Friday, February 29, 2008


by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

There are times when it is painstaking to hear certain sections of the Torah which are repetitive. Endless detail. No minutiae are spared in the retelling. B*O*R*I*N*G. Parshat Vayakhel is one of those times.

Way back in Parshat Mishpatim Moses ascends Mt. Sinai. And for two parshas Hashem is teaching Moses ALL the details of the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and its various holy accoutrements (Parshat Trumah), and of the holy garments to be worn by the priests while serving in the Mishkan (Parshat Titzaveh).

Then follows a short break in Parshat KiTissa. And over another two whole parshas (Vayakhel and Pikudei), the entire instruction manual of the Mishkan, its holy vessels, and of the garments of the priesthood is repeated all over again. Moses is now giving it over all over again to the people, teaching and recounting all he had learned while up on the mountain.

The forty days he ascended the mountain correspond to the six weeks/six parshas which span the narrative! And the two extra days (42) symbolize the two ascents! Of course, the fulcrum the balancing mid point- for the two accounts, is the Golden Calf narrative.

We are taught that G*d always provides the cure/therapy (teruphah) before the sickness (machalah). G*d seemingly realizes that the people are in great need for a visceral, experiential taste of spirituality. A dispassionate embrace of an intellectualized cerebral appreciation of the ethical monotheistic ideal would have to await a future sojourn to perhaps Lithuania.

Meanwhile, the people needed more. Hence their self-medication, as it were, with the Golden Calf. So G*d is instructing Moses in the minutiae of the Golden Vessels so that their spiritual needs may yet be met. To journey from a land and a consciousness of towering god/statues, pyramids, gold-suffused spiritual iconography to a"mere" stark contemplation of the Infinite One was too much to ask. It was stress inducing. And G*d knew it.

But Shabbat is the centerpiece. Before unveiling the blueprints for the physical structure of the Tabernacle, we are given the blueprint for the spiritual garment of the soul, namely the Sabbath.
The absurd finitude of the Golden Calf is contrasted with the ultimate infinitude of the Sabbath.

Just as the Golden Calf episode functions as the fulcrum between the narratives of the construction of the Tabernacle in all their painstaking detail, so too, in Parshat Chayei Sarah (Gen 24:22) the placing of the Golden Ring (haNezem haZahav) functions as the fulcrum in the painstaking retelling by Rebecca of her encounter with Eliezer, Abraham's servant. A seeming precursor to our own parsha of this week, not a single twist is left out of the retelling.

But why? What is the connection? First is the idea of kindness, that through the kindness that we show one another we may bring redemption to the world. The other idea linking the two narratives is embodied by the very bracelets themselves. When Eliezer placed the Golden Ring on Rebecca, for all time would Jewish women, her descendants, wear that ring. And never take it off.

When Aaron was forced into making the Golden Calf he approached the men and the women for their gold rings and bracelets, with which to make the idol. Many men gave. But all the women refused!

As the first post- Sinaitic refuseniks in history, the women were rewarded with their own holiday- Rosh Chodesh, the New Moon, symbolized by the shape of the Ring which they refused to give up. And today our holy women refuse to give up the Sabbath. They are its guardians, who envelop the home with the sanctity of the Shechinah, theIndwelling Presence of the Heavenly Abode.

Jewish women gather together in the home each Friday evening, in homes all around the world, together kindling the fires, the holy flames that burned on Sinai, thus subduing the other opposite fires, the fires that burn in Gehennom.

Lo tivaru eish bechol moshvoteichem beyom haShabbat (Ex 35:3). It is taught that we are not to kindle fires in our homes ON the Sabbath day. But before Shabbat? It's the holiest mitzvah. Our mothers, the Jewish women who embody the qualities of kindness and mercy (chesed verachamim), also embody the peace and serenity of the Sabbath. Therefore, we are known as "rachmanim b'nai rachmanin-merciful ones, the children of merciful ones (our mothers)."

And the Sabbath itself by definition is a deja vu experience for the soul, much as the narratives surrounding it in the Torah powerfully suggest a certain ring of familiarity regarding the construction of the physical Tabernacle. How so? In Genesis, in the Creation of the World, the realm of the infinite (Shabbat) was given an abode in the realm of the finite.

Heschel teaches that the Sabbath is a Palace in Time, much as theTabernacle was a Palace in Space. Indeed the word for "world" in Hebrew (olam), also means "infinite." The notion of "the world" suggests infinity in terms of space, much as the idea of "forever" connotes infinity in terms of time, each sharing a common quality of endlessness.

The soul, an aspect of G*d which was exiled from the infinite realm of the upper world to the finite realm of this world, on the Sabbath once again gets to taste the spiritual bliss of the Infinite One. And once again, through the construction of the Mishkan, the material qualities of this world are likewise infused with the spiritual essences of heaven.

