Wednesday, January 30, 2008


by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

Everybody knows that the dove with the olive branch is the symbol of peace. It's even the logo for the 1969 Woodstock Music Festival. But why is that exactly? The dove's return to Noah's ark with an olive branch symbolized a new era of peace. Granted, after the flood narrative's depiction of the violent end of life excepting the ark's inhabitants, any harbinger of the receding waters deserved an elevated status, for humanity will now be entering a pristine dawn of a new covenantal moral awakening. It is a cultural assumption that such a linkage exists. But this is only derived from an implicit contextual understanding. Can there be yet an even deeper connection?

Only in Parshas Yisro is there an explicit, yet concealed, connection between the dove and the idea of peace (shalom) per se, where we see hints in the text which reveal a hidden link between Noah and Yisro. The key factor lies in understanding that the first time a word appears in the Torah is the foundational prism by which to understand all subsequent usages of that word throughout the Torah (espoused by Rabbi Tzadok Hakohen, an early Hassidic Kabbalistic master).

The word SHaLaCH (sent) is the explicit link. The dove was sent out to bring proof of the receding waters so that Noah and his family could free themselves of the confinement of the ark and begin life anew. Israel, quite dovelike, was thrust out of the confining Egyptian ark (Mitzrayim-MeTZeR/confinement) to seek freedom and to bring a new awareness for humanity that freedom is the birthright of all peoples and that tyranny and despotism are evils that must fail/fall. Here is the SHaLaCH, or "sending" comparison. This is the foundational basis of the link between these two narratives.

In Parshas B'SHaLaCH we see Yisrael as the Yonah (dove) for Humanity. The rising and falling waters of the Yam Suf drown the violence prone Egyptians, echoing the drowning of the generation of the flood who were corrupt- and violent (Hamas).But the linkage goes even deeper in Parshas Yisro. Jethro (Yitro), Moses' Father-in-law, meets up with B'nei Yisrael once they leave Egypt. He brings with him Moshe's wife, Tzipporah (literally BIRD) who had been SENT home earlier (achar SHiLuCHeha- EX 18:2). So here is the dove parallelism.

In the flood narrative the dove returns to the ark with an ALeH Zayit, an Olive branch. ALeH is spelled ayin lamed hey. In this week's parsha (EX 18:12) Yisro takes an OLaH uZevachim (burnt offerings and other sacrifices for G*d) as an expression of praise to G*d for Israel's deliverance. OLaH and ALeh are both spelled with the same letters - ayin-lamed-hey. They are only vowelized differently. And this is the first time OLaH appears after we see the same word in the context of an ALeH (literally leaf). And the letter zayin is shared by both the words Zayit (olive branch) and Zevachim (burnt offerings). Israel, having emerged from the world wide deluge of the Holocaust as a burnt offering, wants peace more than any other nation on earth. But the peace of life as opposed to the peace of the grave. And thus the olive branch analogy.

Finally, Jethro gives his sage advice to Moses to appoint capable G*d fearing leaders (anshei chayil) to administer justice to thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Moses would only see the hardest cases. He concludes, saying (EX 18:23): "if you agree to this and G*d concurs, you will be able to survive. This entire nation will then also be able to attain its goal of PEACE/SHALOM." And so finally- the peace connection.

Freedom and survival are thus not ends in themselves. Ultimately, the goal is to live covenantally in PEACE. So finally we see the explicit linkage between the dove and peace. This linkage traverses time and terrain, and involves the utilization of esoteric hints, and yet is clearly there for those who have the eyes and the inclination to see it.

The Torah employs holy gentiles each time as the heralds of a new covenantal relationship between humanity and G*d. Noah brings humanity to a new "Rainbow Covenant" expressing ethical monotheism, while Jethro (pre-conversion) appears in the narrative immediately before the Theophany of the Ten Commandments, where his kehuna status (priesthood- literally intermediary servant) is echoed by the Covenant of Sinai, whereby Israel becomes a Nation of Priests and a Holy People in order to convey a modeling of ethical monotheistic teachings to all humankind.

The Torah is truly universal- a blueprint for the transformation of human consciousness, both Jew and gentile. It is a narrative of successive covenants. Noah's rainbow covenant symbolized humanity's embrace of ethical monotheism. Israel's Sinai covenant symbolized G*d's embrace of a nation molded by the imprint of slavery and genetically programmed to aspire to peace and freedom for both themselves and the world at large. The dream of peace, love and musical harmony of the Woodstock Nation is mirrored by that of the Hebrew Nation's Shabbos Kodesh Sabbath Day. And while the earth is once more filled with Hamas, may both Israel and all humanity finally come to soon see a real and lasting SHALOM/PEACE in our day and for all time. And may all the doves yet fly again soon. Amen.

