Monday, December 22, 2008


Everybody knows that Hanukkah is really the end of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Simchas Torah. That means that the High Holidays are all beautiful, but the highest point of them all is on Hanukkah. On Rosh Hashanah, I am in awe before the King of kings. On Yom Kippur, I stand before G-d again and measure myself. Inside I am saying to myself, "I did such and such good deeds and such and such not so good deeds."

But on Hanukkah I stop thinking this way altogether because the deepest question is not how many evil deeds and how many good deeds I have done.The deepest question is "What do I have inside of me?" When the whole story is over, what remains inside of me? How do I feel? Am I closer than I ever was with G-d? Am I in touch with the inside of my soul? Is there any light left in my heart? Where am I?

If after all these questions, I discover that there is still light left inside of me, then I owe it to the world. I must be the one to help bring the Mashiach. I must be the one to open the doors for G-d's Light to shine into the world. However, if after all these questions, I am still left in the dark; If after all these holidays, the world around me is still in the dark, then I must ask myself, "What good was it all?"

On Yom Kippur, G-d forgives us for our mistakes. On Simchas Torah we dance them all off. But that still does not answer the question, "When does G-d fix our hearts? When does G-d take all the hatred and pain from our hearts? When are we healed? When does G-d give us back the holiness of once again being able to see that Light in others and being able to bless them in our own hearts? When do we recognize the light in ourselves and in all of those beautiful people around us?"

The answer my beautiful friends, is on Hanukkah. Hanukkah is the time of the Macabees, descendents of Aaron the High Priest. Aaron's specialty was making peace between people. How can someone make peace between people? Aaron HaCohen had the level of holiness of actually being able to cleanse a person's heart of all hatred and pain.

It was only after that cleansing that they could see the light in others and make peace with the entire world around them. This is a very special blessing he gave to us.Face it. If each time I make a mistake, I feel more bitterness towards others, its only because I feel bitterness towards myself. And with every bit of this bitterness, I become further and further away from my Neshama, and from my own heart.

On Yom Kippur, it may be that G-d fixes my soul. But its on Hanukkah that the Great Light shines into my heart. And so when I stand before a mirror, I see a beautiful person instead of a Shmendrik. So on Hanukkah, my beautiful friends, the lights are burning, even into the darkest hours of the night. And while that light flickers, we are praying, "Master of the World, if it is my mistakes that have kept me in darkness, let this Hanukkah Light shine into all areas of my darkness. Let this Hanukkah Light keep me from ever hating people. Let this Hanukkah Light give me so much holiness that all the darkness of the world can not take away my love for myself and all the beautiful people."

And so I want to bless you and bless myself that this Hanukkah should fix us and its Light should reach the darkest corners of our hearts. And we should all be blessed to realize that when we do kindle a candle, it is G-d's Light we have brought into the world.

You can be the richest man in the world, you can have everything between heaven and earth, you can be in the same room with the one thing you have been looking for, but if there is no light to show you where it is, then you do not have it.Chanukah is the holiday of the inside light, the hidden light, the light which is burning amidst the deepest darkness.

At Chanukah we celebrate the light which gave the Maccabees the strength in the darkest period to believe that they can drive out the Greeks in the Holy Land.You see, my best friends, when we are born, G-d gives us everything, every day G-d gives us everything; only sometimes we turn off the light by our mistakes. Sometines we blow out our own candles, so on Chanukah haShem gives us back the light we need the most.

Chanukah is the holiday when the Talmud says,"Chanukah is a man and his house,"meaning that the whole family has to come together.Because between husband and wife, parents and children, you can stand next to each other for a thousand years and be as far away as two million eternities. Chanukah is the great light when we see each other again; according to the Kabbalistic tradition it is deeper than Yom Kippur. It is the holy of holiest, but not in the temple, in my own house.

We kindle the light by the door to tell the people - the outside people - who have not yet found their own house, who have not yet found their own soul, who have not yet found even their own friend. And we share our light with them.All the hatred in the world is only because people don't see each other. Chanukah is the holiday that we are closest to the Messiah and, gevalt, do we need the world to see us one time! And gevalt, do we need all the Jews one time to see the holiness of being Jewish!

Let it be this year. Amen.

