Friday, April 27, 2012


by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

Tazria -Metzorah, this week's parsha, discusses the cleansing process of the leper, as well as the purification processes for bodily secretions of a reproductive nature, both male and female. It must be made clear that this is not referencing a physical uncleanness. Rather, it is solely discussing a spiritual form of impurity.

In fact, the English word for conTAMination derives from the Hebrew word for spiritual impurity, which is TUMAH. And "pure" itself derives from the Hebrew word Parah. One could only become pure by being sprinkled with the ashes of the Parah Adumah, the red heifer.

Nor is this evidence of any misogynist bent in the Torah itself. Quite the opposite! Both males and females are deemed spiritually impure by dint of the secretions of their respective male and female fluids.

What is the connection between two strange, seemingly disparate topics, viz. the juxtaposition between the narrative of ritual impurity for the secretion/emission of male and/or female fluids and general impurity resulting from general psoriatic skin ailments?

It is generally understood that Miriam developed "leprosy" from her lashon hara (evil speech) against her brother Moses. The Torah itself makes that connection. Hence we can extrapolate from the particular to the general that there is a connection between "leprosy," possibly psoriasis (related to the word tzoraas), and the improper use of the Divine gift of speech. And what she said wasn't so much "evil" as it was widely understood to be "merely" involving herself in his personal sphere, intruding, as it were, on the private zone of relations between man and woman.

Lashon hara has the capacity to destroy people's reputations and careers and even lives. It may not be the actual death blow per se, but it certainly has the power to create the conditions in potential form. In western society entire industries are devoted exclusively to the spread of slander, gossip and talebearing. In fact, the more salacious, the more lucrative.

So too, male and female emissions and secretions have within them the potential for human life. Conversely, since their emissions carry within them the sense of loss of potential life, in a sense their emission bears with it the concomitant sense of potential death.

Since the advent of modern science, no one believes in the idea of a homonculus, i.e., the idea of a fully formed miniature human residing in male seed. Nevertheless, to some degree it represents symbolically a potential for life, similar to the woman's unfertilized eggs which are lost through her monthly cycle.

Hence the connection: both ideas speak of the idea of potential death. One is the potential death of reputations, lives and careers. The other is the potential life that was lost, the life that never came to be. They intersect with the idea of nidah. This usually refers to woman in her menstrual state, to be off-limits to her husband, but the very first case of a person said to be (in a state of) nidah in the Torah was a man!

The first nidah in the Torah concerned KAYIN, when because he took a life he was to wait outside the figurative camp of humanity, literally "off-limits," by becoming a perpetual wanderer, a displaced person. He was to be a fugitive and a waNDerer (na veNaD ba'aretz (Gen 4:12). Being NaD, he was the first to be in a state of nidah. He cut off the potential of another's life by killing.

He cut down the flowering seed potential of a human life, still in its youth. Therefore his compensatory karmic healing was that his seed/life could never be allowed to take root. He was forced to wander in perpetuity. While we may not kill others in a physical sense, our words have the power to destroy lives, families, even communities.

Robert Oppenheimer, lead scientist in the Manhattan Project, the secret program to develop America's first nuclear bomb during WW2, was reported to have said, upon witnessing the first nuclear test detonation, "I have become Shiva, goddess of Death, Destroyer of Worlds." Now Iran has feverishly been working to develop its own nuclear arsenal, all the while targeting Israel publicly for destruction. But Israel, sounding the alarm against its own destruction, and threatening potential action, has itself become a pariah among the nations of the world. European surveys proclaim that Israel is now viewed as the single greatest threat to world peace.

Those who slander Israel and invert truth and justice, derive their energies and power from Jewish voices who lead in the struggle to defame the Jewish state. All their arguments and accusations are echoes of the voices of Jewish self hatred and slander. Without these Jewish voices, their claims would have no traction, their charges would have no grounding.

If the Jewish people were united by a vision of a shared destiny and national goal, no nation in the world would dare oppose us. Instead, every Jewish voice that slanders Israel enables our enemies to speak out forcefully against Israel, sure in the knowledge that they are free of the accusation of antisemitism since there are actually Jews themselves who promote the same charges. This is nothing new. It is no different than the Jewish kapos who worked at the behest of the Nazis to do their dirty work for them, hoping in the end to be spared, to their own self delusion.

The Jewish people were na vanad ba'aretz, wanderers of the world, for two millenia, suffering every form of abuse heaped upon them by a scornful world. And now, the Jewish slanderers of Israel, who for reasons of their own deep seated neuroses, give ammunition daily to our enemies who wish to eradicate us from the earth, have the power through their words and deeds to once again lead to Israel's destruction, and our people to once again experience the pain of exile and wandering, chas ve shalom. Their words of slander, are indeed weapons of death.

