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Parshas Tazria: Tzaras — Why We Need Doctors Now

Outside Israel fell a week behind because the 8th day of Pesach fell on Shabbas. You’ll catch up with a double parsha next week. For the dvar on Shemini, please visit TalkTorah for the connection between snakes, kashrus, the yetzer hara and Egypt.

I’m surrounded by brilliant doctors who grew a bit alarmed when I mentioned that the holiest of people don’t require medical care. Tazria, which focuses on the disease of Tzaras, is the perfect parsha to explore this issue further.

Summary: Tzaras is not leprosy, nor a known illness. It is a spiritual illness solved only by spiritual rectification. Back when we were extremely sensitive to our connection to Hashem, it afflicted us when we slightly deviated, as a sign to encourage us to return. Strangely enough, we should be so sensitive to the importance of our close relationship that we desire Tzaras to return.

My Rabbi taught that when your wife is angry at you or acting in a way that upsets you, the correct response is to deeply reflect and notice that problem in yourself. What seems like an affliction on the surface is actually a sign to return to the close connection you previously shared.

I hope your Omer continues to be an inspiring adventure of growth.

Great Shabbas,

Ari Melman

Parshas Tazria: Tzaras — Why We Need Doctors Now

First things first: Tzaras is not leprosy (Sforno, introduction of Tazria). It is not a known disease. And at least since the destruction of the second temple, it no longer exists.

What’s the proof Tzaras is a spiritual disease, not a known physical one?

1. If some contagious affliction were involved, such that the afflicted is required to be separated from others, “how could one explain that when the affliction strikes a house, it must be emptied of its contents before the Kohen examines it so as to avoid having to declare its contents contaminated? Would not the objects in the house have also been contaminated by the agents of infection?” (Munk, Vayikra 13:12, 14:36).

2. Why would the Torah dedicate an entire chapter to Tzaras if it was only a health concern, and completely ignore the far more common natural dangers of poisonous plants, wild animals and epidemics?   

3. The mere existence of the warnings as theoretical possibilities serves the purpose for which they were intended. In fact, the Talmud confirms tzaras on clothing and houses never occurred (Sanhedrin 71A). Clearly, if the disease mentioned in such detail never occurred, we cannot be simply speaking of a natural disease.

4. There is neither impurity of afflictions of Tzaras nor their purification except by the word of a Kohen, a spiritual leader. The Israelites had medics in their camp but they didn’t treat Tzaras (Rashi, Vay. 13:2). Furthermore, in the words themselves, the afflicted shall be brought to Aaron, the Cohen — the gematria (numerical value) of אל אהרן = 287 =  (doctor)רופא

The Spiritual leader in this case is the only one capable of doing the healing. It’s up to the teacher of the people to reveal the moral cause of their affliction and guide the guilty person back to the right path (Toras Kohanim, 14:35). That’s also why he checks in weekly; in order to give the person time to make a true accounting of his deeds and repent for them.

The Torah points to Tzaras afflictions as a classic example of the spiritual causes at the root of many illnesses. Even Rambam, the Physician of the royal court of Egypt, emphasizes that the best medication is based on ethical values, for it then tends to re-establish the union between spiritual and physical forces (Guide to the Perplexed, 3:27).

The language reveals the essence of the disease and its cure

The language of נגע צרעת , Tzaras affliction/disease can be rearranged word by word into ענג + עצרת, Shabbas and Festivals. The language of Oneg/ענג is of celebration. Let’s break these letters down to reveal their depth.

The letter ע/ Ayin, means eye, or to examine deeply and think about something.

The letter נ / Nun, refers to free will, as a final nun is a long line, stretching from the middle ground to the lowest ground. You can choose to connect to the line or ignore it.

The letter ג/ Gimmel, refers to giving, as in Gimilut Chasidim, doing good deeds, giving to others.

An ענג is when you think deeply about your actions, then you connect them to your free will, and the result is an act of giving. This is worthy of celebration.

A נגע is when you disconnect your free will from careful thinking, apply it in the world and affect others with it, and only afterward use your intellect to rationalize your actions. This is an affliction, which hurts you and the world.

There are two roads open to us, that of tying our thoughts and actions to proper moral behavior and those of rationalizing our inappropriate actions. Correct actions are celebrated, improper ones must be corrected by humbling oneself to a Cohen, a spiritual leader.

So why doesn’t Tzaras still exist?

It was a spiritual affliction only for Jews already at extremely high spiritual levels, for those extremely sensitive to errors and distances in their relationship with Hashem and the Mitzvot. Just as an expert will notice slight deviations in their field that a lay-person wouldn’t, so too a sensitive Jew would notice his slight disconnect and correct it. We know that a rocket into space, if launched a fraction of a degree off or a few seconds behind schedule, will not reach its destination, even though the casual observer noticed no difference. When we reached a state where our disconnects were so great that we would no longer be able to pinpoint which area of defection the Tzaras emerged to correct, the Tzaras no longer served its purpose and went away.     

As strange as it sounds, we should desire Tzaras. The Zohar refers to it as יסורין של אהבה, a chastisement of love. It’s a sign of how much G-d desires to be close to us, that even the bad that happens is meant to return us to the greatest good.

My Rabbi taught that when your wife is angry at you or acting in a way that upsets you, the correct response is to deeply reflect and notice that problem in yourself. What seems like an affliction on the surface is actually a sign to return to the close connection you previously shared.

Why we need doctors

In our world today, we need doctors and although we pray and believe that the power of recovery ultimately lies in G-d’s hands, we recognize the great distance between where we are and where we’d like to be. Almost nobody is at the level where their bitachon in Hashem can justify not seeing doctors.

