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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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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