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Leadership Lessons and Parsha Insights


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

Dear Friends and Family,

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

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

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

But first, Brief Vort:

Parshas Pekudei: Journey in the Right Direction

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

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

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

May you be blessed to journey on the right path.

Great Shabbas!

-Ari Melman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great Shabbas,

Ari Melman

Parsha Song:

Verse One:

1000 big ideas will not set you free

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

A book a week, mussar vad or shir

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

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

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

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

Perfection is made with each nail hammered right.

Meditate, repeat, get it drilled in your head.

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

Pre-chorus:

Time will help you, so take it slow.

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

Slight change in attitude builds up a flow.

Till you find truth, then you will know.

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

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

Chorus:

Pick one Mitzvah,

Put it into play.

Put it into play today.

Pick one Mitzvah,

Let your heart have its say.

Put it into play today.

Verse Two:

We saw the frogs croak, Egyptian blokes choke

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

Thud hailed their heads, darkness robbed their cred.

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

But just three days after split of the sea.

Three days without miracles, panic belies.

Emuna shaken, doubt enters in.

If falls happened then, how can we avoid sin?

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

Triumph of survival, dumpster rising for the win.

Meditate, repeat, get it drilled in your head.

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

Pre-Chorus/Chorus

Verse Three:

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

Pound one hundred pegs as foundation that’s sound.

It’s vibration of the craftsmen carving shoham stones.

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

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

We’re filled with knowledge, understanding, wisdom.

All the tools of the tabernacle rattle with delight.

School for the pool of souls who seek greater sight.

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

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

Meditate, repeat, get it drilled in your head.

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

Pre-Chorus/Chorus

Chorus fade out..

  


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

Dear friends and family,

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

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

Have a Great Shabbas!

-Ari Melman

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

Understanding the power of smell

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

Breastplate

Moral Debauchery (source: Tractate Zevachim 88B)

Ephod

Idolatry

Robe

Murder

Tunic of a box-like knit

Arrogance

Turban

Corruption

Sash

Injustice

Tsetse Headplate of gold

Slander

Linen pants

Impudence

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

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

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

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

Explanation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great Shabbas!

-Ari Melman

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

  

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


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

Build a Sanctuary Inside Your Heart

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

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

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

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

Q: Why does the sanctuary look like a slaughterhouse?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amount:

1/2 shekel

1/2 shekel

Whatever heart desires

Used For:

Adonim/ Sockets

Korban/ Altar

Build Sanctuary

Atone For:

Golden Calf

Impurity in the sanctuary

Represents:

Stray from Evil/ Neg.

Stray from Evil/ Neg

Do Good/ Positive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May you be blessed to do good all your life.

Great Shabbas!

-Ari Melman