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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Parshas Vayechi

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Parshas Vayechi

As is well known, Rav Shimon Bar Yochai spent fourteen years of his life living in a cave. Less well known is the reason: he was trying to make some sense of this week's Parsha, Parshas Vayechi. Of course, his efforts were ultimately fruitless; the only thing he was able to get out of this Parsha was a massive migrane.

Given Rav Shimon's lack of success, far be it from me to attempt to provide insight. However, given 2000 years of Chazzal's tradition, advanced research techniques, computer based analysis, oh, AND THE FACT THAT I DON'T LIVE IN A FREAKING CAVE, I will do my best. (Incidentally, I too, like Rabbi Shimon, once lived a cave, but promptly moved out once that meeskeit I was tutoring in how to satisfactorily perform Metzitza BiPeh stopped calling my home.)

The focus of Rabbi Shimon's contemplations was Yankif Avinu's deathbed prophesies. Rabbi Shimon was obsessed with interpreting them to gain insight into events in his own day, a technique referred to as "Pesher" in the writing discovered in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Ultimately, he determined that there was no present day relevance, only the hope that we all should be Zoicheh (fortunate enough) to benefit from similar final blessings from reverential Toirah figures in our own lifetimes, as well as a little extra sympathy from the the hot shiksa nurse.

The MAHARAL takes issue with this suggestion. Asks the MAHARAL: How can anyone possibly want to receive anything akin to the dour deathbed words and actions of Yankif? For example:

- On his deathbed, Yankif Avinu scolds Reuven the Tzaddik, his eldest son, for having had sex with Bilha, one of the Imahois. (In case they skipped over that Perek in fourth grade, you minuval, you can look it up in Beraishis, Perek Lamed Hay, Pasook Chuf Bayz.) You would think that Yankif, at the end of his life, would stop holding a grudge already. After all, according to the Medrish Rabbah, Bilhah was a dead ringer for Kim Kardashian.

- Similarly, Yankif berates Shimon and Layvee for their violent lifestyles and actually curses them on his deathbed. And all they had done was wipe out the entire city of Shchem, a bunch of goyim! From the way Yankif speaks, you would think they had done something really bad, like make tea in a Kli Rishoyn!

- When blessing Menashe and Ephrayim, Yankif reverses his hands so that his right hand, instead of resting on the head of the elder, rests on the head of the younger, as a signal that he will excel over his older brother. (There is also a famous medrish that says that at that moment Yankif went cross-eyed, and used his right eye to look to the left, and vice versa.) I will say only one thing: Chass V'Shalom I should have to pay those psychologist bills.

The bottom line, according to the MAHARAL, is that if a beloved elder ever calls you over to give you one last bracha, GET THE HELL OUT OF THERE AS FAST AS YOU CAN! Get on a plane to Argentina. Or go off to live in a cave. 

The RIF is less troubled by the brachois of Yankif in the Parsha. After all -- why would the brothers care about Yankif's opinion when he is about to die? Aimishteh knows, they weren't too damn worried about his opinion when he was alive. Rather, the brothers were obsessed with the yerushah, the inheritance. This is why Yankif pleads repeatedly throughout the the Parsha to be buried in Meuras Hamachpaylah next to his father and grandfather. He knew the shfatim, the twelve tribes, couldn't wait to get their grimey hands on the deed and set up a falafel stand for all the tourists.

Which leads us back to the essential question Rav Shimon Bar Yochai was trying to address: How in our day are we to intepret and understand prophesies which are billed, in the words of the parsha itself, as a reflection of "Acharis Hayamim", the end of days? If one looks around, modern reality in Rav Shimon's day or our own does not synch with Yankif Avinu's prophesies.

A famous medrish addresses this, saying that Yankif Avinu did in fact intend to reveal the future of Klal Yisroel, but the Reboinoisheloilum blocked his Ruach Hakoidesh so he wouldn't give away halikeh soidois. (In other words, He shut off Yankif's Boradband access.)

The RI takes an alternative approach. He suggests that the texts including the prophesies were clearly developed by J text sources, reflecting the post-United Monarchy perspective, and edited within a non-priesthood textual school. I have no idea what this means, but it was this comment which led to the RI being put in chayrem, being ostracised by the community, for his heresy. He was only allowed back into the fold after fasting for 30 days, repenting for three years, and writing a sizable donation to the Chief Rabbi's Discretionary Fund.

The Tzitz Eliezer insists that all of the prophesies of the future of the shfatim by Yankif Avinu were indeed accurate and perfect predictions -- for the native tribes of Bora Bora. He notes that they are the true descendants of Klal Yisroel, while we, alas, are actually descendants of the Chivi, the Yevussi, and alien invaders.

But the Pri Ha'adamah insists that the brachois of Yankif were NEVER intended to be taken literally. He points out that Yankif spoke openly and freely, predicting failure when appropriate. This teaches us that it is a big Mitzvah to always remind our own children what miserable failures and disappointments they are.

Finally, the ARI ZAHL looks upon Yankif's works as the secret key that will unlock the arrival of the Mashiach. Only when we stop judging others and realize that we ourselves, like the Shfatim before us, are Minuvals and Vilda Chayas in the eyes of Hakkadoshboruchhu, will Klal Yisroel be worthy of Biyas Hamashiach.

Until then, I will just have to suffer in the Galus until the rest of you Am Haratzim realize how absolutely worthless you truly are. But when the time comes and you begin to repent, a natural first step would be to write a check to NPOJ Intl. - Yeshivas Chipas Emess. For a donation of one hundred dollars or more, you will even receive an autographed copy of my new CD, "Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein's Winter Wonderland," which includes the hit single, "Let's Grab The World By The Pussy, Comrade Putin" a duet I recently recorded with my good friend, Donald Trump.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.


