Friday, November 25, 2011


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.

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


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.

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


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.

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


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.

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

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!