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Parshas Tzav: The Meaning of Matzah

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

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

Great Shabbas,

Ari Melman

Summary:

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

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

Parshas Tzav: The Meaning of Matzah

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

This leaves a major question and a beautiful answer:

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

The Answer

Symbol 1: זריזות

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

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

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

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

Symbol 2:  רחוק מגאוה

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

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

Connecting Pesach to Shavuos:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great Shabbas and Great Pesach!

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

  

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

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

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

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

Heed the call, and awaken your greatest self.

Great Shabbas!

-Ari Melman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great Shabbas!

Ari Melman

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

Heed the call, and awaken your greatest self.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heed the call, and awaken your greatest self.

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

Great Shabbas!

-Ari Melman