Friday, November 13, 2009

CHAYEI SARAH: At Eventide

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

Avraham's partner in kindness, Sarah, had just left the world. She lit the lamps of kindness in their home. Their home was the first mishkan, and in a sense she was the first Kohen Gadol, the High Priest who lit the lamps each day in the future Holy Temple. As in the story of Chanukah, the lamp must be kept lit continously.

Since his mother Sarah's passing, Yitzchak was now in deep pain. A holy spouse was needed to actively partner with him in bringing G*d's light into the world. In both senses. Literally with light, and figuratively through kindness and compassion. She would be the lightkeeper.

Our tradition teaches how important it is to find a worthy spouse who is emblematic of the overarching qualities of kindness and compassion. One is allowed to even take leave of Eretz Yisrael if need be, so important is a worthy spouse. She would be a holy bride to fill the vacuum in his soul left by his mother Sarah's passing. She would bring a shining Light of Chesed, of kindness, to restore the light and lustre, indeed the holy joy that the family once knew.

But while Eliezer engaged in the physical effort to procure a spouse, the beneficiary of these efforts, Yitzhak *himself,* had to desire it and pray for it to happen. And in fact he does pray, meditating in the field "towards evening." Note the common usage of the word "erev," or evening, in our narrative."

vayavrech hag'malim michutz la'ir el be'er hamayim Le"ET EREV, LE'ET tzeit hashoavot...

He (Eliezer) let the camels rest on their knees outside the city, beside the well; it was at the time of evening, at the time when women go out to draw water(Gen 24:11).

Let us ask, why is the word ET (time) doubled: the "time of evening" and the "time of the going out of the water drawers?" If everybody knows that the time of drawing water is in the evening, then why repeat the phrase, "in the evening?" That would verge on the redundant. As the Sages teach, no word in the Torah is extraneous!

The answer is in verse 63, where Yitzhak goes out to meditate in the field TOWARDS evening, i.e., before the evening. According to our narrative Eliezer arrives at the evening. As it was his wont to pray before the evening, the text would suggest that Yitzhak's deep prayers had a remarkable and direct efficacy. Synchronicity. Hashem is called the "bochen levavot," the seer of the depths of our hearts' deepest desires. When hearts are united prayer becomes stronger.

Indeed no two hearts were more united than Avraham's and Yitzhak's after the Akeidah. It was "towards evening" when the Akeidah occured (it was clearly not dark yet because Avraham "saw the ram" in the thicket), and thus was now especially designated as the time of Yitzhak's deepest prayers. This was forever to be the time window that was uniquely his own, the most propitious and efficacious for all his future prayers. Mincha was his special time, his window to deep experiential happenings - his own "near death" experience, and his time of first meeting his future bride.

So just as Yitzchak was praying for his soulmate, so too was Eliezer praying that Yitzchak's soulmate should appear. Erev means "evening," but it also means "mixing." In the case of evening it is the "mixing" of light and darkness. Similarly, Areivut (ERV) means "responsibility." The connection is that we- all Israel- are responsible for one another. But this idea of "erev," of the "mixing of the light" at eventide, the time of praying for one's soulmate, goes even deeper.

Eliezer has taken a journey out of Abraham's orbit, from out of a place of pure light to a land of idolatry, to a place of spiritual darkness. But suddenly here was Rivka (Rebecca) engaged in acts of kindness, of chesed, to both man and "beast" (camels). To all living things. She is a light in the darkness. She is a light mixed in with the darkness- a mixing of the light and the darkness. She *is* erev.

And it is at that eventide moment that three things happen simultaneously, in perfect harmonic convergence: when she takes responsibility for her own kindness, when Eliezer takes responsibility for finding his master's son a soulmate, and when Yitzchak is praying for all of the above. Through prayer, cosmic forces become arrayed to synchronistically aid and abet spiritually ennobling aims.

Rivka in her own right represents the aspect of pure chesed. She is the opposite of Isaac's antithetical quality of gevurah, or restriction, thus renewing Abraham and Sarah's kindness paradigm. And we should be cognizant of the fact that we, all of us, as her children, are stamped with her seal of kindness. We are known as Rachmanim B'nei Rachmanim- Merciful Ones, Children of Merciful Ones. We are Children of the Light- the Light of Sarah's Tent.

But owing to the fervent and simultaneous prayers of all three-of Yitzchak, Eliezer and Rivka, we should also be known as the Children of the Evening. Both erev in the sense of evening as well as erev in the sense of areivut- pleasantness. And finally, it is in the sense of being responsible for one another, as in Kawl Yisrael areivim zeh bazeh - "all Israel is responsible one for the other."

There are those who take responsibility for the repair of their souls - their innerworld, and there are those who take responsibility for the repair of the cosmos- their outerworld. But
here is the question: why can't we have both?

Shabbat Shalom! Good Shabbos!

© 2000 - 2009 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

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

http://seferchabibi.blogspot.com/2007/07/yahrzeit-of-my-father-27-tammuz.html

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506EEDC1630F93BA35754C0A9649C8B63

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, November 6, 2009

VAYERA: REVELATION ALL AROUND US

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

There is a Talmudic expression that salvation can come in the "blink of an eye,""b'heref ayin." That refers to the kind of salvation that is waiting in the wings for the propitious moment. But in our parsha, Va'yera, we learn of another kind of salvation- the salvation that was always right in front of us before our very eyes, but because of depression and sadness we sometimes fail to see it. The truth is, if we are aware of it, every moment in life is full of salvific potential.

Hagar, alone in the wilderness with her son, Ishmael, felt that they were on the verge of death, their water having run out. Their situation looked very bleak. But the angel appears and "opens her eyes," enabling her to see that which was there all along. The veil was lifted and salvation was assured. Nourished by the waters of their new-found well of water, Ishmael's life was spared, and G*d's promise of continuity of his lineage was assured.

It is interesting to contrast the imagery of G*d's "opening of Hagar's eyes (vayifkach Elo*im et eyneha-Gen 21:19)" to facilitate salvation, with that of Avraham's "lifting of his eyes (vayisa Avraham et eynav-Gen 22:13)," in the Akeidah narrative, when he sees the ram to use as a substitute offering for Yitzhak. In his case his action (the binding of Isaac) preceded the miraculous sighting. Therefore his seeing is expressed in the active voice. In her case it was just the reverse! Having given birth on Sarah's lap in a sense she was bound (akeidah) on Sarah's altar, as a passive player who was acted upon. Hence her seeing is similarly expressed in a passive voice. G*d had to open her eyes. She couldn't do it herself.

Her eyes were opened and she saw. The "sighting" was always there, yet was not perceived. The miracle was already there. Her eyes just had to be opened to perceive it. The same is true for us. We can see the events that happen to us in our alives as mere coincidences. Or we can "open up our eyes" and thereby see them for the miracles and acts of Divine Providence that they really are.

An image is but a frequency, a valence or expression of light waves. Light which is visible to us as humans is but a minute fraction of the spectrum of "lightwaves," which include infrared light, ultraviolet light, UHF, VHF, and radio "light," among many other forms of vibrating light frequencies. It is said that prophecy is but an ability to perceive these otherwise hidden forms of reality, which although taking place in the future, being images of light, thus similarly travel at the speed of light. Divine light and the "light stored for the end of days"- the "ohr haganooz,"are but different points on the light spectrum waiting to be revealed to humanity.

In other words, the radio waves and the television waves and the infrared waves and the ultraviolet waves are ALWAYS all around us all the time but we must take some action in order to actually perceive them. For us it is turning on the television or the radio. For Hagar it was as simple as merely opening her eyes. And for Abraham he just had to lift up his eyes. Our eyes must therefore be always open and raised up to similarly perceive the miraculous Divine aspect of reality. We can choose not to see it, and yet it is always there.

It is therefore no mere coincidence that the symbol for the redemption of humanity at the beginning of time is the rainbow, a refraction, or revelation of the variegated colors hidden within the range of "normal," or visible light. The redemption of humanity at the end of time, the eschaton, will similarly be heralded by a profusion of newly revealed light, of light which was formerly hidden.

The mind is a sophisticated filtering mechanism, limiting our perception to the tiniest fraction of the light spectrum. The olam haba (the world to come) promises us a fantastic array of perception along the entire frequency. Indeed the word for brain in Hebrew is mo-ach, which means to erase or wipe away (Moses says to G*d: m'cheni na- erase me - from your book). The brain erases all the non-permitted frequencies. Only prophets or those with a genetic mutation or Divine gift to perceive extra frequencies, people whom we call psychics, are able to perceive a reality across time and space while the average mortal cannot.

And we say "time erases the pain." It is not time per se that erases the pain, but rather that the brain allows the passage of time to assuage the pain so that we can function in the world. G*d doesn't forget our pain. And neither does our neshama. It's all stored in there somewhere. But forgiveness has the power to truly erase it and bring a sense of closure and healing.

Ishmael becomes an expert archer. It is all very symbolic. It's all about continuity and covenant. The promise of continuity of Abraham's lineage through Ishmael is symbolized by the "keshet," or rainbow imagery. In Hebrew, the word for both archery BOW and rain BOW is the same. Hagar places Ishmael a bow shot away- "harchek k'mitachavei keshet (Gen 21:16)," so as not to see the death of her son. And then in verse 20 the text informs us that he grew up to be an expert archer, "vayehi roveh kashat." What is the point in our knowing of his archery skills?

The point of the doubling of the word "keshet" (KSHT) is to remind us of the first promise of continuity made by G*d to the human race writ large, in the placement of a rainbow in the heavens, as a sign for all time of G*d's promise to humanity to never again bring a flood. The continuity of humankind is assured via covenantal sign. This is followed ten generations later with the covenantal promise of continuity to Avraham and his offspring.

