Friday, March 27, 2009

VAYIKRa: ANIMALS LARGE AND SMALL

by Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

What are the real measures of greatness? How is true character understood? Is leadership defined solely by power, or more importantly, by moral example? The word for general or chieftan in Hebrew is aluf. The elephant is so called on account that he is the aluf (ELEPHant) of the jungle.

While the lion may in fact be the king of the jungle, the elephant, by dint of his huge size, is indisputably the chief. And more than his size accounts for his greatness. His capacity for kindness and concern for the members of his extended family are the real measures of his greatness. If one stumbles or falls, the herd rallies around the wounded comrade and nurses him to health. No one is left behind. Rare is the elephant who is abandoned to fate.

Ironically, goats, sheep, deer, cattle- in short all the kosher animals(!),embody the opposite behavior, fleeing en masse at the first sign of danger. Probably the elephant's massive size allows him the luxury of such overt and conscious compassion.

In our parsha this week, Vayikra, we are struck by the small letter alef in the opening word of the parsha- VAYIKRa. The parsha so overtly consumed with the details of sacrificial offerings, it is subtly telling us in code that if we are looking to the animal kingdom to search for conduits to connect with divinity, we should really look no further than the beginning, to the letter alef.

Adam, who named all the animals, deeply saw their essential natures when giving them their names. Puk Chazi! Go and see! See how the animals live. While the herd animals are fearful and frightened, the elephant can strongly stand his ground and yet be gentle and caring.

There is a Talmudic concept called sagi nahor by which a thing is suggested by referring to its opposite. Sagi Nahor means "abundant light," a delicate reference to one who is blind. Similarly, the repugnant notion of cursing G*d, CV"S, is only referred to by its opposite. Therefore, in Talmudic literature, cursing G*d is usually referred to as "blessing" Him! So perhaps then, the parsha which is teaching us to reach G*d via affinity with animals is referring to the largest of animals all the while using the small form of the alef to suggest its opposite!

So let us learn from the elephant that true nobility is exemplified in acts of caring, compassion and concern.This is the overarching message of the Prophets of Israel. It is said that the small alef alludes to the necessary quality of humility in leadership. Arrogance only invites repugnance, and is the least admirable quality in a leader.

More than G*d seeks sacrifices, He seeks that we follow His Torah and teachings regarding concern for the welfare of the poor and the disenfranchised. The haftarah reminds us how G*d actually despises meticulous rituals and sacrifices when they are accompanied by a disregard for His teachings.

Elephants don't travel in flocks. They travel in distinct family units within larger clans. This is the way of Israel, emphasizing the core centrality of the loving family unit within the idea of loyalty to the larger tribe (or people).Just as the elephant radiates love from the inside to the outside, from the family to the clan to the herd, so too may we come to radiate our love for G*d and His Creatures from the inside to the outside.

May we first love and heal ourselves and our families. Only then can we love and heal the whole world.As the great sage Hillel taught,"im eyn ani li mi li, uk'she'ani l'atzmi mah ani, ve'im eyn achshav eymatai?""If I am not for myself, then who will be for me. But if I am only for myself, then what (kind of person) am I? And if not now, then when?"

In other words, perhaps the greatest strength is kindness.
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 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, March 20, 2009

VAYAKHEL-PIKUDEI: PROMISES TO KEEP

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

Memory. We fear losing it. Alzheimers is dreaded for stealing memory. We are a people of memory. Our memory keeps us inoculated from false promises, treaties and illusions, false messianists and false friends.

G*d keeps his promises. Baruch She'Amar VeHaya HaOlam. He decreed it and fulfilled it. G*d is our role model of integrity- of promises made and fulfilled. Do we have any idea how awesome it is to be alive to witness the ingathering of the exiles and the rebirth of Israel after untold generations of waiting? . Two millenia of remembering both the Promise and the Promised Land. We remembered the promise. And so did G*d.