Shabbat Shalom.

© 2000 - 2008 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
(niggun means wordless spiritual melody, the highest kind there is)

Monday, January 28, 2008


Teachings and Writings of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

Practical Wisdom from Shlomo Carlebach
Tikkun Magazine, Fall 5758

(Tikkun editor's note: Until his death in 1994, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, Rabbi of Kehilat Jacob in Manhattan, was America's most popular Chasidic songwriter This interview was conducted a year before his death and is being printed now for the first time to remind our community of the voices of tolerance in the Orthodox world.)

TIKKUN: You are one of America's most famous and most loved Orthodox rabbis. Your music has become so widely accepted in all branches of Judaism that many people believe it to be the eternal melodies used by our ancestors, unaware of you and your creativity. Could you tell us something about your family background?

SHLOMO CARLEBACH: Carlebach is an old rabbinic dynasty. In 1840, my great grandfather left the city of Ishbitz in Poland and became a rabbi in Germany, and my grandfather became a rabbi in Rybeck, near Williamburg, He had eight sons and four daughters (five sons became rabbis, and three of the four daughters married rabbis). My father went to Berlin and later to America, and he was always pumping into me and my brother that "you have to be good rabbis."

To give an example of how important it was in our family: my father used to tell me that I had to keep my yarmulke on my head, otherwise I couldn't become a rabbi. One day I threw off the yarmulke and my brother starred to cry and kept crying for hours, and he was crying because "my brother will never be a rabbi."

My dream was to be the greatest Talmud scholar in the world, So I was learning day and night. I was learning 48 hours a day. I didn't want to be disturbed by what was going on in the world. I spent a few years at the yeshiva (an academy of advanced Jewish studies) in Lakewood, NJ., and I didn't even look at the headlines of the newspapers. I didn't want to have anything to do with the world.

While we were in Vienna, when I was a kid, the old (previous) Lubavitcher Rebbe came to our house and he took me and my brother aside and said, I bless you that you will some day be Chassidishe Yidden (hassidic Jews), and don't be German little boys. This was around 1931, and I was about six.

TIKKUN: So your father wasn't a Chassid?

REB SHLOMO: My father was a real Orthodox rabbi. He loved every Jew. And he had his heart open for the whole world. He was very good friends with the Cardinal of Vienna (Ritzinger). In my father's house, I met the absolutely greatest rabbis of the world. My father was also a man of the world.

Since I was five years old I always had private teachers, a young man living in our house so that we could learn day and night. When I was six, seven, eight we also had secular teachers who came to teach secular knowledge - all private teachers; we didn't go to school. According to good German education, children at a certain time must go to bed so that they can be alert the next day.

But I had a deal with my teacher, who was a young man living on the third floor, that after I was supposed to be asleep I would sneak out of my room and study with him, studying day and night. It doesn't mean I wasn't playing football like crazy or that I didn't have a bike. I even thought if I didn't become a rabbi I'd become a bicycle racer (there were races in our city, and I entered and always won).

Then we faced the rise of fascism, and all of a sudden all those kids who we thought were our best friends turned on us and started to hate us. Unbelievable. So we came to America and eventually I went to Lakewood Yeshiva.

I was very much into learning, but eventually I went to the Lubavitcher Rebbe and he told me that the world needed more rabbis who could talk to people. I told him that I loved learning, but he told me that I should stop thinking just about what I personally loved to do, and focus more on what the world needed. So I started doing that: talking to people about Judaism.

From 1951 to 1955 I was, mamash [really], the Rebbe's right-hand man, Today, Lubavitch sends out messengers all over the world, but then it wasn't yet organized and I was one of the first, actually Zalman (Schachter-Shalomi) and I were the first messengers of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Zalman and I were his representatives, reaching his message to the world.