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Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Rosheshiva
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Thursday, January 05, 2017

NEW -- On Life and Paradox

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On Life and Paradox


Rabboisai and Rebbetzinoisai,

Forget everything you know. Everything, you Menuval, including your grandmother's facial hair. Everything. Assume nothing coming into this Drasha. Because you are a know-nothing to begin with.

Imagine that you did not know the Toirah, Chass V'Shalom, or did not have secular knowledge, Baruch HaShem. Imagine that.

You are the Reboinoisheloilum. You are Hakadoshboruchhu. You are the "Oiseh Shalom Bimroimuv". You are going to create the world ex nihilo, out of nothing. What would You create?

You might create something or someone to keep You company. But why would You have that abstract instinct to crave company. What do You crave?

Now, what is wrong with what I just wrote? It ascribes a feeling or an impulse to what is, according to the RAMBAM "an abstraction". The Reboinoisheloilum is an Everythingness that is Nothingness. IT cannot be described, according to the RAMBAM, It can only be described by what It is not. (This is similar to me referring to you as a "good-for-nothing", you Vilda Chaya.)

Even the Kabbalists -- who invested extensive intellectual effort in describing the Aimistah/ Aibishter's essence and components -- the Sefirois -- rooted their origin in an unperceivable source, the "Ain Soif", the “Without End”.

----

Rabboisai, the picture I just painted stands in sharp contrast to the Hakadoishboruchhu that most of us were raised with and that we read about in the Toirah, the Divine who communicates directly with human beings, gets angry, bets on horse racing, and fathers His only son through a virgin named Mary... Err... Sorry, wrong religion.

Umm... I think we were at "gets angry". Gets jealous. Gives the Toirah. Makes it rain. Hardens Pharoah's heart. Commands Shmuel HaNavi to anoint a man named Shaul as King of Israel, and only later, after Shaul fails to kill the king of Amalek, commands Shmuel to anoint a lad named Duvid to become King of Israel in Shaul HaMelech's place. (And let me clarify: Shmuel HaNavi anointing Shaul had absolutely nothing to do with Mishkav Zachor, you pervert. Although it is not so clear with Shmuel anointing Duvid, who was featured on the cover of the Bethlehem Blue Boys calendar in 1022 BCE.)

---

Ladies and gentlemen, what I just described are two fundamentally different perceptions of the Divine.
-- Perception One: The Aimishteh/ Aibishter is an unknowable abstraction; and
-- Perception Two: Hakadoishboruchhu is conscious, is temperamental, and is engaged in the affairs of man.

So which is correct, you Mechutziff?

Rabboisai and Rebbetzinoisai, after all these years of selflessly teaching you week after week without making specific demands – other than for men to send me checks and for women to send me their underwear to inspect -- I thought I would deliver a pop quiz, just to see how much you have picked up, you lazy bums.

Whichever description you choose as correct, you would be right. In fact, both are normative perspectives within Yiddishkeit.

So how can these two seemingly opposite descriptions, both be true?

---

When we look at the world and the history of Klal Yisroel, we see a pattern of destruction and suffering, of sorrow and pain. If we subscribe to the latter description of the Reboinoisheloilum, in which His direct engagement in the world is axiomatic, we cannot but question Hakadoishboruchhu's motivations. Why all the death? Why all the tragedy? 

There are those who would ascribe a motive of crime and punishment, but that is simplistic, at best, and absurd at worst. If the Aimishteh/ Aibishter truly caused the Shoah or the Bubonic Plague or the current civil wars in Syria and Iraq, with the rampant murder, torture and rape, then He is by definition evil. And I do not know about you, you Mechutziff, but I refuse to believe that the Reboinoisheloilum is evil.

Yet if we subscribe to the former description that characterizes Hakadoishboruchhu as an abstraction, we risk losing our narrative of Purpose, of Meaning, of a relationship between mankind and the Melech Malchei HaMelachim.

In other words, neither description is intellectually or emotionally satisfying to anyone that uses her or his brain (which, of course, does not apply to you, you Minuval, because you have no brain).

Of course, some use such reasoning to reject the existence of a higher being altogether. We often refer to such people as “Atheists”, “Agnostics”, or “Reform Jews”.

But many of us, perhaps most of us, choose to maintain such conflicting views of the nature of the Aimishteh/ Aibisther in parallel. We overlook the inherent fundamental conflicts of these perspectives in order to maintain a “deliberately obscure” notion of the Divine. He is involved in world affairs… except when He is not, at which point He is transcendent.

----

When describing subscribing to such contradictory positions in parallel, we are discussing what is essentially a Paradox. And how do we address that Paradox? When challenged and pushed up against the wall, any intellectually honest figure will acknowledge that some ultimate truths are beyond our ability to understand. Consequently, what appears to us as a Paradox actually makes sense. The only way to be 100% certain is if if we are the Reboinoisheloilum Himself, or if we are stoned on so much Bsomim, we are covered for Havdala for the next six months.

(Note: YES, there are Kabbalistic notions on the how the two basic perspectives of the Reboinoisheloilum are interconnected, but no need to address those ideas here. You probably would not understand them anyway, you Minuval!)

We do not understand. We cannot understand.

----

I do not raise these issues to engage in a full discussion of the nature of the Aimishteh/ Aibisther. I have addressed such issues before and likely will again. But my intention is actually to discuss the role of Paradox and certitude in our everyday lives.

Rabboisai and Rebbetzinoisai, we recently completed a terribly divisive election cycle in the United States. Afterwards, President Obama declined to veto a United Nations Security Council resolution that reiterated longstanding US policy that does not recognize Israeli sovereignty on lands captured in 1967, including East Jerusalem. In truth, there are no repercussions to the vote, as it does not involve sanctions.