Rambam understood that although the ideal state is to be so connected that the Kohanim provide the cure, not the doctors, in our times, and for thousands of years, the doctors are vital for our survival and among the most important professions. Love your doctors, for they give us the strength to live healthy lives.

But one day, may we hope to once again reach this even higher level, when we feel so closely connected to Hashem that we can attribute every deviation in our lives to a specific disconnect, and in correcting our moral stumbles, reach a level of love and joy unprecedented in our days.

Great Shabbas!

-Ari Melman


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4 Brief Passover Gems — Loving the Wicked Son

Here’s 4 brief gems to appreciate Passover more. I wish you a wonderful rest of your Passover and would love to hear any highlights from your Seders.

-Ari Melman

1. The full gematria (numerical value, counting the full name of each letter) of Passover, פסח, comes to 613!

     85= פה

      60+40+20=120     סמך

408=  חת

By fulfilling the Mitzvah of Passover, we merit receiving all 613 commandments. That’s why we count up the days between Pesach to Shavuot, the receiving of the Torah. Each of the 49 days rectifies one of the 49 levels of impurity that we were at when we left Egypt.

If our ancestors could transform the lowest level of slavery into the highest level of spirituality in 49 days of concentrated self-improvement, don’t we owe it to ourselves to do the same? If we strive for greatness, there’s no limit to the heights we will achieve.

The following ideas come from Rabbi Immanuel Bernstein’s “Darkness to Destiny: The Haggadah Experience, chock full of great Pesach insights and written by a Rabbi at my sibling Yeshiva, Makkon Yakkov.

2. Why are we instructed to “blunt the teeth” of the wicked son? R. Shmuel David Walkin (Kisvei Aba Mari p.242) explains that teeth represent the external expression of speech (in front of the throat and tongue, heart and mind). A parent is not to define the child based on the objectionable question coming out of his mouth. Rather, (s)he must reach past that to the child inside, whom (s)he knows to be good.

The gematria of רשע/wicked is 570.

The gematria of שניו/his teeth is 366.

When one knocks out the teeth of the wicked son, he knocks out 366 from 570, which leaves…

204, the gematria of צדיק/righteous person. That is the one the parent is looking to deal with, for his son is indeed a good child; all he needs to do is get past the fangs (Ahavas Olam — R’David Yosef Haparchi, p.171).

That’s also why the haggadah says, “For me, and not for him! If he had been there then, he would not have been redeemed.” Why is it “For him” and not, “For you”? A: A parent can never tell his child they wouldn’t be redeemed. Rather, the parent says, “That person wouldn’t have been redeemed. You, my son, should learn from the experience of others that negative attitudes can often beget negative consequences, and perhaps then you may reconsider which path you with to take, for you are better than that.”

3. The Mechilta explains (Parshas Bo 12:6) : Although the time had come for Hashem to redeem the Jewish people, they were bare of mitzvos through which to merit the redemption. To this end, Hashem gave them two mitzvos: the Pesach offering and Bris Milah/Circumcision. This is the meaning of the phrase, “Through your blood you shall live” (Yechezkel 16:7,6).

He then asks, “Didn’t the Jewish people take pains to avoid changing their names and their language, that they did not slander each other, and resisted any pressure towards physical immorality? Surely those merits should have been enough.

A: All of those are passive in nature — refraining from doing something wrong. This allowed them to not disintegrate during the exile. In order to merit being actively redeemed, they needed the active merits of Pesach and Milah.

4. Dayenu: Enough for whom? The song seems to make little sense — for example, if G-d brought us to Mt. Sinai, but didn’t give us the Torah, it would have been enough? The point was to receive the Torah!

The song starts off with the line, “How grateful we must be to the Omnipresent for all the levels of kindness He has done for us!”

The Malbim translates the word “מעלות”, levels, as “praises”, as we often find mentioned in our prayers. For each level of kindness Hashem bestowed upon us, there is a corresponding level of expressing gratitude, עלינו/incumbent upon us. The lesson is we must not wait until the end of a process to say thank you — rather each stage is deserving of gratitude. A simple gesture is thanking and praising the chef of a Shabbas meal for each dish specifically, instead of simply saying the meal was delicious as you leave. Since the Creator took such pains to notice the details for our sake, we notice the details and appreciate them.

As for the specifics of why we’d be thankful for Mt. Sinai even if not for the Torah, we see in Gemara Tractate Shabbas 146a that the experience of being before Hashem at Mt. Sinai was of immense spiritual benefit to us. The damaging spiritual effects from eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil disappeared from our ancestors when they stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai. This benefit alone deserves our gratitude.

I hope your Passover Seders were inspirational and lively. May you be blessed to feel ever more free and empowered with every passing year.

Have a Fantastic Passover!

-Ari Melman


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Parshas Shemini: Defeating the Yetzer Hara — The Connection between Snakes and Egypt

Parsha Shmini summary: Frightening deaths of Nadab and Abihu for drunkenly bringing offerings. We also get the laws of keeping Kosher

Chametz represents the yetzer hara — the source of physical desires that promise joy but actually bring an endless source of discontentment.

We make matzah today only because of the mitzvah attached to it — thus, when we eat it, we truly feel the primary reason is not to satisfy our stomachs but to connect to Hashem and our Jewish identities. In so doing, we replace our natural physical desires with desires for growth.

Have a Fantastic Passover!

-Ari Melman

Defeating the Yetzer Hara: The Connection between Snakes and Egypt

Vayikra 11:42 states, “All that goes on it’s belly [גחון]…of every creeping creature that creeps upon the round, you may not eat them, for they are an abomination.” The word גחון has an enlarged vav/ו in the text. Rashi explains that the word also means, “a snake. The term means bending low, for it goes bent low and fallen on its stomach”. The vav is a straight line, mimicking the orientation of a snake, without legs or extensions.