So I did outreach. But I had some problems and I told the Rebbe about it. "Last night," I told the Rebbe one day, "I had one hundred people come to learn and sing with me." But in those days the Rebbe had the position that women couldn't sing with men [kol isha, women's voices would sexually arouse men according to some Orthodox traditions]. So I told the Rebbe, "When I told them that we had to sit separately men from women, I lost 90 people, and when I told them that women couldn't sing, I lost nine more, and the one person who remained was the biggest idiot. So instead of spending two hours with people who wanted to know something about Yiddishkeit, I wasted my time on one idiot. Let's assume that it's very important that men and women shouldn't sit together. Still, this is like a manicure for Judaism, making, it super-beautiful, but if the person is having a heart attack you don't give him a manicure. So I can' t do outreach this way.

So the Rebbe said to me, "I cannot tell you to do it your way. But I can't tell you not to do it your way. So if you want to do it on your own, G-d be with you." So I split. If I had stayed, and the Rebbe had gone with what I was saying, he could have been Rebbe of the world, not just Rebbe of the Chassidim.

Take Woodstock. Why should Swami Satchananda go there - why not the Lubavitcher Rebbe? It would have been a gevalt -- it would have changed a whole generation. But the Rebbe chose to be the Rebbe of the Chassidim. You know, a few years after the Rebbe became chosen to be the Lubavitcher Rebbe, he wrote a letter to his Chassidim and said, "I have so many unbelievable dreams, but I can't do them because your heads are so small."

So then, let's assume I was a little bit homeless. I was not with Lubavitch, I was not in Lakewood, and for two or three years I managed. Then I saw someone playing guitar, and I started learning. I got a teacher, and one day while she was on the phone I started making up a melody and she heard it, said it sounded beautiful, and she wrote it down. Then she said, "Whenever you have a new song, call me and I'll write it down." So a few days later I had a new melody, for the wedding song "Od Yeeshamah,"and l called her up and she wrote it down. And that's how my career began.

And so I began to sing my songs, and in between one song and another I realized I could talk to people about Judaism, because when they sing their hearts are open. I made a living singing. In fact, the first time I did a concert at a shul, I arrived late.

TIKKUN: How completely out of character for you ... (laughter because Shlomo became famous for always coming late).

REB SHLOMO: So the president of the synagogue gets up when I arrive and he says, "We will not be paying Rabbi Carlebach for this concert because he is late." And so I said, "Dear friend, you think you are paying for my singing? I sing for free." And so I did the concert anyway.

In 1959 1 came out with my first record, and with the money I made from that I bought myself a ticket and went to Israel. I started singing there. I didn't think anyone would pay attention to me, so I was just sitting on street corners singing and slowly, slowly... And my first concert in Jerusalem that summer, thousands of people attended, it was gevalt. And then I managed to spend half of each year in Israel and half in America.

Then, in 1966, the greatest thing happened to me. I was invited to the Berkeley Folk Festival. There I saw all these thousands of young people who the world condemned as being dope addicts and I realized that they were yearning for something holy, and their souls were so pure, awesome! The festival began on Thursday morning. On Friday morning I announced that tonight I'm going to the synagogue and any one who might want should join me. I thought maybe ten or fifteen people would show up, but over two thousand came to the small synagogue!

I thought that the people at the synagogue would be so happy that they came, but the president called me up and said, "It was the most disgusting thing that ever happened." We had people staying and celebrating Shabbat till four in the morning, studying and singing, and then the way that the synagogue responded was a shame. So I realized I had to have my own place. So we created in San Francisco the House of Love and Prayer and until 1974 they were there and then many of the best people there went to the moshav in Modi'in in Israel.

TIKKUN: What was it about the Jewish world that turned off these young people from Judaism, people whom you saw as "pure souls"?

REB SHLOMO: Let me quote Rav Kook, one of our greatest prophets. He says the world always thinks that religious people are the ones who are close to religion, and non-religious ones don't care about religion. But it is often the case that the non religious people are yearning for something so deep and they look at the religious people and they don't find that there. People who are announcing themselves as messengers of God are often very mediocre people and they don't even sense the yearning of those unbelieving people. I see it all the time in Israel - All those secular soldiers in the Israeli army want something deeper than what they see among the religious.

I once went to visit our Israeli troops in Lebanon during the Lebanese War, and I met the IDF chaplain and asked him, "How is everything?" And he responded, "Fine. The meat is kosher." So I said, "If I want good salami, I wouldn't come to Lebanon for it. How are the soldiers doing? Are you talking to them?" He said, "Oh, they aren't religious, they aren't interested." So I said to him, "I'll bet you ten dollars that if you offer to teach these soldiers something deep, like Rav Kook, that they'll respond." So I went out to the unit, and walked up to the most coarse-looking soldier, and you could see on his face that he ate on Yom Kippur not three times but five times just to show you, and I walked up to him and I said, "Would you like to study Rav Kook, something for your soul?" His eyes lit up. He didn't even know that Jewish people talk about the soul. He thought all we talk about is kosher meat and a yarmulke and other religious rituals. Unbelievable.