Through Avraham's lineage humanity would once again restore its connection to G*d consciousness. Ishmael, in his sharing of the sign of the covenant - circumcision, with his father, was thus assured a parallel track of blessing and continuity with that of his brother, Yitzhak. As twelve tribes would emanate, by way of Yaakov, from Yitzhak's loins, so too would twelve Arabian tribes emerge from Ishmael (Gen 25:13-15).

Note, too, the proximity and immediacy of TaSHK and KaSHaT in verses 19 and 20- "vatashk et hanaar (she gave the lad to drink)" in conjunction with "vayehi roveh kashat (and he became an expert archer)." What sense can we make of this telling pallandrome? The answer speaks volumes of the nature of salvation itself.

Crying out (prayer) is the first stage in salvation. The third stage is the salvation itself. But the most necessary stage- the middle stage, is that of active human involvement! The words are hinting, if we read with "opened eyes," that the most crucial component of salvation is the human component. We must always hope for a miracle, but we must do all we can ourselves to facilitate it. If we just take the first step to begin the process, G*d will help us finish it. It wasn't enough for Hagar just to have the "vision" of seeing the well. Without actively "giving drink" through her own intervention no one would have been saved. Her human action was the spark that triggered the salvation.

Although a promise was made by G*d assuring blessing and progeny to Ishmael (Gen 17:20), active human involvement was yet necessary for the blessing to come to fruition. Hagar needed to "give drink" to the lad. Like Nachshon ben Avinadav whose jumping into the sea triggered the parting of the sea, human action must necessarily precede salvation. To win the lottery one must first actually buy a ticket.

And in between the two scales of human prayer and Divine redemption lies the fulcrum of angelic intervention. Just as Avraham's visitors in the opening of the parsha were angels in human form, whenever *we* help someone who needs us in that moment- whether physically, emotionally or financially, we have then become angels ourselves, bringing merit, redemption and salvation, not only in that one moment, but in the emanating wave-like ripples that echo through time and eternity.

Shabbat Shalom. Good Shabbos!

© 2000 - 2009 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

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

http://seferchabibi.blogspot.com/2007/07/yahrzeit-of-my-father-27-tammuz.html
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506EEDC1630F93BA35754C0A9649C8B63

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, October 30, 2009

LECH LECHA; GOING, GOING, GONE

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

"...as bread and wine are brought forth to sanctify this moment of mankind's first recorded act of altruism, so too we use bread and wine to sanctify the Sabbath, which crowned Creation, G*d's enduring act of altruism for all time."

"We are bidden to circumcize even our hearts to serve G*d. This means, in the deepest sense, ironically, that only through having a broken heart can one have a whole or perfect heart to serve G*d. The pride of arrogance blocks the heart from the Divine light and Divine love. A circumcized heart allows the Divine light to reenter."

The Jewish People have often been termed "the wandering Jews." It is such a popular expression that a plant was even named in its honor. Abraham the Patriarch, Father of the Jewish People, was the first "wandering Jew," and we've been wandering ever since. What is it about the idea of separating - the essence of the meaning of being holy, of separating from the mundane and material, that makes it so central to the character and mission of the Jewish people? But the reuniting is then all the sweeter, embodied symbolically in the Challah and Kiddush that we bless on the Sabbath.

A common theme reverberating throughout Lech Lecha is that of leaving. Beginning first with G*d directing Avram to leave .... his land,.... his home, .... his birthplace, then proceeding to narrate the journey of Avram and company moving to Egypt to escape the effects of severe famine. Foreshadowing the travails of their descendants in Egypt in future generations, they fulfill the concept of ma'aseh avot siman lebanim- "the deeds of the antecedents are clues for the descendants."

What the patriarchs and matriarchs experienced in a familial setting was reenacted later on in a proto-national setting. To wit, the commonality of famine, descent into Egypt, handsomeness of features shared by both Sarai ("yefat mareh at"- Gen 12:11) as well as Yosef ("yefei toar veefei mareh"- Gen 39:6), attempted but failed seduction, captivity, plague and hasty expulsion accompanied by a profusion of gifts and wealth. Such numerous comparisons!

"Take and go" (kach ve'lech) are two verbs which are shared in both narratives- kach velech in Gen: 12:19, and k'chu ve'lechu in Ex: 12:32. Interestingly, the experience of captivity in Egypt is embodied in the personage of Sarai, the representative of the future collective assemblage of all Israel. Hence the plural form alluding to the patriarchs takes on a feminine ending- avOT rather than avIM. Therefore AVOT this case is not gender specific, but rather is gender neutral, encompassing both the matriarchs as well as the patriarchs.

Their entourage now laden with wealth and riches, Avram and Lot now find themselves miserable in their crowded quarters. Why should there be constant strife between them when they could easily part company and go their separate ways? Indeed, perhaps Avram felt he was now passing along G*d's sage advice for *him,* now onto his nephew, Lot, as a ritualistic rite of passage to be perhaps incumbent now on all his descendents, whether adopted or biological."

Maybe you should go away," he says to Lot. "We won't be fighting anymore. It's a big world out there. Plenty of land (Gen 13: 8,9)." Indeed, he found new wealth opportunities and expanded possibilities in the lush and luxuriant land near Sodom.

Next to go was Hagar's appreciation of Sarai, and her respect for her former mistress. Now pregnant with Avram's supposed heir, she lorded it over Sarai, and revealed her barely disguised contempt for her, even though it was at Sarai's insistence that she become pregnant through Avram. Sarai, in an effort to win back and reassert her primacy in the marriage, as well as her sense of well-being and pyschic repose, insists that Hagar now take leave. Hesitant at first, in the end Avram "listened to her voice," a phrase later repeated (vayishma lekol sarai/shma bekola) by G*d as a directive to heed Sarah's intuitive wisdom and judgment. Hagar subsequently returns, the marital union restored, though somewhat a bit fractured because of the dissonance between the clarity of Sarai's judgment and Avram's hesitancy and reluctance.

Note that Sarai insisted on Hagar's departure even before G*d later promises Avraham that she will give birth and bear the heir (Gen17:15,16). In her mind, apparently, without shalom bayit, or peace in the home, to provide a solid and stable environment, any child reared in that home, she intuited, would carry the scar of familial discord and pass it down through eternity. The sacred task of rebuilding mankind's connection with the Divine needed a solid foundation from which to be planted, to be nurtured and nourished, and then to grow and spread out and eventually redeem all humanity.

Indeed, in this quest for perfection, temimut (Gen 17:1), G*d commands Avraham to circumcize his flesh and that of his male descendants for all time as a symbol of that perfection. Ironically, the separation of the foreskin is a symbol of the newfound covenantal union between man and G*d. To become whole, therefore, one must become first a little separated. This is underscored with the Pact Between Halves (Gen15), where it is the splitting, or the separating of the animals, symbolic of the separating of man from his animal instinct, which leads to the promise of blessing and the continuity of his seed.

It is the separation of flesh from that very organ of regeneration and continuity of seed which therefore comes to symbolize that very covenant and the perfection of mankind, in that he is now worthy to walk before G*d. "Walk before Me and be perfect. I will make a covenant between Me and thee, and I will increase your numbers very much (Gen17:1,2)." In fact, later on, we are bidden to circumcize even our hearts to serve G*d. This means, in the deepest sense, ironically, that only through having a broken heart can one have a whole or perfect heart to serve G*d. The pride of arrogance blocks the heart from the Divine light and Divine love. A circumcized heart allows the Divine light to reenter.

But in the final analysis, it is not the initial leaving which brings blessing, but the subsequent return. When Hagar returns she is blessed with the birth of Ishmael who will have many descendants. Moreover, when Avram rescues Lot and returns all the captives and the lost booty to the king of Sodom he is blessed by Malchi-Tzedek, King of Salem, priest to G*d, the Most High. He "brings forth" bread and wine. And as bread and wine are brought forth to sanctify this moment of mankind's first recorded act of altruism, so too we use bread and wine to sanctify the Sabbath, which crowned Creation, G*d's enduring act of altruism for all time.

As Malchi-Tzedek acknowledges Avraham's crowning achievement for mankind's spiritual evolution, so too do we acknowledge that the Sabbath is similarly the greatest tool for humanity's continual evolution. Bread and wine are both the end products of a lengthy cooperative human process, the fruits of labor many rungs above the primitive hunter/gatherer phase of man's development.

Avraham's act of conscious altruism is the pinnacle of a new age of moral evolution. And just as Avraham's act was not purely altruistic in that subsequently humanity was to benefit from the future Redeemer who would be born from his loins via Ruth the Moabitess who was a direct descendant of Lot and King David, so too, in celebrating the Sabbath, we not only give praise and bear testimony to G*d's creating the world, but we ourselves reap the specific benefits and blessings which inhere in its observance.

As much as Avraham gives to G*d through Malchi-Tzedek, Priest to G*d Most High, a "ma'ASER mikall", a TENTH of all which he captured (Gen14:20), G*d is giving back to Avraham "me'OSHER mikall," from the WEALTH of everything. The subject of the sentence is purposely left ambiguous so as to indicate that the impact of the blessings flow in both directions.

To be become sePARATED, lehiPARED, can bring loneliness and make one feel afraid (PRD), but we learn from our parsha that a loving hand is guiding Avraham's great journey. The Talmud in Masechet Shabbat tells us that each day of the week has a partner- Sunday is paired with Monday, Tuesday with Wednesday, and Thursday with Friday. The Sabbath then asks, "what about me?" I don't want to be lonely! G*d tells the Sabbath that "the Jewish People will be your partner."

Avraham, the father of the Jewish people, is teaching us that the antidote to loneliness, separation and social anomie, is in helping others. Through giving of yourself to others, your own pain disappears. When Avraham ran to greet and feed the visiting angels his own pain from his recent circumcision disappeared! When he freed his nephew Lot from captivity he showed the world the redeeming power of altruism. When we bless our wine and our bread this Sabbath eve, after singing Shalom Aleichem at the table next to our Kiddush wine and Challah loaves, let us remember these gifts of Malchi-Tzedek, and how the initial travail of separation, through altruism, leads ultimately to the sweet reunion- of Avraham and Lot, of the Jewish People and the Land of Israel, and of our souls and G*d.

