as Jews who serve Hashem are nothing short of devastating.

It may be difficult and inconvenient for people to try to express themselves without resorting to labels. It may require a complete rethinking of what is important about people and what is important in Judaism. It may so much as require that people relearn how to speak – almost like newborns.

But we cannot allow the difficulty of the task and the allure of inertia to rationalize the continued dependence on labels. The long-term rewards of greater unity, deeper interpersonal understanding, enhanced communication, and a focus on substance over image are far worthier than a bowl of red lentils.

At least give it a try. Drop the labels for an entire week, no exceptions. I bet you'll never want to go back.

Rabbi Chananya Weissman hasn't used labels for years and doesn't miss them. He is the founder of EndTheMadness ( and can be contacted at



From my friend Yosef ben Shlomo Hakohen:

The Universal Homecoming: Part One

Dear Friends,

In the comforting portion from the Prophets that we chant on this Shabbos, the Prophet Isaiah describes the future homecoming of our exiles to Jerusalem as a journey of “doves to their cotes” (Isaiah 60:8). The wandering People of Israel have returned home. Our sages reveal, however, that the journey of “doves to their cotes” is also referring to the future homecoming of all humankind. This teaching is found in Midrash Yalkut Shimoni on the Book of Isaiah (503), and the Midrash begins by citing the following proclamation of Hashem, the Compassionate One, regarding the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem :

“It shall come to pass that at every new Moon and on every Shabbos all humankind will come to bow before Me, says Hashem.” (Isaiah 66:23).

The Midrash comments:

“How is it possible that all humankind will come to Jerusalem every Shabbos and every New Month? (How can Jerusalem contain so many pilgrims?) Rabbi Levi says that in the future the entire Land of Israel will be like Jerusalem ; moreover, the entire world will be like the Land of Israel . And how can they come on the New Moon and on Shabbos from the ends of the world? The clouds will come and carry them, bringing them to Jerusalem , and they will pray there in the morning. And this is as the Prophet praises them: ‘Who are these? Like a cloud they fly, like doves to their cotes’ (Isaiah 60:8).”

As the above Midrash explains, all humankind will fly like a cloud to Jerusalem , and this poetic prophecy may be referring to air travel. In addition, the pilgrimage of all humankind to Jerusalem is described as a journey of doves coming home to their cotes. This description indicates that Jerusalem is the “spiritual” home of all people.

On the day of the universal homecoming of all the “doves” to Jerusalem , we, the People of Israel, will welcome the pilgrims from all over the world, and we will pray to the Compassionate One the following words on their behalf:

“Please Hashem, grant new life; please Hashem, grant success.” (Psalm 118:15)

According to the classical biblical commentator, Radak, this is a prayer that Israel will say on behalf of the pilgrims from all the peoples who will come to the Temple at the dawn of the messianic age. Through these words, states Radak, we are praying for new life and success “for all who come to take shelter in Your shade and who return to Your service.” Following this prayer, it is written:

“Blessed is the One Who comes in the Name of Hashem; we bless you from the House of Hashem.” (Psalm 118:26)

According to Radak, the above blessing will be said by the “Kohanim” – the Ministers of the Temple – to the pilgrims from all the peoples. The Radak explains that the Kohanim are blessing them in the Name of Hashem Who gave Israel the light of redemption; moreover, the Kohanim are inviting them to join Israel in the service of Hashem.

May we merit to experience the universal homecoming of all the doves, for in this new era, “All the ends of the earth will remember and return to Hashem” (Psalm 22:28).

Much Shalom,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen

Hazon – Our Universal Vision:

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

How important is it not to objectify members of the opposite sex?
How crucial is it that we preserve the intrinsic humanity of the other in spite of our drives which seemingly compel us to to view others as mere tools for our own self-gratification?

In our parsha this week, Ki Tetze (Deut.21:12) it says "...VE'ASTA ETTZIPARNEYHA...

"when you see a beautiful woman among the prisoners and desire her you may take her as a wife...when you bring her home she must shave her head) AND DO HER NAILS."


What does AND DO HER NAILS mean?

Is that grow her nails or shave them? Some opinions hold one way. Some hold the other. Well, which could it be? If she's already shaving her head,then it might mean that she should also shave her nails - i.e., anything that's growing out of her body that could augment her beauty. On the other hand, it might mean to grow them, as Rashi holds, for growing them, in his opinion, would also detract from her beauty.

Well, fashions change. Depending on the person, on the generation and on the locale, definitions of beauty are very much plastic in nature, very much in the eye of the beholder. The Torah purposely didn't want to commit to any one set definition of beauty in as much as the Torah is an eternal, Divine document. Obviously the Torah has the vocabulary to indicate cutting or growing. Hebrew is a very rich language. But fashion is fickle. Why should the Torah commit to a particular fashion statement and thus artificially limit its applicability for all generations?