As we know from the Garden of Eden, the snake also represents the yetzer hara, the lure of physical desire. At the end, the snake is punished — “Upon your belly shall you go, and dust shall you eat all the days of your life (Gen. 3:14).” Chazal wonders why this is a punishment — after all, Adam must eat “by the sweat of your brow”, but the snake is constantly surrounded by food, literally living in his sustenance. Many worms and snakes even lay eggs inside fruit and grow inside the fruit, literally living inside their sustenance (R. Bachya). Shouldn’t being surrounded by your food, without too much work, be a dream come true? Isn’t that what Eden was?

To emphasize this even more, when G-d tells the Jews about Israel, he contrasts it with Egypt. In Egypt, the Nile provided all the water you needed, whenever you wanted. But in Israel, you will be completely dependent on the rain, or else you will experience famine and drought. Is such poverty really a selling point?

Here’s the answer: After G-d bans Jews from eating creepy crawlies, he explains, “For I am Hashem Who brings you up from the land of Egypt to be a G-d unto you; you shall be holy, for I am holy (Vayikra 11:45).” Rashi explains, “In all verses that refer to G-d taking Israel out of Egypt, it is written, ‘I brought you out’, but here it is written, ‘who brings you up’. R’ Yishmael taught ‘had I not brought Israel out of Egypt for any reason other than that they do not make themselves impure through creeping things, as do the other nations, it would have been sufficient cause for them to have been redeemed, and abstaining from creeping things is an elevation for them.’”

   When all of our physical needs are provided for, we have a much easier time denying G-d’s presence.

R. Zev Leff tells the story of a 17-year-old who had recently attempted suicide. Why? His rich father was about to remarry, but the new wife would only agree on the condition he boot out his son. So dad handed his son two keys, one to a penthouse apartment, the next to a sports car, and a credit card. His parting words to his son were, “Treat yourself, but never try to contact me again.”

This boy was the most miserable person R. Leff had ever met, even though he had his whole life provided for him. But he was missing the most important component: love. His father’s gifts were the exact opposite of love — ‘I’ll give you everything you need now, so that I never have to see your face again.’ This was Hashem’s punishment to the snake — you so completely opposed me, that I’ll give you everything you need now so as not to have a relationship with you.’

Eretz Yisrael is completely dependent on rain for survival — thus, in every season, we must tap into our connection with Hashem and request help from Him to continue. This reminds us of our true desire, our true source of joy — feeding the soul, not the body.

The Bilvavi writes that the opposite of joy isn’t sadness, but desire. The yetzer hara feeds off the sadness we feel when we slip up, when we sin, and hedges on that to create more desire. If a person breaks a diet and has a small piece of cake, the yetzer hara grows most powerful when it convinces the person they might as well eat the entire cake now that they broke their diet. But the desire for cake won’t bring happiness — it can only bring more desire. What brings happiness is removing the desire and returning to the state where your happiness wasn’t conditional on externals. True happiness is built only on a strong sense of self, purpose, and connection to Hashem, internal measures that nobody and no thing can take away.

That is our blessing — we must work hard to achieve this state, we must toil “by the sweat of our brow”, but we can have a constant connection to Hashem, a constant joy.

May we be blessed to leave Egypt in our minds, to not be among the snakes too comfortable in material comforts, but rather in a constant state of joy, with friends, family, and Hashem.

Have a Fantastic Shabbas and Passover!

-Ari Melman


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Spice up your Seder: Highlights from Exodus

Dear *|FNAME|*,

Spice up your Seder: Highlights from Exodus

The Haggadah dedicates a large number of pages to preamble completely unrelated to the actual story of Exodus of Egypt. Many families think the number of pages dictate the pace of the Seder and spend a long time reading these cryptic passages about 10 miracles vs 40 vs 400 and so on.

R. Taub’s key advice: Read through the printed preludes quickly, and spend the bulk of your time off the page, telling the story in as much interesting and passionate detail and excitement as you can.

Get the entire table involved off the page to truly feel you’re reliving the story!

A few favorite highlights from the Exodus story:

(They all come from the excellent Me’Am Loez Anthology of Midrashim (Volume Exodus 1-4 Israel in Egypt))

I. The story is full of logical deductions that reveal moral priorities — Pharaoh decides how to diminish the Israelite population, knowing G-d will avenge them in a similar manner. “We must therefore kill them by drowning, since their G-d has sworn never to bring another flood on the earth (Gen. 9:11). We know that the Israelite G-d always makes the punishment fit the crime. We must therefore kill the Israelites in such a way that such a fitting punishment will be impossible.”

The Israelite midwives (incl. Moses’s mother, Yochebed and Miriam) similarly knew that by Torah law, abortion (even upon birth!) is not considered murder if the alternative is martyrdom and thus, they could have obeyed Pharaoh’s decree. However, they learned from the Akeidah (when Avraham was ready to sacrifice his only son Isaac), that a Jew hurries to do the Creator’s bidding even against the thoughts of man. In risking their lives, the midwives too went far beyond the requirements of logic and law to fear G-d more than any man.

The midwives even ensured that all Israelite children received sufficient food, even the many that went uncircumcised, further modeling the ways of Avraham and Sara whose house was open to all guests without inquiring as to their character.

When Pharaoh realized, he confronted the midwives (Ex. 1:18-19). The midwives answered how Pharaoh thought, “The Hebrew women give birth naturally, like wild beasts, without requiring our help. As to why we provide their food, we don’t do it out of love for the children. We devised a plan to gain a reputation for providing food for indigent families. This would provide an inducement for women to seek our services, and we would then be able to obey your orders and kill the babies.”

Pharaoh could not find fault with their argument, and accepted what they told him. Thus, their fear of G-d gave them the strength and merit to produce a Moses and usher the Exodus.

