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Leadership Lessons and Parsha Insights


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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


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Parshas Mishpatim: Freedom Is A Heavy Price To Pay

Parshas Mishpatim: Freedom Is A Heavy Price To Pay

Dear Friends and Family,

Summary: G-d made us into a “Nation of Leaders” at Mt. Sinai. Thus the first commandment given afterwards is that accepting voluntary slavery to a human master goes against your very essence. Take charge of your life. Recognize only Hashem as your master, and you will bring out the best in this world.

Have a Great Shabbas!

-Ari Melman

Q: If “Eye for an Eye, Tooth for a Tooth” actually means you pay money for damages, why use such aggressive language?

A: Rabbi Schwab explains it’s in order that people recognize the severity of maiming another human being. Even though the remuneration is money, we can’t think that human limbs, our most literal birthright, are disposable, another price-tagged purchase. Very few of us would give our eyesight even for a million dollars. How much more so if some people felt they could justify damaging others by throwing a few thousand dollars at them afterwards!

May we be blessed to recognize the sensitivity of language the Torah uses, and to follow Rabbinical and Halachic understandings of Torah verses, so that we not fall prey to the danger of devaluing our most important birthrights. May we continue to grow in respect for every other person around us.

Q: Why does the first law after receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai regard boring a hole in the ear of a slave who, upon prospect of freedom, decides to remain a slave forever?

A: How dare you. How dare you mistreat your mind and body this way. How dare you subject yourself to slavery when Hashem chose you as the model of freedom from Earthly and human constraints.

You are a servant only to Hashem. By choosing to be a slave to another human being, you force an intermediary between you and G-d. You were meant to have a direct relationship. Why cheapen yourself?

Rashi explains why the slave has his ear bored when he decides to be a slave forever (Exodus 21:6). The ear that heard at Mt. Sinai, “You shall not steal” nonetheless went and stole, but even worse, the ear that heard “The Children of Israel are slaves unto Me” went and acquired another master for himself. They are my slaves and not slaves of slaves.

One who embraces his new role as a slave has not learned the lesson. Becoming a slave was meant to be a temporary reduction in status, to strive to return to being a leader over yourself and a servant to Hashem. By accepting permanent slavery, the slave refuses the motive to repent. Instead of improving his bad behaviors and character traits, he remains weak-minded and unrepentant.

This of course raises the larger question of what it means to be a slave of G-d. Moshe and David were both called eved Hashem, slave of G-d. That’s considered the highest level we can aspire to. The Duties of the Heart dedicates many pages to this topic. One way to think of this correctly is before doing any action, to ask yourself if you would do it in front of your wife and spouse. A low level of serving Hashem is doing so for the sake of the reward (or to avoid looking bad or being punished.) The ideal level is to serve not for the sake of doing the reward. One who completely trusts in Hashem will be beloved by all because trust will radiate off them. They will not depend on others for their happiness, and will have a positive attitude during good times and bad. They will never ask for more than what they’ve been given, and never complain that their lot has come up short. Because they trust in Hashem and that Hashem will provide for them always, they feel beholden to nobody and feel the duty to do good to everyone. They see that many others have far worse material comforts and many who have more are much more miserable, and they will serve Hashem with a complete heart.

We must strive for greatness. We were chosen to be leaders over our own bad traits. We pursue a life of constant self-improvement.

When we are punished, we must identify our mistakes and correct them. We must trust in Hashem and constantly seek to grow. Otherwise, we are slaves to another master. Incomplete souls. And that’s one of the worst fates a Jew could suffer.

May you be blessed to guide your life as a servant only to Hashem, and may you grow throughout your lifetime into an incredible human being.

Great Shabbas!

-Ari Melman

   


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Parshas Yitro: Stand Before Hashem, Awaken the Spiritual You

Parshas Yitro: Stand Before Hashem, Awaken the Spiritual You

Dear Friends and Family,

Imagine you are standing before Mt. Sinai. Thunder and lightning crack through the air. You see the sound of the shofar and hear the sight of the Ten Commandments being formed.

You are standing on holy ground. Having a conversation with your Creator. For this moment, He is listening carefully to your every word, your every request. Only He has the power to make your dreams and desires come true.

Everyone is trembling, afraid to hear His response. Are we pure enough? Are we accomplished enough? But He tells us to ask anyway. “Keep my covenant and be a treasure to Me from among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine. Be to Me a kingdom of leaders and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:5-6).

Today, we are commanded to remember every day receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai. We must visualize in our minds as if we were truly there, experiencing it.

That’s because we were there, through the unbroken link of tradition. But the verse speaks in the present tense, “On this day, the Children of Israel arrived at the wilderness of Sinai” (Sh. 19:1). Rashi explains: “What is meant by ‘on this day’? That the words of Torah should be new to you as if it was given today.”   

There’s a concept that all possible varieties of personalities among the Jewish people were present at receiving the Torah. Reincarnation in one concept can be seen through parallel behaviors, seeing aspects of other people in ourselves and fixing the areas they and we are weak in. In such fixing, we learn about and repair ourselves. In this sense, we are connected to those standing at Mt. Sinai. We go through the same struggles, experience the same doubts both personally and communally and learn the same Torah.

Every time we pray, every time we speak G-d’s name, every time we study Torah, we stand at Mt. Sinai.

Imagine. Allow yourself to tremble before Hashem. Fill with wonder and awe.

See your ancestor, who is really you, with all your strengths and all your weaknesses, but on the level of prophesy (Ramban), hearing G-d. This is the spiritual you.

Embrace your spiritual you. You are beautiful. You are a spark of holiness. You are fulfilling the life of the Living G-d.

