Thursday, May 28, 2009

SHAVUOT: WE ARE ALL GERIM (PROSELYTES) ; movin' to the center, but feeling lonely just the same (also for Nitzavim Vayelech)

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

The ger, the convert to Judaism, follows in the footsteps of Avraham Avinu, the Patriarch Abraham, and of Sarah Imenu, the Matriarch Sarah, who were themselves gerim. They chose a new path for themselves, following the deepest yearning of their heart for the ultimate truth that there is One G*d who demands righteousness and ethical behavior. The ger is precious to us as a people, and yet the ger may feel a sense of loneliness, as he/she chose this path for themselves.

Our tradition teaches that all the souls of Israel, past, present and future, stood as one at Mount Sinai, together with the souls of all future gerim, those who would accept the Torah, the Covenant between G*d and Israel. The ger is so holy. And as being holy means being set aside and special in the best sense, being holy and pure as the Sabbath is holy and pure, less sensitive and less refined souls may view the apartness as a possible negative, and so the Torah adjures us 36 times not to oppress the ger in any way. It would be like oppressing Avraham and Sarah, their parents.

The ger, the convert, is fundamentally alone. Unmoored from the past, yet not feeling fully hinged to the present, he eternally seeks validation that he has, in fact, arrived. The aloneness is his burden, and yet it is his fundamental strength. Recreating Abraham's singular journey, who himself was a ger, he finds solace in the sojourn, that the voyage is, in a certain sense, his ultimate calling.

Nitzavim/Vayelech- "standing, yet going," replicates so delicately the narrowing arc of Israel's destiny, from the edge of history to that of its vibrant center. Ironically, KI GERIM HAYITEM B'ERETZ MITZRAYIM,"because you were strangers in the land of Egypt," employs the plural form for stranger (gerim) when referring to Israel, yet when the Torah refers to the actual GER among Israel, it prefers the use of the singular. Maybe it is because each holy ger comes alone in his quest, following the deep yearning of his soul. In a sense he revels in that aloneness as the precursor of his search, for the search only begins with the confrontation with his essential aloneness. It is that very sense of aloneness which in the end gives comfort. As G*d is essentially alone, and yet yearns to be rejoined by the righteous of Israel and the world, so too does the ger share with G*d in that existential aloneness.

In the very opening lines of our parsha (Deut. 29:9,10), every group mentioned takes a plural ending-save the proselyte. But in parshat Yitro, in the very verses uttered at the Sabbath day Kiddush (Ex. 20:8-10), every referenced group takes the singular ending- along with the proselyte. Moreover, in Nitzavim, the proselyte is positioned in the center of the camp of Israel (vegercha asher b'KEREV MACHANECHA),"and your proselyte who is in the midst of your camp,"whereas, in Yitro, the ger is figuratively positioned at the edge of the camp, literally at the gates seeking admission (gercha asher B'SHAARECHA)" your proselyte who is at your gates."

Maybe this reflects perspective. As in quantum physics, perspective itself affects reality, even affecting the affective, i.e., the realm of feelings. When one is standing on the edge, just another point along the circumference, then all whom you know is standing right next to you- immediately to your right, and immediately to your left. But when one is standing in the center,everyone else seems plural in the sense that one now takes in the greater whole from the central vantage point. The periphery, once veiled owing to one's having had been a part of that very periphery, now becomes enlarged in its seeming fullness by virtue of one's new perspective.

How true that the ger amongst us once stood alone at the gates, beckoning admission. And how true that those very gerim are now the vibrant center of our Jewish lives, whose vibrant enthusiasm so infectiously stimulate. As Israel is the central truth seeker and shaker in world history, so too is the ger the energy center and truth seeking core within Israel.

Israel, similarly, remains the vibrant center in world consciousness, stands alone, and similarly craves acceptance by those of the world tribunal so reticent to grant it. In the opening verse of our parsha (verse 9) the word "Israel" stands alone in the singular. So too does the word "ger" in the immediate verse following. Alone amongst the plurality, Israel and the ger share a fate forever intertwined, as stood Abraham, exemplar exemplorum.

Israel, having just left Egyptian bondage, in its precovenantal state, was still yet seemingly just another nation, standing at the gates of world history, but readying to stand center-stage. Israel, qua Israel, emerging from its own ger status as history's UR-stranger, had yet to receive the covenant through which to be then thrust to centerpoint. And in walking through those gates, the ger takes center stage, for the momentum keeps him going.

Israel, through her taking on the Covenant, symbolized by the Sabbath, and reaffirmed in the Kiddush, likewise becomes the new center- history's hub, even as that very hub urges a transcendence of history. The existential loneliness of Israel is the existential loneliness of the ger. The two remain as one, as one with the One G*d of Israel, the One G*d of the ger.

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.