Our parsha this week, Vayakhel-Pikudei, borrows its name from the Remembrance Narrative of G*d remembering His promise to Sarah Imeinu (Gen 21:1). Pakad means "remembered" (His promise). "VeHashem PaKaD et Sarah ka'asher amar...""And G*d remembered Sarah AS HE SAID HE WOULD."

G*d said he was going to give a child to Avraham and Sarah, and He did! G*d followed through on His promise. And in the Wilderness, the Midbar, the Promise is again fulfilled. In Vayakhel- Pikudei, G*d has Israel build the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and the Vessels and the Vestments just as He said He would have us do back in Terumah/Titzaveh.

What spiritual meaning concerning "pakad" do we learn from this connection between Sarah Imeinu and the Mishkan of this week's parsha? We realize that the creation of the Mishkan/Tabernacle is essentially a recreation of the spiritual energies of Sarah's tent. BeTzalel and Ohaliav are the appointed artisans charged with recreating that "tent." Indeed, the name BeTzalel means "in the shade of G*d," i.e., in G*d's tent, while Ohaliav means "my Father is my tent/shelter."

Sarah's light permeated her tent and granted her family a glimpse of the supernal radiance of Heaven, prefiguring Aaron's role as keeper of the eternal light (Ner Tamid). When she passed on the light went out, but it was restored when Rivkah moved in as Yitzchak's wife. Its stewardship then passed on to Rivkah, and from her to all the holy mothers of Israel. Every Jewish woman who lights the holy lights for the Sabbath and Festivals in a sense becomes the High Priest of her home, which we call the Mikdash Mi'at, or the Miniature Sanctuary.

Just as Adam was lonely without Chava, as Yitzchak was lonely without Rivka, so too was Israel feeling lonely in the wilderness. Modern man leads an atomized, adamized lonely life. Yet we have the secret of returning to G*d's Home. Anticipating our existential solitude, G*d instructs His Tabernacle be built amongst us, so that He may dwell within us so as to assuage our loneliness. He will be our "Eve" in the Garden. We need only open our hearts to let Him in.

Just as the barrenness of Sarah could be reversed so as to produce and nurture a child, so too could the barrenness of the wilderness be reversed so as produce and nurture a particular nation's unique G*d consciousness that could enrich the world via the emanation of the Divine Light. So let us as bearers of the G*d consciousness and the sense of the absurd venture out into the world to make it a brighter and lighter place, a place of holy light and of holy laughter. Let us shed light upon the darkness. And bring light, laughter and joy to those who are sad.

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 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.

VAYAKHEL: THE GATHERING

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

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

Way back in Parshat Mishpatim Moses ascends Mt. Sinai. And for two whole parshas Hashem is teaching Moses all the details of the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and its various holy accoutrements (Parshat Terumah),and of the holy garments to be worn by the priests while serving in the Mishkan (Parshat Titzaveh). And then, following a short break in Parshat Ki Tissa, over another two whole parshas (Vayakhel and Pikudei), the entire instruction manual of the Mishkan, its holy vessels, and of the garments of the priesthood is repeated all over again as Moses is now teaching it to the people, recounting all he had learned while up on the mountain.

The forty days he ascended the mountain correspond to the six weeks/parshas which span the narrative! And the two extra days symbolize the two ascents! Of course, the fulcrum for the two accounts is the Golden Calf narrative. We are taught that G*d always provides the cure/therapy (teruphah) before the sickness (machalah). G*d seemingly realizes that the people are in great need for a visceral, experiential taste of spirituality. A dispassionate embrace of an intellectualized cerebral appreciation of the ethical monotheistic ideal would have to await a future sojourn to Lithuania.

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

Before unveiling the blueprints for the physical structure of the Tabernacle, we are given the blueprint for the spiritual garment of the soul, namely the Sabbath.The absurd finitude of the Golden Calf is contrasted with the ultimate infinitude of the Sabbath. And the Sabbath itself by definition is a deja vu experience for the soul, much as the narratives surrounding it in the Torah powerfully suggest a certain ring of familiarity regarding the construction of the physical Tabernacle. How so?