May you be blessed to tap into your spiritual you and stand before Mt. Sinai, stand before G-d, inspired every day of your life.

Great Shabbas,

Ari Melman

How is “I Am Hashem” a commandment? And why did the Jewish people need to hear the first two commandments directly from G-d?

Q: There’s a major argument whether the first commandment can be “I am Hashem your G-d” (Sh. 20:2). You can’t be ordered until you accept the authority. That Hashem gave the mitzvot is a pre-requisite to believing the mitzvot. Why do Rambam and Ramban list it as a Mitzvah?

A: Rambam: It’s a mitzvah to know G-d — Rambam offers “proofs” in Guide to the Perplexed. Hilchos Tshuva 10/6 writes that a person cannot connect to Loving G-d unless he develops and grows throughout life. Love of G-d is directly related to one’s knowledge of G-d. A person who understands and reflects on science, Torah, and the social fabric of our world in a way that helps him understand the creator will come to Love of G-d.

A2: Ramban: The prohibition of serving other gods is the negative commandment form that comes out of the positive commandment of serving G-d. Not serving other gods wouldn’t have any meaning without recognizing the true G-d.

Most prophets take nature and bring out its ethical content (with metaphors and miracles). Avoda Zara is false ethical content in nature, ascribing ethics to the separate parts rather than the combined whole. A person needs prophesy to realize true ethical content of nature is that nature serves G-d. So the people needed prophesy to hear the first two commandments.

A second level of understanding the commandment “I am Hashem”:

Rambam: Pursuing G-d through the intellect.

Ramban: Pursuing G-d as ethical decider.

Why is humanity born with a desire to pursue ethical and scientific discovery and understanding? Because G-d wants to communicate with us. When we have the proper lens, study is a means of informing us of our creator.

What is so remarkable about this? When we study for the right purpose, to connect to Hashem and become better people, then even if we get the wrong answer, one overturned or disproven by later generations, it doesn’t diminish our fundamental purpose. Because our fundamental purpose is Love of Hashem. Discovering truth brings us closer to Love of Hashem, but even discovering only a partial truth still brings us closer to Love of Hashem.

Secular philosophers can argue for greater truth generation after generation without reaching any sense of correctness or completion, but for Jewish philosophers, the means are the ends! Thinking as critically as they can about Hashem’s wonders of Creation is itself the ultimate goal, and thus every person is capable of coming closer to Hashem.

The first 2 commandments are that G-d wants to communicate with us. They are the means of informing us of our Creator.

The last 8 are what he wants from us. They are a compressed version of every commandment in the entire Torah.

Non-Jewish nations were offered Torah. They said, “I want to think about it!”

No! The Jew says, “Let me do and then understand.”

Rav Soloveitchik says all ethicists agree: When you’re in my house, play by my rules. Otherwise, get out.

If G-d created the world, I must follow his rules. It’s his house. This comes from reflecting on the wonder of Creation and recognizing this as G-d’s house (Rambam’s view).

Hillel said, “That which you wouldn’t want done to you, don’t do to your friend.” Rashi explains that friend here refers to G-d. Hillel follows Ramban’s view of ethical relationships stemming from communication and relationship with Hashem.

Every Mitzvah, every halachah has a intellectual command and an ethical aspect.

May we be blessed to grow in intellectual and ethical understanding of Torah and Hashem throughout our lives.

God Trusts Women More

Q: What’s the first words G-d tells Moshe on Mt. Sinai?

A: “So shall you say to the House of Jacob and tell to the Sons of Israel” (Sh. 19:3). Rashi explains the House of Jacob are the women and the Sons of Israel are the men.

The Midrash on this verse explains: Speak to the women first because they are closer to spirituality. They have greater emotional intuition and have the leading role raising the children to be close to Hashem. They accept the truth of Mitzvot more readily than men and stay more committed even when they don’t have an intellectual answer on hand to answer the doubters.

G-d trusts the women more because the women intuitively trust G-d more.

Chovos Levavos/Duties of the Heart writes, regarding human relationships, “When an individual is charged with a certain responsibility…and he violates this person’s command, if word of his violation reaches the one who commanded him, it will be the strongest reason for nonfulfillment of that for which he had relied on the other. This is certainly true then of one who rebels against G-d” (P.381 Gate 4/3).

That trust in G-d, the commitment to do and understand at all times throughout history, is stronger in women than in men, and the most important factor in passing on Judaism from one generation.

May you be blessed to stay strong in your trust of Hashem and spread love of Hashem on to the future.

Q: Why is the parsha giving the Ten Commandments named Yitro? He isn’t even present at Har Sinai!

A: He taught Moses to appoint judges for as few as every ten people, taking the vast majority of judicial power out of his hands. Beforehand, Moses was basically an absolute monarch.

The entire premise of Mitzvot is that every individual has the obligation to rule over himself or herself, in order to maximize their humanity and connection to their Creator. To foster that, the Jewish people need a culture that cultivates vast numbers of judicial leaders. Ideally, everyone would be a judge over themselves. Only when they lack knowledge or slip do their peers help them realign themselves.

Rashi says that the episode of Yitro advising Moses to appoint judges comes after the giving of the Torah, even though it appears out of order beforehand. The Torah tells us that for a Torah environment to function properly, every community, every individual must channel their din, their personal checks and balances to grow. Wherever our level of Torah observance or personal challenges, the Torah belongs to the entire Jewish people.

May we be blessed to continually judge ourselves and grow ever closer.

Great Shabbas!

-Ari Melman


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Parshas Beshalach: Song Celebrates Salvation

Dear Friends and Family,

Welcome to Shabbas Shira, the Shabbas of Song. In this week’s parsha, the Red Sea splits, klal Israel sings the song at the sea (the first song to G-d ever recorded), Manna appears, klal Israel gets Shabbas, Moshe hits a rock for water, and Amalek attacks. What a combo!