And as we bid adieu to the departing angels who guided our steps home from the synagogue and blessed our home with Sabbath peace, so too we bless them back. Tzetchem leShalom. Lech Lecha. Not, "maybe you should leave," but rather, "Go in Peace, my beautiful friends, my sweet angels."

Shabbat Shalom. Good Shabbos.

© 2000 - 2009 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

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

http://seferchabibi.blogspot.com/2007/07/yahrzeit-of-my-father-27-tammuz.html
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506EEDC1630F93BA35754C0A9649C8B63

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, October 23, 2009

NOACH; A CHANGE IN THE NATURE

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman


Let's see. Take two of every species. Seven pairs of the kosher (clean) species (Gen 7:2). And take food for them all as well. Lions and tigers, leopards, panthers and bobcats are all carnivores by nature. And yet they ostensibly were vegetarian while on board the ark. Otherwise the antelope, elk, sheep, zebra and deer would nowhere be found once the hatches were opened.

Maybe even Noah and his family might be missing as well!

Where else do we see allusions to dietary tranformation? At the eschaton, the end of days, when Isaiah's oft misquoted prophetic vision of the "lion and the lamb" shall come to pass:

Isaiah 11:6-9, "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion..."

In other words, there will one day be a complete evolutionary leap in creation with a change in the basic drives and instincts throughout the animal kingdom, including man. Just as in the short time aboard the ark, so too in the future will this vast and magnificent transformation occur.

The seven Noahide laws are a key stepping stone towards mankind's moral evolution. Murder, incest/promiscuity, kidnapping/stealing, blasphemy, idolatry, cruelty to animals, and judges/law courts/police. These seven categories are symbolically represented by the seven colors of the rainbow, the sign of the Covenant with humanity.

The messianic age will reveal all that lay submerged and hidden from the time of Creation and the Noahide Creation redux. The Ohr Haganooz, the hidden supernal light from the time of Creation, the light that existed prior to the creation of the heavenly bodies, will one day be revealed. The temporary change in the carnivorous nature of the animal kingdom will become a new and permanent condition. Finally, the waters of the earth will one day become sweet. In Gen 8:2 it says vayiSaCHRu maayanot tehom. This is usually translated as "the waters of the deep were sealed." But the root of vayiSaCHRu is sucar, meaning "sugar," in Hebrew.

Basically, this means that the words of Torah, which are often compared to water, will one day transform the world and all that is in it only when their message is sweet. The whole world will be drawn to G*d's word when those who live it and teach it are its worthy bearers and convey its sweetness through their thoughts, words and deeds. By the same token, when its message is blurred by the misdeeds of its bearers, it sets the clock back and delays the final redemption. May we, the descendants of Noah, who in his righteousness merited redemption in his day, come to know the true and sweet redemption in our own.

Shabbat Shalom!
Good Shabbos!

© 2000 - 2009 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

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

http://seferchabibi.blogspot.com/2007/07/yahrzeit-of-my-father-27-tammuz.html
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506EEDC1630F93BA35754C0A9649C8B63

Sefer 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, October 16, 2009

BREISHEET: GUARDIAN OF EDEN

Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

The ultimate challenge in life is in giving back, in repaying the Source of Life for the gifts which we have freely received. Paid forward, we have yet to earn them. Through giving back, whether by tzedaka (righteousliving), tefilah (self-judgment) or teshuva (turning to G*d), gemilut chasadim (deeds of loving kindness) or learning Torah, we restore equilibrium both to ourselves and to the world.

Our parsha this week, B'reisheet, deals with the subject of taking. While our emphasis in life should properly belong to giving, it is important to understand some of the deeper meanings of taking. The very first act of "taking" (kicha) in the Torah, is when "G*d TOOK the man and placed him inthe Garden of Eden to work it and to guard it." (Gen 2:15). But then we were flawed and proved unworthy of remaining in our pristine surroundings until we could earn our way back to return with a greater maturity. Man was told to guard the Garden, but in just the next chapter (Gen 3:22):

"And G*d said, man has now become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now he must be prevented from putting forth his hand and also TAKING from the Tree of Life. He can eat it and live forever."

Ironically, man who was to guard the Garden is now himself to be guarded FROM the Garden by the cheruvim, the holy cherubs, at the east of Eden, along with the LAHAT HA-CHEREV HA-MIT'HAPECHET to guard the path of the Tree of Life. This LAHAT HA-CHEREV HA-MIT'HAPECHET is usually translated as "revolving sword blade." I would rather translate it as a "flaming sword which makes everything seem the opposite."

In otherwords, were we to pass through and gain entrance to the Garden, we would finally glimpse the world of truth (olam ha-emet), where everything is how it should be. In our world, the world of falsehood (olam ha-sheqer), the wicked often prosper and the good often suffer. The Sabbath (Shabbat) is that opportunity to transport ourselves back to the Garden, to catch but a fleeting glimpse of the olam ha-emeth. Indeed, the Sabbath is called me'eyn olam haba, "a taste (aspect) of the world to come." On the Sabbath, even the flaming swords of Eden have a day of rest, paralleling the fires of gehennom ("hades") which are said to also abate on this day.

Finally, though not chronologically, we have the TAKING of the man's bone, in the building of woman (Gen 2:21). The word bone in English comes from the Hebrew, because the woman was built from man's bone. VayiVeN means he built. The bones are the building blocks, the support scaffolding of the human body. Without bones we would be slithering on the ground like the snake. The snake lacked true binah, understanding. Man and woman have it by nature, though
it is truly learned only through experience, trial and error.

Now if man is considered to be the crown of creation, then woman, appearing as she does on the proverbial scene after man, is therefore the CROWN of the CROWN of creation. That is, if every creature formed later than any other creature is said to be on a higher level, then how much more so, our tradition teaches, is woman on a higher spiritual level than man. That is why chazal, the sages of blessed memory, taught that the time-designated mitzvoth are especially helpful for men in order for them to attain that spiritual level already held by women. Women by their very nature are sensitive to time, and thus are more sensitive and more aware of the Master of Time- He who was, who is, and who always will be(YKVK).

Men, it is said, therefore need the time-bound mitzvoth to fill a lacking, to develop a higher awareness of the Creator of Time. If man is considered to have been created Beyn ha-Shemashot, on the proverbial twilight of the sixth day, moments before the first Sabbath, then woman, created last, is truly Beyn ha-Shemashot BEYN ha-Shemashot. She truly understands (Binah) time.

When a woman kindles the two (or more) Sabbath lights, the shabbos licht, she is really on the deepest level recreating the two flaming swords of the cherubs. The woman is the guardian of the holiness of the Sabbath in the Jewish home, like the cherubs assigned to be the Guardians of Eden. The woman takes over for the cherubs on their day of rest.

When a man and a woman marry, there is also an act of kicha, of "taking." But this idea of "taking" should never be misunderstood in its crass sense. Rather, it is an allusion to that original taking with regard to woman that was first mentioned in the Torah. His taking now completes the circle, in that he is now taking that woman who had been first taken from him, from his bone.

The union of a man and a woman harkens back to the first union of Adam and Eve. They are symbolically (re) joined as one flesh, combining the male and female energies to continue humanity and to make a new beginning. The Sheva Brachos, the seven blessings of the wedding ceremony, richly alludes to this promise of new beginnings.

As the Holy Temple burned in the flames and came crashing down, cinder by cinder, fiery ember by fiery ember, the cherubs above the holy ark were locked in a loving embrace. Their swords of fire were now transformed into loving embraces, the true meaning of Lahat ha-Cherev ha-Mit'hapechet- the transforming sword of fire, where a CHeReV(sword/combatant) would be transformed into a CHaVeR (com-panion, i.e., sharing both pain and bread -see French "pain").

In our lives today, we see so much pain and so much fire in our relationships. Our challenge is to transform our feelings of deep pain into feelings of empathy for others and into good deeds and acts of kindness. Only when we take responsibility for our pain and for the pain of others and become holy embracers, we shall then find ourselves back in the Garden.

Shabbat Shalom! Good Shabbos!

© 2000 - 2009 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

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

http://seferchabibi.blogspot.com/2007/07/yahrzeit-of-my-father-27-tammuz.html

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506EEDC1630F93BA35754C0A9649C8B63

Sefer 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.

ROSH HASHANA: FRESH STARTS

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

Rosh Hashana is the time of new beginnings and fresh starts. It's about changing. We change the world only when we change ourselves.

The word "shana" in Hebrew means many things. It is most commonly translated as year, but it also has many deeper related meanings. Shana also means "teach,"and the word "mishna," the oral teachings, comes from the same root. Shana also means "change" or "transformation."

In Hebrew, "leshanot" is the infinitive form of the word meaning "to change." The word for teeth, "sheenayim," also derives from the same root. Our teeth begin the transformation process, begin the changing of inanimate food into the very energy which animates us. That which was once matter of a certain provenance from outside of ourselves, some "other," now becomes a part of our very essence.

The word for tongue, "lashon,"also hints at this idea. Not only does the tongue aid the teeth in the digestive process, whose taste buds help avoid the fetid, the putrid and the rancid, but so too does the tongue form words, helping to change ethereal thoughts into the realm of action- into words, which are the genesis of action. And in Hebrew, the word "shoneh" means "different," apart from the norm by dint of change. Rosh Hashana, then, is often given short shrift by being viewed solely as meaning the "head of the year."

Passover, falling in the month of Nisan, is explicitly enumerated in the Torah as being more properly known as the head of the year, calling her "the first month." Tishrei, the month of Rosh Hashana, is literally called "the seventh month." So what should it then be called? How do we tie all these meanings of shana together to form a coherent, organic whole?

