Friday, December 28, 2007


by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

There are two kinds of surrendering. There is the surrendering out of love and there is the surrendering out of fear. This mirrors the two ways to serve G*d - out of love or out of fear/awe. There is the surrender to totalitarianism (political or religious) which stems from fear and compulsion. Then there is the surrender to our children which is born of a compulsion not out of fear, but out of love. The surrender to totalitarianism is the ultimate of oppression- serving the finite. But the surrendering to love is a taste of the infinite. The latter is giving it up. The former is "just" giving up.

The Torah chronicles man's struggle with freedom of the individual versus the crushing grip of totalitarian dictatorships. It is a proponent of mankind's freedom and liberty against the tyranny of systems of oppression. Again and again we see the urges of governments to dominate (using the standard MIStranslation):

"Come, let us deal wisely with it (am yisrael)..." (EX 1:10) "HAVA nitchachma lo..." (Egypt)

"... Come, let us make bricks and burn them in fire..." (GEN 11:3) "...HAVA nilb'nah l'vainim ve'nisrefa le'sereifa..." (Babel)

"...Come, let us build us a city..." (Gen 1:4) "...HAVA nivneh lanu ir..." (Babel)

A basic familiarity with Hebrew roots will dispel any notion that HAVA means "come."
The word HAVA in Hebrew unfortunately is not spelled Hey Vet Alef, whereit could be properly translated as "come." Instead, it is spelled Hey Vet Hey, which is derived from HAV, meaning "to give."

This is the basis for the word "aHAVah," meaning "love." Mature love means a "giving" kind of love, as opposed to a "taking" kind of love. HAV is also related to LaHAV, or flame, in the sense that HAVU means render (on the altar) as in (Psalm29): "HAVU LaShem b'nei eilim, HAVU LaShem kavod va'oz. HAVU LaShem kevod shemo, ..." A flame is the active agent of the korban, the sacrificial offering. Meaning to draw near (KaRoV), like a flame it reaches up to its source.

It's meaning could be understood as either RENDER (as in "give", or "burn up"), or as SURRENDER (as in "give it up"). So in Genesis and in Exodus we "have" the idea of HAVA preceding a notion of a reordering of the social order. This is accomplished through the people giving up their individual rights in the name of some totalitarian ideal.

With this new understanding, we see the Pharaoh now saying: " Hava - Surrender to my will. Let us deal wisely with it (Israel)." Or the leader of Babel now saying: " Hava -Surrender to my will. Let us build a city..."

In the Genesis Babel narrative this urge is to unify the people of the world, to mitigate against the natural tendency of nature and people towards a state of entropy. It is to prevent their spreading out. Their greatest fear was thus realized as a self-fulfilling prophecy. It can be read as a narrative explaining the diffuse state of human habitation against a background of a once greater concentration. Or it can be understood as an examination of the wrestling within man
of the warring urges doing battle within as to whether to forego personal responsibility and take refuge in the psychology of the masses (totalitarian temptation) or to accept personal responsibility and the accompanying fear (freedom impulse). Or both.

In the Exodus narrative of our parsha Shemot, it is to unify the Egyptian nation/state and to consolidate Pharaoh's power in the event of a rebellious fifth column. Their greatest fear came to pass as well. The problem with each of those societies was that "the people" were being asked to give up their rights for ignoble ends. Whether for the self-glorification of man or for the self-preservation of Pharaoh, the god/king, in both cases their respective projects were doomed to failure because G*d was not the centerpiece of their devotions and drives.

Shifra and Puah, the two midwives who defied Pharaoh's decree (EX 1:17), earned G*d's favor by standing up to injustice. G*d is served through the struggle for justice. Their act of civil disobedience set into motion the cascade of events leading to the birth of baby Moses and the redemption of Israel, marking the Jewish mission essentially as one of a vision of social justice.

Each of these totalitarian enterprises were based on the vain hopes of construction projects which would bear mute testimony to the false greatness of their respective societies. Each entailed vast construction projects based on mortar and bricks (chomer and levainim). Chomer represents materialism, the vain strivings of an empty heart.

Leveinim, bricks, are a cognate composite of lev (heart) and banim (children). A true and lasting legacy is a spiritual legacy, where the values and feelings of one's heart are passed down to one's children for all eternity. This is a true tower. Not a tower of bricks and mortar, but a tower of transmitting a spiritual moral legacy through the values which one passes on to one's children.

Ironically, chomer, or crass materialism, is a stumbling block for the transmission of lasting spiritual values. The tower of Babel was doomed for its crass materialism and warped sense of values. It is taught in the midrash that when workers fell to their deaths there were no tears. Only shattered fallen bricks warranted tears. To what extent are our values those of Babel?

What we need are new spiritual towers of chesed (kindness) in place of the corrupt physical towers of Egypt and Babel. Israel's towers are spiritual towers. The towers of the Torah's teachings are the values of kindness, love and compassion.