May the example of the midwives inspire us to give generously with our entire being and guide our logical thinking through fear and love of Hashem.

II. I’ve never seen a legitimate claim from Torah sources that Jews built the pyramids. To the contrary, the Chumash speaks of the Jews building the storage cities of Pithom and Rameses (Ex 1:11) only. The word  מסכנות means “build”, “danger”, or “poor man”. The walls of the buildings were so high that workers were killed by falling or by having bricks fall on their heads. The more they worked, the more the cities fell apart. Engaging in building such as this can be financially ruinous — a small estimate grows into a massive expense. The material crumbled easily and crumbled even more once Pharaoh refused to supply their straw.

Women were made to do men’s backbreaking work, and men were made to do women’s labor, unable to help their wives. Pharaoh decreed that if a man did not make his quota of bricks, either he or his child would have to be placed in the structure to make up for the missing bricks.

III.  The Egyptians issued four harsh decrees against the Israelites:

1. Appointed slave drivers over them and forced them to build Pithom and Rameses.

2. Forced backbreaking work and made their lives bitter with harsh labor.

3. Decreed every male infant be drowned in the Nile.

4. Stopped giving them straw, demanding the same quota of bricks as before.

Paralleling these four decrees, G-d announced he would rescue His people in four different ways:

1. “I will bring you out from the subjugation of Egypt.”

2. “I will free you from their slavery.”

3. “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm.”

4. “I will take you to Me as a nation.”

These four different steps of redemption parallel the four cups of wine drunk at the Seder. The first two cups represent our Exodus from Egypt (the past), and the second two cups, drank after Hallel, represent our redemption in the Messianic era, the goal to which we strive (the future). Pesach commemorates our constant growth in freedom from physical constraints toward spiritual union.

IV. How come the plagues started as ones the Egyptians would be able to duplicate? If Moses began with miracles the Egyptians couldn’t duplicate, they wouldn’t have tried. But now that they had duplicated several of Moses’ signs, they would have no excuse when they were unable to duplicate the rest.

How come the first miracle they showed was Aaron’s staff (Ex 7:13) consuming the snakes of the Egyptian occultists? Furthermore, the staff didn’t become bigger, nor change at all, as it swallowed the many snakes on the floor. Answer: If Aaron’s staff had such power, it could swallow Pharaoh and his throne without leaving a trace. As soon, as Moses and Aaron left, Pharaoh railed for their deaths, but as soon as they returned, he became impotent as a dead stick.

The snake (as we know from the Garden of Eden) represents our physical desires. The staff represents the straight path, the path of the Israelite, ישר קל, one who lives straight with G-d. Aaron showed that the Israelites, although they might seem corrupted and seeped in the physical world of the Egyptians, could become straight and correct all their previous deviations in an instant. Once corrected, they could approach physical pleasures in the correct way, and imbue them without straying an inch from the straight path. That is the mission of the Jew — to elevate all the physical pleasures in this world into proper use.

V. What’s the reason for the plague on livestock (Ex 9:6)? The Egyptians forced the Israelites to tend their flocks in the distant deserts and mountains, to keep them from being with their wives and having children. They also made the Israelites do the work of beasts, as David recalls, “The plowers plowed with my back and they made long furrows” (Psalms 129:3). Since the Egyptians used Israelites like animals, they were punished by losing their animals.

The greatest danger Pharaoh posed was killing as many Israelite children as he could. Thus, the essence of our tasks on Seder night, these first two nights of Pesach, is to relive the story and tell it as powerfully as possible to our children. Even if there are no children present, and even if everyone at the table is well versed in the story, we are still obligated to tell the story with as much detail and excitement as possible? Why is that?

The Bilvavi writes that the heart thinks like a little child — it does not respond well to complex intellectual ideas. It lights up with simple, powerful, meaningful connections. No matter how developed we’ve become, our heart still responds best to the simplicity of emotional connection, and no matter how far it matures, it still listens best in the manner you’d teach your children — slowly, repetitively, with as much feeling and excitement as possible.

May you be blessed to have a Seder ignited with passion, with storytelling, with questions and answers galore, and with renewed enthusiasm to serve Hashem, to unleash the chains on your soul, and to bring on the coming redemption in our days.

Have a Great Passover!

-Ari Melman


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Parshas Tzav: The Meaning of Matzah

This week’s Dvar Torah comes via Yosef Platt at CKD Kollel. Yosef is a Cherry Hill raised Talmud Chacham.

I will be sending out much shorter emails in the near future, as I’ll be switching to a more rigorous Yeshiva and learning schedule. Thank you for joining me on the adventure.

Great Shabbas,

Ari Melman

Summary:

Matzah represents Alacrity and Humility — Upon leaving Egypt, the Jews baked quickly and didn’t let it rise (ie. become haughty). Thus, we must move fast in performing Mitzvot (which shares the same letters as the word Matzah) and be humble and appreciative of what we have.

The biggest impediment to gratitude is when we think we deserve or earned everything we get. To fix this, envision what would our lives be like without this kindness in our life. By recognizing what lack would feel like, we will be more inspired to appreciate what we have.

Parshas Tzav: The Meaning of Matzah

The Mincha offering prohibits bringing Chametz, and requires bringing Matzah. Only the Thanks offering (תודה) and the Two Loaves allow Chametz offerings on the alter (מנחות נב:). The Ramban explains that both the Thanks offering and the Two Loaves share the common denominator of giving thanks (Ramban, Vayikra 24:17). Chametz normally lacks the quality of “thanksgiving”, which matzah provides.

This leaves a major question and a beautiful answer:

1. What does matzah (and it’s counterpart, chametz) symbolize?

The Answer

Symbol 1: זריזות

Rev Wolbe asks, “What’s the biggest impediment to gratitude? It’s when we think everything we get, we deserve. Or we earned. The way to fix this is to envision what would be if this kindness wasn’t in my life.