In Genesis, in the Creation of theWorld, the realm of the infinite was given an abode in the realm of the finite. Heschel teaches that the Sabbath is a Palace in Time, much as the Tabernacle was a Palace in Space. Indeed the word for "world" in Hebrew (olam), also means "infinite." The notion of "the world" suggests infinity in terms of space, much as the idea of "forever" connotes infinity in terms of time, each sharing a common quality of endlessness. The soul, an aspect of G*d which was exiled from the infinite realm of the upper world to the finite realm of this world, once again gets to taste the spiritual bliss of the Infinite One.

And once again, through the construction of the Mishkan, the material qualities of this world are likewise infused with the spiritual essence of heaven. This is the deepest meaning of the neshama yeterah, the extra soul that we receive on the Sabbath. The Sod Yesharim (Rabbeinu Gershom Chanoch Chenech of Radzin/ son of the Holy Izbeca) explains that just as Moses gathered ("vayakhel") the people as one nefesh (body and/or soul) a second time with regard to teaching the Sabbath, so too is the body infused with a second soul on the Sabbath. Resting on the Sabbath draws down an extra aspect of Divine Light into the world.

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

VayaKHeL, means"he gathered." The truest, deepest gathering is for tasting holiness, for experiencing G*d. In Babel they tried to gather to *build* a tower to heaven. But not for holiness. In contrast, at Sinai the tower/mountain was *given* to them. But we have learned that building a tower was not necessary to meet G*d. Precisely by *not* building, just by refraining from all work on the Sabbath, we are given the means by which to recreate the heavenly holiness of Sinai, paraphrasing the Creation, where heaven first met earth. In Babel, mankind wanted unity to displace G*d. At Sinai, G*d wanted unity only so that they could receive Him. And to be holy like Him.

What do the letters of KaHaL stand for? Kedushat Hashem LeOlam. The holiness of G*d is forever. But we have a part to play as well, for it also stands for Kodshei Hashem LeOlam. The holy ones of G*d are forever. And what is the key by which to access that holiness? Shabbat.

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

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

When Aaron was forced into making the Golden Calf he approached the men and the women for their gold rings and bracelets, with which to make the idol. Many men gave. But all the women refused! As the first post- Sinaitic refuseniks in history, the women were rewarded with their own holiday- Rosh Chodesh, the New Moon, symbolized by the shape of the Ring which they refused to give up. And today our holy women refuse to give up the Sabbath. They are its guardians, who envelop the home with the sanctity of the Shechinah, the Indwelling Presence of the Heavenly Abode.

Jewish women gather together in the home each Friday towards evening, in homes all around the world, together kindling the fires, the holy flames that burned on Sinai, and thus subduing the other opposite fires, the fires that burn in Gehennom. Lo tivaru eish bechol moshvoteichem beyom haShabbat (Ex 35:3). It is taught that we are not to kindle fires in our homes ON the Sabbath day. But before? It's the holiest mitzvah.

Our mothers, the Jewish women who embody the qualities ofkindness and mercy (chesed verachamim), also embody the peace and serenity of the Sabbath. Therefore, we are known as "rachmanim b'nai rachmanin-merciful ones, the children of merciful ones (our mothers)." Just as Shabbat brings peace to the soul, kindness brings peace between people. Shabbat is the recharging mechanism for our souls, helping us to bring peace and kindness into the world. It has a heavenly taste, being that it is a joyful gathering of light, peace and love, the hallmarks of the heavenly realm.

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 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.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Letter to the World from Jerusalem

by Eliezer ben Yisrael ( Stanley Goldfoot)

I am not a creature from another planet, as you seem to believe. I am a Jerusalemite-like yourselves, a man of flesh and blood. I am a citizen of my city, an integral part of my people.I have a few things to get off my chest. Because I am not a diplomat, I do not have to mince words. I do not have to please you or even persuade you. I owe you nothing. You did not build this city, you did not live in it, you did not defend it when they came to destroy it. And we will be damned if we will let you take it away.