I wish I had a dollar for every comment from friends or on Facebook post on the evils of Barack HUSSEIN Obama, who is alternately a Moslem or a follower of the extremist Reverend Jeremiah Wright. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone said that Obama hates Jews, hates Israel, is trying to destroy Israel, etc. In other words, I wish I had a dollar for every extremist fucking statement made by the far right within the Jewish community. I would today be a wealthy man; but instead, I have to raise money for my Yeshiva by sending little children with Pushkas to raise money for fictional construction projects at our non-existent new campus somewhere in Israel that I refuse to identify. But I will be happy to send you pictures.

Similarly, I wish I had a dollar for every hysterical fucking comment made about Donald Trump by people of the far left in the Jewish community. People, please make up your minds: Is he a Nazi or just a run-of-the-mill fascist? Has he abolished free speech and freedom of worship? Should I feel safe sending this Drasha, or should I go looking to hide in a secret attic somewhere and wait to be liberated by either the Germans or the Japanese?

Now, of course we have to acknowledge that Donald Trump said reprehensible things during the campaign about Moslems and Hispanics and women. He flirted with the fringe right because it was politically expedient, thereby playing with matches next to the tinder box that is the multi-cultural society that is America.

But Donald Trump has not established an extra-military militia. He has not advocated laws that deny people rights based on their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. He has said stupid things, offensive things, even hurtful things, at times. But by comparing him to a Nazi the far left in the Jewish community is spitting on the mass graves and the ashes of our ancestors.

So I wish I had a dollar for every fucking stupid thing said by either the far right or the far left. I might be as wealthy as Donald Trump. And if not Donald Trump, as wealthy as the Clintons, who, somehow, after Bill Clinton left the White House in 2000 without any savings, were able to amass wealth in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Hey – I had no idea that Senators in New York or Secretaries of State make so much money. I may need to go into a new line of work!

So what does all of this have to do with the notion of Paradox?

All of us who do not subscribe to the most extreme views voiced by the far right and the far left see the same data that they do; we simply refuse to reach the same conclusions. We understand that the world is not black and white. We understand that the world does not always work the way we would like it to, and at times does not make perfect sense.

We understand that President Obama has created and implemented many policies and initiatives, some of which we agreed with, and others with which we did not. In other words, we are mature enough to know that we will not always agree. And we are mature enough to know that when we disagree, it does not mean that we must engage in a Jihad… even if President Obama’s middle name is “Hussein”. We can balance conflicting impulses, because in our daily lives we subscribe to the notion of Paradox.

Similarly, we know that Donald Trump is prone to outrageous statements and at times sees the “truth” through a filtered lens. He can be abrasive, and can sound like your drunk uncle after having a few too many LeChaims on Tisha Ba’Av. But he is more than his statements, and deserves the opportunity to serve as president, and we all owe him the opportunity to succeed. Whether we like him or not, he is neither a fascist nor a Nazi. Whether we like him or not, we must acknowledge that he won the election by the rules of the Electoral College, and we must respect the office, if not the man. We must again balance our impulses, live with a certain amount of internal conflict, Because real life for most of us is contingent upon living with Paradox.

----

But Paradox does not only define the American political discourse; it is essential to describing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Jews and Arabs have fought each other since before the establishment of the State of Israel, but they have also cooperated. Jews were expelled from their homes in areas of pre-State Israel and from many countries in the Arab world. Yes, some Arabs left of their own accord to escape the battles, but many Arabs were expelled from their homes. That is where the Palestinian refugees came from. And unlike Israel and the global Jewish community, the Arab world did not band together to resettle the Palestinian refugees.

So what should we do about the Palestinians? Well, from 1967 to 1988, we ignored them and made believe that the status quo would disappear on its own. But then the first Intifada came. Then we attempted peace with the Oslo Accords, and that turned into a disaster. Some call today for the annexation of the West Bank, while others still call for Peace Now. But the reality: Israel and Arabs are fated to live side by side. There may be no responsible Palestinians partner presently, but the Palestinians are there and are not going anywhere, except in the minds of fringe right wing elements.

And so, for now, Israel cannot make peace with the Palestinians, and also cannot win through a military solution. The entire state of Israel is itself stuck in a Paradox.

Israel is committed to being both a Jewish State and a democratic state, and yet the combined number of Arab Palestinians – between Israeli Arab citizens of Israel, Palestinians in the West Bank, and Palestinians in Gaza – is nearly equal to the number of Jews in Israel. How does Israel remain both Jewish and democratic under the current circumstances? Well, that is a Paradox.

----

The textbook example of a Paradox is something known as Schroedinger’s Cat. In this thought-exercise, a theoretical cat is put inside a box with radioactive material. If the cat is taken out of the box, it will die. If it is left in the box long enough, it will die. But at this  moment in time, the cat is breathing.

So is the cat alive or dead? It is both, yet neither.

Rabboisai and Rebbetzinoisai, I remember that my Alter Zaideh told me that back in the Shtetyl, there was a belief that a man should never touch a cat because that would make him forget all of the Toirah that he ever learned. Meanwhile, so many members of our community -- including so many religiously scholarly Modern Orthodox and Chareidi brothers and sisters who are committed to sexual modesty -- voted for Donald Trump, who famously boasted about "grabbing women by the pussy". That is a Paradox.

Similarly, Hillary Clinton kept e-mails on a private server, deleted e-mails of her own accord after they were subpoenaed, destroyed devices that held data, manipulated the primaries against Bernie Sanders, and engaged in numerous concrete activities that smell of conflict of interest while Secretary of State. Yet many people who believe in transparency and honesty in government voted for her. That too is a Paradox.