Let this connection be a reminder that our words are like actions- that we can destroy worlds, or create them, depending on how we use our gifts.

Shabbat Shalom! Good Shabbos!

© 2000-2012 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua 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.

Friday, April 20, 2012


by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

Nadav and Avihi, Aaron's sons, brought a "strange fire" as an offering. Their souls were then consumed in the process. Can we argue in their favor? Does their case have any merit or justification? Can we give them any benefit of the doubt, or must we roundly condemn them for simply "not following the rules."

Many traditional commentaries have sought to explain the grievous sins of Nadav and Avihu in their bringing a "strange fire offering" to justify G*d's taking of their souls. Layers of midrashic emphasis serve to villify their intentions. But maybe it was no punishment at all. Perhaps it was a heavenly embrace.

Perhaps their purpose in life had been completed:

...Lev.10:3 va-yomer moshe el aharon hu asher diber Hashem l'emor b'krovay ekadesh v'al p'nai chawl ha'am ekaved va-yidom aharon."

Moses said to Aaron: of this did Hashem speak, saying, " I will be sanctified through those who are nearest Me, thus I will be honored before the entire people;" and Aaron was silent.

Rashi hints at the meritorious status accorded Nadav and Avihu by Moses' above statement: Moses now told Aaron," I knew that the Tabernacle would be sanctified through someone in whom G*d's glory reposes, but I thought it would be one of US. Now I know that they were greater than either of us."

And in the Talmud Bavli Zevachim 115b it states that it was already hinted that G*d Himself alluded to their future deaths, as if to recognize that some necessary occurrence would need to take place.

"Dichtiv, venoadti shama livnei yisrael ve nikdash b'chvodi (Ex 29:43) Al tikri b'chvodi, ela b'mechubodai"

For it is written, ' and I shall set my meeting there with the children of Israel and it (the Tabernacle) shall be sanctified through my honor (b'chvodi)'. Do not read b'chvodi (through my honor), rather read it as b'mechubodai (through my honored ones)." Thus shall be done to whom the King of Kings wishes to honor.

But WHAT was so meritorious in their actions? Let us examine the end of the verse:

"va-yidom aharon- and Aaron was silent."

Instead of reading it as "silent," one could also see a connection to the word "dahm" in Hebrew which means "blood." They are the same exact letters, but
vowelized differently. Now where is the word dahm as blood first mentioned in the Torah?

Let us go to the Cain and Abel fratricide narrative (Gen 4:1-10). In verse 10 it reads:

... kol d'mei achicha tzoakim elai min ha'adamah, " ...the voice of your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground!"

This is the very first mention of blood and it is mentioned in the context of fratricidal rivalry- the very first recorded act since the expulsion from Eden! And in what context did this act of fratricide take place? The very first korban, the very first offerings to Hashem.

As the very first korban offerings were blemished by dint of jealousy and fratricidal rage, the Tabernacle dedication ceremonies with their attendant sacrificial offerings could not proceed apace without a tikkun, or a fixing of the earlier Edenic blemish. The only fixing for brotherly jealousy is brotherly harmony.

The only fixing for the root of the fratricide could be a NEW offering, one which was neither animal-based (Abel's) nor soil-based (Cain's). A fire offering was a NEUTRAL offering, neither one nor the other. It was thus symbolic of brotherly love and reconciliation.

Nadav and Avihu, in my humble opinion, were thus gilgulim (reincarnated souls) of Cain and Abel. Reincarnated in the Dor HaMidbar, the generation of the wilderness, their purpose in life was to make it possible for the offerings in the Tabernacle to be acceptable. They paved the way for all of us, embracing the Torah's value of brotherly love and harmony.

In their shared bringing of the strange fire they achieved a unity of love and purpose. Thus they repaired the sin-taint of the fratricidal rage which accompanied and ruined humanity's very first offering to G*d. There was no punishment here, merely a paving of the way, permitting all of our future offerings from that point forward to be acceptable in His eyes.

G*d embraced their souls for showing us the way. Their work here was done. May we all come to love one another and to serve Hashem with fire. Not with a strange fire, but with the fire of our souls. And may we not become strangers to our souls!

Shabbat Shalom! Good Shabbos!

© 2000-2012 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua 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.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

B'nai Yisrael
, the Children of Israel, are called an AM SEGULA. This is often translated as "treasured nation." Sometimes even as "chosen nation." To be a treasured nation is admittedly very nice, as is also the status of being a chosen nation, although that carries some heavy baggage when it is interpreted by some as evidence of haughtiness and superiority.