TIKKUN: What could be done in the organized Jewish world so that the people who present Judaism could have this kind of approach?

REB SHLOMO: Listen Michael (Rabbi Michael Lerner conducted the interview], if everyone would have your vision, the messiah would be here already. The sad truth is that the people who teach Judaism think that when someone approaches them to learn about Judaism, the teachers think that they must teach them what to do and especially what not to do. I once met a homeopath and he told me the difference between conventional medicine and homeopathy is that medicine works from outside to inside, homeopathy works from inside to outside. That's the whole thing religion has to work from inside to outside.

TIKKUN: In the past thirty years there is a movement called the ba'al teshuvah (master of repentance) movement, but it turns out that overall many more people are leaving Judaism than have come back. Do you have a strategy to create more people who can speak on the level of going from the inside to the outside, who will speak to the heart?

REB SHLOMO: I started the House of Love and Prayer in San Francisco, and every Friday night hundreds of people would come. There was an opening so that we might have a whole generation. We could have taken over .... There were thousands of kids who were interested. I hate the name ba'al teshuvah, because it implies that these young people were doing wrong and now they are repenting.

I said to the Jewish establishment, "We have to do teshuvah, We must have done so much wrong that these kids left us," They are the real Tzadikkim [righteous ones]. They came back to Orthodox Judaism, and the first time they were told that up until now you were a sinner. No. Every religion is a flash light. We in Judaism have a psychedelic light, but there is no need to knock any other religion, I love a girl and want to marry her, I don't have to say that every other girl is ugly.

At the beginning of the House of Love and Prayer, there was a man who came to services on Friday night and at the end of the service he pulled out an instrument and started to play Of course, that is not what we do in an Orthodox shul on a Shabbat, but I said nothing, because he was coming on Shabbat and I was glad he was there. He did it again the next week, and the week after that, and then he come to me and said, "Thank you for not saying anything to me. I was testing your patience, and I now see that you really would accept me here." Now, he is a doctor and president of the PTA of an Orthodox yeshiva. I never, never tell people what to do.

G-d taught us one time on Mount Sinai. Imagine if G-d would be sending thunder and lightning every Friday and saying, "You Jews, you'd better keep Shabbos, otherwise I'll tear you out." But G-d doesn't do that. The holy Sanzer Rebbe called in his children after they were bar mitzvahed and said to them, "From now on, I just want to be your best friend." That trust gave those children self-confidence.

But we've pushed away 90 percent of the kids who wanted to come back. When they came to the Orthodox circles, they didn't find the real fire souls. We have a few million Jews, but we only have a few thousand ba'al teshuvahs. It's a joke.

TIKKUN: So do you have a strategy for how to change this? Your own shul attracts a few hundred wonderful people, but that isn't really doing the outreach on the level that you are talking. The only group that seems to have a strategy is the Lubavitch movement, and they seem to repeat the very errors you are talking about.

REB SHLOMO: The most we can do is keep our hearts open, and when people come and want to learn, we can tell them where to learn, I have to tell people to go to yeshiva to learn, and unfortunately after a few weeks either they leave the yeshiva or you don't recognize them anymore because the spark is gone from their eyes and they don't care for the world anymore.

TIKKUN: You've said in the past that we don't have the right yeshiva. So what is the right yeshiva?

REB SHLOMO: The right yeshiva is a place where there is so much love that it's awesome. G-d gave us Torah with so much love, so if I want to give over the Torah to my children it has to be done in that same way. Rabbi Nachman says that each time you learn you are bringing the Torah down from heaven. If you teach the Torah with anger, and tell them: "You have to, you have to, you have to" - No. It has to be so deep that they want to. The spiritual depths of the Torah have to be presented.

TIKKUN: It would be wonderful if our TIKKUN constituency could really learn from you. But I see two barriers. One is the issue of the relationship to women, the way that the tradition does not give enough space to women.

REB SHLOMO: I know its a bad scene on that question.