This tower has no place for surrendering freedoms as an act of obeisance to a new Pharaoh, "who knew not Joseph."Rather, it is built on an absence of coercion and a simple love of one's neighbor. Whether we become unified as Israel or dispersed as in Babel depends on making kindness and justice, Shifra and Puah's eternal legacy, the underpinnings of our new social order.
True freedom is attained through surrendering our egos and our drives in order to serve G*d, to making G*d, our Creator, the true centerpiece of our hopes and dreams. Not to serve G*d through conquering and dominating others, as taught by deeply misguided religious fanatics, but by conquering one's self, one's own drives and desires. This surrendering to G*d means experiencing the deepest liberation, whereas surrendering to religio-political authoritarian rule means to conversely experience the deepest oppression.

As man is created in G*d's image, so too will our tower of chesed (kindness) be reflected in the supernal realm and cause a true salvation to give succor and uplift to humanity. And on that day will David's words be realized by his messianic descendant, (SHmuel Bet 22:51) Migdol yeshuot malko ve'oseh chesed l'meshicho, leDavid ulizaro ad olam..." A tower of salvation is He to His king; and showing mercy to His annointed, to David and to his seed, forevermore."

Shabbat Shalom

© 2000 - 2007 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

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

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

Friday, December 21, 2007


by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

Our parsha, Vayechi, deals with the life and end-times of Jacob. His passing evokes thought on what it means to put one's affairs in order, to have one's body returned to the Land of Israel for burial, the nature of dying itself, and the connection between this world and the world to come. As Jacob initially embarks on his first exile, crossing the borders of the Holy Land to find sanctuary among his uncle Laban, he has a dream in a place which he calls Beit El, the House of G*d, formerly known as Luz.

Jacob, upon his passing, becomes the first Hebrew to seek repatriation of his body to the Holy Land for burial. When, in the End of Days, according to tradition, the body rebuilds itself and tunnels underthe earth to Eretz Yisrael where it becomes newly resouled, the foundation bone (of the neck) which serves as the latticework for this rebuilding is also called the "luz." What is the connection?

At Beit El, Jacob encounters the dimension of the infinite realm, a revelation of a heavenly ladder (sulam), a kind of latticework upon which angels ascend and descend. This ladder represents all the spiritual levels. As he about to start a family he need be cognizant of how much his children's spiritual growth would depend on his own instruction. We see that crossing the Jordan becomes a metaphor for death itself, a transformative passageway between the foundation experience (Luz/Canaan) of his life growing up, and the full blossoming of his manhood as a mature adult (Beit El, G*d's Holy Abode, Olam HaBa).

The seeds of deception which he planted in his earlier life (his name Yaakov/Jacob means "trickster," or "heel") came to fruition to teach him his life's lessons and meaning in his later life. By the end of his third stage, his life in Egypt of this week's parsha, he finally witnessed the rectification of his earlier mistakes in the peace and harmony of his children and grandchildren. Now in Egypt, his second exile, he blesses his children for the last time, and takes stock of their spiritual growth and progress. He knows that he himself, as the Last of the Patriarchs, must be buried in Machpela Cave, in Hebron. His body, the last to be placed in the holy tomb, is the final missing piece necessary to complete its spiritual function. Only then, with his body, the missing piece now in place, can this spiritual rejuvenation process finally be triggered.

Why was it so urgent for Jacob to be buried whole in the cave, rather than to just have his future remains brought out of Egypt at the time of the Exodus, as would be the case with Joseph? Ironically, the holy couples that were buried there were buried whole, and yet their function spiritually was to serve symbolically as a collective bare luz bone, upon whose foundation all Israel in the future would attach themselves.

As the Last Patriarch, Jacob was blessed with a keen vision to glimpse what will be in the End of Days (Acharit HaYamim- Gen 49:1). This vision was an echo of the Vision of the Ladder. His last act before his final blessing was to instate his grandchildren, Ephraim and Menashe as co-equal in status to his own children to merit becoming tribal heads. What made them worthy of their co-equal status was their fraternal harmony. Jacob could cross his arms and bless the one instead of the other and none would bat an eyelash.

Contrast the bitter enmity and struggle between Jacob and Esau. Now, at last, it seemed that the children of Israel had learned the secret of their future success.We must be so very conscious at every moment to teach our children the value of loving each other. And not just biological brothers, but all Jews should see themselves as brothers, and ultimately all humanity as well. We are all brothers with one heavenly father.

The whole painful saga of Jacob and his brother, and of Joseph and his brothers was to learn the value of empathy and brotherly love. Only with that painful lesson learned could Israel emerge from its pupa-like "family" stage and become a mature nation with a vision of brotherhood and peace to share with the world.

Jacob confesses to Pharaoh that his years were bitter ones, and few, compared to his father and grandfather. But that bitterness was really the toxic bile of fraternal strife and enmity being released. All the years, nay, generations of brotherly conflict, going back to Cain and Abel of the first generation, had been so very toxic that humanity could not grow and move forward without Jacob's release of the negativity of the bitter bile of multi-generational toxic sludge.