Summary: Song channeled properly lifts up our Emuna, sense of holiness and community to incredible heights. When we recognize the beauty of each other’s harmony, and we’re all following the same path in different ways according to the variety Hashem has provided in His Torah, together we craft a masterpiece.

Have a Great Shabbas!

-Ari Melman

Parshas Beshalach: Song Celebrates Salvation

Q: Shem Shmuel asks: A Midrash explains this is the first song for Hashem. Why didn’t the Avos sing songs after their salvations (Akeidas Yitzhak, Surviving confrontation with Esau, Joseph living through being thrown into a pit, slavery, imprisonment until finally becoming ruler of Egypt)?

A: The Avos (forefathers) experienced 1. individual salvations and 2. temporary conditions. But if not for Hashem redeeming Klal Israel at that moment, they would have been forever lost, both into slavery and out of their connection to Hashem.

Song represents not only salvation, but shared revelation. A song can be experienced by many people simultaneously, and becomes more powerful the more people join in and experience it. Accordingly, art or a picture gain less from communal experience than music.

When the Hebrews were taken out of Egypt, it wasn’t until the splitting of the sea that G-d made clear his separation of the Jewish people and his designation for all of them to play a role.

The lesson: Song connects people to higher purpose — the more people, the clearer they are in harmony, the better the song.

May we all be blessed to harmonize along G-d’s purpose for humanity.

Q: What purpose does each Jew serve?

A: Rav Kook gives a beautiful analogy. Klal Israel is an orchestra — there are many instruments, many individuals playing each instrument, and many different notes each performer must hit. In this metaphor, the instruments represent each tribe, or unique mode of expression that a class of people has. Some people are more analytical and studious, other’s more giving and helping, other’s more organization and planning minded. Each note represents a different Mitzvah.

Each person gets so much reward for playing their piece correctly. When they are among inspirational Mitzvah observers, then when they hit a wrong note, they notice it and can fix it. In doing so, they come ever closer to playing the masterpiece of the great Composer.

But the real beauty comes when the entire assembly plays together. When the various elements and players and instruments compliment each other, each hitting their own correct notes, and harmonizing with the whole. This is analogous to many different types of Jews, all with very different modes of expression, but in unity in recognizing the central title of the piece as G-d’s Torah.

At Shira HaYam, when Klal Israel sang together, they showed this singular moment of perfect Emuna, faithfulness, in Hashem. They recognized their own greatness to be selected as the ones to perform his masterpiece, and thanked him with complete heart. Their song was the perfect expression of gratitude, love and communal togetherness.

May we be blessed to see the good in every Jew, to constantly grow in our own observance and appreciation of the masterpiece designed for us.

Great Shabbas!

-Ari Melman

Q: What does Amalek have to do with all this?

A: Remember when we talked about Amalek, way back in Parshas Vayeitzei? There, we explained how Amalek’s parents, both racked by doubt on how to understand and live a Jewish lifestyle, became the worst enemies of Hashem and the Jews. Because of that doubt. They were closely connected and invested in the fate of the Jewish people, and they thought they got Israel. As a result, they mocked and attacked and sought his destruction. What Amalek represents is still very much alive today.

This week, immediately after showing such togetherness at the parting of the sea, with every man, woman and child fully committed to following G-d, the Children of Israel test Him. These verses appear back to back:

“Is Hashem in our midst or not?”

“Amalek came and battled Israel in Rephidim.”

(Shemos 17:7-8)

The moment the people begin to doubt G-d, Amalek appears to attack them and prey on that doubt. The nations of the world were terrified of klal Israel after the Exodus. They saw that Hashem was with the people and powerful enough to defeat the biggest empire around. But Hashem’s allegiance to the Jewish people is reflected in the people’s allegiance to Him. Duties of the Heart asks in the fourth gate, Trust in G-d (c.3),

“If, however, one relies on the Creator while at the same time he rebels against Him, how ignorant is such a person, how weak is his mind and his intellect! For he can see that [in human relationships], when an individual is charged with a certain responsibility by another person — who either commands him to attend to one of his affairs or cautions him about something — and he violates this person’s command, if word of his violation then reaches the one who commanded him, it will be the strongest reason for nonfulfillment of that for which he had relied on the other.

Thus Avos 2:4 writes, “Do His Will like your will, so that He will do your will like His Will. Nullify your will before His Will, so that He will nullify he will of others before your will.”

The Midrash describes G-d as previously standing, and only after the song of the sea, was he finally able to sit upon his throne, as his throne only then became sturdy enough. What’s going on?

The answer comes in the final Rashi of the Parsha. Verse 17:16 goes, “For there is a hand on the throne of G-d; Hashem maintains a war against Amalek, from generation to generation.”

Why is the word “Throne/כסא” spelled without the א, as כס? Rashi says, “Hashem swore that His name is not whole nor His Throne whole until the name of Amalek will be completely eradicated.”

When a person stands, he holds himself up completely independent of his surroundings. When he sits, he trust the chair is built sturdy enough to support him.

After the splitting of the sea, when klal Israel sang with complete Emuna for Hashem, they showed complete trust and willingness to accept Hashem’s leadership and will. A King only takes the throne when He has a people to rule. Finally, Hashem had a people who completely trusted him and who he could trust to support His Throne.

That’s the big danger of Amalek. When klal Israel wavers in commitment, Hashem doesn’t feel comfortable sitting down and coming down to us. If He stands up, then He rules independent of the Jewish people and we get less reward from helping Him. Our song builds and shows our connection to Hashem.

May we be blessed to connect to Hashem with song and complete Emuna, so Amalek can never break us down.