TIKKUN: The second issue is our relationship to "the other" in general, and to Palestinians in particular. The Jews jumped from the burning buildings of Europe and we landed on the backs of Palestinians. We were jumping for our lives, and it wasn't our fault that we've hurt others in the process. But we have to be sensitive that we did hurt others. ... I remember this past Pesach when I saw you bringing your own daughter up to the bimah and her head was resting on your shoulders as you davened the Kedusha, so I know that you are struggling with this as best you can within the context of Orthodoxy, but the context of Halakha places real limits.

REB SHLOMO: With Halakha I could have managed. It's not Halakha, but the smallness of the heads of most people. In the House of Love and Prayer I didn't have mechitza [separation between women and men]. After the Six Day War, I was one of the first people to walk into the Old City and I walked up to every Arab and kissed them, our cousins. I went to the top people in Israel, and I said, "If we want to live in peace with the Arabs, as much as we need an army to make war, we need an army to make peace. The army to make peace -- give me five thousand free tickets to bring holy hippies from Los Angeles and San Francisco, to bring them here, and we will go to every Arab house in the country and bring them flowers and tell them that we want to be brothers with them. We will bring musicians and we will play at every Arab wedding and we want them to bring their bands to play at our weddings. We have to live together. So everyone was crying the suggestions, but in the end they said, "Don't call us, we'll call you."

TIKKUN: We've managed to turn a population into our enemies. The Palestinians, remember, did not fight in 1967. The Jordanians fought, but the Palestinians did not fight.

REB SHLOMO: The heartbreaking thing is that until a few years ago we might have reversed things.

TIKKUN: To switch to another topic, what is your advice to people who find themselves in synagogues on the High Holy Days where there is very little happening spiritually? How do they change the situation?

REB SHLOMO: They need to get themselves a better rabbi and a better cantor. Let me tell you a story:

Once I was invited to lead a Shabbat service for the Young Leadership of the UJA. So, people came and then the director of this particular group comes to me and says, "Rabbi, would you please do the davening in a hurry so that we can get people to eat in a short while." So, I said, "No, get yourself another rabbi if you want someone who is hurrying." I davened, and we went through the prayers with full intensity, and many of these people who thought that their entire relationship with Judaism was to sign a check had a very different kind of experience.

The next day these people held a session about the future of Judaism and some of the people were saying that their children were asking, "Why should we be Jewish?" And they didn't know what to say. They asked me, and I told them, "If they are asking why, it's because they didn't experience anything that adequately turned them on, and that is our fault not theirs."

And I told them, if you want to save Judaism, you have to shut all the synagogues and all the Hebrew Schools for one day, and then we have to reopen them with different rabbis and different cantors and different teachers. Because we are standing by while the current leadership is ruining a whole generation, and we don't say a word! We need new synagogues all over the United States. So they told me, "This is not reality"

TIKKUN: You seem to be having the same experience with the Jewish establishment that we at TIKKUN have had.

REB SHLOMO: The establishment is bankrupt in the worst way

TIKKUN: Perhaps vou could help our readers learn something about the way that Judaism suggests to develop a personal spiritual practice. I know that it's often not easy to find in existing synagogues. I think of my experience saying Kaddish for my mother when I davened each morning at Oheb Zedek [the Orthodox synagogue in New York]. It is a no-nonsense davening, everybody getting through the prayers as quickly as possible so that they could get down to Wall Street in the morning to be there for the opening bell. But not much seemed to be happening spiritually.

REB SHLOMO: There was no time to get into saying "Good morning, G-d." Well, even if it may be hard for some people to find a synagogue in which to find genuine spiritual encounters, there are still many books to read that give people a way in. There is Buber, Heschel, Aryeh Kaplan. There are millions of things that are available if you are open to developing your spiritual life as a Jew and really open to seriously pursuing it.

Teachings and Writings of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

Thursday, January 17, 2008


by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

Is this world all there is? While on Tu Bishvat we develop a love and appreciation for trees and the gift of nature, should there be any limits to that love? Or rather than set limits, should we perhaps balance that love with a countervailing infinite love of nature's Creator?

The splitting of the sea that we read in the Torah invites the notion of balance. The division implied in compromise is a positive division, a splitting of differences for the sake of achieving unity. The word in Hebrew for compromise is peshara, an anogram of shefer, meaning beauty, as well as reshef, meaning spark. Efsher, meaning "possible" in both hebrew and Yiddish, shares the same root as compromise- P-SH-R, as if to teach that with fair compromise, anything is possible.