The Sefer Hachinuch (מצוה קיז) explains that Matzah reminds us to have fervor, by not delaying, in Serving G-d. We must be light as an eagle, swift as a deer, and strong as a lion to do the Mitzvot. Matzah is a great symbol for that because the dough turns to bread instantly.

This week, I visited my Rabbi’s matzah making factory, where the entire process, starting from mixing flour with water, to pulling the matzah out of the oven, takes less than 18 minutes. I hadn’t realized before that the matzah is only in the oven for a few seconds! It forms instantly. This must be the speed with which we form our resolve to serve Hashem.

The Ramchal in Path of the Just (פרק ח) defines זריזות, alacrity, as, “When one recognizes the good Hashem provides, he desires/cherishes/feels an obligation (חובה/חיבה) to return good. This is already inherent in a Thanks offering, and thus doesn’t need Matzah as an added symbol to internalize the message.

Symbol 2:  רחוק מגאוה

The Sefer Hachinuch continues that Matzah represents the absence of גאוה, translated as haughtiness/arrogance/pride. Rambam (הלחות דעות פרק ב הלכה ג) famously explains that in every middah/character trait EXCEPT anger and arrogance, one should strive to take the middle path. But one should avoid those two completely. Even that has an exception. Rambam says elsewhere that arrogance/pride for learning can be useful, even necessary. After all, one who thinks he’s the best in the class will work harder to keep up his reputation, and thus gain in learning.

Rev Wolbe says that young students/bachrim shouldn’t work on the character trait of pride because it could cause them to be less successful. Rev Berkowitz illustrates this with a story of R. Eliyashev, one of the giants of the last generation who was famous for learning non-stop, day and night, his entire life. A student came to him and told him he’d been studying diligently for fifteen years and still didn’t have clarity in his learning. Rev Eliyashev responded, “I also don’t have clarity in my learning.” A pride in learning Torah isn’t actually pride at all — the more one learns, the more he realizes the depth and impossibility of complete understanding and he cannot be arrogant.

Connecting Pesach to Shavuos:

The Sefer Hachinuch explains that the primary reason we were taken out of Egypt (Pesach) was to receive the Torah (Shavuos). We made Matzahs because we needed to leave Egypt quickly. Rashi recognizes the word Matzah shares the same letters as Mitzvah — Just as we shouldn’t let our matzah turn into Chametz by acting slow to make it, so too we shouldn’t let our Mitzvahs turn into Chametz by being slow to act on them. We must act with alacrity, and a genuine recognition of the joy of serving G-d. When we hear our neighbor is sick, when we prepare for Shabbas, when we work honestly in business, and all the other areas of life which our Mitzvahs govern, we must perform with fervor and humility. The person who makes himself humble, like Matzah (or the desert) will fill with Torah and connection.

Shavuos, the day we received the Torah, is thus a day for thanking Hashem. If it wasn’t for Torah, we wouldn’t have a path toward greatness.

In the Talmud (פסחים סח:), Rav Yosef demonstrates the idea that to be grateful, envision what life would be like without that kindness, without the Torah. Rav Yosef says that he never would have merited his positive attributes and great stature if not for the discipline and growth process imbued through the Torah. Without the Torah, there would be no qualitative difference between individuals — everyone would have their genetic gifts and nobody could be judged according to the level they developed themselves. But because we do have Torah, we are given this roadmap for closeness and betterment.

Envision your life without Torah, without the close relationships and tight family and loving community and connection to Hashem that Torah has given us. Without it, we’d still be successful in our careers, we’d still have families, we’d still have our exteriors, but how much would we be missing? Appreciate what you have, by imagining what life would be like if you didn’t have it.

This is a great goal to focus on through the 49 days of counting the Omer — verbally express gratitude for what you do have. If you do this even once a day, by Shavuos, you will feel truly connected and thankful for Torah.

May you be blessed to recognize all the good in your life and appreciate what you do have ever more.

Great Shabbas and Great Pesach!

-Ari Melman (This dvar was presented by Yosef Platt, a Cherry Hill raised Talmud Chacham)

  


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Parshas Vayikra: Humility, Servant Leadership, Produces the Greatest Results

Before we begin the new book, finish the book of Exodus with a funky song: Pick One Mitzvah

Pesach’s right around the corner, and a new book’s begun. Spring’s coming in, and the birds are singing G-d’s praises. I wish you all well!

Main Dvar’s Summary: The word Vayikra is the language of affection, demonstrating that closeness to Hashem is accessible to any Jew who breaks selfish desires to connect with the truth of Torah. In our relationships and in our connection to Torah or any big ideas, the greatest way to receive the most is by making yourself a giver. Be motivated by the drive to connect, to help, to learn and grow, and eliminate to the best of your ability, objections rooted in amassing power, short-term delights or guilty pleasures. The pleasures of Torah are refined and rewarding, and are drawn from internal reflection and growth. But that deep internal reflection is actually the spark Hashem placed inside us, the call of G-d Himself. May your relationships blossom and the world shine brighter from being near you.

Heed the call, and awaken your greatest self.

Great Shabbas!

-Ari Melman

Revisit past lessons from the parsha at talktorah.wordpress.com/ 

Parshas Vayikra: Why G-d Requires Either Old Turtledoves or Young Doves for the Olah Offering

Brief Thought: When one brings Hashem an olah-offering of fowl, he must “bring his offering from the turtledoves (old only) or from the young doves” (Lev. 1:14). Why only old turtledoves or young doves? Why not young turtledoves or old doves? Rashi hammers this point home by explaining that Turtledoves must be, “Mature ones, not young ones” and young doves must be “young ones, not mature ones”. Rashi screams out for understanding.