----

I am reminded of a Maiseh Shehoya. Shabtai Tzvi was declared the Moshiach in 1666, and half of the Jewish world believed that the Messianic era had arrived. As Shabtai Tzvi was traveling across Asia and Europe spreading the message of his arrival as the Moshiach, he developed an intestinal problem. While visiting Vienna, Shabtai Tzvi went to see Dr. Joseph Cohen, one of the finest gastroenterologists in all of Europe.

“What is the problem?” Dr. Cohen asked.

“I have been eating and I have an appetite, yet I have been unable to go to the bathroom for days” Shabtai responded. “It seem to me to be a strange Paradox.”

“Let’s see” replied Dr. Cohen.

Dr. Cohen proceeded to run a battery of tests on Shabtai Tzvi: Blood tests, X-Rays, eye exams, MRIs, etc. After the results came back, Dr. Cohen called Shabtai back into his office.

“Shabtai”, Dr, Cohen said, “you are not suffering from any sort of Paradox. I have looked at the X-Rays and MRIs. You are simply full of shit.”

----

Rabboisai and Rebbetzinoisai, we all live in a complex world, where reality is not a simple black and white. And so most of us live by balancing conflicting notions and ideas and impulses. We live in a world of Paradox. Our quest for clarity is an ongoing challenge; that is part of the human condition. But those people who live with 100% factual and moral certitude, without doubt, without dilemma, driven by simplistic ideologies and pat slogans, who selectively accept data to fit their personal narratives, are taking the intellectual easy way out. They are avoiding the complexities of Paradox, and are often, like Shabtai Tzvi, actually full of shit.

So the next time you question your opinions, your ideologies, your positions on a topic, do not feel ashamed. Certitude is like prophecy: As we are told in the Talmud, in our era true prophecy no longer exists; the only people left with prophecy are children and fools.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval


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Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Rosheshiva
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Friday, December 30, 2016

On Restoring Order To The World, And Making Klal Yisroel Great Again

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On Restoring Order To The World, And Making Klal Yisroel Great Again


Rabboisai,

I think it is time to make a Mishuberach.

For whom? Why, for the Reboinoisheloilum, of course!

Let's face it: Hakadoshboruchhu has had a pretty tough year in 2016. Interest rates have just gone up after many years, but the enormous national debt is detering foreign investment. Donald Trump just designated a pack of Marlboros as the new Surgeon General. And that last James Bond movie was another disappointment. How can we have the finest actor since Sean Connery in the role matched with scripts that belong to Scooby Doo cartoons?

Oh, and the entire Reboinoisheloilum-damned world is falling apart! ISIS. Syrian refugees. Global terrorism. Cyber crime. Hacking. I wish the news would focus on the more critical issues facing the world, like the effort to keep Betty White alive through the end of year 2016 or the new Star Wars movie.

Rabboisai, something is indeed wrong in the world. Something that is hard to identify. The world seems, somehow, off-kilter.

I believe that there are hints at why this is, in a Mishnah in Avois, Perek Aleph, Pasook Hey:

ה. יוסי בן יוחנן איש ירושלים אומר, יהי ביתך פתוח לרווחה, ויהיו עניים בני ביתך. ואל תרבה שיחה עם האישה--באשתו אמרו, קל וחומר באשת חברו; מכאן אמרו חכמים, כל המרבה שיחה עם האישה--גורם רעה לעצמו, ובטיל מדברי תורה, וסופו יירש גיהינם.

5. Yoissi Ben Yoichanan of Jerusalem said: Let your home be wide open, and let the poor be like members of your household, although do not let them touch the remote control, lest they lose it. And do not engage in excessive conversation with a woman. This is said regarding one's own wife; Kal V'Choimer with the wife of another, especially if she has great legs. From this, the Chachumim said: One who excessively converses with a woman causes evil to himself, neglects studying Toirah, and, in the end, he will have earned time in Gehenim, and be forced to do errands around the house by his wife.

Rabboisai,

How many of us can say that we behave in a manner consistent with the words of Reb Yoissi Ben Yoichanan? Can we honestly say that in our everyday lives we keep an adequate distance from women?

I know that I try my best: I sit on the bus every morning on the men's side of the Mechitza; I employ only men at my yeshiva, Yeshivas Chipass Emmess - As rebbes, as business managers, as accountants, as secretaries, as cooks, and even as Mikvah Ladies; and at home, I do not even speak to my Bashert, Feigah Breinah - we communicate through sign language, morse code, smoke signals, and, Bi'Shas Ha'Chak, through flatulence.

Toisfois asks a Gevaldik Shailah on this Mishnah: If men are not supposed to converse with women, how are we to procreate and continue the species? And more important, what should Chassidic men do at night if they are not supposed to go to strip clubs?

The ROISH answers with a Givaldikkah Chiddish: He points to the very next Mishnah in Avois:

ו. יהושע בן פרחיה ונתאי הארבלי קיבלו מהם. יהושע בן פרחיה אומר: עשה לך רב, וקנה לך חבר, והוי דן את כל האדם לכף זכות.

6. Yehoshua ben Perachiah and Nitai of Arbel received the Toirah from (the earlier members of the Mesoirah of Toirah descent). Yehoshua ben Perachia says, "Make for yourself a Rabbinical mentor, and purchase for yourself a friend, and judge every person with the benefit of the doubt."

