Friday, December 30, 2011

VAYIGASH; GASHNIUT OR GASHMIUT?

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman
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Do we have the courage to break free from our limiting paradigms?
To what extent does our anger limit us from growth and conciliation?
Finally, what reward awaits us for finding this key to change?

Jacob was forever trapped in a cycle of deception and trickery. Either on the giving end (Esau and Isaac) or on the receiving end (Laban and his own sons). He was stuck in an endlessly repeating loop from which he could not break out. He wore a mask, the pungent garments of his brother Esau, in order to attain blessings of mastery. He could only attain power through the veil of deceit, hence the endless cycle of bitterness and pain.

His son, Joseph, however, was able to break this cycle. He attained power in Egypt by sheer mark of character, force of personality and faith in G*d. He needn't assume a false identity to achieve success. This is borne out when (his brother) Judah says to him in the opening line of our parsha,

(Gen 44:18)"...kee chamocha ke'Pharoah." "You are like yourself as Pharoah...(is like himself)." (my translation).

This is the highest compliment one can give to another human being. Judah is comparing Joseph to the King in greatness, and yet he is saying that he is still an individual, still his own man. "Chamocha" means "you are unique, there is no one like you."

On a deeper level, this means that Joseph, being his "own man," has now broken free of his father's patterning and addiction. Yes, he maintained a mask to test his brothers' sincerity and remorse, but more importantly he achieved the blessing of power in Egypt without any resort to the slightest hint of deception. He could become powerful like "Esau" without becoming like Esau in his impetuosity and compulsiveness.

This connection between Joseph and his father is further underlined by the rare usage of the word"vayiGaSH," the very name of our parsha! To love one's father means taking the best of his character and leaving the rest behind. Blind absorption of his negative human qualities is a form of slavish idolatry.

When Jacob is in the act of tricking his father, Isaac suspects fraud and therefore says,

(Gen 27:21) "GeSHa na elai ve'amushcha b'nee..." "Come closer to me and let me touch you my son..."

And the next verse uses the same verb,"vayiGaSH Yaaqov el Yitzchaq aveev..." "Jacob came closer to his father Isaac..."

And here in the very first verse of our parsha it says,

"Judah drew right up next to him (Joseph) and said...." VayiGaSH eilav Yehudah...

The exact same verbs are used in these two narratives, precisely to draw a connection between father and son! Actually between both sons. The Torah wants to show how Joseph broke free from his father's style vis a vis the attainment of power as much as it wants to show how Judah demonstrated true personal leadership, putting himself at risk rather than risking his own children (a la Reuben).

This is also a break from his father Jacob,who had sent his entire camp/family ahead of himself to meet up with Esau, while he stayed behind and was the last to cross over the River Jabok! The true moral of our parsha is that we should have the strength of character to break free from the pathologies and addictions of our forebears- either in terms of ideology or personality. Whether the addiction is rage or antisemitism, or alcohol or deception, every new generation has the chance to start fresh and begin new paradigms of relating.

In fact, he himself realized his inadequacies and wanted to be left all alone to contemplate his weakness and work on himself. The angel was sent by G*d as a validation of his determination
to work on his character. His new name, Israel, augurs his determination to change course.

The weak personality doesn't easily stand up and take responsibility. When leaving Canaan before going to his Uncle Laban in Padan Aram he tells G*d that if He will watch over him and take care of him he will remain loyal to G*d. All the onus is on G*d to guarantee his security.

While Esau acquired the aggressive tendencies Jacob acquired the opposite passive tendencies.
It was against his nature to take initiative and strike boldly. Indeed he chastised his sons for their proactive action against Shechem. Their actions were as extreme as he was passive and retiring.

The early Zionist pioneers looked with contempt and revulsion upon their diaspora yeshiva brethren who seemed effeminate and passive in the face of rising antisemitism. Being outside the land of Israel enabled Jacob's descendants to allow their passive side to re-emerge. Upon returning to the Land of Israel, the "new" Jacob cum Israel identity reasserted itself, allowing the latent aggressive and assertive Jewish personality to reemerge .

When the angel bestowed upon Jacob the new name of Israel, it was indicative of a deep change and insight on Jacob's part to what he saw as being the pattern of his life. Whereas Abram's name change to Abraham was a permanent and immutable one, Jacob's was not. His two names could be interchanged, reflecting the anguish of the vicissitudes of the emotional terra firma of the addictive personality; each day is a victory or a crushing defeat. But Jacob himself bestowed upon his own children the blessing to break free of the chains of Jacob, and to carry on as sons of Israel, sons of his better, higher self.

Rather than swing from one extreme to the other, is it possible to integrate the two natures of his personality and remain whole? A hint of the possibility of reconciliation of SELF is found in our parsha as Joseph reveals his identity.

In GEN 45:4 he says to his brothers: GeSHu na Elai VayiGaSHu.
"Come close to me now and they came close to him..." And then in the next verse he says "al teyatzvu v'al yichar b'eyneychem...don't be sad or angry (because you sold me)."

In other words, Joseph is hinting that the brotherly conciliation can only occur when sadness and anger are no longer operative. They can only draw close to each other when the toxic addiction of anger is let go (along with its sister emotion of sadness). Anger is a form of idolatry and divisiveness as much as G*d is emblematic of unity and reconciliation as manifested in the Shema prayer.

Jacob's integration is achieved finally through the achievements of his children. Three full patriarchal generations must pass before the children of Israel (and Jacob and Isaac and Abraham) learn to achieve reconciliation. Indeed that is why we are all called the Children of Israel. Only the children of Israel were able to finally get along with one another!

The "reward" for this fraternal reconciliation is Joseph granting them the Land o' Goshen as their new dwelling place while in Egypt. Commentators have suggested that the name "Goshen" is related to the idea of "gashmiut," or materialism. I would offer that the apportioned land which is named Goshen is really in recognition of the fact that the estranged brothers could finally achieve a drawing close together - vayiGaSH (gashniut- my neologism) after rivers of tears and paroxysms of pain, anger, guilt and ainguish.

We must learn from this episode that we can model conciliation in our own lives by letting go of our anger which blinds us from seeing the blossoming of the seed of fraternity. Anger prevents growth and stunts our emotional development. Adolescents only develop their full potential to achieve maturity to the extent that they can go through and finally let go of their anger and hostility. Whether our anger is directed internally or externally it still must be expunged. This week we welcomed the month of Tevet, the month for the kabbalistic fixing of anger.

Like the children of Israel, may we, too, come to draw close to one another in harmony and fellowship and dwell in prosperity and friendship in our proverbial Lands of Goshen until our messianic deliverance summons us back home. Letting go of our anger and transcending the pettiness of our self-limiting perceptions is the key to unlocking the dungeon doors to let in the Divine Hannukian light.

Shabbat Shalom!

© 2000 - 2011 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 and in memory of my beloved mother, Esther Melman, obm, Esther bat Baruch z"l.


http://seferchabibi.blogspot.com/2007/07/yahrzeit-of-my-father-27-tammuz.html
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506EEDC1630F93BA35754C0A9649C8B63

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/nytimes/obituary.aspx?n=esther-melman&pid=143745543

Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua
(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)

Friday, December 23, 2011

MIKETZ; ON BEING AN AVRECH

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman


There is a traditional saying that the experiences of the Patriarchs are signposts for their descendants: "maaseh avoth siman lebanim." Indeed, the idea that each of the Patriarchs alone ventured utterly alone into alien zones of being is further played out in Joseph's life. Abraham confronts idolatry and is imprisoned and later redeemed and blessed. Isaac confronts the prospect of dying by his own father's hands (alien to human nature), but is then redeemed and blessed. Jacob is imprisoned by his duplicitous tendencies and later confronts his fears and inner demons and thus redeems himself. Although his life in Eretz Yisrael was largely marked with sorrow, he was blessed in the end to have lived to see his son's success and the fulfillment of G*d's promise to Abraham that his descendants would descend into Egypt.

