Friday, August 29, 2008


by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

Enough squinting. Close your bad eye and just look with the good. We have two eyes, just as we have two choices in life- to follow good or to follow evil. We can choose the evil eye or we can choose the good eye.


"See I am giving before all of you a blessing and/or a curse (your choice)."

We can choose to live in a blessed paradise of our own making through our thoughts, speech and actions. If we see others' actions as self serving and self aggrandizing, always looking for that cynical put down, then others will judge our motives in the same light. We create the universe we live in by the energy we emit, which returns to us many times over. Negative thoughts manifest as negative energy. This translates into curse.

Conversely, by taking people at their word, giving them the benefit of the doubt, not judging their motives negatively without conclusive evidence to the contrary, we allow positive energy to charge all our relationships. This translates as blessing.

In Genesis 1 we see the first use of a variation of the Hebrew root for RE'EH (see). VAYAR ELO*IM KI TOV.

"And G*d saw that it was GOOD."

The energy of creation bathed the nascent world in goodness. G*d saw beauty and goodness in the world. Were the seeds of potential evil present in the DNA structure of life? Of course. But G*d saw the inherent goodness of His Creation. He saw the potential of everything to be good. Or rather, even G*d had a choice. He chose to see the true goodness inhering potentially in Creation. By focusing on the good, we coax it to dominate and allow the the full expression of the dormant potential within to become manifest.

So too, we are bidden in this week's parsha to also choose. As the people of Israel (am yisrael) prepare to embark on their mission of recreating a new Eden, based on the morality and ethics embodied in the Torah, they (we) are instructed to embrace an ethos of conscious choice. This successful model of a utopian society of blessing was to spread out to enlighten all humanity.

Similarly, in the spirit of imitatio dei (kedoshim tihiyu ki ani kadosh), we are bidden to SEE with G*dly eyes. To recreate the Edenic paradigm, we must see the potential goodness in our children, in our spouses, and in our friends and neighbors. Even in the stranger in our midst.

But what is perhaps even the hardest to see is the goodness inherent in one's self. One must believe that one is inherently connected to G*d and thus to the root goodness of the universe.

The near universal pandemic of pedophilia across cultures destroys the child's inborn sense of self-worth. The Hellenic world, where early Christianity flourished, was deeply embedded in this pathology. One of the reasons that early Christianity was able to spread so successfully was precisely because so many people doubted their own inherent self worth and goodness. The idea of original sin and man's inherent fallibility resonated deeply with the masses. Thus the solution to an over wrought sense of internalized guilt resonated deeply as well.

But Judaism teaches that we are resoundingly not inherently fallible. We are blessed with a choice to follow and do the good which inheres potentially within each and every one of us. Original virtue inheres potentially within each of us.

To "get" good and live a blessed life, one must expect good in people. To "get" bad and live a cursed life, one must expect (or rather suspect) bad in people.

I once lived in a community and saw with my own eyes how dominant was the hold that the "evil eye" had on the community. Everyone was judged by the worst intentions. Anyone who attempted to restore goodness was slandered and maligned. All goodness was driven away. All that was left was a bitter self-fulfilling circle of suspicion and envy. Needless to say, it was no

How important is it to learn to instinctively try to see the good in people and to banish cynical assumptions about others' motives? It's as important as the Ten Commandments. Just as the Ten Commandments begin with the word ANOCHI for the word "I", so too does our parsha's first verse, the topic of this essay. Usually ANI is used. The relative rarity of ANOCHI instead of ANI only serves to underscore how central and key this teaching is to living a blessed life.

G*d said, "YEHI OHR, Let there be light...and G*d saw that it was good."

Israel is to be a Light to the Nations, an OHR LAGOYIM. But first just try being a light to yourself and to those around you. The rest will follow.

Shabbat Shalom!
Good Shabbos!

© 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.

Friday, August 22, 2008


by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

When approaching a pool of water, we often ask ourselves whether it is right to put our feet into the waters first and then gradually acclimate the rest of our body, or whether it is best to immerse ourselves all at once? The benefits of sudden immersion seem clear: the very shock to the system freshens and energizes, awakening and recharging all the pores of our flesh.