The thrust here is that the captive woman has just lost her parents. She is in mourning. Let her mourn! She is a living being with valid emotions. Do not objectify her as a sex object for your private lustings.

Then follows a seemingly disparate narrative that on the surface we find ourselves hard pressed to draw a thematic linkage:

In Deut. 22:6,7 it says:


Long life, orech yamim/arichat yamim (ve'ha'arachta yamim), if spelled with an ayin, would mean "a life of values." Rabbi Elisha ben Abuya, as recorded in the talmud, witnessed the death of a boy who fell off a ladder in the midst of performing this great mitzvah. His belief thus shattered, he became an outcast among his people, to be known as "acher," the "other one," or one who consequently embraced an "other" philosophy.

One may be able to resolve this issue by understanding length of days to refer to the world of truth, olam ha'emeth, which is everlasting and seemingly at odds with the perceived realities of this world, olam hazeh, alternately called olam hasheker, the world of falsehood. But reading our text midrashically as "a life of values" speaks deeply to the truth of the Torah as a force for shaping a moral life.

The similarity in the Hebrew for both nails and birds brings the point home, that we should be sensitive to the feelings of all sentient beings, whether captives or potential "not-yet" captives (eggs and their mothers). Nails in Hebrew are called TZIPURNAYIM, related to the word TZIPUR, meaning bird. Birds typically have talons, or long claws, and fingernails in a sense are human talons. But because of the pointed ambiguity of the verb LA'ASOT, it serves as a device to call attention to these deeper levels of meaning.

In Havdalah, the ceremony concluding the Sabbath, we gaze at the light and shadows reflecting off of and from our fingernails. We reenter the world asking ourselves if this week we will be more sensitive to others or less so, reenter the world asking if we will use our talons/talents for taking - or giving.

The mother bird has feelings for her young. Before you take the young or the eggs, you must send the mother away. The Torah is telling us to be sensitive to the bird mother's feelings. Likewise the captive maiden also on a reciprocal level has feelings for her mother/parents, whom she has just lost. Let her mourn.

This is the Torah of taking: Never take without recognizing the unique essence of that which we take. Never take without recognizing the source of that which we take. Never take without realizing that there are ramifications for our taking, and that we are thereby effecting change on many levels.

It is interesting that the choice of wording for the mother bird's sitting is not YOSHEVET, but rather ROVETZET. The first usage of the root word RVTz is in Genesis 4:7, where Hashem is urging Cain to control his jealous passions towards his brother Abel:" VE'IM LO TEYTIV LAPETACH CHATATROVETZ...AND IF YOU DO NOT DO GOOD, SIN IS CROUCHING AT THE DOOR.."

Another allusion: the word for nest is KAN, deliciously close to brother KayiN,first son of the first family. Another connection is the word TESHUKATO (same verse). "Sin lusts after you (be on guard)."

Now back to our parsha:(Deut 21:11) "veraeeta basheevya eshet yefat toar VECHASHAKTA va ve lakachta lecha le'isha-If you see a beautiful woman among the prisoners and LUST after her, you may take her as a wife." The first lusting. As much as we lust after sin, sin is lusting after us! And vice versa.

The ability to lust and how we deal with it is a foundational challenge in this life, reconciling our angelic self with our instinctual drives. This is expressed symbolically via the kabbalistic diagram of the sephirot mapped against the human body with the sephira of yesod, or "foundation" set opposite the genitalia. Only through how we channel and sublimate our lusting can we truly grow as human beings and create a civilization based on ethical sensitivity.

Now Cain and Abel were engaged in the very first giving, the very first offering to Hashem. So here is the Torah of Giving! When do we often sin? What is often the root cause for bad behavior? Lack of appreciation! Most acting-out behavior, whether in the family with young children or in the workplace with the less than gruntled worker is rooted in the need for attention and appreciation. The most evil man in all of human history, yemach sh'mo, did not feel appreciated as an artist, so he changed careers!


The Hebrew for "pay no heed" is LO SHA'AH. This means that, literally, it "wasn't his time." Cain should understand that when we give we might not get the appreciation right away. We might be the biggest tzaddik, and yet the payback might not be so obvious. But Hashem sees all. Hashem knows the inner heart and everyone's time of appreciation will come sooner or later.

The message to Cain, the very first giver, and to all subsequent givers, is: be patient. The reward is in the giving itself, and any other appreciations you need will be there in the end as well, in its proper time. And the lesson is that we should always find ways to compliment our children so they grow up to feel appreciated.