Rosh Hashana should be called "the beginning of changing." Just as nature begins to change with the changing of the leaves and the change in the seasons, and school begins, so too should we learn to let go and to embrace a new beginning. Tishrei is the seventh month. Shabbat is the seventh day.

Shabbat, the seventh day, where we change into our heavenly spiritual garments, is mirrored in the seventh month, the month of spiritual transformation. All year long we are learning life's lessons. Each year we try to grow, becoming different and better people than we were the year before. We strive to accept change in life, in others and in ourselves. Only through forgiving ourselves and others can we take the first step in making these changes. Only through a renewed sense of responsibility to the covenantal idea, to the idea of mitzvah, can this change occur.

This responsibility to facilitate this process of change is the essence of the Torah's eternal challenge. But true change is very frightening. As they say, everyone wants progress, but no one wants to change. So the Creator Above understands this and helps us to change, giving us a forty day period from Rosh Chodesh Elul through Yom Kippur to help us to psychologically navigate the transformation. We cannot do it in one day.

The shofar we blow each morning during the month of Elul in this season of changing, itself epitomizes change. From originally being the instrument of animal warfare, of strife and contention, it will one day become the instrument through which we announce the Messianic Age, heralding the dawn of a new age of peace,love and brotherhood.Shana Tova, the New Year greeting, does not only mean Happy New Year. On the deepest level it means, "Change for the Good." May we all change for the good, and choose life. Amen.

Shabbat Shalom. Good Shabbos.

© 2000 - 2009 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

These words of Torah are written in honor of the memory of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, obm, Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Yaakov Hakohen Melman, zichrono livracha.
Sefer 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, September 25, 2009

HAAZINU; SHABBAT SHUVAH- ANSWER YOUR SOUL

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

The Messianic Age represents the fulfillment of that "going beyond." The Pagan Idea represented the eternal cyclicity of life. The Judaic Revolution realigned human consciousness to synchronize with the DNA blueprint, substituting the two dimensional pagan circle theory which has no sense of progression, with the three dimensional Hebraic spiral theory - G*d, Torah and Israel, which combines cyclicity with growth.

The maftir reading which we read on Yom Kippur, taken from Parshat Pinchas, Numbers 29:7, says "u'be'asur lachodesh hash'viee hazeh mikra kodesh yih'yeh lachem VI'INITEM et nafshoteychem kawl melacha lo ta'asu." To wit: "the tenth day of this seventh month shall be a sacred holy day to you and: TYPICAL TRANSLATION: you shall afflict your souls and not do any manner of work."

Talmud Yoma (77a) dissects its meaning and comes to include all the prohibited behaviors of the day, noting that it especially means to fast. Hence we use the term TAANIT for connoting a fast day, such as Taanit Esther, which shares the same root. But perhaps an an alternative translation can offer a new insight: you shall ANSWER your souls! The infinitive verb form of the word LA'ANOT means "to answer." Note that the verb form is written in the PIEL construct-VI'INITEM- which would serve to accentuate and emphasize its impact. REALLY ANSWER YOUR SOUL.

In Parshat Sh'mot, Exodus 1:12, we have the same verb- "vecha'asher y'ANU oto, ken yirbeh v'chen yifrotz... But the more they (the Egyptians) oppressed them, the more they (Israel) proliferated and spread."

So here it makes sense from the plain, peshat, meaning that it means "oppress," or "afflict." Now this is very deep. Usually when we answer someone we indeed end up afflicting them in some way. We often have some underlying need to dump on someone who genuinely needs help. As we have been dumped on all our lives by others, we sometimes have the urge to pass on the negativity of our own experiences onto others. Inquiry is seen as weakness, a seeming invitation for further oppression. Dialogue as weakness. Peculiar, yet the reigning motif of political conflict, especially in the MidEast.

In Exodus, the Israelites had just enjoyed generations of basking in the Egyptian goodwill stemming from Joseph's economic intervention which saved the country from utter ruin. Now they suddenly found themselves as slaves (ibid:8-11). Suddenly they were on the wrong side. Indeed overnight their whole world was turned upside down! They asked,"why?" and so "they answered them (read: oppressed them)..."What was the negativity of Egypt that the new king felt needed to be passed on? A reverse Stockholm syndrome! Ruling a nation of serfs who had sold all their lands and possessions to a prior Pharaoh for their very survival, he absorbed and identified with their pain. When one places suffering within a context of meaning it can be dealt with and tolerated. Many generations having lapsed, the new generation of Egypt lost the context for their suffering; their hardship became too much to bear. Meanwhile a prosperous Israel thrived among them in neighboring Goshen. The disparity aroused jealousy, another source of great psychic pain. Israel felt betrayed by the king and the society they had placed all their hopes in, indeed had staked their future upon. In whom should our trust really be placed?

Now in our parsha, Ha'azinu, we ask: what is the question and what is the answer? What pain has been inflicted on me, and how do I refrain from consciously or unconsciously passing it on to others? In this season of deepest reflection and self-accounting (cheshbon hanefesh), as we stand figuratively before the King of Kings, we ask, "why are we here? What is the ultimate purpose of our lives? What is the point of my life? What is the point of being Jewish?"

Not "why are we the eternal people," for that is a given, being that it is a Divine oath, but "what are we to do with this eternality?" Will we be IN the garden or OUT of the garden? In the Torah blessing we intone: "vechayey olam nata betochenu- and eternal life you hath planted in our midst." Will we seek shelter amidst the branches under the protective shade of the TREE of LIFE, which is Torah? Or will we we spurn this gift- the Torah, whose mitzvoth and teachings are literally the keys to our soul's eternal life?"

Ha'azinu hashamayim- Give ear O Heavens...vetishma ha'aretz- and Hear O Earth..."Heaven and Earth were the first born in Creation, partnering with G*d in the Creation of all that was to follow. Being the first of Creation they represent all that is potential. Humankind, being the last of Creation, represents the fulfillment of that potential. The Torah, the Sinaitic Revelation, takes us one step further and asks us to go BEYOND our potential.

And finally, the Messianic Age represents the fulfillment of that "going beyond." The Pagan Idea represented the eternal cyclicity of life. The Judaic Revolution realigned human consciousness to synchronize with the DNA blueprint, substituting the two dimensional pagan circle theory which has no sense of progression, with the three dimensional Hebraic spiral theory - G*d, Torah and Israel, which combines cyclicity with growth.

Forty represents transformation. The forty day period from Elul through Yom Kippur represents in miniature mankind's sojourn from Creation through Revelation and on to the Ultimate Redemption. The trumpets we blow on Rosh Hashanah symbolize the same trumpets we heard at Sinai, while the release from the obsessive burden of all bodily cares on Yom Kippur offers us a glimpse into the state of perfection of the Future World, when the soul and the body finally act in harmony instead of at cross purposes, when peace and justice is achieved for all. As such it is our day of greatest joy and celebration.

Shabbat Shuvah is the breather, the shabbat resting point, from which we symbolically catch our collective breath before we ascend to the peak of the Sabbath of Sabbaths, the Shabbat Shabbaton, which is Yom Kippur. The timeliness and concurrence of Haazinu with the Sabbath of Return- Shabbat Shuvah, is uncanny. We so often despair of our journey and grow weary of the effort just when the end is almost in sight. It's always darkest just before the dawn!

When we lose the connection to Sinai, we lose the compass pointing us to our ultimate destination. We are bidden by Moses for ALL generations to contemplate how and why we became prosperous in our land."Pay close attention to all the words through whichI warn you this day, so that you will be able to instruct your CHILDREN to keep all the words of this Torah carefully."

When Israel seeks to throw off the yoke of the Torah she is bending and distorting the spiral paradigm."Answer your souls' deepest yearnings- v'initem et nafshoteychem," and return to Hashem.If we make the Torah central to our lives we are indeed answering our soul's deepest desire, and INITEM is then translated as "answering our soul." But if we lose our center and allow centripetal forces to spin us around and bear down on us, thus losing the Torah as the guiding central moral force in our lives, then INITEM becomes translated as "afflict your souls."

But as our haftarah reassures us in the end (2 Samuel 22: 49-51), King David declares, "He brings me out from my enemies. You lift me above my adversaries; you deliver me from the violent man (literally "Hamas!"). Therefore I will give thanks to You, O G*d, among the nations, and sing praises to your name...

...He is a Tower of Salvation to His king; and shows mercy to His annointed, to David and his descendants forever."

MIGDOL YESHUOTH MALKO VE'OSEH CHESED LIMSHICHO LEDAVID U'LI'ZAROAD OLAM.

A most hopeful note indeed.Shabbat Shalom. Good Shabbos. Shana Tovah. Ketivah vechatimah tovah.

© 2000 - 2009 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

These words of Torah are written in honor of the memory of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, obm, Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Yaakov Hakohen Melman, zichrono livracha.

Sefer 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, September 11, 2009

NITZAVIM VAYELECH: CONTEMPLATION AND ACTION

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

Nitzavim means "are standing." Who is standing? The Jewish people in Deuteronomy at Moses' farewell to arms? Who else might be standing?

Rosh Hashana is a traditional time of visiting the matzevah, the burial place of our loved ones. A matzevah is literally the memorial stone, the headstone that contains our essential data. We are to pause before it, we, the survivors, and contemplate the life of the one whose resting spot is marked by the stone.

We are, all of us, survivors on this anniversary of 9-11 from eight years ago. Eight is like the Bris, held on the eighth day, beyond nature, which is symbolized by cycles of seven. Eight is beyond this world. They say all our nerves are replaced after seven years. Now we have new nerves with which to feel the pain of 9-11.

But do we? Do we still feel the pain of that day? When did it already become history? History is when we no longer feel the pain. Yes, some of us still do. For some of us the pain and trauma is as real as yesterday. But for many of us, I suspect not as much.

The towers that fell on that day were the matzevahs themselves, placed there in advance of their own falling! It's like the man who knows, who has the strongest premonition that he is going to die, and makes sure he says kaddish for himself, as he knows no one is living who will be saying kaddish for him! In fact I read a story about such a man who himself perished on 9-11.