Friday, December 19, 2008

ON FAITH AND THE POWER OF ONE; Chanukah reflections on the Madoff Scandal

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

The financial world is reeling from the Madoff scandal. Countless individuals and institutions have been hurt, their finances erased, by the actions of one man, who, over decades, abused the trust of relationships and the bonds of community to feed an insatiable materialistic need to fill an empty spiritual void.

True, he was not the only culprit in the financial scandals which plague us today. And individuals of all backgrounds and creeds had some role to play in the current economic morass. But the sheer scale and grandiosity of his malfeasance serves as a lightning rod for many to cast blame on the Jewish people as a group for our collective national pain.

Where did the $50 billion go? Most of it was paid off as monthly dividends to prior investors, to keep feeding the beast. As there was never a single negative month in payouts, hence the allure despite all common sense, over decades and decades not so much could logically remain left over. So no, there was no "Jewish plot" to send $50 billion to Israel, as many hatemongers claim. How absurd.

In fact, many Jewish charitable and educational programs must now shutter their doors as approximately a billion dollars worth of Jewish communal funds have been obliterated by the selfish actions of a single individual. Funds to send teens to Israel -decimated. Loans and grants to help Jewish students attend Jewish study programs- evaporated. Funds to help train Jewish teachers- erased. Not to mention the other $49 billion swindled from trusting individuals and groups of all backgrounds, both Jewish and non-Jewish. Both Jews and gentiles died in the Black Death, when nearly half of Europe's population was wiped out, and yet the Jews were blamed as a whole, the few marked for slaughter as a scapegoat for the agony of the many.

And yet, it is an inexact analogy, as many Jews indeed were involved in the financial meltdown, even as they jointly suffered in the pain and suffering. Jewish tradition understands human nature as a daily tug of war between two competing impulses- that of good and evil wrestling within the souls of each us. Some of us win hands down while some of us are wicked, but most of us fall somewhere in the vast middle. This is human nature, whatever one's racial or national or religious origin or allegiance.

The Madoff scandal is the direct counterpoint to the saintly martyred rabbi and rebbetzin of Mumbai. Where all eyes were focused on the chesed (kindness) and selflessness of a couple devoted to glorifying the Torah's way of life and extolling the values of Judaism, and thus became through their deaths a Kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of God's name, the opposite scenario obtains in the case of the Madoff scandal. In one fell swoop he degraded the glory and majesty of the Jewish people, besmirched the legacy of a unique heritage and brought to new lows the faith and belief in God and His Torah which all Jewish people represent in the eyes of the world.

Whether he was religious or not (which he wasn't), whether he was learned or not (which he wasn't), whether he cared or not for the image of his people and God (which he didn't), he abused the trust placed in him to become an eternal monument to the notion of Chilul Hashem, the degradation of God's name. Our greatest teachers and leaders were murdered in the Holocaust. It will take a full three generations to recover the greatness of the learning, the observance and the ethical sensitivity that was lost. Woe is us. We are today, many of us, but empty vessels, Jewish in name only, compared to those who came before us.

Isaiah teaches that the Jewish people are an or la goyim, a "light unto the nations." The eyes of all are upon us and are watching us, whether we want the scrutiny and attendant judgment or not. It is our eternal burden which we carry as living descendants of the people of God's holy living word- the Torah.

There is much darkness in the world. Our task is to bring light and moral clarity to the world, to chase away the darkness, not to add to it. How can we bring people closer to God when we, His firstborn of the world's believers in His unity, all too often repudiate His teachings? While most people are indeed honest, all it takes is one individual to do enormous damage to our sense of trust and faith, to our sense of communal obligation and of our belief in our spiritual calling.

This Chanukah, as the candles are lit, let each of us reflect on the power of the individual to change the world and to make a difference. Chanukah represents the fight for the values of ethical monotheism- that righteousness and justice and a belief in a God who has a unified standard and high expectations and demands ethical conduct, must triumph over a worldview devoted to ego and vainglory. Chanukah indeed represents the ongoing battle against self-interest, self-aggrandizement and the worship of superficial aesthetic beauty over and against that of the deeper calling for a refinement of moral character.

Multiple gods implies multiple standards, or rather no ethical standards at all. Chanukah represents the lonely battle of the Jewish people, over eons of time, to alone carry the torch of ethical monotheism in a world of chaos and moral darkness, epitomized by the cruelty and immorality of first the Syrian Greeks, then the Romans.