The Sod Yesharim (Rabbeinu Gershom Chanoch Chenech of Radzin- son of the Holy Izhbecza), explains that just as Moses gathered ("vayakhel") the people as one nefesh (body and/or soul) a second time with regard to teaching the Sabbath, so too is the body infused with a second soul on the Sabbath. Resting on the Sabbath draws down an extra aspect of Divine Light into the world. This is the deepest meaning of the neshama yeterah, the extra soul that we receive on the Sabbath.

In addition, the Baal Haturim teaches that the word "la'asot," meaning "to do," and which we say each time we recite the Kiddush on Shabbat, and which we read in connection with the First Sabbath (Gen 2:3), is an allusion to the Tabernacle which is constructed in this week's parsha of Vayakhel. Rearranging the letters spells the letter *lamed* ( value of 30) and the word *tesha*(meaning of 9). By refraining from the 39 creative labors involved with the construction of the Mishkan, we can vicariously experience the celestial chariot (Merkavah) that was envisioned by the Prophet Ezekiel.

Kahal (vayaKHeL) means"he gathered." The truest, deepest gathering is for tasting holiness, for experiencing G*d. In Babel they tried to gather to *build* a tower to heaven. But not for holiness. In contrast, at Sinai, the tower was *given* to them. But we have learned that building a tower was not necessarily a means of meeting G*d. Just the opposite. Precisely by *not* building, just by refraining from all work on the Sabbath, we are given the means by which to recreate the heavenly holiness of Sinai, paraphrasing the Creation, where heaven first met earth.

In Babel, mankind wanted unity to displace G*d. At Sinai, G*d wanted unity only so that they could receive Him. And to be holy like Him. What do the letters of KaHaL stand for? Kedushat Hashem LeOlam: the holiness of G*d is forever. But we have a part to play as well, for it also stands for Kodshei Hashem LeOlam: the holy ones of G*d forever. The idea of the synagogue, the modern day Mishkan, embodies the idea of the unity of both G*d and Israel. A Kehilah Kedosha, a holy community, is not just a synagogue, but moreover signifies the people who comprise it, much as G*d asks us to build Him a sanctuary so that He "may dwell among them (in their hearts)."

And what is the key by which to access that holiness? Shabbat. Just as Shabbat brings peace to the soul, kindness brings peace between people. Shabbat is the recharging mechanism for our souls, helping us to bring peace and kindness into the world. It has a heavenly taste. It is a joyful gathering of peace and love. That is the essence of Shabbat. A 25 hour oasis for the soul.

Lastly, is Shabbat an oasis for the soul, or a day of rest for the body? A holy rabbi once asked, "which is better? Is it better to make a bracha over one's food in order to eat? Or is it better to eat only to have the opportunity to make a bracha?" Ahhh.

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, February 25, 2008


by Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen

Dear Friends,

The Kohanim are a family of ministers within the Tribe of Levi, and they are the descendants of Aharon, who was the first “Kohen Gadol” – Chief Minister – to serve in the Sanctuary which was built in the wilderness during our journey to the Promised Land. It was the Kohanim who performed the daily service of the offerings in the Sanctuary, while the other members of the Tribe of Levi were given different tasks within the Sanctuary.

As the Sefer HaChinuch, a classical work on the Torah’s mitzvos, explains, the Levites served as the gatekeepers of the Sanctuary and as singers who sang when the daily offerings were being offered; however, their main service was the singing (Mitzvah 394).There is a verse in the Torah which refers to a certain service of the Levites in the Sanctuary as, “service of the service” (Numbers 4:47).

The commentator, Rashi, cites the tradition that this is referring to the Levites’ service of song which accompanied the service of the Kohanim who were involved with the offerings. Rashi mentions that the songs of the Levites were accompanied by cymbals and harps. According to the Mishnah (Tamid 7:4), the Levites sang a special psalm for each day of the week. (1)

Rabbenu Bachya Ben Asher refers to the songs of the Levites in his essay on “joy” which appears in his collection of Torah Teachings, Kad Hakemach. In this essay, he offers the following comment on David’s call, “Serve Hashem with joy; come before Him with joyous song” (Psalm 100:2):

“He thus explained that joy is the perfection of Divine service. Accordingly, there was singing and instrumental music in the Tabernacle and Sanctuary because these induce joy.”

The Mishneh Torah, written by Maimonides, is a classical work on “halacha” – the detailed steps of the Torah path. In this work, Maimonides explains that before a Levite could sing in the Temple , he would study the art of sacred song for five years. He would begin to study at age 25, and at age 30, he would start his Temple service. Maimonides also explains that the Levites did not play musical instruments while they sang, as they were accompanied by others who played the instruments. (2)

Rashi, in his above explanation, mentioned that the singing of the Levites was accompanied by cymbals and harps. Maimonides mentions that there were other instruments used in various parts of the Temple service, such as trumpets, lyres and flutes. (3)

Maimonides states that the singing of the Levites accompanied the communal elevation offerings and the peace offerings of the Festival of Shavuos, during the libation of the wine. The Chassidic commentary, Maor V'Shemesh. states that the singing of the Levites would also accompany the individual elevation offerings which atoned for negative thoughts.