There was a Jerusalem before there was a New York . When Berlin , Moscow , London , and Paris were miasmal forest and swamp, there was a thriving Jewish community here. It gave something to the world which you nations have rejected ever since you established yourselves- a humane moral code.Here the prophets walked, their words flashing like forked lightning. Here a people who wanted nothing more than to be left alone, fought off waves of heathen would-be conquerors, bled and died on the battlements, hurled themselves into the flames of their burning Temple rather than surrender, and when finally overwhelmed by sheer numbers and led away into captivity, swore that before they forgot Jerusalem, they would see their tongues cleave to their palates, their right arms wither.

For two pain-filled millennia, while we were your unwelcome guests, we prayed daily to return to this city. Three times a day we petitioned the Almighty: "Gather us from the four corners of the world, bring us upright to our land, return in mercy to Jerusalem, Thy city, and swell in it as Thou promised." On every Yom Kippur and Passover, we fervently voiced the hope that next year would find us in Jerusalem .Your inquisitions, pogroms, expulsions, the ghettos into which you jammed us, your forced baptisms, your quota systems, your genteel anti-Semitism, and the final unspeakable horror, the holocaust (and worse, your terrifying disinterest in it)- all these have not broken us. They may have sapped what little moral strength you still possessed, but they forged us into steel.

Do you think that you can break us now after all we have been through? Do you really believe that after Dachau and Auschwitz we are frightened by your threats of blockades and sanctions? We have been to Hell and back- a Hell of your making. What more could you possibly have in your arsenal that could scare us?

I have watched this city bombarded twice by nations calling themselves civilized. In 1948, while you looked on apathetically, I saw women and children blown to smithereens, after we agreed to your request to internationalize the city. It was a deadly combination that did the job- British officers, Arab gunners, and American-made cannon. And then the savage sacking of the Old City-the willful slaughter, the wanton destruction of every synagogue and religious school, the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, the sale by a ghoulish government of tombstones for building materials, for poultry runs, army camps, even latrines.

And you never said a word.You never breathed the slightest protest when the Jordanians shut off the holiest of our places, the Western Wall, in violation of the pledges they had made after the war- a war they waged, incidentally, against the decision of the UN. Not a murmur came from you whenever the legionnaires in their spiked helmets casually opened fire upon our citizens from behind the walls.

Your hearts bled when Berlin came under siege. You rushed your airlift "to save the gallant Berliners". But you did not send one ounce of food when Jews starved in besieged Jerusalem . You thundered against the wall which the East Germans ran through the middle of the German capital- but not one peep out of you about that other wall, the one that tore through the heart of Jerusalem . And when that same thing happened 20 years later, and the Arabs unleashed a savage, unprovoked bombardment of the Holy City again, did any of you do anything?

The only time you came to life was when the city was at last reunited. Then you wrung your hands and spoke loftily of "justice" and need for the "Christian" quality of turning the other cheek.The truth- and you know it deep inside your gut - you would prefer the city to be destroyed rather than have it governed by Jews. No matter how diplomatically you phrase it, the age old prejudices seep out of every word.

If our return to the city has tied your theology in knots, perhaps you had better reexamine your catechisms. After what we have been through, we are not passively going to accommodate ourselves to the twisted idea that we are to suffer eternal homelessness until we accept your savior.

For the first time since the year 70, there is now complete religious freedom for all in Jerusalem . For the first time since the Romans put a torch to the Temple, everyone has equal rights (You prefer to have some more equal than others.) We loathe the sword - but it was you who forced us to take it up. We crave peace, but we are not going back to the peace of 1948 as you would like us to.We are home.

It has a lovely sound for a nation you have willed to wander over the face of the globe. We are not leaving. We are redeeming the pledge made by our forefathers: Jerusalem is being rebuilt. "Next year" and the year after, and after, and after, until the end of time- "in Jerusalem "!Stanley Goldfoot
Founder Editor
The Times of Israel
August 1969

Friday, March 13, 2009

KI TISSA- ON DISILLUSIONMENT AND FORGIVENESS

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

How we tend to mock our leaders and strive to find fault! Those who are willing to be our leaders, giving up any semblance of privacy for the sake of the common weal, should be rather praised for their courage. The historyof the latter half of the twentieth century however, served to dispel a somewhat naive faith in government. The Torah sees the idea of government as intrinsically good!

