Friday, January 28, 2011

MISHPATIM: from six to eternity

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

This week's parsha Mishpatim follows on the heels of the Decalogue and immediately we read about the Eved Ivri (Hebrew slave/servant). The plain meaning, of course, is that it refers to the Hebrew slave who refuses manumission in the seventh year. Why it follows the Aseret HaDibrot, the Ten Commandments? A seemingly pedestrian legal ruling appears in the Torah immediately after the most awesome, literally earth shaking event in human history!

But the deepest understanding of the Hebrew Slave (eved ivri), is that he really is each and every one of us who chooses to remain with his ultimate Master, Hashem, and more poignantly, that Hashem reciprocates by choosing to remain with us. We are each one of us an eved (servant) of Hashem, and Hashem therefore will never abandon us as we vow not to abandon Him.

Sinai was the pledging of eternal love. Now we see that love being tested! Upon insisting he remain with his Master, the eved (servant/slave) makes a declaration saying, AHAVTI ET ADONI VE'ET ISHTI VE'ET BANAI LO ETZEI CHOFSHI. (Ex 21:5) This is usually translated as "I LOVE my master and my wife and My children - I will not go out free." But it is not "I love" in the present. It reads Ahavti "I loveD"- PAST TENSE! "In the PAST I loved ..." This is not to say that he doesn't love them in the present. Of course he does.

What's important to understand is that the Torah recognizes that the intensity of romantic love necessarily fades over time. The heady impact of standing at Sinai fades over time. The certainty of keeping the Torah that was so clear at the smoking mountain becomes less clear down the long road of time's journeys. Hashem is saying, "You can go free if you really want to. You can be free of your obligations to me, and vice versa." But the eved says "NO." "And although the intensity of the romantic love may have faded, I still want to stay with you forever." He says, "my wife and children are connected to me so deeply. How could I dare live apart from them?"

Hashem was Israel's spouse under the Sinai Chuppah as the mountain was held over their heads. But it was not to crush them if they didn't accept the Torah, rather it was to be the biggest chuppah (wedding canopy) the world had ever seen!

Hashem, You say, You shall LOVE the L*rd your G*D..." And what if, CV"S, I have lost that loving feeling? Maybe the outer shell has faded, but the inner love core is still there. The Pintele Yid remains forever. Because the root of love in Hebrew Is HAV, which means to give, know that all we have given to each other counts for something.

The six years of servitude represent the six days of Creation. And the six days of the week count for a lot because they lead up to Shabbos. Even if we didn't FEEL the love of Shabbos every day of the week, we wouldn't HAVE Shabbos without those six days leading up to Shabbos! At least in this world. Zachor is the yearning for Shabbos as Shamor is keeping Shabbos.

So Hashem, even as you are my master, you are also my partner, my spouse. I will be loyal to you and to your Torah even after a thousand generations have passed. Even if my/our love for you may have faded over time, know that I pledge to you my eternal fidelity for the sake of all the good we have given each other over the years. We have been together for six good years. I won't allow a seventh year itch! I would never leave you. I would rather bore my ear and be yours forever for all time.

And so the Master takes his eved's OZEN, his ear, and marks it with a RETZUAH, a strip. when we don our Tefillin's RETZUOT/straps, we are to remember this eternal fidelity. No matter how onerous and burdensome it seems to get up early to phylacterate, we are to be reminded of our love for our true Master when we don the straps. Because we refused to leave Hashem, Hashem refuses to leave us. And why the ear? Because it says OZNO, which really means "I will give him my sustenance" -MAZON. "You stay with me and you will never lack for anything."

"Because Israel did not abandon me in the sixth year when he could have, even as the door was left open, I will be there for Israel for all eternity - and beyond."

Good Shabbos!

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 my beloved mother, Esther bat Baruch, z"l.

Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua

(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)

Dedications are available.