Just as the ladder, the sulam, in Jacob's dream was a vertical lattice work of the angelic realm, the bodies arranged horizontally in the Cave of Machpela would serve as the lattice work foundation of the human/earthly realm. The dream took place in Luz. The cave would come to be the workshop where the dreams of Jacob/Israel would become reality. The foundation couples of the Jewish nation, like the foundation bone (the luz), would come to serve as the attachment point for the rebuilding of not necessarily a physical body per se, but rather of a vision for a rebuilt Israel living in harmony as a role model for world harmony and peace. This is Israel's mission. Indeed, this is Israel's dream.

Shabbat Shalom.

© 2000 - 2007 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

This week's writing is dedicated to my daughter Yisraela y"n, (amush) on the occasion of her birthday on Taz Tevet. She was named for my father, and born just prior to Shabbat Vayechi Yaaqov, the same Shabbat on which my grandfather, Yaaqov, ascended the sulam/ladder up to heaven.

Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua
(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)
Dedications are available.
My band, Niggun, is available for all simchas.
Contact me privately at

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

Editor's note: I have a friend who, while Jewish, did not grow up in the bosom of the faith. Lately he has come to me with questions about the religion, and I hereby present excerpts from our on-line dialogue. Of course, he has consented to the publication of our correspondence, and as he has chosen to remain anonymous and unsung, his wishes are hereby granted.

Friend: In economics and in other fields, emphasis is often placed on the idea of "systems." In other words, above and beyond what individuals do or don't do, they often seem powerless in the face of these larger forces. So having said that, do you see any merit in Judaism's placing a large responsibility on individual morality?

Melman: In Judaism, the path to G*d, the halakha, comes to the door of every individual. Though cloaked in community, the individual alone faces his maker for his accounting. Judaism allows for no human mediators. Every individual is responsible for his moral behavior. There is no passing the buck. Judaism posits that man has free choice. It demands taking a moral stand. If we don't take moral stands - simply, what is right and what is wrong - on the "picayune" realm of the personal day to day, how then do we ingrain a moral bias for taking stands on the larger social issues? In fact, what are the larger social issues, if not the sum total of all the individual issues? As in chaos theory, the proverbial flapping wings of the butterfly has an effect on the weather on the other side of the world. In that sense, we are all butterflies. But besides the individual's call to morality, we also have the individual's obligation to celebrate. On all the Jewish holy days - from the High Holy Days to the pilgrimage festivals to every Sabbath and to every single day, the Jew is commanded to reflect on life, and to celebrate life.
And just as morality to be global must expand to include community, so too, the idea of the celebration of life should expand to include community in order to be truly joyous through sharing with others.

Friend: What do you think about in your quieter moments?

Melman: In many a quiet moment I've given pause to ponder and to observe. I've watched with detached fascination the impulsive freneticisms of atomized man. I have felt loss at the self neglect in many who waste their lives - both present and potential. They wander through life aimlessly. There is no point, they think, in an endeavor which to them is ultimately absurd. But let them imagine that it wasn't absurd, that life did have meaning. People could at long last raze their castles of apathy and loneliness. In a vision of a world uniting to mend itself, despair and cynicism could finally find a haven to rest in places other than in men's souls. Imagine people "checking in" at regular intervals to take stock at the state of many things: their private goals, their relationships, their work, the cosmos. And in juxtaposition to their human shortcomings, imagine that they could simultaneously believe in an idea of a reachable condition of perfection. Imagine the resultant earnestness and comradeship that would naturally flow from this process.

Friend: What is your gut feeling about utopian ideologies? I mean, be on the level, okay?

Melman: Okay, so you have this utopian image with which man can align himself, an image which holds out a potential for harmony and of bliss for mankind. Frankly, I'm a little tired of talking about "humanity." What appeal can these notions have if they don't address me, a single human being? Nothing bears out this self-deceit more than the sorry spectacle of those humanity lovers who have nothing of value to show in their own lives, in their own spheres of relating.

Friend: How do you come to terms with the existential problem of drudgery?

Melman: There is a side to people that begs to transcend day to day repetitious mundanity. The Sabbath Day, imbued with a dimension of Divine holiness, is to some, a mechanism of release. In this I find meaning. But I do not regard my every day existence as a drudgery. In fact, I believe that the accent of the Jewish religion is one that actually emphasizes the day to day. How we function in the here and now - in "realty," is the yardstick by which we measure true religious success.

Friend: Tell me, do you imbue the Sabbath with any specifically metaphorical meaning?

