Wednesday, April 22, 2009

TAZRIA METZORAH- MY BRUSH WITH EVIL

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

The parshayot of this week deal with ritual impurity and spiritual uncleanness. It is said that evil speech leads to evil consequences - psoriasis (tzoraas) and then some. Evil is really all around us at all times, ready to attach itself to us, but is only held at bay by our righteousness and our purity of speech...

The following is a true story that happened to me in the mid 1990's while still a rabbinical student. The class had just completed a several month review of medieval Jewish commentaries
on charting and calculating women's menstrual cycles, necessary for determining the date for a woman's visit to the mikva, not that I ever needed, or would ever need to use this particular skill set.

It was this week's parsha, which coincided with April 20, Hitler's birthday, Y"Sh. To no one in particular I mentioned that it was a good thing for Hitler that he had changed his name from
Schickelgruber because the image of Nazi rallies of tens of thousands shouting out "Heil Schickelgruber" would have been more comic than anything else. Okay. It was admittedly a lame attempt at humor and that was that. Or so I thought. The time? About 2:30 in the afternoon.

At the time I was the founder and leader of the Ashira Klezmer Orchestra, a wedding band that also played many gigs around the greater New York area in those days. We were fairly talented as most of our members were trained in the former Soviet Union. Say no more. One concert that stood out in my memory was when we played at the opening of the Center for Jewish History and Mayor Giuliani was the keynote speaker. What can I say? While it wasn't my ultimate career choice, it did help in paying the bills while I was continuing my education.

Anyway, I had been trying to reach the owner of Sound City, to finalize a contract signing for his upcoming wedding. We had been playing phone tag and we set up a meeting at his place for that same evening. It was a fairly quick meeting, and in short order the arrangements were finalized and all the paperwork was signed.

On my way out the door as I was about to leave he asked me one final question. But it wasn't about the selection of songs or the number of musicians. Instead, it was about my answering machine, of all things!

"What about it?" I asked him.

"The craziest thing happened," he shared with me. "You wouldn't believe it. Maybe you should check out your answering machine, it can't be good for business," he added.

"I had to call back three times until I finally got through. I kept using my speed dialer, so I know for sure it was the same number that I had dialed each time. But only on the third try did I actually get your voice on the other end. I almost didn't bother calling a third time, to tell you the truth. You really should think about changing your message."

Okay, I'm plotzing now...

"So whose voice did you hear the first two times?," I asked him.

"You're not going to believe this," he said. "It was Hitler's voice, the sound of him giving his famous speeches at his huge Nazi rallies and everyone was shouting out in unison "Heil Hitler." It was really the strangest thing. I was wondering why you would ever use that as your message? As I said, it really couldn't be good for business if you're the owner of a Jewish klezmer band."

"Uh...about what time was it when you were calling me and you say you heard this?" (My palms were now getting sweaty. My heart was now beginning to race. I was starting to get wobbly in the knees).

"About 2:30 in the afternoon."

As I said, this is a true story.....


A Final Thought:
In the weeks in between Pesach and Shavuos it is customary on Sabbath afternoons to study a different chapter from Pirkei Avos, the Ethics of the Fathers - a book of moral guidance and self-improvement. This week we learn the following: "Rabbi (Judah the Prince) said...Consider three things and you will not come into the grip of sin: Know what is above you- a watchful Eye, an attentive Ear, and all your deeds are recorded in a Book. Truer words have never been said.

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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!