When an individual brought such an offering, explains the Maor V'Shemesh, the Kohanim would signal to the Levites to begin their beautiful singing in order to awaken the heart of this individual. The Maor V'Shemesh offers a detailed explanation of how the singing of the Levites would help this individual to engage in the process of “teshuvah” – returning to Hashem. (4)

The name “Levi” is derived from a word which means “to cling” (see Genesis 29:34). The name “Levi” therefore alludes to the role of the Levites in helping the Children of Israel to cling to Hashem. A source for this idea is found in the Zohar, the great classic on the secret wisdom of the Torah. The Zohar reminds us that the name “Levi” is associated with clinging, and it states that one of the reasons why the Levites were selected to sing in the Temple is because the soul of the one who heard their special singing cleaved to Hashem. (Zohar 2:19a)

The Kohanim are a special branch of the tribe of Levi, and they too helped the Children of Israel to cling to Hashem through their service with the offerings. In addition, they were given the mitzvah to blow the trumpets during the daily communal offerings, as well as on Festivals and on the days of the New Moon.

The Sefer HaChinuch discusses the mitzvah of the Kohanim to blow the trumpets, and it states that the trumpets served as a spiritual wake-up call, as the human being, who has a physical body, requires a great arousal to spiritual matters. It adds: “And nothing will stir him like the sounds of melody – it is a known matter – and all the more certainly the sound of trumpets, which is the strongest sound among all musical instruments.” (Mitzvah 384).

Most important of all, the Tribe of Levi, including the Kohanim, enabled the Children of Israel to cling to Hashem through teaching them the laws and principles of the Torah. Moshe, our Teacher, referred to this role in the following blessing that he gave to the Tribe of Levi:

“They shall teach Your social laws to Jacob and Your Teaching to Israel ” (Deuteronomy 33:10).

When the Children of Israel chant the words of the Torah, they are chanting the words of the highest song, for the Torah – the Divine Teaching – is also a Divine song, as it is written:

“And now write this song for yourselves and teach it to the Children of Israel” (Deuteronomy 31:19).

According to the simple meaning of the verse, they were to write down a specific song that Moshe would teach the people (32:1-43); however, the Talmud cites the tradition that the “song” mentioned in this verse also refers to the entire Torah (Nedarim 38a). The commentator, Rebbeinu Levi Ben Gershom, finds a source for this tradition in the following verses which make a connection between writing the song and writing the Torah:

“Moshe wrote this song on that day…So it was that when Moshe finished writing all the words of this Torah” (Deuteronomy 31:22,24).

May all of us cleave to the Compassionate and Life-Giving One through singing the song of Torah. We can then merit to experience the age when the song of Torah will go forth from the rebuilt Temple to the entire world, as it is written:

“It will happen in the end of days: The mountain of the Temple of Hashem will be firmly established as the head of the mountains, and it will be exalted above the hills, and all the nations will stream to it. Many peoples will go and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the Mountain of Hashem, to the Temple of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in His paths.’ For from Zion will go forth Torah, and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem .” (Isaiah 2: 2,3)

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)

Notes and Comments:

1. We chant at the end of our morning prayers the special psalm for the day which the Levites sang in the Temple .

2. The above comments of Maimonides and related comments are found in: Mishneh Torah, The Book of Service, The Halachos of the Temple Vessels and of Those Who Served in the Temple , Chapter 3.

3. The Mishnah states that the flutes were only played twelve times a year (Erchin 2:3).

4. The Maor V'Shemesh discusses the song of the Levites during the individual elevation offering in its commentary on Leviticus 9:8-12. The commentary of Maor V'Shemesh was written by Rabbi Klonimus Kalman Halevi Epstein.

5. The Torah is a song, and we therefore have a tradition to chant the words of Torah. There is a special nigun (melody) that is used when we read from the Torah scroll during the weekday, Shabbos, or Festival services, and there is a special nigun that is used when we read from the Books of the Prophets during these services. In addition, there are a few books within our Sacred Scriptures that have their own unique nigun, such as the Book of Lamentations and the Book of Esther.

When we study works that are based on the Oral Torah, such as the Talmud, Midrash, and Zohar, we also chant the words. One nigun that many people use for studying Talmud and other related works is similar to the traditional nigun that many children use for chanting “The Four Questions” during the Passover Seder.