Melman: The Sabbath, to me, is an eternal metaphor for human interaction, presenting a paradigm of relating on realms both Divine and human. Let us briefly look at the beginnings of the relationship between Israel and G*d, according to traditional and personal intuitions. First, there was a discovery by Abraham of G*d. Then came a period of reciprocal learning and awareness. G*d came to know the heights of Abraham's devotion, in the near sacrifice of his cherished son, Isaac. In turn, Abraham came to know the limits, and the degrees, of G*d's decrees. Justice and compassion were weighed. Abraham challenged G*d to define and to be faithful to His own standards of morality. Witness the intercession, however fruitless in the end in terms of immediate results, on behalf of Sodom and Gemorrah. Thus having come to know each other as each "operated" in reality, G*d finally initiated the formal bonding of their relationship, through both him and his seed. The naturalness of the developing relationship was reconfirmed at Sinai. How much and for how long could they mutually endure without defining the terms of their fealty, and celebrating the worth of their bond? That event, in Judaism, is eternally contemporaneous to every Jew.

Friend: What is the enduring testimony to that bond?

Melman: What is the enduring testimony to that bond? Israel's observance of the Sabbath: the Sabbath of "yetzirah" - of formation - that harkens back to a prepolitical celebration of G*d's unfolding creation. One is reminded, through observance of the Sabbath, that in living, one is called upon to interelate on terms of mutual benefit and growth. We remind ourselves of the command to come out of ourselves, for in unity and community there is strength. But for what purpose is this strength? To what end? We must always hold a vision before us of the perfect ideal world, the vaunted messianic state. The Jewish tradition asks us to always compare this vision to current reality. In this sense man is considered to be a co-partner in creation, in that his task is to finish creation. The Sabbath reminds us of our bond to the covenant which demands of us this task, and it celebrates the creation even though it is still yet incomplete. The Exodus from Egypt is recalled in the idea of the Sabbath of "yetziah"- the "going out" - which is an enduring metaphor for the eternal imperative of liberation - both personal and global.

Friend: What about cosmic thoughts? Cosmology versus cosmogeny.

Melman: The individual, so to speak, confronts his cosmic beginnings, and beholds his transformation through concentric realms of being. On one plane of consciousness, he identifies with the polity of Israel contemporaneously standing before the ongoing revelation. On another plane, he transcends history and space, imbibing once more of the protological serenity of Eden, that prefiguration of the messianic world where once again all will be united under the Divine principle. Along these lines run certain mystical strains in the Jewish tradition. Concepts of logos and genus merely tend to obfuscate the obvious.

Friend: I see. And what about G*d, the so-called "deity?"

Melman: How can G*d be really relevant to you, you wonder? I believe that if one looked at the world with his or her eyes fully opened, he would glimpse the vast multitude of deities that many worship - even today. If they don't worship "large case" G*d, they worship some other "small case" god. Upon that to which he directs his desires, beyond all proportion or degree thought necessary or appropriate, that is his god. Many worship power, domination, submission to authority, their country or even themselves. They become locked into a vicious and alienating circle from which it is even harder to emerge. Man is measured by that which he values. So it's not a question of choosing to serve G*d, but of choosing which god to serve. All people expend energy serving their particular god. In prayer, a person likewise serves G*d. He arranges his values in order, in their appropriate context. One reasserts control over one's life, and reminds himself in prayer that his choice is ultimately worth his while. Reward in the next world, olam haba - after life? So it is taught. But just as important is the reward of satisfaction in the attainment of self-mastery, in reaping the spiritual benefits of this world inherently earned in the journey of self discovery. Without this struggle and the self-knowledge derived from this struggle, there would possibly be no point to ever being born.

Friend: You mention struggling. Where does suffering figure in all this talk of halacha?

Melman: Prayer and halacha - Jewish law, literally "the way," have an additional extrinsic worth, beyond the intrinsic. In embracing the symbolic structures of a particular religious system, which by definition imposes meaning on the problems of existence, man places suffering within a cosmic framework. He can thus define his emotions to suffering in a meaningful way. As a means for dealing with the evils of the world as opposed to facing a chaos, an awesome terror of the unknown, the halacha charts an ethos, marking boundaries so that one can function as anxiety free as possible within the world. Like struggling, suffering leads to growth. A mighty oak tree is only born in the pain of the acorn's disintegration.

Friend: This Judaism. It's so vast. I'm frankly a little intimidated by its scope, vastness and depth. Is it really worth the effort to master?

Melman: Standing in direct counterpoint to the modern dogma of false spontaneity, a kind of compulsive reactivity to sensory input, is the principle within Jewish observance of kavanah, or "intention." It posits that the value of an action is markedly enhanced when it is couched in an aura of ready anticipation. Thus an act takes on an organic nature all its own, drawing its first breath in the seed of one's prior intention. While halacha admittedly limits my physical freedom, it more than compensates by widening my scope of perception. Every action is imbued with a more profound and higher significance. My horizons become sensitized to ever deeper levels of concern, and ultimately - to action. It gives a rhythm and continuity to my life, providing a steady anchor in an unstable world. As the Torah teaches (Leviticus 19:18): "Love your neighbor as yourself." And as Rabbi Hillel added, so succinctly: "That which is hateful to you, do not do unto others. All the rest is commentary." There you have it, phrased both in the positive and the negative. All bases covered.

