Friday, June 27, 2008


by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

This week's sedrah is about losing a brother. Never mind the causes and whether it was justified or not. Regardless of the circumstances, we should feel deep pain and a true sense of loss when we read about losing a brother. Korach led a rebellion against Moses' leadership. He paid a stiff price for causing dissension and shattering the unity of Israel.

Num:16:33 "Vayerdu hem vechal asher lahem chayyim sheolah vatekas aleihem haaretz vayovdu mitoch haKahal..."

"And they and all their possessions went down alive to Sheol and the earth covered them over and they were lost from the midst of the congregation."

Korach was lost to the community of Israel. A centrally important mitzvah in the Torah is Hashavat Aveidah, returning a lost object, as elucidated in Nezikin of the Mishna.

Teshuvah, repentance/returning, is open to everyone, even to Korach. One day even he shall be returned to his people! KoRaCH and KeRaCH, the word for "ice," share the same Hebrew root. Perhaps this connection is to inform us that his lofty ideals would be more appropriate for a future era, when issues of ego could be removed from the equation.

His noble ideals of equality and democracy were passionately expressed, but they were really fronts for his enlarged ego and craven desire for power. He brought machloket (divisiveness) into the camp of Israel, and this was antithetical to the ideal spirit of unity and oneness. An idea may be beautiful, but if it divides rather than unites, it may be better to wait for later.

As he went down alive (hayyim) into the pit, theoretically he remained frozen but yet alive, and so his neshama (soul) could still do teshuvah. One day the lofty calls for the goals of democracy and equality will be disengaged from ego, and that aspect of a bifurcated humanity will have achieved a healing.

Today we have a new world of lost brethren. They are frozen, cut off from the warmth of Shabbos and Yiddishkeit, but are waiting to be thawed out.

We expend our energies on delving ever deeper into discovering more chumras, more rigorous applications of halacha, all the while assimilation rates have climbed to the highest levels ever in the history of the Jewish people with the consequent attendant alienation and disaffiliation.

Chumras may be psychologically satisfying in that they maintain an illusion of fighting assimilation with ever more stringent ritual and communal norms, but at the same time they hold the rabbinical leadership up to ridicule by most objective observers from both within and without and fail to move anyone closer to actually returning to the Jewish fold. Just the opposite. If anything, they have driven more Jews out of the fold!

In the meantime, one fifth of American Jewry has embraced Christianity, two fifths have embraced other persuasions, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, paganism, and materialism. And the remaining two fifths fight over the shrinking pie for righteous dominance. And who is blamed? The other denominations? If anything they are at least keeping Jews involved Jewishly. If Jews only attend twice a year is that the fault of the particular movement or denomination? It's the fault of apathy and assimilation. With the exception of today, more Jews have left Orthodoxy, historically speaking, than have left all the other movements combined! The truth is that most Jews are NOT affiliated with ANY movement or denomination.

If an assimilated Jew finds his way to a local Chabad House does anyone hold Chabad responsible for his assimilation? That would be silly. But yet some people have a compulsion to attack Reform and Conservative Jewry because of the multitudes of lost brethren who show up just once a year. As if it's the synagogue's fault!

But it is the Jewish community's fault for not having free quality Jewish (and secular) education available for every single Jewish youngster. Once they are involved in the community, their own neshamas will guide them where to go to synagogue. The neshama never lies. We need to embrace as a community and love every Jew with a complete sense of Ahavat Yisrael. It is the only way.

Jewish education rates are absolutely appalling, with a majority of Jewish children receiving a most minimal Jewish education, if any. Day schools and yeshivas are prohibitively expensive,
far outside the comfort level and capability of the majority of Jewish families to be able to afford. It's hard enough for families to afford gas for their car and health insurance, let alone a near $20,000 per year yeshiva or day school bill per child! They call it Jewish birth control.

Where are the Jewish philanthropists? 90% of Jewish donors only give to non-Jewish causes. It is very nice to give to the general community. But what about helping our own people too?
Where is the balance? We are disappearing, watching a silent Holocaust unfold before our very eyes, albeit in slow motion.

Only with a solid, affordable Jewish education can the Jewish people hope to perpetuate itself. Every Jewish child should be able to attend for free, or for a nominal fee, a Jewish day school or yeshiva and thus have the knowledge and positive identity to perpetuate Jewish life and ensure a proud Jewish future for generations to come.