But G*d made another promise to Abraham as well. In the beginning of Lech lecha (Gen 12:2):"

And I will make of you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing- veheyeh bracha."
This promise was already becoming fulfilled by Joseph's ascent in Egypt. Owing to Joseph's newfound success as viceroy, his family could prosper and become a multitude in Goshen. His fame spread far and wide, and Egypt was blessed with survival and prosperity where nature would have dictated otherwise."...and they proclaimed before him "Avrech," thus he appointed him over all the land of Egypt!" (Gen 41:43).

Avrech could be understood as "I will bless." Thus Joseph's new name was indicative of G*d's promise to Abraham, that he (via his descendants) would become a blessing. And not only would Joseph be a blessing for his own people, but also a blessing for those who bless Israel and her people.

The continuation of G*d's promise to Abraham in Lech lecha reads:"I will bless those that bless you and those that curse you I will curse."Although Egypt later bore the distinct misfortune to have oppressed Israel, at the time of Joseph, however, Egypt was duly rewarded for her generosity and benevolenceto Joseph and his family. This concept of national apportionment of blessing and curse is borne out historically. While it can be explained via rational argument that those nations who expelled "their" Jews suffered the economic or intellectual losses as a logical consequence of their actions, the fact remains that the historical record bears out the veracity of the imprimatur of Providence's guiding hand.

Whether we examine the negative fallout in Rome, Spain, Russia or Poland, or the positive benefits earned by Holland, the Ottoman Empire or America, a distinct historical pattern emerges. America, too, stands in judgment. This is her moment of truth. Whether the blessings accrued to her as a safe haven for Jewry and protector of Israel remain operative or not depends on her resolve to stand by Israel in her hour of need. The media, academia and nativist irredentism all are working feverishly to undue the historic bonds between these two nations. America would do well to recall Joseph's rise in Egypt. An Avrech, a "blessing," like ballast, the Jewish people's ascent, security and success carry all who side with them on a path to security, prosperity and blessing.

Shabbat Shalom!

© 2000 - 2011 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 and in memory of my beloved mother, Esther Melman, obm, Esther bat Baruch z"l.


http://seferchabibi.blogspot.com/2007/07/yahrzeit-of-my-father-27-tammuz.html
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506EEDC1630F93BA35754C0A9649C8B63

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/nytimes/obituary.aspx?n=esther-melman&pid=143745543

Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua
(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)

Friday, December 16, 2011

VAYESHEV; OF ABANDONMENT AND HOPE

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman


Clothing may at times betray our deepest wishes. And at times it may betray our deepest fears.When we dress for success it reflects the former. When we veil our women it reflects the latter.

In the Tamar and Yehudah narrative, Genesis 15:38 states:

"vayireha Yehudah vayachshevaha lezona ki chista paneha-
Judah saw her, and because she had covered her face, he assumed that she was a prostitute."

Note that because her face was veiled, he had assumed she was a prostitute. In fact, that was WHY she dressed that way. She WANTED him to assume that!

Note the odd vowelization in the word for "he assumed," or "thought"-vayachshVAHA. It might ordinarily be vocalized as vayachsheVEHA instead. But here it is not. Now VA means "in it"or "in her." This may signify that there is an element of psychological projection occuring. Not that he is assuming x,y, or z about her based on objective criteriae. Rather, his own fears are projected onto (into) her in his quick yet faulty summation of who she was.

He was driven by fear and guilt for having abandoned his brother Joseph. Guilt for and fear of abandonment had become defining forces in his personality makeup. He had spared his youngest son, Shelah, from the possibility of an untimely death only through abandoning Tamar and postponing/foregoing his levirite obligations. Er and Onan had died. Would Shelach be next? By abandoning Tamar and withholding her due, he would thus save his son. But at what price?

Now the levirite laws were intrinsically righteous in nature in ensuring the social security of a widow in her old age. It was the world's first social security program!

Psalm 71 declares: "al tashlicheni la'et ziknah, ki'chlot kochi al ta'azveni. Do not cast me off me in my old age. When my stength leaves me do not abandon me."

Having a child would serve to protect her from abandonment in her old age. Onan's deepest sin was in avoiding his obligation to protect his widowed sister-in-law in her old age (as well as perpetuating his dead brother's name). True onanism in its deepest sense is really then the willfull neglect of the widow, the elderly and all society's vulnerable!

We see in our parsha the recurring theme of abandonment. Joseph is abandoned in the pit, then abandoned in Egypt, and lastly - abandoned in prison. He wrestles with sexual temptation in the context of committing adultery with Potiphar's wife, thereby resulting in the potential abandonment of his sole connection to his family's moral code, a succumbing to the alien allures of Egyptian pagan culture. That he did not succumb was the reason he became known as Yosef HaTzaddik, Joseph the Righteous.

Prostitution reflects the disconnect between sex and obligation. It embodies abandonment at the deepest taboo level. Fear of abandonment leads to hatred of that which symbolizes it. That which is hated must be covered up or put away. Rather than seeing someone covered as modest and demur, he projects onto her the opposite, a reflection of his own inner demons and struggles.

A face connotes personality. Veiling the face reduces her to a sexual object, violating her humanity. Many Muslim women would protest this assertion, but they have bought into their own oppression in a Stockholm Syndrome-like way.

In Afghanistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia, as well as in most of the Islamic world, the Taliban and the imams fear the freedom and sexuality of women. More to the point, they fear their own sexuality and its associated drives and passions. They project their fears onto women and turn them into objects of fear and loathing so intense that they punish the victim for the sins of the predator! Rape victims are lashed at best, and killed for the family's honor at worst. They justify their veiling practices to fend against the predatious demons of male society in the name of guarding their women's sexual purity.

Ironically, according to the sartorial descriptions of the Torah as read in this week's parsha, their women thus assume the costume of the prostitute who must dwell in the utmost darkened cave-like fringes of society. Their society is thus shut off to the ideas and values of female energy and insight. Islamic society became unbalanced when it was open only to the aggressive tendencies of male energy, and thereby lost its vital center and devolved into an orgy of hatred and a lust for warfare.

The beauty of traditional Jewish notions of Tzniut, or modesty, lies in finding a balanced attitude towards sexuality. Embracing a wholesome view of sex, it sees it as intrinsically good and worthwhile. Yet while its energies are viewed as basically positive, there is a recognition that it best be channeled through the vessel of consecrated marriage, or Kiddushin, lest its urges become destructive and all-consuming.

The Eishes Chayil song/poem, which is sung at the Shabbat table each and every week, validates the woman of the marketplace, whose wisdom and insight nurtures and sustains both the family as well as the greater society, and whose industriousness contributes to society and helps provide for the poor and destitute. Men and women equally must learn to focus on their internal as well as external qualities, and thus both equally develop their truest potentials and input society with a harmonious balance of male and female energies.

And as the moral compass of Yehudah reasserted its sense of justice in doing right by Tamar and reversing her very real sense of abandonment, so too will the Jewish People come to reassert the centrality of Israel in their lives and give succor and support to her people through visiting. When family members are in trouble one goes to be with them in their time of need. And Israel must come to see that Jerusalem is the heart and vital center of world Jewry, just as Mecca is for the Moslem world and the Vatican is for Christendom.

The G*d of Israel saw Joseph overcome his sense of abandonment and led him breathtakingly up from his lowly slave status to the rank of grand vizier so as to be a conduit of salvation for his people. And just as the G*d of Israel saw justice for Tamar, reversing her abandonment and causing the ancestors of the messianic Davidic redeemer to descend from her womb, so too will the G*d of Israel today protect and redeem His people in their time of travail as woesome as any in their history.

Shabbat Shalom! Good Shabbos!

© 2000 - 2011 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 and in memory of my beloved mother, Esther Melman, obm, Esther bat Baruch z"l.


http://seferchabibi.blogspot.com/2007/07/yahrzeit-of-my-father-27-tammuz.html
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506EEDC1630F93BA35754C0A9649C8B63

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/nytimes/obituary.aspx?n=esther-melman&pid=143745543

Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua
(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)


Friday, December 2, 2011

VAYEITZEI; KISSING AND A WEEPING TONIGHT

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

Just as Esav "lifted his voice and wept"- (Gen 27:38), so too does Yaaqov when he meets Rachel (Gen 29:11): "Vayisa et qolo vayevk."