Says the ROISH, this Mishnah answers the question regarding women. In a world of Toirah, we no longer need to marry; we simply need a Rebbe, someone to learn with, and no more. And if we ever get horn... errr... a Taivah, we should simply "purchase" a friend. $50 for a half an hour of hot adult action is a lot cheaper than buying some woman an expensive dinner, sharing 50% of your salary and 401K, or paying Yeshiva tuition. And how do you know that the $50 toothless Kurva is without STDs? Well, the Seifah of the Mishnah tells us that we should always "Dan Esss Kol He'Adam LeKaf Zchuss", we should "judge every person with the benefit of the doubt." So don't worry about it. Der Aimishteh Tzu Helfen - the Reboinoisholoilum will watch over you and ensure your safety... just as He did in Poland between 1939 and 1945. In other words, for $50 you are guaranteed to get Farfucked.

The RAN, however, disagrees, referring to the ROISH as a "frustrated little Litvak". He says that Mishnah Vuv, the sixth Mishna, has absolutely nothing to do with the fifth Mishnah. LeOilum, says the RAN, there should be women in our lives. We just have to be cautious that we not engage with them excessively on non-professional issues. If we are at work, we should keep the conversation focused on the professional issues at hand. If we are at home, we should speak to our wives and daughters about household issues, such as cooking, cleansing, and repairing the roof. And it we are with our lovers, we should not be thinking about them, but should be focussing our Kavvanah on the Gedoilim, the Gemarrah, and Oig Melech Ha Bashan.

Yes. Woman are at the core of our ills. Excessive male association with women, and female exhibitionism are the sources of all that is wrong with the universe. This fundamental truth is recognized by the Gedoilim of our generation:

-- According to the Jerusalem Post published on November 2, 2015, "Prominent national-religious leader Rabbi Shlomo Aviner spoke out strongly on Monday against religious women serving in the IDF, saying they are contributing to the destruction of the State of Israel...'The State of Israel is the foundation of the throne of God in the world. Whoever harms the soul of the state also harms the state itself. A girl who enlists to the IDF with the claim that she wants to contribute, is indeed contributing – she is contributing to the destruction of the state.'" The message is clear: Women are destroying the State of Israel!

-- According to the Jerusalem Post on December 5, 2015 "Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, the most senior haredi rabbi in the Ashkenazi non-hassidic haredi world, was quoted by a close associate as saying that a man had asked him if he should let his daughter go to university. Shteinman replied that to do so would be worse than stealing money since material goods may be recovered but the 'spiritual damage' of permitting the young woman to achieve higher education could not be undone."

-- In the very same article, we are told that a senior haredi rabbi recently suggested at a conference for high school principals held in Bnei Brak that higher education for women constitutes a more severe blow to the haredi world than the Holocaust. Rabbi Aviezer Peletz was quoted by the Kikar Hashabbat news website as saying, “The furnaces of this generation are burning more than the furnaces of Auschwitz, more than the cellars of the inquisition with all their tortures, these are spiritual furnaces.”

-- And Rabbi Modechai Willig, in his own essay on Torah.Org published in August, 2015, cast a shining light to the future of true Toirah Judaism when he declared, "the inclusion of Talmud in curricula for all women in Modern Orthodox schools needs to be reevaluated. While the gedolim of the twentieth century saw Torah study to be a way to keep women close to our mesorah, an egalitarian attitude has colored some women's study of Talmud and led them to embrace and advocate egalitarian ideas and practices which are unacceptable to those very gedolim." Those uppity bitches!

Yes, Rabboisai, all evils in the world, Hakadoshboruchhu's kingdom, are caused by women. They are leading us astray, and will drive Klal Yisroel and Kol Ha'Oilum Kooloh, to Shmad.

It is with this backdrop that several members of the RCA had the foresight and wisdom to put up one more Geder to remind women to mind their places and stop with this Narishkeit of becoming rabbis. Rabbi Avraham Gordimer, SHLITA, one of the holy drafters of the RCA resolution reiterating the RCA's ban or ordaining women as rabbis and banning any so-called "Rabbas" or "Maha- Rats" from being hired into a religious or educational capacity by any Orthodox institution under their titles, wisely asked in an essay published on the Arutz Sheva website published on November 11, 2015, "why can we not recognize the sheer greatness of Jewish women in their age-old roles as wife, mother, educator/morah and rebbetzin/rabbanit?... Women in these capacities have built, sustained, inspired and carried the Jewish People through thick and thin. These roles are at the bedrock of our Mesorah (tradition) and are at times overlooked by those seeking to introduce and innovate."

Baruch HaShem! It is based on the wisdom of these Gedoilim that I make sure to keep my Bashert, Feigeh Breinah, barefoot and pregnant and in the kitchen at all times. In fact, right now she is preparing a soufflé in the kitchen, being careful not to slip on the water on the floor, which recently spilled from her Erva when her water broke, as she is preparing to give birth to our 32nd child. But don't worry, she will have plenty of time to finish the soufflé before I take her to the hospital - I am in the middle of a complicated Sugya in Bubba Basra, so I am going to need at least another hour to review the Meforshim before I am ready to take her.

I am reminded of a famous Maiseh Shehoya. Rabbi Dov Ber ben Avraham, the Maggid of Mezeritch, one of the Baal Shem Toiv's principal disciples, was once traveling through the Ukraine, raising money to buy his Chassidim Kuchmas, traditional fur hats for the cold winter. In those days, early on the Chassidic movement, rebbes did not travel in personal transport vehicles, but traveled by wagon, often accessed at the local stations in the towns along the travel route.

The Maggid had arrived early at the station in Babruysk, and was seated on a bench reading The Byelorussian Times when a beautiful, buxom blond woman, scantily clad and wearing a big crucifix, approached him.

"Are you a Chassidic Jew?" the woman asked in a throaty voice, whole her gaze focused on the Maggid's olive green eyes.

"I am indeed" replied the Maggid, trying his best to focus on his newspaper.