Our tradition asks us to consider personal reign over our emotions to be the highest form of government possible. Conquering our evil inclinations towards self-serving anti-social tendencies is a much lauded Torah value. Beyond personal forms of government are responsible conceptualizations of larger social varieties. The Noahide laws adjure us to have police and courts of law, while Pirkei Avoth teaches that "were it not for the fear of government, people would eat each other alive."

And yet we also find in Pirkei Avoth a cautionary reminder that we not associate too closely with government! Kings of Israel were bidden to write their own sifrei Torah to keep by their side as a reminder to follow the laws of an even higher authority. So we should understand that responsible government is seen as a good, all the while the prophets railed against the excesses of despotic tyrants and fools.

The prophets strove to implement a healthy corrective, ensuring (in theory at least)a working system of checks and balances in ancient Israel. Israel was barely a nation when disillusion with its leadership set in. Constant carpings idealizing the good life in Egypt served to undermine Moses' authority. Finally in our parsha, Ki Tissa, the opportunity to act on a magnitude above and beyond complaint presented itself. We thus have proof that thoughts lead to words which in turn lead to actions.

The fact that the Golden Calf narrative is preceded by a warning to keep the Sabbath is instructive to understanding the source of the people's disillusionment. One could argue that it was rather fear for Moses' safety and thus fear of a leadership void which served as a catalyst for this episode. Nonetheless,were it not for a seed of disillusion planted by the mixed multitude that left Egypt with Israel (the eirev rav), those fears could not have been acted on with such passion.

Why not just put Aaron, the number two man, in charge? Why resort to following the very antithesis of the present leadership? The narrative on the Sabbath stresses a consciousness and respect for the number seven. Seven then becomes the ideal to which the leadership is held.

The very next chapter, the Golden Calf episode, commences its narrative with an unusual word in the first sentence (Ex 32:1)."Vayar ha'am ki voshesh Moshe laredet min hahar..." Voshesh is traditionally understood in its peshat, or plain meaning, as "was delayed." Thus it is normatively understood as, "And the people saw that Moses was delayed in coming down from the mountain..." On a deeper level, however,one could (mis)read the line as "b'shesh," instead of as "voshesh." So now it could be translated as, " And the people saw Moses come down from the mountain "with a SIX consciousness," whatever that may mean.

Here was this great leader preaching about "the great number seven," who himself is rather now seemingly enthralled with the number six! Or possibly, it may mean that here he was coming down from the mountain on a Friday (the sixth day), so how could he possibly prepare for shabbos adequately on the same day!? "Here we are being lectured to on the laws of the Sabbath, and our very own leadership seems to be disregarding its sanctity (not true in the least)."

What rank hypocrisy they might have felt in their leadership.How could they NOT be disillusioned! How could a Golden Calf NOT seem abetter leader in that very moment!? In other words, they expected better in their leadership. In our own lives, everything we do and say leaves an imprint on others who observe us. And no one observes us more than our children.

And to live a disconnect, to live life in a contrary manner to our teachings and our espoused values does more than cause disillusion. It causes psychic pain! In their anger and rage our children might rebel by acting out against ourvalue system- but not because they believe that the opposite way is better! They might act out against what we hold as sacred precisely to point out our own failings as role models.

Now it should not be inferred that Moses had in fact done anything wrong in this case! It is possible he was just misunderstood, or inadvertently caused misunderstanding. Rashi himself states that Moses said he would return on the fortieth day. The question is, when does the counting begin, on the very day it is announced (today) or on the day he actually leaves (tomorrow)?