Yitro; Why the Dove is the Symbol of Peace

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

Everybody knows that the dove with the olive branch is the symbol of peace. It's even the logo for the 1969 Woodstock Music Festival. But why is that exactly? The dove's return to Noah's ark with an olive branch symbolized a new era of peace. Granted, after the flood narrative's depiction of the violent end of life excepting the ark's inhabitants, any harbinger of the receding waters deserved an elevated status, for humanity will now be entering a pristine dawn of a new covenantal moral awakening. It is a cultural assumption that such a linkage exists. But this is only derived from an implicit contextual understanding. Can there be yet an even deeper connection?

Only in Parshas Yisro is there an explicit, yet concealed, connection between the dove and the idea of peace (shalom) per se, where we see hints in the text which reveal a hidden link between Noah and Yisro. The key factor lies in understanding that the first time a word appears in the Torah is the foundational prism by which to understand all subsequent usages of that word throughout the Torah (espoused by Rabbi Tzadok Hakohen, an early Hassidic Kabbalistic master).

The word SHaLaCH (sent) is the explicit link. The dove was sent out to bring proof of the receding waters so that Noah and his family could free themselves of the confinement of the ark and begin life anew. Israel, quite dovelike, was thrust out of the confining Egyptian ark (Mitzrayim-MeTZeR/confinement) to seek freedom and to bring a new awareness for humanity that freedom is the birthright of all peoples and that tyranny and despotism are evils that must fail/fall. Here is the SHaLaCH, or "sending" comparison. This is the foundational basis of the link between these two narratives.

In Parshas B'SHaLaCH we see Yisrael as the Yonah (dove) for Humanity. The rising and falling waters of the Yam Suf drown the violence prone Egyptians, echoing the drowning of the generation of the flood who were corrupt- and violent (Hamas).But the linkage goes even deeper in Parshas Yisro. Jethro (Yitro), Moses' Father-in-law, meets up with B'nei Yisrael once they leave Egypt. He brings with him Moshe's wife, Tzipporah (literally BIRD) who had been SENT home earlier (achar SHiLuCHeha- EX 18:2).

So here is the dove parallelism:

In the flood narrative the dove returns to the ark with an ALeH Zayit, an Olive branch. ALeH is spelled ayin lamed hey. In this week's parsha (EX 18:12) Yisro takes an OLaH uZevachim (burnt offerings and other sacrifices for G*d) as an expression of praise to G*d for Israel's deliverance. OLaH and ALeh are both spelled with the same letters - ayin-lamed-hey. They are only vowelized differently. And this is the first time OLaH appears after we see the same word in the context of an ALeH (literally leaf). And the letter zayin is shared by both the words Zayit (olive branch) and Zevachim (burnt offerings). Israel, having emerged from the world wide deluge of the Holocaust as a burnt offering, wants peace more than any other nation on earth. But the peace of life as opposed to the peace of the grave. And thus the olive branch analogy.

Finally, Jethro gives his sage advice to Moses to appoint capable G*d fearing leaders (anshei chayil) to administer justice to thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Moses would only see the hardest cases. He concludes, saying (EX 18:23): "if you agree to this and G*d concurs, you will be able to survive. This entire nation will then also be able to attain its goal of PEACE/SHALOM." And so finally- the peace connection.

Freedom and survival are thus not ends in themselves. Ultimately, the goal is to live covenantally in PEACE. So finally we see the explicit linkage between the dove and peace. This linkage traverses time and terrain, and involves the utilization of esoteric hints, and yet is clearly there for those who have the eyes and the inclination to see it.

The Torah employs holy gentiles each time as the heralds of a new covenantal relationship between humanity and G*d. Noah brings humanity to a new "Rainbow Covenant" expressing ethical monotheism, while Jethro (pre-conversion) appears in the narrative immediately before the Theophany of the Ten Commandments, where his kehuna status (priesthood- literally intermediary servant) is echoed by the Covenant of Sinai, whereby Israel becomes a Nation of Priests and a Holy People in order to convey a modeling of ethical monotheistic teachings to all humankind.