"Well.." the beautiful woman began, bringing her head rights next to the Maggid's, and whispering softly in his ear. "I would like you help with this fantasy I have. I would like you to come back to my apartment, and let me run my fingers through your Tzitzis and uncurl your Payis with my tongue. Then I want you to spend the whole night making sweet love to me, and bring me true Chassidic joy as many times as you can."

The Maggid slowly looked up from his newspaper, stroked his beard, looked the woman in the eye, and responded with a soft but stern voice. "Nu, young lady. So what's in it for me?"

Shoyn

As we see from the Maiseh Shehoya, women have throughout the generations led our men astray. Was it not Chava who led to humanity's fall from Gan Eden? Was it not Miriam who sowed discord amongst Klal Yisroel in the wilderness and was punished with Tzara'as? Was it not 300 of Shloimoi HaMelevh's wives who forced him to introduce Avoidah Zorah into the Bais HaMikdash, and also kept him perpetually exhausted?

Now, of course, some Talmidim may cite the accomplishments of women in previous times and in our own. Yes, we know all of the arguments that the so-called "Open Orthodox" will make: The Gemarrah and Chazal lived in a time of different sensibilities, and even Chazal leave openings for greater roles for women in religious leadership and give concrete examples of select exemplary women throughout history. Women in our days are equal beneficiaries of secular education and are as accomplished as men in business, the sciences, the arts, and increasingly in political life. Indeed, Germany is led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, the UK is led by Prime Minister Theresa May, and Hillary Clinton nearly became the next president of the United States, winning the popular vote by nearly three million deluded voters.

And when we look at women in the Bais Medrish, the so-called "Open Orthodox" will argue, women are proving themselves to be as capable as men in Talmudic scholarship.

But no matter.

As the Gemarra teaches us in Soitah, Daf Chuff, Amud Aleph (BT Sota, 20A)

רבי אליעזר אומר כל המלמד בתו תורה <כאילו> לומדה תפלות

Rabbi Eliezer says, one who teaches his daughter Torah, (it is as if) he teaches her Tiflus (folly).

And because Rabbi Eliezer says it, it must be true. And if anyone argues the issue with me, I will stick my fingers in my ears and start reciting the Toichachah.

So our failures, or, rather, your failures, you Menuval, to distance yourself from women has brought the world to the brink of destruction. One very concrete example: In a Shtetyl in North America, a woman by the name of Rebbetzin Chana Adel Bas Yentah Frumah was named "Teacher Of the Year" by the township - from among all of the qualified candidates in the public school system and the local Yeshivas, across all genders. She is in fact the first teacher NOT from the public school system to receive this reward.

Should we, as Klal Yisrael, be proud of the accomplishment? Of course not! Because SHE IS A WOMAN! And not only that, she has been named "Teacher Of the Year" while teaching at an all boys Yeshiva! I am sorry! She is not a teacher - She is a Boy T.O.Y. And she is leading the Talmidim astray!!

So what can we do to restore balance in the world created by the Aimishteh?

Rabboisai, we must return to the basics. We must work to help Hakadoshboruchhu restore order to the world, by learning Toirah, by doing Mitzvois, and by rescuing the lost holy sparks scattered in creation.

Join me, and we will return this world to male dominance, just as the Reboinoisheloilum intended! Let us double the amount of time we spend in Koilel, and make our wives work twice as hard to raise the children and support the family. Let's subjugate our women, and make Klal Yisroel great again!

Just please do me one favor... Please do not share this Drasha with my Bashert, Feigah Breinah. I am scared shitless of her.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval


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Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Rosheshiva
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Post-Election Drasha: On Debate and Civility

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Post-Election Drasha: On Debate and Civility


Rabboisai, 

So sorry for my silence these last few weeks, but I just woke up from being Shikkur from all of my Donald Trump celebrations. Parties. Kiddushes. Siyyumei Shas. Binge watching The Apprentice. Thanksgiving table political arguments. Burning crosses on the lawns of the local liberals. You know, healthy outlets.

Every day I go to my Shul and look down from my Shtender, and I see many of my congregants celebrating along with me. But, to be honest, I look down across the Shul, and I see others of my congregants who are visibly disappointed. They are clearly recognizable because of the yellow stars we make them wear.

(Rabboisai -- Those were called jokes. Dark humor. Too much for some, but satisfyingly morbid for others. But I learned from the best Roishei Yeshivah in the world, such as Reb Herschel Schachter, Reb Shneier Kutler, and Pope Francis - Always start a serious Dvar Toirah with a joke. Then tell the Minuvals in the Kehilla why they are all going to hell.)

There are so many aspects to this election, so many paradoxes, and such personal feelings intertwined, that only a true Toirah scholar with deep understanding of TANACH, SHAS, Kabbalah, and the tax code can begin to understand them. But that's what you pay me for. (By the way, I am still waiting for my check, you Mechutziff!)

Donald J. Trump is a paradox. He has a history of womanizing, to the point of accusations of misogyny and worse. In his campaign he courted the alt right - the Neo Nazi and KKK types in this country. This flirtation may have been the most disturbing part of the President Elect's campaign - his tacit acceptance of the forces of hate in this country that are at heart racist and xenophobic has at least for now unleashed disturbing incidents of racism. These are the guys who openly express anti-Semitism, racism against blacks, racism against Latinos, racism against Muslims, and racism against minorities in general. These are the guys who sound like your crazy uncle when he drinks too much on Purim night. 

But neither I nor any of my congregants voted for that man for those reasons. Every leader has his Meshuganahs. President Obama had his affiliation with Reverend Jeremiah Wright. And George W. Bush had Dick Cheney.