Identical language! What can we learn from this?

We all have a "low" voice, which we use in our material pursuits. But we also have a "high," or raised voice which we use in our deepest spiritual moments. Not high in volume, but high in spiritual vibration.

With Esav it was a plaintive cry of sorrow. But with Yaaqov it was a cry of joy. But just as Yaaqov is identified by his voice- his "qol," by lifting up his voice, Esav was finding his Yaaqovness within, that holy spark within himself, however late, that was worthy of a blessing from his father. And on the deepest level, by his words, he was "lifting up" his brother Yaaqov, euphemistically praying to heaven for Yaaqov to marry. By thus blessing his brother and wishing him joy, he merited blessing from his father, Yitzhaq, who found in his quiver of blessings one more left forEsav.

So just as Rachel looked for a soulmate for her sister, Leah, and ended up finding one for herself as well, so too did Esav pray on behalf of his brother Yaaqov, and benefited himself in the process. This is the deepest meaning of vayisa et kolo vayevk.

Now Rachel was *also* Yaaqov's soulmate. She was the "outer" soulmate, while Leah could actually be considered the "inner" soulmate. Just as Sarah was characterized by her outer beauty, which was actually merely a reflection and expression of her inner beauty, so too was mother Rachel- yefat toar viyfat mareh (Gen 29:17).

When Yaaqov meets Rachel he kisses her, which is actually a clever play on words with giving water- vayashaq vs. vayishaq (Gen 29:10,11).

This really is saying that when you give someone water, i.e., when you teach him Torah, you're touching the innermost soul part of that person. As water nourishes on the physical level, Torah nourishes and gives life on the soul level. Later we see kissing to be intrinsic to reunions of those who were separated and then reunited. Esav and Yaaqov weep when they later meet again. Similarly Yosef and his brothers weep when they reunite as Yosef reveals his true identity in Pharaoh's palace.

"Vayishaq" (and he kissed) also alludes to a kind of death, in the sense of passing from one state to another. A neshiqah, a kiss, is really a drawing out of the soul to encounter its soulmate. A nesheq, or a gun, in modern Hebrew, is really the means by which to draw out the soul of a person from THIS life and enable him to cross over into the next life.

Both Rachel and her sister Leah may have been destined to be Yaaqov's wives. How? We see it from what comes later, and we see it from what comes earlier- from after and from before.

We see it in that twelve tribes descended from them and from their respective handmaidens. All twelve were beneficiaries of the Abrahamic blessing. As Ishmael had twelve descended entities, so too did Yitzhaq achieve parallel blessing through his son, Yaaqov, both blessed "seed descendants" of Avraham. This is the argument from "later."And we see it in the argument from "sooner," in the earlier Cain and Abel narrative, where the three sons of Adam and Eve (Cain, Abel and Seth) parallel and foreshadow the three patriarchs.

Abraham is asked to kill Yitzhaq, but doesn't, thus achieving a tiqun, or a fixing for Cain's killing of Abel (first born killing the second born). Lamech had two wives (Gen 4:23), Adah and Tzillah. Chazal teach us that one was for beauty; the other, for procreation. Similarly, one of Yaaqov's wives was more loved (Rachel); the other was more for procreation (Leah). Indeed, Lamech says to them , shma'an qoli- listen to my voice. Qol, or voice, is always associated with Ya'aqov (haqol qol Ya'aqov).

There is a strong connection between the earliest Hebrews and the earliest humans, even relating specifically to the love between Yaaqov and his wives. Here is a hint:

Lamech says, (Gen 4:23): "I have killed a MAN by wounding, and a CHILD by bruising."

This is an allusion to Yaaqov's future deceit and clever trickery. First against his brother (the child)- when he cajoles and buys the birthrite from Esau in a famished state when he was out of his mind from hunger, while still a youth. And later on, years later when he tricks his father Yitzchaq (the man) by gaining the actual birthrite blessing via gross deception.

The final touch is when he then says "If Cain shall be revenged seven times, then for Lemech it shall be seventy seven times." That is, if someone were to seek vengeance for my misdeeds, the price shall be seven/seven. Esav sought to kill Ya'aqov. The result is now seven/seven. Seventy seven is also written as seven and seven. Seven years for Rachel and seven years for Leah!

The story of Lemech may be only a literary prefiguration for Yaaqov and the other Avoth. But it may also hint of a reincarnative/metempsychotic connection between the first humans and the first Hebrews!

Now that we understand that both Rachel and Leah were destined soulmates for Ya'aqov, we see in the text four hints of Leah's special connection toYa'aqov. The first hint is in Leah's name, and in the previous parsha's description of Ya'aqov as an "ish tam yoshev ohalim...a "perfect" man (Targum) who dwelled in tents. Why is ohel, or tent, expressed in the plural? The text could have said "yoshev ba'ohel,"i.e., in the singular. This plural expression may hint to his future association with Leah, for ohel in Hebrew, is an acronym of Leah!

One ohel so as referring to his actual proclivity for dwelling in tents, the other ohel suggestive of his soul's proclivity for reuniting with Leah. A second hint of Leah's special soul connection to Yaaqov was in the Torah's description of Leah, referring to her eyes:(Gen29:17) ve'eynei Leah rakot...and Leah's eyes were "lovely," or "soft."

Traditionally, we usually associate eyes with the inner, soul level, while beauty and good looks, are usually associated with the outside level (or at times as a manifestation or expression of an inner beauty). Leah's description focuses exclusively on her eyes, the proverbial windows to the soul.

The third example is based on a comparison with other Biblical women who conceived and had children before their "competetive" wives or concubines. Hagar mocks and ridicules Sarah. Likewise in Judges, Peninah mocks and ridicules Hannah, who remained barren for many years. Not so Leah!

Although she outpaces Rachel many times over before she (Rachel) could have children, nevertheless the text gives no indication of any scorn or mockery on her part towards her sister. This is quite laudatory, and is so valorized by the text. As a result, she partakes in the blessing of fulfilling the Abrahamic line and blessing through *her* children as well. Her experience lies outside the typical pattern, whereby usually the woman who remains barren for many years and subsequently gives birth has exclusive claims to blessings of her lineage. This was not the case with Leah, and so is further evidence of a soul connection with Yaaqov and bearer of the seed of Abraham (zera Avraham).

The fourth hint of Leah's special soul relationship with Yaaqov is in a class all by itself, worthy of its own careful treatment. The four sons of Leah reenact in miniature the struggle of merit versus birth order that is played out in many Biblical fraternal conflict scenarios- Yitzhak and Ishmael, Ya'akov and Esav, to name just two. Here the first two by birth order, Reuven and Shimon, are played against Leah's second pair- Levi and Yehudah. Each of the first two are eventually cursed by their father,whereas the last two are held out for special blessings. Each pair of brothers correlates to the traditional single brothers in their birthrite primogenitural struggles.

With regard to the first pair of Leah's sons, Reuven is cursed for allegedly moving his father's bed; Shimon is cursed for his wanton, gratuitous unrepentant violence committed against Shechem.

And with regard to the second pair of Leah's sons, "Levi" does teshuvah on the tribal level for partaking in the same act as Shimon, by rechanneling his passion at the Golden Calf episode. He goes on to wear the mantle and robes of Israel's priesthood. Yehudah initially fails by his actions in the sale of Yosef, then redeems himself through his actions with regard to Binyamin later in the Joseph narrative. He subsequently wins his father's blessing and would later wear the mantle and crown of Israel's future monarchy. As this struggle is played out with Leah's sons, but not with the sons of Rachel, it suggests a special kind of relationship between Ya'akov and Leah, akin to that of the other patriarchal marital units. Hence they all similarly share burial privileges in Machpelah- the cave of the "couples."

While we all seek our soulmates in life, we should understand that our truest soulmates are staring back at us in the mirror. We need to look forward to that day when we reunite with our true selves, and become the righteous person each of us was meant to become when we took the angelic oath upon leaving the womb (BT Niddah). As long as we keep standing near the well of Torah, we increase our chances of discovering that true-self soulmate.