The Torah in our sedra is saying that if you want to shock the system, then that that approach is fine. But know that this rapid shock will cause disequilibrium and imbalance. To achieve long range benefit, slow, gradual immersion works best. This approach is indicated in Ekev,



Now this instruction is explicitly made in the context of inhabiting the Land of Israel. But by the use of the word NASHAL it becomes a paradigm for how we should approach all areas of kedusha, or holiness, in our lives.Whether it is the kedusha of living in the Land, or the wonderful dietary holiness precepts (kashruth), or the holiness of the Sabbatical Refuge (shabbos), or KIDDUSHIN- the holiness of marriage, we are urged to experience its full grandeur only after a slow deepening and a gradual unfolding.

This is homiletically achieved through the interpositioning of adjacent letters, a time-honored midrashic technique, which sometimes takes place between the mem and the nun. Thus the letter nun becomes a mem, and so we have not NASHAL, but MASHAL, which means "analogy." And thus our relationship to acquiring holiness in one area of life is analogized to include all areas.

When we begin to keep kosher we first begin with avoiding forbidden foods- the laws regarding pots and pans will come only later. When we first begin to observe the Sabbath, we begin by fully keeping it- but only for one hour a week and only then increasing it until we are able to refrain from MELACHA-creative labor as set forth by the sages, for a full twenty five hours. In marriage we can't expect to fully know our spouse before we get married. In fact, the FINAL act of consummation is known as y'diah, or knowledge. True knowledge may take a whole lifetime. It is said that it is harder to change one character flaw within ourselves than it is to learn the entire Talmud.

Trying to do too much too soon will often backfire. TAFASTA MERUBAH LO TAFASTA. Taking on too much will leave you with nothing in the end. If we don't have the vessels which have the capacity to contain this holy light energy, we will simply burst if we take on the full dose of
Kedusha all at once. We must climb rung by holy rung up the ladder of Kedusha. To skip a rung is to risk losing our balance and falling prey to the wild beasts waiting below.

Shabbat Shalom!
Good Shabbos!

© 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.

Friday, August 15, 2008


by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

This week's learning is in honor of the marriage of two holy couples this week: Lori Issenberg to Yochanan Berkowitz and Marette Berkowitz to Jason Langbart.

"...the mountain was burning with a fire reaching the heart of heaven..."(Deut. 4:11)"


"When you give your heart to someone, you've touched heaven."

I call heaven and earth as witnesses for you today...." (Deut.4:26)


Aretz and Shamayim, the earth and the heavens, are the witnesses at Sinai. Brought together to give testimony to the theophany- the Divine Revelation, G*d's Revelation of the Divine Light was seen through the fire at the covenantal meeting point, the holy nexus, between Hashem and Israel. The Alef and The Shin, the first letters of each word, aretz and shamayim, (earth and heavens), together spell AISH, meaning fire.

Aretz is the material world, while Shamayim represents the spiritual world. Fire is the middle mix, the connecting medium between the physical and spiritual worlds. The yahrzeit candle speaks to this idea, uniting in consciousness the souls of the departed and the living.

Just as a flame represents the soul of man, fire represents the coming together of heaven and earth. What is the soul's mission on earth but to be the contact point between G*d and the material world, transforming the dross of mundanity to unfold the image of the Divine Creator through acts of kindness and love.

When a Jew is called "a varmer yid," it means that his soul is on fire, a fire whose flames reach up to the heart of heaven to bring down on this ladder of fire an aspect of the Divine Light with which to illuminate the world. G*d blessed our holy fathers that their descendants should be like the stars of the heavens and like the sands of the sea. What this means is not that we would be a numerous nation, because in this week's parsha it says (Deut.7:7):

" are among the smallest of nations....KI ATEM HAM'AT MIKALL HA'AMIM."

Rather our destiny is to unite the upper worlds with the lower strata. We live on two planes of existence at once, with our feet a little bit in heaven and a little bit on earth. How do we reenact this Sinai event in our lives? How do we restore this consciousness of holy fire in our lives?

Shabbos. We bring in the Shabbos with holy fire and we take leave of Shabbos with holy fire. And in between these fires burns the essence of the Divine light, which, like the Ner Tamid, we keep lit constantly all through the week. Now Israel is compared to the bush which was not consumed. Just as G*d spoke to Moses from out of the burning bush, so too He spoke to Israel from out of the fire:

" Then G*d spoke to you from out of the fire....VAYIDABER HASHEM ALEICHEM MITOCH HA'AISH....(Deut. 4:12)."