To be able to compromise, to appreciate opposite notions of reality, is a Jewish value and a manifestation of beauty when it creates a spark for reigniting unity. The mezuzah on our doors is emblematic of the value of reconciling opposites, of seeking compromise, symbolized by its angled positioning- neither vertical nor horizontal. Peace in the home (entering the home) as well as peace in the marketplace (exiting the home) depends on the ability to compromise and to split the difference.

Splitting for its own sake is fraught with danger. The splitting of the atom can be used for massive destruction or for its opposite, energy independence and world peace. We can be consumed by the energy released in its splitting, or we can become its consumers.

We are wont to celebrate nature and to give thanks to the Alm*ghty for creating such a beautiful world, but at the same time we dare not see that same nature as the be all and end all of existence. G*d, though having had created this world, is yet both in it as well as beyond it.

Human consciousness invites despair when it fails to balance the material with the spiritual. The ability to connect to a higher realm beyond nature gives one the tools to better navigate the challenges of this world. Our parsha this week, Beshallach, coincides with the same week in which we celebrate Tu Bishvat, the New Year for the trees.

The Torah uses nature-based terminology in describing the miracle of the splitting of the sea. "A strong east wind blew all the night" (EX 14:21). Clearly, though based in natural language to explain the occurrence, we need to go beyond our understanding of the usual machinations of nature to fully appreciatethe extent of the miracle. While the natural world may exist as a foundation for experience, the final fruition of life's journey unfolds beyond the parameters of this world.

Those elderly facing the prospect of the loosening of the proverbial mortal coils who lack this appreciation often succumb to severe depression, drowning in the bitter realization of the end's imminence. The very language of salvation in the physical plane hints to our ultimate salvation in the spiritual plane, serving as a means of avoiding debilitating depression and even embracing the possibility of joy in the knowledge of eternal life.

More pointedly, this concept is encrypted symbolically in the language of the text itself. The Az Yashir narrative richly alludes to the association between being tied down to the natural world and falling, literally drowning. The word TeVA itself bespeaks this dual imagery of both nature and drowning. (Ex 15:4):

"...umivchar shalishav tubu beyam suf...and the pick of his officers were mired (drowned) in the Sea of Reeds."

The word tubu (they drowned) has the same Hebrew root as the word for nature. TeVa is the Hebrew root for both nature and drowning! What this means on a symbolic level is that we must not become so enraptured or enveloped by the forest beauty of the physical trees that we forget that idealized spiritual Tree of Life, located in the proverbial Edenic center to which we all strive to return. Turning the adage on its head, we don't see the Trees (of Life and Knowledge) for the forest.

Exiled from the Garden for our lack of a sense of responsibility for our actions, only upon embracing responsibility from*within* the natural world, the world of the material trees, can we once again attain the possibility of reunion with the supernal etherial tree. TheTorah's code of ethics, morality and responsibility is the sign post guiding us along the path back to eternal life.

"It is a tree of life to those who holdfast to it. Eitz Chayim leMachazikim Ba."

The wooden handles to which the Torah scroll is attached are called eitzei chayim, the Trees of Life. Indeed, the very blessing made at the Torah says,

"...vechayei olam natabetocheinu......and eternal life you have planted in our midst..."

"You want eternal life?" G*d is asking, "I have already planted it in your midst! Grab on to its branches." As Reb Shlomo once remarked at Brandeis University in the early 1950's, and as Reb Zalman once recounted (they were recruited to be among the very first outreach emissaries by the "fryediker" rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, z"l, whose yahrzeit is today, yud shevat, 1880-1950):

"Os Mein Halt Zich Oohn Oiven, Falt Mein Nisht Hinten...If you hold on to Above, you don't fall from Below."

This was in response to the question as to how in the depths of winter they could skip down the icy steps without falling, whereas everyone else would be hanging on to the railing for dear life with each timid step lest they slip and fall.

The Egyptian charioteers only held on to Below, and therefore sunk down ever deeper into the muck and mire of the swirling waters. Israel, having been miraculously saved to remain physically alive, is now blessed with the possibility of attaining eternal life. By holding on to Above, by connecting to the Torah, we are kept from falling.

For what higher purpose in life were we saved from drowning, if not to come to Sinai and receive the Torah, our Tree of Life. This world is physically beautiful, but it is only spiritually beautiful when we see it as a vessel for fulfilling heaven's dream of peace, love and world harmony. This is Teva's deepest meaning.