Great Shabbas!

-Ari Melman   

Q: Can’t songs be bad too?

A: There’s a famous story in the gemara of Chazal (Our wise ones, may their memories be for a blessing) debating whether Shir HaShirim, King Solomon’s love song between the Jews and G-d, should be canonized due to it’s graphic romantic imagery. Rabbi Akiva said, “All songs are beautiful, but Shir HaShirim is the most beautiful of all.”

Rav Kook clarifies by explaining there are many different levels of song, as follows:

א

ב

ג

ד

ה

1

2

3

4

5

Self

Nationalist

Humanist

World-concerned (focused on animals/environ.

Communal bound with Hashem

  

Most songs are written in the first four levels. Level one is entirely self-focussed — my concerns, my desires. This is beautiful for the base desires and clarity of expression it shows. Only with some level of passion can a person grow, and even passion focused on the self is a starting point. Apathy is the most difficult point from which to grow.

Level two is for people focused on a very specific community, to the exclusion of others. Rabbi Moshe Weinberger says the early Zionists had an unbelievably beautiful passion to restore the land of Israel. But they were so focussed on establishing the political community that they abandoned the family values, the observance of Mitzvos, the love of the community from which they’d came. Most of the establishers were young men with small or non-existent families, and the culture they created became extremely antagonistic toward Torah-Observant Judaism. Their desire for a community of their own caused a split. Thus, it corresponds to the second day of creation, the splitting of the waters, the only day G-d does not describe as good.

Level three is the communion of head, heart and body. It focuses on the global concept of bringing humanity together. This is beautiful when channeled correctly, but it leans too far toward Chesed without din, freedom without constraint. As a result, it is constantly in flux, and can lead to excessiveness.

Level four is concerned with the physical world even more so than humanity. These people might define themselves by their concern for animals or the environment. While it’s critical to care about the world, excessive care specifically on that area can easily lead one to resent human beings, who as a population are causing untold destruction to the world. A person might care more about feeding starving children in Africa than about feeding their neighbor, and turning a blind eye to their neighbor in need. Caring too much about things that aren’t the highest priority is simply another way to be cruel to those in your vicinity and power to help.

Level five is the symbol of womanhood in Judaism, the bond between G-d and the world. Shir HaShirim is level five. When physical actions are directed toward fulfilling G-d’s vision of the perfect community. When poetry and community come together. The Hey is symbolized by a Daled with a Yud in the middle; hence concern with the physical world recognizing that G-d is inside and leads the plan. This keeps us on the straight path.

One more point: The first appearance of musical instruments is in Breishis 4:21, “The name of his brother was Jubal/(יובל); he was the first of all who handle the harp and flute”, which Rashi explains, “to play music for idolatry”.

The Midrash explains at first, people prayed directly to Hashem. But as they became more consumed by their labors, they transitioned to, in their minds, emissaries. So they prayed to the clouds when it rained, and prayed to the grain when it grew.

Music has the power to transition us between the physical world and the spiritual world. It exposes a person’s inner essence. For this reason, a woman’s singing voice is considered an extremely important part of her beauty, capable of elevating those she shares it with to untold heights. Similarly, we greet Shabbas with song and sing at every Shabbas meal in order to further elevate ourselves further away from physical beauty and into spiritual beauty.

Miriam was introduced as Shifra/שיפרה, who as a midwife helped Jewish children into the world against the orders of Pharaoh. The letters of her name spell Shir Peh, “the song of my mouth.” If our mouths filled with the songs of creation, we would elevate song to the highest heights.

But music used for idolatry or physicality has the opposite effect, encouraging people to suppress their connection to Hashem.

That’s the root of the word Jubilee, also the reference to the Jubilee year, the 50th year in Israel when all slaves are freed, all debts are cleared and all land is returned to their original owners.

The very person that corrupted music by removing it from Hashem is commemorated forevermore as the force that returns the land as Hashem intended it, thus showing that all other forces, and all other humans, have no real power before G-d. And that is truly something worth singing about.

May you be blessed to be spiritually uplifted by your music and carry the song of Emuna with you throughout your life!

Great Shabbas,

Ari Melman


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Parshas Bo — G-d’s Movie: Visualizing Transcendence

Dear Friends and Family,

What an exciting time this week. The Jews get their first commandments from Moses (starting with Rosh Chodesh, moving on to Pesach), the Egyptians get the last three Makkot, and the long journey to the land of milk and honey begins.

One line summary: Visualizing the best possible you and acting as if you’re already there is the fastest way to maximize your time and abilities.

Parshas Bo: Loving Torah and G-d works at Every Age

The brief idea: Torah is the only material that can challenge and be understood by five year old and 75 year old alike, and both can be right in their understanding if they approach with the right attitude. Moreover, it is the only text that both 5 and 75 year old can talk to each other about, and both will be interested and perhaps, both will learn something new.

The converse is not true. There are masses who approach Torah with the wrong attitude, and whether they are young or the highest IQ academic, they will come out with extremely incorrect and wrong understanding.

We see this with Pharaoh and his ministers at the beginning of Parshas Bo. Pharaoh and his ministers are the most powerful and intelligent in the kingdom, and though they constantly admit the error of their ways (“I have sinned, Hashem is the Righteous One and I and my people are the wicked ones,” says Pharaoh at the end of last week [9:27]), they immediately come up with rationalizations upon relief. A person who always wants to justify his current ego-driven life and beliefs will never be able to grow. Thus, even a child brought up the right way understands Torah more than the lifelong atheistic academic.