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, May 15, 2009


by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

On the deepest level the baby knows that everything is connected. Our task, the Torah seems to be telling us, is to recharge ourselves, to view life again from the perspective of an infant, and to know that G*d will meet all our needs for us. Some of us resent G*d because our parents may not have met all our needs for us.

In the shemittah year we let go of the land and let it rest and return to its own child-like, unrestricted, unpruned, untrained natural state of being. And on the Jubilee, the land itself lets go of its anthrocentric human-decreed owners and returns to its G*d-decreed state.This reflects the double meaning of what shabbat means to us - as both well-resting and returning.

We let our physical bodies rest and rejuvenate, all the while letting our spiritual souls return to their Divine dimension, uniting with the holiness of the Sabbath. Our holy task in life is to return to and try to attain once more that child-like vision. We should try very much to connect ourselves to the world as does a child- to see ourselves as both inseparable and connected to every other being on the planet.

If we truly have a sense of merging with all life, then it would not be possible to ever oppress our neighbor; we would only be oppressing ourselves.A child always believes in fairness. The adult cynically says,"that's life." But the Torah's utopian vision is that ALL is connected to the ULTIMATE ONENESS, that all is of and from G*d. There is none other. The baby knows best what heaven wants. After all, he just came from there.

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

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, May 1, 2009


by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

In Leviticus 19:18 there is the most awesome and complicated mitzvah in the Torah:"Love your neighbor as yourself, I am Hashem. Ve'ahavta leReyacha kamocha, ani Hashem."

My secret for remembering that this mitzvah is Lev 19:18 is as follows. Now once I explain my secret I guess it won't be much of a secret anymore, but here goes:

Lev, although short for Leviticus, is also the word in Hebrew for heart. And everybody knows that the word for love in English comes from the Hebrew word for heart, which is Lev.

Now the First World War had just ended that year. Everybody had vowed that this would be the last war, it was so terrible. Horrible new weapons were invented that were unthinkable in earlier wars, and millions lost their lives. Poison gas and flame throwers. These were never before seen or used in warfare. It was so bad they couldn't ever imagine that there would one day ever be a second world war. So in those days they didn't call it WW1 or the First World War. They just simply called it The Great War, it was so bad.

So the answer to heal the world then was as true then as it is today- Love your neighbor as yourself. And the letters reish and ayin in hebrew spell both the words for evil and neighbor. The consonants remain the same- just the vowels are different.

This is arguably absolutely the hardest mitzvah. But do not love the evil!!! Love the one, even your neighbor, even yourself if you have sinned and you think of yourself as evil and unable to return to Hashem and to goodness, in spite of the evil, and perhaps turn him or yourself around, and back on the right path. {Sur meRa, turn away from evil. Just turn away. Change direction. Not easy maybe, but turn away anyway. VeAsay Tov - and do good (Psalm 34). DO good and you become good. You are what you eat. But you are also you are what you DO. The converse also is true. DO evil and you become evil (an "evildoer"). But you can change. It is never too late!

Of course if someone is coming to kill you, then love isn't enough. You have to kill him first. But maybe before it gets to that point, we can try to kill him with 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

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.



V'ahavtah L'rey-acha Kamocha - Love Your Neighbour As Yourself

Holiness in living finds its ultimate expression in the mitzvah, "and you shall love [unto] your fellow as you love yourself, I Am Hashem." (Lev.19: 18) Who is this fellow, this neighbour that the Torah is talking about? On many occasions when learning this verse with students, I would ask them to [you may want to try it yourself] close their eyes and listen to the verse as I read it to them, and then think of someone in relation to this verse. Then I would ask them if the person they thought about was in the room. Almost always the majority of people thought about someone who was not presently in the room. The implications of this are interesting. Now listen to this amazing teaching from Reb Shlomo zt"l.

Reb Shlomo ztz"l taught that the fellow person that the Torah is commanding you to love as you love yourself, is the person who is next to you right now! Love them 'for no reason,' love a love of true Oneness, as you love yourself. But is this possible? From the fact that we are commanded to do so, we understand that it is possible to accomplish this in one's lifetime. Hashem does not ask us for the impossible. It does require a lot of work, to be sure, including joy, true humility and true awareness of Hashem and of one's 'higher self'.

What does it mean to love someone as you love yourself? There are a number of different opinions about this. The 'Tzemach Tzeddek' in his sefer Derech Mitzvotecha offers a realistic and practical explanation of this mitzvah. Each one of us knows that we are not perfect and that we make mistakes. Yet, we [usually] tolerate our mistakes and imperfections, and we still love ourselves, at least to the point that we do not refuse ourselves pleasures or kindness and self-love. For example if I said something unkind to someone, or did not make a serious attempt at accomplishing all that I was supposed to do today, nevertheless at the end of the day I do not refuse to have desert, or forbid myself the pleasure of listening to good music etc. Likewise, says the Tzemach Tzeddek, we are obligated to accept our friends with their imperfections and mistakes, and we should not refuse them our kindness and love.