The towers were their OWN matzevahs, paying it forward, in a sense. We are to contemplate by them, but they are not there for the contemplation. So it is their absence we are contemplating,
not their presence. Like a loved one who lived among us in our world, but is no more of our world, we feel their absence keenly. And as Rosh Hashana approaches, and with it, the sounds of the Unetaneh Tokef prayer hauntingly remind us of our own mortality with its words: Who shall live and who shall die? Who by fire? Who by earthquake? Who by violence? Indeed.

So as a nation, have we forgotten the pain of that day? Have we lost sight of what we stand for as a nation and as a civilization? Have we lost our moral bearings? Are we still in a war, eight years later, in Afghanistan? Are we still fighting the war over there? Or are we just going through the motions?

As a nation, what happened to the sense of unity and common purpose which we all felt on that cloudless day in September eight years ago? How much have we become divided since then?

As individuals, who among us was not touched by the recordings and the stories of husbands and wives making that last phone call home, as the flames drew nearer, and heard the screams as the fires consumed them? How we shook our heads in recognition of the sadness when that last phone call went to an answering machine instead of to a live person. For the deceased it was sad.
For the survivors they could replay and replay their final words over and over again every day, wishing they had been there by the phone to answer the call.

As individuals, who was not touched by the fact that if you didn't kiss your spouse and hold her tight when you left for work in the morning, it might be the last chance ever!

But how long did that last? How soon after, did we all fall back into the routines we take for granted? How soon after do we find ourselves, "just going through the motions?"

But the name of the second half of our double parsha is vayelech - he went. There is a time for contemplation. But now it's time to get moving. Now it's time to act. Now it's time to remember the closeness and unity we all felt on that day- as a nation, as a family, as a human race even, and act once again to recreate that feeling. No, we should not pray for a disaster to happen to recreate that feeling, G*d forbid. Rather, the challenge is to recreate that feeling out of love for our fellow man, not out of fear in the wake of a disaster.

On Rosh Hashana we are reminded that there are two ways to serve G*d: Out of love and out of fear. Most serve G*d out of fear- fear of punishment, fear of what the neighbors might think. But the highest level is to serve G*d out of love! When we do that it is said that all our previous sins are then turned into merits. If we do teshuvah from a place of fear, then our sins are merely cancelled. But if we do teshuvah out of love, then all our past sins are actually turned into merits!

Last week my car door hit a stranger's car door in the parking lot and scratched it accidentally. Because I am a member of a club called Judaism which teaches that we have to live lives of integrity and act ethically in the street and in the marketplace, I resisted my urge to ignore the infraction and I wrote a note, leaving my name and number. I soon got a call, and then the estimate. $365. 94. One dollar for each day of the year. The benefits of doing the right thing were many. It taught someone that there are those who try to do the right thing. The next time they are in that situation they might also consider doing the right thing. No longer can they say, "well...everybody else does it."

It taught a non-Jew that despite the headlines, there are Jews who try to do the right thing. I said to him on the phone, when he expressed amazement that anyone would leave a note in this day and age, "I truly didn't want to leave that note. I truly wanted to walk away. But the Torah made me do it!" You see, it's perfectly human and normal to wrestle with the challenge of acting morally. If it wasn't a challenge, then what would be the point? There would be no pleasure in the thought that you overcame the temptation to shirk responsibility to do the right thing. The name Israel that was given to Jacob after wrestling with the angel means, "Wrestles with G*d." We do not submit to G*d, as in Islam. We wrestle with G*d! We challenge G*d, as did Abraham when G*d said he would destroy the evil cities of Sodom and Gemorrah, if there might be righteous people among them!

To do the right thing is to perform a Kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of the name of G*d. To give in and surrender to the comfortable conformity of moral lethargy is its opposite- a chilul Hashem, a desecration of the name of G*d. And by doing it out of my love for G*d and His Torah, I reversed the sins committed on those 365 days of the year! Each sin committed on that day has now been turned into a merit! And I only knew it when the estimate came in the mail and it said $365. One dollar for every day of the year!

The challenge is to love G*d in a world of sadness and tragedy and evil. The challenge is to love people in a world of crooks, cheats and con artists. Despite the evil, despite the dishonesty, despite the cowardice and moral failures of others, let us take this moment to stand tall and proclaim that we will love G*d and bring Him into our lives all the more, in a world that needs Him even more. I will bring G*d back into my life, because I have a void that can simply not be filled by anything other than G*d and goodness. And I will love my neighbor as myself, simply because G*d asks me to. And in a world such as ours, it's better to have a good neighbor than a bad one! Because goodness is ultimately it's own reward. Because it's the right thing to do.

Shabbat Shalom!

© 2000-2009 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.http://seferchabibi.blogspot.com/2007/07/yahrzeit-of-my-father-27-tammuz.html

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506EEDC1630F93BA35754C0A9649C8B63

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, September 4, 2009

KI TAVO: On Being an Am Segula

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

What does it mean to be called the Chosen Nation? Actually, the term used in Ki Tavo is
Am Segula, often translated as "treasured nation." But whether understood as chosen or as treasured, it seems to be frequently misunderstood.

It does not imply supremacy or arrogance. Rather, it embraces the idea of service. As Israel is a mamlechet kohanim, a nation of priests, Israel is a kohein, or holy servant, to the other nations on Earth.Why is the Dead Sea dead? Because it only receives. It never gives out life sustaining waters. Thus the salts accumulate to toxic levels. Sea salt gives life, but only in very small quantities.

The Golan, by contrast, is bursting with life and vibrancy year round. Its fresh, living waters sustain and replenish Yam Kineret, the Sea of Galilee, whose waters sustain all Israel. And the Torah emanating from Yerushalayim and Tzfat, and indeed from all the heights of Torah, water and give spiritual nourishment to all Israel and to the world at large.

Israel now has the opportunity, our parsha is telling us, of being a catalyst for blessing for all the nations of the world. Indeed, this is a fulfillment of the Abrahamic blessing that "all the nations will be blessed through you." Israel, in a sense, now becomes the yeast for the whole world. As yeast is the catalyst in baking, so too is Israel that transforming agent of change which has the awesome capability of uplifting all of humanity. Just as yeast is among the least of the ingredients, so too is Israel the least populous of the nations. Just as yeast is less than tasty when eaten as a meal in itself, so too does Israel shine less when consumed solely in a self-absorbed disinterest with the fate of humanity.

Israel is the yeast/catalyst in the rising pungent ferment that is humanity. The more we consciously incorporate Judaism into our lives, the sooner we help elevate all humanity, including ourselves, to achieve the end stage of glorious redemption and peace, and thereby fulfill our true destiny as an "am segula," as a Catalyst Nation.

When we want something good for someone we often say, "do this as a segula." Or sometimes it is said, "say this prayer at the kotel for forty days to find your soul mate as a segula," or "recite this psalm on behalf of sick person as a segula," or "wear this amulet as a segula." So clearly, at least in the folk mind, a segula has the sense of being a catalyst, of bringing about positive change.

As we immerse in our own Teshuvah, to bring about positive change, let us remember that we are not perfect creatures either. We all make mistakes, but the point is to learn from them, to grow from them, to become better people because of the mistakes we have made. Thank G*d I make mistakes! That's the only way I know how to grow!

Shabbat Shalom!

© 2000-2009 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.

http://seferchabibi.blogspot.com/2007/07/yahrzeit-of-my-father-27-tammuz.html

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506EEDC1630F93BA35754C0A9649C8B63

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 28, 2009

KI TEITZEI: LOVING AND HATING

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

Behind everything which we hate there is to be found a Divine lesson for us. Sometimes we hate a person because he reminds us of a defect in our own character. That is a Divine message. Sometimes we hate someone because they are so good that we become jealous of him and look for petty ways to find fault with him to assuage our sense of regret for our own imperfect natures. Or perhaps he is full of joy and we are depressed or sad and hence we are jealous.

They say that the perfect is the enemy of the good. If you wait for the perfect you'll miss the good. We may end up hating the perfect in our passing up of the good.

In our parsha, Ki Teitzei, there is the instruction, if you have two wives, where one is loved and the other is hated, that we must honor the birthright of the oldest, the firstborn son, even if he is the offspring of the hated wife. The hated wife is identified first as the senuah, the hated one, spelled sin, nun, vav, alef, hey. But then she is identified not as the senuah, but rather as the seniah! The letter vav is replaced with the letter yud.

What is the significance of this change in spelling? Every word is divine. Every letter is divine. So it must have a meaning. Furthermore, the Torah was given to us to be eternally relevant to every generation. So today when most of Jewry has foresworn polygamy, what lesson can we learn from the change in spelling?

The letter yud represents divinity. It is teaching us that behind everything which we hate there is to be found a Divine lesson for us. Sometimes we hate a person because he reminds us of a defect in our own character. That is a Divine message. Sometimes we hate someone because they are so good that we become jealous of him and look for petty ways to find fault with him to assuage our sense of regret for our own imperfect natures. Or perhaps he is full of joy and we are depressed or sad and hence we are jealous.

A spouse is called an ezer k'negdo, translated often as "helpmeet." Ezer means "helper" and k'negdo means "against." When you are on the correct moral path she is to be a helper. But when you fall off the path she is NOT to be an enabler. Her job is to oppose you and help you get back onto the right path. But then you may hate her for it. But she's just doing her job. The enlightened spouse will recognize this and seek to amend his ways and so be in the circle of love and respect again. So in truth the two wives are really one in the end.

And the son who is to receive the birthright, regardless of which wife is his mother, what does he come to teach us? That even good things may come from seemingly bad origins. After all, David, the future king of Israel and progenitor of the Mashiach, is from the fruit of a Moabitess who in turn stems from the incestuous liaison between Lot and his daughters after witnessing the fiery demise of Sodom and Gemorrah. Sometimes a setback is really a setback. But let us have the eyes to try to see the Divine message behind every seeming setback and to turn hate into love wherever we go.