Even when Pharaoh is ready to let the people go, he refuses to let the children go (Shemos 10:10). Even when he agrees to let the children go, he refuses to let the animals go (10:24). Every new discovery, every ounce of insight into Torah, causes him to only budge an inch. It’s beyond him to consider the complete truth, the complete value of what he’s experiencing. Thus, every new revelation is painful instead of glorious, every insight into Torah wisdom is a concession instead of a delight.      

May you be blessed to delight in Torah insights and build a world and family of love and learning.

Great Shabbas!

-Ari Melman

Parshas Bo — G-d’s Movie: Visualizing Transcendence

This week introduces three of the four sons from the Pesach Seder Hagada. The wise son will wait until Devarim (6:20). What’s the advice given? In the future, when your children ask about your observances, tell your…

Wicked Son: “Hashem skipped over the houses of the Children of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but He saved our households” (Shemos 12:27).

One who doesn’t know how to ask: “It is on account of this that Hashem did for me when I left Egypt” (13:8).

Simple Son: “With a strong hand, Hashem removed us from Egypt, from the house of bondage” (13:14).

   A generation later, what’s the message we pass down? Holding onto the mental image of leaving Egypt. Visualizing what we’re living for and what we came from is the single most powerful way to hold on to our Judaism.

Rav Dessler says in the name of the Gershaz, “What skill most develops Gedolim (the most brilliant and learned leaders) of Klal Yisrael? The Power of Imagery.

Judaism has known the power of imagery long before the age of movie screens and portable cameras. The Yetzer Hara’s biggest tool is imagery. It appeals to you with false visions of immediate pleasures, of material desires, nearly always through emotion-sense triggered imagery. But the most powerful tools of our baser instinct can also be used powerfully by us. Fight images with images.

The Piacetzner Rebbe served as Grand Rabbi of Piascetzno, Poland until he was murdered in a Nazi camp in 1943. He wrote a personal diary of his spiritual growth called Tzav V’zeiruz, the only personal diary in publication by someone of his stature in Jewish learning and leadership. There he writes that a person becomes great by “envisioning your ideal spiritual self: envision yourself as already the ideal spiritual person you really are. Just imagine the greatness of your soul… see how your soul shines in G-d’s garden, in Eden… Meditate deeply on these pictures…hold these images in your mind’s eye…inevitably you will be aroused to a higher awareness…savor the bliss of embrace by the great Creator as you yearn to actualize this from the depths of your soul.”

During the Rosh Chodesh Amidah this week, I took a minute to first imagine myself as an older, wizened, version of myself. My posture straighter, my opinion more respected, an advisor and partner to an incredible leader. Then I imagined myself giving a report and holding a business meeting with that leader, only able to see His throne, knowing he was listening to every word. So I spoke clearly and professionally, humbly but with confidence, going over the outline of points to discuss one by one. My Amidah was extremely powerful, more so than it has been in months. All because of visualization.

The Sefer HaChinuch gives reasons behind the Mitzvos, listing each one in the order they appear in Chumash. The sixteenth commandment appears in this parsha, specifically, “You shall not break a bone of it” [the Passover offering] (Shemos 12:46). Rashi explains that these bones “are fit for eating, which has meat on it.”

The Sefer HaChinuch explains: “At the root of the precept lies the purpose to have us remember the miracles of Egypt…For it is not a way of honor for royal princes and counsellors of the land to scrape the bones and break them like dogs. This is fit only for the hungry poor of the people to do. Therefore, at the beginning of our emergence to become the choice of all nations, a kingdom of Kohanim and a holy nation (Shemos 19:6) and again every year at the same time, it is fitting for us to perform deeds which reflect the great degree of excellence to which we rose that hour. Through the action and the symbol that we perform, we set this matter in our souls permanently.”

One last beautiful point on the power of visualization comes from Rav Nachman. He says that when we dream, we visualize an entire story compounding hours or weeks or years within a few seconds of measurable time. But just as we are completely immersed in the dream world until the moment we awake, so too in this world we feel completely immersed until we “awake”. When we don’t visualize a big goal for our lives, a measurement of success in the direction we’re heading, then days, weeks, years, or decades can pass by in a whirl. Looking back, we might have trouble figuring out where all that time went. In our memories, large chunks of time can take on the nature of the dream.

The solution is twofold, and both involve visualization. First, visualize what you want to accomplish in this life, and constantly check yourself to make sure your thoughts and actions are aligned with that goal. A famous Harvard Case Study found that graduates with a concrete five-year plan were far more successful than those with higher GPAs but no clear vision.

Second, visualize that all our actions and thoughts in this world are but a dream for the world to come. Recognize that every event in your life plays a role in encouraging you toward G-d’s path, and the more you perfect yourself and bring out your greatness within, the more you’re likely to succeed in your spirituality and personal growth.

May you be blessed to visualize our redemption from Egypt in your every day struggles, and may your biggest image of yourself simply be the beginning of unlocking your true greatness.

Great Shabbos,

Ari Melman


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Lech Lecha — How should we act when personal growth conflicts with helping others?

Lech Lecha — How should we act when personal growth conflicts with helping others?

Lech Lecha introduces us to Avraham Avinu, the first Ba’al Teshuva, father of the Jewish people. Unlike with Noach, we are given no background or prior life stories. Instead, the parsha opens when Avraham was seventy-five years old, with Hashem telling him to Lech Lecha, “Go for yourself”.

Rashi explains that leaving his land, birthplace and father’s house is a difficult decision for three reasons —money, reputation and reproduction. When you move, you lose your business connections, your relationships and honor, and your privacy to have marital relations, as you’re staying a guest in another’s home. In short, one loses the three physical cravings, the three things for which G-d had previously punished the world.

G-d attempts to soothe him by blessing him: “I will make you a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.” G-d promises Avram he will be repaid in spades, and moreover, he will be a blessing to all he wishes to bless.

