Monday, November 21, 2011


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)

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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!