The law of shatnez, against mixing wool and linen in the same garment, is also found in our parsha. It is also connected to Cain and Abel. We are not to mix in our garments both wool and linen- things that grow from an animal (wool) with things that grow out of the ground (linen).

We thus are to come to appreciate the uniqueness of the respective kingdoms- that of the animal and that of the plant. In short, sensitizing us to appreciate the differences of the other, and not attempt to erase them to create a world where difference cannot be tolerated.

This is to remind us of Cain and Abel- the very first people to always wear garments, the very first people to work with animals and crops. We are prone to making mistakes whether we are naked, garmentless (Adam and Eve) or clothed, garmented (Cain andAbel). We are to remove the garment of captivity (simlat shivya) from the captive woman perhaps as a simile to understand the necessity of recognizing her essential divine spark despite the garments of the illusions of this world.

The bird symbolically uses her nails fortaking when she takes a life. She's also symbolically using her nails for giving, when she gives that life over to feed her young. But the deepest feeding of all is when we show our children appreciation and shower them with love. For forgiveness is the essence of growth. And this will cause the fixing to reverse the first sins and lead humanity back to the Garden.

Shabbat Shalom. Good Shabbos.

copyright 2000-2007 by Rabbi Baruch Melman

This commentary is written in honor of the memory of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, obm, Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Yakov Hakohen Melman

Private sponsorships and dedications of these Torahs are available.
Also, my band, Niggun (melody), is available for simchas.
I can be reached at

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Shinto Tradition

A great neshama, or soul, left this world this summer, Reb Dovid Zeller, ob"m. This is a story that he used to tell, as shared by my friend Yosef ben Shlomo Hakohen:

One summer, driving on my way to the annual conference of the Association of Humanistic Psychology, in New Orleans , I stopped in Arizona , to visit Namurati, a Japanese Shinto priest, who was also a master of acupuncture. From a nearby rest stop, I called Namurati, hoping that he would be available for a spontaneous visit. “Hello, this is David, I’m a friend of your client, Dora. I’m passing through, and am wondering if I might stop over for a short visit.”To my relief and delight, he warmly replied, “Welcome, David. Come right over.”

After introducing ourselves, he looked at me with his clear brown eyes and asked, “David, are you Jewish?” I was not orthodox at the time, but mentioned that I had lived in Israel for two years before living in India , as an ascetic monk, called a Sadhu, for a year. Namurati said that in the oral tradition of his Shinto religion, there was an interesting story about the Jews. “David, do you know what is meant by oral tradition?” he asked. I assured him I knew what oral tradition meant. And this is what he told me:

According to the Shinto oral tradition, there had been a meeting of great spiritual teachers several thousand years ago, to report on the progress of their mission: Had they succeeded in leading various peoples around the world to a spiritual awakening and evolution? Many reported of their success – from the wisdom of the Vedas in India , to the Tao, and the I Ching in China , to the Aztec civilization in South America , etc. Everyone felt quite good and was feeling their assignment was completed. But one person raised a troubling question.

“Wasn’t our mission to lead people through a material awakening and evolution, and a spiritual awakening and evolution and then to bring the two together? If it was just a spiritual process, what need is there for coming into this material world? But our task was to bring the two – material and spiritual – together.”

“You're right,” said the group’s leader. “We must first lead people through a material awakening and evolution, and then the spiritual one, and then unite them. But who amongst you will take this on?” No one wanted that responsibility. These were all enlightened people, they knew that material development could only be reached by going through possessiveness, competition, aggression, violence and war – no one wanted that on their shoulders. “No volunteers?” asked the leader. “Then I'll have to choose someone.”

“So,” said Namurati, the Shinto priest, “the ‘chosen people’ - were the Jews.”

“The tablets of the Ten Commandments became the Jews’ symbol of synthesis:

Spirit inscribed in Stone, spirit in matter.”

…I came away with a new understanding of the commandments, and a new appreciation for Judaism, as quite unique from many other religions, in insisting on living in the material world and in the spiritual world. No monasteries. No retreating from the world. Rather a day- to- day practice filled with practices to unite each material act with spiritual intention. The word mitzvah, usually translated as commandment, can also be translated to mean “to join together.” We are “en-joined” to live in such a way as to constantly join together heaven and earth, spirit and matter.

No retreat? I must correct myself. Judaism gives us a spiritual retreat once a week in the Sabbath. Six days a week, we work to bring an aspect of the spiritual into the everyday material. One day a week, we strive to bring the material into the spiritual. In between our spiritual activities of prayers, rituals and ceremonies we have the material through meals (though all cooking is completed before the Sabbath begins) – that are uplifted through inspirational learning and song.

If the Ten Commandments (En-joinments) are Spirit in Matter, then our Sabbath is Matter in Spirit. Our lives are balanced.