A person’s natural instinct is to pick present gain for future possibility, but Avram defies nature. Avram is teaching the Jews that we must swim against the current, that we must build toward an impossibly ambitious future. By eschewing our physical distractions for what really matters, we will achieve the impossible and change the world for the better.

Our closeness to G-d must be personal. We must have courage to be the minority. Obstinacy and persistence marks the Jew, teaches R. Samson Raphael Hirsch.

That’s all a prelude to another question:

Since Sarai and Lot came with Avram, why doesn’t G-d address the question in the plural, “Go for yourselves?”

Avram was the epitome of Chesed, of loving kindness and connecting to G-d through helping others. He was willing to forsake prophesy with G-d for the entire time Lot, described as a rasha/wicked one, was with him (Rashi, Br. 13:14). G-d knew Lot wavered too much to fully commit himself to creating a bold world-changing future. Had G-d said, “Go for yourselves”, Lot’s wavering would have doomed the project from its start.

A Midrash (Rashi, Br 11:28) explains that Lot’s father, Haran, witnessed when Nimrod cast Avram into a fiery pit for destroying his father’s idols. “Haran said in his heart, ‘If Avram emerges victorious, I am of his. And so too if Nimrod.’ When Avram was saved…Haran said, ‘I am of Avram’s supporters.’ They cast him into the fiery pit and he was burned.”

Haran didn’t die believing in G-d; he died believing in Avram. He followed others rather than genuine commitment. Since his faith flip-flopped with the winners of the moment, he was consumed.

Lot follows his father’s path. Although Avram tries to reform him, and successfully imbues him with the habits of a refined man, he doesn’t desire to grow himself. Lot saw Sodom “like the garden of Hashem, like the land of Egypt.” Rashi explains, “Lot chose their neighborhood because they were steeped in lewdness, sexual immorality” (Br 13:14). Lot became the high justice of Sodom, using the habits of morality he got in Avram’s home, and the shared wealth Avram got in Egypt, in order to feed his three physical desires: money, reputation and illicit relations.

So now we understand why G-d couldn’t say “Go for yourselves” to include Lot.

Why then, did Avram go to such lengths to take care of Lot?

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Br. 4:9) Cain asked after killing his brother.

Avram is modelling the approach for one governed by Chesed, the extreme extents to which we must care for our brothers. Even though Lot is his nephew, Avram refers to him as brother, particularly when Lot gets kidnapped in Sodom and Avram must drop what he’s doing instantly to rescue him.

Since Avram was the focussed expression of lovingkindness, he reached out to many people, made many souls (“brought them in under the wings of the shekinah/divine presence” says Rashi on Br 12:5), and was even willing to lessen his personal relationship with G-d in order to bring others closer. The greater our Chesed, the better our influence on our community.

We each must make a personal evaluation of how we best connect to the world. As members of a community that’s mixed of Jews of all sorts of observances, we all can learn from Avram’s kindness. The best way to help one that’s disconnected is to show them kindness and model a praiseworthy way for them. But we must also recognize that our connection to Hashem, mitzvot and creating a better world does not rest on how those around us react to us. Show kindness, hospitality and willingness to fight and rescue, but “Go for yourself.”

When Lot is captured, Avram immediately goes to rescue him, trusting that G-d will protect him. The fugitive (Og) that told him about Lot’s capture wanted him killed so he could marry Sarah (Rashi, Br 14:13). Lot, immediately upon being rescued, returns to Sodom. There’s no sense of gratitude for Avram risking his life and spiritual level to nurture, raise and then save him. Even in next week’s parsha, after Sodom was destroyed and the angels begged Lot to return to Avram, he refused, opting instead for a cave all alone with his two daughters.

A person moved by loving kindness doesn’t care about the response, or the other person’s gratitude. They follow a deeper calling, led by their personal mission and directed by Hashem. Instead of merely not killing our brother, we’re given a role model who endangers his own life, both spiritually and physically, to save one even remotely connected to him.

Now we understand the first Rashi, where he says “Go for Yourself” means “For your pleasure (physical) and for your benefit (soul).” When we direct ourselves toward what really drives us, when we ignore the distractions and fleeting pleasures of now for the impossible dreams of tomorrow, we get both physical and spiritual pleasure. We accomplish the impossible, defeating four armies of trained warriors on faith and hard work alone.

My blessing for you is that you learn from Avraham Avinu how to do good in the world. Don’t get discouraged when people don’t respond the way you’d like. Take your mission to heart, believe in it with all you have, and be a force for good in the world. The challenges of now could be what brings on the Mashiach tomorrow.

Bonus Kabbalah thought: The Zohar, our great Kabbalistic text, writes “With his prophetic vision, [Avraham] saw the Messiah, son of David, would descend from Lot.” Lot’s daughter gave birth through him to the Moabites, the ancestors of Ruth, David’s grandmother. For all the confusion and wavering, ultimately his bloodline led to Israel’s greatest king, from which the Messiah will emerge. We cannot know the effect our good has, for it stretches far beyond our knowledge. All we can do is dream the impossible, and work to achieve it every day.

Good Shabbas!   


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Parshas Shemos: The Meaning of Snow — Hardships Foster Truth and Growth

Purpose of Snow:

1) Seems cold but actually insulates ground and keeps it warm throughout winter.

Lesson: What seems bad is actually for the good

2) Comes down piece by piece, each snowflake unique, but easy to mistake as one big homogeneous sheet.

Lesson: When you judge someone, you freeze them in place and don’t appreciate their uniqueness.

3) Encourages us to go inside. What negatively affects our outside can improve our inside.

Lesson: Introspection is the key to recognizing our weaknesses and growing from them.

