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.

No comments:



Reb Shlomo with Reb Zusha ben Avraham Zimmerman

Reb Shlomo with Reb Zusha ben Avraham Zimmerman

moshav band live at mexicali blues


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



Beta Israel - Ethiopian Jews - The Ingathering from Without


Palestinians of Jewish origin - The Ingathering from Within


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


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














Reb Zalman on Jewish Renewal


Let There Be Peace

"No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care."

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

- Albert Einstein

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


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


Tisha B'Av 5765 Katif Expulsion


Children of Sderot - The Daily Terror and Nightmares


Let Me Sing a New Song


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




Larry David wants to Save the Planet


Havdalah Ceremony on Moshav Meor Modiin in Central Israel


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

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

About Me

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