Shabbat Shalom
Happy New Year of the Trees

© 2000 - 2008 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
(niggun means wordless spiritual melody, the highest kind there is)

Friday, January 11, 2008


by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

This week's learning is dedicated to the memory of Edith Sarett, z"l, of New Orleans, the beloved mother of my friend, Reuven Sarett. See her artwork at http://www.agwagner .com/sarett. html.

The Talmud teaches us Rachmana Liba Baee, meaning "G*d wants our hearts." G*d wants us to have a heart connection with Him. And if we are to have a heart connection with G*d, how much more so are we to try to achieve such a connection with G*d's creatures, our fellow creatures! It's hard enough to love a stranger, but does that extend to our enemy as well?

In Leviticus 19:18 the Torah says that we should "love our neighbor as (we love) ourselves." The Hebrew reads ve'ahavta le're'acha kamocha. Reah, meaning "neighbor," has also the same spelling as ra'ah, meaning "bad" or "evil." So it could also be understood as teaching that we should try to love our bad or evil neighbor as ourself. This makes sense, because through the act of trying we could ignite a change and turn him around. We may fail in the end, but we need to try just the same. To give up trying is to abandon hope for a better world.

Many people react instinctively and mimic our actions or emotional states. Some people may respond to a loving gesture with love. The answer to darkness is light. The answer to hate is love. But hard core evil is oblivious to such gestures. Such evil is beyond the pale. But only through showing love can we learn to tell the difference between redeemable evil and unredeemable hard core evil, that we must then vainquish or be vainquished in turn.

In the story of the Exodus from Egypt, the usual translation tells us that Pharaoh's heart was "hardened." But those who know Hebrew know that root for the word "hard" is "KaSHeH," with the letters koof, shin and hey. But the Torah uses the root word KaVeD, with a koof, a vet and a dalid. This means heavy, not hard.

Parshat Bo Ex 10:1"...Bo el Paro ki ani hichbadti et libo..."

"...come to Pharaoh because I made his heart heavy..."

In a sense, G*d wants Moshe to come to Pharaoh to cheer him up, to bring him out of his melancholy and sadness. The Torah thus is teaching us that there is a special value in comforting the sad, even those who intend us harm. Perhaps the act of kindness will awaken them to do teshuvah and repent of their ways.

Can you imagine how unbelievably sad Pharaoh was to have been oppressing Israel? When you oppress others and cause them pain you are really projecting your own sense of unworthiness onto the other. That is the reason why Pharaoh's heart was heavy. It wasn't "hardened," as is often mistranslated. His heart was heavy. The pain you inflict on others ALWAYS come back to you, adding layer upon layer, weighing you down with unbearable heaviness. The more pain he inflicted on Israel, the more his own burden increased. This is a life lesson of universal truth for each of us to ponder.

The word BO reflects the intimacy of casual relations. Moshe could enter Pharaoh's presence at will. Why? Because Pharaoh drew deep pleasure from Moshe's presence. Anyone so connected to Hashem ultimately brings pleasure to the soul of even the wicked, so as to assuage the sense of utter abandonment from the Source of Life. No guards were necessary. Moshe could enter at will. Pharaoh saw to that!

So in a sense, the deepest sense, actually, Pharaoh enjoyed Moshe's presence in the same pathological sense that a naughty child enjoys negative attention. Negative attention is better than no attention at all! Moshe's pointed admonitions were actually gratifying to one who had always seen himself as the ultimate ruler, who now realizes that his evil is coming back to haunt him and that his evil may have placed him beyond the pale, placing him beyond Hashem's mercy. Even Hashem's harsh judgment on some level is better than being ignored!!!

So here the Torah is actually speaking on the deepest level about human relations. The soul craves a Divine connection. Preferably a connection of mercy. But lacking that, even harsh judgment will suffice. This is a parable for all of us, and for each of us. The eschatological end times of ultimate Messianic redemption will dawn among us either from a quality of delicious sweetness, or CV"S ("G*d forbid"), a quality of harsh judgment.

Maaseh Avot Siman LeBanim. The deeds our forefathers are signposts for their children (us). Those who oppress and show cruelty to others have, in a sense, chosen Pharaoh as their father. It is said that we choose our parents before birth. We are Rachmanin b'nai Rachmanim, merciful ones descended from merciful ones. May our actions reflect our parentage and bring down mercy from heaven in their holy merit.