Hazon – Our Universal Vision:


Disappearance of Bishop Tutu

By Simon Deng Friday November 16, 2007

Late last month, I went to hear Bishop Desmond Tutu speak at Boston's Old South Church at a conference on "Israel Apartheid." Tutu is a well respected man of God. He brought reconciliation between blacks and whites in South Africa. That he would lead a conference that damns the Jewish state is very disturbing to me.

The State of Israel is not an apartheid state. I know because I write this from Jerusalem where I have seen Arab mothers peacefully strolling with their families even though I also drove on Israeli roads protected by walls and fences from Arab bullets and stones. I know Arabs go to Israeli schools, and get the best medical care in the world. I know they vote and have elected representatives to the Israeli Parliament. I see street signs in Arabic, an official language here.

None of this was true for blacks under Apartheid in Tutu's South Africa. I also know countries that do deserve the apartheid label: My country, Sudan, is on the top of the list, but so are Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. What has happened to my people in Sudan is a thousand times worse than Apartheid in South Africa. And no matter how the Palestinians suffer, they suffer nothing compared to my people. Nothing. And most of the suffering is the fault of their leaders.

Bishop Tutu, I see black Jews walking down the street here in Jerusalem. Black like us, free and proud. Tutu said Israeli checkpoints are a nightmare. But checkpoints are there because Palestinians are sent into Israel to blow up and kill innocent women and children. Tutu wants checkpoints removed. Do you not have doors in your home, Bishop? Does that make your house an apartheid house? If someone, Heaven forbid, tried to enter with a bomb, we would want you to have security people "humiliating" your guests with searches, and we would not call you racist for doing so. We all go through checkpoints at every airport. Are the airlines being racist? No.

Yes, the Palestinians are inconvenienced at checkpoints. But why, Bishop Tutu, do you care more about that inconvenience than about Jewish lives? Bishop, when you used to dance for Mandela's freedom, we Africans all over Africa joined in. Our support was key in your freedom. But when children in Burundi and Kinshasa, all the way to Liberia and Sierra Leone, and in particular in Sudan, cried and called for rescue, you heard but chose to be silent.

Today, black children are enslaved in Sudan, the last place in the continent of Africa where humans are owned by other humans. I was part of the movement to stop slavery in Mauritania, which just now abolished the practice. But you were not with us, Bishop Tutu. So where is Desmond Tutu when my people call out for freedom? Slaughter and genocide and slavery are lashing Africans right now. Where are you for Sudan, Bishop Tutu? You are busy attacking the Jewish state. Why?

Simon Deng, a native of the Shiluk Kingdom in southern Sudan, is an escaped jihad slave and a leading human rights activist.

Friday, February 22, 2008


by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

Do you ever feel behind? Are you really behind or are you really at the right place at the right time? Why should you march lockstep with everyone else's notion of punctuality? In truth, you have your own unique clock and schedule. It may not mesh with everyone else's schedule, and it may cause frustration for yourself and others, but to be truly human means to be off the grid of corporate time and tuned in to real time- Divine time. Fascism kept the trains running on time, but it also murdered millions who did not "fit in" with ubermenschen societal notions of correctness.

Moses was perceived as being late in coming down from the mountain top. But in truth, he was right on time. In a twist on the Kabat-Zinn zennish "wherever you go there you are," whenever he was, it (Moses) was at the right time. Really, though, the anxiety of the people was rooted in their misgivings about Creation itself.

Creation, Revelation and Redemption being the triadic foci of Judaic consciousness, their lingering doubts vis a vis their role at the Revelation at Sinai mirrored their own apprehensions vis a vis the Start and End times of human experience. VO-SHESH- HE DELAYED- can also be read as an allusion to the sixth day of Creation, in the sense that SHESH means six.

"VAYAR HAAM KI VOSHESH MOSHE LAREDET MIN HAHAR- and the people saw that Moses was delayed in descending from the mountain (EX 32:1)."

And the first occurence in the Torah of the word VAYAR, "and He saw," also coincided with the Genesis Creation narrative. And uniquely concerning the sixth day does the text specifically say "VAYAR...veHINEH TOV MEOD, and He saw that it was very good." The letter bet in voshesh, with a numerical valence of two, alludes to a sense of increase, thus paralleling the word Meod, meaning"very."

And why was the sixth day blessed with a "very good" as opposed to a mere"good"? Because that is the time of humanity's creation. And it only happened late in the day, after all else was already in place. Was humanity's creation late? Emphatically no! It was precisely on time!Creation was made for man's benefit, with the caveat that man must act as steward of all that came before, partnering with the Divine. Those who reject this thesis necessarily presage the epicurian belief in caprice and coincidence as ruling creation narratives which buttress their embrace of an amoral whimsy. Moses was "late" in coming down from the mountain in the same sense that mankind's arrival on earth was "late" in the scope of all creation.