The Torah is truly universal- a blueprint for the transformation of human consciousness, both Jew and gentile. It is a narrative of successive covenants. Noah's rainbow covenant symbolized humanity's embrace of ethical monotheism. Israel's Sinai covenant symbolized G*d's embrace of a nation molded by the imprint of slavery and genetically programmed to aspire to peace and freedom for both themselves and the world at large. The dream of peace, love and musical harmony of the Woodstock Nation is mirrored by that of the Hebrew Nation's Shabbos Kodesh Sabbath Day. And while the earth is once more filled with Hamas, may both Israel and all humanity finally come to soon see a real and lasting SHALOM/PEACE in our day and for all time. And may all the doves yet fly again soon. Amen.

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 my beloved mother, Esther bat Baruch, z"l.

Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua

(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)

Dedications are available.

Beshallach; Leaving Josephied

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

The Torah says..

vaChamushim alu vnei Yisrael me-eretz Mitzrayim (Ex 13:18).

Various translations of CHAMUSHIM abound, from "carrying weapons" to "well provisioned" to "in groups of five" to "one out of five." This also alludes to Yosef HaTzadik, in view of the following verse which specifically mentions that the Bnei Yisrael took his bones with them upon leaving Mitzrayim. "Atzmoth" means both "bones" as well as "essence." They took his consciousness/essence with them as well as his bones.

What is the relationship between Yosef Hatzadik and FIVE (CHaMuSH/CHaMeSH)? In Parshat Vayigash (Ex 47:26) we learn

"...Yosef set down a decree that one fifth of whatever grows on the land of Egypt belongs to Pharaoh (leParo leChoMeSH)."

And in Parshat Miketz (Ex 41:34) we read how Yosef advised a rationing system (CHiMeSH) during the seven years of plenty.

Hence in the weekday daily Tehillim for the FIFTH day we recite Psalm81 where Yosef's name is written with an extra letter- Hay- meaning 5, in numerology (gematria), spelled as YHoSeF. So we learn how Yosef is associated with rationing one's resources and with giving a fifth of one's earnings to Pharaoh. Giving a fifth means showing tangible appreciation for the Ruler while things are good (Vayigash), while rationing means planning for the day when things will be more difficult (Miketz).

Also, one fifth reflects the essence of the 80-20 rule, known in business circles as the Paredo Principle. This rule posits that in business, 80% of all business comes from the top 20% of all customers, and 80% of all sales derive from the efforts of the top 20% of the sales force. This rule actually holds true across the board- for all categories, for all time. This is really properly called then, the Joseph Principle.

When B'nei Yisrael left Egypt they took Yosef's essence and consciousness with them. The Jewish People's savvy business acumen essentially derives from this intelligence. Moreover, success is achieved as well by APPRECIATING what one has and by PLANNING ahead for more difficult times. And this principle also holds true demographically. One fifth of Jewry earns in the top tier economically, while one fifth lives at or below the poverty line. The rest are in between.

May we learn from Yosef's example to show APPRECIATION for what we have, and to GIVE generously of our resources to the Compassionate One and thus take care of His children with generosity. This is a crucial concept in Judaism. We are not to equate wealth with wickedness. Rather, in Judaism, wealth is equated with opportunity- to thank Hashem and to utilize our resources in HisService. Understand this. Be like Yosef. Use your blessings for Good.

Shabbat Shalom

Copyright 2000-2011 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman.

Dedicated to the memory of my father of blessed memory, Israel J. Melman, Yisrael Yehoshua ben HaRav Yaakov HaKohen Melman, and my beloved mother, Esther bat Baruch, z"l.

Reb Shlomo with Reb Zusha ben Avraham Zimmerman

Reb Shlomo with Reb Zusha ben Avraham Zimmerman

What mind is it?

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


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

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

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

About Me

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