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Leadership Lessons and Parsha Insights


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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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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 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..

  


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Parshas Ki Sisa: True love is Lifelong Honeymoon

Parshas Ki Sisa:

Dear Friends and Family,

Start off the week with an upbeat song: We got the Torah!

Parshas Ki Sisa: True love is Lifelong Honeymoon

At Mt. Sinai, G-d’s presence was so clear to the nation that it was as if we were coerced to accept Torah. The hard part isn’t accepting the relationship when our feelings are clear and true, but years down the road, when the honeymoon period has ended and keeping the feeling alive takes hard work.

That’s the significance of Purim. Even when G-d didn’t appear with any open miracles and even his name is masked, the Jewish people still gathered together and recognized his guidance behind the seeming horrors and successes of our physical world.

The sin of the Golden Calf was the decision to turn away from a direct connection to Hashem at the very moment of the closest connection. Even though the Calf was a replacement for Moses, not G-d, even though it was simply a tool for those few to connect to G-d, it was a heinous deviation because of how intimate their connection with Hashem was. Imagine if your significant other is waiting for you for a date and you come thirty minutes late because you were talking to their siblings. It’s not that you were doing the worst thing, but your actions and timing were completely inappropriate. In fact, in the proper setting, the Jews were encouraged to direct their prayers to the Aron, which was covered by the Cherubim.

The lesson for us is to recognize where we are right now. G-d is hidden in our world, which makes Purim the most relatable Jewish holiday of the year. But those that hold fast to Torah, who grip tight to Hashem, are striving for that close relationship despite any obstacles. We cannot allow distractions and lesser goods to get in our way. We cannot direct our energy and focus purely to work, or pleasure seeking, or entertainment, if it means giving up the moment of connecting personally.

Everyone has an individual responsibility to make the most of their relationship, to give their all. That’s why the word for love in Hebrew is “אהב” — literally meaning, “I will give”. Rabbi Kelemen explains that a secular marriage is healthy if each person helps the other achieve their goals 50/50 — I take out the trash and you clean the dishes, you watch the kids tonight and I will tomorrow. You be successful in your thing and I’ll be successful in my thing. The healthy Jewish marriage is one in which we are aligned and coordinated, where what I want takes a back seat for what will be best for us. I don’t get a day off if that means you’ll be more frazzled. The focus is on what’s best for us as a unit, rather than what’s optimal as individuals. Thus, the relationship changes the individual — their goals, desires and pleasures change to fit each other.

He explains that one who constantly pursues happiness for himself will always feel the lack, the gap between where he is and where he wants to be. But one who is constantly giving to the other will not be able to think of the lack in himself because he’s thinking how to fill the lack and needs of the other. And as a side benefit, he will achieve a steady state of happiness.

May you be blessed from Purim to Purim to recognize and invest yourself into the most important relationships, the most important activities, and the most important acts of giving, so that you can be truly fulfilled and happy in this world and the world to come.

Shavua Tov!

-Ari Melman


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Parshas Tetzaveh: A Story of Attempted Love — Featuring Clothes and Fragrances

Dear friends and family,

This week, I’m trying out a new format — story telling. Hopefully, this makes the lesson more memorable and relatable, while still packed with the usual depth and sources.

Summary: Building the strongest relationship means giving to them that which purely provides them joy for no ulterior motives. When we discover the gifts our loved ones like most, and give them generously simply to make them happy, then we have a real, beautiful relationship.

Have a Great Shabbas!

-Ari Melman

Parshas Tetzaveh: A Story of Attempted Love — Featuring Clothes and Fragrances

Understanding the power of smell

There once was a man who wanted very badly to please his wife. He was proud of his beauty, which he knew had come into form only because of Her shaping, but She refused to look at him this way. His beauty was marred by eight major flaws, and for each flaw, She asked him to cover up with a beautiful garment of clothing. They were as follows:

Breastplate

Moral Debauchery (source: Tractate Zevachim 88B)

Ephod

Idolatry

Robe

Murder

Tunic of a box-like knit

Arrogance

Turban

Corruption

Sash

Injustice

Tsetse Headplate of gold

Slander

Linen pants

Impudence

The man was ashamed he had made so imperfect the form She had given him, and asked if there was any way he could give Her what she most wanted. Although She had everything, She still loved receiving pure gifts from Him. The gifts She loved most were fine fragrances, so lofty that She could be sure he got no personal benefit from them except from the enjoyment in pleasing Her. With physical gifts, foods and moneys, there was always a part of him doing it for himself — to atone, to make peace, to request greater blessing. But with fine fragrance, all was for Her, and She loved them more than anything.