Friend: So apart from me, does a person like you have many friends?

Melman: I grant you that my orientation and socialization within the world of Jewish observance was a natural one. What you most ably could identify with, would be my independent discovery and personal interpretation of the age-old system. In the main prayer, the amidah, we say elokeinu v'elokei avoteinu, "our G*d and the G*d of our fathers." We each have the task of not only learning from tradition, but of making personal sense of it all. I can receive what it meant for my fathers before me, but what does it mean to me? That only comes from study of the Torah and reflection. It says knei lecha Rav. "Acquire for yourself a rabbi." Push your comfort zone in order to grow. Little by little. That's the only way. Entering this age old system from an external vantage point, without guidance, would, I am sure, seem like a scary proposition. I might add, however, that with study, your fresh perspective would probably afford you a unique understanding. Should you wish to learn and be open to suggestion, I will share with you what I found to be the best way to enter the tradition: simply do it. Begin from where you are. Performing a mitzvah, a "G*d connector," teaches you more than any amount of study can. The experiential element is central to acquiring knowledge of "the way." I found that slow is best. I would slowly take one mitzvah at a time and make it "mine." Then I would take another, and so on. Coming back to it again would be like a reunion with an old friend. Right now, to answer your question, I have quite a few friends!

copyright 2007 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

This was dedicated to the memory of both my grandfathers, who both share the same yahrzeit, the ninth day of Tevet, but in separate years. One was my maternal grandfather, Burich ben Yonah, z"l, who was an iconoclast and whose first name I bear. The other was my paternal grandfather, Harav Yaaqov ben Meir Yisrael Hakohen, z"l, a deeply learned Rav and Baal Musar, musmach of the Mir yeshiva in Russia and rebbe of the Slobodka yeshiva in Russia, whose last name and Aaronide status I bear. A leader of the pre- WW2 NYC Jewish community, he had two daughters - my aunts. One helped found the first mikveh in Far Rockaway, Queens, as sisterhood president of the White Shul, and the other married the president of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Such was the unity and brotherhood of the Jewish community once upon a time. Would that it might yet return.

Friday, December 14, 2007


by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

Do we have the courage to break free from our limiting paradigms?
To what extent does our anger limit us from growth and conciliation?
Finally, what reward awaits us for finding this key to change?

Jacob was forever trapped in a cycle of deception and trickery. Either on the giving end (Esau and Isaac) or on the receiving end (Laban and his own sons). He was stuck in an endlessly repeating loop from which he could not break out. He wore a mask, the pungent garments of his brother Esau, in order to attain blessings of mastery. He could only attain power through the veil of deceit, hence the endless cycle of bitterness and pain. His son, Joseph, however, was able to break this cycle. He attained power in Egypt by sheer mark of character, force of personality and faith in G*d. He needn't assume a false identity to achieve success. This is borne out when (his brother) Judah says to him in the opening line of our parsha,

(Gen 44:18)"...kee chamocha ke'Pharoah." "You are like yourself as Pharoah...(is like himself)." (my translation).

This is the highest compliment one can give to another human being. Judah is comparing Joseph to the King in greatness, and yet he is saying that he is still an individual, still his own man. "Chamocha" means "you are unique, there is no one like you."

On a deeper level, this means that Joseph, being his "own man," has now broken free of his father's patterning and addiction. Yes, he maintained a mask to test his brothers' sincerity and remorse, but more importantly he achieved the blessing of power in Egypt without any resort to the slightest hint of deception. He could become powerful like "Esau" without becoming like Esau in his impetuosity and compulsiveness. This connection between Joseph and his father is further underlined by the rare usage of the word"vayiGaSH," the very name of our parsha! To love one's father means taking the best of his character and leaving the rest behind. Blind absorption
of his negative human qualities is a form of slavish idolatry.

When Jacob is in the act of tricking his father, Isaac suspects fraud and therefore says, (Gen 27:21) "GeSHa na elai ve'amushcha b'nee..." "Come closer to me and let me touch you my son..."

And the next verse uses the same verb,"vayiGaSH Yaaqov el Yitzchaq aveev..." "Jacob came closer to his father Isaac..."

And here in the very first verse of our parsha it says,

"Judah drew right up next to him (Joseph) and said...." VayiGaSH eilav Yehudah...

The exact same verbs are used in these two narratives, precisely to draw a connection between father and son! Actually between both sons. The Torah wants to show how Joseph broke free from his father's style vis a vis the attainment of power as much as it wants to show how Judah demonstrated true personal leadership, putting himself at risk rather than risking his own children (a la Reuben).