We may break many hearts when we go through life. And our hearts similarly may become broken many times. Our expectations may be dashed, our hopes may be shattered. But then we realize that all the doors we go through are but ladders to ascend up to the next level of experience, where we may hope to achieve a healing.

Indeed, we also learn that to heal ourselves, we best start with first healing others. And in the process we move beyond our own pain and bring healing and blessing to everyone. May the weeping and crying we experience from sadness, become soon a weeping and crying that we experience from joy. As the psalmist says, "Hazorim bedimah berinah yiktzoru - may they who sow in sorrow, soon come to reap in gladness." May our tears of sadness become tears of joy! Amen.

Shabbat Shalom. Good Shabbos!

© 2000 - 2011 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 and in memory of my beloved mother, Esther Melman, obm, Esther bat Baruch z"l.


http://seferchabibi.blogspot.com/2007/07/yahrzeit-of-my-father-27-tammuz.html
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506EEDC1630F93BA35754C0A9649C8B63

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/nytimes/obituary.aspx?n=esther-melman&pid=143745543

Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua
(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)

Friday, November 25, 2011

TOLDOT: HOLY NAMES/HOLY LAUGHTER

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman



Our name is our essence, the keenest description of our most innate beingness. In Parashat Toldot we experience the birth and the naming of Ya'akov and Esav, the disparate twins of Yitzhak and Rivka. Ya'akov means supplanter, or heel, the ergonomically accessible point by which to pull another back and pass him by in the process, in the very same instant.

The blessings which accrue to Ya'akov give the Divine imprimatur to the Biblical idea of merit over birth order, of moral primacy over primogeniture. Yitzhak's rising over Ishmael was arguably won by dint of the power struggles between Sarah/wife and Hagar/handmaid-concubine, beyond solely the purity of the merit of the children.

But with the ascendancy of the younger Ya'akov over the older Esav, there is no question that they shared the same set of parents; all control factors accounted for; everything else being equal. The name Ya'akov in its deepest essence alludes to the ikvei mashiach, the footsteps of the annointed one, the future redeemer.

The age of redemption will be characterized by the vainquishing of the stronger by the weaker, of the still small voice of quiet prayer over the gluttonous, raucous, brutish impetuosity of strength and power and might. Hakol kol ya'akov ("the voice is the voice of Jacob") will win in the end over hayadayim y'dei esav ("but the hands are the hands of Esau").

Esav means "done," already made, his spiritual growth already completed by the time he left the womb. The name Esav has the rank odor of fermentation on the brink of spoilage, of the psychological security of amassed comforting false remembrances of the glory of things past asserting domination over the hope, aspirations and promise of the emerging moment of a new day that is dawning.

Yitzhak himself achieves fulfillment, by earning in the end his own name. Avimelech is gazing out his window (Gen 26:8) "and saw, and lo and behold, Yitzhak was "enjoying himself" with his wife Rivka:

....vayar vehiney Yitzhak mitzahek eyt Rivka ishto."

Well, finally Yitzhak himself is living his name, whatever it may mean. Does anyone remember "laughter" in the Torah? In Lech Lecha, (Gen 17:17) Avraham laughs when G*d tells him that he and the newly named Sarah will have a son in their old age. Further on, in Vayera, Sarah now laughs (Gen 18:12) when she overhears the angel/man saying, "your wife Sarah will have a son." Later, however, in the same parasha, Sarah sees the son of Hagar "mitzachek-ing" with Yitzhak, which our holy commentaries say possibly allude to sex-play or scornful mockery.

Why was Ishmael's behavior seen as unworthy by the text in light of Sarah's insistence that Hagar and son be expelled on account of it, whereas it is seen as valorized and worthy when performed by Avraham, Sarah, and now, by Yitzhak himself? That is because, like the gift of speech, laughter itself is holy and must never be misused.

In all three of the latter cases, the laughter took place in the presence of the holy. Avraham's laughter took place in the presence of G*d, Sarah's likewise was in the presence of the angels, emissaries of the Divine. Finally Yitzhak's holy laughter took place in the presence of Avimelekh's glimpse into a Divinely granted vision of the future. How's that?

It says (Gen 26:8), Vayehi ki archu lo sham hayamim.... customarily translated as "when he had been there a long time." It could also be read deeply and metaphorically as "when "they" made his days long," alluding to a Divinely granted vision of the eschaton, the end of history, a long day, when all will be in a constant state of Shabbat, a yom she kulo Shabbat, a "day" which is entirely like Shabbat.

At the end of time Yitzhak will be Mitzachek, i.e., we, his descendants, will be in a state of holy bliss brought about by the awareness of being in the Presence of the Divine. On Shabbat we experience a temporary vision of the Yom SheKulo Shabbat, of the bliss which awaits the righteous at the end of days.

And "archu" is prefigurative of the psalmist's "orech yamim asbiayhu va'arayhu beyeshuati...(Tehillim 91) "With long life I will satisfy him, and I will show him my salvation." i.e., "he will witness the salvation I will bring about at the advent of the Messianic age." This, on the deepest level, is the meaning of Avimelech's gaze, connecting Yitzchak to the Divine laughter awaiting each of us in the end of days. Here (Gen 26:8), the "hashkafa" of Avimelekh precedes the ultimate Revelation of the end of days.

Divine laughter, holy laughter, is the celebration of all life on earth, that everything occurs according to G*d's plan, following the teleological timeline to cosmogonic bliss. But Hagar's son's laughter was mocking laughter, not the laughter of the Divine Presence. He had crossed that fine line and Sarah's holy intuition perceived it. He is called here (parshat Vayera) in the text "ben-Hagar" purposely on account that he had learned the art of mockery from his own mother, who had herself scorned and mocked Sarai when she had conceived while Sarai had not.

The three angels gazed (vayishkefu) at Sodom (Gen:18:16), immediately prior to G*d's revelation of His plans for the city to Avraham. There, "hashkafa" (gazing) immediately precedes revelation. Likewise, Avimelekh's gaze prefigures awareness of the ultimate redemption.

May we all, like Yitzchak, live our true essence, becoming the persons we were destined to be, and in our own worthy way, help bring about the vision of Avimelekh and taste the salvation of that long day, when the great light shall shine forth from Zion, and when all darkness shall be banished.

Shabbat Shalom. Good Shabbos.

© 2000 - 2011 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 and in memory of my beloved mother, Esther Melman, obm, Esther bat Baruch z"l.


http://seferchabibi.blogspot.com/2007/07/yahrzeit-of-my-father-27-tammuz.html
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506EEDC1630F93BA35754C0A9649C8B63

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/nytimes/obituary.aspx?n=esther-melman&pid=143745543

Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua
(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)

Monday, November 21, 2011

CHAYEI SARAH; SYNCHRONIZED AT EVENTIDE

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman



Avraham's partner in kindness, Sarah, had just left the world. She lit the lamps of kindness in their home. Their home was the first mishkan, and in a sense she was the first Kohen Gadol, the High Priest who lit the lamps each day in the future Holy Temple. As in the story of Chanukah, the lamp must be kept lit continously.

Since his mother Sarah's passing, Yitzchak was now in deep pain. A holy spouse was needed to actively partner with him in bringing G*d's light into the world. In both senses. Literally with light, and figuratively through kindness and compassion. She would be the lightkeeper.

Our tradition teaches how important it is to find a worthy spouse who is emblematic of the overarching qualities of kindness and compassion. One is allowed to even take leave of Eretz Yisrael if need be, so important is a worthy spouse. She would be a holy bride to fill the vacuum in his soul left by his mother Sarah's passing. She would bring a shining Light of Chesed, of kindness, to restore the light and lustre, indeed the holy joy that the family once knew.

But while Eliezer engaged in the physical effort to procure a spouse, the beneficiary of these efforts, Yitzhak *himself,* had to desire it and pray for it to happen. And in fact he does pray, meditating in the field "towards evening." Note the common usage of the word "erev," or evening, in our narrative."

vayavrech hag'malim michutz la'ir el be'er hamayim Le"ET EREV, LE'ET tzeit hashoavot...