The insights that Reb David gained serve as another reminder that we are to express the Divine Unity in our own lives through fulfilling the Torah path which enables us to unify “Heaven and Earth, Spirit and Matter.” May his memory inspire all of us to deepen our commitment to this sacred path.

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen

Thursday, August 16, 2007


by Rabbi Baruch Melman

Two hearts for two mountains.

Our Jewish DNA reflects the yearning to simultaneously ascend two figurative mountains: the universal call to serve humanity and the particular call to serve the Jewish people and in so doing preserve our culture, religion and heritage and be alone with our G*d.


...and let the faint-hearted return home (rather than let his cowardliness demoralize the nation)."

This is the usual meaning of the verse. But really it is saying something else altogether, because RACH actually means "soft." It is saying that a soft heart is the true heart, the heart of the home, the heart we should always bring into the home. And we all have two hearts, in that the word LEVAV, for "hearts" alludes to the plural on account of the doubling of the letter vet. Their doubling is said to allude to the two inclinations- the good inclination (yetzer hatov) and the evil inclination (yetzer hara).

Butwehave two other inclinations that are paired together as well- the Sinai inclination and the Yerushalayim inclination- the universal urge and the nationalistic urge. In truth, we should serve Hashem with both urges.The call of Sinai in the wilderness, that zone of undifferentiated universality, where Israel received its charge to bring the Torah, the light of the world, to the nations of the world competes in our hearts with the yearning to be alone with Hashem on His holy mountain in the city of David.

But really they don't contradict each other at all. Really the two are actually one very deep yearning- that we will one day play host to all the nations of theworld who will come up to Yerushalayim, to G*d's Holy Mountain to testify to G*d's Oneness.

And in the previous verse (Deut. 20:7) it states, "is there any man among you who has betrothed a woman and not married her? Let him go home so that he will not die in war and have another man marry her."

In the deepest sense this is an allusion to the nation of Israel who is betrothed to Hashem. Each and every year Israel renews the marriage vows of Sinai on the Festival of Shavuoth. Therefore Israel is always to seek the peaceful path for Israel is constantly in a state of betrothal, always bringing the softness of the heart to the hearth of the home. We seek peace always, fighting only in self defense when our enemy wants war.

"oomee HAISH ASHER ERAS ISHA....." (see above)

Now this is very deep, so you have to concentrate really hard.

The verse itself alludes to the idea of two mountains. The first four words all contain the same letters-alef and shin, which spell AISH, or fire. And each of the words have additional letters: yud, raish, raish, hey, which when arranged in reverse order spell HARARI, meaning "my two mountains (two because the hey is doubled, like the doubling of the letter vet in levav)."

And ERAS can be rearranged as ROSH, and the letter sin can refer to the word simcha, bringing to mind the verse from psalms - al ROSH SIMCHATI (" I will raise Jerusalem above my chiefest joy").

The two mountains of Judaism are Zion and Sinai. With two hearts, our world/universal heart and our national/Jewish heart we are to serve G*d. In truth they are really the same heart.

Shabbat Shalom. Good Shabbos.

Sefer Chabibi. Copyright 2000-2007 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

This Torah thought is written in honor of the blessed memory of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, obm, Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Yaakov Hakohen Melman.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007



by Rabbi Baruch Melman

In the midst of the summer's bloom we don't think of its impending farewell. What has nourished and sustained us and made us feel alive will soon be taking leave. The balmy careless days of leisure will soon give way once more to the frenetic schedules and tiring obligations of the noisome world.How much we will miss these days. How much we will pine for them when they are gone.

But life implies change. Life implies passing. Everything must take leave at one point or another. Let us appreciate it in the moment. Let us experience it in the present time and preserve it in our precious memories.

As the month of Av becomes the month of Elul, the heaviness of our burdens become lighter as our sorrows are transformed into joys. Just as the Torah asks us to leave our parents and cleave to our spouses, so too we take leave of Av (father) and join together with Elul, whose letters comprise the acronym for Ani Ledodi Ve'dodi Li. "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine."

Elul corresponds to Virgo in the Zodiac. Virgo represents a state of unspoiled purity- a consciousness of returning to the purity of The Garden before the fall of mankind. It is the month before Libra- the judging on the scales of righteousness for all creation. As Adam left G*d, his father, and sinned with the aid of his beshert, he needs to reconcile with her once more before the judgment for reconciliation to occur.

For us to reenter the Garden once more in a renewed sense of purity and wholeness and restore those endless days of paradise, we must know that we can't do it alone. We are all inextricably tied to each other. Judaism teaches that our redemption is a collective redemption, not a personal one. And as we ourselves grow, we help lift up the entire community.