This is also a break from his father Jacob,who had sent his entire camp/family ahead of himself to meet up with Esau, while he stayed behind and was the last to cross over the River Jabok! The true moral of our parsha is that we should have the strength of character to break free from the pathologies and addictions of our forebears- either in terms of ideology or personality. Whether the addiction is rage or antisemitism, or alcohol or deception, every new generation has the chance to start fresh and begin new paradigms of relating.

In fact, he himself realized his inadequacies and wanted to be left all alone to contemplate his weakness and work on himself. The angel was sent by G*d as a validation of his determination
to work on his character.

The weak personality doesn't easily stand up and take responsibility. When leaving Canaan before going to his Uncle Laban in Padan Aram he tells G*d that if He will watch over him and take care of him he will remain loyal to G*d. All the onus is on G*d to guarantee his security.

While Esau acquired the aggressive tendencies Jacob acquired the opposite passive tendencies.
It was against his nature to take initiative and strike boldly. Indeed he chastised his sons for their proactive action against Shechem. Their actions were as extreme as he was passive and retiring.

The early Zionist pioneers looked with contempt and revulsion upon their diaspora yeshiva brethren who seemed effeminate and passive in the face of rising antisemitism. Being outside the land of Israel enabled Jacob's descendants to allow their passive side to re-emerge. Upon returning to the Land of Israel, the "new" Jacob cum Israel identity reasserted itself, allowing the latent aggressive and assertive Jewish personality to reemerge .

When the angel bestowed upon Jacob the new name of Israel, it was indicative of a deep change and insight on Jacob's part to what he saw as being the pattern of his life. Whereas Abram's name change to Abraham was a permanent and immutable one, Jacob's was not. His two names could be interchanged, reflecting the anguish of the vicissitudes of the emotional terra firma of the addictive personality; each day is a victory or a crushing defeat. But Jacob himself bestowed upon his own children the blessing to break free of the chains of Jacob, and to carry on as sons of Israel, sons of his better, higher self.

Rather than swing from one extreme to the other, is it possible to integrate the two natures of his personality and remain whole? A hint of the possibility of reconciliation of SELF is found in our parsha as Joseph reveals his identity.

In GEN 45:4 he says to his brothers: GeSHu na Elai VayiGaSHu.
"Come close to me now and they came close to him..." And then in the next verse he says "al teyatzvu v'al yichar b'eyneychem...don't be sad or angry (because you sold me)."

In other words, Joseph is hinting that the brotherly conciliation can only occur when sadness and anger are no longer operative. They can only draw close to each other when the toxic addiction of anger is let go (along with its sister emotion of sadness). Anger is a form of idolatry and divisiveness as much as G*d is emblematic of unity and reconciliation as manifested in the Shema prayer.

Jacob's integration is achieved finally through the achievements of his children. Three full generations must pass before the children of Israel (and Jacob and Isaac and Abraham) learn to achieve reconciliation. Indeed that is why we are all called the Children of Israel. Only the children of Israel were able to finally get along with one another!

The "reward" for this fraternal reconciliation is Joseph granting them the Land o' Goshen as their new dwelling place while in Egypt. Commentators have suggested that the name "Goshen"
is related to the idea of "gashmiut," or materialism. I would offer that the apportioned land which is named Goshen is really in recognition of the fact that the estranged brothers could finally achieve a drawing close together - vayiGaSH (gashniut- my neologism) after rivers of tears and paroxysms of pain, anger, guilt and ainguish.

We must learn from this episode that we can model conciliation in our own lives by letting go of our anger which blinds us from seeing the blossoming of the seed of fraternity. Anger prevents growth and stunts our emotional development. Adolescents only develop their full potential to achieve maturity to the extent that they can go through and finally let go of their anger and hostility. Whether our anger is directed internally or externally it still must be expunged. This week we welcomed the month of Tevet, the month for the kabbalistic fixing of anger.

Like the children of Israel, may we, too, come to draw close to one another in harmony and fellowship and dwell in prosperity and friendship in our proverbial Lands of Goshen until our messianic deliverance summons us back home. Letting go of our anger and transcending the pettiness of our self-limiting perceptions is the key to unlocking the dungeon doors to let in the Divine light.

Shabbat Shalom!

© 2000 - 2007 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

Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua

(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)
Dedications are available.

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

Sunday, December 9, 2007


by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, ztk"l

Shabbos is the strongest vitamin.

Shabbos is one day when you can have paradise in your heart.

Unless you are drunk with the sweetness of Shabbos, you won’t really feel it.

On Shabbos, we are fixing the not-so-good and lifting the good up higher.

The whole world is waiting to hear about Shabbos.

Shabbos is something untouched by the rest of the world.

On Shabbos, take a vacation from the world, beyond time and space, beyond labels.

Have pity on yourself. Leave the world of fantasy, of lies, of being asleep.… Our soul comes from such an awesome place, it cannot live without bliss, the bliss of Shabbos.

Shabbos is worth more than the whole world.

If I would have the guts, I would run through all the streets of the world and I would tell the whole world about Shabbos.

Shabbos is the deepest healing of the world.