He (Eliezer) let the camels rest on their knees outside the city, beside the well; it was at the timeof evening, at the time when women go out to draw water(Gen 24:11).

Let us ask, why is the word ET (time) doubled: the "time of evening" and the "time of the going out of the water drawers?" If everybody knows that the time of drawing water is in the evening, then why repeat the phrase, "in the evening?" That would verge on the redundant. As the Sages teach, no word in the Torah is extraneous!

The answer is in verse 63, where Yitzhak goes out to meditate in the field TOWARDS evening, i.e., before the evening. According to our narrative Eliezer arrives at the evening. As it was his wont to pray before the evening, the text would suggest that Yitzhak's deep prayers had a remarkable and direct efficacy. Synchronicity. Hashem is called the "bochen levavot," the seer of the depths of our hearts' deepest desires. When hearts are united prayer becomes stronger.

Indeed no two hearts were more united than Avraham's and Yitzhak's after the Akeidah. It was "towards evening" when the Akeidah occured (it was clearly not dark yet because Avraham "saw the ram" in the thicket), and thus was now especially designated as the time of Yitzhak's deepest prayers. This was forever to be the time window that was uniquely his own, the most propitious and efficacious for all his future prayers. Mincha was his special time, his window to deep experiential happenings - his own "near death" experience, and his time of first meeting his future bride.

So just as Yitzchak was praying for his soulmate, so too was Eliezer praying that Yitzchak's soulmate should appear. Erev means "evening," but it also means "mixing." In the case of evening it is the "mixing" of light and darkness. Similarly, Areivut (ERV) means "responsibility." The connection is that we- all Israel- are responsible for one another. But this idea of "erev," of the "mixing of the light" at eventide, the time of praying for one's soulmate, goes even deeper.

Eliezer has taken a journey out of Abraham's orbit, from out of a place of pure light to a land of idolatry, to a place of spiritual darkness. But suddenly here was Rivka (Rebecca) engaged in acts of kindness, of chesed, to both man and "beast" (camels). To all living things. She is a light in the darkness. She is a light mixed in with the darkness- a mixing of the light and the darkness. She *is* erev.

And it is at that eventide moment that three things happen simultaneously, in perfect harmonic convergence: when she takes responsibility for her own kindness, when Eliezer takes responsibility for finding his master's son a soulmate, and when Yitzchak is praying for all of the above. Through prayer, cosmic forces become arrayed to synchronistically aid and abet spiritually ennobling aims.

Rivka in her own right represents the aspect of pure chesed. She is the opposite of Isaac's antithetical quality of gevurah, or restriction, thus renewing Abraham and Sarah's kindness paradigm. And we should be cognizant of the fact that we, all of us, as her children, are stamped with her seal of kindness. We are known as Rachmanim B'nei Rachmanim- Merciful Ones, Children of Merciful Ones. We are Children of the Light- the Light of Sarah's Tent.

But owing to the fervent and simultaneous prayers of all three-of Yitzchak, Eliezer and Rivka, we should also be known as the Children of the Evening. Both erev in the sense of evening as well aserev in the sense of areivut- pleasantness. And finally, it is in the sense of being responsible for one another, as in Kawl Yisrael areivim zeh bazeh - "all Israel is responsible one for the other."

There are those who take responsibility for the repair of their souls - their innerworld, and there are those who take responsibility for the repair of the cosmos- their outerworld. But
here is the question: why can't we have both?

Shabbat Shalom! Good Shabbos!

© 2000 - 2011 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 and in memory of my beloved mother, Esther Melman, obm, Esther bat Baruch z"l.


http://seferchabibi.blogspot.com/2007/07/yahrzeit-of-my-father-27-tammuz.html
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506EEDC1630F93BA35754C0A9649C8B63

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/nytimes/obituary.aspx?n=esther-melman&pid=143745543

Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua
(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)

VAYERA; REVELATION ALL AROUND US

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman



There is a Talmudic expression that salvation can come in the "blink of an eye,""b'heref ayin." That refers to the kind of salvation that is waiting in the wings for the propitious moment. But in our parsha, Va'yera, we learn of another kind of salvation- the salvation that was always right in front of us before our very eyes, but because of depression and sadness we sometimes fail to see it. The truth is, if we are aware of it, every moment in life is full of salvific potential.

Hagar, alone in the wilderness with her son, Ishmael, felt that they were on the verge of death, their water having run out. Their situation looked very bleak. But the angel appears and "opens her eyes," enabling her to see that which was there all along. The veil was lifted and salvation was assured. Nourished by the waters of their new-found well of water, Ishmael's life was spared, and G*d's promise of continuity of his lineage was assured.

It is interesting to contrast the imagery of G*d's "opening of Hagar's eyes (vayifkach Elo*im et eyneha-Gen 21:19)" to facilitate salvation, with that of Avraham's "lifting of his eyes (vayisa Avraham et eynav-Gen 22:13)," in the Akeidah narrative, when he sees the ram to use as a substitute offering for Yitzhak. In his case his action (the binding of Isaac) preceded the miraculous sighting. Therefore his seeing is expressed in the active voice. In her case it was just the reverse! Having given birth on Sarah's lap in a sense she was bound (akeidah) on Sarah's altar, as a passive player who was acted upon. Hence her seeing is similarly expressed in a passive voice. G*d had to open her eyes. She couldn't do it herself.

Her eyes were opened and she saw. The "sighting" was always there, yet was not perceived. The miracle was already there. Her eyes just had to be opened to perceive it. The same is true for us. We can see the events that happen to us in our alives as mere coincidences. Or we can "open up our eyes" and thereby see them for the miracles and acts of Divine Providence that they really are.

An image is but a frequency, a valence or expression of light waves. Light which is visible to us as humans is but a minute fraction of the spectrum of "lightwaves," which include infrared light, ultraviolet light, UHF, VHF, and radio "light," among many other forms of vibrating light frequencies. It is said that prophecy is but an ability to perceive these otherwise hidden forms of reality, which although taking place in the future, being images of light, thus similarly travel at the speed of light. Divine light and the "light stored for the end of days"- the "ohr haganooz,"are but different points on the light spectrum waiting to be revealed to humanity.

In other words, the radio waves and the television waves and the infrared waves and the ultraviolet waves are ALWAYS all around us all the time but we must take some action in order to actually perceive them. For us it is turning on the television or the radio. For Hagar it was as simple as merely opening her eyes. And for Abraham he just had to lift up his eyes. Our eyes must therefore be always open and raised up to similarly perceive the miraculous Divine aspect of reality. We can choose not to see it, and yet it is always there.

It is therefore no mere coincidence that the symbol for the redemption of humanity at the beginning of time is the rainbow, a refraction, or revelation of the variegated colors hidden within the range of "normal," or visible light. The redemption of humanity at the end of time, the eschaton, will similarly be heralded by a profusion of newly revealed light, of light which was formerly hidden.

The mind is a sophisticated filtering mechanism, limiting our perception to the tiniest fraction of the light spectrum. The olam haba (the world to come) promises us a fantastic array of perception along the entire frequency. Indeed the word for brain in Hebrew is mo-ach, which means to erase or wipe away (Moses says to G*d: m'cheni na- erase me - from your book). The brain erases all the non-permitted frequencies. Only prophets or those with a genetic mutation or Divine gift to perceive extra frequencies, people whom we call psychics, are able to perceive a reality across time and space while the average mortal cannot.

And we say "time erases the pain." It is not time per se that erases the pain, but rather that the brain allows the passage of time to assuage the pain so that we can function in the world. G*d doesn't forget our pain. And neither does our neshama. It's all stored in there somewhere. But forgiveness has the power to truly erase it and bring a sense of closure and healing.

Ishmael becomes an expert archer. It is all very symbolic. It's all about continuity and covenant. The promise of continuity of Abraham's lineage through Ishmael is symbolized by the "keshet," or rainbow imagery. In Hebrew, the word for both archery BOW and rain BOW is the same. Hagar places Ishmael a bow shot away- "harchek k'mitachavei keshet (Gen 21:16)," so as not to see the death of her son. And then in verse 20 the text informs us that he grew up to be an expert archer, "vayehi roveh kashat." What is the point in our knowing of his archery skills?