One day, the man got drunk and offered Her the fragrances to seduce Her. How dare he! The fragrances were for Her pleasure alone, not for granting favors, rewarding or forgiving his poor behavior. She lashed out at the man and his drunken follies were consumed by a fire through his nose. Never again would he try to get personal gain from Her favorite present, Her sweet smelling fragrances.

There were eleven fragrances, ten sweet and one foul. But She only accepted them as one bundle. Even the foul smell added depth and importance to the mix. If the man ever removed the foul spice, She would get angry and refuse his gift, until he made the foul smell feel just as at home as all the sweet ones.

When he lit them, She grew very happy, and they lived happily ever after.

Explanation:

The man in this story is the People of Israel. The woman is the shekinah, Hashem’s presence that rests among humanity.

Originally, Adam and Chava were born without clothing, without shame or attachment to the physical world, and the Shekinah was closer to them then than at any other point in human history. “Hashem blew into his nostrils the soul of life” (Br. 2:7). When they ate from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they became aware of their ability to separate from Hashem, to find short-term pleasures more alluring than connection to greater truth and happiness. They attempted to cover up their thoughts of separation, covering their bodies with clothing. Out of sight, out of mind. The word begged means both ‘clothing’ and ‘betrayal’. By going after physical lusts, they blinded themselves from elevating all toward a beautiful US relationship. The ME urge overcame them. From then on, humanity needed to wear clothes to keep from lustful thoughts and approach a relationship with their Creator. But though the clothing served as a protection, it certainly was less ideal than their pure state of origin. The Kohen Gadol had to wear these eight garments any time he approached the altar (Ex. 28:4). The holy garments designate both external appearances and inner morality, as King David writes, “let your Kohanim be clothed with justice” (Tehilim 132:9).

All sacrifices were brought to the Korban, the altar. The word Korban comes from the root Karov, meaning “come close” or “connection”. The sacrifices brought the Jewish people closer to G-d. Until the building of the Mikdash after Mt. Sinai, all sacrifices had been completely consumed on the altar. It was unthinkable that a human would eat from the sacrifice given to G-d (Avigdor Miller, the night of history audio lecture). Abel and Noah and Abraham all offered complete animal sacrifices on the altar. But with the Pesach offering, the people who brought the sacrifice ate with it. They turned their bodies into an altar, a connection point with their Creator. Only the Jews, a people dedicated to transforming their minds and actions into vessels of connection with Hashem, were capable of achieving this. And they were only able to as a complete unit — all of Klal Yisrael is thought as one being, one married partner in the relationship with G-d. An individual cannot take upon himself the Pesach offering — he must share it with the community or burn it altogether.

Still, G-d’s favorite preference is not for animal sacrifices but for incense. Midrash Tanchuma (Parsha Tetzaveh, simon 14) explains that Hashem prefers ketores incense offerings over all others. All the animal sacrifices fill the interests of the sacrificer — whether shlamim (peace), guilt, precautionary, or voluntary offering, all were done to perfect the giver. Only the incense were done purely for G-d’s pleasure, as Tractate Berachos explains (Daf 43, amud beis), smell helps the soul but not the body. That’s why it’s allowed, even encouraged, on Yom Kippur to smell spices.

Animal sacrifice is comparable to when a husband picks up groceries, or buys his wife a blender, or takes her out on a date. They are nice, but it’s clear he’s getting direct benefit as well. But when a husband surprises her with flowers for Shabbas, something that most women appreciate in a way most men do not, she knows he got them only in order to make her happy. And that thought makes her happiest of all.

