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Leadership Lessons and Parsha Insights

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Parshas Ki Sisa: True love is Lifelong Honeymoon

Parshas Ki Sisa:

Dear Friends and Family,

Start off the week with an upbeat song: We got the Torah!

Parshas Ki Sisa: True love is Lifelong Honeymoon

At Mt. Sinai, G-d’s presence was so clear to the nation that it was as if we were coerced to accept Torah. The hard part isn’t accepting the relationship when our feelings are clear and true, but years down the road, when the honeymoon period has ended and keeping the feeling alive takes hard work.

That’s the significance of Purim. Even when G-d didn’t appear with any open miracles and even his name is masked, the Jewish people still gathered together and recognized his guidance behind the seeming horrors and successes of our physical world.

The sin of the Golden Calf was the decision to turn away from a direct connection to Hashem at the very moment of the closest connection. Even though the Calf was a replacement for Moses, not G-d, even though it was simply a tool for those few to connect to G-d, it was a heinous deviation because of how intimate their connection with Hashem was. Imagine if your significant other is waiting for you for a date and you come thirty minutes late because you were talking to their siblings. It’s not that you were doing the worst thing, but your actions and timing were completely inappropriate. In fact, in the proper setting, the Jews were encouraged to direct their prayers to the Aron, which was covered by the Cherubim.

The lesson for us is to recognize where we are right now. G-d is hidden in our world, which makes Purim the most relatable Jewish holiday of the year. But those that hold fast to Torah, who grip tight to Hashem, are striving for that close relationship despite any obstacles. We cannot allow distractions and lesser goods to get in our way. We cannot direct our energy and focus purely to work, or pleasure seeking, or entertainment, if it means giving up the moment of connecting personally.

Everyone has an individual responsibility to make the most of their relationship, to give their all. That’s why the word for love in Hebrew is “אהב” — literally meaning, “I will give”. Rabbi Kelemen explains that a secular marriage is healthy if each person helps the other achieve their goals 50/50 — I take out the trash and you clean the dishes, you watch the kids tonight and I will tomorrow. You be successful in your thing and I’ll be successful in my thing. The healthy Jewish marriage is one in which we are aligned and coordinated, where what I want takes a back seat for what will be best for us. I don’t get a day off if that means you’ll be more frazzled. The focus is on what’s best for us as a unit, rather than what’s optimal as individuals. Thus, the relationship changes the individual — their goals, desires and pleasures change to fit each other.

He explains that one who constantly pursues happiness for himself will always feel the lack, the gap between where he is and where he wants to be. But one who is constantly giving to the other will not be able to think of the lack in himself because he’s thinking how to fill the lack and needs of the other. And as a side benefit, he will achieve a steady state of happiness.

May you be blessed from Purim to Purim to recognize and invest yourself into the most important relationships, the most important activities, and the most important acts of giving, so that you can be truly fulfilled and happy in this world and the world to come.

Shavua Tov!

-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