As the Torah teaches (Lev 19:18), Love thy neighbor as thyself. Neighbor and evil are spelled with the exact same letters, reish and ayin. And we are to hate evil. So what this means is that we must love our neighbor as ourself, even as we hate the evil that they do. Like the two wives
they are really one and the same.

Evil comes to teach us and test us, and ultimately, to correct us. Spelled backwards it is ayin and reish, pronounced er, meaning awaken. When we love the good (wife) and hate the evil (wife), and yet appreciate that the challenge of evil is really for our own soul's growth, then we will have awakened to a higher order of consciousness.

And as Hillel summarized the essence of the Torah: that which is hateful to you, do not do unto others. All the rest is commentary. Now go and study.

Shabbat Shalom!
© 2000-2009

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.

http://seferchabibi.blogspot.com/2007/07/yahrzeit-of-my-father-27-tammuz.html

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506EEDC1630F93BA35754C0A9649C8B63

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 21, 2009

SHOFTIM: TWO HEARTS, ONE YEARNING

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

Jewish DNA reflects a yearning to simultaneously ascend two figurative mountains: the universal call to serve humanity on the one hand, and the particular call to serve the Jewish people on the other hand, and in so doing preserve our culture, religion and heritage and be alone with our G*d.

Ultimately through fulfilling both yearnings we then come to serve G*d in the deepest way. For serving humanity, and serving G*d's priestly nation of Israel, G*d's servants for humanity, is the ultimate path to serving G*d Himself. After all, Kohein means servant. Lekhahein is the infinite form meaning to serve, and what is a truly lived life but one which was a life of devotion and service.

"VERACH HALEVAV YELECH VEYASHOV LEVEYTO...

(Deut.20:8)...and let the faint-hearted return home (rather than let his cowardliness demoralize the nation)."

This is the usual meaning of the verse. But really it is saying something else altogether, because RACH actually means "soft." It is saying that a soft heart is the true heart, the heart of the home, the heart we should always bring into the home. And we all have two hearts, in that the word LEVAV, for "hearts" alludes to the plural on account of the doubling of the letter vet. Their doubling is said to allude to the two inclinations- the good inclination (yetzer hatov) and the evil inclination (yetzer hara). See also the shema and veahavta prayer- "bechawl levavcha u'vechawl nafshecha u'vechawl me'odecha (with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might)."

But we have two other inclinations that are paired together as well- the Sinai inclination and the Yerushalayim inclination; the universal urge and the nationalistic urge. In truth, we should serve G*d with both urges.

The call of Sinai in the wilderness, that zone of undifferentiated universality, where Israel received its charge to bring the Torah, the light of the world, to the nations of the world competes in our hearts with the yearning to be alone with G*d on His holy mountain in the city of David.

But really they don't contradict each other at all. Really the two are actually one very deep yearning- that we will one day play host to all the nations of the world who will then come up to Yerushalayim, to G*d's Holy Mountain to testify to G*d's Oneness.

And in the previous verse (Deut. 20:7) it states, "is there any man among you who has betrothed a woman and not married her? Let him go home so that he will not die in war and have another man marry her."

In the deepest sense this is an allusion to the nation of Israel who is betrothed to Hashem. Each and every year Israel renews the marriage vows of Sinai on the Festival of Shavuoth. Therefore Israel is always to seek the peaceful path, for Israel is constantly in a state of betrothal, always bringing the softness of the heart to the hearth of the home. We seek peace always, fighting only in self defense when our enemy wants war.

"oomee HAISH ASHER ERAS ISHA....." (see above Deut 20:7)

Now this is very deep, so you have to concentrate really hard.

The verse itself alludes to the idea of two mountains. The first four words all contain the same letters-alef and shin, which spell AISH, or fire. And each of the words have additional letters: yud, raish, raish, hey, which when arranged in reverse order spell HARARI, meaning "my two mountains (two because the hey is doubled, like the doubling of the letter vet in levav)."

And ERAS can be rearranged as ROSH, and the letter sin can refer to the word simcha, bringing to mind the verse from psalms - al ROSH SIMCHATI (" I will raise Jerusalem above my chiefest joy").

The two mountains of Judaism are Zion and Sinai. With two hearts, our world/universal heart and our national/Jewish heart we are to serve G*d. But in truth they are really the same heart.

Shabbat Shalom.
Good Shabbos.

Sefer Chabibi. Copyright 2000-2009 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.

http://seferchabibi.blogspot.com/2007/07/yahrzeit-of-my-father-27-tammuz.html

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506EEDC1630F93BA35754C0A9649C8B63

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 14, 2009

RE'EI: LIKE WATER FOR BLOOD

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

Native Americans honor the spirit of the hunted animal by drinking its blood. They recognize the spiritual nature intrinsic to the blood, and seek thereby to identify with its spiritual essence. The Torah, on the other hand, also recognizes the spiritual essence of life being in the blood, but at the same time forbids us from drinking it.

In parshat Re'ei we are explicitly enjoined to not "eat" the blood of the sacrificial offering. Also in this week's Torah portion we learn that we do not eat the blood because the blood is the soul of the animal:

"ki haDam hu haNefesh (Deut 12:23)."
"for the blood is the soul/life."

Native Americans understood this but in its opposite application. They drank the blood of their prey so as to honor its spirit.But we may rightly ask, in this post sacrificial age, what possible moral lessons can we derive from this teaching? Aside from the practicalities associated with the ritual slaughter that is performed for food, even in this day and age, what can we learn from the following verses?

"RAK ET DAMO LO TOCHEL AL HA'ARETZ TISHP'CHENU KAMAYIM(Deut. 15: 23):
Do not eat its blood, but spill it on the ground likewater."

"RAK HADAM LO TOCHELU AL HA'ARETZ TISHP'CHENU KAMAYIM(Deut. 12:16):
The only thing you must not eat is the blood, which you must spill on the ground like water."

Whereas vegetarianism may be the Edenic ideal, the concession to allow meat is preconditioned on the awareness of the spiritual lives of animals.

(Deut.12:23:....KI HA-DAM HU HA-NEFESH .....because the blood is (associated with) the spiritual nature."

When he killed his brother Abel, the Torah teaches, "his BLOOD cried out from the GROUND (Genesis 4:10)". Both narratives refer in the same sentence to blood and ground. So this verse may subtley yet pointedly be suggesting that we indeed need to spill the blood on the ground, albeit ceremonially/ritually, to remind ourselves of our own ingrained potential for fratricide.

But why "like WATER?" Water leaves no trace. It evaporates and no clue is left that it ever passed through. Similarly, when we pass through life, we should be careful not to leave behind any stains, moral stains which would besmirch our reputation. Both milk and wine leave stains.

Milk leaves behind a residue when it dries. Wine is especially difficult to clean. It's as if the verse is teaching that sometimes when we make compromises in life, when we make concessions to the ideals which we strive to live by, we should be careful to leave as few stains as possible.

Ideally we should leave no stains at all, but we are not all Tzaddikim (perfect righteous beings). Compromising to get along is good. Compromising on our ideals is not so good, but life is not black and white. It is mostly grey, and for some of us, it is even in technicolor. Here the Torah may be suggesting that while the ideal is not to take a life in order to eat, even if we concede on that point, we must therefore be careful to still recognize the spiritual dimension of all sentient animal beings, especially including man.

And perhaps the act of ritually encountering blood shocks the senses and sensitizes one to life more dearly, ironically deepening one's appreciation for life, even as life is taken, albeit in a small dose. This is akin to the principle of homeopathic medicine, where a near microscopic tincture of the poison is "ritually" administered, in a most diluted ratio, so as to counteract and draw out the poisonous humour itself.

It is as if man has proven himself by nature to have violent tendencies and so we need the ritual encounter on the micro level so as to mitigate our propensity for violence on the macro level. But having said that, for the animal itself, it is always on the macro level, isn't it? Minor surgery is always on other people. When YOU are having surgery it is always major!

Also, in Hebrew the word for water- mayim, is a pallandrome. That is, it reads the same in both directions. It cuts both ways. And in the context of taking a life, it may be suggesting then that if we take FROM "life," then we had better be prepared to put back INTO "life." If we are so ready to take the life of another creature with which we share the planet in order to live, then by the WAY we live we should make our lives worth living.

Like water, we should pass through life without leaving behind any stains. When we hike through beautiful lands we should not leave any litter behind. We should silently do our deep thing like the still waters. But water actually does leave something behind. It nourishes and waters all living things- both plants as well as animals. So let us always remember to pass through life like water- leaving behind only the traces of the lives we've touched and the evanescent memories of those for whom we've made a difference.

Shabbat Shalom. Good Shabbos.

© 2000 - 2009 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman.

This Torah learning is written in the memory of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, z"l.
Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Yaaqov Hakohen Melman.
Sponsorships are available.

Friday, August 7, 2009

EQEV: TRANSFORMING EVIL WITH KINDNESS

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman


The great Hasidic Master, Reb Tzadoq Hakohen, taught that the first time a word is mentioned in the Torah is the headquarters for that word, and aids us in truly understanding it when used in later contexts and circumstances. This week's parsha is Eqev, which means both a literal heel, as well as the idea of something following quickly in one's footsteps, i.e. at its heels! Used as part of the opening phrase of the parsha it is conveying the idea that blessing and reward follow quickly on the heels as a consequence of loyalty and fealty to the Torah and its mitzwoth.

Now the word eqev itself appears in two other narratives. The first time it appears is in the context of the Eden narrative, where as part of the curse and a consequence of the expulsion from the Garden, the serpent is forever to strike at the heel of the woman. And in a later narrative, Ya'aqov is precisely named Ya'aqov, for the fact that he grasped the heel of his brother Esav as he emerged following him from their mother's womb. And in Gen 27:36 Esav uses it as a verb, "saying ya'aqveni zeh pa'amayim... - i.e., he "heeled" me, or went behind my back, two times..- first when he took my birthright, and now when he took my blessing."