But what about Israel's relationship to humanity? As Hillel said, "If I am only for myself, what am I?" Using these terms on some level does violence to the sense of Israel being a nation that interfaces between the particular and the general, between the national and the universal. We are also said to be a MAMLECHET KOHANIM, or a nation of priests. Indeed, just as the koheinin the Temple traditionally served as the intermediary between Israel and G*d, so too, as amamlechet kohanim, or a "nation of priests," does the nation of Israel then serve as the intermediary between G*d and the other nations of the world.

This status does not inhere automatically to Israel. Rather it applies only insofar as Israel is cognizant of its role via its consciousness of fealty to the idea of mitzvah, that G*d's blessings pour down over an Israel that is consciously connected to its relationship with the Divine, and that we have the kavannah, or intention, that the performance of a mitzvah reverberates with positive energy not only for ourselves but for the benefit of humanity at large.

Note that in Deut. 26:19, the verse reads,


to give you height over all the other nations.."

This is not the height of arrogance. Rather, this is the height of service. As Israel is a mamlechet kohanim, a nation of priests, Israel is a kohein, or holy servant, to the other nations on Earth. This does not mean supremacy!

Rather, the Torah is teaching us that in order for Hashem's blessings for Israel to also reach and bring blessing to all the other nations of the world, Israel must position herself high through her allegiance to Torah. Through her becoming spiritually elevated and raised up through living by the ways of the Torah, subsequently the"spillage" from this pouring down of the heavenly blessings will affect everyone.

Israel's mission is to bring blessing upon all the earth through her lofty role of service to the One G*d. The point of Torah is in our sharing of our blessings with the world. The Nation of Israel should be a source of blessing for the world, precisely because of our fealty to Torah.

Why is the Dead Sea dead? Because it only receives. It never gives out life sustaining waters. Thus the salts accumulate to toxic levels. Sea salt gives life, but only in very small quantities.

The Golan, by contrast, is bursting with life and vibrancy year round. Its fresh, living waters sustain and replenish Yam Kineret, the Sea of Galilee, whose waters sustain all Israel. And the Torah emanating from Yerushalayim and Tzfat, and indeed from all the heights of Torah, water and give spiritual nourishment to all Israel and to the world at large.

Rabbeinu (the Rashban, aka Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, aka Reb Shlomo) always taught that "the world so much NEEDS the Jews to be good yidden." In other words, there is NO dichotomy between being a good Jew and being a good human being. Just the opposite! We are better human beings, doing our part for all humanity, by becoming the best Jews possible! So now the folk and the cosmologic senses of the word "segula" align themselves in a neat symmetry.

Israel has the opportunity of being a catalyst for blessing for all the nations of the world. Indeed, this is a fulfillment of the Abrahamic blessing that "all the nations will be blessed through you." Israel, in a sense, now becomes the yeast for the whole world. As yeast is the catalyst in baking, so too is Israel that transforming agent of change which has the awesome capability of uplifting all of humanity. Just as yeast is among the least of the ingredients, so too is Israel the least populous of the nations. Just as yeast is less than tasty when eaten as a meal in itself, so too does Israel shine less when consumed solely in a self-absorbed disinterest with the fate of humanity.

Now we understand on the deepest level why we totally eradicate any presence of chametz on Passover, the holiday marking our new status finally as a nation among the other nations of the world. The special zero-tolerance status for yeast on Passover now makes sense. The very energy expended in our total obsession with its eradication is only meant to underline and call attention to the "yeast" status of the Jewish people vis a vis its relationship to humanity. By calling attention to yeast/leaven so explicitly, the Torah wants us to understand on our national birthday (Passover) our special "yeast role" in the universe.

In all other areas of kashruth a miniscule amount of a forbidden substance is"tolerated" if it exists in a certain miniscule percentage in relation to the permitted ingredients (usually a 1/60 ratio). Not so with yeast on Passover. It has the status of "assur bemashehoo," i.e., it is forbidden "in any amount" (shulchan aruch: siman taf mem zayin, se'eef dalet).

Israel, in its status as exemplar of liberation from Egyptian oppression, bondage and servitude, becomes on a symbolic level at least, the inspiration for all humanity to aspire to freedom from every type of oppression. Our Exodus is the model for all future exodi. Our salvation is the model for all future salvations, as is likewise our redemption in the land of Israel a precursor and model for ultimate world redemption- if only we and our leaders believe it ourselves and if only the world were to lift its veil of hatred and open its eyes.