The point of the doubling of the word "keshet" (KSHT) is to remind us of the first promise of continuity made by G*d to the human race writ large, in the placement of a rainbow in the heavens, as a sign for all time of G*d's promise to humanity to never again bring a flood. The continuity of humankind is assured via covenantal sign. This is followed ten generations later with the covenantal promise of continuity to Avraham and his offspring.

Through Avraham's lineage humanity would once again restore its connection to G*d consciousness. Ishmael, in his sharing of the sign of the covenant - circumcision, with his father, was thus assured a parallel track of blessing and continuity with that of his brother, Yitzhak. As twelve tribes would emanate, by way of Yaakov, from Yitzhak's loins, so too would twelve Arabian tribes emerge from Ishmael (Gen 25:13-15).

Note, too, the proximity and immediacy of TaSHK and KaSHaT in verses 19 and 20- "vatashk et hanaar (she gave the lad to drink)" in conjunction with "vayehi roveh kashat (and he became an expert archer)." What sense can we make of this telling pallandrome? The answer speaks volumes of the nature of salvation itself.

Crying out (prayer) is the first stage in salvation. The third stage is the salvation itself. But the most necessary stage- the middle stage, is that of active human involvement! The words are hinting, if we read with "opened eyes," that the most crucial component of salvation is the human component. We must always hope for a miracle, but we must do all we can ourselves to facilitate it. If we just take the first step to begin the process, G*d will help us finish it. It wasn't enough for Hagar just to have the "vision" of seeing the well. Without actively "giving drink" through her own intervention no one would have been saved. Her human action was the spark that triggered the salvation.

Although a promise was made by G*d assuring blessing and progeny to Ishmael (Gen 17:20), active human involvement was yet necessary for the blessing to come to fruition. Hagar needed to "give drink" to the lad. Like Nachshon ben Avinadav whose jumping into the sea triggered the parting of the sea, human action must necessarily precede salvation. To win the lottery one must first actually buy a ticket.

And in between the two scales of human prayer and Divine redemption lies the fulcrum of angelic intervention. Just as Avraham's visitors in the opening of the parsha were angels in human form, whenever *we* help someone who needs us in that moment- whether physically, emotionally or financially, we have then become angels ourselves, bringing merit, redemption and salvation, not only in that one moment, but in the emanating wave-like ripples that echo through time and eternity.

Shabbat Shalom. Good Shabbos!

© 2000 - 2011 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 and in memory of my beloved mother, Esther Melman, obm, Esther bat Baruch z"l.


http://seferchabibi.blogspot.com/2007/07/yahrzeit-of-my-father-27-tammuz.html
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506EEDC1630F93BA35754C0A9649C8B63

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/nytimes/obituary.aspx?n=esther-melman&pid=143745543

Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua
(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)

NOACH; A CHANGE IN THE NATURE

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman


Let's see. Take two of every species. Seven pairs of the kosher (clean) species (Gen 7:2). And take food for them all as well. Lions and tigers, leopards, panthers and bobcats are all carnivores by nature. And yet they ostensibly were vegetarian while on board the ark. Otherwise the antelope, elk, sheep, zebra and deer would nowhere be found once the hatches were opened.

Maybe even Noah and his family might be missing as well!

Where else do we see allusions to dietary tranformation? At the eschaton, the end of days, when Isaiah's oft misquoted prophetic vision of the "lion and the lamb" shall come to pass:

Isaiah 11:6-9, "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion..."

In other words, there will one day be a complete evolutionary leap in creation with a change in the basic drives and instincts throughout the animal kingdom, including man. Just as in the short time aboard the ark, so too in the future will this vast and magnificent transformation occur.

The seven Noahide laws are a key stepping stone towards mankind's moral evolution. Murder, incest/promiscuity, kidnapping/stealing, blasphemy, idolatry, cruelty to animals, and judges/law courts/police. These seven categories are symbolically represented by the seven colors of the rainbow, the sign of the Covenant with humanity.

The messianic age will reveal all that lay submerged and hidden from the time of Creation and the Noahide Creation redux. The Ohr Haganooz, the hidden supernal light from the time of Creation, the light that existed prior to the creation of the heavenly bodies, will one day be revealed. The temporary change in the carnivorous nature of the animal kingdom will become a new and permanent condition. Finally, the waters of the earth will one day become sweet. In Gen 8:2 it says vayiSaCHRu maayanot tehom. This is usually translated as "the waters of the deep were sealed." But the root of vayiSaCHRu is sucar, meaning "sugar," in Hebrew.

Basically, this means that the words of Torah, which are often compared to water, will one day transform the world and all that is in it only when their message is sweet. The whole world will be drawn to G*d's word when those who live it and teach it are its worthy bearers and convey its sweetness through their thoughts, words and deeds. By the same token, when its message is blurred by the misdeeds of its bearers, it sets the clock back and delays the final redemption. May we, the descendants of Noah, who in his righteousness merited redemption in his day, come to know the true and sweet redemption in our own.

Shabbat Shalom!
Good Shabbos!

© 2000 - 2011 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 and in memory of my beloved mother, Esther Melman, obm, Esther bat Baruch z"l.


http://seferchabibi.blogspot.com/2007/07/yahrzeit-of-my-father-27-tammuz.html
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506EEDC1630F93BA35754C0A9649C8B63

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/nytimes/obituary.aspx?n=esther-melman&pid=143745543

Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua
(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

BREISHEET; GUARDIAN OF EDEN


by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

The ultimate challenge in life is in giving back, in repaying the Source of Life for the gifts which we have freely received. Paid forward, we have yet to earn them. Through giving back, whether by tzedaka (righteousliving), tefilah (self-judgment) or teshuva (turning to G*d), gemilut chasadim (deeds of loving kindness) or learning Torah, we restore equilibrium both to ourselves and to the world.

Our parsha this week, B'reisheet, deals with the subject of taking. While our emphasis in life should properly belong to giving, it is important to understand some of the deeper meanings of taking. The very first act of "taking" (kicha) in the Torah, is when "G*d TOOK the man and placed him inthe Garden of Eden to work it and to guard it." (Gen 2:15). But then we were flawed and proved unworthy of remaining in our pristine surroundings until we could earn our way back to return with a greater maturity. Man was told to guard the Garden, but in just the next chapter (Gen 3:22):

"And G*d said, man has now become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now he must be prevented from putting forth his hand and also TAKING from the Tree of Life. He can eat it and live forever."

Ironically, man who was to guard the Garden is now himself to be guarded FROM the Garden by the cheruvim, the holy cherubs, at the east of Eden, along with the LAHAT HA-CHEREV HA-MIT'HAPECHET to guard the path of the Tree of Life. This LAHAT HA-CHEREV HA-MIT'HAPECHET is usually translated as "revolving sword blade." I would rather translate it as a "flaming sword which makes everything seem the opposite."

In otherwords, were we to pass through and gain entrance to the Garden, we would finally glimpse the world of truth (olam ha-emet), where everything is how it should be. In our world, the world of falsehood (olam ha-sheqer), the wicked often prosper and the good often suffer. The Sabbath (Shabbat) is that opportunity to transport ourselves back to the Garden, to catch but a fleeting glimpse of the olam ha-emeth. Indeed, the Sabbath is called me'eyn olam haba, "a taste (aspect) of the world to come." On the Sabbath, even the flaming swords of Eden have a day of rest, paralleling the fires of gehennom ("hades") which are said to also abate on this day.

Finally, though not chronologically, we have the TAKING of the man's bone, in the building of woman (Gen 2:21). The word bone in English comes from the Hebrew, because the woman was built from man's bone. VayiVeN means he built. The bones are the building blocks, the support scaffolding of the human body. Without bones we would be slithering on the ground like the snake.