Luckily, Rabbeinu Bachya explains, the pshat/simple explanation is that turtledoves, once they commit to a partner, are faithful to that partner forever, even if the partner dies. Likewise, Klal Israel is forever loyal to Hashem, even if His presence becomes hidden or bad times occur. On the other hand, old doves quarrel heavily and become jealous, a trait that begins in youth and worsens over time. Thus, we symbolize in our offering that we want the closest most loyal connection, after a turtledove has proven loyalty. Alternatively, we want to minimize quarrel, before it becomes so negative that the relationship becomes broken.

He then explains the Kabalistic level — turtledoves are equated to water, itself equated to Chesed, a flow of lovingkindness. Doves are equated to fire, itself equated to Din, the constraint of judgement. We want as much connection and lovingkindness as we can get, so the older, the better. But we want as minimal and controlled a fire as necessary, so the younger, the better.

Jealousy (קינא), one of the three basic negative traits (along with כבוד / honor and טיבא taiva/selfish desire) is the only one that can be elevated on the mishkan for positive purposes. Gemara Horayos 10B explains the Torah forbids bringing offerings of leaven or honey but requires bringing salt in all meal-offerings. The Sefer Hachinuch writes honey represents base physical desire/taiva because it’s a sweet tasting food. Leaven is haughty because it rises up.

The Chasam Sofer explains that when G-d split the waters of heaven and earth, the lower waters also wanted to go up and so G-d imbued them with salt to go up. Their jealousy was for greater connection to Hashem. This can be a major motivating force for growth.

Rabbeinu Bachya concludes by saying that turkeys are never allowed on the alter, because they are sexually promiscuous. Thus, we see a clear purpose of the olah offering emerge — whatever aspects of our world we can use to have a closer connection must be amplified, whatever causes us to separate must be removed. And that tricky gray area, jealousy, must be used, but with caution.

May you be blessed to overflow with lovingkindness and have just enough jealousy to accomplish all your dreams.

Great Shabbas!

Ari Melman

Summary: The word Vayikra is the language of affection, demonstrating that closeness to Hashem is accessible to any Jew who breaks selfish desires to connect with the truth of Torah. In our relationships and in our connection to Torah or any big ideas, the greatest way to receive the most is by making yourself a giver. Be motivated by the drive to connect, to help, to learn and grow, and eliminate to the best of your ability, objections rooted in amassing power, short-term delights or guilty pleasures. The pleasures of Torah are refined and rewarding, and are drawn from internal reflection and growth. But that deep internal reflection is actually the spark Hashem placed inside us, the call of G-d Himself. May your relationships blossom and the world shine brighter from being near you.

Heed the call, and awaken your greatest self.

Parshas Vayikra: Humility, Servant Leadership, Produces the Greatest Results

The name of a book represents its central theme. בראשית speaks of beginnings, שמות of establishing the Jewish people (their names), and now ויקרא speaks of G-d calling to us. The book of Vayikra used to be the first one taught to kindergarteners, and as the center book, is also the central book of the five. Bilvavi (Building a Sanctuary in the heart) writes that the primary obligation of our lives is to internalize G-d’s presence into our vision of reality — it’s not enough to intellectually believe in Torah or G-d, we must also feel the guiding presence and loving relationship throughout our lives. It’s fitting, therefore, that the book of Vayikra is dedicated to all the methods for us to individually and as a community connect to Hashem and bring Him into our lives.

Ultimately, that will include the crux of our behavioral Mitzvot — sacrifices, prayer, proper relations, kosher, Shmittah, family purity, lashon hara and many more.    

Let’s understand the importance of the word Vayikra (ויקרא). Rashi explains that the word Vayikra is the language of affection. G-d calls/vayikra to Moses three times: At the Burning Bush (Ex. 3:4), Mt. Sinai (Ex. 19:3) and here, as Moses is introduced to the sacrificial service.

The Midrash expands that Moses, from his understanding of humility, felt unworthy for the mission of leading the Jews out of Egyptian slavery and repeatedly, at every refusal from Pharaoh and set-back burdening the people, wanted to withdraw from the attention and honor that go with leadership. Ultimately, he did all that G-d asked of him and upon delivering the Torah, prepared once again to move into the background. He never desired power for honor’s sake, even when at the top of his game. But G-d said to him, “I have one more task for you, surpassing all that you have done so far. Go and teach the people of Israel the laws of ritual purity and instruct them in the sacrifices.”

The noblest part of Moses’ trial only begins now. He now must use his prior experiences to shape a “kingdom of leaders/Kohanim and a holy nation”. The process of training the people morally and spiritually and teaching them the tools for self-growth and actualization are the eternal destiny of the Jewish people, beyond any single generation. This is the ultimate mission of every Jew, every parent, every spouse (Munk).

We can relate to this idea by examining life decisions in youth. As children, we begin fully dependent on our parents and teachers and are generally incapable of true individual greatness. Frequently, our early attempts at expressing change and growth go awry (such as when Moses killed the Egyptian who was killing the slaves, which forced him into hiding). We later build up our individual talents as individuals, and with the help of G-d, succeed in affecting growth and change (the Makkot/Plagues and Exodus). We then must subdue our own individuality and stature to Torah and follow the path of the just, ensuring that all our actions and thoughts are for the sake of creating harmony and unity and beauty, rather than giving in to self-centered desires (receiving the Torah). Now, we may think we’re complete, but the real journey only now begins. Now, we are ready to get married, to bind ourselves to giving to another, to pass on Torah and create living Torah in the world. All the previous steps of our development were building to this ultimate stage of life.