In the year 515 B.C.E., Jewish education in ancient Israel was made compulsory and universal. In modern Israel it is as well. But in the diaspora, the lands of dispersion, the opposite is nearly universally the case. And so it is no accident that assimilation is taking its toll. Our brothers and sisters have become lost to us. We must help them to return. One heart at a time. And education with a warm heart at all levels is the key to thaw out a frozen neshama.

We have the capability to yet marshal our forces and resources to return our lost brethren to their rightful place as living heirs of our glorious legacy. But do we have the will? It's not up to the professionals alone. It's up to each of us.

Shabbat Shalom!
Good Shabbos!

copyright 1999-2008 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 ben Meir Yisrael Hakohen Melman, z"l

I was raised in the musar tradition of silence and meditative thoughtfulness, as were my father and grandfather before me.

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.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

Exile can be a state of mind. But it can also be very real. The Nation of Israel was on track to be united with the Land of Israel, when the sin of the spies caused a deep rupture, thus delaying the reunion until the passing of the generation that was accustomed to a negative slave mindset. Thus the exile of the mind led to an exile of the body. Our thoughts determine who we are to become, what our destiny will be.

The Torah identifies two agents of the exile. One agent leading us to sin was the organ of vision, viz. the eyes. Whereas in Eden man saw himself as larger than G*d, and thus his eyes caused him to disobey, leading to the first exile, the exile from Eden, this new exile similarly was caused by the eyes. This time the sin was that man saw himself as being too small, just the opposite of Eden.

"..We were IN OUR EYES like tiny grasshoppers, that's all that we were IN THEIR EYES

(vanhi v'eyneynu kachagavim v'chen hayinu b'eyneyhem - NUM 13:33).

The use of eyes attributed to both the Canaanites and Israel is possibly indicative that this smallness of vision was a universal pathology. The fixing or corrective for the sin of Eden was not that man should think of himself as being small, G*d forbid, but rather that he should see his own greatness and become a partner with G*d to fix the world. Obeying G*d is essentially forming a partnership with the Divine.

The corrective for the sin of the eyes are the phylacteries which are worn during morning prayers. As they are placed as "frontlets between the eyes," they have the power to lift us up to a higher vision of ourselves.

The other agent of the exile is the organ of action, the arm. Moses in his anger and rage disobeyed G*d and struck the rock to bring forth water. Now he himself, the leader of Israel, would in turn be denied entrance to the Land of Israel. His anger and rage, made manifest in his actions, led to his personal exile. We can apply this to our own lives. How often does anger exile us from our friends and loved ones?

The corrective for the sin of anger and angry action are the phylacteries which are worn during morning prayers. As they are tied as a sign upon the hand, they have the power to lift us up so that we engage in behaviors which sanctify the world and which bring humanity closer to its Divine Source.

At the end of our parsha, Shelach (NUM 13:38), we have the mitzvah of wearing fringes on our garments:

...veasu lahem tzitzit al kanfei bigdeyhem ledorotam...have them make tassels on the corners of their garments for all their generations."

This is already a sign of our healing. The reference to future generations speaks to israel's eternal mission. Tzitz, the singular, is the diadem of gold that the High Priest wore on his forehead (LEV 8:9). Tzitzit is the plural, and yet, it lacks the letter yud which indicates the plural form. It is spelled Tzadi, Yud, Tzadi, Tav. The missing letter Yud (numerical value of 10) reminds us of the ten spies who caused Israel to sin. More importantly, it reminds us that just as the kohen gadol, the high priest, had the words Kodesh laShem, Holy to G*d, engraved on his Tzitz, his golden diadem, so too is *all* of Israel, as represented by the Yud, the community of ten, enjoined to strive to be Holy before G*d, for all their generations.

Phylacteries are essentially that, a spiritual prophylactic to prevent and ward off the potential for spiritual exile which inheres within each of us, both as individuals and as a nation. The Tefillin Shel Rosh, the head tefillin which rest above and between the eyes, serves as the symbolic spiritual prophylactic for the nation, while the Tefillin Shel Yad, the arm tefillin, serve as a spiritual prophylactic for its governmental leadership.

The Tzitzit, the fringed garment, points to a unity between the people and its spiritual leadership, in that one day all of Israel will come to take on its destined priestly role to serve G*d and to serve the nations, bringing them closer to recognizing the One G*d. The Tzitzit are a fixing for the sin of the spies.