Now if man is considered to be the crown of creation, then woman, appearing as she does on the proverbial scene after man, is therefore the CROWN of the CROWN of creation. That is, if every creature formed later than any other creature is said to be on a higher level, then how much more so, our tradition teaches, is woman on a higher spiritual level than man. That is why chazal, the sages of blessed memory, taught that the time-designated mitzvoth are especially helpful for men in order for them to attain that spiritual level already held by women. Women by their very nature are sensitive to time, and thus are more sensitive and more aware of the Master of Time- He who was, who is, and who always will be(YKVK).

Men, it is said, therefore need the time-bound mitzvoth to fill a lacking, to develop a higher awareness of the Creator of Time. If man is considered to have been created Beyn ha-Shemashot, on the proverbial twilight of the sixth day, moments before the first Sabbath, then woman, created last, is truly Beyn ha-Shemashot BEYN ha-Shemashot. She truly understands (binah) time.

When a woman kindles the two (or more) Sabbath lights, the shabbos licht, she is really on the deepest level recreating the two flaming swords of the cherubs. The woman is the guardian of the holiness of the Sabbath in the Jewish home, like the cherubs assigned to be the Guardians of Eden. The woman in a sense inherits the cherubic mandate.

When a man and a woman marry, there is also an act of kicha, of "taking." But this idea of "taking" should never be misunderstood in its crass sense. Rather, it is an allusion to that original taking with regard to woman that was first mentioned in the Torah. His taking now completes the circle, in that he is now taking that woman who had been first taken from him, from his bone.

The union of a man and a woman harkens back to the first union of Adam and Eve. They are symbolically (re) joined as one flesh, combining the male and female energies to continue humanity and to make a new beginning. The Sheva Brachos, the seven blessings of the wedding ceremony, richly alludes to this promise of new beginnings.

As the Holy Temple burned in the flames and came crashing down, cinder by cinder, fiery ember by fiery ember, the cherubs above the holy ark were locked in a loving embrace. Their swords of fire were now transformed into loving embraces, the true meaning of Lahat ha-Cherev ha-Mit'hapechet- the transforming sword of fire, where a CHeReV(sword/combatant) would be transformed into a CHaVeR (com-panion, i.e., sharing both pain and bread -see French "pain").

In our lives today, we see so much pain and so much fire in our relationships. Our challenge is to transform our feelings of deep pain into feelings of empathy for others and into good deeds and acts of kindness. Only when we take responsibility for our pain and for the pain of others and become holy embracers, we shall then find ourselves back in the Garden.

Shabbat Shalom! Good Shabbos!


© 2000 - 2011 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 and in memory of my beloved mother, Esther Melman, obm, Esther bat Baruch z"l.


http://seferchabibi.blogspot.com/2007/07/yahrzeit-of-my-father-27-tammuz.html
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506EEDC1630F93BA35754C0A9649C8B63

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/nytimes/obituary.aspx?n=esther-melman&pid=143745543

Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua
(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)

Friday, October 7, 2011

YOM HA K'PURIM: A YOM KIPPUR THOUGHT


by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

When the Torah calls the holiest day of the year Yom HaKippurim, on a deeper level it saying that the day is actually Yom K'Purim, meaning "a day like Purim." And if Yom Kippur is likened to Purim, then on some level one could actually say that Purim is even deeper, in that it is the root holiday after which Yom Kippur is modelled.

Yes, Purim is historically post-Biblical, while Yom Kippur, being Biblical in origin came earlier, but in matters of Divine Truth there is no past or future. It's all happening in the eternal moment. Time is but a function of our human dimension. It lacks relevance from the perspective of the other worlds. Time slows down as we approach the speed of light. And at the speed of G*d there is no past present or future, just as G*d lives simultaneously in the past, present and future. You can be reincarnated into the past just as easily as you can be reincarnated into the future. As we stand before the Aron Kodesh, with our whole future before us, so too is our whole past stretched before us on the heavenly surround sound wide screen projection video.

On Purim we celebrate the vanquishing of evil. Haman is always in pursuit of Mordechai. Mordechai, always one step ahead, escapes his clutches. Esther represents that part of us which takes the leap of faith. Like Esther, we put ourselves on the line, throwing ourselves at the mercy of the king for our very lives. With every fiber of her being and every ounce of energy she summoned her holy chutzpah to plead for her deliverance. Haman, representing evil incarnate, must nevertheless pay homage to Mordechai, who triumphantly leads him through the streets of Shushan.

So too, on Yom Kippur, we realize that while we despair at the sins we may have committed, in the end they may ultimately be harnessed in the service of the good. In the end, the crimson thread turns to white as the High Priest proclaims our atonement. In the place where a Baal Teshuvah stands, holding in his hands a tattered, well-worn valise of sins, no Tzaddik can stand. Still, we are wont to give in to despair because as we aspire in holiness and piety the evil inclination is never far behind.

We often become discouraged in our spiritual strivings because the higher we ascend in our spiritual progress, like Mordechai's ascent in the court of the king, so too do the forces of negativity seem to increase their vigor, and like Haman, nearly succeed in dragging us down into the abyss. The secular world claims the religious sin because of hypocricy, perhaps to justify its antinomian predilections. But the truth is that the greater the Tzaddik, the greater the evil inclination, as its sole desire is to distract and weaken and eventually annul the tzaddik's soul desire. Our mission is to overcome and not surrender.

And yet we revel on this day in the sure knowledge that in the end the evil decree will be anulled, the evil inclination will be vainquished, and like Esther we will soon be dining at the feast of the Great King. On Yom Kippur, the King of Kings holds out His golden sceptre to each of us, thereby anulling the evil decree. That is why Yom Kippur is the most joyous of all holidays. Solemn, perhaps, but certainly joyous. May Hashem's messengers on horseback race to the far ends of the kingdom proclaiming that each and every one of us are sealed in the Book of Life.

Gemar Chatimah Tovah!

© 2000 - 2011 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

P.S. The tzaddik in the above is one who valiantly wrestles with his yetzer hara, as opposed to a complete, true Tzaddik, a Tzaddik Gamur, who is in the rarified ranks of those who have completely dominated and subjugated their evil inclination. Among them are the lamedvavniks, 36 in all, clothed in secrecy, whose existence is said to sustain the world. They are the pillars of the world, known for their kind and unassuming natures.


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 and in memory of my beloved mother, Esther Melman, obm, Esther bat Baruch z"l.


http://seferchabibi.blogspot.com/2007/07/yahrzeit-of-my-father-27-tammuz.html
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506EEDC1630F93BA35754C0A9649C8B63

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/nytimes/obituary.aspx?n=esther-melman&pid=143745543

Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua
(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)

Monday, October 3, 2011

SHABBAT SHUVAH: ANSWER YOUR SOUL


by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman 


The maftir reading which we read on Yom Kippur, taken from Parshat Pinchas, Numbers 29:7, says "u'be'asur lachodesh hash'viee hazeh mikra kodesh yih'yeh lachem VI'INITEM et nafshoteychem kawl melacha lo ta'asu.

To wit: "the tenth day of this seventh month shall be a sacred holy day to you and: TYPICAL TRANSLATION: you shall afflict your souls and not do any manner of work."

Talmud Yoma (77a) dissects its meaning and comes to include all the prohibited behaviors of the day, noting that it especially means to fast. Hence we use the term TAANIT for connoting a fast day, such as Taanit Esther, which shares the same root. But perhaps an an alternative translation can offer a new insight: you shall ANSWER your souls! The infinitive verb form of the word LA'ANOT means "to answer." Note that the verb form is written in the PI'EL construct-VI'INITEM- which would serve to accentuate and emphasize its impact. REALLY ANSWER YOUR SOUL.

In Parshat Sh'mot, Exodus 1:12, we have the same verb- "vecha'asher y'ANU oto, ken yirbeh v'chen yifrotz... But the more they (the Egyptians) oppressed them, the more they (Israel) proliferated and spread."

So here it makes sense from the plain, peshat, meaning that it means "oppress," or "afflict." Now this is very deep. Usually when we answer someone we indeed end up afflicting them in some way. We often have some underlying need to dump on someone who genuinely needs help. As we have been dumped on all our lives by others, we sometimes have the urge to pass on the negativity of our own experiences onto others. Inquiry is seen as weakness, a seeming invitation for further oppression. Dialogue as weakness. Peculiar, yet the reigning motif of political conflict, especially in the MidEast.