We must understand that G*d's fire is burning everyday, His Divine Light is constantly renewing itself in creation. The sun's light is always shining- even on a rainy day, if you go above the clouds. We only hear the still small voice above the licking of the flames when we stop to listen.

The ketubah of Israel, the holy marriage contract between G*d and Israel at Sinai, was written in fire which went up to the heart of heaven. So too a husband and wife must see kindled within themselves a holy fire, G*d's Divine essence. And if each sees in the other a heart of heaven, then they together will be bathed in Divine light without being burned by the fire. It is a terrifying fire. It is a terrible fire, a fire which destroyed the Holy Temples of Yerushalayim. The holy cherubs above the Holy Ark locked in holy embrace even as the flames licked all around them.

And when all Israel sees in his fellow Jew a heart of heaven, then the flames which once offered sweet incense in G*d's Holy Abode will be rekindled once again and bathe the world in THE LIGHT THAT IS ALWAYS SHINING.

Shabbat Shalom. Good Shabbos.
© 2000 - 2008 by Rabbi Baruch Melman

This Torah thought is written in honor of the memory
of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman. ob"m,
Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Yaakov Hakohen Melman, z"l.

Chabibi is short for Chidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua

Friday, August 8, 2008


by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

This Shabbat coincides with the world's riveting attention on the start of the Beijing Olympics.

The modern day scourge of terror debuted most strikingly with the murder of the eleven Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich. And it reached its most recent crescendo with the terror attacks of September the eleventh. The number eleven is thus forever linked to the challenge facing redemption. Even Yosef found himself challenged by the number eleven in his dreams. He found himself stuffed in a pit and sold into slavery over the number eleven!

But not only is the number eleven telling. Most striking is its special spelling: Ayin, Shin, Taf and Yud- AShTeY(eleven in Hebrew is usually either achad asar or achat esreh, not ashtei asar) . This conceivably alludes to the territorial challenge which Israel faces today, especially in view of the territorially themed context of the parsha. Mirroring the lexicon of modern Israel's alphabet politics, Ayin stands for Aza (Gaza). Shin stands for Shomron (Samaria). Yud stands for Yehudah (Judaea). But what does the Taf stand for? The letter Taf stands for Tel-Aviv! It represents the entirety of Israel in symbolic puzzle-board fashion. Israel's fate is thus seemingly tied inextricably to the number eleven. Israel futilely offers piece by piece for the sake of peace yet another part of herself, only to be spurned, mocked and humiliated by her enemies sworn to her destruction. Every act of compromise is viewed as a sign of weakness and strengthens the hands of the radicals.

But why Tel Aviv? Why would the holy Torah in its compulsive eternal relevance deem it worthy to foreshadow seemingly UNholy Tel Aviv? Fun city. The UNJerusalem. It didn't even yet exist until the 20th century! No matter. The Divine Mind has infinite time horizons. So why Tel Aviv?

Because our enemies tell us that locale makes no difference in their goal to eradicate the Jewish presence from all of the Land of Israel, that there is no difference whether a Jew is living in Gaza or Tel Aviv or Judaea or Samaria. To our enemies it is all the same. It's all or nothing! No matter how much or how often we offer land for peace, their answer is always the same. All or nothing.
And because in their obduracy it is always an all or nothing proposition, then in spite of ourselves we will find ourselves subsequently and eventually with an all or nothing resolution.

In this era of post Zionist malaise we are seemingly unable to proclaim our eternal connection to Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, because we are full of safek, of doubt. Amalek, the letters of whose name according to the Kabbalistic science of numerology equals the numerical value of safek, the word for "doubt," has scored again. We are unsure and afraid. Afraid of taking responsibility for our unique destiny. We are wallowing, mired in doubt.

Our Oslo nightmare began only once we formalized our intent to relinquish the gift. In spite of our relentless efforts for peace at any price, our enemies say that it's all or nothing. It makes no difference whether the Jews are in Tel Aviv or in Jerusalem. "They ALL must go," say their poets and leaders (in Arabic), "and take their dead with them." Not a trace should remain. All or nothing. What is compromise in the Arab mind but a decadent western import, a sign of weakness, of shame and humiliation. Ashtey Asar. Even Tel Aviv.