By the special status and attention which the Torah pays to actual, real, live yeast in the Exodus narrative and to its accompanying rites of memory and reenactment, so too should we therefore be cognizant of the people of Israel's symbolic and yet very real status as yeast/catalysts in the rising pungent ferment that is humanity. The more we consciously incorporate Judaism into our lives, the sooner we help elevate all humanity, including ourselves, to achieve the end stage of glorious redemption and peace, and thereby fulfill our true destiny as an "am segula," as a Catalyst Nation, the Religion/Nation of the Yeast.

Ignorance of the true meaning of the term segula has resulted in tragedy in both directions: misplaced haughtiness and arrogance on the part of some Jews who in righteous tribal anger circle the proverbial wagons to shut out the outside modern world, and has tragically provided ammunition to antisemites who claim that our so-called claim to a chosen status implies a claim of superiority which somehow justifies a negative response.

When we want something good for someone we often say, "do this as a segula." Or sometimes it is said, "say this prayer at the kotel for forty days to find your soul mate as a segula," or "recite this psalm on behalf of sick person as a segula," or "wear this amulet as a segula." So clearly, at least in the folk mind, a segula has the sense of being a catalyst, of bringing about positive change on some level.

As role models for tzedaka, culture, agriculture, education, science, the arts and humanities, with leadership roles in progressive movements for social justice, equality and better working conditions for all, Israel's light shines brightly. We are a segula indeed. We are not perfect. If we had to be perfect we would have given up long ago. We make mistakes. We miss the mark at times. But we are trying our best.

Pesach is the celebration and reenaction of the birthing of the Jewish people. Mitzrayim, Egypt, means narrow straits. We passed through the narrow straits, the birth canal, into freedom. We were born in order to receive the Torah, to bring its message and its teaching to the world. There is One G*d who is our Heavenly Father, our Avinu shebaShamayim, who created us and who loves us, and who wants us to love each other as we love ourselves (EX 19:18). As Hillel responded, when asked what is the central message of the Torah: "that which is hateful to you, do not do unto others. All the rest is commentary."

Chag Sameach!

© 2000-2012 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua 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.

Friday, April 6, 2012


by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

Blessed is the yeast. It seems strange to bless the yeast at the time of Passover, when we have just been toiling to eradicate it. We eradicate it to the point that we have zero tolerance for it, for were even the tiniest drop fall into our cooking pot, the entire pot would be rendered unkosher on the spot, whereas with regard to regular kosher laws, were a drop of milk less than 1/60 of the volume of the contents of the meat pot accidentally fall into the pot, ordinarily the pot would still be kosher.

We eradicate the yeast of Pesach because we are drawing attention to Am Yisrael's role in the world, on this holiday of our Jewish nation's birth. The people of Israel are like the yeast, vis a vis the nations of the world. Yeast is the catalyst in baking, enabling the food to rise, to become better and greater, to reach far beyond its limited ingredients.

Matzah is called lechem oni, poor man's bread. Indeed, the nations of the world are impoverished without the Jewish people among them, whether literally almong them, or figuratively among them as one nation among all the nations of the world in its land.

How impoverished would the world be without the blessings brought to them by the Jewish nation. Both the arts and the sciences have been enriched by the contributions made by the Jewish nation, whether individually or collectively. Just as yeast in relation to the cake is itself exceedingly small, so too the Jewish people, a mere fraction of a fraction of the world's population, bring blessing to the world exponentially greater than their utterly small population would suggest - quality versus quantity, powered by the blessing of He who is the Source of all blessing.

The yeast is emblematic of our role in the world, bringing down Hashem's blessing upon humanity. We eradicate the chametz from our homes this week precisely to call attention to our role in the world. We are the catalysing ferment in the rising of humanity beyond its animal nature- living by the teachings of our Holy Torah, teaching morality and giving the world a conscience, and the values of appreciating the need for working for justice and peace and improving lives with an emphasis on tikkun olam, making the world a better place.

G*d's blessing to Abraham is eternal: GEN 12:2,3,

"I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, I will make your name great and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and cursed will be those who curse you, and all the families of the earth shall be blessed through you."

Those nations that curse Israel will themselves be cursed. And those who bless Israel and the Jewish people shall indeed be blessed and rise up and thus achieve greatness and blessing for all.

Those nations which try to eradicate the Jewish people, seeing us as chametz, shall never themselves rise, but will remain ever matzah, as it was Israel, not they, whom the Lord G*d took out of Egypt and to whom He gave His Torah. A knife in the hand of a surgeon is holy, and brings blessing. But a knife in the hand of a criminal brings only curses and pain, both to himself and to others.

Chag Sameach!

© 2000-2012 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua 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.

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!