No. We voted for him because his was a call for change at a time when the much-spoken-about "economic divide" was being discussed. He is not from Washington. He is a business man with a very mixed record but with strong name recognition. And the world has indeed changed. Many people never recovered their financial status from the Great Recession. And many people are angry at their own tax rates, while at the same time seeing the uber rich, including Trump, being enabled by law to pay somewhere between zero and 15% in taxes in both Republican and Democratic administrations, while most of us are paying 35%-40%. (Not me, of course. The government pays me to deliver vital social services to the community. Last week I received a check for buying computers for all of the Talmidim in my Yeshiva... a Yeshiva in which computers and the Internet are strictly banned. Reboinoisheloilum bless America!)

Maybe some Jews voted for Trump because of some perceived preference for Israel, but every American administration has its positive and negative episodes with the Israeli government, Democrats and Republicans, and people who do not realize that historical fact are in for a rude awakening. 

But perhaps the reason that many people voted for Trump is that the Frum community has largely become a conservative society, and simply does not like to vote Democratic. And, just perhaps, some people were opposed to Hillary Clinton, not because she is a woman, but because she is as crooked as the Hunchback of Notre Dame, or the Goilem carrying the MAHARAL on his back through the streets of Prague, since the Goilum was the MAHARAL's version of Uber.

Shoyn.

Trump's Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton was herself a paradox. She positioned herself as a purveyor of progressive thought, yet made off the record speeches to Wall Street firms for more than $200,000 each. As Secretary of State, she hosted an e-mail server in her home that inevitably would be on either the sending or receiving end of confidential data. And when subpoenaed to provide copies of her e-mails, she snapped into action... By deleting 30,000 e-mails. Plus, there are clear, proven instances where donations to the Clinton Foundation resulted in favorable treatment and preferential access to the State Department, as well as 20% discounts in the cafeteria.

So, the United States is confronted with an odd reality - The unexpected election of Donald J. Trump over Hillary Rodham Clinton. For some, this is a cause for celebration. For others, it is a reason for disappointment and disillusionment. But luckily we are Klal Yisroel. We do not take a short term view of one election or one year or one term. We view the world in terms of eternity - and if not eternity, we view the world in terms of eras of persecution. 

To what is this election comparable in the rich history of Klal Yisroel, and what lessons does that history offer?

In Sefer Shmuel, we read about the struggle between the Kingdom of the House of Shaul and the Kingdom of the House of David. If one reads the text closely and is not distracted by Midrashic whitewash, one can clearly see a struggle for internal leadership, including a series of unholy alliances. The text even tells us that at one point David and his crew acts as mercenaries in the employ of the Plishtim, the Phillistines. (If you do not believe me, take five minutes and look it up in the text, assuming that you know how to navigate Biblical text without having Rabbi Artscroll lead you by the Schvatntz and sanitize the rich, actual text of the Torah.)

In the text, we read of the struggles between the two warring houses, a standing king and an insurrectionist. Ultimately, Shaul and his son Yoinoson are killed in a battle with the Plishtim, and the text goes out of its way to tell us of an incident happening in parallel that suggests that David and his troops were never ever EVER anywhere near that battle. Ever. Methinks the Toirah Doth Protest Too Much. And after Shaul is killed, his family and many of his loyalists are struck down. David, of course, goes on to found a monarchical dynasty, as well as a chain of coffee and doughnut shops throughout the whole of the Land of Israel, including Judea, Samaria, and Brooklyn.

Here we see that power was transferred, but through violent upheaval.

When we look at the story of the Hasmonean rebellion against the Seleucids and their Judean allies, AKA the real story of Chanukah (and not the fairy tale version with magical oil and shitty little plastic dreidels made in China), once again we see the transfer of power driven by violent upheaval, as well as the long term dangers of eating fried foods.

Internecine violence that characterized power struggles and leadership shifts within Klal Yisroel reach their peak in the destruction of Bayis Sheini. Here, there is a multi-party civil war between rebels and non-rebels, zealots and more practical rebels, Pharisees and Sadducees. Yes, there were Romans, but as recorded by the Jewish historian Josephus, they stood outside the walls of Jerusalem as the Judean factions killed each other and either poisoned or set fire to each other’s food stores. Josephus also tells us that Judean merchants outside the walls made a killing selling hot dogs, pretzels and soda to the waiting Roman soldiers, and Judean prostitutes were so busy, they set up a trade network to manage demand called Juber. And they instituted Surge Pricing, which, according to the Gemarrah, raised the price of Metzitzah BiPeh from an average cost of 10 Shekels during regular demand to as much as 100 Shekels at peak times.

With the destruction of the Second Temple, and later, after the bloody, failed Bar Kochba Rebellion, there was a push to expunge violence as a means of political expression within Klal Yisroel. Internecine violence and rebellion had left tens or even hundreds of thousands dead, many Jews carried away into enslavement, loss of any semblance of sovereignty, loss of access to Jerusalem, and of course loss of the Temple. The Roman occupiers also stopped accepting coupons and no longer honored discounts for students and the elderly. The Mamzeirim. 

And so, CHAZAL implemented a fundamental philosophy of non-violence in transitions of power - by emphasizing the dangers of Sin'as Chinum, best translated as "Random Hatred". So we are told throughout the Gemarra that the Second Temple was destroyed because of Sin'as Chinum, and that Rabbi Akiva's students died en masse due to a plague caused by Sin'as Chinum, when in reality they likely died in the Bar Kochba struggle.

Instead, CHAZAL focused their energies on debate, sometimes civil, sometimes less so. Rav  debated Shmuel. Abaya debated Rava. Ravina debated Rab Ashi. RAMBAN debated RAMBAM. RASHI was debated by all of his grandchildren and their peers among the Ba'alei Toisfoisssss. And not a single drop of blood was shed. Except when the RAMBAN was in Nidah. 