The most spiritually refined often have the harshest challenges. Both the refined Eve (formed last) and the refined Jacob (born last) faced challenges from evil personified in their lives. Eve was challenged/tempted by the nachash/snake, while Jacob competed for the blessing and had his life threatened by his brother, Esav. Those who are on a higher spiritual plane, more intimately tied to lives of holiness, are seemingly followed even more closely by the yetzer hara, the evil inclination ever nipping at their heels, looking to trip them up and conquer them.

Eve with hindsight, could finally recognize that the snake was indeed Satan's agent, if not Satan himself. Satan in Hebrew means "accuser,"pronounced sa-tahn, i.e., the one who tempts one to sin as a test of one's spiritual/moral fortitude and then himself becomes the accuser in the heavenly court, the kategor, the prosecuting angel of the heavenly court, otherwise known as the accusing angel (haSatan, literally meaning "the accuser"). Who is our Sanegor, or our defense attorney in the heavenly court? All the mitzwoth we have done, all the holy texts we have mastered, and all the deeds of loving kindness to others that we have performed.

Satan, the accusing angel, personifies evil, in the sense that he causes people to do the wrong thing while at the same time they believe that they are guiltless, even sublimely worthy (note the religious fervor of the terrorist who believes himself destined to attain heavenly reward for intentionally slaughtering the innocent).

While able to recognize sin, her curse was that, now exiled from the Garden, she would be forever subject to the terror of the snake, the fatal bite at the heel while minding her innocent pursuits! This is perfectly ironic because while in the Garden, the Evil Inclination (yetzer hara) was external to wo/man, tempting us from without, now once outside the Garden it entered our consciousness, tempting us from within. Our challenges and obstacles in life are said to emerge as a consequence of our actions and sins. So while the evil inclination's spiritual manifestation finds its locus internally, it now expresses its physical manifestation externally.

This idea is precisely the crux of the theological argument between Judaism and Christianity vis a vis the idea of original sin and how we must consequently relate to it in our own lives subsequent to the expulsion. Christian doctrine teaches that man is inherently born into a state of sin as a result of the sin of the eating of the fruit. This state of inherent sin can only be washed away through believing in Jesus, according to their doctrine. In Judaism we are not born in a state of sin as a result of the sin in Eden. Rather, we are born with but an inherent potentiality to sin! We have control and can thus take responsibility for our actions. We are not sinful by fate! We have the power and potential within ourselves to guard against impurity in thought, deed and speech, and thus attain holiness!

Jewish thought employs the narrative to teach us two radically new ideas, completely at odds with the Christian dogma. One is that the sin was not in the eating of the fruit per se, but rather in that no one took responsibility for their own actions. They each blamed the other. Therefore the true sin was in not accepting responsibility for their actions. We never say that one is born in a state of sin. How preposterous to think that a newborn baby is anything but the purest of the pure! Rather we learn that we recreate a Gan Eden in our own lives to the extent that we do not evade responsibility for our actions and we face up to the consequences. Conversely, we taste the bitter fruits of the Edenic exile to the extent that we do the opposite.

Christianity teaches that belief in Jesus alone atones for sin and absolution is then granted and Heaven is then ipso facto guaranteed in the next world, regardless of how one faced the consequences of one's deeds and attempted to repair one's relationships and took responsibility for one's actions. The fasting and afflictions we endure on Yom Kippur for atonement with G*d are of no use, our rabbis of blessed memory teach us, if they lack the twin obligation to make amends with our fellow man and actively seek forgiveness for any wrongs we have committed. These two beliefs are exact polar opposites of each other, and yet they both stem from completely different interpretations of the same phrases found in the Torah!

Also in the opening verse we see the word chesed (kindness), whereby Hashem's kindness will extend to us as a consequence of our following His Torah. Where do we see the word Chesed first mentioned in the Torah? Ironically in the treaty of Beersheva, in parashat VaYerah, in Gen 21:23, where Avimelekh, king of the Philistines entreats Avraham to show him kindness, as he had shown kindness to Avraham! This is part of our Torah reading on Rosh Hashana. This verse is the very proof that the true original Philistines/Palestinians saw their mission as one of kindness to Avraham, to the extent that they made a treaty to recognize that fact for all eternity! Contrast that to modern times, where the exact opposite attitude holds sway! This is all the proof one needs to show the falsity of any claims of alleged historic or moral lineage between those who appropriated the name today and those who bore authentic claim to the very same name!

The ideas of both heel and kindness that we see secretly hidden in the opening line of our parsha both involve Eve, the first woman, whose name, Chava, means "Mother of all Life." Mothers are identified with infinite chesed, kindness, while evil represents its opposite. Goodness follows on the heels of kindness, while evil follows as a consequence of a lack thereof. That is why the opening verse in the parsha employs both the words chesed and eqev, bringing home the point that Torah consciousness is indeed chesed/kindness consciousness.

We forsake the Torah and exchange this chesed consciousness at our own peril. Indeed one can argue that the core idea of chesed has been essential to our perennial survival, passed on primarily through the mothers. It is therefore no coincidence that the evil of terrorism explicitly targets mothers and their children. It is also said that if a Jew is found to be cruel (achzar), then
his lineage is to be investigated, as cruelty is diametrically opposed to and completely antithetical to Judaism. The Romans were cruel. We were particularly hated because we were completely the opposite. We were the ultimate "other."

Note that the gematria (numerical value) of the Hebrew letters for snake (NACHASH-358) and (SATAN-359) are nearly identical! How can this "discrepancy of one" be understood for our times? If we connect with the ONE G*D in our lives, making the fulfillment of G*D's will the purpose of ourexistence, then we can attach the alef/one of godliness onto the snake, again making the snake the agent for healing and blessing, instead of a curse. In a sense you are nullifying the Satan's power by aligning against it its exact counterpart spiritual DNA. We can therefore harness the egoistic "evil" inclination for good. Where the ego reigns G*d is edged out. Where G*d reigns the ego is harnessed to perform His will.

This idea is similar to the poisonous snakes narrative in parshat Chukat (Numbers 21). The negative Nechashim/Seraphim became transformed into very positive Seraphim (angels) when hoisted on the banner. Israel looked up at the copper snakes and therefore perforce looked up to heaven for salvation. By becoming a more G*d oriented society we begin to nullify the curse of the expulsion from Eden/Israel.

Note that the poison snake narrative followed on the "heels"of the people complaining about a lack of bread in the wilderness! The curse of the Exile was man's necessity to earn his bread by his own labors. In Eden bread was provided without labor, in exchange for recognition of G*d's Presence and taking responsibility for one's actions. So too in the wilderness, the manna was provided gratis, provided that Israel develop a concomitant faith in G*d's Power and Promise.

By acknowledging G*d in our lives, by living Divinely-focused lives as manifested by our attachment to Torah and its mandate of purposeful acts of kindness, we can actually transform the curse of the snake and thereby attain an equality and nullification of its powers over us (symbolized by the now numeric equivalence with the Satan).

Let us lastly examine Yaaqov's association with eqev. The very root of the name Yaaqov is ekev. Jacob was so named largely on account that his descendants would become the nexus of this spiritual battle between good and evil. Evil personified in the guise of terror and negativity would come to do battle with the forces of good and positivity. Through the dark night he wrestles with the forces of evil, until he overcomes the angel of the darkness as the dawn begins to emerge.

Interestingly, Jacob is blessed with the name of Israel by none other than the wrestling angel himself! This means that those whom we wrestle against, i.e., our enemy, can yet come to bless us, as long as we strenuously assert our will to live and take our rightful place as purveyors of the Light of Torah, living lives that are blessed by acts of compassion and kindness to each other.
We become blessed by remaining true to our character.

Many today view our shuffling/hardships, whether personal or national, as a sign of lowliness among the nations, that somehow our afflictions are deserved. Otherwise we would not be afflicted! But what they fail to see is that our affliction is not in our heel, it is in our thigh!
It is not the heel wound from the snake a la Eve; it is the wound from the wrestling angel, a la Jacob, and a precursor to blessing!

We follow the path of kindness and yet we appear to suffer for it. But our seeming affliction is not the snake bite on the heel from evil, but rather the limp caused by our wrestling with the angel of evil. The former represents curse. The latter represents blessing. That is, the hardships we now face will one day be understood as the challenges which result in blessing. One day, both we ourselves, and the whole world, will come to recognize this truth.


Shabbat Shalom

© 2000 - 2011 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

This Torah is sent out in the merit of my father of blessed memory, Israel J. Melman, Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Yaaqov Hakohen Melman.
Dedications of these writings are available.
Please contact me privately.

Friday, July 31, 2009

VAETCHANAN: TWO TABLETS- ONE LAW

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

Why were the Ten Commandments given on two tablets? Why not just one? G*d could just have easily put them all down on just one big tablet, or he could have used a slightly smaller sized font.
After all, the finger of G*d, the etzbah elokim, comes in different sizes.

The two tablets represent the two essential revolutionary ideas of Judaism. One is that how we treat our fellow members of humanity is important, too. Religion is no longer the sole business of being nice to the Deity. Up until now there were many deities, and they were all lower case. G*d is symbolically stating that ethical behavior is on par with Deity worship.

Now, being nice to the Deity meant also "being nice" to one's fellow man. This was a revolutionary moment in human consciousness! Pagan man wanted a good crop yield, and, "by the gods," he was even willing to sacrifice his first born to get a good harvest!

G*d interfaced with humanity through the cloud on the smoking mountaintop. He uttered these Ten Utterances, these Asereth HaDibroth, even if He only uttered the first two and Moses uttered the rest. This interface is called the theophany, where G*d appeared to man. And tellingly, he didn't descend with recipes for cooking, but recipes for behavior.