All or nothing. Us or them, apparently. For one day, at the dawn of the eschaton, all the nations of the world will come up to the Land of Israel and ascend His holy mountain, holy Mount Zion, and sing His praises. The world which now resists Israel will one day open up her eyes and embrace her.

But that will not happen until the other meaning of Ashtei becomes manifest in reality. Not merely that the Arab world's goal remains the entire patrimony of Israel, but rather that only the unity of Israel will be the trigger for our final redemption. Just as sinat chinam - causeless hatred, divided us and exiled us, so too its opposite, ahavat chinam- causeless love, will be the key to our redemption. For only when all our hearts will beat as one and we see each other as true brothers of the same father in heaven will we be really worthy of salvation. The secular resident of Tel Aviv and the religious resident of the territories will see each other as brothers and not as enemies. The heart has two ventricles. The heart of Israel also has two ventricles: the secular ventricle and the religious ventricle. The Great Shabbos is coming soon when the heart of all Israel shall again harmoniously beat as one.

Shabbat Shalom!
Good Shabbos!

© 1999-2008 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

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

Dedications of these writings are available. Please contact me privately.

Thursday, August 7, 2008



Tisha B'Av is coming soon. We are currently in the midst of The 9 Days, the days of sorrow leading up to that day of national sorrow. All throughout Jewish history this day was marked for our national tragedies. Tisha B'Av, the 9th Day of Av.

It began with the sin of the spies who mocked the Land of Israel and lacked faith that we could live there, that it was preferable to live as well-fed slaves in Egypt. The sin of the spies occurred on Tisha B'Av.

Both of the Holy Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed on the 9th of Av. The rabbis taught that it was due to the sin of sinat chinam, the causeless hatred of Jews against their fellow Jewish brothers, that led to the destruction and the subsequent exile from our land.

And the expulsion of the great Jewish community of Spain in 1492 was also on the Ninth of Av. Hundreds of thousands of our Jewish brothers and sisters were sent into exile penniless fleeing the Inquisition.

And today, in the year 2005, the secular leadership of the State of Israel are so disconnected from the Jewish calendar that they just "happened" to pick the 9th of Av of all days as the day to expel the thousands of our Jewish brothers and sisters from their beautiful homes and communities in Gaza, in Gush Katif.

They moved there at the invitation of successive Labor-led governments to help build the Land of Israel. They settled on desolate, empty wasteland devoid of human habitation. They literally made the desert (and the sand dunes) bloom. For three generations, since the early 1970's, these pioneers and their families built thriving communities dedicated to the ideals of Judaism and Zionism. They built hothouses and greenhouses and exported food and flowers all over the world.

Now they have nothing. For three years they have lived in squalor as the government has broken every promise made to them. People are literally ill from the depression and anger that they experience on a daily basis. Couples are divorcing from the stress and tension of financial ruin. Many hundreds have literally dropped dead from heart attack and stroke brought on by the depression and tension of their current lives. Many teens have turned to drugs as an outlet for their pain. 8,000 lives were ruined.

And as for the State of Israel itself, since then thousands of rockets and missiles have been launched against civilians in southern Israeli cities from the very towns that were evacuated and destroyed. People live lives of daily terror. Children have just fifteen seconds to run to the nearest shelter to protect themselves from the blasts and the flying shrapnel. Now tens of thousands live in daily fear and terror. The recent ceasefire is being used by Hamas to rearm and reorganize in peace. And still, rockets are (compulsively) being launched.

As fellow Jews, we have an obligation to feel the pain of our brothers and sisters. Kawl Yisrael Areivim Zeh LaZeh. All Israel is responsible for one another. This is a cardinal principle in Judaism.

To help get in the mood of these nine days of sorrow (it is forbidden to listen to music during these nine days) and contemplate the meaning of Jewish catastrophe, I am including a powerfully moving film with this email. Just scroll down. They are actually two films on the same theme - the destruction and expulsion from Gush Katifin 2005.

In the recent film Munich, we saw how Israel tracked down each of the participants in the planning of the Olympics terrorist attack of 1972. In these two 10 minute films (a Hebrew and a English version) we see how each and every one of the planners and officials who joined with
Ariel Sharon were each seemingly tracked down and have fallen from office in shame, disgrace and public humiliation. The films are titled, Yesh Din, veYesh Dayan, Day of Reckoning (literally, "There is a Judgment and there is a Judge"). It makes you think. And feel. Just 10 minutes each.