In contrast to pagan creation mythologies, the Torah's outlook on man's unique role in the universe is seen as blessed by G*d and specifically charged with a mission to promote goodness and blessing. Man is not incompetition with G*d, provoking Divine jealousies when mankind imitates the Divine capacity for goodness. Man did not steal the fire from the gods, ala Greek mythology. Rather, G*d freely gave man fire with which to perfect the world and bring it closer to a restored Edenic state of perfection. This is the meaning of the havdalah flame- that we reenter the work week with the capacity and blessing to create a better world.

So those who had misgivings about Moses' late (yet timely) descent from the mountain similarly hold misgivings about man's unique role and challenge in the universe. They were not up to the task. And thus they had doubts about the role of Israel in the Revelation to embrace a unique ethical monotheism, as well as doubts about the Eschaton, the purported End Time of the final redemption when G*d's Kingdom will be embraced by a unified humanity. Likewise, Israel today has doubts about Zionism and its raison d'etre; its mission and dream.

So by the use of the word VOSHESH Moses was actually echoing in the Revelation and descent from the mountain the same challenge which was nuanced in the Creation. Moreover, the luchot ha-edut,the tablets of testimony which he held in his hands reflect Israel's mission as one of edut, or testimony, her eternality bearing witness to her mission as reflected in the words of the Sabbath Kiddush.

But all this was only to be appreciated at a later time and place. Those below who could appreciate neither Moses nor his mission could only judge him by superficial externals and conclude the worst in viewing his actions. So blinded were they for an unsullied purity that they lost sight of the real difference between good and evil. Perfect becomes the enemy of the good when the human mind paints an all or nothing picture of reality. If the good is not seen as pure, then the whole message seems worthless, worthy of disullusion and abandonment.

But no leaders are perfect, just as no humans can ever be perfect. Even if the people we love let us down sometimes, we should not be so quick to abandon them. When G*d's wrath waxed hot in His anger at the people for their sin in worshipping the Golden Calf, it was Moses who pleaded with G*d to spare them. "Blot ME out if you will (m'cheini na m'sifrecha), but spare the people," Moses pleads with G*d. They would just as soon abandon him in a flash, but he would never abandon them.

Such is the stuff of true leaders.They weren't willing to give HIM a second chance, but it was Moses' greatness that he rose to his higher self and begged G*d to give THEM a second chance! It was as if Moses was on such a high spiritual plane, such a high madrega, that he had completely anulled his sense of self. Hasidic thought refers to this as bitul hayesh, or the achievement of the state of complete annihilation of the ego (hasagat ha'ayin). He did everything for the sake of his people; nothing for himself. Yet he was always challenged, doubted and second-guessed. He was soon to be accused by Korach and his followers of an opposite reigning egomania, and yet it was really their own egomania that they projected onto him.

The message of our parsha is really the message of second chances and the deep yearning we all have for forgiveness and the desire to make a fresh start, to begin anew and repair all our damaged relationships. Between parents and children. Between spouses. Between friends. Between ourselves and G*d. Should we delay forgiveness? Should we hold back on our love for our children no matter how much we despair? Absolutely not. Just the opposite! Love them and love them more. Forgive them and so be forgiven in return.


© 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, February 15, 2008


by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

The clothes we wear say so much about who we are as people. Are we meticulous, neat, slovenly or pretentious? Does what we wear on the outside reveal much about who we are on the inside?
Do we wear cotton, linen or polyester? or perhaps fig leaves? Or maybe a simple tunic?

And when we receive gifts, do we repackage them and pass them along to others? Or do we see the practice of regifting as a grave faux pas? This week's parsha gives us some guidance.

As graphologists can discern one's character by the art of handwriting analysis, so too can a trained observer understand people by the clothes they wear. This won't work for teens. They are too busy showing how superficial it is to judge by externals. And how right they are.

And little children obviously are different as well. They usually don't dress themselves. They are held captive by the whims of their parents. Children's clothes often reflect the subconscious choices of the parent and the image the parent wants to project to the world, concerned as parents are with the need to cultivate and imbue the child with a certain set of values.

Similarly, in this week's parsha, Titzaveh, Hashem is giving instructions as to how the kohanim are to dress when on duty in their role as caretakers ofthe Holy Tabernacle. We, as kohanim ourselves, being that we are "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation- a mamlechet kohanim vegoy qadosh," are G*d's children, keviyachol- as it were, prey to a certain Divine sartorial whimsy. But whimsy is perhaps the wrong word, in that it suggests a lack of purpose or intention.

Every garment serves a symbolic service or function. The text (Ex 28:2) sets the overall tone and standard for this sacred apparel. Above all, the verse says, the garments for Aaron and his sons should be both dignified and beautiful, "le'chavod u'le'tifaret." And to the degree that the priests are exemplars and role models of the sacred, we are meant to look to them for direction concerning all holy things. Being that G*d is a dressing (addressing!) us today, as our Divine parent, we should ask what subconscious desires is He projecting on to us, as it were, by the clothes He chooses for us, Aaronides all, in the broadest sense?