The second revolutionary idea inherent in the theophany, the giving of the Decalogue, was that ethics is on par with worshipping G*d. Ethics is equal in stature to monotheism. Abraham, it is said, discovered that G*d is ONE, and also that G*d demands ethical, righteous behavior. Abraham started Judaism, which, before the tribe of Judah, was simply ethical monotheism, or Abrahamism, or simply "the Hebrew faith." The Ten Commandments just put it in writing!

The point is that each part of the phrase, ethical monotheism, got its very own tablet! Monotheism got the first tablet, and ethical behavior got the second one. The fact that they each get their very own tablet means that being truly religious means being as scrupulous in following ethics (mitzwoth bein adahm lechaveiro), is just as important in being scrupulous in one's religious piety and Laws between man and G*d (mitzwoth bein adam lemaqom).

The first part of this week's parsha, also has something very important to teach us, of topical importance for us today. In Deut 4:2, it says lo tosifu...velo tigre'u mimenu. Do not add (to my law)...or subtract from it.

How ironic that the son of the very rabbi in the Syrian Jewish community who outlawed conversions to Judaism, and therefore was adding to the Torah, was arrested on money laundering charges, thereby in a sense subtracting from the Torah. Anyone can break the Torah's law, but when a Rabbi does it he is symbolically sending the message that it is the proper way. He teaches by his actions, not by just his words.

Conversion is allowed by the Torah. 24 times the Torah goes out of its way to admonish us to treat the proselyte with kindness and compassion. To outlaw conversion therefore is to add laws to the Torah which were not there to begin with. An innovation to the Torah! And yet who among the Orthodox community condemned it publicly as against the Torah, as much an innovation as they accuse the Reform movement of indulging in. One who forbids conversion is guilty of lo tosifu, that one should not add to the Torah.

And breaking the law of the land goes against the precept of dina de'malchuta dina, "the law of the land is the law," which is basic to Judaism. Money laundering is a form of stealing, for one is aiding and abetting theft. One who steals, or (one who aids and abets stealing) is therefore guilty of lo tigre'u, that one should not subtract from the Torah.

Nachamu, nachamu, ami- Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, are the opening words of our Haftarah. A true comforting will only come about when we fully grasp the meaning of the two tablets. We will bask in the light and the delight of both G*d and our fellow man when we treat ethics on par with piety. And that to be truly pious means to seek and gain respect in the eyes of his fellow, as much as to gain respect in the eyes of G*d.

Shabbat Shalom!

© 2009 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.
http://seferchabibi.blogspot.com/2007/07/yahrzeit-of-my-father-27-tammuz.html
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506EEDC1630F93BA35754C0A9649C8B63

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, July 29, 2009

TISHA B'AV: TRIANGULATION COMPLETE

By Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

2012 may indeed herald a year of cleansing for humanity as a whole. It may usher in a new era of radical awareness of our common humanity, a new era of recognition of the futility of an ethos of hatred and division, of separation from the heart of our Creator. Perhaps it may take a new world war to achieve this awareness. Or perhaps not. The messianic age, it is said, will be ushered in with kindness and ease, if we are deserving, or the opposite, if not.

The Mayan calendar said it. Nostradamus said it. Now, "Judaism," or if you prefer, the Jewish calendar, says it. The triangulation is complete. 2012. The year of the "big cleanse." Are you ready?

Tisha B'Av, the 9th day of the month of Av, is the most sorrowful day on the Jewish calendar, the culmination of three weeks of semi-mourning. A comprehensive list of national Jewish tragedies, from the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem to the expulsion from Spain, among many other expulsions and destructions- all took place on this date.

The Rabbis see it as a day of karma for our sins, a cleansing on account of our collective sins. We spend the day in a type of reflection, of introspection, of lamenting our national tragedies - of learning from our past mistakes in a proactive application of Santayana's telling dictum.

So, back to the Jewish calendar a la Nostradamus and the Mayans....

The Jewish year is written out in letters. This year (5769) is Taf Shin Samech Tet. This Rosh Hashana will usher in the Hebrew year 5770 - Taf Shin Ayin. The year 2012, starting in September, therefore, will be Taf Shin Ayin Bet. What's that spell? Tisha B'... You can fill in the Av!

The concept of "three is the charm" is reflected in the Jewish concept of "chazaka." Meaning strong, or locked in, it derives from the agrarian/nomadic notion that a triple threaded rope is stronger than a mere single or double threaded one. A sin performed three times is no longer considered a sin - in the eyes of the sinner, as noted by rabbinic psychology. So Nostradamus' or the Mayan's prophecies never really got under my skin, so to speak, until the final prophetic lock-in on the part of the ancient Hebrew calendar!

Before you jump out the window after reading these words, let us reflect on the fact that although it was a day of tragedy, it also often marked a turning point and launched a spiritual rejuvenation. After the Babylonian exile and destruction of the first Temple in 586 BCE, the Jewish people were cleansed, so to speak, of the pervasive sin of idolatry. A new era had begun.

The original ur-template for Tisha B'Av was the proverbial sin of the spies who scouted out the Land of Israel at Moses' behest. Returning with a negative report that they could never hope to conquer the land, and backed by the imprimatur of the congregational masses, a forty year national cleanse was enacted. Only those born in freedom, who had never submitted to the easy predictable comforts of slavery, would be privileged to enter the Land under Joshua's leadership. The older generation had to die out before the new one could fulfill their destiny.

2012 may indeed herald a year of cleansing for humanity as a whole. It may usher in a new era of radical awareness of our common humanity, a new era of recognition of the futility of an ethos of hatred and division, of separation from the heart of our Creator. Perhaps it may take a new world war to achieve this awareness. Or perhaps not. The messianic age, it is said, will be ushered in with kindness and ease, if we are deserving, or the opposite, if not.

One antidote to our universal suffering can be found in the antidote to Jewish suffering. Our anti-venom must be shared with the world. Our sages teach that the second Temple fell owing to sinat chinam, causeless hatred, where we could not recognize the chein, or grace, or innate goodness of the other. The antidote therefore is ahavat chinam, or causeless love, that we love each other for no reason, other than our shared humanity!

As all Jewry must embrace each other in our shared common heritage, so too all humankind must embrace the notion of our shared commonality and brotherhood. There is no future for a world that tolerates an encroaching dhimmitude and intolerance of the other as envisioned in the manifestation of a Judaeophobic, Christophobic, homophobic, misogynistic, salafistic sharia law worlview, and the subversion of Western liberal democratic ideals. Islamist domination is antithetical to the vision of a united humanity based on tolerance, harmony and pluralism.

The other antidote to our suffering depends on whether we preempt the possibility of a nuclear Iran. Anticipating the revelation of the 12th hidden Mahdi, whose appearance can only be heralded by the advent of a world in chaos, a nuclearized Iran would hardly refrain from attacking Israel either directly, or via their Hamas/Hezbollah proxies. Having stated such an aim, they can hardly be doubted in their desire to implement it, considering the precedent of their fingerprint in the ruins of the Israeli embassy and the AMIA Hebrew Cultural Center in Buenos Aires. While their own destruction would be guranteed, no one can say that the Iranian leadership would shun the opportunity as suicidal, for they embrace that as an ideal.

Our messianic ideal is a prophesied vision of a world in a state of peace and harmony, unified in a profound renewed awareness of G*d's presence in the world. This vision clashes with an alternative so-called ideal of domination and submission, intolerance and regression.

History is unravelling at warp speed as we speak. Either way, there will be a cleansing. How it unfolds and manifests is up to us.

Tzom Kal. Easy Fast!

© 2009 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"lI was raised in the musar tradition of silence and meditative thoughtfulness, as were my father and grandfather before me.

http://seferchabibi.blogspot.com/2007/07/yahrzeit-of-my-father-27-tammuz.html
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506EEDC1630F93BA35754C0A9649C8B63

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.

NEVER GIVE UP!

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Reb Shlomo with Reb Zusha ben Avraham Zimmerman

Reb Shlomo with Reb Zusha ben Avraham Zimmerman

moshav band live at mexicali blues

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What mind is it?

"Great minds discuss ideas;
average minds discuss events;
small minds discuss people."
-Eleanor Roosevelt


ON FIXING AND HEALING...

"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

Hatiqwa

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Beta Israel - Ethiopian Jews - The Ingathering from Without

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Palestinians of Jewish origin - The Ingathering from Within

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Holy Wedding at Makhpela, Tomb of our Fathers in hevron - Music by Pey Dalid

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Mariane Paradise and The Gan Eden Project sings of the Unity of All Creation from Jerusalem

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A SACRED DUTY: APPLYING JEWISH VALUES TO HELP HEAL THE WORLD

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IVDU ET HASHEM B'SIMCHA- SERVE THE LORD WITH JOY DANCING AND SINGING FROM INSIDE A BOMB SHELTER

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SELICHOT LIVE AT CARLEBACH SHUL 2008

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NAZI RALLIES AND SPEECHES

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JEWISH MEN AND WOMEN GATHER TO CELEBRATE REB SHLOMO'S 14TH YAHRZEIT SINGING AT HIS GRAVE

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MOSHAV BAND - THE ONLY ONE

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Reb Zalman on Jewish Renewal

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Let There Be Peace

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"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

the last hoshana rabba with reb shlomo and me playing together the week before he took off in '94

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bob marley - one love 6:13 (6 MINUTES 13 SECONDS) and exodus

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Tisha B'Av 5765 Katif Expulsion

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Children of Sderot - The Daily Terror and Nightmares

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Let Me Sing a New Song

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On Schlomo's magnificent 13th (Bar Mitzvah) yahrzeit in Heaven

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AMAZING INTERVIEW WITH REB SHLOMO top video only

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Larry David wants to Save the Planet

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Havdalah Ceremony on Moshav Meor Modiin in Central Israel

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Alpha blondy from cote d'ivoire sings his love of Jerusalem in Hebrew and French all over the world

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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

My photo
United States
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!