Just scroll down and click on the two links- one in English. The other in Hebrew. Each slightly different but worthwhile.

Have an easy fast.


Please feel free to forward these films to your friends.

--- On Wed, 8/6/08, המטה העולמי להצלת העם והארץ <> wrote:
From: המטה העולמי להצלת העם והארץ
Subject: 3 שנים לגירוש - הסרטים יש דין ויש דיין ולעולם לא עוד על מצב המגורשים - סרט חובה
Date: Wednesday, August 6, 2008, 12:16 PM

הסרטים שחייבים לראות ולהפנים

יש דין ויש דיין – מה קרה למבצעי ומתכנני ההתנתקות מחבל עזה וצפון השומרון – סרט עוצר נשימה

לעולם לא עוד – הסרט שהתקשורת צנזרה ונאסר לפרסום

Never again English

קיבלת את המייל ?

אתה שולח אותו לכל החברים שלך ומדווח לנו על כך

בין השולחים יוגרלו מוצרי זיכרון לגוש קטיף – נא לשלוח לנו את תפוצת המייל אליהם שלחתם ונודיע לכם על זכייתכם

Monday, August 4, 2008


by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

This d'var Torah is dedicated to the aliyah of the neshama of my blessed father, Israel J. Melman, Yisrael Yehoshua ben HaRavYaakov Hakohen Melman, z"l. Yesterday, the 27th of Tammuz was the anniversary of his sixth yahrzeit. My father was a great physicist and inventor who saw the awesomeness of G*d in the details of science. He was a pioneer on the cutting edge of 20th century technology, whose work was influential in the field of color television, telecommunications, satellite infrared technology and computer infomatics. Most important of all he was a great father and a great human being.

What connection is there between the listing of the resting places in the beginning of Parshat Massei and the directive that the Levites should apportion themselves 48 Levitical cities, six of which would be dedicated as special cities of refuge, to seek asylum for an accidental homicide?

If you subtract the six cities of refuge from the total of 48 Levitical cities, you get the number 42, which also corresponds to the number of resting places for the Children of Israel in their forty years of wandering. This was mentioned by the commentator the Kli Yakar. Below is an expansion on the concept.

The function of the Levitical cities was to provide numerous centers of Torah learning spread out throughout the entire Land of Israel. The tribe of Levi was to function as the teachers of Torah and spirituality for the People of Israel.

Furthermore, the layout of the Levitical cities was such that wide bands of greenery and open spaces surrounded the cities on all sides. In other words, they were ecologically and psychologically sound, in that nature and human nature were best served. Human needs require ready access to nature. Nature's needs require ready protection from humanity's abusive tendencies.

Just as the Levites provided a place in space to learn Torah, so too did the 42 resting places provide a place in time. By definition they were not places of permanence. Nevertheless they functioned as oases of the spirit, identical in function as the later Levitical cities. Hence their linkage in the same sedrah.

But what about the other six cities, the cities of refuge? What do they represent? Let us examine the nature of those cities. They served as a place of asylum for one who accidentally took a life, to protect him from the blood avenger. No such protection was afforded to one found guilty of premeditated murder.

There were seven year cycles. The seventh year was devoted solely to learning Torah and spiritual growth. It was a sabbatical- but for farmers, not professors.

But what about the other six years? The hard life of the farmer consisted of endless chores. Time set aside for learning could hardly be planned consistently. The Sabbath was the sole respite to give sanctuary to the soul. Just as the six cities served as a shelter for crimes of carelessness and unplanned killing, so too the six pre-Sabbatical years symbolize the unfortunate lack of care and planning in the realm of Torah study and spiritual development inherent to those nonSabbatical years in the agrarian life.

The Levites of the Levitical cities were devoted 42/7 to the dissemination of Torah throughout Israel. Especially In all 42 non-asylum Levitical cities and especially in the seventh year, the Shemitah year.

We who live today, who are blessed with the possibility of infinite free time owing to the liberating advanced technology all around us should manage to devote ourselves at least 24/7 to Torah!

Shabbat Shalom!
Good Shabbos!

© 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.

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!