A lack of clarity and forthrightness in communication can be deadly, particularly in a leadership context. Before he became Prime Minister of Israel, General Ariel Sharon in 1982 declared he would advance only forty kilometers into Lebanon. But is the distance to be measured from Rosh Haniqra or from Kiryat Shemona? The difference determines whether one enters Beirut or not. Indeed he went into political exile on account of the ramifications stemming from this confusion. Was it merely a lack of clarity or was it wilfull prevarication? Mortals may neverknow.

When Aaron was pressed into service to help make the Golden Calf, at its completion he cries out, "chag ladoshem machar", "tomorrow will be a festival for G*d." Now here Aaron himself may have been purposely misleading. He may have been communicating to the people in code so that his captors would not understand. Indeed, he may have actually meant,"tomorrow G*d will show His great compassion for us." G*d's compassion is eternal and never ending, always in the present moment.

Why then would he say"machar," meaning "tomorrow?" The answer is that it is a code within a code. Machar is reverse for Rachem! Rachem means "mercy." Aaron knows that people forced against their wills to do the wrong thing, while unfortunate,is *ultimately* forgiveable because of the absence of free will. Aaron and the people were considered "anusim," or those who were forced against their wills to violate their conscience (the Conversos in Spain come to mind). G*d, being the master of forgiveness, the compassionate loving ruler, in the end will grant atonement and forgiveness because the all important element of volition was missing.

G*d is the ruler over all in the ultimate sense, the Supreme Government. He speaks to us directly through the words of His Torah, with both clarity and compassion. May we be blessed to bring clarity to our goals, and communicate to others as clearly as possible those goals. And may we be forgiving of others who may at times disappoint us in their very human failings.
To err is human, to forgive, Divine.

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 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.

PURIM AND EDEN

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

Purim has a secret to share. It is a Jewish holiday. But it's really about universal redemption and our shared humanity's struggle to remake itself in G*d's image and dwell in peace back in the garden.In many ways, Purim is the signpost and marker by which to guide humanity, as represented byIsrael, back to the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were originally banished from the Garden -not because of sin and disobedience, but rather due to their inability to face and accept their responsibility for their actions. They weren't exiled for eating the "goodly fruit" per se. Rather, they were exiled for denying responsibility. They were caught. But they played the victim. They couldn't own up to what they had done.

Indeed, it is arguable that the idea of a return of mankind to the Garden is not only a boon from humanity's point of view, but is Divinely desired as well. It is arguably G*d's deepest desire for mankind, G*d's children, to become independent, responsible adults. They would be worthy of enjoying the Garden of Delights, but not until they can prove capable of having rightfully earned the honor of returning.While Passover is clearly the epic narrative of G*d's redemption through intervention on an epic scale writ large, the Megillah, the Scroll of Esther, is quite oppositely indicative of the reverse transposition of mankind from being a humble receiver of salvation to an active initiator, whereby Divine intervention is noted only by its seeming absence.

The Haggadah's Passover redemption narrative is replete with Divine credit even as the Megillah, the Purim narrative, pointedly celebrates the risks and cunning of Esther who heroically saves her people. In the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil beckons the curiosities of Eve. The snake, the haughty contender for ultimate authority in the Garden, arrogating to himself the rights of Divine suzerainty, is brought low and humbled, forever to crawl on his belly, much the same way that Haman met his comeuppance for attempting to usurp the royal prerogatives of palace and power.

Upon discovery of the misdeed, the Man blames the Woman who blames the Snake who lives in the Tree (an echo of Chad Gadya), resulting in the expulsion. It therefore makes sense that an atonement and reversal of the judgment would necessarily entail a conscious retracing of the process. The flow in the chain of disavowal of responsibility went from the Man (Adam) to the Woman (Eve- who risked certain death, or so she feared, by "touching" the King's - i.e., G*d's, Tree) to the cunning Snake in his abode in the branches of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Similarly, atonement mandates a reversal of the process. Redemption in the Megillah of Esther follows a vector of newly assumed responsibility from the Man (Mordecai) who lectures the Woman (Esther) as to her responsibilities to her people (who then risks certain death *unless* touched by the golden sceptre), who then points out to the King Haman's true responsibility for her people's imminent misfortune. Haman even falls upon the Queen and her couch, thus in the end making himself responsible for his own downfall. Finally, he himself is hanged upon the branches of "the tree (haEitz)," thus neatly completing the process and chain of responsibility.