To further explain the connection between 'Kedoshim tee'yu' and 'v'ahavtah l'reyacha kamocha', being holy and loving your friend, I had the following thought: Hashem wants us to be holy. So we come before Hashem and we say that we would like to be holy. However the 'satan' the 'blocker', comes forward and says that we have no right to be kadosh because we have done this and that and other transgressions. So then we say to Hashem, please let us be close to You in spite of our mistakes, because we really want to be close to You. Please forgive us, please help us fix our ways, fix our wrongdoings, overlook our past and look at us now and look at where we want to be. Otherwise we don't stand a chance at being holy.

There is a very nice Chassidic reading of this mitzvah as follows: "V'ahavtah l'reyacha -kamocha ani Hashem." In the same way that you] love your friend, so too I Hashem, will be with you!
Hashem is telling us: if you want Me to overlook your mistakes, if you want Me to love you so much that I should be forgiving and accepting of you, that I should be kind to you even though you are not perfect, then you too must treat your friends this way. If you can do this for others I will do this for you.

If you really believe in 'tshuvah', in the ability to return to Hashem, in your ability to return to Hashem, if you really believe that past mistakes and wrongdoings can be fixed, that you can be at-one with Hashem again, that your desire to be holy is real, then practice this with your friends as well. Demonstrate that this is your truth in your own life, that you will not hate your brother in your heart, that you will not take revenge nor bear a grudge against him, but rather you will love him as you love yourself, then you will merit that Hashem will also treat you in this way.

Awesome words from Reb Shlomo zt"l Today I have the good fortune to send you a partial transcript of Reb Shlomo's zt"l words that he spoke at our 'sheva-brachot' in the summer of 5742 [1982]. These teachings are very much related to our parsha, especially to the calling - 'Kedoshim tee-heyou - you shall be holy' and to the mitzvah of 'V'ahavtah l'reyacha kamocha - you shall love your neighbour as yourself, I Am Hashem.'

I chose to present this transcript in the following way- We transcribed almost every word faithfully. My inserts are identified by [ ]. Also I made line breaks each time Reb Shlomo paused to give us a moment to let the words sink in and/or to take a breath. I would appreciate hearing from you as to whether this is helpful or not.

----Good Shabbos, good Yom Tov, Mazal Tov. Good Shabbos, good Yom Tov. Listen, these other three holy people just gave such good Torahs. Anyway... I just learned from Reb Nachman here two things. Ok, let me make it very fast...[ here Judy said to him 'make it slow'] ... ok, I'll make it slow.

ok, now listen to this... listen to this, sweetest friends... what makes us most sad? and I want you to open your hearts. each time we make a mistake, you know what happens to me? it's not that one particular mistake I made. you know friends, every person has a little prophecy inside. when I'm born, G-d gives me an inside prophecy [of] what G-d wants me to do, what G-d wants me to be. each time I make a mistake, the saddest thing in the world, [is that] I begin to doubt my own prophecy. I don't trust myself anymore. what happens to all the people who just gave up on themselves completely?because they made so many mistakes.... listen, if I made this mistake, you know, maybe, who knows? maybe everything is a mistake?

Remember Reb Nachman says 'what is the greatest sin in the world? to take away somebody's self confidence.' That's the greatest sin in the world. "azuz d'kedusha" - [this term refers to having 'holy chutzpah' - the trust and faith that your mitzvot are important and meaningful, no matter what] because unless you have a certain holy self confidence, you can't do anything. now what is (again) the greatest friendship in the world? the greatest friendship in the world is that you give somebody back their self-confidence. but you know how deep this is?

Sometimes you meet people, they're supposed to be our friends, they'll do anything for us,but they mamash take away every ounce of self confidence. I don't want to say anything bad. I've seen husbands and wives, you know, they're cute and sweet but they don't support each other one bit. you know? and then sometimes, you see husband and wife and they give each other so much self confidence.

ok, here's what Reb Nachman says. what is my greatest, deepest longing in the world? the deepest longing I have? the deepest longing in the world is that I should do what G-d wants me to do in this world. i know I am born for something, I gotta do somethingand i'm longing for it in the deepest way. each time I do a little bit wrong, i'm longing less for it,because I don't believe in it anymore.

ok, so, what's the whole idea of doing tshuvah? the whole idea of doing tshuvah is that I say to myself, I say to g-d, I don't care. even if I made two million mistakes,i'm holding onto that one thing, i'm holding onto this unbelievable thing.

