Friday, August 28, 2009


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.

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


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.


(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.

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


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?

Do not eat its blood, but spill it on the ground likewater."

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


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.

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!