Shabbat Shalom

© 2000 - 2008 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

Wednesday, January 9, 2008


by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

Shabbos Is Paradise

Shabbos is back to Paradise. Paradise is a place where everything is good, everything holy everything is beautiful. Paradise is a place where suddenly it's so clear to me the I can fix all my mistakes. And even more so, everything I thought was a mistake. Every street I thought was a wrong street, was the only way to get there.

Shabbos has two faces -- there is the keeping Shabbos holy, the 39 laws of Shabbos, the withdrawing from the world, a non-power kind of life. But 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's 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 depths, of the deepest depths. Secrets are the deepest of G-d's revelation. A true Shabbos person walks the streets of the world and every human being they see, they seem to have a secret with. But with those they love, it's the secret of all secrets.

Connections Magazine----Reb Shlomo

Friday, January 4, 2008


by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

This week's learning is dedicated to the memory of Edith Sarett, z"l, of New Orleans, the beloved mother of my friend, Reuven Sarett. See her artwork at http://www.agwagner .com/sarett. html.

The popularly known refrain to the Negro spiritual was "let my people go." But while it is an accurate Biblical quote, it is also an incomplete one. The full text reads (Ex 8:16 among others," ...ko amar Hashem shalach ami veya'avduni-

...thus saith the L*rd, let my people go (so that/and) they shall serve me."

In other words, the proper question we might ask ourselves is "wherefore freedom?"
What is the point, to what end, do we seek to live in a "free"society? The notion of freedom is explicit, and so is its purpose. The text seems to indicate that freedom without properly understood Divine ends necessarily devolves into a dark nihilistic morass. Society and its malcontents (sic) desperately need to imbibe this imperative to place spirituality, the quest for Divine service, front and center of any social enterprise.

Many of us wore buttons in the seventies proclaiming "shalach et ami/ let my people go/Free Soviet Jews." While earlier waves of refuseniks sought emigration out of a yearning for Jewish identification and religious fulfillment, latter day waves were clearly less so motivated, often placing material yearnings paramount over the spiritual. Tel Aviv is warmer than Moskow, but being in the Land should mean so much more.

Likewise, many synagogues today find themselves in trouble when they place monetary/materialistic values over spiritual ones. When education and learning take a lower priority, apathy and malaise are the bitter fruit. Their long term assurance is not guaranteed.

A remarkable textual allusion offers a rich homiletic support to this idea. As the plague of frogs is halted, their rotting frog corpses were gathered in "gigantic heaps, fouling the air with their vile stench."

(Ex 8:10) "vayitzberu otam chamarim chamarim vativash ha'aretz."

Notice that the word for heaps, "chamarim," in the Hebrew is spelled minus the letter yud, the usual plural indicator. The duplication of the word chamarim serves to call our attention to a deeper understanding of the word, in the sense of "CHoMeR," or materialism. Most tellingly is the verb "vayitzberu." Its root is TZiBuR, meaning a congregation, i.e., a "gathering." In a sense, then, the Torah is warning synagogues about misplaced priorities. And the doubling of the missing yuds, so striking in their absence, spells a name often referring to G*d. How often G*d Himself is missing from synagogues. There is no room left for Him for He is crowded out by the massive ego heaps and materialism run amok.

So what this is really teaching us, is that when the spiritual is missing, from out of a heightened and disproportionate focus on the material, a foul temper then rules the day. The purpose of the synagogue is similar to the purpose of the Land of Israel: to be a vessel for the spiritual development of its inhabitants. Ego is to people what materialism is to values. Both have their place, but neither should predominate. Physicality, the physical structure, is but to serve spiritual ends.

Indeed, even America, in its mandate to espouse the freedom and safety of its people, was envisioned by its early Puritan founders to be a New Israel, seeking freedom of worship to escape the spiritual bondage of the Church of England. America was their Promised Land, England was their Egypt, while the oceanic voyage was their Exodus, their crossing of the Great Sea. Freedom was but to serve spiritual ends.

It behooves us today to take this lesson to heart. Let us ponder its meaning, drawing from the message of our timeless Torah. As long as we make G*d the center of our lives, seeking to understand the proper path of our life's true work, we shall be spiritually free. When we see each other as fellow reflections of the Divine, as true brothers and sisters to one another, we will always be able to count on each other for support. For without that common bond, we are all merely but frogs on a heap.

Shabbat Shalom

© 2000 - 2008 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!