Here, I want you to know one more thing. Reb Nachman says each time you make a mistake,you hate one person in the world. crazy, right? the more mistakes you make, the more people you hate.and you know, sometimes when you see people who hate this onehate this one, hate this one...tell them their problem is not that they hate the people[instead it's that] they made so many mistakes and they don't know where to start.

ok, I want to tell you this story and I want to bless you,I just want to give you this simple blessing, that... what do you do if you've made so many mistakes and you hate two million people? what do you do? when G-d blesses you [and]there's one person in the world you love so much, it mamash cleanses your soul at that moment.

You know friends, i'll tell you something. what's the whole idea of Yom Kippur when people get married? [on the day of your wedding it is customary to fast because it is considered like your personal Yom Kippur]the whole idea... listen to me,imagine (so) I ate in a French restaurant therefore I cannot get married?i'll do tshuvah on the french fries on Yom Kippur on the day i'm getting married, what are you bothering me with this doggie diner? right? but the answer iswhile [because] I ate in the doggie diner, my heart is less capable of loving and in order to get married, your heart has to be completely completely filled with loving.

And it's so heartbreaking, you know... you see parents who hit their children - you know what their problem is? not that they hit their children [but that] they made so many mistakes, their heart is not a vessel for loving anymore. I want to tell you this story. the story is that the heiliger Reb Moshe Leib Sassover came up to heavenand you know, on the way to heaven you have to pass through helltake it on the highest levelthe heiliger Reb Moshe Leib Sassover goes through hell and in the middle he stops,and he says 'i'm not going to heaven unless all the people in hell go with me.'heavy stuff! - you know, you cannot visualize it the manager of hell comes down and says, 'listen, rabbi, will you please, I mean, make it fast because I'm running the show here can you imagine how many people complain in hell this one says that it's too hot and they can't stand the heat? turn on the air conditioner?' and the other one says, 'hell... ' you know what's going on in hell.... everyone is 'krechtzing' [complaining] and yelling. so he [the manager] says, 'please, just do your thing, go through fast.'Reb Moshe Leib says ' no, this is for real, i'm not leaving.'

ok, the heavenly judges are coming down and this is what he claims.he says 'if G-d really wants me to live in eternal bliss, how can I have eternal bliss after I went through hell, after I saw what these people are suffering? think I can sit there in heaven and be happy when I know so many people are broken in hell? so, if you really want me to be in heaven, you have to take everyone out of hell.

Now listen to this, it's unbelievable. .... this was the decree of the heavenly judges: as many favors as he did in his lifetime, that is how many people he can take out of hell. listen to the most unbelievable thing...they counted the favors, and Reb Moshe Leib Sassover did exactly as many favours in his lifetime as there were people in hell - can you imagine? so the Riziner told the story ... he said at the end 'the saddest part is it didn't take long to fill hell again.' mazel tov. you know how deep this is? you know when you do something wrong, you hate somebody.... and when you do somebody a favor, somewhere, somewhere you're getting somebody out of hell you don't know what you're doing.

ok, I just want to bless Raizel Sukkat Shaleym and Sholom, I want to bless you- whenever you fall down to hell you should take each other out fast by doing each other a favour you know, the Gemora says that from heaven to hell is less far than one hair to the other- it's so easy to be in hell you know this is just from heaven to hellbut from hell back to heaven it's very far... it's very far... and you need a real missile to get there so, I want to bless you with missiles and you know friends, the highest thing is not only to teach children how to do right you know there's a shortcut from hell to heaven? the deepest teaching in the world is to teach our children the shortcut. Because gevalt do people go so long before they get back from hell to heaven, and if you have good friends, it goes so fast

ok, the thing is, I'm giving this whole long speech and no one ever brought in the wine for sheva brachot.... it's coming? ok, let's sing a little song in the meantime..... let's surround the bride and groom with great love.... let's sit close and let's do it.

Rabbi Brodt is the founder of Yeshiva Simchat Shlomo in Yerushalayim, Ir HaKodesh,
dedicated to furthering the teachings of Rabbi Schlomo Carlebach. I spell Schlomo with a c
because that's how he spelled his name (some of the time).

Reb Shlomo with Reb Zusha ben Avraham Zimmerman

Reb Shlomo with Reb Zusha ben Avraham Zimmerman

What mind is it?

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


"If you believe that you can damage, then believe that you can fix..... If you believe that you can harm, then believe that you can heal..........." Rebbe Nachman of Breslov
"No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care."

- anonymous
"Perhaps the greatest force in the entire universe is compounded interest."

- Albert Einstein
When I was young I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.- Abraham Joshua Heschel
The whole world is a very narrow bridge. And the most important thing is to not be afraid.
-Rebbe Nachman of Breslov
"The greatest thing in the world is to do somebody else a favor." - Aish Kodesh
"As you want G*d to give you a chance, give everyone else a chance to also begin again." - Shlomo Carlebach

About Me

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