As much as external clothing is said to reveal internal character, then G*d is showing us that we are beautiful inside. And G*d is also showing us that we are dignified inside. After all, we are made in G*d's image. So we see that how G*d, our true parent, is asking us to dress ourselves, is a reflection of the way that G*d sees Himself. It is not only a statement that we are making about ourselves. It is even more a statement that we are making about G*d! Whatever era or locale in which we live, the guiding Torah rules in fashion are the twin ideals of both beauty and dignity. Tzniut - Jewish dress of modest sensibility, can reflect both.

One of the most fascinating of the sacred vestments worn by the High Priest is the robe. On the hem of the robe could be found pomegranates made of colored wool alternating with gold bells. Pomegranates symbolically contain within them exactly 613 seeds (yes, I have counted), equal to the number of mitzvot in the Torah.

One thing we learn from this is that plain folk imbued with good deeds, though lacking in material wealth, are as precious to G*d, as gold and wealth are precious to people. Moreover, the Torah and the multitude of mitzvot found within is G*d's special gift to us- a means of connecting to the Source. So too, when we encounter another person, one made in the Divine image, we should look out for, be aware of, and show sensitivity to his special gifts, talents and concerns. We do violence to that person's sense of self and well-being by ignoring his individuality and his uniqueness. We acknowledge each person as a unique gift. How revolutionary among religions. What a Divine gift!

As every heart is a sacred Temple, we must knock before we enter. We may steal a glance, but we may never steal a heart. We must ask permission before taking. Knock first. Or ring the doorbell. History's first doorbell is recorded in marvelous detail by the text, as a prerequisite to a Divine encounter. "And Aaron shall wear this robe when he prepares the Divine service. The sound of the bells shall be heard when he enters the sanctuary and when he goes out, so that he not die (Ex 28:35)." So perhaps then, this hints that the "goodly fruit" of the Garden of Eden may also have been the pomegranate, being that both warnings contain similar contraindications.

Now I can see why one should announce one's coming, but why one's going? In the same way that one defines the borders of a neighbor's sense of privacy by announcing one's entering, so too one is defining the borders by announcing one's leaving. The nature of sacred space (maqom qadosh) is defined by its notion of differentiation, much as the mundane is much noted for its quality of sameness.

Moreover, can't G*d see our coming and going? Why would the Kohein Gadol (High Priest) have to announce himself? If we are instructed to show deference and honor to G*d, who is a being devoid of corporeal form, in a reversal of the classic formulaic al achat kamah ve-kamah -"how much more so," certainly mere mortals who lack corporeality and yet carry a Divine spark within, are deserving of a modicum of respect and honor afforded by dint of their special provenance. As we give honor and deference to G*d, isn't it fitting that we show respect to His creation? This is the secret meaning of the pomegranate. How revolutionary among religions. What a Divine gift!

Lastly, what is the significance of the various colors of these woolen pomegranates? They are made of three colors: crimson, sky blue and burgundy red. These colors symbolize the various times of day- dawn (crimson), daytime (sky blue) and sunset (burgundy), the changing colors of the sky as the sun (the gold bell) moves across the heavens.

What this is saying to us is that G*d is near to us any time of day- whether at dawn, daytime or sunset. Whether in our youth, our midlife, or our dotage. The deepest meaning is that unlike a human king such as Ahasueros, the king of Persia in the upcoming Purim saga, who on a whim could take your life for seeking him without anappointment, G*d will grant us an audience at any time! Any time of day or night is the right time to call out to G*d for help.

To speak to G*d directly, unlike Ahasueros, Esther would not have to fast. To call out to G*d for help we do not risk death. Just the opposite! The deepest meaning of our parsha is that G*d is our true king, and as sons and daughters of Divine royalty we are worthy to wear garments of blue today- not Hareidi black, much as the High Priest and Mordecai wore blue in their day. The secular Israeli boy and girl scouts of today intrinsically know this and as the flag of Israel has deep blue, so too are their uniforms a manifestation of a symbolic expression of Divine color-sense.

And similarly, as we are all descended from "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation," we should all know that we are all worthy to wear garments of blue, for blue is the color of the sky, the color of the heavens, the color of the thread of the tallit. May our insides, then, be as heavenly as our outsides. And may we all reflect G*d's (blue or red or crimson) Divine Light wherever we go.
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

Friday, February 8, 2008


by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

The Hebrew month of Adar, the holiday of Purim and Parshat Terumah. What do they all share in common? It's all about giving. Our natural inclination is to take. But where love is involved, whether Divine love or human love, oxytocin aside, we transform our desire to take into a desire to share.