A story is told of the Ponivitcher Rav, the only one of his family to survive the Holocaust, the youngest of five boys in a very poor family. They only had one pair of winter boots.

When the snow came down, Mother said, “Whoever mother awards them too will get to walk to cheder (school) and learn tomorrow.”

Mother wakes the oldest at 5AM.

“Did I get it?” He asks.

“No. I got it,” Mother said.

She carries him and leaves him at the school’s doorstep. And returns for the next child. On and on until all the children were taken to school. In the evening she picked them up the same way.

The harshness of snow created an opportunity for such a powerful memory that all her children became massive learners and teachers. Although only the Ponivitcher survived, his contribution to Jewish learning after the Holocaust helped rebuild the Yeshiva system and keep Jewish knowledge strong.

Dear Friends and Family,

The birth of Moses, the enslavement of the Hebrews. The most known and thus most misunderstood chapter of the Torah begins this week.

This week, I consider the second parsha (attached in printer friendly format), more interesting and better sourced. But it’s also more aligned with the demand of traditional values. The first one should be accessible and friendly to Jews of all backgrounds and orientations.

Did you know Moses convinced Pharaoh to give the Jews a Shabbos day of rest as good investment strategy? That way, he told Pharaoh, the slaves would live longer and work harder. Thus, on Shabbos morning amiddah, we say, “Let Moses rejoice in his portion (ישמח משה במתנת חלקו)” (Tur, Orach Chaim 281).

Let us rejoice in our portion.

Great Shabbos!

-Ari Melman

P.S. My Brother arrived safely back in the United States. Thank you for thinking of him. We had a very nice time in Jerusalem.

Question of the week: How are pain and hardship a good thing?!?

Parshas Shemos: The Meaning of Snow — Hardships Foster Truth and Growth

Brrr… we got snow this week, and snow gets a mention in the parsha, “[Moshe’s] hand was stricken with tzaraas, like snow” (Shemos 4:6). So what better topic to open with than snow!

Three (3) is a critical number in judaism, representing the balancing point between physical and spiritual (head, heart, and body, the three elements of each human’s reasoning process). Just to contrast that rather vague statement with the meaning of other numbers, 1 represents G-d’s unity which is beyond our comprehension, 2 represents separation (the separation of the waters), and four represents complete physicality (the four corners of a 2-d plane).

Snow in hebrew is שלג. In Gematria, ש is  300, ל =30, and ג=3.

Most adults don’t look forward to snow. After the first few hours, it clogs traffic and makes people cold. So why does it have the treasured wording of 3,3,3 the representation of balance?

R. Moshe Dovid Volle, chevrusa(study partner) of the Ramchal, explains. Snow gets absorbed more into the ground than water because it sits on the ground and gets absorbed gradually. Water splashes over the ground, providing so much that most of the water flows away.

Snow provides the bountiful abundance of Chesed/kindness that rain provides, mixed with din/contraction/restriction.

The enclosed air provides an insulating blanket the keep the soil warm and prevent frost that would kill the valuable bacteria, ants and earthworms constantly tilling the soil. Under the snow, animals sleep through the winter, and Eskimos build houses of snow for warmth. White repels the sun-rays, allowing the snow to warm the earth all winter long without melting. Thus David sings the praise of G-d, “He who gives snow like wool” (Tehillim 147:16) (Avigdor Miller, Awake My Glory, Pg. 287).   

Even though we don’t like cold/din, it is good for us. What appears as harsh and bad is actually the best thing for the soil. The soil emerges from winter still warm and hydrated, ready to flower when the good times come. Precisely what appeared as harsh and cold turns out to be where our greatest gains come from.

We’ve been trained to think of going to a court as the worst case scenario, and hearing rebuke as the worst sign of our failure. In Jewish thought, those are extremely praiseworthy events, for in the moment of judgement, the truth of your actions and the ability to recognize a new road of growth become clear. If you truly are striving for truth and greatness, being told which areas you need to improve on are a blessing in disguise.

Tzaraas, commonly mistranslated as leprosy, is a spiritual disease that appears as a result of lashon hara. It goes away when the afflicted repents for their sin, a process which requires 1) forsaking the sin, 2)confessing you did wrong, 3)creating fences so you don’t do it again and 4) praying to G-d for forgiveness (Rambam, hilchos Teshuva, perek 1, halachah 1). Miriam got tzaraas temporarily when she spoke badly about Moses, and it’s one of the six moments G-d requires us to remember every day (the others are the Exodus, Amalek, Golden Calf, Shabbos, and receiving the Torah).

Moses had to pull out his hand to recognize he got Tzaraas (“then he withdrew it and behold, his hand became stricken…”). But the moment he had repented and put it back in his coat, even before he withdrew it, “it had reverted” (Shemos 4:7). Rashi explains that we learn from here that divine goodness comes quicker than divine punishment.

If we recognize that the cold is actually exactly what we need for growth, that the hardships in life are not simply sickness but an opportunity for reflection and growth, then even painful events in our lives take on great positive significance. We can see this as one of the most difficult and critical concepts in Judaism.

The Hebrew slaves had their hardships increased after Moses told Pharaoh to let them take a three day trek to the desert to praise G-d. The Jews left Egypt at the 49th level of impurity out of fifty, practically on the point of extinction. Yet they became the most holy generation and the closest to G-d that ever existed. Similarly, the messiah of Yosef will emerge from the brink of Jewish destruction and usher in the  greatest era of Jewish spirituality.

The most successful entrepreneurs have the longest record of failures behind them. The information you best remember and the moments of your life that stand out decades later are the ones that were the most emotionally stimulating and tumultuous. Duties of The Heart explains regarding these signs of wisdom, only the most intelligent and insightful appreciate (Second Gate:Reflection, 3). Treasure the hardships and obstacles you encounter, for in them will lie your greatest challenges, and your greatest triumphs.