Nadab and Avihu, two of Aaron’s four sons, got drunk on wine and offered incense offerings to Hashem. For their selfish desire to connect to Hashem without the proper clothes or community intentions, for acting as a limb rather than for the whole body, they were consumed. The fire went up their noses and took back the souls Hashem had breathed into them.

We are a community, composed of people of all strengths and challenges, of all intellects and disabilities. We care for each other, and the true test of caring is in how we care for the least fortunate among us. Amalek, the very opposite of Hashem, attacks the weakest first. In contrast, Hashem loves those who care most attentively to the most easily ignored. That’s why one of the 11 fragrances is foul smelling — it represents the part of the community most people would rather leave out. But Hashem makes our responsibility as a community clear — even the bruised and battered play a critical role in defining us, and we must give them equal stand among us. When we do, we bring out the greatest connection we have. In the Niddah cycle of women’s purity, there are 11 days of clear-sailing when a woman is guaranteed clean. In this span, she can have the closest relationship with Her husband of the month (Midrash Yilkati Rueveni parshas Ki Teitze). Every day is precious.

It is no surprise that the word Ketorah means Keter, “connection” (Aramaic, Recanti on Ex. Perek 30) or “to tie” (Tractate Shabbas, daf 61, amud 1). The Ketores are what bind us to Hashem, because we light them purely in order to please.

May we be blessed to serve our loved ones what they most desire, not what we most desire for them. By pleasing them by understanding what they want, may our relationships become ever deeper and stronger.

Great Shabbas!

-Ari Melman

Bonus: Avraham married Ketorah after Sarah died and had many children by her. He sent the children to the East with immaterial, spiritual gifts. Scents are the closest we get to understanding the spiritual world, as they have no physical matter. Is it any surprise then that incense are so popular in the East?

  

Much of the content of this shir came from Zolly Claman, a student of R. Kelemen’s kollel.


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Parshas Terumah: Why does the sanctuary look like a slaughterhouse?

Build a Sanctuary Inside Your Heart

* “They shall make a Sanctuary/Mikdash for Me — so that I may dwell among them (lit. In them). Shelah explains that a person must develop their heart and mind as an altar for G-d, to uplift his soul. These means that once we intellectually believe there is a creator, we must direct our thoughts and activities to bring His splendor into our every moment. The Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh recommends reflecting on the Creator’s closeness and greatness regularly, starting with when you wake up and when you go to sleep, and gradually thinking about the wonders and gratefulness the Creator bestowed on us every fifteen minutes toward even shorter periods. In so doing, we will eventually think of everything through a G-d infused lens, carrying a complete soul throughout all our activities.

*The table in the sanctuary demonstrates the sanctification of our physical and material existence. Bringing holiness to the family table and to the material world becomes the joy of the Jew. Each increased Halachah, each law of purity and diet add levels of refinement and sensitivity to our material existence. The Zohar adds that sharing words of Torah through conversation, and hosting guests, especially those poor in resources or less fortunate in Torah knowledge, raise the table to the level of an altar. R. Yochanan says that now that the Temple no longer exists, the family table serves this function (Menachos 97a).

May we be blessed to make our hearts and our family tables an altar to Hashem, a portal to our love and presence of mind.

Most of the above were taken from R. Elie Munk’s The Call of the Torah: Shemos pgs. 367 & 375

Q: Why does the sanctuary look like a slaughterhouse?

*The Altar of Kelm remarks that the Beis Mikdash/Sanctuary looks like a slaughterhouse. But with the Aron Hakodesh there, since the focus of the korbon sacrifice process is entirely to connect to Hashem, the most physical environment becomes the most spiritual one.

This is one of my favorite novel insights in Torah: Our greatest weaknesses are reflection of our greatest strengths. What we work hardest to overcome becomes our area of greatest expertise and personal growth.

The Talmud writes that one born with inclinations of murder can become the most possible G-d fearing shoket, ritual slaughterer. It also writes, “In the place where a ba’al teshuva stands, a Tzaddik from birth cannot stand”. Our struggles are what shape us. Our worst aspects are our greatest assets. What we are most self-conscious of, we’ve developed great sensitivity toward.