The showbread makes its debut in Parshat Terumah. Also known as shewbread, it figures prominently in the Temple iconography, along with the cherubs and the menorah/candelabrum. In Hebrew, showbread is called Lechem HaPanim, or Bread of the Faces. This at least gives us something to work with, to understand its deeper meaning and significance.

Whose faces? The first time we see a word in the Torah informs us of its deeper significance in all subsequent usages."Panim," or "faces," first appears in the Kayin/Hevel (Cain and Abel) narrative, where Kayin is despondent and depressed for having lost out over G*d's selecting Hevel's offering as the Offering of Choice.

Lamah Naflu PANecha? "Why has your face fallen?," Hashem asks Cain (Gen 4:5,6). G*d chose Hevel's animal-based offering over that of Kayin's earth-based offering. Hashem saw where this jealousy led and so, just as he came to regret creating life as it became mired in violence and evil in His ante-diluvian misgivings, so too we see Hashem realizing that man's propensity for jealousy caused him to reconsider the nature of offerings in general.

It's no longer about which offering pleases Hashem more, but recognizing that all offerings are worthy of recognition. Therefore in Parshat Terumah we see BOTH earth-based and animal-based offerings freely given- and accepted. The flour/oil offering (minchat solet) is equally as valid as any animal offering. (Full disclosure: the name Melman -flour man- is a priestly family name alluding to the priestly duties of the Temple Service, where my ancestral lineage specialized in the minchat solet, the flour and oil offerings).

The cherubs over the Ark represent the original brotherly Children of Eden. The cherubic iconography therefore alludes to the power of repentance for both Man and G*d that the Temple represents. One day in the future, brother will love brother despite all jealousies and paternal favoritism. The Temple reminds us of this future goal. No one can get back in to the Garden of Eden, as the cherubs do guard it so, but once having become cherubic in the future, we will have so spiritually morphed that we will fool the security sensors and gained readmittance as a collective humanity; the Children of Eden as guides for the Children of Israel and for all humanity.

In this sense, then, we see that the Menorah's seven branches allude to the sevenfold curse awaiting Kayin's future slayer. Perpetual wandering awaits those that slay their brothers. Hence the bitterness of the captive Judaeans as they marched under Titus' Roman arch (figuratively speaking, as the arch was built later to commemorate the victory) bearing the captive menorah, the price of the bitter sinat chinam, the causeless hatred between brothers. Our disunity and infighting led to our downfall and defeat!

The opening words of parshat Terumah use the verb "LeKaCh" in its call for freewill offerings: Daber el B'nei Yisrael vayiK'CHu Li terumah me'et kawl ish asher yidvenu libo tiKCHu et terumati. "Speak to the Israelites and have them bring me an offering. From everyone whose heart impels him to give, TAKE my offering ."- Ex 25:1,2

When do we FIRST see the word LeKaCH (take)? Again, in the Creation/Garden of Eden narratives, where woman is created from the man's tzela bone. "And He took one of his tzela bones..(vayiKaCH)"-Gen 2:21. And then shortly thereafter we see Eve herself take the forbidden fruit of the tree in the garden- "vatiKaCH mipiryo vatochal..." "And she took of its fruit and she ate."- (Gen 3:6) leading to the expulsion. "When you eat of it, MOT TUMAT - you will surely die."

But they didn't actually die! Rather, they became imbued with the overweaning consciousness of their own mortality. That is even worse than death! This mortality consciousness is our greatest source of despair and that which most markedly sets us apart from the carefree creatures of the animal kingdom.

But the Temple Service (avodah) and Shabbat observance (shemirah) are the two basic devices we are given by Hashem to counter this depression. They are fundamental to our assignment in the Garden of Eden Le'AVDO u'l'SHOMRO. (Gen 2:15) - literally, "To Serve and Protect," with apologies to the LAPD. Therefore, the Temple Service - the AVODAH - of the Kohanim and the observance of Shabbat - the SHEMIRAH - (whose 39 laws are defined by the construction of the Temple) by all Israel restore mankind's original role in the world.

B'nei Yisrael are given the means to restore the HARMONIC BALANCE that was once humanity's birthright through the sanctification of the TAKING process. KICHA, the act of taking, central to marriage (kiddushin) itself, is now the key to the Kedusha (holiness) of the Beit HaMikdash (the Holy Temple). Precisely for this reason the phrasing of choice in the opening sentence of the parsha contains the word for "taking" and NOT for "bringing" or "giving." "...Vayikchu lee terumah...." In other words, course taking is debasing and negative, whereas sanctified taking is redemptive and healing. A man takes a bride, but only through giving can he hope to keep her! But the taking of the bride itself is a holy taking.