What demands our attention as to the text's ultimate universalism is the conscious echoing of the phraseology and the similarity in language between the number of Sarah's years (127) and the number of lands under the Persian Empire(127). Incredibly, in each case it follows the unusual step of placing a conjunctive link ("and") between each of the numbers comprising the ultimate tally. It does not read as "one hundred twenty seven," but rather somewhat awkwardly as "one hundred years and twenty years and seven years (Gen23:1)."

But what is even more fascinating is the reversal in the *order* of the numbers. The Megillah reverses the order of the Genesis narrative, reading now as "seven and twenty and a hundred lands (Esther 1:1)," much as the sin order and blame/responsibility order are reversed (snake to Adam/Adam to snake).Sarai, upon her name change to Sarah, is told by G*d that she will be the mother of "entire nations" (Gen17:15,16). While she is particularly and immediately the mother of the*Hebrew* nation, she will ultimately be the mother of entire (read "many") nations (as Chava/Eve is the "mother of life" (Gen 3:20)).

The birth of the Nation of Israel points to the ultimate redemption of humanity through the rediscovery of the ethical monotheistic imperative.The Purim narrative functions as a paradigm for mankind's struggle with evil. Ironically the story occurs in Persia, the seat of Zoroastrian faith,which teaches of the dualistic forces of light and darkness in the world. But the Jewish reading of history is a sense of the ultimate conquest of good over evil. Indeed, evil is ultimately subservient to good, as both are sourced in the Source of all goodness.Moreover, the Purim story is a blueprint not only for the Jews' redemption, but for all humanity who align themselves with goodness.

Its message is one of responsibility for one's own salvation. Inaction in the face of evil is the guarantee for evil to flourish. Perish or flourish. The choice is ours.The Edenic paradigm for mankind's return and redemption must be seen as the backdrop by which to make sense of the Purim story as well as current events. As the masks fall off, G*d's hidden presence is revealed. Ideologies and belief systems which deny the notion of a G*d who demands personal responsibility take on an aura of untenability. From out of a sense of volition we learn to take responsibility in life to repair the earth and the hearts of its inhabitants. To wait for others or to postpone action is the recipe for continued exile or worse. Yet the opposite holds forth the promise of a renewed encounter with that other tree in the Garden- the Tree of Life.

Good Purim!

© 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 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, March 6, 2009

TITZAVEH: THE SECRET OF THE POMEGRANATE

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman


In this week's parsha, Titzaveh, The Name is giving instructions asto how the kohanim are to dress when on duty in their role as caretakers ofthe Holy Tabernacle. In a sense, we are all kohanim, being that we are "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation- mamlechet kohanim vegoy qadosh."


Every garment serves a symbolic service or function. The text (Ex 28:2) sets the overall tone and standard for this sacred apparel. Above all, the verse says, the garments for Aaron and his sons should be both dignified and beautiful, "le'chavod u'le'tifaret." And to the degree that the priests are exemplars and role models of the sacred, we are meant to look to them for direction concerning all holy things.


Being that G*d is dressing (addressing) us today, we should ask what subconscious desires is He projecting on to us, as it were, by the clothes He chooses for us? As much as external clothing is said to reveal internal character, then G*d is showing us that we are beautiful inside. And G*d is also showing us that we are also dignified inside. After all, we are made in G*d's image. So we see that how G*d, our true parent, is asking us to dress ourselves, is a reflection of the way that G*d sees Himself. It is not only a statement that we are making about ourselves. It is even more a statement that we are making about G*d! It's about beauty and dignity.


One of the most fascinating of the sacred vestments worn by the High Priestis the robe. On the hem of the robe could be found pomegranates made of colored wool alternating with gold bells. Pomegranates contain within them exactly 613 seeds (I have counted), the number of mitzvot in the Torah. One thing we learn from this is that plain folk imbued with good deeds, though lacking in material wealth, are as precious to G*d, as gold and wealth are precious to people. We could learn from that analogy to reflect on our priorities.