"Ve lo taturu acharei levavchem ve'acharei eyneychem..." -

"and so that you not go on a tourist vacation without responsibility following after your heart and your eyes..."

Being that this passage follows the narrative of the spies and actually uses the same word root (laTuR), it is clear that the tallit is therefore a fixing for the sin of our forefathers when their eyes and their hearts led them astray. Levavchem (your hearts) is in the plural. Just as we have two eyes we also have two hearts. We have the potential for either an ayin tova ( a good, generous eye/disposition) or an ayin ra'ah ( a bad, stingy eye/disposition). Likewise we can have a lev tov ( a good heart - i.e., judging others favorably, or a lev ra (a bad heart - i.e., judging others poorly, without giving them the benefit of the doubt). The tallit envelops us, ensconces us, serving as a reminder of G*d's own generous eye and expansive heart.

The thread of blue in the tallit reminds of heaven. It gives us hope. The Kabbalah teaches that Tikva, or hope, is connected to the word yiKaVu, as in yikavu hamayim, from Genesis. There is an opening created, a channel, allowing the light to pour in. This supernal ray connects us to creation, and in wearing the tallit we connect with the primordial hope instilled within the cosmos at the dawn of creation.

Our morning prayers, when we don all the three- the Tallit and the two Batei Tefillin, the two phylacteries, are to bring us closer to the realization of the dream- to end our collective soul exile and restore Eden's vision of harmony in our lives.

Shabbat Shalom
Good Shabbos!

© 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 ben Meir Yisrael Hakohen Melman, z"l

I was raised in the musar tradition of silence and meditative thoughtfulness, as were my father and grandfather before me.

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.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin HaKohen Melman

The Torah tells us in this week's parsha, Beha'aloscha, that Moshe was "anav mikall adam," meaning that he was "the humblest of all men." What does that really mean?

Now you must understand that this was in the context of Miriam's famous slander episode. How did he react to her behavior? Did he submit meekly to her accusations? Did he pretend he didn't know about it? Is ignoring the pain to one's self that is inflicted by others truly the Torah's example for humility which we should embrace? What is true humility according to the Torah? How did Moses exemplify this quality? Is it found in turning the other cheek? The answer is hidden in the word itself.

Anav, meaning "humble," is spelled with the same letters related to the word "answer," or "reply." And with regard to Miriam's plight, when he saw that she became afflicted with "leprosy" as a punishment for her words, words said against him, he responded with a short prayer:


"Please G*d, please heal her NOW."

Now Moses was aware of what had happened. He knew that she, his own sister, had somehow slandered him. Aren't we often the most upset with the ones we love, with the ones we are closest to? If a stranger says something not so nice we often shrug it off. But if a family member says the same thing we tend to take it so much more personally."Of all people, THEY should understand me. They're family." How many families are fractured and split and torn apart over "just words" said in haste or in anger?

Now what was Moses' reaction? Did he rebuke his sister? All she was suggesting was that he spend more time with his wife. Did he distance himself from her, never to speak to her again? Was he contrite and submissive? The answer is a resounding NO. Instead of reacting negatively, he said a prayer on her behalf. He was the anav, the one who responds.

It is for this reason that Hashem called him the humblest man. He was not called humble because he was modest or self- denigrating or meek. The Torah is telling us that he was called "humble" by G*d because in his pain he reached out to her, to the one who was causing him (in this case) psychic pain. Instead of turning AWAY from her, and merely defusing the situation by walking away, or retaliating in kind, which would be the most "natural" response, he counter- intuitively turned TOWARDS her and offered a healing prayer for her speedy recovery.

Moses, Moshe Rabbeinu, is teaching us a lesson. The answer to insult is not further insult, leading to escalating tension. The answer to insult is not retribution. Nor is it grovelling or self-denigration.

The answer to insult is hidden in the very word for "humble," - ANAV. The answer to insult is to answer with love. If someone insults us, clearly they have some sort of illness, not to see that we are made in G*d's image. Therefore they need a healing. They need a blessing. And they need it fast.

May all the fractured families all over the world find a speedy healing. And may Clal Yisrael, the greater Family of Israel, and indeed all the world entire find its own healing immediately, and so bring redemption sooner.

Good Shabbos.
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 ben Meir Yisrael Hakohen Melman, z"l

I was raised in the musar tradition of silence and meditative thoughtfulness, as were my father and grandfather before me.