Our holy Rabbis teach us that a doctor can only heal a foot or a hand; they cannot give you a new one. Shabbos, on a spiritual level, gives you back your hands and your feet. It gives you new brains, new eyes, new ears.

Some people say, in a rushed, muffled, low voice, “Good Shabbos,” and are already pulling away their hand-shake because they are thinking about their chicken soup. If they were ordering herring, they’d say it with more joy! But some people do know how to say “Good Shabbos” in the warmest, sweetest way. “Good Shabbos, Good Shabbos.”

You can’t say it just one time. You have to say, “Good Shabbos, Good Shabbos.”

Did you ever hear the most assimilated Jew saying, “Good Wednesday,” or “Good Thursday,” or, without saying anything bad, a non-Jew saying, “Good Sunday?”

You only have Shabbos if you are longing for it. You have it if you miss it all the time.

The mitzvah of Shabbos is Shabbos itself. When Shabbos comes I am yearning to serve G-d in the most infinite way. During the week, my finite and infinite selves are apart. On Shabbos, my finite and infinite selves are brought together.

The Yid HaKodesh said, “Some people eat fish on Shabbos, and some people eat Shabbos on Shabbos.”

Shabbos is different from all other holidays. The Talmud explains that if there were no Jews in the world, there would be no Jewish holidays, but Shabbos would always exist even if there were no Jews to observe it, because on Shabbos something special happens to the world. G-d opens up the gates and something very holy comes down to us from Heaven. All we have to do is pick it up.

Shabbos is what G-d is doing. The Mishkan [holy Tabernacle] is what man is doing.

Shabbos Shalom [Shabbos is peace]. Shabbos is a name of G-d.

Perhaps in former good days, when a Jew kept Shabbos, he just kept Shabbos. Today, when a Jew keeps Shabbos, he or she is comforting the Jewish People and also comforting G-d.

Shabbos is the day for our souls. All week we care about our physical needs. On Shabbos we care for our spiritual enrichment.

Shabbos is Paradise. Paradise is a place where everything is good, everything is holy, and everything is beautiful.

In Paradise, it’s suddenly clear to me that I can fix all my mistakes. Even more so, everything that I thought was a mistake wasn’t, and every street I thought was the wrong street, was the only way to get to where I was going.

Shabbos has two faces. One is keeping Shabbos holy – the 39 laws of Shabbos, the withdrawing from the mundane world. Then there is the bliss of Shabbos, the inside of Shabbos, which is a gift from Heaven. The bliss of Shabbos is even deeper than Paradise. It is a secret between me and G-d, between me and the people I love so much.

Shabbos is peace, because peace is secrets, secrets of the deepest depths. Secrets are the deepest G-d revelation.

True Shabbos people are people who walk the streets of the world and seem to have a secret with every human being they see, with those they love. It’s the secret of all secrets.

When you don’t keep Shabbos, your heart becomes hard like a stone. You lose your sweetness.

Imagine you have a limp and you hope that one day you won’t be limping anymore. After many years, if you are still limping, you will probably give up hope. But imagine if one day a week you don’t limp, then you might say, “If I don’t limp one day a week, maybe one day I won’t limp at all.” That is what Shabbos is. One day a week we don’t limp. It’s the secret of Jewish survival.

How does G-d pay you for your good deeds? Do you think that G-d looks up to see how much you should get in the Yellow Pages? It is the most individual thing in the world. It cannot be written down.

Every Jew has to put on Tefillin [phylacteries]. Every Jew has to keep Shabbos, everyone has to…. But do you know what the reward is? The reward is the utmost G-d revelation just to you. And this happens on Shabbos.

Every minute of Shabbos, I am waiting for this Shabbos to become the Great Shabbos.
How is Shabbos double? If there is only joy, then there is only joy. If there is only sadness, then there is only sadness. The doubleness of Shabbos is that all those things which I did with sadness, are also full of joy. All those things I did in darkness are also full of light. This is the doubleness of Shabbos.

“You shall keep the Shabboses.” What are the two Shabboses? The holy Beis Yaakov says: there is one Shabbos before creation, and one Shabbos after creation. At the end of the Shabbos before creation, G-d decided to create the world. Then there were six days of ‘work,’ of creation, and then Shabbos.

The Shabbos before creation is on the level that G-d gives you without your asking. The Shabbos after creation is on the level of prayer. That means that you can’t work for it. When do I pray? When I can’t do, or get something on my own. I don’t know how to do or get it. I tried, and tried, for six days, and I am at the end. At that point I begin to pray. This is the second Shabbos.

The whole idea of peace is not to lie. Shabbos is a day of peace. Shabbos is also a day of truth. The Talmud says: even the lowest creature cannot lie on Shabbos. That means that during the week, when there is peace, it is a lying peace. The peace of Shabbos is that I am not lying at all.

On Shabbos new energy comes down from Heaven, but that energy refuses to be received in dirty vessels, so for one second before Shabbos purity and holiness also descend into the world. Happy are those who fill their hearts with it.