Moreover, the Torah and the multitude of mitzvot within is G*d's special gift. So too, when we encounter another person, one made in the Divine image, we should look out for, be aware of, and show sensitivity to his special gifts, talents and concerns. We do violence to that person's sense of self and well-being by ignoring his individuality and uniqueness.


As every heart is a sacred Temple, so must we knock before we enter, just as the bells alerted G*d to the priest's presence (not that G*d needed it. We did.) History's first doorbell is recorded in marvelous detail by the text, as a prerequisite to a Divine encounter. " And Aaron shall wear this robe when he prepares the Divine service. The sound of the bells shall be heard when he enters the sanctuary and when he goes out, so that he not die (Ex 28:35)."


I can see why one should announce one's coming, but why one's going? In the same way that one defines the borders of a neighbor's sense of privacy by announcing one's entering, so too one is defining the borders by announcing one's leaving. The nature of sacred space (maqom qadosh) is defined by its notion of differentiation, much as the mundane is much noted for its quality of sameness. Indeed the halacha (the Jewish Way) instructs us to actively greet our guests and show them in, as well as accompany them along the way a short while after they leave.


Furthermore, can't G*d see our coming and going? Why would the Kohein Gadol (High Priest) have to announce himself? If we are instructed to show deference and honor to The Name, a being devoid of corporeal form, certainly mere mortals who lack corporeality and yet carry a Divine spark within, are deserving of a modicum of respect and honor, afforded by dint of their special provenance. This is the secret meaning of the pomegranate.


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


What this is saying to us is that G*d is near to us any time of day. The deepest meaning is that unlike a human king such as Ahasueros, the king of Persia in the upcoming Purim saga, who at his fancy could take your life for seeking him without anappointment, G*d will grant us an audience at any time. Any time of day or night is the right time to call out to G*d for help. To speak to G*d directly, unlike Ahasueros, Esther would not have to fast. To call out to G*d for help we do not risk death. Just the opposite!


The deepest meaning of our parsha is that G*d is our true king, and as sons and daughters of Divine royalty we are worthy to wear garments of blue today, not black, much as the High Priest and Mordecai wore blue in their day. And as we are all descended from "a kingdom of priests and a holynation," we should know that we are all worthy to wear garments of blue, for blue is the color of the sky, the color of the heavens, the color of the thread of the tallit. May our insides, then, be as heavenly as our outsides. And may we reflect G*d's Divine Light wherever we go.


Shabbat Shalom.

© 2000-2009 by Rabbi Baruch Melman

NEVER GIVE UP!

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Reb Shlomo with Reb Zusha ben Avraham Zimmerman

Reb Shlomo with Reb Zusha ben Avraham Zimmerman

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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

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- anonymous
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- Albert Einstein

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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

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I played violin with Reb Shlomo and studied under him for over nine years at hundreds of concerts and learnings. Shlomo wanted to give me smicha before he passed. Deepest influences: My father,obm, who was a great scientist and human being, and my grandfather, obm, who was a great Torah scholar who was a musmach of the Mir Yeshiva and taught in Slobodka in Russia before WW1, and was also personal friends with the Chafetz Chaim and came to America in 1914. He knew the Talmud by heart! You could stick a pin in a word and he could tell you what word was on the other side! And my mother, Esther bat Baruch, z"l, who was a scholar of classical Hebrew and Tanach and who gave me a love for the language. And her mother, Anna (Sucher) Deutsch, who was born in Horodenka, spoke six languages, and shared her aged wisdom and eternal sweetness with me. I studied at Brandeis, Hebrew College, Pardes as well as seven years at The Metivta/ITJ earning my Advanced Semicha (yoreh yoreh)under Rav Halivni. What's truly amazing is that Shlomo and Rav Halivni each received semicha from Rav Hutner! But my deepest influences of them all are my sweetest sweetest girls who have taught me the most!