And as all the people of Israel grope and lurch to that ultimate redemption we must know that it is a collective enterprise, not a solitary one. As lovers dance in the fields together so too will Israel one day dance with G*d. Then paradise will be renewed everlasting. Indeed, it was never truly lost.

Hitler was NOT a vegetarian, contrary to myth

Dear Friends,

I want to thank my dear reader Avi Hein who forwarded to me
this article exploding the myth that Hitler was a vegetarian.

I feel blessed to have such informed readers of my blog.
Personally I am a vegetarian (with occasional lapses)
and I urge all readers to investigate
it as a lifestyle choice which will certainly benefit your health, the
animal's health and the health of the planet.

Rabbi Melman

Friday, August 10, 2007


by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

Native Americans honor the spirit of the hunted animal by drinking its blood. They recognize the spiritual nature intrinsic to the blood, and seek thereby to identify with its spiritual essence. The Torah, on the other hand, also recognizes the spiritual essence of life being in the blood, but at the same time forbids us from drinking it.

In parshat Re'ei we are explicitly enjoined to not "eat" the blood of the sacrificial offering. Also in this week's Torah portion we learn that we do not eat the blood because the blood is the soul of the animal:

"ki haDam hu haNefesh (Deut 12:23)." Native Americans understood this but in its opposite application. They drank the blood of their prey so as to honor its spirit.

But we may rightly ask, in this post sacrificial age, what possible moral lessons can we derive from this teaching? Aside from the practicalities associated with the ritual slaughter that is performed for food, even in this day and age, what can we learn from these verses?


Do not eat its blood, but spill it on the ground likewater."


The only thing you must not eat is the blood, which you must spill on the ground like water."

Two related questions arise when we examine the similarities and differences in the wording between these respective verses.

The first question is why does the Torah compare this spillage to water, even repeating it for emphasis? Why not use another liquid- say milk or wine - two other commonly used liquids of the day?

The other question is why the grammatical shift?

Why in chapter 15 is the directive addressed in the singular, whereas in chapter 12 it is addressed in the plural? The possible answer is that in chapter 12 the directive is being addressed to all of Israel in the context of satisfying their lust for meat. Note that in verse 15 above, it states "RAK B'CHAWL AVAT NAFSHECHA-only to satisfy your own wants..." This is the generic prescription.

Whereas vegetarianism may be the Edenic ideal, the concession to allow meat is preconditioned on the awareness of the spiritual lives of animals. (Deut.12:23:....KI HADAM HU HANEFESH .....because the blood is (associated with) the spiritual nature."However, the question as to the grammatical shift still remains. To whom is this being addressed?And what is the context of this directive? In chapter 15 (verse 23) the narrative context relates to consecration of the first born animals. On the p'shat level, or the plain meaning of the text, this refers to the first born. Since only one animal per womb can be the first born, it makes plain sense therefore that the verse states " ITS blood," in the singular, and not blood in general.

But on a deeper level, this may possibly refer also to Kain. "Damo" can mean "ITS blood," or it can also mean "HIS blood." When he killed his brother Abel, the Torah teaches, "his BLOOD cried out from the GROUND (Genesis4:10)". Both narratives refer in the same sentence to blood and ground. And just like the Deuteronomic reference of our parsha from Chapter 15, Kain was also the firstborn! So this verse may subtley yet pointedly be suggesting that we indeed need to spill the blood on the ground, albeit ceremonially/ritually, to remind ourselves of our own ingrained potential for fratricide.

But why "like WATER?" Water leaves no trace. It evaporates and no clue is left that it ever passed through. Similarly, when we pass through life, we should be careful not to leave behind any stains, stains which would besmirch our reputation. Both milk and wine leave stains. Milk leaves behind a residue when it dries. Wine is especially difficult to clean. It's as if the verse is teaching that sometimes when we make compromises in life, when we make concessions to the ideals which we strive to live by, we should be careful to leave as few stains as possible. Ideally
we should leave no stains at all, but we are not all Tzaddikim (perfect righteous beings).

Compromising to get along is good. Compromising on our ideals is not so good, but life is not black and white. It is mostly grey, and for some of us, it is even in technicolor. Here the Torah may be suggesting that while the ideal is not to take a life in order to eat, even if we concede on that point, we must therefore be careful to still recognize the spiritual dimension of all sentient animal beings, especially including man.

And perhaps the act of ritually encountering blood shocks the senses and sensitizes one to life more dearly, ironically deepening one's appreciation for life, even as life is taken, albeit in a small dose. This is akin to the principle of homeopathic medicine, where a near microscopic tincture of the poison is "ritually" administered, in a most diluted ratio, so as to counteract and draw out the poisonous humor itself. It is as if man has proven himself by nature to have violent tendencies and so we need the ritual encounter on the micro level so as to mitigate our propensity for violence on the macro level. But having said that, for the animal itself, it is always on the macro level, isn't it? Minor surgery is always on other people. When YOU are having surgery it is always major!

