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Leadership Lessons and Parsha Insights


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

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

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

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

Heed the call, and awaken your greatest self.

Great Shabbas!

-Ari Melman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great Shabbas!

Ari Melman

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

Heed the call, and awaken your greatest self.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heed the call, and awaken your greatest self.

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

Great Shabbas!

-Ari Melman


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

Dear Friends and Family,

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

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

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

But first, Brief Vort:

Parshas Pekudei: Journey in the Right Direction

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

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

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

May you be blessed to journey on the right path.

Great Shabbas!

-Ari Melman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great Shabbas,

Ari Melman

Parsha Song:

Verse One:

1000 big ideas will not set you free

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

A book a week, mussar vad or shir

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

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

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

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

Perfection is made with each nail hammered right.

Meditate, repeat, get it drilled in your head.

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

Pre-chorus:

Time will help you, so take it slow.

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

Slight change in attitude builds up a flow.

Till you find truth, then you will know.

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

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

Chorus:

Pick one Mitzvah,

Put it into play.

Put it into play today.

Pick one Mitzvah,

Let your heart have its say.

Put it into play today.

Verse Two:

We saw the frogs croak, Egyptian blokes choke

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

Thud hailed their heads, darkness robbed their cred.

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

But just three days after split of the sea.

Three days without miracles, panic belies.

Emuna shaken, doubt enters in.

If falls happened then, how can we avoid sin?

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

Triumph of survival, dumpster rising for the win.

Meditate, repeat, get it drilled in your head.

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

Pre-Chorus/Chorus

Verse Three:

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

Pound one hundred pegs as foundation that’s sound.

It’s vibration of the craftsmen carving shoham stones.

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

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

We’re filled with knowledge, understanding, wisdom.

All the tools of the tabernacle rattle with delight.

School for the pool of souls who seek greater sight.

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

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

Meditate, repeat, get it drilled in your head.

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

Pre-Chorus/Chorus

Chorus fade out..