Finally, we see that the Yiddish word for prayer (daavenin) comes from these same opening lines. "...asher yiDVenu libo.., whose heart volunteers him to give.."-Ex 25-2. The root is NaDaV, meaning to volunteer (mitnadev)- hence "freewill" or voluntary offering without compulsion.

In sum, the Torah is giving us the tools to by which to restore the purity of our collective Edenic souls through the agency of the Beit HaMikdash, the Holy Temple. By absorbing the true meaning of giving, in the true spirit of Purim, we allow our petty jealousies to recede and fall away as so much vestigial emotion of an earlier bygone age. And so what is prayer but our own freewill offering?


© 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

Friday, February 1, 2008


by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

Sometimes a smile is all we have left in this world. For those born into poverty, a smile may be all they ever have when entering or leaving the world. For those who've had it all and lost it all, it may be all they have left. And even if fortune herself has smiled upon us, and we depart this plane with our assets intact, all we could ever take along with us is our smile (and a well-worn tattered valise of mitzvahs).

It's often fascinating to explore subtle word or letter shifts; nuances of subtle meanings. Often translations fail to do justice to the true meaning of the text when these subtleties are overlooked. One of these occurs in our parsha, Mishpatim, where we learn some of the laws of treating the poor.

In EX 22:25,26, it says, "If you take your neighbor's garment as security (for a loan), you must return it before sunset. This alone is his covering, the garment for his skin. With what shall he sleep? Therefore, if he cries out to me, I will listen, for I am compassionate (Kaplan)."

The Hebrew reads: im chavol tachbol salmat rei'echa ad bo hashemesh t'shivenu lo. kee hee kh'suto levada hee simlato le'oro bameh yishkav? vehaya kee yitzak elai veshamati kee chanun ani.

Problematically, the translation of the initial phrase, regarding the taking of the garment, while informative, lacks the emotional impact created by the doubling of the verb ChVL. Related to the Hebrew word chaval, or pity, it starkly defines his state of want. It is also related to the word for terrorist, a mechabel, the causative form for one who puts another in dire straits, becoming thus an object of pity. Francophiles and equestrians aside, perhaps the word "chivalrous" is also related, as in bestowing a kindness to one in dire need (chvl). But I digress.

We are instructed to show extra compassion because of the nature of his pitiful situation. Yes, you've given him a loan, you have every right under normal circumstances to hold on to the collateral until the loan is repaid. But the doubling of the verb CHaVaL/pity (chavol tachbol) gives us dire pause. We're told in the strongest of terms: "Have pity!" Dare to disregard protocol. This guy will freeze at night without his garment.

Okay, as a matter of principle take it by day, but make sure he's warm at night! Just as the doubling up of the word for "justice" in the phrase tzedek tzedek tirdof has come to be understood as the need to pursue justice using just means, so too chavol tachbol can be understood as the necessity at times to disregard protocol and the letter of the law so that the compassionate essence of the Torah's message may be preserved. We must pursue compassion using compassionate means.

Here we have a foreshadowing of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Basic shelter and human creature comforts take precedence over economic requirements and earning a profit. Social justice revolves around economic justice. But what good is that sense of justice if it is not balanced by a sense of compassion?

More pointedly, note the disimilarity in terms of the letter inversion between salma (vs 25) and simla (vs 26). Both mean garment. But why the letter inversion? Perhaps it can make sense if we add a slight diacritical inversion of our own. Instead of reading salma, meaning "his garment," we might switch the "dot," as it were (The Torah has no dots. It could be read either way), and read it as SHalma, "his greeting"- his greeting of "Shalom." If someone has nothing left of any material value in the world, perhaps all he has left is his greeting.

The Torah is suggesting here that just as important as it may be to return someone's physical garment to him to keep warm, it is just as important, if not more so, to return someone's greeting. His emotional health and sense of self-worth is innately valuable. To degrade a person by ignoring his greeting out of a sense of false superiority and snobbery does violence to the notion of the Divine spark which inheres within all humanity. You're stealing from him all he has left.

It is for this reason that in Pirkei Avoth it says (4:20): "Rabbi Masya ben Carash said: initiate a greeting to every person..." In other words, even better than responding is initiating; be proactive rather than reactive. But to get back to our parsha, even if you can't initiate by offering a greeting, the deeper meaning is that we should at least return one. "Thou shalt surely return his physical blanket and his non-material greeting (salma/shalma)![Melman]"

In summary, deeply imbedded in the seemingly mundane laws of collateral for loans, is the deepest secret for true social justice and salvation. We show our love to Hashem and earn our blessings and redemption by showing love to His creatures. What does a baby teach us? We might have nothing in the world at all. Not even a penny. But what really counts is what the baby brought down from heaven: her smile. You may "go back to the garden," but it wouldn't be much fun having lost your smile and the gladness in your heart.

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)

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!