In Exodus, the Israelites had just enjoyed generations of basking in the Egyptian goodwill stemming from Joseph's economic intervention which saved the country from utter ruin. Now they suddenly found themselves as slaves (ibid:8-11). Suddenly they were on the wrong side. Indeed overnight their whole world was turned upside down! They asked,"why?" and so "they answered them (read: oppressed them)..."

When one places suffering within a context of meaning it can be dealt with and tolerated. Many generations having lapsed, the new generation of Egypt lost the context for their suffering; their hardship became too much to bear. Meanwhile a prosperous Israel thrived among them in neighboring Goshen. The disparity aroused jealousy, another source of great psychic pain. Israel felt betrayed by the king and the society they had placed all their hopes in, indeed had staked their future upon. In whom should our trust really be placed?

Now in our parsha, Ha'azinu, we ask: what is the question and what is the answer? What pain has been inflicted on me, and how do I refrain from consciously or unconsciously passing it on to others? In this season of deepest reflection and self-accounting (cheshbon hanefesh), as we stand figuratively before the King of Kings, we ask, "why are we here? What is the ultimate purpose of our lives? What is the point of my life? What is the point of being Jewish?"

Not "why are we the eternal people," for that is a given, being that it is a Divine oath, but "what are we to do with this eternality?" Will we be IN the garden or OUT of the garden? In the Torah blessing we intone: "vechayey olam nata betochenu- and eternal life you hath planted in our midst." Will we seek shelter amidst the branches under the protective shade of the TREE of LIFE, which is Torah? Or will we we spurn this gift- the Torah, whose mitzvoth and teachings are literally the keys to our soul's eternal life?"


Ha'azinu hashamayim- Give ear O Heavens...vetishma ha'aretz- and Hear O Earth..."Heaven and Earth were the first born in Creation, partnering with G*d in the Creation of all that was to follow. Being the first of Creation they represent all that is potential. Humankind, being the last of Creation, represents the fulfillment of that potential. The Torah, the Sinaitic Revelation, takes us one step further and asks us to go BEYOND our potential.


And finally, the Messianic Age represents the fulfillment of that "going beyond." The Pagan Idea represented the eternal cyclicity of life. The Judaic Revolution realigned human consciousness to synchronize with the DNA blueprint, substituting the two dimensional pagan circle theory which has no sense of progression, with the three dimensional Hebraic spiral theory - G*d, Torah and Israel, which combines cyclicity with growth.

Forty represents transformation. The forty day period from Elul through Yom Kippur represents in miniature mankind's sojourn from Creation through Revelation and on to the Ultimate Redemption. The trumpets we blow on Rosh Hashanah symbolize the same trumpets we heard at Sinai, while the release from the obsessive burden of all bodily cares on Yom Kippur offers us a glimpse into the state of perfection of the Future World, when the soul and the body finally act in harmony instead of at cross purposes, when peace and justice is achieved for all. As such it is our day of greatest joy and celebration.

Shabbat Shuvah is the breather, the shabbat resting point, from which we symbolically catch our collective breath before we ascend to the peak of the Sabbath of Sabbaths, the Shabbat Shabbaton, which is Yom Kippur. The timeliness and concurrence of Haazinu with the Sabbath of Return- Shabbat Shuvah, is uncanny. We so often despair of our journey and grow weary of the effort just when the end is almost in sight. It's always darkest just before the dawn!

When we lose the connection to Sinai, we lose the compass pointing us to our ultimate destination. We are bidden by Moses for ALL generations to contemplate how and why we became prosperous in our land."Pay close attention to all the words through whichI warn you this day, so that you will be able to instruct your CHILDREN to keep all the words of this Torah carefully."

When Israel seeks to throw off the yoke of the Torah she is bending and distorting the spiral paradigm.



"Answer your souls' deepest yearnings- v'initem et nafshoteychem," and return to Hashem. If we make the Torah central to our lives we are indeed answering our soul's deepest desire, and INITEM is then translated as "answering our soul." But if we lose our center and allow centripetal forces to spin us around and bear down on us, thus losing the Torah as the guiding central moral force in our lives, then INITEM becomes translated as "afflict your souls."

So too with our redemption. It will either come gently if we are deserving, or not so gently, out of correction.


Which shall it be?


Shana Tovah. Ketivah vechatimah tovah!



© 2000 - 2011 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 and in memory of my beloved mother, Esther Melman, obm, Esther bat Baruch z"l.


http://seferchabibi.blogspot.com/2007/07/yahrzeit-of-my-father-27-tammuz.html
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506EEDC1630F93BA35754C0A9649C8B63

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/nytimes/obituary.aspx?n=esther-melman&pid=143745543

Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua
(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

ROSH HASHANA: CHANGE YOUR HEAD

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

The word "shana" in Hebrew means many things. It is most commonly translated as year, but it also has many deeper related meanings. Shana also means "teach,"and the word "mishna," the oral teachings, comes from the same root. Shana also means "change" or "transformation." In Hebrew, "leshanot" is the infinitive form of the word meaning "to change." So when we teach we are exchanging ideas, both student and teacher changing in the process.

The word for teeth, "sheenayim," also derives from the same root. Our teeth begin the transformation process, begin the changing of inanimate food into the very energy which animates us. That which was once matter of a certain provenance from outside of ourselves, some "other," now becomes a part of our very essence.

The word for tongue, "lashon,"also hints at this idea. Not only does the tongue aid the teeth in the digestive process, whose taste buds help avoid the fetid, the putrid and the rancid, but so too does the tongue form words, helping to change ethereal thoughts into the realm of action- into words, which are the genesis of action. And in Hebrew, the word "shoneh" means "different," apart from the norm by dint of change. Rosh Hashana, then, is often given short shrift by being viewed solely as meaning the "head of the year."

Passover, falling in the month of Nisan, is explicitly enumerated in the Torah as being more properly known as the head of the year, calling her "the first month." Tishrei, the month of Rosh Hashana, is literally called "the seventh month." So what should it then be called? How do we tie all these meanings of shana together to form a coherent, organic whole?

Rosh Hashana should be called "the beginning of changing." Just as nature begins to change with the changing of the leaves and the change in the seasons, and school begins and new TV shows begin, so too should we learn to let go and to embrace a new beginning. Tishrei is the seventh month. Shabbat is the seventh day.

Shabbat, the seventh day, where we change into our heavenly spiritual garments, is mirrored in the seventh month, the month of spiritual transformation. All year long we are learning life's lessons. Each year we try to grow, becoming different and better people than we were the year before. We strive to accept change in life, in others and in ourselves. Only through forgiving ourselves and others can we take the first step in making these changes. Only through a renewed sense of responsibility to the covenantal idea, to the idea of mitzvah, can this change occur.

This responsibility to facilitate this process of change is the essence of the Torah's eternal challenge. But true change is very frightening. As they say, everyone wants progress, but no one wants to change. So the Creator Above understands this and helps us to change, giving us a forty day period from Rosh Chodesh Elul through Yom Kippur to help us to psychologically navigate the transformation. We cannot do it in one day.

The shofar we blow each morning during the month of Elul in this season of changing, itself epitomizes change. From originally being the instrument of animal warfare, of strife and contention, it will one day become the instrument through which we announce the Messianic Age, heralding the dawn of a new age of peace, love and brotherhood.

Shana Tova, the New Year greeting, does not only mean Happy New Year. On the deepest level it means, "Change for the Good." May we all change for the good, and choose life. Amen.


Shanah Tovah!
A Goot Yor!

© 2000 - 2011 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 and in memory of my beloved mother, Esther Melman, obm, Esther bat Baruch z"l.


http://seferchabibi.blogspot.com/2007/07/yahrzeit-of-my-father-27-tammuz.html
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506EEDC1630F93BA35754C0A9649C8B63

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/nytimes/obituary.aspx?n=esther-melman&pid=143745543

Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua
(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)

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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!