May you be blessed overcome challenges throughout your life,  so you can constantly grow and craft a better world.

Great Shabbos,

Ari Melman

I forgot the Ponivitcher rav story of mother walking through the snow!

Parshas Shemos: What seems soft is harshest of all. What seems harsh is softest of all. The paradox of hard work and life-long struggle as the only path toward becoming alive.

Pharaoh ordered that every “son that will be born, into the Nile river shall you throw him” (Shemos 1:22). Moses’s mother, who first appears as Shifrah because she beautifies (שפרה/שמשפרת) the child at birth” and serves G-d over Pharaoh (Rashi, Sh. 1:15).

The Nile was Egypt’s god and Pharaoh demanded all the Hebrew boys as a sacrifice to his empire and rule. Thus, Moses was placed in a reed basket above the nile, showing his ascendance above Egypt’s power. No matter whether Egypt persecutes the Jews with the seeming softness of the water or the harshness of drowning, with the seeming softness of integrating them or the harshness of removing the straw, the Hebrew will rise above because they move according to G-d’s will. Thus, Rashi explains why the basket was made of reed: “It is a flexible thing, and can withstand both that which is soft and that which is hard” (Sh. 2:3).

“The Egyptians enslaved the children of Israel with Parach/ פרך . Parach means crushing/backbreaking labor, it can also denote the two words peh rakh (פה רך), meaning “soft mouth”. Originally, Pharaoh asked the Jews to voluntarily help out, then increasingly made work a higher and higher priority, to the detriment of families, Torah study and personal projects. The roles of men and women (and adults and children) were frequently exchanges, with women forced to plow, hew, lumber, and build. They gave them material that would crumble and increased their workload until their lives would crumble. The word parach can also mean “crumble” (Yalkut Shimoni// Meam Loez pgs.19-20).

The last point to make here is they had the Hebrews build ערי מסכנות  / storage cities. The word מסכנות/mascanot can mean either storage or danger. The walls were built so high with material so flimsy there was physical danger. Building such a big project like this with poor materials can ruin a person, forcing them to spend much more money, time and resources than originally planned. It can also ruin the workers, who are forced to work ever longer hours and getting no sense of creative resolution. All of this was part of Pharaoh’s plan (Yeffeh Toar, p. 6//Zohar, Yitro//Meam Loez 4 p. 16).

“Why is Egypt compared to Maror/bitter herbs? Just as Maror is first soft and later hard, so the Egyptians were gentle in the beginning but afterward became hard” (Pesachim 39A). This is a universal pattern and lesson of life. If you invest early on with hard work to protect and deeply understand the fundamentals of any field, you will be much better prepared to handle the complex challenges down the road. But if you take it easy when the work is easy, then you will be ill prepared for when it becomes hard. If you marry someone based only on light hangouts and easy times, you won’t establish a strong foundation and the relationship will become hard over time. If you assimilate to a society because it treats you well, you will be ill-prepared to stand up to it when it turns against to you.

Moshe first experienced prophesy at the burning bush that was not consumed. G-d revealed himself to Moses in a lowly thorn bush because G-d himself partakes in Israel’s suffering, as He says, “I am with Israel in time of trouble,”(Psalms 91:15). Israel’s status was extremely lowly in the world, like that of a thorn bush among trees (Shemos Rabbah). It is very easy to place one’s hand into a thorn bush, but when one tries to remove it, his hand becomes torn by the thorns. The Hebrews found it easy to integrate, but ever more difficult. The Egyptians found it very easy to accept and enslave, but were severely wounded when the Jews left.

Why did Hashem show Moses the fire burning inside the thorn bush? Bnei Israel is compared to fire, as “The House of Yaakov will be fire” (Obadiah 1:18. Also the divar torah on Vayeishev last month), while the wicked are compared to thorns and thistles. The fire of Israel will not consume the thorns of the nations, nor will they ever douse the flame of Israel which is the Torah. However, in the time to come, the fire will consume, as it says, “Nations will be burning for lime, thorns cut down that are set on fire” (Yeshayah 33:12) (Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer Chapter 40).

The central message of Pharaoh vs Moshe can be reduced to: Difficulty with purpose leads to good. Taking the easy road leads to difficulties later on without purpose.

May you be blessed to great tests and even greater victories, to discover strengths in yourself once thought impossible.

Great Shabbos,

Ari Melman        

Purpose of Snow:

1) Seems cold but actually insulates ground and keeps it warm throughout winter.

Lesson: What seems bad is actually for the good

2) Comes down piece by piece, each snowflake unique, but easy to mistake as one big homogeneous sheet.

Lesson: When you judge someone, you freeze them in place and don’t appreciate their uniqueness.

3) Encourages us to go inside. What negatively affects our outside can improve our inside.

Lesson: Introspection is the key to recognizing our weaknesses and growing from them.

A story is told of the Ponivitcher Rav, the only one of his family to survive the Holocaust, the youngest of five boys in a very poor family. They only had one pair of winter boots.

When the snow came down, Mother said, “Whoever mother awards them too will get to walk to cheder (school) and learn tomorrow.”

Mother wakes the oldest at 5AM.

“Did I get it?” He asks.

“No. I got it,” Mother said.

She carries him and leaves him at the school’s doorstep. And returns for the next child. On and on until all the children were taken to school. In the evening she picked them up the same way.

The harshness of snow created an opportunity for such a powerful memory that all her children became massive learners and teachers. Although only the Ponivitcher survived, his contribution to Jewish learning after the Holocaust helped rebuild the Yeshiva system and keep Jewish knowledge strong.