But most of all, the story of Chanukah is about a civil war, a war within. It began with the courage of a single individual, Matisyahu, the father of five courageous sons- the Maccabees, and the movement he ignited, to assert the validity of the Torah against a fellow Jew and his ilk who betrayed both tradition and community. Assimilation into the dominant, misplaced values of world culture was as alluring then as it is now. Let us stand together again to fight the war within each of us. Let us stand together as one to repudiate the selfishness and greed which has the power to debase us as even lower than the animals, and thus to affirm in our own day the values of mutual trust and ethical conduct which has the power to raise us up even higher than the angels themselves. One God. One standard. Let us raise them both high

COPYRIGHT 2008 by Rabbi Baruch Melman

Friday, December 5, 2008

VAYEITZEI: Today I Am Crying for the World

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

"Vayisa et kolo vayevk. And he (Jacob) raised his voice and wept."

I have shed many tears this week. What has happened to the world? What has happened to our values? What has happened to the respect for human life? I am feeling great psychic pain. All who care for the value of human life join together with me in mourning.

Whether in Valley Stream, Long Island, New York, or in Mumbai, India. Thanksgiving marks the start of the holiday season. These are times when our focus should properly be on being grateful for our blessings and for connecting with our common humanity in a shared appreciation of our common brotherhood, linked as we are by our common father in heaven.The point of giving a gift is to share our love. Instead, how twisted have we become as a nation that a mob in a state of frenzy for a discount should trample to death a poor, innocent soul who was trying to earn a few extra dollars. The mob mentality says "I am innocent. It was his fault that he was in our way. I have been here for hours. I deserve it. I am blameless.

And the terrorist mob that chose on the very same day to burst through the doors mowing down anyone in their path - especially Americans, British and Jews, like the assault in Walmart, they claim innocence, while themselves murdering the innocent. They takea perverted frenzied glee in evening some imagined score of some collective grievance from the past.

I mourn for our lost humanity when such ideas are even expressed, let alone acted upon and even justified. Did the remnant of the Jewish people who perished in the gas chambers and crematoria of Europe during the dark days of the holocaust bomb every city and railroad station and hotel in every city of every country that murdered their brethren? Did they seek revenge even upon those countries that "merely" refused to grant them asylum, to allow in refugees when they were facing certain death? For the last sixty plus years since the end of the war did the surviving Jewish remnant make the lives of every European a living hell, when by the morality of today's world they ought to have had every right to do so?

The answer of course is no. The Jewish people swallowed their grief and moved forward, building a progressive democracy, creating a prosperous and vibrant culture in the face of many wars of extinction. Israel is the first in line to teach agriculture to Africa, to respond to any tragedy around the world- be it an earthquake or tsunami, whether Muslim or Hindu, white or black. It's been said that if the Muslim/Arab world would lay down their arms there would be no war. If Israel were to lay down her arms there would be no Israel.

Humanity is evolving to the point where we see past racial barriers, religious hatreds and historic grievances. Each and every human being shares a common Divine spark which links us together as a part of a seamless, common humanity. But it seems that the more we advance, forces still exist which seek to pull us back down into the gutter of hatred, bigotry and racism. And the world's oldest bigotry, Jew-hatred, proved its undying character by the singling out of the handful of Jews in a country of more than a billion people for prolonged torture and murder.

The Jewish idea of the end times is one of peace, tolerance and universal brotherhood. All righteous, moral, good people of whatever faith are equally loved by God, whether Jewish or not. But there are other religions in the world that insist that only their own kind merits salvation and that all others are doomed to purgatory, whether of this world or the next.

Radical Islam that threatens the world today believes in peace and love - but seemingly only for their own. Random terror, mayhem and violence against the innocent are justifiedby their faith. This is Islam's image in the world today. Of their own making. It is not pretty.

World peace would be instantaneous were each one of us to recognize our common bond, our shared humanity. The spirit of the holidays would last well beyond December were we to say to our neighbor across the street or across the world, "You are my brother. You are my sister. We are all God's children."

It is tempting to look back and nurse old grievances, old grudges. And even satisfying on some level. But only if we look to the future and practice love in the present, can we avoid the darkness of the past. Only when we get up at 4:00 AM not to grab a bargain but to perform an act of kindness, will true peace be surely at hand.

© 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. I was born on the first day chol hamoed Sukkos, which is also the yahrzeit of both Rebbe Nachman and the Vilna Gaon.

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!