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.

Friday, June 6, 2008


By Rabbi Baruch Binyamin HaKohen Melman

In this week's parsha, Naso, we have two seemingly unconnected ideas. One, the priestly blessing, is the age-old formula for the kohanim to bestow blessings upon the people. The other is the trial by ordeal of the "sota," the accused adulteress. We will see that they are not so far apart, that everything in Torah deeply connects in an organic, integrated whole.

Children, in order to become healthy adults, need Attention, Love, and Limits. If they don't receive healthy attention, they will seek out unhealthy attention. If we don't praise them for all the good things that they do, they will surely seek out attention for all the bad things that they are certainly capable of doing.

We must give them love. We must give our children unconditional love, a love that is not tied to anything except to their being who they are. They must know that even if they fail at something, we will always be there for them, cheering them on just for trying.

And lastly, we must set limits. Children crave knowing boundaries. Deep anxiety will set in for the child for whom no limits are expressed. The child will constantly push the envelope ever harder and with greater intensity searching for limits which never seem to be indicated.

The same thing with a marriage. We must not ignore our spouses. We must pay them due attention and be attentive to the nuances of their psychic lives. We must love them unconditionally. In Pirkei Avoth we are told that a love which depends on something will fade away when that something disappears- whether it is looks or money or status. But a love which depends on internal, spiritual qualities will endure, for these are qualities which are linked to the Eternal One.

Lastly, we must set limits in a marriage. A marriage without limits will grow so expansively that it will lose its center. Marriage partners should limit their speech- only offering praise, encouragement, and constructive criticism. To be an ezer kenegdo, a "helpmeet," each spouse should carefully praise when praise is called for (ezer) and gently correct (kenegdo) when criticism is needed. They should limit their touch, so as to never grow bored with each other. They should limit their gaze, being careful not to place themselves in situations of temptation. And they should limit their expectations. No one is perfect, and to expect perfection is surely a recipe for unhappiness.

We read about the sota in this week's sedrah. The woman, accused by her husband of infidelity, drinks a potion, whose effects then reveal, it is said, the state of fidelity or lack thereof. Having thus cleared her name and status, the couple are psychologically freed to move on with the marriage. The male's pent up jealous rage is now assuaged, allowing the couple to leave behind
crippling suspicions and insinuations.

The sota is indeed a victim. She is a victim of a marriage where partners did not give their A.L.L..Perhaps she did not get the Attention she deserved. Perhaps she did not get the Love that she deserved. And because her spouse did not set Limits upon himself, perhaps she herself was accused of the same projected guilt with which he was consumed.

To reiterate, this ceremony was a merciful ceremony. If she was actually guilty, she would know, and in all likelihood refuse to perform the ritual, fearing the dire consequences. But being innocent, she could thus finally clear her name and her reputation and the couple could then move on. It would end once and for all the endless, merciless accusations destroying an already problematic relationship. If the crazy jealousy he feels can be transformed into a healthy love, by making a fresh start, then the sense of redemption they will feel as a couple will be infinite.

The shabbos table offers that taste of the infinite. When the husband praises his wife, showering her with poetry of appreciation in the words of the "eishes chayil," he is making a vessel with which to express the deepest love he has for his wife. In our busy lives which we lead, it is often so hard to find those moments of deepest sharing with with which to show our appreciation. Life gets in the way. Without those vessels of sharing, those feelings get bottled up until they burst out in a consumption of manic rage and jealousy. His possible guilt for being a poor husband is then projected onto her as being a lousy wife. A true shabbos is the antidote to all of that.

And when we bless our children with the three-fold priestly blessing at the start of our shabbos meal, we are doing the same thing. We are giving them Attention. We are stating our Love for them, and we are Limiting their unruliness by telling them how UNlimited is our love for them.

And these are G*d's blessings for us: to know that He is attentive to us by watching over us, that He loves us by shining His countenance upon us, and that there are limits to the hardships of life because in the end He will grant us His blessing of peace. And what about the husband who showers praise and blessings upon his wife and children? Who blesses him? No need, for in thus becoming a blessing to others, life itself becomes a blessing.

Good Shabbos.
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 ben Meir Yisrael Hakohen Melman, z"l

I was raised in the musar tradition of fulsome silence and meditative thoughtfulness, as were my father and grandfather before me.

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.

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!