The Aleph/א in this third mention of ויקרא is written smaller. Rashi explains that ויקר, how Balaam is called, refers to language of transitoriness, as the word ויקר means “happened”. Balaam knew when to come to be able to talk to G-d, whereas Moses waited for G-d to come to him.

Sampson Raphael Hirsch explains that this language is to prevent misrepresentation as some kind of revelation in Moses, rather than to Moses. While many others have “imaginary visions of a so-called ecstasy, or simply as an inspiration coming from within a human being…a contemporary phase in the history of the development of the human mind”, this is not so. G-d alone is the speaker, and Moses purely serves as listener, and vessel.

It is only possible to listen perfectly if we remove our own biases and impressions first. Otherwise, we will always interpret what we hear to fit our own ideologies. Moses is the perfect model of humility precisely because of his dedication to being a perfect listener, a true vessel for Torah, without implanting his own desires on G-d’s system. This is the highest mark of a Jew, and characteristic of our gedolim/great Torah scholars — people that have so removed their own egos and personal biases that they should be judging purely from a place of Torah knowledge. Thus, humility is not shying away from the spotlight, but developing yourself to the point where you’re the ONLY proper person to be in the spotlight — the only person who can be in the spotlight without deriving any personal benefit from the glory.

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt’l would straighten his coat and hat before coming home, as if about to enter an important meeting. He explained to his questioning student,

“When you’re going to be standing before the Shechinah, you have to look respectable.  I’m about to enter my home, and it is written, ‘A man and his wife, if they merit it – the Shechinah is there with them.  Therefore, I am now about to stand before the Shechinah.”

‘At his wife’s funeral, he said that even though it’s the Minhag to ask one’s wife for mechila/forgiveness, he knew for sure that he had NEVER done anything that made him require mechila! Rav Tauber connected the two stories – because of his approach to marriage via the Shechina, he could treat his wife so well that he never upset her!’ (told to me by Yehonasan Gefen)

Moses felt that G-d simply happened upon him, that he was nothing. G-d had to reassure Moses, telling him his task had really just begun, and all the refinement and trials that got him here had ensured his obligation to serve in the spotlight. If anyone else tried for the role, if anyone but Rav Auerbach claimed he’d never hurt his wife, it would have been arrogance. Coming from such a pure spirit, it was the greatest show of humility.

A midrash explains that the bit of ink Moses didn’t use to make the א normal sized, G-d pressed the leftover holy ink on his forehead. This made Moses’s face shine so brightly he needed to wear a mask, “Moses did not know that the skin of his face had become radiant…Moses placed a mask on his face. When Moses would come before Hashem to speak with Him, he would remove the mask until his departure” (Ex. 34:29). Moses’s radiating displays of greatness emerged from his desire to remain out of the scenes, to nullify his honor as much as possible.

The NYT bestselling business book “Good to Great” emphasizes that the most successful CEOs practice this attribute of humility, servant leadership. By bringing out the best in those around you, and communicating your desire for the team and mission to succeed more than your personal bank account, people remain inspired and achieve their best.

In our relationships and in our connection to Torah or any big ideas, the greatest way to receive the most is by making yourself a giver. Be motivated by the drive to connect, to help, to learn and grow, and eliminate to the best of your ability, objections rooted in amassing power, short-term delights or guilty pleasures. The pleasures of Torah are refined and rewarding, and are drawn from internal reflection and growth. But that deep internal reflection is actually the spark Hashem placed inside us, the call of G-d Himself.

Heed the call, and awaken your greatest self.

May you be blessed to grow in humility, maximizing your growth and contribution in the world without a need for honor. May your relationships blossom and the world shine brighter from being near you.

Great Shabbas!

-Ari Melman


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Parshas Vayakhel and Pekudei: Love is Hard Work, Hard Work is Beloved

Dear Friends and Family,

Do you know anyone that would be interested in receiving these weekly ideas? If so, please ask them and if so, send me their contact information (name and email). Thank you.

We get two parshas this week, but you might have deja-vu. The bulk of these parshas we’ve already seen in Parshas Terumah and Tetzaveh. Why does the Torah dedicate so much time to repeating the measurements and various vessels of the Mishkan? That’s the main question bothering me this week. The answer will come soon.

Summary: No matter how many details we learn in theory, it’s a completely different reality when we actually create. We are judged by how much we apply our learning, not by how much we’ve read. The idea of deep love is an inseparable connection, a complete giving of ourselves not just with words or thoughts, but actions as well.

But first, Brief Vort:

Parshas Pekudei: Journey in the Right Direction

We’re finishing the book of Shemos/Exodus this week. The final words tell us that G-d led the Jews “before the eyes of all of the House of Israel throughout their journeys.” Rashi notes that even the place where Israel encamped is called מסע, meaning “journeys”, because they kept traveling from place to place.

The destiny of the Jewish people is to keep moving, even if we currently feel still. We must make sure that the direction we’re heading on is directed by G-d, that He’s always before our eyes, so that our journey will build the world up.

This is hinted in the very first parsha of the Torah, when G-d makes man to rule over the other animals (Breishis 1:26). The word for rule is ירדו, which means both ‘ruling’ and ‘decline’. We must make sure that our journey has the right guide and the ideal outcome. Then we will be comfortable along the journey, maintain our sense of right and goodness, and live a fulfilling life.

May you be blessed to journey on the right path.

Great Shabbas!

-Ari Melman

P.S. This week, the song/poem I wrote encompasses the idea of the drash in shorter, more poetic language. I’ve included it at the bottom.

Parshas Vayakhel: Love is Hard Work, Hard Work is Beloved

Parshas Terumah and Tetzaveh already explained all the details of the Mishkan when G-d gave the instructions. How come the Torah repeats all the details when they are carried out? Let the Torah just write, “Betzalel, Ohliab and the people built the Mishkan as G-d commanded.” Then we’d save hundreds of words.

No matter how many details we learn in theory, it’s a completely different reality when we actually create. We are judged by how much we apply our learning, not by how much we’ve read. Thus, the Rabbis recommend reviewing and contemplating one point again and again as far superior to trying to reach a massive amount of material once. Ramchal in Path of the Just opens his book saying, “as public as these matters are, and as revealed as their truth is to all, so is the neglect of them prevalent, and the forgetfulness of them common.” What we apply defines who we are, not what we’ve read or heard (Building a Sanctuary in the Heart).

G-d commanded us to build a sanctuary in them, meaning in the heart of every Jew. He dwells in our heart. For us to sense that, we must sense that Hashem is one with us, part of our very existence. The more we reflect on Hashem in our lives, in our emotions, again and again, the closer we will feel connected in our relationship with Him. And in turn, the more we feel connected in our relationship with G-d, the more we will be able to connect in our relationship with our loved ones and friends. Thus, we put into play the thoughts we accept to be important and true.

Rabbeinu Bachya writes that every letter of the Torah is important and necessary, and we derive many laws from individual letters- how much more so the hundreds of words used to say over the work of the entire Jewish people building the Mishkan. This was the most holy and connected work we ever did, collectively building a dwelling place for Hashem amongst us — because of this, G-d cherished us, חובב. He bound himself to us, creating an inseparable relationship. Thus the word חובב is a mix of חוב, meaning “obligation” and ב, beis, meaning “House”. The idea of deep love is an inseparable connection, a complete giving of ourselves not just with words or thoughts, but actions as well.

R. Bachya explains this is why the laws of Shabbas come immediately afterward. Even the most precious work you can do to me still isn’t as close as you can come — the closest you can come is appreciating what we’ve created together, simply being and experiencing the world with Hashem constantly around you. When you work, especially on the Mishkan, you are building a life toward Hashem. When you cease work on Shabbas because He commanded, you are truly doing the will of Makom/G-d (רצונו של מקום).

Our work defines us and builds us, but our rest and commitment to relationship allows us to appreciate the fruits of our labor. On Shabbas, we experience the full glory of our journey and development.

Additionally, the Mishkan sanctifies space while Shabbas sanctifies time. Space may change and Temples will fall, but time keeps going on. Thus, our commitment to Shabbas keeps the Jewish people alive and connected to Hashem stronger even than the Mishkan, our physical creations.

The work we do in this world, as important and great as it is, will fade and be forgotten with time. But the way we develop our character, the traits we develop in refining our relationships, these will be forever bound into our souls, in this world and the world to come. Even in this world, the subtle improvements in how we treat people, being more attentive to their needs, listening closer, caring more, has a powerful ricochet effect.

The soul responds to simple words and simple deeds. All this emanates from truly valuing our relationship with Hashem, and allowing our quest for growth to improve all our relationships.

G-d appreciates our deeds and actions — that we didn’t simply hear his ideas, but that “the entire assembly of the Children of Israel” (Shemos 35:1), “everyone whose heart motivates him” (35:5), every wise-hearted person among you” (35:10), put them into action.

Start with one idea and work on it for the entire week. Challenge yourself to add one more mitzvah, one more reflection on G-d’s closeness to you in all times, one more kindness to those around you. This will build your heart and renew your vigor in incredible ways.

May you be blessed to start today with a new-felt closeness to Hashem and your loved ones!

Great Shabbas,

Ari Melman

Parsha Song:

Verse One:

1000 big ideas will not set you free

If you will not be, one who brings them to reality.

A book a week, mussar vad or shir

Will not help you to appear before the Lord with fear.

If you do not apply what you learn, you’re like an airborne wheel that turns,

Moving to the wind but staying in place, in one ear and out the other lays Torah to waste.

So find just one idea, hold tight with all your might,

Perfection is made with each nail hammered right.

Meditate, repeat, get it drilled in your head.

One who doesn’t grow out-of-the-dirt remains dead.

Pre-chorus:

Time will help you, so take it slow.

The snake that bites you, won’t help you grow.

Slight change in attitude builds up a flow.

Till you find truth, then you will know.

That thinking all day is just the first stage of a century of Torah that leaps off the page.

Pick up Hebrew Hammer, pound your brain into a sage. What counts is your actions, not your delays.

Chorus:

Pick one Mitzvah,

Put it into play.

Put it into play today.

Pick one Mitzvah,

Let your heart have its say.

Put it into play today.

Verse Two:

We saw the frogs croak, Egyptian blokes choke

On blood and a flood. Get real, this ain’t no joke.

Thud hailed their heads, darkness robbed their cred.

G-d on all sides, follow all that He said.

But just three days after split of the sea.

Three days without miracles, panic belies.

Emuna shaken, doubt enters in.

If falls happened then, how can we avoid sin?

Rise above the trash bin, congestion tumah-turned failed kin.

Triumph of survival, dumpster rising for the win.

Meditate, repeat, get it drilled in your head.

One who doesn’t grow out-of-the-dirt remains dead.

Pre-Chorus/Chorus

Verse Three:

Build a Mishkan in your heart as you did in the ground.

Pound one hundred pegs as foundation that’s sound.

It’s vibration of the craftsmen carving shoham stones.

One for each tribe, for each leg on His throne.

Once work’s begun, though it’s never done,

We’re filled with knowledge, understanding, wisdom.

All the tools of the tabernacle rattle with delight.

School for the pool of souls who seek greater sight.

Beam by beam, hook em in, a masterpiece complete.

There’s no rush to the fin-ish, just follow the beat.

Meditate, repeat, get it drilled in your head.

One who doesn’t grow out-of-the-dirt remains dead.

Pre-Chorus/Chorus

Chorus fade out..