Eckhart Tolle transformed his suicidal depression into a multimillion dollar meditation and staying-present career. Victor Frankl, in Man’s search for meaning, transformed the greatest experience of worthlessness of life into a career recognizing life’s greatness.

Thus, the place for the highest highest of spirituality in the physical world lie in the most physical of environments, a slaughterhouse.

Can you think of where your area of weakness is also your greatest potential for strength?

May you be blessed to elevate your challenges in a way that can make the worst parts into Holy vessels. May you be an inspiration to the world.

Q: Hashem asked the Jewish people for two fixed contributions and one voluntary from “any whose heart motivates him”. Why this pronged system of collecting money?

A: The Talmud (Megillah 29B) observes that the word Terumah, meaning portion, mentioned three times in the first verse (Shemos 25:1), alludes to three different types of offering as follows:

Amount:

1/2 shekel

1/2 shekel

Whatever heart desires

Used For:

Adonim/ Sockets

Korban/ Altar

Build Sanctuary

Atone For:

Golden Calf

Impurity in the sanctuary

Represents:

Stray from Evil/ Neg.

Stray from Evil/ Neg

Do Good/ Positive

Tehillim/Psalm 34:14 says “Stray from Evil and Do Good.” The simple understanding of this passage is that before you can actively do good, you must first stop doing bad things. So for example, before a person can start being a caring father, he must first stop going to the bar every night and be a present father. Or before a person can start training for a marathon, he must first stop eating solely greasy fast food.

The Ba’al Shem Tov flips it, saying “[To] stray from evil, do good”. In this mindset, actively taking on more positive activities will naturally lead to more good behavior, leaving no time or place for improper behaviors. This one connects with me more as an active way to take control of life.

One of the most defining analogies that opened me up to the world of Torah-observance came from Andrew Penn, a Meor Alumni. He equated life to a bowl of oil. As we fill our life with Torah, we don’t have to actively take anything bad out. As we keep pouring more water in and it flows to the bottom and really connects, improper activities will naturally spill out over the sides. The more we do good, the less room we’ll have for evil.

As part of my personal training to build a sanctuary in my heart, I’ve been thinking of the Creator’s greatness for a few seconds every fifteen minutes. I struggle with a constantly wandering mind, always focussed on the future. But those few seconds of reflecting on His greatness and the privilege I have in my life right now focuses my mind. In short, trying not to think of the Purple Elephant is extraordinarily more difficult than simply thinking as often as possible about far more productive, healthy and important thoughts. Eventually, my brain won’t have room for the Purple Elephant until I want it, when I actively work on that project.

The Tzaddik HaCohen explains “Stray from Evil” as meaning that everyone is judged equally. “And do good” is dependent on how much you do. All of Klal Yisrael gets equal credit for straying from evil, but we are individually judged for what good we add to the world.

The Midrash at the beginning of Parshas Terumah says, with your ingredients, Hakadosh Baruch Hu (G-d, the Holy one may he be blessed) will fill in. The Altar of Revardek explains, anything you can’t reach, can’t accomplish on your own, Hashem will fill in. Do as you see possible with whatever gifts you were given and Hashem will shape it so that it works out. In other words, do all you can and leave the rest to G-d.

Moshe didn’t know how to make the menorah, even when G-d showed it to him multiple times. Finally, Hashem told him to throw the gold into the fire and Hashem will form the menorah. If we prepare and try our hardest, Hashem will keep the light on permanently. Put Judaism and Hashem in your heart and Hashem will fill you with spiritual strength to get through any challenge.

We now have many different tools to understand “Stray from Evil and Do Good”. The more we take on good, the more good we’ll receive.

That’s why the same verse says “Let them take for Me a portion”. They are giving, not taking! But actually, everything we’ve gotten in this world has been a gift from G-d. All the ingredients of our being — our families, our jobs, our strengths and weaknesses, our abilities and handicaps — these are truly G-d’s that we take from Hashem. Thus, even the act of building for Hashem is an act of taking, but it is an an act of taking for G-d, rather than for ourselves. The more we can “take” for G-d, directing our thoughts and our hearts and our resources for G-d, as we say in Shema Yisrael, the more we receive.

May you be blessed to do good all your life.

Great Shabbas!

-Ari Melman