Also, in Hebrew the word for water- mayim, is a pallandrome. That is, it reads the same in both directions. It cuts both ways. And in the context of taking a life, it may be suggesting then that if we take FROM "life," then we had better be prepared to put back INTO "life." If we are so ready to take the life of another creature with which we share the planet in order to live, then by the WAY we live we should make our lives worth living.

Like water, we should pass through life without leaving behind any stains. When we hike through beautiful lands we should not leave any litter behind. We should silently do our deep thing like the still waters. But water actually does leave something behind. It nourishes and waters all living things- both plants as well as animals. So let us always remember to pass through life like water- leaving behind only the traces of the lives we've touched and the evanescent memories of those for whom we've made a difference.

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

This Torah learning is written in the memory of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, z"l. Yisrael Yehoshua benHarav Yaaqov Hakohen Melman.

Sponsorships are available.
Contact me privately at
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Thursday, August 9, 2007

Hashgacha Pratis

Hashgacha Pratis - Divine Providence. A Personal Story.

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

My grandmother, my mother's mother, Anna Deutsch, nee Sucher, lived with us all through my early childhood and later my teens. She was now 94 and very frail. She was a model of forebearing and patience. No matter what the seeming urgency or problem, others might have been wracked with anxiety, but invariably her response was, "what difference does it make?" In other words, she had perfect Emunah. She accepted everything in life with sweetness and blessing.

She would regale me with tales of growing up in Horodenka, of how she lived on a wealthy manse containing factories, granaries and a mill and would even milk the cows for fun every morning before walking miles to school to attend gymnasium where she learned to recite reams of poetry by Goethe and spoke six languages fluently. She had a wonderful youth as a girl growing up in Galicia, on the slopes of the Carpathian mountains, watching the troops of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef training in full plumage in the valley below. People from all the neighboring villages, of all religions and ethnicities, would bring their grain to the mill. Her father, a Baal Shem Tov chasid, would ride his horse, his peyos flowing in the breeze.

She first came to America to explore the world and visit her older sister, but the poverty and hardship she saw as experienced by the huddled masses was not quite the golden land she had envisioned, and so she returned to Horodenka and the good life and beautiful green fields and verdant valleys she had enjoyed there with her family.

By the age of 18 she got married, but life in Europe was now starting to unravel and so they came to America three years later with the first two of their eventual seven children in tow. She lived with us when I was a child. She basically raised me, taking long walks with me, teaching me Yiddish and old world herbal medicinal cures. She would knit sweaters and blankets on what seemed a daily basis. "Never date a shiksa," she would say to me. "A shiksa will latch on to you and never let you go." In this age of rampant marital separation and divorce, maybe that's a good thing. But I don't think she meant it that way.

When she was but three years old the fully lit chanukah menorah fell off the window sill onto her straw bed while she was asleep. But the bed was not consumed. It did not catch on fire. Her angels were watching over her. That was her hashgacha pratit story. Now this is mine:

Taking time off from school to study Torah in Yerushalayim, I was walking the streets of the Holy City, as was my wont. Suddenly, I heard a voice in my head saying "go home." I instinctively knew it was about my grandmother, aged 94. I made my goodbyes to her some months earlier, not knowing if I would ever see her again.

Now this was a voice from Hashem that seemed to commandeer me. It was firm. I was not permitted to even go back to my apartment. Already carrying my passport on me and wearing a warm coat as it was just before Chanukah, I went directly to Ben Gurion and flew home to Logan, taking the Boston subways and buses until I arrived back in the outer burbs. I arrived back home suddenly, without notice, totally unanticipated. "Please take me to see grandma," I said to my folks. "But she just had another stroke the other day. She can't speak anymore. What's the rush? You just had a long trip. You can see her tomorrow." "I don't care. I need to see her now."

In her room at the home I visited with her. It was true. She could no longer speak. At least not with words. Just with the heart. We did not need words. We spoke the language of the heart. We were together again at last. I sat with her by her bed, her head propped up by pillows. Our eyes spoke to each other, sharing the love we felt for each other. But soon I had to leave, as she grew tired and the nurses ushered me out. I kissed her gently on her forehead. Maybe for the very last time.

And it was the last time. She passed away the next morning in her sleep, a smile on her lips. At the funeral there were many tears. But mine were tears of joy mixed with sadness, for I knew without a doubt that her neshama was soaring high and strong, her mission in this world completed. Her yahrzeit was 21 Kislev, just before Chanukah.

Postscript: Years later my daughter, Tifarah Chana Yasmeen Metukah, was born on 21 Kislev. Holding her newborn body in my arms, our eyes locked together as I kissed her on the head for the very first time. She could not speak yet with words, but our eyes spoke of the deep love we felt for each other, an infinite, eternal love, spanning worlds and continents and centuries.

When she was three, she asked plaintively, "Why doesn't Uncle Moishy ever come to our town." Because we live in a tiny village out in the country far from where all the other Jewish children all live. He only does concerts in towns where there are lots and lots of Jewish families with children.

But next Shabbos Uncle Moishe was our Shabbos guest, eating at our Shabbos table! His car was stranded in the snow storm, he would never make it to where he had planned to be for Shabbat on time, and so he called me, being that I was the local rabbi. Hashgacha Pratis. Divine Providence. Hashem listens to the prayers and yearnings of small children, his angelic cherubs here on Earth.

Post Postscript: Recently I looked up the name Sucher, my grandmother's family's name, from Horodenka, in the Yad Vashem memorial book, and it listed some eight Suchers all shot dead in the forests. The village was wiped out in its entirety by the Nazis, yemach shemam.

© 2000 - 2011 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman
These words of Torah are written in the merit of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, obm, Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Ya'aqov Hakohen Melman, z"l and in memory of my beloved mother, Esther Melman, obm, Esther bat Baruch z"l.

Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua
(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)

Friday, August 3, 2007


by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

What connection can we make between the Torah's mitzwoth and the Garden of Eden?

And how can the prism of Torah guide us to overcome the defining challenges of our day?

"Vehaya EKEV tishmaoon..."

"And it would come to pass ON ACCOUNT/IN EXCHANGE that you would listen, safeguarding and keeping them, then G*d your Lord will keep in mind the Covenant and Kindness which He swore to your fathers (Deuteronomy 7:12)."

What connections can we make between this odd word ekev in this passage and its use in earlier contexts? Here are two previous instances of the Torah's use of ekev:

Ekev, the root of Jacob's name, Yaaqov, who caused his brother to EXCHANGE his birthright for a bowl of lentils.

Ekev, the heel of the woman which would be targeted eternally by the snake (nachash).

The snake is the one who lost his own heel (in losing his capacity towalk since being doomed to crawl on his belly) and therefore seeks his vengeance on the heel of the woman, the woman who was caused to EXCHANGE a life in paradise ON ACCOUNT of the wiles of the snake. Eve with hindsight, could finally recognize that the snake was indeed Satan's agent, if not Satan himself.

Satan in Hebrew means "accuser,"pronounced sa-tahn, i.e., the one who tempts one to sin as a test of one's spritual/moral fortitude and then himself becomes the accuser in the heavenly court. Satan, the accusing angel, personifies evil, in the sense that he causes people to do the wrong thing while at the same time they believe that they are guiltless, even sublimely worthy (note the religious fervor of the terrorist who believes himself destined to attain heavenly reward for intentionally slaughtering the innocent).

While able to recognize sin, her curse was that, now exiled from the Garden, she would be forever subject to the terror of the snake, the fatal bite at the heel while minding her innocent pursuits! This is perfectly ironic because while in the Garden, the Evil Inclination (yetzer hara) was external to wo/man, tempting us from without, once outside the Garden it entered our consciousness, tempting us from within. So while its spiritual manifestation finds its locus internally, it expresses its physical manifestation externally.

The name "Eve" means Mother of all Life." Mothers are identified with infinite chesed, kindness, while evil represents its opposite. That is why the opening verse in the parsha employs both the words chesed and ekev, bringing home the point that Torah consciousness is indeed chesed consciousness. We forsake the Torah and exchange this chesed consciousness at our own peril. Indeed one can argue that the core idea of chesed has been essential to our perennial survival, passed on primarily through the mothers. It is therefore no coincidence that the evil of terrorism explicitly targets mothers and their children. Note that the gematria (numerical value) of the Hebrew letters for snake (NACHASH-358) and (SATAN-359) are nearly identical!

How can this "discrepancy of one" be understood for our times? If we connect with the ONE G*D (ONEG means spiritual delight) in our lives, making the fulfillment of G*D's will the purpose of ourexistence, then we can attach the alef/one of godliness onto the snake, again making the snake the agent for healing and blessing, instead of a curse. In a sense you are nullifying the Satan's power by aligning against it its exact counterpart spiritual DNA.

This idea is similar to the poisonous snakes narrative in parshat Chukat (Numbers 21). The Nechashim/Seraphim became transformed into very positive Seraphim(angels) when hoisted on the banner. Israel looked up at the copper snakes and therefore perforce looked up to heaven for salvation. We too, while suffering from vile terrorism, are perforce made to look heavenward for salvation. By becoming a more godly society we begin to nullify the curse of the expulsion from Eden/Israel.

Note that the poison snake narrative followed on the "heels"of the people complaining about a lack of bread in the wilderness! The curse of the Exile was man's necessity to earn his bread by his own labors. In Eden bread was provided without labor, in exchange for recognition of G*d's Presence and taking responsibility for one's actions. So too in the wilderness, the manna was provided gratis, provided that Israel develop a concomitant faith in G*d's Power and Promise.

By acknowledging G*d in our lives, by living Divinely-focused lives as manifested by our attachment to Torah and its mandate of NON random acts of Practical Kindness, we can actually transform the curse of the snake and thereby attain an equality (symbolized by the now numeric equivalence with the Satan). In other words, the evil of terror can be nullified by our drawing closer to G*d and His Torah. Through our adherence to the Torah's commandments and value system, the negativity of the poison snake can be transformed into positive energy, which can then become a corrective to counterbalance the negativity of the Satanic energies. Terror, as evil as it is, can yet be transformed into a force for good, if we as individuals and society as a whole turn closer to living more kindly and G*d infused lives.

Like on a see-saw, we wildly lurch towards G*d and then away in the opposite direction. The terror of 9/11 helped make us more aware of the spiritual import of unity and harmony. We became closer to our families and our communities, and reevaluated the priorities in our lives.

And yet we so quickly forget.

Having explored Eve's connection to the word ekev, the eponymous name of our parsha, let us briefly examine Yaacov's association with ekev. The very root of the name Yaakov is ekev. Jacob was so named largely on account that his descendants would become the nexus of this spiritual battle between good and evil. Evil personified in the guise of terror and negativity would come to do battle with the forces of good and positivity. Through the dark night he wrestles with the forces of evil, until he overcomes the angel of the darkness as the dawn begins to emerge. Esau, his brother/foe, had been blessed by their father with inhabiting the "oil places" of the earth MISHMANEY HAARETZ YIHYEH MOSHAVECHA (Genesis 27:39). Shuman/shemen means both fat and oil. The fat places of the land (traditional translation) can be also read as the oil places of the land. That is, the one place in the entire Middle East without oil is Eretz Yisrael (Lebanon and much of Syria are within the Torah's boundaries of Eretz Yisrael (Numbers 34/Massey)! Whereas in the midrashic literature Esau/Edom was seen as the progenitor of Rome, the arch rival of Israel in antiquity, today the Arab/Islamic world more readily qualifies as the Esav/Edom foe du jour.

Interestingly, Jacob is blessed with the name of Israel by none other than the wrestling angel himself! This means that those whom we wrestle against, i.e., our enemy, can yet come to bless us, as long as we strenuously assert our will to live and take our rightful place as purveyors of the Light of Torah, living lives that are blessed by acts of compassion and kindness to each other. Thus we shall perforce illuminate the darkness with the arrival of a new dawn.

But the price of the blessing was a limp in the leg, causing a curious shuffle. The word "shuffle" in English comes from the Hebrew word "shafel,"which means "lowly." People who perceive themselves as lowly, lacking a certain dignity, often shuffle when they walk, incapable of taking the noble strides of one filled with self-respect. Many today view our shuffling/hardships, both in Israel and America, as a sign of lowliness among the nations, that somehow our afflictions are deserved. Otherwise we would not be afflicted! But what they fail to see is that our affliction is not in our heel, it is in our thigh! It is not the heel wound from the snake a la Eve; it is the wound from the wrestling angel, a la Jacob, and a precursor to blessing! Thus our attitude and self-knowledge can transform the feeling of victimization and lowliness/loneliness to the heights of hope and the cliffs of courage and bravery. Our thoughts are our destiny; our actions are our fate.

Shabbat Shalom © 2000 - 2007 by Rabbi Baruch Melman

This Torah is sent out in the merit of my father of blessed memory, Israel J. Melman, Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Yaaqov Hakohen Melman.

Dedications of these writings are available. Please contact me privately.
My band, Niggun, is available for simchas and performances. I may be reached at

Reb Shlomo with Reb Zusha ben Avraham Zimmerman

Reb Shlomo with Reb Zusha ben Avraham Zimmerman

What mind is it?

"Great minds discuss ideas;
average minds discuss events;
small minds discuss people."
-Eleanor Roosevelt


"If you believe that you can damage, then believe that you can fix..... If you believe that you can harm, then believe that you can heal..........." Rebbe Nachman of Breslov
"No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care."

- anonymous
"Perhaps the greatest force in the entire universe is compounded interest."

- Albert Einstein
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!