Mizmor shir liyom haShabbos. The whole world is waiting to sing the song of Shabbos. And I am also waiting to sing the song of Shabbos.

Friday, December 7, 2007


by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

There is a traditional saying that the experiences of the Patriarchs are signposts for their descendants: "maaseh avoth siman lebanim." Indeed, the idea that each of the Patriarchs alone ventured utterly alone into alien zones of being is further played out in Joseph's life. Abraham confronts idolatry and is imprisoned and later redeemed and blessed. Isaac confronts the prospect of dying by his own father's hands (alien to human nature), but is then redeemed and blessed. Jacob is imprisoned by his duplicitous tendencies and later confronts his fears and inner demons and thus redeems himself. Although his life in Eretz Yisrael was largely marked with sorrow, he was blessed in the end to have lived to see his son's success and the fulfillment of G*d's promise to Abraham that his descendants would descend into Egypt.

But G*d made another promise to Abraham as well.
In the beginning of Lech lecha (Gen 12:2):

" And I will make of you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing- veheyeh bracha.")

This promise was already becoming fulfilled by Joseph's ascent in Egypt. Owing to Joseph's newfound success as viceroy, his family could prosper and become a multitude in Goshen. His fame spread far and wide, and Egypt was blessed with survival and prosperity where nature would have dictated otherwise.

"...and they proclaimed before him "Avrech," thus he appointed him over all the land of Egypt!" (Gen 41:43).

Avrech could be understood as "I will bless." Thus Joseph's new name was indicative of G*d's promise to Abraham, that he (via his descendants) would become a blessing. And not only would Joseph be a blessing for his own people, but also a blessing for those who bless Israel and her people.

The continuation of G*d's promise to Abraham in Lech lecha reads:
"I will bless those that bless you and those that curse you I will curse."

Although Egypt later bore the distinct misfortune to have oppressed Israel, at the time of Joseph, however, Egypt was duly rewarded for her generosity and benevolenceto Joseph and his family. This concept of national apportionment of blessing and curse is borne out historically. While it can be explained via rational argument that those nations who expelled "their" Jews suffered the economic or intellectual losses as a logical consequence of their actions, the fact remains that the historical record bears out the veracity of the imprimatur of Providence's guiding hand.

Whether we examine the negative fallout in Rome, Spain, Russia or Poland, or the positive benefits earned by Holland, the Ottoman Empire or America, a distinct historical pattern emerges. America, too, stands in judgment. This is her moment of truth. Whether the blessings accrued to her as a safe haven for Jewry and protector of Israel remain operative or not depends on her resolve to stand by Israel in her hour of need. The media, academia and nativist irredentism all are working feverishly to undue the historic bonds between these two nations. America would do well to recall Joseph's rise in Egypt. An Avrech, a "blessing," like ballast, the Jewish people's ascent, security and success carry all who side with them on a path to security, prosperity and blessing.

Shabbat Shalom
© 2000 - 2007 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

Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua
(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)
Dedications are available.
My band, Niggun, is available for all simchas.Contact me privately at

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

Armed Forces recruitment campaigns recently used for their recruiting slogan: An Army of One. As Jews, this has been our slogan since time immemorial. The Patriarchs were alone in their respective generations in their campaign for belief in ethical monotheism. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob each knew that the entire success of the campaign rested on their shoulders alone. And Joseph, all alone in pagan territory,was just one man against the cultural might of the entire Egyptian empire. Same for Moses. And Judah Maccabee launched a rebellion almost single handedly. Armed with but his faith in G*d, he brought the Syrian Greek empire to its knees and restored the light, cleansing and rededicating the Holy Temple in the process.

We are born alone in the world, armed with a mission to be morally upright and kind, and to leave the world a more righteous place than we found it. We are born, swearing allegiance to this mission as the angel sends us off, as we jump off the plane into the blue yonder of the hospital gowns. Floating alone, we are armed only with an all-consuming desire to imbue our lives with holiness.

Not only are we Jews "an army of one," we are also "an army of THE One." We are a reflection of the Divine. Only ONE can make a tenth, to enable a minyan to function. Nine is worth nothing until you add ONE. Armed with only a sincere and beating heart, one person can transform the world, enabling both the Kedusha and the Kaddish. One person can connect worlds, invoking legions of angelic beings to come and provide harmonic backup.

They say it's not easy to find true heroes these days. "They" are right and they are wrong. If the thought flashes in your mind that you might be needed for the minyan, then most likely you probably are, as that flash of insight is your conscience calling. Your soul which is connected to the network of all souls. Come to the minyan. You might just be the tenth. And for the person who needs to say Kaddish, you will be a hero indeed.
Chag Urim Sameach!
Happy Chanukah!

© 2000 - 2007 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

Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua

(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)

Dedications are available.

My band, Niggun, is available for all simchas.
Contact me privately 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!