Even the divisive Shabtai Tzvi incident did not result in bloodshed, but harsh words. And the terribly divisive split between Chassidim and Misnagdim did not result in more than very rare fisticuffs, although each side called the civil authorities on the other for various pretexts. (Apparently rabbis at the time had no problem calling the hostile gentile authorities on each other at the time, as opposed to today when they refuse to call the police when someone in the community is sexually abused by another Jew, because apparently rabbis are better trained at taking testimony on sex abuse, forensics, criminal law, handling of DNA evidence, and psychology. What Schmucks... errr... Tzaddikim!)

So what do we learn from all of this, and how does it relate to our current reality?

There are two concepts at play - Sin'as Chinum - "Random Hatred" and "Ga'avah" - "Self-Assured Arrogance". And most of us are guilty of the two.

When we examine the life of the most significant leader of Klal Yisroel, Moishe Rabbeinu, CHAZAL point to Moishe's "Anivus" - his "Personal Modesty". When asked by the Reboinoisheloilum to speak to Pharoah on behalf of Klal Yisroel, he responds that he cannot, no one will listen to his voice. Hakadoshboruchhu reassures him, and also assigns his brother, Aron HaKoihain, the Minuval, to support him.

But we celebrate Moishe Rabbeinu's Anivus, and are told at the end of Devarim "Lo Kum BeYisroel K'Moishe Oid" - None like Moishe have ever risen since. Not even in the era of Viagra. 

When we look at the current political season, all we can see is arrogance and smugness from both sides of the equation. And as we read at the Reishah of this Drasha, the candidates in question - both of them - are deeply flawed. Most of us held our noses as we voted, whether we voted for Clinton or Trump. In Trump's case, some women may have also held their other hand over their... ummm... Ervas, just in case...

And the issues that divide the sides are real. And the flaws on each side are real. And the concerns raised over the President Elect are real. But ours is a culture of debate. And these debates are legitimate, and we should not shy away from them, but discuss our different ideas and philosophies. We can disagree. And perhaps sometimes we might even agree. 

So the question is: What is the line when debate turns into Sin'as Chinum? And what causes someone to engage in Sin'as Chinum.

Imagine Reuven and Shimoin getting into an argument on a particular topic. Reuven is certain of his position. Shimoin is certain of his position. And it is a binary debate - only one person can be right. So how is it possible that each is completely certain in his position, knowing full well that he has a 50% chance of being wrong? That is the role of Ga'Avah. 

Now imagine Levi and Yehuda arguing over a philosophical topic - a topic with nuance, a topic in which there are many angles and many shades of grey. But both Levi and Yehuda are certain of their positions, and do not for even a minute doubt their positions. That too is Ga'Avah. 

So as we debate candidates, politics, and policies, it is certainly valid, even encouraged, for each of us to have our own ideas and beliefs. But if we cannot, for even a moment, try to understand what is in the mind of the people that we are debating, try to understand their thinking and reasoning, cannot express even a semblance of empathy, then that is Ga'avah. (Think "basket of deplorables", my Hillary supporting friends.)

And if in the course of a debate of ideas we are dismissive of the position of another, and express that dismissiveness, Chass V'Shalom, in personal terms, then that crosses the line from healthy debate to Sin'as Chinum. (This is referred to in Aramaic as being "Trumpy".)

So there is a line, perhaps a fine line, between acceptable forms of Machloikess, debate, and deterioration into Ga'Avah and Sin'as Chinum.

I am reminded of a famous debate between the Baal Shem Toiv and the Vilna Goyn. As tension between Chassidim and Misnagdim built up, the leading advocates of each movement came together in Poizen, Poland to debate their theological differences. The Gruh spoke of the importance of learning Toirah as the only legitimate method to connect to the Aimishteh. The BESHT argued back that the masses could barely read, and that Hisboisedus, meditative unity with the Divine, was the best way for Klal Yisroel to connect to the Reboinoisheloilum.

The Goyn spoke of the central importance of rabbis in setting Halacha and determining the day to day Halachic questions that arise in a traditional Jewish society. The Baal Shem Toiv argued that rabbis had a more important role - to be central, organizing figures around and through whom adherents can better engage with Hakadoshboruchhu on a day to day basis. And so on.

However, as the debate raged on, the initial civil tone deteriorated into personal insults. At one point, the GRUH shouted out, "You, Yisroel, with your Payis and your fur hat, look like an Aimishteh-damned monkey!"

To which the Baal Shem Toiv responded, "Well at least I do not have a silly white beard like you that makes you look like a billy goat!"

The audience was roaring with both protest and laughter. In the back of the hall a few punches were thrown.

Suddenly, a Bas Kol, a heavenly voice, boomed from above. "DO NOT DISRESPECT EACH OTHER! THAT IS SIN'AS CHINUM AND WILL ONLY LEAD TO BAD THINGS!!"

The GRUH looked up at the sky and said, "Hey, the Gemara says 'Toirah Loi BaShamayim Hee' ('Determinations regarding the Torah are no longer in the heavenly domain'), so leave us the hell alone, you bully!"

The BESHT chimed in, pointing his finger at the sky, "Yeah, big shot!!! What do you think you are going to do about it? Wipe out all of European Jewry?"

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Rabboisai, we live in divisive times. There are real issues and concerns on all sides. There are dangers. There are also opportunities. And these issues and concerns should of course be discussed. But rather than succumb to anger and frustration in our discourse, it is critical that we maintain a modicum of civility, of unity. We must always remember the Toirah's injunction of "Ve'Ahavta LeReacha KaMoicha", you should love your neighbor as you love yourself. And we must always keep in mind the Mishnah in Avois that tells us, "Rabbi Shimon Ben Gamliel said, ‘The world stands on three pillars: On justice, on truth, and on peace’".

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval


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Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Rosheshiva
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess